Thursday, April 30, 2015

Happy Birthday, Dear Tom!

This is from Wikipedia because
I forgot to take a photo of mine, which looked just like this,
except it had sliced strawberries.
As we know, I take birthdays very seriously, especially when it is that of the love of my life.

We'll have been married thirty-one years next month and, as has become a habit for me more and more,  I have been realizing the happiness that comes from spending so much time with one person. I should say, with that one person who is practically perfect for me in every way.

We'll be feasting on Chinese food at a favorite restaurant in Richardson's Chinatown. I am making our new favorite, Pavlova with Strawberries, which is just like eating a cloud. A delicious, delicious cloud.

No gifts I get him can ever express my love adequately ... of course! But I have a few offerings which will attempt to fill the gap.

Happy Birthday, dear Tom!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Well Said: The live current and the flow of love

The love Christ means is a live current that comes from God, is transmitted from person to person, and returns to God. It runs a second cycle reaching from God to an individual, from the individual to his neighbor, and back through faith to God. He who breaks the circuit at any point breaks the flow of love. He who transmits purely, however small a part of that love, helps establish the circuit for the whole.
Romano Guardini, The Lord

Audible's Daily Deal Today is a Ray Bradbury Classic

Something Wicked This Way Comes is only $3.95 on Audible today. It's one of my favorite Ray Bradbury novels.

Worth a Thousand Words: Autumn Through Kitchen Window

Raleigh, NC, Home
taken by the blue hour
Perhaps I should explain that I was looking at the photos taken in the home pictured below and a gentle, contemplative piece by Andre Previn came into my earbuds. It seemed fated that this picture with the contrast between stark, modern architecture and the autumn woods should capture my imagination.

Check out the blue hour's post for all the photos from this spread of a Raleigh, NC, home.



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: The Big Trail

John Wayne, The Big Trail, 1930
I was listening to You Must Remember This, a wonderful podcast in which Karina Longworth explores the secret and/or forgotten histories of 20th Century Hollywood.

Her series on Hollywood stars during World War II, cleverly called Star Wars, has gotten to an episode on John Wayne. She's examining why he didn't sign up for the war but I was more captured by her recommendation to look at stills from his first movie. Oooo la la! This ain't the Duke of popular memory!

Lagniappe: The Mention of Ourselves

Middlemarch is just so darned funny.
"But you can't take your own time to die in, Brother," began Mrs. Waule, with her usual woolly tone. "And when you lie speechless you may be tired of having strangers about you, and you may think of me and my children --" but here her voice broke under the touching thought which she was attributing to her speechless brother; the mention of ourselves being naturally affecting.
George Eliot, Middlemarch

Monday, April 27, 2015

Who Would Dare to Love ISIS? (A Letter from the People of the Cross to ISIS)

As the world responds to the Islamic State with hatred and vengeance, there is one group that is responding differently. They are not allies with ISIS but enemies. And they have been slain by the thousands in the hands of ISIS. ISIS calls them The Nation of the Cross - The ones they have killed are bringing a message of forgiveness and hope. Declaring a love that they do not know - A love that reconciles even the worst of us and can make enemies into brothers.

We worked with several Arab Christians and Middle East Refugees to get their feedback. Also had it translated by an Arab Christian from Egypt.
This is powerful stuff from the heart of where Christianity lives and was born. The message of Christ's love ... from a group called MIGHTY.LA.

This reminds me that even while we strive to stop ISIS we must not forget to pray for them. If ever there were truly lost souls, it is these mistaken people.



The transcript of the video is at their site. It's going into my quote journal.

Via The Deacon's Bench.

Lagniappe: Climbing 8,000 Feet

From my quote journal, via Hannah.
The most disheartening thing about climbing 8,000+ feet in the Alps is finding a bunch of cows already there. It just feels like less of an achievement with a cow next to you.
Patrick Hunt

Worth a Thousand Words: Waxwings

Waxwings
taken by Remo Savisaar

A Movie You Might Have Missed #47: Art & Copy

Art Serving Capitalism

47. Art & Copy


We like documentaries. We love advertising.

So we were suckers for this film which looks at the creators of several campaigns which have lent our culture iconic phrases.

Got milk?

It's morning in America.

I want my MTV.

Just do it.

And many more.

The ad stories are told through interviews with some of the chief creative figures of the advertising world from the last few decades. It's interesting to watch the very different styles and ways they describe themselves and their process because they all have the essential ability to distill a product's appeal into key words and images that spark our imaginations.

Dropped into the narrative are facts and figures about advertising and the daily life of a laborer who changes billboard signs. Those added a nice bit of perspective to the sometimes high flown conversation.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Well Said: Your Enemy

Remember that your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. This may leave you an opening to become his friend.
Robert A. Heinlein

Blogging Around: Grab Bag

Daredevil, Catholicism, and the Marvel Moral Universe

The Netflix series has chosen to make religion a foundational aspect of Matt’s character, expressing his struggles with his faith through his actions, and weaving that inner turmoil with outer drama to build him into a hero. Because the show is infused with Catholicism—and actually enacts a certain type of theology, as opposed to simply utilizing imagery and shallow references—it’s able to create an interplay between the fictional world of the show and the real world of Catholic faith in a way that I haven’t seen on television…well, ever?
This piece at Tor.com is an in-depth look at all the things I love to find in entertainment. Unfortunately their description of the violence made me sure that it's not something I want to watch. At least not right now. I've got enough stuff going on that I am in my happy-watching mode. But that did leave me free to read the entire piece which has spoilers for the first season. And it left me really wanting to see it.

