Friday, February 24, 2017

What! Lent Begins Next Week?

I've gotten so used to the idea that Lent begins late this year that somehow it got programmed into my brain as if it would never begin.

While that is a lovely dream for those who, like me, do not look forward eagerly to Lent (I've got a lot of friends who do, believe it or not), it is not reality. I need that return to reality, to grounding myself in who I am and who God is and how to clear away the debris in my soul so I can get closer.

All that is to say that, as usual, I've got lists of suggestions for reading, listening, and movies which will begin rolling out today. Some may look familiar. There is a certain advantage, after all, in having been blogging since 2004. But I do go through and tweak them ... and familiarity is not a bad thing. Sometimes we need to revisit the same old thing so that we can see something new in it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Genesis Notes: A Stumble and a Son

GENESIS 20 & 21
Abraham plays the same old "Sarah is my sister" trick when he comes up against Abimelech. Sometimes we just can't help giving in to our worst instincts and despite Abraham's closeness to God, he is no different that we are in that quality. I always wondered what charms a 90-year-old woman had to make every man want to take her away. This makes it a little easier to understand.
... The average age span of that day was about 120-130 years; at the age of 90, Sarah would have been at the stage of her life equivalent to a 40-50 year old woman today.
I also like the fact that although Abimelech was innocent of any known wrong-doing he is told to go to Abraham and ask him for healing prayers. Not only does this show Abimelech just how close Abraham is to God but it shows us the power of prayer.

Sarai Is Taken to Pharaoh's Palace by James Tissot.
Think about what we have observed up to this point in Abraham's life concerning prayer. It is really most remarkable. We have seen that God answered his prayers for mercy on Lot's behalf. This was a prayer he prayed out of righteous love of justice and love for his kinsman. We have seen that God showed mercy and favor to Hagar and Ishmael through the intercession of Abraham, even though the unfortunate circumstances that required prayer were due to Abraham's departure from God's plan for him. Now, in these chapters, we have seen God withhold His healing from a gravely ill man until he did what was right (restore Sarah) and had Abraham, the one who wronged him, pray for him. What can we make of all this?

The best way to understand what Abraham's life shows us about prayer is to remember a thought from the previous lesson. Recall that when God revealed His plan to judge Sodom to Abraham, it was Abraham's human voice that defended the justice and goodness of God against the appearance of something otherwise. That was a sign to us that when God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him, it was the beginning of the Great Reversal for His enemy, Satan. Why? Never again would human voices fail to defend the character of God, as Adam did in Eden. The life of God in men (which is "grace") will enable them to be His presence within the fallen creation. Flesh and blood will thwart and eventually, in the Incarnation, destroy the power of the devil, just as God promised in Gen. 3:15.

What was it that Adam didn't do in Eden? He didn't pray for help from God. He did not lift his voice to object to the serpent's attack on God's character, and he did not cry out for guidance about what to do next. What would that prayer, had he prayed it, have done? It would have preserved his supernatural grace, the likeness of God that was his as a gift. Instead, he lost it. He was still in God's image but not in His likeness. Abraham, as we have seen, prays. He asks God to act, and the details of his story in Genesis show very clearly that his prayers loose God's power and mercy. Even when he is weak and culpable, his prayers are efficacious. This is an astounding statement about prayer. As the Catechism says, "Prayer restores man to God's likeness and enables him to share in the power of God's love that saves the multitude." (2572) Just as the lack of prayer led to the loss of God's likeness in man, the action of prayer is the first step to its restoration.

When we get to the New Testament, we can hardly fathom the power of the prayers of the New Covenant family of God. What we see here in Genesis of the way in which God uses the prayers of Abraham as His instruments for unleashing His power, love, and goodness on fallen human creatures is only a shadow of what lies ahead. If we have been baptized into Christ, we share in that special relationship between the Father and the Son. Therefore Jesus says, "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Luke 11:9-10)

Once it sinks into our minds and hearts that prayer makes us like God and that, because He wants to vanquish His enemy through human beings, He uses our prayers to pour out His blessings on all mankind, we should comprehend why St. Paul says, in 1 Thess. 5:17, to "pray without ceasing." Amen!

Until going through this study I had never considered how deeply Abraham probably loved Ishmael. He would have been terribly grieved to cast him off and Ishmael would have been stunned to have his heretofore loving father cast him and his mother out. Why would Sarah have insisted on such actions?
... Isaac would have been perhaps 2 or 3 years old when he was weaned. At the feast given to celebrate his weaning, Sarah observed Ishmael (who would have been about 16-17 years old) "playing" with Isaac. St. Paul, in Gal. 4:28-31, says that this was not innocent child's play but "persecution." The implication is that Ishmael was mocking or taunting Isaac about becoming a "big boy" but not being as important as a firstborn son, as Ishmael was. This was the traditional Jewish understanding of this episode.
All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. 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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Caique Oarsman

Caique Oarsman, Anders Zorn, 1886
I can feel the air and sun and spray. Ocean vacation anyone?

Lagniappe: My hands were made for blessing, but not my feet

"Lord, if I have been a worthy servant to You, grant me one small favor. Let me at least hit him with this candle. After all, Lord, what is a candle?"

"No," replied Christ. "Your hands were made for blessing."

