Thursday, July 31, 2014

Well Said: Persistence and Talent

Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent.
Steve Martin, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Let's face it, this is why Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 Hour Rule resonates. Most of us are not geniuses or inherently talented like Mozart. We've got to be persistent to get where we want to go. It's also why a lot of cultures traditionally venerate the elderly. They've put in their 10,000 hours. They might have some wisdom or skills to pass on.

That's not a message that's really popular in mainstream American culture. But it's true nonetheless.

Daily Prayer: St. Patrick's Breastplate

I usually only trot this out on St. Patrick's Day but a couple of months ago I began praying this aloud every morning. I can't recall why although probably something specific prompted me. After all, it's pretty long to just say on a whim!

But the first time I did so, my voice gained strength and momentum as I went. I could almost hear something like war drums in the back of my mind as I read. It leaves me with the feeling that I can face anything the day dishes out. I liked that.

What I liked even more was the way it grounded me in reality. I mean, of course, the reality that undergirds everything a Catholic should keep in mind.

And finally I like that it comes from someone real, St. Patrick, who had to face much greater hardships than I ever encounter.

Sometimes bits of it come to mind, reminding me of something I need to ground myself in for that moment's need. And that is the best part.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven, (God the Father)
Light of sun, (God the Son)
Radiance of moon, (Our Blessed Lady)
Splendor of fire, (God the Holy Ghost)
Speed of lightning, (Saint Michael)
Swiftness of wind, (Saint Gabriel)
Depth of sea, (Saint John the Baptist)
Stability of earth, (Saint Joseph)
Firmness of rock. (Saint Peter)

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and all evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise.

Christ in the heart and mind of every one who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me or to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me or my works,
Christ in every ear that hears me or hears of me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

(The full text of what has come to be known as St. Patrick's Breast Plate. While it's not known for sure, ancient tradition has ascribed the prayer to Patrick himself. This is an older translation.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Boy by the Water

Boy by the Water, Paul Gauguin, 1885
via WikiArt
This was inspired by the Lines and Colors post "Not the usual Gauguins" which I encourage you to check out. I discovered that what I disliked were the most recent Gauguins, not his early work. And there are a lot of early pieces that I liked a lot. Including the one above which evokes the sound of rippling water and cool shade, with some bird song. All in all a perfect place to while away a summer afternoon.

Well Said: Making others as you wish them to be

Be not disturbed that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.
Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
This is so spot-on that I have a feeling it is in more than one of my quote journals. And that's probably a good thing. There is always that temptation to point the finger at others when what we should be doing is turning a mirror upon ourselves. This quote reminds me so perfectly and simply.

Another Note on Rereading The Lord of the Rings: Sources of Story

The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3)The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

When the full light of the morning came no signs of the wolves were to be found, and they looked in vain for the bodies of the dead. No trace of the fight remained but the charred trees and the arrows of Legolas lying on the hill-top. All were undamaged save one of which only the point was left.
I've been thinking of Tolkien coming up with all this fantasy, which was a really new thing for its time, in terms of story, structure, and complexity. For some reason I was particularly pondering it deeply, thinking of how in the world he came up with it all, when I read the above paragraph.

Somehow I could FEEL the age of legends stretching back to cold Northern halls.

Now, I felt foolish once that came to mind because I knew that. I'd read it time and again. But it was a more visceral connection this time. Not just intellectual. I really could feel it in my bones.

Vietnamese Cooking: Grilled Salmon with Chili-Lime Sauce

This could not have been easier or more delicious. Get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Well Said: The world must be hungry

Eight out of ten letters about Cross Creek ask for a recipe, or pass on a recipe, or speak of suffering over my chat of Cross Creek dishes.

"Bless us," I thought, "the world must be hungry."

And so it is. Hungry for food an drink — not so much for the mouth as for the mind; not for the stomach but for the spirit.

... Food imaginatively and lovingly prepared, and eaten in good company, warms the being with something more than the mere intake of calories.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek Cookery
Yes, it is the company that makes the meal come alive. Rawlings wrote this in 1949 so it is unsurprising she was getting so many letters about food, many of them from soldiers overseas. However, it inevitably calls to mind Proverbs 15:17, which takes it one step further "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."

Worth a Thousand Words: Cuttlefish Poster

Title: Shinshin chinka Kattoru = Cuttlefish [Cuttlefish] 新進珍菓カットル
Description: A cuttlefish. "Cuttle" or "Cuttle Fish" (a snack), Chishima-ya Shoten (千島屋商店).
Subject (Company): Snack foods
This is via BibliOdyssey which has a big selection of Taishô Posters to peruse. It was a tossup between this and one with several Japanese maidens dreaming of a steamship.

Let's face it, I'm a sucker for a cuttlefish. Isn't this little guy cute? And the way he's obligingly holding the product box up? Adorable?

What I'm Reading: Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?: . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers' In-box at the Vatican ObservatoryWould You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?: . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers' In-box at the Vatican Observatory by Guy Consolmagno

Got an advance e-book from the publisher. Am waiting for the actual book to show up but couldn't stop from taking a quick peek. And was off and running because this book grabbed me. I'm halfway through.

The authors want to discuss two things.

1. The fact that science and faith are not things that live in separate categories but can inform each other.

2. What are the deeper questions behind the ones which materialize in their in-boxes.
(How do you reconcile the The Big Bang with Genesis? Was the Star of Bethlehem just a pious religious story or an actual description of astronomical events? What really went down between Galileo and the Catholic Church – and why do the effects of that confrontation still reverberate to this day? Will the Universe come to an end? And… could you really baptize an extraterrestrial?)

This dual intent leads to rich, interesting dialogues. I use the word dialogues intentionally because the book is structured as a conversation between the two authors who are astronomers for the Vatican. Each is a highly accredited scientist and a Jesuit.

They are really good so far at talking about both science and faith in ways that are eminently reasonable and understandable. I think this would be an excellent book to share with all sorts of folks, whether Catholic or not.

More after I finish the book.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Brown Bear

Brown Bear
taken by Remo Savisaar
Another wonderful look at the natural world from the incomparable Remo Savisaar.

This speaks to me today because I am worn out from the Beyond Cana retreat this weekend. It is good for me to shake free from mundane concerns of everyday life by recalling that most of the creatures on the planet have very different immediate concerns.

Their lives are both simpler and with more direct action and consequence. It both refreshes and anchors me in reality.

Well Said: Mysterious Good Art

Good art often seems to us mysterious because it resists the easy patterns of the fantasy, whereas there is nothing mysterious about the forms of bad art since they are the recognizable and familiar rat-runs of selfish day-dream. Good art shows us how difficult it is to be objective by showing us how differently the world looks to an objective vision.
Iris Murdoch
Many thanks to reader of this blog, Tom, who sent this quote because of the art featured here. I like it because it seems to encapsulate the mysterious draw of pieces that I keep coming back to again and again. I know not why. They just draw me. And that is the link with the mysterious which Murdoch points out. It is also that link with the Divine which continually draws us through myriad sources to which we are attracted, though we may know not why.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Beyond Cana marriage retreat this weekend

How could I have forgotten to mention this? Just busy I guess.

