Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Well Said: Even ordinary books are dangerous

Elsewhere, someone might have said, "It's just books! Books aren't dangerous! But even ordinary books are dangerous, and not only the ones like Make Gelignite the Professional Way. A man sits in some museum somewhere and writes a harmless books about political economy and suddenly thousands of people who haven't even read it are dying because the ones who did haven't got the joke. Knowledge is dangerous, which is why governments often clamp down on people who can think thoughts above a certain caliber.
Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent

Worth a Thousand Words: Garden at Vaucresson

Garden at Vaucresson, 1923, Édouard Vuillard

Genesis Notes: Jacob's Resume

What this overview allows us to see is how clearly Jacob's life changed every time he encountered God. Just like Jacob, our lives too change every time we encounter God. And just like Jacob, perhaps, it is hard for us to see it until we're looking back over our lives.

Jacob and the Angel, Gustave Moreau
Jacob's life had four stages, each marked by a personal encounter with God. In the first stage, Jacob lived up to his name, which means "he grasps the heel" (figuratively "he deceives")... In the second stage, Jacob experienced life from the other side, being manipulated and deceived by Laban. But there is a curious change: the Jacob of stage one would simply have left Laban, whereas the Jacob of stage two, after deciding to leave, waited six years for God's permission. In the third stage, Jacob was in a new role as grabber. This time, by the Jordan River, he grabbed on to God and wouldn't let go... Jacob's last stage of life was to be grabbed -- God achieved a firm hold on him. In responding to Joseph's invitation to come to Egypt, Jacob was clearly unwilling to make a move without God's approval.

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • Father of the twelve tribes of Israel
  • Third in the Abrahamic line of God's plan
  • Determined, willing to work long and hard for what he wanted
  • Good businessman
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • When faced with conflict, relied on his own resources rather than going to God for help
  • Tended to accumulate wealth for its own sake
Lessons from his life:
  • Security does not lie in the accumulation of goods
  • All human intentions and actions -- for good or evil -- are woven by God into his ongoing plan
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Canaan
  • Occupation: Shepherd, livestock owner
  • Relatives: Parents - Isaac and Rebekah. Brother - Esau. Father-in-law - Laban. Wives: Rachel and Leah. Twelve sons and one daughter are mentioned in the Bible.
Key verse:
"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:15).

Jacob's story is told in Genesis 25-50. He also is mentioned in Hosea 12:2-5; Matthew 1:2; 22:32; Acts 3:13; 7:46; Romans 9:11-13; 11:26; Hebrews 11:9, 20, 21.
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.

Blogging Around: Right Wing Asshole, the Miracle and the Jihadist, and Charlottesville

Ask Andrew W.K.: My Dad Is a Right-Wing Asshole
You’ve reduced your father — the person who created you — to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to you. ...

The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist — the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen.
Ask Andrew W.K., The Village Voice
Truer words were never spoken. Go read the letter and Andrew W.K.'s whole response. Via Tony Rossi.

The Miracle That Saved a Priest From a Jihadist’s Knife
I don’t know what I prayed at that moment. I was very afraid, and I told Marie Alphonsine, “It can’t be by chance that I’m carrying you with me. If it is necessary that the Lord take me while I’m young, I’m ready, but if not, I ask you that no one else die.”
And what happened next was a miracle. Get the whole story at Aletia.

Charlottesville — Two Articles, One Answer

Former neo-Nazi Joseph Pearce (yes, that Joseph Pearce, now a well known Catholic author) examines Charlottesville Through the Eyes of an Ex-White Supremacist
I recall three separate occasions when I confronted an enemy with hatred and enmity and received in return love and friendship. In each case, the receiving of love when I was expecting hatred sowed seeds of healing in my hate-battered heart. ...

This is the challenge we face in the wake of the horrors of Charlottesville. It is to love our enemies. We should not demonize the white supremacist or the abortionist, but should love them into submission. We should not prey on them but should pray for them, hoping that, in the future, by the grace of God, we can pray with them.
Matthew Archbold looks at a moment of grace in The Suprising Thing That Happened in Charlottesville. Mark Heyer, father of the young woman who was killed, shows Christ-like love.
He spoke of forgiveness. “I include myself in that in forgiving the guy who did this,” he said. “I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’ … I hope that her life and what has transpired changes people’s hearts.”

