Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What I'm Reading: Save Send Delete

Save Send DeleteSave Send Delete by Danusha Goska

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm about halfway through this review book which was sent by the author after she heard me on the radio while waiting for the bus. Which had a charm all its own when considered as a review request ... and when I looked at reviews on Goodreads and Amazon I was intrigued by the five-star reviews from readers with all sorts of religious backgrounds.

I'll do a complete review when I'm done, but I have to say that this book is amazing.


From where I sit, Danusha Goska nailed it. It is thought provoking, fascinating and ... from where I sit ... true.

It's for everyone who thought they were digging deep into their beliefs (or lack thereof). "Thought."

More later, but I wanted to get this out there for right now. Pick up a copy and read it now.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 34

I'll just get this out of the way first. This might be the worst poster/dvd cover I've ever seen for a movie.

Be not afraid. Watch it anyway.

34. Be Kind Rewind

This movie's unique blend of talent includes Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover and Mia Farrow. If it is hard to imagine what they all have in common, then you are in the right frame of mind for Be Kind Rewind.

Mr. Fletcher's (Danny Glover) Be Kind Rewind vhs rental store is in decline. Despite his claims that jazz pianist Fats Waller was born there, the building housing his business is going to be demolished unless he can finance renovation. When Mr. Fletcher goes on an annual trip to memorialize Fats Waller, he leaves sole employee, Mike (Mos Def), to tend the store.

Naturally this is when things go very wrong. Through a freak magnetic accident, all the tapes in the store are erased, leaving Mike and his friend Jerry (Jack Black) to come up with a way to satisfy rental customers. They reshoot movies on demand using their own cameras.

Part of this movie's charm is the combination of standard bumbling comedy with wacky brilliance. Fair warning: the first part is a bit more of what one expects from a Jack Black movie. When we watched it with friends during a movie night, my husband and I looked at each other thinking, "What have we done?"

However, the middle and end suddenly take an unexpected turn which winds up combining a love of movies, personal creativity, history, community, and ... of course ... Fats Waller, whose story is wound through the movie. (For the record, our friends loved it.)

By the way, this was directed by Michael Gondry who is known for his distaste of CGI. This has led to some very creative sets and movie making in order to come up with effects in his movies. A wonderful example in this movie is when Mike and Jerry are on the chain link fence. Just watch for it. You'll see what I mean.

Notes on Mark: A Parable About Seeds

MARK 4:26-29
This parable about the seeds is so familiar that I never realized it is only found in Mark. Of course we have all heard interpretations of the many meanings within it but I haven't ever heard this one by St. Gregory the Great.
An agricultural parable found only in Mark. Jesus compares the mystery of natural, organic growth to the expansion of the kingdom of God. The kingdom will visibly mature like grain, but the spiritual forces behind it will remain invisible. The parable of the Leaven in MT 13:33 elucidates the same mystery.

Morally (St. Gregory the Great, Hom. in Ezek 2, 3), the maturing grain signifies our increase in virtue. First, the seeds of good intentions are sown; these gradually bring forth the blade of repentance and ultimately the mature ear of charitable works. When established in virtue, we are made ripe for God's harvest.
The Gospel of Mark
(The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)
A note for reflection adds what we already know about this parable's larger meaning, but what is good for me to remember.
Despite the many seeds apparently sown in vain, God is at work to produce what will finally be revealed as a stupendous harvest. The parable illustrates the "mystery of the kingdom" that Jesus mentioned in 4:11. The reign of God will not come about through unmitigated success and uninterrupted growth. An unexpected but necessary part of the plan is the setbacks and failures that give Jesus' disciples a share in the mystery of his own suffering.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Julie and Scott wander around in another failed civilization ...

... saved only by a bag of tortilla chips they pick up on the way (this announcement sponsored by Tostitos) while they discuss The Parable of the Sower on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Conversing with God in the Easter Season by Stephen Binz

Conversing with God in the Easter Season: Praying the Sunday Mass Readings with Lectio DivinaConversing with God in the Easter Season: Praying the Sunday Mass Readings with Lectio Divina by Stephen J. Binz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Mystagogy" is a Greek word referring to the process of leading those who have been initiated into a mystery into an understanding of its deep meaning and its significance for their lives. ...

After the Easter Vigil, the neophytes are not simply sent home to do their best. They continue to gather throughout the Easter season. They share their reflections on their deeper life in Christ through the sacramental life of his Church, and they continue to learn. In this way, they are like the disciples in the resurrection narratives of the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles. They are learning from their encounters with the risen Christ and growing in faith and love. The Church's period of mystagogy teaches the rich significance of the Church's Scriptures and sacramental worship, drawing out the inexhaustible meaning of the baptismal covenant and the Eucharistic liturgy.

Mystagogy, however, is not limited to the newly baptized. It is a lifelong process of ongoing conversion and growth in understanding for all Christians. Because in the resurrection God has made all things new, the liturgy and Scripture readings of the Easter season work toward shaping a resurrection mentality in all who live in Christ. Whatever burdens us, whatever we are ashamed of, whatever we lament, whatever has broken our hearts is placed before the open word of God whose light streams forth from the open tomb of Christ. ...
Did you see what author Stephen Binz did there? In the introduction of the book he wasted no time in drawing us into Scripture itself for reflection. My imagination thrilled thinking of the new Catholics, like the disciples on Emmaus road, whose hearts are burning within them encountering the risen Christ. I also loved the imagery of the light from the tomb streaming across us, across me, healing as it gently warms and enlightens.

Although this is not the heart of Conversing with God in the Easter Season, the excerpt gives a good idea of how Binz uses every opportunity to draw us closer to Christ. Keeping our eyes on the Easter candle's light, he walks readers through the simple steps of lectio divina: lectio (reading), meditatio (reflection), oratio (praying), contemplatio (resting in God), and operatio (witness in daily life).

