Saturday, December 30, 2006

Coincidences: "Just for you!"

One could argue that these things were coincidences, that I ended up working with Chance and becoming friends with Henry Van Dyke's descendant because we are drawn to people with whom we share something. But I think it's more than that. I think these are examples of the ways that God delivers joy -- in new life, in new relationships, in pairings that seem unlikely, in circumstances that seem impossible. Part of the delight comes from recognizing the planning as well as the Planner. Like someone at a surprise party thrown in his or her honor, we're tempted to say, "For me?" The resounding response from heaven is always "Yes, my child! Just for you!"

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Haul

Let me just start with the fact that I loved each and every gift I received. But here are a few of the coolest ...

We were given a 3-month Netflix subscription and should have our first three movies by today or tomorrow. We begin with a nicely eclectic mixture of Superman Returns (Rose's choice), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Hannah's choice), and I Have Seen It (my choice, an Indian Bollywood-ish version of Sense and Sensibility). These will go far toward making our regular New Year's Eve movie and game fest interesting.

The download of John Cleese reading The Screwtape Letters. I haven't had a chance to listen to much yet but Cleese so far is sardonically perfect in his delivery.

This collection, Sugar Hill Records: A Retrospective, was given to Tom. Lucky us because it features an impressive range of artists. If you like bluegrass at all, consider getting this collection.

We also got some great dvds ... Love Actually, Rio Bravo, Monsoon Wedding, The Simpsons - The Complete Ninth Season, and Monty Python's Flying Circus: Set 2, Episodes 7-13.

Yep. Good times ...

Distractions and Prayer

Distractions may make deep prayer difficult, but prayer does not necessarily need to be exceedingly deep to be deeply effective. I've learned not to fight my distractions but to lean into them, to embrace them. Sometimes I may stop my prayer and name the distraction: "Lord, I'm distracted by the people talking behind me as I'm trying to pray. Please help me get quiet inside myself." Or, "Lord, I can't get my workload out of my mind. Help me to be present to you." Surprisingly, those very distractions are often the means by which God leads me to a new understanding, an insight or an answer to a problem. God uses everything to get our attention. Don't assume that because you are distracted you are doing something wrong. That you are aware of your distractions is probably an indication that you are on the right track.
The idea of using one's distractions as Kelly mentions is a new one to me but I like it. What a no brainer ... I am praying so why not ask God then to help with the distractions? I can't believe I never tried that before.

Oh well, onward and upward, right?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Interior Castle: Update

I have been getting a great deal of centering and good from reading Interior Castle Teresa of Avila. Because it's about mystic prayer and by a Doctor of the Church I always thought it'd be very hard to understand. However, at least as far as the third mansion, it is not difficult at all but inspirational.

Surprisingly, instead of my usual breakneck pace through a book I find that I am enjoying proceeding slowly and deliberately, as if with a box of rich chocolates, so as to let the goodness soak in.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New Math

Hannah got the book New Math: Equations for Living as a gift for a friend, however we all got to check it out before she wrapped it. Now this is the sort of math that I understand!

"I was making rather merry yesterday, sir."

And we shall go on doing so today, extending the Christmas celebration with a day off of work. We had a wonderful time and I made out like a bandit (oh yeah, I definitely enjoy receiving gifts, materialist that I am!). More game playing, movie watching, and enjoyment of our family time together ... and I prescribe the same for y'all as we enjoy Boxing Day.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Pope Benedict Hits All the Hot Spots

No, not the bars and clubs.

However, just about every politically correct idea took it on the chin in his Christmas Greetings to Roman Curia.
"At this point," he added, "I cannot fail to mention my concern over 'de facto' couples. ... When new legislation is created that relativizes marriage, the rejection of the definitive bond gains, so to speak, juridical endorsement." Moreover, "relativizing the difference between the sexes ... tacitly confirms those bleak theories which seek to remove all relevance from a human being's masculinity or femininity, as if this were a purely biological matter."

"Herein is a contempt for corporeality whence it follows that man, in seeking to emancipate himself from his body (from the 'biological sphere'), ends up by destroying himself." Against those who say that "the Church should not involve herself in these matters, we can only respond: does man not concern us too?" The church and believers "must raise their voices to defend man, the creature who, in the inseparable unity of body and spirit, is the image of God."
He didn't stop there, of course, Celibacy, science, and culture wars were among his topics. Gee whiz, I love this pope!

Check it out at Catholic Analysis.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Books, Glorious Books

  • Enjoying the Dickens out of ... A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (a Librivox audio book). I think that such familiarity with numerous movie versions of A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist dulled me to an appreciation of Dicken's story telling abilities. I have snickered more than once over some of his sly, cutting lines delivered with apparent innocence. I guess there had to be some reason he kept people coming back to his serials in the papers.

  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, is a complete delight, especially if you like the Anansi stories as our family does. When read by Henry Lenny the story soars to new heights. He can do a lazy American drawl, old ladies' querulous Jamaican voices, and stuffy British office managers without a hitch. Check your library. That's where I found this treasure.

  • The Rock That Is Higher: Story as Truth by Madeleine L'Engle. I'm rereading this, partly prompted by Steven Riddle's reminder that concrete truth is so often found in fictional stories. I also haven't read this book in quite a long time and am enjoying L'Engle's writing and turn of phrase as well.

  • Advent through Christmas reading: Watch For The Light. My liking for this book continues. Every author can't hit me equally as well, naturally, but there is enough variety that it prompts thought quite a lot of the time.

  • Reading with Tom: Mark: A Devotional Commentary is the book we have settled on for reading right before bed. It has a nice mix of contextual information and devotional commentary ... which has passed muster as being thoughtful, noncondescending, and not too simple. Whew!
  • The Rosary: A Path into Prayer by Liz Kelly ... a nice, simple explanation of the rosary and ideas about how to meditate on the various mysteries. Interspersed with these are stories of people, both famous and ordinary, who have valued the rosary.

  • Cosmas, or the Love of God (Loyola Classics) by Pierre de Calan ... the only book written by de Calan who was a banker, this story is told by the vocations master at a monastery. His main concern is whether Cosmas' vocation is a true calling. Cosmas has a great deal of trouble reconciling real life and the ordinary human failings he sees at the monastery with his idealized visions of the perfect monastic life. This short book is quite interesting and, although I prefer In This House of Brede as a story of religious vocation, this book will appeal to people who would like something shorter and less involved.

  • Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran ... a delightful book about three Iranian sisters who open a restaurant in a small town in Ireland. The townspeople are initially wary but most fall under the spell of their food which has some magical properties ... perhaps similar to Like Water for Chocolate? I didn't like that book and so don't remember much of it. This book, however, I did like very much and recommend as an easy, charming read.

