Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"The Francis Effect" and Me

via Wikimedia Commons
I was relatively unmoved by the idea of Pope Francis coming to America. After all, it wasn't as if I were going to be meeting him. Though I wish him well, I haven't felt personal interest in him. And I didn't feel that he really had a very personal interest in the United States or cared about our culture, just to be honest. Other than possibly to bring us under a critical eye. (Sorry, but that's just how I was feeling from my little part of the Catholic world.)

My main reaction was amazement that a 78-year old would have the stamina to make state visits to Cuba and then carry out a papal U.S. tour with a grueling schedule. I began praying for his health.

Then Pope Francis began speaking and, as I linked to the full text of his addresses for others, I began reading them myself.

I was impressed. And touched. These were the words of someone who clearly had prepared by caring enough to find out what mattered to us. Our heroes were mentioned. Our proud history as a nation of immigrants. Our current struggles.

Over and over, Pope Francis was reaching out toward us in the way we'd understand best, by showing us that he cared about who we are. Which, after all is what a good shepherd does.

It came together for me when watching Archbishop Thomas Wenski on Stephen Colbert's "pope-isode" (which was terrific, by the way). Colbert asked him what the pope was trying to do with visits to Cuba and the U.S. The bishop replied simply, "He's trying to change the culture."

Of course.

I mean, I knew that. But I didn't know it, it didn't hit home until then.

Both Cuba and the U.S. need culture changes to be what we should be in God's eyes, walking in God's way. For all our differences, we are exactly the same. We fall far short, just in ways that reflect our different cultures, our ways of seeing the world. This applies to every country on earth. We all need a culture change. And I was seeing Pope Francis put in the time and effort, pouring himself out, to try to get us to see where the change needs to happen.

This isn't what I'd call "the Francis effect" because what happened to me was fairly gentle. It was a new appreciation for Francis because I suddenly felt as if he cared about me, for who I am as an American. Certainly it made me read his addresses more thoughtfully, with more thought for my own life. (Book publishers, do we have a "Francis Talks to the U.S." book planned - with all these talks in it? Because I wouldn't even wait for the library to get it. I'd buy it.)

Tom's been reading Pope Francis's address to Congress a few paragraphs at a time. It has stimulated a lot of conversation. But we always comes back to the key point: where do we need to pour ourselves out?

Obviously we change the culture simply by being fully ourselves in daily life. If every single Christian did that always, then our culture would change. But that is far from all that we can or should do. It isn't how Jesus lived or the first Christians or the saints. How do we be like that? Where should we pour ourselves out?

Side note: speaking of "the Francis effect," I've also seen similar results from visits by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict here and abroad. I tend to agree with Ross Douthat's assessment.
But there is a common thread that binds Benedict’s success despite low expectations and often-savage coverage and Francis’s success amid high enthusiasm and generally-fawning coverage: Secularism is weaker than many people think.

Worth a Thousand Words: Gare Saint Lazare

Claude Monet: Gare Saint Lazare, 1877
via Wikipedia

Well Said: To convert somebody

To convert somebody go and take them by the hand and guide them.
St. Thomas Aquinas
In other words, you can't do it from afar.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Well Said and Worth a Thousand Words: Lunar Eclipse Over Dallas

Lunar Eclipse Over Dallas
taken by talented photographer and friend Kirsten Walquist
Last night we spent 3 hours watching the total lunar eclipse from the comfort of our back yard. The lights were out, the crickets were chirping, the dew was falling. Despite the nearby traffic on Abrams, we felt the mystery of the natural world come over us.

It's been a very long time since I've sat for three hours with no other occupation than to watch the sky.

We had long stretches of silence, punctuated by thoughts on the incredible regularity and predictability of the "cosmic ballet." How had this looked to the Druids? To the prehistoric people? What did we share with them, despite our advanced knowledge of the mechanics of the eclipse? Just thinking of these physical laws applied to our solar system, our galaxy, the ever-expanding universe gave me a headache and a profound feeling of awe.

I thought again of my favorite psalm, which usually comes to mind because of the first part which praising nature as God's voice. This time I thought about the praise of the Lord's teaching, his pact, his precepts. They apply, of course, to the scripture and our internal lives. In another light, in the way of poetry and the timeless depth of scripture, don't they apply just as much to physical laws — the movement of the stars, of the moon, of our own planet?

I submit they do. Last night they delighted our hearts, gave light to our eyes, and restored us to deeper life.

Psalm 19

(a combination of RSV, Knox, and Robert Alter translations)
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
Yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
who comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
exults like a warrior running his course.
His rising is from the ends of the heavens,
and his circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from his heat.

The Lord’s teaching is perfect,
restoring to life.
The Lord’s pact is steadfast,
it makes the fool wise.
The Lord’s precepts are upright,
delighting the heart.
The Lord’s command unblemished,
giving light to the eyes.
The Lord’s fear is pure,
outlasting all time.
The Lord’s judgments are truth,
all of them just.
More desired than gold,
than abundant fine gold,
and sweeter than honey,
dripping from its comb.
By these I, thy servant, live,
observing them how jealously!