Bad Christian Art

I’m convinced that bad art derives, like bad literary theory, from bad theology. To know God falsely is to write and paint and sculpt and cook and dance Him falsely. Perhaps it’s not poor artistic skill that yields bad Christian art, in other words, but poor Christianity.

[...]

In short, if Christian novels and movies and blogs and speeches must be stripped of profanity and sensuality and critical questions, all for the sake of sparing us scandal, then we have to wonder what has happened that such a wide swath of Christendom has failed to graduate from milk to meat.
An insightful piece from Tony Woodlief at Image. I concur. Read it all.

Mental Illness: The Cold Reboot of the Soul

Thomas L. McDonald shares his personal story and reminds us that everything has a purpose, even mental illness. It is moving, inspiring, and informative all in one. Here's a bit. Then go read it all.
The interesting part of all this, and the reason I’m sharing it now when I very rarely write personal things, is that while it’s put pressure on my faith observations, it hasn’t damaged my actual faith at all. I don’t blame God for this and I accept it as my cross even though I’d really like to stop carrying it for a while any time now God.

Maintaining a regular prayer schedule is nearly impossible in this condition. I visited with some friends last night and spent some in their parish prayer chapel where the Eucharist was exposed. I was able to pray the 22nd Psalm and that was it. The rest of the time, I had hardly a single word in my head, not even the Jesus prayer which is usually my go-to meditation. I just sat silently staring at the sacrament.

And you know something? It was enough. My faith is always too much in my head. There’s a useful side effect to that: it’s very rarely shaken. Even when I don’t “feel” it I know that, intellectually, it’s still a rock to stand on. A faith that is too much in the head grows arid, but one that is too much in the heart is easily buffeted by emotional trauma.

Three Methods of Prayer That Will Change Your Life

From my inbox: Philip Kosloski has a good piece on methods of prayer.

How to Help Persecuted Catholics in Middle East

CNEWA’s mandate is to support the Eastern churches in Catholicism, meaning the Catholic communities scattered across the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India, and Eastern Europe that draw on Eastern Orthodox traditions. In recent years, that’s made CNEWA a prime mover in delivering aid to persecuted Christians in some of the world’s leading hot spots.

Today, CNEWA is among the largest providers of aid to Middle Eastern Christians anywhere in the world. Though it’s a Catholic organization, it helps Christians of all sorts.
This is from John Allen's piece which is quite good. I came to it via The Deacon's Bench where there are more links because Deacon Greg Kandra works for them! CNEWA looks like a wonderful way to support our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East.

Julie and Scott fight over the Twinkies. Who gets the miracles and who gets the afflictions?

We discuss Valley of Bones by Michael Gruber in Episode 106 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Lahmacun

Lahmacun
taken by Eating Asia
Whatever you do, don't call it Turkish pizza!

Why? Find out at Eating Asia.

Well Said: Shaming and Public Disapproval

In this day of New Victorians and Neo Puritans, shaming and public disapproval have again become the weapon of choice for society at large. And it is a very effective weapon.

Because it hurts.
I have to say that back in the day when political correctness became the new way to do things, I never saw this coming. I felt it was nice to consider other people's feelings and refer to them using respectful terms and so forth.

I  didn't foresee how far the pendulum would swing so that majority rule would conduct public shaming campaigns in the name of "tolerance." (They keep using that word. I don't think they understand what it means.)

In one sense it's fascinating because we're now seeing what happens when liberals get caught up in their own version of that famous conservative example which culminated in the Communist-hunting investigations.

In another sense, it hurts. Lamplighter speaks whereof she knows because her husband is John C. Wright who's one of the targets of the Hugo Awards public shaming debacle that's going on right now.

The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown

The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and CourageThe Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and Courage by Brené Brown
“In my research,” Dr. Brown says, “the word I use to describe people who can live from a place of vulnerability is wholehearted.” Being wholehearted is a practice—one that we can choose to cultivate through empathy, gratitude, and awareness. Join this engaging and heartfelt teacher on The Power of Vulnerability as she offers profound insights on leaning into the full spectrum of emotions—so we can show up, let ourselves be seen, and truly be all in.
The best way to get an idea of this book is to watch Brené Brown's TED Talk on vulnerability. It was a real eye-opener for me and it went viral so I wasn't alone in loving it.

I was delighted to find this 6-talk series on Audible that I could use as a refresher.  Brown pulls together all her research to continue the vulnerability conversation on a deeper level.

Brown herself is so engaging and genuine that the sessions are easy to listen to. She freely shares personal stories as examples so you know you're not alone when you recognize some behavior being discussed. And she's funny. I will never forget her story about the three-dozen cookies.

Brown's work is like a secular look at the human condition and how to live as our most honest, fulfilled selves. She doesn't ignore spirituality. Indeed, her research found that is a key component of whole-hearted peoples' lives. I was fascinated when I realized how often  Brown's findings echoed personal discoveries I've made in 15 years of Catholicism. I look back at how far I've come and I see someone who has come into the light after spending much of my life in darkness.

One of the things I loved was when Brown said that if you feel shame then she can guarantee there are other people who feel that same shame. Again, a very Catholic teaching. As someone said to me the other day about the value of belonging to our parish, "I learned we're all broken. It's not just me. I'm not alone."

I didn't always agree with every single thing Brown said (and I bet she's ok with that imperfection!). However, those were usually the instances where she was making her own points instead of using research based information. My disagreement didn't come on many points and they didn't matter to the overall work.

Am I done? Of course not. We're never done, as Brown points out and as the Church also tells us. But Brown's work comes together wonderfully well for anyone who is striving for a more authentic life. (That's all of us, by the way.) I learned things that help me understand why I act the way I do. Over-functioning when stressed — right here! Will that change things? Not sure but it can't hurt to know it.

And it meshes wonderfully well with the Catholic faith which just validates both even more to me.

