Friday, May 30, 2008

A Practical Guide for Evangelizing in the Real World

Guerrilla Apologetics 101

Before going in into the details of using Guerrilla Apologetics, it is important that the goal is made clear. The purpose of using guerrilla apologetics is to turn the discussion into a conversation with give-and-take on both sides, and to plant seeds for God to develop in the other person's journey of faith.

You should NOT try to prove the other person wrong, or convert them on the spot. Your arguments, no matter how good they are, will not change someone else's mind. Only they, with God's grace can do that. Perhaps your openness about your faith will play a role in God's plan, but much of the time we do not see the immediate effects of the part we play.

Try to set up and maintain a dialog in which to argue points of faith--not a personal quarrel. Always refrain from making personal attacks or criticizing another's beliefs, even if they are overly critical of yours. Avoid hostile discussions, and walk away if the discussion is deteriorating into a quarrel.

Attitude is everything in Guerrilla Apologetics. If you fail to exercise tact and civility, your actions and tone will overshadow and taint your efforts. Ask questions with sincere curiosity, and respect the other person as an expert on their faith. After all, you would be offended if a non-Catholic accused you of not knowing your own faith, so do not make the same assumption about them ...
This is from the introduction to the book but I wanted to put it up front so that everyone could see just what end results this apologetics approach is striving to achieve. The label "Guerilla" seems to me to be rather unfortunate as it gives the impression of warfare which is not what apologetics should be, although unfortunately it is often what apologetics devolves into.

Essentially, the idea behind "guerrilla apologetics" is that rather than continually answer from a defensive posture if questions about Catholicism arise, one could and should ask the questioner some things relating to their faith. This then opens the door to the exchange becoming more of a give-and-take conversation rather than an attack or defense. For example, if one is asked why Catholics "pray to" saints, it is the perfect opportunity to basically explain the concept behind intercession and then ask the questioner if they have ever asked a friend or anyone to pray for them. It is with fair but real-life examples like these that the book is filled.

I like the idea of using one's knowledge to open a real conversation with a questioner, should the person be open to such conversing. This book continually reminds the reader that one must respect the other person in any such conversation and this is a praise worthy goal.

Nowak also wrote Guerrilla Pro-Life Apologetics. It also takes this approach of asking questions to open the door to conversation. Of course, to do this, one must know about the topic and he also has good resources listed in the back of each book for further research.

Recommended.

Worth a Thousand Words

Moonlight in Edinburgh
Find many more striking photos at Flickr Scotland.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Divine Canine

The Eyes Have It
With our own dogs, from the earliest days of puppyhood we stress the importance of contact between human and canine. Our puppies, after the first few weeks, are handled constantly and affectionately. But as important as this physical contact is, we put just as much effort into eye contact, which is key to establishing a relationship that will blossom as puppies grow into dogs.

Good eye contact serves several different purposes in the adult dog. A kindly, gentle look tells the dog that she is loved and accepted. But it is just as vital to communicate a stern reaction to bad behavior. A piercing, sustained stare into a dog's eyes tells her who's in charge; it establishes the proper hierarchy of dominance between person and pet. We don't do this with anger, but with firmness. Such eye contact rivets the dog's attention and can help curtail unruly behavior. It also encourages respect and ensures that the dog is paying attention. A well-positioned training collar is the key to establishing eye contact; lifting the dog's head up and keeping it firmly pointed at your face virtually guarantees the dog will look into your eyes.
I fell in love with this book. It is not just that it is packed with stories and photos of adorable dogs unlearning bad training. It is that it reminded me of how much there is to appreciate in the pets right in my own household. I have a bad habit of being too busy to properly pay attention much of the time. I have to remind myself to stop what I am doing and pay full attention to the business colleague or even family member who is talking to me at the moment. Our animals, especially our dogs, are so patient that they will put up with days when I forget to even pet them, although the food and water bowls are filled.

Every time I pick up this book and look through it, I see reminders of just how much there is to learn from our animals as well as how they enrich our lives ... if we let them. Whether you are preparing to train a dog or trying to work your pet out of bad habits and into good ones, I highly recommend this book for the monks' humane and unique approach to remembering that "a caring attitude and honest communication can turn any dog into a divine canine."

Oh, yeah ... and if you want to train your dog whether to new habits or out of bad ones, this has some wonderful techniques.

Summer Reading

I got an email yesterday asking for some good summer reading ideas for a Catholic women's book club. Well, since I belong to a Catholic women's book club, I at least had a few ideas. I am passing them on to y'all in case you are looking for a good book.

First of all, there is the Perpetua & Felicity site I maintain (sketchily at best, I admit) for our group. The sidebar has what we have read and there is a post that has ideas for us to consider for other books.

Secondly, there are books I have reviewed here. It has all kinds of good stuff, including a "religion" category.

Then we have Father Jim Martin's recommendations.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Aquinas and More's summer reading program. Plus, they also show the 64 books they considered before narrowing it down to the summer selections.

Ok, everyone ... dive in!

Worth a Thousand Words

When Mountain Laurel Blooms

Used by permission from DL Ennis.
Be sure to see the original and check out all his glorious photography at Visual Thoughts

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

Spotlight by Belinda Del Pesco

Used with permission.
To see more gorgeous art, visit Belinda Del Pesco Fine Art Blog

"Nobody does vegetables like me. I did an evening of vegetables off-Broadway...."

Michael Dorsey: Are you saying that nobody in New York will work with me?

George Fields: No, no, that's too limited... nobody in Hollywood wants to work with you either. I can't even set you up for a commercial. You played a *tomato* for 30 seconds - they went a half a day over schedule because you wouldn't sit down.

Michael Dorsey: Of course. It was illogical.

George Fields: YOU WERE A TOMATO. A tomato doesn't have logic. A tomato can't move.

Michael Dorsey: That's what I said. So if he can't move, how's he gonna sit down, George? I was a stand-up tomato: a juicy, sexy, beefsteak tomato. Nobody does vegetables like me. I did an evening of vegetables off-Broadway. I did the best tomato, the best cucumber... I did an endive salad that knocked the critics on their ass.
I admit it. When I heard that Sydney Pollack had died, this is what sprang to mind ... his acting in one of the funniest scenes from one of my favorite movies, Tootsie.

The suspicion that Pollack was having Dustin Hoffman channel his true acting self didn't hurt the scene either, and I'd bet that Pollack was shrewd enough to use it to full advantage.

Naturally, Deacon Greg had the same thoughts and thanks to him I didn't have to go searching for this full take on that scene. Enjoy.

Applying the Virtues to Everyday Life

Raising Up Mommy
Virtues for Difficult Mothering Moments
Heidi Hess Saxton
Hospitality: The Feminine Face of Generosity

Order and proportion, beauty and moderation. To embrace these principles of artistry within the home is to create an environment where the senses of family members are liberated to appreciate the fullness of God's design. A single bit of sun-ripened peach dances on the tongue with a far greater satisfaction--and far less guilt--than a quart of factory processed frozen yogurt.

True hospitality--the ability to tend to another person's needs while simultaneously putting that person at ease--demands both an empathetic perspective and an artistic touch. The generous person slips a check in a get-well card; the hospitable individual also leaves a jar of homemade chicken-and-dumplings or an inspirational book on tape.

