Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

Signing off to go prep the celebratory feast for tonight. Don't forget that tomorrow is a Holy Day of Obligation ... which is why our church's vigil service at 6 p.m. looks like Christmas Midnight Mass, or so I'm told. We go to the 10 a.m. on the day itself.

However, until then ... here's a little bubbly from that maestro of the paintbrush, Edward B. Gordon.

"Did you say, 'enough?' You have perished."

I've been trying to find a little time here and there to go through past years (waaay past) and toss some of the detritus that accumulates. Old quizzes, pointers to blogs that are now long gone, that sort of thing. I only bother because Blogger will only allow you access to your most recent 5,000 posts. Yes, I said only. At one point I had over 8,000 posts. I'd like to be able to label and sometimes repost the really old Bible study posts from 2004 and suchlike.

At any rate, I was bemused when coming across this back in the early months of the 2005 archives. It expresses perfectly a subject that arose at Sancta Sanctis where Enbrethiliel was musing about cradle Catholics versus converts, simultaneously bemoaning the loss of Catholic culture to those who acquire their Catholicism mostly through book larnin'. Or something like that. The comments, to which I was also an enthusiastic party, have been lively.

So you can see why this really spoke to me when I read it.
We must never allow ourselves to think we have had sufficient formation. We must never be satisfied with the amount of knowledge about Jesus Christ and his teaching that we have so far acquired. Love always seeks to know the beloved better. In professional life, doctors, say, or architects or lawyers, though they may be good at their profession never think they have finished studying once they have qualified: they go on learning -- always. And so it is with the Christian. We can apply Saint Augustine's maxim to doctrinal formation: Did you say "enough?" You have perished.

The quality of the instrument -- for that is what we all are, instruments in God's hands -- can improve, it can develop new possibilities. Each day we can love a little more and give better example. But we will not achieve this if our understanding is not continually nourished by sound doctrine. I cannot say how often I have been told that some old Irishman saying his rosary is holier than I am, with all my study. I daresay he is. For his own sake, I hope he is. But if the only evidence is that he knows less theology than I, then it would not convince him, because all those rosary-loving, tabernacle-loving old Irishmen I have ever known ... were avid for more knowledge of the faith. It does not convince me, because while it is obvious that an ignorant man can be virtuous, it is equally obvious that ignorance is not a virtue; men have been martyred who could not have stated a doctrine of the church correctly, and martyrdom is the supreme proof of love: yet with more knowledge of God they would have loved him more still. (F. J. Sheed, Theology for Beginners)

The so-called plain man's faith ("I believe it all, even though I don't know what it is") is not sufficient for a Christian in the world who is confronted each day by confusion and a lack of light regarding Christ's doctrine -- the only doctrine that saves -- and is daily encountering ethical problems, both new and old, at work, in his family life, and in the environment in which he lives.
In Conversation with God: Ordinary Time Weeks 1-12

Top Discoveries of 2009: Blogs and Fiction

Once again, in no particular order, just as I came across them and added to my list ...

Blog Discoveries
  • Do You Write Under Your Own Name?
    Martin Edwards is a British mystery writer who writes informatively and entertainingly about mysteries he's read, his own writing, and, to a lesser degree, about his craft in general. I've picked up several interesting book tips there and am awaiting delivery to my local library of a couple of his books to try.
  • Mexico Bob
    As the name indicates, Bob is in Mexico. He's an American expat who writes about learning Spanish, Mexican customs and daily life, and also about his Catholic faith every so often. He's always interesting and has a big heart as anyone who has read about the time he agreed to let a gaggle of local school children interview him or about the stray dogs he feeds. Yeah. I'm a fan.
  • Betty Duffy
    I discovered Betty Duffy via Darwin Catholic's frequent references. She's a no nonsense gal who constantly considers her life through that lens of faith which I so enjoy reading. She's not a wimp and she can take a shot in the comments boxes as I discovered when objecting to ... oh, I don't remember ... something. She totally disarmed me by responding, "Julie D, You've called me out! What fun!" I like her.
  • Roman Catholic Cop
    The name pretty much says it all. Jamie's been a cop for 14 years and reading his thoughts about his faith while looking at the world he sees in law enforcement is an insightful ride along.
  • The Art of Manliness: a blog dedicated to uncovering the lost art of being a man.
    Written by husband and wife team, Brett and Kate McKay this fantastic blog is not really for men only. True, in their search for the lost art of manliness, the blog features articles on helping men be better husbands, better fathers, and better men. However, tucked among articles about falconry, 3 feats of strength, and early 20th century battles every man should know are things like how to write a thank you note and what a manly man can expect from women (which is not bad for women to read either).
  • Why I Am Catholic
    Recently begun by Webster Bull in response to the many puzzled people who kept asking about his conversion, this blog soon became a staple of my daily blog reading. Webster writes movingly and intelligently about his conversion and what he has found to love in the faith. Frank recently joined the blog so there are now two viewpoints about what there is to value in our faith.
Top Fiction
  •  Grimspace by Ann Aguirre
    From an Amazon review: Sirantha Jax is a jumper, an individual with a rare gene that allows her to access GRIMSPACE and therefore speed up space travel. She finds herself trapped in a psych unit cell, accused of somehow killing the entire crew of her last assigned ship. Everyone... including her pilot, lover, and friend, Kai. The bond between pilot and jumper is sacrosanct and Sirantha can't fathom how or why she would have caused such a crash. Unfortunately, she can't remember what went wrong. A man named March enters her cell and offers to rescue her. But what does he want in return? What will be the costs of this rescue?

    My comments: I can tell you that this is space opera at its finest. Tough, hard bitten characters with hearts of gold waaaaay down below the surface, romance, terrifyingly creepy aliens, a mystery to solve while on the run from the authorities. This book has it all. I was pretty disappointed that the sequel didn't match up to the original.
  • Anatomy of Fear by Jonathan Santlofer
    From the book description: From the smallest clues—an off-hand comment, a brief flash of fear in a victim's eyes—Nate Rodriguez is able to create an uncanny likeness of the assailant. Now Detective Terri Russo needs his help to solve a particularly shocking series of murders, perpetrated by a psychopath who enjoys drawing pictures of his crimes before committing them. Nate is being asked to enter the dark, twisted mind of a monster—to re-create a face that no one has lived to identify. But as a portrait slowly begins taking shape in Nate's mind and on the page, an electrifying game of cat and mouse reaches an unexpected new level—as a brilliant killer uses his own unique talents to turn the investigation in a terrifying new direction...