I'll probably be revisiting these talks occasionally for a refresher. Highly recommended for ... everyone.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Well Said: Christianity and ordinary life

Before I became a Christian I do not think I fully realized that one's life after conversion would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before. One hopes in a new spirit, but still the same things.
C.S. Lewis, Weight of Glory
I never thought about that at all, but yeah. Life goes on, but in a new spirit.

Worth a Thousand Words: Hepatica Flower

Hepatica Flower
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

A Movie You Might Have Missed #46: Intouchables

Sometimes you have to reach into someone else's world to find out what's missing in your own.

46. Intouchables

Wealthy quadriplegic Philippe needs an assistant to help him with all the functions of daily life.

Immigrant, ex-con Driss needs a signature on his application to fulfill unemployment requirements.

Philippe hires Driss because the regular applicants are missing one important quality and the lives of both men are changed.

This sounds like a predictable enough plot except it is played as a sympathetic comedy. Philipe doesn't want pity. Driss has irrepressible honesty and humor that changes the dynamic of many scenes from what we expect to see. They make each other laugh. They enrich each other's lives. They broaden each other's worlds.

It is based on a true story. The original Philippe turned down several movie offers until these filmmakers presented him with this comedic script. After watching the movie I can see why. There are moments of both pathos and comedy for both men. Neither is perfect and each is untouchable in his own way. It shows that no matter our handicaps, life goes on. We choose how to live it.

Before the Disney Mary Poppins, there were the delightful books

Here's a sampler of one of my favorite chapters, read for you at Forgotten Classics podcast.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Well Said: Did you grieve to hear of the afflictions he suffered?

"May I say," said Florence, " that you grieved to hear of the afflictions he has suffered?"

"Not," she replied, "if they have taught him that his daughter is very dear to him. He will not grieve for them himself, one day, if they have brought that lesson, Florence."
Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son
I may never have seen a clearer or more succinct summary of the Mystery of the Cross.

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Mlle Brissac

Portrait of Mlle Brissac (1863). William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)
via Books and Art
I love Bouguereau anyway but this really stands out for me. It's as good as photograph. Better, in fact! Look at it close up (click the portrait) to see just how realistic everything is.

Review: Art: A New History by Paul Johnson

Art: A New HistoryArt: A New History by Paul Johnson

In Art: A New History, Paul Johnson turns his great gifts as a world historian to a subject that has enthralled him all his life: the history of art. This narrative account, from the earliest cave paintings up to the present day, has new things to say about almost every period of art. Taking account of changing scholarship and shifting opinions, he draws our attention to a number of neglected artists and styles, especially in Scandinavia, Germany, Russia and the Americas.

Paul Johnson puts the creative originality of the individual at the heart of his story. He pays particular attention to key periods: the emergence of the artistic personality in the Renaissance, the new realism of the early seventeenth century, the discovery of landscape painting as a separate art form, and the rise of ideological art. He notes the division of 'fashion art' and fine art at the beginning of the twentieth century, and how it has now widened.
I love the way that Johnson is able to make everything so clear in terms of how various civilizations' art mirrors their governing styles. He also made me really respect early man (you know, the ones who filled those caves with all that fantastic art) by explaining things I didn't know about both the art and what the artists went through for their accomplishments.

This took me a couple of years to leisurely work my way through. Now that I'm done I'm going to miss Paul Johnson's voice looking at history and art and the fascinating, creative people who are artists.

This is simply superb. Johnson has his prejudices but they are few and fairly discussed. It probably helps that I share many of Johnson's opinions but just never had the wherewithal to understand why. And now I do!

My only wish is for a companion volume that shows all the images that Johnson mentions. There simply wasn't room in this book for enough of the actual art.

I'll be putting this in my rereading stack.

Monday, April 20, 2015

John C. Wright's Grocery List

This is too funny. Here's a bit. Then go read it all...
A fan remarks:
“I would rather read Wright’s grocery list than any of the “literary” stuff in the genre now.”
How funny you should mention that! I happen to have my grocery list right here.
Items to pick up:

A pound of Apples, despite that this mortal fruit is the one whose taste brought all our woe in paradise;

A sack of flour, child of an unworthy grain, those firstfruits offered by the first murderer and his first victim, his brother, which horrid fratricide to this day we repeat;

Well Said: Ah, Miss Harriet ...

Ah Miss Harriet, it would do us no harm to remember oftener than we do, that vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess.
Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son
That can be a path from pure justice to including mercy.

Worth a Thousand Words: Kindred Spirits


Asher Brown Durand, Kindred Spirits, 1849
Kindred Spirits was commissioned by the merchant-collector Jonathan Sturges as a gift for William Cullen Bryant in gratitude for the nature poet's moving eulogy to Thomas Cole, who had died suddenly in early 1848. It shows Cole, who had been Jonathan Sturges mentor, standing in a gorge in Catskills in company of a mutual friend William Cullen Bryant.

Rivendell and Lothlórien’s competing bed and breakfasts

Just one of the many topics under discussion in SFFaudio's discussion of The Ring Goes South (a.k.a. the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring). Join Jesse, Seth, Maissa, and me!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Blogging Around: The Media Edition

A New "Wrinkle" in Time

I was fascinated to see that Madeleine L'Engle's granddaughter has discovered a three-page section that was cut from the original classic, A Wrinkle in Time. I didn't know that people looked at Camazotz as a commentary on communism. That never occurred to me. This sheds light on what L'Engle had in mind.
In it, Meg has just made a narrow escape from Camazotz. As Meg’s father massages her limbs, which are frozen from a jarring trip through space and time, she asks: “But Father, how did the Black Thing—how did it capture Camazotz?” Her father proceeds to lay out the political philosophy behind the book in much starker terms than are apparent in the final version.

