Friday, April 29, 2016

Reality Check: Teddy Roosevelt and Current Political Candidates

I didn't plan it this way but I've been listening to the 10-part series on Theodore Roosevelt at Giants of History podcast. He wasn't a perfect man by any means, but there possibly couldn't be a better time to learn about Teddy Roosevelt. He is certainly a great contrast to the current political candidates. And they don't come off well by comparison.

J.T. Fusco does a bang-up job of making historical figures come alive, by the way. He's also got a series about Leonardo Da Vinci and a fair number of stand-alone episodes.

Here at Giants of History, we produce a weekly biographical podcast that explores history’s most fascinating figures from cradle to grave. In each series, we strive to highlight the best stories and most monumental moments in each subject’s respective life. Our goals are to entertain our listeners, as well as provide inspiration through education.
Giants of History: website, iTunes

Worth a Thousand Words: Prince Muhammad-Beik Of Georgia

Prince Muhammad-Beik Of Georgia, Reza Abbasi, 1620

Genesis Notes: The God Who Creates Out of Nothing

The Creation of the World, Antonio Canova, 1821-22
Photo Gipsoteca, Possagno via WSJ

GENESIS 1:1-31
We just considered the fact that the writers of Genesis retold the creation stories of other nations, correcting them to present the right view of God. So let's look at the biggest way they did this, by pointing out that God, uniquely among other creation stories, creates out of nothing.

This really opened my eyes, from the very beginning of Genesis. For one thing, I don't think we moderns give God enough credit. We just take it for granted because "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is so familiar. But really stop and think about it. Heavens to Betsy! All this around us, created out of nothing!
Genesis begins not just with the beginning of something, but with the beginning of everything. Its first verse uses a word for which there is no equivalent in any other ancient language. The word is bara'. It means not just to make but to create, not just to re-form something new out of something old, but to create something wholly new that was simply not there before. Only God can create, for creation in the literal sense (out of nothing) requires infinite power, since there is an infinite gap between nothing and something. Startling as it may seem, no other people ever had creation stories in the true sense of the word, only formation stories. The Jewish notion of creation is a radically distinctive notion in the history of human thought. When Jewish theologians like Philo and later Christian theologians (who learned it from the Jews) told the Greeks about it, they were often ridiculed.
This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sweet, Sweet Doubletake — Forgotten Classics is "What's Hot" in iTunes

I was looking through What's Hot in Literature podcasts when I did a doubletake. Nice! I guess when you get past 300 episodes you get a nod sometimes.

I'm going to begin The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart this weekend. Swing by and let me read you one of my favorite Forgotten Classics.

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Mary Sartoris

Frederic Leighton, Portrait of Mary Sartoris, c. 1860
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: Jesus' healings

Jesus' healings are not supernatural miracles in a natura world. They are the only truly "natural" things in a world that is unnatural, demonized, and wounded.
Jürgen Moltmann

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

These Just In — New Books You Don't Want to Miss

Thirteen "little sins" that, if left unconfessed, can have a serious impact on our spiritual lives. Through the author's honest (and sometimes funny) examination of these sins in her own life, as well as Church teaching, she gives us the tools to kick these bad habits before they kick us.
First of all, this is Elizabeth Scalia. That means a honest, humorous Catholic writer. Secondly, it is topic which is hits home. I believe I've mentioned before that my problem with confession is not the actual confessing. It is thinking of something to confess. And that is because, especially with my secular background, a lot of the "little" sins slip my mind or don't seem important or are really just a bad habit. Right?

Scalia ain't a gonna let us get away with that. And because she is also a warm and human writer who admits she is first in line for some of these, we don't feel so bad seeing where she's going. This is one I need to read.

This book narrates the harrowing and life-changing experiences of former abortion clinic workers, including those of the author, who once directed abortion services at a large Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas. These individuals, whose names have been changed to protect their identities, left their jobs in the abortion industry after experiencing a change of heart. They have come forward with their stories, not for fame or notoriety, but to shed light on the reality of abortion. They want their stories to change the lives of others for the better.
I did read chapter 4, "Daddy's Little Girl," because it caught my eye flipping through it. It touched me in a very personal way because I had a niece who was having some routine surgery done in a clinic and she almost died because of blood loss and trouble with getting her to a hospital. This chapter brings up that problem, caused by a completely different angle which had never occurred to me. There is nothing gruesome about the chapter but it hit home hard. This book is worth reading.

When Alison Bernhoft set out to homeschool her six children, her grand plans were constantly derailed by the second law of thermodynamics: Entropy. It enters our houses, spreads toys and dishes around, creates chaos throughout the day, and most importantly steals our time. But Alison discovered that chaos and homeschooling are far from mutually exclusive.

Using alternative education methods, marvel at the specialization of birds feet through your kitchen window. Recognize musical eras as you drive. Use raisins to introduce your kindergartener to algebra. 
Ok, this is a highly unlikely book for me to read or promote. That's just how charming this author is. Her email completely captivated me. As did the book when I received it. Just flipping through it keeps grabbing my attention. So I'm going to read it ... and if I were ever going to homeschool (may the good Lord have mercy on any under my tutelage), the entropy approach would definitely be my best friend.

Prolonged, multiple wars in the Middle East. Waves of immigrants crossing the borders. Ongoing economic recession. Increasing political polarization, often with religious overtones. Conflicts over ideologies that pit the progressive against the traditional. Sound familiar? These conditions not only describe the United States, but the situation of the Roman Empire in the third century. That situation led to religious persecution and the eventual collapse of the empire. In the middle of the third century, the Roman Empire was roughly the same age as the United States is now.

