Saturday, October 30, 2010

Weekend Joke

Which is a cartoon this week, from the fabulous Doug Savage who has been in the Halloween spirit for days now.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Troy make me proud. Be the first black man to make it to the end."

I have never watched the show Community but around 7:30 last night Hannah came through saying, "Isn't 30 Rock on now?" (We tape Bones and can only tape one thing so ... 30 Rock is our one live TV show of the week.)

We rushed back and found that instead we were watching Community's Halloween episode. It was absolutely hilarious. When the person giving the party mistakenly feeds the guests Army biohazard materials thinking it is taco meat, everyone begins turning into zombies.

Hannah likes Community but says this show is a real gem among their episodes. Certainly it was for our household full of sci-fi/pop-culture geeks. Never has switched programming turned out so well for us. They're showing it online and I highly recommend you include it in your holiday viewing this weekend.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lincoln Memorial Saved from Zombies

... things got deadly serious when the two dozen bloodied, tattered, undead wandered down 23rd St. NW and tried to cross the street to invade the Lincoln Memorial.

"Who is the organizer here?" the U.S. Park Police's Sgt. David Schlosser demanded to know.

He was met by silence; one zombie chewed on her sleeve.
No I'm not kidding. Read it all at The Washington Post. Via the Zombie Parent's Guide.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gulliver's Travels, Socratic Method, the Interwebs, and That Big "Light Bulb" Moment

I have been interested for some time in the Ignatius Critical Editions series. This interest began when I read Uncle Tom's Cabin and then later was researched the book for reading it aloud on Forgotten Classics. I was intrigued by this description.
The Ignatius Critical Editions represent a tradition-oriented alternative to popular textbook series such as the Norton Critical Editions or Oxford World Classics, and are designed to concentrate on traditional readings of the Classics of world literature. While many modern critical editions have succumbed to the fads of modernism and postmodernism, this series will concentrate on tradition-oriented criticism of these great works.
I was not really sure what "tradition-oriented criticism" meant but I thought it would be interesting to  compare with the other materials I came across. [Turns out they are talking about traditional classical education style materials.] However, I wasn't sufficiently impelled me to pursue a copy at the time because there was so much material to cover for UTC.

I never could shake the series from the back of my mind, however, and recently got the Ignatius edition of Gulliver's Travels because my interest was piqued upon having a discussion on an SFFaudio podcast where one of the participants claimed it was a celebration of existentialism. That was far from my understanding of the book. Satire, yes. But existentialism? I last read Gulliver's Travels when in high school (on my own though, with no deeper understanding than that of enjoyment). This critical edition with several essays and some excellent contextual information seemed just the ticket for revisiting the book with a critical eye as to just what Swift was really talking about. I also got the study guide which looks very interesting at first glance.

This has proven incredibly fruitful from the beginning .... and I admit that I am just getting started by perusing various essays and the study guide. Understanding the context in which Swift wrote is invaluable in having a proper perspective on whether we can trust Gulliver as a narrator. Additionally, without knowing about the real world events with which Swift was in heavy debate, we can't properly understand the four countries that Gulliver visits.

However, it was when reading the Study Guide's introduction, Why a Great Books Study Guide?" that a big light bulb went on for me.
This manner of learning is greatly facilitated when the reader also engages in a dialectic exchange—a live conversation (in person or now online)—with other readers of the same books, probing and discussing the great ideas contained in them and, one hopes, carrying them a few steps further. This method of learning is often referred to as the Socratic method, after the ancient Athenian philosopher Socrates, who initiated its use as a deliberate way to obtain understanding and wisdom through mutual inquiry and discussion. This same "questioning" method was used by Christ,* who often answered questions with other questions, parables, and stories that left the hearers wondering, questioning, and thinking. He already knew the answers, as Socrates often did. The goal was not merely indoctrination of the memory with information, facts, and knowledge, but mind- and life-changing understanding and wisdom.
This may seem blindingly obvious to many but for me, as I said, it was a new idea in terms of my own participation. I suddenly realized that the internet and podcasts especially had plunged me head-first into mind-broadening inquiry through dialogue and considering other's questions or information. A few examples that sprang to mind:
  • Heather Ordover at CraftLit is the one who began it all for me with her thoughtful commentary on classics. Heather gives background, thematic information and more, and then plays a few chapters of the classic under discussion in each episode. She is a teacher who loves facilitating conversation with her many listeners. They in turn give plenty of feedback and raise thoughtful questions of their own. Thanks to Heather, I revisited the dreaded Scarlet Letter that high school had ruined for me ... and found it to be good. Very good. Right now, in going through A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain, Heather is raising significant points about satire and the necessity for readers' to remember that the protagonist is not the author and not necessarily trustworthy. These points are especially timely for me as they will weave into my reading of Gulliver's Travels, which is just such a story.
  • SFFaudio from Scott Danielson and Jesse Willis is a spot where I actively am engaged in Socratic method as I often participate in their "read alongs" where a few people connect via Skype to discuss a book that everyone read. Those who read science fiction know that more likely than not the good reads also are discussing larger issues. They are not afraid to delve deep into themes and how they resonate through life today. In fact, it was a discussion of Mindswap by Robert Sheckley that led me to pursue Gulliver's Travels and the existentialist claim. If that isn't an example of mind broadening, I don't know what is. Plus, their other episodes are just as likely to open larger vistas as they interview audiobook producers, narrators, authors, and anyone else of interest who comes their way.
  • ChopBard (the cure for boring Shakespeare) from Ehren Ziegler is a newer addition to my podcast listening but I now have a completely new way of thinking about Shakespeare, thanks to Ehren's enthusiasm and practical comments as we proceed act-by-act through these great plays. I have listened to Hamlet and am about halfway through Romeo and Juliet (the play he began the podcast with). First, Ehren provide the context and translation we need in modern times (warning: Romeo and Juliet deserves an R rating if you are reading it right). More importantly, he uses the works themselves to delve deep into people, motivations, and big issues of love, existence, happiness, and suchlike. This necessarily makes listeners ponder and respond, leading again to Socratic method in my own thinking about how this is communicated not only in these great works but in others I have read, and in my life itself.
All this is by way of recommending that you sample the Ignatius Critical Editions, into which I am now digging with even greater enthusiasm. In fact, they have Macbeth available and ChopBard will be covering that after the next play (which will be The Tempest, beginning Oct. 27... hey, that's today! ... c'mon Ignatius, get me something on that play!). These books are the perfect gateway into enjoying classics, whether for the first time or rereading, and having at least one "light bulb" moment on the way.