Words like that are the only things that can.

Mark Heyer called the young man who killed his daughter “stupid.” And that's the thing. Hate is stupid. It makes you that way. There's a reason they call it “blind hatred.”

"Everyone wants the key to finding God, but there is no lock"

If you’re looking for a retreat that will bring you closer to Jesus, Julie Davis will be happy to be your retreat guide. You won’t even have to leave your house – and neither will she. She conducts this retreat of sorts in her book “Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life.”
Tony Rossi sums up the two-part Christopher Closeup radio interview we had in a really nice written interview at Aletia. Read the interview here and find links to the podcasts of the interview at the bottom of the piece.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What I've Been Reading: Adventure, Noir, and Investigative Reporting

TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson
After outsmarting a band of buccaneers, young Jim Hawkins crosses the Atlantic in search of buried treasure. Jim and the ship’s crew must brave the elements and outwit the ruthless pirate Long John Silver.

I listened to Alfred Molina's superb narration of this classic adventure story. I remembered only the beginning and that only sketchily. As the story progressed I was caught up in it and couldn't wait to get back to listening. It is truly the ultimate adventure story, expertly told.

Right up to the end I was continually being surprised by plot twists. No wonder this story is still beloved by so many.

THE TRUTH by Terry Pratchett
William de Worde is quite surprised when his printed page full of "things written down" is suddenly incredibly popular. As he publishes Ankh Morpork's first newspaper, learning as he goes, William becomes involved in solving a murder. And, thus, he also becomes Discworld's first investigative reporter.

As I continue working  my way through the Discworld novels in order I wasn't thrilled when I got to this one because it's a stand alone novel. I am much more attached to the books which are part of the several series within the Discworld books.

However, Pratchett was clearly on a roll and this book does have enough of the Watch and other regulars from Ankh Morpork that it was both enjoyable and good. Watching everyone adjust to the idea of having the media report on their actions was worth the price of admission, especially since a lot of that adjustment came from the person who inadvertently invented the newspaper in this book. Fun and worth reading.

It was a simple enough case, but don't they always start out that way? When a pair of His and Hers private detectives get involved, the sparks start to fly and the blood begins to spill in earnest. With every shot that's fired, the hole digs a little deeper, and the list of people our sparring shamuses can trust gets shorter and shorter.

Fans of Decoder Ring Theatre's long-running full-cast audio series Black Jack Justice will delight in the very first meeting between Jack Justice and Trixie Dixon, girl detective. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this hard boiled detective story when it came out in print. As a longtime fan of Decoder Ring Theater's Black Jack Justice series, I could hear the voices of the main actors as I read. It was lively, humorous, and had all the banter one expects from a Chandler-esque novel.

Now they've done it one better and brought the book out in audio format. So you can actually hear the voices of the actors as they read the book. Perfect!

IVANHOE by Sir Walter Scott
Set in the familiar time of Robin Hood, evil Prince John, and good King Richard, this adventure tale has it all. It is not precisely about those three characters but they are major players. I read this for my book club (the adult equivalent of a high school reading assignment when it is for a book you've managed to avoid for years).

Consequently I listened to B.J. Harrison's excellent narration to help me get into the book. And it worked. I initially enjoyed it it on the level of adventure novel, a la Treasure Island.

I was surprised at the inventive plot twists, the laugh-out-loud humor, and most of all at Rebecca. Here is someone who is female, from a despised group, and who is only valued by most for her beauty. Yet, she is articulate, quick witted, and will not allow herself to be used as a pawn or allow others to get away with facile explanations for their own evil actions. What a role model!