This book examines the practices of the Early Church—a body of Christians living in Rome—and show how the lessons learned from these ancient Christians can apply to Christians living in the United States today. The book moves from the Christian individual, to the family, the church and the world, explaining how the situation of the Early Church is not only familiar to modern Christian readers, but that its values are still relevant.
Ok. First, true confession — I don't have this book. Second — it's Mike Aquilina! It's about a year old but it's new to me and the authors' perspective is one that I espouse all the time. But I do so without their indepth knowledge or examples. Not sure how this slid under my radar but in case it slid under yours also, I thought I'd bring it up!

Worth a Thousand Words: Horse

James Ward, Horse

Well Said: Pope for Both

I have to be pope both of those with their foot on the gas and those with their foot on the brake.
St. John XXIII
I don't think things have changed much since then.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Hilye

Hilye, Hafiz Osman
This is calligraphy from the Ottoman Period. Isn't it gorgeous?

Lagniappe: Brown Beer Bottles and the Wedge of Lime

Brewers learned long ago that dark bottles protect beer from the light and prevent it from developing a skunky "lightstruck" taste. But it wasn't until 2001 that scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found out exactly what causes that nasty flavor. Certain compounds in in hops, known as isohumulones, break down into free radicals when exposed to light. Those free radicals are chemically similar to the secretions of skunks. And it doesn't take long for the transformation to happen: some beer drinkers will notice the skunky flavor at the bottom of a pint glass that sat in sunlight while they drank it.

So why are some beers sold in clear bottles? First, it's cheaper. Second, some mass-produced beers are made with a chemically altered hop compound that doesn't break down. But if you see clear-bottled beers sold in a closed box, chances are it's because the brewer knows the taste will degrade quickly in light. And the tradition of adding a wedge of lime to the beer? That's just a marketing ploy to disguise the skunky flavor.
Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist
AHA! I knew about the brown bottles, light, and flavor degradation. But the lime? That's news to me. Those marketing devils!

Genesis Notes: A Hymn of Creation

God the Geometer, The Frontispiece of Bible Moralisee, mid-13th C.

GENESIS 1:1-31
This chapter is the oh-so-familiar story of the creation of the universe. Anyone who has ever done any Bible study or, indeed, ever had their back to the wall when talking to a dedicated believer in science knows that Genesis is not worried about how creation occurred. It is concerned with the fact that God created everything and that God made man in His image. If you read it out loud and listen to the language and cadence you fall into it almost reads like a Psalm.

The problem that I, personally, always had trouble reconciling is the fact that there are a other creation stories out there that seemed to echo Genesis. If that is the case, then is Genesis just another man-made story as I had been told by nay-sayers? The way that The Complete Bible Handbook explains it helped me sort this out.
The major point made in the Bible is that, however Creation is interpreted, and whatever account of Creation one follows, God is the author of the story; and if there is a design, then God is the Designer. All the accounts of Creation in the Bible make this point. In this respect, the stories of the Bible differ hugely from other stories told about Creation in the religions and beliefs of the nations that surrounded Israel, such as Babylon and Assyria. The biblical writers used different stories of Creation, and at least two of these accounts are shared with Israel's neighbors in the ancient Near East. But the Bible retold these stories of other nations and - from its own point of view - corrected them to make its own basic point: the true reading of Creation sees it as the consequence of One who gives it order and sustains it's being.

The biblical account is coherent with many other stories, whether those of the Babylonian accounts of creation, or, much later, the theories of Darwin and his successors, and has translated them into an account that endures, even when Babylon and Darwin have faded into history. These different theories of Creation are not in competition with the Bible. The stories of Creation in the Bible give the reader the opportunity to go deeper into the understanding of the universe and of our place in it, to understand the way in which God brings all things into being and to understand how God is continually in the act of creating.
This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Well Said: A healthy dose of self-cricitism

We also need to be humble and realistic, acknowledging that at times the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat other people has helped contribute to today’s problematic situation. We need a healthy dose of self-criticism.
Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love)
I'm reading it a little each day and finding it a complex, thoughtful, and rich work. It is especially interesting to consider that the Pope keeps mentioning the other contributing bishops from the synods on the family. This is not just one person's vision. It is that of many of those who serve families around the world.

For those who feel this is too long to face, take heart. I'm not actually reading the 264 page book formatted by the Vatican and released as a pdf. I was able to copy and paste it into my own document which came down to 50 pages. The pdf's tiny pages, large type, and big margins are what made it so long in published form.

Worth a Thousand Words: Opposition

Opposition, England, 1890
from the Library of Congress's Photochrom Travel Views collection

Friday, April 22, 2016

Blogging Around

Kobe Bryant is Catholic?

Yet during one of the darkest moments of his life, Kobe Bryant turned to his Catholic faith. In an interview with GQ last year he explained:

“The one thing that really helped me during that process — I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic — was talking to a priest. It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ‘Of course not.’ Then he asks, ‘Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ‘Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point.”
Read it all at Aleteia

The Mercy of Shutting Up.

This is one I struggle with, sometimes more successfully than others. Joanne McPortland finds something unexpected in Pope Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). I especially liked her specific ideas for applying "hold your peace." The one I mention below seems specifically applicable to Americans (we like to help!) and is one where I am specifically working on improving my own behavior.
Here, then, are just of few of the many situations in which I need to practice mercy by holding my tongue — and atoning for the times I have not.

When I’m just trying to helpful, damn it! This is a trap a lot of us fall into, rushing to meet others’ silence or sadness or need with a flood of unsolicited advice. In almost every such situation, the merciful and truly helpful response is receptive silence, listening presence. Too often, I react instead with links to medical websites, amateur psychoanalysis or (worst of all) anecdotes about how my experience was so much worse.

