Thursday, September 29, 2016

Blogging Around

A Single Phrase Helped Save This Marriage

Finally, hoarse and broken, I sat down in the shower and began to cry. In the depths of my despair powerful inspiration came to me. You can’t change her, Rick. You can only change yourself. At that moment I began to pray. If I can’t change her, God, then change me. I prayed late into the night. I prayed the next day on the flight home. I prayed as I walked in the door to a cold wife who barely even acknowledged me. That night, as we lay in our bed, inches from each other yet miles apart, the inspiration came. I knew what I had to do.
Read it all here.

Beware the (Online) Culture of Wrath

Stephen D. Greydanus on how to avoid poisoning your soul, or those of others, on social media. He's got good ways to do a self examination checking for unseen problems in your own participation. And some excellent common sense guidelines.

What My Dying Friend is Teaching Everyone Around Her About Faith

Her luminous witness of a peaceful spirit despite real and ever present danger has directed the attention of everyone around her away from the cancer to the Divine Physician. She is embracing her cross like a lover, revealing thus the one she loves.
Read it all here.

Why a Hawk is a Hummingbird

You know what they say about location and real estate. Hummingbird nests often appear in clusters, but for years researchers couldn’t figure out what attracted the birds to certain areas. Turned out the answer was, “good neighbors.”
Fascinating. Read it all here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Horse in a Landscape

Franz Marc, 1910, Horse in a Landscape
via WikiPaintings
There is something mesmerizing in this painting. Is this how the horse sees? Is it viewing a painting? The playful tone seems to invite mental hijinks. And yet, I love the painting simply as a work of art. I could look at this all day.

Checking his WikiPaintings entry I see that he painted a lot of animals and that his painting style and my taste part ways about 1912, right after his Girl With a Cat. But nothing grabs me the way this horse does.

Well Said: Tolkien's concern

The Ring is less morally ambiguous than the average realistic novel, but that's primarily because Tolkien wasn't especially interested in the problem of knowing right from wrong. His concern was to explore the psychology of the moment when you know right from wrong but aren't sure whether you have the courage and fortitude to do the right thing.
Alan Jacobs
Yep. And that is why The Lord of the Rings is endlessly fascinating.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Well Said: What wonder you do not understand...

We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.
St. Augustine

Worth a Thousand Words: Couple in Love in Moonlight

Couple in Love in Moonlight, Jakob Alt

Genesis Notes: Adam's Descendents

Genesis 5 shows the descendents from Adam to Noah and is one of those endless seeming lists of names that make my eyes glaze over.

There's nothing for modern people in these lists. Right? Au contraire!

The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 43. Adam's descendants. Genesis cap 5. Schenck

The Bible contains several lists of ancestors, called genealogies. There are two basic views concerning these lists: (1) they are complete, recording the entire history of a family, tribe, or nation; or (2) they are not intended to be exhaustive and may include only famous people or the heads of families. "Became the father of" could also mean "was the ancestor of."

Why are genealogies included in the Bible? The Hebrews passed on their beliefs through oral tradition. For many years in many places, writing was primitive or nonexistent. Stories were told to children who passed them on to their children. Genealogies gave a skeletal outline that helped people remember the stories. For centuries these genealogies were added to and passed down from family to family. Even more important than preserving family tradition, genealogies were included to confirm the Bible's promise that the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be born into the line of Abraham.

Genealogies point out an interesting characteristic of God. People are important to him as individuals, not just as races or nations. Therefore God refers to people by name, mentioning their life span an descendants.

Life Application Study Bible, emphasis added
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, September 26, 2016

Well Said: The most dangerous thing you can do ...

The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it is not. If you leave out justice you will find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials "for the sake of humanity," and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Worth a Thousand Words: Fall Landscape

Julian Onderdonk, Fall Landscape
via Arts Everyday Living

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Well Said: A Seven Year-Old’s Experimentation with a Life of Crime

I walked with purpose and carefully replaced Batman in the comic’s rack. I passed the shelf with the Life Savers. I glanced at the old woman behind the register. She was reading a magazine. I bent down quickly and pretended to tie my shoe. I reached up and grabbed a roll of Wint-O-Green and jammed it into my pocket.

I was surprised by a revelation: I was already guilty. I never thought of that. I always thought that I wasn’t really a thief until I left the store. Not true. I was a thief now. I became one as soon as I demonstrated my intention to steal by putting the candy in my pocket.
Stephen Tobolowsky is a master storyteller as I've mentioned before. Be sure to read the entire piece.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Blue Grotto in Capri

The Blue Grotto in Capri, Jakob Alt

Genesis Notes: Cain's Resume

We may feel that we know much more than we want to about Cain. He is the familiar character who doesn't do what he is supposed to, defies authority, and never sees the light. The Life Application Study Bible profile helps us see the key lessons from Cain's life.

