Monday, January 31, 2011

Curses! And I Just Recycled An Altoids Tin Yesterday!

Why do I care? Or curse?

Here are 22 Manly Ways to Reuse an Altoids Tin from, of course, The Art of Manliness.

That games kit is going to haunt me. I'd best go pick up some Altoids so I can work on that ...

Why I'm Catholic: Catholic Conversion Stories

Why I'm Catholic is a website developed to bring Catholic conversion stories to the web 2.0. Check back often for new conversion testimonies from all different faith backgrounds. We hope you will join us in spreading these testaments to the Catholic faith and God's existence...
This is a great looking site that is releasing a lot of different conversion stories from people in all sorts of backgrounds and all walks of life.

It's an interesting place to look around and I can't wait until a Hindu or Buddhist steps up and contributes their story. There are some fascinating stories there, like that of revert John Pridmore who was a London East End Gangster and convert Allen Hunt who was a Methodist mega-church pastor.

Heck, they even included one from an agnostic convert of your acquaintance ... me.

They have just gotten started but I think this has the potential to really communicate to people in a personal way. If you have a conversion story to tell, consider contacting them with it.

Regardless, I think you'll be inspired by the stories so be sure to check out Why I'm Catholic.

2010 Discoveries: Movies & TV

Yes, I'm still looking back at the best of what I discovered in 2010. Here is the last list, movies! 

I couldn't really do these justice and still ever get the post done so I realize the comments below may a bit short or incomplete. I'm planning on picking up the Movies You Might Have Missed series and some of these will be discussed a bit more in that venue.
  • District 9: A huge alien ship suddenly shows up over Johannesburg, South Africa but nothing happens. When the people finally muster the nerve to investigate they find that the aliens aboard are sick and dying because they are simply workers who have been left to die when their leaders ran away. The aliens, called "prawn" are housed in a government camp (District Nine) which soon deteriorates to a ghetto. Shot to look like a documentary, the movie takes place many years later, following a middle manager who has been promoted to lead the effort to move the aliens to a new camp, District Ten, further away from the city. Everyone being interviewed keeps mentioning "before the event" and "before things went wrong" so we are prepared for things to go downhill in some way for the poor fellow. However, I never would have predicted how this manager is caught up in the storyline and the discoveries of the movie.

  • Moon: No aliens, big special effects or spaceships are featured in this movie about a lone worker at a moon station that monitors solar energy collection. Sam Bell is at the end of his three-year contract, the solitude is driving him crazy (almost), and then he has a serious accident when driving a lunar vehicle. Mysteriously he winds up back at the space station, healed, and without any idea how he got there. The mystery is one that he can't let go and that leads to the complications that drive the movie. It is essentially a one person play, if you don't count GERTY 3000, the robot voiced by Kevin Spacey. Yet, there is something about it that grabbed me. Sam Rockwell (who plays Sam Bell) is brilliant in this. I have long admired him and this is a showcase of his talent.

  • Inception: Something is locked away in an impregnable fortress, something the owner knows by heart. Can this band of thieves replace it with something so similar that he'll never notice the difference? See my review here.

  • Zombieland: A true delight AND a movie that celebrates family (still chock-full of flesh-eating zombies). Four people seem to be all that are left normal after the zombie apocalypse. Their goal: to go to an amusement park in California that they have heard has no zombies. The part that Woody Harrelson was born to play ... it's in this movie. (Rule #4: watch this movie.)

  • Once Upon a Time in the West: a 3-hour epic Western about of a mysterious, harmonica-playing stranger who is on the track of a ruthless assassin. This winds up with Harmonica occasionally working with a wanted outlaw to help a beautiful widow save her land. Classic, right? Classic Sergio Leone, that is, right down to the Ennio Morricone soundtrack and the classic cast including Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, and Jason Robards. It is quite a long film and has many lingering shots of stares (hence the illustrative photo above), which Tom thought could have been cut back on. It was long but I actually enjoyed the entire thing.

  • Let the Right One In: Oskar is a lonely and bullied 12-year-old. Eli is the 12-year-old girl who moves into the apartment next door. They form a friendship over puzzles and Morse code. Except that, as Eli tells Oskar, she is not a girl. He must discover for himself that those puzzling words mean she is a vampire. Naturally, one cannot have a vampire in the neighborhood without missing people and murders, which leads to an interesting and telling sideplot about someone who is attacked but lives through it. A study in evil. Read my review here.

  • Mary and Max: an animated movie about an eight year old Australian girl and a 40 year old New Yorker who strike up a pen pal friendship that carries them over 20 years. See my review here.

  • Sita Sings the Blues: This is a creative delight. The Indian story of The Ramayana is told three ways, all from Rama's wife's point of view ... the titular Sita.  An illustrated conversation between Indian shadow puppets is interspersed with musical interludes voiced with tracks by 1920's jazz singer Annette Hanshaw and scenes from creator Nina Paley's life. You can stream this movie free as the creator, unusually, makes it available under a Creative Commons License.

  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Scott Pilgrim hasn't gotten over his bad breakup with a previous girlfriend, dates a high school aged girl, and the falls for the exotic looking and exotically named Ramona Flowers who he sees walking by. Yes, he's a mess and as an insecure young man trying to find his place in the world it was probably inevitable that he is played by Michael Cera. However, this part offers Cera one of the only parts I've seen where he actually gets to occasionally be assertive. Scott Pilgrim begins dating Ramona only to find that he must defeat her seven deadly exes before they can be free to pursue the relationship properly. The movie winds up playing out like a video game (every time Scott battles a deadly ex) interspersed with a tale of young love.  I'm a fan of Edgar Wright, the director, so was among his prime audience but was still surprised to find myself smiling at bits of this movie days after seeing it.

  • The Guild: this is a web-based sitcom centered around the lives of an online role-playing-game guild, The Knights of Good, who play countless hours to the point where it takes over their lives. The main character is Codex, the guild's Priestess, who begins attempting to live a more normal life after one of her guild-mates, Warlock Zaboo shows up on her doorstep wanting to date her. Because it is based around webisodes, each season is about an hour long and I have found it most enjoyable when viewed on dvd where you can "Play all". It is very funny, especially to anyone who has ever lost hours of their life playing an RPG game (not that Baldur's Gate ever stole hours of MY life or had the girls and me trying to work out puzzle solutions ... no, indeedy!)

  • Flight of the Conchords: This cable series revolves around a couple of New Zealand musicians who have come to New York City to try to develop an American fan base for their band, Flight of the Conchords. They are sweet but clueless which, naturally leads to many amusing situations. What puts this over the top is that each episode has at least one song whose performance is woven into the story line. The songs are take-offs of other musical styles or artists (a favorite of mine is the one based on David Bowie's music).

  • Better Off Ted: canceled after two seasons, this ABC sitcom revolved around Ted Crisp who headed up a research and development department for a faceless giant corporation, Veridian Dynamics. His supervisor (Portia de Rossi) embodies the goals of the conglomerate whose soullessness Ted must try to moderate while dealing with the erratic scientists under his management. A gentle comedy that grows on you after watching a few episodes ... and then turns into a necessity.

In which Abram goes on the warpath, meets a mysterious priest, and has an out-of-body experience.

Yep, more of Genesis (translation/commentary by Robert Alter) is up over at Forgotten Classics as well as the scoop about a podcast about the history of philosophy. Go get it!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Weekend Joke

Q: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A. Nobody changes lightbulbs since they signed with that major label.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In the sea, once upon a time, O my Best Beloved, there was a Whale, and he ate fishes. ...