But what does practicing the art of hospitality have to do with combating greed, one might ask? Just as the greed attaches to material things out of fear or pride, the one who practices true hospitality meets the physical needs of others out of an inner conviction of faith and trust, demonstrating by their own detachment a firm reliance on the only true Source of good things.

The motivation behind the act is as important as the act itself. Some people, for example, give not out of a sense of gratitude, but out of neediness--a need to be liked, or to be in the limelight.....
Contrary to the title, this book is actually about how women can practice the virtues in their lives, whether they are mothers or not. As Saxton guides us through the virtues, showing how they are antidotes for the seven deadly sins, we can see how practicing the small opportunities yields spiritual flowering in our own lives and those around us. I could relate all too well to Saxton's frequent confessions of her less than perfect moments of mothering or wifeliness. However, I think it is the rare women who cannot relate this realistic linking of sins and virtues to their own lives, whether at work, with friends, or even when alone.

I am a big fan of the virtues but all too frequently I am good at reading about them but then forget to practice them. This book will help anyone who reads it, myself included, see the many opportunities we are given to practice the virtues every day. Saxton makes the goal of living our vocations as Christians eminently more "do-able" through the insights in this book.

Highly recommended.

Update: I see that Heidi also has a new book out ... about Mary. Read a review at Just another day of Catholic pondering.


Bonus Review

When I was looking around for sales links to put with the above book, I realized that I have been an unwitting fan of Heidi Saxton's for a long, long time. At the time I became Christian, I was looking around for books about prayer and came across a short series of books about praying with the saints. I really wish the series had been longer, however, it was through these that I was introduced to my first two saintly "pals," St. Augustine and St. Teresa of Avila. (The other two books feature St. Thomas More and St. Francis of Assisi.) Saxton wrote the Teresa of Avila book.

I still love these books which combine simple but insightful combinations of 60 day's worth of morning and evening readings featuring scripture and readings from the saint. I pick up used copies whenever I come across them to give to new converts. Recently, I gave one to a friend of Hannah's who just entered the Church and heard back that she really loves it.

A much belated, but heartfelt thank you for that book!

Highly recommended.

Update:
Heidi tells me that she has copies of this for sale at her place. Just click through.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gilliam, Depp ... and Palin?

Now this looks interesting. Jeffrey Overstreet reports that...
Contactmusic reports that Johnny Depp is back in cahoots with Terry Gilliam as they try once again to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a movie about that greatest challenger of windmills, Don Quixote. Depp worked with Gilliam on this project once before, but the production collapsed due to various catastrophes chronicled in the hilarious documentary Lost in La Mancha. But it looks like they’re ready to try again.
And who would play Don Quixote? Rumors are swirling around ... Michael Palin.

Which might not be as farfetched as one would think. He has had practice at playing a Spanish role before ...

I have been meaning to watch Lost in La Mancha, the documentary about Gilliam's failed previous attempt to make that movie. Must move it closer to the top of the list ...

It's official ... I am now a Robert Downey Jr. groupie

Like a lot of people, I sat up and took notice of him in Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. He was irresistible as the bumbling narrator of that film noir satire.

Also his ability to look reality in the eye and come out with a balanced perspective doesn't hurt either ...
I have a really interesting political point of view, and it’s not always something I say too loud at dinner tables here, but you can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal. You can’t. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone else, but it was very, very, very educational for me and has informed my proclivities and politics every since.


And, he was fantastic in Iron Man as the devil-may-care playboy who has his eyes opened and becomes the world weary savior of the little guy.

So, yeah, I'm a fan.

Superhero Highlight: The String

Continuing the stories of superheroes devised by Hannah and Jenny (more about that can be found here as well as the first description)

The String
Power: super-speed flossing, even on people unaware.

Backstory: The String, a gifted student of dentistry, was often distraught at the thought of how quickly plaque builds up between people’s teeth. His numerous campaigns to raise awareness of this epidemic went unnoticed by the public and left him with only one option: to break into people’s homes at night and floss their teeth for them. After his first forays into the world of forced, and rather illegal, dentistry ended in a short stint in prison, the String devised a plan: he would hone his flossing skills so as to floss unbelievably quickly. He made many a mannequin, trained day and night, but to no avail. In his despair, he decided to end it all and jumped into the town lake, Lake Toxin. Not unsurprisingly, he emerged unharmed and possessed the abilities he had dreamt of for so long. With his newfound powers, he now roams the city at night, making sure all townspeople have well-flossed teeth.

Cover: Mild-mannered dentist (and a handsome dentist at that)

Cover name: Dale Driftwood

Partner: The Candyman

Introduction to partner: On one of his many unsuccessful campaigns, The String was warning youngsters of the dangers of sugar at a local candy shoppe. Needless to say, the candy shoppe was being robbed (they sold Peeps, the most desirable of all sugary delights). As luck would have it, the most prominent hero of the day . . . The Candy Man (and a handsome Candy Man at that), appeared on the scene. He flung wave after wave of jellybeans and sour worms, which, as we all know, turn into explosives with one touch of his hand, at the formidable fiends. The candy shoppe, now in flames, was saved. The String and The Candy Man formed a partnership of unspeakable proportions and have fought for justice and oral hygiene ever since.

Archnemesis: Jeff Blankship, CEO of Nestle

==========

Next superhero feature coming: Detective Lemon

Welcome Jack!

Congratulations to Tim and his wife on the birth of their son, Jack.

This new dad even has a video to watch ... if you want the personal story.

Worth a Thousand Words

Hand-colored engravings of exotic fish from Sri Lanka
See more at BibliOdyssey

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day: With Many Thanks to Those Who Gave All For Us

I can only offer my whole hearted thanks and gratitude to those who gave their lives for their country.

Here are some pieces from others that may interest and inspire.
Today our nation celebrates Memorial Day. Originally called Decoration Day, the holiday started spontaneously in 1866, when a drugstore owner in Waterloo, N.Y., sought to honor those who died in the recent Civil War. Townspeople joined Henry Welles' cause to commemorate the fallen, and they decorated the graves with flowers, wreaths and crosses.Today our nation celebrates Memorial Day. Originally called Decoration Day, the holiday started spontaneously in 1866, when a drugstore owner in Waterloo, N.Y., sought to honor those who died in the recent Civil War. Townspeople joined Henry Welles' cause to commemorate the fallen, and they decorated the graves with flowers, wreaths and crosses.

In short order, others joined around the country and by 1868, according to the History Channel: "Children read poems and sang Civil War songs, and veterans came to school wearing their medals and uniforms ... Then the veterans marched through their hometowns followed by the townspeople to the cemetery." Soon enough, heroes from other wars were honored as well, and the day became Memorial Day.

Abraham Lincoln described our country, in his message to Congress in 1862, as the "last best hope of earth."
  • Moving tribute from an Englishman (via The Anchoress who also has some other very good links that you should read):
    ... when the Americans speak of freedom, we should not imagine, in our cynical and worldly-wise way, that they are merely using that word as a cloak for realpolitik. They are not above realpolitik, but they also mean what they say.