Cain, Henri Vidal, Tuileries Gardens, Paris, 1896
Strengths and accomplishments:
  • First human child
  • First to follow in father's profession, farming
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • When disappointed, reacted in anger
  • Took the negative option even when a positive possibility was offered
  • Was the first murderer
Lessons from his life:
  • Anger is not necessarily a sin, but actions motivated by anger can be sinful. Anger should be the energy behind good action, not evil action
  • What we offer to God must be from the heart -- the best we are and have
  • The consequences of sin may last a lifetime
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Near Eden, which was probably located in present-day Iraq or Iran
  • Occupation: Farmer, then wanderer
  • Relatives: Parents - Adam and Eve, Brother - Abel, Seth and others not mentioned by name
Key verse:
"If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:7)

Cain's story is told in Genesis 4:1-17. He also is mentioned in Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:12; Jude 11.
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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Gloria Swanson Reads

Gloria Swanson reading “The Shulamite,” the literary basis for her film called “Under the Lash”. c. 1921
via Awesome People Reading

Well Said: Happy Enough

Miss Celia stares down into the pot like she's looking for her future. "Are you happy, Minny?"

"Why you ask me funny questions like that?"

"But are you?"

"Course I's happy. You happy too. Big house, big yard, husband looking after you." I frown at Miss Celia and I make sure she can see it. Because ain't that white people for you, wondering if they are happy enough.
Kathryn Stockett, The Help

Monday, September 19, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Canning

Joseph Susanka, Canning

Well Said: Who Knows What You Become

“Oh I know what people think. They think big, strong Minnie, she sure can stand up for herself. But they don’t know what a pathetic mess I turn into when Leroy’s beating on me. If afraid to hit back. I’m afraid he’ll leave me if I do. I know it makes no sense and I get so mad at myself for being so weak! How can I love a man who beats me raw? Why do I love a fool drinker? One time I asked him, “Why? Why are you hitting me?” He leaned down and looked me right in the face.

“If I didn’t hit you, Minny, who knows what you become.”

I was trapped in the corner of the bedroom, like a dog. He was beating me with his belt. It was the first time I’d ever really thought about it.

Who knows what I could become, if Leroy would stop goddamn hitting me.
Kathryn Stockett, The Help

Heinlein, Identical Imposters, and Politics

Jesse, Maissa, Paul, and I talk about Double Star by Robert Heinlein. Get it at SFFaudio.

Friday, September 16, 2016

What I've Been Reading: Earthrise, Stir, Kim, and Feeding Your Family's Soul

Rose Point
by M. C. A. Hogarth

(The "Her Instruments" trilogy)

This is a really fun space opera series which is continually flirting with becoming romance novels.

I'll just review Earthrise because you need to read these in order. And if you like Earthrise you'll do as I did ... run off to get the next in the series as soon as you finish the book.

Earthrise is fun Firefly-esque space opera featuring a feisty, resourceful captain and her rag-tag multi-species crew. Struggling for funds to keep them going, Reece takes on a few jobs she probably should investigated more before accepting the pay up front. The book begins with the crew heading into slaver territory to rescue one of the mysterious Eldritch race who live only in legend (and in Reece's guilty pleasure, her romance novels).

From there things go from bad to worse ... and for us, of course, the story gets more fun all the time.

Recently I read a popular space opera, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which kept coming to mind because it had so many similar elements to this book. The big difference is that this book avoids the flaws of the other which is that it was all talk and almost no action. In Hogarth's books action always has a point, the elements come together in the end, there is character development that the characters have to work for ... and everyone isn't always happy in the end because they don't always get what they want.

In fact, I'd say the flaw with Earthrise is that the captain has a hair trigger and is so consistently angry (the long way to a small angry captain could've been the title). However, it was a forgivable flaw because of how enjoyable the rest of the book was. One of the things I liked most was how many romance novel elements this story packed in without ever really quite turning into a romance novel. As I said — fun.

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home
by Jessica Fechtor

On a day like any other, 28-year-old Jessica Fechtor had an aneurysm burst in her brain. She nearly died and lost her sense of smell, the sight in one eye, and suffered a long string of setbacks that continually interfered with her long fight back to normalcy. A key part of her recovery was working toward being able to cook again.

