Saturday, September 29, 2012

Weekend Joke

Right now, I’m having amnesia and deja-vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.
Steven Wright

Friday, September 28, 2012

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

I have a review of this cookbook up at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen. I like it so much that I didn't wait until I was finished to talk about it, so check it out.

Well Said: Why Praise God?

As a kid I used to wonder why we were supposed to praise God so much. Was the Lord eternally fishing for compliments? So egotistical that He needed us telling him how wonderful he was all the time? Would his feelings get hurt if we didn’t remember to commend him for goodness regularly? I knew God couldn't be like that, and figured it was just one of those mysteries, like the Trinity, that we would only completely undesrstand in heaven.

As the years went by, wise adults led me to wiser authors who had asked the same questions. I learned that God demands our praise not because He needs it, but because we need it. It’s similar to the question of why we should dress up for Mass. It’s true that “God doesn’t care how I’m dressed” insofar as it does nothing for Him. But it does a lot for us to worship God not just with our minds and lips, but with our bodies and yes, with our clothing. So to the extent that dressing up is good for us, He does indeed care. As we say at Mass, “It is right and just [to give him thanks and praise].” When we recognize our place in the universe — as mere creatures, and fallen ones at that, who have been miraculously elevated to the status of sons and daughters — praise is the only proper and fitting response. In praising our creator and redeemer, we are conforming ourselves to Reality and taking our rightful places in the universe. To not do so is to live in unreality, to be less than fully human, or rather, to be spiritually disabled humans. So to praise God does far more for us — for our recovery from disability to health and eternal life — than it does for him.
Daria Sockey at Coffee and Canticles hits the nail on the head and answers a nagging question I could never really answer well. Turns out, when I brought up praising God to Tom, he'd had the same question for a long time. Now we know ... and now I have an excellent and unexpected answer for the next time someone brings up how to dress for Mass.

Coffee and Canticles is a place that you probably want to browse around, by the way, because it is loaded with great, common sensical writing that helps direct us to prayer. I recently discovered it via Will at The View From the Foothills.

eBook Sale at Subterranean Press

We're down to the last few days of our ebook sale, where almost all of our titles have seen their prices dropped to the $.99 to $2.99 range. If you check out our ebook section, you'll find links to some honking big volumes (over 200,000 words each), including Cryptic (Jack McDevitt), The Best of Lucius Shepard, The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (Barry Hughart).

We haven't neglected the shorter gems. Our novellas, including The God Engines (John Scalzi), The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate (Ted Chiang), and Muse of Fire (Dan Simmons), are part of the sale, as well.
Bridge of Birds is the most popular book I've ever read at Forgotten Classics (thank you again Barry Hughart for your generous permission). Now is your chance to pick up the eBook of his trilogy about Number Ten O and Master Li.

As well as a number of other great books. Just pick up anything by Ted Chiang. You can thank me later.

Subterranean Press's entire eBook list is here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Now Mr. Ravioli just sits in the corner and reads ... while we talk about "Mary and Max"

And Scott is understandably confuzzled by the whole thing. So why did we watch it? Find out at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Lagniappe: Shall I say that the voice was ...

Shall I say that the voice was deep, hollow, gelatinous, remote, unearthly, inhuman, disembodied?
H.P. Lovecraft, The Statement of Randolph Carter
This sentence is so evocative of Lovecraft's ability to use adjective after adjective while leaving the unnerved reader with absolutely nothing concrete to grasp. Brilliant.

Yes, I'm getting on with my H.P. Lovecraft reading for the next episode of A Good Story is Hard to Find. Dagon, The Statement of Randolph Carter, The Colors Out of Space, and The Dunwich Horror. Delightfully horror-filled!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen

In which a Chinese emperor learns the value of one of his humblest subjects. Now playing at Forgotten Classics and read for us by Joseph from Zombie Parent's Guide.

Thanks to Joseph and Will, it's a regular smorgasbord of good listening over there! Don't miss out!

Well Said: Observing God and Objectivity

From the chapter "Belief in the Triune God" in Introduction to Christianity by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). Sometimes these things seem so obvious when he points them out that I wonder why I didn't think of it myself.

This is intimidating because it is long but it is quite clear. Benedict has a sort of genius for making these things easy to understand.
But first let me mention the second aid to understanding provided by science. We know today that in a physical experiment the observer himself enters into the experiment and only by doing so can arrive at a physical experience. This means that there is no such thing as pure objectivity in in physics, that even here the result of the experiment, nature's answer, depends on the question put to it. In the answer there is always a bit of the question and a bit of the questioner himself; it reflects not only nature in itself, in its pure objectivity, but also gives back something of man, of what is characteristically ours, a bit of the human subject. This too, mutatis mutandis, is true of the question of God. There is no such thing as a mere observer. There is no such thing as pure objectivity. One can even say that the higher an object stands in human terms, the more it generates the center of individuality; and the more it engages the beholder's individuality, then the smaller the possibility of the mere distancing involved in pure objectivity. Thus, whenever an answer is presented as unemotionally objective, as a statement that finally goes beyond the prejudices of the pious and provides purely factual, scientific information, then it has to be said that the speaker has here fallen victim to self-deception. This kind of objectivity is quite simply denied to man. He cannot ask and exist as a mere observer. He who tries to be a mere observer experiences nothing. Even the reality "God" can only impinge on the vision of him who enters into the experiment with God--the experiment that we call faith. Only be entering does one experience; only by cooperating in the experiment does one ask at all; and only he who asks receives an answer.

Confuzzlement* Abounds: Reviewing Mary and Max

Scott and I discussed Mary and Max for episode 43 of A Good Story is Hard to Find so I'm rerunning this review for anyone interested. The episode will air tomorrow.


Rose plucked this off the video rental shelf, saying she watched it after it showed up in her Netflix movie recommendation. She described it as being about a penpal friendship developed between a lonely 8-year-old Australian girl and an equally lonely 40-year-old New York man. They correspond for 20 years and we see how their lives are changed.

I would tell you more of the plot but that sums it up well enough. It probably is best categorized as a black comedy. There is plenty of humor, some of it rather subtle, although the movie often surprises with how serious some of the subject matter is and the depth to which the filmmaker is willing to explore it. This is all aided by the fact that Mary and Max are each, in their own way, complete innocents who write exactly what they are thinking, whether it will hurt or confuse the other person or not. This results in confuzzlement* not only for the main characters but also for the viewer at times. At one point I realized I was hanging on for dear life to the idea that the story would take a turn for the better. In fact, just like real life, the movie takes us through the comic and tragic which often are intertwined ... and does it brilliantly.

Although animated, this is not (repeat: NOT) a film for children. It is a stop-motion, claymation depiction of a story intended for adult audiences.

It also is the film that made me realize if the definition of an extrovert is someone who must discuss ideas aloud to understand them, then I am an extrovert. I was really not sure what I thought of this movie until after the entire family's animated discussion which followed for the rest of the evening. That conversation greatly clarified my thoughts, especially as everyone had been struck by different points.

At one point I asked, "Is it a movie to recommend to others?" Tom instantly responded, "It is a move that must be seen by anyone who values a richly told story." He is right. It is a film for those who are interested in stories exploring the heights and depths that imperfection, perception, and sheer humanity bring to our lives and the lives of those we touch (even if simply through letters). In fact, I imagine that at some point I will be watching this again to see more of the details and subtleties I missed the first time around. First though, I must have time to let this sink in more fully. It's that kind of a movie.


*Confuzzlement: confusion + puzzlement. Watch the movie. You'll see where it comes from. It is now a new household term for us.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Movie Talk: Six More Fast Ones

A few more of the movies we watched this summer.
  • The Seahawk: Ferdy on Films (which any movie lovers should be reading) began an occasional series talking about "films of high adventure." This was a highly recommended movie and I highly recommend it as well. When you have Errol Flynn pirating Spanish ships for Queen Elizabeth then you've got good fun ... and high adventure. Grade: A.