Yes, indeed, dearly beloved, we have How The Whale Got His Throat featured on Forgotten Classics, read "Just So" by Will Duquette from The View From the Foothills.

You'll laugh, you'll cry ... wait ... no, you'll just laugh.

Get it while its hot.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Satan the Tapeworm, Christian Movies, and The Rite - Updated Twice

The Rite is coming, that movie starring Anthony Hopkins about priests in Italy and exorcism. John Zmirak talks about being invited to "Christian" movie previews and having been disappointed in the past.
... it bothers me that so many of the movies promoted this way are not really "spiritual," much less Christian; they're simply bland and inoffensive.

The Catholic faith is neither. In fact, like really authentic Mexican food (think habeneros and fried crickets), it is at once both pungent and offensive. It offends me all the time, with the outrageous demands it makes of my fallen nature and the sheer weirdness of its claims. It asserts that, behind the veil of day-to-day schlepping, of work and laundry and television and microwaved burritos, we live on the front lines of a savage spiritual war waged by invisible entities (deathless malevolent demons and benevolent dead saints) whose winners will enjoy eternal happiness with a resurrected rabbi, and whose losers will writhe forever in unquenchable fire. Sometimes I step back and find myself saying in Jerry Seinfeld's voice: What's with all the craziness? Why can't I just enjoy my soup?
His piece is a tour de force and you need to go read it.

What he says about movie preview presenters rings all the truer to me, having gone to the rough cut screening of There Be Dragons last week (about Josemaria Escriva's early years). That movie actually came out somewhere in between the Bosch-esqueness which Zmirak points out and the sweet unworldliness he rightly deplores that are all too often the result of "Christian" movies.

"Dragons" looks as if it will actually be a fairly good 'un though it is impossible to tell without all the scenes in it, but it was the post-movie presentation that was a turn off. I later found out it was called a "Leadership" screening, meaning that ministry leaders would be there. The presentation was aimed at them and it was all that Zmirak describes.

Actually I've begun to have faint hopes that The Rite movie might be all right (ha!) after reading this interview with Father Gary Thomas, who was the subject of The Rite book. I been interested in what Hollywood would do in the movie portrayal, since I loved the book so much (my review for Patheos is here).
One discrepancy Fr. Thomas pointed out was that he went to Rome as a 50-year-old seasoned priest with a desire to learn more about the rite of exorcism  – hardly a cynical seminarian in the midst of a faith crisis.

Despite the differences, however, he called the film “very good.”

“The human side of the priesthood is very well developed,” he said, adding that the portrayal of “the institutional Church comes out very positively.”
This doesn't tell us, of course, as to whether the movie is a good movie, a watchable movie, a movie that we want to see, but I do have my fingers crossed.

Incidentally, what Zmirak says about inoffensive, bland movies?  As my friend Scott Nehring continually reminds us, the answer to that is that we don't need is people making "Christian" movies. What we need are great movies made by artists who are "Christian."

UPDATE
Steven D. Greydanus, Catholic movie reviewer par excellence, gives context for Hollywood's depiction of exorcists in an article at Christianity Today.

The Anchoress has a comprehensive looking round up of The Rite links.

2nd UPDATE
Fried crickets? Really?

I don't know what Mexican food Mr. Zmirak eats but he needs to find new restaurants or recipes. Maybe Aztecs enjoyed fried crickets but they also had their chocolate "sin azúcar" (that's without sugar to you and me ... which is, actually, I think ... offensive because it is a sin so we don't really want to go there).

Next time you're in Dallas, Mr. Zmirak, please do say howdy and we'll grab some brisket tacos. Which are Tex Mex, but have fully enough flavor and zest to make your point. We'll even get some habaneros on the side for you.

(And yes, before foodies ask, yes, I know about the cricket-ish delights of Oaxaca. I get the point. But there's no fun in that ...)

Most Popular Catholic Blogs

Eric Sammons, whose book Who Is Jesus Christ I highly recommend, has updated his popular listing of the most popular Catholic blogs.

It is based on how many Google reader subscriptions there are for each blog and, as such, is just one way to measure popularity. Still, it is as valid a way as any others that occur to me ... and the list is interesting and seems more accurate (for one thing The Curt Jester is now included).

You can see the top 25 blogs here and there's a link at the bottom that has the top 200. It is fair to say that you'll find some good and diverse reading among the blogs in the lists.

(I was interested and actually fairly surprised to see that Happy Catholic managed to scrape into the top 25 ... which tells you the wide range of subscription numbers which goes from almost 7,000 down to 750. It doesn't really mean anything in particular but is just interesting to see the breaks in numbers.)

Brisket Tacos - You Know You Want Them

I didn't realize, though, that you may not even know you want them unless you live in Dallas.

Evidently they're a local specialty. I didn't know you even had local specialties pop up these days. Read more at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen (and, yes, you can get the recipe).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Few Thoughts After the March for Life

Things I meant to write after marching on Saturday, but didn't get a chance to ... and now I see that others have done the work for me. (These are just bits ... click through to read it all.)
If this is how we lose, imagine how we'll win! The march is - for all practical purposes - a remembrance of a defeat. We lost Roe v. Wade, and yet we come with laughter, with smiles, with fun, and with hope. Such hope! Hope in our own humanity, our own dignity, hope in our country, hope in our world. A hope that will smash down walls surrounding human hearts, and release a torrent of compassion and love on the world. Hope that will wake and shake the oldest of human desires; to live and protect life. Hope that will conquer evil in it's very dwelling place. Gosh, this all sounds like something. Never has anyone been so victorious in defeat. And here's the beautiful thing; only when you can maintain joy in defeat can you ever be worthy of winning. The abortionists won, but there is nothing but decrepit, boring hatred in their victory.

=============
It seems like a pretty good follow-up to the March for Life, doesn’t it?  You know, that day when hundreds of thousands of ninjas march to show their support of women and babies.  I say “ninjas” because they somehow slip by the attention of the media — amazing!  It’s like they were never there.  And yet they get the job done.

Simply the best book on the spiritual life that uses the urinal for parallelism.

So says The Curt Jester about Choosing the Right Urinal. Possibly because I didn't find any interest in reading a book featuring urinals, however spiritual, I passed on a review copy. However, I'm glad to see it has good value. Here's what Jeff (a.k.a. The Curt Jester) sez:
Kyle Heimann who is half of the music group Popple has released a new micro book called Choosing the Right Urinal – A Man’s guide to life.

This is simply the best best book on the spiritual life that uses the urinal for parallelism. Okay, maybe the only book that compares the urinal and aspects related to urinal to make points on the spiritual life. Actually, it is a enjoyable and worthwhile read that is very funny while making some serious points.

Kyle has it available for free on his site in PDF format along with a study guide for a group. You can also order copies of this book.
Jeff also talks a little about what Popple is like and has a music video you can watch, so go check it out.

For a more thorough book review from The Curt Jester, check out this one on The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin. (Which I am pretty sure I was never offered to review ... ahem ... but we will not get into that now ... )

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Walter Murch and Why 3D Doesn't Work in Movies

Roger Ebert has Walter Murch's letter about why 3D gives people headaches ... and more importantly, why we don't need it.
And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain "perspective" relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are "in" the picture in a kind of dreamlike "spaceless" space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with.
Who's Walter Murch, you may well ask. Roger Ebert says he's, "the
most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema" and then goes on to quote credentials.

Murch is also very good at explanations. It is simply put, well illustrated, and fairly short. I didn't need the letter to not care much about 3D, but for those who want proof, the evidence is ample. Go read it all.