Work When You Work, Play When You Play

The key to a happier life with more time in it. The problem is that we seem to have forgotten how to do that. Never fear! The Art of Manliness is here ... with ways to combat today's distractions.
Restlessness is one of the acute maladies of our time, and there are many causes of it, from the gap between how fast information moves and the stubborn slowness of “real life”; our increasing distance from nature and lack of physicality; the avalanche of options we have to choose from in all areas of life; and the amount of “shadow work” corporations have outsourced to us consumers.

There’s another obvious factor in our restlessness as well, and that’s the sheer number of distractions that constantly pull at our attention, erode our focus, and keep us from concentrating on the task at hand.

Happily, while the other sources of our restlessness often require comprehensive changes to our culture and our personal lifestyle, this last factor can be attended to with the adoption of a simple principle: work when you work; play when you play.

Well Said: The wood of this cross ...

The wood of this cross that now breaks your back first grew in the soil of your heart.
Staretz Macarius

Worth a Thousand Words: The Neapolitan Girl

The Neapolitan Girl, Hugues Merle

Genesis Notes: Introduction - In the Beginning

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

This is one of the most famous lines in all literature. It begins our journey of discovery of not only one of the oldest pieces of writing in history but about ourselves. Because this book was designed to help us answer the oldest questions of all. Who am I? Who is God? Does He exist? How do I know when I meet Him? How should I live?
The book of Genesis does not merely tell quaint stories about people who lived at the dawn of time. The roots of all that Christians believe are found here. Read properly, Genesis reveals the essence of the nature of God, of creation and man. It shows how man fell from grace and God's friendship. It reveals the nature of sin. In it we see the first hints of God's plan of redemption, and the promises he makes that lay out the blueprint for the rest of salvation history. It is also the beginning of a very important family history: that of the family of God.
I must say that if I took nothing else away from studying Genesis, it is that human nature is the same now as it was 4,000 years ago. The way we live is different, but people are still recognizable as those you might meet anywhere. I was shocked to recognize and often deeply understand these ancient personalities that I met in this book.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Well Said: "I am the resurrection and the life" from a Tale of Two Cities

These solemn words, which had been read at his father's grave, arose in his mind as he went down the dark streets, among the heavy shadows, with the moon and the clouds sailing on high above him. "I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die."

In a city dominated by the axe, alone at night, with natural sorrow rising in him for the sixty-three who had been that day put to death, and for to-morrow's victims then awaiting their doom in the prisons, and still of to-morrow's and to-morrow's, the chain of association that brought the words home, like a rusty old ship's anchor from the deep, might have been easily found. He did not seek it, but repeated them and went on.


"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die."

Now, that the streets were quiet, and the night wore on, the words were in the echoes of his feet, and were in the air. Perfectly calm and steady, he sometimes repeated them to himself as he walked; but, he heard them always.

The night wore out, and, as he stood upon the bridge listening to the water as it splashed the river-walls of the Island of Paris, where the picturesque confusion of houses and cathedral shone bright in the light of the moon, the day came coldly, looking like a dead face out of the sky. Then, the night, with the moon and the stars, turned pale and died, and for a little while it seemed as if Creation were delivered over to Death's dominion.

But, the glorious sun, rising, seemed to strike those words, that burden of the night, straight and warm to his heart in its long bright rays. And looking along them, with reverently shaded eyes, a bridge of light appeared to span the air between him and the sun, while the river sparkled under it.

The strong tide, so swift, so deep, and certain, was like a congenial friend, in the morning stillness. He walked by the stream, far from the houses, and in the light and warmth of the sun fell asleep on the bank. When he awoke and was afoot again, he lingered there yet a little longer, watching an eddy that turned and turned purposeless, until the stream absorbed it, and carried it on to the sea. — "Like me."

A trading-boat, with a sail of the softened colour of a dead leaf, then glided into his view, floated by him, and died away. As its silent track in the water disappeared, the prayer that had broken up out of his heart for a merciful consideration of all his poor blindnesses and errors, ended in the words, "I am the resurrection and the life."
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Worth a Thousand Words: Wapping on the Thames

Wapping on Thames by James McNeill Whistler
I've been thinking about "wapping." Is it the inn? Is it the way they are talking or does it mean a late afternoon party. Did someone forget the "r" and they were "wrapping" ... gifts just out of sight?

Of course, none of the above:
Wapping (/ˈwɒpɪŋ/ wop-ing) is a district in East London, England, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is situated between the north bank of the River Thames and the ancient thoroughfare simply called The Highway. Wapping's proximity to the river has given it a strong maritime character, which it retains through its riverside public houses and steps, such as the Prospect of Whitby and Wapping Stairs.
What would I do without Wikipedia and the internet?

Running on Red Dog Road by Drema Hall Berkheimer

Running on Red Dog Road: And Other Perils of an Appalachian ChildhoodRunning on Red Dog Road: And Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood by Drema Hall Berkheimer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gypsies, faith-healers, moonshiners, and snake handlers weave through Drema’s childhood in 1940s Appalachia after her father is killed in the coal mines, her mother goes off to work as a Rosie the Riveter, and she is left in the care of devout Pentecostal grandparents. Drema’s coming of age is colored by tent revivals with Grandpa, poetry-writing hobos, and traveling carnivals, and through it all, she serves witness to a multi-generational family of saints and sinners whose lives defy the stereotypes. 
This book makes me think of To Kill a Mockingbird. Or maybe I'm thinking of Tom Sawyer. Although these are vignettes of Appalachian life instead of a novel, the reader is carried into West Virginia life through a mischievous child's vivid memories of what was then "everyday" life. Drema's stories pull us into her world with turns of humor, poignancy, love and discovery.