Don Camillo sighed wearily. He genuflected and left the altar. As he turned to make a final sign of the cross, he found himself exactly behind Peppone, who still knelt at the altar rail and appeared absorbed in prayer.

"Lord," groaned Don Camillo, clasping his hands and looking up at the crucifix, "my hands were made for blessing, but not my feet."

"There's something in that," replied Christ, "but, I warn you, just one."

The kick landed like a thunderbolt. Peppone didn't bat an eye. After a minute he got up and sighed.

"I've been expecting that for the past ten minutes," he remarked casually. "I feel better now."
Giovanni Guareschi, The Little World of Don Camillo
This is one of my favorite passages so naturally it is included in Scott's and my discussion of the book on our podcast. But for those who might not listen, here it is in good old print.

Julie and Scott are ready to start breaking candles over heads. And then, Christ spoke ...

"Just one," he said. "Just one." We're discussing The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovannino Guareschi at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Benedict, Jeremiah, or Gregory: Options for Living the Catholic Life

The "Benedict Option" is a phrase you might hear a lot in the near future. It was first coined by Rod Dreher several years ago, referring to “pioneering forms of dropping out of a barbaric mainstream culture that has grown hostile to our fundamental values.” And now he's got a book coming out which, as is Dreher's way, is controversial. So I thought I'd mention it ... along with my two cents, of course!

St. Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order,
Monastery of St. Gilles, Nimes, France, 1129
The Benedict referred to by Dreher is St. Benedict of Nursia who founded many monasteries and whose rule for living monastic  life is still the foundation of many monasteries today. The Benedictine monasteries are often credited with preserving Christianity, culture, and knowledge during the Middle Ages. Not surprisingly, St. Benedict is often called the father of western monasticism.

When he originally coined the phrase, Dreher wrote about literal flight from modern society. Many (including me) rolled their eyes. This is not the Christian way. What was that last command Jesus had for his followers?
He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15)
These followers had something so good and true that they were on fire to share it with the world. The Benedictine monks weren't running away when they built their monasteries. They were spread all over because they were taking the gospel, the good news of Christ, to the ends of the earth. The fact that they took medicine, farming, engineering, art, and more with them was just because that's how they lived. And also how they made life better for those they went to help.

I forgot all about the Benedict Option until the Wall Street Journal ran an article about Christian creating their own small communities. It mentioned Dreher's term and that he'd written a book about it which is coming out next month.

I took to the internet to refresh my memory and discovered that Dreher had expanded his concept when questioned about the problem of isolationism as a Christian lifestyle.
If all the churches did what they were supposed to do, we wouldn’t need the Ben Op. Thing is, they don’t. The term “Benedict Option” symbolizes a historically conscious, antimodernist return to roots, an undertaking that occurs with the awareness that Christians have to cultivate a sense of separation, of living as what Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon call “resident aliens” in a “Christian colony,” in order to be faithful to our calling.
("If churches did what they were supposed to do." If the government just did what it was supposed to do. If the school did what it was supposed to do. And then there's my next door neighbor. And so on and so forth. Ok, let's ignore that attitude and move on.)

First of all — the church is made up of the people. Therefore, if we all just did what we were supposed to do — I'll say it — we might not have this big mess right now. But we didn't, so here we are. Now, how do we live as Christians in a fallen world? (Not so sure what is new about all this, by the way.)

I found Dreher's expanded FAQ unclear and somewhat muddled largely because, I think, that's part of the problem with living as a Christian anyway. You can't nail down a lot of things especially when it comes to how we become better, more devout Christians. However, what I've gleaned is that he wants us living intentional lives devoted to Christ, prayer, and others. With a Church that supports, teaches, and defends authentic faith.

Well, duh. That is how every serious Christian I know is living their lives already. Certainly every serious Catholic. And I know a lotta them. Again, I'm not sure what is so new about this.

It would be nice if more Christians did that. And knew their faith better. And so forth. Who's going to teach them? Oh, the church. That is to say — us. One more time, not sure what is so new about this. Read the Acts of the Apostles. This is the continual struggle. And it is almost always in a hostile environment from the secular world.

Musing over the matter this weekend I realized that our parish could be considered a direct descendent of those Benedictine monasteries in a lot of ways. It isn't perfect, because what in this world is, but it is a shining beacon in so many ways, beginning with the marriage enrichment retreat I was helping with while I was musing.

Twice a year, we invest considerable time, effort, and money into helping enrich marriages. We do it for the couples. But it also overflows into the church and the world, because marriages are the cornerstone of society. Which overflows into the children, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances of those who attend. It's how you change a society with moral decay — which is much how the 1st century Christians did it, come to think of it.

I can list many more of our parish's good works which include facilitating not only personal relationship with Jesus but the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I won't subject you to the laundry list but you get the point. And there are plenty of other good parishes and churches around who are doing the same thing, beginning with the gospel women's prayer breakfast that was rocking the conference room next to ours on Saturday.

We all have to do our parts, but everything I read about Dreher's concept always left me with a sense of turning inward or retreating.

Gregory the Great dictating the Gregorian Chants
That's when I came across other commentary on the Benedict Option. Lots of other commentary. Most interesting to me were the other options people came up with. Because it is all about models of living, right?

