Thursday, August 29, 2013

Just When I Thought an Audible Membership Couldn't Get Any Better ... I Discovered They Have The Great Courses For One Credit

I've been longingly reading and then discarding those brochures from The Great Courses for years. Even at the wildly discounted price of $99, I could never afford my heart's desire. How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition, Narrated by Professor Robert Greenberg.

I figure that has to be everyone's heart's desire from The Great Courses because it always has a place of honor in the center spread to tantalize you into dropping that century bill on them.

Now, I don't do badly at all with Exploring Music from Bill McGlaughlin. In fact I am a dedicated fan of Bill's (yes, that's how much I like him ... I call him Bill). But somehow it isn't like a planned class.

Then my dreams all came true. I was wondering how to squander my monthly credit at Audible and ... lo and behold, can it be true? ... The Great Courses are at Audible, each entire class for one credit.

Oh, how quickly one can download when in the grip of such a passion? (Pretty darned quickly it turns out.)

Brad Bird's Tweet - Hollywood's Lesson

The lesson Hollywood should draw from this summer: GOOD FILMS SUCCEED. The lesson Hollywood WILL draw from this summer: ORIGINAL FILMS FAIL.
Truer words were never spoken.

Sent to me by Scott Danielson who shares my desire to see good films succeed.

Well Said: To have a child

From my quote journal.
To have a child is to embrace a future you can't control.
Tom French, RadioLab, 23 Days 6 Weeks episode

Worth a Thousand Words: Jardín de las Elegías


Santiago Rusiñol, Jardín de las Elegías. Circa 1903.
Selection inspired by lines and colors

Notes on Mark: Understanding the Second Miracle of Loaves

Mark 8:1-10
I have often wondered just how slow these disciples must be to not expect Jesus to do miracles after they have seen so many already. And yet this makes me think of the Hebrew people who experienced the parting of the Red Sea and soon after are begging for a golden calf to worship because Moses has been gone too long and surely, they say, God has abandoned them.

We are slow to remember, slow to trust, and quick to push forward with our own meager understanding, just like these disciples. This also gives us a chance to think about Jesus as the Bread of Life because Mark has a eucharistic emphasis that escapes us in many modern translations.
The disciples' skeptical response (echoing Moses' complaint in Num 11:13), seems strange in light of the miraculous feeding they have already witnessed. But many modern disciples of Jesus could attest how easy it is to forget the lessons of discipleship. Thouroughout the Bread Section Mark highlights the disciples' slowness to grasp the revelation of Jesus (Mark 6:52; 8:21)--not to disparage them, but to remind us, his readers, of the poverty of our own faith. Do we not yet understand that Jesus is the Bread, and that he is able to multiply whatever we put into his hands?

... Instead of saying that Jesus "blessed" the loaves, Mark uses a synonym, "gave thanks "(eucharisteo), the same word used for the blessing of the cup at the Last Supper (14:23; see also Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24). Once again the pattern is that Jesus takes what little his disciples have to offer, blesses it, and gives it back to them; in that very process the paltry amount mysteriously becomes more than enough to satisfy the needs of all. Rather than handing out the loaves himself, Jesus insists on the involvement of his disciples; he gave them to his disciples to distribute. Because of its eucharistic significance the primary focus is on the bread; only afterward does Mark also mention the blessing and distribution of the few fish.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Well Said: A Divine Voice

From my quote journal.
To wantonly destroy a living species is to silence forever a divine voice.
Father Thomas Berry

Worth a Thousand Words: La Femme à l'Ombrelle

Louis Anquetin, La Femme à l'Ombrelle
via French Painters

What We've Been Watching: Parrots, Politicians, Psychiatry, Psychiatrists, Prisoner Number 1, and Pubs

We had an epic moviewatching weekend. I rented three films and we also went to the theater to see The World's End.

LINCOLN
★★★★½

I'd had a number of people tell me that this film was boring because all everyone did was talk, talk, talk ("and no action!").

Being history nerds who enjoy reading about the personalities of the Civil War, this was fine with us. We bravely settled down to watch President Abraham Lincoln's efforts to formally abolish slavery by getting the Thirteenth Amendment passed in the House of Representatives. It was well told, engaging, and respectful to the history.

I, for one, felt it went on too long after the bill passed and would have been happy to see the film end without taking us to the bitter end. We knew that already and didn't need to be dragged through it again. However, second guess editing aside, I can highly recommend it.


THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL
★★★

I got this because we have a wild Monks Parakeet/Quaker Parrot flock that occasionally hangs out in our Dallas, Texas, neighborhood. This is a fairly straight forward film which is truly more about the fellow who feeds these wild parrots than about the birds themselves. Thinking it over later, we realized that his life somewhat parallels that of the birds he cares for and that gave it a welcome bit of added depth. A sweet film really and I can recommend it.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
★★★

This movie surprised me because, although I knew it was a romantic comedy with a mental illness twist, I didn't expect the first half to two-thirds of the movie to really be a mental illness movie with a possible romance somewhere ... ending up with a solid romantic comedy end of the film. A very odd combination but somehow they pulled it off and the acting and story kept us watching even though we were also made rather uncomfortable by the film's first half.

I can recommend it but I can also say that its not a movie I feel I'll ever need to rewatch.


THE WORLD'S END
★★★★

I am loathe to say more than people have seen in the trailers, which is that five old school chums reunite to see if they can finish that 12-pub crawl they failed at when they graduated from high school. They have the common feeling that the town is exactly the same, while simultaneously not feeling quite right somehow. In this case, there is an invasion of the bodysnatchers situation and they've got to survive and save the day.

The combination of reunion and alien invasion is pretty funny and has many nods to the previous two in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy" (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). I particularly enjoyed all the fence jumping.

I think this is the weakest of the three but that doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it immensely. As with the other two films, this is one that will benefit from rewatching since there were several comic things that only became clear when I was thinking over the movie.

DOCTOR WHO, Season Five

We just watched the first episode of this season (streaming free, thank you Amazon Prime) and while Matt Smith is no David Tennant (but, really, who is?), his Doctor seems to capture that sense of wonder and joie de vivre. I also like that there wasn't a lot of angst about picking up a new companion.

In grabbing this graphic from Wikipedia, I noticed that this season marked a new creative team which explains the new feel also. We shall see how it wears going into the future.


FRASIER, Season Three

Frasier (also streaming free on Amazon Prime) has been our night-time watching lately. I had forgotten how consistently amusing it was until both Hannah and Rose began watching it and commenting approvingly. Just plain entertaining, without that mean edge that some smart comedy can sometimes have.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Notes on Mark: The Deaf and Dumb Man

MARK 7:32-33
I like the point that is made here about the deaf and dumb man being a symbol for us ... isn't that so often the way? We just don't "get it" until God opens our eyes and our heart.
Sacred Scripture quite often shows the laying on of hands as a gesture indicating the transfer of power or blessing (cf. Gen 48:11; 2 Kings 5:11; Lk 3:13). Everyone knows that saliva can help heal minor cuts. In the language of Revelation fingers symbolized powerful divine action (cf. Ex 8:19; Ps 8:4; Lk 11:20). So Jesus uses signs which suit in some way the effect he wants to achieve, though we can see from the text that the effect -- the instantaneous cure of the deaf and dumb man -- far exceeds the sign used.

In the miracle of the deaf and dumb man we can see a symbol of the way God acts on souls: for us to believe, God must first open our heart so we can listen to his word. Then, like the Apostles, we too can proclaim the magnalia Dei, the mighty works of God (cf. Acts 2:11). In the Church's liturgy (cf. the hymn Veni Creator) the Holy Spirit is compared to the finger of the right hand of God the Father (Digitus paternae dexerae). The Consoler produces in our souls, in the supernatural order, effects comparable to those which Christ produces in the body of the deaf and dumb man.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Well Said: "The trouble is," said Miss Marple ...

From my quote journal and a book that I highly recommend to any mystery lovers.
"The trouble is," said Miss Marple, "that people are greedy. Some people. That's so often, you know, how things start. You don't start with murder, with wanting to do murder, or even thinking of it. You just start by being greedy, by wanting more than you're going to have."

She laid her knitting down on her knee and stared ahead of her into space. "That's how I came across Inspector Craddock first, you know. A case in the country. Near Medenham Spa. That began the same way, just a weak amiable character who wanted a great deal of money. Money that that person wasn't entitled to, but there seemed an easy way to get it. Not murder then. Just something so easy and simple that it hardly seemed wrong. That's how things begin... But it ended with three murders."
Agatha Christie, 4:50 From Paddington

The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours by Daria Sockey

The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the HoursThe Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours by Daria Sockey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Awaking the Dawn--Morning Prayer

Morning Prayer is one of the two principal Hours of the day on which the day's liturgy--and our own day--should hang. Hence, the Church's reference to Morning and Evening Prayer as the "hinges" of the liturgical day. That makes sense on the natural level. Our day's activity begins in the morning, and winds down in the evening. It is fitting to sanctify this beginning and ending of our daily work with liturgical prayer.

