Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Christus Experiment by Rod Bennett

The Christus ExperimentThe Christus Experiment by Rod Bennett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

He’s been divinized, demonized, demythologized, and decoded. He’s been spoken for and spoken against, the best loved, least understood, most controversial figure in human history. All of which makes Jesus of Nazareth the single most tempting target for haunted Georgia billionaire Anson MacDonald and his pricy team of time-traveling scientists and historians. What if you could capture Christ?—bring him to our own time, make him sit for modern questions and get his answers on tape? Would he do miracles? Start a revolution? Would he disappoint his followers—or disappoint the skeptics?...
When I came across this book a month ago or so on Amazon I was intrigued. For one thing I knew that Rod Bennett was the author of Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words, which was widely acclaimed by those I trusted to be a great book. That seemed an unlikely follow up, a techno-thriller based around going back in time to grab Jesus Christ out of a crowd and bring him back to the present day for studying.

It was available free to borrow from Amazon Prime and it sat on my Kindle while I finished up other books. Then I read Jeff Miller's review (a key person I trust in book reviewing) and decided it was time to finally read it. Having read the Kindle sample which included Bennett's introduction, I knew he approached it in the right spirit.
This book is a spiritual and psychological adventure story full of wild and irresponsible religious conjecture, equally indefensible whether taken as theology or speculative fiction.
I enjoyed the adventure this book presents. I was very impatient through the first third of it because we were being teased with the identity of the person that "experts" were being gathered to meet in the billionaire's remote Utah compound. Thanks to the concept of the book, the "who" was no surprise and I wanted to get a look at the author's "Jesus." As it turns out, I really liked what the author did when pulling the Son of Man into modern time to be studied in a laboratory to see if he really was both God and man. Interestingly, just as in real life, it all depends on the person and their mindset as to whether they think Jesus is real or a fake. It is in the characters' thoughts that we see mirrors of our own doubts, dreams, and fears when it comes to God.

What I found most touching was the way that Jesus approached that characters, with a question that touched my own heart and made me think of my prayer time with a slightly guilty conscience. I will leave it to you to read the book and experience that question for yourself.

I also really enjoyed the way that Bennett handled the science fiction aspect of the story. There is inclusion of an element that made me flash straight back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer ... and I actually laughed out loud. Bennett handled the tension and adventure equally deftly so that I was zipping through the last part of the book in an agony of suspense to see the final outcome.

Theologically, as far as I could tell, the book was right on target for the faithful. As I mentioned already, several aspects of the book got me to thinking about my own spiritual life. In a way, this book reminds me of what C.S. Lewis might have done in the thriller genre. Narnia and Perelandra are but other names for what Bennett has given us.

I think I may have to get an actual printed copy. No higher praise exists because that means I'm going to start pushing it on my friends and family.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Notes on Mark: Choosing The Twelve

As happens too often around here, I was partway through re-running posts I did when studying the Gospel of Mark, as well as updating them with notes from new things I'd read ... when I dropped the ball. Way back in July! Yikes! 

That's ok. If there's something Christians should be good at it's picking ourselves up and trying again. Time to get back on that horse pardner!

You can find links to all my posts on Mark, past and present, at the Bible Studies page.

MARK 3:13-19
I like the way the Standard Revised Version says it ... "He called to them those whom he desired." That rings true for my life, much less for anyone who is called to a vocation. Some interesting observations about the choosing of The Twelve. I especially like the point that the Apostles were a group because I always am mystified by people who say that they don't need church. I know that if left to myself I tend to lose perspective. I definitely need the church even if I don't always feel warm and fuzzy toward the people in it all the time.
It is significant that Christianity began with a group. The Christian faith is something which from the beginning had to be discovered and lived out in a fellowship. The whole essence of the way of the Pharisees was that it separated men from their fellows; the very name Pharisee means the separated one; the whole essence of Christianity was that it bound men to their fellows, and presented them with the task of living with each other and for each other.