My favorite is the Gregorian option. To be fair, it's kind of how I roll already. But these are all worth reading and pondering.
  • The Benedict Option: What Does It Really Mean? — briefly explains main points of Benedictine Rule for the modern world, from a Benedictine monk

  • What Would Jeremiah Do? — lessons from Jeremiah and the Babylonian exile for modern life in a hostile environment. "The piety that God encourages, therefore, can be practiced by ordinary people living ordinary lives under difficult circumstances. God enjoins the captives not only to live in Babylon, but also to live in partnership with Babylon. Without assimilating, they are to lay down roots, multiply, and contribute to the good of the greater society."

  • The Benedict Option or the Gregorian Option? — Take the bull by the horns, charge into that morally bankrupt void and claim it for Christ. Who knows? You might wind up with a new calendar, musical form, or economic model ... and change the world.

  • The Other Benedict Option — Bad Catholic comments and holds up the example of the other Benedict, Pope Benedict XVI

  • Strangers in a Strange Land by Charles J. Chaput — Chaput wrote one of my favorite books about Catholicism and politics in America (Render Unto Caesar). This one will be out soon and I can't wait. A vivid critique of American life today and a guide to how Christians―and particularly Catholics--can live their faith vigorously, and even with hope, in a post-Christian public square.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Gone Retreatin' - to Help Good Marriages Get Better

We are off to help with our parish's Beyond Cana retreat. It is a labor of love and a pleasure to be part of the very special group of people putting this retreat on.

Please keep us in your prayers and, of course, also the attendees ... married couples who somehow were able to find the time to take 2-1/2 days apart from the world to focus on their marriages. These days that shows true dedication!

May this be a blessed time for everyone involved. Lord, hear our prayer.

(I'm outta here until Monday, not surprisingly! See y'all then!)

By the way - if you live in Dallas and are interested in finding out more, we hold these twice a year. You can get the basics here.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Medieval Honey Bees

Medieval illustration from beekeeping manuscript
Via Animalarium where there is an antique treasure chest of illustrations for anyone who clicks through the link!

Well Said: The Path of Redemption

It is to the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master; no path of redemption can make a detour around it.
Hans Urs von Balthasar
When I have this in mind it is so much easier to bear things that would otherwise really get me down. The challenge is often to keep it in mind instead of looking for that detour.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Well Said: Satan's Assurances

Before we commit a sin, Satan assures us that it is of no consequence; after we commit a sin, he persuades us that it is unforgivable.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Worth a Thousand Words: Water Spaniel

George Stubbs, Water Spaniel

Genesis Notes: Lot's Resume

I love these resumes. They pull together a Biblical figure's life in a way that gives me a whole new take sometimes.

Lot and his family flee from Sodom by Jacob Jordaens.
Jacob Jordaens

When still young, Lot lost his father. Although this must have been hard on him, he was not left without strong role models in his grandfather Terah and his uncle Abram, who raised him. Still, Lot did not develop their sense of purpose. Throughout his life he was so caught up in the present moment that he seemed incapable of seeing the consequences of his actions. It is had to imagine what his life would have been like without Abram's careful attention and God's intervention.

By the time Lot drifted out of the picture, his life had taken an ugly turn. He had so blended into the sinful culture of his day that he did not want to leave it. Then his daughters committed incest with him. His drifting finally took him in a very specific direction -- destruction.

Lot, however, is called "righteous" in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:7, 8). Ruth, a descendant of Moab, was an ancestor of Jesus, even though Moab was born as a result of Lot's incestuous relationship with one of his daughters. Lot's story gives hope to us that God forgives and often brings about positive circumstances from evil...

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • He was a successful businessman
  • Peter calls him a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7, 8)
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • When faced with decisions, he tended to put off deciding, then chose the easiest course of action
  • When given a choice, his first reaction was to think of himself
Lessons from his life:
  • God wants us to do more than drift through life; he wants us to be an influence for him
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Lived first in Ur of the Chaldeans, then moved to Canaan with Abram. Eventually he moved to the wicked city of Sodom.
  • Occupation: Wealthy sheep and cattle rancher; also a city official
  • Relatives: Father - Haran. Adopted by Abram when his father died. The name of his wife, who turned into a pillar of salt, is not mentioned.
Key verse:
"When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them." (Genesis 19:16)

Lot's story is told in Genesis 11-14; 19. He also is mentioned in Deuteronomy 2:9; Luke 17:28-32; 2 Peter 2:7, 8.

All quotes from Life Application Study Bible. 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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Japan Mail Steamship Co.

Japan Mail Steamship Co., via BibliOdyssey
Title: Nippon Yusen Kaisha = Japan Mail Steamship Co. [Three ukiyo-e women]
Description: Three Ukiyoe women in kimono standing at the shore
Subject (Company): Nihon Yūsen Kabushiki Kaisha 日本郵船株式会社

Well Said: Finding Peace

Great peace is found in little busy-ness.
Yes. When I remember to do the little things it helps the big problems recede.

Scott and Julie lose the signal, but their bad housekeeping pays off.

There are glasses of water everywhere. And a bat. Lucky! Or not?

Episode 151 looks at Signs directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Get it at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Leek and Potato Soup

This seems like a basic soup but James Beard's flavoring makes it something out of the ordinary.

