Friday, June 30, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: A Study for a Horse and Rider

Peter Paul Rubens, A Study for a Horse and Rider
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: My stories affect my Christianity, restore me ...

I stray, and then my stories pull me back if I listen to them carefully. I have often been asked if my Christianity affects my stories, and surely it is the other way around; my stories affect my Christianity, restore me, shake me by the scruff of the neck, and pull this straying sinner into an awed faith.
Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Five Bighorn Sheep

Five Bighorn Sheep, Colorado Nature Photography

Well Said: Say a prayer, not an editorial

Crater didn't know why the captain wanted him to say a prayer, but he gave it some thought and said, "Dear Lord, I didn't know Tilly, but I hope You'll take her into heaven. She messed up here at the last but that doesn't matter now, not to her and maybe not to You either."

"I said say a prayer, not write an editorial," Teller growled.

The gillie jumped in. For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, blessed be the Lord thy God who loves thee still. Amen and good-bye.

Teller stared at the gillie, then said, "Well, at least that thing's got some sense."
Homer Hickam, Crater

Genesis Notes: Growth and Testing

GENESIS 29 & 30

These chapters are interesting. Jacob, avoiding Esau's anger, is off to seek his fortune. He's been used to getting his own way through trickery and his own wits. but now he's going to come up against other people who are just as wily as he is. And who are also used to getting their own way.

This doesn't make Jacob any less determined, but it does mean it's an opportunity for growth and change. When the chips are down, how do we react? It is this which forms our character.

Also in these chapters, the focus is on family. Jacob falls for Rachel, works to earn her and then is fobbed off with first-born sister Leah. We greatly feel the injustice for Jacob and Rachel. But we also now have Leah in the mix. She longs for her husband's love and is denied repeatedly. And Jacob is continually dealing with his tricky father-in-law who wants nothing more than to cheat him. This is both humbling and serves to teach lessons.
It is not done thus in our place, to give the younger girl before the firstborn. Laban is an instrument of dramatic irony: his perfectly natural reference to "our place" has the effect of touching a nerve of guilty consciousness in Jacob, who in his place acted to put the younger before the firstborn. This effect is reinforced by Laban's referring to Leah not as the elder but as the firstborn (bekhirah). It has been clearly recognized since late antiquity that the whole story of the switched brides is a meting out of poetic justice to Jacob—the deceiver deceived, deprived by darkness of the sense of sight as his father is by blindness, relying, like his father, on the misleading sense of touch. ... *
Jacob has a visceral sense of just what his actions felt like to Esau.

God shows himself in this family struggle as he has through every family we've encountered in Genesis. I think about how he reveals himself through the everyday like breeding sheep and the big events like Leah's children. No special dreams or spoken voices are needed. God's there through everything in this story of our long-ago ancestors in faith.

Jacob and Rachel at the Well, Francisco Antolínez
*Quote from Robert Alter's translation and commentary of Genesis. 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, June 27, 2017

Well Said: The common people and the high lords

The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are.
George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones

Worth a Thousand Words: Return from fishing, dragging the boat

Return from fishing, dragging the boat; Joaquim Sorolla y Bastida

Save Send Delete Review of Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life

Danusha Goska has published a thoughtful and generous review at her blog, Save Send Delete.

Here's a bit:
Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life: Prayers and Reflections for Getting Closer is one of the weightiest little books I've ever read. There are just 209 pages of main text, and each page has few words. I open randomly to page one hundred and I find a three-sentence quote from the Gospel of Luke, a brief, one-paragraph quote from Saint Augustine, and ten sentences of reflection from Davis. The few words that appear on each page, though, like the words in a rich poem, are dense with meaning. They are the kind of words that cause the reader to pause and ponder. [...]

Davis wants this book to be an aid to other Christians in their prayer life. Online reviews attest to its value and success at just that. ...

I think Seeking Jesus has another use. I think this would be a great gift to an open-minded Christophobe. There are a lot of people these days who insist that all Christians are violent bigots. Jesus is certainly the main character of this book, but Davis is a very appealing sidekick. She is humble, eager to learn, thoughtful, and patient. I think giving this book as a gift to someone trying to understand a modern American Christian's interior life would be a very charitable act.
Do go read it all. It gives a wonderful overview coupled with Goska's feelings about the book.

Then stop by Amazon to pick up your own copy!

Hansel and Gretel - on SFFaudio

Jesse, Maissa, and I discuss the classic fairy tale, Grimm Brothers style, at SFFaudio. Our discussion is preceded by my unabridged reading of the folk tale.

A good time was had by all. (Except, of course, by the wicked old witch. That goes practically without saying.) Join us!

Julie and Scott attend a wedding in India.

It took 1 hr and 54 minutes, exactly and approximately. 

We discuss Monsoon Wedding (2001), directed by Mira Nair, in episode 161 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Snow, Moon, Flowers

Sakai Hôitsu; Snow, Moon, Flowers

Well Said: Love and marriage and the right room

It seems like people make the mistake of thinking love is about the bedroom. It's not. It's about the emergency room. Love and marriage are about who will sit there and wait.
Stephen Tobolowsky
Truer words were never spoken.

National Catholic Register Review of Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life

A lovely review from Sarah Sarah Reinhard at National Catholic Register.