Rep. James Lankford: "The Right to Life is Self-Evident"


I found this moving and true. May we hear many more who will speak as clearly and honestly about what they really believe. It is only when we are really honest with each other in debate that we will get anywhere in changing hearts and lives ... and that is what, in the end, changes laws. When we believe in and act for life, the law will not matter any more because there will be no one who will want to use it.

(Thanks to JP for bringing it to my attention.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fifteen Vocalists in Fifteen Minutes

From a Facebook thing I got tagged with, but I'm sharing it here also. I found it interesting to see what vocalists swam to the surface of my mind when I was just staring at the sky and thinking about music.

The rules:  Don't take too long to think about it.  Fifteen vocalists that will always stick with you.  List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.  And in no particular order.  Tag fifteen friends.
  1. Ella Fitzgerald
  2. Annette Hanshaw
  3. Billie Holliday
  4. Louis Armstrong
  5. Paul McCartney
  6. John Lennon
  7. Dean Martin
  8. Frank Sinatra
  9. Bob Dylan (and not in a good way ...)
  10. Steve Goodman
  11. John Prine (also, not really in a good way, though I find him more tolerable than Dylan)
  12. Bonnie Raitt
  13. John Hiatt
  14. Tom Petty
  15. Mark Knopfler

If the Pope were to ask where he could get the best stack of pancakes in Dallas ...


... I would reply, "Your Holiness, have you tried the Cinn-a-Stack from IHOP?"*

Last Thursday was a sad day. Rose returned to Chicago, the skies were gray, the weather freezing. She and I had planned to have brunch in the hour before we had to hit the road for the airport. Yet, my mind went completely blank. I couldn't think of a local place that Rose and her friends hadn't already over-visited in their get togethers over the last month. (I know, I completely forgot Cindi's and am still kicking myself.)

It is an ill wind that blows no good though because we wound up at IHOP. Loving cinnamon rolls the way that I do, I couldn't resist the Cinn-a-stack. The pancakes were layered with cinnamon roll style filling and had a bit of cream cheese icing on top. To my surprise, they were not too sweet, with just the right amount of cinnamon and, of course, the buttermilk pancakes were delicious.

They were truly heavenly and worthy of the Holy Father, should he ever come to town for breakfast.

It was still a sad day when we finished. Yet, when you are full of pancakes and cinnamon, it leaves less room for the sad feelings. Perhaps that is why we wound up animatedly talking about Rose's idea for a Western movie all the way to the airport. And our sad feelings were forgotten until we got to the gate.

*With apologies to Roger Ebert, whose writing was the genesis of the phrase above. (If the Pope were to ask where he could get a good plate of spaghetti in America, I would reply, "Your Holiness, have you tried the Chili Mac or the Chili 3-Ways?")

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jabberwocky

A bit of lagniappe at Forgotten Classics featuring a new narrator. Will Duquette, who you may know from The View From the Foothills blog, shows he isn't just an interesting writer. He's a narrator with great verve and flair.

In which there is babbling and traveling

Yes, after too long a delay, Forgotten Classics is finally back with more of Genesis. As well as a couple of audio recommendations to try out. Get it while it's hot!

January 22 - National Day of Penance and Prayer for Life

Per the U.S. Bishops today is a day of penance and prayer for life
In all the dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. The Mass "For Peace and Justice" (no. 22 of the "Masses for Various Needs") should be celebrated with violet vestments as an appropriate liturgical observance for this day.
General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 373
Tom and I are marching in the Dallas March for Life today. If you happen to see this and be there ... we will be near the blue balloons (for our St. Thomas Aquinas parish). I will be wearing a purple parka. Please come and say hello and walk with us!

Weekend Joke

A pair of Irish ditch diggers were repairing some road damage directly across the street from a house of prostitution.

They witnessed a Protestant minister lurking about, then duck into the house.

"Would ye look at that, Darby!" said Pat. "What a shameful disgrace, those Protestant reverends sinning in a house the likes of that place!" They both shook their heads and continued working.

A short time later they watched as a Rabbi looked around cautiously and then darted into the house when he was satisfied no one was looking. "Did ya see that, Darby?" Pat asked in shock and disbelief, "Is nothing holy to those Jewish rabbis? I just can't understand what the world is coming to these days. A man of the cloth indulging himself in sins of the flesh. T'is a shame, I tell ya!"

Not much later a third man, a Catholic priest, was seen lurking about the house, looking around to see if anyone was watching, then quietly sneaked in. "Oh no, Darby, look!" said Pat, removing his cap and crossing himself, "One of the poor girls musta died...."

Friday, January 21, 2011

And then there's another movie coming up in May about a priest

Though it is not exactly the sort of movie that There Be Dragons is.

It was mentioned by in passing reference last night at the screening as "That's a problem we all have, right? Fighting vampires."

I didn't laugh. I was too busy perking up my ears. Priests? Fighting vampires? Now that has some potential ...

Talking to Rose about it on the phone, I said, "I just hope they don't make the priest so unpriestly that I can't watch it ... sleeping with women, etc."

Rose said, "Hey, I think that as long as it isn't Paul Bettany*, we're probably ok."

I found the trailer.

Ummm. It is Paul Bettany.

It also looks like a post-apocalyptic, futuristic vampire movie that has not only Paul Bettany (who I love) but also Karl Urban. I'm not sure which I love more in this trailer. Karl Urban. Or his hat.

As Tom pointed out, the only reason for this movie to be about priests versus vampires is so that the public has an easy way to tell who the good guys are. Though it looks as if there may be only one good guy ... and a seriously cool bad guy. With a great hat.

I'm not sure what the movie will be like. I am not left with high hopes after seeing the trailer. But I've still got some hope, however slight.

*Hey, just let me say again that I love Paul Bettany. Love. Him. I don't love his role in Da Vinci Code though. Which is what Rose was joking about.

We Saw a Rough Cut of "There Be Dragons" Last Night

It was a very rough cut with scenes missing, on video instead of the final media, that sort of thing. I can't write a review but I can tell you a few things ...

It is the story of Josemaria Escriva, told through flashbacks by a father to his journalist son who has been assigned to write a book as Escriva is about to be canonized in the movie's current-day timeline. In a sense, it is an anti-DaVinci Code because it shows the beginnings of Opus Dei as God's work intended for all people. Certainly it is an interesting look up close at the Spanish Civil War from the point of view of Escriva and his childhood friend (a fictional character whose life is intertwined with Escriva's in a way that shows us the contrast between being open to love and forgiveness and rejecting them).

Tom and I both found it absorbing.

You need have no fears about a Hollywoodization of either St. Escriva or the Church. Escriva is shown as a priest in a real, human occupation (or as they'd say in the Church, vocation). He is somewhat idealized but with faults and frailties that any human experiences in their attempts to live life the right way. I was totally impressed by how often I saw monstrances in the movie, often empty but still there as reminders of the centrality of the Eucharist. As well, the Eucharist is treated in a completely respectful way, especially if a threat comes along.

It will be in theaters on May 5 and I would plan to see it. You can read more about it here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Good Story #2: Serenity

The topic of this week's A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast, where Scott and I talk Firefly, Serenity, Joss Whedon ... and what's more to the point: belief, good marriage, humanism, confession, and love.

Something I Like: Paperback Swap

Ironically, this is something that I think I mentioned years ago but never tried out for myself. It took Scott Danielson's repeated, enthusiastic endorsement to get me to try it out, which I did just a few days ago.

