Saturday, September 30, 2006

Like a Rock

Peter is the only apostle who received his name directly from Jesus. In Scripture, when God changes a person's name -- as when he changed Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Jacob to Israel -- he is revealing that person's pivotal place in his plan of salvation. Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter (Petros in Greek, Cephas in the Aramaic dialect that Jesus spoke). The name means "rock." "You are Peter," Jesus said, "and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."
Catholic Passion by David Scott
I knew this. I did. But I forgot it. This reminder is a powerful one that Jesus' commission to Peter was serious and meant to last forever.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Texas State Fair Opens Today

And it's also Private School Day at the fair, which means Rose and her friends get in free.

This necessitates me picking up and driving them down when school gets out at 12:30 (yes, the state fair is that big a deal around here), picking them up at 6:30 to take to someone's birthday party at Snuffers (a local burger joint, y'all), and ... most importantly ... an intensive effort in trading cell phone numbers and making sure phones are charged up!

Whew! Wish me luck 'cuz I'm gonna need it!

The Feast of the Archangels



The liturgy for today celebrates the feast of the three archangels who have been venerated throughout the history of the Church, Michael (from the Hebrew Who is like God?) is the archangel who defends the friends of God against Satan and all his evil angels. Gabriel, (the Power of God), is chosen by the Creator to announce to Mary the mystery of the Incarnation. Raphael, (the Medicine of God), is the archangel who takes care of Tobias on his journey.
I have a special fondness for angels and it is a sign of my Catholic geekiness, I suppose, that I got an excited "Christmas morning" sort of thrill when I realized today's feast.

I read for the first time about angels when we were in the hospital with my father-in-law after his stroke. That made a big impression on me at the time. I always attribute the miracle that happened to the Holy Family but the angels are divine messengers and so have their place in it as well. Because of that I always have remembered that we can call not only on our friends for intercessory prayer, but also on angels for intercession and help. The prayer to St. Michael is one of my favorites.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray. And do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl around the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Some more on angels.
You should be aware that the word "angel" denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.
From a homily by Pope Saint Gregory the Great.
Sadly, I don't have any angel food cake (it really is not that sad an occurrence as I abhor angel food cake), however I may stop by and pick up some heavenly, cloud-like meringues on the way home so we can celebrate properly!

Other good places to read about angels today:
  • Images taken from this post by Mama T which you should go read also.
  • The Anchoress has a really wonderful reflection about all three angels and a link to a great piece about the book of Tobit (and if you haven't read the book of Tobit then stop reading these blogs and get thee to thy Bible! It is one of the best books in the Old Testament for my money ... so once again The Anchoress and I agree wholeheartedly)
  • Georgette shares one of the best excerpts I've ever seen about these angels (I'm printing this one out for repeated reading)
  • Mike Aquilina keeps us grounded in the fathers of the church as well as providing useful links to other good resources.
  • On the practical level, Elena has a good idea for an angelic feast
Here are some things I have written about angels which include facts as well as personal experiences (although these tend more toward guardian angels):

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Three Good Banners ...

Customer Service From Heaven ... it's funny because it's true.


The Kiss of Christ

Russians call this sacrament [confession] "the kiss of Christ." The Russian-born writer Catherine de Hueck Doherty said that her mother taught her to talk to Jesus in confession as if she were talking to her own father:
I would ... tell him how sorry I was for having done something he didn't like. In my imagination, Christ hugged me and said something like, "That's all right, little girl. I know it's not easy to always do the right thing." Then he would kiss me and bless me and say, "Now go and play."
Catholic Passion by David Scott
Beautiful, isn't it? Maybe that helps explain to others why so many of us see Confession as a beautiful sacrament.

And, here is a really wonderful testimony in real life where confession was an answer to prayer. Don't miss reading about how the Holy Spirit moves us and those around us to give us what we really need.

Poetry Thursday

Second in our limited series by the house poet (there's nothing like a Creative Writing class for a regular output of poetry): Rose.
You Can

You can tear it down, wall by wall
You can take my home from me

You can rip them away, one and all
You can take my family from me

You can make me face learn to glare
You can take my love from me

You can make me no longer care
You can take my hate from me

You can drag me through the driving rain
You can take my pride from me

You can taunt, jeer, laugh at my pain
You can take my joy from me

You can tell me it could be worse
You can take my pain from me

You can turn each day into a curse
You can take my hope from me

You can force me into iron chains
You can take my freedom from me

You can spill the blood in my veins
You can take my life from me

You can laugh at belief, tear downs my ideals
You can take my faith from me

But with me, you can make no deals
You can’t take my soul from me

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Why Dogs Bite People - 4

Discernment on TV

God or the Girl

I remember reading reviews from various bloggers lucky enough to have cable and see God or the Girl, a reality show that tracked four young Catholic men discerning for the priesthood. Luckily I don't remember many details except for the fact that most people thought it a fairly good show.

Luckily I was given the DVD. It has some very interesting sounding extras which I'm not going to watch until I get through the show itself for fear of ruining some of the revelations. ("Bonus features are equally substantial, including a half-episode featuring a fifth participant, deleted scenes, and a richly informative 14-minute offering of "priestly wisdom from Father Mark," in which the series' priestly consultant explains the Catholic perspective on calling & discernment, celibacy, faith, family, and sacrifice.")