I was interested in this book from the moment I heard of it. It was inspiring in many ways and should I, God forbid, find myself in equally dire straits I hope that I remember her courage and spirit. The story is interesting and I appreciated the author's honesty as well as wanting to try a lot of the recipes. Yet I still felt fairly detached from the book. Eventually I really just wanted to see how the story came out. If there'd been a Wikipedia entry with enough of the details I'd have gone to that about halfway through.

Which is to say, I guess, that her writing wasn't gripping although her experience was. So not a book to savor but good enough to read.

by Rudyard Kipling

Most people know at least the basics about this novel. Kim, the orphaned son of an Irish trooper, grows up as a street urchin in Lahore, India, during British rule. Befriending a holy lama, Kim sets off to help him find the "River of the Arrow" which will cleanse him of his sins.  Kim's been earning cash for some time by carrying coded intelligence messages and this when this him to the attention of the British his fate is changed.

I have tried this multiple times and never gotten past the first few chapters. A friend brought Kim up as necessary to fully appreciating Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy, which I love.

So I bit the bullet and plowed through those chapters and straight into India and the Great Game. I admit I really enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book and then lost interest toward the end. I think that's my problem, not the book's.

I can see why this is a classic. I really loved the descriptions of India and the people. The enduring love of the lama and Kim was endearing and what carried me through the book. I think I'll try it again sometime as an audio book. I kept wanting someone to read it to me.

Feeding Your Family's Soul
by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

This is for every mother who ever wished they could transform dinner into a more spiritual experience. I feel as if many families will now have Sunday dinner with more purpose if they use the 52 lessons in this book.

Each lesson has a theme ranging from topics like one of the ten focusing on a commandments to how to live a Christian life (example: doing small things with love) to Catholic teachings (example: honoring Mary).  There's a paragraph for contemplation, opening prayer, table teaching to read aloud, reflection questions, closing prayer, optional activities for later in the week, and usually a recipe.

This is the sort of guide that would be great for any Catholic family. It's practical, not sappy, grounded, and the recipes are family friendly (both for collaborative cooking and for turning out something a wide range of people would enjoy). Also, for those who might be trying to make cooking and dinner time more of a family focus, this would be a good place to begin.

There's a GoodReads giveaway you can sign up for through Sept. 23

Genesis Notes: Abel's Resume

All we really know about Abel is that he was a shepherd and his offering pleased God. As with Adam and Eve, I like the way that the Life Application Study Bible profile makes the key lessons from Abel's life stand out.

Icon of Abel by Theophanes the Greek
The Bible doesn't tell us why God liked Abel's gift and disliked Cain's, but both Cain and Abel knew what God expected. Only Abel obeyed. Throughout history, Abel is remembered for his obedience and faith (Hebrews 11:4), and he is called "righteous" (Matthew 23:35).

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • First member of the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11
  • First shepherd
  • First martyr for truth (Matthew 23:35)
Lessons from his life:
  • God hears those who come to him
  • God recognizes the innocent person and sooner or later punishes the guilty
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Just outside of Eden
  • Occupation: Shepherd
  • Relatives: Parents - Adam and Eve, Brother - Cain
Key verse:
"By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead" (Hebrews 11:4)

Abel's story is told in Genesis 4:1-8. He also is mentioned in Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51; Hebrews 11:4 and 12:24
Here are a few extra tidbits of interesting information via Wikipedia. At least they interested me.
In Christianity, comparisons are sometimes made between the death of Abel and that of Jesus, the former thus seen as being the first martyr. In Matthew 23:35 Jesus speaks of Abel as "righteous", and the Epistle to the Hebrews states that "The blood of sprinkling ... [speaks] better things than that of Abel".(Hebrews 12:24) The blood of Jesus is interpreted as bringing mercy; but that of Abel as demanding vengeance (hence the curse and mark).

Abel is invoked in the litany for the dying in the Roman Catholic Church, and his sacrifice is mentioned in the Canon of the Mass along with those of Abraham and Melchizedek. The Alexandrian Rite commemorates him with a feast day on December 28.
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.

Worth a Thousand Words: Golden Field

Golden Field
taken by Remo Savisaar

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Blogging Around: 4 Movies and a Book Edition

What if a gun had a soul and didn't want to be a gun?

Any fan of Iron Giant recognizes the "gun with a soul" as the main theme of Brad Bird's film, which was declared an instant children's classic. We were always so sorry that it got no marketing help and died at the box office. 15 years later there's a new signature Blu-Ray edition out.

Stephen D. Greydanus has a wonderful look at a film which is a favorite in the HC household.

