Friday, May 30, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Running Along the Beach

Running along the beach, Joaquín Sorolla, 1908
Via WikiPaintings
I may have mentioned before that Joaquin Sorolla is one of my very favorite artists. Like many, I love his seaside paintings for their light and airiness that makes you feel as if you are there.

For my birthday Tom got me the Sorolla and America book from the exhibit which we saw when it was in Dallas earlier this year. It is in San Diego now and I urge you to visit if you are anywhere nearby. It is nice to be able to enjoy this art thanks to the internet. It is nothing like seeing the real thing in person however.

Well Said: Finding Inspiration

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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Pope Francis at the West Bank Wall

Pope Francis praying at the West Bank wall dividing Palestine and Israel.
As seen everywhere. It was such an evocative moment and the photo captures it so well that I just like to look at it. A lot.

Lagniappe: The Patron Saint of TV Dinners

When I asked my friend’s mother why there was a little statue of The Virgin Mary on top of their Sylvania, she corrected me in a tone which faintly suggested that her family were better Catholics than mine would ever be. “Oh, Honey, that isn’t the Virgin Mary. That’s St. Clare of Assisi– she’s the patron saint of television.”

I approached the plastic idol with what I hoped was a reverential pace to examine her more closely. She held one hand upward in a gesture of blessing and her face looked up to the heavens. Or perhaps she was simply keeping an eye on the antenna which was fastened to the roof directly above. It was impossible to tell. I tried to pick her up, but discovered that she wouldn’t budge from her place.

I’d heard of people having their eyes glued to their television sets, but never their feet. It was a day of firsts.

When I came home, I took my usual place at dinner – the seat farthest from my mom. It was the lowest position in the family pecking order, but it also happened to be the only chair at the table which afforded a clear view of the family room and the television in it, which was always miraculously turned on and which I always (just as miraculously) got away with watching. I could now tune out the conversation of my older siblings and tune in to early evening network programming knowing there was a new saint in my life who was watching over me as I ate in silence, just like (as I would learn many years later) the sisters of the Franciscan Order founded by her, The Poor Clares.
Michael Procopio, Food for the Thoughtless
This is a blog I discovered via Saveur's annual search for the best food blogs. Michael Procopio not only writes amusingly about food but about his formative years which, as you can see above, include his Catholic upbringing. Do click through the link above and read the rest of the post which includes a delicious looking desert. ("Serves: Enough. You should thank the Lord you’re getting any dessert at all.")

Then browse around as I have been doing and enjoy his other writing. For example, Dressing Up and Playing God is going to entertain anyone who's ever been "instructed" by a sibling and had to sort out Judgment Day at a young age. He's also got plenty of non-Catholic material which is just as good. Bon appetit!

In which Juana and Otter are venerated as gods and see what it means to worship The Snake.

Adventure ratchets up a notch for our band of adventurers in the land of The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard, read for you at Forgotten Classics!

Julie thinks Father Logan has dreamy eyes and Scott is judging Inspector Larrue for his pointed investigation.

They both confess they love this little known Alfred Hitchcock movie while discussing I Confess at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl
taken by that extraordinary photographer Remo Savisaar

Well Said: The only way in is on your knees

I never came into the church as a person who was being taught. I came in on my knees. That is the only way in. When people start praying they need truths; that’s all. You don’t come into the Church by ideas and concepts, and you cannot leave by mere disagreement. It has to be a loss of faith, a loss of participation. You can tell when people leave the Church: they have quit praying.

Actively relating to the Church's prayer and sacraments is not done through ideas. Any Catholic today who has an intellectual disagreement with the Church has an illusion. You cannot have an intellectual disagreement with the Church: that's meaningless. The Church is not an intellectual institution. It is a superhuman institution.
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium and the Light
Truer words were never spoken.

It's All Downhill From Here: Screenshot

A little midweek humor, courtesy of xkcd with whom I completely agree!

The Last Monk of Tibhirine by Freddy Derwahl

The Last Monk of Tibhirine: A True Story of Martyrdom, Faith, and SurvivalThe Last Monk of Tibhirine: A True Story of Martyrdom, Faith, and Survival by Freddy Derwahl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Jean-Pierre appeared at the gate in the late afternoon of my arrival, we immediately embraced each other. He knew what I expected of him—namely, that I hoped he would relate the whole story to me. I found the slightly bent-over eighty-seven-year-old Trappist monk in good spirits. His blue-green eyes accentuated an impish smile that concealed great kindness. Deep wrinkles on his forehead and chin did not bear the signs of worry but of wisdom. He wore a sand-colored habit typical for this climate, with a leather belt, and on his head a knit tarbush bearing Islamic motifs. ... The next morning at 10:30, we sat down together for the first time. Our only topic was his life. The massacre of his seven brothers lay fifteen years in the past. He, however, had been spared from the attack, so where had his fate led him since then?
This is the story of Jean-Pierre Schumacher, the last surviving member of a Cistercian monastic community in Algeria, whose members were was kidnapped and killed in 1996. Like many people, I became aware of that event when I saw the movie Of Gods and Men, which Scott Danielson and I discussed on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

This book alternates between Jean-Pierre's life story and author Freddy Derwahl's experience while on retreat at the monastery. It includes the lives of the martyred monks as their lives intertwined with Jean-Pierre's, with special emphasis on the prior, Christian, and his writing. Once the timeline gets to the point where the movie was made, it is included in the discussion which is interesting for anyone who has seen it.