    I forgot to mention that there is a recipe between each chapter. Also, thanks to a kind comment from the author I found her website which has information about a sequel and her life story which is just interesting than that of the sisters in the book.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

When It Comes to Christmas, I'm All About Tradition

You Are a Traditional Christmas Tree

For a good Christmas, you don't have to re-invent the wheel.
You already have traditions, foods, and special things you bring out every year.

Via the Cranberry and Popcorn Strung Quoth the Maven.

What is This Holiday About? This Halloween?

We have quite a few Sudanese refugee families in neighborhoods near ours. I first became aware of them several years ago when a woman was taking several young men, all with distinctive tribal markings on their cheeks, through our grocery store. I was fascinated but had no idea where they had come from. Later I heard about the Lost Boys of the Sudan and realized that these must be some of the same.

A nearby parish, St. Patrick's, has an active ministry helping the people adjust to our culture. There are so many things that they don't have any frame of reference for. Hannah volunteered there one year and told me about a family who had gotten some Christmas wrapping paper. When a volunteer went to their apartment, it had been taken off the roll and taped to the wall. As a decoration.

The Central Market hires a lot of young Sudanese men. It gives me great pleasure to have watched them work their way up, from rounding up carts, to bagging groceries, to manning the registers. I enjoy chatting with them and the day before Halloween, when all the CM employees who cared to had dressed up, a very friendly young man asked me that question about Halloween when ringing up my groceries. It led to quite an interesting conversation during which I was able to ask him about a few of his adjustments to this country. He was quite cheerful about it but I think it must be like going to live on the moon in comparison to his country.

All of that is a lengthy introduction to why the trailer for God Grew Tired of Us garnered my immediate interest. I will definitely be going to see this one.

Our Times and Mother Teresa

Most saints are hometown heroes, local boys and girls made good -- very good. that's not at all to diminish them. Every saint reflects the glory of Christ. But most were made saints because they were able to translate the gospel into a way of live that spoke in a special way to their time and place.

Some saints -- a handful in the past two thousand or more years -- are sent to bear a message that transcends their moment and culture. They're raised up at critical junctures in history, when great gospel truths are in danger of being hijacked by heretics of plowed under by Christian indifference and forgetfulness.

... Catholics envision humanity -- with all its different cultures, races, and even religions -- as a single world family, a people loving one another and loving God. Mother Teresa showed us how far our world is from that. She showed us a world cleaved apart by blood and class, caste and creed, a world that fixed an impassable gulf between those who have too much and those who have nothing at all. She showed us a world in which people don't matter, especially the weak: the baby in th womb, the poor, the sick, the old. She showed us a world of people torn apart from within, not knowing who they are or what they should be about, not knowing what meaning there is to life, if any.

Mother Teresa became a household name in this world because God needed a witness, needed to send some sign that He is still on earth and that hope is growing like a seed beneath all the bleak contingencies of our days.
I liked this book even better than I liked Scott's The Catholic Passion and you may remember that I really liked that book quite a lot.

Somehow, Scott manages to make convey just what Mother Teresa's impact was on the whole world, while keeping the story personal. This is a perfect reflection of Mother Teresa's ministry and how God used her as the perfect saint for her time. Before Revolution of Love I never really thought about how many ways that Mother Teresa reflected just what God wanted us to learn ... or remember ... in our modern and often lonely world. She showed us that we should bloom where we are planted because that is where God wants us to make a difference, that the smallest act of kindness casts ripples beyond our own imagining, and so much more.

Scott has given us a gem of a book, short and simple, such as Mother Teresa undoubtedly would have approved. His insights took me beyond the usual platitudes and made me really consider Mother Teresa, our life and times, and my place in it.

I also really appreciated the way that he didn't ignore the controversies raised by various naysayers about Mother Teresa. He points out that many of those outspoken critics really couldn't understand her because they didn't have the right point of view to begin with ... which would be focusing all through the lens of faith.

Along the way, I also learned some extremely practical lessons, such as this one on how to be ecumenical while still proclaiming Jesus. I can't recommend this book too highly. If you haven't yet come across it, do seek it out.
Mother Teresa had too much respect for the truth of her own conscience to ever fall into this trap of denying her Lord or the mission of His Church. "I love all religions but I am in love with my own," she would say. "Naturally I would like to give the treasure I have to you, but I cannot. I can only pray for you to receive it.

She earned the trust and friendship of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists. Many called her "Mother" and came to her for prayers and advice. But everyone knew that her heart belonged to Jesus and that she hoped that their hearts would one day belong to Him too. In this, she was a kind of missionary to missionaries, showing them new possibilities for preaching the gospel in an age of radical religious pluralism...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Speak to me, Lord, and help me to listen.

I must have repeated this a hundred times. I close my eyes, I open them to try to focus on the Lord by looking at Him, I close them again. Spontaneously, I pray: Have mercy on me, Lord. Instantly I can feel His presence, and I know that was the right thing to ask Him. I know all that’s between us is what I’ve put there.
Brad takes us into Adoration with him. His depiction is the truest to my own sort of experience coupled with insights I really appreciate him opening up and sharing. "I know all that’s between us is what I’ve put there." No matter what separates us, isn't that the honest to goodness truth? Do go read. It is a lovely echo of a holy time.

Just having returned from Confession I saw in his prayer "Speak to me, Lord, and help me to listen" an echo of my prayer for the Holy Spirit to speak through my confessor ... and to give me the wit to recognize it. You know that He did. Just when I thought I was telling what I was doing to work out of my problem, the priest said, "You know what the next step is ..." And danged if he wasn't right.

(And may God bless our priest for arranging to have three priests available in the confessionals for 1 or 2 hours each day all week).

He Sees Dead People: Odd Thomas

From the second row, Brother Quentin put a hand on my shoulder, returning to his main issue with the persistence of a cop skilled at interrogation. "All I'm saying, Odd, is we need to know the name of our enemy. We don't exactly have a crew of trained warriors here. When push comes to shove, if they don't know who they're supposed to be defending against, they'll get so jittery, they'll start swinging baseball bats at one another."

Brother Augustine gently admonished, "Do not underestimate us, Brother Quentin."

"Maybe the abbot will bless the baseball bats," said Brother Kevin from the third row.

Brother Rupert said, "I doubt the abbot would think it proper to bless a baseball bat to ensure a game-winning home run, let alone to make it a more effective weapon for braining someone."

"I certainly hope," said Brother Kevin, "we don't have to brain anyone. The thought sickens me."

"Swing low," Brother Knuckles advised, "and take 'em out at the knees.Some guy with his knees all busted ain't an immediate threat, but the damage ain't permanent, neither. He's gonna heal back to normal. Mostly."