    These formidable people think freedom is so valuable that it is worth dying for.
  • 10 Things to Remember About Memorial Day comes from Mental Floss

  • Art depicting the horror or war is not often brought to the fore, even in museums where major pieces are part of the collection, so it often falls to places like the Hall of Remembrance to keep it on display.

    Actually, it’s up to us to look up and remember the images with which artists have tried to impress on us the inhumanity and tragedy of war, particularly when we are asking our friends, neighbors or sons and daughters to face it for any reason.
    Lines and Colors has a good post featuring an artist who brought home a depiction of what our soldiers suffer in protecting us at home.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Once Again, Let Us Celebrate the Third Most Important Day of the Year


First is Easter, then is Christmas, then is ... my birthday!

As I have mentioned before, some people ignore their birthdays or don't want much fuss made. Not me. I OWN my birthday ... just something about it. Everyone in the household knows it too. (To be fair, they all regard their birthdays to be the third most important day of the year.)

Hannah showed the proper spirit a few years ago when she was filling out a job application on Sunday and asked me what the date was. Then she answered her own question with, "Oh, wait. It must be the 22nd because I know Wednesday is the 25th." Yep, just like Christmas. All other dates are figured around this one.

Everything has been so chocolate intensive around here, what with Rose's and Tom's birthday cakes, that I am going for yellow cake, strawberries and whipped cream. Sort of an upscale strawberry shortcake maybe?

Also it is St. (Padre) Pio's birthday which is very cool. I couldn't find anything online that communicates the sense of joy and light-heartedness that I received while reading a biography of him. It was a photo of him with his head thrown back laughing that first made me notice him. I thought, "Now there is someone I could talk to..."
While praying before a cross, he received the stigmata on 20 September 1918, the first priest ever to be so blessed. As word spread, especially after American soldiers brought home stories of Padre Pio following WWII, the priest himself became a point of pilgrimage for both the pious and the curious. He would hear confessions by the hour, reportedly able to read the consciences of those who held back. Reportedly able to bilocate, levitate, and heal by touch. Founded the House for the Relief of Suffering in 1956, a hospital that serves 60,000 a year. In the 1920's he started a series of prayer groups that continue today with over 400,000 members worldwide.
And it is the Venerable Bede's saint day which is also very cool. You will never read a better death than that of the Venerable Bede ("Write faster!").
Even on the day of his death (the vigil of the Ascension, 735) the saint was still busy dictating a translation of the Gospel of St. John. In the evening the boy Wilbert, who was writing it, said to him: "There is still one sentence, dear master, which is not written down." And when this had been supplied, and the boy had told him it was finished, "Thou hast spoken truth", Bede answered, "it is finished. Take my head in thy hands for it much delights me to sit opposite any holy place where I used to pray, that so sitting I may call upon my Father." And thus upon the floor of his cell singing, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost" and the rest, he peacefully breathed his last breath.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

What I've Been Reading ...

... catching up ... on this list of what I've read this year.
  • Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch**** ... the sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora which was like Indiana Jones goes to sci-fi adventure land. The Booklist review of "Lies" describes the series best:
    On a distant world, orphan Locke Lamora is sold into a crew of thieves and con artists. Soon his natural gifts make him an underworld celebrity, leader of the flamboyantly larcenous Gentleman Bandits. But there is someone who covets Locke's talents, his success, his very life, forcing him to put everything on the line to protect himself. With a world so vividly realized that it's positively tactile, and characters so richly drawn that they threaten to walk right off the page, this is one of those novels that reaches out and grabs readers, pulling us into the middle of the action. With this debut novel, Lynch immediately establishes himself as a gifted and fearless storyteller, unafraid of comparisons to Silverberg and Jordan, not to mention David Liss and even Dickens (the parallels to Oliver Twist offer an appealing extra dimension to the story, although the novel is no mere reimagining of that Victorian classic). Fans of lavishly appointed fantasy will be in seventh heaven here, but it will be nearly as popular with readers of literary crime fiction. This is a true genre bender, at home on almost any kind of fiction shelf.
    This is a worthy successor, set in another part of Locke Lamora's world and Lynch pulls it off again. A series to treasure, but be sure to begin with the first one or you will be hopelessly lost.

  • Police Operation by H. Beam Piper, read by Mark Nelson *** ... novella-length story about the agent who is to clean up the problems a criminal caused when he went on the lam to another dimension. I don't think I really like Piper's style as this is the third or fourth of his works I have sampled and found uninspiring in general. However, Mark Nelson does a very good job reading the story.

  • White Night by Jim Butcher***** (reread) ... just as good the second time around. It looks as if a group of magic practitioners is committing suicide one by one but Harry can tell it is actually murder, and possibly being committed by a member of the Council. Naturally, that's just the tip of the iceberg. A good hard-boiled detective novel as usual.

  • Magic Street by Orson Scott Card***** (reread) ... also good the second time around. Probably the most creative connection I've ever seen of Shakespeare to our modern world. My previous quick review is here.

  • St. Dale by Sharon McCrumb*** ... an intriguing concept for looking at modern pop culture, McCrumb's story has a tour bus on a modern day pilgrimage of the "sainted" seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt. It is very clear that McCrumb is not only interested in racing and pop culture but pilgrimages from all times as the priest on the tour can only relate to the entire experience by relating similar pilgrimage experiences from history. Interesting and one certainly learns a lot about racing ...

  • Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely*** - I have enjoyed Neely's previous Blanche mysteries but this one grated on me. As the last book in the series, Blanche's personal issues with her mother and men get sorted out here. However, what I found annoying was her quick and unrelenting charges of racism based simply on a person's appearance, whether black or white. It is tough to meet Blanche's standards and this is the one are where she is apparently blind.

  • Jerome and the Seraph*** - I read a rave review of this somewhere which I am now scratching my head over after having read this book. It is delightful as far as it goes. Brother Jerome dies and then discovers that he is not in heaven or hell but in a midway ground as a sort of a ghost. Advised and guided by the monastery's cat, who has amazing abilities to bend time and space, Jerome goes on to solve an extremely minor mystery (which I figured out very early on in the book). The big mystery is barely touched upon which I found extremely annoying, especially for a $15 price tag. Clearly this is half of an entire book and the second half was later published a year or so later. I don't mind that as a general rule, as witness my extreme fondness for Pamela Dean's Secret Country trilogy, but at least Dean gave us something of depth and complexity. This book, I find, is lacking in both.

  • Uncle Tom's Cabin--A Reader's Companion to the Novel***** - a wonderful resource that answers various objections, both old and new, to Uncle Tom's Cabin as great literature as well as explicating the novel itself.

  • The Ballad of Frankie Silver by Sharyn McCrumb***** - McCrumb has a series of mysteries set in the Appalachians which are titled after old folk ballads. The book generally follows the idea of the song in some way but this one is superior as it tells the story of Frankie Silver and also gives a parallel in modern times which is being investigated. Recommended both to mystery lovers and those with an appreciation for Appalachian folk culture in modern times.

  • Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books by Maureen Corrigan***-fun to read as Corrigan's looks back at the books she's read throughout her life elicits similar reviews from the reader. However, I would have found it more interesting if woman-centric political subjects weren't so much to the forefront all the time.