He says that yes, totalitarianism can lead to this kind of evil. (The author calls out examples by name, including Hitler, Mussolini and Khrushchev.) But it can also happen in a democracy that places too much value on security, Mr. Murry says. “Security is a most seductive thing,” he tells his daughter. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the greatest evil there is.”

Ms. Voiklis said she wanted readers to know the book wasn’t a simple allegory of communism. Instead, it’s about the risk of any country—including a democracy—placing too much value on security. The tension between safety and personal freedom is an idea that resonates in today’s politics.
Read the whole article at the Wall Street Journal. There's a link in the article to a pdf of the omitted pages. I can see how they would have slowed the story down, yet the point L'Engle was making really resonates with me. We're living right now with that same problem of too much prosperity leading to too great a desire for security.

Pope Francis and the CNN Anchor's Renewed Faith

Deacon Greg Kandra is in Jordan right now and you really should take a look at his posts which are fascinating.

I don't know how he has time to also keep track of other news but this one grabbed my attention. Not only does it give a wonderful story of CNN anchor Carol Costello's return to faith, but it shows how Pope Francis is drawing people's attention to Church teachings in a way that lets them see the mercy underlying it.

In an interview with newly appointed Cardinal Lacroix, she pursues her questions about a statement from Pope Francis that surprised her. This is just part so do go read the whole piece for yourself.
But isn't homosexuality a sin in the eyes of the church?

"There is room for everyone. The door is open," Cardinal Lacroix insisted. "Of course you know that the Catholic Church will never promote same sex marriage, but do we respect homosexual persons? Do we welcome them? Do we accompany them? Of course. But to respect the Church and its teaching, which is based on a long tradition and also the word of God, we will not go so far as to bless. But that doesn't mean we reject."

That last sentiment -- "that doesn't mean we reject." -- did it for me.
And that's what I liked. What the cardinal tells her is basic Catholic teaching but in a way that allows her to really hear the whole message. And that's Francis's gift, it seems to me.

Plastic Bags

Like a lot of places Dallas has put a tax on plastic bags from stores. Their heart is in the right place but I never saw any statistics to justify it. Just the same old "everyone knows" argument about helping the environment. So I was really interested when Skeptoid podcast did an episode on that very issue.
Researching this episode was the most difficult time I've had yet doing Skeptoid. Not surprisingly, it's hard to find any information on this topic that isn't advocacy one way or another. There are plausible, reasonable claims that plastic bags aren't that bad - thoughtfully provided by the plastic bag industry. There are horrific tales of disaster - dished up by environmental advocacy groups with their hands out. But actual science? That seems to be pretty rare, and it's hard to dig much up.
But you do get what science there is on the topic which yielded surprising results. You can listen to the Skeptoid episode or read the transcript here which also has links.

Russian Movie Censorship — It's Back!

The Kremlin says upcoming movie "Child 44" distorts historical facts about Soviet Union and presents Russia as a dark land. Consequently the Russian release has been canceled. Well, it is a movie so that's probably true. Hollywood never lets the truth get in the way of a great story. However, the Russians seem pretty paranoid about Stalin's legacy and, let's face it, that legacy isn't one I'd want to hold up to a bright light.
Mr. Medinsky criticized the film not just for its take on the country’s war effort but also for its negative portrayal of life under Stalin in general. He encouraged local viewers to rid themselves of what he termed as “these endless schizophrenic reflections” on Russian history.

“It is time to finally form our own idea about ourselves as the heirs of a great, unique Russian civilization,” he wrote. “Without that, they will crush us.”
For anyone who was around for the Cold War, and I was, this all sounds disturbingly familiar. If the truth hurts, just don't let anyone know it. This one's all around the internet but I read it in the Wall Street Journal.

"Controversial" or "Historic?'

Get Religion asks: Why does Washington Post label one religious freedom law 'controversial' and another 'historic?'
In the media storm over a religious freedom law passed in Indiana, the Washington Post repeatedly used the term "controversial" to describe the measure (examples here, here and here).

However, the Post prefers other words to characterize a gay rights bill passed in Utah, including "landmark" and "historic."
Words matter. Read it all.

=======

NOTE: if you can't read an entire WSJ article, try going to Google or Bing and searching for the article. Often if you come in that "door" the whole article is available.

Worth a Thousand Words: Irises

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889
via Arts Everyday Living
What would spring be without a look at Van Gogh's Irises? Much poorer.

Check the link above for more information about Van Gogh and his painting.

Well Said: The Utter Reliabililty of God's Love

Christ's death discloses the utter reliability of God's love above all in the light of his resurrection. As the risen one, Christ is the trustworthy witness, deserving of faith (cf. Rev. 1:5, Heb. 2:17), and a solid support for our faith ... Had the Father's love not causes Jesus to rise from the dead, had it not been able to restore his body to life, then it would not be a completely reliable love, capable of illuminating also the gloom of death.
Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei
Yes.

I reread this recently and found so much enlightenment and inspiration within. It is well worth revisiting regularly.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Well Said: Chesterton and American Idealism

There is one thing, at any rate, that must strike all Englishmen who have the good fortune to have American friends; that is, that while there is no materialism so crude or material as American materialism, there is also no idealism so crude or so ideal as American idealism.
G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens
Well, he hit that nail squarely on the head!

Worth a Thousand Words: White Stork

White Stork
taken by Remo Savisaar
Doesn't this look like a coy, runway walk?

My Continuing Dickens Exploration: Dombey and Son

Dombey and SonDombey and Son by Charles Dickens

(Writing this without spoilers probably will lead to misdirection, but I feel there are too many people who probably haven't read this book. And I DO want to say some things.)