    I especially enjoyed Santlofer's artistic knowledge, Nate's grandmother who practices voodoo to help protect her grandson, the mystery from Nate's background that keeps popping up to haunt him, and ... of course ... guessing who was committing the crimes. I read lots of mysteries but somehow this one grabbed me enough to make me interested in the entire series and I'm still not tired of Nate.
  • The Death of a Pope by Piers Paul Read
    A thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Oh, with lots of Catholicism. That too. My review is here.
  • The Uncommon Reader by Arnold Bennett
    A sweet and charming tale of Queen Elizabeth II suddenly being overtaken by reading every book she can get her hands on. My review is here.
  • Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
    This story set in a mythical China where real dragons control the weather, among other things, captivated not only me but Hannah as well. My review is here.
  • Way Station by Clifford D. Simak
    From SFFaudio's review: This story spans more than a century, but most of the ‘action’ takes place in the middle of the 20th century, over a couple of months. See, a friendly alien recruited Enoch Wallace to become something of a galactic station master shortly after the American Civil War. Now, with his neighbors generally accepting his mysterious eternal youth, Enoch has a curious and unseen visitor watching him from the woods. Enoch is lonely, with his only friends being a completely deaf and mute young woman and his kindly mailman. Will the visitor in the trees learn the truth? Will Enoch help guide the Earth to its ultimate destiny?

    I really enjoyed this story which also sparked quite a debate about the nature of fiction and storytelling between Jesse from SFFaudio and me. (Dang, I think those comments are lost at the moment thanks to Haloscan's bugging out.) This story makes you think of what it means to truly be human, the nature of conflict (and not just between Jesse and me), and also made me love and appreciate nature more than ever.

    So I'm Betting I Won't Be Finishing Any More Books This Year ...

    ... which will put my yearly count for 2009 at 123. Funny how podcasting and blogging and other writing projects cut into one's reading time. I still have several reviews to get out (Mark Shea's Mary trilogy, Lorraine Murray's spiritual bio of Flannery O'Connor) which I am going to try to do in the next week, but that's really my problem and nothing that anyone else really cares about isn't it?

    I began using GoodReads this year as an alternative to keeping a list by hand. My "2009" list is below:

    Julie Davis's 2009 book recommendations, reviews, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

    My New Year's resolution in reading is to jot at least a line of comment for each book with current impressions as I'm reading or in summary since for me that is the most interesting part of looking at anyone's "read" list. I don't care so much if someone has read a book as I do about knowing what they thought of it. Clearly I've been remiss in that area. I always have a link in the sidebar showing what I'm reading currently.

    My attempt to begin as I mean to go on may be found in my newly updated "reading list." Click through to see current comments on books I have cracked open at the moment (yes, all over the house so I'm never without reading material wherever I go ... except, now that I think of it, in the bathroom which is the more "traditional" place to have a little something for those extra few moments of seclusion.)

    Julie Davis's currently-reading book recommendations, reviews, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

    Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    Top Discoveries of 2009: Movies and Audiobooks

    I couldn't resist, especially since I've been making notes for these categories since the beginning of the year. So I dodged back in to drop some of them on y'all (oh, how I've missed doing that in the last few days). These are not necessarily new as of 2009 but things that I discovered in 2009.

    Click through the links for reviews. Where there are none I made a few notes which, admittedly, are brief, but it is this or nuttin'.

    So here goes ... with no particular order within the lists, except chronologically I suppose.

    Top Movies
    In a year in which we watched fewer movies than ever, these were the stand outs.
    • In Bruges
    • Lagaan
    • Star Trek
    • JCVD
    • Gran Torino
    • Stranded
    • Spaced: ok, not a movie but whatever. This is the television show that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) did before their movies. Somewhat slow moving it is nonetheless hilarious. Chock full of sci-fi, pop culture, and video game references, it chronicles the adventures of a guy and girl who pretend to be a couple in order to fulfill the rental requirements for a decent flat. You either will like this or you won't. We all do except for Rose who prefers to ignore it while doing soduku. But 3 outta 4 ain't bad!
    Top Audiobooks
    • The Adventures of Jimmie Dale by Frank L. Packard (free from Librivox, click through for full story description): done by various readers, one of whom read two or three chapters evidently to practice his English which was excruciating to listen to. However, this tale of dashing adventure from the turn of the century set in New York's gritty underbelly took no great harm from my skipping those couple chapters. This story made me a Frank L. Packard fan.
    • Lamentation by Ken Scholes (reviewed for SFFaudio): not just the best audiobook I heard, but very possibly the best science fiction I "read" all year. Wow.
    • The White Moll by Frank L. Packard (free from Librivox, click through for full story description): the White Moll, an angel of mercy in the New York slums, is falsely accused of a terrible crime. She must now use her intelligence, grit, and knowledge of slum gangs to outwit both her accusers and the police. This story made me a fan of narrator Rowdy Delaney whose low key style proved addictive.
    • Giants of the Frost by Kim Wilkins (reviewed for SFFaudio): just when you think this is a typical romance story (enough already of the whining girl protagonist) it takes a very interesting turn for the better into Norse mythology.
    • The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (free from Librivox, click through for full story description): surprisingly Doyle considered his historical novels to be his best and I must say this book makes a strong case. A story of knight errantry, wooing a fair lady, and learning the ways of the world during England's Hundred Years War with France.

    Tuesday, December 29, 2009

    The Thoughtfulness of Pope Benedict XVI

    Back in the day when the Pope was Cardinal Ratzinger, Pete Seewald did a series of interviews which give us great insight into the way our Papa thinks. And I like it. Here's a great example directly swiped from Webster at Why I Am Catholic. Tge non-italicized words are Webster's commentary. Go there to read all of his post.
    In the interviews that became God and the World (Ignatius Press, 2002), German journalist Peter Seewald asked then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:

    In the course of two thousand years of Christian history, the Church has divided time and again. In the meantime, there are around three hundred distinguishable Protestant, Orthodox, or other churches. There are way over a thousand Baptist groups in the United States. Over against these there is still the Roman Catholic Church with the pope at her head, which claims to be the only true Church. She remains at any rate, and despite every crisis, indeed the most universal, historically significant, and successful Church in the world, with more members today than at any time in her history.

    This question asked by a skeptical young journalist, no Catholic at the time he asked it, might seem to be what Frank would call a “fat pitch.” Did Ratzinger, in his answer, knock Protestantism out of the park in a grand slam of triumphalism? No, the cardinal laid down a thoughtful bunt single—then stole second, third, and home:

    I think that in the spirit of Vatican II we ought not to see that as a triumph for our prowess as Catholics and ought not to make much of the institutional and numerical strength we continue to enjoy. If we were to reckon that as our achievement and as our right, then we would step outside the role of a people belonging to God and set ourselves up as an association in our own right. And that can very quickly go wrong. A Church may have great institutional power in a country, but as soon as faith is no longer there to back it up, the institution will break down.