Binz illuminates the Sunday readings from the entire Easter season for each of the A, B, and C cycles so the book can be used every year. I especially appreciated his care with the material as I compared Sundays from different cycles that have identical Gospel readings. Obviously, the similarity of the overall message is not ignored, however, Binz's attention to the details and context allow him to raise subtly different points for meditation.

For example, Easter Sunday for years A, B, and C all feature a reading from Acts 10:34A, 37-43. For year A Binz shows how Peter's dramatic testimony to Cornelius and his family is the first example of news that will ripple through the Acts of the Apostles to convert the entire world. Year B discusses the very personal nature of Peter's eyewitness testimony. Year C considers Peter's transformation from the man who denied Christ three times into the confident, courageous speaker we see in a Gentile household.

I can't recommend Binz's Lectio Divina books highly enough. If you want to make this Easter season a richer, more spiritual experience, this book will shine light on your path.

More books I like by Stephen Binz: Conversing with God in Advent, Learning to Pray in Scripture.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pope Francis: Making the Popemobile Personal

I like this. Pope Francis uses the Popemobile. Let's face it. That's the most practical way to get through a massive crowd. However, he also stops and gets off to bless this disabled man.

Via The Deacon's Bench.

Last Day to Donate to Aquinas and More

It is the last day of Aquinas and More's journey of faith to see if their online Catholic store can carry on.

You may read more here about why so many believe their store is worth saving.

The goal was $250,000. They have raised $58,599.

It is not too late to help!

Go here to donate.

Notes on Mark: Plowing the Soil

MARK 4:1-20
I have always heard this talked about as if the type of soil cannot be changed. However, this commentary gave me much food for thought just by looking at Palestinian farming customs.
In first-century Palestine, it was common for farmers to sow their seed first, and then go back and plow the soil. In this way, the seed could be mixed in with different types of soil, and some hard or rocky patches of soil could be broken up and softened, helping the seed to bear greater fruit. While some of the soil may not be the most fertile at the beginning of the process, by the end, it has a far greater chance of supporting the life and fruitfulness of the seed it has received.

In a similar way, none of us should think that because we see hardness or difficulties in our lives now, that we are beyond hope of change, or that it's too late for us. God can "plow" us up at any time, making us more receptive to the work he has sown in us and more able to bear the abundant fruit that his seed is capable of producing. We should always keep our eyes and ears open, looking for ways that God may be trying to work a greater softening in our hearts, a greater receptivity to his word.
Mark: A Devotional Commentary (The Word Among Us)

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Don't you think she looks tired?"

Two popes, one retired and one new. Both showing us Christ's face in their own personal, unique ways. The reactions I see are so often simply reflections of the people speaking. How do we take the truth and act upon it? The choice is ours.
There is a way of living and thinking that I would name negative, another that I would name active. The first consists in seeing always what is defective in people and institutions, not so much to remedy them as to dominate them, in always looking back, and in looking for whatever separates and disunites. The second consists in joyfully looking life and its responsibilities in the face, looking for the good in everyone in order to develop and cultivate it, in never desparing of the future, the fruit of our will, and in understanding human faults and miseries, expressing that strong compassion which results in action and no long allows us to live a useless life.

Whoever searches for the truth will find God.

As we go along, let us spread ideas, words, and desires, without looking back to see who gathers them up.
Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur
The most surprising thing I've noticed in these first days of Pope Francis are how many people, in the words of Elisabeth Leseur, bring negative thinking instantly to bear.

I am also surprised that I am so surprised when it happens.

I had a rare moment of being in the public eye when Pope Francis was announced. The Takeaway had me on one line and Father Matthew Gamber, a Jesuit priest and senior counselor at Jesuit High School in Florida, on the other line. I was trying to watch streaming coverage from my laptop while listening and responding appropriately. I must say that one of the best parts of that memory was listening to everyone at the Jesuit High School go nuts when Pope Francis was announced.

Due to an understandable lack of coordination considering the event, I wasn't sure when I was done, so Skype was still running for the next guest. I don't recall who it was ... some "known name" in Catholicism ...  but I was stunned at her cold tones saying, "Your previous guests may be cheering because he's a Jesuit or because he took the name Francis, but we don't know who this man is. Some priests cooperated with the death squads in Argentina."

I quit Skype, completely amazed that there was not one sentiment of interest, excitement, or even polite good will from that person.

As it turns out, the Argentinian government was probably cheering to have "a known Catholic name" make such comments because, according to the Wall Street Journal, they "immediately began a campaign to smear the new pontiff's character and reputation at home and in the international news media." (Read more about that in Behind the Campaign to Smear the Pope.)

This is the danger of habitual negative thinking versus active thinking. We can fall right into the Enemy's hands. I'm talking about a supernatural Enemy, of course, who loves to sow discord and separation. This causes doubt and is a great danger to others who may trust and believe that negative thinking.

That is not to mention the danger it does to our own souls.

In RCIA last week we were covering some of the ten commandments. I was particularly struck by our priest's insistence on making sure the distinction between detraction and calumny was very clear.
2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
I now had the precise word for what I'd heard: calumny.


Ironically, just yesterday, I had an example of a different sort of destruction of reputation from a nice church-going acquaintance when we were chatting in the parking lot after Mass.

She was praising Pope Francis. I mentioned that we were lucky because we had the example of two great popes in John Paul II and Benedict XVI and now could watch how Francis built upon their work in his own way.

She made a little face of distaste and said, "Oh. Benedict. I think he was mostly too sick and tired too do much. But we can hope Francis will change things!"

I was stunned. (Yes. Again.)


The man who gave us a new liturgy ... wrote three stunning encyclicals ... a series of teaching homilies that can be treasured for ages to come ... named new bishops and cardinals to replace many who needed it ... who journeyed to many places where faith needed to be seen in that special way only a pope can bring ...

Were we thinking of the same man?

I told Tom this morning. He laughed aloud and shook his head. Then he looked at me and said, "'Don't you think she looks tired?'"

I began laughing too.

He nodded. "Benedict said it himself. He retired because he was 85 and tired. That's all she can remember."