I did not expect the book to grab me from the first page as the author told the story, not only of Jean-Pierre, but also of his own experience staying at the new monastery. His diary entries not only drew me into his own experience, but also invited me to deeper reflection.
2:00 pm:
A siesta with open eyes. The text about the exciting life of P. André Louf that I read during the night continues to resonate with me. I need the example of strong men. That is the reason why I had also taken along the books by Pope Benedict and Ernst Junger. They tested their limits—one of them in a gentle manner, the other defying death. By the way, both of them feel the mocking criticism of their time breathing down their necks.

9:30 pm:
I sit outside on my little wooden bench. Rarely was the star-filled sky so comforting. We are surrounded by magnificence that is unreachable and yet a promise that is quite close.
One of the most impressive things to me about this book is the way that the monks' offer their faith to others by embracing all that they can of Islam. That may sound overly ecumenical but the way that Christian approached it was to include all the Islamic symbolism and patterns possible in different parts of the monastery. This at least added a familiar feel to visiting Muslims and added a context for showing where there were common points of worship and faith.

It worked so well that twice a year there were a group of Muslim devout who would come for a day of common prayer and worship, at the Muslims' request. They quickly discovered that discussing theological points led to disagreement and so learned to focus on the God alone. This made it possible to connect as people of faith based on the core idea of searching for God and personally connecting with Him.
A deep bond developed between the prior and the Muslim friend after the latter had asked him to teach him how to pray, and for many years there was a lively spiritual exchange between the two. After they had not seen each other for a while due to various other obligations, the Muslim friend said to him, "I think it is time to dig in our common well again." It was an allusion to the depth that characterized their encounters.

Christian responded, "And what will we find at the bottom of the well? Muslim or Christian water?"

Then he looked at him with a mixture of smiling and sorrow: "Do you still ask yourself this question? Don't you know that on the bottom of this fountain we will find the water of God?"
The Last Monk of Tibhirine was originally written in German and the English translation occasionally betrays awkwardness. The most obvious place was when Derwahl's July 26 diary said, "Mass in celebration of the Apostle Jacob." I was stopped in my tracks as I pondered who the Apostle Jacob might be. Finally going to a liturgical calendar I realized that it was a mistranslation. July 26 is the Apostle James' feast day.

There were a few other awkward phrasings in sentences which seemed as if they should connect to transitional commentary or new thoughts, but which never materialized.These were not egregious enough to make reading problematic but did cause the occasional hiccup.

Overall The Last Monk of Tibhirine is suitable for either slow, meditative reading or simply to learn more about the story of Jean-Pierre and Our Lady of Atlas monastery. I enjoyed it on both levels. Suffice it to say that this book is a gem whether one has seen Of Gods and Men or not. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Faces of Christ by Jane Williams

Faces of ChristFaces of Christ by Jane Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jesus is one of the most commonly portrayed figures of all time in the artistic community. But what can all of his varying faces—coming from so many different ages and diverse countries around the world—tell us about him as a person? In this beautiful book, images of Jesus are used to explore his life and legacy, including Jesus as shepherd, Jesus as victor, Jesus as broken, and many more. With illuminating text and arresting images, this book is visually stunning and textually inspiring.
This was a birthday gift and I'm so glad I had it on my wish list. I'm continually trying to find books that use art for Christian reflection and meditation. They open up faith in a way that plain words alone don't. Thus far, Sister Wendy Beckett's books have been the only ones I've found, so Jane Williams comes as a welcome addition.

Williams chooses diverse artists that reveal strikingly different ways to think about different aspects of Christ's life and our own. Her text is spare but illuminating. I'm about a third of the way into the book (it is small) and have already had three "aha" moments. This book will become part of my regular rotation of meditation books and I can foresee that it will shed light in different areas when I need it most.

Worth a Thousand Words: Victorian Clock Tower

Victorian Clock Tower, Ripon, England
taken by Joseph of Zombie Parent's Guide
Doesn't this look like the perfect little bit of an English town? I almost feel as if I were there. Joseph tells us:
On the other side of town is the Victorian Clock Tower. Two sisters had this built to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
He's got more of the town at the link.

Well Said: The Door of Bread and Wine

...the door comes to us, and it looks like bread and wine. But it is God. God coming to live in us, here, until we can go to live with Him, there.

It’s a hard, crazy kind of faith we have to have, because we were not made for it. We were made to live with God, to see Him face to face, to walk with Him every evening in the garden. We weren’t made to live so separate. It hurts. We want to see the door, we want to be sure it’s the door, we want to peek around the other side and know for certain what lies behind the door.

Well, original sin destroyed that door. And that door came back to us, God made flesh, and re-opened the way.
I like that point, that we weren't made to live separate from God. I know it but I forget in the mishmash of daily life. I need to be reminded. This is the heart of it, but there's a bit more if you go to the link.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: A New Pier

Ein neuer Steg (A New Pier)
by Edward B. Gordon
In Texas, if it's a holiday weekend kicking off summertime, then that means time at the lake. This may be a German painting, but it looks like lake-time to me.

Trailer - Life Itself (documentary about Roger Ebert)

I've been curious about this for some time. The gang at has been following progress of every showing at various festivals, including Cannes.

I was impressed it was directed by the Hoop Dreams director and so was excited to see the trailer.

Which just made me want more. The way a good trailer should. See for yourself.

(P.S. It also made me miss Gene Siskel all over again.)

Well Said: Being Honest With God

For when you say only the things that you believe you should say, rather than being honest, any relationship grows cold, including one with God.
Father James Martin, Jesus: A Pilgrimage
I remembered this just yesterday and it was of immense help. 

Instead of just putting up with something, I needed to be completely honest with God about the fact that I was afraid, distrustful in fact, that He wasn't going to come through for me in a certain situation.