Paperback Swap's concept is simple. It is a free network where you can find and exchange books across the country ... free.
What our Book Club is all about...

We help avid readers Swap, Trade & Exchange Books for Free.
  • It's easy: List books you'd like to swap with other club members.
  • Once a book is requested, mail it to the club member. 
  • In return, you may choose from 4,943,576 available books!
- Books you request are mailed to you for free.
- No late fees. No hidden charges.
The only thing you pay for is the postage when you send out the books someone has requested from you. I was impressed to see that they even have a wrapper you can print out which has a complete address label that includes a postage estimate based on the weight of the book.

At this point I have evidently listed books which people have just been waiting for. In the last two days I have sent out about 11 books.

I plan on using the credits for times when Scott and I are reading a book I can't get at the library and to pick up some books I know people would like for gifts but that aren't in print any more. This is going to make honoring my book fast more difficult, but since this is the second year, I think I can handle it. We shall see!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2010 Discoveries: Audiobooks

Except where I mention it specifically below, I imagine that these would be just as good for regular reading as when listening. I simply encountered them via audio first.
  • The Club of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton
    At the beginning of the 20th century, in detective fiction there was Sherlock Holmes and that was all. There were other fictional detectives, to be sure, but they were only bad imitations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous consulting detective. The sleuths offered by other writers would try to outdo Holmes in eccentricity and in solving crimes that were evermore contrived and convoluted.

    But in 1905 a book of mysteries came along that finally managed to turn the Sherlock Holmes idea on its head. The book was The Club of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton. His detective, Rupert Grant, is a Sherlock Holmes-like private eye who investigates crimes and chases crooks with great self-assuredness in his powers of deduction. But he is always wrong. The hero of these stories is not Rupert, but his older brother, Basil Grant, a retired judge. In each case, Basil proves to Rupert hat there has been no crime and no crooks. (Read the entire lecture on this book, of which the above which has been an excerpt, here.


    This book was a delight from beginning to end, and I'm not really a G.K. Chesterton fan. I listened to the Librivox recording which was wonderfully read by David Barnes. This is an old book that is probably available free on the Kindle.

  • Cleek: the Man of the 40 Faces by Thomas Hanshew
    I listened to the Librivox recording done by the marvelous Ruth Golding. Cleek is a bad man who goes right for the love of a good woman. As well he is perhaps the cleverest detective I have ever read of, putting M. Poirot's little grey cells to shame while indulging his idiosyncratic love of flowers and nature. This allows for many short, quirky mysteries with the overarching theme of how Cleek hopes to redeem himself enough to approach his true love with honor. A wonderfully entertaining story from the turn of the century of mystery, chivalry, and intrigue. Again, this is old and probably available free on the Kindle.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
    Mr. Norrell is a fusty but ambitious scholar from the Yorkshire countryside. He is also the first practical magician in hundreds of years. What better way to demonstrate his revival of British magic than to change the course of the Napoleonic wars? Jonathan Strange discovers, to his dismay, that he is a natural magician. Because he "feels" his magic rather than depending on books as Mr. Norrell does, they wind up representing two distinctly different ways of doing British magic. Clarke deliberately used a style that calls to mind Jane Austen or Charles Dickens and thus transports the reader to a time gone by when spelling varied, footnotes could be long and involved, manners were paramount, and when it is possible to believe in such a thing as British magic.

    I tried this book several times but either wasn’t in the right mood or was expecting something different. Hannah read it, loved it, shoved it on my nightstand, and nagged me about it (with that hopeful, wistful, little puppy look that a mom can’t say no to…). Once I began reading I couldn't understand why I didn’t warm to it before … the writing is charmingly understated and amusing. It is about magic, English practitioners of magic, books about magic, and set in England during the Napoleonic war.

    However, once I was well into the book I got bogged down with the many wayside visits and long footnotes that added atmosphere but didn't seem to advance the story. That is when I picked up the audio book from the library to try (so do our children influence us!). Once I was listening, I began enjoying it immensely more than in simple reading. I think I do better with meandering books when on audio for some reason. It certainly helped with Charles Dickens when I was reading A Tale of Two Cities. Eventually I almost became addicted and couldn't stop listening.

    At the end the book suddenly picked up the pace with one thing happening after another. It ended in an unexpected way with some story lines being firmly concluded while others were left to drift off. Usually this would bother me but, in a sense, it was very true to real life, which makes me reflect upon the fact that the way the story was told was very like having someone tell it to you in person. They take little byways of explanation that may not have too much to do with the story and then come back to the point. In listening to the book this made for a delightful and somehow restful story. This was wonderfully narrated by Simon Preeble whose dulcet tones and perfect pacing helped make the There is no doubt that his narration is the key element that not only got me to the end of the book, but actually left me sad when it ended. Recommended but only for those who do not object to long, meandering stories with a lot of footnotes.

  • Hamlet (Arkangel Complete Shakespeare)
    Distressed by his father’s death and his mother’s hasty remarriage, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is haunted by a ghostly courier bearing a grim message of murder and revenge. The young prince is driven to the edge of madness as he struggles to understand the situation he finds himself in and to do his duty. Many others, including Hamlet’s beloved, the innocent Ophelia, are swept up in his tragedy. Shakespeare’s most famous play remains one of the greatest stories in Western literature. Performed by Simon Russell Beale, Imogen Stubbs, Jane Lapotaire, and the Arkangel cast.

    Inspired by Chop Bard podcast, I have checked this out of the library and am now listening to this excellent audio version of the play. Wow, truly amazing and recommended to all!

  • The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell
    I read this for SFFaudio, where you may find my review. I did enjoy reading it just as much as listening, as witnessed by the conversation I had about it with Scott at A Good Story is Hard to Find where this was the subject of our first episode.

  • The Bellefaire: Victorian Horror in Modern Day San Francisco by M. J. Hahn
    I discovered this on iTunes and was hooked after hearing the first episode. In rapid order I have listened to all but the epilogue (simply because I ran out of listening time in the day).

    Yuki and her mother, who she mentally thinks of as The Doctor, are returning to San Francisco, the city of Yuki's birth although she left there when only an infant. When they move into the house where The Doctor grew up, they discover it is now partly a hotel and is called The Bellefaire. Very soon, Yuki discovers that the house's nickname is Curse Castle and there are ghost stories aplenty, mysteriously missing people in the neighborhood, and very odd happenings in the house itself.

    The story actually begins in the 1980s where we meet a very different sort of teenager from the obedient Yuki, Tina. Her story introduces us to some of the odd goings on in the Bellefaire. The story continues to alternate current day and past events, going further and further back in time as we discover exactly what's been going on.

    The author reads the story and voices the male characters. Different actresses voice the female characters and sound production is excellent overall with professional sounding sound effects.

Monday, January 17, 2011

About.com's 2011 Readers' Choice Awards: Nominations Open in Catholic Categories

I saw this at The Curt Jester's place last week and lifted it to share.
About.com’s 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards will showcase the best products, features and services in multiple categories, from technology to hobbies to parenting to religion. Nominations are now open, and will be accepted from 12:00 A.M. EST on January 13, 2011, until 11:59 P.M. EST on February 4, 2011.

On the About.com Catholicism GuideSite, we are accepting nominations in the ten categories listed below. Nominations can be entered in each of the categories using a single nomination form, though you can feel free to leave some of the fields blank; you are not required to make a nomination in every category. If you want to make more than one nomination in a particular category, simply fill the nomination form out twice.

Feel free to nominate yourself or your product for any of the appropriate awards, and spread the news to your friends. Finalists are chosen based on popularity, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements listed in each category.