Among other things she says:
"This is about forming a friendship that will last through eternity," Davis writes. And that's exactly the foundation she's set for each reader of this volume.
Go read the rest at NCR and then stop by Amazon to pick up your own copy!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Elisabeth of Bavaria

Elisabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria (1865).
Franz Xaver Winterhalter (German, 1805-1873).
Look at that dress! I know she was a great beauty of the time but that dress is the star of this painting to me.

Lagniappe: Cooking With Actual Food

It was lovely to be cooking with actual food. There's something so grounding about it. It's not that I was doing any magic, beyond the magic it is to take big flat mushrooms and raw potatoes and turn them into something totally delicious. I was just making dinner. But I wonder how much of cooking for someone else is magic anyway, more than I know about. I think it might all be.
Jo Walton, Among Others
This evokes a sense of place and activity that speaks strongly to me, even if it is "just making dinner." And she's right, cooking for others is magical though it is usually felt most strongly when you all come together for the meal.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

3 Myths (and 1 Truth) About Grain-Fed Beef

I've been a fan of the Nutrition Diva for a long time. I especially love the way she looks into facts versus what "everyone knows" (a.k.a. "myths) on different topics.

This time she's looking at grain-fed beef, In particular 3 myths and 1 surprising truth about the impact of various feeding programs on the health of the cow and on the environment. That's an area where there are a lot of misconceptions. And I was really surprised by the truth ... also pleased.

You can listen her podcast episode or read the transcript — both are at Nutrition Diva.

Worth a Thousand Words: Sun and Sundial

Sun and Sundial, Wettenhausen monastery emblem

To go with today's quote!

Well Said: May the gods confound the man ...

May the gods confound the man who first found out how to distinguish hours, and the man who put this sun-dial here to cut my day to pieces.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Well Said: If you feel like fighting fire with fire ...

If you feel like fighting fire with fire, remember real firefighters use water.
I love this. It goes hand in hand with the quote someone used at dinner last night.
An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.
(attributed to many, confirmed for none)

Worth a Thousand Words: The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux

Matins : Arrest of Christ - The Annunciation
Jean Pucelle, 1324-1328

This is via French Painters where there are a wealth of images from Pucelle's fabulous creations of breviaries for private devotions.

I'm always fascinated by these sorts of books and wish something like them were readily available today. They combine the best of words and images to help draw you out of yourself and into an encounter with God. There is also usually a playful element that I really love, as witness from this closeup.

Genesis Notes: Esau's Resume

I've already talked about my soft spot for Esau. Let's look over his resume to see what we can apply from his example to our own lives.

I haven't mentioned this before, but one of my favorite parts of these resumes is at the end when we see where else a person is mentioned in the Bible. I like to read up on how others use their examples also.

Francesco Hayez, Esau and Jacob reconcile
Common sense isn't all that common. In fact, the common thread in many decisions is that they don't make sense. Esau's life was filled with choices he must have regretted bitterly. He appears to have been a person who found it hard to consider consequences, reacting to the need of the moment without realizing what he was giving up to meet that weakness. He also chose wives in direct opposition to his parents' wishes. He learned the hard way.

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • Ancestor of the Edomites
  • Known for his archery skill
  • Able to forgive after explosive anger
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • When faced with important decisions, tended to choose according to the immediate need rather than the long-range effect
  • Angered his parents by poor marriage choices
Lessons from his life:
  • God allows certain events in our lives to accomplish his overall purposes, but we are still responsible for our actions
  • Consequences are important to consider
  • It is possible to have great anger and yet not sin
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Canaan
  • Occupation: Skillful hunter
  • Relatives: Parents - Isaac and Rebekah. Brother - Jacob. Wives: Judith, Basemath, and Mahalath.
Key verses:
"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears." (Hebrews 12:14-17)

Esau's story is told in Genesis 25-36. He also is mentioned in Malachi 1:2, 3; Romans 9:13; Hebrews 12:16, 17.
All material quoted is from the 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, June 20, 2017

Study reports beautiful churches important in young people's conversions

Inside of Notre-Dame Basilica (Montreal)
Now that there's a study proving what most of us already knew, can we return beauty to our churches?
The Telegraph revealed the results of the study, stating that, “Around 13 percent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral.”

Even more surprising was the report’s finding that the “influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to other Christians about their faith.”

In fact, “The study suggests that new methods invested in by the Church, such as youth groups … are less effective than prayer or visiting a church building in attracting children to the Church.”
Philip Kosloski reports on this as well as considering how U.S. parishes have begun building traditionally beautiful churches again.

I still remember being in Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal and seeing a young man standing in the center aisle with tears running down his face. His concerned girlfriend was asking if he was ok. He looked somewhat embarrassed, responding, "No, I was just having a moment. It just hit me all at once."

Yes, that beauty does hit you and hits you hard. If we are open to it, often God's presence is using beauty to touch your soul.

More than beauty is converting young people

The Telegraph reports on the study's other points. Interestingly, the British are dumbstruck that one in six young people are Christian, saying how high these numbers are. I was interested in the point that it is not youth groups or guitar masses that pull people in but having read the Bible or being taken to visit a church.
The study suggests that new methods invested in by the Church, such as youth groups and courses such as Youth Alpha, are less effective than prayer or visiting a church building in attracting children to the church.