Wow, did that help with everything. Including connecting with God.

And then I could prepare for the fact that I might just have to put up with it. (I didn't have to, but that's a different story.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Angels and Saints by Scott Hahn (with Book Giveaway)

Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God's Holy OnesAngels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God's Holy Ones by Scott Hahn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a solid, understandable book that explains the concept and theology of angels and saints. The last half of the book contains the stories of specific saints and angels, along with an excerpt from a writing about them (usually from a Church Father). It would definitely be a good book to give to someone wondering about the topic.

Angels and saints have been a special interest of mine since my conversion in 2000 so I've read a lot of books on the subject. Therefore, a lot of the information was not new to me. Even so, almost every section had some tidbit which was a surprise or gave me a new perspective. A few samples of the sort of things that knocked my socks off:
  • Humans are the minority in the Church. Oh, right. Angels outnumber us, which makes sense when you realize that each of us has a guardian angel. (I also was blown away by the connection of guardian angels to Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane where he was comforted and assisted by ... yep ...  an angel.)
  • Hahn draws on rabbinical teachings to point out: It was Moses' special intimacy with God that made it possible for him to compose the Torah. He could describe the earliest days of creation not because he was there, but because God was; through prayerful intimacy, Moses had come to see as God saw. Oh snap!
  • There was not a bishop alive who could speak the language of the Old Testament, but Jerome was teaching it to Roman widows and teenagers. They pushed him to the point where he lamented that they had surpassed him in their ability to speak Hebrew with no accent.
My favorite part was the introduction where Scott Hahn shares his personal experience, which is both moving and inspiring. I think the book could have done with a few more personal touches throughout and then I might have given it another star.

Hahn's been writing more of these "Catholic basics" books lately but this is the first I've read. If it is any indication, he's giving the Church a fine resource. He's certainly giving regular readers a great chance to dig deeper into their faith.

I'll be participating in the blog tour for this book along with 11 other bloggers. Scott Hahn chose 12 favorite saints to highlight and we'll each be reflecting on his chapter about a saint close to our hearts as well.

My day is June 2.

My choice? I get two for one! Saint Monica and Saint Augustine.

Here's the schedule.
And I'll be doing a book giveaway on the day of the blog tour! Woohoo! Leave a comment here to enter in the random drawing that I'll hold that day. If you comment anonymously, that is fine, but leave your name in the comment so I can alert you if you win!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Movie Group in a Nutshell

Yesterday's daily quote included my comments about a movie group I do at a local assisted living facility. I was asked about what the "model" was which has proven so successful.

I actually have been meaning to do a blog to serve as a resource with lists and tips in case anyone else was interested in such a venture. I began one and then got distracted. I'll get busy with it again.

In a nutshell, it is providing activity for small groups, rather than large ones. I've been working with the facility's management but providing a way that those within the small group can help nurture it if they are interested.

The facility had most activities organized around large groups attending and this was their first view of how successfully a small group could turn into a vibrant community. And when I say small, let's be clear. I was thrilled Monday to hear that about 15 people watched the movie and to have 9 people come to lunch.

It has been hit and miss to get to where we are. I wanted to do something to volunteer and was asked to set up my own idea. All I really could think of was the sort of conversations Scott and I have at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

I began over a year ago with a book and movie club, which met in the afternoons. It turns out that very few wanted to read books or even listen to audiobooks, which the facility happily provided free.

So movies are the focus.

Afternoons were also a problem as people had other activities or wanted to nap after lunch.

So a couple of group members were inspired to move the meeting to lunch time. Because who doesn't want to have a good conversation with a meal? We all know the key to getting attendance is to provide food, no matter what time of day.

The current formula, which has been working well for some time, is that we meet twice a month. The movie is shown on Sunday evening by a group member, though the management is going to begin also showing it on Fridays (as we continue to tweak). On Monday there is a lunch for anyone who saw it to come and join a group discussion. I have trivia from Wikipedia/IMDB and insights just from reading various reviews, to try to foster conversation.

Worth a Thousand Words: Pigeon on Street Water Tap

Pigeon on Street Water Tap
taken by Barcelona Photoblog
As we are told, don't bother trying to feed this pigeon. It is street art so realistic that it fooled the photographer. More about this pigeon and this tap at Barcelona Photoblog.

Well Said: What we are promised.

I happen to love our latest pope (and, really, who doesn’t?), but we were never promised loveable popes. We have plenty of saints to keep us company and give us heart, thank God, but we were never promised that the Church would be administered by them, nor even that the Church would be administered by minimally decent and reasonably competent people. We are not promised that Jesus will never again be denied, deserted and betrayed, nor are we promised that trusted teachers, priests, bishops and popes won’t do the denying, deserting and betraying. We are not promised that they (and we) won’t sin again and again and again, only that He will always forgive.

What we are promised is not that we possess the Truth but that He has a Church and that He will always be there, however we may deny, desert and betray Him. What we are promised is that the One who told Moses so frightfully “no one can look upon Me and live” now offers Himself to us as food. What we are promised is his presence in the Eucharist, his mercy in our sorrow, his welcome as we lie dying. What we are promised is that He loves us, and that, if we will only bring ourselves to ask, He will bless us with a ravenous hunger for intimacy with Himself. That He will save us, in other words.
Michael Garvey, Still Catholic
Yep. Wherever we go, there we are. All the more reason we need Christ and His Church ... and to remember His promises.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Well Said: Our Efforts and Jesus

We also may feel our efforts are inadequate. ... But Jesus accepts what we give, blesses it, breaks it open, and magnifies it. Often in ways that we don't see or cannot see.
Father James Martin, Jesus: A Pilgrimage
This seems facile to say but I actually saw that in action just this morning. The director of the assisted living facility where I do my bimonthly movie group said that it was one of the most successful programs they have. And that they are having more programs "follow your model."