Two Takes on Florence Foster Jenkins

  • DarwinCatholics: Three fine performances, and a deeply unstable moral core.
  • Orson Scott Card: What could have been a cruel satire on a talentless old woman becomes a beautiful portrait of people who are trying to make the world a better place.
Both interpretations seem valid, based on the reviews, though I did have to skim a lot of Card's because it had more plot sharing than I wanted.  I'll have to wait until I see the film to decide who I agree with. Either way I want to see the movie.

Mel Gibson — Hacksaw Ridge and Passion of Christ Sequel

A Mighty Fortress by S. D. Thames

[Cue sound effect: Ringing bell.] We have a winner! From a quarter where I wouldn’t have expected to find one! A Mighty Fortress is a first (full-length) novel by an author I’d never heard of. It has so much going against it – it’s a Christian novel (which usually means low quality, let’s face it, especially when the authors are starting out). It’s a hard-boiled mystery into which the author injects supernatural and theological elements. There are even miracles. The miracle for me is how well this thing worked, and how much I loved it.
Sign me up. Read the full review at Brandywine Books.

Worth a Thousand Words: Boys Herding Donkeys

Willem Maris, Boys herding donkeys

Well Said: When Hatred is a Pleasure

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, "Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that," or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
This is at the end of a chapter about loving one's neighbor, even in the eventuality that the person is a real enemy. Lewis, of course, had Nazis freshly to mind. We have ISIS and the like to consider. He gives very helpful examples about how to come to grips with loving the sinner while hating the sin.

I hope, unlikely to come across a member of ISIS. I am, as we all are right now, very likely to come across someone who passionately supports a political candidate or opinion I despise. Keep that in mind and then reread the quote above.

Here is the key bit and one which I was shocked to realize I recognized in myself: "is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?"

It is then that we realize, as Lewis puts it later, that "hatred [is] such a pleasure that to give it up is like giving up beer or tobacco."

It is that we must fight.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Well Said: Gentlefolks' rock of idleness

Gentlefolks in general have a very awkward rock ahead in life — the rock ahead of their own idleness. Their lives being, for the most part, passed in looking about them for something to do, it is curious to see — especially when their tastes are of what is called the intellectual sort — how often they drift blindfold into some nasty pursuit. Nine times out of ten they take to torturing something, or to spoiling something — and they firmly believe they are improving their minds, when the plain truth is, they are only making a mess in the house. I have seen them (ladies, I am sorry to say, as well as gentlemen) go out, day after day, for example, with empty pill-boxes, and catch newts, and beetles, and spiders, and frogs, and come home and stick pins through the miserable wretches, or cut them up, without a pang of remorse, into little pieces. You see my young master, or my young mistress, poring over one of their spiders' insides with a magnifying-glass; or you meet one of their frogs walking downstairs without his head — and when you wonder what this cruel nastiness means, you are told that it means a taste in my young master or my young mistress for natural history. Sometimes, again, you see them occupied for hours together in spoiling a pretty flower with pointed instruments, out of a stupid curiosity to know what the flower is made of. Is its colour any prettier, or its scent any sweeter, when you DO know? But there! the poor souls must get through the time, you see — they must get through the time. You dabbled in nasty mud, and made pies, when you were a child; and you dabble in nasty science, and dissect spiders, and spoil flowers, when you grow up. In the one case and in the other, the secret of it is, that you have got nothing to think of in your poor empty head, and nothing to do with your poor idle hands. And so it ends in your spoiling canvas with paints, and making a smell in the house; or in keeping tadpoles in a glass box full of dirty water, and turning everybody's stomach in the house; or in chipping off bits of stone here, there, and everywhere, and dropping grit into all the victuals in the house; or in staining your fingers in the pursuit of photography, and doing justice without mercy on everybody's face in the house. It often falls heavy enough, no doubt, on people who are really obliged to get their living, to be forced to work for the clothes that cover them, the roof that shelters them, and the food that keeps them going. But compare the hardest day's work you ever did with the idleness that splits flowers and pokes its way into spiders' stomachs, and thank your stars that your head has got something it MUST think of, and your hands something that they MUST do.
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
Yes, The Moonstone is a mystery but it is also hilarious, especially when Gabriel the steward is telling the story.

Worth a Thousand Words: Tam Gan

Tam Gan, 1914, Robert Henri

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Well Said: The Lines

“She just don’t see ‘em. The lines. Not between her and me, not between her and Hilly.”

Aibeleen takes a long sip of her tea. Finally I look at her. “What you so quiet for? I know you got an opinion bout all this.”

“You gone accuse me of philosophizing.”

“Go ahead,” I say, “I aint afraid a no philosophy.”

“It ain’t true.”

“Say what?”

“You talking about something that don’t exist.”

I shake my head at my friend. “Not only is they lines, but you know as good as I do where them lines be drawn.”