We'd just seen David Tennant's first episode as Dr. Who, when he taught someone a lesson in a similar fashion.
The Doctor: Don't challenge me, Harriet Jones. 'Cause I'm a completely new man. I could bring down your Government with a single word.

Harriet Jones: You're the most remarkable man I've ever met. But I don't think you're quite capable of that.

The Doctor: No, you're right. Not a single word. ... Just six.

Harriet Jones: I don't think so.

The Doctor: Six words.

Harriet Jones: Stop it!

The Doctor: Six.

The Doctor [whispers in Alex's ear]: Don't you think she looks tired?
Dr. Who, The Christmas Invasion, 2005
Those six words lead to a vote of confidence as worries about Jones' health snowballed beyond all other news.

Since this was the first episode of Dr. Who with David Tennant, his companion, Rose, was struggling to reconcile this "new" Doctor with the one she'd known before. As was I. The writers cleverly used Rose's struggles to help us all accept this Doctor.

It struck me that this was a bit of what I was struggling with myself. So much of what I love about Pope Emeritus Benedict is very different from what I see initially in Pope Francis. And yet, I like very much what I have seen of Pope Francis so far. I believe both are holy men. I believe both are showing us a different aspect of Christ.

It is natural to struggle with change, even when it is a good change. It is natural to our natures, so I've been told lately, to tend toward the negative rather than the positive.

I try to take it all in with that "active thought" of Elisabeth Leseur's. To be joyful, to look for the good, to work with compassion. To find truth ... and God.

Getting to Know Pope Francis

I have long maintained that the best way to "get to know" your pope is to read his writing, whether that is in the form of homilies, speeches, encyclicals, letters, books, or whatever.

This is how I learned to love John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Now we have Pope Francis who has a dearth of books but who, as pope, is going to be given numerous opportunities to speak.

Luckily, we don't even have to track down what the pope says. We have the impressive team of Jimmy Akin and Jeff Miller making everything easily accessible.

Jeff formats the readings for Kindle and other e-readers. Jimmy hosts the links to each document on the Vatican site where you can simply read it on your computer. Just click the image above to click through.

I loved reading what Pope Emeritus Benedict said every week and am thrilled that I'll be able to do this with our new pope. Thanks guys!

Assassin's Code by Jonathan Maberry

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In my trade, confidence is built on a platform whose legs are made up of good intelligence, continuous training, proper equipment, and field support. I had a sick dog, a dead man’s gun, a stolen briefcase, a vampire hunter’s stake in my belt, and a cell phone…
Joe’s dealt with zombies, the island of Dr. Moreau, and the Seven Plagues of Egypt. Surely nothing can surprise him now. At least that’s what he thinks.

After rescuing American college students held hostage in Iran, Joe is contacted with the alarming news that the Iranians want his help in locating six stolen nuclear bombs. Nukes are soon the least of Joe’s problems when he’s attacked by super-powered killers who are probably genetically engineered and may actually be unbeatable. Certainly, it’s the first time he’s been told to “run away” when he calls Mr. Church for orders. The mysterious assassin Violin, with her mommy issues, adds an intriguing element that I liked, although her name made me snicker. Whose side is she really on? Toss in the mysterious Book of Shadows together with an age-old Holy Inquisition* that’s gone off the rails and you’ve got a fast-paced thriller with the usual slight touch of science needed to make us wonder “could it happen…” As usual Joe is sarcastic but has the heart of a warrior so he never quits.

As always, Ray Porter IS Joe Ledger. As I’ve said before, his narration is the reason I wait for the audio books instead of snapping up the printed versions. He’s got a direct, blunt delivery that can go from sarcastic to heart-felt to outraged in 60 seconds. Believably. That’s good because sometimes that’s the way Joe’s day goes.

The fourth entry to the Joe Ledger series piles surprise upon surprise until there are so many moving parts you need a score card to keep up. That’s ok. The ride is most of the fun anyway. It was refreshing to see Echo Team on an assignment that didn’t involve anything supernatural or genetically engineered. It also explained why Joe is sometimes incredulous about the strange situations in which he becomes embroiled. He’s so deep into rescuing college kids that he just plain forgets about his first zombie killing assignment.

Yeah right.

That excuse doesn’t really work for the many times that people who should know better protest, “What? Supernatural? That’s just crazy!” That really is the weakest part of these stories. Shouldn’t Echo Team be surprised if there isn’t a monster or super-villain somewhere in the shadows?

This was a return to the Joe Ledger adventure style of the first book in a way, which I liked very much. It also satisfactorily tied up some loose ends that had been accumulating through the last book or two. Highly recommended for those who enjoyed the previous books.

NOTE: This book was originally reviewed for SFFaudio.

* Catholics needn’t worry. Maberry plays fast and loose with elements but he’s generally respectful of religions. Any Catholics involved in this were lied to, folks. Lied to!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope Francis at the Hotel

Dolan is still sleeping? Please give me a key to his room and a bucket of ice water.

Scott Danielson topped our email caption exchange with this one. It still makes me laugh.

Of course, by now most know that Pope Francis insisted on paying his bill and picking up his luggage yesterday.

Also, is anyone else having to stop themselves from saying "St. Francis" instead of "Pope Francis" ... it just rolls off the tongue. Guess I'll get used to it soon enough.