My model?

I was slightly stunned. Mostly because I know the inspiration to try the group was due to a strange coming together of "pushes": Bilbo picking a troll's pocket, me reading to my mother-in-law, and stepping way out in faith (and fear) to try a new idea when it occurred to me. So, evidently a divine inspiration. (Nice to have that confirmed.)

Worth a Thousand Words: Wandering Shadows

Peter Graham, Wandering Shadows, 1878
Man oh man. I want to go to there. (She said with striking unoriginality. But I do.)

Via Through An Artist's Eyes where you will find many interesting facts about the National Galleries of Scotland.

A classic for our times: reviewing Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler

Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found ItSomething Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It by Jennifer Fulwiler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can think of an awful lot of people who I'd give this book to:

Christians trying to understand atheists (like a pal of mine who said, "I just don't know how those people don't believe in God." I almost shoved my copy into her hands. Almost. Hey, I wasn't finished with it yet.)

Atheists trying to understand Christians.

Protestants trying to understand Catholic teachings.

Catholics trying to understand Church teachings.

Catholics who understand but struggle with following Church teachings.

Anyone wanting an inspirational story of change and redemption.

Yes, that really is an awful lot of people ...

Jennifer Fulwiler was raised by loving parents who didn't push their atheism on her or do more than tell her to think for herself. However, that in itself was enough to produce a dedicated atheist, especially when told to an intelligent youngster who applied herself with the passion that only youth can muster to facts and logical conclusions.
I looked at the ammonite settled in between my soggy sneakers and I understood for the first time that my fate was no different than its own.

I had always thought of these creatures as being fundamentally different from me. They were the dead things, I was the alive thing, and that's how it would be forever. Now I wondered what had kept me from understanding that to look at these long-dead life-forms was to look at a crystal ball of what lay in store for me—except that, unless I happened to die by falling into some soft mud, I wouldn't end up a fossil. Ten million years from now, there would be nothing left of me.


There was no solution to my problem, because it wasn't even a problem; it was just a new awareness of reality. But as I took one last glance at the pickup before it disappeared from view. I felt like there was some answer in that brief flash of happiness I'd experienced while driving the truck. The grim truth I'd uncovered hadn't gone away, but it was somehow rendered less significant when I'd been immersed in the distraction of having fun.
Her only encounters with Christians were, frankly, off-putting and tended to be with friends who were not at all equipped to discuss faith versus scientific truth and logic. So Fulwiler spent many years losing herself in fun to distract herself from the awareness of mortality.

When Fulwiler became a wife and mother, the life-altering love she experienced defied logic. It defied scientific explanations. It tipped the scales against atheism. With this realization, she began searching for the truth. That truth led her to a place she'd never have expected, conversion to Catholicism.

On the surface, this is Fulwiler's story of her  conversion. However, because she required so much reflection, connection, and research before relinquishing her old beliefs, it is also a primer on logical investigation and thought. Finally, it is a exploration of Catholic teachings and how they apply to modern life. It was key for Fulwiler to fully understand all the implications of what she was accepting so she takes care to make sure the reader also understands.

This isn't done in a dry or preachy way. Au contraire, I often found myself laughing, especially at the time she sat in a bathroom stall for hours, reading a Bible furiously searching for answers and just as furiously spinning the toilet paper roll to send away people who knocked on the door.  And there are moving and insightful moments such as when she is reading C. S. Lewis, listening to Tupac Shakur, and melding her thoughts about both into realizations about hell, heaven, and purgatory.

I recently read St. Augustine's Confessions, the first autobiography ever written. It is a moving and completely honest book about one man's search for ultimate truth. On many levels Fulwiler conveys the same passionate desire to know what is true, what can be trusted, as that young African seeker did 1,600 years ago.

Augustine's book is a classic because it spoke so directly to the people of his time and yet sounds its message through the ages. Other Christian classics do the same. Francis de Sales with his Introduction to the Devout Life, Teresa of Avila with her Interior Castle, and Thérèse of Lisieux with The Story of a Soul all addressed problems of their time with advice that is still applicable and invaluable today. They reach us now because the human soul always struggles with the same problems and they speak in a way that transcends their own particular eras.

Why do I bring them up? Only time will tell if this book is a classic that reaches beyond our time. I think it is nuanced, well written, and relatable enough that it could.

What I do know is that, as with those classics, this book was written to address a dire need in the author's own time. Right here, right now, our country and the Western world are crying out for a way to make the world make sense. Jennifer Fulwiler's book spells it out in a way that cannot be ignored by any honest truth seeker. She tells of the truth that transcends mere facts while speaking the language that our modern, science loving, atheistic world understands.

It is truly a classic for our times.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Happy Birthday, Lisa!

Irises, Vincent van Gogh, 1889
via WikiPaintings
When I think of my sister's birthday, I always think of irises. When we were children in Kansas, irises bloomed thickly around the little pond near our house. We always had vases full of them at that time of year. I have since come to love them in a way that I didn't when I was young. Every different color of iris has a different fragrance and I love the scent of each and every one.

This brings me to my sister whose super-curly blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and light, fluttery personality must have made her like a vivid, exotic butterfly in our household. She's a bright, vivid spot in my life. An iris of unusual perfume and difference who makes me glad. Happy birthday, Lisa!