Although the entire Liturgy of the Hours is about offering to God a sacrifice of praise, no other Hour seems more praise-oriented than Morning Prayer. It's Latin name--Lauds--means just that: praises. And this makes sense, because to the mind of the Church, every morning recalls the most amazing and glorious thing that ever happened: the resurrection of Jesus. We are often told that every Sunday is a "little Easter." In the Liturgy of the Hours, nearly every morning of the year, for a few minutes at least, is a little Easter. The idea of every morning commemorating the resurrection goes back to the earliest centuries.
Like most Catholic converts I eventually began wondering about the meaning of some of the terms tossed around casually by long-time Catholics ... Divine Office, breviary, and Liturgy of the Hours. Eventually, using several sources over time, I figured it out, but I'd have had a much easier time if this book had been available back then. (Just to get any other newcomers up to speed, the Liturgy of the Hours together with the Mass is the official prayer of the Roman Catholic Church which must be offered at various times of day by clergy and religious. Regular Catholics can pray it if they like. It is mostly made up of of psalms, hymns, and readings.)

Daria Sockey has written a comprehensive, useful resource to the daily prayer of the Catholic Church which is built around the idea of "praying without ceasing." Sockey's book is succinct and clear. She answers all the questions I can imagine, from history to nuts-and-bolts to inspirational.

I myself was mildly interested in the Liturgy of the hours but the book was interesting enough that I read the entire thing, although I don't see myself praying the LOTH, at least anytime soon. However, it is packed with good, thoughtful commentary on prayer and that is something I need all the time.
There was certainly a time when I wondered why we were supposed to praise God so much. Was the Lord eternally fishing for compliments, like a once-beautiful woman now past her prime? So egotistical that he needed us telling him how wonderful he was every single day? ...

... Simply put, God does not demand our praise because he needs it, but because we need it. It is for our benefit, not his. If the whole world neglected to utter a single word of praise to God, he would not be hurt of diminished in any way. But we the non-praisers, would be sadly crippled.

Praise--call it admiration or appreciation--is the most natural thing response in the world to beauty, truth, and goodness. You are not in the least worried about offending a beautiful sunset by not praising it. On the contrary, you just can't help it. Your heart leaps, and words such as, "Wow! That's incredible!" come to your lips. And then--this is important--you aren't satisfied with having praised the sunset by yourself. You open the door to the house and call to your spouse and children, "Quick! Come see the sunset before it's gone. Isn't that amazing! Look at that red streak over there. The golden border on the top of the purple..."

God, our Creator and Redeemer, the answer to the heart's deepest longings, is obviously the most worthy object of our praise. When we recognize our place in the universe ... praise of God is the only fitting response. (And that praise just as with the sunset, is largely composed of inviting others to praise him, as well.) To not recognize this is to be spiritually disabled.)
Whether you have any interest in praying the Liturgy of the Hours or are simply a mildly interested questioner, this book is highly recommended.

Worth a Thousand Words: A Chance of Thunderstorms

A Chance of Thunderstorms
taken by Brian at the blue hour
I really struggled with which photo to share from this post. Do click through on the link and go enjoy all of them. Simply wonderful.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Scott brings the citron, Julie cooks the fish, and we meet in the sukkot ...

... to talk about Ushpizin at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. This is a special movie and you don't want to miss it.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Secret Garden on Rodney Dr.

The Secret Garden on Rodney Dr.
by Chris Turnham
(shared by permission)

The Extinction Machine by Jonathan Maberry

Extinction Machine (Joe Ledger #5)Extinction Machine by Jonathan Maberry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“So, basically if we keep trying to save the country and maybe the world from a bunch of murderous assholes with outer space weapons, then we're the bad guys?"

"In a nutshell."

"Then, hey ... let's be bad guys.”
Joe's back.

Pulled off vacation, Joe Ledger and Echo Team are knocking on research lab doors, looking into cyber-attacks so clever they can't be tracked back to anyone. But no one's answering, even though all the lights are on. Until a couple of strangely inhuman Men In Black step onto the loading dock.

Mayhem ensues.

Of course, anyone who is this far into the Joe Ledger series knows that whenever Joe is called in mayhem always ensues, all to save the good ol' U. S. of A. Jonathan Maberry has tackled zombies, vampires, the seven plagues of Egypt and more, but this is the first time he's gone beyond so-called supernatural creatures. Crop circles, space ships, and aliens are the topic of investigation.

And I (mostly) loved it for all the reasons I have enjoyed the entire series. These are adrenaline rides with Joe getting into and out of increasingly impossible, perilous situations while the reader hangs on by their fingernails wondering just how he can possibly escape. Meanwhile, Maberry weaves intriguing mysteries which may not keep us guessing, since he enjoys giving us both sides' points of view, but they do keep us wondering if Joe can stop the bad guys.