Worth a Thousand Words: Arlene Dahl in Desert Legion

Arlene Dahl for Desert Legion
via Not Pulp Covers
I love this. The costuming should have won an award! And how about that sultry look? It is classic not only for what it is portraying but for a picture of 1953 movie making.

Beware if you explore Not Pulp Covers. It has some really great stuff but, keeping in mind how close a lot of it comes to pulp, there are a fair number of scantily clad damsels.

Well Said: A continual remembrance

Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful.
Robert Farrar Capon
Yes indeed. Which makes the modern tendency to slam down a meal as fuel all the more deplorable. We all do it from time to time. The trick is to be sure that we are mindful. That we do not make it a habit. That we appreciate the goodness available to us, thanks to the sheer generosity and goodness of God who wants us to have something delicious.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Beragmo Window

Beragmo Window, Belinda Del Pesco

Well Said: I came in on my knees. That is the only way in.

I never came into the church as a person who was being taught. I came in on my knees. That is the only way in. When people start praying they need truths; that’s all. You don’t come into the Church by ideas and concepts, and you cannot leave by mere disagreement. It has to be a loss of faith, a loss of participation. You can tell when people leave the Church: they have quit praying.

Actively relating to the Church's prayer and sacraments is not done through ideas. Any Catholic today who has an intellectual disagreement with the Church has an illusion. You cannot have an intellectual disagreement with the Church: that's meaningless. The Church is not an intellectual institution. It is a superhuman institution.
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium and the Light

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Two Italian Hotheads and Jesus

I reviewed this over 10 years ago and, just having reread it for an upcoming podcast conversation, thought I'd rerun the review for those who missed it the first time around. 

by Giovanni Guareschi

You would be hard pressed to find a more charming book anywhere than this set of short stories.

Set in a small Italian village soon after World War II, we see the priest Don Camillo repeatedly come up against his sworn enemy Peppone. Peppone is an atheist who is the head of the local Communist party and, therefore, against Christianity. Both are hotheads who are inclined to solve problems with their fists and the occasional Tommy gun before turning to more peaceful measures. One soon learns that both men quarrel because they are so much alike that neither will give way and that, when push comes to shove, they will work together for the common good.

Whenever Don Camillo is in over his head, he talks to Christ on the crucifix in his church. We get to hear Christ's wise advice and his occasional, necessary words of reproval as Don Camillo goes about shepherding the souls of the village. In this scene the local communists have threatened to shoot anyone who participates in a scheduled religious procession.
... Don Camillo found the square as bare as a billiard ball.

"Are we going now, Don Camillo?" asked Christ from above the altar. "The river must be beautiful in this sunshine. I'll enjoy seeing it."

"We're going all right," replied Don Camillo. "But I am afraid that this time I shall be the entire procession. If You can put up with that..."

"Where there is Don Camillo he is sufficient in himself," said Christ smiling.

Don Camillo hastily put on the leather harness with the support for the foot of the cross, lifted the enormous crucifix from the altar and adjusted it in the socket. Then he sighed: "All the same, they need not have made this Cross quite so heavy."

"You're telling Me!" replied the Lord smiling. "And I never had shoulders such as yours."

A few moments later Don Camillo, bearing his enormous crucifix, emerged solemnly from the door of the church. The village was completely deserted; people were cowering in their houses and watching through the cracks of the shutters.

"I must look like one of those friars who used to carry a big black cross through villages smitten by the plague," said Don Camillo to himself. Then he began a psalm in his ringing baritone, which seemed to acquire volume in the silence.

After crossing the Square he began to walk down the main street, and here again was emptiness and silence. A small dog came out of a side street and began quietly to follow Don Camillo.

"Go away!" muttered Don Camillo.

"Let it alone," whispered Christ from His Cross. "Then Peppone won't be able to say that not even a dog walked in the procession."

The street curved and then came the lane that led to the river bank. Don Camillo had no sooner turned the bend when he found the way unexpectedly obstructed.

Two hundred men had collected and stood silently across it with folded arms. In front of them stood Peppone, his hands on his hips.

Don Camillo wished he were a tank. But since he could only be Don Camillo, he advanced until he was within a yard of Peppone and then halted. Then he lifted the enormous crucifix from its socket and raised it in his hands, brandishing it as though it were a club.

"Lord," cried Don Camillo. "Hold on tight; I am going to strike!"

But there was no need, because the men scattered before him and the way lay open. Only Peppone, his arms akimbo and his legs wide apart, remained in the middle of the road. Don Camillo put the crucifix back in its socket and marched straight at him and Peppone moved to one side.

"I'm not shifting myself for your sake, but for His," said Peppone, pointing to the crucifix.

"Then take that hat off your head!" replied Don Camillo without so much as looking at him. Peppone pulled off his hat, and Don Camillo marched solemnly through two rows of Peppone's men.

When he reached the river bank he stopped. "Lord," said Don Camillo in a loud voice, "if the few decent people in this filthy village could build themselves a Noah's Ark and float safely upon the waters, I would ask You to send a flood that would break down this dike and submerge the whole countryside. But as these few decent folk live in brick houses exactly like those of their rotten neighbors, and as it would not be just that the good should suffer for the sins of scoundrels like Mayor Peppone and his gang of Godless brigands, I ask You to save this countryside from the river's waters and to give it every prosperity."