Vase With Irises, Vincent van Gogh, 1890
also via WikiPaintings

Friday, May 16, 2014

"I am a Christian and I will remain a Christian"

The judge sentenced her to hang.

The Deacon's Bench has a good roundup of stories about this 26-year-old pregnant Christian doctor who has been sentenced to 100 lashes and death after refusing to deny her faith.

John Allen wrote The Global War on Christians for this very reason. We may face low-level cultural bias here, but there is real, horrible persecution going on around the world. Which the media usually ignores. This story is just the tip of the iceberg and unusual because it is getting coverage.

I can't deny that I've been a bit afraid of tackling that book. It sits on my review stack now. But this news story means I've got to read it soon.

These are our brothers and sisters, suffering for their faith in a way that we can't imagine coming to us personally. We must pray for them and not be silent about their persecution.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Well Said: Becoming New Men and a Pinch of Salt

To become new men means losing what we now call ‘ourselves’. Out of our selves, into Christ, we must go. His will is to become ours and we are to think His thoughts, to ‘have the mind of Christ’ as the Bible says. And if Christ is one, and if He is thus to be ‘in’ us all, shall we not be exactly the same? It certainly sounds like it; but in fact it is not so.

It is difficult here to get a good illustration; because, of course, no other two things are related to each other just as the Creator is related to one of His creatures. ... suppose a person who knew nothing about salt. You give him a pinch to taste and he experiences a particular strong, sharp taste. You then tell him that in your country people use salt in all their cookery. Might he not reply ‘In that case I suppose all your dishes taste exactly the same: because the taste of that stuff you have just given me is so strong that it will kill the taste of everything else.’ But you and I know that the real effect of salt is exactly the opposite. So far from killing the taste of the egg and the tripe and the cabbage, it actually brings it out. They do not show their real taste till you have added the salt.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
What a fantastic illustration, not only to use with others but to keep the idea clear in our own minds.

I must say, I am really enjoying this book A Year With C.S. Lewis. I got it on a whim in January and am really glad I have it on my Kindle for daily reading.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Scott watches in horror as Julie says, "um... excuse me, Lord..."

"... but he's been in there for three days, I don't think you want to go in there."

That's me. Bossy to the end. Meanwhile Scott and I discuss Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Father James Martin at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

The Lord Has Done Great Things For Me

I just wanted to get that out there.

I don't want to share the particular struggle I've been having, but I do want to say that it is one I've been having intermittently for years.

And the other night as I was once again mulling over the struggle, suddenly two sentences floated through my mind.

Simple sentences.

Sentences that completely reoriented me in a way I'd never considered.

And set me free.

It was like a 10-pound weight lifting off my shoulders.

I can't contain my joy and gladness. And gratitude and love. So I came here to share it with you.

The Lord has done great things for me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Fritillaries in a Copper Vase

Vincent van Gogh, Fritillaries in a Copper Vase, 1887
via Through an Artist's Eyes
Vivid. Bright. Full of life. Like a flame captured in a vase.

Well Said: Best explanation of the Trinity I've ever seen

Of course, when I say "best explanation" I'm talking about helping me actually get a handle at all on what the Trinity is. Who better for that than C.S. Lewis? No one, right?
And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing—not even a person—but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. The union between the Father and the Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person. I know this is almost inconceivable, but look at it thus. You know that among human beings, when they get together in a family, or a club, or a trade union, people talk about the ‘spirit’ of that family, or club, or trade union. They talk about its ‘spirit’ because the individual members, when they are together, do really develop particular ways of talking and behaving which they would not have if they were apart. It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence. Of course, it is not a real person: it is only rather like a person. But that is just one of the differences between God and us. What grows out of the joint life of the Father and Son is a real Person, is in fact the Third of the three Persons who are God.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Some Great Pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Spain

You recall Scott's review of The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land, right?

Turns out Scott isn't the only one who loved it (I've been watching episodes gradually and also love it, by the way). Diana got an an email from the Israel Ministry of Tourism who liked it so much that they are sending them back now to cover the Pope's visit. Talk about affirmation!

So now that we know people in high places like the way Diana covers holy sites, you can imagine how great it would be to go with them.

Best of all, you don't have to imagine.

I've never been interested in Spain. Until I checked the link. I'm just sayin' ... check it out.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers & Saints Boxed SetBoxers & Saints Boxed Set by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jen Ambrose's discussion both introduced me to these books and got me interested. Then I saw that other much trusted readers (the Hodges) were all on board and that got me really, really interested. These are graphic novels which I would have sworn is a medium I do not enjoy, until I got these from the library and simply could not put them down.

Boxers & Saints tells two parallel stories. Boxers is about Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose family and village are abused by Westerners who are missionaries. Inspired by visions of the gods, he joins a grass roots uprising to cast out the foreigners. I never knew the history of the Boxer rebellion before and this was a fascinating way to learn it. The nuanced story does not give all good or bad attributes to one side but it does allow us to understand the motivations behind the rebellion in a fairly personal way.

Saints tells the story from the opposite side. It is about Four-Girl who is so unloved by her grandfather that he didn't allow her to be given a name. Visions of Joan of Arc lead her to Christian missionaries and ultimately her destiny as the Boxer Rebellion sweeps over everyone associated with the foreigners. I loved Gene Yang's clear vision of the girl's reasons for being attracted to the faith. They are hilarious and understandable, as are the reactions of the missionaries who take her in. No slack is cut to those who think they know what is going on but never ask questions.

These books impressed me because of Yang's honest insights into human nature, motivations, and the way we can get sidetracked when we don't understand our own motivations.

Highly recommended.