One in five said reading the Bible had been important, 17 per cent said going to a religious school had had an impact and 14 per cent said a spiritual experience was behind their Christianity.

“Things which we would class as old hat methods are some of the more effective ways."
Yes, the good old fashioned ways of personal encounter with Christ still work just fine.

Lagniappe: The Anti-authoritarian Authority

“Commander, I always used to consider that you had a definite anti-authoritarian streak in you."


"It seems that you have managed to retain this even though you are authority."


"That's practically zen.”
Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay

Worth a Thousand Words: Mute Swan chicks following mother

Mute Swan chicks following mother, taken by Remo Savisaar

A Movie You Might Have Missed #67: The Founder

He took someone else's idea
and America ate it up.

The Founder is the story of Ray Kroc, a salesman who turned two brothers’ innovative  restaurant, McDonald’s, into one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the world with a combination of ambition, persistence, and ruthlessness.
This normally isn't the sort of movie I feature as "a movie you might have missed." It's got a big star, a director who's done movies people know (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks), and is about an American institution. And yet I'm continually surprised to find that so few people have heard of it.

We enjoyed it a lot both as a biopic and as a business movie. Make no mistake, it has a very definite point of view. If you check History vs Hollywood, as I like to do after watching any movie "based on a true story, you will see where the creators made story choices to enhance the points they were interested in discussing. The movie as a whole leaves you pondering innovation in its many forms and what it means "to invent" something.

Also, I defy anyone to watch this and not come away wanting a burger and fries. Maybe with a milkshake on the side.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Cypress at L’Arcade

Cypress at L’Arcade by Belinda Del Pesco

Well Said: Blandings Castle and the original garden

The gardens of Blandings Castle are that original garden from which we are all exiled. All those who know them long to return.
Evelyn Waugh on P.G. Wodehouse's Blandings Castle series

Friday, June 16, 2017

Well Said: The prayer is like the river itself ...

The words [of the Rosary] are like the banks of a river and the prayer is like the river itself. The banks are necessary to give direction and to keep the river flowing. But it is the river with which we are concerned. So in prayer it is the inclination of the heart to God alone which matters ... As the river moves into the sea, the banks drop away. So, too, as we move in to the deeper sense of God's presence the words fall away and ... we shall be left in silence in the ocean of God's love.
Robert Llewelyn
I don't pray the rosary often but I do find it very helpful occasionally for getting me back on target, getting me back in the river so to speak.

Worth a Thousand Words: An Out of Doors Study

John Singer Sargent, An Out-of-Doors Study, 1889,
depicting Paul César Helleu sketching with his wife Alice Guérin

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Well Said: I didn't go to religion to make me happy.

I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock
As is often the case with C.S. Lewis, truer words were never spoken (or written). Good thing the rewards are inestimably better than that.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Artist's Father, Reading a Newspaper

Albert Engström, The Artist's Father, Reading a Newspaper

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Well Said: Uncle Tom's Cabin and Achieving Your Goal

There’s no happy ending ... Nevertheless, we might well say that is exactly Harriet Beecher Stowe’s point. In 1852 slavery had not been abolished. Slaves were still on the plantations and many of them were in the hands of people like Legree. Her book was written to shame the collective conscience of America into action against an atrocity which was still continuing. So a happy ending would have been, frankly, a lie and a betrayal. ...

Most of the charges are basically true. Stowe did stereotype. She did sentimentalize. She offered a role model which later offended African American pride. On the other hand, what she did worked. She wasn’t trying to provide a role model for African Americans. She was trying to make white Americans ashamed of themselves. ...

Perhaps the short answer to her critics is to ask, “Do you want glory, approval, all those good things? Or do you want to achieve your goal?”
Thomas A. Shippey, Heroes and Legends
Shippey only had a half hour discussion of Uncle Tom as a hero and so he glossed over some of the things with which one could take issue in his statement. For example, I'd say that Stowe was trying to provide a role model for all of us, often in the slaves she wrote about, but you have to look at it with a Christian focus to see that clearly.

That aside, I love his defense because I love the book so much. Without context it is easy to cast stones at anyone. And we're all in that glass house where we don't want the stones cast back at us. Our lives and viewpoints have context which we'd like understood also before we are judged.

Genesis Notes: My Soft Spot for Esau

When you are reading slowly through a book the way we are through Genesis, you can never tell what might strike you.

In my case, reading Robert Alter's translation of Genesis what hits me are the details we're given about Esau. He's slow and simple, as we are shown, but darn it, he tries so hard to do what his parents want. And then he's always done down by his own mother as well as his twin.

I already was feeling this, pondering Jacob's theft of the birthright while knowing that at the end of their "twin" saga it is Esau who welcomes his brother home generously. It's one of the unexpected bits of the story that I love most — Esau's welcome home.

Then reading about Jacob going off to find a wife, I noticed for the first time that little insertion of Esau overhearing his mother's dislike of Hittite wives (which he's got two of) and how he went and got a wife from the tribe of Abraham.
And Esau was forty years old and he took as wife Judith the daughter of beeri the Hittite and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a provocation to Isaac and to Rebekah. ...