  • Hugo: Martin Scorses's film version of the very popular book for young readers. Although the look and acting were spot-on, about halfway through the movie suddenly took on another complete storyline. It felt as if there was too much trying to be said at one time ... or something. I got the book from the library and the movie did indeed seem to be faithful to the book. Perhaps that extreme faithfulness was the problem as film is such a different storytelling medium.  Grade: C.

  • The Adventures of Robin Hood: starring Errol Flynn and many of the actors from The Seahawk, this was a much less successful movie from my point of view. It may have gone over well back in the day for Robin and his Merry Men to actually stand, fists on hips, chortling, "Ha, ha, ha!" when Little John tosses Robin in the stream and other such scenes of merriment. However it just seemed lame from our vantage point. Also, the story was less complex and much less engaging than The Seahawk. I have had Captain Blood recommended as Flynn's best swashbuckler so that has gone on my list.

  • Witness for the Prosecution: a classic Agatha Christie novella (or play or short story?) focusing on a courtroom trial. I chose it for Charles Laughton's performance which was wonderful, as indeed was every performance in the film. The cast includes Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Powers so that isn't surprising. Unfortunately I remembered the twist ending from my many rereadings of Christie stories but Tom didn't see it coming and said that he was surprised, so it holds up well. Grade: A.

  • The Mark of Zorro: After seeing Tyrone Powers in Witness for the Prosecution, I recalled that he was in many swashbucklers a la Errol Flynn and rented this 1940 Zorro movie. It was truly wonderful and I actually found myself remembering Flynn's performances as ... well ... much more wooden than I thought them at the time. In other words, Powers was subtler, funnier, and just plain better in his part. This is a great excuse to watch more swashbucklers in the future.

  • Hanna: A teenage girl has been raised in isolation by her father somewhere Scandinavian. He's been emphasizing the lethal arts and when she says that she's "ready" to enter the modern world we find out why. Well, we actually don't find out "why" until much later but we can see that she needs her acquired skills as there are lethal forces out after this sweet looking teenager. I was interested in her encounters with real civilization and trying to make friends with a family she encounters, but the movie dashes on in favor of displaying more lethality. (I'm almost positive that's a word.) Ho hum. There were a few brief attempts to tie the story to fairy tales and many missed opportunities to do so. Had that been done more successfully this movie would have been deeper and more interesting. As it was, this is almost as bad as Taken. Let's leave it there.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest

"I'm not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it's Shakespeare--or, if not, it's some equally brainy lad--who says that it's always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping. There's no doubt the man's right. It's absolutely that way with me. Take, for instance, the fairly rummy matter of Lady Malvern and her son Wilmot...."
Will Duquette reads for us at Forgotten Classics.

Well Said: Comprehension of God

A bit more from Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity. I have many other passages marked but realized that each needed more to lead into it and then some of the following conclusion. Indeed, this passage may strike you that way. I cannot recommend this book highly enough though ...
If the painful history of the human and Christian striving for God proves anything, it surely proves this: that any attempt to reduce God to the scope of our own comprehension leads to the absurd. We can only speak rightly about him if we renounce the attempt to comprehend and let him be the uncomprehended. Any doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, cannot aim at being a perfect comprehension of God. It is a frontier notice, a discouraging gesture pointing over to unchartable territory. It is not a definition that confines a thing to the pigeonholes of human knowledge, nor is it a concept that would put the thing within the grasp of the human mind.
It must be mentioned that Ratzinger does discuss The Triune God for 30 pages. Some of this is necessary grounding in history, some is about the nature of God, and all of it is enlightening, albeit being the sort of enlightenment that must be chewed thoroughly before moving to the next bit.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Weekend Joke: Mrs. Jesus

Someone asked me last week what I thought of the news reports that "Jesus was married." My first reaction, like The Curt Jester's it turns out, was surprise that the story wasn't saved to report near Christmas or Easter which seems to be when most of the ridiculous stories about Christ are reported as "news."

Honestly, a scrap of papyrus from the 4th century refers to this and it is treated as "news?" Meanwhile, people feel free to pull apart the Gospels which were written during the lifetime of those who followed Christ.

The best part was the jokes, some of which the Wall Street Journal printed this morning.
What would Jesus do? Whatever Mrs. Jesus told him to!
-------
Didn't the man suffer enough as it was?
And The Curt Jester is not to be outdone. Here is my favorite of the quips he made.
If Jesus had a wife she would never have allowed him to go out all night with the boys at the Garden of Gethsemane.
Go read the others and have a good laugh because that's all that so-called "news" is worth.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Blogging Around: The "Everything Old Is New Again" Edition

Eat Dinner With Your Kids Every Day

The older I get – I’m 62 now – the more I appreciate what my Mom and Dad did for us Dolan kids. We had dinner together every night when Dad got home from work. The meals weren’t elaborate (we couldn’t afford elaborate!) but they were vitally important for us to talk with one another, listen to one another, and, yes, be accountable to one another and to my parents.
I'm evangelical on this subject. It doesn't matter so much if you're eating chicken nuggets as it does that you sit down together around the dinner table to do so. Just do it.

Archibishop Dolan has a lot to say about this also. He links it to attractive statistics like helping your kids stay drug-free. And all that is true, I'm sure. But my point is to be a family, you must act like a family. Families have dinner together.

Give Your Kids Chores. And Make Them Do Them.

... Chores not only teach children important life skills that will prepare them for living on their own, and impart a pull-your-own-weight work ethic, but recent studies show that starting chores at an early age gives children an enormous leg-up in other areas of their life as well.

Unfortunately, very few children today are getting the training at home they need to become industrious, responsible adults. Studies show that children in the West spend little time helping around the house.
The Art of Manliness puts this under their Dadliness category but it works for Momliness too. Again, to be a family, you must act like a family. Everyone in a family does chores because it is nicer for everyone in the end.

A "Rising Tide" of Threats to Religious Freedom

Speaking to politicians, diplomats and religious leaders (including representatives of all four major branches of Islam in Lebanon -- Sunni, Shi'ite, Druze and Alawite), the pope insisted that "religious freedom is the basic right on which many others depend."

A new report released Thursday by the Pew Forum illustrates why, at least in this case, it's impossible to argue that the concern is misplaced.

Based on analysis of 197 countries and territories, here's the sobering conclusion: "A rising tide of restrictions on religion spread around the world between mid-2009 and mid-2010."
John Allen ponders the topic. Me, I heard someone talking about Oliver Cromwell the other day and was horrified to find that his tactics sounded familiar in my life as an American.

The Unforeseen

We've begun reading this eerie book at Forgotten Classics. It's old but we're giving it new life.

Movie Talk: 6 Fast Ones

Over the summer we began watching three movies every weekend. I've been meaning to give a brief rundown of them but just now have gotten the time. This isn't all of them, but it is a beginning!
  • Last Action Hero: A young movie fan suddenly is pulled into the movie world of his favorite action hero (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger). Not bad but not great either. I was urged to watch this by a thoughtful movie-loving pal. To be fair, I believe it was on his list of guilty pleasures, so I won't hold it against him that we were less than enthralled. I think if we'd have seen it when it came out we would have had a much more positive response. Grade: C.

  • Love in the Afternoon: a classic starring Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper, written and directed by Billy Wilder. Hepburn plays a detective's daughter who is fascinated by a womanizer (Cooper) on whom her father (Maurice Chevalier) has extensive files. Frothy, fun, and it works despite the age differences. Grade: A.

  • Only Angels Have Wings: Cary Grant plays an unusual role, that of a pilot running a South American airline. He eschews serious relationships because his heart broken back in the Big Apple. Jean Arthur is interested in changing his mind. I picked this up because it was huge in it's day and directed by Howard Hawks. Hawks isn't afraid to kill off a character to enhance the sense of adventure and I was literally on the edge of my seat a couple of times. Plenty of plot twists make it a fun movie, if something of a soap opera. Grade: B.