  • Castleview by Gene Wolfe**** - the town of Castleview gets its name from the apparition of a castle that occasionally is sighted by locals. A group of townspeople get caught up in the affairs of Faery on a particular fateful evening and adventure follows. Wolfe tells this story with a minimum of explanation and the reader must be ready to make mental leaps and hold on for dear life as the tale takes up wild momentum. I quite enjoyed it although am going to have to read it multiple times to really understand just what was going on in the middle of the book.

  • Soldier of the Mist by Gene Wolfe*** ... intriguing concept. A soldier, Latros, in ancient Greek times has had a head injury that causes him to have extreme short term memory loss. Every morning he must read what he wrote the night before to know what has happened to him lately. He also can see and interact with local gods and goddesses as he attempts to work his way home, if only he could remember where that was. A good book but not intriguing enough to make me want to read the sequels.

  • Small Favor (The Dresden Files, Book 10)***** - ten books into the series and Jim Butcher is still coming up with fresh and interesting challenges for Harry Dresden, hard-boiled Chicago detective and wizard. It begins with underworld boss Johnny Marcone being kidnapped, ostensibly to gain control of him as he is a member of the Accords (trust me, start at the beginning of the series if you're a newcomer to these books). Harry is dragooned into tracking him down by Mab as one of the two remaining favors he owes her. As with most Dresden books, just when you think you know where you're going, the plot takes an abrupt left turn into new territory. Most interesting to me is Nicodemus' interest in recruiting Harry and Harry's new revelations about relationship with God.
Read reviews of food-ish books here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Superhero Highlight: Ramen Girl

Continuing the stories of superheroes devised by Hannah and Jenny (more about that can be found here as well as the first description)

Ramen Girl
Power: Ability to instantly cook instant ramen

Back-story: Ramen Girl was a typical college student in that her diet consisted mostly of ramen noodles. She was less typical in that she had not yet learned not to put seven ramen cups in the microwave at once. Ramen Girl learned this lesson the hard way, when she overfilled her microwave and it EXPLODED. She instantly became the least popular resident of the dormitory because the fire alarms were set off and it was 3 am. However, she came away from the experience with a new power, a gift seemingly bestowed upon her by the microwave gods. Ramen Girl now had the power to INSTANTLY cook instant ramen. At first, she simply used her powers to more efficiently cook ramen for herself, but after playing a hilarious joke on her friends, in which she scalded them with ramen, she realized that her selfish behavior was a waste of her potential. So she began her life of fighting crime.

Cover: Mild-mannered hair stylist (and a gorgeous hair stylist at that)

Cover name: Harriet Hildenbrook

Partners: The Klutz, H2Whoa

Introduction to partners: Ramen Girl, like the extreme fan-girl she is, one day decided to throw caution to the wind, sneak onto the a movie studio, and finally meet her idol, inspiration, and own personal heroine. Ever since she first saw the classic film The Brunette’s Revenge and its sequel My Neighbor is a Unicorn she has dreamt of the day that she would get the chance to stand in the same room as the beautiful, talented Mildred McEntire. She ducked, she dived, and she dipped to evade the security guards, but just as she was approaching that starred dressing room, the Po-pos caught sight of her. She fled the scene as fast as she could and seemed to be losing her pursuers, until Ramen Girl tripped on a large object that turned out to be famed heroine, The Klutz, who had recently thrown herself to the ground in an attempt to foil this trespasser’s scheme. Ramen Girl, stunned that she was so easily thwarted, began to examine the cause of her downfall, only to find that The Klutz and Mildred McEntire were one in the same. It was a dream come true. After explaining to The Klutz her situation, no charges were pressed, but instead, they decided to form a crime fighting duo. At this point, however, The Klutz already had a partner in justice, but Ramen Girl and H2Whoa! were able to get along with each other just fine, and they went on to be one of the most powerful trios of our day.

Arch-nemesis: The makers of Smooth shampoo, for making all her customers’ hair fall out
==========
Next superhero feature coming: The String

Worth a Thousand Words

Via Art Knowledge News.
Click through to see a larger version and learn more about the show.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dollhouse - Joss Whedon



This clip is much better than the one I saw before. Now, I'm interested! Via Scott Danielson.

Worth a Thousand Words

Ural Owl

Shown by permission.
To see this larger and for more fantastic photography, visit pildiblog.

Ted Kennedy, the Our Father, and Me

A friend confessed to me that her dithering about praying for Kennedy has forced some introspection - the good old Catholic notion of “examining the conscience” forced her to look at where she was lacking. But of course, taking the time to make that examination, and to locate her fault, helped her to move past it and to find herself both willing and able to pray for Kennedy and for his family. It is funny how locating our own beams make it easier to look past other’s splinters.
The Anchoress and I were exchanging emails this morning and, while I may not have been the only one, my email is well represented by her in the above excerpt. She has a very good piece examining the reactions she has heard to Kennedy's illness and you should go read the whole thing.

I was shocked (shocked!) at myself this morning when realizing that my reaction upon reading about Ted Kennedy's brain tumor was a distinct disinclination to pray for him. Certainly not publicly! Why people might think that I agree with him politically. How startling to realize that this man's personal tragedy was solely looked at from the context of me, Me, ME!

How humbling. Or it should have been. I merely was ashamed and then went to pray. Did I remember to pray for Teddy? Nope. I had forgotten about it. (Ahem ... I mentioned it's all about me, didn't I?)

I must pause here to add an aside that Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life has been living up to my hopes and expectations. I have not been allowing myself to read it at any other time than as a sort of lectio divina (sacred reading) in the morning. As a result, where I once dutifully went to prayer time, I now eagerly "take up and read" a section and then ponder it with the intention of letting God guide me.

Appropriately, this morning, I was finishing up the commentary on Matthew 6:9-15, the Our Father, or Lord's Prayer. Specifically, the bit on forgiveness.
12 and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. If read outside of the context of the Lord's Prayer, the language of this petition sounds like something we might say in court to a bankruptcy judge: please forgive all that I owe, as I am forgiving what is owed me. But in Aramaic, the word debts was also used for sins; our sins create, as it were, a debt we owe God--damages owed to him. We pray that God will forgive us what we owe him, just as we forgive those who have harmed us and owe us recompense....

14 In order to emphasize the importance of one of the petitions in the prayer Jesus has taught his followers, Jesus expands upon it: If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. To receive the forgiveness we need from God we must forgive those who have harmed us.

15 To refuse to forgive others blocks out our being forgiven: But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. Jesus will later put God's forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others in perspective (18:21-35), making it clear that God extends his forgiveness first, and that the forgiveness we receive from God far outweigh all the forgiveness we will ever grant. Here Jesus is content to emphasize that we cannot expect God to forgiven us if we refuse to forgive others. Two centuries earlier Sirach had linked receiving God's forgiveness with our forgiving others (Sirach 28:1-5), and Jesus upholds this view.

Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Should a man nourish anger against his fellow
and expect healing from the LORD?
Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows,
yet seek pardon for his own sins?
Sirach 28:2-4

For reflection: Who do I find it most difficult to truly forgive? What step might I take to extend forgiveness to that person?
I didn't connect this with my self-realization earlier but it came back to me when reading this comment from The Anchoress.
But then I thought - how awful it must be to live out all of your mistakes and sins in public - to go through life with people presuming to know the state of your mind and soul, when all of our minds and souls are sometimes quite mucked up?
Suddenly, in my mind, Teddy Kennedy went from being a political figure with whom I vehemently disagree and became a living, breathing, human being. A person. For whom I could easily pray, despite my feelings one way or the other about him.