Above all, I came away loving Grandma and Grandpa. Their common sense, resilience, ingenuity, and steadfast faith were the anchors of the Drema's life. They provide the anchors for the book too, and the underlying themes which make the book much more than simply the sum of its parts. One of my favorite chapters was when the gypsies came to town and Grandpa caught two of their children who'd been raiding the vegetable garden and henhouse.
The big boy said he was ten but his brother was only seven and wasn't allowed to be out at night. Grandpa took both boys by the hand and walked through the garden, the little one dragging a burlap bag behind.

"You tell me what you want, and I'll show you how to harvest so it won't damage the crop," Grandpa said.

Soon the boys filled the bag with potatoes and onions and carrots and ears of corn. Grandpa showed them how to tie their sack in the middle of a long pole so they could share the heavy load on the way home.

"A load is always lighter if it's shared. I want you to remember that. You want more, you knock and I'll give you what can be spared. I want to show you something else before you leave," he said, leading the boys over to where Queenie was tied.

He unhooked the leash, and Queenie, grateful for freedom, ran to the boys and started jumping up. Grandpa gave a hand signal and the dog sat down, watching Grandpa and waiting.

"This dog is part of our family, and I won't stand for her being tormented. She wants to be your friend. Go on over there now and get acquainted with her." ...

Every week or so after, always just before dawn, we heard a tapping at the front door, getting a little louder if Grandpa didn't hurry down. He pulled pants and suspenders over his long johns and went out to help his new friends fill their bag. Grandma followed him downstairs and put a pot of coffee on the stove. Sometimes she gave the boys a sack of oatmeal cookies or a pint of damson preserves, and a time or two she gave them a basket of eggs.

We never had another chicken disappear.
Running on Red Dog Road shows us a slice of life that doesn't exist any more, while reminding us that such a life is still right here to be grasped — in our families, friends, and the things we share along the way.

I received a Kindle version of this book from NetGalley. My opinion is my own. I'll be buying this in print for myself and as gifts. I know I'll be rereading this one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

You Can Share the Faith by Karen Edmisten

I lived for a long time without knowing why I was living. Now that I have claimed Christ as my core, I want what Thoreau sought: a deliberate life. I want to live with conviction, love, and purpose, the knowledge of who I am and what I believe. Since becoming a Catholic, my life is still unquestionably full of twists and turns, alarming developments, chaotic days and sometimes anguished nights, but I can say with certainty: I know who I am. I live deliberately and with mystery.
This book resonated with me from page one. I don't know how Karen Edmisten managed to write a book that sounds as if I gave her notes on what I'd write myself, but she did. Her life story is different from mine, but her Catholic way of life is precisely what I answer when people ask me "how to" be a Happy Catholic. Easy to read, accessible, and thoroughly Catholic,  this is a perfect book to begin during the Easter season and carry into ordinary time. (It's still Easter until May 16!)

The chapter titles themselves are good bits of advice that I often bring up when deep in conversations with people who feel overwhelmed about how to live the Catholic life, reach out to friends, change the world ... in short, how to tell the Good News. We've got to think about it in small pieces, not as one gigantic project, and those chapters point the way. Here are a few:
  • Do Hang Out With All Kinds of People
  • Do Be Honest About Your Own Struggles
  • Do Engage the Culture
  • Don't Forget That Words Matter
  • Don't Limit the Definition of a Personal Relationship
  • Don't Pretend the Pilgrim Church is Perfect
I could go on, but you get the point. These are straight forward, practical tips for how to share your spiritual life with those around you. It's also loaded with lots of quotes (I told you this is my kind of book) that help make the point. I'm making it sound like a "how to" book but it is much more since Edmisten tells us about her life and conversion. These serve as examples  of both "how to" and "how not to" (I love an honest author) as well as providing thought provoking points for our own lives.
When I first became a Christian and abandoned my old pro-choice views, Tom and I initially engaged in screaming matches over my newly adopted opinions. When I finally realized my screaming was fruitless (imagine that!), I switched to quiet discussion and witnessing. I prayed the Lord would lead Tom to the truth in another way. I wasn't surprised that, in having our own children, his heart softened. But I was surprised by his reaction to a rereading of the classic novel Brave New World. [...]

When Tom reread Brave New World for the first time since becoming the father of two beloved little girls, he was stunned by his reaction. He was stopped cold at a passage he'd read many times but that had never affected him so chillingly. He read the description of babies, mass-produced in bottles, and reduced to nothing more than utilitarian objects. [...]

Tom felt a creeping sense of horror as he saw the brave new world of reproductive freedom very differently than he ever had before.
I especially love the overarching points about fully engaging the culture and making friends everywhere. We can't hunker down and keep this goodness to ourselves. We've gotta live our normal lives out there in the world, showing through our actions that our lives now are lived deliberately.

This book will help you do that. And help you to embrace your own faith more deeply. Get it. Read it.

Well Said: I wait by the phone hoping you'll call

At some point, I started getting nudges that God loved me.

But not in that intellectual, "God loves me, all is good" kind of way, but rather, "I would run through fire to be with you. I wait by the phone hoping you'll call. When the mail comes, I'm disappointed if there isn't a letter from you. I stalk your Twitter account to see what you've been up to. When I'm at the grocery store, I see the Ritter Sport marzipan in the candy aisle and I buy a package to leave on your desk so you'll find them in the morning."
Jane Lebak, sometime in the misty past on her first blog

Worth a Thousand Words: Emir of Bukhara

Alim Khan, Emir of Bukhara, seated holding sword, 1905.
From the Russian Empire in Color collection (Library of Congress).