  • Bill Cunningham, New York: A documentary about Bill Cunningham and his obsession with documenting the way people dress on the streets of NYC. He's 80, has been taking photographs for decades, and has New York Times photographer has two New York Times style columns. I'll cover this one more later but we were quite surprised by how inspirational we found Bill himself. Grade: A.

  • Happy Go Lucky: a highly praised British film about Poppy and how cheerful she is in all circumstances. After 30 minutes I truly hated Poppy. Watching her giggle and grin after having a painful back adjustment I was wondering if she was either psychotic or a drug addict. Poppy  might have been bearable had a plot of any sort been included. We didn't finish it. Grade: F.

  • Lost City: a wealthy family living in Havana in the 1950s is caught up in the revolution that places Fidel Castro in power. It actually was about a cabaret owner trying to keep his club open, but unfortunately we got dragged through every travail of all his family members while that was happening. Bill Murray's character was really out of place throughout. Overall not bad and I truly empathized with parts of it, but too long and rambling. Grade: C.

6 True Stories That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity

#5. Random Acts of Kindness from People Who Had No Reason to Care

...Then we have Virginia Saenz. Let's say one day you get a wrong number phone call from a total stranger. It's a woman who leaves a nonsense message on your voice mail, addressing a person who doesn't live there, with a message that goes something like this: "I can send you money for groceries, but that won't leave me enough to pay my mortgage this month, and the house is already in foreclosure."

Saenz, a real estate agent whose only connection to these people was that her phone number was a couple of transposed digits away from theirs, could have just deleted the message. Or, if she was motivated to be a good Samaritan, Saenz could have called the person back to let her know she had gotten the wrong number, so she'd know that the person she had intended to call would never hear her message.

But instead, Saenz called the stranger back and said, "I'll take care of the groceries, don't worry about it." The lady, Lucy Crutchfield, had meant to leave a message for her daughter. Saenz contacted the daughter and bought her and her family enough groceries to get them through the end of the month, allowing Crutchfield to pay her mortgage.
That is only one of the examples given in #5. Imagine how good you'll feel after reading all of the true stories at Cracked.

Remember, this is Cracked which means it is salted with bad language. But if that doesn't bother you then you're going to like these stories.

Well Said: When I saw you ...

From my quote journal.
When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew.
Arrigio Boito

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Good Story is Hard to Find - Featured at New Evangelizers Blog

Who said the New Evangelization should be not fun? Somehow, though, I get the impression we all take it so seriously that we forget to laugh.

I consider A Good Story to be a great remedy for that. It’s thought-provoking, humor-filled, and just plain enjoyable to listen to. I feel, at times, like I’ve somehow started eavesdropping on two of my favorite people discussing something I’m keenly interested in–and I may not have even known I was interested.

Each episode of A Good Story focuses on either a book or a movie, in an alternating pattern. They aren’t Catholic books and movies, mind you, but books and movies either Scott or Julie has picked to highlight.
Many thanks to Sarah Reinhard for her generous praise of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast at the New Evangelizers blog.

If it weren't fun, Scott and I wouldn't do it, that much I know. People like Sarah who read and watch along with us make it even more fun. Thank you Sarah!

The Power of Vulnerability

Brené Brown studies human connection -- our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share
We watched this TED Talk at work today ... hey, when we offer enrichment, we don't stop halfway. It is indeed an idea worth sharing and I hope you will take the time to watch.

Highly recommended.

The Catholic Things We Do: Reviewing "Catholicism" by Robert Barron

This review originally ran almost a year ago. Showing up to help with our parish's RCIA program, I was delighted to find it is occasionally going to be featuring a DVD from the Catholicism series that this book accompanies.

Watching the first one last week brought this marvelous book to mind. Surprised to find that no one had heard of it, I thought I'd rerun the review to remind all of us about it. I am inundated with new books these days and have fallen out of my former habit of rereading. That's a shame since a fast-reader like me often needs more than one reading to gain insights. I may have to pick up this book again. In the meantime, I recommend it to you.

============================

This review is also appearing in my A Free Mind column at Patheos.



Since my conversion, I have read many a book about saints, angels, prayer, virtues, and all those good Catholic subjects. Reviewing the list, however, I was surprised to see how few of them covered Catholicism as a whole.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, of course, is a reference I use regularly. The impeccable logic of Peter Kreeft's Catholic Christianity helped settle my mind about Catholic teachings on controversial issues. Catholicism for Dummies and The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism are favorite references.

None of them, however, are designed to be engaging, uplifting reading (although the Catechism certainly can perform that function).

Enter Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith by Father Robert Barron. Barron has the knack of articulating Catholic theology in a way that makes one sit up in astonishment and delight as well-worn concepts take on fresh, new life. Look at his presentation of what the Incarnation means to us, as human beings.
In their own ways, Marx, Freud, Feuerbach, and Sartre all maintain that God must be eliminated if humans are to be fully themselves. But there is none of this in the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. The Word does indeed become human, but nothing of the human is destroyed in the process; God does indeed enter into his creation, but the world is thereby enhanced and elevated. The God capable of incarnation is not a competitive supreme being but rather, in the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the sheer act of being itself, that which grounds and sustains all of creation, the way a singer sustains a song.

And the Incarnation tells us the most important truth about ourselves: we are destined for divinization. The church fathers never tired of repeating this phrase as a sort of summary of Christian belief: Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus (God became human so that humans might become God). God condescended to enter into human flesh so that our flesh might partake of the divine life, that we might participate in the love that holds the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in communion. And this is why Christianity is the greatest humanism that has ever appeared, indeed that could appear. No philosophical or political or religious program in history—neither Greek nor Renaissance nor Marxist humanism—has ever made a claim about human destiny as extravagant as Christianity's. We are called not simply to moral perfection or artistic self-expression or economic liberation but to what the Eastern fathers called theiosis, transformation into God.
God's noncompetitive love and our transformation into the divine are touchstones that Barron returns to throughout the book. As he presents Catholicism in all its complexity—from Jesus as warrior to Mary and the saints to the Eucharist and beyond—readers begin to grasp that love and transformation are indeed the core of the Catholic faith.

Barron's enthusiasm is palpable and his examples vivid. I especially enjoyed the way he wove imagery throughout his text, only to suddenly expand it to make larger theological points. I already was familiar with Noah's ark as an image of the Church, as a place of safety for all. However, it was a revelation when he took it one step further and pointed out how medieval architects reinforced the connection by endeavoring to make cathedrals look like great ships. He gave me potent, mind's-eye images that stuck with me through the rest of that section.

Here, Barron makes a similar leap, bringing the gospel to life, and into our immediate lives, with great enthusiasm.
Saints are those who have allowed Jesus thoroughly to transfigure them from within. Paul caught this when he observed, "yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20). In chapter 5 of Luke's Gospel we find an odd story about Jesus and Peter. As the eager crowd presses in on him, Jesus spies two boats moored by the shore of the lake. Without asking permission, he gets into the boat belonging to Peter and says, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch" (Lk 5:4). What followed, as we have seen earlier when analyzing Mark's version of this scene, is the miraculous catch of fishes. Read with spiritual eyes, this story reveals the essential feature of sainthood. For a Galilean fisherman his boat was everything; it was his livelihood, his work, the means by which he supported his family. Peter's fishing vessel represents, therefore, his professional creativity, his link to the wider world, the key to his survival. Jesus simply gets into the boat and commences to give orders—and the result is the greatest catch Peter the fisherman ever made. Jesus' uninvited boarding of the vessel represents the invasion of grace, the incoming of the divine love into someone's life. Precisely because God is noncompetitive with creation, precisely because he wants human beings to come fully to life, this inrushing of grace does not destroy or interrupt what it invades; it enhances it and raises it to a new pitch. Peter, one presumes, had been successful enough as a fisherman, but now, under Jesus' direction, he goes out into the deep and brings in more than he could ever have imagined possible. This is what happens when we cooperate with grace, when we allow Christ to live his life in us.