Further, Christianity began with a very mixed group. In it the two extremes met. Matthew was a tax-collector and, therefore, an outcast; he was a renegade and a traitor to his fellow countrymen. Simon the Cananaean is correctly called by Luke, Simon the Zealot; and the Zealots were a band of fiery, violent nationalists who were pledged even to murder and assassination to clear their country of the foreign yoke. The man who was lost to patriotism and the fanatical patriot came together in that group, and no doubt between them there were all kinds of backgrounds and opinions. Christianity began by insisting that the most diverse people should live together and by enabling them to do so, because they were all living with Jesus.
The Gospel of Mark (The Daily Bible Series, rev. ed.)

We also can't forget the significance of numbers, as is always the case when studying Scripture.
The Twelve chosen by Jesus receive a specific vocation to be "people sent out," which is what the word "apostles" means. Jesus chooses them for a mission which he will give them later (6:6-13) and to enable to perform this mission he gives them part of his power. The fact that he chooses twelve is very significant. This is the same number as the twelve Patriarchs of Israel, and the Apostles represent the new people of God, the Church founded by Christ. Jesus sought in this way to emphasize the continuity that exists between the Old and New Testaments. The Twelve are the pillars on which Christ builds his Church (Gal 2:9); their mission to make disciples of the Lord (to teach) all nations, sanctifying and governing the believers (Mt 28:16-20); Mk 16:15; Lk 24:45-48; Jn 20:21-23

Monday, February 25, 2013

TV Talk

I haven't mentioned TV much lately although, like practically everyone in America, we do watch a fair amount of it at our house. We tend to reserve it for the weekends except for a half hour of some favorite sitcom before we go to bed. That's a habit still held from when the girls lived at home. It was our family's gathering together before the official end of the day.

At any rate, here's what we've been into:
  • Person of Interest - a favorite of ours since the series initially aired, this show topped itself with last week's episode which was co-written by series creator Jonathan Nolan and directed by him as well. It showed the other (legitimate) side of the machine's use, with the point of view of someone who was interestingly involved on both sides of the "number" game. As a result we saw the main characters for maybe 10 minutes tops. Well written, well directed, and worth watching. Though two people have told us that you can't find this show online any more. Tom looked around and saw that it was #2 in the Nielsen ratings. Maybe that's why.

  • 3rd Rock From the Sun (seasons 1 and 2) - we watched this when it came out long ago and then forgot about it. Hannah found DVD sets of the seasons for $5 each and began pushing it at us, talking about how well it holds up. She's right. If you can find this it is well worth your time. Funny, charming, and insightful about American life.

  • Dr. Who (reboot, season 1, 2005) - WorldCon is in San Antonio this year and we're talking about going. I've always meant to watch the reboot and this is as good an excuse as any. Hannah is way ahead of us, as usual, and began pushing us to catch up. About 9 episodes in, I am liking it much more than Tom does. For me it is a sort of 3rd Rock From the Sun, British-style. I love the way Dr. Who looks at some of the most dangerous situations with a wacky grin as if he's ready to see what entertainment it offers. Hannah approves of his moral sense, which she says is always right ... she's on season 4.

  • The Mindy Project - funny every time. But if they'd stop tweaking support characters I'd like it better. Especially last week's episode which inserted into the office statt a decidedly unfunny old woman who doesn't understand the computer. Were they trying to dumb it down for middle America? Don't. Just let it alone and see where it goes, for heaven's sake!

  • Shakespeare Uncovered - PBS - Six one-hour episodes of the best appetite whetting looks at some of the Bard's plays, hosted by a different major talent in each cast. It made me begin writing down movies of various plays, as well as some directors to seek out. Believe me, if this series could do that, it is extraordinary.

  • Malcolm in the Middle - season 2 - we've had the 1st season on dvd for a long time and I gave up looking for any others to come out (music rights problems). Rose had the welcome news that it is streaming on Netflix and we found (huzzah!) that it is streaming free on Amazon Prime. It is doubly funny because we don't remember most of the episodes ... what a pleasure this show is.

  • Community - the new writing team is barely getting back up to speed by the third episode of this season (after kicking out season creator last year). Having begun watching Dr. Who did let us really appreciate the Inspector Spacetime convention though ...

  • Vegas - we came for Dennis Quaid, we stayed for Michael Chiklis. And now we've gotten hooked. A genuine seeming 60s look, mostly interesting episodic mysteries, and intriguing enough over-arching stories about the mob and Vegas's development as the casino town it is now.