*I suppose we might also call this the rabbinical method as well as Christ was following that teaching method.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Too Busy to Blog Day

Wait, that isn't a thing.

But I am too busy to blog.

Except I will tell you that Tom and I went to see RED yesterday and found it a delightful romp. Much more of a romantic comedy than we expected. Well, with guns, spies, and things that blowed up real good. So it was fun for all. (Plus Karl Urban. As I said ... fun!).

Friday, October 22, 2010

You know, if I couldn't read books by people whose politics I disagreed with, I'd read almost no science fiction at all ...

On the same day Juan Williams was kicked out, Elizabeth Moon got herself "uninvited" from speaking at 2011 WISCON, a feminist SF con. Why? For the sin of writing that the proposed Islamic center at the 9/11 site is "a rude and tactless thing to propose (and, if carried out, to do.)"

I'm not sure what that has to do with SF or feminism. Although, they labeled her a racist for it. Not sure what that has to do with SF or feminism either.

This isn't that big a surprise actually.

SF writers and fans often are heavily into the liberal side of politics and, I have found, always assume that everybody else thinks just like they do. The religious or conservative fans know who each other are but don't publicize that fact usually to the SF gang at large.

Now we see why.

I have only experienced a little of this, but I know others who are more involved and have sad, sad stories to tell.

Pretty ironic, eh? The group you'd think would be most open minded of all, those dedicated to thinking outside the box for literature, are just like everyone else.

Via Aliens in This World who has a good post on it. Whose links directed me to Instapundit whence I found the link to Moon's writing.

I Haven't Written Much About Knitting Lately

Mostly because in the very little time I have for it, I've been dedicating myself to a project that has been dragging on for 3 years. But never fear, Rose, eventually you will have that danged afghan!

Regardless, Catholic Mom pointed out a shirt that fits the bill ... and when you factor in Forgotten Classics' knitting fans, it is indeed perfect. If it suits your lifestyle too, you can get it at Wireless.

Knit One Read Too Shirts

Thursday, October 21, 2010

See, This is Why I Don't Listen to NPR News

Their bias is all too obvious. I haven't listened for so long that I was unaware of Juan Williams. However, Tom liked the fact that NPR had him on because he thought it showed they were more unbiased than people thought if they had a reporter who didn't skew their way.

Guess not so much. The news has flared throughout the blogosphere that Juan Williams was fired by NPR "for telling an inconvenient truth," as Bill Kristol wrote (via Brandywine Books).

Going to my reliable GetReligion to read further, I see that he wasn't even given the courtesy of a face to face conversation.

I don't see that what Williams said was bigoted. It is a statement of fact. Tom points out that this country was built on assimilation for good reason ... it's how we get along and understand each other. The crime was saying aloud what everyone thinks under a similar circumstance. If so,  why not turn that into the conversation instead of shutting it down with a thud? Gee whiz, what way is that to cover the news, NPR?

Tom sez, "It's their chance. They must have been looking for a way to dump him."

Too bad they weren't able to muster up a little more class about it.

Update: The Anchoress comments and links around.

Tappa, Tappa, Tappa

Dinner was ending.

Suddenly a noise emanated mysteriously from within the dining room.

tap ...

tap ...

tap ...

What the?

Then Hannah and Tom who were at a different angle than I was burst out laughing. Zoe had an acorn stuck between the pads of a back foot. Every time her foot hit the floor, she tapped.

The funniest part, evidently, was when she kept picking up her foot after each tap and twisting back to look quizzically, wondering where that noise was coming from. Which accounted for the pause between the taps.

Boxers. Always entertaining. Often surprising.

Praying with Saint Matthew's Gospel

Here's a book I bought with my very own money. And it has been justifying my choice ever since it showed up.

Magnificat gives us a line by line meditation on Saint Matthew's Gospel that I have found to be thought provoking and fruitful. In a sense it is like a directed form of lectio divina. Twenty-four different authors each take different sections of the gospel and provide commentary that often takes me in a direction I never considered before. If you are a regular subscriber to Magnificat as I am, then many of the authors will be familiar. What is less familiar though is the in-depth coverage of the Gospel. The Gospel and commentaries are divided up so that they cover every calendar day of the year.

Rather than try to describe it, I am going to excerpt below, one that grabbed my attention and has had me thinking about it ever since. This should give you a pretty good idea of the sort of eye-openingness I'm talking about.

October 17
Christ's Recognition of Us as His Own
Michele M. Schumacher

"Then [those on his left] will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?'"
(Mt 25:44)

It is not our vision that is called into question here: our willingness, or our capacity, to see Christ in "the least" of his brothers. After all, those who are judged righteous and invited to enter the kingdom did not recognize the Lord in his "least brothers" any more than did those judged unrighteous. Indeed, the question posed by the unrighteous in this verse is almost an echo of the questions posed by the righteous: "When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you in prison, and visit you?" (Mt 25:37-39). We might therefore conclude that the final judgment does not concern our recognition of Christ, especially as he is hidden in the persons of his "least brothers" (v. 40). It  concerns, rather, Christ's recognition of us as those who attended (or not) to him.

We are judged, in other words, according to whether or not the Lord recognizes us as having ministered to him in the "least ones" (v. 45) with whom he identifies. Perhaps more profoundly still, it concerns Christ's recognition of himself as serving in and through us. As such, it is a question of our having granted him the possibility of using us to minister to the "least" of his brothers and sisters. Christ does not merely judge us, therefore, for having served him (in others) or for having failed to serve him. He judges us most especially by allowing him (or not) to accomplish the Father's will in the very works of mercy that he has given us to do in his name.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reviewing The Reapers are the Angels: Zombies Are the Least of Her Worries

God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe.