"We have a profound moral dilemma here," Brother Kevin said. "We must, of course, protect the children, but busting knees is not by any stretch of theology a Christian response."

"Christ," Brother Augustine reminded him, "physically threw the money changers out of the temple."

"Indeed, but I've seen nowhere in the Scripture where our Lord busted their knees in the process."
Brother Odd by Dean Koontz
I don't usually like Dean Koontz's books. They are a style of horror writing that is fairly gruesome. However, the Odd Thomas books are different.
"My name is Odd Thomas. I live an unusual life.
Those two sentences came to Koontz complete and with an image of Odd Thomas himself. A disciplined writer, Koontz put these ideas aside until he finished the book he was writing at the time. I heard him talking about this on his podcast and was intrigued. I was intrigued even further when Koontz said that his fan mail for Odd Thomas far and away outstrips any other that he receives. He attributes it to the fact that Odd Thomas is completely humble. That interesting tidbit and remembering that Lofted Nest had commented on the increasingly Catholic nature of Koontz's writing, made me pick up Odd Thomas.

I discovered that one definitely could find those Catholic traces in the Odd Thomas books.
Civilization -- says my friend Ozzie Boone -- exists only because the world has barely enough of two kinds of people: those who are able to build with a trowel in one hand, a sword in the other; and those who believe that in the beginning was the Word, and will risk death to preserve all books for the truths they might contain.
Brother Odd by Dean Koontz
Odd Thomas is indeed completely humble and he also is striving as hard as possible to do the task assigned him in life. That task? He sees ghosts and helps convince them to move on to the next step. Odd isn't sure what awaits ghosts beyond this world but his girlfriend, Stormy, has a vision of an army of souls on some great mission in the next world. She calls this life "boot camp" and tells him that it is intended to toughed us up to serve in that army.

The ghosts aren't the main problem, however, although they do help him bring wrongdoers to justice, with the help of the town sheriff who is privy to Odd's secret. Odd also sees menacing shadows which he calls bodachs. The shadows themselves do no harm but they only show up around people who are going to be the victims of an extremely gruesome death. As the bodachs show up ahead of time this gives Odd an opportunity to try to figure out what tragedy is unfolding and to stop it. Along the way we also meet other inhabitant's of Odd's little town as well as his practically constant companion, Elvis, who is afraid to move on to the next world but likes keeping Odd company.

The second book, Forever Odd, perhaps should have been called MacGyver Odd. Odd tracks down a strange group of villains who are obsessed with the supernatural and have kidnapped a friend of his in order to make Odd show them ghosts. Although Odd can see ghosts he can't make them manifest to others so this is something of a problem. Practically the entire book takes place in an isolated, burned out casino and Odd spends the entire book figuring out ways to outwit them and rescue his friend. This was distinctly different from the first book but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Brother Odd is even more different as it is set in a Catholic monastery. Given the setting there is much more scope for bringing in elements of theology, not that one would say theology is Koontz's goal. However, it is obvious that Odd Thomas is on an increasingly spiritual journey and retreating from the world to give himself time to think would seem to be the next step.

It is too bad for Odd that murder, bodachs gathering around the children at the attached school, and a mysterious Russian librarian give him little time to meditate. The dialogue in this book can be really enjoyable, especially the sparring matches that Odd and the librarian have when Odd is trying to discover his true identity. Brother Odd is my favorite of the three books, especially when you consider the touches like this one that are scattered throughout.
"You're a very brave young man, Jacob Calvino."

"She said ... she said don't be scared, we wasn't born to be all the time scared, we was born happy, babies laugh at everything, we was born happy and to make a better world."

"I wish I'd known your mother."

"She said everyone ... everyone, if he's rich or he's poor, if he's somebody big or nobody at all -- everyone has a grace." A look of peace came over his embattled face when he said the word grace. "You know what a grace is?"


"A grace is a thing you get from God, you use it to make a better world, or not use it, you have to choose."

"Like your art," I said. "Like your beautiful drawings."

He said, "Like your pancakes."

"Ah, you know I made those pancakes, huh?"

"Those pancakes, that's a grace."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Found at The Doctor is In where you can read a very funny rant about life's little insanities ... his comments about "fun size" made me laugh out loud.

This Weekend Will Be Busy...

For the first time in I don't know how long I haven't done any baking yet and very few gifts have been bought with no ideas for most of the ones I do need to buy. However, the good news is that it isn't freaking me out. (Or maybe that's the bad news...)

Anyway, we will put the tree up today, having waited until Hannah got home. And I'm going to launch in to baking and buying, wrapping and sending. Hopefully all while retaining my lack of panic.

Of course, now that I know God is against gift wrapping that makes my tasks even easier!

We Watched Equilibrium Again Last Night

Still better than The Matrix and the gun fighting scene with Father at the end is still one of the coolest scenes ever.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

If anyone sent me an email yesterday evening ...

... and I haven't answered you might need to send your message again. We switched servers and a lot of yesterday's emails were lost. I think I caught them all but you can never tell.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Puttin' On the Ritz Will Never Be the Same ...

Peter Boyle died today and our family will miss him. We loved watching him in family favorites such as in Everybody Loves Raymond or Young Frankenstein, both of which were showcases for his comic acting. No one could communicate better than he did as the speechless monster he portrayed in Young Frankenstein ... which we may have to watch again soon in memoriam.

You can read more about Boyle's life and career at Pop DVD.

Loneliness ...

I just can't get enough of these posters ...

Chew and Swallow Very Carefully!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Around the House

  • Hannah has found her sport ... rock climbing. She took a class in it for her PE credit this semester and went on to buy extra sessions at the MSC (Student Union) climbing wall. She and her instructor and a varying group of enthusiasts just keep climbing and climbing. She always looked fit and trim but now she's buff ... poking her arm is like poking a board.

  • Rose passed her second Kung Fu test and now has a purple badge on her belt. In conversation about the class I found out that one of her instructors evidently is nationally famous. People come from all over to special sessions he holds a few times a year. What impression does this make on Rose? Not much. He is her "Sigun" (sp?) which means her master's master. Her master (instructor) is her "Sifu" (sp?). Each teaches one session a week and Sigun holds them to a much tougher standard than Sifu ... which is to be expected I'm sure.

  • Rose also got her driver's license last Friday. I now invoke the intercession of the angels and saints every morning when she leaves to drive the carpool to school. I'm only partially nervous about her driving. I'm much more nervous about everyone else out there...

  • Tom and I are now reading a devotional together right before bed. The only problem is finding something that he likes. His plain common sense pokes a hole in the selections we've tried so far. It's kind of like reading with Goldilocks ... this one's too preachy, this one's too simplistic, that one's too touchy-feelie. And he's always right. We may wind up reading a book together, something simple that can be read a few pages at a time ... maybe The Screwtape Letters. We'll see.