I also was pleased to see that the Amazon reviewer gave it a glowing review for all the right reasons. Go read the entire thing for a better perspective but here's a bit.
... this remarkable five-part miniseries bears more resemblance to a legitimate documentary, in which four young men face the permanent and life-altering decision between celibacy in the Roman Catholic priesthood or a sexually active life of faith, marriage, and family. Although the veteran reality TV producers of this A&E series (which premiered amidst mild and short-lived controversy on Easter Sunday 2006) had originally intended a more populist MTV-like approach to their exploration of religious fervor, what they ultimately captured (largely due to the integrity of the participants) is a remarkably revealing and spiritually uplifting study of Catholic faith in modern America. While acknowledging the scandals that tarnished the Catholic Church in recent years, God or the Girl offers a refreshing and surprisingly balanced perspective on serious issues of faith rarely addressed in mainstream entertainment.
My main struggle in watching has been to get the time. Unfortunately my receipt of it coincided with the beginning of the new television season so I've had to wait until Rose is out of taped options to slide one in.

However, she and I were quite pleased after watching the first show, which we did a couple of days ago. For one thing it was odd but nice to see all the "environment" shots so extremely familiar, what with the focus being Catholicism instead of general Christianity. Secondly, we quickly got caught up in these young men's quest for discernment. At the risk of repeating what others said when the show was in progress, our initial reactions are:
  • Dan impressed us with his skills when intervening between a brewing fight between two women while praying outside an abortion clinic
  • Joe seems to be pressured by his mother and would have done well to listen to his older brother about how to deal with Anna when at World Youth Day in Germany
  • Steve's adviser impressed us by making him confide to his old frat brothers that he is considering the priesthood. As if that would be a huge surprise since they knew that he spent time in Guatamala doing missionary work.
  • And Mike. Hmmm. Mike's situation was quite troubling. For one thing he's obviously got a case of hero worship for his priest, which the priest has done nothing to stop. Quite the contrary, it is as if the priest has decided that Mike must be a priest and is putting on the pressure for it to happen. Seems like an unhealthy relationship. Add that to the things that Mike said about kissing and lust and ... well, we were uneasy about the whole thing.
So far, highly recommended and I'll keep y'all apprised when we view future episodes.

Answering Back to God

An ancient characteristic of Catholic worship is the antiphon, a word that means "answering back." It is the pattern of liturgical call-and-response, as when the priest prays, "The Lord be with you," and the worshipers answer back, "And also with your spirit." This prayerful dialogue reflects a fundamental Catholic understanding of what it means to be human. We are "antiphonal" beings in conversation with our Creator -- listening for God's call and answering him with our lives.
Catholic Passion by David Scott
You know, that has never occurred to me in all the times I have joined in responsorial liturgy. How fascinating to consider that it is a reflection of that larger reality of our relationship with God.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It's True, It's True ... This is Why My Hair is Short and Spiked

The Last Knit.

Much thanks to Hey Jules for spotting the resemblance.

Thar's Unexpected Depths Beneath That Craggy Surface

You Are an Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

On the surface, you're a little plain - but you have many subtle dimensions to your personality.
Sometimes you're down to earth and crunchy. Other times, you're sweet and a little gooey.

Via Quoth the Maven

Oscar Wilde, Cloudspotting

Nobody of any real culture ... ever talks nowadays about the beauty of a sunset. Sunsets are quite old-fashioned. They belong to the time when Turner was the last note in art. To admire them is a distinct sign of provincialism of temperament. Upon the other hand they go on. Yesterday evening Mrs. Arundel insisted on my going to the window, and looking at the glorious sky, as she called it. Of course I had to look at it ... And what was it? It was simply a very second-rate Turner, a Turner of a bad period, with all the painter's worst faults exaggerated and over-emphasized.
Oscar Wilde, as quoted in The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
Oh, Oscar Wilde ... how did you manage to be so very funny?

Monday, September 25, 2006

This is an Amazing Clip

Tom found this on Digg. Take note of the name How to Put on a Bra ... there is nothing here that wouldn't be seen in a regular action movie to a James Bond movie so use your own judgment.

Jesus and Children

This reflects something that Fr. L. reminded us of in last week's Scripture study. Children had absolutely no legal rights in the ancient world. That is why taking care of widows and orphans was so praiseworthy. One would do it for no other reason than it was the right thing to do. There was absolutely nothing in it for the person helping out. Once again, I read about what life was like back then and I am struck with how similar many of our current ways are in the secular West.
In his tender affection for children Jesus stood in radical contradiction to the attitudes and practices of the empire of his day. The Romans and Greeks held that children were inferior beings, something less than fully human. Plato, Aristotle, and other philosophers of the ancient world approved the killing of unwanted children through abortion and infanticide, and they saw nothing wrong with using children for sexual gratification.

Jesus said it would be better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be plunged into the depths of the sea than to suffer God's judgment for scandalizing one of his little ones. From the beginning, the church fiercely defended children, even the unborn. The Didache ("Teaching"), the oldest surviving manual of church life, written in the mid-first century, warns: "You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish." The Christian philosopher Athenagoras, in a plea to Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 175, explained: "We regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being and therefore an object of God's care."
Catholic Passion by David Scott

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Oh, frabjous day! Calloo callay!

Dwight Longenecker is going to start standing things on their head in the blogosphere!

Now maybe only The Curt Jester (his other biggest fan, read why he's excited to see this blog beginning) and I see this as a cause for celebration because Longenecker isn't nearly well known enough for his wonderful books, which all are good at helping us see by standing things on their head.

I only have reviewed (and that briefly) Adventures in Orthodoxy. However, I also really loved St. Benedict & St. Therese: The Little Rule and the Little Way which I still use as inspiration for adhering to discipline in my personal life (too bad about all the backsliding but that's for another post), and More Christianity, which pushes the envelope on Mere Christianity by showing why Catholicism is wonderful.

Haven't read them? What are you waiting for?