Like those fish all disco-lit in the shallows. That was something, a marvel with no compare that she's been witness to. It was deep night when she saw it, but the moon was so bright it cast hard shadows everywhere on the island. So bright it was almost brighter than daytime because she could see things clearer, as if the sun were criminal to the truth, as if her eyes were eyes of night. She left the lighthouse and went down to the beach to look at the moon pure and straight, and she stood in the shallows and let her feet sink into the sand as the patter-waves tickled her ankles. And that's when she saw it, a school of tiny fish, all darting around like marbles in a chalk circle, and they were lit up electric, mostly silver but some gold and pink too. They came and danced around her ankles, and she could feel their little electric fish bodies, and it was like she was standing under the moon and in the moon at the same time. And that was something she hadn't seen before. A decade and a half, thereabouts, roaming the planet earth, and she's never seen that before.

And you could say the world has gone to black damnation, and you could say the children of Cain are holding sway over the good and the righteous—but here's what Temple knows: She knows that whatever hell the world went to, and whatever evil she's perpetrated her own self, and whatever series of cursed misfortunes brought her down here to this island to be harbored away from the order of mankind, well, all those things are what put her there that night to stand amid the Daylight Moon and the Miracle of the Fish—which she wouldn't of got to see otherwise.

See, God is a slick god. He makes it so you don't miss out on nothing you're supposed to witness firsthand.
I actually asked to review this book because I'd seen it described as a "twist on the southern gothic: like Flannery O'Connor with zombies." As someone who has just begun to appreciate Flannery O'Connor's writing this hit me like a challenge. However, as I listened to the first chapter, I was struck by the unexpected beauty of the writing and themes that many people wouldn't attempt, especially in a zombie book. This unexpected beginning was merely the first of the many surprises that Alden Bell had for me in The Reapers are the Angels.

Temple is a fifteen year old girl who was born ten years after the zombie apocalypse happened. No attempt is made to understand or solve the zombie problem. No government has been formed from the survivors. It is a world with pockets of survivors who set up such systems as seem good to them individually. Chaos rules. Temple has never known a world where zombies were not part of the landscape and this gives us a unique perspective into the apocalyptic novel. It is the world of the survivors where the zombies are a danger but not a shock.

Temple is a fearless drifter, moving from place to place to see wonders or carry out such tasks as she feels she has been given to perform. One such task is when she comes across a severely retarded man in a poignant scene where he is running from zombies with his dead grandmother in his arms. She takes on the task of getting the man, who she calls "Dummy" until she learns his name (Maury), to a safe place where he will be looked after. A wealth of information is conveyed in that name, "Dummy." This is a world where being politically correct doesn't matter, where truth can sound hard but be kind. Temple is matter-of-fact because that is the only coin that counts in a world of zombies roaming wild.

Early in Temple's travels she encounters the man who becomes her nemesis. Interestingly enough, they understand each other better than any other people on earth, although they are at odds. Both are "God-haunted," both recognize the truth and resolve it takes to "stay right." He wants to kill Temple and she understands why, but nevertheless is not going to let him succeed. She is also afraid of something evil within herself which keeps her on the move. In the process of evading her relentless pursuer and caring for her protoge, Temple roams across the South, encountering a wide variety of wanderers and societies. Some are clinging to hopes of returning to normalcy, some accept the new way of the world but refuse to understand it for what it is. Many people encountered are kind and a surprising number of them are also traveling despite the uncertain times. All are shown through Temple's honest gaze which even can understand and accept the zombies as long as she isn't being attacked.

This doesn't mean that Temple is only pragmatic, however. She is weighed down with grief from past actions, which we gradually discover in the course of the novel. She feels joy and wonderment at events such as the fish in the excerpt above and her overriding desire is to see Niagara Falls some day. As she chatters to the largely speechless Maury we see the natural personality of a 15-year-old girl emerge every so often.

I have never read a book with this perspective. I love a good apocalypse story, watching the survivors get over the shock or succumb depending on their natures, watching the alternative governments set up, watching the various ways that everyone attempts to restore the most important aspects of the status quo. This book has no such moments. The world already has "gone to black damnation" but even so there are moments of beauty, meditation on what is right, suspense over what Temple will find in each town, whether she can get Maury to safety, how she will finally elude the determined killer on her trail, and what the evil is that she feels is deep within her. I rarely have listened to a book with such intensity or found myself surprised as often by the lyrical, fluid writing.

Tai Sammons narrates this book with restrained clarity. She has the ability to seamlessly shift into accents from upper class to hardscrabble Southerner while taking on the characters so that the listener tends to forget that there is just one person reading. She does this without altering her voice much either which is a rare skill and one that enhanced the book greatly. In fact, after I found out that the print version does not have quotation marks used for dialogue, I realized that in listening to Sammons' narration I was enjoying this book in probably the best format for easy understanding. (This experience made me reconsider reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy who is known for both excellent stories and also for the difficulty of reading his prose. I will be seeking out the audio version.)

As with the best science fiction or fantasy, ultimately this story is about much larger issues than hordes of wandering zombies, who have the least presence of any monsters I've ever read about. There is blood aplenty, make no mistake, but zombies are far less dangerous that what lies within Temple and her pursuer. The book is not perfect. Some of the plot details are immediately obvious although they take Temple a long time to figure out, which can be a bit frustrating to the reader. However, overall the book packs its equal share of surprises in plot which more than compensate for the failures.

The Reapers Are the Angels looks at the pursuit of beauty, the pursuit of God, the flight from inner demons, and the fact that none of us can ever see the whole truth at any time. We are too small and truth is woven too large. It isn't Flannery O'Connor but it doesn't need to be to accomplish the same thing that O'Connor always wrote about. The Reapers Are the Angels is a book about being human with all the questions and struggles that humans have had throughout time. Highest recommendation.

Reader's Note: I would rate this "R" for zombie and human violence, some sex though it is not graphically described, and occasional apocalyptic despair.