What kept me from completely loving this book?

I am as ready for a good invading aliens story as the next person, but at one point the action came to a grinding halt as Maberry wove together two story lines in a gigantic "aliens among us" info-dump. Indeed, this went on for so long and contained enough duplicate information that I began to wonder if the author had fallen into "true believer" status and wanted to be sure we came away converted. Whether that was his motive or it was simply imperfect editing, I wearied of the information long before it ceased flowing.

On the other hand, Maberry is going to have to work hard to top Joe's accomplishment in the light house. I won't say more because I don't want spoil it for anyone but I was literally laughing with delight as I heard what was happening. Adrenaline rush achieved!

Speaking of listening, Ray Porter does his usual excellent narration and is the reason I wait for the audio books rather than pick up print copies. As I've said before Ray Porter IS Joe Ledger. So let me say it again — Porter's direct, blunt delivery 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.

Complaints aside, this book is great fun. Definitely recommended.

(Review copy from Audible, via SFFaudio, where this review first appeared.)

Happy Birthday, Hannah!


Image from Plant Answers

This is from last year but so much of it is still true ... and I love this picture ... that I'll let it stand. And hopefully Hannah will like it too!

I'd have featured a cake with a tree since they are Hannah's passion, however, they are darned hard to find. Instead I will content myself with offering  an image of one of her favorite trees. In fact, it is the Vitex tree which I'd never heard of until she talked about cutting down some big bushes in the back yard to plant a couple of these. (No Vitex tree in the yard yet, but someday ...)

After looking at the pictures, I had to agree. They look beautiful. Looking for the image above, I found some interesting information. I will now be calling these by the much lovelier name of Texas Lilac.
It is the Texas Lilac Vitex*, or Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus).

This tree is also known as Mexican lavender, monk's pepper, lilac chaste tree, hemp tree, sage tree, or Indian spice. It is a native of China and India, although long ago it became naturalized throughout certain areas of the United Stated. Records indicate that Vitex has been cultivated in the U.S. since 1670.
Happy birthday, my darling Hannah! You may be 25 but you'll always be our little girl!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Coronation of the Virgin

Coronation of the Virgin
Book of Hours (Use of Rome)
France, Lyons, c. 1495-1510
by Guillaume II Le Roy
via Medieval Books of Hours
I love picture books pages from books of hours, such as we see here, are always interesting to me. How much more would we get from our devotions if there were wonderfully illustrated paintings to help our imaginations take flight, to aid us in pulling back the veil between us and God?

If nothing else would I be lured into reading more devotional work if I had the pictures to get me to pick it up and open it?

That is a moot point I suppose since such things are still the province of rich men today just as much as they were yesterday. No one would publish them because they would be prohibitively expensive to buy. All the more reason to enjoy these pages from the past which can still enrich our imaginations ... and souls.

Well Said: Say It Again

From my quote journal.
Say what you have just said, but in a different tone, without anger, and your argument will gain in strength and, above all, you won't offend God.
St. Josemaria Escriva

What Makes Me Plan to See a Movie Without Ever Reading a Review?

The powerful combination of director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in The World's End. As well as the conclusion of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.

I recently was at a gathering where people were talking about planning to attend the midnight opening of Ender's Game. That all sounds very enjoyable in theory since I've never been one to care for the spectacle of midnight openings.

It did make me wonder what I'd consider exciting enough to make a special effort to see. Lo, the answer came to me in an email yesterday when Scott said The World's End was opening this weekend. The only question was how fast we could look up local theaters to plan the best time to see it.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Well Said: Considering a Book

From my quote journal.
Books are not made to be believed but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but what it means.
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

Worth a Thousand Words: J.B. Ford Mausoleum

J.B. Ford Mausoleum, Allegheny
taken by Father Pitt
Gorgeous. We were fortunate enough to have Father Pitt (a.k.a. Dr. Boli, a.k.a. Chris Bailey) take us on a whirlwind architectural tour of Pittsburgh.

It would not be at all good for his ego to let him know that of all the people we met when on vacation a few weeks ago, he is the one who excited my mother's admiration. "Dr. Boli?" she said, her voice rising in astonished delight. "How wonderful! Tell me what he was like!" So we won't mention it beyond this post.

I will admit that the Doctor Who episode, Blink, did flash through my mind when I first saw this photo but then I saw these ladies were neither angels nor weeping. Whew!

Notes on Mark: Table Scraps

MARK 7:24-30
I always was rather shocked by Jesus' apparent attitude toward this woman. For one thing I know that to call someone a dog in the Middle East is a great insult and for him to use it while turning down this poor woman's request is ... well just not the way I think of Jesus acting toward supplicants.