*big sigh* Oh, that was good.

It is interesting to me that I began reading Dickens with his later books. Going backwards to his earlier creations, one can see the training wheels on in some places. There are some very predictable plot developments that the reader sees as soon as the seeds are introduced. However, Dickens (that genius) still managed to surprise me again and again with unexpected twists that made the story lively and interesting.

One thing that doesn't change from book to book is the creation of eccentric characters who begin by seeming odd and funny but wind up stealing your heart. I'd never have thought that I'd care passionately about Susan Nipper, Cap'n Cuttle, Miss Tox, or Mr. Toots but I really did.

I also appreciated the way that Florence, the character with the least development in many ways (one motivation and one only) was used to show us so much about other characters. Mr. Dombey, Edith, and little Paul all showed surprising depth as they came into contact with Florence whose only desire was love. I was especially impressed with what we were shown of Mr. Dombey's internal character using this technique.

There were times also when the power of Dickens' writing washed over me and left me bereft of my own words. Most notably in Mr. Dombey and Edith's argument in her bedroom, in Mr. Carker's conversation with Edith discussing Mr. Dombey's character, and in the chapter Rob the Grinder Loses His Place where I felt as tired and mentally confused as the fleeing fugitive whose thoughts we read. Here Dickens worked the seemingly impossible feat of making me sorry for someone who I'd been longing to see punished.

On a personal note, I was astounded by in the chapter After a Lapse when Harriet is advancing a proposition to the fellow who plays the violoncello. This book suddenly became a reflection of how many times we stubbornly think we know best and refuse God's love, only to find that his forgiveness and mercy are boundless ... especially when we've fallen the very lowest and don't deserve it ... and yet it is freely and lovingly given. I don't know if that is what Dickens intended, but it is certainly what struck me hard. It was a revelatory moment that left me turning off the audiobook to simply think about the implications of that interpretation when applied to the other stories woven into the novel.

It isn't the perfect Dickens novel. It sagged in the middle when there was a transition from emphasis on Paul to introducing Edith, and there were those predictable plot points I mentioned. It probably won't ever be my favorite (right now those honors are shared by The Pickwick Papers, Bleak House, and Little Dorrit), but it is a great book and very rewarding on a lot of levels.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Best Product Review Ever

Lifted from John C. Wright's blog ... I literally laughed out loud.

Product review

Be sure to take a quick glance to the right for the product picture ... it took me a bit to get oriented since the review is on the left.

Worth a Thousand Words: Let There Be Light - At My Price Per Gallon

Bookplate of John D. Rockefeller. Artist: GETZ. Pratt Institute.
via Books and Art
Yikes! This strikes me as the definition of hubris.

Lagniappe: The Thing About New Orleans

That's the thing about New Orleans, now. It's a generous city. Give you what you want before you hardly know to ask for it. Trouble is, acourse, that a man wants a number of things that aren't particularly good for him. And those sort of things are a New Orleans specialty.
Owen Parry, Rebels of Babylon

Review: The Book of Feasts & Seasons by John C. Wright

The Book of Feasts & SeasonsThe Book of Feasts & Seasons by John C. Wright
THE BOOK OF FEASTS & SEASONS is a beautifully mind-bending stroll with a grandmaster of science fiction through the annual Catholic calendar. Over the course of the year, from January to December, the author takes his inspiration from ten different holidays and explores their meanings in a series of stories of marvelous imagination. ... 
I'd already read several of these stories online, exactly where escapes me but probably on the author's blog. However, seeing how many pieces from this collection were nominated for Hugos made me finally pick up the book.

Stories range from noir style mystery to dinosaurs to time travel to mad scientists in the best tradition of solid science fiction. Wright also weaves in Christian themes, often specifically Catholic ones, which is only to be expected since the book's description points out that the author is following the Catholic liturgical calendar.

What is a mystery is how Wright manages write stories so centered in science fiction while also staying so centered in Catholicism. In a sense these could be compared to the Narnia books or C.S. Lewis's space trilogy. Except, of course, they are so obviously the creation of John C. Wright that they are entirely new and fresh.

As in any collection I liked some more than others but all are good. My absolute favorite is Nativity which caught me by surprise and left me off balance. Wright so absolutely captured the mystery, the uncertainty, the doubt, and gift of faith in that story. I felt the reality of the Passion and crucifixion, I felt the wonder and freshness of the nativity, I felt the marvel of Creation. I was in tears at the end and thankful for the goodness of God.

I do wonder whether non-Christians can enjoy these stories but obviously the answer is yes since so many of them were nominated for the Hugos by science fiction fans.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Rue Neuve Notre Dame à Paris

Rue Neuve Notre Dame à Paris, 1826, Eduard Gaertner
I love the way this doesn't show Notre Dame from one of the usual angles, but just as the regular Parisians living nearby would have seen it.

Pangur Ban: Well Said AND Worth a Thousand Words

You don't have to be a cat lover to love this poem about writing and cats by an anonymous 9th century Irish monk. It's often thought that the monk was working on the Book of Kells when he made this poem.

He describes perfectly the striving and dedication all writers feel, as well our triumph at solving a problem in just the perfect way.

Pangur Bán

I and Pangur Bán, my cat
‘Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way:
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Unknown 9th century Irish monk,
translation by Robin Flowers

Cat catching mouse, illustration from Book of Kells

Well Done Basics: Tweeting With God by Michel Remery

Tweeting with God: # Big Bang, Prayer, Bible, Sex, Crusades, Sin, Career . . .Tweeting with God: # Big Bang, Prayer, Bible, Sex, Crusades, Sin, Career . . . by Michel Remery

I'm a sucker for books about the basics. Even if I know a lot about something, there's always some new detail to learn. I also often find food for thought when something is expressed in a new, imaginative way. Best of all, it can give me simple ways to explain something I might know so much about that it's hard to remember what it felt like to just need the basic scoop.