The Beyond Cana marriage enrichment retreat is going on this weekend. So far it is going very well.

We're behind the scenes this time around, in charge of the food. Both behind the scenes and in front of the folks have their own sets of rewards and challenges so it is nice to get a change of pace, actually, in simply "doing." Speaking of which, I've got to get busy making banana pudding!

Prayers for its success would be welcome!


Friday, July 25, 2014

Well Said: Being polished

If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?
I'm so guilty of this. I continually am struggling with being irritated by every rub. This simple saying has been good for keeping me a bit more mindful ... and going with the flow better.

Worth a Thousand Words: Green Dress 3

Green Dress 3
painted by Edward B. Gordon
We all know I'm a big fan of Edward B. Gordon. This painting gives a good idea of why. It just draws me in.

When the Game Stands Tall - immediate thoughts

Saw the screening last night.

I came for Jim Caviezel. And the football (always the football).

I was surprised by how good this movie is. And that it is layered giving us more than one look at the central question in which football is a means to an end.

The trailer doesn't really give an idea of how this movie does NOT hit every point with a hammer, but for me it was head and shoulders above The Blind Side or Remember the Titans. And it even gives Friday Night Lights a run for its money. Not in technical know how, but in heart.

Review to come soon.

If you get a chance for an early screening don't wait for me. Go see it.

Opening August 22.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Well Said: "Fall into the public domain"

Pedantic point: I hate the term “fall into the public domain”. Things don’t “fall into” the public domain, like carelessly-held cellphones into a pool. They are released from the shackles of copyright, set free from their state-mandated bondage. They soar among the public imagination. The public domain is the natural home of all ideas and concepts, it is their ancestral homeland to which they return triumphant from exile.
Yep. Don't get me started. Basic copyright is reasonable but the extent it has been extended to, especially for older materials, is completely frustrating to anyone who podcasts. As I do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Prayer Request For My Mother - UPDATED

My mother is getting a pacemaker tomorrow. This is a 95% safe procedure I am told but I also believe in the power of prayer to accompany percentages.

Any prayers for her safe surgery and, just as importantly, no complications afterwards would be much appreciated.

Also, she's been in the hospital for a few days and told me this morning that her Kindle was a real Godsend. She had it loaded up with old favorites and some new purchases. Score one for the Kindle!

The surgeon said the surgery went really well and that she should be able to go home tomorrow if all else goes well. Thanks be to God!

And thank you for your prayers on her behalf.

Worth a Thousand Words: Studio at East Gloucester

Paul Cornoyer (1864–1923), Studio at East Gloucester
via Wikipedia
I'd never heard of Paul Cornoyer until seeing him featured at Lines and Colors. He's got a style that grabbed me right away though. Check out the Lines and Colors post for more links and samples of this artist's work.

Kitchen Tips & Tricks

Side-to-side whisking. A neat trick you can find out about at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

A Few Notes on Rereading The Lord of the Rings: Luthien and Beren

The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3)The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I reread this at the beginning of the year for discussions at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast where we covered the book in two parts: one, two. (We also discussed the movies in relationship to the books in a separate episode.)

Also, if you'd like an actual review;I really cannot do a better than Joseph R. did, so please go read his.

Recently I felt the call of the book and was forcing myself not to pick it up again. "You JUST read this behemoth. For the third time! Enough already!"

Evidently not. I finally gave in and am relishing every word.

I had jury duty yesterday. There's nothing like several hours in the jury pool room for getting a lot of pages under your belt.

Interestingly, as I surveyed the huge room, there were very few people using e-readers. Almost everyone had newspapers, magazines, or actual books. Some had computer printouts and were using markers as they read. I know what the sales number say about print being dead but you couldn't have told it from that large cross-section of humanity.

At this early point in the book, on the road to Rivendell while running from the Black Riders, I'm struck by how difficult it is to navigate without a compass, even for Aaragorn.

I never noticed how Aaragorn seems masterful until Glorfindel comes along to help, as which point Aaragorn is grateful for help and advice.

And again I'm touched by the Beren and Luthien poem, thinking of Tolkien putting Beren on his headstone and Luthien on his wife's. A beautiful gesture of love and devotion.

It made me think about whose names I could put on our own headstones that would so neatly sum up my feelings about my relationship with Tom. Not Beren and Luthien. That implies the lady lifted up her husband to higher levels.

Then it struck me. Of course.

Faramir and Eowyn.

Not as we have seen them portrayed in the movie, which does a fair job on Eowyn but completely changed Faramir's character. But as we see them in the book. Telling Tom this would make no sense to him since he hasn't read the book. But I can give him this tribute here where people will see it who have read it and understand how the husband has gently enlightened and taught the lady a better way.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Summer

Alphonse Mucha, Summer, 1896
via WikiArt
I love this Art Deco style and the depiction works, right down to the sultry, languid expression.

The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

The Naked Sun (Robot, #2)The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the beautiful Outer World planet of Solaria, a handful of human colonists lead a hermit-like existence, their every need attended to by their faithful robot servants. To this strange and provocative planet comes Detective Elijah Baley, sent from the streets of New York with his positronic partner, the robot R. Daneel Olivaw, to solve an incredible murder that has rocked Solaria to its foundations. The victim had been so reclusive that he appeared to his associates only through holographic projection. Yet someone had gotten close enough to bludgeon him to death while robots looked on.
What a shocker! I suspected the murderer but not the ending Asimov gave us. Wow.

The Naked Sun gives us a look at the mysterious Outer Worlds, first mentioned in The Caves of Steel. Solaria has never had a crime, due to their extremely privileged population served solely by robots who, of course, never commit crimes of passion. Lige Bailey finds this open, practically empty environment poses both the challenges of solving the mystery and of adapting his agoraphobic nature, thanks to a lifetime of living in underground cities on overpopulated Earth.

Asimov has fun looking at the sociological effects of a high-tech, low population world. I was fascinated by Asimov's contrast of Elijah Bailey, used only to an overcrowded Earth, with the outworld Solarian society which had open space, eugenics, and many robots. There is no way Asimov could have foreseen our computer-oriented society today, but I found the Solarian society's preference for "viewing" through screens rather than "seeing" in person to be a disturbing echo of what we ourselves seem to be moving toward.

I originally read this long ago and remembered a lot about the Solarian society but almost nothing about the mystery itself. Listening to William Dufris' excellent narration, so long after my first reading, I found this a wonderful mystery which kept me guessing. Dufris surpassed his performance in The Caves of Steel as he voiced a wide range of Solarian characters from sensuous to prim, blowhard to reserved, blustering to withdrawn. My favorite voices actually were the Solarian robots which were precisely what you'd expect, and which we hadn't heard yet though several robots spoke in The Caves of Steel.