"Amen," came Peppone's voice from just behind him.

"Amen," came the response of all the men who had followed the crucifix.

Don Camillo set out on the return journey and when he reached the doorway of the church and turned around so that Christ might bestow a final blessing upon the distant river, he found standing before him: the small dog, Peppone, Peppone's men and every inhabitant of the village, not excluding the druggist, who was an atheist, but who felt that never in his life had he dreamed of a priest like Don Camillo, who could make even the Eternal Father quite tolerable.
At first because of the format and simplicity of some of the stories I mistakenly thought that these were simply light hearted tales, featuring simplistic morality. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, the simplicity is deceptive and the problems that the characters must solve are often true to life and painful.

Did I mention that Guareschi did his own illustrations for the stories? They are charming.

There are so many good moments that I could post the entire book. However, I will leave you with this additional lengthy excerpt which answers the question of whether praying for your favorite team to win works or not. Christ's fondness for his priest even when he has done the wrong thing makes me smile and this is a good example.
Don Camillo was bewildered. He ran off to the church and knelt in front of the altar. "Lord," he said, "why did You fail me? I have lost the match."

"And why should I help you more than the others?

Your men had twenty-two legs and so had the Dynamos, Don Camillo, and all legs are equal. Moreover, they are not My business. I am interested in souls. Don Camillo, where are your brains?"

"I can find them with an effort," said Don Camillo. "I was not suggesting that You should have taken charge of my men's legs, which in any case were the best of the lot. But I do say that You did not prevent that dishonest referee from calling an unjust foul against my team."

"The priest can make a mistake in saying Mass, Don Camillo; why do you deny that others can make a mistake and yet be in good faith?"

"Errors happen in most circumstances, but not in sport! When the ball is actually there ... Binella the clock-maker is a scoundrel ..." Don Camillo was unable to go on because at that moment he heard an imploring voice and a man came running into the church, exhausted and gasping, his face convulsed with terror.

"They want to kill me," he sobbed. '"Save me!"

The crowd had reached the church door and was about to pour into the church itself. Don Camillo seized a weighty candlestick, and brandished it menacingly. "Back! In God's name or I strike!" he shouted. Remember that anyone who enters here is sacred and immune!" The crowd hesitated.

"Shame on you, you pack of wolves! Get back to your lairs and pray God to forgive you your savagery."

The crowd stood in silence, heads were bowed and there was a general retreat.

"Make the sign of the cross," Don Camillo ordered them severely, and as he stood there brandishing the candlestick in his huge hand, he looked like Samson.

Everyone made the sign of the cross.

Don Camillo stood back and closed the church door, drawing the bolt, but there was no need. The fugitive had sunk into a pew and was still panting. "Thank you, Don Camillo," he murmured.

Don Camillo made no immediate reply. He paced to and fro for a few moments and then pulled up opposite the man. "Binella!" he said furiously. "Binella, here in my presence and that of God you dare not lie! There was no foul! How much did that heretic Peppone give you to call a foul in a tied game?"

"Two thousand five hundred lire."

"M-m-m-m!" roared Don Camillo, thrusting his fist under his victim's nose.

"But then ..." moaned Binella.

"Get out," bawled Don Camillo, pointing to the door.

Alone again, Don Camillo turned toward Christ. "Didn't I tell You that the swine had sold himself? Haven't I a right to be mad?"

"None at all, Don Camillo," replied Christ. "You started it when you offered Binella two thousand lire to do the same thing. When Peppone bid five hundred lire more, Binella accepted."

Don Camillo raised his hands. "Lord," he said, "but looking at it that way makes me the guilty man!"

"Exactly, Don Camillo. When you, a priest, made the first offer, he assumed it wasn't wrong and then, quite naturally, he took the more profitable bid."

Don Camillo bowed his head. "And do You mean to tell me that if that unhappy wretch gets beaten up by my men, it will be my fault?"

"In a certain sense, yes, because you were the first to lead him into temptation. Nevertheless, your sin would have been greater if Binella, accepting your offer, had agreed to cheat on behalf of your team. Because then the Dynamos would have done the beating up, and you would have been powerless to stop them."

Don Camillo reflected awhile. "In fact," he said, "it works out better that the others won."

"Exactly, Don Camillo."

"Then, Lord," said Don Camillo,'"I thank You for having let me lose. And if I say that I accept the defeat as a punishment for my dishonesty, You must believe that I am really penitent. Because, to see a team like mine, who could easily swallow and digest a couple of thousand Dynamos, to see them beaten ... is enough to break one's heart, and cries for vengeance to God!"

"Don Camillo!" Christ admonished him, smiling.

"You don't understand me," sighed Don Camillo. "Sport is a thing apart. Either one cares or one doesn't. Do I make myself clear?"

"Only too clear. I understand you so well that ... Come now, when are you going to get your revenge?"

Don Camillo leaped to his feet, his heart swelling with delight. "Six to nothing!" he shouted. "Six to nothing that they never even see the ball! Do You see that confessional?"

He flung his hat up in the air, caught it with a neat kick as it dropped and sent it like a thunderbolt into the little window of the confessional.

"Goal!" said Christ, smiling.