Worth a Thousand Words: Himalayan Blue Poppy

Himalayan Blue Poppy
courtesy of Father Pitt, where you may see many other gorgeous spring flowers

Notes on Mark: They See But Do Not Perceive

MARK 4:10-12
I always thought it was unfair the way that Jesus would explain the parables to the disciples and then say, "But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that 'they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.'" This puts the proper spin on that passage by explaining the context of Jesus' quotation, which surely faithful Jews would have understood.
But what about those outside? Jesus describes their predicament with a quotation from Isaiah (Isa 6:9-10). In the context of the passage, God forewarns Isaiah that he would be called to preach judgment ot Israel at a time when the people were mired in sin and injustice, and so his message would meet with stubborn resistance. The forceful language does not mean that God himself will block the people's eyes and ears. Rather, the prophet's message will cause the people to blind and deafen themselves to avoid hearing it, in order to persist in their rebellion. Jesus, likewise, is addressing a wayward generation, many of whom will harden themselves to avoid grasping the implications of his words. His parables, by their hidden depths veiled in simplicity, will cause a separation by the response they evoke in listeners hearts. For those who ponder the parables with sincere openness, the mystery of the kingdom will be gradually unveiled. But for those who prefer to resist in their own rebellious ways, the parables will remain opaque ...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Largest Kickstarter Project of All Time in the Universe

Hey I liked Veronica Mars, especially the first season, and I enjoyed seeing the video they put together to get fundraising started for the $2 million needed to make a Veronica Mars movie.

Turns out I'm not the only person who liked Veronica Mars.

Holy moly.

While I was all wrapped up in finding out who the new pope was, they launched the project ... and within about 10 hours, $2.5 million cool ones were pledged.

That's gotta be some sort of record.

I just hope they make the movie as good as that first season.

Twilight Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Twilight Watch (Watch, #3)Twilight Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sergei Lukyanenko is back to full form in the third of the books looking at the Light versus the Dark. Intriguingly this book begins with the joint statements:
This book is of no relevance to the cause of the Light. -- The Night Watch

This book is of no relevance to the cause of the Darkness -- The Day Watch
Those statements seem like a clever follow up to those of the first two books but the reader soon realizes that they have more significance than one would think. The three novellas that make up this book are fast-paced, interesting, and pose difficult questions to Anton, from whose perspective they are told.

In the first, he must investigate a tip that it is possible to change humans into Others. In the second there is an almost fairy tale set up with small children wandering in a forest who meet a lovely lady. The third turns into an unlikely alliance seeking a renegade on a train in what feels like a James Bond-esque thriller at times. All three stories are satisfying alone, but together they build to give new information about Others and humans, Light and Dark. And let us not forget the Inquisition who has a larger role than ever in these stories.

One of the things I enjoy most about these stories is that they show insight into Russian culture and attitudes. For example, Anton never buys anyone a Coca Cola, although he knows they would enjoy it. He buys the Russian cola because he feels there has been enough American takeover of culture. Kids and teenagers routinely go to stay at Young Pioneers camps in the country side which sound something akin to summer camp except that these were begun under the communist regime. Condos that didn't have enough units sold were abandoned by the builders, leaving tenants to make regular payments despite not having a shower or other necessary amenities. Lukyanenko makes a definite statement about communism in this book thanks to analyzing the Others' roles in government.

Most of all, of course, what I enjoy is the compelling story telling which keep me turning the pages until much too late at night. Highly recommended.

In which Virgilia tells the shocking truth ...

... more of The Unforeseen at Forgotten Classics. We're near the end. Just one more episode before the mystery is solved!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis' Election: "This is a mandate."

For the cardinal-electors to have gone out of Europe for the first time in over a millennium, to have gone to a Jesuit for the first time ever, and to have gone to the runner-up at the last Conclave in all of five ballots – with more than half the electorate changed over since last time – is not merely decisive....

Indeed, it's epic.

And make no mistake about it – this is a mandate.
Rocco at Whispers in the Loggia makes a point that hadn't struck me until I saw his comments about the voting. When we look with joy at the newness in so many ways of Pope Francis, we are also seeing what the other cardinals from around the world know ... the qualities we already value in him from this short acquaintance are what matter if you are Catholic, nay if you are Christian.

Go read it all.

A Plenary Indulgence on All Media Watchers and LIsteners...

... I knew I liked this new pope! SQPN sez:
I have to verify this with Fr. Roderick, who is fluent in Italian. But it sounded like the Pope said that everybody who was watching via the media received a plenary indulgence. This is awesome!
And my friend Rita added:
And on listeners too.

Also I don't see any books by him on Amazon. Which is another blessing. It's going to take me years to work my way through Benedict XVI's homilies and writing.

Thank you, Papa!

We Have a Pope: POPE FRANCIS

The moment of silent prayer that the new Pope asked for before he blessed us all ... speaks volumes. It brought me to tears.

After his blessing was given and the people broke into cheers, he had such a humble but kind look on his face as he surveyed the crowd.

I think of what St. Francis of Assisi did for the Church. He had a deep love of Christ, a love for the poor, a self sacrificial nature ... and he was tasked by God with building His Church.

That is what we need in any age.

It certainly is what we need in our age.

I do not know anything about Cardinal Bergoglio aside from the fact that he's the first Jesuit and the first South American elected pope. Those are facts.

But we are beginning to know Pope Francis. We saw a touch of his heart today.

It's a good beginning.


Who knew there'd be a pope so soon!

That means it was super-clear.

NOW ... the waiting ... to find out who our Holy Father is!

C.S. Lewis - A Life by Alister McGrath

C. S. Lewis a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant ProphetC. S. Lewis a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister E. McGrath

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book written by someone who discovered Lewis through his writings, for others who have come to know Lewis in the same way. …

Why so? As Lewis emphasized throughout the 1930s, the important thing about authors is the texts that they write. What really matters is what those texts themselves say. Authors should not themselves be a "spectacle"; they are rather the "set of spectacles" through which we as readers see ourselves, the world, and the greater scheme of things of which we are a part. Lewis thus had surprisingly little interest in the personal history of the great English poet John Milton (1608-1674), or the political and social context within which he wrote. What really mattered were Milton's writings--his ideas. The way Lewis believed we should approach Milton must be allowed to shape the way we in turn approach Lewis. Throughout this work, wherever possible, I have tried to engage with his writings, exploring what they say, and assessing their significance.
Unfortunately, since I rarely read biographies, I was hoping that Dr. Alister McGrath would follow that approach much more than he actually did in C.S. Lewis--A Life. There were long swathes of the book where Lewis's life was the only story told and, honestly, I cared little for unvarnished biography without some concurrent literary engagement.