This review is cross-posted at SFFaudio, who provided the review copy of this audiobook from Blackstone Audio and at Catholic Media Review.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Made Me Laugh

Why am I do I feel so strongly about this recipe? For one thing, the difficulty level is possibly that of “Beagle.”
Yes, I could make this.

Thank you, Kate Cooks the Books for making me chuckle. I already want that cookbook, so mission accomplished ... twice.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Angry Ex-Catholics

Father Dwight Longenecker on the subject of those very angry ex-Catholics.
What's this idea that people think the Church is going to be perfectly free of human frailty and failure? What kind of unrealistic dream is that? Furthermore, wouldn't you be distrust any religious organization that was totally free of human failure, flaws and weaknesses? Don't those religious cults where everyone goes around with a pasted on smile in a fake sinless perfection give you the creeps? People who are otherwise smart and grown up cry out, "The Catholic Church is a fraud! I'm leaving!" and they slam the door as they go.

... They're so obsessed and outraged by the sin and scandal of 'the Catholic Church' that they are blind to the sin and scandal in their own lives.

I think it was Abp. Fulton Sheen who once met an ex Catholic on a plane. The man was going on and on about the corruption and graft and simony and nepotism in the Catholic Church. Sheen listened and then said, "What is it that you have stolen?" The man was instantly stunned into silence for he had been guilty of serious theft. I suspect this problem is epidemic ...
This is not all so go read the whole thing at Standing on My Head.

Reviewing Disorientation: Designed to Help Us All Keep Our Minds (Not Just College Students)

"Okay," some might say, "Utilitarianism may be poison in politics, but what about i our personal lives? If we restrict this theory to individual decisions, surely what brings happiness for the largest number of people must be right." When Granny is in a nursing home, having lost her marbles, and lies in bed drooling all day, what shall we say? Granny has no real quality of life. She demands constant care. Constant care is expensive. Is it not more merciful (and cheaper) to simply assist her to her final journey home? She will die soon anyway. Is it not better  for  all the rest of the family, indeed for all the rest  of society for Granny to go?
It never in a million years would have occurred to me that a great motivation behind the euthanasia movement is efficiency. Or, to be more accurate, Utilitarianism. Indeed, part of the motivation actually is misplaced kindness. But the rest ... yep ... it is Utilitarianism.

There is a great  comfort in knowing what to call something. In having a definition on which to hang ideas that you have encountered. It helps clear the mind, helps one wrestle with new concepts, and helps one evaluate the truthful inherent in the concept. For everyone who has ever had a discussion where they were left grappling someone pushing an idea that they knew wasn't "quite right" but weren't sure exactly why ... I present the cure: Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind.

Disorientation is specifically designed to help educate young Catholics on the threshold of leaving home for college and the "Wild West" (so to speak) of modern ideologies with which they will be bombarded upon entering the classrooms. The idea is that if they know what something is (progressivism, multiculturalism, hedonism, and so forth) then they can identify it up front and not fall prey to replacing solid Catholic teachings with skewed ideas. Fourteen essays by top Catholic writers explain and put into context these ideologies which so many people think are "just naturally the way things are." It is edited by John Zmirak so there is a reliable light touch with tongue firmly in cheek that permeates the book. (For the record, I think this is a good thing, especially if you are aiming at the college-bound.)

Now, I have no idea if you can get a college student to read this book but if you've got one it is sure worth a try. For that matter, it is worth getting just to sit yourself down with it and get your own education up to date. I was darned glad to be working my way through it at about the same time that it fell to my lot to read God is Not One. I knew there was a lot wrong with it but I wasn't sure what exactly to call some of it until I was reading some of these essays.

Let's face it. Chances are that your child has been exposed to these ideologies long before heading off for college. Most of those ideas are communicated through television, movies, and pals who they see every day. Talking about these things intelligently at home is the best way to make sure that everyone understands just why what the Church teaches is true and where those other ideas have skewed truth. If your kids are going to college, sure go ahead and get  them a copy. But you don't have to wait that long. Get a copy for yourself now. And one for the kids ... no time like the present when it comes to understanding how our culture thinks versus how the Church does.
The sentimentalist, anxious to denounce and to distance himself, does not stop to consider that the great reformers withing the Church—St. Francis, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, and others—did not flounce away from what was difficult. They remained, and the profound insights gained through their struggles have instructed and enhanced the "worthy idea" of faith. Dismissing it all with a few overused  buzzwords, a sentimentalist runs his premium brain on the cheap and inefficient fuel of superior feeling but he cannot be accounted a thinker who enhances understanding. And his destination is up for grabs too.

The temptation to lapse into feeling-over-thinking is not unique to our century; it is simply the product of what we might call "Evian reasoning." ... reasoning that resembles the thought processes of Eve in the Garden, at the very infancy of human wondering. What sounds good and looks good must be good and so we should have it, despite arguments to the contrary or "arbitrary" rulings by an Authority. Eve allowed her imperfect reason to be subdued by her feelings and desires, and thus she took the world's headfirst dive into the waters of Sentimentalism, which—while shallow—are deep enough for infants to drown in.
Note: one of those top Catholic writers is Elizabeth Scalia. Better known 'round these parts as The Anchoress, she wrote the chapter on sentimentalism (and a mighty fine job she did of it, too, as you can see from the bit quoted above). She gave me this review copy, which I would have pushed on y'all even if I'd bought it with my own money.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Weekend Joke

This one's for Tom who is out of town ... and for anyone else who has struggled with tech support. Created by xkcd, to whom I proffer many thanks for allowing me to share it with y'all.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

I never knew that Mark Twain said that. It took Frank at Why I Am Catholic to inform me, while he was considering the fact that the latest studies are in and Catholics look like a mighty poor, stupid group to throw in with. Frank's reaction?
How in the hell did I wind up surrounded by such a motley crew? How did I slip into this program? Why would I join this outfit?! ...

Why would I join this Church when seemingly the vast majority of the crew doesn't believe in Her teachings? Because here's a news flash for you: I'm not worried about the other crew members. ...