Up to five finalists in each category will be announced on February 11, and voting will run from February 11 through March 8. (To be notified automatically when voting opens, simply sign up for the About.com Catholicism Newsletter). The winners will be announced on March 15.
Awards are for [Best Catholic ...] blog, podcast, site, Facebook page, Twitter user, iPad App, iPhone App, Newspaper, Magazine, etc.

This Amuses Us: "Don't Let Them Tell You Less is More."

I'm not sure how we got there, conversationally, but recently we were all sitting around talking about movies while Tom supplied trivia by looking up imdb info (worst website redesign ever, by the way).

At one point we wound up talking about director/writer Stephen Sommers. The Mummy was his first and best movie (which we all enjoyed quite a bit, actually) but it's been all downhill from there, sliding eventually into his most recent release, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

As Rose regaled us with the many laughable extremes found in GI Joe, Tom came upon two pieces of trivia that not only illustrated the point but that could stand on their own. In fact, they have now become standard catch phrases in the HC home.

1 - this personal quote
"Don't let them tell you less is more. More is more."

2 - Industrial Light & Magic's Stephen Sommers Scale, jokingly created to measure the extent of digital effects used in a given movie scene. The four parts of the scale, from lowest to highest, are:
  1. What The Shot Needs
  2. What The Computers Can Handle
  3. Oh My God, The Computers Are About To Crash
  4. What Stephen Wants

I knew those Sunday Mass readings sounded familiar

I am this week's lector for the Verbum Domini podcast, where you may hear daily readings from the Roman Catholic Liturgical calendar.

I recorded the readings several weeks ago and, although I knew they were posted recently, I had completely forgotten about it until listening to the Mass readings yesterday.

If you are interested in listening, they can be found on iTunes or you may download episodes at Verbum Domini by clicking on the "pod" button next to each day's headline.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend Joke

It's been a long time since we've seen what Boudreaux is up to ... so it's time for another joke about everyone's favorite Cajun.
One day Boudreaux and Thibodaux were watching TV. A good commercial about a movie came on and it said, "Coming To A Theatre Near You."

Boudreaux looked at Thibodaux and said, "Thib, how they know where we live?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Something I Like: RetroPets Art


Hannah was at a vet's pet event and picked up this poster for a dachshund loving pal. We were so taken by it that I investigated the RetroPets website and found a wealth of charming art, done by an artist who clearly understands the underlying characteristics for dog breeds. And cats. She also understands cats.

Anyone I knew who had a favorite breed (or who loves cats) got one of these posters. They are a standard size so it is easy to get a frame and ... voila! A delightful personalized gift. I must have given out at least ten of these. Every recipient was thrilled because the essence of their favorites was captured so well. As these few samples below will show. Be sure to check out the site.



Vatican announces May 1 beatification for John Paul II

HURRAH!

Read the story here.

The reasons for beatification from the horse's mouth ... yes, full text of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints's decree for the beatification of the late great Servant of God John Paul II

(My comment to those who might think that fast-tracking sainthood is a modern thing: St. Anthony of Padua died 1231. He was canonized 1232. Sometimes it's just obvious.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2010 Top Discoveries: Blogs

At last I have the time to return to these lists and share my favorite discoveries of last year. Today we look at blogs and these cover a variety of things. Enjoy!
  • Dust & Corruption
    Books and music, but mostly books of a Victorian horror sort.

  • A Life of Life
    Begin with the first post on March first and trace journey of life itself beginning with a trip from the sun. Sadly, this blog hasn't completed its mission, pausing on July 31 and not resuming thereafter. I hope it does resume eventually, however, your time will not be wasted by reading the almost daily short posts there.

  • Shelf Love
    A wide variety of books, well reviewed, with a large percentage that I find interesting enough to consider reading (a rarity!).

  •  Ten Thousand Places
    Margaret shares the ten thousand places she finds Christ, from poetry to photographs to quotes to links to books. A lovely place to dip into every day.

  • Hand Me Down Heaven
    Julie Cragon runs a Catholic book and church supply store with her family. I like her short thoughts on those she encounters there as well as her meditations on saints of the day which she anchors in her daily experiences.

  • Shirt of Flame
    Author Heather King calls herself "an ex-lawyer, ex-drunk Catholic convert with three memoirs: Parched (the dark years); Redeemed (crawling toward the light); and Shirt of Flame (forthcoming) (my year of wandering around Koreatown, L.A. "with" St. Therese of Lisieux, a cloistered 19th-c. French nun)." I haven't read any of her books yet but Redeemed has been recommended to me many times and I can see why from reading her meditations at her blog.

  • I Have to Sit Down
    Simcha Fisher writes honestly about her life. She's a mother of eight. She's a writer. She's Roman Catholic. And she's hilarious. In an honest way. Which is why she makes me laugh. For example: My family converted to Catholicism when I was about 4, and I’m not going anywhere. I consider myself a Hebrew Catholic, as my parents are both Jewish by birth. I’m still sorting out exactly how I ought to be preserving my Jewish heritage, beyond putting horseradish on everything; but in the mean time, don’t piss me off about Israel.

  • Art Inconnu
    Works by artists who are forgotten, under appreciated, or little known, as well as news, reviews and ephemera from the corners of art history. Works of startling quality can be found beyond the big names in the visual arts, whether it is just one exceptional work, an area of an artists oeuvre, or an entire career worth re-examining. And sometimes you might have seen them here too when I come across something I love too much to leave over there.

  • A Momentary Taste of Being
    Steven Riddle posts scads of links each day and you never know which one (or two or more) is going to grab you but I find something interesting about literature and reading here every day. My only wish is that Steven would share more of his own thoughts than the sentence or two which may grace a post. I like the links but Steven himself is the one whose thoughts interest me most.

  • xkcd
    How can a comic featuring stick figures be so darned funny? Because xkcd thinks like we do and then twists it a bit. (Like this, for example.) One of the funniest places on the internet.

  • The French Sampler
    Dash blogs about all sorts of things but they tend to be beautiful things. Architecture, style, design, a French sunset, and more all come under her curious gaze.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

OK Go is almost as well trained as the many adorable dogs in this video


Via Rachel Lucas.

A man came up to the window to ask for money. I know there are those who do this as a scam. So what should you do?

This question arose in a forum I visit. It reminded me that it been a while since I pulled out my soapbox on the topic.

When I was talking to my sister about this during her recent visit, she had the short answer. "Pull out your wallet and give them money."

For the longer, more anecdotal version, and the answer to the question "what if it is a scam," just keep on readin' ...



As my long-suffering husband well knows, from the fact that when he gave a handful of change to an Australian man sitting outside a London tube station years ago ... the man shouted after our family, "God bless you mate! Thank you!" My husband muttered, under his breath, "Don't thank me, thank her; I had nothing to do with it" as I gave him a thank you hug. This didn't compare to later on when he would be driving with three people in the car all urging him to roll down the window and hand out granola bars.


GIVING TO THE HOMELESS, FACE TO FACE
The first time I ever saw a beggar was in Paris, 18 years ago. She was across the street and Tom said, "Don't look at her." Of course, I did and she began screaming invective and shaking her fist at me. It's a good thing my French wasn't very fluent or I'm sure my ears would have burned. Everywhere we went there were beggars. It was deeply troubling for someone like me who had never seen such a thing before. Tom, whose family lived in London for several years, was more blasé. He taught me to ignore them and that they were making plenty of money off of the population at large. I did make him give to a couple of WWII veterans who were playing music for their coins but at least they had sacrificed something for their country ... they had done something to deserve our charity.