And yet, who knows his own frailties?
If I have sinned unwittingly, do thou absolve me.
Keep ever thy own servant far from pride;
so long as this does not lord it over me,
I will yet be without fault,
I will yet be innocent of the great sin.

Every word on my lips,
every thought in my heart
what wouldst thou have it be,
O Lord, my rock,
my redeemer!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Because It's Friday So Why Not: Nobody Likes Bagpipes

Award winning Bear McCreary's true love, featuring one of my favorite instruments. (No joke.)

Via Summa This, Summa That where there is a lot more information about McCreary.

Pope Francis Hits the Big Apple

First some context for why I keep linking to the whole text.

The Six Times You Were Flat-Out Lied to About Pope Francis
Michael Marinaccio tells us:
I thought it would be fitting to put together a short list of instances where the Holy Father has been completely taken out of context or mis-reported (flat-out lied about) by the national media and press corps.
It's a good list and if you've been actually reading what the Pope says when these little tidbits are reported, then you too won't be surprised by the things Marinaccio reveals.

What the Pope's Been Saying
With that in mind, here are a couple more links to the full text of the Pope's talks at Whispers in the Loggia (as I did for his Washington talks).
  • Pope Francis at St. Patricks: “There is a cause for rejoicing here”, although “you may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials” (1 Pet 1:6). These words of the Apostle remind us of something essential. Our vocation is to be lived in joy.

  • Pope Francis at the U.N.: "At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights."
I won't be doing this every day. Hey, the weekend means I'm not around the computer as much. But you get the idea. You know where to go and what to look for when you see those confusing claims in four words for the Pope's entire message.

Well Said: The terrible pain of loss teaches humility to our prideful kind

We must know the pain of loss; because if we never knew it, we would have no compassion for others, and we would become monsters of self-regard, creatures of unalloyed self-interest. The terrible pain of loss teaches humility to our prideful kind, has the power to soften uncaring hearts, to make a better person of a good one.

Dean Koontz, The Darkest Evening of the Year
I never would have thought of it that way but it is perfectly expressed.

Worth a Thousand Words: Space

Antoine Chintreuil, Space, 1869

Scott has found a perfect location for a Den of Dissolutes in downtown Paris ...

... but he can't understand why Julie is building a barricade outside. Not a chair left in the place! So they have to stand while discussing Les Miserables (2012), directed by Tom Hooper. It's episode 117 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis: So Far

Francis 2.0 Emerges in America

He's talked to Congress, he's talked to the bishops, he's even swung by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Pope Francis is in the U.S. and he's not shy about saying what he thinks. John Allen at Crux has an interesting overview of the visit so far. Here's a bit.
To some extent, the category-blending nature of the pope’s message is simply a reflection of the nature of Catholic social teaching, which utterly defies the left v. right nature of American politics.

As John Carr, a longtime policy advisor for the US bishops and now the head of a Georgetown initiative, once memorably put it, anyone who takes the full range of Catholic teaching seriously is destined to end up “politically homeless” in the United States.

Yet one has the sense that there’s something else going on, a deliberate effort by Francis to correct impressions that he’s a one-man band rather than the representative of a long tradition.

“The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone,” Francis told the bishops, adding that “I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors.”
I was taught that "politically homeless" point in RCIA and have never forgotten it. Though Pope Francis seems to often swing to the right or left, it has always looked to me like the category-defying nature of the Catholic Church. Read it all.

What the Pope's Been Saying ... and His Surprise Visit

Before the news chews it up and spits it out in pieces, you can read the full text of the Pope's talks thus far at Whispers in the Loggia. He's also got feed links.
  • Pope Francis's Address to U.S. Bishops: "I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice."
  • Homily from the Canonization Mass for Junipero Serra: the first canonization mass held on U.S. soil, by the way
  • "Mister Speaker, The Pope": Pope Francis addresses Congress citing Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton as exemplary Americans. (Read about Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton here.)
  • Pope Francis Visits Little Sisters of Poor: Not a talk but about his surprise stop. "Fr. Frederico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See, told reporters at a Washington, D.C. press conference that Francis met with the nuns as “a sign of his support” for them in their lawsuit against the Obama administration."

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pope Watch: Pope Francis Reverses Position On Capitalism After Seeing Wide Variety Of American Oreos

WASHINGTON—Admitting the startling discovery had compelled him to reexamine his long-held beliefs, His Holiness Pope Francis announced Tuesday that he had reversed his critical stance toward capitalism after seeing the immense variety of Oreos available in the United States.
The Onion — they've got their finger on the pulse of America's funnybone. Go read it all - the photo's priceless.