The saints are those who have allowed Jesus to get into their boats and who have thereby become not superhuman or angelic but fully human, as alive as God intended them to be. The entire purpose of the church, as we have seen, is to produce saints.
The book is not perfect. Over a hundred black and white photos are included and they are well enough in their way, but color would have packed a greater punch. I would have traded the eight-page color plates at the center for colored photos scattered throughout the book, instead. Too many shots of great art were rendered unremarkable in black and white, which is ironic, as the book is a companion to a ten-part Catholicism television series. A key point of the series is the beauty of the Catholic faith as expressed through the work of human hands. While the book stands alone, it fails to amplify that beauty for its readers.

I also found that Barron occasionally couldn't resist diving instantly into complex concepts that might have done better with a more extended simple introduction. This is especially true in the chapter about prayer. He moves too quickly into the prayer lives of Thomas Merton, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila, all of whom may intimidate even seasoned Catholics with their far-reaching concepts. While Barron does address the sort of basic petitionary prayer that is the cornerstone of most people's experience, he quickly jumps to Merton. I was thoroughly confused halfway through and had to reread the chapter. Barron would have done well to recall that some readers may be completely new to prayer or may come from Christian backgrounds that might view the mystics with deep suspicion.

These points aside, Barron's book is a real treasure. His development of Heavenly imagery into a place I could actually imagine myself inhabiting has charged me with excitement about getting to Heaven. His points about Jesus as a warrior reminded me that I, too, am called to never give up, never surrender. His guide to Dante's Divine Comedy invested layers of meaning in the books about Purgatory and Heaven I completely missed when I read them.

Catholicism is a wonderful guide to the heart of the Catholic faith. It will no doubt explain the faith to many, and light the imaginations of those already on that journey.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Just Because I Like It - the Pope in Lebanon


From the Pope's visit to Lebanon. Something about this brings tears to my eyes ... it is that kind of jubilant feeling. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be inside the car?

This is from Margaret at ten thousand places who also excerpted three quotes from Pope Benedict's addresses so far. My favorite:

Why so much horror? Why so many dead? ... Those who wish to build peace must cease to see in the other an evil to be eliminated."
Pope Benedict XVI
Margaret links to a place with a lot more coverage. Drop by and browse.

Well Said: Mastery and Intimacy


I sometimes read about saints who achieved mastery over the forces of evil in their lives through heroic self-denial and asceticism. But this emphasis on mastery mustn't mislead us: it's not their mastery over anything, whether their body, their emotions, or some set of requirements, that makes them saints. Their holiness comes from their extraordinary intimacy with God: a deep, intense friendship with the Divine Lover. Holiness means being madly in love with a God who is madly in love with you.
Albert Holtz, OSB, Street Wisdom
We mistake saintly "mastery" for what it really is ... dropping encumbrances that keep us from greater intimacy with God. If only I looked at my encumbrances that way instead of clinging to them. This is a good reminder to help me keep the right perspective.

Elsewhere ... Cooking and Booking

Here are some things I've got going on elsewhere.

Neapolitan Pizza Dough - at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen

The Unforeseen, chapter 1 by Dorothy Macardle - we begin an eerie novel by the author of one of the most popular books ever read at Forgotten Classics (The Uninvited).

Leave It To Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse - Bertie Wooster is in New York but he still needs Jeeves to consult for sticky problems. Read for Forgotten Classics by Will Duquette from The View From the Foothills.

Ora et Labora et Zombies - the first three letters read aloud at Forgotten Classics. Just a little something extra.

Moby Dick Big Read: an audio chapter a day

Moby-DickMoby-Dick by Herman Melville

I swore I'd never read this book after hearing about how much time was spent on the technical aspects of whale species differentiation and whaling itself. However, the Moby Dick Big Read came along to change my mind enough to gingerly essay the first chapter, wonderfully read by Tilda Swinton. I'll continue and see what makes this book so essential to so many. I'm also intrigued by their mixture of celebrities and unknown readers as an ultra-LibriVox concept in providing free content that may be read by many narrators.

What is the Moby-Dick Big Read?
Moby-Dick is the great American novel. But it is also the great unread American novel. Sprawling, magnificent, deliriously digressive, it stands over and above all other works of fiction...

...the Moby-Dick Big Read: an online version of Melville’s magisterial tome: each of its 135 chapters read out aloud, by a mixture of the celebrated and the unknown, to be broadcast online in a sequence of 135 downloads, publicly and freely accessible.
I have to admit that the "great unread American novel" hit me where I live since I have so often urged others to read Uncle Tom's Cabin for the very same reason. The above is just a fraction of what they say about the novel so go there for details.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Latest Find: The Booth at the End

A mysterious Man sits at a booth at the end of a diner. People approach him because they've heard The Man has a gift. He can solve their problems: A parent with a sick child, a woman who wants to be prettier, a nun who has lost her faith. The Man can give these people what they want. For a price. The Man makes a proposition. In exchange for realizing their desires, these individuals must complete a task, return to The Man, and describe every step in detail. The trick is that these tasks are things that would normally be inconceivable to them. But The Man never forces anyone to do anything. It's always up to the individual to start - or stop. The Booth at the End asks the question: How far would you go to get what you want?
Seasons 1 and 2 are showing on Hulu now. Tom and I watched season one in one evening since there were only five 23-minute episodes. It was like a movie length show that way.

This is a fascinating premise that gives the writers opportunities to examine choice, free will, destiny, and similar questions. I was interested in the way that people's stories wound up being intertwined and the contrasts it showed in what everyone focused on once they were in the middle of trying to complete their tasks. I was also fascinated by The Man's relationship with The Book.

Rose turned us onto this although once I began looking around the internet I realized that this show has been intensely discussed by its viewers. And somehow I completely missed Joseph Susanka's column about it although I thought I'd read all his pieces.

That's ok, I don't mind coming late to the party and pointing the way for those who haven't come across it yet.

Well Said: Calculating Thought Versus Reflective Thought

More from Introduction to Christianity by then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). From the chapter Belief in the World Today where the good Cardinal shows that he understands a good deal more about how people think and believe than he is often given credit for.
It is perhaps permissible here to draw attention to a distinction made by Martin Heidegger, who speaks of the duality of calculating and reflective thought. Both modes of thought are legitimate and necessary, but for this very reason neither can be absorbed in the other. There must therefore be both: calculating thought, which is concerned with "makability," and reflective thought, which is concerned with meaning. And one cannot deny that the Freiburg philosopher has a good deal of justification for expressing the fear that in an age in which calculating thought is celebrating the most amazing triumphs man is nevertheless threatened, perhaps more than ever before by thoughtlessness, by the flight from thought. By thinking only of the practicable, of what can be made, he is in danger of forgetting to reflect on himself and on the meaning of his existence. Of course, this temptation is present in every age. Thus in the thirteenth century the great Franciscan theologian Bonaventure felt obliged to reproach his colleagues of the philosophical faculty at Paris with having learned how to measure the world but having forgotten how to measure themselves.
It is very true that we find ourselves in an immensely practical age. It is this attitude of needing proof and understanding how things work which puts so many people in a quandry over belief in faith. I myself was one of that crowd until going straight to the source in speaking to God directly and asking for help in believing. How much simpler things would be for so many of us if there were greater acceptance of Heidegger's concept about calculating and reflective thought.

What I Learned During My Time Off

It wasn't the blogging time that was distracting me nearly as much as the reading time. I dumped my RSS reader and went back to an old idea, using my blog roll.

It's been updated from the reader I was using and it is infinitely more restful to click through to the places I want to read and not feel the pressure of all the posts that have been collected for me to read.