    Perhaps you know the mediaeval story of a Jew who traveled to the papal court and who became a Catholic. On his return, someone who knew the papal court well asked him: “Do you realize what sort of things are going on there?” “Yes,” he said, “of course, quite scandalous things, I saw it all.” “And you still became a Catholic,” remarked the other man. “That’s completely perverse!” Then the Jew said, “It is because of all that that I have become a Catholic. For if the Church continues to exist in spite of it all, then truly there must be someone upholding her.” And there is another story, to the effect that Napoleon once declared that he would destroy the Church. Whereupon one of the cardinals replied, “Not even we have managed that!”

    I believe that we see something important in these paradoxical tales. There have in fact always been plenty of human monstrosities in the Catholic Church. That she still holds together, even if she groans and creaks, that she is still in existence, that she produces great martyrs and great believers, people who put their whole lives at her service, as missionaries, as nurses, as teachers, that really does show that there is someone there upholding her.

    We cannot, then, reckon the Church’s success as our own reward, but we may still say, with Vatican II—even if the Lord has given a great deal of life to other churches and communities—that the Church herself, as an active agent, has survived and is present in this agent. And that can only be explained by the fact that He grants what men cannot achieve.

    Monday, December 28, 2009

    Letter to the Editor

    From the peerless Dr. Boli, of course.

    It is patently obvious to the most casual observer that our nation is not ready for the year 2010. Where are the orbiting space resorts and commercial interplanetary liners? Where are the extraterrestrial races with whom we ought to have established contact years ago, and with whom we should now be enjoying a flourishing trade? Where is the universal liberal democracy we were promised? Where is the end to hunger, poverty, and disease that was so confidently predicted?

    There is no gentle way of putting this: we have fallen behind. Worse, we are in danger of becoming a nation of cynics because of it. We have a great deal of catching up to do if we are to restore the faith of the public in the year 2010.

    I therefore urge your influential publication to put all its weight behind supporting the bill currently before the United States House of Representatives, commonly called the Catch-Up Act of 2009, which would postpone the beginning of the year 2010 until after December 3683, 2009, at which time a Special Committee would evaluate the nation’s preparedness and decide whether to extend the month of December for a further 3652 days. I also urge your editorial staff to refrain henceforth from facetiously referring to the bill as the “Catsup Act,” as we have had quite enough of that already from the opposition in Congress.
    [Name Withheld by Request],
    Speaker of the House of Representatives,
    Washington, D.C.

    Wednesday, December 23, 2009

    We Are the Beggars Music Review: Solid Praise and Worship

    This debut album from Ike Ndolo is an interesting mix of quiet, passionate praise and worship songs spiced up with the occasional rock song. The lyrics tend to be simple but that is not necessarily to their detriment. After listening to the CD several times I found, to my surprise, that the louder rock anthems I originally liked best were not what grabbed my mind's ear as I would catch myself humming some of the straight forward songs. This is despite the fact that, although the album is well produced, it tends to be a bit conventional in places with musical changes predictable to anyone who has heard much praise and worship music. This is not the case in every song but it is there.

    Ndolo's talent is obvious and although the album is being marketed to the youth group demographic there is much here to recommend it to all ages, especially considering that older listeners are usually well attuned to appreciate the passion of an electric guitar.

    My personal favorite was Wade in the Water which instantly went into my God Mix playlist. An adaptation of an old spiritual, this song broke the more conventional sounds of the other songs and the hint of banjo in the background speaks to Ndolo's self professed love of bluegrass (which we share). My interpretation is that this might be more to Ndolo's personal taste and I hope that future albums will see the producers let this talented young artist break free from convention a bit more and trust his own musical inclinations.

    Tom's pronouncement: "Solid." High praise indeed from someone who is all about the music and not moved much by praise and worship music unless it is good music in itself.

    Definitely recommended. It is a bit late to get this for Christmas unless the local Christian store is lucky enough to have it on hand. However, it would be a great way to spend that Christmas cash if you are looking for a way to lift your heart in praise of God. (Although now that I think of it, you can download the mp3s instantly. I tend to forget that, preferring to have an actual CD in my hands.)

    You can hear samples and order the album here. I received this CD as a review piece but would give it the same rating regardless.

    Tuesday, December 22, 2009

    My Christmas Wish: That More People Would Make This Their New Year's Resolution

    This all boils down to the need for more tolerance – not of other cultures, but tolerance of being offended. Instead of taking every word or phrase as a personal attack on a policy, creed, or preference, we should invoke that age-old rhyme regarding the sticks and the stones. I’m not sure when nit-picking language became a crucial part of our culture, but it needs to stop if we ever hope to be able to communicate the things that are really on the hearts and minds of the American people.
    From an article at Curator magazine.

    I suppose this gives you some idea of what our household is really like ...

    ... when I tell you that we were decorating the tree, the whole family together, conversation flying since all four of us hadn't been together since April

    Then it happened. We suddenly ran into a wall over something that we just could not agree on. The uncomfortable pause while searching for a new subject, that point we didn't want to go past or it would get ugly ... came when considering whether Stephen Hawking's motivations for coming up with string theory were because he just was pursuing a great scientific idea or was actively searching for ways to avoid any hint of God in how the universe was created.

    Yes. I know.

    Can you spell "geek?"

    We sure can.

    The Uninvited, chapters 8-9

    Now playing at Forgotten Classics as well as a source for ghost stories (of a sort) for Christmas. Ghost stories for Christmas, you may ask. If you have to ask, then you have to listen to get the answer. To the first few minutes of the podcast at any rate.

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    The Book of the Shepherd: Gnostic Twaddle Disguised as a Sweet Fable

    I was asked if I'd like a review copy of The Book of the Shepherd: The Story of One Simple Prayer and How It Changed the World. The email commented, "... we believe this story of one simple prayer and how it changed the world does a superb job of examining the role of personal action in making the world more peaceful, and how peace on earth should begin with me."

    My response was, "I must admit that I am dubious about this book, having read the first few pages at HarperCollins' site and also having just heard the first part of The Pilgrim's Progress. The Book of the Shepherd seems much of a muchness with that 300+ year old book.

    However, if you believe I am wrong, then I am willing to read the book to see for myself."

    Frankly, if I'd been them, that would have been enough to check me off the list. However, I received the book late last week and read it over the weekend.

    My short review: the fable presented in this book is one of the biggest loads of sweetly simpering twaddle that has everything about 2/3 right. It should be avoided by all literature lovers and all practicing Christians.

    I kept thinking that something was off as I read it, kept thinking "gnostic gospels?" but hadn't read any gnostic gospels. I got to the end and it turns out (Bingo!) that one of the author's sources was The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels which puts orthodox Christianity on trial as being formed from political and social reasons. Add to that her grateful credit to Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass and my sense of something being "off" proved completely justified.

