Monday, April 30, 2012

PepsiCo Stops Using Aborted Fetal Cell Lines to Test Flavor Enhancers

Thank you Pepsi!

I'm writing them a letter of appreciation ... and am going to begin buying some of my favorite brands again!

Obedience: The Dirtiest Word in America

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:1-11
Let's stop for a second and consider the passage above.

Why did God highly exalt Christ Jesus? Why did God bestow on him the name above every name, that at that name every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth? Why shall every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father?


He took the form of a servant, did not count equality with God something to be grasped (even though he could have), and became obedient unto death.

Paul exhorts us to have "this mind" ourselves. In other words, to be like Christ. To love others so much that we are obedient unto death. (As Christ does us and also loves and trusts the Father.)

Christ undid the sin brought about by Adam's and Eve's disobedience and lack of trust in God with his own complete obedience and trust. Even unto death.

Let's all stop. Really stop. And read it again. Slowly, aloud, thinking about it.


So. If we are to follow in Christ's footsteps, our love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit we should show each other. Our self-giving as a servant should be a complete pouring out of ourselves, an emptying, in complete obedience.

This is what the great saints have done.

Even the ones who were in disagreement with the Church teachings at the time still were obedient. To be less than that, while working for change, is to not trust God or the Holy Spirit. It is to make yourself too important. If Christ's bride is the Church, then shouldn't we also give the Church that respect?

That is why those saints are our models in tempestuous times. They help us walk as Christ did, with obedience.


Contemplating this over the last year has helped me care immensely when I am disobedient. And I am disobedient, I am sorry to admit. Much more often than I care to say.

Aren't we all?

Beginning with Adam and Eve, disobedience is the original human sin. It is the one that makes us ignore our inner voice of "what is right" and do what we want anyway.


It sounds fine until it interferes with what we'd really like.

Then, in fine American independence we spit the word "obedient" as if it is a curse and defiantly stamp to emphasize our right to do what we like. If we have to stamp on the person next to us who doesn't agree, well then, so be it. That's what they deserve for trying to restrict my right to do whatever I like. I'd better tell everyone while I'm doing it so they may applaud my independence.

That is all very American.

But is it Catholic?

Is it Christ-like?


This comes to mind with great force as I've been thinking about being Catholic and being American lately. In the last couple of days I've encountered a surprising number of Catholics rejecting pastoral direction* and recommendations. With great vigor and varying levels of rhetoric and skill, they have proudly (and loudly) pointed out their defiance. Some of this has been online and one, to my startlement, was to my face at a most unexpected time.

Interestingly, it has all been a rejection of advice on how to weigh issues' importance when voting.

In every case, people were offended by the manner, rhetoric, or tone with which they were advised. No one, however, stopped long enough to scrape aside the "tone" and look at the actual issues being propounded. "How dare they tell me how to vote!" is reason that needs no response. In America anyway.

I have come across this before and still find it perplexing.

Lest you think I am picking on one "side" or the other, rest assured I am not. I have had the same frigid silence come up when discussing voting for immigration and the death penalty as I have when discussing voting for an end to abortion or contraception.

But I just don't understand the triumphant tone and proud face that I am shown every time this sort of thing comes up. Despite what either "side" thinks, the attitude is identical on the surface.

We count on our pastors to advise us on practically everything in our lives. They are our shepherds. When we are running full tilt for a cliff, we need them to put out their shepherd's staff and turn us from the path of destruction.

Granted, some do a better job than others and we are out of practice after many years of some bishops and priests who have done a lackluster job of counseling.

Do we have to do what they say? No. We, in turn, have our own obligation to use the minds that God gave us and consider the facts and issues carefully.

Facts and issues.

Not tone. Not the "outrage" of being advised of what issues matter more than others.

I began wondering about my concept of priest as shepherd. And I found this wonderful statement from a recent shepherd.
One could say that by his own example Jesus himself, the good shepherd who "calls his own sheep by name" (cf. Jn 10:3-4), has set the standard of individual pastoral care: knowledge and a relationship of friendship with individual persons. The presbyter's task is to help each one to utilize well his own gift, and rightly to exercise the freedom that comes from Christ's salvation, as St. Paul urges (cf. Gal 4:3; 5:1, 13; Jn 8:36).

Everything must be directed toward practicing "a sincere and practical charity." This means that "Christians should be taught that they live not only for themselves, but according to the demands of the new law of charity; as every man has received grace, he must administer the same to others. In this way, all will discharge in a Christian manner their duties in the community of men" (PO 6). Therefore, the priest's mission includes calling to mind the obligations of charity, showing the applications of charity in social life, fostering an atmosphere of unity with respect for differences, encouraging programs and works of charity, by which great opportunities become available to the faithful, especially through the new emphasis on volunteer work, consciously provided as a good use of free time, and in many cases, as a choice of life.
General Audience, May 19, 1993
Our bishops and priests have the duty to show us the applications of charity in social life. To me, that includes advice on how to weigh issues when we vote.

They aren't going to follow us into the booth and pull the lever. Just like they don't come into our bedrooms and make sure we are living our marriage well. But it is their duty to advise, even if we don't like it.

Our duty, and we do have one here, is to carefully consider that advice.

Not to give a knee-jerk reaction of the usual sort because that advice may not fit what we want. Or the tone may not be right. We can be angry. We may even say something we regret. But we have to think further, go farther, and carefully consider issues, facts, and the Church's teachings.

If we don’t agree with Church teachings or pastoral advice, treat that disagreement as the important thing it is. Go to source materials, study the Catechism, read the Church Fathers, look at the 2000 years’ worth of discussion on the subject. Dig into it and don’t let go until you understand the logic that led the Church to that teaching.

So, yes, use your brain.

But also keep in mind that simply not “liking” something is not reason to disobey.

In that we also must keep in mind Paul’s counsel from the beginning of that passage. Are we showing the fruit of love, affection, sympathy? Are we humble, counting others better than ourselves, looking to the interests of others?

Can they tell we are Christians by our love?

I know. I have trouble with it too.

In today's Mass readings there was a line that I just can't shake. It echoes round and round in my head. I've learned to pay attention when that happens.

Jesus, speaking of being our good shepherd says:
"I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly." (John 10:10)
But to do that, we have to be the kinds of people our fellow Americans (and many fellow Catholics) may not understand. We have to follow our good shepherd.

We have to stop treating "obedience" like a dirty word.

* And I'm not talking about the sort of thing that led to the sexual abuse scandal. That's not the sort of thing the Church has ever taught was right and that no one in their right mind would expect to find justified anywhere.

Help a family adopt this precious little girl and enter a giveaway for a chance to win one of 34 great prizes

... including a Happy Catholic book signed by me as well as books by Amy Welborn, Mark Shea,  and Brandon Vogt (among others). Other giveaways include chocolates, jewelry, frames prints, rosaries, and more.