Aibeleen shakes her head. “I used to believe in em. I don’t anymore. They in our heads. People like Miss Hilly is always trying to make us believe they there, but they ain’t.”

“I know they’re there cause you get punished for crossing ‘em,” I say. “Least I do.”

“Lot of folks think that if you talk back to you husband, you crossed the line. And that justifies punishment. You believe in that line?”

I scowl at the table. “You know I ain’t studying no line like that.”

“Cause that line ain’t there. Except in Leroy’s head. Lines between black and white ain’t there neither. Some folks just made those up, long time ago. And that go for the white trash and so-ciety ladies, too.”

Thinking of Miss Celia coming out with that fire poker when she could’ve hid behind the door, I don’t know. I get a twinge. I want her to understand how it is with Miss Hilly. But how do you tell a fool like her?

“So you saying there ain’t no line between the help and the boss either?”

Aibleleen shakes her head. “They’d just positions, like on a checkerboard. Who works for who don’t mean nothing.”

“So I ain’t crossing no line if I tell Miss Celia the truth, that she ain’t good enough for Miss Hilly? I pick my cup up. I’m trying hard to get this, but my cut’s thumping against my brain. “But wait, if I tell her Miss Hilly’s our of her league…then ain’t I sayin’ there is a line?”

Aibeleen laughs. She pats my hand. “All I’m saying is, kindness don’t have no boundaries.”
Kathryn Stockett, The Help
I just listened to the audiobook which makes a wonderful book even better.

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Father

Portrait of Father, 1884, Bruno Liljefors

Monday, September 12, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Cat on a Flowerbed

Bruno Liljefors, Cat on a Flowerbed (or in a Meadow), 1887
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: Bibles in need of customized repair

And he had a couple of Bibles in need of customized repair, and those were an easy fifty dollars apiece – just brace the page against a piece of plywood in a frame and scorch out the verses the customers found intolerable, with a wood-burning stylus; a plain old razor wouldn’t have the authority that hot iron did. And then of course drench the defaced book in holy water to validate the edited text. Matthew 19:5-6 and Mark 10:7-12 were bits he was often asked to burn out, since they condemned re-marriage after divorce, but he also got a lot of requests to lose Matthew 25:41 through 46, with Jesus’s promise of Hell to stingy people. And he offered a special deal to eradicate all thirty or so mentions of adultery. Some of these customized Bibles ended up after a few years with hardly any weight besides the binding.
Tim Powers, The Bible Repairman

The Father Had Two Sons

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1669, via Web Gallery of Art

The parable of the prodigal son is my very favorite parable.

I know I'm not alone in this. It is one of those with so many layers of meaning and also one to which we all can relate, whether it is with the prodigal or elder son.

I'd bet, though, a lot of parishes heard homilies about the prodigal son, while the elder son wasn't even mentioned. That's what happened to us. It is easy to understand why. We love the father's forgiveness, kindness, and mercy. Many people relate to the prodigal son so that makes his reunion with the father even more poignant.

What gets forgotten is the context that made Jesus tell the parable in the first place.

It is not really equally about the two sons. The struggles of both are important but Jesus is telling this parable to the Pharisees in response to their complaints about the time he spends with sinners. He's trying to get them to understand the prodigal son's journey, the father's joyful love, and the problems with the elder son's response.

The whole point of this parable is the complaints of the elder son and the father's pleading with him.

Sadly, it took me a very long time to even understand what the problem was with the elder son's complaints. They seemed pretty reasonable to me. Which says a lot about my basic personality. But once I did, it put a whole new cast on the story, one that stuck with me.

I wonder if many of us don't have a lot more in common with the elder son than we'd like to think.  How many times have I issued internal judgment on those around me? How many times have I patted myself on the back for how good I am and, therefore, how much better? How many times have I craved praise while deploring the "less worthy" who received it instead?

And that is part of the point too. Just as our fellow Christians are equally sons, we are equally sinners ... just maybe not in as public a way as those we judge. Reading the parable, we notice that Jesus leaves it open-ended. We don't know what the elder son does. Is there a conversion of heart? Not all Pharisees were hostile to Jesus. Was it partially because they reflected on parables like this one?

Our priest drew a final conclusion about the prodigal son that we shouldn't love God just for the things he can give us, that we need to seek out a personal relationship with Him. That is insightful and can be applied equally to the elder son. He talks to his father as if he were an employer, not someone he loves. As in the Rembrandt painting above, he stands in judgment of his father's mercy and forgiveness. There is nothing personal or loving in him.