As a bonus to see why I am such a fan, here's a link to an excerpt I posted back in the olden days when I had just begun blogging myself.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Gaggle of Quick Book Reviews

111. Guardian Angels: True Stories of Answered Prayers by Joan Wester Anderson
Like Anderson's other books about angels, this consists of anecdotes of miracles that real people have experienced in modern times. I'm a sucker for these and loved it. This really is more of a book about prayer than guardian angels although angels do figure largely in many of the anecdotes. In fact, partway through I actually forgot the book had "angels" in the title. No matter, real answers to prayer are wonderful to read, no matter how God chooses to do it.

109. Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? (Loyola Classics) by John Powers
110. The Lat Catholic in America by John Powers
I was stunned to read this book and find that it was full of mean-spirited stories about the Catholic Church. Now, before you even tell me, I know, I know, if you were raised Catholic before a certain time these stories are hilariously true. All I can say is that, to me as a convert of today, if those stories ring true then thank the Lord for Vatican II. Honestly, if one strips the veil of memory off and reads what Powers writes about the Church in these two books there is no way that one would find these stories original or amusing (yes, I actually suffered through a second to make sure that I was being fair to Powers). I am put in mind of Bill Bryson's books about traveling around America. I eagerly picked one up, having thoroughly enjoyed "English, Our Mother Tongue and How It Got That Way" and found that the reason Bryson must live in England is because he hates America ... or just wants to tell mean stories about Americans to make a buck. Powers is in the same category for me. Steer clear of this book.

108. Prayer Book of Catholic Devotions by William Storey
A delightful, small volume of prayers, readings, and devotions to use through the seasons and feasts of the liturgical year. I got this in ordinary time but am looking forward to using it to deepen my devotions during Advent.

107. The Devil's Advocate by Morris L. West from My Autumn Reading Challenge
Monsignor Blaise Meredith, who is dying of cancer, is sent to a small, isolated Italian town to be a Devil's Advocate for beautification of Giacomo Nerone. We see the story, told largely in flashbacks, of a controversial character in an isolated peasant village. A vivid portrait is painted of the people who knew Nerone and how their actions resulted in good and evil. All are in need of spiritual healing or guidance, and West clearly shows us the changes that are still being wrought in their lives by their memories of Nerone. The question of whether Nerone is actually a saint is left for us to decide and I, myself, am undecided on that particular question. However, in this book it is the journey that is important along with actions taken on the way ... as it is in our own lives. There is no question about that. Highly recommended.

106. The Essential Thomas Eakins by Alice A. Carter
It is continually amazing to me how much essential information is conveyed by these small but complete books. The entire series is highly recommended and this book in particular, if only for a look at this under appreciated artist whose highly scandalous life contributed to his lack of popularity.

Friday, September 22, 2006

In the Midst of the Storm

Ten minutes into his descent, Rankin should have been reaching the ground, but the enormous draughts of air that surged up the core of the cloud were retarding his fall. Soon the turbulence became much more severe. He had no visual point of reference in the gloomy depths but he sense that, rather than falling, he was being shot upwards with successive violent gusts of rising air -- blasts that were becoming increasingly violent. And then for the first time he felt the full force of the cloud.

"It came with incredible suddenness -- and fury. It hit me like a tidal wave of air, a massive blast, fired at me with the savagery of a cannon ... I went soaring up and up and up as though there would be no end to its force." ...
The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
Pretor-Pinney certainly knows how to get my attention. Frankly, I am not that interested in the science of clouds which makes up about half of each chapter. Possibly anticipating this, he has been quite generous with attractive lures, such as the story of Lieutenant-Colonel William Rankin, a pilot in the US Air Force, who, in 1959, became the only man to fall through the heart of a cumulonimbus and live to tell the tale. Riveting stuff, y'all!

A Few More Memoirs and Family History

This is a continuation of the memories my mother has about her childhood times spent with her grandfather Charles J. Finger. I love these stories all the more for thinking of the book he wrote featuring my mother (Bobbie and Jock and the Mailman) because Jock was a Scottie ... illustrated by my Great Aunt Helen. I thought that I already had posted these but, better late than never, eh?
You all know the big table we have in the living room; that was the dining table in my grandfather's day. It came from his railroad days, as mentioned in the biography and he had it sent from (Cleveland?). People as famous as Carl Sand and Sinclair Lewis ate at it. I seem to remember fried chicken every Sunday, but I was only allowed boiled - how I craved that delicious fried, but it wasn't considered healthy for children. But what wonderful biscuits my grandmother made, and I scarfed them down loaded with her homemade srawberry jam. My grandfather would order a cup of maraschino cherries for me if we went to a restaurant ... my mother always thought they caused boils on my back. Oh well, what did they know.

There were double doors to the living room, and one year my Grandfather dressed up like Santa Claus and flung them open with drama. It was to be a great surprise, but I burst into tears, ran away, and hid. What a flop to a grand enterprise!

At the bottom of the hill was a true country store, selling cattle salt blocks, flour in print bags intended to be dresses, etc., and with gas pumps. I remember driving down there with my aunt; I thought she was the most wonderful person I had ever known. She SMOKED, she was very small, and she was so peppy and had a wonderful accent. Of course, she wasn't married and had no children so it was easy for her.

I actually remember hired hands squirting milk at cats during milking. Yes, trite as it sounds, they actually did that !

As I said before, hired help must have been really cheap. They mowed the grass, did laundry, but unfortunately never were hired to cook to help out my grandmother and mother. Charlie provided chickens, and Helen never had to do anything because she was an artist (my mother said). Don't know what the other two boys did ... one ran away from home and probably with good reason considering my grandfather's autocratic disposition. He was a wonderful grandfather, though.

There were screened porches around three sides of the house, and I seem to remember living out there most of the time. Since we usually visited only in the summer that would be natural. One morning I got up and found one of my shoes filled with cherry pits, apparently tucked in there by a mouse.