If you haven't revisited this series lately I recommend it highly, especially this audio version which brings it to life in a fresh way.

Well Said: Sorrow Doesn't Mean Having to Feel You're Sorry

Sincere sorrow for sin does not necessarily require having to feel sorry. Just like love, sorrow is an act of the will, not a feeling. And in the same way as one can love God deeply without any emotional reaction, one can also be truly sorry for sin without experiencing anything sentimental. Real sorrow is seen principally in the way one unhesitatingly avoids all occasions of offending God and is ready to do specific acts of penance for any infidelities committed.
Francis Fernandez, In Conversation With Christ, vol. 4
I know this. It's just that I catch myself falling into the familiar, popular shallow thinking of our times. That one must have an emotional reaction for a feeling to be sincere. Once I figure it out then it is a great relief to remember I can be sincere without kicking myself for not feeling.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Sympathy

Briton Riviere, Sympathy, c. 1878
via Arts Everyday Living
Since we featured a cat recently, it is only fair to give equal time to a dog. This is one of my favorite paintings featuring, as it does, a dog doing what they do best — empathizing with their loved ones.

Well Said: Approaching Christ While Leaving the Church to One Side

Those people who claim to approach Christ whilst leaving his Church to one side, and even causing her harm, may one day get the same surprise as Saint Paul did when he was on his way to Damascus: I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. And, the Venerable Bede reflects that He does not say 'why are you persecuting my members,but why are you persecuting me?' For He is still affronted in his Body, which is the Church." Paul did not know until that moment that to persecute the Church was to persecute Jesus himself.
Francis Fernandez, In Conversation With Christ, vol. 4
It's kind of interesting that people know well Paul got his comeuppance by persecuting Christ's church, and yet they themselves will go right ahead and do that same thing. People within the Catholic Church do so as well as those outside of it.

Fernandez goes on to point out that Paul spoke about the Church later as the Body of Christ. Bringing up the logical conclusion, he mentions it is not possible to love, follow, or listen to Christ, without loving, following, or listening to the Church, because she is the presence, at once sacramental and mysterious, of Our Lord, who prolongs his saving mission in the world to the very end of time.

Food for thought, isn't it? The saints worked to improve the Church but through obedience and love. How do we go about it when we see something is going astray? Do we treat Christ's body with medicine or with hatred? Do we love it as we should? This opens up myriad topics for reflection.

Set All Afire by Louis de Wohl

Set All AfireSet All Afire by Louis de Wohl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a historical fiction account of St. Francis Xavier who, inspired by Ignatius of Loyola to "set all afire", took the faith to India and Japan. I really enjoyed this quick moving book with accurate depictions of past societies and attitudes. I especially enjoyed the looks into the way that Hindus would have seen the Catholic faith. These days it is considered incorrect to embrace one religion as being True (or "truer") than others. However, de Wohl illustrates just what Christianity brought to the common people which helped open them to the light and love of God.

It also made several points which I found illuminating in the context of a recent conversation with someone who adheres to a metaphysical idea of different levels of consciousness mixed with belief in reincarnation. (Which always makes me think of Bender's, the robot from Futurama, mot juste: "If I'd thought I had to go through a whole 'nother life, I'd kill myself right now.")

A Brahmin is talking to Francis Xavier:
"For the sake of my soul and for the sake of the soul of India, answer me: if God became incarnate on earth and suffered for all men, be they Brahmans or Sudras or any other caste, then is final salvation possible for a man even if he has not achieved perfection by himself?"

"No man can achieve perfection by himself," said Francis gently. "But by cooperating with Our Lord and on the strength of Our Lord's death on the Cross a man will be acceptable to God."

"If he can do that, there is no need for him to be reborn on earth,"" said Ramigal slowly.
I had thought of the example of Jesus telling the "thief" on the cross that he would be with him in paradise that day, but not of the larger answer to the reincarnation question. God fulfills the lack in man so that we don't have to do it all by ourselves. And what a relief that is.

Ramigal converts and later writes to Francis Xavier:
Do you remember the first talk we had, in Tiruchendar, when I mentioned reincarnation, and you taught me that by the Grace of God all could be achieved a single life? Now that I am Father Pedro, I can see so clearly that more than one incarnation can be compressed into a single life. In a sense, a new life started for me when I joined an ancient and wise man high up in the North. But in baptism I was truly reborn from water and in confirmation I was truly reborn from the Holy Spirit....
This struck me mightily when I read it as the "different levels of consciousness" issue was swirling through the back of my mind. Again, God does it all in one go, if we cooperate with him. Wow, Christianity really does have it all! And I kind of love that.

At any rate, it is a fascinating and adventurous tale and one I can recommend.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Well Said: Preparing the Soil

All men, whatever their lives may have been in the past, are able to become soil that is prepared to receive God's grace. God pours himself into our souls in accordance with the degree of welcome He finds there. God gives us so many graces because He trusts each one of us; there is no soil that is too impervious or too uncultivated for him, so long as it is prepared to change and to respond to him.
Francis Fernandez, In Conversation With Christ, vol. 4
Listening to the Gospel reading last Sunday with the parable of the sowers, this was the very thought that ran through my head. Yes the soil may be packed down hard from people walking on it, but if someone hoes it up, adds some compost, and the soft rain falls? Then it too may be fertile.

I get the point Jesus was making, of course, but considering the farming analogy it seems to me that He also expects us to cultivate our own gardens ... so that we may cooperate with the farmer. In my own life, I can see that the more often I examine my conscience, cultivate the virtues, repent of my sins in confession, and so forth, then the more God's grace can enrich my life.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“[...] We keep a record for every member, and for every customer who might yet become a member, in order to track their work." He paused, then added, "Some of them are working very hard indeed."

"What are they doing?"

"My boy," he said, eyebrows raised. As if nothing could be more obvious: "They are reading.”
Clay Jannon was lucky to find a job at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Times are hard and jobs are scarce. However, the bookstore sells very few books and the few regular patrons seem to have a strange mission that no one will talk about. Then there's the fact that most of the books can't be found in any index of published books. Naturally Clay begins investigating and winds up on a fascinating quest that includes secret societies, museums, ancient artifacts ... and e-books, virtual reality, and Google.

This book feels like a nerd's dream come true. Not only is there the high tech point of view but also the typographer's inside details. Ok, key figure Griffo Gerritszoon is made up, but Francesco Griffo was actually Aldus Manutius' employee. Who was Aldus Minutius? Every time you read something in italics, you can thank him for inventing them.

There is an interesting tension between the old ways and the new: old knowledge in books versus Google, bookstores versus e-books, tradition and innovation. These are things that all of us cope with in our own ways but it's kind of fun to see it all linked together and hanging off of bits of real history, a la DaVinci Code, but with less of a mean spirit than in Dan Brown's book.