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Studying Genesis - Resources

Now that I've begun my chronological Bible reading, it reminded me of this Genesis Bible study from 2004. This isn't a complete "study" but simply sharing some of the things that brought Genesis alive for me.

Gustave Doré, The Creation of Light
So many things have changed since 2004. For one thing, I read Robert Alter's translation on my Forgotten Classics podcast. I'd fallen in love with his authentic, vivid rendering and reading it aloud turned Genesis into my favorite Old Testament book.

I've also come across some other good references in the last 12 years, some new and some old. I've got asterisks by the references that are new since then.
I'm going to refresh and republish the study as I work my way through Genesis again.

*Genesis: Translation and Commentary by Robert Alter. I read this a bit every day and was blown away by Alter's translation and notes. Reading both for morning reflection and prayer AND as prep for eventually reading Genesis on my podcast, with commentary from various sources, one of which will be this book. No translation and commentary I have read has so vividly brought alive this scripture. The commentary is cultural and literary rather than religious, just fyi, but that simply enhances it for the reader who already has a religious grounding. The introductory article about scripture from a literary standpoint as well as how modern translation tends to explain rather than accurately translate is almost worth the price of admission alone.

Genesis, Part I: God and His Creation and Genesis, Part II: God and His Family.  I originally read this online and it is no longer available free or to individuals, so we're lucky that it has been published. This is the first study I ever read which really made Genesis seem personal instead of a lot of old religious myths. It offers spiritual insights to specific sections being studied, connection with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and revealing connections with the deeper layers of mean in Scripture throughout the Bible such as typology.

*The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch. The Navarre commentaries are consistently excellent and have a lot of thoughts from Church Fathers, Popes, saints, and the Catechism. They add wisdom from the 2,000 years of Church contemplation on scripture since Jesus.

*St. Irenaeus Ministries Genesis Study - Scripture study that is practical and I've listened to this for years. The teacher is extremely insightful in giving connections between scripture and daily life. He keeps it real and although he has an orthodox Catholic point of view, this is the podcast I recommend to non-Catholics. You'll find his Genesis study on iTunes or in the archive (linked above) in the 2013 listings.

Life Application Study Bible: New International Version. This Protestant Bible is an interesting resource. The footnotes are fresh, interesting, and a good resource for historical questions such as how threshing was done when Ruth met Boaz for example. They also have maps and occasional one page essays about main figures of the Bible. There is a tendency to ask questions at the end of commentary such as, "Do you listen to God like this person, etc.?" which I find rather annoying but they may not strike everyone that way. I would advise the NIV version as I have been told that translation is more accurate than the New Living Translation.

*Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs: How the People of the Bible Really Lived. This puts different Biblical epochs into context by looking at everything from what people wore and ate to how they traveled, fought, and dressed. It really puts everything into context for the modern person. I've never forgotten reading about Ur where Abram lived (before he set out for parts unknown at God's behest and became Abraham) and how everyone lived. It really set my imagination alight. Suddenly those Old Testament figures are all quite a bit more human and three-dimensional.

The Complete Bible Handbook: An Illustrated Companion by John Bowker. This is a DK book which means first and foremost that it is beautifully illustrated. Luckily, it also is very approachable, scholarly, and reverent in covering the history and cultural context of the Bible. Each book of the Bible is covered by five types of double-page spreads: "Book" (origin, significance and key themes), "Story" (significance of specific passages, characters, and events), "Background" and "History" (cultural contexts, historical facts), and "Theology" (interpretation, theory).

*Archaeological Study Bible (which has an adamant "WOOHOO Protestant Biblical books choice, BOO Catholic books choice!" section of the introduction). Their practically pure archaeological take on things is eye opening. One must just keep in mind that they may fall short when it comes to Catholic teachings if they happen to comment on those things (which I haven't seen happen yet other than in their stern comments about which books should be in the Bible).

*Ignatius Genesis Study Bible. I like the commentary and essays but find the large format to be clunky and hard to handle, so much so that I actively avoid using it.  Be that as it may, the commentary is excellent and that is what counts.

For all the Genesis lessons, go to the Genesis study page.

Worth A Thousand Words: Singing

taken by Remo Savisaar

Well Said: The Mythology I Believe

If Christianity is only a mythology, then I find the mythology I believe in is not the one I like best. I like Greek mythology much better, Irish better still, Norse best of all.
C.S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry?

Julie left a top secret recipe on the bus and Scott spectacularly screwed up a training exercise ...

... which is why their new office is in Slough House next to the other slow horses. They have to whisper to talk about Slow Horses by Mick Herron because they don't want Lamb to hear. Episode 131 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Well Said: Rewriting History

It has been said that each generation must rewrite history in order to understand it. The opposite is true. Moderns rewrite history to make it palatable, not to understand it. Those who edit "history" to popular taste each decade will never understand the past — neither the horrors nor glories of which the human race is equally capable — and for that reason, they will fail to understand themselves.
T.R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star

Worth a Thousand Words: Bluebonnets in the Sunset

Bluebonnets in the Sunset, San Sabe County, Texas
taken by Jason Merlo, Jason Merlo Photography
Jason's words are as evocative as his photography:
There's nothing like ending the day in silence surrounded by the fragrance of bluebonnets as the warm sunset light slowly fades away.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Loners

by Karin Jurick

Well Said: In His Great Love, God Challenges All of Us

Maybe some of you will say to me, Saint Paul is often severe in his writings. How can I say he was spreading a message of love? My answer is this. God loves every one of us with a depth and intensity that we can hardly begin to imagine. And he knows us intimately, he knows all our strengths and our faults. Because he loves us so much, he wants to purify us of our faults and build up our virtues so that we can have life in abundance. When he challenges us because something in our lives is displeasing to him, he is not rejecting us, but he is asking us to change and become more perfect. That is what he asked of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. God rejects no one. And the Church rejects no one. Yet in his great love, God challenges all of us to change and become more perfect.
Pope Benedict XVI

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: New Life

New Life
by Edward B. Gordon

Well Said: True Community is a Fellowship of the Weak

When we dismiss people out of hand because of their apparent woundedness, we stunt their lives by ignoring their gifts, which are often buried in their wounds.