Well Said: I am not what I ought to be

I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.
John Newton

Worth a Thousand Words: One in the Hole

One in the Hole, Valerie, Ucumari Photography
some rights reserved

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Femme à la Marguerite

Femme à la Marguerite, Jane Atché (1872-1937)
via French Painters

Well Said: Correct Morals

Correct morals come from knowing what Man is — not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be.
Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Trooper

Genesis Notes: A Man of the Covenant

GENESIS 18 & 19
Abraham is very hospitable to the three strangers here as is Lot later on. Whenever a stranger comes to my door, I try to keep in mind that it might be an angelic encounter just like theirs. It helps temper a lot of the "temper" I might otherwise display! Life Application Study Bible tells about hospitality in Abraham's time.

Abraham and the Three Visitors by Marc Chagall

... In Abraham's day, a person's reputation was largely connected to his hospitality -- the sharing of home and food. Even strangers were to be treated as highly honored guests. Meeting another's need for food and shelter was and still is one of the most immediate and practical ways to obey God. It is also a time-honored relationship builder. Hebrews 13:2 suggests that we, like Abraham, might actually entertain angels. This thought should be on our minds the next time we have the opportunity to meet a stranger's needs.

There is a highly symbolic understanding to the three men's visit. I never noticed before all the little hints that help show what is really happening on a spiritual level.
Note: "This new appearance of God to Abraham is somewhat mysterious: the three men stand for God. When Abraham speaks to them, sometimes he addresses them in the singular (as if there were only one person there: cf. vs. 3), and sometimes in the plural (as if there were three: cf. v. 4). That is why some Fathers interpreted this appearance as an early announcement of the mystery of the Holy Trinity; others, following Jewish tradition (cf. Heb. 13:2) take these personages to be angels. The sacred text says that one of the three men (Yahweh, apparently) stays with Abraham (cf. v. 22), while the other two, who are referred to as angels, go to Sodom (cf. 19:1)." (Navarre Bible: Pentateuch; Princeton, NJ: Scepter Publishers, 1999; p. 103-104)

I remember hearing this story of Abraham "bargaining" with God for the righteous men's lives in Sodom. Never understood it very well, until now, that is. I love the idea that Abraham is concerned about God's character and that God uses bargaining to help Abraham understand Him better. Very Middle Eastern isn't it?
Interestingly, as Abraham considers what God has told him, his primary concern is about God's character. He does not want to believe that God would allow those who live righteously (and surely he is thinking of Lot and his family) to suffer the same fate as those who live wickedly. This kind of treatment of men by God would suggest that He is not just ("Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" vs. 25). Abraham seems to comprehend in a flash that if the Creator of the world is not just, men are in very serious trouble ("Far be it from Thee to do such a thing....Far be that from Thee!" vs. 25). Why? Because if the Creator is not just, then there is no difference between right and wrong. If God does not reward righteousness and punish wickedness, men can and will do whatever they want. The alternative to justice is chaos.

This protest from Abraham reveals him to be a man who believes that God is just and that He can be expected to deal justly with men. In effect, what he is saying is, "God, You are not really like that!" It is his confidence in God's true character that makes him bold to make his appeal.

To allow the presence of righteous people in a city to spare judgment of the wicked in that same city is an
example of how justice and mercy meet. What a powerful moment this is in redemption history! We should get down on our knees when we read it. It is from human lips that the outline of our salvation is first established in Scripture. Father Abraham, God's covenant-keeper, raises the possibility that righteousness can be so powerful that it spares judgment on those who deserve it. This is not a violation of justice. Rather, it is a statement of the superabundant merit of righteousness. Abraham acknowledges that the wicked deserve to be punished, but he opens the door to the possibility that the righteous can fill up what is lacking in the wicked, thereby saving them.

And God accepts it!

Abraham perhaps realizes that the number of righteous people in Sodom may be very small. He is probably thinking of Lot's family and maybe a few others. He carefully works the numbers down to see how merciful God is and how powerful righteousness is. He stops at ten. The reality is, of course, that ultimately it is the perfect righteousness of one Man, God's own Son, who saves the whole world! As St. Paul writes, "Then, as one man's [Adam] trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous." (Rom. 5:18-19)

If Abraham is an example of someone who keeps a covenant with God, then we are supposed to follow his example. Kind of a sobering thought. He has shown us several lesssons:
  1. Covenant-keepers should occasionally expect to be visited by God in "disguise." Energetic hospitality is the proper response to these visits. Sometimes He may come to us "hidden" in a family member, a coworker, or a stranger in need. Abraham's respect for and self-donation on behalf of his three visitors show us the way to receive Him.
  2. Covenant-keepers can expect that sometimes God will ordain circumstances in our lives that are meant to be occasions for Him to reveal His nature to us. These circumstances will cause us to examine what we believe about God - Who He is and how He acts in the world. Covenant-keepers will defend God's character against accusations or doubts (even when they come from within), just as Abraham did.
  3. Covenant-keepers should see themselves as God's co-workers, just as God described Abraham as one through whom the whole earth will be blessed. We should be prepared to pray as intercessors for those who are in need of God's mercy. Abraham's prayer for Lot meant that already God was keeping His covenant promise to him of making him a "blessing" (19:29). Our prayers for others fulfill God's promise to us to make us a "royal priesthood." As St. Peter writes: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy." (1 Pet. 2:9-10)
  4. Covenant-keepers should be as bold and as humble as Abraham was before God.