Here is the parable, having removed the parables of the sheep and coin that Jesus tells first to make His point. Those have value and do add to the meaning of the main parable, but I thought I'd put the streamlined version here to make it easy to look at the family's journey.
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

So to them he addressed this parable.

Then he said, "A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.' So the father divided the property between them.

After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.

When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.

Coming to his senses he thought, 'How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."'

So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.'

But his father ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' Then the celebration began.

Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, 'Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'

He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, 'Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.'

He said to him, 'My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"

Friday, September 9, 2016

Well Said: Time to pause and reflect

Whenever you find you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
Mark Twain
Note that Twain is not telling us to have a knee-jerk reaction against being part of the majority, but that we should be sure we understand what we are participating in. 

That sort of self-examination is valuable no matter what the issues, if for no other reason than to make sure we really understand both sides.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Reding Fountain

Guillermo Gómez Gil, La fuente de Reding (The Reding Fountain)

Day of Prayer for Peace

Nothing could be a more perfect day for this than St. Peter Claver's memorial day.
In light of recent incidents of violence and racial tension in communities across the United States, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has invited faith communities across the country to unite in a Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities on September 9th.

To assist in observance of this occasion, USCCB is offering a Prayer for Peace in Our Communities prayer card that you can download. Here's the prayer:
Let us pray …

O Lord our God, in your mercy and kindness,
no thought of ours is left unnoticed, no desire or
concern ignored.

You have proven that blessings abound
when we fall on our knees in prayer,
and so we turn to you in our hour of need.

Surrounded by violence and
cries for justice, we hear your voice telling us what is
required . . .
“Only to do justice and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God”
(Mi 6:8).

Fill us with your mercy so that we, in turn, may be
merciful to others.
Strip away pride, suspicion, and racism
so that we may seek peace and justice in our

Strengthen our hearts so that they beat only to the
rhythm of your holy will.
Flood our path with your light as we walk humbly
toward a future
filled with encounter and unity.

Be with us, O Lord, in our efforts, for only by the
prompting of your grace
can we progress toward virtue.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Well Said: Meaning for Your Life

Don't invent a meaning for your life. It is there. Find it.
Dr. Viktor Frankl
This makes me think of Mother Theresa (now Saint TeresA) saying, "Find your own Calcutta." What are we overlooking in our own lives in our efforts to become more important, glamorous, or meaningful somewhere else? There is nothing wrong with striving for more and that sometimes takes us somewhere else. But often there is the ignored neighbor, the friend with annoying habits, the old person in our lives who is silently crying out for human attention. A cup of coffee with one of them may mean just as much, in the Divine scheme of things, as a day on the streets of Calcutta for someone else. Because we are right here, right now, for God to use.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Beach at Heist

George Lemmen, Plage a Heist (The Beach at Heist), c. 1891-92

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

Short Review: Brilliant fantasy from a world class writer. Super, super, super good. This book comes out in a week and is part one of two. (Because I realize my super-long review ... which you should read anyway ... might be a TLDR for some.) 

The world was made from the blood of gods. The blood of men sustains it now. So said the Sisters of Thorn. Runajo did not believe in the gods, but she didn't doubt the power of spilled blood.

Nobody in Viyara did.
Rosamund Hodge retold Beauty and the Beast in Cruel Beauty and she retold Little Red Riding Hood in Crimson Bound. Not that you'd necessarily know that if you weren't told before you began reading.  Hodge weaves complex tales in completely unique worlds of her own imagining, with heroes and villains whose imperfections make them fascinating and compelling.

Now Romeo and Juliet serve as a springboard into a dystopian fantasy world where there is one city left standing. Without blood the magic will fail and the walls will fall. And when that happens ... the zombies will get in.

This book shows the originating tale a little more clearly than her previous books. There are feuding clans following entrenched beliefs, there are Shakespearean quotes and poetry, there are masked balls, there is forbidden love, and even an apothecary. Romeo and Juliet can never acknowledge their love publicly. However, these elements come in a tale where Romeo and Juliet are side characters compared to the the two narrators.

The righteous atheist Runajo has joined the religious order who maintains the walls because she knows the magic is failing. Seeking long-forgotten spells means finding a way into the Sunken Library, awash in the living dead. When she encounters Juliet, they must offset each other's weaknesses if they are to succeed in averting disaster.

Paris is a pure-hearted true believer in his clan's destiny to help save their people. When his life becomes inextricably bound with Romeo's, his world turns topsy-turvey in a quest that takes them through the lawless underworld of the Lower City.

Paris and Runajo are fully realized, fully complicated human beings with faults, hopes, and internal struggles. We can recognize something of ourselves in them, even as their flaws drive us crazy.  We want them to succeed, even as we wince at some of their assumptions and decisions.