Blogging Around: The Culture Edition

How James Bond lost his soul: Casino Royale

Steven D. Greydanus of Decent Films talks about one of my favorite Bond movies.
I consider Casino Royale, directed by Martin Campbell, possibly the best Bond film, and certainly the most indispensable — the one that offers moral and psychological perspective on all the others, playing as a kind of commentary and critique of the whole franchise. It is also almost the only film (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is another, to a degree) that treats Bond as an actual character, not just a glamorous, romantic action hero.
Yep. That and Skyfall, of course.

The Most Misread Poem in America

Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is the poem in question.
Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.
Woah. I now realize I've never really thought about it or understood it.  A fascinating article at Paris Review which is excerpted from David Orr's book. (Via Brandywine Books.)

This Game Will Bring You to Your Knees, So You Might As Well Start There

Kate O'Hare's Pax Culturati is on of my favorite new discoveries. Pop culture and Catholicism. Yep, that's where I live.

Here, O'Hare profiles former Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens player and Catholic revert Matt Birk. It's a fascinating look at faith and the NFL. Here's a bit.
“The NFL team,” he said, “it’s probably the most spiritual workplace in America. Every team I was on had a team chaplain who was available almost all the time, had an office there; the door was open. We had player Bible studies Monday; had a couple Bible studies during the week; had fellowship service and Catholic Mass Saturday night or Sunday morning. Where else are you encouraged to grow like that in your faith?

“I’ve always said football’s a very spiritual game,” he said. “The game will bring you to your knees, so you might as well start there. It’s just because football’s so difficult, and the highs are high, and the lows are very low, and it’s so much work and grinding and dedication.

“You have to have a spiritual experience or awakening while you’re doing it. You just have to, otherwise it’s like you’re not even alive. Football brought me back to my faith.”

Well Said: A man of rare intellect

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Oh, I do. I definitely do.

Worth a Thousand Words: Gosling Flotilla

Gosling Flotilla taken by Eric Bégin
(Creative Commons License)
via Next-Door Nature
This post celebrates not only adorable goslings, but the fact that Next-Door Nature is blogging once again. There has been a two year hiatus so, naturally, I'm happy to once again read about English sparrows, herons, summer soundtracks (natural, of course), and more. This piece which tracks goslings development from fluff to dignified adults was a particular delight.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Well Said: Unless I had a new book ...

I believe, unless I had a new book, I was never happy.
Teresa of Ávila
She's my kinda people.

Worth a Thousand Words: Marlene Dietrich in Glass Bugle Beads

Marlene Dietrich, dress by Irene
via Silver Screen Modes
No skin is showing but that hardly matters in this dramatic dress. Silver Screen Modes has fascinating commentary and wonderful photos. Here's a taste.
Indeed, the main advantage of a dress made of glass bugle beads is that their weight presses against the skin. You either see the skin left exposed, or you clearly see the contours of the wearer since the beads hug the figure with from the gravity of their weight. And the beads not only reflect light, but are themselves translucent, and sewn onto the sheerest of silk chiffons. They are made of cut glass, an can be colored or lined in silver or gold. Marlene Dietrich below knew how to pose in a gown made of bugle beads. This one was designed for her by the costume and fashion designer Irene. Little skin actually shows, yet you feel that all of her is showing.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Well Said: Steeped in Love for the Word

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Psalm 119:97

This Psalm (119) is steeped in love for the word of God whose beauty, saving power, and capacity for giving joy and life, it celebrates; because the divine Law is not the heavy yoke of slavery but a liberating gift of grace that brings happiness.
Pope Benedict XVI, Prayer
I've been rereading this collection of Pope Benedict's teaching homilies about prayer. Once again I am in awe of his ability to connect with me so deeply but simply.

Study in Light: Mr. Bull Moose

Mr. Bull Moose
taken by Remo Savisaar

In which the Pug plays a deep game and Gypsy Nan's crime is revealed.

Chapters 15-16 of The White Moll are ready at Forgotten Classics podcast, as well as a podcast highlight and other listening recommendations.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pope Francis - Preparing for His U.S. Visit

The pope is just a few days away from his first visit to the U.S. (Not just as pope, but ever.)

I've been vaguely aware of the hype and swelling excitement, but have to admit that yesterday I had to look up the dates he was going to be here. (Sept. 22 - 27 for those similarly unaware.) I haven't felt the need to keep track of anything because I knew that once he hit our shores I wouldn't be able to avoid it even if I wanted to.

However, I was interested enough to prepare slightly by listening to this podcast yesterday.

Pope Francis: The Times are Changing

It is from The Torch, which is the sampler podcast for The Great Courses. This special episode features Professor William Cook who has done series about St. Francis of Assisi and the history of the Catholic Church. Both have been excellent and very fair and evenhanded so I felt I could trust his comments about Pope Francis. Indeed, they proved to be illuminating and interesting.