Susan Windley-Daoust (Ironic Catholic) has done a fantastic job of recruiting wonderful prizes. And the money all goes to a very worthy cause ... helping unite a little girl and the parents wanting to adopt her and give her the home she's been longing for.

Check out Ironic Catholic's Great Big Giveaway for New Life for details.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Weekend Joke

A man takes his Rottweiler to the vet and says, "My dog's cross-eyed. Is there anything you can do for him?"

"Well," says the vet, "let's have a look at him" So he picks the dog up and examines his eyes, then checks his teeth.

Finally, he says "I'm going to have to put him down."

"What?" asked the man, startled. "Because he's cross-eyed?"

"No, because he's really heavy"

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The New Mother

Jesse from the SFFaudio podcast and I will be discussing The New Mother. We'll be joined by Heather Ordover from CraftLit, who read the story aloud for us. Jesse posted the audio of the story early for anyone interested.

Cooking the Books: Green Beans with Ginger

My new favorite cookbook? It isn't really new. And it has a simply amazing green beans recipe. All is revealed at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Resource: Catechism Class is Like Spark Notes for Catholic Books

Y'all know that I'm all about book reviews. But there is another way to evaluate a great many Catholic books.
We realize that the vast majority of Catholics want to read classic and contemporary Catholic books but due to time constraints, they are able to actually only read a small number of them. We have responded to this need by summarizing (not reviewing so that customers get the author's views and not our opinions) many great Catholic books.
Catechism Class has a really extensive list of books that they've done thorough reviews for. And when I say thorough, I ain't just a whistlin' Dixie.

I was stunned at how thorough the samples were. Not only an overall summary, but also a summary for every chapter. This is truly the way to quickly get the sense of a book that you need to evaluate before purchasing or cover for some reason but don't have time to read.

Cathechism Class describes their summaries here and has a list of books covered here. As a bonus, I asked them to provide a sample pdf of a representative book so that you could see for yourselves how thorough these are. They generously came forth with Scott Hahn's Hail Holy Queen.

Give it a try and check out their site.

Americans are Alright

Getting ready to visit home (America) after a living in Asia for a long time and seeing American businessmen at their worst, the EatingAsia folks asked themselves, "Ugh, Americans. Are we really that obnoxious?

What they found on their whirlwind trip to the U.S. was that we're alright.
I know, I know -- there's the vitriolic backdrop, especially now that we're heavy into a presidential election cycle. It's everywhere, and hard to ignore. But day to day we Americans are generally pretty nice folks. We smile, we say "hi", we hold doors open for each other and yes, we queue ("line up" in Americanese). We are welcoming. We help strangers. We offer sympathy and aid to people in trouble even if we don't know them. We're curious about others and we chit-chat, exchange pleasantries and make small talk with just about anyone.
And that's not all. Yes, we've got our problems as any people do, but it's nice to read something so positive for a change.

Go read the whole thing at EatingAsia and soak up the gorgeous photos.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Joan of Arc Series on History According to Bob Podcast

The Joan of Arc series has just begun but Bob doesn't keep his episodes up for more than a few weeks.  Although in looking through the archive I see he has a few months worth of episodes. He sells CDs of his series later so he takes episodes down fairly soon.

If you think you might be interested, grab these now. In the past, I have found Bob to be very fair and even-handed, giving careful consideration to all points of view and usually choosing the most reasonable.

Pick up episode at the History According to Bob archives or via iTunes. The first episode is an overview, posted on April 11 and there has been one other episode since then.

If you look through the existing archive, Bob also has part of a series about the crusades and the Teutonic Knights and such matters so you may want to try those also.

Word of the Week:

Ever since I read about the Dictionary of American Regional English, I've been itching to get my hands on a volume. There are six volumes, with the last finally being published after decades of work being done. Loving words the way we do around here it is hard to imagine a more wonderful book for browsing than one featuring all sorts of obscure regionalisms.

Here's the DARE website where you can find out more and from which I'll be pulling a word now and then for our edification and entertainment.

Let's begin with DARE's word of the month:

A vacationer, esp a summer boarder.
Where does it come from? How do you use it? What examples from the past can you see? DARE has it all for you. Go and enjoy!

Tim Canny mentions something that I meant to tell you. You can follow them on Twitter (twitter via @darewords) and get words much more frequently. Thanks Tim!

Web could vanish for hordes of people in July, FBI warns

If your computer is infected with the DNSChanger virus, your summertime Internet activities will be seriously curtailed -- as in buh-bye. But a special Web site can help you fix the problem.
This looks like one of those spam scares that I often debunk using

However, Tom was telling me all about it yesterday morning. This is a real thing.

Here's an article he recommends.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Weekend Joke: So a guy goes to a psychiatrist ...

Via Data's Jokes.
A guy goes to a psychiatrist. "Doc, I keep having these alternating recurring dreams. First I'm a teepee; then I'm a wigwam; then I'm a teepee; then I'm a wigwam. It's driving me crazy. What's wrong with me?"

The doctor replies: "It's very simple. You're two tents."

Friday, April 20, 2012

1st Corinthians and the LCWR: Mourning and a Wake Up Call to Repentance

A few thoughts, not necessarily strung together in the best way, but I wanted to get these out there for consideration before my day got away from me.

Frankly, the Vatican's document and reprimand to the LCWR was not really on my radar. Like many Catholics I vaguely knew there were some orders of religious who liked to style themselves "progressive" and skirt Vatican teachings when it didn't suit their ideas of service. In this, I am thinking more of a particular priest I know from another city. He'll never know how much he shocked me (as a fairly new Catholic) when he confided, with a twinkle in his eye about breaking some rules which he didn't think were all that important because he was the best judge of such things. That moment and his attitude always came to mind when I'd hear reports of orders flouting Church teachings. So I may, perhaps, have gotten it wrong a few times when thinking that such flouting was deliberate rather than sheer ignorance. Honestly, I'm not sure which is worse when considering a whole order's behavior. But that is a matter for further pondering, especially with concern to my own life. Where do I leave myself (or those around me) ignorant and where do I ignore what I should obey?

Reading 1st Corinthians this morning was especially enlightening as Paul is dealing with a scandalous situation being tolerated in the church. Chapter 5: 1-5 from the NAB:
It is widely reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of a kind not found even among pagans—a man living with his father’s wife. And you are inflated with pride. Should you not rather have been sorrowful? The one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst. I, for my part, although absent in body but present in spirit, have already, as if present, pronounced judgment on the one who has committed this deed,b in the name of [our] Lord Jesus: when you have gathered together and I am with you in spirit with the power of the Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
Careful reading and the accompanying commentary makes two things very clear. First, the community is so "puffed up" (literal translation of "inflated") that they not only tolerate the immoral situation but either consider themselves spiritually advanced or they think it doesn't affect them as a community. The community should have been sorrowful or, as other translations say, have been "in mourning."