    The author wrote the story to illustrate the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi that most of us know relatively well.
    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    where there is injury, pardon;
    where there is doubt, faith;
    where there is despair, hope;
    where there is darkness, light;
    where there is sadness, joy;

    O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
    to be understood as to understand;
    to be loved as to love.

    For it is in giving that we receive;
    it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
    and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
    However, the author forgets what St. Francis never did. As praiseworthy as that prayer is, St. Francis's words are not gospel in themselves. He never would have urged us to interpret them without having Jesus Christ in the heart and center of them. This book is missing that heart and center.

    I generally do not give bad reviews, especially to review books, preferring simply to ignore them. However, in this case, I felt my warning to the publisher was enough to justify setting that policy aside, especially as I feel this book is potentially dangerous to those of unformed faith. In fact, I had to scrape off the coffee grounds from this book after I plucked it from the trashcan in order to give you the dubious sources the author quotes. That is how much I care, folks. Avoid this book.

    My advice is that excellent advice for how to live is found in the Gospels. If you want another source, then pick up a true classic, The Pilgrim's Progress. If reading it seems daunting, then this version on audio (both dramatized and a straight reading) is excellent. There is also this version at Librivox, free for the downloading. I admit I haven't heard it so can't comment on the quality of the reading. However, the point is that there is plenty of good material available without having to resort to The Book of the Shepherd.

    Hi Matt ... and Tell Kirby Hi for Me ...

    It's a small world thanks to the Internet and I find it out more all the time.

    One of my very best friends, Joan, tells me that her lovely eldest daughter's boyfriend (who I hear is a heckuva good guy) told her about this great new blog he discovered.

    Yep, we come full circle. And to think I can remember the days when I volunteered to be the Cookie Mom (yes, I'm also stupid) for the Girl Scouts which Joan headed up.

    Matt, if you're ever in Dallas be sure to let me know. I'd love to meet you. (And now you know that your good reputation has preceded you!)

    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    In the News ... Catholic Edition

    Just a couple of things that I wanted to highlight more than in my Google Reader feed (sidebar). Both via the indispensable New Advent.

    Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII Declared Venerable
    Which is official recognition of their heroic virtue. They and nine others now qualify for the title "Venerable" and may be beatified with the approval of a miracle. That isn't all. Go read the list here of people who obeyed God with their all in all in those special vocations for which he created them. May their lives inspire in us the desire to do the same.

    Bishops to Government: We're Not Backing Down on Abortion. Period.
    The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is demanding that Pres. Barack Obama’s health-care revolution not include subsidized abortion — and the bishops are demanding honesty on the issue.

    At a high-level Washington, D.C., insider dinner recently, a fellow Catholic made a highly cynical, harsh, and scandalously inaccurate accusation: that in the current debate, the bishops’ conference would trade abortion for immigration. That’s simply not true. As many disagreements as I might have on prudential matters with some of my fellow churchmen who are bureaucrats — and bishops! — on issues like immigration and health care, I recognize that their message on abortion is clear and unmistakable. As Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, president of the conference, has put it: “No one should be deliberately killed.” Even if some Catholics serving in Congress don’t accept that defending the most vulnerable human life is a matter of human rights and a moral imperative, the bishops’ official teaching is that abortion is a non-negotiable: We can’t have taxpayer funding of abortion, period.
    Read it here. Lend them your support in prayer and in contacting your elected officials to join your voices with theirs.

    A Cradle Catholic, A Convert, and An Atheist Walk into a Christmas Party ...

    ... and come out with a glittering truth in defense of the Church.
    “There’s need and there’s truth. Truth is truth, regardless of what man’s needs may be. If there is a diamond in the middle of the road, it doesn’t matter what anyone is doing in the road. The jewelers can be corrupt. The diamond merchants can be guilty of horrible abuses. And people can lust after the diamond or they can ignore it altogether. It’s still a diamond.”
    Read what led up to it and what happened after this statement at Why I Am Catholic.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    It's About Babies. And, Yes, You Will Like It.

    The trailer anyway. If the opening vignette doesn't grab you, then nothing will. And the ending shot is priceless.

    Via DarwinCatholic with whom I must agree when they point out:
    Pay close attention to the first rock-pounding sequence and reflect on St. Augustine's assertion that the effects of original sin are quite obvious in babies, who are pretty selfish by nature.

    "It is good that you exist."

    Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist . . . If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: “It is good that you exist” – must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love.
    This is just a tiny bit of an excerpt from Pope Benedict that The Anchoress quotes in a searching and insightful post. She travels from seeing President Obama as a rather chilly, off-putting individual to looking beneath the surface to his "I" as Pope Benedict would put it. To seeing the person behind the surface elements.

    This is a hugely important reminder to us all, especially in the last days of Advent. It is easy to talk the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk ... well, politics and personality and history and every other element that make us different individuals can rise to the surface and make us forget that we are to love one another as we love ourselves.

    In this, The Anchoress leads us to consider where to turn in following Mother Teresa's command:
    Find your own Calcutta.
    It isn't as far away as you might think.

    It is in the in-laws who interfere and don't appreciate our beloved family members.

    It is in the teacher who picks on our children.

    It is in the checker in the grocery store who doesn't smile and isn't nice and won't accept our coupon. Or who chats too much and wants to be our friend. (Depending on my mood ... because it's all about me isn't it?)

    In fact our Calcutta is within ourselves. As we struggle to live the command to love one another no matter how unlovable those "others" seem to be.

    Read The Anchoress's piece and let us ponder it in our hearts. We must ask where we are being called to love until it hurts ... to show them that "It is good that you exist."

    "I am curious. Why do you list those for whom you privately pray?"

    In case anyone else has this question about The Basics.
    1. So that others may pray for them also.
      I am continually surprised and pleased at just how many people do that very thing.

    2. So that we may praise God together when a prayer is answered
      (Hint: check the prayer list from the link above ... and see what I mean)
    Thank you for asking!

    Mouth Wide Open ... for Bagna Cauda

    A little something about a traditional Italian peasant dish that is perfect for cold weather ... from John Thorne's Mouth Wide Open at Forgotten Classics podcast.

    As well as a couple of Christmas podcast highlights.


    Evolution Going Great, Reports Trilobite

    "It's a wonderful time to be alive," said the tri-lobed creature, its protruding feelers and antennules twitching spasmodically with anticipation. "To be born during this, the Cambrian Explosion—why, I couldn't imagine a better period, really. It's all happening right now! I mean, if things keep going the way they're going, what with evolution taking off and everything, pretty soon we'll have huge, towering reptiles roaming across the earth."