  • Golden Boy - will premiere this week. We're coming for Chi McBride who is a lure even Tom succumbs to, despite confusing trailers. Also the WSJ review made it sound top-notch. Looking forward to seeing McBride in action again and hoping it doesn't turn out to be a sinking ship as when we watched Last Resort for Andre Braugher (heavens I love that man's acting).
This makes it look as if we do nothing except watch TV. How do we do it? Not sure. But most evenings are our own ... not the tellie's. 

In which Virgilia and Dr. Franks ... and Nan and Perry ... sort things out.

Chapter 11 of The Unforeseen by Dorothy MacArdle at Forgotten Classics.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When Pope Benedict's Your Competition Then You Know You Did Something Right

When I was voting for all the Catholicism Awards yesterday I couldn't help but feel sorry for the Twitter and Book finalist. Pope Benedict was nominated in both categories and was kicking ... well, he had a dominant lead, let's just say.

I heard from Emmaus Road Publishing this morning (I do layout on books for them):
Dear friends, ERP’s title Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God by Dan Burke has been selected by the readers of the Catholicism GuideSite ( as one of the five finalists for Best Catholic Book of 2012 in the 2013 About Catholicism Readers' Choice Awards!  Please take a minute and vote for our title.  We have some pretty steep competition.  Currently Navigating is in second place behind Pope Benedict.  If we have to come in 2nd I can’t think of a better person to lose to.  If you get a minute I would appreciate you taking the time to vote.  The link is below and you can vote once every 24 hours.  Thanks
If you haven't gone by the awards definitely check out the finalists. You can't lose, actually, because everything I've seen is worth your time.

(Ahem ... and if you wind up in the podcast category, check out ... and maybe even vote for ... A Good Story is Hard to Find.)

Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Day Watch (Watch, #2)Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Loneliness, dejection, the contempt or pity of people around you--these are unpleasant feelings. But they are precisely the things that produce genuine Dark Ones.
As with the previous book in the series, Night Watch, this is comprised of three stories. Unlike the previous book, this is told from the Dark Ones' point of view and by three different protagonists. Intriguingly, it begins with statements opposite to those which open Night Watch. We are told that this text is not approved because it is deleterious to the cause of Light (signed the Night Watch) and deleterious to the cause of Dark (signed the Day Watch).

The first story is told from a Dark witch's point of view as she is sent to recover from a difficult assignment. It was definitely dark and almost kept me from continuing. It's funny because it isn't as if the story contained anything that I haven't encountered in other books and it definitely isn't because it is told from the dark point of view. There was just something about it that made me not want to read it, which is a tribute to the author's ability to convey atmosphere in his storytelling.

I thoroughly enjoyed the second story which was a mystery within a mystery as a man riding a train realizes he has amnesia ... and is an Other. The third story brought the other two together in a climactic trial by The Inquisition.

As in Night Watch, each story examined a facet of Dark or Light. I was especially interested in the third story where most of it is shown from the point of view of Edgar, a Dark Other, or Anton, our familiar Light Other from the first book. Several times each was judging the other for the very same thing while thinking, "Just like a Light/Dark Other..." In this story we also hear about how Inquisitors see things and it was an interesting contrast to the Others.

Day Watch uses these engrossing stories to examine good, evil, love, and sacrifice, continuing the themes found in Night Watch. As such it gave me pause while I thought about the author's representation of the very thin line that separates good from evil, and true love from a self-serving pretense of love.

It was quite good overall, although it was not quite as good as Night Watch. Definitely recommended. I am eagerly anticipating receiving the next book from the library.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Good Story Podcast is Finalist in 2013 About.Com Awards

Now this is fun! And exciting!

A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast is a finalist in the 2013 Catholicism Awards.

And I like their description:
Rather than create a podcast about Catholic books and movies, Julie Davis and Scott D. Danielson discuss classic books and movies "as Catholics."
They get us! They really get us! (Ok, no more channeling Sally Fields...)

I saw we are in there with Fr. Barron, Pray-As-You-Go (a regular listen of min) and other big podcasts I admire. What honorable company Scott and I have risen to!

We haven't a chance, but we're the only one of our sort. Mostly. iPadre being a different sort of conversation. (That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!)