All quotes from Life Application Study Bible. 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.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Monday, February 6, 2017

Lagniappe: Texans' Self Evident Truths

We Texans hold certain truths to be self-evident: Davy Crockett was the most fearless freedom fighter who ever lived, Buddy Holly was the greatest rock 'n' roller, the Dallas Cowboys are America's Team, and the best barbecue in the world is pit-smoked in Taylor, Lockhrt, Bastrop, Elgin, and Luling, along the Central Texas Barbecue Belt.
Texas Monthly 1992

Worth a Thousand Words: Misses Solomon

Misses Solomon, Anders Zorn

A Movie You Might Have Missed #62: Night Train to Munich

Charters: I bought a copy of Mein Kampf. Occurred to me it might shed a spot of light on all this... how d'ye do. Ever read it?

Caldicott: Never had the time.

Charters: I understand they give a copy to all the bridal couples over here.

Caldicott: Oh, I don't think it's that sort of book, old man.

When the Germans march into Prague, armour-plating inventor Dr Bomasch flees to England. His daughter Anna escapes from arrest to join him, but the Gestapo manage to kidnap them both back to Berlin. As war looms, British secret service agent Gus Bennet follows disguised as a senior German army officer. His ploy – not unpleasant one – is pretending to woo Anna to the German cause.
This was a complete pleasure. Why is this gem not better known? My daughter rented it to see what Carol Reed's other movies were like (besides The Third Man). Night Train to Munich has witty dialogue, spy story action, suspense, a romantic hero who is detached and narcissistic, unexpected plot twists, and two bird-brained Englishmen who drive the plot in unexpected ways. (Their reaction to learning that England and Germany is at war is priceless.)

When you consider that this was made in 1939 (in theaters in 1940), then the continual, subtle jabs at the Germans become even more interesting. It's like Ernst Lubistch's To Be or Not to Be in using humor to make points but, of course, completely different.

Friday, February 3, 2017

What the Catholic Church teaches about death with dignity

Simcha Fisher hits it out of the ball park — here's a bit but read it all. (Emphasis added is mine.)
Doerflinger acknowledges Malnight’s struggle: “Often there is no one right or wrong answer, but just an answer you think is best for your loved one in this particular situation, taking into account that patient’s own perspective and his or her ability to tolerate the burdens of treatment.”

The key, says Cathy Adamkiewicz, is “not to put our human parameters on the purpose of a human life.”

When she got her infant daughter’s prognosis from the neurologist, she told him, “You look at her as a dying system. I see a human being. Her life has value, not because of how much she can offer, but there is value in her life.”

Worth a Thousand Words: Natural History Series for Children

Prang's Natural History Series for Children, 1878
via Animalarium

Well Said: Putting a limit on God's love

The Lord's love knows no bounds, but man can put a limit on it.

"You are clean, but not all of you" (Jn 13: 10): What is it that makes man unclean?

It is the rejection of love, not wanting to be loved, not loving. It is pride that believes it has no need of any purification, that is closed to God's saving goodness. It is pride that does not want to admit or recognize that we are in need of purification. ...

"You are clean, but not all of you". Today, the Lord alerts us to the self-sufficiency that puts a limit on his unlimited love. He invites us to imitate his humility, to entrust ourselves to it, to let ourselves be "infected" by it.

He invites us - however lost we may feel - to return home, to let his purifying goodness uplift us and enable us to sit at table with him, with God himself.

Pope Benedict XVI, The Joy of Knowing Christ,
homily, April 13, 2006

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: The Photographer, Christian Franzen

Joaquin Sorolla; The Photographer, Christian Franzen; 1903
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: Tackling evil with love and truth alone

This Sunday's Gospel contains some of the most typical and forceful words of Jesus' preaching: "Love your enemies" (Lk 6: 27). ...

Actually, Christ's proposal is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This more comes from God: it is his mercy which was made flesh in Jesus and which alone can "tip the balance" of the world from evil to good, starting with that small and decisive "world" which is the human heart. ...

One then understands that for Christians, non-violence is not merely tactical behaviour but a person's way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God's love and power that he is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone.

Pope Benedict XVI, The Joy of Knowing Christ
Angelus, Feb. 18, 2017

Genesis Notes: Faith and Obedience

GENESIS 16 & 17
Here's something we can all relate to ... not wanting to be patient but trying to control things ourselves. When Sarai gives Hagar to Abram so they can have children she is following the trends of the time. However, both Abram and Sarai are not trusting God when they take the standard, easy way out.