During the visit, I'll be counting on several trusted sources for news and commentary:
  • John L. Allen, Crux: Allen is insightful, fair, and extremely experienced in covering the Catholic Church for Americans. His piece, A Guide for Americans to "Decoding" Pope Francis is good preliminary reading. For example, Francis uses the term "fundamentalist" in a very different way than we understand it here.
  • GetReligion: I link to their pieces frequently, as regular readers know, because they are experts at examining how the press is reporting on religion. That means they will ask common sense questions which help us understand how pieces may be incomplete or skewed for a particular viewpoint. They also point out excellent reporting which I'd never have seen otherwise.
  • Whispers in the Loggia: the place for reading what the Pope actually says, often in full, not just what the media sound bytes would have you believe.
  • The Deacon's Bench: Deacon Greg Kandra had a long career in broadcast journalism and has a good eye for stories that are both interesting and pertinent. He doesn't often comment on the stories himself, preferring to point you to the original source. 
Of course, I'll be linking to other interesting things as they arise.

Friday, September 18, 2015

My Bumper Sticker

I was just had my THIRD person in a year go to a lot of trouble to get my attention while we were both driving. To say that they really liked my bumper sticker.

Got it at the Eisenhower Presidential Library (which sets the gold standard for presidential libraries) and thought it was hilarious. Also, I've never seen another car with it so I never worry about heading for the wrong red Freestyle.

But it obviously hits another chord these days!

What I've Been (and am) Reading

Victory of Eagles (Temeraire, #5)Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

As I mentioned before, I was reading Naomi Novik's series at a wild, gleeful pace.

This is the fifth book of the series and was my favorite. Unfortunately, it marked the high point though I did read all the remaining books.

This one shows us Temeraire and Laurence separated. How each fares without the other shows both their dependence on each other and what how they've changed and grown since they became companions. Here, too, we get down to brass tacks as Bonaparte invades England. Unlike many of the battle oriented parts of the previous books I really was engaged by this entire story, battles and all.

The Art of Praying: The Principles and Methods of Christian PrayerThe Art of Praying: The Principles and Methods of Christian Prayer by Romano Guardini

I have no memory of reading this before, yet I gave it a 4-star rating in 2010. I eventually dug up a vague memory of reading this, thinking it was just the basics, and giving it to our parish's library. So why was it captivating me this time around?

This book makes me think of Gregory the Great's famous quote.
Scripture is like a river . . . broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.
My first time through this book I was the lamb and this time around I was the elephant. Clearly the difference is in my understanding and not in the book itself, which is deceptively simple.

I'm not sure how Guardini pulled it off but this little book has loads of practical common sense for prayer as well as deep insights that sank in and have influenced me greatly.

Highly recommended.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton by Maisie Ward

I don't even know what sort of search I was doing when I stumbled across this on my Kindle. Maisie Ward was a personal friend of the Chestertons and, so, superbly placed to write this biography only six years after G.K. died. Chock-a-block full of fascinating interviews, excerpts from obscure sources (like early school essays), and family history, this book is written so accessibly that I just dove in.

I don't know why anyone would bother to read another biography of Chesterton (except for Chesterton's autobiography — Ward quotes it and points out that her book is a companion volume at best). I know there are others that are newer but this is so enjoyable and informative that I really am getting a good feel for G.K.

Chapters like that on Bernard Shaw (which was read by Bernard Shaw before the book went to print) are simply priceless for insights into both G.B.S. and G.K.C. I especially loved the fact that Chesterton wrote a book on Shaw, which Shaw reviewed (not too favorably) and then wrote Chesterton a letter chiding him for wasting his time on writing a book about him ... when what Shaw wanted from him was a play! I was completely unprepared for the amount of understanding and affection in the exchange of letters shared in that chapter. There are similar insight insights into Chesterton's other friendships, including that with H.G. Wells.

To be honest (and I feel I should after reading this book), I have to admit I skimmed the long prophety parts from that middle onward. However, there was a lot besides that in the book and it did speak a lot to the modern times we're living in. Everyone wants to be told that what they're doing is right and people who point out the truth are shouted down. Yep.

I know I've read this before but was struck forcibly by the fact that it is told in 4 concise chapters. "Don't bore us, get to the chorus." I didn't recall thinking before that it was so funny either. Who says the scripture writers didn't have a sense of humor? Now, if I can laugh at my own obvious faults as much as I did at Jonah's.


Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the MoviesThrough a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies by Jeffrey Overstreet

I'm rereading this book and finding it just as good the second time around, 8 years later. My original review is here.

The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's WindlassThe Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

I got an audiobook review copy from SFFaudio.

This is the beginning of a new Jim Butcher series. People live in city/nation-state spires well above a hostile world, using crystals for energy.  We see it with a likable group of heroes who come together when their spire is attacked by a rival. It's got a steampunk feel and a bit of naval emphasis that is intriguing since I'm about halfway through Master and Commander. Oh, and talking cats. Actually with some people who can "speak" cat. It's a different thing altogether and, at this point, pulled off fairly well.