  • Rose had an English paper about honor and justice for which she had to watch a variety of Westerns. She watched High Noon, The Magnificent Seven, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Rio Bravo. Rio Bravo was an unexpected delight and has become one of her favorite movies. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence on the other hand ... what a disappointment it was to Tom and me who always have had it held up as an example of Western elegance. Not only was the heavy handed script a complete disappointment but it showed up Jimmy Stewart's acting style in a way that I may never be able to forgive. Oy veh, how we all hated that movie.

  • We were going to put up the tree last weekend and then Rose reminded me on Friday that Hannah probably would want to be there too. I can't believe I didn't think of that but I'm certainly grateful that she did! The funniest part was that when Tom came home that evening, he said, "We can't put up the tree without Hannah here!" I said, "Oh, I know! She'd be so disappointed." He looked at me with a funny look on his face and said, "I didn't think of that. But I sure don't want to do all that with only three people!" Oh how different we can be!

Monday, December 11, 2006

For That Hard-to-Buy-For Person

How about this adorable little Streptococcus pyogenes (flesh eating virus microbe) complete with its own knife and fork?

Check out all these adorable microbes ... seriously, these have made very popular gifts for Rose's and Hannah's friends. A lot of it has to do with how cleverly these stuffed animals have the shape of the real virus as well as the humorous tie-in. I especially like the markings on the Mad Cow Disease microbe.

"Christian" Art and Christian Artists

Hank Hill to Christian rocker: "Can't you see that you're not making Christianity better? You're just making rock and roll worse."
That is one of Tom's favorite quotes. It's funny because it's true.

I know I'm opening a can of worms with this one but there is a discussion going on in the comments about supporting movies because they are "Christian." Seriously though, what is it about doing something as a "Christian" effort that makes it ok to slack off and accept mediocrity because it is a good faith effort? No one else gets that pass and as Christians I thought that we were supposed to do and offer the best of the best in our work.

I agree with Scott Nehring that what we need are more Christian artists and less "Christian" art. The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia would never have reached so many people if they had been pushed as "Christian" stories. I, for one, would never have touched them with a ten foot pole in the days before I became Christian. As it was, someone let slip to me the Jesus-Aslan connection when I was in the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I kept reading but I couldn't get past that connection. As someone who was tolerant but not fond of Christians, I was completely unable to look at the work with an unprejudiced eye. Therefore, I hated it as being so obvious. Is it obvious? Maybe yes. Maybe no. All I know is that I will never know because I was tipped off that it was "Christian" from the beginning. And I resent that opportunity being taken from me.

The public's general perception is that if something is called "Christian" it is substandard work. Sadly, all too often they are correct. In that case you are only preaching to the choir who go to support Christian movies. There is nothing wrong with that I suppose but why not preach to the entire world as we are called to do? For that, one must remove the dreaded "Christian" label and go forth as a talented artist with a good story to tell. If it is Christian at the foundation that will come out without having to slap a label all over it.

I probably wouldn't have turned this into a post except that I just came across Jeffrey Overstreet's take on the subject.
Since the Contemporary Christian Music has done so much to sidetrack Christian musicians so their music doesn't accidentally end up in arenas where the world might hear it... why not create Contemporary Christian Cinema? That way, faith-related films can play to those who already agree with their messages, and to those who don't want to bother with the challenges of mainstream movies. Meanwhile, mainstream audiences can put even more distance between themselves and films that openly wrestle with issues of faith. They'll spot the "faith" label, feel a shiver run down their spine, and move on to something else.

Walls and boundaries. That's what we want. Neat and easy labels and categories. All the better for judging other people, for staying where we are, for complimenting ourselves on our choices.

No matter what the industry does to try and fence in me and my Christian faith, it won't work. I won't preoccupy myself with "Christian moviemaking" any more than I'll spend time shopping for "Christian groceries." I'll keep exploring questions in the open sea of artmaking, fully convinced that God is revealing himself in the art of all kinds of people. After all, they're all made in his image, and they're all using his materials, so how can they possibly hope to stifle the truth? I'll keep finding God as he peers out through the beauty and the truth that resonate in the works of even the most defiantly irreligious.

If I see a "faith" label on a film, it'll automatically make me suspicious that the work is preachy and mediocre. And more than likely it's obvious enough and simplistic enough to qualify as entertainment for a six-year-old. If I sound a little too judgmental here, well, what do you expect when decades of preachy, mediocre, connect-the-dots "Christian art" have shaped my opinions?

My advice to Christians who make movies? Make them complex enough, powerful enough, beautiful enough, and subtle enough that they can never be dismissed as movies for that "faith-based" audience and ignored by people who want something challenging.
Jeffrey Overstreet commenting on the Weinsteins beginning a faith-based movie line
To me, this connects in a beautiful way with a brilliant post that Melanie Bettanelli wrote about Santa Claus. This is a lengthy excerpt but it is not all and you do yourself a disservice if you don't go read it all. As I said ... brilliant.
One day this [violently anti-Christian] friend said to my sister that if Christ is like Aslan, then perhaps that is the kind of Christ she could wish were real. Well, I was raised on Narnia and I strongly suspect that my image of Christ has strong doses of Aslan in him. Because I think Aslan is a very good icon of Christ indeed.

And to me that's one of the wonders of fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia, that its beautiful art which can evangelize the culture. Sew seeds in hearts that are not yet ready to hear the gospel message, that are firmly closed to any mention of Christ. And slowly they warm, thaw: If Christ is like Aslan, then maybe Christ isn't so bad after all. Maybe he's a God I could believe in.

Many Christians hailed The Lord of the Rings for that same reason. There is no mention of Christ or God, no one in the book seems to have any faith at all. And yet every word, every action proclaims the gospel message. For it is a story about a small man, a hobbit, a weak, inconsequential nobody who willingly bears a great burden expecting no benefit for himself, indeed expecting destruction at every step. It's about what it means to be a follower of Christ, to pick up one's cross every day and lay down your life for your friends and for those you don't even know.

To me the Santa story is the same thing. In its modern, secular rendition there might be no mention of Christ, in fact it might seem to lead one into a fantasy realm where there is no room for Christ. And yet He is there. It's the story of a man who somehow, miraculously gives abundantly, perhaps even prodigally, to everyone regardless of who they are or their state in life and expecting no return for himself. It's about the miraculous ability to be everywhere at once, impossibly in one night.