Adriaen van der Werff, Sarah presenting Hagar to Abraham

It was the custom of the time for a barren wife to give her slave girl to her husband, in the hope of having an heir. "It was not strictly polygamy but rather a means the lawful wife used in order to give her husband children. From what we know of Babylonian laws of the time, if the slave girl became pregnant and then began to look down on her mistress, she could be punished and revert to being treated as a slave. That is what Hagar fears will happen, so she runs away." (The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch; Princeton, NJ: Scepter Publishers, 1999; p. 97-98)
When God repeats his promise to give Abram children, he establishes a covenant with a painful and somewhat ironic sign ... circumcision. I always thought that circumcision was a very unusual sign of faith that God required. Turns out it wasn't as unusual as all that...
The practice of circumcision was fairly extensive in the world of Abraham's time. The Egyptians circumcised boys at the age of 13, which would have been Ishmael's age at this time. For the Jews, it became a sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. This is one of many instances of God's appropriating an already existing practice and dedicating it to His own purpose.
God also changes Abram's name to Abraham which is explained at that time. Sarai's name change signifies something important as well.
Sarai also gets a name change, to Sarah, which means something like "queen mother" or "princess" - in other words, a suggestion of royalty. From her descendants would come King David, in whom this part of the covenant ("kings of peoples shall come from her") was fulfilled. When David sat on Israel's royal throne (c. 1010-970 B.C.), God made a covenant with him that someone from his line would always sit on the throne of Israel (see 2 Sam. 7). Jesus, born of the house of David, would be that King, reigning forever over the New Israel, the Church.

All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. 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.

The Responsibility of Christians During Troubled Times

Holy moly, guys! Listen to Bishop Barron's homily for this Sunday (website, iTunes).

Talk about a challenge to live the faith out in the world. I found it really inspiring.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Blogging Around: Context for Trump Watching

Like many, I have been bemused by watching our new president actively launch himself into fulfilling campaign promises. Bemused on many levels, I might add.

I'm not among the outraged because I really don't understand the implications of everything that is going on and keep waiting to see what happens in the long run.

With that in mind I appreciated discovering Scott Adam's blog. He's the creator of the Dilbert cartoon and views pretty much everything with a businessman's eye. He's got a fascinating take on President Trump's tactics. Here are a couple of posts that made a lot of sense to me.

The Persuasion Filter and Immigration

If Trump is a Master Persuader, as I have been telling you for over a year, he just solved his biggest problem with immigration and you didn’t notice. The biggest problem is that his supporters on the right want more immigration control than he can (or should) deliver while his many critics on the left want far less. Normally when you negotiate there is only one party on the other side. But in this case, Trump is negotiating two extremes in two different directions. It’s the toughest possible situation. Best case scenario is that 40% of the country want you dead when it’s all over. Not good.

So what does a President Trump do when he is in an impossible situation?

According to the Hitler Filter, he does more Hitler stuff, such as being more extreme than anyone expected with his recent immigration declarations. That filter accurately predicted that he would be “worse” once elected. Sure enough, his temporary immigration ban is more extreme than most people expected. If things never get worse from this point on, we would have to question the Hitler Filter. But if things get worse still, the Hitler Filter is looking good.

Compare to the Persuasion Filter. This filter says Trump always opens with an extreme first offer so he has room to negotiate to the middle. The temporary ban fits that model perfectly. On the immigration topic alone, both the Hitler Filter and the Persuasion Filter predict that we get to exactly the point we are at today. Let’s call that a tie in terms of predictive power. The hard part is predicting what happens next.

The Persuasion Filter says Trump is negotiating with his critics on the extreme right at the same time as he is negotiating with his critics on the left. He needed one “opening offer” that would set up both sides for the next level of persuasion. And he found it. You just saw it.
My husband had been speculating on a version of "the persuasion filter" for a while (without calling it that). It was interesting to see how Adams talks about it. Read it all here.

Is President Trump Doing Management Wrong?

It appears that Trump’s counter-persuasion for “chaos” involves framing his administration as “disruptive.” That’s a good persuasion move because it doesn’t deny the observations. A disruption looks a lot like chaos from the outside. Two movies on one screen. ...

Is being a bit messy a sign of a problem?

Not if you’re the entrepreneurial, disruptive, candidate of change who just got elected.

Let me explain another management concept that the pundits don’t understand because, generally speaking, they don’t have the right kind of education or experience to analyze a business process.

There are two basic styles of management. One is the cautious style of Fortune 500 companies. The other is the rapid-iteration and A/B testing style of entrepreneurs. Trump is bringing the latter style to the office. The markers for this style of management include:

1. Rapid and decisive hiring and firing.

2. Bias toward action.

3. Rapid A/B testing. Release the early beta version and judge reactions. Adjust accordingly.

4. Emphasis on the psychology of success. Entrepreneurial management includes lots of persuasion and bullshit because entrepreneurs have to fake it until they make it. In other words, they have to create demand via persuasion.
Again, this gave me a lot to think about. Read it all here.

Presidential Podcast

My favorite way to put things into context is to look at history. The Presidential podcast ran once a week up to the last election, covering our presidents in order. It's only half an hour long but gives unusual takes on our past leaders, for example looking at Lincoln's writing and Grant's letters to his wife. It is eminently even-handed and always has a connection to our own times.

It is a wonderful reminder that President Trump is not the first leader who's come in sowing chaos and confusion. We've had it many a time before. Sometimes knowing that is context enough to make it easier to sit back in calm bemusement.

Here's the website or you can get it from iTunes.

Worth a Thousand Words: Rain

Torii Kotondo, Rain, 1929

Well Said: Come and See

We too ask Jesus: "Teacher, where do you stay?", and he answers us: "Come and see". For the believer it is always a ceaseless search and a new discovery, because Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever, but we, the world and history, are never the same, and he comes to meet us to give us his communion and the fullness of life.

Pope Benedict XVI, The Joy of Knowing Christ, 
Angelus, January 15, 2006