I became a Catholic because Truth hit me like a bolt out of the blue and knocked me on my keister ...
And I laugh. And I nod. And I say, "AMEN! Preach it, brothah!"

Because that's how Truth hit me. And that is, frankly, how little polls and whether other Cat'licks don't know their faith affects what I know to be True.

Preach it, Frank! All the way!

In which we discuss sex three ways ... oh, yes, and Hebrew.

We're finishing up the first part of Robert Alter's note to the reader from the beginning of his translation and commentary of Genesis ... over at Forgotten Classics. Plus getting a dose of New York City history and a few more Halloween-ish podcasts. Go get it while it's still hot!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Avast Me Hearties - Captain's Blood and Jade!

It isn't what you think. Nary a pirate in sight.

Two delicious cocktails do await you though ... Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Welcome Miners Bearing Gifts

And then, after a brief wait, the second miner emerges from the rescue capsule with great joy; he embraces his wife and then opens a bag to retrieve…gifts.

For others.

In the midst of all of this drama, all of the lights and excitement and concern, and at a moment when a man could reasonably be excused for thinking only of himself, Mario Sepulveda Espinace thought about others, and he brought them gifts.

Rocks? Rocks containing gold? It doesn’t matter. Mario Sepulveda Espinace crested the top of a hole from which he thought he might never escape, and his first instinct was to give. That’s a thing worth writing about, and thinking about and praying about. I wish I had a picture of that moment! How huge and resilient is the human spirit?
The Anchoress has a wonderful piece about the rescue of the Chilean miners.

I will now admit that one of the problems with never watching the news and only tangentially glancing at current news on the front page is ... ahem ... I didn't know those poor Chilean miners were finally being saved. I did know about their plight. At least I knew that ... but it took The Anchoress to alert me to their rescue. Thanks be to God and all those hard workin' folks who never gave up.

Now go read The Anchoress's post.

It's All Downhill from Here

A little midweek humor lifted from Kuriositas, (Image Credit Flickr User worldlflandsinfo).


Because Sometimes It Takes Planning

Reviewing "Roots of the Faith": Tracing Our Family Tree


One thing Catholics seem to be able to count on these days is criticism that our faith is a watered-down version of that practiced by early Christians. Protestants question the need for confession, the priesthood, and praying to the saints. Religious and secular alike protest Church teachings on abortion, marriage, and celibacy. We ourselves get caught up in questions about the authenticity of the Mass or the liturgy, as well as any or all of the above issues.

In "Roots of the Faith," Mike Aquilina comes forward with answers to these questions and more. He shows concrete evidence that our faith has vital roots in the 1st century Church. The long-ago seeds of current teachings and Traditions are traced into their current place in the modern Church. What makes this book especially useful is that Aquilina addresses eleven issues that are commonly encountered today, among them hot-button topics like abortion, celibacy, and the priesthood.

Aquilina has long been known for his books about the early Church Fathers*. This is his most relevant book to everyday faith. It is an invaluable source for anyone who wants assurance that, "Nothing essential has been added, and nothing essential has been lost." Not content to merely answer questions that we may encounter daily, he ranges much further to make sure there is adequate context to fully understand each topic. The end result often is surprising new information, such as this tidbit about the Bible.
From the beginning Christians held certain documents as authoritative. Yet even these did not circulate as a book. Local churches possessed whatever document they had the cash and the opportunity to pull together. A bishop might own one or two of the Gospels and some of the letter of St. Paul. Only the most fortunate churches could possess most of the books we now know as the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Not only does a passage like this help to get the historic context of the development of the Bible, but it encourages us to travel in imagination to a time when the only Mass readings might be from Mark and 1st Corinthians, because those were the only books their church could afford. Thus the similarities and differences between that ancient time and our own are deftly revealed. More importantly, Aquilina makes sure the reader understands all the implications of the ancient pagan beliefs at the beginning of the Church and the impact they had on Christians. Quite often, this provides valuable background for any conversations readers may have on current issues, such as we see with the excerpt below about abortion.
Pagan philosophers would have been inclined to agree with today's abortion protesters: Abortion is baby-killing. The difference is that that pagan philosophers didn't see anything wrong with killing babies. Infanticide was a common and well-accepted practice in the pagan world. Romans didn't always kill their babies directly; more often they "exposed" them, meaning that they threw them out on the trash heap to die of starvation and exposure. Girl babies, of course, were especially disposable. Many a Christian woman grew from one of those exposed babies whom some passing Christian discovered and rescued.
Most impressive of all is when Aquilina clarifies points about the Church Fathers' writings which are typically used by detractors as proof against current Church teachings. For example, St. John Chrysostom's writings about marriage allow one to view him as either stereotypically prudish or surprisingly modern. Aquilina plainly takes us through Chrysostom's personal growth demonstrating how experience as a parish priest brought a more realistic view of marriage that was unique for the time. This can be difficult to do but Aquilina does it with ease.

The book is written in a conversational tone that makes for easy reading. Readers will particularly appreciate that Church Fathers' writings are in a modern translation and simple to understand. It is hard to imagine a better book to help understand and defend the teachings of the Catholic Church. Hopefully Mike Aquilina will be moved to write likewise on other contentious questions which are raised for modern Catholics. We could use the help.

Highly recommended.

*The Church Fathers were holy Christian theologians whose teachings and doctrine set precedents for the Church. They wrote during the first seven centuries.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Well Said

From my quote journal.
An equation means nothing to me unless it expresses a thought of God.
Srinivasa Ramanujan, Indian mathematician, 1887-1920

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

A timeless tale of good and evil is the subject of my favorite Robert Louis Stevenson book. Naturally I was delighted to have a chance to discuss it with Jesse and Wayne for SFFaudio's latest readalong discussion. Full of Octobery goodness as well as musings about man's nature and literature. Don't miss it!

Reviewing "God Is Not One": Sloppy Writing and Muddled Logic


Should I Read It? 
 No.

Short Review
Sloppy writing and muddled logic are no match for a good fact-checker at your side, kid.

The Whole Story
I was so pleased to be offered a review copy of God is Not One from The Patheos Religion and Faith Book Club. (See more about them and the PBS show related to this book at the end of the review.) This is just the sort of book that intrigues me and, moreover, looks as if it helps us all understand each other better.