I had brought Matthew's Gospel with me to work so I could begin sharing some highlights with y'all and I dug through it to my morning readings. They became a finger shaken at me by Jesus as I read over them again. Another tiny step toward my trying to live my faith and not just give it lip service.

This brought me again to the hard truth that the Christian faith, truly lived out, is no easy road. John C. Wright said it quite well.
Have you ever had one of those days, where you are exasperated by the opinions and bad personal habits of well-respected artisans in your particular craft, and you find that you are an opinionated blow-hard who enjoys complaining and bellyaching about other people's shortcomings, and you also have a live-journal where you can express your most private thoughts of contempt and disdain for the yammerheads whose idiocy so richly merits insult ---- but then you remember you are a Christian, and so you are under orders not merely not to complain (for even the Gentiles are well-bred) but to love and pray for such people? Worse yet, you cannot pray for them in an ungenerous spirit, because Our Boss who art in Heaven does not accept sacrifices offered unwillingly.

What a difficult, annoying religion!

To those of you who think religion is a self-delusion based on wish-fulfillment, all I can remark is that this religion does not fulfill my wishes. My wishes, if we are being honest, would run to polygamy, self-righteousness, vengeance and violence: a Viking religion would suit me better, or maybe something along Aztec lines. The Hall of Valhalla, where you feast all night and battle all day, or the paradise of the Mohammedans, where you have seventy-two dark-eyed virgins to abuse, fulfills more wishes of base creatures like me than any place where they neither marry nor are given in marriage. This turn-the-other cheek jazz might be based any number of psychological appeals or spiritual insights, but one thing it is not based on is wish-fulfillment.

An absurd and difficult religion! If it were not true, no one would bother with it....
Lord have mercy on me and bless Teddy Kennedy and his family in this dark time for them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

As an apology for no LOST posts for every so long ...

... please accept this link to a post leading to the most comprehensive LOST theory ever.

And, yes, we're now about 10 episodes behind so I may never catch up. But I'm not quitting ...

Worth a Thousand Words

The Lookout
Used by permission.
Go to
A Painting Today to see more of Karin Jurick's art.

Helping Us Through the Catechism

Church Speak

Catholic and catholic (with a lowercase "c") mean two different things. The first refers to someone who is a particular type of Christian who adheres to three basic things: (1) the tenets of a faith started by Jesus and continued by the apostles and their successors in the college of bishops, (2) forms of worship that date from the apostolic age, and (3) a particular system of governance. The second definition, the one used in the Nicene Creed, refers to "universality." The Church is "catholic" in that it is on a mission from Christ to bring salvation to all of humanity. The Eastern Orthodox Church, in its nearly identical creed, also uses the term "catholic," even though members are not in communion with the Catholic Church, and Protestants who pray the creeds also understand "catholic" with a small "c."
I have to admit that I'm a real sucker for "the basics" books. I like the little call-out boxes (where the above info came from) with extra information. I like the outlines. I like the lists of things to remember. What can I say? I'm obviously the target these books were designed for. Especially when they come with an nihil obstat and imprimatur (meaning that an expert has looked it over and found nothing against Catholic teachings in the book) ... like this book does. Quite often, between reading a "basics" book and reading the real thing (in this case, the Catechism), I will get a more complete understanding than I would have with simply one reference alone.

I really enjoyed reading this book and also enjoyed the author's true enthusiasm for her subject. Mary DeTurris Poust writes with clarity about the catechism and demystifies it for anyone who might be intimidated by cracking open "the Catholic rule book" as some might think it. Reading through her book reminded me that the Catechism is so much more than merely a rule book, however. It has not only guidelines to what Church teachings are but also guidelines to prayer life for example. I was reminded that I once heard Cardinal Arinze say in a podcast that he read some of the Catechism each day as a prompt to contemplative prayer.

The only problem I found with the book was when I turned to it for clarification on a question brought to me by someone. Just why was it that Protestants couldn't partake of the Eucharist with Catholics? I knew the basics but was curious to see how this book worded it.

Turns out the book didn't mention that at all that I could find. And I scoured it. Completely. Several times. (If someone does see where I missed it, be sure to let me know).

Now, I found this quite surprising. This is always a sore subject when my Protestant friends bring it up. And when not-so-friendly Protestants bring it up. Or how about when choose-your-own-menu Catholics pop it at me? In an election year, after the Pope visited our country, we have seen these questions come up time and again as to who can have Communion and why or why not.

So I went to the source to see where it was listed. Sure enough, it is very clearly spelled out, down to the last detail. I was especially pleased to read 1401 which allows for charity in emergencies in this matter.
1398 The Eucharist and the unity of Christians. Before the greatness of this mystery St. Augustine exclaims, "O sacrament of devotion! O sign of unity! O bond of charity!" The more painful the experience of the divisions in the Church which break the common participation in the table of the Lord, the more urgent are our prayers to the Lord that the time of complete unity among all who believe in him may return.

1399 The Eastern churches that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church celebrate the Eucharist with great love. "These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments, above all - by apostolic succession - the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in closest intimacy." A certain communion in sacris, and so in the Eucharist, "given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not merely possible but is encouraged."

1400 Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, "have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders." It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible. However these ecclesial communities, "when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper . . . profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory."

1401 When, in the Ordinary's judgment, a grave necessity arises, Catholic ministers may give the sacraments of Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick to other Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, who ask for them of their own will, provided they give evidence of holding the Catholic faith regarding these sacraments and possess the required dispositions.
The book covers the Catechism section before this and the section after this but completely ignored this part. Which is puzzling and also rather troubling. I did not see any other omissions of this sort, however, one must remember that I wouldn't have found this had I not had a specific question. One hopes that this is an inadvertent omission or unfortunate cut mad by an editor one of those things that is corrected in the next edition.

This also illustrates the reason to always go check the source, even when dealing with a very good "basics" book. One gets much needed access to original information without the interpretation that another book adds. I often tend to gloss over this step and this is a good reminder to me that skipping the original is just cheating myself.

All that said, there is much to like in this book. It gives a good overview of main points and continually points back to the Catechism as the authority. I think that it will do much to help people understand that the Catechism isn't as daunting as they may believe.

I recommend it as an overview but with caution to be used to check the Catechism for complete teachings. Which is the point of the book in the first place, so that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Some Quick Revelations ...

Half-Price Books: is there anything better than going to the used book store and watching Hannah buy $44 worth of old science fiction that she first read from your book shelves? Talk about the ultimate flattery. Meanwhile, Rose and I continue to scour the shelves for old Georgette Heyer books to begin her collection. No luck there. People just don't wanna let those books go and I understand why.

Guys & Dolls: I never was that interested in this but Rose recently watched it. She liked it so much she asked for it for her birthday ... and then insisted we all watch last night. She was right. It is great ... and Marlon Brando was amazing in it. Says the Marlon Brando hater. Clearly I hadn't watched him in the right movie. As Tom said, he added that dangerous edge needed for the part. According to IMDB, Frank Sinatra threw a hissy fit because he wanted the main part. He was wrong. The casting was just right.