I realize this particular complaint is largely my own fault. To be fair, McGrath also says in his introduction that this is a critical biography and it is called "A Life" so I should have been expecting a lot of biographical material. Unfortunately, McGrath was often more interested in setting chronology straight or identifying vague sources from letters or notes than in engaging with Lewis' writing.

I was interested in C.S. Lewis, like many Americans as it turns out, because my love of J.R.R. Tolkien's writing led to an interest in his famous friend and fellow Inkling. (The Inklings were an informal literary discussion group in which both took an active part when professors at Oxford University.) I have long been fascinated by Lewis's versatility as an author. Anyone who could write The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, 'Til We Have Faces, Mere Christianity, and A Grief Observed had not only popular appeal but amazing range.

What I found revealed in C.S. Lewis--A Life was a complex person who was both an accomplished liar and a sincere Truth seeker, someone who was downcast upon discovering God was a real person and yet wrote inspiringly about the joy of faith, a man who carried on scandalous romances but whose commitments were sincere. In other words, Lewis was thoroughly human.

I recognized myself in him more than I care to admit, largely in the contradictions between my faults and my aspirations, somewhat in my blind spots, but most of all in my love of the way that story tells us Truth in a way that facts cannot.
Lewis fits into a broader pattern at this tie--the conversion of literary scholars and writers through and because of their literary interests. Lewis's love of literature is not a backdrop to his conversion; it is integral to his discovery of the rational and imaginative appeal of Christianity. … Lewis's reading of the classics of English literature forced him to encounter and evaluate the ideas and attitudes that they embodied and expressed. And to his chagrin, Lewis began to realize that those who were grounded on a Christian outlook seemed to offer the most resilient and persuasive "treaty with reality."
I wasn't converted by literature but once that conversion took place I gradually began to see the layering of Truth within story in ways I couldn't before. McGrath is at great pains to point out how Lewis's fiction reflects Truth, albeit in a different way than Tolkien, of course.
The contrast with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is important here. The complex and dark narrative of The Lord of the Rings is about finding a master ring that rules the other rings--and then destroying it, because it turns out to be so dangerous and destructive. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia are about finding a master story that makes sense of all other stories--and then embracing that story with delight because of its power to give meaning and value to life. Yet Lewis's narrative nevertheless subtly raises darker questions. Which story is the true story? Which stories are merely its shadows and echoes? And which are mere fabrications--tales spun to entrap and deceive?
As someone who came to the Chronicles of Narnia as an adult and also before my conversion, I find McGrath's commentary upon Lewis's fiction particularly helpful. I haven't yet tried the Ransom Trilogy which is science fiction, but this will undoubtedly help when I do.

Anyone interested in Lewis's writing will find fascinating information in sections of this book. Those also coming to it with an interest in Lewis's actual life will probably really love it. That I didn't was, as I mentioned, due to my own interests and is no fault of the authors.

NOTE: I wrote this for the Patheos Book Club. Publishers pay for the Patheos Book Club to feature their books ... and I received a review copy free. However, my opinions are my own and I love or hate a book on its own merits.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

On The Takeaway - UPDATED with audio

The Takeaway is a radio show produced by PRI and WNYC, with The New York Times. In fact, I very much enjoy the podcast of their movie review show, Movie Date.

They are having two or three Catholics on for a few minutes as the conclave starts in Rome, wanting to know as a Catholic, what are you thinking as the conclave convenes to select the next Pope? What are your hopes for the next Pope, and the future of the Catholic Church?

I was not sure they would be interested in my thoughts but once I spoke to the producer, they said they hadn't run into those views before. You'll have to wait to find out what those views are.

It will air at 8:10am Central Time.


It went well, I think. At least it did according to a delighted Hannah who happened to get in the car and turn on NPR just in time to be surprised by her mother being introduced.

A few other people heard it and were very kind. At some point I think they put it up as a podcast and then I can hear what the other people said!


Houston, we have audio! One billion Catholics wonder what's next but I actually get to talk about it!

Optimism Defined: Taking "Carry-On" Baggage into the Conclave

I hope the conclave will not go on too long. All I know is that I’m just taking in a small “carry-on” piece of baggage. If we’re in there too long, and if they show photographs of St. Martha’s from outside Vatican City, my room will be the one with the laundry hanging in the window to dry!
That's Cardinal Dolan for you. Practical, humorous, and optimistic!

I've been enjoying reading his occasional blog posts from the pre-conclave gathering. This last post before heading off was a bit like a peek inside.
The veteran cardinals tell me that the conclave is almost like a retreat. We of course concelebrate Mass every morning to begin the day, and pray the liturgy of the hours together. Obviously, we can visit and talk with each other at St. Martha’s House during our meals and brief time off between the actual voting, but, I’m told the actual hours in the Sistine Chapel, carried out scrupulously according to the traditional protocol, are done in an atmosphere of silence and prayer; it’s almost, the old-timers tell me, like a liturgy.
Go read it all.

The Doors Are Closed ... Come Holy Spirit

Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your divine love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit,
did instruct the hearts of the faithful,
grant that by the same Holy Spirit
we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations,
Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
Collect from the Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff.
O God, eternal shepherd
who govern your flock with unfailing care,
grant in your boundless fatherly love
a pastor for your Church who will please you
by his holiness and to us show us watchful care.
Through our Lord, Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever.

Now we wait.

Image from Electing the Pope

Lectio Divina Bible Study: Learning to Pray in Scripture - Stephen J. Binz

Lectio Divina Bible Study: Learning to Pray in Scripture (Lectio Divina Bible Studies)Lectio Divina Bible Study: Learning to Pray in Scripture by Stephen J. Binz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I have mentioned before, Stephen Binz is a passionate advocate of Lectio Divina, the ancient practice of studying and praying using Scripture. Learning to Pray in Scripture is part of Binz's Bible Study series, which I actually may prefer to his liturgical season guides, though I like those also.