I completely agree with Stephen Prothero's premise that the world's major religions are not the same and that worshipers' different cultures provide a unique lens through which to seek God. In fact, this was one of the main concepts I took away from reading Huston Smith's The World's Religions some time ago. This is also the message that I got from the Catholic Catechism1 (839-848) that we cannot know how God is reaching others in their various circumstances (despite the Church's obvious insistence on the fact that Catholicism has the clearest view of God). Therefore, non-Catholics can find God in ways we cannot imagine.

I also share Prothero's opinion that there is a trend to claim that all religions are "one big happy family." So you can imagine how disappointed I was when I found Prothero's book did not, in fact, make it easy to reach those self-same conclusions, despite his stated purpose in the subhead: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter.

In the Beginning...
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. The subtitle itself began by talking about "rival religions" which to my mind didn't make sense at all, from the point of view of understanding different religions. My understanding of the word "rival" is largely borne out by the Merriam-Webster definition: a) of two or more striving to reach or obtain something that only one can possess (b) one striving for competitive advantage. One could have rival governments. Rival companies, even. But rival religions? Not really.

One could understand it if using a third definition of rival of "equal or peer" which is not what springs to mind. It also is not what Prothero promotes in the book.  Do these religions "run the world?" Again, this sounds as if we are talking about the Fortune 500, not ways to find and worship God.

Prothero's lack of focus, forced conclusions, and unscholarly generalizations continue the trend he sets in the subhead. Surprisingly, he does manage to have a relatively accurate overview of the different faiths while slanting and misstating many details. This in itself is an accomplishment of sorts which one does not see often. I suspect this is from taking a shallow look at each faith while picking and choosing sources out of context. At least, that is what I found in the areas that I knew the most about, as we shall see.

Facts Are Meaningless. You Could Use Facts to Prove Anything That's Even Remotely True!2
Prothero does not seem sure himself what he is trying to prove. Sometimes he mixes governments with religions, thus mixing apples and oranges. When he's tossing that fruit salad, he also doesn't worry too much about accuracy. Let us just examine this sample.
But today Christianity and Islam are the world's greatest religions. Together they account for roughly half of the world's population, and for more than half of the world's suicide bombers and drone attacks.
 I am really unaware of Christian suicide bombers or drone attacks, as were any of the sources I checked. I know of Muslim suicide bombers. I know of government run drone attacks. My copy of the book is marked with many examples of blatant inaccuracies and muddled comparisons simply in the few areas that I know well (Catholicism and overall Christianity). Prothero does not provide any documentation for this claim. He just makes it and sails on to point out that Muslims and Christians have lived in peace in the past, such as in medieval Spain. Why, oh why, does my mind insist on reminding me that such peace was only after Muslim conquest and under Muslim rule? Fact checking is a real problem for Prothero's beautiful examples much of the time.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do.
This leads us to Prothero's second besetting sin. Despite his stated desire to show us why religions are different and have the right to be so, he cannot help trying to make them equal, especially when it comes to comparing Christianity with any other religion's bad qualities. Setting aside the above example, which certainly illustrates that tendency, let us examine this statement.
Widespread criticisms of jihad in Islam and the so-called sword verses in the Quran have unearthed for fair-minded Christians difficult questions about Christanity's own traditions of holy war and "texts of terror." ... It is not just the Old Testament that is flesh devouring and drunk on blood, however. "I came not to send peace but a sword," Jesus says (Matthew 10:34).
Christians are doing a disbelieving double-take right now as they know Jesus was not talking about a literal sword. He was giving a warning about how being a believer would cause dissension and separation from those they hold dear, as well as persecution for believers. To call  that statement "flesh devouring and drunk on blood" is to show how little regard the author has for accuracy and how desperately he grasps at straws to build his comparisons at times.

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.3
The previous example points us to Prothero's third major problem. He continually takes information and quotations out of context, playing Twister to use them in making his points. In the introduction, I was jolted when he quoted Huston Smith and then went on to cast him as teaching that every religion was the same.
It is possible to climb life's mountain from any side, but when the top is reached the trails converge. At base, in the foothills of theology, ritual, and organizational structure, the religions are distinct. Differences in culture, history, geography and collective temperament all make for diverse starting points. ... But beyond these differences, the same goal beckons.
Even if one has not read Smith's book, the quote itself makes it obvious that what he is saying is that all believers seek Truth, however diverse their methods or beliefs. I only wish that I had a deeper knowledge of other major religious figures who Prothero dragged into his argument, such as Gandhi, Swami Sivananda, and the Dalai Lama. Once Prothero has been proven so unreliable with known sources, it is difficult to accept his word for similar snippets of text.

You're More Like a Game Show Host.4
Prothero's breezy style causes occasional faux pas which made me wince when reading such statements as:
Hinduism is an over-the-top religion of big ideas, bright colors, soulful mantras, spicy foods, complex rituals, and wild stories. One of the wildest of these stories concerns how Ganesha got his head.
It's always so amusing hearing wacky stories about people's divinities, isn't it? What zany characters they worship!

Yes, it did seem a bit disrespectful to say the least. I wish I could tell you that was the only example.

More than that though, it leads into a frustration of  mine with the text. The descriptions of the different religions vary widely as to what to base a comparison of "different" from. Prothero criticizes Huston Smith for showing the ideal of each faith. However, those ideals are quite helpful in knowing where adherents vary within denominations. Certainly those ideals are helpful in comparing the different religions to each other. Prothero much prefers to dwell on differences, often discussing one specific point in-depth, a cultural confusion, or argument flash-points before ever getting down to describing what people actually believe. I often would skip ahead to get the overall context or resort to Wikipedia for a concise description before diving back into the dizzying array of information poured out, for example, about Ganesha's head, Hindus around the world (past and present), and the many points of disagreement among Hindus about whether their religion is even a religion.