Rose Would Survive ....

She and her gang are going on an extended camping trip to celebrate graduating.

As they will be some distance from civilization, Tom required a plan before approving this venture, which the two Eagle scouts running the trip provided. All was well and we approved.

However, thanks to our modern day and age, I have seen trailers for too many horror movies where the innocent band of campers is set upon by monsters/zombies/aliens ... or my worst fear ... a crazed person ... and mayhem ensues.

Worse still, some time ago Tom told me all about a book by a Texas ranger in which that sort of thing actually happened.

Now, intellectually I know that these sorts of incidents are as scarce as hens' teeth. However, as a mother I have this nagging worry.

I try to relax. I try to let it go. I pray and turn it over to God ... and then find myself with that nagging worry again.

So I told Rose about it. She began laughing and said, "Well if it makes you feel better, I would be the person who survives."

I asked how she thought that would be.

She said, "Well, I have the bad back and so would have the most difficult time getting away. That would make the most interesting story line and so I would survive."

We both laughed merrily. I said, "If only real life happened like movie plots."

"Oh it does," she said. "Debbie is blonde so she'd go first ... Thomas might also survive because he's so smart that he'd do some McGyver-like thing to stop the killer. Unless he felt he needed to sacrifice himself to save the rest of us."

"And I like that he would sacrifice himself if that was absolutely needed to save the others," I said.

"Oh, he would," she replied.

Funny. But now I do feel better.

Postscript
Speaking of Thomas, he is a brilliant kid. Not only did he do award-winning research on nuons when he was a sophomore, but he then went on to do further research and will have a paper published on it next month. Harvard came asking him to attend their school. He turned down Stanford because they have a strict policy on not letting undergrads do research. I think they'll be sorry later. Notre Dame is quite happy to let Thomas into their labs when he gets there later this fall. He'll be majoring in Latin and physics.

The thing I like about Thomas is his ability to evaluate facts and make up his own mind. He turned down Cal-Tech and chose Notre Dame because he felt a broad education was wiser. He has been evaluating political policies on some of the issues that are most important to him (nuclear energy, etc.) and recently did an about-face on long-held political allegiances based on his findings. That shows the true scientific spirit, I believe, and I honor him for it.

He was the valedictorian of Rose's class and, as is the tradition, he selected his favorite teacher to speak about him. He chose Sister Cecilia who is a brilliant and honored scientist in her own right. It is from her speech that I got many of the details I just mentioned. Thomas is a frequent visitor with all of Rose's friends, but he doesn't talk about himself. She mentioned that he met Stephen Hawking a few weeks ago. Naturally Thomas was quite honored to meet the most famous scientist of our day. Sister reflected that her thought was that it was perhaps an unknown honor for Hawking as well to meet someone who may well become his successor in scientific achievement. Sister does not give out praise lightly and that added to the impact of her comments. I agree.

For Tom ...


... on our 24th anniversary.

It seems like no time at all ... and then thinking back to what we were like then (and no Hannah and Rose!) it seems like forever ago.

But what a wonderful time we've been having so far on the way.

Congratulations to Rose!


Rose graduated from high school yesterday. She was in the top 10 of her class.

We are so very proud of all that she has accomplished. Of course, we are even prouder of the young woman she has become ... but that goes without saying doesn't it?

I think I would have done much better with the whole thing if I had not had a dream the night before about little, 3-year-old, adorable, toddler Rose ... which left me rather weepy throughout the day (and, yes, lasting into today, truth to be told). You know, loving the young woman who is here now and who I can talk about books and movies with ... but still missing that little one from long ago.

Onward and upward, Rose will be interning for a post-production studio this summer and then off to Columbia College in Chicago this fall to begin studying film editing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

City of Ember Trailer


Now this also looks interesting ... kind of a family movie set in an environment that feels like an old-time sci-fi movie set. Also, it's the last place I'd expect to see Bill Murray.

Check out the trailer at Ain't It Cool.

There's Many a Slip Twixt the Book and the Movie

Lars at Brandywine Books points out a major flaw he noticed in the adaptation of Prince Caspian for the movie world ... and why it matters.

[...] What set me off was a statement that director Andrew Adamson decided to make Susan Pevensey a warrior in the battle (in the film), though Lewis had made it a point to keep her out of it (in the book).

The more I think about this, the more it bothers me. I understand that I’m touchy and obsessive on the subject, but there are times when madmen (like me) can see the truth that sane people can’t, because we look where nobody else is looking. If it’s true that the truths that are most important to defend in any age are precisely those that are most despised, then madmen are sometimes the bloodhounds who smell out what the truth-hunters don’t see.

The decision to kick aside a plot point that mattered to Lewis, just because it’s unfashionable, is not a minor matter (or so it seems to me). In this situation it’s a declaration that there is no special calling for a man to be warrior and protector in the world. Nobody seems to see this, but to me it’s obvious—such a view has dangerous, catastrophic consequences, not only for boys and men but for society as a whole. It’s an assertion (one at which Lewis would have snorted in contempt) that there is no essential difference between men and women; that there are only interchangeable hominid units. [...]
Read it all here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Superhero Highlight: Halfsies

Continuing the stories of superheroes devised by Hannah and Jenny (more about that can be found here as well as the first description)

Halfsies


Power: Ability to walk half way into a wall

Back-story: As a matter transistor repair man, Halfsies spent much of his time repairing matter transistors. As a result, his days were usually quite mundane. Little did he know, however, that once he entered THIS matter transistor, he would never be the same again. Halfsies began his day, like so many others, with a visit to a mad scientist’s humble, unstable technology-filled abode. He began his routine inspection of machine, screwing in this, unscrewing that, etc. When he entered the matter transistor to investigate its inner workings, however, he heard an ominous humming begin to emanate from the machine. He whirled around to see the mad scientist cackling maniacally and pulling numerous sinister levers. Realizing that the transistor was not broken at all and that the scientist merely wanted a test subject, Halfsies leapt heroically out of the transistor, but not before being struck with its power. Because he was not fully exposed to its influences, Halfsies was only partially affected, leaving him with the ability to walk into walls, but only halfway. Realizing the amount of crazy wackjobs that infested his fair city, Halfsies dedicated himself to the defense of repairmen everywhere.

Cover: Mild-mannered matter transistor repairman (and a handsome matter transistor repairman at that)

Cover name: Malachai Montgomery

Partners: The Scrabbler, The Lincolnator

Introduction to partners: After a successful day of foiling mad scientists, Halfsies decided to relax at a local soda shoppe. He was sitting at the counter, enjoying his strawberry malt, and thoroughly minding his own business, when he felt a shower of copper raining down on him. He turned to see a young lass with a crazed look in her eyes pelting him with pennies for no reason he could discern. Halfsies leapt into action, and did what he did best: ran into the walls to hide. This tactic was more effective when the person being hid from was not already staring at him, though, so it didn’t help a lot. If anything, it lessened his mobility and retreat options, cornering him halfway in the wall. Luckily, the young lady eventually realized her mistake and ceased her attempts to knock Halfsies unconscious with pennies. The two laughed about the hilarious misunderstanding for quite some time, and Halfsies readily joined The Lincolnator, as he learned the young miss was called, and her partner, The Scrabbler, to become a fabulous trio, defending all that is just and right. Upon meeting The Scrabbler, Halfsies discovered that they had served jury duty together some months ago. As the only jurors dedicated to justice and not spellbound by room service, Halfsies and The Scrabbler formed a firm friendship, after they went jogging. So it was a pleasant surprise to both that they were now partners in fighting crime.