Just thought I'd pass that along.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Well Said: Belief in the Middle Ages

From Introduction to Christianity by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) which is admittedly dense but is also simply terrific. One of the things that I love most about this book is the way that Benedict will casually admit a truth that many believers would like to ignore. He does it time and again and every time I mentally cheer because hiding our heads in the sand is not only unbecoming, the only ones we fool are ourselves.
...when today as believers in our age we hear it said, a little enviously perhaps, that in the Middle Ages everyone without exception in our lands was a believer, it is a good thing to cast a glance behind the scenes, as we can today, thanks to historical research. This will tell us that even in those days there was the great mass of nominal believers and a relatively small number of people who had really entered into the inner movement of belief. It will show us that for many belief was only a ready-made mode of life, by which for them the exciting adventure really signified by the word credo was at least as much concealed as disclosed. This is simply because there is an infinite gulf between God and man; because man is fashioned in such a way that his eyes are only capable of seeing what is not God, and thus for man God is and always will be the essentially invisible, something lying outside his field of vision. ...
Benedict never forgets that Truth can only be found by not ignoring all truth when we come across it, even when that truth is something we would rather gloss over. Such as the fact that people are people both in the Middle Ages and now ... and that nominal believers are not something only found in our time.

I'm Baaack!

I missed you!

I'd find neat stuff and want to share it ... so let's catch up!

Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time

As a Community fan I love this!  It also will be enjoyed by Dr. Who fans, or so I'm told.




Inspector Spacetime Poster

In related news, via Dan Harmon, go see this fantastic Inspector Spacetime poster.


Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Jerry Seinfeld's new series. Tom discovered this. Good thing he's following a film news website now that Rose is living in L.A.

The show is fairly new and there are seven episodes. Each is around eight minutes long. You can watch them on your computer at the site above or on Youtube or, since we have a Roku box which has Crackle free, on your TV.

Jerry Seinfeld sets off, each time in a different car which he tells us about, to pick up a comedian pal. Guess what? They go get coffee. And sometimes lunch. While chatting and cracking each other up. Some are funnier than others but we found them generally entertaining.

I don't think of Alec Baldwin as a comedian. In fact, this episode actually establishes him definitely as an actor but I loved this conversation between him and Jerry since they are clearly very old friends.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Prayer Request

Dropping in quickly to ask that you pray for a fellow who has been in the hospital since April.

SINCE. APRIL.

They don't know what it is. They just know that it's bad.

He says: I have infections that i can't shake cos the antibiotics hold onto proteins that my body won't keep. And the big drugs are now moving into the experimental category ...

I know that you don't have to know who he is to pray for him, but I call him Jonathan Harker because he was the superb narrator of that part in Dracula by Bram Stoker for the CraftLit podcast.

He's asking for prayers. Let's storm Heaven for him.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Taking a Week Off

Hey everyone, I'm going to take a week off.

Just need to have some off-the-interwebs time and am going to be scarce as I can to experience "real life."

They say it's great! (ha!)

See you in a week!

I'd have more to say, but I'm having too much fun ...

... working!

I know.

Unexpected right?

Alone in the office today as everyone else is off to the Drupal conference. (Sometimes there are advantages in not doing webwork, I feel.)

So Prokofiev's Semyon Kotko is blaring over my computer speakers (God bless you, KWIT-KOJI for providing the occasional Afternoon Classical as an iTunes podcast. Nothing better for stoking up the iPod...)

I'm finally getting a chance to come up with some page designs for a book I'm laying out. Is it wrong to love a design so much? (Don't answer that ... I will strive for detachment.)

Not only that but I have two other ideas. It's nice when you can be so happy about the daily grind!

Well Said: Learning to Love

From my quote journal.
You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working, and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves.
St. Francis de Sales

Star Trek's 46th Anniversary ... and Google Doodle

Be sure to swing by Google and check out their tribute. Probably everyone has seen this but me by now (Tom had to send me an email from the convention he's at for me to notice it.)

When you mouse over elements a little adventure game plays out. Fun, fun, fun!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cowboys-24, Giants-17. WOOHOO!

Believe me, I was as surprised as everyone.

More gratified than many, but surprised. Now if they can just clean up their penalty inducing ways we'll be in business if they stay focused.

And I would be remiss in forgetting to thank the many NY Giants receivers who had the ball bounce off their hands.

Blogging Around: To Your Health!

Jenny and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Bike Ride

Full disclosure: I know Jenny. You can trust her to tell it straight. She's level-headed, an engineer, and tells a hilarious story, which makes a point we should all keep in mind.
And while I hate to admit it, I'm pretty sure that my company's desire to certify the new headquarters as LEED Gold is the only reason that we have locker rooms and gym facilities. Don't get me wrong, I love that we have a gym and locker rooms, but other than the occasional yoga break during lunch time, I've never used them. I'll occasionally see someone in there when I'm passing through on the way to the parking lot, but it's mostly vacant. It's a nice perk, but sometimes I wonder if it was worth it. But by far, one of the easiest ways to get extra points towards certification is by installing bike racks on the property. It doesn't matter that my office is in the middle of a highly industrial area. It doesn't matter that it's surrounded by highways and other high-traffic roads, rife with unruly 18-wheelers, with no shoulders and few sidewalks**. It doesn't matter that these bike racks never get used (I've been at this office for a year and a half and have yet to see one bike), we have them now because we needed them for our LEED Gold status (I assume). I even tried to make them useful, once, but even though I live extremely close to work now, my one attempt at biking there was fraught with terror and was disastrously unsuccessful.

That's right, that entire rant of an intro was just a super long, rambling segue into an anecdote about a terrible bike ride.
Go on, you know you want to. Click through and read the whole thing at Pound by Pound.

Is Food Intolerance Testing For Real?

It can be, but listen (or read) as the Nutrition Diva serves some common sense with that blood test.
The first thing we need to do is distinguish between food allergies—which are quite specific and readily diagnosable—and food intolerance or sensitivities. A food allergy, such the type people commonly have to peanuts or shellfish, is what we call an IgE-mediated reaction. For whatever reason, your immune system has decided that a particular protein is a threat—a threat so dangerous that it has developed a special reconnaissance agent (the IgE-antibody) to be constantly on guard for it. Should that protein turn up in your blood stream, those IgE antibodies are going to sound the alarm and your body is going to react—sometimes quite violently.

[...]

But the type of blood test David saw advertised at the pharmacist’s is quite different. These type of tests claim to reveal food insensitivities or intolerances. According to promoters, most people suffer from undiagnosed food intolerances, which can be a hidden cause of everything from fatigue to acne to weight gain. The test, they claim, will reveal which foods are secretly to blame for whatever ails you. Avoiding these foods will clear up the problem. Magic!

Bootstrapping the Interior Life

Will Duquette at The View From The Foothills has begun a series of meditations upon the interior life. Meaning ... a life of holiness and connection with God. These are short and easy to absorb while giving us (or me anyway) some good food for thought. Begin here.
I’d simply say that my interior life is my life with Jesus. Being a Christian isn’t simply a way to live or a set of things to believe; it’s learning to live with Jesus. And by the nature of things much of that is inside, where it can’t be seen.
If you like those then poke around and read more of Will's pieces. He does lots of book reviews, but just before this interior life series he began one pondering marriage. It is excellent.

The Queen, corgies, books and ... Joss Whedon (yes again).

We're back with another episode of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.
In Episode #42, Julie and Scott discover reading. Turns out it's kind of meaningful and fun. Who knew? The Queen didn't, but does now according to The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. At the end of the podcast, Julie talks a bit about the 2012 Catholic New Media Conference!

Well Said: Suffering

From my quote journal.
The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like his.
George MacDonald

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It's All Downhill From Here

A little humor for the middle of the week.

From the brilliant mind of xkcd
who graciously allows me to share these.

Hereupon Resolved: HC Receives all Catholic Zombie References ...

... and Matt Swaim receives, at his own request, Catholic Star Wars/Indy/Battlestar references.

(Where this leaves Father Roderick, I don't know.)

You know, I don't spend much ... or any ... time on Twitter. But when Matt Swaim brought up that he's trying to set up an interview about zombies on Catholic radio, I received a flurry of Twitter emails because people mentioned me.

I am proud to be the go-to gal for Catholic Zombie references.

And am taking dibs on Joss Whedon / Firefly / Nathan Filion references. I mean, c'mon. We can hardly get through an episode of A Good Story is Hard to Find without Whedon coming up in conversation somehow. At least I know we mentioned him in the episode coming up on Thursday featuring The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.