Although there are goggles and airships and everyone is very polite, this is really space opera rather than steampunk. Butcher is using standard space opera-esque characterizations and motivations but the tale that is unfolding is anything but predictable. This is helped along by a superb narrator who would entice me to listen to a much lesser tale.

I'm about halfway through and am thoroughly enjoying this book, to the point where I'm not listening to anything else. I especially like the subtle flashes of humor, such as Brigid (sp?) always calling Gwen's attention to the fact that her actions weren't so much heroic as rashly putting them all in danger. And thus Butcher undoes the standard space opera trope at that point by making us realize we were all going along with Gwen because it was just what we expected.

The Complete Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: Volumes 1-7The Complete Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: Volumes 1-7 by Louis L'Amour

Louis L'Amour has a talent for making you speed to the end of the story even when you're fairly sure you know what will happen ... because you're only fairly sure and often he flips the story just a bit on you. Sure the good guys win and the bad guys lose but it's how he goes about it that raises him above other Westerns I've sampled. There's a bit of the O'Henry feel in his work and they capture the essence of what it means to be an American.

I've got this on my Kindle because it's perfect bedtime reading. One L'Amour story and you're ready for pleasant dreams.

I know that everyone always says this is a really "modern" book but, woah Nelly, they weren't kidding. Never having read it before I am astounded in each chapter at how modern attitudes echo this ancient writing. And here we thought we were so new-fangled. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun ... at least when it comes to human behavior.

Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I've read this before but had been thinking about rereading it. Then I saw that Mythgard Academy's next session (free) is on this book. Listening to Corey Olsen talk about the book is pulling me back into Susanna Clarke's world. Especially since I've read all of Jane Austen since I first read this book. I see the echoes very strongly ... pulling me back ...

Study in Light: Roe Deer on Decorated Floodplain

Roe Deer on Decorated Floodplain
taken by Remo Savisaar

Well Said: Our tongues sang for joy

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then we thought we were dreaming.
Our mouths were filled with laughter;
our tongues sang for joy.

Psalm 126
We've all felt this way, haven't we? The Lord surprises us, comes into our presence, answers the prayer we hadn't even thought of yet ... and we think we are dreaming, then our mouths fill with laughter.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I Was Dying to See Mad Max Even Before Reading This Review

Mad Max? Call me crazy. Call me old fashioned. This is how I like my post-apocalypse: Biblical.

George Miller is off the charts. He creates an insane action movie that is totally about relationships with NO RELATIONSHIP EXPOSITION! Not a word. No sentiment. Nothing that you would hear in a Lifetime movie. The characters follow the only possible decisions they can make in the moment. Friends/enemies/saviors/destroyers all become one.

Charlize Theron. Charlize Theron. and one more time Charlize Theron. Again, call me old-fashioned, I'm a softie for a one-armed warrior with a buzz-cut and eyes of fire, but I think she delivers one of the greatest performances in an action movie. Ever.

Well Said: It's not enough to be busy

It's not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?
Henry David Thoreau
I wonder what Thoreau would have thought of Facebook, Twitter, and the like?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Well Said: Those who worship Nature.

Nature operates through cruelty. The strong victimize the weak, the injured and ill are left to die unaided. Nature doesn't care about grief or hurt. As I grew older, through high school and college, Nature was revered, even deified. I was not seduced. I learned at a young age that those who worship Nature, worship power.
Stephen Tobolowsky, The Tobolowsky Files podcast, Episode 71

Worth a Thousand Words: The Firefly

Shoen Uemura, The Firefly, 1913
Via Arts Everyday Living

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Daily Exercise

Daily Exercise
painted by Karin Jurick

Well Said: A Great Book Written by God

Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?
St. Augustine of Hippo

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Yucatan Travel Journal

Yucatan Travel Journal
taken by Brian at the blue hour
Brian's photography is superb and we are really lucky that he agreed to let me share it here. Do go check it all out. It's almost painful to try to pick just one to feature.

Well Said: Dogma

In truth there are only two kinds of people, those who accept dogmas and know it and those who accept dogmas and don't know it.
G.K. Chesterton

In which we see the fruits of the White Moll's labors and come one step closer to Danglar's lair.

Chapters 13-14 of The White Moll are ready for your listening pleasure at Forgotten Classics!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth, and Religion by Paul Leggett

Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth, and ReligionTerence Fisher: Horror, Myth, and Religion by Paul Leggett

"Please - I never made horror films. They're fairy tales for adults." — Terence Fisher, London Daily Telegraph, Nov. 27, 1976

Fisher's spiritual orientation is a mixture of myth, fairy tale and Christian doctrine. ... [he] remains one of the few directors in cinema history with a clear, spiritual outlook.
This book is simply fantastic as well as being extremely easy to read. The author groups his considerations into different themes which illustrate Fisher's cinematic worldview. He doesn't ignore the negative in his subject. Even films that are praised highly may be less than perfect and the author is candid about this. But reading this discussion of Fisher's films soon brings to mind how uncritical many other directors and studios have been about their worldview.