Barclay provides a good answer to this objection, and one that is exactly in line with how Jesus usually acts. I especially like the idea that this actually turned into witty repartee where Jesus was just waiting for the woman to give the right answer so he could say yes. Sometimes, the truth is in the translation!
The story itself must be read with insight. The woman came asking Jesus' help for her daughter. His answer was that it was not right to take the children's bread and give it to the dogs...

The dog was not the well-loved guardian that it is today; more commonly it was a symbol of dishonor. To the Greek, the word dog meant a shameless and audacious woman it was used exactly with the connotation that we use the word bitch today. To the Jew it was equally a term of contempt. "Do not give the dogs what is holy." (Matthew 7:6; cp. Philippians 3:2; Revelation 22:15)...

No matter how you look at it, the term dog is an insult. How, then, are we to explain Jesus' use of it here?
  1. He did not use the usual word; he used a diminutive word which described, not the wild dogs of the streets, but the little lap-dogs of the house. In Greek, diminutives are characteristically affectionate. Jesus took the sting out of the word.
  2. Without a doubt his tone of voice made all the difference. The same word can be a deadly insult and an affectionate address, according to the tone of voice. We can call a man "an old rascal" in a voice of contempt or a voice of affection. Jesus' tone took all the poison out of the word.
  3. In any event Jesus did not shut the door. First, he said, the children must be fed; but only first; there is meat left for the household pets. True, Israel had the first offer of the gospel, but only the first; there were others still to come. The woman was a Greek, and the Greeks had a gift of repartee; and she saw at once that Jesus was speaking with a smile. She knew that the door was swinging on its hinges. In those days people did not have either knives or forks or table-napkins. They ate with their hands; they wiped the soiled hands on chunks of bread and then flung the bread away and the house-dogs ate it. So the woman said, "I know the children are fed first, but can't I even get the scraps the children throw away?" And Jesus loved it. Here was a sunny faith that would not take no for an answer, here was a woman with the tragedy of an ill daughter at home and there was still light enough in her heart to reply with a smile. Her faith was tested and her faith was real, and her prayer was answered. Symbolically she stands for the Gentile world which so eagerly seized on the bread of heaven which the Jews rejected and threw away.
The Gospel of Mark
(The Daily Bible Series, rev. ed.)
Barclay's insights above are supplemented by these from Mary Healy.
Jesus' reply expresses his delight with her answer. once can imagine his smile at this lady's chutzpah. Her indomitable faith has moved his heart to accelerate the plan: the "children's bread" is given ahead of schedule to a Gentile. Upon her return home the woman finds her child delivered from the demon. This exorcism is the only work of healing done at a distance in Mark, accenting the efficacy of the woman's faith. In fact, it is one of only two healings at a distance in the Gospels, the other being the cure of the centurion's servant (Matt 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10; see John 4:46-54). Significantly, both involve Gentiles, and both demonstrate remarkable faith, in contrast to the tepid faith Jesus often finds among his own people. His ability to heal by a mere word someone who is not even present is a powerful message for readers of the Gospel: to experience the Lord's power it is not necessary to have seen or touched him as he walked on earth before his resurrection. All that is needed is faith.
This makes me wonder is my faith strong or lukewarm ... am I expecting enough from God?

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Tribute of the Sobbing Daughters-in-law

After the funeral, we were standing outside and three of the five Davis sons' wives were within view (of which I was one). Rose looked at all of us and said, "You know someone was a wonderful woman when her daughters-in-law are crying this hard for her."

We were sobbing and Rose was right. She was simply a wonderful woman. 

Many thanks to those who offered prayers for my mother-in-law, Mary Davis', soul and for the family.

Well Said: The Whole World

From my quote journal.
You mean that the whole world--the whole world with the sea, the sky, with the rain, the clouds--the whole world is a metaphor for something else?
Mario in Il Postino
Mind blowing. And true.

Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life by Elizabeth Scalia

Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday LifeStrange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life by Elizabeth Scalia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The "you shall nots" are less a list of restrictions and limitations than an invitation to keep turning back to God, who will "satisfy the desire of every living thing." (Ps 145:16). The "shall nots" say, "Don't steal that, look at me. Don't objectify her with lust; look at me. Don't nurse your anger unto death! Look at me. Do not look out over there, not even to your past, be it good or bad; and do not look to your earthly desires. look at me, and let me love you, and you will have no need of the rest.

[...]