If you ever played Zork or Baldur's Gate, if you ever thrilled to a quest in a fantasy book, if you ever played a scavenger hunt or lost hours to solving mysteries, then this book is going to push your buttons. Mix that in with the idea of a "fellowship" and you've got a sense of where this book excels.

It doesn't have deep character development, but that's not the point of this book. It is skimming the surface of some themes but it still manages to present them and give you food for thought while having a good time. In that it is very much like The Haunted Bookshop or Agent to the Stars or The Rosie Project, just to mention a few light books that I love.

It's a light, fun read with a sense of being an adult Harry Potter-ish book. Perfect summer reading.

Worth a Thousand Words: Superdame Gale Allen!

—”Gale Allen” in Planet Comics #12 (1941), writer & artist uncredited
via Not Pulp Covers
Gale Allen, outer-space adventurer and leader of the “Girl Squadron!

We all want to be a superdame like Gale Allen, don't we ladies?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Sleeping Time

Sleeping Time
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar
Is it a dream? Is it an artist's fabrication? It is a rare moment in nature. I can almost hear the minute rustling of grass, the silence except for small night creatures' movement.

Well Said: A special kind of serenity

Complete trust in God, using whatever human means are necessary in each situation, gives an incomparable fortitude and a special kind of serenity to the Christian, whatever may happen to him and whatever the tribulations he may have to face up to.
Francis Fernandez, In Conversation With God, vol. 4
So there are two things to think about here, for me anyway.

First, how complete is my trust in God? Do I have that special kind of serenity?

Second, am I using whatever human means are necessary in each situation? I know people who will say they have complete trust in God and then laze around waiting for whatever they've been praying for to drop into their lap.

It takes a fine balance to encompass these two things well.

Children's Books: A Little Book About Confession for Children by Kendra Tierney

A Little Book about Confession for ChildrenA Little Book about Confession for Children by Kendra Tierney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

11. What does going to confession do?

The Sacrament of Penance heals our souls when we hurt it by sinning. When we confess our sins to a priest, it is God who hears us and forgives our sins.18 God always forgives us if we are sorry, no matter how big or how many our sins are.

The Bible tells us the story of how Jesus treated a woman who had committed a big sin.19 She had been arrested, and the people were going to throw rocks at her.

Jesus came and told the people, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." One by one the people put down their rocks and left.

When only Jesus and the woman were left he told her, "Go, and do not sin again."

God always forgives us when we ask, but he also asks us to change our behavior. The Sacrament of Penance helps us with this.20

18. CCC. 1461
19. John 8:3-11
20. CCC 1468
This is a really terrific little book that I think might help parents as much as the children they read it with. For one thing, Kendra Tierney strips matters down to basics, as you can see from the excerpt above, to help everyone see the basis for all the ins and outs of the sacrament.

It begins with a brief glossary and then moves through a series of simple questions and answers. This is followed up with a brief look at a few saints who have links to confession, a simple examination of conscience, and a quick review of what actually happens during the sacrament. A really nice feature is that the cover has a quick reference on the front and back flaps containing the steps of the sacrament, the Act of Contrition, and an extremely brief examination of conscience. Personally, I found the examination of conscience really nice as a way to get back to basics in my own life. That may say more about me than it does about the book but, again, I think adults will find this touches them when they are reading through it.

I'm not crazy about the illustrations since they all look as if children drew them. Skilled children, to be sure, but children nonetheless. Maybe some children enjoy looking at pictures their peers could have drawn. I never found them appealing no matter what age I was. Of course, this is purely a matter of personal taste so don't let that stop you from picking up this gem of a book.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Looks wonderful, tastes delicious, and is much easier than you'd think.

Get the recipe for a Pavlova With Strawberries at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Worth a Thousand Words: Mademoiselle Huquier Holding a Cat

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, Mademoiselle Huquier Holding a Cat, 1747
This is via Arts Everyday Living where there are many more cat paintings to be enjoyed. Different aspects of the feline personality were so well portrayed that I had a hard time choosing. Eventually I went with the playful nature of this young lady's pet.

I feel as if life with dogs is easier but I do occasionally miss having a cat around the house. However, even if my husband were amenable, our little white Kaylee would surely try to kill any cat we brought home. So for now I will just enjoy them in art.

Well Said: Aliens and working at a fevered pitch

What you need to know before reading this: Gwedif is an alien. The narrator is human.
Gwedif pulled up to me as we walked. "I wish we had more time," he said. "This happened with Carl too. Barely time for introductions, and then off to decide the fate of our peoples. If nthing else, we've learned that you humans thrive on crisis."

"Anything worth doing is worth doing at a fevered pitch," I said.

"I don't know about that," Gwedif said. "I think the first place I'll go when I visit your planet—really visit your planet, I mean, not that little trip I took earlier—I think I'll go visit a monastery. Those people seem to have the right idea. Slow meditative spiritual contemplation."

"I think most of the monasteries these days are either making chant CDs or boutique wines," I said.

"Really?" Gwedif said. "Well, hell. What is it with you people?"
John Scalzi, Agent to the Stars
Scott and I recorded our discussion last night which will come out this week at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

I forgot to mention this bit. And I loved it. So here you go. An appetizer.

Children's Books: Angels for Kids by Donna-Marie O'Boyle

Angels for KidsAngels for Kids by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Artists have painted, drawn, and sculpted Angels in a variety of styles. Angels are many times portrayed as children. This is most likely to convey innocence.

Beginning in about the fourth century, Angels were usually illustrated with wings. That's how we usually see them in books, paintings, on the walls of churches, in icons, or in the art of stained-glass windows. The wings might even be the artist's interpretation of their swiftness. An Angel is able to quickly come to our aid. However, this also has roots in Holy Scripture, since some of the people in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible describe the angels who appeared to them as having wings.

For instance, we know that Isaiah saw a winged Angel. Ezekiel, too, saw visions of winged Angels. Most times when Angels appear, they look like normal people, always men. Sometimes Angels appear all aglow in awesome splendor. Warrior Angels—like the Archangels—are tremendously tall and powerful.
As you can see from the excerpt, this is a book for older children and might even be good as a quick primer for adults. Donna-Marie O'Boyle has a true talent for explaining the basics about angels, which are a more complex subject than most people might think.

She includes scriptural references, real life stories such as the children at Fatima, and has ways to relate personally to the fact that angels are all around us. The book cover angels in the Bible, their work, what they look like, archangels, fallen angels, a variety of prayers and much more. I also really liked the book design which was simple but beautiful.

I have a special interest in angels myself and consequently have read a number of books about them. This is a really great book that I'm not sure I'll be able to make myself give to the children I know. I might have to buy them their own copy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Well Said: Folk call the road lonely

For myself, the Creek satisfies a thing that had gone hungry and unfed since childhood days. I am often lonely. Who is not? But I should be lonelier in the heart of a city. ... I walk at sunset, east along the road. There are no houses in that direction, except the abandoned one where the wild plums grow, white with bloom in springtime. ...