I came away with a new list of films to watch and many specific ideas about what to look for in all horror films. How are good and evil defined? Are all supernatural influences considered equal or are some superior to others? Does science trump everything or is there an acknowledgment of other forces at work?

In fact, this book could be considered a primer in looking at all films with such a lens. That is, if one wants to read about horror, Christianity, and movies.


I first heard of Terence Fisher when Christopher Lee died. Several articles mentioned a passion project of Lee's called The Devil Rides Out, directed by Fisher. Looking for the movie, I became aware of this book in Steven D. Greydanus' article The Cross and the Vampire: Religious Themes in Terence Fisher’s Hammer Horrors, which I highly recommend. A kind and generous Happy Catholic reader gave me this book as a "tip" and I gratefully devoured it in less than a week.

Worth a Thousand Words: Cleese Reads

John Cleese taking a break on the set of Monty Python and The Holy Grail. 1974.
Via Awesome People Reading

Lagniappe: Reading Mr. Dickens

Whether our great-grandchildren do or do not read Mr. Dickens, they will all have to recognize that their great-grandfathers certainly did.
George Stott, Contemporary Review, 1869

In Honor of Mary's Birthday: Special Sale on "Word by Word" Preorders

Most Catholics can recite the Hail Mary but haven’t actually reflected on the meaning of the prayer. Blogger and author Sarah Reinhard invited forty of the most popular Catholic voices, including Lisa M. Hendey, Lisa Mladinich, and Brandon Vogt, to write a brief reflection on one word of the Hail Mary.

In Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary, popular Catholic author Sarah Reinhard compiled an accessible, profound, and unique meditation on each word of the Hail Mary, one of the most important prayer traditions in Catholic life. Each of the reflections encourages readers to “slow down” with the Hail Mary and experience previously unseen dimension in the popular devotion, making it come to life in a new way. This unique, formative, and informative exploration of the beloved prayer is a gift to anyone who wants to be continually changed through it—learning to slow down and examine things more closely.
And me! I did a reflection for the series which became the book. Ave Maria's got a special deal: Preorder Word by Word for $10 PLUS FREE SHIPPING using code MARY at checkout.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Well Said: I am very tired of this Government, which I have never seen ...

I am very tired of this Government, which I have never seen, and which is always insisting that I must do disagreeable things, and does no good to anybody.
Naomi Novik, Throne of Jade
Spoken by a dragon but applies equally well to regular human beings.

Worth a Thousand Words: Filipino Rooster

A texturized portrait of a Filipino Fighting Rooster.
Taken by Wayne S. Grazio, some rights reserved.
I love chicken pictures, so much so that Hannah bought me The Magnificent Chicken which I immediately read straight through and still pick up to browse occasionally. So when Will Duquette shared this around on Facebook I nabbed it.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Movie You Might Have Missed #51: Caesar Must Die

"To think, at school I found this so boring."

#51. Caesar Must Die

Caesar Must Die (2012, Italian)

Convicts in an Italian high security prison practice and perform Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. In the process, we see how the play holds up as a real life reflection of not only the prisoners' experiences but of life in general. The prison theater is being redone so practices are held all over the prison which not only gets us out of the "stage performance" aspect but connects the play more fully to the prisoners' reality.

It was sheer genius for the directors to use real prisoners as the actors while filming in the real prison. Most of them are simply fantastic. Everything except the actual performance is in black and white which, as shot here, adds a rich textural depth.

I didn't expect the film to take us through the substance of the play but that was all to the good also. I'm not likely to voluntarily watch Julius Caesar but I thoroughly enjoyed recognizing key scenes and realizing I knew more of it than I thought. I also was fascinated to realize that the Italian translation was much more colloquial than most Shakespeare we native English speakers ever hear. That also made it easier to connect with in the prison setting.

I've seen people kicking this movie because it doesn't measure up to their standards of a documentary. I think that one can't really bring the documentary label to bear on it because it is an interesting hybrid of staged fiction and documentary.

Simply judging it on its own merits, as a piece of art, as a movie, as a story, as entertainment, Caesar Must Die is terrific.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Blogging Around

Stephen Colbert Reads Flannery O'Connor

Only on PRI's podcast of Selected Shorts, because it's a long story, Colbert reads The Enduring Chill.
Via Brandywine Books.

The Promise of God by Michael F. Flynn

An excellent short story that is on Michael Flynn's story preview spot for a limited time. The inspiration for the story may be found at The TOF Spot (Michael Flynn's blog).
This story was inspired by, of all people, Orson Scott Card. He was GoH at Lunacon one year and gave a presentation called IIRC "One hundred ideas per hour." It was a mass brainstorming session by which he sought to elicit story ideas from the attendees to show how simple it was to generate such ideas. It was quite an interactive session. After deciding on fantasy and a female protagonist and a few other things, he proposed that magic, like an action in physics, elicits a reaction. One such reaction, which he discarded, was that every time a magician casts a spell, he loses part of his soul. (He was getting multiple ideas at each stage of brainstorming.)