Perhaps we'll get some folks dropping by to try us out though, which would be the best! We can always do with new book-and-movie lovin' pals.

Check it out, and be sure to look at the other categories too. The blogs, books, and suchlike that I recognize are top-notch. Which means I'm definitely going to be checking out the ones I don't know.

And vote ... of course ... definitely vote.

I don't want to have to bring the Hypno-Toad out for this one. But you know. I'll do what I have to.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Presidents' Day

Which used to be a day for George Washington and a day for Abraham Lincoln.

Washington-Franklin Issues
of 1908 - 1923, 5c
via Wikipedia

Abraham Lincoln
Issue of 1866
Also via Wikipedia

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Weekend Joke: Exact Change

This is from Seth Peters, who regularly supplies me with great jokes. As he said, "It's a doozy!" Thank you Seth!
A man walks into a restaurant with a full-grown ostrich behind him.

The waitress asks them for their orders.

The man says, "A hamburger, fries and a coke," and turns to the ostrich, "What's yours?"

"I'll have the same," says the ostrich.

A short time later the waitress returns with the order. "That will be $9.40 please." The man reaches into his pocket and pulls out the exact change for payment.

The next day, the man and the ostrich come again and the man says, "A hamburger, fries and a coke." The ostrich says, "I'll have the same." Again the man reaches into his pocket and pays with exact change.

This becomes routine until the two enter again. "The usual?" asks the waitress.

"No, this is Friday night, so I will have a steak, baked potato and a salad," says the man.

"Same," says the ostrich.

Shortly the waitress brings the order and says, "That will be $32.62."

Once again the man pulls the exact change out of his pocket and places it on the table.

The waitress cannot hold back her curiosity any longer. "Excuse me, sir. How do you manage to always come up with the exact change in your pocket every time?"

"Well," says the man, "several years ago I was cleaning the attic and found an old lamp. When I rubbed it, a Genie appeared and offered me two wishes. My first wish was that if I ever had to pay for anything, I would just put my hand in my pocket and the right amount of money would always be there."

"That's brilliant!" says the waitress. "Most people would ask for a million dollars or something, but you'll always be as rich as you want for as long as you live!"

"That's right. Whether it's a gallon of milk or a Rolls Royce, the exact money is always there," says the man.

The waitress asks, "What's with the ostrich?"

The man sighs, pauses and answers, "My second wish was for a tall chick with long legs who agrees with everything I say..."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Blogging Around: The Benedict Edition

I'm out of touch, more or less, because it is our semi-annual Beyond Cana marriage retreat for our parish. Tom and I are part of the presentation team and so have turned our focus elsewhere.

In the meantime, here are some good things to read from other places.


The Curt Jester addresses those with this complaint:
Catholics who eulogized Pope John Paul II for serving to the bitter end now praise Pope Benedict for quitting. Make up your minds.
Being Catholic is the both/and approach that doesn’t try to flatten all things into a decision tree with simple yes/no paths. The Curt Jester nails it. As always.


Scott Danielson talks about our remarkable Pope and the one thing that struck him most in the resignation.
One thing that strikes me in Benedict’s statement is his explanation of how he made this decision. He did not say, “God told me to.”


Archbishop Timothy Dolan on Ash Wednesday and Pope Benedict's continual gift to us in his leadership.
And now, he lets us know that, he, too, is a marked man, closer to death, slowed down and frail, more and more in need of God’s grace and mercy, humbly admitting his mortality, his own sinfulness, eager to prepare to be united with His Lord and Savior in His dying and rising.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Learning to Love the Pope Through His Writing

I did glance over some of the pieces in the Wall Street Journal this morning about Pope Benedict's pending resignation. They were more even-handed than many of the pieces I saw elsewhere which led off with inflammatory opinion. (For shame Reuters! I knew you when you were cool!)

However, even these were putting forth points of view which baffled me. Until I recalled that these people were outsiders. Those of us on the inside, who had learned to love Pope Benedict in these short eight years could not simply call him a "bridge" or "placeholder" after a historic pope.

As I mentioned yesterday, it was through the Pope's writing that I learned to love this gentle shepherd who spoke of sin in order to keep us safe, not to make us feel shame.