We all are bruised reeds, whether our bruises are visible or not. The compassionate life is the life in which we believe that strength is hidden in weakness and that true community is a fellowship of the weak.
Henri Nouwen
Ain't that the truth!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Must See TV: Papal Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

My friend Diana von Glahn, The Faithful Traveler, needs no introduction to the many who have enjoyed her DVDs and series: The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land. For those who haven't seen her videos on U.S. shrines or the Holy Land, you're missing a real treat. Diana is personable, joyful, and devout (without being corny ... ok, sometimes she's corny but it works!). You get a full dose of the faith in the actual place it happened plus a way to relate to it wherever you are.

(Some day I am going to get to meet her in person and that is going to be a very joyful day. We almost got to go the Holy Land together and I rue the day I discovered that little dream was not going to happen. However, I have talked to her on the phone and she is just as genuine in person as on TV.)

Now we've got a real treat in store during May. The Faithful Traveler looks at Papal Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, in a 3-part series.
This 3-episode special explores the important history behind Papal pilgrimages to the Holy Land, including the background behind Pope Paul VI’s meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964, and the significance of the meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in 2014.
It will show on CatholicTV, EWTN, Salt + Light, and a few other networks. Check the schedule here.

Worth a Thousand Words: Spin

by Belinda DelPesco

Well Said: After reading a new book ...

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books ... Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.
C.S. Lewis, “On the reading of old books,” God in the Dock
via Semicolon

Reading the Bible in Chronological Order

How sweet are your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Psalm 119:103
I've come across several people lately who have been doing one of those "read the Bible in a year" plans. I'm intrigued by a plan to read the entire Bible, though having a time limit leaves me cold. Why rush, after all? Also, what with one thing and another, I've read practically the entire Bible in fits and starts over the years, with the notable exception of Isaiah.

However, what I did begin thinking about was the idea of reading the Bible chronologically. I'd like to read salvation history as it unrolls through time — not in the order it was written, but in the order it happened. And it would definitely be interesting to read Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other prophets within the historical timeline.

There are a variety of plans out there, but the one that fit the bill for me was from the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. You may recall I love their commentaries and when I saw how their plan interspersed parts of Isaiah throughout the historical books, I could see we were on the same page.

They have a 3-column, 365-day Bible reading plan formatted in legal and letter sized pdfs. Perfect! Here's a bit of their thinking, but they lay out all their rationale at the reading plan link.
For the most part, the Old Testament narrative and prophecy readings present the biblical books in the order of the story they tell (not the same as the order in which they were written). This chronological order is particularly helpful in understanding where the prophets and various narrative works fit in the history of Israel. A significant exception to this chronological presentation is the placement of 1-2 Chronicles (which cover the same period as the books of Samuel and Kings) near to when they were written near the end of the OT period, in order to lessen the experience of repetition.

A similar approach is taken to the third column that contains the books of the NT. These readings begin with the Gospel of Luke and Acts to provide a narrative framework for the whole. The other three Gospels are interspersed among the remaining New Testament books to allow readers to return to reflect on the life of Christ throughout the year. Then come the letters of Paul arranged in approximate chronological order, Hebrews, the epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude, concluding with the book of Revelation.
I'm going to read from beginning to end, as I said, placing the gospels in their chronological order for when they were written. (Hey it wouldn't be me if I didn't inject my own thinking, would it?)

I'm interested to read the New Testament, when I get to it, in the order that the first Christians did, as letters circulating through churches with gospels popping up later on. Anyway, I have the Church's daily Mass readings for a daily dose of gospel.

So I've begun with Genesis and the Psalms. A couple of chapters of Genesis start my day, while I'm feeding the dogs, and a psalm is the midday punctuation.

I like the idea of the wisdom books accompanying the historical books. In my particular case, Genesis is one of my all-time favorite books and I've always struggled with the Psalms, though wanting to read them has been a goal for a long time. So this is the perfect pairing to begin.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

If the moon were replaced with some of our planets ...

Here's the thing I never thought about — rotation. How many science fiction movie directors have missed a big visual by having interesting moons hang in alien skies, but not having them rotate?

(via Cat Hodge's Facebook page)

Worth a Thousand Words: View from a Window

Arts Everyday Living

Poetry: Old Books

by Margaret Widdemer
(via Semicolon)

The people up and down the world that talk and laugh and cry,
They’re pleasant when you’re young and gay, and life is all to try,
But when your heart is tired and dumb, your soul has need of ease,
There’s none like the quiet folk who wait in libraries–
The counselors who never change, the friends who never go,
The old books, the dear books that understand and know!

‘Why, this thing was over, child, and that deed was done,’
They say, ‘When Cleopatra died, two thousand years agone,
And this tale was spun for men and that jest was told
When Sappho was a singing-lass and Greece was very old,
And this thought you hide so close was sung along the wind
The day that young Orlando came a-courting Rosalind!’