Focusing on different topics such as the Creed, the Mass, the Sacraments, or Prayer, Binz shows where they are found in the Bible, gives context for full appreciation, and helps readers learn about deeper prayer as found in the steps of lecto divina: Listening, understanding, reflecting, praying, and acting.

I have used many Bible studies, but Learning to Pray in Scripture is one of my favorites. Binz shows different sorts of prayers by moving through the Bible to show the various characters who employ them under different circumstances. I felt as if I grew to understand each particular person whose prayers were highlighted. This is only natural after considering them at length, but it is partly the result by Binz's thoughtful commentary and prompting questions.

Binz often brought up points of view that had never occurred to me, such as the comment below that prayer doesn't have to be theologically correct.I'd never thought about such a thing before and it made me wonder if I was a bit too "correct" in trying to speak to God "properly" rather than just trying to have an honest conversation, no matter where it led us.

I also really appreciated the overview of prayer which covered forms of Biblical prayer and how to use them today, the disposition to cultivate for prayer, and the characteristics of prayer as seen in the lives of Israel's heroes, ancient prophets, Jesus' life, and more. Suddenly I was thinking about prayer and how to converse with God in a whole new way.

The snippets below just scrape the surface in the treasures that are found within this book. All Scripture is quoted completely in the book so you need no other references, although I didn't include it below.
Abraham's Intercessory Prayer for Sodom
Genesis 18:16-33

In establishing the covenant, God had promised to make Abraham a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. This bold prayer of intercession teaches us what it means to pray humbly but confidently in the context of a covenantal relationship with God. We have the same opportunity to intercede before God for the people of the world.

… Abraham first chooses the number fifty as his bartering figure: save the city on behalf of fifty righteous people. He purposely chose a low number, thinking that in the typical haggling style of the Middle East, God would choose a much higher number, and then they would eventually meet somewhere in the middle. But Abraham's strategy is undone by god's immediate acceptance of his offer. Lowering the offer to forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty, and finally ten, Abraham discovers that God is far more merciful than he had imagined.


The Prophet's Prayer of Lament for Israel
Isaiah 63:15-64:12

Since prayer is conversational and emotional, it does not have to be theologically correct. What are some of the outrageous questions and statements found in this prayer? In what ways to these kinds of utterances enrich my prayer?


The Prayers of Christian Believers
Acts 1:12-14 / Acts 4:23-31

Like the early Christians in Jerusalem, continue letting the words you pray become the life you live.

• Rather than ask God to spare them from hardship, the early Christians prayed only for the courage to face it and to keep on speaking God's word with boldness. For what purpose do I need to pray for boldness? What can I do today to claim the strength and courage God offers to me?

I received this book for review a very long time ago and am quite remiss in only reviewing it now. However, that makes no difference in my enthusiasm for this book. I loved it from the beginning.

Upstream Color - What the What?

Upstream Color
Upstream Color

Notes on Mark: Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

MARK 3:28-30
I always wondered why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was the only unforgivable sin. This makes it crystal clear.
Jesus has just worked a miracle but the scribes refuse to recognize it "for they had said 'He has an unclean spirit'" (v. 30). They do not want to admit that God is the author of the miracle. In this attribute lies the special gravity of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit -- attributing to the prince of evil, to Satan, the good works performed by God himself ... That is why our Lord says that he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven: not because God cannot forgive all sins, but because that person, in his blindness towards God, rejects Jesus Christ, his teaching and his miracles, and despises the graces of the Holy Spirit as if they were designed to trap him (cf. St. Pius V Catechism, II, 5, 19; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 14, a. 3). CF. note on Mt 12:31-32.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein

The Earth is crowded and food is rationed, but a colony on Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter, offers an escape for teenager Bill Lermer and his family. Back on Earth, the move sounded like a grand adventure, but Bill realizes that life on the frontier is dangerous, and in an alien world with no safety nets nature is cruelly unforgiving of even small mistakes.
I have always enjoyed Heinlein’s tales for juveniles more than his other writing. Having been told many times that I should read this book, I jumped at the chance to review the audiobook for SFFaudio. Bill is an Eagle Scout which comes in handy more than once and which reminds listeners of the original audience. In some ways this is like listening to the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder as Bill details homesteading on Ganymede. Heinlein does a good job of transferring standard pioneer problems and opportunities to a hostile environment in outer space. The tale is absorbing and I really enjoyed every detail of it.

It is funny listening to this book so long after it was written. It takes me back, in some ways, because the protagonist and his father are emigrating to Ganymede because population pressures and lack of available food make life pretty miserable. It isn’t quite as extreme as the movie Soylent Green portrays, but definitely is trending in that direction. If someone made Farmer in the Sky into a movie today, they’d be repurposing it to fit current worries over the environment or lowering birth rates in industrialized countries. It is like a time capsule of past worries, via an adventure/emigration tale.

Nick Podehl’s narration is excellent. I’m not sure how he manages to pull off sounding like a teenager without sounding wimpy, but he does. You get everything from awe at the things Bill encounters, panic at extreme danger, or the annoyance of a teenage boy at his father.

I don’t think that Farmer in the Sky is Heinlein’s best work for juveniles. I reserve that praise for my favorite, Citizen of the Galaxy. That said, Farmer in the Sky is a solid book that I can highly recommend.

Note: This review originally appeared at SFFaudio.

5 Things You Should Know About Aquinas and More

Aquinas and More has a fundraising update: After 150 hours they are past $38,000, which is 15% of their goal. Woohoo! However, they do begin their one week to deadline countdown tomorrow. So if you have been meaning to donate, now is the time. Details are below.

In other news, Ian says:
I have received some feedback about our campaign. The most surprising thing is what some of our customers or online fans didn't know about Aquinas and More! Yes, we are truly "not just a bookstore".

So today I thought I'd let you know 5 Ways why Aquinas and More is really a mission.