So it was with great pleasure that I read Will Duquette's tribute which puts my own thoughts into much better words. Here's part of it.
In these books I discovered a teacher, a man who wished always to speak the truth, but who could speak the truth in love and gentleness. I discovered a pastor, one with great compassion for human frailty, but who refused to water down the gospel just to make people feel better about their sins. Sin is a moral illness; what we need is a cure, not an anesthetic. In these books, in which the future pope spoke of the problems of the day, he addressed all of the problems I was familiar with from my time in the Episcopal Church, the forces that were driving that communion to schism and irrelevancy. Not only did we need a cure; the Cardinal was familiar with the cure we needed.

I went on to read books he’d written himself (I’ve got a whole shelf of them now, many of which I’ve read and many I’ve not gotten around to yet). I discovered a clear thinker, and a clear speaker, a man I could learn from. And in a short time, I came to love this man, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. I still do.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict's Resignation

I wrote some of this to send to our RCIA small group since this a papal resignation has startled most of us, much less those getting reading to enter the Church.

My take, which I did not send to anyone is sheer gratitude for God's having given us Pope Benedict for eight years.

My goodness, think of what that man has done for us. The homily series full of teaching about saints, apostles, Fathers of the Church, prayer, and more. The Jesus of Nazareth books and the encyclicals. The trips all over the world. Assigning bishops who will be true good shepherds to us. And then preparing to spend his days in prayer for us.

I think that reading his general audience homilies, courtesy of the Curt Jester, has taken my appreciation and love of our Papa to a new level, so perhaps I feel this more than others might.

For anyone wanting more of my opinion, I think that reading the essence of what I advised our RCIA group about will give an answer. So, here it is ...


I did want to offer a bit of guidance about Pope Benedict's resignation, based on my experience as a Catholic when Pope John Paul II died and Pope Benedict was elected.

You'll hear:
  • Speculation about the reasons for the resignation and why it is good / bad.

  • How bad / good this is for the Church. Especially at this particular moment in history!

  • How we need a more progressive / conservative pope than Pope Benedict.

  • Speculation about who will be elected as the next pope. That speculation is rarely correct, by the way. Very few, if any would have picked Josef Ratzinger to be the next pope.
In other words, you will hear a lot of talk that mostly reflects the people talking, rather than the truth about the situation.

I tend to ignore it as much as possible.

And most of it doesn't matter to us much anyway because this is an election that only the cardinals will take part in. (Here's how the election works, if you want to know more.)

What we can do that is helpful is to pray.

Pray for Pope Benedict's future. I myself am so thankful that we were given such a good shepherd, who did so very much in 8 years, as Pope Benedict.

Pray that the cardinals will be guided by the Holy Spirit and select the person God wants to be our good shepherd.

Since the rules call for the cardinals to gather within 15 days of the pope leaving (whether by death or resignation) we will likely have a new pope before Easter.

If you get your news from the Vatican instead of American media, that may help filter out some of the extra chatter.


The full text of the Pope's announcement follows. I got this from CNA (Catholic News Agency) which is a trustworthy source.
Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.

However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013

Blogging and Google

My question for you is how do you manage to make your blog easily discoverable by google? I have heard there are tricks of the trade. I am not nearly as internet savvy as you are.
I was asked this question recently when my blog popped up as a likely match for someone using Google. They then mentioned that they haven't done much with their blog but had this question.

Like most bloggers I get this question a lot. Here's my answer.
I post every day. I post authentic content. In other words, I'm out there.

That's all that Google wants. Real posts by real people saying something that is their own.
Rest assured that there may be tricks, but like most of life the best way is just to do the job. In that way, blogging is just like real life.

Show up. Do the job. Eventually when you've got 8,000+ posts, Google will notice.

And if Google doesn't notice, you'll still have the satisfaction of having blogged. Which is the real point of blogging in the first place, after all.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Blogging Around: Seeing the Other Side

AMERICA IN FILM Here's an interesting question. You want to teach someone about America, using movies. Which movies do you choose? Rose has one for being American and another for pop culture. The discussion has begun at Double Exposure ... check it out.