My aunt Helen raised Scotties, and Airdales. I loved the dogs, but was especially fascinated by seeing them eat rabbits, always head first. There was a fish pond in the middle of the front yard, and I remember one of the puppies drowning there; Beverly also fell in once but was quickly retrieved. The pond was surrounded by old fashioned petunias, and their fragrance always takes me back to those days and reminds me of my sweet grandmother who loved them.

OK, now you have the best of my very young childhood memories, for better or worse. You might want to compile some of yours for your own children. Old age comes quicker than you think! I have regretted many times not sitting down with my parents and talking with them about earlier years.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Islam Vs. Christianity: Finding Common Ground

Oy veh! Talk about funny ... and insightful. Via The Anchoress.

The Flesh of Jesus

Oh Saint Augustine ... how perfectly put is this elegant phrase that so thoroughly sums up Jesus' example for us as a perfect human, God among us, showing us how to live. I shouldn't be surprised but that was the "twist" that made me sit up and think again.
St. Augustine, the fifth-century African who was the church's seminal teacher, penned a striking phrase to describe the example of Jesus: Caro quasi vox ("Christ's flesh is like a voice"). What he meant is that at every state of Jesus' earthy life -- his life in the flesh -- he is calling to us, inviting us personally to live in the mystery of divine love that he reveals...
Catholic Passion by David Scott

Poetry Thursday

A limited series by the house poet (there's nothing like a Creative Writing class for a regular output of poetry): Rose.

Faded picture in my mind
Of nightmares from the past
Of the present, I am blind

Twenty monsters of a kind
As my heart beats fast
Faded pictures in my mind

I open doors I cannot find
The traps have all been cast
Of the present, I am blind

The roads, the walls, the trees wind
I stumble off the path
Faded picture in my mind

My arms, my legs, my tongue, they bind
I fall, the abyss is vast
Of the present, I am blind

My face is now old and lined
Many years have past
Faded picture in my mind
Of the present, I am blind

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Notes from College

Thanks to all who have kindly asked after Hannah's progress at A&M. She seems to be having a great time and has most of her classes under control. Except perhaps ... math.
Why can't Farmer Johnson solve his own problems? Every time he needs to know how many acres of soy beans, corn and wheat to plant with 80,000 dollars and 600 hours of labor to spare if the cost of seeds is $4 for soy and $6 for wheat or corn and labor is 6 hours per acre for soy, 2 for wheat, and 7 for corn, I have to calculate this bumpkin's assets and tell him how to run a farm.
There's pretty much no denying that logic. Obviously the answer is that Farmer Johnson shouldn't have a farm ... or won't for much longer if he can't start figuring these things out for himself.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Avast There, D'Ye Know What Day It Is?

How quickly the holidays roll around ... 'tis International Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Which was significantly funnier before Tom and Rose watched Wife Swap last night, one family of which was the Talk Like a Pirate Family who ... ready for this? ... actually live like pirates year 'round. Evidently with fleas and all. *shudder*)

Maybe you need help with pirate talk (Warning: there are some potions that are mildly off color and guaranteed to offend some, but we're talking about pirates here. Much thanks to DL for this which he found in yesterday's issue of the daily--Good Morning Silicon Valley.)

Or maybe you just need to listen to a good pirate story to get in the mood (nothing objectionable here, just hilarious). 'Tis a fearful tale indeed, of the sea, serving wenches, and fragmented hard drives. Only the brave should rally round.

There be chicken pirates as well, if ye take the time to look.

And then take the time to pity this poor lad who fell afoul of a scurvey bunch of rogues in a raiding party.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Why Dogs Bite People - 3

God's Confession

Our Deliverer and God came by the quietest of signs, in the everyday miracle of a baby being born -- the same way that you and I came into the world. He was born amid tears of joy, swaddled in a blanket, and held in the gentle arms of his father. On the first night of his life, he likely fell asleep nursing, his head nestled against his mother's warm breast -- like countless babies before him and countless babies since.

Why this way? Why not in power and glory, in fire that swept down from the mountaintops, in the upheaval of nations, or in the blood red stars falling from the sky? Because in coming to us as a child, God was making what amounts to an "autobiographical" statement. The Incarnation was God's confession, his full disclosure. In the baby conceived at Nazareth and later born in a stable in Bethlehem, God revealed himself as a God of love and mercy -- a Father who seeks us in the wilderness of our fallen world. ...
Catholic Passion by David Scott
The thing I like about reading this book is that David Scott takes something that I already know, such as the idea that Jesus came to show us what God is like, and then twists it. Adds that phrase or two that makes me rethink what I "already knew" and realize that I do not know it as well as I thought. In this case, talking about God's "autobiographical statement," "full disclosure," and "confession" made me take a fresh look.

Scott's entire book has been doing that so as I go through it I will be sharing bits along the way (as always). I think the overall thing that I can say about it right now, about a third of the way through, is that it adds the poetry, imagery, and turn of phrase to more fully communicate the true, inner beauty of our faith. Even when you think you know where he is going, he adds a extra fillip of insight to make you take another look. A rare accomplishment indeed. I have seen rave reviews for this book and I understand why.