The foolish thing that hurt you so your lips could never tell,
Your sister out of Babylon she knows its secret well,
The merriment you could not share with any on the earth
Your brother from King Francis’ court he leans to share your mirth,
For all the ways your feet must fare, the roads your heart must go,
The old books, the dear books, they understand and know!

You read your lover’s hid heart plain beneath some dead lad’s lace,
And in a glass from some Greek tomb you see your own wet face,
For they have stripped from out their souls the thing they could not speak
And strung it to a written song that you might come to seek,
And they have lifted out their hearts when they were beating new
And pinned them on a printed page and given them to you.

The people close behind you, all their hearts are dumb and young,
The kindest word they try to say it stumbles on the tongue,
Their hearts are only questing hearts, and though they strive and try,
Their softest touch may hurt you sore, their best word make you cry.
But still through all the years that come and all the dreams that go
The old books, the dear books, they understand and know!

In which we see how to fight like a space pirate.

And how a Talent gets you where you want to go — faster. Episode 300 of Forgotten Classics: Talents Incorporated, chapters 7-8

Monday, April 11, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Divan Japonaise, Duckomenta

VOLKER SCHÖNWART (interDuck): Le Divan Japonais

This art is one of the Duckomenta paintings (see the book below for more background.) I love them so much.

Here's the original painting for comparison.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Divan Japonais

Here is where I discovered Duckomenta.

Die DuckomentaDie Duckomenta by interDuck

I never heard of this book but received it as a gift. The only flaw is that I can't read German, but the art speaks for itself.

Classic art, from caveman days forward, documents a mysterious tribe of ducks known as the interDucks who once lived very public lives in a society parallel to that of mankind. (I picked this up from the website.)

Lagniappe: Everyone She Didn't Trust

She started drawing up a mental list of everyone she didn't trust, and had to stop immediately. She didn't have all day.
Mick Herron, Dead Lions

Friday, April 8, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: St. Christopher

St. Christopher by Daniel Mitsui
I've mentioned before how much I love Daniel Mitsui's art, especially when he does an Asian take on Catholic saints and topics. I especially appreciate his explanations of the creative process for the symbolism. You can see that care and thought that go into his art from this excerpt of the St. Christopher page, which I encourage you to read in its entirety at the link.
I wanted the image to convey this weight bearing down upon the saint, and this determined much of the surrounding imagery, which represents all of Creation, according to day.

I have for some time been fascinated by the account of the six days of Creation given in Genesis, especially the way that God on successive days distinguished and then populated different dimensions. On the first day, by separating day from night, He created a difference of time. On the second, by placing the sky between heaven and earth, He created a vertical order. On the third, by moving the land and the water apart, He created a horizontal order. Over the next three days, this succession (temporal, vertical, horizontal) was repeated, as each dimension was filled with moving things: first, the celestial bodies that mark the days and seasons and years; second, the animals that move vertically (by flying or diving); third, the animals that mover horizontally upon the earth, including Man.

I made sure to include in the picture both day and night, sky and earth, water and land. The sun, moon and stars appear in the sky. Three small birds in the background and three aquatic creatures in the foreground (two eels and one frog) represent the fifth-day animals. The sixth day is represented by Christopher himself, and the seventh (that of God’s rest) by the Christ Child resting on the saint’s shoulders.
Each piece of art is like a visual feast.

Well Said: Why Such Fury Against Religion?

Why is there such a fury against religion now? Because religion is the one reliable force that stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak.
Peter Hitchins

Pope Francis on Love in the Family

[Cardinal Francis George] said that it is insufficient simply to drop the truth on people and then smugly walk away. Rather, he insisted, you must accompany those you have instructed, committing yourself to helping them integrate the truth that you have shared. I thought of this ... often as I was reading Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. If I might make bold to summarize a complex 264-page document, I would say that Pope Francis wants the truths regarding marriage, sexuality, and family to be unambiguously declared, but that he also wants the Church’s ministers to reach out in mercy and compassion to those who struggle to incarnate those truths in their lives.
Bishop Robert Barron has a great overview of the Pope's exhortation "The Joy of Love" about love in the family ... which brings together the results of the two Synods on the family convoked by Pope Francis in 2014 and 2015.

Quicker summary, based on reading Bishop Barron's piece — the Pope is Catholic and the Truth, it ain't a-changin'. However, being Pope Francis, which is to say a good Catholic, he also counsels gentle methods to help people come to a knowledge of that truth in a disordered world or relationship.

Will I be reading this? Yes, indeed. Though it's long so it may be a bit before I do.

Here's where you can read or download the pdf.

If you don't want to wade through the pdf, Crux has the document chapter by chapter.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

My Last Dickens' Novel: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Mystery of Edwin DroodThe Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In pursuing my goal of reading all of Dickens' novels, I saved his last book for the very end, mostly because I knew he died when it was half finished. I was afraid it would break my heart not to know what happens. I combined actual reading with listening to the fantastic David Timson narration.

It was interesting that Dickens was telling a single-strand tale. This was probably because he planned to make it half the length of his usual novels. So it was much more like A Christmas Carol than Bleak House.

It was also interesting that we can see who the murderer is but we are left uncertain as to whether the murder was really committed. Is Edwin missing because he's dead or because the murderer was suffering from an opium dream and incompletely carried out the crime? Perhaps Edwin was left unconscious and something else happened.

The one thing we could tell was that the engagement ring would be a key identifier whenever Edwin turned up, whether dead or alive.

