Friday, September 30, 2011

New on the Shelf

A couple of review books that popped in ... both looking quite readable, I must say.

  • Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor by Jana Reiss
    This wry memoir tackles twelve different spiritual practices in a quest to become more saintly, including fasting, fixed-hour prayer, the Jesus Prayer, gratitude, Sabbath-keeping, and generosity. Although Riess begins with great plans for success ("Really, how hard could that be?" she asks blithely at the start of her saint-making year), she finds to her growing humiliation that she is failing--not just at some of the practices, but at every single one. What emerges is a funny yet vulnerable story of the quest for spiritual perfection and the reality of spiritual failure, which turns out to be a valuable practice in and of itself.
    I've actually read the first two or three chapters of this, I must admit. The style is easy to read quickly. This early in, I am wondering if the author ever becomes fond of a saint because she never seems to lose the flipness enough to give it a solid try. However, it is engaging and early days ... so we shall see!

  • The Emperor of North America by John McNichol
    This is the second book of The Young Chesterton Chronicles, which from reading the first couple of chapters reminds me irresistibly of Harry Potter in the way he and his friend interact. That's not a bad thing. I'm interested in both Gilbert's romantic hopes and the mysterious horror which was set before us at the very beginning. The only thing I'm sorry about is that it is practically impossible to get my hands on a copy of the first book of the series, Tripods ... which is about a Martian invasion. Oh yeah ... more on this soon I'm sure.

Marijuana Helps People With Alzheimer's

It ain't just wishful thinking.
Strangely enough, the same compounds in marijuana that are responsible for the quintessential stoner forgetfulness, the glassy stare, the short attention span and the, uh ... quintessential stoner forgetfulness could be the same compounds that protect short term memory in sufferers of Alzheimer's. Recent studies indicate that THC can boost the effectiveness of a neurotransmitter that is essentially the brain's lubricant -- the very stuff Alzheimer's sufferers are lacking. THC stimulates the growth of new neurons in the brain of the elderly, which also helps, obviously.
So, this could turn that early "mean stage" into a big happy face, right?

Seriously, I've always been kind of worried about that mean stage that Alzheimer's sufferers go through. One side of my family has a history of Alzheimer's so I've come to terms, as much as anyone can, with the whole "losing myself" thing. But I hate to think of turning hostile and mean to those I love.

And, if I could still hear music, it would sound better than ever.

Read all about it in the 5 Ways Your Bad Habits Might Just Save Your Life  at Cracked.com (language warning ... it is Cracked, after all).

Reminder: Last Day to Protest the HHS's Threat to the Free Practice of Religion

I've been caught up in the specific issues, but Margaret at ten thousand places rightly points out that this is a much bigger issue. Which is, of course, what Keith Rothfus points out in his letter.

And, I forgot that today is the deadline.
Today is the last day to voice your concerns with HHS of the lack of conscience protection over healthcare mandates to provide contraceptive and sterilization services.  This is a huge, grave issue, and a threat to our first amendment rights--the free practice of religion.  This is not a question of whether the use of use of contraceptives is morally permissible.  This is not a debate about the morality of contraception, rather it is about our rights as American citizens. The issue is that our right of conscience is about to be violated on a large, legal, irrefutable scale. The right of conscience is fundamental to our understanding and protection of human liberty.

It is disappointing to me that the protest has largely been in only Catholic Circles.  As far as I know, no major Christian communities have voiced their concerns over this.  Though our churches may disagree on the morality of the use of contraceptives, that is not the question at hand. What is being violated is our right of conscience, which is a fundamental right upon which all the others are built. When a nation requires its individuals to do something they believe to be unjust or immoral, that nation is no longer free.

For more information, I encourage you to read the following: Pittsburgh Congressional Canidate Keith Rothfus'sletter to Kathleen Siebelius; James V. Schall on Legal PersecutionChristopher Haley at First ThingsThe Heritage Foundation Report.

I encourage you all to write to Kathleen Siebelius and your representatives to urge her to pay attention to our long legal tradition of freedom of religion and conscience protection.  It takes about two minutes. To find out how visit the USCCB.
Please write in support of freedom of religion.

An Eloquent, Intelligent Letter About the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

No, not from me. I went with the form letter the USCCB thoughtfully provided, figuring that numbers count ... and I wanted to be one of that number protesting.

However, Keith Rothfus put the case thoughtfully and in a way that anyone could understand in his letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sibelius.

Go read it and then be thankful that men of conscience are taking the time and trouble to stand up for what they believe.

If you haven't written, you can find everything you need at the USCCB site.

Thanks to Mike Aquilina for this one!

Did Trouble Me



I've been wondering about this album ... this is a nice sampling ... and coming with my recent viewing of Machine Gun Preacher ... it speaks to me.