To me Santa is the image of the prodigal love of Jesus, pouring himself out for everyone expecting no return for himself. It reflects the miracle of the Eucharist, (just think of Christ on a thousand altars all over the world in one night on Christmas Eve).
Think of how subtly God gets our attention so much of the time. Through nature or "coincidences" or things we read or something a friend says. He doesn't show up in a vision of glory every time we need to get a message. The glorious sunset that bespeaks His creation to me may be touching someone else's heart with a specific message that He has prepared. For a third person it may simply be beautiful but may be softening them up for further communications in an unknown way. And it is sent to all, without any special genres or labels on it. We could do much worse than to model ourselves on that method.

See all of the photos in this Flickr series

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Finding Truth in the Oddest Places

"There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example," said Oats.

"And what do they think? Against it, are they?" said Granny Weatherwax.

"It's not as simple as that. It's not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray."



"There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is.

"It's a lot more complicated than that --"

"No. It ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts."

"Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes --"

"But they starts with thinking about people as things ..."
Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett
There is a lot of good, solid common sense in the Discworld universe, as Terry Pratchett fans can attest. Of course, one must sort through a lot of silliness to get there. The silliness that happens around his witches, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax is my favorite sort.

Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred used the above excerpt as a jumping off place to discuss the nature of sin, faith and struggle. There is not a bit of silliness in it. There is, however, plenty of good, solid common sense. Here's a bit but do go read the whole thing.
The religious community must remember that Free Will is just that- free will. We have a choice in how we live our lives- and that is between man and God. Non believers can be as moral or even moral than a flawed believer- and we would do well to remember we are all flawed.

The secular community must remember that they do not replace the religious community. Scientific education and the secular study of ethics and morality do not make for an intellectual aristocracy, to be held in higher esteem than all others. One cannot negate the impact for good the religious community has had upon this nation and world. The value of that good is not demeaned by a relationship with God.

Catholic Science Fiction

I wanted to bring Alicia's link to a list of science fiction by Catholics or with Catholic themes out of the comments box and into our consciousness.

Because I needed more books to read ... but these sound irresistible!

Dante to Dead Man Walking: My Final Reading List

Dante to Dead Man Walking: One Reader's Journey Through the Christian Classics
by Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.

I am definitely looking at a lifetime of good reading here ... many year's worth at the very least. What could be better?

Below the list of books suggested by the author with numerous revisions. Books with red titles are not gonna be read by this reader. I am putting what I am substituting instead.

Thanks so much to everyone who took the time and trouble to comment or email me. The only thing as good as reading books is talking about them and this has been one big gabfest! I also got many good books to add in general to my reading list and that is always appreciated as well.

By the way, considering how many books we are discussing, this site may be of interest:
... the book price comparison site: . Recently we released a new redesigned site and we thought it might be interesting to you. is a free service of finding the best price on books among the major online stores. Our real time price comparison can help you save as much as 60% from the retail price. At BooksPrice you can look for the cheapest price on new & used books, and also compare the price on a purchase of several books together.
I'll be updating the list with reviews and links as I work my way through the books. The link will be in the sidebar with what I'm reading currently.
  1. The Book of Genesis: I did a Bible study of this that was a real eye opener. I never knew there was so much depth to Genesis. What a great book!

  2. The Book of Job: *sigh* ok but I am dreading it. The sadness, the complaining, the moaning ... I'm only going through with reading this one because it's in the Bible. Otherwise, it would be off this list so fast!

  3. The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel by Robert Alter: ok, why not?

  4. The Gospel of Luke: studied this several times.

  5. The Gospel of John: studied this several times.

  6. The Confession by St. Augustine: I have taken three runs at this and always gotten bogged down by the self-pitying chapters about being beaten by tutors and other various problems of growing up. However, I see that Librivox has this coming out soon. That might be the help I need to push me over that hump.

  7. Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri: I read the John Ciardi translation. Hell and Purgatory gave me much food for thought but I found Heaven deadly dull. Steven Riddle comments likewise.

  8. Butler's Lives of the Saints by Michael Walsh: I planned on reading this and then realized that my relative lack of enthusiasm is because I have read four or five good books about lots of saints already, some of them quite large and comprehensive (though I know this is the most comprehensive). However, I am more interested at this point in holiness demonstrated through people I haven't heard about a dozen times already ... so I am going to substitute African Saints: Saints, Martyrs, and Holy People From the Continent of Africa by Frederick Quinn. And, wonder of wonders, our library actually has this book!
    UPDATE: after picking up African saints and looking through it, I sent it back to the library. The author, an Episcopal priest, had chosen the people that he felt should be saints. Which is all fine in its own way but when it came to seeing St. Augustine, his unknown consort, and their son all as saints together, I drew the line. I have read quite a few good saint books and don't really need to read more as I'll continue picking them up as I come across them. Therefore, I declare this section closed!

  9. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis: several versions of this are available on mp3, one is at Maria Lectrix. No problemo.

  10. The Idea of a University by Ven. John Henry Newman ... at the risk of sounding like Homer Simpson, "Booooring!" Instead I am reading Apologia pro Vita Sua (Penguin Classics)">Apologia as many people suggested. JM commented, "Newman is never a breezy read, but he can be very rewarding. If you are going to read only one thing, read the Apologia. He wrote it to defend himself (specifically) and the Catholic Church (generally) against the charge of having little regard for the truth, and in doing so, revealed the how and the why he converted. Amazingly, it worked."

  11. Walden by Henry David Thoreau: *sigh* ok, but I'm not looking forward to it. I think that someone advised reading it without looking into any introductions or notes so that I get the basic Thoreau unfiltered ... that is an excellent idea which I will follow for more than this particular book.

  12. The Second Inaugural Address by Abraham Lincoln: Lincoln's my hero; can't wait!

  13. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: a classic I've been meaning to read for a long time; can't wait!

  14. The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux: it didn't grab me but, again, everyone can't love every single saint

  15. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams: can't wait!

  16. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton: another one that I've tried to read several times. Chesterton is just too smart for me. It was suggested that Chesterton's fiction might be an easier way to go but I really can't stand the Father Brown books (for one thing if I can figure out a mystery practically as soon as it begins then it never was much of a mystery in the first place) and I've never been interested in any of his other fiction. However, I just remembered that Everlasting Man was suggested as a substitute and I've always been interested in reading that so I'm going to go that route. If I can get through Everlasting Man then I'll take another shot at Orthodoxy ... perhaps I'll be used to Chesterton's style and able to progress further then.

  17. Dubliners by James Joyce: I don't like the whole idea of reading James Joyce but ... what the heck. Ok James, surprise me!

  18. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: never heard of it before now so why not. Cautions have been given that some translations are much better than others so if one seems awkward to read, stop and get another.