Worth a Thousand Words: Grape Vine Rootstocks of D.O Montsant

Grape Vine Rootstocks of D.O Montsant
taken by Barcelona Photoblog
Be sure to click through and click on the photo so you can let it fill your screen. Also, there is a lot of interesting information about this at Barcelona Photoblog. But for me ... I just love this glorious photo. I can almost hear the bees buzzing, feel the warm sun and wind, smell the fragrant blossoms. I want to go to there.

Well Said: Tunnel in the Sky

It seems obvious that Tunnel in the Sky is a direct response to William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Indeed, I imagine Heinlein putting down Golding's book and heading straight for the typewriter grinding his teeth and muttering "Revert to savagery my ass!"
Heinlein and I would've agreed on a lot of basic issues just like this one. Granted, we wouldn't have agreed on everything, but nobody's perfect. Poor guy.

How thoughtful of my niece.

The Stanley Hotel in Feb, Estes Park, CO
via Wikipedia
She's getting married in Colorado next February and the wedding party hotel is The Stanley Hotel. Not only is it gorgeous but Stephen King was inspired to write The Shining while staying there. Reportedly he was very disappointed that the movie wasn't filmed there.

Icing on the cake. Cannot wait for this.

All I ask, and I know that I'm the only person who will be making this hilarious request, is that we not get the room with the dead lady in the bathtub. I imagine that room 217, where he stayed, has friendlier ghosts.

The Martian and SFFaudio

Two great things that go great together. I had a blast with the SFFaudio gang (as always) talking about this book.

The book's been getting a lot of buzz and deservedly so. If you missed my review, it is here.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Birthday, Rose!

Yellow Rose Cake from Williams-Sonoma
This cake is because I was thinking of how much fun it would be to celebrate Rose's birthday with her in person.

Alas and alack, she is in the city of the angels and we are in Dallas. But it made me think of how she loves Texas. All the Texas cakes I found were rather uninspiring. Not that there is anything wrong with the Texas flag on a Texas shaped cake. In fact, that is the height of Texas love, but I couldn't find any photos that looked as if I wouldn't be ripping off a family cake photo.

So I naturally turned, for my Rose, to thinking of the yellow rose of Texas and it turns out that Williams-Sonoma has made the ultimate yellow rose cake. Ultimate.

Happy birthday my sweet Rose. 24 years old? How did that happen?

I hope you have a wonderful time and that someone makes you a fantastic cake. Or that you find yourself a delightful treat at our favorite L.A. bakery, Porto's.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting
taken by Remo Savisaar
Yesterday we had bruising storms through here with pelting rain and high winds. Today all is sunshine and blue skies. Maybe that's why I like this golden image which looks so peaceful and sunny.

Person of Interest is simply fascinating these days.

Person of Interest is getting more and more interesting as it continues to weave ideas about national security, data handling, and solving mysteries into bigger questions of personal responsibility, love, the value of life over the "greater good", and father/creator issues.

This week's show especially left me pondering ideas after listening to Greer's conversations with Harold. They argued about whether it was better to hobble "the machine's" capabilities or to let it wander free to see what it could become. Harold has great apprehension about an "open system" because the machine isn't human and wouldn't be controllable.

I was waiting for Harold to say, "I saw the Terminator movies. Skynet is not going to be on me." Sadly, they never went there. They might have had to lighten up the dark, blue-tinted seriousness of the episode. I said it for him. I'm sure Tom appreciated it.

It also capitalizes on the feelings many have these days about the surveillance, the way Homeland Security feels dodgy on following constitutional rules, and suchlike. I know I came away last night saying, "And that's why no one likes you NSA. Get rid of those traffic cameras!"

We were cleaning the kitchen afterward when I realized that the ideas debated by Greer and Harold are the same questions that come up when thinking about God's decision to give us free will. Talk about an open system. Tom pointed out that, yes, He even had a fix for if things went off the rails. Again using the open system.

Beautiful. Simply beautiful. I love it when ideas come together.

I can only assume this high concept conversation means that Jonathan Nolan is keeping a close eye on the show he created. Some of these questions resonate from things like Batman, which I know he has loved since childhood and which movies he worked on with his brother Christopher. Some simply resonate from being a thinking, intelligent person who examines what matters in life.

Plus guns. And villains. And car chases. That just makes it more fun along the way.

This is a show I came to for Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson (the best thing about Lost). I'm simply so pleased to see it has turned into a place where the thought provoking issues raised are so often considered in a way that agrees with my underlying values.

This Just In: Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler

Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found ItSomething Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It by Jennifer Fulwiler

Snagged a review copy! This got here yesterday afternoon.

I have to say I flipped to the first page, where the camp counselor is going down the line publicly asking the little girls if they give their heart to Jesus, and realized already that Jennifer and I had common attitudes at similar ages. Not gonna join something we can't really believe in. As well we might since both of us grew up in atheist households and wound up converting to Catholicism.

However, her road is definitely different than mine and I'm looking forward to reading this.

UPDATE — page 111
Obviously from the fact that I got this yesterday, had a Skype video chat last night with my pal Sarah Reinhard, and still got to page 111 ... this is an enjoyable and interesting book thus far.

So what resonates with me is that Jennifer Fulwiler is just as hard-headed and stubborn as I am when it comes to wanting full-on, no holds barred truth and logic.

Watching her have to literally read and argue her way into belief in God makes me appreciate my own parents' atheism much more than I did already. (And the New Atheists have ensured that I will be thankful to my dying day for having old school atheists raise me, rather than the proselytizing sort.)