Encountering Opposition

... Christianity has too often been in what appeared at the time to be fatal danger for us now to be frightened by yet another such test. The ways by which Providence ransoms and saves its elect are unforeseeable. At times, our enemy becomes a friend; at times he is despoiled of the capacity for evil that made him fearsome; at times he auto-destructs, or, without desiring it, produces beneficial effects and simply vanishes without leaving a trace. Generally, the Church does not have to do anything but persevere with peace and confidence in the fulfillment of its tasks, remain serene, and await salvation from God. (Cardinal J.H. Newman)

The moments in which we encounter opposition and difficulties without exaggerating them are particularly propitious for exercising a whole range of virtues: we should pray for those who do evil to us even without our knowing it, so that they may leave off offending God; we can strive to make amends to the Lord, to be even more apostolic, and to protect with exquisite charity those weaker brothers in the faith who on account of their age, their lack of formation, or the special situations they find themselves in, could sustain a greater harm to their souls.
I especially like the point that Cardinal Newman made about how many times Christianity has seemed to be in danger and how it always has been saved. It seems that too often we hear Christians bemoaning the fate of the faith's existence in the modern world without remembering that point.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Why Dogs Bite People - 1

From my inbox ... thanks Marcia!

For some reason I'm already starting to look forward to Halloween ... and it isn't even October!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

America Gets "F" for End of the World Preparedness

WASHINGTON, DC—Over 87 percent of Americans are unprepared to protect themselves from even the most basic world-ending scenarios, according to a study released Monday by the nonpartisan doomsday think-tank The Malthusian Institute....

... The study found that many apocalypse-preparedness measures are cost-prohibitive. With virtually no tax incentives in place, many Americans share the "dangerous perception" that only the richest few can afford to survive the extinction of humanity.

"I just renovated my house with cantilevered leaden cofferdams for increased earthquake and radiation protection, and I'm working on a pantheistic altar to appease the god or gods most likely to return to this world with an insatiable wrath," said Seattle resident Tim Hanson, whose actions were praised in the study as a "highly rare display of prescience and vigilance."

"I installed solar panels and a generator so I could live off the grid for a while," Hanson added. "But it cost so much that now I might not be able to have the altar properly gilded. At least not in time." ...

Oh, The Onion ... how do they manage to be so funny? Read the whole hilarious story.

Loving Challenges

... Life involves so many challenges; by paying attention to the ways that God has gifted us, we can begin to appreciate the ways our gifts enable us to live more fully.

Great athletes love challenges. While watching the Olympics recently, I was struck by how many athletes talked about wanting to break a world record or beat a particular opponent. Instead of seeing these challenges as roadblocks to their own comfort and ease, they saw them as opportunities to let their gifts manifest themselves. Often, these athletes had to face great hurdles; many did not accomplish what they had hoped. But they were grateful for the chance. I often wish that I could bring a similar drive into ordinary life, with the ability to see challenges as ways to manifest the gifts God has given me. But the truth is that, more often, I see them as unnecessary hassles and often blame God for that.
I have to admit that I am not in the habit of loving challenges. I hear the word "challenge" and my mind substitutes "problem" or "difficulty" or "hardship." Yep, corporate speak has done a number on me and I know what they mean when they say "challenge."

However, recently I have found myself in the very situation that is spoken of here with the athletes who are grateful to have challenges so they can see how they will do when facing them. This came up partly because of My Autumn Reading Challenge and partly because of a book I have recently read and will blog about soon, Dante to Dead Man Walking: One Reader's Journey Through the Christian Classics.

Thanks to those challenges I am reading books that I normally would shun. More to the point I am reading and enjoying those books. I never would have had that opportunity had I not been given most of them. Certainly I wouldn't have chosen them for myself. But because I was given them and by the publisher I feel honor bound to read and review them. (Funnily enough, books given by a friend don't hold the same onus. I am totally fine with ignoring gift books for years ... even forever.)

Because I have accepted these reading assignments as challenges I have been enriched. Even the books that I didn't like or discarded taught me something, whether about the author, the book, or myself. I have even found myself looking forward to seeing what the next "challenging" book will bring. Which makes at least that particular challenge worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Lingering Effects of Suffering

I never, ever thought of this. Never. What an eye opening idea this is for me.
Notice that the risen Jesus still bears his wounds. How can it be otherwise? In our own lives, times of suffering may lead to times of peace and joy, but we cannot escape the lingering effects of suffering. It permanently changes us -- we cannot pretend that it never happened. That the risen Jesus still bears his wounds is good news, for it tells us that there is a continuity between the lives we have now and the lives that we will enjoy in the Resurrection. Jesus is the same person. His wounds, though, are different: they are not a source of suffering but a source of recognition. It is only through seeing Jesus' wounds that Thomas recognizes him. In the Resurrection, we will still bear the effects of the hurts that have been done to us, but they will no longer cause us pain.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


From my mouth to Apple's ears.
Nice to see that they understood my desire for colors was not a request!

Now, let's all remember "green" shall we? Just in case anyone is in doubt when choosing gifts.

The Ultimate Freedom

... Through the lens of the Resurrection, life is not bounded by death -- and thus we achieve our freedom in no longer being afraid of it. For while all of us will die one day, our understanding of death changes because of the Resurrection: death becomes little more than the closing of one chapter of our lives and the beginning of another. The resurrected Jesus was almost nonchalant about his own death -- extraordinary, since we might expect that someone in his situation could come back to wreak havoc on the political establishment that executed him. Why didn't he hunt down his enemies? Why didn't he use his return from the dead as a platform to call attention to his own power?

Perhaps the reason is because Jesus was truly free. He was not concerned about the pettiness of so much social and political action; he was alive and wanted to bring good news to his friends. Perhaps too he was more concerned with inviting his friends to share that joy.
And isn't that really the most attractive thing about the real Christians that we know? Their joy, their love of life and wanting to share that joy with others? I know it is for me.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

"If you've got the right lawyer we have the best legal system in the world"

Has anyone else been watching Justice?

This show is just plain fun to watch. Victor Garber is thoroughly enjoying being let loose as the media spin head of the firm and Jerry Bruckheimer knows how to put together a fast-paced, enjoyable show that has you wondering by the end whether the firm's client is really innocent. (You have to wonder because the firm doesn't care ... except for the main lawyer who tries the case.) At the end an epilogue is shown with what really happened.