By the way, along those lines, I must get a review of Unholy Night up. For now, know this: amazingly good book. With a few zombies. But mostly it is a thought provoking midrash on the Holy Family's trip to Egypt. Simply fantastic.

CNMC: What I Learned

In no particular order:
  • Adoration is essential before speaking to a large group (even if only for 2-3 minutes). I'm eternally grateful to Fr. Roderick for having a chapel on-site.

  • I just get fonder of Will Duquette the more I hang out with him. And this isn't just because he's my buddy. He very politely was sure to remind me that paying attention to my writing was more important than taking on new projects (like helping with a new podcast idea ...). Drat. But the good friends are the ones who'll talk straight to ya (politely but straight).

  • That when Sarah Reinhard spends the night at my house, it is literally possible for the two of us to never stop talking. For three days. And we still had more to say when she left. (Surprisingly Tom is not deaf. I don't understand it.) ALSO, she is not afraid of interactive materials for her talks. She gave a very hands-on presentation ... with actual beach balls ... and it provided a lively time that Tom enjoyed.

  • Someone can meet your eyes, smile, and finger waggle at you ... and it is better than an introduction. Elizabeth Scalia did that to me through a little triangle formed of people between us, right before beginning her talk. I felt as if I'd been given a hug. (Of course, personal connection is one of her super-powers, but we can all attempt this ourselves.)

  • Also, I had tears in my eyes when Elizabeth spoke about the moment every Catholic blogger has experienced: feeling as if one should stop blogging and then receiving an encouraging email. I've never mentioned that to anyone much because I fall into the "coincidence" trap a lot (don't want to assume miracles, dontcha know?). To hear it spoken of so publicly and matter-of-factly was a wonderful reminder and reinforcement of our common mission for Christ as bloggers and podcasters (because, yes, it has happened for the podcast also).

  • Always put a photo so that the Pinterest gang can link to you. (Note the graphic above! I hear and obey.) I am not sure who the fellow was who was such a fan of Pinterest, but he piqued my interest because you just don't think of guys hanging out there but I absolutely loved his enthusiasm.

  • Got to meet Shannon Hughes from Emmaus Road (for whom I do book design and layout). Face to face! Woohoo! What did I learn? That she values my enthusiasm for design ... I suppose that includes my passionate defense of my layouts. (Sorry about how that passion overflows sometimes, Shannon!) But wait till you see what I've thought of for our next project!

  • Bishop Coyne stole my heart with his admission that continuing to focus new evangelization on Christ as a person has transformed his personal prayer life. Also, I never knew that that new evangelization is focused on bringing back those who left the Church instead of going to places where no one has heard of Christ. Not that there's anything wrong with that either. PLUS, Q&A is one of his super-powers. I'm just sayin'.

  • God does miracles even when we're talking about tech and business and suchlike. Of course, for Him this is business as usual ... and noticing it should be the same for us. But is it? It's nice to have reminders.

  • That guy you noticed and felt like you should go talk to because of his T-shirt and the fact that he's not sitting with anyone? The one you noticed three times? Do it. Because he's great and has a zombie story that'll kick your ... well, you'll like it. A lot. In the first letter: that thing about the cupcake? Got me and Hannah right there.

  • Jennifer Fulwiler is gutsy enough to spend her entire talk pointing out all the ways the devil uses the internet to attack us. I like that in a talk. A lot.

  • Being on a panel means you shouldn't grab the microphone every time a question is asked ... because sometimes you don't really have the answer. Ask me how I know. Wait. Don't. Although it did bring me into a very interesting conversation afterward. So maybe it all worked out ok.

  • Jennifer Fitz ... have always loved reading her blog, Riparians at the Gate. Loved even more getting to hang out with her. She is generous with helping people make connections, giving them books with Roman churches (lovely photos) in them, and in laughing when I make a joke. Ahem. In no particular order ...

  • Everyone should go through hair and makeup before going on camera. Or probably before giving a talk in bright lights, as I panicked about much too late to do any good. So I ignored it and sailed along anyway. Lesson learned from Rob Kaczmark from Spirit Juice Studios.

  • Building community through interactive tools can be as simple as turning voting into a live "horse race." Fun and gets everyone engaged ... somewhat like off-track betting (in the movies, anyway) ... as we all see which answer "wins." A clever bit of illustration of their points from Lisa Jones and Shelly Kelly.

  • Dorian Speed ... I like her in my living room at dinner ... I like her doing a presentation with hand drawn pictures. Wow. Clever, funny, sensible, and able to serenely handle equipment break downs on the fly. My new hero.

  • Brandon Vogt looks exactly like his photo (you'd be surprised how few people that is true of). He's also as nice as he looks. AND gives a fantastic presentation. I wondered how he'd be able to handle his topic without saying anything negative ... and he did it. Really great.

  • Blogger is disliked by a surprising number of people. Or is it that WordPress has an "Apple" vibe going on right now ... it's the cool kid on the block? I was stunned by the high level of "woah, people, use WordPress." Happy Catholic does not just happen to be left on Blogger because I ignore the lack of features. It is owned by Google. It's been updated. But a lot of people didn't check that before talking about it.

  • It really is all about the people and the face-to-face encounters though. So many people that I met and didn't get to talk to long enough ... and that is what made me go around for the last couple of days feeling as if I had a "retreat high."
Here is a page where you can find lots of recaps and comments from CNMC attendees.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Catholic Bloggers: Are We the 1st Corinthians of the Internet?

And If So, What Can We Do About It?

My talk from the Catholic New Media Convention 2012. You may hear it along with the Q&A, the panel discussion I was on afterward, and every talk from that terrific conference, if you purchase their Virtual Ticket. The handout that went with the talk is available here as a pdf to download.

============

Apostle Paul,
Russian Orthodox icon,
via Wikipedia
Good afternoon everyone. I’m Julie Davis. I am very honored and pleased to be with you today.

I’ve been blogging at Happy Catholic for 8 years now where I’m not always happy but I’m always happy to be Catholic. I’ve been podcasting for 5 years at Forgotten Classics and almost a year at A Good Story is Hard to Find .

I’m here to ask the question: Are Catholics Bloggers the 1st Corinthians of the Internet?

First of all, what does this question even mean?

Let’s begin by considering this scenario.

=========================

Imagine that in a dream one night you find yourself in a parish where there are several drunks at Sunday Mass; where some members are claiming that there is no resurrection of the dead and that Jesus is not really present in the Eucharist; the president of the Altar Society is not talking to the head catechist; there is public unchallenged adultery; a group is dabbling in New Age spirituality; and Masses are abbreviated for the sake of Sunday football.

=========================

This sounds like the parish from Hell doesn’t it? It’s author George Montague’s updated version of the problems that Paul addressed in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

The 1st century Corinthian church was in such bad shape because they were enthusiastic but immature Christians practicing a brand new faith that didn’t have many guidelines. They were surrounded by a melting pot of cultures and religions in a city whose very name meant debauchery and drunkenness to the rest of the world ... and they allowed themselves to be influenced by them.

To top it off, they carried their squabbles into public court. It was not only driving away fellow Christians, but they were a terrible example to the Corinthian pagans who didn’t have any other idea of what Christians should be like.

So, now that we have the context: let’s talk about Catholic bloggers. Are we the first Corinthians of the internet?

Well, we exist in a vast melting pot of cultures and religions on the internet where it is easy to be tempted to compromise our faith so that we can “get along” or get something we’d like.

To the world of the internet, we are the face of the Catholic Church. We’re the Catholics they visit every day, watch as we live our lives, and judge the rest of the Church by. We might be the only Catholics they “know” … so in that sense we are as important or moreso as the Pope or a nun on the news or the local Catholic school. Just like the Corinthians were in their pagan world.

Now, we do have a lot more guidelines about our faith than the Corinthians did, but those guidelines are some of the very things we argue about ... to infinity and beyond. I’ve got to say if there is something that Catholics bloggers are great at, it is arguing. We aren’t always good at settling the argument but, boy howdy, can we argue. Some of the time, not very politely or forgivingly or kindly.