I had my own struggles to overcome but luckily not due to religion. For atheists my parents had a surprisingly tolerant "hands off" policy. They didn't bring up religion unless asked about it and, even then, would have pretty open-ended, vague answers about their own lack of belief. I mean to say, when I fell in with the local Church of the Nazarene for a couple of years, thanks to my best friend belonging, they never said a word to me about it. Even after the minister and his wife came to call. Even after I went crying to my mother about being afraid she'd go to hell. ("Oh Julie, thank you, but you don't need to worry about that. Just worry about yourself. I'll be ok." Conversation done.) Not a word. That must have taken tremendous forbearance. And like many youthful enthusiasms that phase soon passed, for reasons we won't go into here.

To be fair, this was also my parents' way of dealing with other big issues, such as politics. They might end up voting for different tickets than each other during trying political times but we never knew about it. It just didn't make for interesting conversation. So we all could go our own way, which brought its own set of problems but feels much freer than what I see Fulwiler having to struggle with, thanks to her unflinching belief in science as all that is true and good and honest.

It isn't that Fulwiler's parents seemed to do more than tell her to think for herself or to question anything that didn't add up. But that in itself was enough to produce a dedicated atheist, especially when told to an intelligent youngster who applied herself with the passion that only youth can muster to facts and logical conclusions.

So far it is really interesting watching the process of reluctant acceptance as one "fact" after another gets put into doubt. It occurs to me that this might be a good book for atheists who just don't understand how any sensible, logical, intelligent person could embrace the "lunacy" of Christianity. Fulwiler is a good spokesperson for that transformation.

More as I continue ... with updates at Goodreads as I go. Full review when I finish.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Key West

Key West
taken by Scott Danielson
Scott, who I podcast with at A Good Story is Hard to Find, doesn't post much on his blog. But when he does, it's choice. Isn't this just a perfect moment? I can feel those breezes, smell that salt air ... I want to go to there!

Religion is about Reality — and so is the Black Mass

One of the striking features of Harvard’s planned Black Mass, being hosted by Satanists who don’t believe in Satan, is that the exhibitors don’t actually believe their own religion.  If Catholics are concerned about the event, it is because we do believe ours.

The Catholic faith is not a set of feelings or preferences.  It is a series of statements about reality.  About things that are true. Things that are real.  The occult is gravely dangerous not because it is pretend, but because it is not pretend.  The faith is worth explaining and defending and practicing not because we especially like it, or have found it helpful, but because, like all real things, it has consequences.
Jennifer Fitz at Sticking the Corners
I've gotta say that when I heard about the story the Satanists had already backed down over plans to desecrate a consecrated Host, saying that they didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I was confused. What kind of Satanists were these? 

"Be nice" is the sign of the times we live in and what it really means much of the time is a lack of deep understanding and commitment to one's beliefs.

Of course, this is an extremely brief commentary from me which doesn't cover the whole issue. But if you go read Jen's post then you'll have what I would have said if she hadn't saved me the trouble by writing it first.

Julie is suffering from emotional overload. Scott has discovered that chocolate and strawberry ice cream taste different.

They both cope by sitting down to reorganize their schedules ... and to talk about The Rosie Project at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

In which we wonder if we have entered the land of the giants.

Chapters 18 and 19 of The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard take us into a place no one was sure existed. No one except that wicked old witch Soa, that is. Hear it now at Forgotten Classics podcast.

Worth a Thousand Words: Empress Maria Feodorovna

Ivan N. Kramskoi, Portrait of Empress Maria Feodorovna, 1880s
I found the painting via Through an Artist's Eyes where there is a lot more information, including:
According to Robert K. Massie, author of Nicholas and Alexandra:

Russia loved this small, gay woman who became their Empress, and Marie gloried in the life of the Russian court. She delighted in parties and balls…..Seated at dinner, she was an intelligent, witty conversationalist and, with her dark eyes flashing, her husky voice filled with warmth and humor, she dominated as much by charm as by rank.
I am sharing this because I love the look on the Empress's face. I want to be friends with her.

The post, however, is mainly about the Faberge eggs which her husband, Alexander III, gave her every year, a custom which her son carried on when he ascended to the throne. Go read it all.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I Write, Why I Write, How I Write: The Meme

I blame Sarah Reinhard for this since she tagged me. Talk about something that makes me reveal a part of myself that I don't think anyone cares about.

I suppose I am a writer but I don't really embrace that description. That's like calling myself a "breather." It's what I do but I don't know if I do it well enough to define me.

Heaven only knows that I never read these when other people write them.

Curmudgeonly sounding I know, but it is simply honest.

So ... here we go.

Imagine my surprise to realize that I have 5 books in the works.
  1. A movie book about how to see below the surface and find Catholic themes whose sample did not excite any publisher ("we can't make money on those"). Just last week I decided I'd finish it anyway ... sometime ... and self-publish. My friends want to read it.
  2. A devotional following the liturgical year. It combines art and text to show how our calendar year and liturgical year go hand in hand. No one wants this one. They all love it. But "we can't make money on those." I amuse myself by working on it and perhaps an art house would pick it up. But it is unexpectedly large at this point. The Fall book is about 100 pages. (I love it. It is my baby. My friends actually pester me about buying this one.)
  3. Historical Fiction. This one is a mission from God and I don't want to talk about it really. But it is harder than hell, people, because it is something I never ever do. Use my imagination! What? But I have no doubt this has been assigned by the Divine Editor, whether or not I do it well or it ever gets published. And as a consequence I've been dragging my feet and feeling guilty for not working on it because ... you know ... it's harder than hell.
  4. A book about reading spiritual classics, but with my twist of luring you into it with a popular book and a movie, all of which have related themes. No sample written yet but the person I ran the idea by was not thrilled. Outline and sample in the works for that person, for other publishers maybe, or for self publishing later.
  5. An idea that a publisher IS interested in and which I should be working on instead of this. If they like it, then you'll know later. But for now mum's the word. My priest really wants this book, by the way.
Let's see. Why am I wonderful?