Letterboxd is like Goodreads, but for movies. I have been enjoying it for a while but it was invitation only. No longer. Jump in. It's a free for all!

Whenever we watch the Baltimore Ravens play, Tom always points out the real life player who was portrayed in The Blind Side. Watching the Super Bowl was just that much better because we knew about his story. Tony Rossi gives the Christopher Closeup inside story of the family behind the movie.
Many of you have seen the Christopher Award-winning movie “The Blind Side,” which told the story of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy (played by Tim McGraw and Sandra Bullock) adopting homeless teen, Michael Oher, supporting him and his education, and helping to launch his football career with the Baltimore Ravens. It was a happy ending by both Hollywood and real-life standards.

That ending got even happier this past Sunday when the Ravens won the Super Bowl with a little help from Michael Oher, whose adopted family was with him.
This looks delicious, whether one has Lent on the horizon or not. Veronica at My Catholic Kitchen came up with it. I'm going to put back in the Worcestershire sauce instead of the soy sauce because fish is allowed for Lent. As well as chicken broth (guess what's going to happen to that 1 cup of water and the vegetable bouillon cube? yep ... ).

Archbishop Dolan gives us the scoop and the link to the bishops' actual statement. Accept no substitutes.
Yesterday, I issued a statement in my role as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the HHS mandate. Unfortunately, there were some news reports today that claimed the bishops “rejected” the White House proposal, ignoring the fact that we bishops said, “we welcome and will take seriously the Administration’s invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all.”
CWG Blog features the devotional I wrote last year ... and is very, very kind. Thank you, Jen!
If you are a looking for a bigger, sweeter piece of devotional pie, also consider Julie's book Happy Catholic. You'll feel like you're cheating, since it's fun and interesting and not at all penitential, but it's a great way to kickstart the habit of seeing God in every day life.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Julie and Scott cooked this up using a recipe that has been in their families for centuries.

A good movie for Valentine's Day (at least that's why I chose it), Mostly Martha is the topic of conversation at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Keep Your Fork ...

Lynne is reading over Happy Catholic posts starting from the very beginning. I am in awe. Certainly I've never done that! It's interesting to hear her observations so far.

One thing that's not really representative of the blog from the beginning is that I usually go back and remove the old art and quotes that are over a year old. This is because Blogger only lets me access 5,000 posts (only! ha!) so if I need to update or access an old post, such as a Bible study or novena for example, then I can't get to it.

Unfortunately, this means that not only does Lynn not get to see all the old quotes and art, but sometimes I still can't access old stuff.

So I may be replacing things now as she lets me know about outdated links that led to things we all liked around here.

Here's the first, a charming story about a lady who wants to be buried with a fork. Go read it because it is still just as good as way back in 2004 when I first posted about it.

Thanks Lynne!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lent begins next week.

Should I panic now?

No. I'll wait until next Tuesday.

As Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to live for today and a time to choose Lenten penance.

King Peggy by Peggielene Bartels

King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African VillageKing Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is going on my 2013 Best list.

A native Ghanan, Peggy was working at the Ghanan embassy in Washington D.C. when she got the call that her uncle, the king of their village, has dies and that she was chosen the next king. This was really unusual because women were not usually kings.

What is fascinating to me is that, because she lived in America, Peggy sees her home town through new eyes. Just thinking about the 7,000 people she will lead, she flashes on the children carrying buckets of dirty brown water home each day and realizes she has to get them clean water (a minimum standard for living in America). Stuck in traffic on the way to the village, Peggy watches young people peddling junk to make pennies a day and realizes that, as in America, the teenagers from her village should have a high school.

As someone straddling both worlds, Peggy clearly sees the good and bad in both America and Ghana. The book also becomes an open door, inviting us to learn more about Ghanian life (albeit from a king's perspective, which is not as removed from regular life as one might think). I like the way that tidbits of Ghanian history are slipped into the book for context without being lengthy or overwhelming, but giving a perfect perspective for understanding Peggy's situation.