And Rebekah said to Isaac, "I loathe my life because of the Hittite women! If Jacob takes a wife from Hittite women like these, from the native girls, what good to me is life?" ...

And Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him off to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there when he blessed him and commanded him, sayng, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan." ... And Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the eyes of Isaac his father. And Esau went to Ishmael and he took Mahalath daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to his wives, as a wife.
Genesis 26:34-35; 27:46; 28:6, 8-9, Robert Alter transl.
Darn it. Just made me feel worse for him.

It is proof that there is always more in Scripture than we can absorb in just a reading or two. Slow reading allows time to ponder and for it to come truly alive. I have a real fondness for Esau that I'd never have thought possible before.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, 1624.
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: Lady Writing a Letter

Albert Edelfelt, Lady Writing a Letter

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Movie You Might Have Missed #66 : Loving

They didn't want to change the world.
They just wanted to live their lives.

Loving tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), an interracial couple who married and then spent the next nine years fighting for the right to live as a family in their home state of Virginia. Their civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, went to the Supreme Court, whose 1967 decision in their favor changed marriage in the United States forever.
This is a deep, rich telling of a wonderful story without feeling the need to embellish the facts. It is a bit slow, as many reviewers mentioned, and the director knows how to use silence and long shots, so you have to settle in for the long view.

However, as my husband said, by the end you've been given a picture of their devotion and marriage, not just the court case (which is honestly certainly not center stage). And you know just what winning that court case means in the real lives of real people.

Well Said: Belief in the Middle Ages

From Introduction to Christianity by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) which is admittedly dense but is also simply terrific. One of the things that I love most about this book is the way that Benedict will casually admit a truth that many believers would like to ignore. He does it time and again and every time I mentally cheer because hiding our heads in the sand is not only unbecoming, the only ones we fool are ourselves.
...when today as believers in our age we hear it said, a little enviously perhaps, that in the Middle Ages everyone without exception in our lands was a believer, it is a good thing to cast a glance behind the scenes, as we can today, thanks to historical research. This will tell us that even in those days there was the great mass of nominal believers and a relatively small number of people who had really entered into the inner movement of belief. It will show us that for many belief was only a ready-made mode of life, by which for them the exciting adventure really signified by the word credo was at least as much concealed as disclosed. This is simply because there is an infinite gulf between God and man; because man is fashioned in such a way that his eyes are only capable of seeing what is not God, and thus for man God is and always will be the essentially invisible, something lying outside his field of vision. ...
Benedict never forgets that Truth can only be found by not ignoring all truth when we come across it, even when that truth is something we would rather gloss over. Such as the fact that people are people both in the Middle Ages and now ... and that nominal believers are not something only found in our time.

Worth a Thousand Words: Noon - Rest from Work

Vincent van Gogh, Noon–Rest from Work (after Millet)
via Arts Everyday Living

Julie rips out Scott's knitting even though he swears he is not knitting in the names of the enemies of the podcast.

Scott finds this very frustrating. It's no way to conduct a revolution.

We discuss A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens in Episode 160 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Lagniappe: Someone was trying to kill him ...

Vimes smiled. Someone was trying to kill him, and that made him feel more alive than he had done in days.

And they were also slightly less intelligent than he was. This is a quality you should always pray for in your would-be murderer.
Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

My Interview Tomorrow on EWTN's Son Rise Morning Show

I'm excited to have a chance to discuss Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life on the Son Rise Morning Show. Son Rise Morning Show is a fast-paced morning program covering everything from current events to catechesis, with reflections on the saint of the day and the readings from Mass.

Airing Tuesday, June 13
6:50 a.m. (Central Time)
740AM Sacred Heart Radio in Cincinnati
and on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network

If you miss the show, you can listen to the podcast.

Worth a Thousand Words: Brown Hare

Brown Hare, taken by Remo Savisaar

Friday, June 9, 2017

Well Said: Simple and Stupid

Colon thought Carrot was simple. Carrot often struck people as simple. And he was.

Where people went wrong was thinking that simple meant the same thing as stupid.
Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

Worth a Thousand Words: A Studio Idyll. The Artist's Wife and their Daughter.

Carl Larsson, A Studio Idyll. The Artist's Wife and their Daughter.
via Lines and Colors

My Interview Tomorrow on KATH 910 AM radio

When it rains, it pours! I've got another interview airing this weekend!

I got the chance to tour the local Catholic radio studio and, most importantly, talk with Dave Palmer.

We talked about Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life, but also a whole lot more: my conversion story, podcasting, connecting with Catholics online, and everyday Catholic life.

Here's where you can hear the interview.

Airing Saturday, June 10
3:10 p.m.
North Texas, Guadalupe Radio Network

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lagniappe: "Wot a thing it is to be so sought arter!"

"Wot a thing it is to be so sought arter!" observed Sam, smiling.

"I don't take no pride out on it, Sammy," replied Mr. Weller, poking the fire vehemently, "it's a horrid sitiwation. I'm actiwally drove out o' house and home by it. The breath was scarcely out o' your poor mother-in-law's body, ven vun old 'ooman sends me a pot o' jam, and another a pot o' jelly, and another brews a blessed large jug o' camomile-tea, vich she brings in vith her own hands." Mr. Weller paused with an aspect of intense disgust, and looking round, added in a whisper, "They wos all widders, Sammy, all on 'em, 'cept the camomile-tea vun, as wos a single young lady o' fifty-three."
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers
The Wellers are both wonderful characters and when Sam and his father get together there are few better, or funnier, scenes in literature. I was laughing out loud by the the time Mr. Weller finished explaining to Sam why a coachman is such prime husband material. This is just a sample of the passage.