Overall, Ivanhoe was a reminder not to avoid a classic just because the first chapter seems a little difficult or because one thinks the plot is hackneyed. Highly recommended.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Valkyrie

The Valkyrie via Brandywine Books

Well Said: Using Time

Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.
Jean de la Bruyere

Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary (with some modern science commentary)

Adam and Eve with the Virgin Mary (detail), Correggio, Assumption of the Virgin
via Khan Academy
On November 1, 1950, Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption. Thus he solemnly proclaimed that the belief whereby the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the close of her earthly life, was taken up, body and soul, into the glory of heaven, definitively forms part of the deposit of faith, received from the Apostles. To avoid all that is uncertain the Pope did not state either the manner or the circumstances of time and place in which the Assumption took place — only the fact of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into the glory of heaven, is the matter of the definition.
Catholic Culture, where there is a lot more info
Each year on the Assumption of Mary I like to revisit this from The Anchoress. Because it blows my mind. And the Assumption is a good time for mind-blowing. This was originally posted this at Patheos where the original post link no longer works, sez:
When studying Anatomy and Physiology in college, the lesson that briefly discussed fetomaternal microchimerism, became instructive to me on a different level. Learning that every child leaves within his mother a microscopic bit of himself — and that it remains within her forever — the dogma of the Immaculate Conception instantly became both crystal clear and brilliant to me.

Mary, then, was indeed a tabernacle within which the Divinity did reside — not for a limited time, but for all of her life. Understanding this (and considering how the churches seemed to get it ‘way before microscopes told us anything) the Immaculate Conception made and makes perfect sense: God, who is All-Good is also completely Pure; the vessel in which He resides, then, must be pure, too, or it would not be able to sustain all of that “light in which we see light itself.”

Microchimerism also relates to the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, as well. In the psalms we read “you will not suffer your beloved to undergo corruption.” Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption. It follows that his mother’s body, which contained a cellular component of the Divinity — and a particle of God is God, entire — would not be allowed to become corrupt, either.
I believed it anyway, but that made sense on several levels. Incredible.

Assumption of the Virgin, Correggio
where the above detail is included
Click through to the link to look at it enlarged.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: The Hammock

The Hammock, Joseph Rodefer DeCamp, 1895

Well Said: Not knowing how the world works.

Barry would have been all right if he hadn't become a physicist. But all that nonsense about mass and energy got him believing he really knew how the world worked. And he didn't. He never did. And that's what got him killed.
Jack McDevitt, The Devil's Eye

Memorial of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, priest and martyr

I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me - a stranger. Is this some dream?

I was put back into my place without having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. And I owe to him the fact that I could tell you all this. The news quickly spread all round the camp. It was the first and the last time that such an incident happened in the whole history of Auschwitz.

For a long time I felt remorse when I thought of Maximilian. By allowing myself to be saved, I had signed his death warrant. But now, on reflection, I understood that a man like him could not have done otherwise. Perhaps he thought that as a priest his place was beside the condemned men to help them keep hope. In fact he was with them to the last.
Testimony of Franciszek Gajowniczek,
for whom Maximilian Kolbe offered himself at Auschwitz
I have long admired Maximilian Kolbe for a lot of reasons. The most famous story about him is that of his martyrdom, when he stepped forward to offer himself in place of a married man with children.

Before World War II, Kolbe traveled to Asia and throughout Europe teaching and preaching the Gospel. He used the latest technology with the most modern printing and radio techniques. He planned to begin a motion picture studio. And then he was imprisoned in 1941 by the Nazis. He was known for walking among the bunks at night, quietly saying, "I am a Catholic priest. Can I do anything for you?"

When a prisoner escaped, Franciszek Gajowniczek was one of the ten men chosen for death in retaliation. He sobbed, "My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?

Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward before the commandant and said, "I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children."

It took the prisoners over two weeks to die, imprisoned with no food or water, but the sounds of hymns and prayers came from the room until only Father Kolbe was left. The room was needed for more prisoners so he was killed by injection and his body was burned in the crematorium. I often think of what a blessing his presence was and what a difference he made in helping those men in their ordeal.

Maximilian Kolbe was canonized in 1982 by Pope John Paul II and declared a martyr of charity. He is the patron against drug addiction and for drug addicts, families, prisoners, journalists, and the pro-life movement. He was declared "The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century" by Saint Pope John Paul II.

I think of the problems we face in our culture, the technology we have available to use in spreading the good news, the choices we sometimes are faced with ... and Maximilian Kolbe is modern enough to be a shining example of how to show God's love and truth.