Having read the book I then turned to Wikipedia where I found John Foster's account of what Dickens had told him in two letters. Foster was Dickens' lifelong friend and his biographer after he died. I won't spoil it for anyone wanting to read the book fresh but it did make sense and it also made me bitterly regret not having that second half of the book which was to be "a very curious and new idea for my new story. Not a communicable idea (or the interest of the book would be gone), but a very strong one, though difficult to work."

You can also read an account there of the mock trial that was put on to solve the mystery by G.K. Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw and similar literary luminaries. It sounds as if t'was all good fun.
The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter, Shaw stating that it was a compromise on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to convict Jasper but that they did not want to run the risk of being murdered in their beds. Both sides protested and demanded that the jury be discharged. Shaw claimed that the jury would be only too pleased to be discharged. Chesterton ruled that the mystery of Edwin Drood was insoluble and fined everyone, except himself, for contempt of court.

Worth a Thousand Words: Racinet Polychromev

Via BiblyOdyssey
BibliOdyssey tells us:
"Adapted from historical items dating back to antiquity, such as jewelry, tiles, stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, textiles, and ceramics, these ornamental designs [from 'Racinet's 'L'Ornement Polychrome'] encompass a wide range of cultural aesthetics including classic Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Etruscan motifs, Asian and middle-Eastern patterns, as well as European designs from medieval times through the 19th century."
There are more of them at the link for you to enjoy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Japanese Bantam

Japanese Bantam, Himmapaan

In honor of the baker's dozen of fresh eggs our neighbors gave us. Their chickens are so quiet that many of our other neighbors don't even know they are there. Our odd alley configuration means we can see the top of their henhouse, painted a cheerful barn-red, but we almost never hear them. The eggs, however, are delicious!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Well Said: Crushing Someone

If you do not understand a man you cannot crush him. And if you do understand him, very probably you will not.
G.K. Chesterton

Worth a Thousand Words: Alexandra and Elena Pavlovna

Alexandra and Elena Pavlovna, painted by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun.
I love these two sweet sisters, painted by one of my favorite artists. It makes me think of when Hannah and Rose were little. They were such loving sisters.

On behalf of the former sinners of the future ...

... Julie and Scott are going to keep right on running this podcast, even though they have been running it since they were juvenile delinquents ... and they are tired from weariness! Brando. Sinatra. Guys and Dolls. Get Episode 130 at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Leaping

taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

Well Said: The Key to a Happy Marriage

I have always believed that the key to a happy marriage was the ability to say with a straight face, "Why, I don't know what you're worrying about. I thought you were very funny last night and I'm sure everybody else did, too."
Miss Manners

In which we discover how a victory can be a catastrophe.

Can Captain Bors turn it back into a victory again? Forgotten Classics, Episode 299, featuring chapters 5-6 of Talents Incorporated by Murray Leinster.

Friday, April 1, 2016

What We've Been Watching: Hits and Misses


Steve Jobs

Set backstage at three iconic product launches and ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac, Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint an intimate portrait of the brilliant man at its epicenter.
Wow. Brilliant.

All the performances were wonderful, especially those of Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet. I saw some critics complaining because they felt there was too much talking, though I'm not sure how you have a movie about ideas without, you know, talking. Kudos to both director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for making the movie feel dynamic and exciting despite the fact that it is set backstage before three different product launches. The most fascinating thing, though, was that the revelation of Steve Jobs' personality and growth was so wonderfully revealed as we watched the progress of his products.

Tom and I knew so much about Steve Jobs already (for reasons I won't go into here - suffice it to say that we were amused when Jobs began being treated like a rock star by friends who "discovered" Apple because of iPods and iPhones) ... and about those launches in particular that it was fascinating to see how they were used as springboards for a character study.

It's also interesting thinking about how the stories of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are told, considering Aaron Sorkin wrote both but David Fincher directed one and Danny Boyle the other.

My Italian Secret (doc.)

A heroic story that was all but lost to history, until now. The film recounts how WWII bicycling idol Gino Bartali, physician Giovanni Borromeo and other Italians worked with Jewish leaders and high-ranking officials of the Catholic Church, risking their lives by defying the Nazis to save thousands of Italy’s Jews.
It never occurred to me before that the Italian Jewish experience during WWII would have been so different from what we've heard about so much of Germany or France. Fascinating.


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

In the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.
If Fellini made a vampire movie, this would be the movie he made.

So much atmosphere, so little story.

The Verdict

Frank Galvin is a down-on-his luck lawyer, reduced to drinking and ambulance chasing. Former associate Mickey Morrissey reminds him of his obligations in a medical malpractice suit that he himself served to Galvin on a silver platter: all parties willing to settle out of court. Blundering his way through the preliminaries, he suddenly realizes that perhaps after all the case should go to court; to punish the guilty, to get a decent settlement for his clients, and to restore his standing as a lawyer.
And to restore his self respect. Let's not forget his self respect.

I was looking for legal thrillers for my movie discussion groups and The Verdict kept popping up on every "law film" or "legal thriller" list I found.

Paul Newman is, needless to say, terrific. The rest of the movie felt more like a slow character study than either a legal or thriller story. It was a good character study but not good enough to carry the entire film.

The Intern

70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker has discovered that retirement isn't all it's cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin.
Another movie I tried to see if it would be good for movie discussion groups. Short answer: no.

There is much to like in this movie but the slow pacing removes any punch, whether for humor or angst. If they'd have cut 20-30 minutes out (and there were plenty of places to do it) it would have been a much improved film.

That wasn't the only problem. For example, there were a couple of speeches by Robert DeNiro's character which sounded as if they should've been coming from a best girlfriend instead of a 70 year old man who'd been married 42 years.

However, as I said most of it works adequately enough, or would if the editing had been tighter.