This is told against the backdrop of a culture that can never forget tragedy and death are inevitable, and that the price of life is someone else's blood. The themes are big and the devices, such as doubling, work to give the story depth and complexity beyond the usual dystopian story.
Juliet shook her head. "The word for justice is … I can feel it. Not just as an idea in my head, something I was told or that I made up. It's like the way the sun rises, or stones fall to the ground. It's infinite and eternal and closer than my heartbeat. And when people are hurt—even people who die and are gone and become nothing in the darkness—people my family would say I should care nothing about—I can feel justice scream against it. Nobody in my family understands that. They all think justice is just for use, some kind of—of instructions on how to keep us safe and headed toward the Paths of Light. It's not. It is real and it wants. It wants to reach into every corner of the world, and I was to make that happen. That's what I wanted. To bring justice to the whole city, and not just my people" She drew a ragged breath and fell silent.

Oh, thought Runjo. Her too.

She hadn't known there was anyone else.
A third of the way into this book I realized I was reading a major work of fantasy by an author of immense talent. Is this how people read when Dune was being serialized in Analog magazine? When the Lord of the Rings only had The Fellowship of the Ring published? That they were witnessing something extraordinary?

I can't tell if this book will measure up to those standards yet because it is, unfortunately, being published in two parts. That's annoying. So very annoying. I don't know who planned it that way but whoever did it was wrong to chop it in half. Chop being the operative word.

Nevertheless, my gut feeling remains. This is an incredible book that I cannot wait to finish.

NOTE: The most unfortunate part of the review galley is that it didn't mention that this was the first of two parts. The end was incredibly confusing until I wrote the author to find out what was going on. So if they haven't had the courtesy to make it obvious in the final book, I'm mentioning it here.

Oh yes - Got a review copy. Didn't affect my opinions.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Dezertiri Market

Dezertiri Market
from Eating Asia

Well Said: Belief and the Gospels

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe but yourself.
St. Augustine
From an old pal of mine, St. Augustine. As is often the case with his observations, nothing could be truer.

Blogging Around: If the mainstream media covered Jesus the way it covered Mother Teresa

“Why didn’t he heal everyone in Capernaum?” asked Rachel, echoing a question found in the new book The Ridiculous Messiah, a lacerating critique of Jesus by Cyrus of Caesaria, the popular Cynic. One of the most damaging charges from the bestselling book is what the author calls the “selectivity” of Jesus’s healing.

Rachel noted, accurately, that many others in Capernaum were known to be ill that day. “My mother has dropsy. My brother has a bad back. And I had a migraine. Jesus didn’t bother to ask if we wanted to be healed.”

Also, say critics, if Jesus was concerned about the sick, why would he not build a proper hospital or shelter?

“He’s a carpenter, isn’t he?” said Rachel. “Build us a hospital!”

Matthew, a former tax collector from Capernaum who follows Jesus as an “apostle” grew animated when he heard that criticism.

“That’s not what he’s here for!” he said. “Others do that. He simply helps people as he meets them.”

“That’s a common defense of him,” says Cyrus, contacted by this reporter through a messenger. “And it’s absurd.”
A classic piece from America magazine. Definitely go read the whole thing. Via Brandon Vogt.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Julie eats spice cake and can see the future ...

... which, paradoxically, complicates her decision making. Scott just says, "Mmmm, spice cake" and has another piece. Arrakis. Dune. Desert planet. Episode 141 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Well Said: Our Will

We have nothing of our own but our will. It is the only thing that God has so placed in our own power that we can make an offering of it to him.
St. John Vianney

Worth a Thousand Words: A Passionate Kiss

Richard Mauch, A passionate kiss, circa 1900

Genesis Notes: A Lesson in Contrasts

GENESIS 4:1-26
Did I ever pay attention to Lamech before? I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear the answer to that is no. He's the perfect example of how sin can increase when not fought at all by the individual.

Lamech and his two wives from The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah
Lamech, who is the Bible's first polygamist, appears to be a violent, arrogant man. He boasts to his wives that even though he has killed a man, anyone who tries to take his life will be avenged "seventy-sevenfold." He reckons himself to be even greater and more important to God than his forefather, Cain. Something has gone very wrong among these people. They appear to know the details of their family history (how else would Lamech know to compare his deed with that of Cain?), but they have no knowledge of what the details mean. Because Cain was cut off from his family and the presence of the Lord, his spiritual blindness was not only perpetuated among his descendants, but it intensified. The father always teaches the son, either for good or for evil. This is how it is in families. See how Cain's sin of pride has progressed in Lamech to proud presumption. He presumes upon God's mercy in saving Cain from death, having no apparent understanding of what God's mercy was meant to produce humility, repentance, reconciliation. Through the rest of Scripture we see, over and over, what traits develop among men who, for whatever reason, have shut their hearts away from the presence of the Lord. This is our first example of it.