This says something to me about those orders, true, but it says more to me about those who are triumphant about the reprimand. People have been angry about such laxity but have we been mournful for these, our sisters, who have gone astray? Have we felt sorrowful for the probable outcome to them? Whether as a reprimand or for the ill being done in their lax attitudes, should we not have cared as much as we would for a dear friend or family member? Have we prayed or offered up fasting or some similar sacrifice to God on their behalf, as I myself have done for a beloved atheist family member?

Where is our sense of unity? Where is our response to the great commandment of love that Christ gave us?

You notice I include myself. I can say these things because I am guilty. Paul is talking directly to me on this.

Second, the immoral man is excommunicated from the community by Paul. Note that this is not intended to be permanent but it is "a therapy of privation that hopefully will wake the man up and lead him to repentance and readmission to the community" (from the commentary).

Sometimes we need a spiritual awakening administered through severe action because it is only then that we pay attention. We've all experienced this from time to time. It is when we ignore the increasingly strong reprimands that it becomes necessary to take drastic measures to get our attention. I'm thinking here of the prodigal son.

In 1st Corinthians it is both to save the man and safeguard the community from the bad example that the action is taken.

It seems shocking from the outside but in the end could save them all.

From personal experience, I'd say that a good many problems of the sort we see in the Corinthian community and in this situation come from insularity. We don't go outside our comfortable bubbles enough to get another perspective.

In this case, I would like to offer the LCWR a modern example of someone they could emulate. Not a long-ago saint or far away person from the "other side" but someone who feels their pain and yet will take the hard steps to offer that pain to God and ask for enlightenment and growth.

Joanne McPortland blogs with her whole heart at egregious twaddle. I like her even though she often is approaching Catholic things from the opposite viewpoint than I am. I like her because she is honest, because she is trying, because she is sticking with her recent return to the Catholic church and struggling with the things that don't seem to make sense. But offering herself to God so that she may understand.

As a former agnostic, child of atheists, even more a child of our modern society, I too have had similar struggles that hurt me to the very bone.

Her response the the Vatican reprimand of the LCWR was angry. An honest anger that stormed questions at God on behalf of people she loved. Go read An Uppity Woman Prays for Answers. I believe that God doesn't mind those angry shouts because, like Job's, they are honest and heart-felt. Though they may be filled with pain, they are turning to Him. It is a trust that there is an answer. It is a personal response in a personal relationship with Him.

Joanne helped me see the other side and reminded me of a place I love that can sometimes be outside my own comfort bubble, which is my Catholic women's book club. I absolutely love every woman who comes to it.

And yet. And yet we are a very diverse group. We do our best to stay from controversial topics and yet we can't sometimes. I sometimes mourn for some of my sisters from that group and I always pray that we may all know truth. And they keep me centered. They help me see the heart of those I don't agree with sometimes. Am I right when I disagree with them? I think so, obviously. However, we keep each other close to the middle of the road marker, where we may reach over and hold hands, understanding each other's hearts. Sometimes, we will even step across and be together on either side. And that's the right way to be, after all. Because that's where the Church is. Not on the fringes, but in the middle. But, again, that concept provides enough pondering for another day, so we will move on.

Joanne does that for me. As did that post.

The next day, Joanne wrote Fleeing Babylon: The Old Order(s) Changeth. She'd had time to think, to pray, to listen for answers, to hear what kind friends were not saying (out of kindness) and to know it for a hint of the truth. She has been able to gain clarity and relinquish her anger. She remains sad but also joyful.

This was heartening and also a wonderful look at the spiritual wrestling we must all do with the messengers of God. Like Jacob, we may be left wounded. It may be a wound that, like his, we carry our whole lives. But it changes us.

I so appreciate Joanne sharing her personal struggle because of her honesty and commitment to truth.

It helps me to remember that unity, helps me begin to truly mourn and pray for these sisters of Christ, and to examine myself for blind spots and pride.

I hope and pray that the sisters of the LCWR may go through the same process as we all limp, joyfully (!), toward God together.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

NPR Reporter Understands the Church Better Than the Nun They Are Interviewing

Just heard from Hannah, our roving reporter in the DFW Metroplex, who is making the arborist rounds of the Dallas areas. She listens to NPR a lot while driving and called to tell me that she was livid after listening to a particularly unhelpful interview with Sister Simone Campbell.

The reporter was attempting to get her to talk realistically about the Vatican finding that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had serious doctrinal problems. Here's NPR's blurb and the link if you want to listen (or read) for yourself.
The Vatican has reprimanded the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, saying the group has "serious doctrinal problems." The Vatican assigned an archbishop to reform the conference. The group has taken controversial stances on issues including health care and gender matters. Melissa Block speaks with Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobbying group which works closely with the LCWR.
Unfortunately, Sister Simone unhelpfully kept saying that the report simply meant the women in the Church needed to educate the men in the Church on how things work in the real world. Hearing Hannah tell me all this made me happy that I have a discerning daughter who loves her faith and quite sorry for Sister Simone. She is either being disingenuous or really believes what she is saying. And it is to weep. Obedience and charity are integral to us all as Catholics and especially for a religious sister.

We all find ourselves at odd with the Catholic Church sometime or another, sometimes over very big issues. But we are all called to practice obedience, charity, forgiveness, and following Christ's example while we do so. I pray for Sister Simone and those like her who may be smarting, frustrated, and upset by the report.

Hannah gave full props to the reporter who, she said, kept trying to bring Sister Simone back to the real questions and seemed fairly well educated about the issues.

Hannah also wanted me to let any NPR listeners know that Sister Simone was not someone they wanted to trust for their Catholic opinion making.

Job done!

As is so often the case, I turned to GetReligion for their take on the story and the media coverage which looks as if it were quite good actually. I definitely recommend you go there and read it and the linked stories if you want the full picture. Mollie read the 8-page Vatican document and points out that it praises as well as reprimands.
In fact, on the first page alone is this line, “The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.”
As I mentioned, she looks at reporting across all media, including bloggers like Whispers in the Loggia (Rocco's always on top of these sorts of stories). I hadn't had a chance to even look at my RSS reader today so was glad Hannah prompted me to look into the story more.

Be sure to read the GetReligion story if you are at all interested in this story.

Flannery O'Connor at A Good Story is Hard to Find Podcast

Julie talks Scott's leg off, but since it isn't wooden he gets to keep it? Confused? So are we, but we bravely discuss three of Flannery O'Connor's stories: A Good Man is Hard to Find, The River, and Good Country People.

And find out what happens when we leave the recorder running for another five minutes after signing off.