Folk call the road lonely, because there is not human traffic and human stirring. Because I have walked it so many times and seen such a tumult of life there, it seems to me one of the most populous highways of my acquaintance. I have walked it in ecstasy, and in joy it is beloved. Every pint tree, every gallberry bush, every passion vine, every joree rustling in the underbrush, is vibrant. I have walked it in trouble, and the wind in the trees beside me is easing. I have walked it in despair, and the red of sunset is my own blood dissolving into the night's darkness. For all such things were on earth before us, and will survive after us, and it is given to us to join ourselves with them and to be comforted.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek

Children's Books: Women of the Bible by Margaret McAllister

Women of the BibleWomen of the Bible by Margaret McAllister

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Rescuing animals is only the start of it," said Mother Noah. She scooped up a handful of seeds and placed them carefully in her pocket. "If God wants to send a flood, it's very good of him to ask Noah to put the animals in a boat. But then what do you do with them?"


But however hard it [work] was, every day brought something good. On day ten the tigers realized that she was a friend and stopped trying to eat her. On day eleven the parrots learned to say, "Move over!" which saved Mother Noah a lot of shouting. On day fifteen the chimpanzees had a very silly half hour with Ham's hat and Mr. Noah's whistle. ...
I have a real antipathy toward things that are yanked out of perspective and told from some "special" point of view, usually to empower some group. I encounter this a lot in feminist perspectives where predictable and myopic points of view bore me to tears.

So you can imagine the shiver that ran down my spine when I saw the title Women of the Bible. I read the first story, Mother Noah, to see how it fit into that feminist construct. And was pleased to see it did no such thing. Furthermore I was delighted to find it humorous, relatable, true to Genesis, and opened up my mental image of life aboard the ark. I continued, enchanted, through stories of Rachel's worry about Jacob's meeting with Esau, Miriam's following her baby brother Moses floating in the river, Mary's four special things kept in a box to sink in her mind the great turning points in her life, and many more.

Each story is told in a different way and from a different perspective. Each is accompanied by truly enchanting illustrations by Alida Massari which made me go looking for other books she's worked on.

Most importantly, each story would make a wonderful story time with your favorite little ones, whether girls or boys. They encourage questions and wonder and "entering into" familiar Bible stories from an imaginative point of view.

Highly recommended.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Young Girl Climbing Rocks

Young Girl Climbing on Rocks at Park Guell
taken by Carlos Lorenzo at Barcelona Photoblog
Looking for more summertime photos I went back to 2007 in the Barcelona Photoblog archives and found this beaut. Go to Carlos' place and click on the photo to see it in full screen glory and also his comments.

Well Said: A Star

"In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas."

"Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of."
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Yes. There are facts and there is truth.

A Couple of Movies on My Radar: Calvary and Exodus


CALVARY’s Father James (Brendan Gleeson from In Bruges) is a good priest who is faced with sinister and troubling circumstances brought about by a mysterious member of his parish. Although he continues to comfort his own fragile daughter (Kelly Reilly ) and reach out to help members of his church with their various scurrilous moral - and often comic - problems, he feels sinister and troubling forces closing in, and begins to wonder if he will have the courage to face his own personal Calvary. CALVARY opens in select theaters on FRIDAY, AUGUST 1, 2014 (Rated: R; Running Time: 104)
I have a few questions going into Calvary. The priest has a daughter? That can be a legit thing, but my antennae are up.

On the other hand, I'm a sucker for Brendan Gleeson ever since seeing him in In Bruges, hence my agreeing to go to the movie screening where he will be doing the Q&A. Yep, I'm excited!

I also became interested in seeing this after reading that the director said, "There are probably films in development about priests which involve abuse. My remit is to do the opposite of what other people do, and I wanted to make a film about a good priest." I've gotta love that!

More after the screening in a couple of weeks. The trailer is here though I don't think it is that great. I feel as if the description above works just fine.


It's been a long time since the Ten Commandments, which was made in 1956. I myself really loved The Prince of Egypt from Dreamworks but that was animated.

And then came Ridley Scott with Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Ooo, and Christian Bale as Moses! Now I'm really interested!

Jeffrey Overstreet has some excellent observations and links if you are interested in this upcoming movie. I was vaguely interested. And then I saw the trailer. Wow.

I'm having a hard time dealing with a Pharaoh who isn't Yul Brynner, but other than that it really looks good.

Also, word is that Ridley Scott is interested in doing a movie about King David. About time. Talk about a story that's got everything in it: faith, devotion, insanity, war, love, betrayal, a no-nonsense prophet and more. Real Old Testament stuff, if you know what I mean.

I think I'll get to see a screening of this also when it is closer to release, which should be around Christmas.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Starry Night Over the Rhone

Van Gogh, Starry Night over the Rhone, 1888
Naturally after today's poem about the firmament, I had to turn to Van Gogh. But I found a slightly different starry night than we usually see from him.

This is via Arts and Everyday Living where there is a very interesting post about Van Gogh's neighborhood and all the paintings that have bits of what he saw everyday.

For the full glory of this painting, click to see it full size. You really get the sensory effect of waves and reflections and stars far overhead.

Well Said: The Spacious Firmament

The spacious firmament on high,
with all the blue ethereal sky,
and spangled heavens, a shining frame,
their great Original proclaim.
The unwearied sun from day to day
does his Creator’s power display,
and publishes to every land
the work of an almighty hand.

Soon as the evening shades prevail,
the moon takes up the wondrous tale,
and nightly, to the listening earth,
repeats the story of her birth;
whilst all the stars that round her burn,
and all the planets in their turn,
confirm the tidings as they roll,
and spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all
move round the dark terrestrial ball?
What though nor real voice nor sound
amid their radiant orbs be found?
In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
and utter forth a glorious voice,
forever singing as they shine,
“The hand that made us is divine!”

Joseph Addison, 1712
(after Psalm 19)
Psalm 19 is one of my very favorite psalms. I recently discovered that Psalm 19 was one of C.S. Lewis's favorites also. It creates an extra little bit of fellow feeling with him.

Children's Books: "The gospel according to... dog" by Peter D. Ward

The gospel according to... dog: 'the greatest story ever told'... by a dogThe gospel according to... dog: 'the greatest story ever told'... by a dog by Peter D. Ward

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
'Come Lazarus!' I have never heard the Wisest One shout so loudly.

'Come, Lazarus... come out to me!' again he shouted.

The Great Ones [men] all looked at each other uneasily, the smell of fear coming off them as sharp as any skunk. But my ears were pinched back, and I heard what they could not hear: a wondrous thing, a little sigh as gentle as the breeze, and then a scratching, scruffling noise and something being put to one side — the leftover spices, perhaps in a jar being moved? ...