By instructing us to look at God with love and do the same with everyone else, Jesus is telling us, "Take your eyes off yourself." God does not say, "Love me first," because God has rejection issues, and Jesus does not add, "And then love your neighbors," because he simply wants us to play well with others. These commandments are, in fact, deeply personal ones. They are meant to lead us away from those empty depths of our being where the idols are formed and polished and brought to the fore of our regard.
Of course, Elizabeth Scalia is here discussing the Ten Commandments, especially in the context of the idols we make for ourselves in everyday life. We tend to think of idols as being as identifiable as a golden calf but the simple truth is that our idols often are set up without us noticing that we've turned away from God and are worshiping something else. Scalia examines the ways we idolize ideas, prosperity, technology, sex, and more. These sound remote and intellectual, but there is nothing remote about them, as we can see from this excerpt.
The Internet is a tool of staggering power, and it's a great gift for the gleaning of information and ease of communication; but the Internet might well be the greatest tempter to ego gratification since the hissing serpent of Eden. As such, the Internet is a most cunning inducement to idolatry. Like any good trap, it seems so very passive. We discover it with delight; we engage, we become adept (in some cases addicted), and are perpetually distracted. The evil one loves distraction--aims for distraction--because it is the means by which we lose track of God and dwell among the idols.

[...]

On the Internet, we are in many ways like gods. Using the Internet makes us identifiers of what is good! We are able to banish what is evil from our sight by banishing it from our site with the click of a button. ... We feel great while we are there, particularly when our tweet is noticed and passed around with approval, or our drop is liked and shared. ... When we are online, some of us feel more alive than at any other time of the day. That is an insidious illusion, beloved of Satan who wants us to be delighted, engaged, addicted, and distracted. How can we be alive to God and to the workings of the Holy Spirit, if we are spending hour after hour alive to only ourselves, reveling as our ideas, opinions, and words are reflected back at us, forever and ever, Amen?
Note that she's not saying any and all use of the Internet is bad (so you're safe to keep reading here!) but that it is whether our use is intentional or not, whether it is mindful or not, whether we are in danger of putting it before God and the people in our lives. I myself had already identified the way I get lost for hours on the internet. However, that is a particular problem I have. If it were not the internet, it would be a book, a computer game, and so on. For me, the struggle is to notice what new idol I am allowing to suck my time away so I can be mindful.

Your idols will vary, of course. If Scalia doesn't touch on one of them then you are not being really honest. Don't worry that she is shaking a nay-saying finger at us. She uses her own life and experience as the examples to bring her topic alive. Written in an accessible, conversational style, this book is for anyone who ever enjoyed Scalia's blog, The Anchoress, but without the politics. It is the best of how she writes, focused on a topic we need to consider for our own lives. Get it. Read it. Highly recommended.

Note: this was a free review book by a pal ... but if I didn't like it, you'd never have heard of it from me.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Prayer Request - Updated - RIP Mary Davis

UPDATE
Tom's mother, Mary, died yesterday evening just a few days away from her 89th birthday. She had as good a death as one could wish for, surrounded by everyone who could get there. The priest had been the day before with the rites for the sick and the Apostolic Blessing, so she was as prepared as she could be for anything. We had been keeping vigil all day so she was surrounded by loved ones.

We were happy for her merciful release into the arms of Jesus, crying our eyes out, and Hannah was holding her hand. Unbeknownst to each other, I was praying Hail Mary's repeatedly ("pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death" had never had more meaning) and Hannah was praying the Fatima prayer. So she slipped out on a silent sea of prayer.
Eternal rest grant unto Mary, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
The funeral will be in Houston where she grew up and where many of her relatives still live.

I'll be in and out of touch on the blog for the next week, understandably.

====

Tom's mother has pneumonia. She's in her late 80s and has been living in hospice care for at least a year so they will keep her comfortable as possible but not do any strenuous measures. Please keep her and the family in your prayers.

In a stroke of divine irony, or perhaps it is merely proper perspective, this morning we are off to the baptism of a tiny baby girl who was born 3 months early. Luckily she had no health issues other than premature arrival and is thriving. Naturally she was baptized in the hospital, but this is the celebration of a new sister for us all. Thinking of this tiny girl with an enchanting, one-sided smile reminds me to pray for all those young families with premature arrivals.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Well Said: Inspiration

From my quote journal.
You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
Jack London

Worth a Thousand Words: Projet d'aménagement de la Grande Galerie du Louvre

Hubert Robert - Projet d'aménagement de la Grande Galerie du Louvre (1796)
via Wikipedia

Notes on Mark: What Makes a Man Unclean

MARK 7:14-23
After Jesus' pronouncement that it is what comes from a man's heart that makes him unclean, he then proceeds to list what these are. Barclay looks at the Greek for each term so we get a real feel for the distinctions Jesus was making. And we can see it is a truly terrible list ...
He begins with evil designs (dialogismoi). Every outward act of sin is preceded with an inward act of choice; therefore Jesus begins with the evil through which the evil action comes. Next come fornications (porneiai); later he is to list acts of adultery (moicheiai); but this first word is a wide word -- it means every kind of traffic in sexual vice. There follow thefts (klopai). ... A kleptes is a mean, deceitful, dishonorable pilferer ... Murders (Phonoi) and adulteries come next in the list and their meaning is clear.