Arch-nemesis: Mad scientists
==========
Next superhero feature coming: Ramen Girl

Worth a Thousand Words

Two Headed Toffee Coo

Found at Flickr Scotland.
Check out the fantastic photos they have there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

Sir Joshua Reynolds. Lucy, Lady Strange. 1755.
From Olga's Art Gallery.

Superhero Highlight: The Lincolnator

Continuing the stories of superheroes devised by Hannah and Jenny (more about that can be found here as well as the first description)

The Lincolnator

Power: Can turn any form of currency into pennies

Back-story: As an adamant coin collector, she was demanding specialty coins from a nearby antique shop. She was so adamant that the shop owners pulled out all the stops and bestowed upon her their rarest of coins. Little did The Lincolnator realize that this PARTICULAR coin had been recovered on an archaeological dig in the cursed temples of the ancient Incan civilization. This coin, created by an extremely visionary shaman (and a handsome shaman at that) gave its owner the power to alter currency. At first, the coin possessed great power, enabling the owner to make change in whatever manner they wish, providing them with the best currency for a given situation. Over time, however, the coin has lost some of its power; now, it enables the owner to change any type of currency into pennies and pennies alone, which is odd, considering that the Incans did not use pennies. Upon discovering this new ability of hers, she set about to annoy all of her least favorite friends, acquaintances, and business associates by turning all of their currency into pennies. One day, when The Lincolnator went to a vending machine and was unable to purchase anything because it would not take pennies, she realized the error of her ways and set about using her power for good from then on.

Cover: Mild-mannered magician (and a gorgeous magician at that)

Cover name: Melinda Minkfoot

Partners: The Scrabbler, Halfsies

Introduction to partners: After joining forces with The Scrabbler, having met in an intense game of Scrabble, The Lincolnator rejoiced at her luck and walked into a nearby soda shoppe. There she saw a man she thought she knew, quickly recognized him as the Masked Marauder, and devised a plan to foil his crime. The plan was simple, so simple it was genius: pelt him with pennies until he surrenders. She quickly set her plan into action, sending wave after wave of pennies hurtling towards the man. She was then ASTOUNDED to see the man retreat back into the wall, not all the way through the wall, but about halfway into it. “The Masked Marauder can’t walk into walls,” she thought quite cleverly to herself. On closer inspection of this supposed villain, she realized he was no villain at all, but none other than Halfies, a beloved hero famous for his ability to walk halfway into a wall. Needless to say, The Lincolnator’s cheeks turned bright red with embarrassment, a cute bright red, though, endearing her forever to Halfies. At that moment, Halfies joined forces with The Lincolnator and The Scrabbler to become a terrific triad of heroes.

Arch-nemesis: Carmen Caldwell, the city’s most prominent coin collector
==========
Next superhero feature coming: Halfsies

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

10 Prayers God Always Says Yes To: a touching review

Y'all may remember that I was quite surprised to find myself a big fan of this book.

Ma Beck over at WardWideWeb also gives it a thumbs up.

Her review is the prelude to an endorsement of the book that is both touching (yes, I cried) and a testimony to God's persistence and goodness in giving us what He knows we need. Do go read it ...

Worth a Thousand Words

Pen Drawing by Charles Maginnis
Via Lines and Colors
Click on drawing to see larger, click through art title link for the free ebook from Gutenberg.

Like ... tragically inarticulate, you know?



The Anchoress thought I'd like this. She was right. I say that with complete conviction.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

Gebera Daisy
by Hey Jules who recently was awarded Image of the Week by Bird Photographers.net. And well deserved too!

Iron Man ... the Catholic Batman?

Or so Enbrethiliel's pal points out ...
"I guess I was never interested," my friend continued," because he has no innate superpowers. I read a description of him somewhere that fits perfectly: the Catholic Batman. I mean, like Bruce Wayne, he just built everyth--"

I practically knocked Skairuz's glass over in my excitement. "The Catholic Batman??? Why? How? Speak!"

"Well . . . his motivation to fight crime is based on his discovery of how his past actions have caused others, including innocents, to suffer. He's trying to atone for his sins, do penance, as it were."

As you can see, Skairuz got the best out of fifteen years of Jesuit education. ...
She's not alone. Well, The American Culture doesn't go so far as to call Iron Man a Catholic Batman, but it does a very nice piece on the redemptive quality of the movie and concludes:
It's no surprise that Iron Man benefits from impressive special effects and action sequences, but it is somewhat surprisng and pleasing that it has some truly serious ideas and characterizations and explores them with sincerity, wit, and sophistication.
Decent Films concurs:
... Here is a popcorn movie with a will to entertain, at turns evoking James Bond, Batman Begins and Transformers; if it’s not in the same league as Batman Begins, it’s better (and shorter) than Transformers, with a redemptive angle foreign to James Bond.

Directed by Jon Favreau (Zathura), Iron Man is a rare superhero origin story that is also a conversion story. ...
I have been trying not to read reviews because I really want to see this in the movies and not know every turn of the plot. However, even a cursory scan of these reviews shows that this is a superhero movie with a lot of heart. Do go read them all for a good look behind the standard superhero story.

Oh, and to answer Enbrethiliel's question ...
Is there anything more embarrassing than having Barb Nicolosi beat me to posting about a superhero movie?
No, no there isn't. As I can say from experience right now.

The Crystal Skull in Indiana Jones

For anyone worrying that the crystal skull in Indiana Jones might be based on something real ... check out one of my favorite podcasters, Skeptoid, who gives us the whole scoop.

Yep, you're right. They are fakes and they were never Mayan. But listen or read it anyway. Then you'll have the facts when someone starts worrying about ancient Mayan religions.

Opening the Scriptures: A series that lives up to its name

Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life:
Insight and Inspiration
(Opening the Scriptures series)
by George Martin
"Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?"
Luke 24:32
"Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life" is a commentary that made the above verse from Luke occur to me again and again. George Martin has given us a thorough and fascinating yet highly accessible scriptural commentary that truly does let us see the Gospel of Matthew with new eyes.

The structure of the book follows this outline as Matthew is covered, section by section:
  • An orientation, if needed, of the scriptural passage.

  • The scriptural passage in its entirety

  • Listing of Gospel parallels, Old Testament related passages, and New Testament related passages

  • Verse-by-verse explanation of the text. Occasionally this is a phrase-by-phrase explanation when necessary for clarity. The Gospel phrase or verse is always bolded within these so that one can see easily what is being explicated. The explanation will often reflect a connection to the present day life in the Church. If an explanation has not been agreed upon by scholars, Martin may offer his own possible explanation or clarification but this is always within Church teachings.