Worth a Thousand Words: Court of Lions

Court of the Lions, Alhambra, Granada, is the epicentre of the greatest concentration of high Islamic art, through which runs the perpetual trickle of water that Moslems thought essential to architecture.
This photo is nowhere near the quality that is featured in Art: A New History, but it gives a flavor of the delight I felt upon seeing the image in the book. I absolutely loved the idea of water being a part of the architecture of a building.
The second feature of the Alhambra is the presence of water, which flows, drips, splashes and spouts in dozens of different ways, and in scores of places, throughout the immense complex of buildings, though it is visible chiefly in the courts. The Patio de los Leones, or Court of the Lions, built in the 1370s, summarises everything the Islamic world had learned about water-architecture. it has a central fountain resting on the backs of twelve white marble lions. The water trickles away in narrow canals between systems of twin-pillared arches, forming arcades on which rest four magnificent reception rooms on the first storey. They overlook the court, but are remarkable also for their starry vaults, lit by great windows which admit and discipline the sunlight. The decoration is provided by Kufic patterning and by poetry in brilliant cursive script, and a poem also adorns the fountain itself. Font and arch, marble and glass mosaic, paint, stone and script, tile and open window, grass and herb, light, shade, and brilliance all combine together to create a sense of airy lightness, reassuringly underwritten by marmoreal solidity. ...
I could keep going but then I'd just have to give you the whole book. Paul Johnson is not a bad artist with words himself as we can see.

My husband has always wanted to see the Alhambra. After reading Johnson's look at it and seeing photos I can understand why. I'd like to see it myself.

Christopher Closeup Interview - 2nd Verse - Better Than the First!

Or maybe I remember the second half of my conversation with Tony Rossi as being better because I just kept getting more and more interested myself! As I've said before, Tony is a great interviewer.

If you haven't heard of The Christophers before this is your chance to check out a very worthy group. Their motto is "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." And that's how we all should try to live, right?

Here's where you can hear the interview.

Part 2 of the interview airs this Sunday:
  • Sirius-XM’s The Catholic Channel (129) at 6:00 am and 10:30 am (Central time)
  • Relevant Radio network at 3:30 pm (Central time)
Tune in and get the inside scoop on Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life ... and me!

Both parts of the interview also will come along as a podcast. Rest assured, I'll let you know when that happens!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Seeking Jesus: "Julie points to very particular aspects of Christ with each entry."

I've been slowly working my way through this book page-by-page, and so far I am really appreciating the ways in which Julie points to very particular aspects of Christ with each entry. It's all too easy to make Christ into an abstraction in prayer, and I love how the text is guiding me back to making that relationship more tangible and concrete. I'm so glad I have a lot more to go!
JoAnna's progress report makes me so happy! That is exactly what I hoped for, that the book would gently lead readers to open up and encounter Christ in their own way.

For a sample, more reviews, or interviews, go here. Or pick up a copy for yourself or as a gift.

If you've read Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life and liked it, please consider posting a review on Amazon or GoodReads. It makes a difference in helping others decide to try it too!

Worth a Thousand Words: Sam Weller

Sam Weller, from a watercolor, c. 1890.
My favorite Pickwick character. Though there are many close-runs for favorite - Mr. Jingle comes to mind. He is as funny as he is despicable!

Lagniappe: for fellow lovers of The Pickwick Papers

Pickwick is in Dickens’s career the mere mass of light before the creation of sun or moon. It is the splendid, shapeless substance of which all his stars were ultimately made. You might split up Pickwick into innumerable novels as you could split up that primeval light into innumerable solar systems. The Pickwick Papers constitute first and foremost a kind of wild promise, a pre-natal vision of all the children of Dickens. ... Dickens, like every other honest and effective writer, came at last to some degree of care and self-restraint. He learned how to make his dramatis personæ assist his drama; he learned how to write stories which were full of rambling and perversity, but which were stories. But before he wrote a single real story, he had a kind of vision. It was a vision of the Dickens world—a maze of white roads, a map full of fantastic towns, thundering coaches, clamorous market-places, uproarious inns, strange and swaggering figures. That vision was Pickwick.
G.K. Chesterton, Appreciations and Criticisms
of the Works of Charles Dickens