Come and listen at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Notes on Mark: Fasting

MARK 2:13-14
There are good reasons for fasting but I never understood the Pharisees' question to Jesus, as it always seemed to ask why he wasn't copying the "holy crowd." Surely that would be the last reason for doing it ... which is just what Jesus points out. This is especially true when we know more about fasting in those times.
With the stricter Jews fasting was a regular practice. In the Jewish religion there was only one day in all the year that was a compulsory fast, and that was the Day of Atonement. The day when the nation confessed and was forgiven its sin was The Fast... But the stricter Jews fasted on two days every week, on Mondays and Thursdays. It is to be noted that fasting was not as serious as it sounds, for the fast lasted from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and after that normal food could be eaten...

... The trouble about the Pharisees was that in far too many cases their fasting was for self-display. It was to call the attention of men to their goodness. They actually whitened their faces and went about with disheveled garments on their fast days so that no one could miss the fact that they were fasting and so that everyone would see and admire their devotion. It was to call the attention of God to their piety. They felt that this special act of extra piety would bring them to the notice of God. Their fasting was a ritual and a self-displaying ritual at that...
The Gospel of Mark (The Daily Bible Series*, rev. ed.) by William Barclay
You may recall that I brought up the Pharisees questioning the disciples about Jesus' hanging out with sinners. Now, let's take another quick look at how the question about fasting is handled.
Once again, those voicing criticism aim it indirectly, as if seeking to drive a wedge between Jesus and his followers. Where as the previous question about Jesus had been addressed to his disciples (Mark 2:16), now a question about his disciples is addressed to Jesus.
The Gospel of Mark: Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture by Mary Healy
Interesting isn't it? What I always saw as fairly straight forward questions, albeit angry ones with ulterior motives, now become something much more planned and sly. The Gospel of Mark has a subtlety that it often isn't credited with and which Healy's commentary helps me to appreciate.

* Not a Catholic source and one which can have a wonky theology at times, but Barclay was renowned for his authority on life in ancient times and that information is sound, as are many of his general reflections.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Joe Ledger's Back in Town and This Time He's Got Ninjas! (New on the shelf.)

Assassin's Code ( Joe Ledger, #4)Assassin's Code by Jonathan Maberry

I'm sorry Doctor Esterhazy. It isn't that I find you boring, though you are a bit more difficult to follow on audio than ordinary books, but it's just that Joe is back in town. And ... well ... gotta put you down and go get me some Joe!
When Joe Ledger and Echo Team rescue a group of American college kids held hostage in Iran,the Iranian government then asks them to help find six nuclear bombs planted in the Mideast oil fields. These stolen WMDs will lead Joe and Echo Team into hidden vaults of forbidden knowledge, mass-murder, betrayal, and a brotherhood of genetically-engineered killers with a thirst for blood. Accompanied by the beautiful assassin called Violin, Joe follows a series of clues to find the Book of Shadows, which contains a horrifying truth that threatens to shatter his entire worldview.
Although, a beautiful assassin named (really? seriously?) Violin had better have a darned good story behind the name or I'll never be able to stop laughing.

And it wouldn't be a Joe Ledger book without genetic engineering rearing its ugly head somewhere nearby.

But on the other hand ... ninjas!

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 29

This movie is an unexpected delight, as unique and original in its own way as About a Boy was, and that is high praise indeed.

 29. Stranger Than Fiction

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an IRS auditor with an incredibly dull life. One day he begins hearing a woman's voice narrating his every action. Unbeknownst to Crick, he actually is the protagonist in author Karen Eiffel's (Emma Thompson) latest novel. We are shown dual realities as Ferrell tries to discover why he is hearing the voice and Eiffel investigates method after method of killing off her character. When Ferrell hears the voice mention his impending death the search takes on a new urgency. He  enlists the aid of a literary professor (Dustin Hoffman) and life takes new turns as he begins to incorporate the professor's advice into his life.

This movie tells an original and delightful story while pointing out that things like a warm cookie, the touch of a hand, a hug, or a little act of kindness can transform our lives and make them worth living. It is also part of the genius of this movie, that such hackneyed phrases can take on a new and redemptive life when the viewer is seeing them ... and that is because they are true.

(My full review is here. After you've watched the movie, you may care to hear Scott and me discuss it at A Good Story is Hard to Find.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Reviewing "The Gospel of Mark: Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture" by Mary Healy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really great commentary. Healy combines a lot of the information that I have in a variety of other commentaries (both Catholic and Protestant), but then pulls it all together with additional observations that make it very accessible while still being scholarly. She follows up many sections with items for reflection. Her style is very easy to read and you never feel as if she's talking over your head.

The structure is such that you are generally covering just a little scripture at a time. Each reading is followed with cross references to the Old Testament, New Testament, Catechism, and Liturgy. These are followed by the commentary, in which words from the scripture reading are bold whenever they are used. Although I saw some people complaining about that practice, I found it useful. Sometimes a bold word would make me suddenly pay attention and go back to the scripture, thinking, "Did it really say that? Why haven't I ever noticed before?"

There are also a few maps, occasional photos when they'd be helpful, and sidebar boxes with Biblical background and living tradition (Catechism, Fathers of the Church, saints) information that enriches understanding. The boxes can be difficult to read because they are a medium gray text on a light gray box which doesn't provide much contrast. (Later editions seem to have fixed this problem as 1 Corinthians has a much darker text in the boxes.)

Healy is excellent at putting the scripture in context, whether in reference to the context of people of the time, to other scripture, or for our own lives. Sometimes I was enlightened by the factual information which gives me new insights into the text. Sometimes it is from the material for reflection. However, it is a rare day that I failed coming away with an insight that I pondered the rest of the day. In fact, it set me thinking so much that I revived my Mark Bible study for this blog so that I could share some of these insights with others. It is in the early parts of Mark at this point, but check that out for a few short excerpts that you can use to see why you should read the entire book.

Highest recommendation.

You can see more about the series at their website and ... I bought this with my own money and will be buying more. Yes, that's how much I liked this book.

Speaking of "Awake" ...

I completely approve of the penguin. Not enough of them on TV these days, especially helping solve crimes. And have I said that I feel sorry for anyone stuck in "blue filter" universe? They are always going to look sickly and tired.

And, did anyone else groove the way I did when Michael, held hostage in the mental ward, reassured crazy Gabe that his sister was free? Free to be happy, not held captive anymore, and so forth (I can't find the quote for this speech.)In other words, no grave can hold her.

Anyone paying attention to Easter that week could immediately see a parallel, which the blue-filter therapist points out by saying rather disparagingly that the world's major religions came up with eternal life for much the same reason (to fool themselves, she means. I say "Boo!"). But Gabe's relief and happiness for his sister are perfectly appropriate for any Christian who really "gets it."

Of course this was that That's Not My Penguin episode.

My Life in the Buffy-Verse: 3.11

My life in the Buffy-verse (by request) - season 3. Got this far and then had to stop to catch up on Awake. "Gingerbread" -- After two children are mysteriously killed, apparently as part of a cult sacrifice, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) leads the town in a witch hunt - but all is not quite as it seems." As if we didn't know those kids were not what they seemed. Right.