Then comes covetous deeds (pleonexiai). Pleonexia comes from two Greek words meaning to have more. It has been defined as the accursed love of having. ... Pleonexia is that lust for having which is in the heart of the man who sees happiness in things instead of in God.

There follow evil deeds. In Greek there are two words for evil -- kakos, which describes a thing which in itself is evil, and poneros, which describes a person or thing which is actively evil. Poneriai is the word used here. The man who is poneros is the man in whose heart there is the desire to harm ... Poneros -- the Evil One -- is the title of Satan.

Next comes dolos; translated guile. It comes from a word which means bait; it is used for trickery and deceit ... It is crafty, cunning, deceitful, clever treachery.

Next on the list is wanton wickedness (aselgeia). The Greeks defined as "a disposition of soul that resents all discipline," as "a spirit that acknowledges no restraints, dares whatsoever its caprice and wanton insolence may suggest."...

Envy is literally the evil eye, the eye that looks on the success and happiness of another in such a way that it would cast an evil spell upon it if it could. The next word is blasphemia. When this is used of words against men it means slander; when it is used of words against God, it means blasphemy. It means insulting man or God.

There follows pride (huperephania). The Greed word literally means "showing oneself above." It describes the attitude of the man "who has a certain contempt for everyone except himself."

Lastly comes folly (aphrosune). This does not mean the foolishness that is due to weakness of intellect and lack of brains; it means moral folly. It describes, not the man who is a brainless fool, but the man who chooses to play the fool.

The Gospel of Mark
(The Daily Bible Series, rev. ed.)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Julie has her digging stick. Scott looks out for hyenas.

They're discussing Kirinyaga by Mike Resnick at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

On a personal note, this book is going on my "Best of 2013" list and I am pushing it on everyone I meet. It deserves all the awards it won. Read it!

Well Said: This One for China, Lord

From my quote journal. It's a good reminder for me of just how much of my daily life can be offered for others in prayer.
When sister passed by she heard Sister Maier dedicating each onion to the cause. "This one for China, Lord. This one for India." This continued until the pan was empty and Inez had shed her last onion-tear for the missions.
Sr. Immolata Reida, Selfless

Worth a Thousand Words: Muskrat

Muskrat
taken by Remo Savisaar
I often look at nature pictures and recall that this is what life really is. Not sitting at my desk, typing, talking on the phone, and so forth. Those may be necessary to my job, but they are not what we were created for. And so it is a good thing to keep that in mind as a way of keeping one's sense of proportion about life.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Well Said: A Lamp in the Hand of God and Stained Glass

In the Lord's saying, "when a lamp is lit, it is not put under the bushel basket...," the word for "lamp" used (Greek word) actually means "portable lamp," and this makes the saying all the more poignant. It makes us, in fact, to be a lamp in the hand of God, a light that must allow itself to be moved about by Christ as he sees fit. The house is not lit up all at once but according to the need of the moment: now the kitchen, now the dining room, now the study or the bedroom requires light. Because it is Christ who has kindled his light, the Christian will also allow his Lord to choose the particular lampstand where he will shine, and when.

[...]

It would be a great mistake, however, for us to look too avidly for the proofs of the effect of our presence in the world. Inevitably, we would lose heart, because in the end we lack the means of measuring and judging things as God sees them. Who knows the true meaning and import of what transpires in a human heart, our own or another's? How can we know whether a negative sign, such as sadness and conflict, is not in fact the middle phase of a process that will culminate in much good? Our real business is to allow God to shed his light through us, and, since the light belongs to him, he will know where to focus it and to what effect. Our endeavor should be to make ourselves transparent so as not to eclipse his brilliance.
Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
The idea of being a lamp in Christ's hand doesn't get anywhere near the intimacy implied if we just think of a modern idea of a lamp. Reading Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs I was fascinated to see that lamps of the time were palm sized and would have shed light only where the person directed it. This is the lamp Christ would have been speaking of. Think of Him directing our light in the palm of his hand.