  19. Therese by Francois Mauriac: Based on Steven Riddle's comments, I will go with Tangle of Vipers by the same author instead of Therese.

  20. Death Comes for the Archbishop: this book has been recommended to me many times by people I trust; can't wait!

  21. Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly: my review is here

  22. Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography by Albert Schweitzer: can't wait!

  23. The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos: can't wait!

  24. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene: an alcoholic priest in Mexico; gee there's so much to love about this story. No wonder I've avoided it like the plague all these years. Look's like it's time to pay the piper; I'll give it a shot

  25. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West: never heard of it before now so why not.

  26. Brideshead Revisisted by Evelyn Waugh: aaargh! I'll finally be forced to read this book. All I can say is I hope it isn't another Helena (which I detested and yes I know it's a classic, etc.).

  27. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alex Paton: never heard of it before now; sounds interesting so ok

  28. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton: Tried twice, hated it. Yes, you heard me. Hated it. Based on Steven Riddle's comments I am going to substitute Waters of Siloe which I've never heard of ... which in itself adds a certain amount of interest.

  29. Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: I had no strong feelings one way or the other but JM's thoughtful comments changed my mind to a different work by Bonhoeffer. "In my opinion, what B. wrote that the world and modern Christians most need to hear is in The Cost of Discipleship. In it he takes apart “cheap grace” and sent me, for one, looking for the real thing."

    On the other hand, Steven Riddle warns: ... while the message is valuable, you'll have to insulate yourself against a large amount of anti-clericalism and anti-Catholic diatribe that permeates the beginning of the book. I never made it through that...

  30. The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day: can't wait!

  31. The Family of Man by Edward Steichen: photographs, interesting idea. Why not?

  32. Divine Milieu by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.: originally I was looking forward to this but continuous negative commentary coupled with a few things that came up in scripture study from obvious Chardin supporters made me change my mind. There is no connection at all but I am going to substitute Rumer Godden's Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy. Godden is every bit as difficult to read as Flannery O'Connor in that she looked unflinchingly at the unpleasant truth of human actions. However, her style is so much more attractive to me at the same time that I can take it more easily from Godden. This is one of hers that I haven't read yet.

  33. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.: a sci-fi classic that I can't remember if I've ever read ... can't wait! UPDATE: I am very disappointed in myself but I just could not get into that book for love or money. I left it unfinished. UPDATED AGAIN: I now find out that there was a long-ish short story by Miller and that the book was finished off by someone else. Aha! The story ended just where I wanted it to ... with the little monk presenting the drawings and then planning to go back to where the bandits were. A much more Christian take than what I read in the novel.

  34. Morte D'Urban by J. F. Powers: never heard of it before now so why not.

  35. The Other America by Michael Harrington: the poor in America ... I've only read about this issue until I'm practically blind. I don't think so. Again, with no particular connection in this substitution, it was suggested that I read The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom. Reading the summary it looks as if the "true" part of the story is not actually true but it sounds as if the story itself is still quite worth reading.

  36. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis: LOVE C.S. Lewis; can't wait!

  37. The Historic Reality of Christian Culture: A Way to the Renewal of Human Life by Christopher Dawson: no strong feelings one way or the other so why not.

  38. The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor: sure, why not.

  39. Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.: I originally wasn't going to read this but the comments were so overwhelmingly positive that I am putting it back on the list. I'm trusting y'all on this one!

  40. Everything That Rises Must Converge, "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor: dreading it, afraid of O'Connor, but also looking forward to what I might learn ... in a weird way.

  41. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley: I'm kind of interested in Malcolm X after listening to Rose talk about him when studying him in American history. Also I really enjoyed reading Roots by Haley so I'm looking forward to a well told story.

  42. Silence by Shusaku Endo*****--: no way. If only Schroth hadn't said it was the most depressing book he'd ever read. I don't think so. I'm open to suggestions for substitutions, preferably fiction. This is how much I trust Steven Riddle. I will give it a shot based on his comments and strong recommendation. UPDATE-MY REVIEW: Christianity in a nutshell. An amazing book that provides so much food for thought. The tale of a 17th century Jesuit priest as he is smuggled into Japan to serve the Christians under persecution, is discovered, and undergoes the ultimate test of faith. Endo, writing for the Japanese, is examining the questions of how Christianity must adapt to be truly meaningful to the Japanese and also the question of what Christian faith truly consists of. He leaves these questions open enough that there was a considerable amount of debate at our book club and almost everyone had a insight that was fascinating. The author's considerable talent holds us far enough away from the details of persecution to allow this to become an intellectual consideration while still being a personal experience. An extraordinary book that I am glad I read.

  43. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation by Gustavo Gutierrez: just as I am profoundly disinterested in movements like Opus Dei because I ... well, I just don't care ... I feel the same way about liberation theology. Erik suggested the Don Camilio books by Giovanni Guareschi. I never heard of him but found that these are children's books ... which luckily our library has in English translations. I figure that several of them will equal or exceed the amount I actually would have read of anything about liberation theology.

  44. The Fate of the Earth by Jonathan Schell: right, because I've never read anything about how we might blow up the earth before now. I don't think so. March Hare says, "Instead of "The Fate of the Earth" try "Earth Abides" by George R. Stewart. It's a novel and a classic (IMHO). I think his scenario of how civilization will end is much more plausible than anything I've read lately--and Stewart wrote this book in the 1940's, I believe!" And so I will.

  45. The Love of Jesus and the Love of Neighbor by Karl Rahner, S.J.: I don't like a single thing that I'm hearing beginning with accessibility and going on from there. Therefore, I will take a suggestion from the strongest anti-Rahner voice in the crowd ... which would be Georgette ... and reading The Hidden Power of Kindness -- by Father Lawrence Lovasik. She says, "This is the clearest and most practical and simply-written spirituality for lay folks ever written! If you have trouble with the spiritual classics written BY nuns and monks in cloister, FOR nuns and monks in cloister (mostly), like The Seven Story Mountain, by Merton (he got weird towards the end of his life but this book is excellent, though hard for most lay folks to engage), or The Dark Night of the Soul, by St John of the Cross (also WONDERFUL but obscure), or St Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle (which I am sorta getting into now, but still very sublime)----then The Hidden Power of Kindness is definitely for you. I think it should be required reading for all Catholics! It is basically the Gospel put into practical step by step 'how to' terms! Brilliant!

  46. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza: Oh, hell no! (stolen from Tom at Disputations) Per Erik's suggestion, I'll be reading Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone.

  47. Black Robe by Brian Moore: if Schroth wanted me to read this he shouldn't have mentioned the extensive mutilation and torture spread throughout the book. No thanks. I'll go with Steven Riddle's suggestion of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Moore instead.