1) We have a No-China Products Policy : Because of the horrible human rights abuse and forced abortions in that country, we refuse to sell products made-in-China. What does this mean for you? Better quality and safer products, and not compromising on principles. I have a video here that you can view and share with other pro-lifers.

2) We have a Good Faith Guarantee:  We guarantee that the books we sell are faithfully Catholic. How do we do that?  We make sure what you are getting tells the truth about what the Church teaches. We are so confident about our product being authentically Catholic, that if you find something that is not Catholic – we will pay for you to send it back, remove the product, and give you a gift card to say Thank You. Where else can you find that? That's our Good Faith Guarantee. Here's a video that explains more.

3) Our Military Chaplaincy Registry: A few years ago, we created this program to help Catholic chaplains serving U.S. military personnel around the world. There is a great need, especially among chaplains in Iraq and Afghanistan, for resources to help meet service member's spiritual needs. Through this program we have been able to send thousands of Catholic gifts, Bibles, rosaries, catechisms, patron saint medals, prayer books and other items to our registered chaplains. Be sure to check out our registry.

4) Tiber River: Tiber River is a website is dedicated to providing authentically Catholic information and opinions about different areas of Catholic culture and to promote liturgical education throughout the Catholic world. The support of family values through our work will help to rebuild a truly Catholic culture that can be the salt of the earth and a light on the hill. 

5) Catholic Church Supply: We carry over a thousand church supply items to help furnish the sanctuary and sacristy at Catholic parishes, as well as vestments and clergy shirts. We even have a seminarian registry to help our young men prepare for their vocation to the priesthood. 

So there you have it. Five ways why Aquinas and More is more than just a bookstore!

I also wanted to take the time to give you an update after 150 hours. We are past $38,000, which is 15% of our goal. For all who have donated so far, I heartily thank you!

What does this mean for our campaign? Well, we still have a long way to go. Tomorrow we will be a week into our two-week campaign, so we are short of where we would like to be right now.

Can you help?

First, please remember to pray. Yesterday, we began the Novena to St. Joseph. We are using Pray More Novenas if you would like to join us! We are also praying the St. Michael the Archangel prayer daily.

Second, please be sure to share:
  • If you can share the good news about Aquinas and More – and all the other good work we do – we will meet our goal!
  • If you can post on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, or just forward this newsletter to your family, friends, and parishes – we will meet our goal!
  • If you can share our crowdfunding page on your blogs and websites, we will meet our goal!
As we eagerly await the news of our next Pope, we realize that, like the Papal Conclave, our "Aquinas Angels" campaign is in His Hands. Thank you for all your support for these last 10+ years, and we look forward to meeting our goal and serving you for many more years to come.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Cardinal Dolan Reports From Rome ...

Heartfelt thanks for your prayers!  We need them!  We feel them!  Keep them up!  An old-timer told me that the days between the passing of one Pontiff and the election of a new one are like the days in Jerusalem after Our Lord’s Ascension to heaven.  The whole Church prayed, prayed hard, prayed long, united with the apostles and the Mother of Jesus, who were locked-up in the Cenacle, awaiting the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit!  That’s happening now, if your abundant and gracious notes and messages are any indication.

And we cardinals sure are praying a lot.  Every day we each begin with the most effective prayer of all, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  In our sessions we pray from the Divine Office, begin each meeting with the ancient prayer to the third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, the Veni Sancte Spiritus, and we break at lunch with the beautiful words of theAngelus.  Wednesday, we cardinals made a Holy Hour of adoration before Jesus, really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, at the Altar of the Chair in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Cardinal Dolan checks in from Rome. He says much more and I personally found it inspiring. Go read it all.

Atheist Penn Jillette Defends the Church to Catholic Journalist ... and Gets It Right

Now here's something you don't see every day. The Catholic journalist gets it all wrong.

Oh, wait, we do see that far too often.

However, atheist Penn Jillette defends the Pope and Catholicism accurately. And respectfully. Thank you, Mr. Jillette!

This is only 3 minutes long so do watch it.

Via Scott Danielson, my partner in crime at A Good Story is Hard to Find, who blogs at The Pool Room. He found it at First Things Blog.

Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool Omnibus (Wool, #1-5)Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished this book today, the same day that the Wall Street Journal had a piece about author Hugh Howey's "Underground Hit." See that's a joke because he's making a fortune self-publishing it as an e-book and the story is about people living underground in a silo underground ... oh never mind.

I enjoyed the piece, happy to see that a paperback version will be available soon, and Howey seems to be a savvy marketer. I can vouch for that because at the end of the book there is a Q&A set with him. Usually I don't read those but I'm glad I did because not only is he funny, but because the book's Epilogue follows. (Ha! He's a tricksy one, he is.)

He is also a pretty good author, I'm happy to report.

The Wool Omnibus contains five novellas telling the story of a civilization existing within an underground silo with 147 floors. Sole access to the outdoors is a window aboveground which shows a dreary landscape littered with bodies here and there. That's because the ultimate punishment is to be sent outside for Cleaning. Fitted out in a space suit, the condemned go out to clean the window so that everyone else can see the outside world. No one ever makes it much past that, collapsing from exposure to the toxic environment as they try to head over a hill for a better look at outdoors.

Major crimes involve things like the treason of mentioning Cleaning or wanting a change in one's situation. The right to try to have a baby is determined by The Lottery. We can see that this is a bleak world both inside and outside the silo. With control this tight we aren't surprised to see that something shady's going on in the way things are run. Different characters discover a Big Secret and, as they act upon their knowledge, everything in the silo begins to unravel. As always in such situations, will our heroes be able to see that right prevails?

The initial tale, Wool, was followed by stories which are connected but told from different perspectives. I enjoyed the double entendre of naming subsequent stories with titles proper both to knitting and to the internal action (Proper Gauge, Casting Off, Unraveling, Stranded). The overall story is well told and I was intrigued both with different aspects of silo civilization and the answers to the many questions that pop up as the story develops. The five-story structure allows Howey to not only include cliff hangers, but to make many characters multi-dimensional, even the villains who you long to send for a good Cleaning.