Truly Saint Maximilian Kolbe is a saint for our time.

More indepth reading:

The Maltese Falcon and the God Shaped Hole - on SFFaudio

Jesse, Paul, Maissa, and I go to surprising places in our conversation about the classic hard boiled detective story, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Catch it at SFFaudio!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Well Said: Getting Older

You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”
George Burns
This makes me think of Raymond and Thelma, my grandparents. No matter how much older they got, they were never old. They are my role models in many ways and this is one of them.

Worth a Thousand Words: Evening at the Coast

Evening at the Coast, taken by Remo Savisaar
This makes me long to be in Galveston.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Mufti Reading in his Prayer Stool

Jean-Léon GERÔME, Mufti Reading in his Prayer Stool
via French Painters

Well Said: Conversion and the Looking Glass

Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.
Evelyn Waugh
I really can't add anything to the perfection of that observation. It does explain the depths I suddenly began seeing in the everyday world.

Glen Campbell, rest in peace

It's funny. My mom loved Glen Campbell so, as a kid, I thought of him as pop music. (Also based on the radio stations he was often played on. I'd never heard of "crossover" music.) And my family was very snobby about country music so I never associated him with that.

Then I married a country music lover (to be honest, he loves practically every sort of music) and just listening to that wild variety began a broader education. Imagine my surprise when he highly praised Glen Campbell and talked about what he did for country music. I had to listen with new ears ... and heard a master.

Recognizing a lot of the famous faces around him in that clip made me realize that I knew a lot more about country music of that time period than I realized. Seeing their admiration warmed my heart.

Glen Campbell was brought vividly to mind when one of my favorite BBC radio shows, Soul Music, did an episode on one of Campbell's iconic songs, Wichita Lineman. You can listen here.

Many thanks to Marc whose email brought all this to mind and inspired this post.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Gorgeous Stained Glass

Domestic window by Dirck Crabeth for the house of Adriaen Dircxz. van Crimpen, of Leiden. (1543)
via Wikipedia
Van Crimpen was a member of the government. The scenes show seven scenes from the First Book of Samuel in the Old Testament and five scenes from the Acts of the Apostles. Though the house is still standing, the stained glass is now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Well Said: A longing for romance and wonder

What did I want?

I wanted a Roc's egg. I wanted a harem loaded with lovely odalisques less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels, the rust that never stained my sword. I wanted raw red gold in nuggets the size of your fist and feed that lousy claim jumper to the huskies! I wanted to get up feeling brisk and go out and break some lances, Then pick a likely wench for my droit du seigneur—I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench! I wanted to hear the purple water chuckling against the skin of the Nancy Lee in the cool of the morning watch and not another sound, nor any movement save the slow tilling of the wings of the albatross that had been pacing us the last thousand miles.

I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, "The game's afoot!" I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and the Lost Dauphin.

I wanted Prester John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they had promised me it was going to be—instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.
Robert Heinlein, Glory Road
What he wanted was the Catholic Church, as G.K. Chesterton could've told him. It's got all the romance and sense of wonder (and mystery) you could want.

Genesis Notes: God's Covenant Confirmed

GENESIS 35 & 36
God tells Jacob to move to Bethel, which if we look back at Chapter 34, is where he was supposed to go in the first place! So although it didn't seem like a big deal at the time, if Jacob had just gone to Bethel from the beginning his whole family would have been saved a world of pain. Good reminders for me to go the distance even when it doesn't make sense. I like the way this sums up Jacob's mistake and then shows what he did to get right with God.

I don't know why I'm continually surprised that these Old Testament stories have such good lessons for me right here and right now. You'd think I'd be used to that by now!

Sebastien Bourdon, Jacob Burying Laban's Images
Some of us, given the chance to intervene at this point, might choose to punish Simeon and Levi. Justice must be served, after all. But God's ways are not our ways. They will be punished in good time, but Simeon and Levi are not the root of the trouble. To punish them would be a stopgap measure at best. In the same way, destroying sinful man with the flood was not the final solution to the Fall. God planned not to destroy but to save mankind by grace, however undeserved. Wiping out "the bad guys" would leave sin in control of men's hearts, and it was sin itself that had to be dealt with. In this case, God first zeroed in on Jacob's heart, and called him to get right with Himself.