TOF was in the back of the room and when this idea was suggested he said, "Oh!" and this story was conceived. ...

Pro-Life Means Pro-Risk

We need to get over this bourgeois bohemian obsession with order and plans, and open ourselves up to risk in many ways.
Maybe today's youth are too responsible, says Tristyn Bloom, and then goes on to examine the pro-life culture through that lens. Via Darwin Catholic, who adds some solid comments of his own.

Year of Mercy: Pope Francis to Allow All Priests to Grant Absolution for Abortion

I was surprised at what a big deal people thought this was, until I read this Wall Street Journal article which explained that there is an automatic excommunication accompanying abortion which only the bishop can rescind. I knew nothing of this.

Turns out that is because this is an area the U.S. has already handled because many American bishops have already allowed this for priests in their diocese. So this is an area where our local Church has been doing something different than the global Church. Interesting.
According to Nicholas Cafardi, a professor of law at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, the concession won’t have a large practical effect in the U.S., because many American bishops have already delegated their authority. In other dioceses, he added, “many priests go looking for reasons why the automatic excommunication doesn’t apply.”
The Curt Jester has commentary about media coverage on this story, with which I agree, as well as some good links. The Deacon's Bench's coverage of this issue includes the Catechism reading on abortion.

Vatican Says "No" to Transsexual Godparents"

Pity the poor bishop who had to take this one to the home office. But their answer makes sense when you read the whole thing. The money quote:
In the Vatican’s full response – which the bishop provided in his statement – the congregation explained that transsexual behavior “reveals in a public way an attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one's own sexuality.”

“Therefore it is evident that this person does not possess the requirement of leading a life according to the faith and in the position of godfather and is therefore unable to be admitted to the position of godfather or godmother,” they said, referring to canon 874 §3 in the Code of Canon Law.

However, the congregation stressed that there is “no discrimination toward (Alex), but only the recognition of an objective lack of the requirements, which by their nature are necessary to assume the ecclesial responsibility of being a godfather.”
Via The Deacon's Bench.

Worth a Thousand Words: Throne of King Tut

Throne of King Tut (detail), 1350 B.C.
This is via Illustrated History, a fascinating site, where it is featured in their piece, Early Civilization.

Well Said: The influence of any amiable honest-hearted duty-doing man

It is not possible to know how far the influence of any amiable honest-hearted duty-doing man flies out into the world; but it is very possible to know how it has touched one's self in going by.
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Thursday, September 3, 2015

In which the White Moll is part of a gang caper!

Episode 285 of Forgotten Classics!

Worth a Thousand Words: Im Urwald

Edward B. Gordon
If I didn't know better, I'd swear this landscape is in the Louisiana swamps instead of Germany.

Well Said: Always we are chasing words

Always we are chasing words, and always words recede. But the greatest experiences are those for which we have no expression. To live only on that which we say is to wallow in the dust, instead of digging up the soil. How shall we ignore the mystery, in which we are involved, to which we are attached by our very existence?
Abraham Heschel, Man is Not Alone

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Well Said: Who should we listen to?

The creator of the heavens obeys a carpenter; the God of eternal glory listens to a poor virgin. Has anyone ever witnessed anything comparable to this? Let the philosopher no longer disdain from listening to the common laborer; the wise, to the simple; the educated, to the illiterate; a child of a prince, to a peasant.
St. Anthony of Padua

Worth a Thousand Words: Waves Breaking

Claude Monet, Wave Breaking, 1881
via Arts Everyday Living

Book Love: Dragons and the Napoleonic War — Naomi Novik

I've begun reading a series that I'd avoided until I saw Scott Sigler talk about it on GoodReads.

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik is the first of the series. It takes the idea of "what if" there were dragons during the Napoleonic Wars. We follow a Naval lieutenant who is forced through unforeseen circumstances to be partnered up with a dragon.

I'm tired of alternate histories. I'm tired of dragons. I never cared much for the Napoleonic war. So you may understand why I was avoiding the books. The part that made me sample the book, however, was Sigler saying that the author tells the story absolutely from the 18th century sensibility that the people would have had back then. Because another thing I'm tired of is people using alternate histories to push their own ideas of how our swingin' modern times would've made everything better if only they'd have been more enlightened in the past.

Novik perfectly juggles all those elements while telling a great adventure story. The dragon part is handled really well (no telepathy, for example). Though they can talk it isn't weird. They just become characters.

The idea of how air battles would have changed the war is interesting. (Not that I know about that particular war, but I can tell things are being changed around.) I also really like the ingenuity shown in having the dragons not only fight but carry their crew, who have rifles and bombs to do their own damage. I admit, I tend to skim the battle scenes but there is plenty to read about besides the war.