Though I never really trusted Buffy's mother to handle the whole Hell-mouth thing well. And we can see that she doesn't really, deep down.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Notes on Mark: Matthew, the Tax Collector

MARK 2:13-14
Thinking of how we feel about the IRS, we can understand why Matthew was not well liked. Then add on the facts we see below, which is that tax collectors could line their own pockets with whatever they could get away with ... well, I feel the crowd's astonishment when Jesus calls Matthew to follow him.
Matthew was a well-hated man. Tax-gatherers can never be a popular section of the community, but in the ancient world they were hated. People never knew just how much they had to pay; the tax-collectors extracted from them as much as they could possibly get and lined their own pockets with the surplus that remained after the demands of the law had been met. Even a Greek writer like Lucian ranks tax-gatherers with "adulterers, panderers, flatterers and sycophants." Jesus wanted the man no one else wanted. He offered his friendship to the man whom all others would have scorned to call friend...

Of all the disciples Matthew gave up most. He literally left all to follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew, James and John could go back to the boats. There were always fish to catch and always the old trade to which to return; but Matthew burned his bridges completely...

The odd thing is that Matthew's reckless decision brought him the one thing he can least have been looking for -- it brought him immortal and world-wide fame. All men know the name of Matthew as one forever connected with the transmission of the story of Jesus.
The Gospel of Mark (The Daily Bible Series*, rev. ed.) by William Barclay
I'd like to note one other thing here. Mary Healy in The Gospel of Mark: Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture points out that although the Pharisees disapproved of Jesus, they questioned his disciples. Jesus answers because he overhears. Is this because they lack the courage to confront Jesus or because they are trying to shake the disciples' faith? An interesting point and one to consider when we ourselves are questioned similarly, as is all too common these days.

* Not a Catholic source and one which can have a wonky theology at times, but Barclay was renowned for his authority on life in ancient times and that information is sound, as are many of his general reflections.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Catholic Church's "social magisterium" informed House GOP budget

About time.

Although never in a thousand years did I think I'd be glancing through Daniel Henninger's piece about  President Obama's war of "rhetorical destruction" (what the heck did he say now? something worse than that comment to the Supreme Court?) and then suddenly see:
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, he [Paul Ryan] said that in fact the Catholic Church's "social magisterium" had informed his House budget. One goal of that teaching, he said, is to prevent the poor from staying poor. Nor, he added, should individuals become lifelong dependents of their government.
Now that's a little bit of info that made me sit up straight and cough on my coffee this morning. I suddenly started reading every word.
What Mr. Ryan actually said is worth quoting, because it should revive the debate over the proper relationship between individual citizens, including the poor, and the national government:

"A person's faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private. So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?

"To me, the principle of subsidiarity . . . meaning government closest to the people governs best . . . where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that's how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.

"Those principles are very, very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don't keep people poor, don't make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty out onto a life of independence."

Subsidiarity—an awful but important word—attempts to discover where the limits lie in the demands a state can make on its people. Identifying that limit was at the center of the Supreme Court's mandate arguments.

The first major use of subsidiarity as a basis for public policy was in Pope Leo XIII's famous 1891 encyclical "Rerum Novarum" (though the word itself doesn't appear). Leo was seeking a way to protect the dignity of human beings caught during those years in the tension between unfettered capitalism and unfettered government. "The State," he wrote, "must not absorb the individual or the family." Arguments over where the balance sits have raged since.
What kind of a crazy, mixed-up world is it when "Pope Leo XIII" and "Rerum Novarum" pops up in the editorial columns of the Wall Street Journal?

A really glorious world, I'd say.

Read it all.

Bishops propose: "fortnight for freedom"—a great hymn of prayer for our country

The Catholic bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty have an impressive document posted, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty. You may read it at the USCCB site or they have a pdf you can print out.

I have only glanced through it but was really struck by the numerous, bullet-pointed concrete examples of religious liberty under attack. I had no idea there were so many. I am intrigued to read the details and other information in it. (I've got a pdf print-out to read this evening at home.)

I also was very struck by their proposal for two weeks of prayer, to begin with the vigil for some of the best known and loved martyrs for religious liberty (St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More) and ending with Independence Day. If there is one thing I love about the Catholic Church (and we all know there is more than one thing) it is the way they do symbolism with style.
This year, we propose a special "fortnight for freedom," in which bishops in their own dioceses might arrange special events to highlight the importance of defending our first freedom. Our Catholic institutions also could be encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths, and indeed, all who wish to defend our most cherished freedom.

We suggest that the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, be dedicated to this "fortnight for freedom"—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.

In addition to this summer's observance, we also urge that the Solemnity of Christ the King—a feast born out of resistance to totalitarian incursions against religious liberty—be a day specifically employed by bishops and priests to preach about religious liberty, both here and abroad.

To all our fellow Catholics, we urge an intensification of your prayers and fasting for a new birth of freedom in our beloved country. We invite you to join us in an urgent prayer for religious liberty.
Almighty God, Father of all nations,
For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1).
We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty,
the foundation of human rights, justice, and the common good.
Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties;
By your grace may we have the courage to defend them, for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness,
and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
with whom you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Go read it all and share it with your friends. (Via New Advent).

All Hell is Breaking Loose. With Hilarious Results.

In the beginning

It was a nice day.

All the days had been nice. There had been rather more than seven of them so far, and rain hadn't been invented yet. But clouds massing east of Eden suggested that the first thunderstorm was on its way, and it was going to be a big one.

The angel of the Eastern Gate put his wings over his head to shield himself from the first drops.

"I'm sorry," he said politely. "What was it you were saying?"

"I said, that one went down like a lead balloon," said the serpent.

"Oh. Yes," said the angel, whose name was Aziraphale.

"I think it was a bit of an overreaction, to be honest," said the serpent. "I mean, first offense and everything. I can't see what's so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil, anyway."

"It must be bad," reasoned Aziraphale, in the slightly concerned tones of one who can't see it either, and is worrying about it, "otherwise you wouldn't have been involved."

"They just said, Get up there and make some trouble," said the serpent, whose name was Crawly, although he was thinking of changing it now. Crawly, he'd decided, was not hint.

"Yes, but you're a demon. I'm not sure if it's actually possible for you to do good," said Aziraphale.

"It's down to your basic, you know, nature. Nothing personal, you understand."

"You've got to admit it's a bit of a pantomime, though," said Crawly. "I mean, pointing out the Tree and saying 'Don't Touch' in big letters. Not very subtle, is it? I mean, why not put it on top of a high mountain or a long way off? Makes you wonder what He's really planning."

"Best not to speculate, really," said Aziraphale. "You can't second-guess ineffability, I always say. There's Right, and there's Wrong. If you do Wrong when you're told to do Right, you deserve to be punished. Er."