God Took Enoch, By illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible,
Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others
Again, Enoch never made much impression on me either but now I can see the contrast he provides with Lamech. I don't think I realized that another prophet besides Elijah was ever "taken up" either. There's a definite lesson in those contrasts. Another lesson lies in the fact that two such minor characters can have such big stories to tell about themselves and about the human condition. Not a word is wasted in Scripture. It is all there for a definite purpose.
Enoch is the first man described as a "prophet" in Scripture. Hebrews tells us that he prophesied judgment on ungodliness. We learn from Old and New Testaments that Enoch did not see death. He was such a friend of God's that he was "taken up." It is amazing to see the difference between Enoch and Lamech. By it we are meant to comprehend that although sin entered the human race through Adam and Eve, bringing with it great spiritual and physical consequences, men are still able to respond to God's grace. By no means has God given up on all humanity!

Enoch was distinguished in his family by God's remarkable favor upon him. He represents the power that acknowledging God in family life can have on family members, as they pass on their tradition from generation to generation.
All quoted material is from Genesis: God and His Creation. 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, September 5, 2016

Well Said: Whatever Captivates Your Mind During Prayer

A person worships whatever captivates his mind during prayer. Whoever in his prayers thinks of public affairs, or the house he is building, worships them rather than God.
Caesarius of Arles

Worth a Thousand Words: The Wave Breaker

The Wave Breaker
by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

Friday, September 2, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Beach at Fecamp

Claude Monet, Beach at Fecamp, 1881
via Arts Everyday Living
This painting with a coming storm seems to reflect the continual news of hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions heading for Florida and Hawaii.

Lagniappe: Nuance

Reese glanced over her shoulder at the two Eldritch at the door. "You are Liolesa's bodyguards?"

"You have the right of it, if not the nuance," one of them replied …

"What's the nuance?" she asked.

"We are bodyguards who have trained to work together as soldiers, and we are fifty in number."

"Oh!" Reese said. "Well. That's a lot of nuance."
M.C.A. Hogarth, Rose Point

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Mother Teresa and Her Miracles

By Manfredo Ferrari, CC BY-SA 4.0
Mother Teresa, which is how I will always think of her, is going to be canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday. This inevitably brings up a lot of articles. Here are a couple of good ones, both about the miracles whose documentation led the way to sainthood.

This NPR piece, How the Catholic Church Documented Mother Teresa's 2 Miracles, features Bishop Robert Barron and Father James Martin.
In Mother Teresa's case, a woman in India whose stomach tumor disappeared and a man in Brazil with brain abscesses who awoke from a coma both credited their dramatic recovery to prayers offered to the nun after her death in 1997.

"A saint is someone who has lived a life of great virtue, whom we look to and admire," says Bishop Barron, a frequent commentator on Catholicism and spirituality. "But if that's all we emphasize, we flatten out sanctity. The saint is also someone who's now in heaven, living in this fullness of life with God. And the miracle, to put it bluntly, is the proof of it."
As the report points out, we want proof and will be happy with atheists examining the evidence. Because we want the real deal or nothing!

NCR's article, The Miracles That Made Mother Teresa a Saint, goes into more details about the miracles and investigations. I myself liked the additional story that no one thought to mention the second miracle for 7 years. What with the doctor not being Catholic and all.
How the healing was actually reported was also rather miraculous.

In an interview with the Register in December 2015, Father Kolodiejchuk explained why there was a delay between 2008 and 2015. “The miracle happened in 2008,” he said, “but we didn’t hear about it till 2013. The doctor [neurosurgeon] was not Catholic. Somehow, after the Pope’s [Pope Francis] visit there [to Brazil], it triggered him to say something to one of the priests of Santos, and that news eventually made its way to myself and the postulation office. That started the chain of events.”
Anyway, go read both pieces. They're fascinating.

Well Said: Living in the Past

"I still react to attack with too extreme a response," Hirianthial said. "Even against people I know to be safe."

"You are living in the past," Urise said. "We shall have to remedy that."

Hirianthial glanced at him. "Is that my problem?"

"It's everyone's problem," the priest said with that blend of humor and resignation common to the elderly. "Why should it not be yours?"
M.C.A. Hogarth, Rose Point
Not the sort of insight I expect to find in an entertaining space opera, but welcome no matter where it shows up. Yes, living in the past ... a problem and we all do it.