  48. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States by Helen Prejean: I was ready to read this until comments by Erik and Tom of Disputation's comment rang true here for me ... I already am not on board with the death penalty. Also I've been getting these quite detailed emails about how that book is all wrong anyway ... either way I am off it. I was thinking about Walker Percy but a lot of confusion in that area leaves me bookless again. I am going to veer in a completely new direction ... let's see how this flies. Belief in God in an Age of Science by John Polkinghorne.

  49. The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd: Peter Ackroyd's a great author; can't wait!

  50. All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time by Robert Ellsberg: one of the first books I bought after becoming Catholic. It took me a while to notice that the saints Ellsberg includes aren't all canonized or even Christian but it's a good book anyway.
Schroth's Extras:
  1. The First Jesuits by John W. O'Malley, S.J. ... this one's been on my "to read" list for a while

  2. History of Christianity by Paul Johnson ... this one's been on my bookshelf for a year; this is just the thing I need to make me pick it up and read it.
In the Wings:

These are suggestions that I want to hang onto in case I just can't make progress on one of the above books ... ready made substitutes in an easy to find place! Some ideas found their way onto my regular "to read" list before I decided to keep extras here ... rest assured none have been lost.
  1. Dietrich von Hildebrand-- Georgette says: "He is a genius theologian and very reliably orthodox. His wife, Alice von Hildebrand, is also a genius in her own right. I have read many articles and excerpts from their works, but not any one book in particular in its entirety--yet. It takes concentration to read them (as with any philosophical or theological work--for me at least!), but worth the pay off. "

    Jeff Miller recommends, " 'Transformation in Christ' I can't heap as much praise on this book as I would want. I think it will be one day fully recognized as a spiritual classic. His wife wrote an biography of him that is truly fascinating called Soul of a Lion. His conversion is detailed in there since he is a convert who grew up in a family of agnostic artists. Pretty much all of his brothers and sisters ended up converting to the Catholic Church. His time where he was working against Hitler is also quite interesting and he was even listed by Hitler as one of his greatest enemies. The story of his narrow escape from the Nazi's is also pretty exciting.

  2. Abandonment to Divine Providence by Father Pierre de Caussade: Georgette says ... "is another spiritual classic which is sublime but VERY simplistic in its approach-- it is a wonderful spirituality. This one is a bit more mature spiritual nourishment, but when you are ready for it, it is outstanding. This book, I should add, contains the basis for the spirituality of the newest doctor of the Church, St Therese of Lisieux (aka "The Little Flower")."

  3. Erik suggests the Book of the New Sun which, rather confusingly, seems to be found in two pieces, each consisting of two books: Shadow & Claw: The First Half of 'The Book of the New Sun', Sword & Citadel: The Second Half of 'The Book of the New Sun'.

  4. War and Peace by Tolstoy

  5. Alicia suggests: "I would actually recommend Madeleine L'Engle's paraphrasing and fictionalization of parts of Genesis -
    • And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings, 1983
    • A Stone for a Pillow: Journeys with Jacob, 1986
    • Sold Into Egypt: Joseph’s Journey into Human Being, 1989"
    I can't believe I forgot Madeleine L'Engle ... not Catholic but some very fine Christian writing coming from her in both fiction and nonfiction.

  6. Steven Riddle recommends: Zaccheus Press has produced a very nice volume, Our Lady and the Church by Hugo Rahner. Tom, at Disputations, posted a review some time ago. I have read the book and didn't get as much out of it as he did, but I have to confess lingering protestant problems with Our Lady. However, seems appropriate to suggest it as your choice on this feast day.

    Jeff adds: "I would second Our Lady and the Church by Hugo Rahner. I really enjoyed it. I haven't read any of his brother Karl's books since I heard some parts of them were problematic. Though some good orthodox Catholics recommend some of what he writes."

  7. Julie at Adoro te Devote says, "Alice von her "The Privilege of being a Woman". Fascinating, not very long...and you will literally ABSORB it."

  8. Rick Lugari: I know we've talked about Dr. Warren Carroll's History of Christendom series before. It's an excellent and I would count it as mandatory reading for any Catholic

  9. My own recommendations for others would include:
    • Uncle Tom's Cabin
    • Who Moved the Stone
    • In This House of Brede: one of the most perfectly written books ever. I always was fascinated by Catholic characters and this shows them probably the best of any I've ever seen. The very real and imperfect people (Dame Veronica anyone?) in this religious community come up against struggles even in their cloistered environment ... which is set against a wonderful overall story.
    • Catholic Christianity which is the book that made me into a fully devout Catholic. Despite its size I was so fascinated when I began reading that I finished it in four days. Kreeft explained all the logic behind controversial Church teachings so well that I understood all I needed to in order to support the Magisterium.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Waterfall Rib Socks

Knitted from the Six Stitch Sock in Sensational Knitted Socks using Bunny Hop yarn. Yep, I finished 'em. I loved knitting with that yarn but between it and the ribbing they did tend to be rather bulky for everyday wear. However, they have been just perfect to keep my cold feet warm at night. And I'm sure Tom appreciates having that lacy goodness for his view alone ... right?

With a view to less bulkiness in mind, I have begun a pair of socks from Nancy Bush's Knitting Vintage Socks for Tom using Knit Picks' cocoa Gloss on size 0 needles that feel as if a strong wind would break them in two. And, yet, I'm enjoying it. Such is the power of an addiction.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Yet Another "Dante to Dead Man Walking" List

Melanie Bettinelli has her own reading list with comments. I am finishing up my list and now just have to find the time to post it.

Advent is Here and Christmas is Coming

Something for Advent:
All about the Advent Wreath courtesy of Georgette.

Something for Christmas:
Remember that great Christmas lights video? It's baaaaaack!

Snopes has the scoop on this which is very interesting.

The Same Old Thing

As always, keep in mind that this was written during World War II as a series of letters being written by a senior demon advising his nephew on how best to gain souls. Therefore the perspective is topsy-turvy. For example, "The Enemy" is God and "Our Father" is the devil.
The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart -- an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, as an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.

Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. Children, until we have taught them better, will be perfectly happy with a seasonal round of games in which conkers succeed hopscotch as regularly as autumn follows summer. Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for the infinite, or unrhythmical, change is kept up.

This demand is valuable in various ways. In the first place it diminishes pleasure while increasing desire. The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject than any other to the law of diminishing returns. And continued novelty costs money, so that the desire for it spells avarice or unhappiness or both. And again, the more rapacious this desire, the sooner it must eat up all the innocent sources of pleasure and pass on to those the Enemy forbids ...
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
I love the balance of change with permanence ... it just makes so much sense. Now the challenge is to keep the desire for change from outweighing that sensible balance.