I did feel that the fifth story, Stranded, was much too long. I could have done without some of the diving descriptions for one thing. That said, it may be that I missed important facts because I was reading so fast. The story weaves between three perspectives ... or Strands - get it? ... and each has a vital mystery to be solved.

I am not sure I'll be interested in Silos, which is the set of prequel stories Howey has written. However, I enjoyed this so much that I am definitely going to be looking for more of his work.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Downpour - A Worthy Competitor to Audible With No DRM

Downpour.com, Blackstone Audio’s online audiobook store, is a genuine competitor to Audible.com.

It offers audiobook downloads of titles, from Blackstone Audio’s extensive catalogue, and also those from many other audiobook publishers like Recorded Books, Harper Audio, Penguin Audio, Hachette Audio, and AudioGo.

Their subscription service is almost identically priced to Audible’s, each offers one credit per month for about $15. And, like an Audible credit Audible.com, a Downpour credit almost always gets you one audiobook.
And they have no DRM.

Jesse at SFFaudio's been using Downpour and loving it. Read his review for more about DRM and Downpour.

Scott peels an orange. Julie avoids toll booths. Neither dares mention any "offers they can't refuse."

That epic mob movie that director Stanley Kubrick said was possibly the greatest movie ever made, and had without question the best cast ... The Godfather ... is discussed at A Good Story is Hard to Find. Scott chose it. Julie had never seen it. Her verdict? Listen and find out.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

The WoodcutterThe Woodcutter by Kate Danley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was interested in this book after reading a few reviews that said the author told a story referencing fairy tales, but in a way that made the tale itself something brand new ... yet faithful to fairy tales.

And this review pulled me in.
A thoroughly enjoyable retelling and combining of fairy tales from various sources.The message the same, even if the meaning is a little different: True love conquers all.

In this case however, true love is not the romantic, Disneyfied stuff. It is love that comes without enchantment or disguise. It is the love that contains a willingness for sacrifice and the quiet, comfortable warmth of true understanding and acceptance of another.
Reading the Kindle sample sealed the deal and I began waiting for the new month to roll around so I could borrow it free from the Kindle library.

Having read it at lightning speed, I concur with those marveling at the newness, yet faithfulness, of this fairy tale. It is indeed something more. When the mansion and the Gentleman comes up, I suddenly felt a resonance with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell because that story is faithful to the old meaning of faery, rather than the Tinkerbell focus that is so seen today.

I'm supposed to receive the audiobook for review and I can't wait to reread this in that form. I really loved this book.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Beverly Papabilies

Genius. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Jeff Miller is a genius. Here's a bit, then go read it all at The Curt Jester. (Ok, admit it. You're singing it just like I am ...)
Come and listen to a story about a man renamed Peter
A poor fisherman, barely kept his family fed,
Then one day Andrew brought Simon to see him,
And Jesus invites them to be fishers of men

Messiah he is, Son of God, Second person of the Trinity

Creamy Italian Dressing

I've never cared one way or the other about Italian Dressing which probably only goes to show that we didn't have it when I was growing up. My husband, however, did and when I tried out a Cook's Country recipe he was delighted. I, too, was delighted despite lack of previous experience. It is a delicious salad dressing.

Get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Blogging Around: Vatican-Centric Edition

Dorian Speed, who I have the pleasure of having met, has put together a site with answers to all your papal election questions: Electing the Pope.

A book I never heard of but which sounds like it is wonderful. Here's a bit of The Anchoress's review. Go read it all.
John Thavis, Catholic News Service’s recently-retired Rome bureau chief, spent a quarter of century watching the Vatican main players and seemingly talking to everyone, and all of that has translated into a thumping good read. His timely book The Vatican Diaries:A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church grabbed me at the intro and held my attention for six solid hours, to the finish; along the way I found myself laughing out loud at images of reporters trying to punch each other in the face, Cardinals offering their opinions on how to work the stove in the Sistine Chapel like “men around a backyard grill”, hungry Vatican workers gobbling surreptitious bits of banana as the princes and diplomats pass by, and a plane full of liquored-up Vatican correspondents getting face-time with a pope. I found the book so interesting that I demanded attention of my family and read portions aloud until they made me stop interrupting them.

Brandon Vogt broke his Lenten embargo on blogging long enough to give us the link to hear him on NPR. I'm glad he did because, as always, he's got it right.  I'm always glad when NPR gets someone to interview who I trust.

Cardinal Dolan is in Rome and has the link where we can hear his daily online updates on the papal election.

Now That's Tasty ...

... two recommendations to look for at the store ... HEB's Limited Edition Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream and Blue Plate Mayonnaise. At Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Why Public Schools Should Teach the Bible

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett make the case that we can't be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible as text in this Wall Street Journal editorial.
Have you ever sensed in your own life that "the handwriting was on the wall"? Or encouraged a loved one to walk "the straight and narrow"?

Have you ever laughed at something that came "out of the mouths of babes"? Or gone "the extra mile" for an opportunity that might vanish "in the twinkling of an eye"?

If you have, then you've been thinking of the Bible.

These phrases are just "a drop in the bucket" (another biblical phrase) of the many things we say and do every day that have their origins in the most read, most influential book of all time. The Bible has affected the world for centuries in innumerable ways, including art, literature, philosophy, government, philanthropy, education, social justice and humanitarianism. One would think that a text of such significance would be taught regularly in schools. Not so. That is because of the "stumbling block" (the Bible again) that is posed by the powers that be in America.
Read it all. Downey and Burnett, both TV veterans whose European educations included reading the Bible, came up with The Bible  docudrama for The History Channel to help demonstrate their point.

It is possible to dig into the Bible as a literary text, which I did when requested to read Genesis on my podcast. Granted, I occasionally would stray into personal commentary, but t'was all to the good since that's what I do for every book I read there.

The promoters didn't have a screener and I don't have cable, so y'all will have to give me your opinions after it airs. Here's the link for The Bible.