I watched in wonder and could barely keep myself from shouting and dancing and chasing my tail — for in all my days I have never seen anything like this. Suddenly the woman — I realized at once she was the mother of Lazarus — came rushing up and ran straight into the resting-place. There was a shriek of joy and then such weeping it would tear your heart in two if you didn't know it was tears of you that were being wept. ...
Kal is Peter the Fisherman's dog, rescued when he was just a puppy from a group of tormenting boys. He tells us the Gospel story from a canine point of view, including all the senses the we don't notice! Did you know that lepers are delicious to lick and even have a convenient bell to let Kal know they are coming? When Jesus (the Wisest One) heals them it is is a great disappointment because they taste just like regular men again.

Any kid from about the age of 8 who has a basic understanding of the gospel story would enjoy this different view of it. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit myself. Kal's different viewpoint will not only open up the gospel but might prompt children to wonder how their pets understand them and the family events unfolding in daily life.

I really loved the way the book graphically conveyed Kal's sense of smell with "Smellavision" dots of different colors strategically scattered on pages to give an extra layer of information. I wasn't crazy about the illustrations which were done in a very child-like style but, again, that is a matter of personal taste and they don't detract from enjoyment of the story itself.

The story has humor, pathos, drama, and many interesting smells! I can definitely recommend this to imaginative readers, whether young or old.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

In which our band of adventurers face their accusers in a public trial.

Will Juanna, Leonard, Otter, and Francisco escape The People of the Mist? Find out at Forgotten Classics podcast where chapters 28-29 are ready for your enjoyment.

Worth a Thousand Words: Sunlight and Shadow

Sunlight and Shadow, Albert Bierstadt, 1862
via WikiPaintings
This also strikes me as very summery. Perhaps it is because when strolling around St. Augustine on a sunny day we would quickly head for anywhere looking like this so we could get a little shade. It looks cool and peaceful. Perhaps there are a few cicadas shrilling away in that tree and a few birds calling or hopping just out of sight looking for insects. I'm going to sit down here for awhile before moving on.

Well Said: Expressing Christ in Our Own Stories

Gandalf and Frodo are not allegorical masks for Christ, as in a strict allegory, nor symbols for some aspect of human condition, as in a loose allegory. They are people in their own right. But because they are almost real people they can, as real people can, express Christ in their own way.

It is part of the Roman Catholic idea of the saints that each mirrors Christ in an individual way, expressing facets of the infinite Personality, which could not all be expressed in one finite life, no matter how great. The historical Christ, for example, was not a philosopher nor a King; but St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Louis of France show us something of what He might have been like if He had been. Thus Gandalf and Frodo, while being very real and very individual, also have something to tell us about Christ.
Richard L. Purtill, Lord of the Elves and Eldils
I like thinking of expressing Christ in my own story. It's a phrase that appeals to me since all our lives are stories. Of course, from our own points of view, each of us is the star of our story. How am I doing at expressing Christ? And how often? All the time or just a little? My answers are my own but they push me for a fuller and better expression.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

The Caves of Steel (Robot, #1)The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like most people on the over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley has little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to help track down the killer. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the " R" stood for robot.
I snagged a review audiobook of this from SFFaudio.

I originally read this book when I was a teenager and loved it from the beginning. Isaac Asimov's descriptions of an overpopulated future Earth were de rigueur for science fiction of the time. What gave this story a fresh spin was that it was a bona fide mystery.

Many years later, listening to William Dufris' splendid narration, it still holds up. I still remembered the main points of the mystery and detective Lige Bailey's personality. This left me free to fully appreciate the details of Asimov's imagined future society, complete with spacemen and robots to provide tension and interest.

I'm not sure if I completely forgot or just never registered the points Asimov was making in this book about technology, adaptation, and the human soul. I was quite surprised to see that Lige Bailey knew his Bible so well that he could quote it in either the King James version or the modern version. And that he used religion as a main point of differentiation (along with art, beauty, and other intangibles) between humans and robots. Atheist Isaac Asimov didn't deny that faith can lift people higher and that is something one rarely, if ever, sees these days in science fiction.

I also was really interested in watching the way the germ of an idea took hold and was spread from person to person. It was fascinating to see how many things that idea applied to once it had wormed its way into the person's consciousness.

All in all, this short but satisfying mystery is much richer than I recalled. It was greatly enhanced by the audio where William Dufris became a one man theater company in the way he voiced different characters. There was never any fear of my mistaking who was talking in straight exchanges of dialogue. He was simply masterful whether it was world-weary detective Bailey, slightly robotic Daneel Olivaw, jumpy Jessie, or the nervous Commissioner.

Highly recommended.

Wikipedia notes:
It is a detective story and illustrates an idea Asimov advocated, that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself. Specifically, in the book Asimov's Mysteries, he states that he wrote the novel in response to the assertion by editor John W. Campbell that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres. Campbell had said that the science fiction writer could invent "facts" in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov countered that there were rules implicit in the art of writing mysteries, and that the clues could be in the plot, even if they were not obvious, or were deliberately obfuscated.
All hail opinionated John Campbell and Isaac Asimov's determination to prove him wrong. Today there are a lot of different mash-ups included in the science fiction genre and Asimov led the way with this book.

Worth a Thousand Words: Wedding at Cana (in the style of Japanese art)

Wedding at Cana
by Daniel Mitsui
This image is under copyright. The artist has given me permission to share his images on this blog.
I get excited every time I get one of Daniel Mitsui's newsletters. I know there it is always going to include at least one piece of art that thrills me. I'm such a fan of Asian art that I haven't been able to stop examining this depiction of the wedding at Cana.

Of this piece, Daniel says:
The original was created on private commission. This is the fifth commission I have received to transpose traditional subjects from medieval European art into the style of Japanese art. Various Japanese woodblock prints of the 18th and 19th centuries were used for visual reference. Paintings by Hinrik Funhof, Hieronymus Bosch, Gerard David and Bertram von Minden were among the occidental works that influenced the content and arrangement.

The Wedding at Cana is depicted in the middleground as a Japanese marriage ceremony, with the bride wearing the traditional garb, about to sip sake. Christ and Mary converse in the foreground, while a servant fills the six stone jars with water.
There is much more, which you can read here. For example the images on the jars and both sets of screens have very specific symbolic significance.

Lagniappe: Trees and Mordor

A construction project on my campus once destroyed some grass and trees near the library building, perhaps a necessary but certainly regrettable preliminary to expansion of the library. On the board fence surrounding the project, a number of slogans were painted. One near the entrance said simply, "The Gates of Mordor." Unfair, perhaps, but Tolkien — who was moved to write "Leaf by Niggle" when a tree near his home was cut down — would have understood.
Richard L. Purtill, Lord of the Elves and Eldils
I still remember sobbing when a utility truck cut off the tops of a long line of majestic trees one summer when I was young. My mother tried to comfort me and I knew it was a practical action, considering the frequency of ice storms in rural Kansas. However, I still felt for those trees.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis by Louis Markos

On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and LewisOn the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis by Louis Markos

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We need the truth, but we also need to know how to live in and through and by that truth.