I wasn't Christian then; I wasn't even sure if God existed. Nothing other than popular thought occurred to me in those situations. That was saved for 15 years later in 2001 when we went back to Paris and London with the girls. I had converted by then, we attended Mass weekly, and they went to Catholic school with religion lessons every day. It was fairly common to see the homeless on street corners but we were insulated by the car and traffic flow. These up close encounters with beggars in Europe were different. Tom and I gave the standard "making money off the crowd" explanation but it didn't sit very well, especially with the Christian precepts that had taken hold by then.

Then, one evening, I read this quote.
There are those who say to the poor that they seem to look to be in such good health: "You are so lazy! You could work. You are young. You have strong arms."

You don't know that it is God's pleasure for this poor person to go to you and ask for a handout. You show yourself as speaking against the will of God.

There are some who say: "Oh, how badly he uses it!" May he do whatever he wants with it! The poor will be judged on the use they have made of their alms, and you will be judged on the very alms that you could have given but haven't.
St. John Vianney
You certainly couldn't get much clearer than those words. St. John Vianney covered pretty much every objection I ever thought of for giving to the poor. That was my wake-up call and the end of ignoring beggars. We were supplied with handfuls of coins that were distributed at large as we went through the subway stations.

When I got home I stocked the car with granola bars and bottles of water. I passed them out at every street corner we stopped at. I never have any cash on me and they almost always had signs saying "Will work for food" so it seemed a good match.

Then Dallas passed a law against any panhandling on street corners and, for the most part, the homeless disappeared from sight. I had gotten used to being on the lookout for people to give my granola bars to and now the corners seemed very empty.

About that time, I was the leader of a Catholic women's group that met weekly. One evening our discussion became a debate over two strategies of giving to the homeless. One group believed in giving to people as they were encountered. The other countered with stories of scam artists and believed in giving to organizations who would distribute goods and cash in the most beneficial way to the needy. Two things stuck with me after that meeting though. The first was that my friend, Rita, said she was troubled by those who didn't want to give face to face because "they don't know what blessings they may be depriving themselves of." Once again I remembered St. John Vianney's quote.

I also thought about the very day before when I encountered a homeless man, gave him some cash, and later was extremely glad that I did ... because I'm still not sure who it was that I gave that cash to.


The second thing occurred to me as I listened to the debate. Jesus never said anything about helping the poor by giving to the local temple or soup kitchen. He said:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."

Then the righteous will answer him and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?"

And the king will say to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."
Matthew 25: 35-40
Tom and I do support organized charities and I know they reach farther than I ever could personally. This is not an argument against those organizations. However, I think that we cannot rest with those contributions. I believe that if we have a personal encounter with the needy it is because they have been sent to us for their good and our own. If we turn them away, then we are turning Christ Himself away and what blessings are we sending away with Him?

This was reinforced for me during a retreat I attended later. Somehow the debate over how to give to the homeless came up along those old familiar lines, not just once but twice. Each time I trotted out my St. John Vianney quote. Then my friend, Mauri, said that when she looked at those unfortunates she saw people she knew. For instance, she has a schizophrenic nephew who doesn't want to take his meds so he has been found wandering only in his boxers in a Chicago suburb. A confused old lady at the bank reminded her of her mother and Mauri found a discreet way to help her while preserving her dignity. She reminded me of the worth and dignity of each of these people. She later sent me this story which is the perfect example of looking past the surface to the real person that is there in front of us.
Today at the post office I saw this man going through the garbage -- I think looking for food as he was going through a discarded fast food bag and picked out left over bun from the bag, emptied the bag of the other garbage, and then used the bag to neatly wrap up the left over bun and then placed it in his satchel. You could tell that he still had his pride as he looked well kept, although worn and a bit "dusty". He was not begging in any way. Just walking through the strip center where the post office was.

I wanted to help as I sensed that he was hungry, but he was not asking for help and he did not approach me in anyway. I was so worried to bruise his pride, but could not stand the thought of him only having the leftover bun for food. I got out of my car with $5 and asked him if he was hungry. He said he was fine but hesitantly. I gave him the money and told him that there were many times when I was hungry but didn't have the cash on me to go through McDonalds or grab a sandwich. I told him to take it for when he might need it. I don't think I hurt his pride. His eyes were so kind.

I only wish I had asked his name ... He looked like he might have been mid 60s. I should have given him more money. I can't get him out of my mind. He could have been someone's grandfather, father, etc.
I am so grateful to Mauri for bringing me to this phase in my awareness of the homeless. Each of them was some mother's baby, a tiny toddler learning to walk, a laughing boy or girl at school. We must remember that when we are looking at these people who can seem so frightening or strange or manipulative. I pray that someday I can look at these people and find my vision is perfect ... I hope that someday I can look at a homeless person and see Jesus Himself. In this quest I think we can not do better than to take the advice of someone who achieved perfect vision and sought out her beloved Jesus in the homeless.
Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Monday, January 10, 2011

What's Goin' On: Be Careful What You Wish For

My sister was in town on business last week. In fact, she's still here, though not on business any more.

She came in a day early so we could share the evening together last week. In passing, I told her that I was only sorry we couldn't have more time together. I was horrified on Saturday afternoon to hear her barely discernible voice coming through our answering machine saying that she had a stomach bug, was very ill and needed help. Now!

As you can imagine, I loaded up with ginger ale, saltines, and raced over to her hotel. Once she'd recovered somewhat, we moved her back to the house where she has been gradually regaining normal health. Our bad weather and that in Atlanta (where she has to fly to make a connection to her home in Florida), have extended her stay another day or two.

Although we're delighted to have more time with her, I surely wish I had qualified a bit more exactly what sort of "more time together" I wanted!

"We live together, or we die together"

I have been seeing this mentioned since Friday and just now got the chance to go read about the bravery of these Egyptian Muslims in recognizing the demands of common humanity and protecting their Christian neighbors with their own bodies. Would that we would all recognize this in each other in daily life.
Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.

From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.
Read it all here.

Well Said

Now that the season is back to ordinary time, we'll go on with the favorite quotes that were given for the Serenity prayer mug giveaway, where MM quoted Mother Teresa:
God doesn't require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.
Thank goodness for that, right?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Weekend Joke

From the incomparable Miss Cellania (warning: her site contains explicit material).
A blonde was recently hired at an office. Her first task was to go out for coffee. Eager to do well her first day on the job, she grabbed a large thermos and hurried to a nearby coffee shop.

She held up the thermos and the coffee shop worker quickly came over to take her order.

"Is this big enough to hold six cups of coffee?" the blonde asked.

The coffee shop worker looked at the thermos, hesitated a few seconds, then finally replied, "Yeah. It looks like about six cups to me."

"Oh good!" the blonde sighed in relief. "Then give me two black, two with cream.”

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hereby Resolved ... Continuing the Book Fast

I have a number of ongoing resolutions which I strive for, fail at, and then renew. You know the sort. Keeping the house cleaner, being more focused, taking more walks, and the like.

Then there is the special one I made last year and actually kept, except for my end-of-the-year blowout where I gave myself the week in-between Christmas and New Year's off.

That resolution was my book fast. I didn't buy any books. Our city library is well stocked but if they didn't have it, then I didn't read it. The two exceptions were if my book club was reading something otherwise unavailable or if I needed it for doing the podcast or writing bulletin inserts or that sort of thing. That need didn't come up much, believe it or not.