Some of Peggy's realizations about needed change are very straight forward, some are more complex, but they all come from a place of sacrifice for the good of her people. She always knows she can never do this job by herself so she depends on Jesus, God, and her ancestor spirits because she blends belief in Christianity and ancestor worship. Peggy receives spirit guidance, which I tend to view as God speaking through the saints, but ... whatever. As the book continues, we are shown that, in giving, Peggy also receives. We see that Peggy's sacrifices lead to unforeseen growth in character and that the skills she learns to be an effective king may eventually influence those far beyond her village. This is a story not only of a fascinating situation but also of the way to make a healthy community.

And I've kind of fallen in love with her soul stool (something each king is given but can never sit upon). You'll have to read the book to know what I'm talking about but it has a personality all its own. Peggy is always given encouragement for the difficult task because only God can make a king, as a friend tells her. This is a fascinating blend of Peggy using her innate talents, the skills that have been developed in her life thus far, and spiritual guidance.

It is really well written so you feel as if you can almost "hear" Peggy's voice. To say the least, it is fascinating and I am really fond of Peggy.

The key to the story, though, is King Peggy's servant heart.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien

The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, #3)The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been working my way through the audiobooks, as many of you already know. The further I get into The Lord of the Rings, the more glorious is all the stuff I missed in past readings. Admittedly the last reading was a while ago and without the benefit of guides along the way to help me see below the surface. More than anything though, listening forces me to slow down and take in the whole book, not just the exciting part I'm dashing through for the adventure.

What becomes very noticeable to me at this point, listening as opposed to reading, is the juxtaposition of the two kings and their hobbit observers. One has been brought back to himself after being under the Dark Lord's sway and the other is prideful and arrogant. It is a striking contrast.

Another thing is how touched I was by the description of those coming to the defense of Gondor, early after Gandalf and Pippin got there. They were the few, those coming out of common need to defend themselves and their lands, in answer to the king's call. It made me understand just how personal war is on that level. It kept coming back to me for hours.

It occurs to me that we are also loathe to let surprises unfold by themselves. I was thrilled at the way Tolkien keeps everyone in the dark over the identity of the stern young man who took Merry up on his saddle, until the crucial moment. I literally wanted to cheer at the moment of revelation. Whereas the movie had to let us in on the secret very early, I suppose in support of girl empowerment. *sigh* Because THAT hasn't been done before.

Listening also allowed me to suddenly notice how Aaragorn's speech has been transformed into something lordly and formal, nobler and grander than when we met him as Strider. It was especially noticeable when he was speaking to Eowyn. "Lady," he would begin every statement to her. In my mind's eye, it was as if he was transformed into the king that we know he is underneath the travel-stained ranger.

The final realization, at this point, is just how the movies lessened the epic scale by making all the heroes less heroic than in the book. They were portrayed with ordinary fears and doubts. I imagine the idea was to give us someone to relate to. However, we already have the hobbits who are, as they themselves would tell us, as ordinary as dirt and happy to be that way. Tolkien's epic storytelling, by contrast, allows the heroes to be imbued with nobility and qualities that emerge as situations require.

We need heroes to look up to who are imbued with something grander than we ourselves have. Otherwise, what is there to strive for? If all our heroes have been knocked down to average, we have only ourselves to look to. And that is not helpful in dire circumstances like those faced in this struggle in Middle Earth. Or even in our own everyday lives.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Trucker Ghost Stories: And Other True Tales of Haunted Highways, Weird Encounters, and Legends of the Road edited by Annie Wilder

If you're a fan of real-life ghost stories, then this is the book for you.

If you're a fan of truckers, those modern-day "cowboys" of the highways, then this book is doubly for you.

Truckers are on the road at all times of night, in all weather, and, evidently, when every sort of ghost, monster, or UFO is out and about. This collection of stories runs the gamut from terrifying to tame. I was fascinated by the story of a trucker attacked by a UFO full of aliens but who refused to be abducted. I got the creeps listening to the story of a trucker parked for sleeping who was attacked by evil spirits who evidently muffled even his cries for help from other sleepers nearby. Other stories, such as a floating red light, were less satisfying.

As with all "real" ghost stories, it is up to the listener to judge whether these incidents were authentic or due to tricks of light, lack of sleep, or a handful of uppers for the road. Adding to the authentic feel, although not necessarily to any literary value, is the fact that the stories were written by the truck drivers themselves and not professional writers. This leads to a lot of "sign offs" such as "That is my story."