Reflecting upon this, I came across Thomas Merton's quote about transparency and God shining through.
Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable, it is true.
And at about this time I was slowly working my way through Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis' encyclical on the Light of Faith. This passage about the give and take of God's deeds and life stories shone a light on my own mind.
Israel’s confession of faith takes shape as an account of God’s deeds in setting his people free and acting as their guide (cf. Dt 26:5-11), an account passed down from one generation to the next. God’s light shines for Israel through the remembrance of the Lord’s mighty deeds, recalled and celebrated in worship, and passed down from parents to children. Here we see how the light of faith is linked to concrete life-stories, to the grateful remembrance of God’s mighty deeds and the progressive fulfilment of his promises. Gothic architecture gave clear expression to this: in the great cathedrals light comes down from heaven by passing through windows depicting the history of salvation. God’s light comes to us through the account of his self-revelation, and thus becomes capable of illuminating our passage through time by recalling his gifts and demonstrating how he fulfils his promises.
It all came together for me at that moment. Is it original? Unlikely. But it was a moment of blinding reality when I realized that my life is the stained glass window that God shines through to show others His existence, to show them some facet of His face that they need at that moment.

It was part of an opening of my own mind in answer to that question of our lives being lived in the light of God's will and of our own free will. How much is God and how much is us? The stained glass does not turn on the light which illuminates it to others, but it does paint a story that may inspire others in some way.

I can't express this well but the image shines often in my mind's eye. It is a guide for me as I make my way through the day, hoping that God will shine through the stained glass of my life in a way that others will see.

Worth a Thousand Words: Self-Portrait in the Studio

Francisco Goya, Self-portrait in the Studio, 1790-1795
via Wikipedia

I have a thing for self-portraits. Also I love Goya's hat. And his hair.

This Just In: The Church by Mike Aquinlina and Cardinal Wuerl

The Church: Unlocking the Secrets to the Places Catholics Call HomeThe Church: Unlocking the Secrets to the Places Catholics Call Home by Mike Aquilina




Mike Aquilina and Cardinal Wuerl's book The Mass left me wondering why they hadn't explained things like votive candles or the statues of saints in a church.

Now I see why. They were planning this companion book to cover the physical Catholic church building (a little bird has whispered that a third is underway about the liturgical year). As the introduction begins, this book explains how to "read" a church. Even better, the "reading" leads to knowing how to "pray" a church because what we see then leads our mind and hearts higher, helping to pull back the veil between us and God.

I can't wait to read it as that is one of the puzzles I had to tease out for myself after I converted, using several different books to do so. If this one is as good as The Mass, and I see no reason why it wouldn't be, then it will be an invaluable resource for anyone with similar questions.

More as I go ...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Cat in a Window

Utagawa Hiroshige
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo #101, "Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival"
via Wikipedia

I was looking for cat art thanks to Pangur Ban and found it very difficult to locate. Then I came across this by Utagawa Hiroshige whose 100 Views of Edo are on my coffee table as I leisurely go through them. Perfect!

More Scenes From the Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg

More Scenes from the Rural LifeMore Scenes from the Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a review book from Amazon Vine.

I hadn't heard of this author but was casting around for something different to read. The idea of reading someone's collected essays about life on a farm in upstate New York sounded just the thing, almost like an adult version of the Laura Ingalls Wilder tales I always loved as a child.

It was definitely the right choice as I have been enchanted by the beauty of Verlyn Klinkenborg's prose, the strength of his understanding of nature and animals, and in the vivid images which make me feel as if I am there in the country. Truly, this description of the book is not overstating the case:
Klinkenborg's pieces are admired as much for their poetic writing as for their insight: peonies are "the sheepdog of flowers," dry snow "tumbles off the angled end of the plow-blade as if each crystal were completely independent, almost charged with static electricity," and land is most valuable "for its silence, its freedom from language." Klinkenborg writes with a grace and understanding that makes us more aware of the world around us, whether we live on a farm or in the middle of a city.
It is almost as good as taking a vacation. I find myself deliberately slowing down, savoring the writing, and simply relaxing.

There is a section in the middle of the book called Interludes wherein are included more direct commentary on subjects like genetically engineered crops, big farming, and so forth. I read the first couple but, frankly, I found nothing that I hadn't picked up already in the more lyrical journal style writing from the rest of the book. One may agree with him or not in these more opinionated pieces and I found that about 90% of the time I did agree. As I say, I lost nothing in briefly skimming most of them and moving on. The other essays which make up most of the book are more thoughtful and reflective and naturally tied to the land. Therefore, I found these pointed pieces to be overkill. Your milage may vary. The pointed pieces cost the book one star from me.

Despite the Interlude, this book is a rare find for me and one that I will enjoy rereading over the years.