In the End
As I mentioned, Stephen Prothero does have the big overall picture generally correct. I really enjoyed learning about Yoruba, which I had never heard of before, and also his overview of atheism. It is too bad that his concept is conveyed via a flawed, superficial approach. It would be better for those  interested in how religions are different to read The World's Religions by Huston Smith or World Religions by John Bowker instead. Those books will do much more to lead to an informed view than God is Not One.


For More Resources, Reviews, and Conversation About This Book
The Patheos Book Club has more reviews about God is Not One and interviews with author Stephen Prothero. They declined sharing this review there because the publisher pays to have books included in the book club and Patheos felt this was too negative. I took the liberty of sharing it here anyway.

The American Experience on PBS is running God In America this week which is related to this book. It looks like a fascinating view of the role of religious belief in our country. Check out both sites.

1: (848) Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.

2: The Simpsons

3. Princess Bride

4: Ghostbusters

Monday, October 11, 2010

Worth a Thousand Words

Ornamental latin alphabet from the 16th century, missing the letters J, O, W, X and Z.
From Wikimedia Commons where it was a Picture of the Day.
Letter illustrations:
* A: Head of a bird and two snakes
* B: King and devil
* C: Bird riding a wild boar
* D: Plant
* E: Dragon
* F: Bird and flower
* G: Dog
* H: Walking person
* I: Winged dog and lizard
* K: Grotesque masks
* L: Piper wearing a hat in the shape of a bird
* M: Lion and thistle
* N: Fish in king's garb
* P: Pelican
* Q: Bird or dragon
* R: Masks and faces
* S: Lizard in king's garb
* T: Two griffins
* V: Jester
* U: Sun
* Y: Small animal and plants

Friday, October 8, 2010

In which Rebecca runs back AND forth AND back AND forth AND back AND forth.

Yes, Note to Reader, part 2, from Robert Alter's Genesis translation is up at Forgotten Classics.

As well as some Halloween listening recommendations, my continuing love affair with the difference that BarkBusters training has made in our home, and some clarification about the Catholic view of body and soul (in response to a Zombies and Religion podcast).

John Lennon's 70th Birthday Would Have Been Today

That alone is fairly mind-boggling.

For further boggling, of a good kind, check out Google's tribute on their main page.

(Techie note: that's not html5, it is Flash ...  sez Tom.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reviewing Schultze Gets the Blues

One of the pleasures of having joined the Good News Film Reviews group blog is that Scott is going through and occasionally posting one of my old reviews. It is interesting to see my reactions when these hit me unexpectedly. My review of Schultze Gets the Blues at Good News boasts a level of snarkiness that would make Scott proud ... and it made me laugh when reading it. A simple pleasure but then (I'll say it for you) I'm fairly simple.

The one line summary? "And to think that I thought The Station Agent was slow."


If you want more, click through and read the rest.

Nifty: A Clock That Knits

No wonder this designer won an award. See the finished scarf and more about the clock at core77.

Thanks to Bridget for sending this!

Halloween: O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

I have listened to The Flicks That Church Forgot podcast for some time now. Peter Laws, a Baptist minister in England loves horror movies and loves Jesus Christ also. As he puts it, "If God really does exist everywhere why can't we find his fingerprints in the scary places?" Each episode is usually a look at a horror film which Peter then follows up with a thoughtful look at something about Christianity or living a Christian life. It is really well done and always respectful to both Christians and nonbelievers.

He has done three new episodes which are a look at Halloween and Christians: origins, common Christian objections to Halloween, and a response to the top five typical Christian negative takes on Halloween. Again, he is careful to say that he understands the reasons some Christians don't like Halloween, but I think his beautifully put consideration is worth listening to, no matter which side you're on. (We all know around here that I'm a Halloween-lover, so moving on ...)

Here's the money quote that is going into my quote journal which I share to both entice you into listening and also for those who will not be interested in hearing a podcast. I, of course, advise listen to all three Halloween episodes at The Flicks That Church Forgot.
... we can give the supernatural world of evil too much power. I guess it's a case of either the devil isn't real or the devil is on every street corner hiding inside a pumpkin. Surely there is a middle ground where we acknowledge supernatural evil but we recognize its limited power in the face of the power of Christ.

Ironically I wonder if this might have been what home of the Christians were doing when they celebrated All Hallow's Eve and All Saints Day in the past. Those festivities were opportunities to laugh in the face of evil spirits, to dress up as them and sort of mock them, saying, "Hey check this out. These big, scary demons, they're just empty masks. When you compare them with the power of the risen Jesus Christ, they're not up to much."

I wonder if Halloween offers us a chance to affirm our eternal life while looking into the face of death which has actually lost its sting ... For Christians the scariness of death is not scary. Not really. Because we've got eternal life.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It's All Downhill from Here

A little midweek humor. This is actually a brilliant combination of humor and observation (as most of the best humor is, I suppose). I love maps like this. Click through and see it large at xkcd, the creator of this geographic inventiveness.




































Yes, I know it is running into the sidebar ... I wanted it as large as possible.

I, Cthulu

Brilliance from Neil Gaiman for Lovecraft afficianados. Here's the beginning ...
Cthulhu, they call me. Great Cthulhu.

Nobody can pronounce it right.

Are you writing this down? Every word? Good. Where shall I start -- mm?

Very well, then. The beginning. Write this down, Whateley.

I was spawned uncounted aeons ago, in the dark mists of Khhaa'yngnaiih (no, of course I don't know how to spell it. Write it as it sounds), of nameless nightmare parents, under a gibbous moon. It wasn't the moon of this planet, of course, it was a real moon. On some nights it filled over half the sky and as it rose you could watch the crimson blood drip and trickle down its bloated face, staining it red, until at its height it bathed the swamps and towers in a gory dead red light.

Those were the days.
Read it all here. Via Redecorating Middle-Earth in Early Lovecraft.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Deceptive Nature Documentaries

Chris Palmer is stirring things up in the wildlife documentary business. I was relieved to see that he says Planet Earth is legit and gets real footage without cheating.
"If you look back to the history of wildlife films, going all the way to the beginning of the last century, when people started to make them, there's always been manipulation," says Palmer. "The question is just the degree of it." In fact, according to Palmer, things have actually gotten better in some ways. "In those days, there was tremendous cruelty. Animals would be goaded to attack, and then [filmed]. They would put a python and a cougar in a small enclosure to fight.