To be fair, Catholic bloggers come from as many different backgrounds and faiths as the secular environment we inhabit. A certain amount of confusion or misunderstanding is probably inevitable. …

But guess what?

Outsiders don’t care that we’re human, that we fail, that everyone makes mistakes and nobody’s perfect. They’re watching to see how we really live and what difference our faith in Christ makes every day, in all circumstances.

Tertullian, around 200 A.D. reported how outsiders saw Christians: “Look,” the pagans say, “How Christians love one another and how they are ready to die for each other.”

Can people today say that about the Catholic blogging community? Which Catholic bloggers am I willing to die for? It should be all of them, but is it? What about those “spirit of Vatican II” bloggers? Or the Latin Mass bloggers? How about the blogger who says I should forbid my daughters to date non-Catholics?

I’d like to pop off with a “yes, of course, I’d die for them” but what do my actions show? I can be a pretty big jerk. I’d like to say the answer is always yes for all of us Catholic bloggers. But we know that isn’t true either.

None of us sets out to cause discord, but like an avalanche, one hasty remark can lead to another, a few other people join in, and before we know it, we’re in the middle of a flame war.

It isn’t pretty. AND it isn’t any different than any non-Catholic blogger’s behavior.

Above and beyond our effect on outsiders, what does this behavior cost us? How do we affect the spiritual health of the Catholics we’re brangling with? Not to mention other Catholics who read us. It causes heartache and anger, and sows dissension. It can even turn people away from the Catholic faith or away from God altogether.

So I think that we could make an argument for the fact that the Catholic bloggers are the 1st Corinthians of the internet, to some degree.

So what do we do about it?

Easy. Just be better Christians.

Simple. Right?

Done and done.

Yeah, I wish ... We’d have heaven on earth if just saying that made it so. How do we get there, as bloggers, from where we are now?

Jesus gave us the short version: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Or to say it the way I sometimes have to think of it ... “Don’t be a jerk.”

Here’s the thing though. As he himself said, Jesus came not to replace the law but to perfect it. That “short version” came from Leviticus where it says:

“… You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:18 (NAB)

Now why do I bring that up?

Because although “love your neighbor” is beautifully simple and can help us keep our eyes on Christ ... sometimes we need more details.

And here’s what I love about that. We have Leviticus giving us “love your neighbor.” But at the same time, the Hebrews were also given The Ten Commandments.

God knew that we needed things spelled out sometimes, so he gave us “love your neighbor” as the perfect summary to the heart of His love and he gave us a list to help us dig deeper.

Now, I love lists. I love making them. I love reading them. I love crossing things off of them.

Even when I already know what’s on that list, sometimes looking at it refreshes my mind and helps me reorder my day. Just the way any of us might reflect on the 10 Commandments and get a new insight into how we’re living.

My Golden Rule for Catholic bloggers would be “keep your eyes on Christ and never blog without prayer.”

When I began thinking about it, I realized that I have broken that big statement down into an internal set of ... we won’t call them commandments ... but perhaps guidelines.

These are things that I turn to whenever I am tempted to strike out in anger, let hurt feelings guide me, or just generally be a jerk. Without these I’d be an even bigger jerk sometimes. Certainly I’d be a jerk more often. So they’re not only good for me, they’re good for you too.

I have 11 of them. Ready? Here we go!

11 Guidelines for Catholic Bloggers

1. Remember Christ chose you.
We all got into blogging for different reasons. But whether we realized it at the time or not, we were not the ones initiating the choice. Jesus said (John 15:16):

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.

Jesus chose Pat Gohn to show the right way, the Catholic way, to put women first. He chose the B-Movie Catechism blogger to share his love of his Catholic faith AND his passion for cult cinema and really, really bad movies. He chose Terry Prest (at Idle Speculations) to share a love of Catholicism, history, and art ... all entwined in a way that feeds our senses and opens our eyes.

He chose you and he chose me for this unique, public ministry in this time and in this place in history. It’s an international and public witness offering Christ’s friendship … and ours … to others in what St. Josemaria Escriva called the “apostolate of friendship,” … the idea that faithful friendship in everyday life shows God to those we love.

Now as to whether my blog is always worthy of God, that is a different story but because Christ chose me I have a greater responsibility than the average blogger. And so do you.

As a friend, telling the world about my faith, do I stand by Jesus in every trial? Is my friendship a credit to Him? Do I, as Madeleine L’Engle said:

Show them a light so lovely they will want with all their hearts to know the source.

I wish I could say yes. When I fail is when I know that I quit looking at my first and best friend and began looking at myself. Instead of listening to Christ, I’ve been shouting about me.

Which leads us to #2.

2. Know when to put on the brakes
Some you have met my brakes. My husband Tom ... say hi Tom ... is my safeguard against going off half-cocked. I’ve got a quick temper, a defensive response to criticism, am a dyed-in-the-wool contrarian and am super-stubborn. That’s a dangerous combination.

I count on Tom to slow me down, show me the other side of a disagreement, and stop me from lashing out. Now, I have to recognize the danger signals first and go to him, so that is my responsibility.

Sometimes I don’t see the danger. Sometimes, I deliberately ignore the danger. Because I want my own way. I don’t want to be stopped. Because, as Happy Catholic, I’m right and they’re wrong ... according to me.

It is pride and it is deadly — to me as a blogger and to the Catholic blogging community. Every time I go my own way, every time I don’t put on the brakes, I am sorry later that I didn’t fight that temptation.

Why didn’t I fight it? I stopped praying, I took my eyes off Christ and sometimes I forgot that that Catholic blogging involves the invisible world as well as the visible. Such as #3.

3. The enemy is prowling like a lion.
It follows that if we have a personal mission from Christ, then there will be powerful opposition, just as there was to Him. 1st Peter says:

Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. (1 Peter 5:8-10 RSV)

As Catholic bloggers we are tempted in subtle ways to be envious, to let others glorify us, to denounce without even asking a clarifying question first … to appear perfect.

Each crisis … whether a crisis in the world around us or a crisis of faith … is window of opportunity for God to show us how to die to self, to mold us a bit more into Christ’s likeness … and to be an example for the world.

The solution to defeating the prowling lion can be given in one word: humility. Jesus tells us exactly how to achieve that humility … which takes us to #4.

4. Turn the other cheek.
In theory, this is wonderful. In practice, we all know it can be excruciating. Jesus told us:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Leo Tolstoy in What I Believe tells of reading the Sermon on the Mount to a rabbi who responded to each saying with, “This is in the Talmud.” But when Tolstoy read “Do not resist one who is evil” the rabbi was silent. He asked Tolstoy, “Do Christians ever keep this law?”

Do we? Or do we come up with reasons why “just this time” it’s ok to make an exception?

When we rationalize not turning the other cheek ... and we all do it ... I'm one of the worst ... we are placing ourselves and our desire to win or have our own way, above Christ. We are glorifying ourselves above his command.

The truth is that Christ didn’t stop and explain it. He just told us to do it. Whether we understand it or not. We are called to be obedient just like Christ was.

Which feels darned near impossible sometimes. And which takes us to #5.

5. Lord, have mercy on me and bless the other person.
As a blogger I’ve benefited from this prayer more times than I can say. It is remarkable how many times I have prayed it when I am frustrated with someone only to have examples of my own identically bad behavior pop into my mind. It is not only humbling, it reminds me that at some time I have probably upset someone else just as much, in an identical way.

It helps me to see that person through Christ’s eyes, to remember that Christ loves them just as much as He loves me. I often am reminded at these times of St. Therese of Lisieux, who also struggled to love those around her. In Story of a Soul: she says it helps her to remember that God is the artist who creates souls. And that there is no artist who is not pleased when his work is admired.

Because of that, I often find myself asking Christ to show me something lovable about the person I am upset with. What does He see in that soul He created that makes Him smile with tender love?