Via Isolde Eleison on Google+.

Friday Litany: The Holy Angels

Hey, it's angel week ... let's have a litany.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.

God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.

God the Holy Ghost,
Have mercy on us.

Holy Trinity, One God,
Have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Queen of Angels,
pray for us.

Holy Mother of God,
pray for us.

Holy Virgin of virgins,
pray for us.


Saint Michael,
who was ever the defender of the people of God,
pray for us.

St. Michael,
who did drive from Heaven Lucifer
and his rebel crew,
pray for us.

St. Michael,
who did cast down to Hell
the accuser of our brethren,
pray for us.

Saint Gabriel,
who did expound to Daniel
the heavenly vision,
pray for us.

St. Gabriel,
who did foretell to Zachary
the birth and ministry of John the Baptist,
pray for us.

St. Gabriel,
who did announce to Blessed Mary
the Incarnation of the Divine Word,
pray for us.


Saint Raphael,
who did lead Tobias safely
through his journey to his home again,
pray for us.

St. Raphael,
who did deliver Sara from the devil,
pray for us.

St. Raphael,
who did restore his sight to Tobias the elder,
pray for us.


All ye holy Angels,
who stand around the high and lofty throne of God,
pray for us.

Who cry to Him continually: Holy, Holy, Holy,
pray for us.

Who dispel the darkness of our minds and give us light,
pray for us.

Who are the messengers of heavenly things to men,
pray for us.

Who have been appointed by God to be our guardians
pray for us.

Who always behold the Face of our Father Who is in Heaven,
pray for us.

Who rejoice over one sinner doing penance,
pray for us.

Who struck the Sodomites with blindness,
pray for us.

Who led Lot out of the midst of the ungodly,
pray for us.

Who ascended and descended on the ladder of Jacob,
pray for us.

Who delivered the Divine Law to Moses on Mount Sinai,
pray for us.

Who brought good tidings when Christ was born,
pray for us.

Who ministered to Him in the desert,
pray for us.

Who comforted Him in His agony,
pray for us.

Who sat in white garments at His sepulcher,
pray for us.

Who appeared to the disciples as He went up into Heaven,
pray for us.

Who shall go before Him
bearing the standard of the Cross
when He comes to judgment,
pray for us.

Who shall gather together the elect at the End of the World,
pray for us.

Who shall separate the wicked from among the just,
pray for us.

Who offer to God the prayers of those who pray,
pray for us.

Who assist us at the hour of death,
pray for us.

Who carried Lazarus into Abraham's bosom,
pray for us.

Who conduct to Heaven the souls of the just,
pray for us.

Who perform signs and wonders by the power of God,
pray for us.

Who are sent to minister
for those who shall receive the inheritance of salvation,
pray for us.

Who are set over kingdoms and provinces,
pray for us.

Who have often put to flight armies of enemies,
pray for us.

Who have often delivered God's servants
from prison and other perils of this life,
pray for us.

Who have often consoled
the holy martyrs in their torments,
pray for us.

Who are wont to cherish with peculiar care
the prelates and princes of the Church,
pray for us.

All ye holy orders of blessed spirits,
pray for us.


From all dangers,
deliver us, O Lord.

From the snares of the devil,
deliver us O Lord.

From all heresy and schism,
deliver us, O Lord.

From plague, famine and war,
deliver us, O Lord.

From sudden and unlooked for death,
deliver us, O Lord.

From everlasting death,
deliver us, O Lord.

We sinners, beseech Thee to hear us,

Through Thy holy Angels,
we beseech Thee, hear us.

That Thou would spare us,
we beseech Thee, hear us.

That Thou would pardon us,
we beseech Thee, hear us.

That Thou would govern
and preserve Thy Holy Church,
we beseech Thee, hear us.

That Thou would protect our Apostolic Prelate
and all ecclesiastical orders,
we beseech Thee, hear us.

That Thou would grant peace and security
to kings and all Christian princes,
we beseech Thee, hear us.

That Thou would give
and preserve the fruits of the earth,
we beseech Thee, hear us.

That Thou would grant eternal rest
to all the faithful departed,
we beseech Thee, hear us.

Lamb of God,
Who takes away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.

Lamb of God,
Who takes away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord.

Lamb of God,
Who takes away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


Silently, say the "Our Father..."


Bless the Lord, all ye Angels:

Ye who are mighty in strength,
who fulfill His commandments,
hearkening unto the voice of His words.

He hath given His Angels charge concerning thee,
To keep thee in all thy ways.

Let Us Pray

O God, Who arranges
the services of Angels and men
in a wonderful order,
mercifully grant that our life
may be protected on earth
by those who always do Thee service in Heaven,
through Jesus Christ Thy Son,
Who with Thee and the Holy Ghost are one God,
now and forever.

Amen.