We have been enjoying the heck out of the first two episodes. You might wanna give it a try.

Word Geek

Now used as on official term for law enforcement officers, this word began in the horse stables. In ancient Rome, the official version was comes stabuli, literally meaning "count of the stable," or the head groom. By the 1200s, the Old French version, conestable, was used to refer to the head officer of a king's household and by the 1500s, the current use had arisen.
I'd never have guessed ... fascinating!

Bad to the Bone But Not Beyond God's Grace

The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints
by Thomas J. Craughwell
The point of reading these stories is not to experience some tabloid thrill, but to understand how grace works in the world. Every day, all day long, God pours out his grace upon us, urging us, coaxing us, to turn away from everything that is base and cheap and unsatisfying, and to turn toward the only thing that is eternal, perfect, and true -- that is, himself.
I must admit that I came to this slender book with a lot of preconceptions.

Fascinated by saints when I became Catholic six years ago, I sought out and read many books about all sorts of saints from the well known to the obscure. They were written in varying styles ranging from cozy friendliness talking of "our friends the saints" to those of strict scholarship and research. Therefore, I wondered if I would find many new saints in this book although I must admit that, for the life of me, I really couldn't remember one who was a devil-worshipper as referenced in the subtitle.

The idea that today's stories of saints have become too clean cut and white washed for us to relate to is really not that new. Many of those aforementioned books also mentioned that same thing and then proudly would parade each saint's imperfections that would make them more human, one of us. How bad could these saints be really? These days haven't we seen pretty much every sort of shocking behavior known to man and learned that God can work through it all?

However, Craughwell is not a predictable sort of author although he is one that I hope to encounter often in the future. I was pleased to see his forward included a defense of not including Mary Magdalene in the book since she was not a harlot, although that reputation has since overtaken her in many circles. That was a good start which he soon improved on in leaps and bounds as he went from one saint to another with astonishing pieces of information and insight.

I soon found out that what I didn't know, even about the best loved saints could, well, fill a book.

For instance I knew that St. Augustine was converted to Christianity by St. Ambrose. However, I didn't know that it was because Ambrose, with great courage, refused Emperor Theodosius' order to turn over a Catholic church to Arian heretics and barricaded himself and his congregation inside the church to see what the emperor would do. (The emperor backed down.)

Likewise, St. Mary of Egypt is well known for being a prostitute who repented for a lifetime of sin by living as a hermit in the desert. Except that she wasn't a prostitute. She was a skilled seductress who seduced men for the sheer pleasure of doing so. Somehow that makes it so much worse, doesn't it?

Then there is St. Christopher, the well-loved traveler's saint, whose demotion by the Vatican because he never existed enraged my father in law. Actually, it turns out that is a religious urban legend. He is still a saint in good standing whose celebration day was removed from the overcrowded calendar but who churches and the faithful are still free to celebrate and invoke as they will.

Craughwell also provides a plethora of stories of lesser known saints who are nonetheless fascinating. There are the three saints whose stories are intertwined and who actually managed to shock me. Why? I was truly shocked to find that Callixtux, an embezzler turned Christian, who still couldn't seem to resist crime wound up being ... pope. In an ironic case of the pot calling the kettle black, Callixtux was denounced by Hippolytus an anti-pope who manipulated results and fought off other papal contenders. Callixtux then stunned me by winding up ... sainted. Yep. As did Hippolytus. In the middle of it all was Pontian, yet another pope who wound up being sainted. This may sound confusing but in Craughwell's skillful hands these stories wind up being enthralling.

Often Craughwell, sheds light on people who were close to well known saints but who have been cast into the shade by their more famous friends. Such is the case of Alipius, who was St. Augustine's best friend from all appearances. He went where Augustine went, studied what he studied, converted when Augustine converted. The only difference was that he had a debilitating addiction to blood sports that no one, not even his best buddy Augustine, could persuade him to give up. Until St. Ambrose came on the picture. That was when Alipius converted and eventually wound up as a bishop in a town near St. Augustine's.

The more shocking stories are those of St. Olga the queen who avenged her husband's betrayal by planning and carrying out a killing spree of thousands for revenge. Yet she became a saint. Likewise, St. Olaf, a Viking, also was no stranger to brutality and mass murder but changed his pagan ways upon conversion to Christianity. His brutal methods of converting his own violent society are shocking in themselves but the results are undeniable. Norway soon became Christian and did not revert to paganism after Olaf's death.

The author does not spend time drawing out the point of each saint's story in moralistic, "so let's take this lesson away" terms. He leaves us to draw our own conclusions. I liked it that way. Each of us must draw our own conclusions and come to terms with God in our own way. That is also very likely to be the way that saints speak to us, even the ones that had the most shocking pasts. We can be thankful to Craughwell for bringing these stories so vividly to life as reminders for us of the depth and breadth of God's grace to the sinner, no matter how bad their past has been.

This book will be at bookstores on September 19.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

And also with you, pilgrim.

Saturno? That's Italian for "cowboy hat" ... right?

Dashing Through the Movies

The much vaunted "Russian vampire movie" that broke all the Russian box office records and that generated a lot of buzz among movie reviewers. I don't think I have ever watched another Russian movie and know very little about the culture. I have a feeling that there were some contextual things that totally got by us although you didn't really need much context. Quick summary ... "a la Matrix" but with more blood and scissors (euwww). A bit more description: long ago the forces of dark and light forged a truce to keep the balance between good and evil so that all would not perish in the fight. This resulted in the Night Watch (the light keeping watch) and the Day Watch (the dark keeping watch). Each is policing the other side to make sure the truce is kept. Into this, legend tells us (of course), that there will come one who will be greater than the others and who will choose the dark. And off we go, quite stylishly, with lots of driving rock soundtrack, and an apocalyptic fight between good and evil. Rose liked it better than we did (did I mention the blood? and the scissors?). Not the best of the genre but far from being the worst.