Genesis Notes: Jacob - Chosen By God

GENESIS 27 & 28
These two chapters are interesting in many ways. I remember reading about Jacob having that dream about the ladder and it always seemed as if it would be rather crowded for those angels ... I didn't know exactly what kind of ladder they had in mind.
The ladder described here is probably a ziggurat, the sort of tower built by the people at Babel. A ziggurat was a tall, stepped temple-tower believed to connect heaven and earth - hence the angels ascending and descending the steps. God himself was at the top of the ladder and spoke to Jacob in his dream, a sign that God would now be Jacob's God.
The reconstructed facade of the Neo-Sumerian Great Ziggurat of Ur
(I always wondered what a ziggurat looked like)
What always stood out most was the infighting that was going on in the family. Not only do we have Esau's and Jacob's sibling rivalry, but we have the parents favoring different children. Isaac wants to pass his blessing on to Esau and Rebekah is determined that Jacob will inherit everything, so everyone is working at cross-purposes. By this time, I have been trained to look below the surface just enough to know that Rebekah and Jacob are going to reap a whole lotta trouble for forcing their way through instead of letting God handle it in His own time.
Abraham and Sarah took things into their own hands and tried to produce the promised son through Sarah's maid Hagar (Gen. 16). They were successful in the sense that they had a child, but it was not the son God intended and although God did bless Ishmael, the promises were not fulfilled through him. The results of Abraham and Sarah's efforts were bitterness and discord in the family; division between them; and long lasting trouble between the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac. Rebekah's and Jacob's efforts to bring about God's will by their own efforts would be equally destructive to their family. Their actions would force Jacob to flee his brother's anger and be separated from his family for 20 years, and he would never see his mother again.

Rebekah's (and Jacob's) actions are not justified; a good end even if promised by God does not justify the use of trickery to get there. But God will make good come of it. (NOTE: we will read in Gen. 48 of a younger twin being blessed - by a blind Jacob this time - over the older without any trickery or double-dealing.)
Once again, it just doesn't seem fair that one person is arbitrarily chosen over another as God's favorite. However, that thinking is just not looking at the "big picture."
That God "loved" Jacob and "hated" Esau means not that Esau (the nation of Edom) was condemned arbitrarily but that Jacob (Israel) was chosen, not on the basis of any intrinsic good or merit but by God's sovereign will. Remember that all mankind is in a state of separation from God. All mankind is "hated," if you will, because of sin. But the love and mercy of God are so great that He reached down and chose one of those "hated" ones and made his family into a channel of blessing for all the world, so that all men might benefit. God "chose us in him before the foundation of the world," Paul told the Ephesians in Eph. 1:4-6, "that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved."

Throughout Israel's history, God had to remind them again and again that being chosen as His "firstborn" did not mean they were better or more deserving of His blessing than anyone else. They only needed to look at their past to see that God does not use human criteria of worthiness. More often than not He selects the young, the weak, the poor, and the undeserving on whom to bestow His grace. All favor is due to God's great love and grace, and not to any merit on our part.
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, June 6, 2017

Well Said: It was an age of reform, and even radical reform

It was an age of reform, and even of radical reform; the world was full of radicals and reformers; but only too many of them took the line of attacking everything and anything that was opposed to some particular theory among the many political theories that possessed the end of the eighteenth century. Some had so much perfected the perfect theory of republicanism that they almost lay awake at night because Queen Victoria had a crown on her head. Others were so certain that mankind had hitherto been merely strangled in the bonds of the State that they saw truth only in the destruction of tariffs or of by-laws. The greater part of that generation held that clearness, economy, and a hard common-sense, would soon destroy the errors that had been erected by the superstitions and sentimentalities of the past. In pursuance of this idea many of the new men of the new century, quite confident that they were invigorating the new age, sought to destroy the old sentimental clericalism, the old sentimental feudalism, the old-world belief in priests, the old-world belief in patrons, and among other things the old-world belief in beggars. They sought among other things to clear away the old visionary kindliness on the subject of vagrants. Hence those reformers enacted not only a new reform bill but also a new poor law. In creating many other modern things they created the modern  workhouse, and when Dickens came out to fight it was the first thing that he broke with his battle-axe.

G.K. Chesterton, commenting on Oliver Twist,
Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens
That national feeling sounds very familiar, doesn't it?

Worth a Thousand Words: The Oval Fountain in the Gardens of the Villa d'Este, Tivoli

Hubert Robert, The Oval Fountain in the Gardens of the Villa d'Este, Tivoli

From my inbox: Catholic Door Online Store

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Catholic Door is the premier Catholic store online. Here you will find the most popular items along with unique and even one of kind items. Whether you are studying up on your faith, getting something to help you during your prayer time, wanting to display your Catholic identity or find the perfect Catholic gift for a loved one, Catholic Door can help you. Our goal is to modernize the shopping experience.
It looks like they sell just about any Catholic thing you need. And they've got a blog with some interesting posts. Check them out!

Monday, June 5, 2017

SFFaudio - Dracula

Jesse, Jim Moon, Paul, and I dig into one of my favorite classics - Dracula by Bram Stoker!

Tarot, the Human Genome, and Relishing Life

I'd forgotten all about this piece, originally posted in 2014, but a recent comment brought it to my attention again. It seems to me just as valid now as then, perhaps even more so in these times when we seem increasingly fearful of everything from terrorists down to speaking incorrectly in a crowd.

We can't predict the future, we can't play it safe, and we can't control our fates. But we can live with joy and hope.

By Ernest F (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Doctors expect soon to begin sequencing the genomes of healthy newborn babies as part of a government-funded research program that could have wide implications for genetic research.
Scientists Will Study Genome Sequencing of Newborns,
Dec. 30, 2014, Wall Street Journal
"Wide implications," I thought, "and not just for research I bet."