What we need, in short, are stories.
Louis Markos begins with the idea that in the past stories weren't only told for children's entertainment and instruction, but for that of adults as well. We've lost not only that idea but a lot of the time-honored values that we used to teach and cherish in such stories. The author "mines" two of the most honored stories in modern times, the Lord of the Rings and, to a lesser extent, The Chronicles of Narnia, to show how they can help us return to classic virtues these days.

Ancient literature, modern culture, and scripture are all woven into Markos' book. The main emphasis is on Tolkien and Lewis, but the depth of material means that it hits you where you live.  Before delving into the virtues, Markos begins with the idea of the hero's journey and the road. These are the heart of good story telling, after all, and so are themes that are returned to repeatedly throughout the book.
In the greater tales, the ones that matter—the ones that change both us and our world—the heroes do not so much choose the Road, as the Road chooses them. For our part, we must be ready, prepared in season and out, to answer the call, whenever and however it comes. And we must be prepared to press on, trusting to an end that we often do not, perhaps cannot, see. It is easy to claim that we would have done what Abraham did, but that is only because we stand outside the story. We see the good end, the fulfillment that Abraham could not see from within the story.
Markos is not detached with his subject at arm's length. He loves these stories and the themes they embrace and his enthusiasm comes through to make a warm, lively reading experience.

I've read several other books looking deeper into The Lord of the Rings, in particular, and this book still managed to provide new ideas for reflection. Markos really does a fantastic job of revealing the characteristics of various characters in Middle-Earth and Narnia and the virtues we can see in them. This is a thoughtful and thought provoking book which I can't recommend highly enough.

I'll be looking for more of Markos' books in the future.

I received this review copy from Aquinas and More, the largest on-line Catholic bookstore. They've got a lot more than books. Check them out for all your Catholic needs ... rosaries, communion gifts, and so forth.

I originally wrote this review of On the Shoulders of Hobbits for the free Catholic Book review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods. I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Well Said: Two views about everything

"I suppose there are two views about everything," said Mark.

"Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there's never ore than one. But it's no affair of mine. Good night."
C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength
Ain't that the truth!

What makes this all the more poignant is that this book clearly shows us just how well the enemy is keeping everyone distracted from clear thought, whether by turning them against each other or putting their focus solely on themselves. A tactic that is still used today, from what I observe and what I struggle with myself.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Peach-leaved Bellflowers

Peach-leaved Bellflowers
taken by Remo Savisaar
Is this not simply gorgeous? Click through to see it fill the screen in glorious purple.

The Last Policeman at SFFaudio

You may recall that I really loved The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. Here I discuss it with the others from the SFFaudio podcast gang.

Yes. I annoy everyone until they read the books I love. Not just you guys. Everyone.


You know that I care, very much, about book design.

This project to rethink Bible design in terms of typeface, binding, proportions, and more so that the Bible is an enjoyable reading experience is very exciting.

Well Said: Mostly true

Both the stolen apple [The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis] and the Ring [Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien] work: they do give the immortality and power that they promise, just as the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3 does open the eyes of Adam and Eve to the knowledge of good and evil. The lie does not lurk in the primary promise of life-strength-wisdom, but in the accompanying, deceptive promise that these things, once achieved, will make one into a god: eternal, omnipotent, omniscient. The lie rests in the false promise that the life it gives will be a life worth living, the strength a strength worth wielding, the wisdom a wisdom worth possessing.
Louis Markos
On the Shoulders of Hobbits
It's always just that little twist when evil tells us lies. Mostly true is the key to a good lie, after all. Unfortunately that "mostly" is a long way to fall from real truth. And we are always sorry.

Pilgrimage Reading: Grandma's on the Camino by Mary Wyman

Grandma's on the Camino: Reflections on a 48-Day Walking Pilgrimage to SantiagoGrandma's on the Camino: Reflections on a 48-Day Walking Pilgrimage to Santiago by Mary O'Hara Wyman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary Wyman has an entry for each day of her solo walk to Santiago. Each includes the daily postcard she sent to 4-year-old granddaughter Elena, a journal entry from that day, and a longer reflection from after the pilgrimage was completed. I really enjoyed the format, especially the ways that Wyman connected with her granddaughter in the cards by asking questions or suggesting little activities like "count to 36 out loud with Mama to see how many days Grandma has left to walk the Camino (paraphrased)."

I found a lot of the book fascinating and almost feel as if I'd been along for the trip. Certainly I was just about as concerned as Mary that she get to lodgings in time for a lower bunk and that her feet would hold out. Mary's vivid descriptions of the people and nature all around her, as well as her inclusion of insights and spiritual experiences all combined to make this a very good book.

It isn't a perfect book though. As a 70-year old woman from San Francisco, Mary has all the stereotypical attitudes of that demographic. Push the right button and the standard liberal attitude comes popping right up. Luckily it was rare enough to avoid ruining the book for those of us who don't share those attitudes. In fact, it often provided humorous moments such as one day's reflections on the huge list of women who have influenced her life, when contrasted with a later day when she struggled to make a list of 15 influential men in her life because it never occurred to her to think of such a thing. She later added to that list but with so many qualifications that she may as well not have bothered. I actually laughed out loud.

More problematic were the two or three times she recorded long conversations about topics dear to her heart and went into so much detail that the book essentially ground to a halt. I realize that this book is to provide a legacy for Wyman's granddaughter, so it made sense from her point of view to write so many pages about such things as Centering Prayer and the Jobs Corps. However, the tone completely changed to a preachy-teachy style that is deadly unless one also is passionate about those topics. I ain't.

I mention the imperfections to explain my 3-star rating. As a whole, they are relatively slight as witnessed by the fact that I read this book in a couple of days, riveted to the pilgrimage.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: At the Bar

At the Bar
by Edward B. Gordon
Another wonderful slice of life from one of my favorite artists.

Julie loves 1920's Paris, especially at midnight. But she's not sure she can give up air conditioning. Scott wonders if Hemingway will still read his rough draft if he refuses to fight him.

It's midnight and we're in Paris at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. I'm really surprised that it has taken us this long to discuss a Woody Allen movie. Join us for Midnight in Paris.

Respecting Conscience: The Right to Be Wrong by Kevin Seamus Hasson

I'm rereading this as a palliative to the brouhaha over the Supreme Court's decision to uphold religious conscience for the Hobby Lobby case. Pilgrims. Park Rangers. Both drive me nuts. This book is a good reminder that there is another way than always screaming at each other about extreme opposites.

Speaking of the Hobby Lobby case, you can get the straight scoop on what's true and what's false in news coverage from GetReligion. I hadn't realized they were represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty but that makes this book even more appropriate since the author founded that organization.