Novik is not only good at historical realism but she has logically extended the concept of how dragons would change things in a lot of directions. For example there are all sorts of dragons from small to huge, stupid to smart, pleasant to cunning. Different breeds of dragons have different skills, many of which reflect bits of our folk stories about dragons.

As our heroes travel on diplomatic journeys and get caught up in battles, we see that the ways the dragons are treated reflects the societies they encounter. Novik's got the British Empire to work with and she uses it to good purpose.

Best of all is the relationship between Captain Laurence and Temeraire. It allows the author to explore ideas and society as the experienced naval captain is forced to learn the ropes in the Aerial Corps and also explain the world to his quickly growing young dragon partner. We learn to love both of them.

Plus Novik is just darned good at writing exciting yarns.

The library has these available as ebooks and I've been tossing them back like popcorn. There are eight books in the series, with seven published and the last one due out next year.

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire #1)His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
Captain Laurence of the HMS Reliant captures a French frigate which has an unexpected treasure aboard: an unhatched dragon egg. You don't even need to guess who the dragonet picks for his partner,. We knew that going in.
Laurence is removed from his orderly naval career and thrust into the Aerial Corps to learn airborne battle. Just how flexible is Laurence? Because these airboys aren't much good with formality. Good thing he's got Temeraire which more than makes up for anything he suffers.

Throne of Jade (Temeraire, #2)Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
Laurence and Temeraire are part of a diplomatic mission the court of the Chinese emperor. Huzzah! China (and Chinese dragons) in 1800. It's hard to get more exotic than that. And a nemesis is acquired.

On the way, Temeraire is exposed to human slavery and this takes his philosophical musings on an unexpected path which opens up the whole abolition conversation, which was in full swing in Great Britain at the time. Very interesting.

Black Powder War (Temeraire #3)Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

On the way back from China, Laurence and Temeraire are ordered to swing through the Ottoman Empire to pick up some unhatched dragon eggs to bring home to Britain. The Silk Road! Istanbul (harems!).

On the road back through Prussia, they are diverted to help with the war and for the first time I enjoyed reading the battle scenes. Maybe it's because I have a crush on the King and Queen. Can they be my rulers?

Of course, the nemesis is wreaking as much trouble as possible. Grrrrr.

Empire of Ivory (Temeraire, #4)Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

In the heart of deepest Africa Novik flirts delightfully with the shades of H. Rider Haggard and Zulu. That's the middle of the story, however, with the beginning and end solidly holding down the Napoleonic war setting.

By this point in the series the abolitionist movement is as much of a theme as the Napoleonic threat. What makes an individual a person instead of a thing just can't be avoided (as my beloved Uncle Tom's Cabin reminds us). I read a review where someone remarked that Novik "like all modern authors" couldn't resist including 1960s style civil rights topics. To read the book this way is to do a real injustice to the actual history of the abolition movement in England.

Novik does explore the topic from a range of views, which is something the dragons allows most interestingly since most people believe them to be something like well trained dogs. But it is well done and adds some needed depth to the story, in my opinion.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Movie You Might Have Missed #50: The Overnighters

"The problem is we’re working with sinners 
and some people are fearful."

#50. The Overnighters

The Overnighters (2014)

This documentary focuses on Pastor Jay Reinke's ministry to homeless men who have flocked to Williston, North Dakota to work in the oil fields but found jobs are not as plentiful as they thought. In some cases, the men are fleeing former problems which catch up to them and leave them unemployable.

Reinke's Lutheran church begins by offering shelter during the winter. The congregation eventually becomes overwhelmed when the "Overnighters" program shows no signs of shutting down although good weather has come because the needy continually arrive in ever-increasing numbers.

We follow Reinke as he and his family struggle to continue the ministry against increasing opposition, including from local media and city government. I was astounded at some of the frank conversations caught by Jesse Moss with his one camera set up.

At first this looks like a straight forward case of Christian hypocrisy. However, no story is ever as simple as it appears on the surface. As the documentary continues we are shown further strands of the story which lead into challenging, thought provoking waters. By the end we are left pondering a morass of complex issues which embody themes that may lead many a Christian to say, "There but for the grace of God, go I."

I could see everyone's struggle. The pastor trying to live the Gospel, the overwhelmed congregation, the men who just want a chance to work, and even the neighbors and local media. That is part of the value of this piece. It reflects us in so many ways and leaves us thinking about how we serve when the "other" is among us.

Worth a Thousand Words: Dunlin

taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

Well Said: To learn who rules over you ...

To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.
Kevin Strom
Ouch! The ones who I'm not allowed to criticize probably wouldn't like that. But maybe they don't recognize themselves. They're too busy telling us who we should be nicer to.

Scott's tired of rowing, Julie's moving into the leper colony. Both of them are glad they don't have friends like Messala.

Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston and winner of 11 Academy Awards, is the topic of discussion in episode 115 at A Good Story is Hard to Find!