They sat in embarrassed silence, watching the raindrops bruise the first flowers.

Eventually Crawly said, "Didn't you have a flaming sword?"

"Er," said the angel. A guilty expression passed across his face, and then came back and camped there.

"You did, didn't you?" said Crawly. "It flamed like anything."

"Er, well-"

"It looked very impressive, I thought."

"Yes, but, well-"

"Lost it, have you?"

"Oh no! No, not exactly lost, more-"


Aziraphale looked wretched. "If you must know," he said, a trifle testily, "I gave it away."

Crawly stared up at him.

"Well, I had to," said the angel, rubbing his hands distractedly. "They looked so cold, poor things, and she's expecting already, and what with the vicious animals out there and the storm coming up I thought, well, where's the harm, so I just said, look, if you come back there's going to be an almighty row, but you might be needing this sword, so here it is, don't bother to thank me, just do everyone a big favor and don't let the sun go down on you here."

He gave Crawly a worried grin.

"That was the best course, wasn't it?"

"I'm not sure it's actually possible for you to do evil," said Crawly sarcastically. Aziraphale didn't notice the tone.

"Oh, I do hope so," he said. "I really do hope so. It's been worrying me all afternoon."

They watched the rain for a while.

"Funny thing is," said Crawly, "I keep wondering whether the apple thing wasn't the right thing to do, as well. A demon can get into real trouble, doing the right thing." He nudged the angel. "Funny if we both got it wrong, eh? Funny if I did the good thing and you did the bad one, eh?"

"Not really," said Aziraphale.

Crawly looked at the rain.

"No," he said, sobering up. "I suppose not."

Slate-black curtains tumbled over Eden. Thunder growled among the hills. The animals, freshly named, cowered from the storm.

Far away, in the dripping woods, something bright and fiery flickered among the trees.

It was going to be a dark and stormy night.
Good Omens is the book that put The Apocalypse back on the map for our popular cultural imagination. It is fairly ubiquitous now (650 reviews on Amazon can't be wrong) but there's always the off chance that people haven't tried it yet. I can't believe I've never reviewed it, but here's no time like the present so let's get to it.

Fast-paced, witty, and slightly sadistic, Good Omens was written in 1990 by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett at a golden time when both had nothing else going on. One tries to imagine a time like that at any other point in their very busy careers and ... no, you can't do it. Both authors are prolific, clever, and have a way with twisting fantasy that appeals to the book reading public. Gaiman is darker and Pratchett is punnier, but both clearly worked well together and this book is a true classic.

But what's it about, I hear some asking.

Aziraphale and Crowley (who did wind up changing his name after all) have been hanging around Earth since the beginning and the constant association over 6000 years has turned them almost into friends. When Crowley receives the infant Antichrist with instructions to watch over him, they agree that they prefer living on Earth to what they'd find after the apocalypse. The two enter into a pact to keep the Antichrist perfectly balanced between good and evil. Which might work. If someone hadn't misplaced the Antichrist so that Crowley and Aziraphale have been working on the wrong child. Meanwhile, 11 years later it is hard to imagine anyone more human than the Antichrist, who has been living in a normal home in the countryside. It's up to plain old human nature and free will to see whether the apocalypse will begin.

Similar in style to Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the story turns on one ludicrous misunderstanding after another. It is those misunderstandings that make us laugh and also are the points upon which satire is presented to skewer the religious and unbelievers alike. Gaiman and Pratchett are like a modern-day Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain and we are the better for it. Certainly we have been laughing more because of their book, while at the same time we've been made to think a bit about what we believe, how we live our faith, and why it matters.
Crowley had got a commendation for the Spanish Inquisition. He had been in Spain then, mainly hanging around cantinas in the nicer parts, and hadn't even known about it until the commendation arrived. He'd gone to have a look, and had come back and got drunk for a week...

And just when you'd think they were more malignant than Hell could ever be, they could occasionally show more grace than Heaven ever dreamed of. Often the same individual was involved. It was this free-will thing, of course. It was a bugger.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Notes on Mark: Leprosy

MARK 1:40-45
I am so used to thinking of Jesus healing lepers that I really have never given a second thought as to just what leprosy is ... except that I knew there is (or used to be?) a leper colony on Hawaii and eventually bits of you would fall off. Here we have the whole agonizing description of the three types of leprosy. It gives me an entirely new appreciation for the unbelievable suffering lepers endured and the fact that Jesus was so unafraid that he would touch the lepers to make them whole.
The fate of the leper was truly hard... Let us look first at the facts.

There are three kinds of leprosy. (i) There is nodular or tubercular leprosy. It begins with an unaccountable lethargy and pains in the joints. Then there appear on the body, especially on the back, symmetrical discolored patches. On them little nodules form, at first pink, then turning brown. The skin is thickened. The nodules gather specially in the folds of the cheek, the nose, the lips and the forehead. The whole appearance of the face is changed until the man loses his human appearance and looks, as the ancients said, like a lion or satyr. The nodules grow larger and larger; they ulcerate and from them comes a foul discharge. The eye-brows fall out; the eyes become staring; the voice becomes hoarse and the breath wheezes because of the ulceration of the vocal chords. The hands and the feet also ulcerate. Slowly the sufferer becomes a mass of ulcerated growths. The average course of the disease is nine years, and it ends in mental decay, coma and ultimately death. The sufferer becomes utterly repulsive both to himself and others.

(ii) There is anesthetic leprosy. The initial stages are the same; but the nerve trunks also are affected. The infected area loses all sensation. This may happen without the sufferer knowing that it has happened; and he may not realize that it has happened until he suffers some burning or scalding and finds that there is no feeling whatsoever where pain ought to be. As the disease develops the injury to the nerves causes discolored patches and blisters. The muscles waste away; the tendons contract until the hands become like claws. There ensues chronic ulceration of the feet and of the hands and then the progressive loss of fingers and of toes, until in the end a whole hand or a whole foot may drop off. The duration of the disease is anything from twenty to thirty years. It is a kind of terrible progressive death of the body.

(iii) The third kind of leprosy is a type -- the commonest or all -- where nodular and anesthetic leprosy are mixed.
The Gospel of Mark
(The Daily Bible Series*, rev. ed.)
Now, let's think about something else -- what did the leper seek? Healing, of course. But there are many sorts of healing as we shall see. Certainly this helped me see the deeper meaning beneath the request and healing.
In approaching Jesus, the leper makes a bold move. Not only does he violate the strictures of the law, but he risks encountering the familiar reaction of horror and revulsion at the sight of a leper. He kneels, a sign of both supplication and reverence (Ps 22:30; 95:6). His plea, If you wish, shows his utter confidence in Jesus' power. Significantly, he does not ask Jesus to heal him but to make him clean. His deepest desire is to be free once again to partake in the worship of God's people.