O God, Who in Thine unspeakable Providence
sends Thine Angels to keep guard over us,
grant unto Thy suppliants
that we may be continually defended
by their protection
and may rejoice eternally in their society,
through Jesus Christ Our Lord,
Who lives and reigns with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
forever and ever.

Amen.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Crescat also takes the plunge and moves to Patheos ...

... and will be writing a column there too.

Coding a message for Operation Declare ... this way to Mount Ararat

Scott and I discuss Declare by Tim Powers ... so spy-ish, so John LeCarre-ish, so much Catholicism everywhere. Get it at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Machine Gun Preacher: Not Your Mama's Christian Movie


When I hear people pushing inspirational Christian movies, I instinctively duck. This usually means sweet, earnest stories where nice little speeches tell us everything that everyone feels, and how God “spoke” to them. Inevitably, I have to surrender skilled storytelling just to get a Christian message.

So, my ears perked up when I was warned about Machine Gun Preacher and its “R” rating (for disturbing images, violence, language, drug use, and a scene of sexuality) and how it packed considerable Hollywood firepower in the form of stars Gerard Butler (300), Michelle Monaghan (Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang) and Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road), and was directed by Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner).

Machine Gun Preacher ain’t your mama’s Christian movie. In fact, it ain’t a lot of Christians’ idea of an inspirational movie. But it should be. It isn’t afraid to show us the afflicted children of the Sudan, in contrast to our comfortable lives, and leave us shaken.

Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) is an extremely violent heroin addict and drug dealer — and completely self-serving as we discover early in the film when he castigates his wife for leaving her stripping job because she has become Christian. Eventually Childers, too, becomes Christian and begins supporting himself as a carpenter. He takes a guest preacher’s words to heart and goes to the Sudan to help missionaries with construction work.

It is there that he comes face to face with the brutal violence the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rains upon the people: burning villages, selling children into the sex trade, and forcing boys to become soldiers. Childers builds an orphanage and, when he finds it repeatedly under LRA attack, eventually goes on the offensive.

The story doesn’t just tease a single strand, however. Childers’ dependence upon his family is a key element of the story, as is (in his passion to help the African orphans) his occasional neglect. His wife’s unwavering support makes him pick himself up and keep trying, even when, later in the film, she must remind him that he is “all we’ve got here.”

Christianity is key to this story and it is depicts an interesting combination of small church, evangelical worship and the mysterious, transforming force that shakes believers to their core. It is the encounter with Christ that leaves the believer often unable to explain what has happened, but infused with the passion to give one’s all.

Yet the movie doesn’t preach. It shows us Childers’ life and experience, but encounters with God are his own, and the audience may ponder them later.

Some viewers may be troubled when Childers roars, “God don’t want sheep! He wants wolves with teeth.” It’s a message that works at the time it is uttered, but when Childers hits a downward spiral we are left to wonder whether that is really what God wants. The answer, I believe, is given in a scene of determined hope; we see Childers standing like a shepherd, amid a flock of rescued children. No image in this film is accidental and this one, above all, is one that must be taken to heart.

The film’s power lies in the straightforward story that doesn’t need sophisticated plot devices to hold interest. It combines the immediacy of a documentary with the considerable skill of the director and actors, to tell a powerful tale that makes viewers uncomfortable — precisely because they know it has truth behind it. When Childers is building a cross in his African church, and his face is framed in the center of the cross, we understand in whose name he comes.

Machine Gun Preacher pays viewers the compliment of knowing that they don’t need continual speeches about motivations and reactions. They don’t need Childers to make a speech when — after killing a teenage solider — he spirals into a loss of faith in God and everyone around him. The full range of humanity, inhumanity, helplessness, and suffering are brilliantly conveyed in a single sequence which is more eloquent in its silence than any speech.

There is violence. It is the cruel violence carried out by inhumane predators in the Sudan. The audience needs to see it, and the helpless victims, in order to grasp what is at stake. Likewise, the violence of Childers’ early life is vivid and repellent — but none of it is gratuitous or glamorous. This is violence as it probably should be portrayed — repellent and costly, not Hollywood-glossy. It is real.

It is to the filmmakers’ credit that skillful editing leaves us with the full shock of the violence but still somewhat protected from complete reality.

The acting is superb, the editing original and effective, the cinematography arresting, and the directing spot-on for this gritty, visceral story about a man who doesn’t know how to do anything at less than full-speed. It is to the luck of the children of the Sudan that what he does full-speed is saving them from the wolves of war.

Machine Gun Preacher tells us the story in a way that does full credit to Sam Childers’ efforts, and to the Savior who motivates his every action. This is Oscar material and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The question, upon leaving the theater, is: what do we do with what we’ve learned?