I admit I did fall off the wagon in virtual space when I got the Kindle and a few extra short story collections somehow fell into my online cart. However, I didn't beat myself up about it and moving on was surprisingly painless.

This is a habit that has now stuck and I am going to continue with it for 2011.

I am tweaking it in a way that has to do more with my reading habits than buying habits.

I'm going to try to read the books that are stacked up at home before getting more from the library (other than those already in the house). Online library requests make it so very easy to flitter from book to book without reading what is right there next to me. Some of those poor babies have been waiting for several years for me to crack their covers. If I try and can't get through them, then I'm going to move on, but I at least should give them a fair chance.

Buoyed by the success of the 2010 Book Fast resolution, I made another.

You can't imagine how annoying it is not to be able to remember it right at this moment!

But when I do, you will be the first to know!

WOOHOO! UPDATE!
I remembered!

The new "resolution" is to return to a habit I used to follow a couple of years ago. Each week I'd try to dip into a different cookbook when planning the next week's meals. This was to try to encourage me to actually cook from all my cookbooks instead of the favored ten or so I always used.

It worked with varying results but I'm going to work my way through the shelves and see how that goes. It will add more variety in cooking as well as helping keep me more interested in the weekly planning and cooking.

If all works out, then I'll have a new recipe to share every week. So we all win!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Forgotten Tales: Great Claus and Little Claus

In which Hans Christian Andersen tells us about two Clauses who belong on Santa's naughty list. Joseph brings us another Grimm's Fairy Tale at Forgotten Classics.

I must say that I greatly enjoyed this tale. My favorite moments were my surprise over why the appellations "Great" and "Small" were used and over the farmer's special desire to see ... oh, but that would be telling. Go listen for yourself!

Catholic Podcast Premiere: A Good Story Is Hard To Find

I mentioned this a couple of days ago, but here is the formal announcement of a new Catholic podcast that examines books and movies from a Catholic perspective.

It features Scott Danielson and I who have a lot in common. We are both frequent contributors to SFFaudio (a science fiction audiobook review site and podcast) and also both practicing Catholics. After an SFFaudio podcast one week (the Readalong about The Stars My Destination), we realized that there was a lot to say about some of these books from a Catholic perspective, and we were leaving much of it unsaid. This led to the idea of a podcast where we talk about books and movies “as Catholics”.

So we did it! We just posted the first episode – where we discuss Alden Bell’s excellent zombie novel The Reapers Are the Angels. The podcast is called A Good Story is Hard to Find. The iTunes feed will be coming soon.

Please join us!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Full of Grace: Meditations on Mary, Love, and Transformation

This review originally appeared at Patheos.

Among the practices indelibly associated with Catholics is the veneration of Mary and praying of the rosary. To outsiders it can seem as if Jesus is being cast aside while his mother is being unduly worshipped. Or, it might seem to be precisely the meaningless gabble of thoughtless prayer that Jesus warned against when he said, "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words" (Mt. 6:7)

Anyone holding such opinion while encountering Judith Dupré's extraordinary book Full of Grace will soon realize how wrong those ideas can be. Dupré melds myriad written and artistic images -- a glittering mosaic of perspectives on Mary through the ages. Always, she is pointing to Her Son, Jesus. If one could produce a symphony in writing it would be similar to Full of Grace, which combines art, history, poetry and prose, personal experience and hearsay, traditional Catholic theology and Islam, and orthodoxy and feminist theology, into a marvelous and comprehensive look at the Mother of God.

Although Dupré educates and guides the reader, make no mistake, this is not intended as a historical or educational book. It is intensely personal as she shares in the introduction:
The narratives are offered as fifty-nine meditations, or beads, equal to the number of beads in a traditional rosary. The book is a journey undertaken, like the rosary, in the spirit of pilgrimage. The idea of the beads came to me nearly eight years ago when I began researching this book, but as my work progressed, I started to doubt the wisdom of the structure. I put the question to Mary: What to do? Moments later, fifteen dots of light -- fifteen being the number of the mysteries of the rosary -- appeared on the wall. Not trusting my eyes, I snapped a photo. The image you see in the margin has been a constant affirmation, for me, of the many ways in which Mary is with us.
Dupré is a proven master at communicating with images, as her books about skyscrapers, bridges, churches, and monuments have shown. Full of Grace branches out from her usual format to include Dupré's short essays, modern and classical images with explanatory text, and excerpts from other writers in the marginalia. Taken together, Dupré intends this to act as a midrash for the reader, engaging them on the subject of Mary from many views. Midrash is a traditional Jewish way of interpreting biblical stories to fill in many of the gaps left in scriptural narratives where there are only hints of actual events. What Dupré's work does is to widen the reader's view, open their eyes, and help pull back the veil between the material world and the divine. She does this by never losing sight of our human connection to Mary's experiences of love, grief, humility, compassion, maternity, and transformation.

Full of Grace is carefully directed toward anyone with an interest in Mary, not just believers. This leaves Dupré free to incorporate myriad viewpoints from sources one might not associate with the subject. Indeed, one must not take this as a theological guideline but remember that personal contemplation of the mysteries of the rosary may often take one far afield, just as this book does, while always keeping Mary and Christ at the center.

Appropriately beautiful, as befits the topic, the pages are glossy and the art is featured in stunning color. Great care was taken with the type and layout so that the reader can take in the intended mixture of reflections on each subject with clarity.

Finally, although this is not a theological work and there are a few points that might give an orthodox reader pause, the tone of the book is utterly respectful. Never is there an utterance that is the slightest bit irreverent, despite the many unusual sources excerpted. In fact, Dupré often reminds the reader, as is appropriate, that Mary's purpose is always to point to Jesus and never is there a word to imply that He is not the Son of God, our Savior.

All in all, this is a beautiful and unusual book that may be enjoyed by historians, art lovers, the inquisitive, and the faithful. Not only does it offer the faithful many opportunities to deepen their relationship with Mary, but it may well acquaint the merely curious with a person and model they want to get to know better.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Year With The Church Fathers: An Extraordinary Book in Every Way

I always know that anything Mike Aquilina writes is going to have solid worth behind it. When it is a book that has anything to do with the Church Fathers then I know it will be solid gold. Aquilina's passion for the wisdom of the Fathers always is passed on to readers in such a way that they appreciate the Fathers for themselves, which is no easy feat when one considers how long ago they wrote.

In A Year with the Church Fathers: Patristic Wisdom for Daily Living, Aquilina has surpassed himself. This is not simply a collection of interesting or informative excerpts from the Church Fathers' archives. It is a well-planned, daily retreat that is designed to progress through a year with the ancient Fathers as spiritual guides. The 365 meditations are intended to move the reader, with prayer and contemplation, to a deeper life with Jesus Christ.

Each day's title and brief summary from Aquilina put the reader in the subject. The selected Father's brief commentary then expounds on a topic. Lest one should worry that the language will be difficult, Aquilina made sure it is contemporary and accessible while retaining the full meaning intended by each author. This is followed by a question or two which help readers relate fully to what was just read. A brief but specific prayer end the session.

Tan Books has done this book proud. This book is a beautiful thing that reflects the value of the words within it to our souls. The cover may not be actual leather but it certainly feels like it. Pages are gilt-edged. A sturdy ribbon marker matches the cover. Moreover, the book design is elegant and decorative in an understated but classic way. A Year with the Fathers is not only useful but a book that could become an heirloom in your family. Readers will know that I do not give this praise lightly.