That's why I like Tweeting with God.

It has simple explanations to questions young people have asked about the Catholic faith but includes enough detail to show that these aren't just knee-jerk answers. The part I like best is that all questions are welcome and no topic is taboo. I can't stress enough how important that has been to my own faith as well as in answering others' questions.

There are almost 200 questions, grouped into four sections ranging from God to the Church to personal (prayer, etc.) to ethics. It's got a vibrant, inviting design and each spread usually has a box with examples or additional information on a topic.

The book acknowledges that these aren't intended to be absolutely complete answers. They are intended to answer young people's questions. With that in mind, each question has references for further, deeper reading in the Catechism or YouCat.

I was happy to see that every touchy topic I read about was presented charitably, with understanding of outsiders' possible misconceptions, and fully in line with Church teachings. It has an imprimatur so I suppose I didn't need to worry but it never hurts to check up for yourself.

Here are a couple of pdfs you can check out. It should open up so you can look at the spread first but be sure to zoom in to read the pages and get a real feel for the writing.
I picked a couple of controversial questions for samples. Rest assured, there are plenty of basic questions also. Just the other day we grabbed this book to look into exactly who the apostles are.

This is the perfect gift for those with questions, new Catholics, or people like me ... who spend a lot of time answering questions about the faith. In short, just about everyone!

UPDATE
The Curt Jester has a review up which covers some things that I didn't include since my post was getting so long. Check it out also.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Magnificent Book: Mockingbird by Walter Tevis

MockingbirdMockingbird by Walter Tevis
Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.
Why have I never heard of this magnificent book before?

Thank goodness my mother, 80 years old and never afraid of a Kindle Daily Deal, read it and commanded me to do likewise.

In the 25th century all the work is done by robots, the ones that haven't broken down. Mankind stumbles along in a drugged stupor, trained from birth to avoid thinking and that "privacy is supreme. They haven't the basic knowledge to repair anything, much less a complex machine.

One of the last of the great thinking robots, Spofforth is the dean of the university in New York City. Paul from Ohio has taught himself the lost art of reading and wants to teach it at the university. Mary Lou has dropped out of the system only to be tempted into putting herself in harm's way by the lure of "What did you call it? Reading?" These three give us a fascinating and nuanced look at what it means to be human.

I've been jaded by the plethora of recent apocalyptic novels but this one is different. Written in 1980 by the author of such varied works as The Man Who Fell to Earth and The Hustler, this book is eerily prescient.

Perhaps the highest tribute I can give this novel is that when I finished I didn't want to read another book. To do so would sully what I'd just read before I'd finished thinking about it, as well as be unfair to anything that followed because it wouldn't be able to compare.

I can only say, as my mother did, "Why haven't we heard of Mockingbird before? Why isn't it a well-known classic?"

Let's change that. Read it for yourself.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Interior of the Palm House


Carl Blechen (1798–1840), The Interior of the Palm House

Well Said: The Spider's Web

Outside the moon had come out. It was full, a disk of bright silver. I saw a large, dramatic spider web on my back porch that must have been made while I was in the house with my mind in turmoil; the spider was just finishing the outer circle of it. The moon illuminated the strands of the big taut web so that it seemed to be made of pure light. It was dazzling, geometric and mysterious, and it calmed me just to stop and look at it, at the elaboration and power of life that could make such a design.
Walter Tevis, Mockingbird

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis
taken by Remo Savisaar
I really cannot imagine looking out my window and seeing this. It must really feel surreal. Like being on another planet.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: The White Rabbit

The White Rabbit Pencil
created by Himmapaan

Books Just In: Tweets, Seeds, Encounters, A Way Forward, and a Giveaway

Ah spring book season, when the new growth of authors and publishers sprout at the mailbox, unexpectedly delighting book reviewers.

I love it.

I won't get a chance to read these as fast as you deserve to hear about them. But they did pass the first chapter test and make it onto my "to read" stack, so here's a heads up.

Tweeting with God: # Big Bang, Prayer, Bible, Sex, Crusades, Sin, Career . . .Tweeting with God: # Big Bang, Prayer, Bible, Sex, Crusades, Sin, Career . . . by Michael Remery

Ok, I might not have been entirely accurate. I have mostly read this book. In record time. But there's a review embargo until the release date of April 14. So details will have to wait.

Suffice it to say for now, I love this book. A. Lot.

5 stars "love it." Have been bugging people I know by showing it to them "love it."

I'm just sayin'.

Seeds of the Word: Finding God in the CultureSeeds of the Word: Finding God in the Culture by Robert Barron

In a sense I've read some of this book already since it's a collection of Father Barron's columns from his blog and various other places (I think) around the interwebs.

I always like getting his take on what's happening below the surface in books and movies. This also throws in sections on pop culture and politics so it is bound to be interesting. If I could get a wish it would have been to have printouts of these columns. Wish granted!

GIVEAWAY! [UPDATED] I got two copies of this one so if you want to be entered into a giveaway, just leave a comment for this post. If you have trouble signing in, just leave an Anonymous comment and write your name in the comment. WINNER: Manny!

Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Every Day by Pope Francis

Early every morning, Pope Francis celebrates a personal sort of Mass in the small Saint Martha chapel at the Vatican. The audience is made up of gardeners, nuns, cooks, office workers, and always changes. What doesn't change is that the pope gives his homilies without notes just as he did when he was a parish priest. This book features highlights from almost 200 homilies covering a year from March 2013 to May 2014.