Jesus tells the cleansed man to show himself to a priest and offer the sacrifice prescribed for cleansing from leprosy (see Lev 14) ... The prescribed rite was to take two clean birds, one to be sacrificed and the other, dipped in the blood of the first, to fly away free (Lev 14:3-7). If the man complied with Jesus' word, he might have discovered a symbolic image foreshadowing Jesus' own sacrifice and helping him understand more deeply what Jesus had done for him. But for now, he is unable to contain his delight. ...

* Not a Catholic source and one which can have a wonky theology at times, but Barclay was renowned for his authority on life in ancient times and that information is sound, as are many of his general reflections.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 28

I am hard put to it to think of any four hour movie I'd recommend. When I add that it is a Bollywood sports film, that just increases the odds against it. Yet this movie's charm is undeniable.

28. Lagaan

A small Indian village battles a sadistic British officer during the time of the Raj. He has imposed high taxes or "lagaan" which a prolonged drought makes it impossible to pay. Rallied by one independent soul, Buvan, the villagers find themselves in a winner-take-all cricket match. You might want to treat this one like a mini-series as the 4-hour length that would make Martin Scorsese envious. However, I will add that Tom and I never regretted a minute of it.

This is a delightful story of the triumph of the human spirit, complete with Bollywood dancing and singing that moves the story along in the best musical style. I will add that, by the end, you will have a fairly decent understanding of cricket. I will also add that, noticing hair as I do, it was rather painful whenever the young villager who pushes everyone on to fight for their rights had his head uncovered. Possibly the worst haircut ever. As Tom said, "He looks like a young Vulcan." Other than that though ... enjoy!

Hugo Nomination Finalists Have Been Announced

SF Signal has the listing with the free fiction links so you can snap up as many as possible and read them.

Congratulations also to SF Signal, a particular favorite of mine, for their two Hugo nominations. Well done and well deserved!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Reflections

Two things resonated and keep floating back into my mind.

During Saturday morning's practice of RCIA candidates (and catechumen) and sponsors, our priest did a spectacular job of explaining why everything was happening. More than that, and this was what made it spectacular, he continually reminded us of how we should think about our place in salvation history. He continually reminded us that our internal disposition was what would make the difference between those who say about mass "it's just the same thing over and over" and those who continually come away with some new insight or encounter with the risen Christ. It amounted to a wonderfully deep overview of the mass and the difference it makes.

During this overview he said something like, "I say the prayers out loud up here because that's my job. But Christ is praying them for you while I am praying them aloud."

That jolted me. I knew that Christ prays for us but had forgotten it. Now, with it called to the front of my mind, I treasured that idea. Christ prays for us. We matter that much to him. What a gift.

The other thing that struck me came that evening, when the church was dark and the Easter candle was lit. We saw the Easter candle light the little candles of the first candidates and catechumens who stood in the center aisle of the church. They in turn passed the light down the aisle and stood serenely, waiting.

We waited for the next "Lumen Christi" so we could respond "Deo gratias."

("Light of Christ. Thanks be to God.")

It was pitch black except for those tiny candles and I was really struck by how much they illuminated. We could see each person's face and the gentle glow bathing their shoulders and a bit of the night around them. The absolute truth of the symbolism was unmistakable. The darkness of the world except where Christ's light shines. The darkness of our souls except where that light blazes in our hearts. The fact that light is a thing which is never lessened when divided. When we share Christ's light it multiplies. And illuminates. And pushes back the dark.

"Lumen Christi." "Deo gratias."

The light was passed from one to another. I, in my turn, passed it on.

Perhaps it seems a cliche when reading it here. But the reality of smelling the wax burning, the wisps of smoke rising, seeing the light spreading was vivid in a way that burned itself into my mind and soul. As Christ has.

Lumen Christi. Deo gratias.

Three Easy Pieces: Recently Read

Prove It! GodProve It! God by Amy Welborn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me when I was asking for good books that might help questioning atheists. It is aimed at a young audience (meaning teenage, I assume, from the way it was written). Although I found the arguments didn't change in substance from those I already am familiar with, they were substantially easier to understand in some cases. Welborn does a good job of breaking down the logic and showing where questioners' assumptions may be based on faulty premises. Overall a good resource even for adults, if they are willing to overlook the spots where it is specifically using language to make teens comfortable with it.

Vanished (Nick Heller, #1)Vanished by Joseph Finder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where did I first hear of this? I'd have thought Brandywine Books which keeps my mystery/thriller "to read" list filled. But I don't see it there in my extremely casual search. Perhaps it was via The Curt Jester.

Wherever I found it, this book is a really enjoyable, fast-paced thriller. Here's some of the description.
Nick Heller is tough, smart, and stubborn. And in his line of work, it's essential. Trained in the Special Forces, Nick is a high-powered intelligence investigator--exposing secrets that powerful people would rather keep hidden. He's a guy you don't want to mess with. He's also the man you call when you need a problem fixed.

Desperate, with nowhere else to run, Nick's nephew, Gabe makes that call one night. After being attacked in Georgetown, his mother, Lauren, lies in a coma, and his step-dad, Roger, Nick's brother, has vanished without a trace.
I particularly enjoyed the dichotomy of how Nick loves his brother deep down and struggles with whether to trust what appears to be unfolding as he investigates. But without whiny angst one sometimes finds in these books (yes, even from big, strong men). I myself not having Nick's childhood traumas to hold me back rarely trusted anyone in the book (aside from Nick, Gabe and Dorothy) to be who they said they were. Which sometimes paid off and sometimes didn't. A great book and I have requested the sequel from the library.

The Secret Country (The Secret Country, #1)The Secret Country by Pamela Dean

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I discovered this trilogy in the best way - at the book store long ago when the first book had just come out. So as the story unfolded I was left on tenterhooks until each book came out. Frequent rereading has done nothing to dim my enjoyment. Here's the brief summary.
For the past nine years, cousins Patrick, Ruth, Ellen, Ted, and Laura have played at "The Secret"-a game full of witches, unicorns, a magic ring and court intrigue. In The Secret, they can imagine anything into reality, and shape destiny. Then the unbelievable happens: by trick or by chance, they find themselves in the Secret Country, their made-up identities now real. They have arrived at the start of their game, with the Country on the edge of war. What was once exciting and wonderful now looms threateningly before them, and no one is sure how to stop it . . . or if they will ever get back home.
.I particularly enjoy the fact that when they arrive in the Secret Country much of what they imagined doesn't match the Secret Country's "reality." People look different, the story goes off target occasionally, and so forth. That makes it all the more disconcerting when it is exactly right. Great fun, an imaginative "country" and I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Real Christianity in Action: Path to Conversion of Heart is Through Actions Inspired by Love

I'm staying off the internet for the most part until after Easter, but wanted to drop in to share this story.

You may recall last week I pointed out a story about an atheist who was dumbfounded by Christians who offered to help pay for his vision problems despite the fact that he'd been on the opposing side in a struggle over having a Nativity scene at the local courthouse.