    "Can you imagine it? Reptiles!" the trilobite added. "I'm not even sure what those are!"
    The top story of The Onion's Top 10 Stories of the Last 4.5 Billion Years (warning: site often contains explicit content).

    Tom's personal favorite was "Sumerians Look On In Confusion As God Creates World."
    Members of the earth's earliest known civilization, the Sumerians, looked on in shock and confusion some 6,000 years ago as God, the Lord Almighty, created Heaven and Earth.


    "The Sumerian people must have found God's making of heaven and earth in the middle of their well-established society to be more of an annoyance than anything else," said Paul Helund, ancient history professor at Cornell University. "If what the pictographs indicate are true, His loud voice interrupted their ancient prayer rituals for an entire week."
    Not every story hits the mark for me but most are truly hilarious, as are a lot of their runners up.

    The first steampunk on TV ... of course, Wild Wild West!

    I don't know why this never occurred to me before, but when Amy H. Sturgis discussed steampunk and Wild, Wild West in her fact article on StarShipSofa podcast (it is the first thing up, by the way, in case that is all you might care to hear) I was thunderstruck.

    Because to anyone who loved that show the way I did, it is obvious once it is pointed out. (Robert Conrad's physical perfection, which Amy acknowledges, is largely what drew me to the show, but I stayed for the clever plots and steampunk-ish elements ... though we didn't have a name for them at the time.) When I mentioned it to Tom, he instantly got it too.

    Which is what led to the fact that I just got the notice from the library that my request for the complete first season dvd set is ready to pick up. I am really curious to see how this stands up ... or if my love for the show will blind me to imperfections.

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    So Haloscan is being replaced ...

    ... and I'm thinking I'll just switch over to Blogger comments.

    I know I'll lose the old Haloscan comments but I can live with that.

    Any ... ahem ... comments on that?

    Books for Beginners on the Catholic Basics

    Note: I have added "beginners to the header for this. As a reader pointed out, Peter Kreeft's Catholic Christianity is a great book on the basics. However, I wouldn't throw it at anyone who is tentative about Catholicism. It is as intimidating as the Catechism in sheer size alone, although not in tone. It does belong on a list of solid basic books that would include the Catechism thought.

    Like many other dioceses around the country, Dallas is also promoting the Catholis Come Home idea. I like it. Our parish has a group, headed by our stalwart Deacon Ken, who are working hard to have a series of witnesses and talks during January for those who have questions or problems they are working through in coming back to the Church.

    One question that has arisen is what would be good book recommendations to give?

    Well, I'm not working on the campaign (being overextended everywhere in my life right now), but that never stopped me from giving my opinion about good basic reading about Catholicism. So I'm sharing with y'all a few trustworthy books that I recommend which are not as intimidating to newbies (or even old timers, sometimes) as the Catechism.

    • Pocket Guides
      I can highly recommend the Pocket Guide to Confession and also the Pocket Guide to the Mass. In fact, I take the Confession guide out for a spin when preparing for that sacrament and then it comes with me to the church.These are $6.95 each so again this is a fairly inexpensive resource. Our Sunday Visitor has these.
    • The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism
      my review here

    • Catholicism for Dummies
      I haven't reviewed this but looking through my archives it turns out that I have used it extensively. You can check out some posts that feature quotes from the book.

    • The How-To Book of Catholic Devotions
      I haven't reviewed this either but it is by Mike Aquilina and that is enough. He's entirely reliable. Also I read it and kept it. I don't have book room to waste on something I don't trust.

    • Why Do Catholics Do That?
      I can't believe I haven't done a review of this book because it is one that I actually keep extra copies of so I can give it to people who have questions. I will put the Amazon review here as it already says what I think:
      Why Do Catholics Do That? by Kevin Orlin Johnson assumes nothing and tells all. As such, it's not only an ideal catechism companion but also a source of infinite wisdom for students of art history, politics, literature, philosophy, and pretty much any other subject connected with Catholic history. In a voice refreshingly free of condescension (and full of humor, witnessed in chapter titles such as "Saints: How You Get To Be One"), Johnson defines and expatiates upon hundreds of topics, including the Mass, the rosary, the cross, the eucharist, and the pope. Why Do Catholics Do That? is destined for the all-time top 20 list of indispensable desk references. Whether your interest in Catholicism is devoutly religious or defiantly secular, you'll be glad Kevin Orlin Johnson has fulfilled his vocation so faithfully. --Michael Joseph Gross
    • Compendium to the Catechism
      Hopefully a lot of people know this one. A greatly simplified version of the catechism that does not look as intimidating and has the scoop ... but which may lead those who are afraid of the Catechism into investigating further as well.
    Ok, these are not orthodox BUT it occurs to me that these would be very handy in case a Catholic who wants to come home is grappling with issues with a Protestant spouse. Links go to my reviews.
    • The Lure of Saints - about why venerating saints is ok

    • The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved --- obviously, about the rosary and why Protestants should take up this form of prayer
    I do NOT advise Sweeney's book about Mary (Lure of the Saints author) as it has a couple of chapters where he gets kinda wonky.

    What We Do ... At Work

    Here is a site we just finished for a local musician. He is a highly talented violinist whose cds we enjoy at home, often during dinner, believe it or not. A talented designer we know did the concept work and we brought it to life via code.

    And, for those who want to see more, here is our business web site.

    Sometimes I get well intended emails from folks wanting to send some business our way. Thing is, because we work in graphics, they have the impression that we are actually printers.

    We actually do graphic design and layout. If one can apply the term layout to web sites, which I don't know why not. As well, we do design and layout for jobs going to an actual printer ... ads, catalogs, books, and the like. Hopefully, you can tell that from the site ... or we're not doing our job very well.

    The Man Who Invented Christmas

    In a literary sense and a more surprising way, you may find ... is featured in some lagniappe over at Forgotten Classics.

    For more Christmas listening, of a wordy sort, you may want to check out my Huffduffer feed (RSS, iTunes) where I'm posting podcasts that are talking about Christmas traditions, history, stories, and things that may help you this year (such as tips on holiday party small talk).

    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    Finally, an audio version of A Christmas Carol that Tom would love ... read by Tim Curry

    That pretty much says it all. It is being offered free by Audible right now and you must have an Audible account. But it is free.

    Read more about it here.

    Get it from Audible here.

    The Top 50 Movies of the 2000's

    Scott Nehring at Good News Film Reviews is blogging again (WOOHOO!). He steals a march on those end of year countdowns with his end-of-decade countdown of the top 50 movies.