This book arrived at exactly the right time for Tom and me. We were resolved to return to a neglected habit of reading aloud to each other a brief spiritual piece each day. In the few days that we have been using this devotional resource, we have been mightily impressed by how easy it is to understand and by how there is always a point or two that speaks to one of us for further thought. Mike Aquilina has given the Church another treasure in this resource which I cannot recommend highly enough.

==========
I am sharing the first day's meditation in order to show the simplicity with which ideas are put, but the elegance and far reaching thought that is achieved. This is extremely timely both in beginning "at the beginning" and also in subject matter for modern times. (Note: Aquilina advises beginning with a prayer by simply saying, "Come Holy Spirit.")
Day 1
Put God at the beginning

No matter what scientific explanation you come up with for the origin of the universe, says St. Basil, you'll go far wrong if you don't put God at the beginning of it.

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

I stop struck with admiration at this thought. What shall I say first? Shall I demonstrate the vanity of the Gentiles? Shall I praise the truth of our faith?

The philosophers of Greece have tried very hard to explain nature, and not one of their systems has remained firm and unshaken. They are enough in themselves to destroy one another. Those who were too ignorant to rise to a knowledge of God could not allow that an intelligent cause presided at the birth of the universe—a primary error that trapped them in sad consequences.

Some fell back on material principles and attributed the origin of the universe to the elements of the world. Others imagined that atoms, and invisible bodies, molecules and tubes, unite to form the nature of the visible world.

It is because they did not know how to say, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Fooled by their inherent atheism, they thought that nothing governed or ruled the universe, and that everything was given up to chance.

To keep us from this error, the writer on creation, from the very first words, enlightens our understanding with the name of God: "In the beginning God created."
-St. Basil, Hexameron, 1.2

In God's Presence Consider...
In a world where science has made so much progress, what does it mean to put God at the beginning?

Closing Prayer
Father, you alone are eternal, and you alone live in unapproachable light. I thank you that you have made me in your image; have mercy on my sins, and save me through your Son Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Speaking of Catholic Podcasts: Announcing "A Good Story is Hard to Find"

Scott Danielson from SFFaudio and I have a lot in common.

We're both Catholic.

We both love science fiction, mysteries, fantasy, books, movies ... in fact, we love good stories, wherever we find them.

We both love finding stories that have a deeper meaning that sheds light on faith, belief, life, and God. Especially when those stories are right out there in popular culture. The Lord of the Rings springs to mind.

We both love talking about our faith, stories, and deeper meanings.

Last, but not least, we love sharing the conversation.

Premiering this Thursday, Scott and I will begin the new Catholic podcast, A Good Story is Hard to Find.* (There will be more than a blank space at that link very soon!)

This bimonthly podcast will alternate discussing books and movies that we can't wait to talk about and to share with you.

We will begin by discussing The Reapers Are the Angels, Alden Bell's zombie apocalypse novel. (My review here.) The movie to be discussed mid-January will be: Serenity. You might be surprised at the themes these works carry about belief, faith, and free will. We were.

Join us and spread the word.

*Our patron author is Flannery O'Connor. Who else?

Catholic Podcasts

C. listens to my podcast and writes:
I have a question for you. I am a Catholic too and I was wondering if you had any good Catholic themed podcast recommendations? I was browsing the subject in itunes but it was really hard to figure out what was good from bad. It dawned on me to ask you (enthusiastic podcast listener) before I had to suffer through bad to get to good.
It occurred to me that it has been something like three or four years since I've done a faith-y podcast roundup.

There are some fascinating podcasts out there, both Catholic and more generally Christian, that range from Scripture study to movies to science. Here are my favorites, though they do not represent every good podcast out there. I will note if these are not Catholic.

INSPIRATION
  • Verbum Domini
    Daily readings of the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. Good for anyone who wants a daily dose of scripture. I go in and out of listening but generally keep the week's readings on my iPod. I find that listening to the readings gives me a different perspective sometimes, although I also usually am reading them at some time during the day in my Magnificat. I will be an occasional lector for this podcast beginning on January 22. (iTunes link, website link)
  • Pray-as-you-go
    Daily prayer. This podcast is usually about 10 minutes. It begins with music (they use quite a variety from Lady Blacksmith Mogambo to French monks to contemporary worship style), then read from the scripture for the day. They give time for contemplation of this scripture with a series of gently asked questions that invite us to think about it in ways we might not otherwise. I go in and out of listening to this one at different times but always have it on my iPod (iTunes link, website link)
FAITH AND THE REAL WORLD
  • The Catholic Laboratory
    This is a podcast and website dedicated to helping the world rediscover the rich scientific heritage of the Catholic Church and to understanding the Church’s stance towards modern science. I especially enjoy the series (now doing a Theology of the Body focus) that help link modern scientific discoveries with the Church's teachings. Also very valuable for keeping up with science news.  (iTunes link, website link)
  • The Flicks That Church Forgot
    I have been listening to this podcast for some time now. Peter Laws, a Baptist minister in England loves horror movies and loves Jesus Christ also. As he puts it, "If God really does exist everywhere why can't we find his fingerprints in the scary places?" Each episode is usually a look at a horror film which Peter then follows up with a thoughtful look at something about Christianity or living a Christian life. It is really well done and always respectful to both Christians and nonbelievers. This post about his Halloween series will give you a good idea of how Peter handles the subject. (iTunes link, website link)
  • Two Edge Talk
    Deacon Tim and Cyndi talk about how to live our faith ... ranging from specific understanding of Catholic teachings to more general questions such as just how do we live an abundant life of faith when we’re so darned busy just surviving? I was alerted to this after seeing several nonCatholics mention how they had learned about Catholic teachings “so they make sense” by listening to this podcast. This is a must listen when it comes in every other week. (iTunes link, website link)

  • Watching Theology
    Host Joe Johnson and a co-host (which may vary) are Christians who explore the religious and ethical implications of the movies they watch. They are careful not to read anything into the movies that isn't there but they do dig deeper to see what worldview and belief system each story reveals in the telling. I do not always agree with their conclusions (most notably Gattaca) but they are always thought provoking. Now being produced on a fairly irregular basis but it is still coming out and there is a large back library to explore. (iTunes link, website link)
    INSTRUCTION
    • Catholic Stuff You Should Know
      Modeled after the popular podcast Stuff You Should Know, this podcast explains a wide range of topics ... everything from Stylites (standing on pillars in style) to Ethiopian Christianity to Bishop's Wear and beyond. (iTunes link, website link)

    • St. Irenaeus Ministries
      Scripture study that is practical. The teacher is extremely insightful in giving connections between scripture and daily life. He keeps it real and although he has an orthodox Catholic point of view, this is the podcast I recommend to nonCatholics. This is one that I listen to every week and since I tend to be behind on it, sometimes daily. An essential. (iTunes link, website link)
    [Note: if the podcasts above don't cover what you're interested in, be sure to check out the SQPN network of podcasts that are all trustworthy and also cover a wide range of topics from Catholic Under the Hood to The Catholic Foodie to Catholic Pilot to Lisa Hendey's Catholic Moments. (iTunes link, website link)]

    * Unless otherwise mentioned, any podcasts or audio can be downloaded to your computer (using the right click mouse button) and listened to there or burned to a CD if you don't have a mp3 player. I mention iTunes because that is what I use, however most of these also can be found through other podcatchers (usually mentioned on their sites).

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    Weekend Joke

    Something we can all relate to. Happy New Year!
    Dear Lord

    So far this year I've done well.

    I haven't gossiped, I haven't lost my temper, I haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I'm very thankful for that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I'm going to get out of bed, and from then on I'm probably going to need a lot more help.

    Amen