(HC rating: *** Good despite lack of flubber)

Edward R. Murrow and his producer take on Joseph McCarthy at the height of the witch hunts to stand up for truth, justice, and the American Way. George Clooney writes, directs, and acts. *yawn* This was beautifully acted, photographed, etc. Now, if only there had been the slightest bit of dramatic tension to engage us in the story it would have been a four star movie. All three of us felt as if we had been watching a documentary, except then we'd possibly have been given more information. We watched without ever feeling the slightest doubt that Murrow would get his way and that justice would prevail. This was without us having any idea of how Murrow fit into the actual story of McCarthy's witch hunt so we couldn't even blame foreknowledge as a spoiler.

(HC rating: ** More boring than church. All you did was yak, yak, yak)

A lonely, depressed girl who sells gloves at Saks Fifth Avenue must choose in love between the rich Steve Martin and the loser alternative met in the laundromat. Although we felt sure that she'd wind up with laundromat loser (can you tell I can't remember his name? We saw this a while back.) we couldn't see how that would happen. Steve Martin's character was so much more desirable seeming. As it turns out this movie was exactly what I read in one critic's summary ... predictable overall but darned if you can predict the little twists along the way.

It wasn't the romantic comedy that the trailers would lead you to believe but I found it quite realistic in the ways that lonely people make choices, both good and bad, and in the lies that they tell themselves along the way. This put me strongly in mind of Lost in Translation in it's understated quality. We also appreciated the fact that it illustrates what Tom often tells the girls, "You can't manage love."

Let me forestall any objections in the comments ... yes, these people all hop into bed quickly and often and without being married. Not desirable to be sure, but also definitely the way that many people live these days. It also serves as its own cautionary tale in terms of the complications that ensue due to the intimacy that comes too soon and for the wrong reasons.

WARNING: as is so often lamentably the case, the PG-13 rating is not adequate. Rose watched this with us and we felt slightly squeamish a couple of times. She's 16. I wouldn't want my 13-year-old to see this.

(HC rating: Nine thumbs up!)

Serving Christ in the Ordinary

Imagine that Christ came to you one day and said, "I need you and you are the only person in the whole world who can do this. Will you help me?" Who could refuse? Who wouldn't want to be an agent sent by Christ himself? But then imagine that Christ said, "I need you to be a friend to the old woman who lives next door to you." What would you do? There is a certain glamour in having a life purpose, imagining that everything one does in life is oriented toward some great ideal. But it's very different if one's life purpose is to carry out a very mundane task. It is much easier to imagine following Christ as a knight sent on brave errands than as an ordinary person befriending a widow. For most of us, Christ's call will look much more like the second option. It will not be glamorous or exciting; in fact, much of the time it might be pretty ordinary. But if we are following Christ, then even the ordinary becomes part of the fabric of a holy life.

There is no escape from the ordinary. No matter who we are, no matter what we do, there are going to be parts of our lives that are repetitious and boring. What makes these periods tolerable is the knowledge that they contribute to something greater. ...

Monday, September 4, 2006

Knitting Addiction

We will never know whether knitters are addicted to yarn or to the act of knitting. To find out, we'd need to take someone's yarn away and see how she feels. I can't do that to another knitter. The ethical questions are too tricky.
I don't have a stash like truly dedicated knitters, although I do have a few balls of sock yarn tucked away for upcoming projects. Even with that small supply, the thought of someone taking it away ... well, let's just not go there.

In the Future, When "Catholic" Has Become "catholic"

CATHOLICS by Brian Moore

Short and easy to read. In fact I read it in one day. Written in 1972, this book could be put in under science fiction without any problem. In the future, after Vatican IV, the Church is working toward convergence with Buddhism, the Mass is symbolic, and there is no such thing as private confession. The only place on the planet practicing the Latin Mass, a small island off of Ireland, has been heretofore unknown but thanks to the hordes of pilgrims it attracts, not to mention, television specials, the Church is now sending out a priest to set things straight. His confrontation with the Irish priest is not quite what we'd expect. We discover that, contrary to expectations, it is not passion for the Mass that led this priest to defy the Vatican. Quite the opposite, it is a lack of faith, not wanting to rock the boat, that led him to hang onto the old ways.

I was riveted to see what the conclusion would be to the old priest's confrontation with the "Vatican's man" who believes in the new Catholic ways. I will not spoil it here for other readers. Suffice it to say, that I have had this book in mind quite a lot in the last few days, especially during Mass yesterday. I am going to recommend this book for our book club.

(Read as part of my Autumn Reading Challenge.)

Saturday, September 2, 2006

How to Succeed in Evil

How to Succeed in Evil is not a self-help page for the maladjusted. It it is the story of Edwin Windsor, Evil Efficiency Consultant. He's like Arthur Anderson for Supervillains.

Just because a person can melt walls by winking at them or build a device to threaten the very fabric of our reality doesn't mean that they know how to manage investments or squeeze money out of a scheme. Just look at M.C. Hammer. (Not that he's evil or super -- just that he's exquisitely bad with money.)

But the problem with supervillains is that they are all too egomaniacal to listen to good advice. (They always pay, but they never listen.) So Edwin gets so fed up with this state of affairs and decides to go into business for himself. This results in an efficient, ruthless (and often very funny) brand of evil.