I read on. "... a genetic blueprint to carry through life ... integrated into their care ... help save a child's life ... "
Doctors also face ethical dilemmas: Should parents be informed if reveal an infant has mutations that doctors aren't sure will ever cause disease?
That's the big question, isn't it?  And the reason for my uneasiness.

I know two people who had their breasts removed just because they found they had a gene for cancer. I shudder to imagine what might become "routine" for parents wanting to shield their babies from possible future health problems.

After all, we already have plenty of abortions caused by prenatal testing for genetic variations like Down's Syndrome. And we have plenty of perfectly normal babies born without that variation whose parents were advised to abort because of a test's prediction. I know just such a family.

I have also met families who found that after their sorrow when a less-than-perfect child was born, there were compensations beyond anything they could have dreamed. (Read here for one such example.)

That human genome project would be a real temptation for anxious parents to project their baby's future and possibly take immediate action.

My thoughts turned to a recent conversation about Tarot cards and Thomas L. McDonald's series about  their use as a game. (This is the last post of the series but this link shows the other posts in the series. Don't follow the built in links to other articles as they take you to a website which no longer has the articles.)

The series was about understanding Tarot in context but since they are often used for telling the future, he necessarily had to include a hefty warning about divination, which is gravely evil and strictly forbidden by the Catholic Church. This brought my thoughts on the WSJ article into a new focus.

I realized that the idea about mapping newborns' genomes, at least as it was presented in that article, is a new face for an old temptation. Divination. Let's tell the future so we know what to avoid.

The one thing we can never seem to foresee is the ultimate cost of acting on inexact predictions. We won't know the real price until long after the fact. And the fortune tellers won't be the ones who pay the price. They will be long gone.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against science. Science is my friend. I am thankful to be able to take aspirin when I have a headache.

But science is a tool. Like any tool it can be misused. Gathering information for general study is one thing. Specific application of "what might happen" to someone's life is completely different. It is hard to imagine that people won't use this science to try to improve the course of someone's life, despite the flimsy basis.

It's interesting to read what the Catechism says about divination and realize how well it applies in this situation.
2115 God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility.

2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.
Scientific fortunetelling is inexact at best, even in cases where we're on well-trodden ground. We learned that last year when my husband had his gall bladder out. Unpredictable things happened which even his very experienced doctors could not foretell.

I realize these "what if" musings may sound alarmist or paranoid. Yet it isn't a bad thing to have in the back of our minds as we watch society sort out practical applications of our ability to map the human genome. It is an imperfect science and one which should be approached with caution before applying it to people's lives.

Over and above all, this project speaks to our innate human desire to control our fate. And that we cannot do no matter what tools we use. We do the best we can to plan for the future but the unexpected always leaps up and startles us, whether for good or ill.

For me the answer to all of the above is articulated superbly by two unlikely sources.
The human story does not always unfold like a mathematical calculation on the principle that two and two make four. Sometimes in life they make five or minus three; and sometimes the blackboard topples down in the middle of the sum and leaves the class in disorder and the pedagogue with a black eye. The element of the unexpected and the unforeseeable is what gives some of its relish to life, and saves us from falling into the mechanic thralldom of the logicians.
Winston Churchill
When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.
Willie Nelson
If we approach the unknown with a sense of adventure and remember that even the darkest times may contain blessings we can't predict, then we have the key to relishing life.

Worth a Thousand Words: A Gift

A Gift, taken by the amazing Remo Savisaar

Friday, June 2, 2017

Well Said: Jack and Jill

If Jack's in love, he's no judge of Jill's beauty.
Benjamin Franklin
Isn't that great? Ben Franklin, master wordsmith.

Worth a Thousand Words: Spectacled Mouse Reading Newspaper

Spectacled Mouse Reading Newspaper (1890). Beatrix Potter.
I could just look at this all day. I'm not kidding. All. Day.

Christmas and Pentecost, Springing from the Womb

I came across this, posted originally in 2009, when I was looking for Pentecost related materials. (Yes, I use my own blog the way others do.) Anyway, this was a lovely thing to think about and I thought y'all might like it too as we approach Pentecost.
Nine days before Pentecost Mary, the apostles, and disciples gathered in prayer for the coming of the Spirit. Art always pictures Mary, the mother of Jesus, as seated in the center of this holy gathering. The setting is one of prayer and contemplation. Mary is the principal contemplative, the woman wrapped in the silence of prayer. The contemplative dimension, with Mary at the center, prevailed.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on those gathered in the Upper Room. The Spirit manifested and revealed the Church publicly. Now Peter became the visible leader, the Shepherd and Pastor and Rock. Pope John Paul II, reflecting on these scenes, taught that the Marian dimension of the Church precedes the Petrine one. The environment of prayer is the womb from which the Body of Christ is born. Because of this, prayer, contemplation, and the adoration of God have the primacy in the Church.
Reading this, my focus was brought to the word "womb" as a description of the Upper Room. Never having had considered this imagery before, I couldn't let it go. Inevitably, perhaps, with the images of Mary and womb before me, I also began to think about the parallels between Pentecost and Christmas. Both were preceded by an enforced period of waiting, with Mary as a central figure, with a previously unimaginable power and light being unleashed on the world as the climax.