This doesn't come out until June so this is a really early mention. I was enthralled with the introduction which has an in-depth look at how Pope Francis prepares and what he thinks is important in contemplating and conveying the Word of God to the faithful. He also gives a "map" of the way Francis circles round various topics, engaging them from different angles as the liturgical readings progress day to day. That's a new idea for me, that to get a full sense of his teachings one must patiently look at it from day to day.

The few homilies I've samples left me eager for a deep, slow reading of this book. And, to be honest, that's not usually the way I feel after reading samples of books featuring Pope Francis's writing. So this is a rare find for me.

(What can I say? I loved Pope Benedict's intellectual style. It ain't Pope Francis's fault. I get that.)

Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward For a New GenerationBeyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward For a New Generation by Charles C Camosy

Charles Camosy argues that our polarized public discourse hides the fact that most Americans actually agree on the basic issues at stake in abortion morality and law. ...  Camosy proposes a new public policy that is consistent with the beliefs of the broad majority of Americans and supported by the best ideas and arguments about abortion from both secular and religious sources.

This isn't my usual sort of book. However, this issue matters greatly to me so I agreed to look it over. A quick perusal left me feeling that Camosy takes a similar approach as that proposed in How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice. That alone makes it worth pursuing.

Plus the very handy chapter conclusions looked like reasoning that goes along with Catholic teachings and that I could agree with. (Yep, I "cheated." We'll call it an in-depth preview. How else am I gonna tell if its worth our time?)

Anyway, this definitely looks worth investigating if you're interested in digging deeper.

Easter Wednesday: Jesus is Risen ... in City Mall, Beirut, Lebanon

Another oldie as I go looking for little reminders of our Easter joy to share all week. Still a goodie!



Now that is giving witness out loud and in public! Plus it is beautiful to hear.

Click on the little "CC" in the red oval to see the English captions. Via Deacon Greg at The Deacon's Bench.

Note:
Fred in the comments elucidates further.
FYI, it is a common refrain in Eastern Orthodox Easter services... repeated over a hundred times in various forms. People in the middle east would recognize it like we recognize the "Hallelujah chorus" in the west. Its one of those that reaches across faith traditions, most people have heard it.
This makes sense because you can see people joining in and singing from around the edges, though not so lustily as the main singers.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

UPDATED - Congratulations to John C. Wright and Michael Flynn for Their Hugo Nominations!

Imagine my delight in seeing two of my favorite science fiction/fantasy authors among the 2015 Hugo Award nominations. I like their writing just that little bit more because they're Catholic. So sue me.

CONGRATULATIONS guys!

I hadn't made my April book purchase yet so dropped John C. Wright's  The Book of Feasts and Seasons into my Kindle. Several of the stories he's nominated for are from that book. What sf reading Catholic wouldn't love this concept?
... a beautifully mind-bending stroll with a grandmaster of science fiction through the annual Catholic calendar. Over the course of the year, from January to December, the author takes his inspiration from ten different holidays and explores their meanings in a series of stories of marvelous imagination.
I also really enjoyed One Bright Star to Guide Them, another story for which Wright received a nomination. (My review here ... scroll down for it.) He really was popular ... six nominations in all!

In recent years there have been fewer and fewer authors and books I enjoy nominated for Hugos. I just put it down to my personal taste diverging from the general science fiction readers who participate in the nominations. (Not that I haven't enjoyed some of them. Ancillary Justice was a book I couldn't put down and still can't stop thinking about.)

It turns out there may have actually been a reason for that lack of connection. I was completely unaware that a group of authors have been promoting their own slate of suggested nominations. They've been fairly successful so it seems and they must like a different sort of fiction than I do. So no wonder I was paying less and less attention to the Hugos, which used to be a touchstone for informing me about new interesting books.

(Sounds like the Oscars in a way. Which is why I largely tend to ignore them too. I never dreamed that science fiction readers would stoop to the level of the general Hollywood studio. But there I am, proven wrong again.)

This year a different group promoted their own slate of suggested nominations. They must have done a good job because not only were many of their selections nominated but this year the Hugos had about 2000 nominating ballots, which is a record. There are some things that have gotten on the ballot in the past with 30 votes. Maybe I'm not the only one who didn't love those other authors' favorites? (Just a passing thought...)

I frankly was stunned to see all this kerfluffle going on behind the scenes.

If you want to know more, here's a sympathetic piece, here's an upset piece.

I ain't here to fight. I'm here to read.

The broader the variety "allowed" in the nominations, the likelier my chances of finding books that I enjoy and make me think, possibly simultaneously.

I hear the Locus Awards may be a good alternative to the Hugos. Scott Danielson has been following the Hugo folderol for a while and tells me:
The Locus Awards may actually be a more accurate reflection of the history of science fiction than the Hugos. I spent some time yesterday browsing the award history and found myself nodding quite a bit. They compile a list of nominees from various sources (more or less a jury) then the Locus subscribers vote on the list, which includes a write-in slot. The last few years have made me realize that the Hugos are given by a very small group of people.
Uh yeah we've been emailing about this. Have you seen how much science fiction we read and watch at A Good Story is Hard to Find? This is like a soap opera about something I am interested in!

UPDATE
Jeff Miller at The Curt Jester has a good post, Political Correctness Ruins Everything, about his love of science fiction and the way he's observed political ideology taking over science fiction, which led to this head-to-head battle over Hugo nominations. It is definitely worth reading.

Jagi Lamplighter (a.k.a. Mrs. John C. Wright) has a good post, First They Came for the Oscars: My Take on the Hugos. She has an interesting comparison to how the Oscar winners have changed over the years from popular to insular. And then looks at the Hugos through that lens.