This review originally ran in 2005 at Spero News.

It seems as if our country is caught up in an endless religious war that is being fought with grim determination. No, this isn’t about the war on terror. It is about the annual battle over public nativity scenes at Christmas, the skirmishes over allowing school Halloween parties, whether Jews for Jesus are allowed to preach at the Los Angeles Airport, and much more. In short, it is about how much and what sort of religious freedom is granted in this country.

One side (dubbed “Pilgrims” in the book) wants to legally coerce any religious conscience with which they disagree while the other side (called “Park Rangers”) thinks that all religion must be purely private. Both seem prepared to battle to the death over these issues. The rest of us, that vast majority in the middle, duck and cover as best we can while wondering why we must always fight every detail of anything to do with religion. After all, it didn’t used to be this way. Did it?

Actually, it used to be much worse, as Kevin Hasson tells us in The Right to Be Wrong. He is a constitutional lawyer who now heads up a non-partisan, public-interest law firm that specializes in defending free religious expression for all faiths. Hasson asserts, “We defend all faiths but we are not relativists. On any given day, I think most of my clients are wrong. But I firmly believe that, in an important sense, they have the right to be wrong.” This is not a very long book and it is written in a conversational and easy style, but it packs a heavy punch.

Hasson cuts to the heart of the issue by turning our focus to conscience, that interior voice that won’t be still until we do the right thing. The core of any discussion about religion, according to Hasson, is that we recognize the inherent right of each person to follow his or her conscience just as we would wish them to allow us to follow ours.
Conscience won’t let us be satisfied with resting on the truth we already know, the good we already embrace. There is an unease we experience, an unease that pushes us on to seek ever-deeper truths and choose ever-better goods. Sometimes we ignore it; sometimes we try to suppress it. Conscience, however, demands that we attend to it and miss no opportunity to try to satisfy it. Conscience is forever insisting that we look here, or search there, or try this or that in our quest for the true and the good.

And then conscience still isn’t content. It won’t stand for the argument that searching alone should suffice. Conscience demands not only that we seek but that we embrace the truth we believe we’ve found. It insists that, at whatever cost, our convictions follow through into action. And it’s famously stubborn about this, sending generation after generation of dissidents to all sorts of deprivations in the name of integrity...
In the process of proving this point, Hasson takes the reader on a journey through the history of American religious liberty. We soon discover that there was precious little to be had before modern times. The Pilgrims, whose vaunted quest for tolerance landed them on American shores, quite knowingly practiced a double standard and forcefully suppressed any opposing opinions. We are shown why Roger Williams founded Maryland in order to practice true religious tolerance only to have the laws changed after he died. Similarly William Penn’s vision of religious liberty was soon practiced in quite a different way after his influence waned. James Madison emerges as a man who had a surprisingly accurate vision of religious liberty and, possibly, the influence to get the proper laws passed. It is all the more disappointing, then, to learn that he let Thomas Jefferson influence him to weaken them. As a result, Quakers, Catholics, and Jews were routinely discriminated against by one state after another. It is safe to say that for most of American history, you were free to practice any religion you liked, as long as you wanted to be Protestant.

This is the legacy that has put us in the position in which we find ourselves today. Without that history of intolerance, there would not be the backlash that insists there is no place at all for religion in public life. One could hardly blame the Park Rangers for insisting on suppressing public displays of religion except that, in their turn, they are so very extreme. Under the guise of religious freedom the Park Rangers have exercised their own form of oppression so effectively that ludicrous displays of celebration can be found everywhere: a public school system in Michigan offers “Breakfast with a Special Bunny” to avoid using the word Easter, another school system requires that the children exchange “special person cards” in lieu of valentines, and an Ohio bureaucrat explained a decorated tree in December by saying it was to celebrate Pearl Harbor Day. This in turn alarms the Pilgrims who push back even harder. Although it is clear to all bystanders that this is really about one side or the other getting their own way, both sides insist they are advocating universal religious freedom. No one on either side is practicing any true tolerance at all, just like the good old days, in fact.
... Ask either faction whether it believes religious liberty is a human right and you’ll get a passionate, tub-thumping — mostly hypocritical — speech in favor of the idea. That’s because religious freedom is so familiar, so American a concept that nobody can really admit to opposing it. That would be like opposing apple pie. So even those who are at each other’s throats over religious liberty have to insist they all absolutely love the stuff. Instead of confessing that they’re actually opposed to religious freedom for all, the Pilgrims and the Park Rangers among us equivocate. When they say they support “religious freedom,” the Pilgrims mean the freedom of their religion, while the Park Rangers mean freedom from others’ religions. That way, they can all sound so very American — they can say they’re in favor of something called religious freedom — and still be as oppressive as they want to be.
However, that is where Hasson’s insistence on the value of conscience is so valuable. By reminding us that conscience is the core of religious conviction, he takes us to the true turning point of religious liberty. This in turn frees us to totally disagree with another’s religious convictions while, with complete integrity, conceding that they do, indeed, have the right to be wrong. It is this attitude that allows Hasson to be in the position of being both invited to Hasidic Jewish weddings and also to be a guest speaker on the Arab network Al-Jazeera. His respect of the integrity of others’ consciences has earned him their respect in turn. That is the attitude that will help dig America out of our internal religious wars and just possibly bring us, at long last, true religious liberty.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: A Freshly "Hatched" Cicada

Via Hannah
From my daughter Hannah whose arborist job takes her among trees daily. She says, "I've never seen a cicada right out of its old skin, waiting for its shell to dry."

Beautiful isn't it?

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

The 13 ClocksThe 13 Clocks by James Thurber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales.
I never heard of this until Neil Gaiman chose it for his Wall Street Journal book club selection. He has called it possibly the best book in the world and said that he grew up loving this book and thinking it was as well known in the U.S. as Alice in Wonderland.

Naturally I raced online to the library and requested it. Anyone who reads Neil Gaiman, especially his children's books, will instantly see that he and Thurber are kindred souls.

Naturally a prince comes to rescue the princess from the land where time lies frozen so "It's always Then. It's never Now."  Replete with the wordplay and humor one would expect from James Thurber, this is a charming and slightly insane book with large dark elements. Like Alice in Wonderland it has a lot of bits that are just wonderful for their own sakes without having any deeper meaning. And yet, everything comes together to move the story along in a most satisfactory way.

Here's a bit that went into my quote journal.
"The task is hard," said Zorn, "and can't be done."

"I can do a score of things that can't be done," the Golux said. "I can find a thing I cannot see and see a thing I cannot find. The first is time, the second is a spot before my eyes. I can feel a thing I cannot touch and touch a thing I cannot feel. The first is sad and sorry, the second is your heart. What would you do without me? Say 'nothing.'"

"Nothing," said the Prince.

"Good. Then you're helpless and I'll help you."