It made me suddenly look at Christ's coming anew, at how that tiny baby held power and light that we still have a hard time comprehending, made me have just a bit more understanding of how he flashed on the world like a fire. Likewise I looked at the Upper Room anew, seeing it truly as the womb which sheltered and fed the apostles despite their lack of comprehension at what they were being prepared to become.

This probably is nothing new, but it surely was for me. It set forth a direct connection between the two which I will always think about when either Christmas or Pentecost comes to mind. All facilitated by Mary's willingness. Which is something else to consider. Especially in connection with myself. No big conclusions here ... just pondering and turning over these points.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Anti-terror music video sweeping the Middle East: Confront your enemy with peace, not war

CNN has the story. Here's a bit:
Kuwaiti telecom company Zain launched the TV ad on Saturday at the start of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar, in an effort to counter terrorism.

Since then, the three minute music video has been viewed nearly 2.4 million times on YouTube.

The opening scenes show a man manufacturing a suicide belt, with the voice of a child challenging him.

"You've filled the cemeteries with our children and emptied our school desks," a young girl is heard saying.

Zain, a regional mobile operator with more than 45 million customers, did not respond to requests for comment.

But the message of the company's ad is unmistakeable. ...

The terrorist recites Islamic phrases but he is corrected by those sitting in front of him.

The ad also features survivors of previous attacks including a man from the blast at a Kuwaiti mosque in 2015 and a bride from an attack on a wedding in Amman, Jordan, in 2005.

The terrorist is chased away by the survivors while singer Al Jassmi extends a hand to him and sings "Let's bomb, let's bomb, let's bomb violence with mercy... let's bomb extremism for a better life."
Via The Deacon's Bench.

Worth a Thousand Words: Sea Monster and St. Brendan

"St Brendan's ship on the back of a whale, and his men praying, in Honorius Philoponus, 'Nova typis transacta navigatio' (Linz: s.n., 1621), p.12 (British Library, G.7237)."
I love maps. I love monsters. What's not to love in this monster that is so large one might think he is an island? So large in fact that there is room for St. Brendan and his men to set up an impromptu mass?

This and many more sea-faring monsters may be seen at BibliOdyssey's post Map Monsters.

The Marian Option by Carrie Gress

Dr. Carrie Gress provides a thoroughly researched bird’s eye view of the significant cultural and military events mediated through Mary...

Until now, books on the Virgin Mary have generally focused upon one apparition or various theological elements of this mysterious woman. But the scope of The Marian Option is far greater. Drawing from a vast array of dogmas, Vatican approved apparitions, and writings of the saints, Dr. Gress has pulled together the remarkable story of Mary’s overwhelming influence and intercession.

Using history, sound theology, and a detective’s eye, Gress brings to light the fascinating details of Mary’s role in major geopolitical shifts.
Rod Dreher's book The Benedict Option certainly touched a nerve. Christians started talking volubly about how to stem societal chaos. A number of new books came out in response, many with critiques and their own solutions.

The Marian Option is also a response to Dreher's book, but not a refutation. It is is part history lesson, part explanation of Mary's role in Catholicism and the world, and part suggestion for how to live the "Marian option." Carrie Gress suggests that turning to Mary simultaneously with any other "option" you may care to practice is a way to affect radical personal and societal transformation. Tracing Mary's intercession throughout history, Gress argues that venerating Mary makes cultures flourish.

I enjoyed the book and found a couple of concepts that were eye opening. First of all, I was  fascinated by Maximilian Kolbe's insights into Mary as the Immaculate Conception and what that meant about her relationship with the Holy Spirit. It's been a long time since I've come across a concept that I pondered the way I did this.

Secondly, Gress's proposition that we are living in "anti-Mary" times was revelatory. I knew all the pieces she discussed but hadn't seen them through that particular focus.

The Marian Option is well written and interesting. Although Gress is making a case for Marian devotion, you could certainly read it simply for the history and theological insights. Though you may, as I have, find yourself dusting off your rosary and leaning on Mary for her motherly intercession.

Lagniappe: Vampires and the Roman Catholic Church

When it comes to fighting vampires and performing exorcisms, the Roman Catholic Church has the heavy artillery. Your other religions are good for everyday theological tasks, like steering their members into heaven, but when the undead lunge up out of their graves, you want a priest on the case. As a product of Catholic schools, I take a certain pride in this pre-eminence.
Roger Ebert, review of John Carpenter's Vampires

Wonder Woman: "a character built on idealism, unironically celebrating super-heroism as principled self-sacrifice"

I wasn't that interested in seeing Wonder Woman until reading Scott Renshaw's review. Here's a bit:
More significantly, Wonder Woman actually seems interested in applying a corny throwback sensibility to its storytelling. Diana's character is defined first and foremost through her sense of purpose, an unwavering commitment to the idea that humanity needs to be saved from the warlike impulses fomented by Ares. This isn't a character built on angst, but on idealism, unironically celebrating super-heroism as principled self-sacrifice. This is the sensibility that the DC TV universe has curried so effectively, offering something that feels precious and rare in a cynical era. Gadot may not be an actor with tremendous range—the jury is still out—but she sells Diana's morally-pure determination with energy and charisma. Also, considering the overall dourness of many of the DC comics-based movies to date, it's no small thing that this idea is delivered with a generous dose of humor.
Now that's a super hero movie I would like to see.