"We wouldn't do that these days," he continues. "But we do other things now. We use animals that we pretend are free-roaming, but that are actually rented from game farms. Or we have Shark Week -- a program that demonizes sharks and makes them out to be dangerous and menacing man-eaters, at a time when we're trying to preserve them."
Read the whole story here. Thanks to Hannah for passing it along.

What Unitarians Know and Sam Harris Doesn't

I meant to post this earlier as I thoroughly enjoyed reading it in the Wall Street Journal this weekend. Marilynne Robinson, whose novel Gilead was one of my favorite books last year, thoughtfully and gently punctures Sam Harris's pretensions in her review of his new book, The Moral Landscape. Here is a bit to entice you and then do go read it all.
Sam Harris begins his new book with a celebration of the ideal of cooperation, a value that has been in eclipse among us, and whose absence we feel in every failed attempt to dislodge the country from all the tight places in which we find ourselves these days. The cult of competition has elbowed its way into the place in our national life once reserved for promoting the general welfare, and the general welfare has suffered in consequence. Mr. Harris's assertion of this value without so much as a nod to the claims of our brutish Pleistocene ancestry is tonic. He says: "As with mathematics, science, art, and almost everything else that interests us, our modern concerns about meaning and morality have flown the perch built by evolution."

What specific forms is cooperation to take? Mr. Harris is a little vague on this point. He strongly favors "maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures." He imagines potential human circumstances as landscapes of peaks and valleys, with different models of moral success on each of the peaks and of moral failure in each of the valleys. Probably because he deplores moral relativism, he offers no particulars about what these variants might look like. Many of his aspirations are highly respectable but they are neither bold nor new, at least from the point of view of certain religious traditions. If he were to articulate a positive morality of his own, he might well arrive at its heights to find them occupied by the whole tribe of Unitarians, busily cooperating on schemes to enhance the world's well being, as they have been doing for generations.

If You Liked the Archangel Images, You Don't Want to Miss This Art Sale

The gorgeous archangel art at Gryphon Rampant was much commented upon when I used it for the Feast of the Archangels. But there is much more to see in the gallery. Here's one sample of this gorgeous art.



Now I see that they're having a 25% off art print sale .... early Christmas shopping anyone? Go look around. There are some real treasures there.

Monday, October 4, 2010

All the E-Mail That's Fit to Blog: The "Interesting Sites" Edition

Planet Catholic
Caitlin tells us:
I'm creating an aggregator site, Planet Catholic, for all of the Catholic blogs out there.  Planet Catholic pulls text from the RSS of Catholic blogs and publishes an excerpt from each blog post (the first 250 characters) and then provides a link to the rest of the post. 
The Catholic Guide
Planet Catholic is not Caitlin's only interesting Catholic site:
Also, I've been running a wiki called The Catholic Guide.  The intent is to create an online information database all about the Roman Catholic faith that is built by volunteers.  It has been seeded by articles from the 1913 public domain Catholic Encyclopedia.  We have a few volunteers but the site really needs more exposure to attract volunteers.
Patheos Book Club
This had vaguely caught my eye at one time but The Anchoress sharpens my focus:
Patheos is starting a book club, where we feature Harper One books (and others) and this one, although it's not new, is going to be looked at b/c apparently there will be a PBS series tied in with it, starting October 11.
Evidently next they will be reading God is Not One, which I'll be reading and reviewing ... as soon as my copy gets here. Looking through the various reviews around the interwebs it struck me as a similar take to Huston Smith's Illustrated Religions of the World, which was eye opening when I read it many years ago. I'm curious to see how this compares.

Aliens in This World Reviews Secretariat: "Ahead of the Pack"

You don't have to just take my word for it that Secretariat is a really good movie. Aliens in This World, where you can count on a thoroughly realistic point of view has a review with which I agree completely. Yes. You don't see that every day, do you? I'll say it again. Completely.

Here's a bit and then go read it all at Aliens in This World.
I really enjoyed this movie, and it was exactly what I needed. It had heart, humor, drama, factual interest, and it even let me travel back in time to the Seventies for a bit (without too much of the bad stuff). Family was very important, and they played with that theme in various interesting ways. There was a surprisingly topical theme of maintaining American unity despite deep political disagreements (though it wasn’t shoved down anybody’s throat either way). It was maybe not a great movie for all time, but it was solidly enjoyable and interesting. It also came out and said some good things about horse thinking, which a lot of horse movies are too sappy to remember.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Love is Spelled: T I M E

What good is home-schooling our children in the Catholic faith, if we can't miss one day of pre-planned lessons to help babysit some older siblings of an extremely sick child?

What good is attending a Pro-Life Committee meeting if on the exact same night a family in our parish whose child struggles with a life-threatening disability has no one to say a rosary over their sick baby's crib in the NICU?

There's a sickness of "busyness" among Catholics that is extremely dangerous because we crowd out God with our previously scheduled God appointments.
I have been following with great interest the story of newborn Tess and her parents, as told by her mother at Abigail's Alcove. Tess endured one ailment after another, culminating in an 18" length of IV line having to be removed from her heart. (Yes, it is an "and then what next" sort of story that these poor people have gone through.)

It all ended well. But in enduring the trials, something became very clear. I do not think this is reserved to Catholics. I think that "extreme busy-ness" is an American disease. We'd like to think that we're better than that. But obviously this is not the case.

Do go read the whole story at Abigail's Alcove. It takes a special sort of love to set aside plans and step up to help. We must pray that we have that love and, even when we don't feel it, we must do it anyway.

Jesus didn't give lip service. He gave his whole self. We must go forth and do likewise. It is the only way to be whole Catholics.

UPDATE
I meant to mention also that today is St. Therese of Lisieux's feast day. (Read more at this very good post at The Anchoress's.) This saint of little things would appreciate the problems we must overcome in ordering our time properly so that we put others first. St. Therese pray for us.