Monday, December 4, 2006

St. Justina? Never Heard of Her.

Although that doesn't really matter because obviously she has heard of me and has chosen to be my Patron Saint of 2007. I have to say that I think this is the first time I've been tagged by a martyr.
Date unknown. During an invasion of the Huns, Saint Aureus, bishop of Mainz, Germany, was driven from his see and was followed by his sister, Justina, as well as others. On their return, while the bishop was celebrating Mass, he and the others were murdered in the church (Benedictines). Saint Aureus is pictured as a bishop murdered by the Huns at the altar, while celebrating Mass. Sometimes he is shown with his sister Justina murdered beside him (Roeder).

Your Christmas is Most Like ...

Your Christmas is Most Like: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Each year, you really get into the spirit of Christmas.

Which is much more important to you than nifty presents.

Via Quoth the Maven.

Treating Christianity as a Means

As always, keep in mind that this was written during World War II as a series of letters being written by a senior demon advising his nephew on how best to gain souls. Therefore the perspective is topsy-turvy. For example, "The Enemy" is God and "Our Father" is the devil.
... About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything -- even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist's shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that "only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilizations." You see the little rift? "Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason." That's the game.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
I wish it wasn't so easy to look around and see real-to-life examples to plug into the above excerpt.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

An Advent-Eve Story

From Brandywine Books comes this true story ... just a little something to remind us of why we are standing at that window, waiting for the light.
When Marvin was a young teenager (around the 1930s or early ‘40s, I imagine), he asked his father if he could go with the other kids to some entertainment event (he didn’t say what kind). His father said it wouldn’t be appropriate and told him no. Marvin said he was going anyway, and headed out.

“If you go out without my approval,” his father told him as he reached the door, “this house will be locked when you get home, and you’ll have to sleep somewhere else.”

Marvin refused to back down. He left. He enjoyed the event.

That, he said, was the short part of the night.

When he got home he found the house dark, the doors locked. Even that window in the basement that the kids could sometimes work loose was locked tight.

Marvin stood in the dark, thinking about his options. It wasn’t winter, but it was fall and the night was getting cold.

He remembered a sort of loft in the chicken coop which his brother and he had appropriated as a “secret place.” It had a sort of a mattress and a ratty quilt.

He went into the chicken coop and climbed up. The “mattress” was there, but the quilt was gone.

Lacking other options, he lay down on the mattress and curled up in a fetal position. The cold wind blew in through the cracks. The coop stank of chicken droppings. There was no way to sleep. He lay there in the darkness hugging himself, shivering. The hours passed slowly. He wondered if he could make it through the night.

Then, at last, he heard a door open. He heard a creaking sound as someone climbed the board ladder to the loft. Someone put a pillow under his head, lay down and held him close, and pulled a quilt over both of them.

In the darkness, he heard his father say, “Marvin, when I said that if you disobeyed me you’d have to find another place to sleep tonight, I didn’t say that I would sleep inside.

And so that pastor taught his son the true meaning of the Incarnation.

Wish I’d had a dad like that.

Wait. I do.

Dante to Dead Man Walking ... a couple more lists

I am continuing to work over my Christian classics reading list based on all the intelligent comments, a wonderful email I received, and the lists done at Flos Carmeli and Disputations.

My revised list will be posted later on, as well as the additions to my "To Read" list for the books that just wouldn't fit into the list.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Remember the Saint of the Year Devotion? It's Back!

What is the Saint for the Year Devotion?

I want to tell you about the practice of picking a saint at random to be your “holy protector” for the year. Actually, the saint is the one who chooses us though. The tradition of letting a saint “pick you,” is not a new one. St. Faustina wrote about it in her diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul.

I don't draw the saints. I will merely pass on your name or screen name to her so that she will draw a saint for you. Also, I will pass on the name of any of your family or friends that would like to participate. This isn't superstition. St. Faustina did the same thing! Last year dozens of people received saints to be their special patron, and there were miraculous connections. It was truly amazing. We pray that this year the Holy Spirit will again work so that all participants receive a saint that they will be able to pray to for aid throughout the entire year.
Moneybags is offering once more, along with his partner in saint-selection, the chance to have a special saint for the year. St. Vitus and I are drawing to the end of our special year together. I can't say that I experienced anything miraculous (at least that was obvious enough for me to recognize) but there were definitely times when remembering him, this patron saint of good humor and comedy, that helped me be light hearted in situations when I easily could have been quite dour and mean. So ... that is miraculous enough for me!

I'm going to get over there and put in my request and I encourage you to do the same!

Personal Advent Reading

I just wanted to mention that I took Jean's suggestion for my own personal Advent devotional reading. Since Advent timing can move around a bit, the book begins on November 24 and I began reading it then. So far it has provided a good variety of Christian writing that is wholly in line with an Advent message.

In this week's scripture study our priest reminded us that Advent is not "the great penitence of Lent when one is focused on me, me, me ... on what I do wrong." He told us that we are like watchers at a window, looking out and waiting for the dawn, for the light to come to us. Advent, he told us, is about waiting for Christ to come, not only the historical Jesus, not only the Christ who will come at the end of time, though it is about all those things. Ultimately Advent is about waiting for Christ to come every day in our lives to complete us ... because we are broken and incomplete until he is here. So it is a gentler time of reflection and of a lesser penitence because our focus is on that window, waiting for the light to come to us.

Looking ahead through the book, I saw that, as Jean had mentioned, Martin Luther is the featured writer for December 24. I read it ahead of time to see what was selected since often I have read bits of Luther that have been perfectly straight forward and unexceptional. This, however, was not the case as it became clear that this piece was quite pointed toward a works versus faith argument ... which even if I was in the mood for such a thing on Christmas Eve, is quite out of place in such a setting. So I advise skipping that reading should you pick up the book. However, overall I recommend the book.

Giving Us a Reason to Watch Friday Night Television

Question: I thought Justice had promise. Is it gone forever?
Madeline Bereuter

Answer: On the contrary. Justice has been switched to Friday nights at 7 central, 8 eastern, beginning on Dec. 1. New episodes so far are scheduled for that night and for Dec. 8 and 15. I thought Justice was the strongest of Fox's new fall series, but this already will be its third different night. Expectations are low on Fridays, though, so maybe Justice finally will prevail.
Keeping in mind that we don't have cable so we don't see Battlestar Galactica or whatever else is on Friday night television.

We were totally bummed when it seemed that Justice was canceled. The couple of times that Tom has been tricked into watching even he got caught up in the plot, wondering what the real answer was and guessing before we saw the real ending shown at the end of the episodes. It is a real treat to watch Victor Garber thoroughly relish his show-boating role. If you have time in your television schedule, give it a try.