    Scott and I have a continual disagreement over various movies yet I am one of his biggest fans. He brings a thoughtful Christian perspective to movie viewing ... and he's funny. Which as we all know is the spice of movie reviews, not to mention life (my life at any rate). I mean to say, this comment about Avatar gives you a taste of what I love about his commentary:
    The question I'm left with is this: am I the only one struck by the irony that Cameron had to blow $500,000,000.00 in order to remind us the superiority of primitive cultures - you know, the kinds that don't have the technology to watch his stupid movies in the first place?
    He nails it. Is there anyone who has watched a couple of the trailers and doesn't get that point?

    Go see if you agree or not with his top 50 list. I haven't read it yet thoroughly but didn't want to make y'all wait until next week. Enjoy his snarky movie review goodness now ... as an early Christmas gift.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    I didn't expect this sort of wisdom from Jeff Bridges

    WSJ: You've been married to the same woman for 32 years. Rule No. 1 for staying together in Hollywood?

    Jeff Bridges: Don't get a divorce. That will keep you together, you know.
    In an interview about Crazy Heart.

    Looking for Some Good Podcast Listening?

    B-Movie Catechism has a nice variety listed, keyed to interests which include Catholicism and, well, B-movies.

    It ranges from Peter Kreeft on screenwriting to The Flicks That Church Forgot which I seized upon with delight. Many thanks also for their inclusion of my own reading of The Uninvited which is the book du jour at Forgotten Classics ... nothing like a good ghost story to interest B-movie appetites!

    And Now for Something Completely Different ... Granola!

    Just so you know, Tom and I not only enjoy cocktails, I also have been grooving on this home made granola which I've been making for the last couple of months.

    A Doozy of a Conversion Story

    For some reason my conversion story has been brought up to me a lot lately. The most vivid example is that I was in a meeting about something else entirely (well, ok it was at church, it was with Christians, but it was not about sharing those kinds of stories) when I was asked point blank to tell how I became Christian. Demurring, I looked down the table and saw so many eager, questioning faces that I was forced to believe they really wanted to hear it.

    Retelling the story made me realize afresh how many "coincidences" there were and that this experience of "coincidences" happens more than we would think, if we are just paying attention. This was a point dwelt upon by everyone at that meeting also.

    Therefore when I read Mary Karr's interview about her recent conversion to Catholicism what really resonated was her fellow recognition of those coincidences, as well as those moments of experiencing God that just cannot be adequately communicated to those who do not believe. Here's an excerpt and here's the whole thing.
    I had a needle biopsy once during a very dark spiritual time. I went in as scheduled, and the guy who was supposed to do the biopsy was in surgery and couldn't do it, and they tried to reschedule it. Normally I would have been very upset, but I just said OK and rescheduled it. As I rounded the corner, I ran into someone in the hall. He said, "Do you remember me? You coached my daughter in Little League." It turned out he was an oncologist and he could do the biopsy.

    That's the kind of experience I have now. If I had been yelling and screaming at the nurses, I wouldn't have run into him. Then, when I was lying on the table, I really just had such a sense of the presence of Christ. I was so peaceful. When I had come in for the biopsy, when the woman took my blood pressure, I started crying. I remember telling a girlfriend about it, who isn't Christian. She said, "Oh, you just had the feeling that you know you don't have cancer." I said, "No, I had the feeling that whether I had cancer or not, I wouldn't be alone."
    Interview via Conversion Diary.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Not that all Tom and I do is drink on the weekends ...

    ... but I realize it might look that way from the preponderance of cocktail recipes I've been featuring lately.

    What can I say. They're easy to make and we know how to pick good ones to try ... apparently.

    With that out of the way, get ready to meet last weekend's hits: Garnet and X.Y.Z. Cocktail.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Just a little more Twilight

    Mrs. Darwin's hilarious commentary on New Moon and paper cuts, invariably makes me recall the only other thing I know about this series (aside from the werewolf versus vampire choice that Bella must make) ... which is "sparkly skin."

    That all takes me back to Cleolinda's Movies in 15 Minutes where you will see an absolutely hilarious send up of Twilight. I didn't enjoy her New Moon send up nearly as much, although I generally acknowledge Cleolinda to be a genius. Perhaps because there's not as much "there" there for her to work with.

    I'm reposting this bit to whet your appetite. It's emo-tastic.

    (For this, one must know the context that the real reason vampires don't go out in the sunlight is that their skin sparkles and that would give them away. Bram Stoker is busy turning in his grave right now ... oh, right and here is the obligatory warning that you may see some explicit something or other at her site, so don't click through if that is problematic.)

    BELLA: Oh, wow, I spent like $60 at Sephora trying to get sparkle like that. What is that, Urban Decay?


    BELLA: Oh, so it's a drugstore brand?


    BELLA: FINE. WHATEVER. But the lipstick, that's gotta be Cargo, right?


    It's All Downhill from Here

    A little midweek humor from Dr. Boli.

    Go to Joseph

    I have been reading a really wonderful little book called Go to Joseph by Fr. Richard W. Gilsdorf.

    The book description leans heavily on "easy to read meditations," "like going on retreat," "warm and contemplative" and so forth. None of which prepared me for the sharp, discerning mind that Father Gilsdorf brings to bear on what we know about Joseph both through what is said and unsaid in scripture. I didn't pick the book because I expected it to be simple but because I like Saint Joseph and go to him for my husband and also for us as a couple.

    This book is unusual in many ways, one being that it was found among Father Gilsdorf's papers after his death. In fact, there are so many little introductions from a variety of people marveling at this sort of fact, that I would advise skipping them. It is the book itself that is a real marvel. Small as it is, this book is chock-full of fascinating insights and the scholarly, patient following of themes, all well within the bounds of Church teachings and tradition. The footnotes are extremely clear and have interesting references which the author urges readers to explore further for themselves. Although the chapters are short, each has a lot for our consideration.

    This book is so unusual but I have enjoyed it so much that I am going to seek out Father Gilsdorf's other book which I had heard of but not cared about until now, The Signs of the Times: Understanding the Church Since Vatican II. I actually believe the ad now when it says the book is "Part history, part Bible study, part apologetics manual, part Marian devotional, part catechism..." If anyone could pull that off, it would be Father Gilsdorf.

    However, back to the book at hand. I highly recommend Go to Joseph. It has a modest price and would be a great gift for a man seeking greater holiness, or indeed for anyone with that goal.

    I will be sharing excerpts from the book beginning tomorrow for anyone who is interested in a closer look.

    I received this book courtesy of The Catholic Company's review program. Read more about the book and order it at the link above.

    • You may read an excerpt of Chapter 1 here .
    • The Curt Jester has an equally enthusiastic review here.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    This Almost Made Me Want to Read "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." Almost.