Edwin quickly becomes something more than a villain and less than a hero. He takes out villains because they are "incompetent and inefficient" and heroes because they are "ineffectual and in the way." He often does the right thing for the wrong reason. Which, as fans can tell you, is very entertaining.
If you listen to no other podcast, please do try this one (I'm beggin' ya here!).

An original, entertaining, cleverly written series about Edwin, this is also available as a comic book although I haven't seen it.

How to Succeed in Evil (episode archives are here and here).

Quick Review: Terry Gilliam's Best Movie!


Of course I haven't seen them all but between us we've seen a pretty fair representation of them. Basically, the Grimm brothers are tricksters trading upon old fairy tales to go from town to town "inventing" witches and trolls and then ridding the town of them. They are arrested and taken to a place where the authorities are convinced that other con artists are pulling the same stunt, except in this town ten girls have disappeared in the nearby, sinister woods. Suffice it to say that the place is cursed and an inventive mixture of common European fairy tales is shown in thoroughly creepy style in the process. The brothers must solve the curse or they will die, either through the curse itself or through execution as punishment by the authorities.

This reminded me strongly of Tim Burton's Legend of Sleepy Hollow except that we all felt it was much better. Gilliam, as always, takes risks. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't but I can always appreciate the effort being made. That is the element that makes this less than perfect movie a much better use of time than something like Nacho Libre for example.

That said, I really appreciated Matt Damon's and Heath Ledger's acting. They turned in solid performances in roles that were much different from their usual star turns. I especially came away with an appreciation of Ledger's abilities, when taken in conjunction with his role in Lords of Dogtown. In both cases, he was virtually unrecognizable (except for his voice) and turned in very good performances in less than attractive roles. He may be someone who we will be watching with appreciation in many years to come as he matures as an actor.

(HC rating: Good despite lack of flubber)

Clouds and Elephants

According to ancient Hindu and Buddhist beliefs Cumulus clouds are the spiritual cousins of elephants, which is why the animals are worshipped, with a view to bringing rain after India;'s scorching summer heat. "Megha," meaning cloud in classical Hindi, is the name used to address elephants in these prayers. The Sanskrit creation myths describe how elephants created at the beginning of time were white, had wings to fly, could change their shape at will and had the power to bring rain. Although they have now lost these magical powers, the present-day descendants of those early Uber-elephants are still believed to have an affinity with the clouds -- especially the albino ones.

It is somewhat alarming to learn that eighty elephants weigh about as much as the water droplets in a medium-sized Cumulus -- a Cumulus mediocris -- would if you added them all together. (This is assuming the cloud occupies one cubic kilometre (about 0.24 cubic miles), which is not particularly large for a Cumulus. The droplets will commonly have a combined weight of 220 tons. The average Asian elephant weighs 3 tons.) for, although the droplets in a Cumulus cloud are extremely small, there are one hell of a lot of them. ...
The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
I was sent a review copy of this charming book, which I opened with a good amount of trepidation upon receipt. So far it is a real treasure in a typically eccentric British way, with the science of clouds interwoven with a true love of cloud watching and stories. The science is told in a very understandable way. After all, who can resist the image of a lava lamp to describe how heat acts upon water molecules to make Cumulus clouds? I know I can't.

In the Religion Section Today

The usual, annoying free registration is required for the complete stories from the Dallas Morning News.

Satan: Father's Little Helper?
"Christian tradition has laid a lot of blame on Satan for things they're causing themselves," said Dr. Kelly, 72, a former Jesuit exorcist and now a medieval scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of three books about the devil. "I am pessimistic about human nature. I think we are totally capable of doing what we have done. You can blame it on psychosis if you want."

But you can't blame it on Satan, he said.
Ummm, yes. Yes, I can. No amount of spin is going to change the facts. There is an Evil One. Not that we don't create plenty of our own problems on our own. We definitely do. But let's not leave out that other component.

Turkish Kid Books Get Added Character: Allah
Book publishers in Turkey have reprinted several children's classics with Islamic elements inserted into the storylines. The move came in reaction to controversy over including such titles in the government's recommended reading list for students.

In "Pinocchio," when the wooden puppet arrives at the end of his quest, he exclaims to his maker, Geppetto, "Thanks be to Allah, I am a real boy!" Earlier in the book he says, "If Allah wills it, please give me some bread."
Read the Three Musketeers example. What adds to that revision is the knowledge that Aramis was in the company of religious men because he had decided to become a priest. Luckily, the Turkish Minister of Education feels about this the same way that I do. "'If you like Heidi, then write your own 'Heidi,' he said in the Turkish newspaper Radikal." (Scroll down in Briefs for this story which has other examples of changed books.)

Friday, September 1, 2006

What Does This Quote Make You Think Of?

... infinitesimal distinctions between man and man are too paltry for an Omnipotent Being. How these madmen give themselves away! The real God taketh heed lest a sparrow fall; but the God created from human vanity sees no difference between an eagle and a sparrow. . .
Hearing it this morning read from Librivox, this jumped out at me from the rest of the story. I thought of pro-abortion people, judging that a tiny baby (even if only a few cells big at the time) is less important than all their daily affairs.

I was quite surprised.

The reason being that I was listening to one of my all-time favorite books ... read aloud by Librivox.

Dracula by Bram Stoker.

That's Reveille, Ma'am to You!

Reveille, the first lady of Aggieland, is the official mascot of Texas A&M University. She is the highest ranking member of the Corps of Cadets, and she is a Five-Star General.
Hannah saw Reveille being walked yesterday. She was on the way to class or would have summoned the courage to ask if she could meet and pet the honored Aggie mascot. However, we all showed our distinct lack of appreciation for tradition and the corp by bursting into laughter when she told us that cadets must address Reveille as "ma'am."