It has borne fruit in a most unexpected way. Thus does God work in hearts when we have done our part to show His true nature through our actions.
A few months ago Patrick Greene was an atheist who was threatening to sue Henderson County, Texas, if the county didn’t remove a Nativity scene from its courthouse lawn. Today he is a believer in Christ who underwent a radical change of heart that was catalyzed by the compassion of one Christian woman.

In late 2011, Greene joined the fight against a Nativity scene that had been set up outside the courthouse in the town of Athens, Texas, threatening to file a lawsuit over it. Shortly after he made his threat, however, he discovered that his ability to see was rapidly deteriorating and he would soon be blind, so he withdrew his threats and left the Nativity alone.

That’s when Jessica Crye, a Christian woman from Athens, asked her pastor, Erick Graham of Sand Springs Baptist Church, if they could help Greene. As a result of her kindness, thousands of dollars in donations have gone toward helping Greene, who has reconsidered his view of God as a result.

“There’s been one lingering thought in the back of my head my entire life, and it’s one thought that I’ve never been able to reconcile, and that is the vast difference between all the animals and us,” Greene told The Christian Post on Tuesday, as he began to explain his recent transformation from atheist to Christian. The theory of evolution didn’t answer his questions, he says, so he just set those questions aside and didn’t think about them anymore.

But when the Christians in a town that had reason to be angry with him showed him a gesture of love, he began reconsidering his beliefs altogether. He eventually began to realize that evolution would never have the answer to his questions, he says, and it was at that time he began to believe in God.

“I kind of realized that the questions I [was] asking you just had to accept on faith without doubting every period and every comma,” he said. He later began studying the Bible, both the Old Testament and the Gospels, and also discovered his belief that Jesus is the Son of God.
Read the whole story. Again, this is via The Deacon's Bench.

Today is Good Friday when Christ showed his love for us through His own self-giving and sacrificial love, even unto death. We are called up on to follow in His footsteps for thus shall others know our Master.

This is the Christianity that made  Romans say, "How they love one another."

Truly actions speak louder than words. May we all translate our love into such self-giving action as Holy Week ends and Easter comes.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

To Be Or Not To Be raises more than one question ... our most controversial episode yet.

It's the sign of a good satire and also of our times when the 1942 classic movie To Be Or Not To Be turns our conversation to politics and Catholicism in America. Get it at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.


My contribution to Sarah Reinhard's ongoing series which considers the Hail Mary, word by word. There's a surprising amount to reflect upon in that simple "thou" or so it seemed to me.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

We're Alive! Updated.

Sorry that I didn't let everyone know we managed to duck 12 tornadoes, but you never realize when national news is going to pick up your local weather (while it's happening ...what a newfangled world this is)!

Our part of town was never in danger after the Lancaster tornado got done tossing trucks and decided to withdraw into the clouds while moving east. Our big concern was Hannah who, as an arborist, was driving all over creation yesterday. She was in Frisco, which was a comfort because it was far away from the bad weather ... until the Arlington tornado began hotfooting it up there. At which point she called to say that she had taken shelter in a SuperTarget, her boss was holed up in  church bathroom somewhere, and the other salesperson was driving around the deserted countryside looking for somewhere to take shelter. At that point, other than succumbing to buying too many movies, she was out of danger.

It is nice to see how many concerned friends I have all over the country! Thank you so much for your emails checking on our well being. :-)

A friend mentioned that national news made it look as if Dallas were laid waste with few survivors. I consider the miracle to be that no one was seriously hurt. Even at the nursing home that had a wing ripped apart. Minor injuries yes but no one was killed or really injured. Even the 18-month-old boy whose grandmother clung to him by his ankles to keep him from being sucked into the storm (while sheltering with the other grandchildren in the bathtub).

A miracle. I'm just sayin'.

Although my friend says:
There are natural explanations. Because your airport is the only airport on earth that has no free wi-fi, Dallas-area tornadoes are more predictable. They're not bouncing off errant email waves and hitting cars and houses. So write a note of thanks to the airport authority.
And not a trace of bitterness toward the airport. Another miracle?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Worth a Thousand Words: Pure Enjoyment

Kaylee Gets a Treat
Hannah caught this on her phone. It captured our newest dog's enjoyment perfectly. We were able to let Wash and Kaylee play together on Saturday and little Kaylee fell right into line. She seems to relish her spot at the bottom of the pack ... or for that matter belonging to any pack ... and the household feels right again. Not that Kaylee hasn't begun trying to move up a bit, but that's par for the course and will keep us in line as strong leaders.

She's a doll. Sunny, cheerful, and mostly just wanting to be sure everyone's happy. Just like the original Kaylee on Firefly, so she's well named.

A Free E-Book Per Week for 10 Weeks: SF From Phoenix Pick

Not only are we offering a free book from one of true greats in science fiction (Locus Magazine lists him as having won more awards for short fiction than any other writer, ever), but we are going to significantly expand our Amazon program. We will be offering 10 titles absolutely free over the next 10 weeks via Amazon.

Starting April 3rd, we will offer a book absolutely free for two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) for the next ten weeks (a new book every week, free to download that Tuesday and Wendesday),Many of the books will be accompanied by additional promotions.

To get details of this promotion (including specific titles and dates) please go to: (KPromo.htm is CASE SENSITIVE).

What about those who don’t own Kindle Devices? Unfortunately to offer these promos through Amazon we have had to de-list the book in other format…but THE BOOKS ARE DRM FREE. So  most of you should be available to download the book and convert it using any one of the myriad of free applications available on the web (like Calibre).

For  your own use only, of course…the free books are offered only for your own use. Please respect the rights of authors who have agreed to have their books provided to you for free.
And it looks as if there will be nice extras each week also. The first book has the next two book in the trilogy available for only 99 cents each. That is a great deal.

This is in addition to Phoenix Pick's usual monthly free e-book, which this month is from one of science fiction's great writers, Mike Resnick.

Our Free Ebook for April is Mike Resnick’s ‘Adventures: The Chronicle of Lucifer Jones, Volume I. Yes, Mike has won more awards than anyone else (living or dead) for short fiction (as least as per Locus magazine’s count) and he’s near the top for novels as well. He is also this year’s Guest of Honor at the Worldcon being held in Chicago.

Of all the characters that Mike has created, Lucifer Jones remains his favorite. We are proud to republish this hilarious series of adventures starring a most unique character.Adventures is the first volume of the Chronicles.

Being a Stirring Chronicle of Intrigue, Romance, Danger, Hairbreadth Escapes, and Thrilling Triumphs over Fierce Beasts and Fiercer Men in the Mysterious and Exotic Dark Continent, as Recounted by the Daring, Resourceful, Handsome, and Modest Christian Gentleman Who Experienced Them.

It really is a fun book.
Find out how to sign up for free e-books here.