God told Jacob to return to Bethel, to settle there, and to build an altar to the God who has been so faithful to him. Doing that would do more than remove the family from the scene of the crime, where they could expect further trouble. It would put them where they should have been to begin with, and focus them back on God and on His plan
for them.

It might seem a small thing that Jacob built his altar and settled at Shechem instead of at Bethel. After all, Abraham received the promise of the land at Shechem (Gen. 12:6-7). Jacob did all the right things, just not at the right place. He followed the spirit of the law, we might say in his defense. But God has His reasons for asking particular things, and He requires obedience. Jacob did what God asked but he did it on his own terms. Not going as far as Bethel may be a small thing in and of itself, but it indicates a huge problem inside him: His way, not God's way, took first priority. By returning to Bethel, Jacob will not just obey the letter of God's law, he will humble himself to do things God's way. By settling there he will separate his family from Canaanite influence. And by building an altar and worshiping God he will have the chance to repent, to be purified, and to start again.

In Jacob's response we see that in spite of his mistakes, his heart desire is for God. He acted immediately to move his family to Bethel. In the process he did four important things:
  1. He had everyone get rid of their foreign gods. Before anything else, they had to get rid of anything that kept them from giving themselves totally to God. Jacob's family divided their allegiance between God and the household gods that were part of the culture they came from and settled in. The other gods had to go.
  2. Next Jacob had them purify themselves, and change their clothes. That external act was a sign of what they needed on the inside before they could be reconciled to God.
  3. Now they were ready to go to Bethel, the "house of God." This meant not just doing what had been left undone, it meant putting themselves physically in God's presence in a conscious way. Jacob took them to the place where God appeared to him and gave him the promises, and sought His face there.
  4. Finally, Jacob worshiped God at Bethel. When you worship, you acknowledge who God is and His greatness and your dependence on him. You accept His will. You throw yourself before Him. You pray when you worship, and as the Catechism says, "Prayer restores man to God's likeness (CCC #2572)." In prayer and in worship, Jacob got back on the road to following God and to becoming more like Him.
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.

Not your mother's fairytale: Cinder Allia by Karen Ullo

Cinder Allia has spent eight years living under her stepmother’s brutal thumb, wrongly punished for having caused her mother’s death. She lives for the day when the prince will grant her justice; but her fairy godmother shatters her hope with the news that the prince has died in battle. Allia escapes in search of her own happy ending, but her journey draws her into the turbulent waters of war and politics in a kingdom where the prince’s death has left chaos and division. Cinder Allia turns a traditional fairy tale upside down and weaves it into an epic filled with espionage, treason, magic, and romance.
I really enjoyed Karen Ullo's first novel, Jennifer the Damned, which was a fascinating, unexpected vampire story. So I was interested to see what she'd do putting an "untraditional" spin on a familiar fairy tale (is that a genre yet?).

She begins in full blown "this isn't your mother's fairytale" style with Cinder Allia (Cinderella) learning from her fairy godmother than the prince has just been killed in battle. Because the fairy godmother messed up. Ouch.

Where do you go from there? We do have a wicked stepmother, a ball for all the maidens in the land, a lost slipper, cinders, and many of the traditional props, but they all turn up in unexpected ways. I thoroughly enjoyed it when they would appear, woven into a richer, fuller story that included a really interesting political situation with a neighboring country.

The story is told from multiple points of view, including the royals scrambling to recover from the prince's death. Several themes come to the fore. All the characters are driven by some sort of loss or failure while struggling with how to balance truth, justice, and mercy. And, of course, love.

There is also some background about how Allia's mother died and why her father allows her to be treated so badly (he's still alive in this version). I didn't enjoy this part as much because there were a couple of points that rang false to me, emotionally.

My quibbles are not enough to keep the story from being entertaining and definitely worth reading. Cinder Allia is a richly woven tale that stands on its own merits.

(Full disclosure: I received a review copy of the book. But my opinion is fully my own.)