(Gee, I don't know why Catholic authors would find that question awkward.)

Maybe because I say it like it is. (Much more charming when I do it on paper than in person, I can assure you! Rewrites are essential and then you can make it funny.)

Maybe I'm funny. Not sure how well that comes across. But I make myself laugh sometimes.

Maybe because I range wide and throw everything into the pot from pop culture to everyday life to nature and somehow make it all go together, with God always just under the surface waiting for us to catch a glimpse? As Rose would say, my auteur moments.

I don't know. You tell me. I've got nothin'.

Blogging: it just comes out.

Ghostwriting: I have an assignment.

Book: I've only done one and I came up with something the editor wanted that was also a reflection of me (evidently). The devotional mentioned above was an idea I was captivated with which has become a sort of spiritual reflection as I work on it.

The other ideas began as ways I could maybe earn more of a living by writing, but since I seem to be told, "we'd love to work with you, but not on that" while never being told what they actually might want me to work on ... this is not as clear to me. And, to be fair, I pursue it in fits and starts rather than determinedly full-bore.

Process. Hahahahahahaha ... oh, you were serious.

As Rob Long of Martini Shot podcast has affirmed, the worst part is beginning. Not beginning a book. Beginning to write anything. Sitting down. Starting. Not stopping to check email because writing is ... you know ... work.

Once I make myself do that then I just do it. And I'm getting better at doing it in different locations, at different times, and so forth. As long as I do it as if it is work, instead of extra curricular activities (still how I tend to label it), then I'm ok. I tend to combine techniques of hand writing in front of the tabernacle and when putting that in the computer then I take off and continue from there.

Except for blogging. That is: sit down, turn on computer, log in ... and blast off.

And when I think to write books that way, as a blog post, it is magic.

Hey, thanks guys! I wouldn't have remembered that without doing this.


If you want to pick this up, just let me have the link and I'll put it below.

Worth a Thousand Words: Mademoiselle Vaughan

Paul Helleu, Mademoiselle Vaughan, 1905
via French Painters
Sometimes we need a dose of chic around here and no one embodies that better than Mademoiselle Vaughan.

Unless it was my friend June who died in her sleep last week. She was an original member of our movie group and often surprised me with her movie suggestions. It is thanks to her that I saw Bernie. She was always turned out to a T and I will miss her elegant manners, her sense of humor, her chic (of course) and, most of all, her sparkling self.

Monday, May 5, 2014

SYNC's Free Audiobooks Begin May 15

SYNC offers 2 FREE audiobooks each week May 15 - Aug 20, 2014 – a current Young Adult title paired thematically with a Classic or Required Summer Reading title.
Just wanted to get this on your radar.

SYNC may be aimed at young adults but they offer a wide range of books that appeal to everyone. For example, their upcoming schedule offers classics like The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, Oedipus the King by Sophocles, and Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie.

And you never know when one of the current books is going to grab you. I was particularly pleased to see that I'll be able to nab Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (my review here).

They use Overdrive (beloved of libraries everywhere it seems) to deliver the books but the software is free and I've had no problems using it.

Worth a Thousand Words: Camille Monet and a Child

Camille Monet and a Child in the Artist’s Garden in Argenteuil
Claude Monet, 1875
via WikiPaintings
There is a lot of information about the painting at the link, but nothing about what I love most in this painting — the child's rapt concentration on the book. That is so lifelike, so what I know from being around little ones and I love the way Monet is able to evoke it.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China, via Wikipedia
This is a pretty good photo of one of the world's wonders. However, it is not nearly as interesting or personal as those which can be found at Ambrose-a-rama where Jen Ambrose and her family regularly set off to explore different sections of the Great Wall. Jen's photos inspired today's piece of art and I encourage you to check out her blog for a more personal feel.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Weepers

Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, was the leading art patron of fourteenth-century France. His tomb, by Claus Sluter and Claus de Werve, is inhabited by alabaster hooded figures, known as "weepers."

Description from Paul Johnson, image via Wikipedia
I really love these figures with their individual features and positions. Paul Johnson, Art: A New History, delights in this eloquently. Of course, I am going to share his comments!
Sluter was obliged to interrupt his work to attend to Philips tomb, a grand affair mainly in alabaster ... Sluter was bidden to attend the funeral and observe it, and his contract specified that he had to provide, in addition to the effigy of Philip, fifty-four angels and forty "Images pleurants." The angels are lost but the "weepers," as they were known--cowled figures common in late medieval art--were all done from life, and may have been actual participants in the obsequies. Slater was a master of the draped figure and its folds, in which he took exquisite delight, especially when working in a soft, luminous stone like alabaster. But he also put in wrinkles and beards, even the stubble, and all the details of costume under the drapes, down to buttonholes and laces. What strikes one most, however, is not such details as rosary beads, important though they are in creating verisimilitude, so much as the facial expressions, which though convey shamelessly the mixed emotions of a funeral: genuine and feigned grief, joy that one is still alive, sharp observation of how other people are behaving. Even funeral fashions are attended to, for each figure is clothed according to rank and personality, and each has a distinctive, often slyly observed,life of its own. After looking at these works, we feel we have a clear idea of what a grand early-fifteenth-century funeral was like. And that was Sluter;s intention, for he did not want to change the world, merely to record it truthfully. If only all great artists were like him!