Worth a Thousand Words: Cat Cot

Cat Cot
by Belinda Del Pesco
I have enjoyed Belinda's art for many years and lately I've loved everything she's posted (check it out). But this sleeping cat is so perfect I can almost hear the subliminal vibration of contented "sleeping" purrs.

Monday, April 6, 2015

What is the unpardonable sin?

Ethan Brand looks for it endlessly and we discuss it (and the story) at SFFaudio. Join Jesse, Seth, Rose and me for a lively discussion.

Worth a Thousand Words: Christ and St. Mary Magdalen at the Tomb

Rembrandt (1606–1669)
Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb
via Wikipedia
I really felt as if I'd featured enough religious art lately. But in looking around in my favorite spots, I came across Lines and Colors' feature of this painting. I just couldn't resist it for a couple of reasons.

Why did Mary Magdalene mistake Jesus for a gardener? The hat and trowel, of course! And the angels lounging around look like high schoolers on break. What a wonderful way to exercise one's imagination on both scriptural accounts and the actual historical event.

Do click through to see the comments in the original post.

Help Christians Suffering Under the Persecution of Militant Islam

Matthew from Big C Catholics writes:
There is an apostolate in my diocese (Burlington, VT), which seeks to help Christians experiencing persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere. Could you let your readers know about it?
Indeed I could. This is a very worthy cause as we all know these days.


Nasarean.org was founded by Father Benedict Kiely, and supported by the good people and businesses of Stowe, VT, to help, in some small way, Christians suffering under the persecution of militant Islam throughout the world.

Throughout the world, but especially in the Middle East, our Christian brothers and sisters are facing persecution, ethnic cleansing, martyrdom and genocide. Nasarean.org is dedicated to helping our brethren by producing items marked with the Arabic "N" - this symbol has been painted on the houses of Christians to identify them for martyrdom and to mark out their presence, similar to the use of the Star of David by the Nazis.

The Arabic letter "Nun" is the first letter of the word "Nasrani" or "Nasarean/Nazarene" - the Muslim word of contempt for Christians. Nasarean.org believes that the wearing of this sign is an act of solidarity with our brethren - is a way to remember to pray for them - and by your generous donation - directly helps them by an act of charity. All donations - after the cost of production - will go directly to one charity with "boots on the ground" - Aid to the Church in Need - actively helping suffering Christians in the Middle East.
You can read Matthew's post here. Or go directly to Nasarean.org.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Julie and Scott are heading to beautiful Terminus to write an Encyclopedia.

They hope to be back in time for the next podcast. Yep, we're discussing the classic science fiction novel Foundation by Isaac Asimov at A Good Story is hard to Find podcast.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Remembering John Paul II: 10th Anniversary of His Death


At 9:37 p.m. on the evening of April 2, 2005, (a Saturday) Pope John Paul II died.

I will never forget it, not only because I loved him more than I realized until heard that news, but also for the company I was keeping at that moment. Mama T, Smock Mama, Steven Riddle and I were sitting in the Rockfish Grill dawdling over a long, enjoyable lunch. As I wrote the next day...
We were in a restaurant but it was as if we were in a soundproof bubble. Nothing else existed except the four of us and our shared, mingled sadness and joy. Tears flowed and we clasped hands and shared prayer together for our pope and our church. What an odd "coincidence" for us to be together to share that moment ... as if I believed in coincidence. In fact, my husband has said three times that he still can't believe how odd it was that I was with those St. Blog's parishioners at that time (and he doesn't repeat himself like that).
Of course, as much as I loved John Paul II, it must be admitted that no one is perfect. For instance, I can't believe he didn't use a Mac. But we will overlook these little flaws.

For one thing I feel sure he'd have enjoyed listening to A Good Story is Hard to Find on any device he had handy, Mac or not.

Today we are living in an age of instant communications. But do you realize what a unique form of communication prayer is? Prayer enables us to meet God at the most profound level of our being. It connects us directly to God, the living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in a constant exchange of love.
Pope John Paul II
Celebration with Youth, St. Louis, 1999
The above photo and quote is one of a series that I did during those days of mourning afterward. I like looking through them. They remind me of what a treasure he was for the Church ... and for me.

It is so odd to realize that he became an official saint so fast. Though, of course, the Church was just affirming what we all knew when John Paul the Great was among us. How blessed I am to have been a Catholic in the days of his papacy.
This was written much later but is my review of Peggy Noonan's book, John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father. I highly recommend it and there are several good links in that review as well.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, 1857, Frederic Edwin Church
via Wikipedia
In my continuing leisurely reading of Art: A New History by Paul Johnson we've gotten to the painters who did such a splendid job of showing North America's natural beauty. They're often called the Hudson River School or the Luminous School but Johnson argues that that is limiting the artists too much.

However that may be it reminded me of the breathtaking paintings we saw at the Hudson River School show at the Amon Carter Museum a few years ago. There is simply nothing like seeing paintings in real life.

The computer can't do it justice but do be sure to click through on the link above to see the painting in as large a size as possible.

The Mystery of the Cross: When God's Love Hurts

... Shrieks of pain. Tears of terror. As my son was laid at my feet on the kitchen floor, I collapsed before him, unable to do anything for him before the ambulance arrived. And so I prayed. The two prayers that came to me were, “Mother of God, be with us,” and “Thy will be done.” And looking back, I understand why.

From that moment on, Our Sorrowful Mother took me as her child, showing me that sometime God’s love looks very ugly on the surface....
When Cassandra Poppe's young son was badly burned in an accident, their whole family entered the Mystery of the Cross.

There could hardly be a more appropriate time than Holy Week to for this a powerful testimony and meditation on the cross. Read it all here.

Via New Advent.