It all comes down to asking Christ to help you. Even if you are less than enthusiastic about the prayers, your willingness to pray at all is something that God will work with to help you.

Which, of course, takes us to #6.

6. Know how to gauge success.
It’s not about numbers. Or followers or comments or book deals or SEO or speaking engagements or any of the other ways we invent to gauge our success.

We were called to tell the good news. How are we doing at that?

I remember when I first began blogging I came across a blog, whose name I can’t now remember. But the person was reflecting on the past year of blogging, saying that they had only had about 6 regular visitors but they didn’t count the time wasted. I have always tried to keep that mindset.

But we all have those days. Those envious days when we need to regain perspective. Those days when instead of rejoicing at someone else’s success for the kingdom, we think, “What about me?”

I can prescribe nothing better for that than The Curt Jester’s Litany of Blog Humility. Jeff Miller, The Curt Jester, is a “must read” for me every day but it is his litany which speaks so much to the Catholic soul … which loves nothing better than a good litany, some humor, and a lot of sincerity … Here’s a bit:

From the desire of my blog being read
Deliver me dear Jesus

That other blogs may be loved more than mine
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it

That Google may never list my blog
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it

You get the idea. It is in your handout and, more importantly, on The Curt Jester’s blog where you may find it any time as long as you have internet access.

(That my internet may fail, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it...) Which leads us directly to ...

7. Do something face-to-face.
It is easy to think that blogging is all the “volunteering” or “ministry” you need to do. Blogging is important. As I keep saying, Catholic blogging is an important, public face of the Church.

But there is great truth in the saying that “actions speak louder than words.” Every parish, large and small, has a real need for Catholics willing to sacrifice something more precious than diamonds these days ... our time. All the blogging in the world is not as valuable sometimes as just showing up.

I will never forget reading Jen Fulwiler’s posts about being driven crazy by a group of little girls who rang her doorbell and ran away. Eventually she wound up inviting them into her home and becoming their friend as they did things like making cookies and talking. Her time gave those girls guidance and memories I bet they’ll never forget.

That personal time does something valuable for us too. We have to stretch in order to react to unpredictable requests, to work alongside someone you don’t click with, to answer questions out of left field, to keep the peace when volatile subjects arise. I really realized this when my husband and I helped with RCIA last year. No one could predict the sorts of questions and situations that arise when you’re in a small group as the “actual Catholic” facing 10 possible converts from all sorts of backgrounds.

There’s nothing like real world experience for sanding down your rough edges and helping you understand the other guy’s point of view.

Which takes us to #8.

8. Get outside your “Catholic” box.
Whether in real life or on the internet, don’t let yourself get into the habit of only hanging out with Catholics. That can skew your perspective in surprising ways. It is nice, for example, to discover that some people have no reaction at all when you say “guitar Mass” to them.

For one thing, being a well-rounded person is going to make your blogging more interesting and also more relevant, even if you are reading something as seemingly irrelevant as nature blogs. For another thing, God uses everything to weave a rich tapestry. Leaving the Catholic “box” is going to inform your worldview, your prayer life, your soul in ways that make life just plain more fun.

Also, simply by being a Catholic blogger, someone who is practiced in speaking up about faith and the Church, you’ll carry that worldview into places which might never see a Catholic otherwise.

This is one of my passions because I really believe you don’t have to have a “Catholic” blog or podcast to make a difference. For example, the knitters in the Ravelry forums know me as the Catholic who chimes in to mention that Catholics don’t worship saints. A recent StarShipSofa podcast, introduced a story as narrated by “our friend Julie from Happy Catholic blog,” … not a common thing for science fiction fans to hear. On Goodreads after 258 comments between me and six atheists ... a friendly discussion ... I was approached by a Muslim and a Hindu who wanted to be my friend. They said I was the only one in the whole discussion who made sense to them and they wanted to talk to be about God. And I must say that on the rare occasion when someone from one of these venues suddenly shares how God has touched their life, it has had a powerful impact on me.

Obviously knitting and science fiction are some of my passions, but pick your own passion and dive in. When you get outside that box, is when it can be very, very exciting to be Catholic.

Now, this does not lead us to another guideline. But here we are anyway ... at #9!

9. Apologize.
Here’s the thing. Blogging is a medium composed of writing. Misinterpretation is easy because we can’t use (air quotes) “nonverbal cues” to show additional intentions. [Did you get that ... air quotes ... nonverbal cues?]

Studies show if you write something positive, the reader thinks it’s neutral. When you write something neutral, they think it’s negative. And we’re blogging about religion ... so you’ve practically got a formula for starting a fight.

We make mistakes. It’s only human. I get angry, I make hostile remarks, I am unneccessarily critical. The most we can do after we have been jerks is to openly and honestly admit it, in public if it was a public disagreement. We apologize and hope that they will understand.

It can be really hard to apologize. Sometimes you’re admitting you were wrong. Sometimes, you are admitting you were a jerk. Always, you’re admitting that you were less than perfect ... and that is why we really don’t like to apologize.

We lost our focus on Christ, we lost our self-control, we lost our humility, and we don’t like to lose ... which takes us to #10.

10. Allow yourself to lose.
Madeleine L’Engle wrote a terrific book called Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. I recommend it to all of you. She tells this story:

One time I was talking to Canon Tallis, who is my spiritual director as well as my friend, and I was deeply grieved about something, and I kept telling him how woefully I had failed someone I loved, failed totally, otherwise that person couldn’t have done the wrong that was so destructive. Finally he looked at me and said calmly, “Who are you to think you’re better than our Lord? After all, he was singularly unsuccessful with a good many people.”

If, as we were just saying, we don’t like to lose, we must remember that it is because our focus is distorted. We are not looking at Christ and following His example. Because we’re gonna lose a lot of the time. And we tend to forget, it wasn’t about us in the first place ... which leads us to #11.

11. God grants the increase.

We’re all familiar with the parable of the sower from The Gospel According to Matthew. Jesus tells of seeds falling on the path, devoured by birds, scorched by the sun, choked by thorns, and as Jesus says:
Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Later, explaining the parable to his disciples, Jesus says of the seeds that fell on good soil: As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

I had never noticed this detail until recently: all the seeds are sown on good soil, but all do not bear the same fruit. That’s nature. All seed does not yield the same amount. And yet Jesus regards it all as a good yield.

It’s a relief to remember that it is not all up to me. If I sow the seed as best I can then God will yield the increase. It’s especially a relief after I’ve been looking over a list like this one of all the ways I can go wrong as a blogger.

At those times, it’s good for me to remember what Caryll Houselander said:

Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us, Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile.

We … you and me as the public face of the Church … it may be that you being on the internet today means that for one person, Christ is there too.

And that person saw Christ because … we remembered Christ chose us … we put on the brakes … we turned the other cheek … we prayed … because we would die for each other.

And I hope, and I believe … Jesus will regard it as a good yield. Because it’s not about us. It never was.

If we are pointing to Christ, then we are being His good and faithful servants, as a public face of the Catholic Church. And that is what it’s all about.

Thank you.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Why Face-to-Face Matters

Because God works in subtle ways that we regard as mishap until we see the big picture. A great story from the Catholic Writers' Guild/CNMC/Catholic Marketing mashup ...
Wednesday at the conference, I wondered what I was doing there. The talks were interesting, but didn't seem to pertain to anything I was doing. I sat through a session on How to Pitch a Book to Publishers, and wondered if I'd ever get a chance to use that information. I went home satisfied with having met a few Catholic writers I had admired from afar, and a few I'd never heard of, but still unsure I really needed to be spending the time, energy, and money we didn't seem to have to be there.

Wednesday evening, as I headed for home, I prayed "God, if this is where I'm supposed to be, can you make it obvious? If writing isn't what you plan for me, can you make that obvious, too? I'm not doing too well with subtle here. I need you to whack me over the head with it." ...
Read it all in Rebecca's "Seeing the Hand of God."

(Though, having just read The Stand, the Hand of God means something completely different than this story ... one difference being that that was fiction and Rebecca's story definitely is real.)