    “How nicely we are all crammed in,” cried Lydia. “I am glad I bought my bonnet, if it is only for the fun of having another hatbox! Well, now let us be quite comfortable and snug, and talk and laugh all the way home. And in the first place, let us hear what has happened to you all since you went away. Have you seen any pleasant men? Have you had any flirting? I was in great hopes that one of you would have got a husband before you came back. Jane will be quite an old maid soon, I declare… [She goes on and on in this fashion, which I omit for the sake of brevity.] … We had such a good piece of fun the other day at Colonel Forster’s. Kitty and me were to spend the day there, and Mrs. Forster promised to have a little dance in the evening; (by the bye, Mrs. Forster and me are such friends!) and so she asked the two Harringtons to come, but Harriet was ill, and so Pen was forced to come by herself –”

    Elizabeth presently drew her Katana and cut off Lydia’s head, which fell into the open hatbox.
    All Manner of Thing reviews the book.

    Alex Reads Twilight: chapter 2

    For everyone like me ... who finds Twilight more hilarious than anything else (warning: a little bad language in here). This made Tom laugh out loud.

    Via Rose. I see that chapters 3 and 4 are up now also.

    Be Still My Heart! Unabridged "Nine Princes in Amber" Read by Roger Zelazny

    From SFFaudio comes the news:
    …two Roger Zelazny audiobooks … have become available in unabridged form on CDs – Nine Princes In Amber and A Night In Lonesome October as originally read by Roger. You may know about these (and future Zelazny unabridged titles to finally be rereleased) but I just happened on the news. If you don’t know, the company is Speaking Volumes. I got the news from the newsgroup alt.books.roger-zelazny on Google. According to Chris Kovacs on this group, the releases will include Roger’s readings of Blood of Amber and Knight of Shadows which were not released in unabridged form on cassettes.”
    Now if that doesn't make your little heart go pitter-pat ... then you've never read Nine Princes in Amber and I say, "Hie thee to the library ..."

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Reflections on the Joyful Mysteries ... and Bearing Christ to Others

    The Visitation

    Mary conceived; and shortly thereafter she went to her cousin Elizabeth, to assist her in the final months of her pregnancy. Just so, when Christ is conceived in our hearts he calls us to bear him to others in service as Mary bore him to Elizabeth.
    Will at The View from the Foothills has been fruitful in contemplation. Go read and see if it strikes you the way it did me.

    I like the way that there was a constant theme of bearing Christ to others ... except in the first mystery which made me reflect upon the fact that often Christ is being borne to us in ways we do not expect, sometimes from people we dismiss for some reason. And so we must be watchful ...

    Advertising and Advent

    This isn't exactly what you might think from the title.

    Our pastor used a very good analogy in his homily about Advent and all the Christmas advertising that we see. He said that advertising works by making us dissatisfied with what we have and makes us long for something newer and better.

    He then pointed out that "advertising has taken our Advent gig" because that is the feeling we should have during Advent: dissatisfied with what we have and longing for something better. Which is Christ.

    It made me realize that we can then use Christmas ads to our advantage for Advent contemplation. If that analogy makes me divert my attention to Christ and the longing I should be feeling even half of the times that I see advertising ... then it is a job well done! And that's what I'm going to try to do.

    Who Remembers the "Dante to Dead Man Walking" Reading List?

    I didn't until just this week. Maybe because the list below was finalized in a post from December 2006. Also because I got tired of having to always read books from that list, veered away "just for a little while" and then, like Hansel and Gretel, never found my way back. At any rate, I am going to reinstate this goal. Briefly, for those who don't know what the heck I'm talking about, I read and reviewed (not entirely approvingly) Dante to Dead Man Walking: One Reader's Journey Through the Christian Classics by Raymond A. Schroth, S.J. Then I examined the list, took votes from people and recompiled the list, while adding others' recommendations below. The post below was the result.

    I am pleased to see that I actually had knocked off a few of the books just through my own reading. Huzzah!

    I'm also taking the liberty of updating my comments somewhat. It has been three years, after all. New comments will be italicized.

    Please chime in anew with comments and suggestions and we'll continue that long ago conversation with this post.
    Below the list of books suggested by the author with numerous revisions. Books with red titles are not gonna be read by this reader. I am putting what I am substituting instead.

    I'll be updating the list with reviews and links as I work my way through the books. The link will be in the sidebar with what I'm reading currently.
    1. The Book of Genesis: Originally I crossed this off my list as I did a Bible study of this that was a real eye opener. However, I'm now reading Robert Alter's translation which is fascinating.

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

    3. The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel by Robert Alter: I'm now a firm Alter fan and am really looking forward to this.

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

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

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

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

    8. Butler's Lives of the Saints by Michael Walsh: I planned on reading this and then realized that my relative lack of enthusiasm is because I have read four or five good books about lots of saints already, some of them quite large and comprehensive (though I know this is the most comprehensive). However, I am more interested at this point in holiness demonstrated through people I haven't heard about a dozen times already ... so I am going to substitute African Saints: Saints, Martyrs, and Holy People From the Continent of Africa by Frederick Quinn. And, wonder of wonders, our library actually has this book!

      : after picking up African saints and looking through it, I sent it back to the library. The author, an Episcopal priest, had chosen the people that he felt should be saints. Which is all fine in its own way but when it came to seeing St. Augustine, his unknown consort, and their son all as saints together, I drew the line. I have read quite a few good saint books and don't really need to read more as I'll continue picking them up as I come across them. Therefore, I declare this section closed!

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

    10. The Idea of a University by Ven. John Henry Newman ... at the risk of sounding like Homer Simpson, "Booooring!" Instead I am reading Newman's Apologia as many people suggested. JM commented,
      "Newman is never a breezy read, but he can be very rewarding. If you are going to read only one thing, read the Apologia. He wrote it to defend himself (specifically) and the Catholic Church (generally) against the charge of having little regard for the truth, and in doing so, revealed the how and the why he converted. Amazingly, it worked.
    1. Walden by Henry David Thoreau: *sigh* ok, but I'm not looking forward to it. I think that someone advised reading it without looking into any introductions or notes so that I get the basic Thoreau unfiltered ... that is an excellent idea which I will follow for more than this particular book.

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

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

      Just got the free audiobook download for this and listened to the first half hour to get a feel for it. Imagine my surprise when it proved to be very interesting. So I'll be doing this the audio way.

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

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

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

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

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

      Webster Bull
      has been pushing this book the way that I push In This House of Brede on people. I actually picked up the first of this trilogy from the library to dip in and see how it seemed. Another that seemed interesting from a sampling so I'm looking forward to it more than I would have otherwise.

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

    10. Death Comes for the Archbishop: this book has been recommended to me many times by people I trust. Also picked this up from the library as it has been on and off my list several times, long after I forgot this list ... it looks interesting. And short!

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

    12. Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography by Albert Schweitzer: sure, why not.