    • Full quotations of related Old Testament passages within the explanations when they are necessary
    • Cross-references to Old and New Testament passages that are related to each explanation
    • Listing and page numbers of related background information that might be in other sections

  • Reflection questions that provide opportunities to relate the scripture to one's own life

  • Boxed-in background information which provides contextual information on such varied subjects as farming life in Palestine, the meaning that the word messiah had for Jews at the time of Jesus, how cosmic signs were interpreted, and what the roles of servants and slaves were in that time.
Over the years I have used many scriptural commentaries, some Catholic and some Protestant. Each has their advantages but this is the first I have encountered that has gripped me with such interest that I read it to the exclusion of all else. After perusing so many commentaries, I thought that I had a grasp of the basic considerations for many of the most commonly quoted gospel passages. Although Martin definitely covers what I already might have known from other sources, he does so with many citations to Old Testament passages that other sources have not necessarily included. As well, he is continually surprising me with a consideration that I had not thought of before. It may be a subtle point but is usually a telling one and has given me much food for thought already. I am positive that Tom already is tired of me piping up with, "Hey, listen to this!" after only reading 80 pages so far. For example:
[The Homage of the Magi
1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, a magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." ...]

2 The magi come to Jerusalem saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." They observe a star at its rising--at its first appearance in the sky. What might they have seen (a supernova? a conjunction of planets? a comet?) is a matter of conjecture, but Matthew's concern is the significance of what the magi saw, not its nature. The magi interpret the rising of the star as signaling the birth of a king of the Jews. There was ancient belief that heavenly signs marked the birth of great men. Some Jews applied the Scripture passage, "A star shall advance from Jacob" (Num 24:17), to the coming of the Messiah, and the magi may have known of this. The magi come to Jerusalem and ask about the newborn king of the Jews so that they may do him homage. The star alerted them to his birth, but Matthew does not portray it guiding them on their journey. The magi simply come to the Jewish capital city -- Jerusalem -- looking for its newborn king.
This may seem obvious to everyone else but it simply never occurred to me that the star was what began the magi on their journey but that they simply had to apply their own logic after that in going to Jerusalem since that would be a good place to begin looking for the king of the Jews. Later in the commentary, Martin points out that Herod hears about the magi, calls the priests and scribes to him to ask where the messiah was to be born, and then calls the magi to tell them to look in Bethlehem. Now, he is doing all this for his own reasons, which we know through hindsight are nefarious. I had never caught that sequence of events so clearly ... that Herod ascertained the location and then summoned the magi. I just never read the text that clearly.

Then Martin sums it up for us in another connection that I'd never made, and couldn't have made without having the previous sequence pointed out to me.
9 After their audience with the king they set out. The magi begin their quest for Jesus because of a star, a revelation through nature. (Paul writes that God reveals himself through his creation: Rom 1:19-20.) Natural revelation goes only so far: it leads the magi to Jerusalem, but not yet to Jesus. God's revelation through nature must be completed by God's revelation to his people and through their writings, the Scriptures. The prophet Micah [quoted to Herod by the scribes and Pharisees] provided the link that leads the magi on their next step toward Jesus. ...
Could you hear my mind blowing? That made such sense, clicked into place so perfectly, yet I had never come across that before.

It is not a slender book, clocking in at 668 pages, however not one page has been wasted. As you can see from above, the care which Martin gives to the commentary requires length in order to be easily understood. His thoroughness also can be appreciated when one considers that the selected bibliography contains 89 books. This book also has both a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur which are like a Catholic Church seal of approval on the accuracy with which the facts reflect Church teachings.

Word Among Us and George Martin are to be lauded for this series which I hope will continue at least through the Acts of the Apostles. I especially appreciate having relevant Old Testament passages quoted in their entirety so that the flow is not interrupted while I dash to the Bible to see the related text. Let's face it, few of us go to the actual trouble of doing that, although we should, so this is doubly welcome. As well, I like having the background information reference given wherever it might come up as a question. It is wonderful not having to thumb to end notes or search the index to find extra information.

It is still true that no one commentary covers every aspect of scriptural commentary. Others have a more specific focus on Church fathers or archaeology for example. I will still be using them. However, this is probably the most complete I have come across yet and will be the one I recommend for anyone who is interested in really learning what scripture can show us when we take the time to read through it slowly, with attention, and with prayer.

Word Among Us also generously sent Bringing the Gospel of Mark to Life, mentioning that they had heard some comments that the books were "too scholarly" and this concerned them as the books are specifically meant to be easily accessible to any level of knowledge from beginner to scholar. After reading some from both books, the only explanation I can imagine for those comments are that perhaps the purchasers expected the commentary to be similar to that of Word Among Us devotional magazine. You can see, by clicking through on the link, that the commentary in that publication is entirely personal and designed for reflection on relationship. Martin's commentary, although based on explaining the scripture verses, is no less accessible and no less suited for personal reflection. In fact, in the introduction he says that his "fondest wish" is that readers will be able to use these books for lectio divina (sacred reading) and prayer. I believe this is an entirely valid use and, in fact, am planning on this use myself.

I do have one criticism. The scripture passages from Matthew quoted in their entirety at the beginning of each discussion need to be visually delineated more clearly. Currently these sections simply blend into the overall pages which makes it very difficult to pick out where a section begins or ends. As I begin each chapter, I have been using a red pencil to box in the scripture. This has made a big difference in helping to organize the page visually, for me at any rate. Certainly it makes each chapter less intimidating when one can leaf through and see the many "sections" into which it is actually divided. Although this quibble would seem minor, I hope that the publishers of future editions would consider it.

Highly recommended.

I will be including nuggets on this blog as I continue reading through Matthew. For those who wish to begin with Mark, I leave you with this background information which, again, blew my mind, as I hadn't ever considered what he says about John the Baptist. I also appreciate the fact that Martin spends almost as much time reminding us not to read into Mark what we know from other sources as he does in other commentary. This section also gives an excellent example of Martin's extension of his commentary to an idea for our personal reflections.
COMMENT: TO READ MARK We will be most sensitive to the message Mark wishes to proclaim in his gospel if we read it as a Gospel in itself. We bring a great deal of knowledge to our reading of Mark, including what the Gospel of John tells us about John the Baptist. In the fourth Gospel, the Baptist recognizes and proclaims Jesus as the one who comes after him (John 1:26-34). In arriving at a final assessment of John the Baptist, we need to take into account all that is said about him in all four Gospels. But reading Mark's Gospel for the message it proclaims is a different matter. To do so we need to pay attention to what Mark says--and doesn't say-- and not automatically import information into Mark's Gospel from the other Gospels.

There is a second, related requirement. In reading Mark's Gospel we need to distinguish between what we know because Mark tells us and what the characters in Mark's Gospel know or do not know. Mark has told us that John the Baptist is the one sent to prepare the way for Jesus (1:1-3). But John the Baptist has not read Mark's Gospel and might not know what we know. Mark has told us from the very beginning that Jesus is the Christ (1:1), but those Jesus meets in the course of his ministry will be slow to recognize who Jesus is.

If John did not recognize Jesus, what does that tell us about the Baptist's call? Perhaps it tells us that God asked John to play a particular role but did not inform him of the full implications of his role. Something similar may well be true for many of us. We have been given certain responsibilities by God, perhaps even a clearly defined mission in life. But we may be in the dark about the ultimate outcome of our actions. We know what to do but not what it will accomplish in God's perspective.