The stories are narrated by Tavia Gilbert and Peter Ganim who have personable styles and will even give the tale a regional twang if the story mentions a city of origin.

What I discovered from this book is that I'm not nearly as big a fan of real-life ghost stories as I thought. Or perhaps it is that listening to a steady dose of them for several hours is just not my cup of tea. If you are interested in the supernatural, paranormal, or just in hearing some straight forward, sincerely told ghost stories, give it a try.

This review originally appeared at SFFaudio.

Blogging Around

Why Isn't a Show Funny?
Largely because of unwillingness to take a stand which should be no surprise at all. As we just saw illustrated on 3rd Rock from the Sun last night (2nd season of a series that is holding up amazingly well over time), sometimes the best comedy comes from being willing to alienate people in order to make a point.  Why don't the network executives understand this? Double Exposure deconstructs The Middle, which I'd never heard of before. Now I understand why. Keep an eye out in the last bit because several excellent shows are recommended for your viewing pleasure instead.
The jokes that don't revolve around Frankie complaining often contain baffling lapses in logic. For instance, when Frankie is taking a bath because of her bad back, nine-year-old Brick wanders in and she asks him to turn on the hot water. Brick reminds her that he is not allowed to use the hot water (bringing up some disturbing questions about how he takes showers) but he turns on the hot water anyway. When Frankie asks he to turn it off, he winds up turning it up because apparently hot water faucets are so different than cold water faucets that when given two options of how to turn it off, he repeatedly chooses the wrong one.
Preach Always. If Necessary, Use Words.

By God’s grace, I am learning to trust the wisdom of the Church. By God’s grace, I am learning to rely on the Holy Spirit.

By God’s grace, all is redeemed.

Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be
world without end.
Elizabeth Esther has a really wonderful story that left me glorying in God's goodness and the Holy Spirit's quiet, subtle ways. I myself have had many occasions to thank Him for nudging instead of bludgeoning and this story is a wonderful example. Don't miss it. Via The Wine Dark Sea.

Thank you Archbishop Gomez
This is what it means to have a trustworthy shepherd. Joanne McPortland expresses my feelings exactly in her post.
Tonight, Archbishop Jose Gomez broke his silence on the recently released documents concerning efforts by his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, to cover up instances of clergy abuse. Like me, Archbishop Gomez found the documents “brutal and painful reading.” He did not stop at repugnance, however, but in a letter to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, assigned accountability...
Catholic Bishops of Colorado Respond to Catholic Hospitals’ Claim of Unborn Twins Personhood
Frank Weathers at Why I Am Catholic does an excellent job of tracking the call and response from the hospital and bishops, as well as pointing to a thorough story on the case.
A couple of days ago, my blog neighbor Deacon Greg Kandra shared a news item about a Catholic hospital in Colorado that is a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit. The story is noteworthy because the Catholic hospitals’ legal defense team argued that while the patient (who died seven years ago), Lori Stodghill, was indisputably a person, they noted that under Colorado law, her unborn twins, 28 weeks of gestation at the time of death, are not considered persons.

As you might imagine, given the Catholic Church’s belief that human life, and thus personhood, begins at conception, this line of defense has been seen as a controversial one. 
The Real Reason to Criticize Roe
Fascinating article from Public Discourse, found via Frank's post above.
Actually, Roe did not introduce legal abortion to the United States; it did something even worse. Prior to Roe, legal abortion existed, but so did a large, vigorous pro-life movement, and that movement was beginning to win the public debate on abortion. Roe deprived the pro-life movement of its legal victories and allowed abortion to become more available to poor and minority women. It subverted the democratic process and led to a partisan polarization that only grew worse with time. Perhaps worst of all, it nullified the pro-life movement’s constitutional arguments and enshrined in case law a constitutional interpretation that deprived the unborn of any constitutional rights.
Recall Abortion
Since we seem to be on the subject of abortion, new book that just came out: RECALL ABORTION: Ending the Abortion Industry's Exploitation of Women. I don't have time to read it but it looks at the subject from an interesting standpoint.
The book is unique in that it examines abortion as a product, demanding a "recall" for the harm done to women. It is a very compelling and well-organized compilation of information and testimonies.