    13. The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos: sure, why not.

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

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

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

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

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

      The advantage of waiting for several years is that then you might have an audio recording come up from someone whose skills are unparalleled at narration ... which would be James Campanella at Uvula Audio. I will give The Seven Story Mountain another shot that way.

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

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

    20. The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day: having now read her diaries "On Pilgrimage" I am now looking forward to this.

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

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

      : read it and here's the review.

    23. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.: a sci-fi classic that I can't remember if I've ever read ... can't wait!

      UPDATE: I am very disappointed in myself but I just could not get into that book for love or money. I left it unfinished.

      UPDATED AGAIN: I now find out that there was a long-ish short story by Miller and that the book was finished off by someone else. Aha! The story ended just where I wanted it to ... with the little monk presenting the drawings and then planning to go back to where the bandits were. A much more Christian take than what I read in the novel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    30. Everything That Rises Must Converge, "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor: dreading it, afraid of O'Connor, but also looking forward to what I might learn ... in a weird way. Having read the biography "The Abbess of Andalusia" I am now really interested to see if I can get more out of the stories than I would have before.

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

    32. Silence by Shusaku Endo*****: no way. If only Schroth hadn't said it was the most depressing book he'd ever read. I don't think so. I'm open to suggestions for substitutions, preferably fiction. This is how much I trust Steven Riddle. I will give it a shot based on his comments and strong recommendation.

      UPDATE-MY REVIEW: After our Catholic women's book club did an end run by selecting the book to read ... I was forced to confront this book. Simply put, this is Christianity in a nutshell. An amazing book that provides so much food for thought. The tale of a 17th century Jesuit priest as he is smuggled into Japan to serve the Christians under persecution, is discovered, and undergoes the ultimate test of faith. Endo, writing for the Japanese, is examining the questions of how Christianity must adapt to be truly meaningful to the Japanese and also the question of what Christian faith truly consists of. He leaves these questions open enough that there was a considerable amount of debate at our book club and almost everyone had a insight that was fascinating. The author's considerable talent holds us far enough away from the details of persecution to allow this to become an intellectual consideration while still being a personal experience. An extraordinary book that I am glad I read.

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

      UPDATE: found and read the first couple of books ... hilarious and in a strange way I think they probably are a good view to something like liberation theology because of Don Camilio's constant battles with communists who are also friends and part of the community to which he must minister

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

      UPDATE: Tried Stewart and was unimpressed. However, I must add that, without any faith attached, "Greener Than You Think" was an amazing sci-fi book that I came across at Librivox which had the virtue of examining humanity and flagrant ignoring of the consequences of messing with our ecosystem through the eyes of a do-anything-for-a-buck, clueless salesman. Based on that I am declaring this book category closed.

    35. The Love of Jesus and the Love of Neighbor by Karl Rahner, S.J.: I don't like a single thing that I'm hearing beginning with accessibility and going on from there. Therefore, I will take a suggestion from the strongest anti-Rahner voice in the crowd ... which would be Georgette ... and reading The Hidden Power of Kindness -- by Father Lawrence Lovasik. She says,
      "This is the clearest and most practical and simply-written spirituality for lay folks ever written! If you have trouble with the spiritual classics written BY nuns and monks in cloister, FOR nuns and monks in cloister (mostly), like The Seven Story Mountain, by Merton (he got weird towards the end of his life but this book is excellent, though hard for most lay folks to engage), or The Dark Night of the Soul, by St John of the Cross (also WONDERFUL but obscure), or St Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle (which I am sorta getting into now, but still very sublime)----then The Hidden Power of Kindness is definitely for you. I think it should be required reading for all Catholics! It is basically the Gospel put into practical step by step 'how to' terms! Brilliant!
    36. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza: Oh, hell no! (stolen from Tom at Disputations) Per Erik's suggestion, I'll be reading Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone.

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

    38. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States by Helen Prejean: I was ready to read this until comments by Erik and Tom of Disputation's comment rang true here for me ... I already am against the death penalty at least in countries with adequate resources for incarceration like ours. Also I've been getting these quite detailed emails about how that book is all wrong anyway ... either way I am off it. I was thinking about Walker Percy but a lot of confusion in that area leaves me bookless again. I am going to veer in a completely new direction ... let's see how this flies. Belief in God in an Age of Science by John Polkinghorne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    4. War and Peace by Tolstoy

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    The Pilgrim's Progress as You've Never Imagined It Before ... Exciting and Interesting!

    Frankly The Pilgrim's Progress is not a book I ever imagined that I'd be reading, much less excited to tell anyone about. My imagination showed John Bunyan's 300-year-old classic to be about as interesting as this original title page.

    However, that was before I'd heard Spirit Blade's version which reimagines The Pilgrim's Progress as a dynamic audio drama complete with dragons, elves, and a mystical book of truth.

    This is now.

    Spirit Blade Productions has pulled off a masterpiece here. The original allegorical story has been refashioned featuring a full-cast, orchestral score, and complete sound effects to urge our imaginations on a quest with Christopher Pilgrim for truth. Waking after a nightmare of death and destruction, Christopher determines to find his way to the legendary Mystic City, looking for a cure that will avert disaster. Along the way he encounters others who have all sorts of advice for his journey, some helpful and some disastrous. Christopher must discern which actions will lead to success.

    This audiodrama captured my attention so thoroughly that I found myself wondering exactly how much was modern imagination and how much was originally in the book. This is exactly what the audio drama producers intended so they made it easy to check by including the corresponding part of the original book, also recorded with sound effects and a musical score. I was completely surprised to find how the original text captured my imagination and had me considering the paths of faith as we journey through life, even as I enjoyed the story.

    Spirit Blade's reason for existence is "to present the uncompromised truths of Biblical scripture in unique formats that will provoke thought and appeal to fans of creative music and imaginative fiction." I can attest that with this presentation of part one of Pilgrim's Progress they have done just that. I found myself immediately recommending the audio drama to a friend whose 6th grade brother has outpaced the reading resources available. Designed for 12 years and up, this production will capture the attention of readers of all ages who may never have heard of The Pilgrim's Progress but will be interested in Christopher Pilgrim's adventure. Just don't tell them it's a "Christian" book and see how fast they lap it up.

    At $4.99 to download the first one-hour episode as well as the half-hour audiobook reading, this seems like a great deal to me. Right now you can also buy one and "gift" one free which makes it an even better deal.

    It is always a pleasure to "discover" a classic book that one wishes to share and I must thank Spirit Blade Productions for giving me the review opportunity. I am going to be looking forward to future episodes in the series that shows us what sort of progress Christopher Pilgrim makes.

    Highly recommended.

    The Uninvited ...

    ... continues with episode 101 and the appearance of an apparition at Forgotten Classics.