This review is also running at Patheos.com in my A Free Mind column.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

FLOWCHART: Navigating NPR's Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

Now this is a chart I could spend hours reading. Books and pithy comments.
Over the summer, NPR solicited the input of its listeners to rank the top science fiction and fantasy books of all time. Over 60,000 people voted for the top picks which were then compiled into a list by their panel of experts. The result? This list of 100 books with a wide range of styles, little context, and absolutely no pithy commentary to help readers actually choose something to read from it.

We at SF Signal have, once again, come to the rescue. This flowchart is designed to help you follow your tastes, provide context, and fulfill (indeed exceed!) any need for pithy commentary you might harbor.
Via The Sci Fi Catholic.

Catholic and Enjoying It Moves to Patheos

Mark Shea is moving his blog, Catholic and Enjoying It.

You've got to wonder how The Anchoress has time to do anything but tend the Catholic portal fires at Patheos.com.

Let's Talk Angels

We've got angelic feasts coming up. Here's a post to get us in the mood ... that is a good run down of "angelic basics".
+++++++++++++++++

One of the many lovely cemetery photos taken by Blogging in Paris.

I usually have some "mind's eye" angel thinking going on. During Mass I think about the fact that there are double the visible inhabitants, because we each have our guardian angel with us. I read somewhere that angels are always worshiping when the Host is consecrated ... I always have that mind's-eye vision of them prostrating themselves at that point. St. Josemaria Escriva always mentally greeted the guardian angel of the person and sometimes I do the same. It's a big deal to some to know their guardian angel's name. Although I now have enough of a sense of my angel not to care, I believe that his name popped into my head when my sponsor was telling me about her attempts to find out her angel's name. More important to me is to be sure to ask my guardian angel for guidance during the day ... according to St. Escriva, the more you "talk" to your angel, the more sensitive you are to any guidance.

I was fascinated by the entire concept of angels when I converted but wanted the real scoop ... not one of those cutesy "I met my angel" books that were popular at that time (2000). Wouldn't you know, Peter Kreeft (is there anything that guy can't write about?) has a wonderful book, Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know About Them? Here is the quickest possible Angels 101 course from the first page of the book.
O.K., so I'm browsing through this book and wondering: why should I buy it? What can you tell me about angels in one page?

  1. They really exist. Not just in our minds, or our myths, or our symbols, or our culture. They are as real as your dog, or your sister, or electricity.
  2. They're present, right here, right now, right next to you, reading these words with you.
  3. They're not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy, or "cool." They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors.
  4. They are the real "extra-terrestrials," the real "Supermen," the ultimate aliens. Their powers are far beyond those of all fictional creatures.
  5. They are more brilliant minds than Einstein.
  6. They can literally move the heavens and the earth if God permits them.
  7. There are also evil angels, fallen angels, demons, or devils. These too are not myths. Demon possessions, and exorcisms, are real.
  8. Angels are aware of you, even though your can't usually see or hear them. But you can communicate with them. You can talk to them without even speaking.
  9. You really do have your very own "guardian angel." Everybody does.
  10. Angels often come disguised. "Do not neglect hospitality, for some have entertained angels unawares" -- that's a warning from life's oldest and best instruction manual.
  11. We are on a protected part of a great battlefield between angels and devils, extending to eternity.
  12. Angels are sentinels standing at the crossroads where life meets death. They work especially at moments of crisis, at the brink of disaster -- for bodies, for souls, and for nations.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Cannonball Award Winners!

Presented with a flourish and a drumroll at ... The Crescat.

Machine Gun Preacher ... Go See It! (Updated)

I will have my review up very soon but for now I will just say that we were all stunned by what an excellent movie it is.

It promised something unusual and it delivered.

Machine Gun Preacher ain't your mama's Christian movie. In fact, it ain't a lot of Christians' idea of an inspirational movie. But it should be. It isn't afraid to show us the afflicted children of the Sudan in contrast to our comfortable lives and shake us up.

It is Oscar quality and if it were about any other subject (with less Christianity showing) I feel it would be nominated.

I can't praise this movie enough, nor can I praise the actors and filmmakers enough for taking it on for much less than usual salary because they were passionate about the story it tells.

It isn't easy to watch (the "R" rating is justified) but it is immensely rewarding.

Until my review is posted, please check out Hell Burns or Christianity Today for reviews that represent it well.

UPDATED: more screenings to be held in Dallas
I've been told there are more screenings in Dallas both this week and next. Here is the link and password (mgpaccess) to sign up so you can spread the word!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Pregnancy is Not a Disease. Neither is a Baby.

On August 1, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an "interim final rule" that will require virtually all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and related "patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity." These are listed among "preventive services for women" that all health plans will have to include without co-pays or other cost-sharing -- regardless of whether the insurer, the employer or other plan sponsor, or even the woman herself objects to such coverage. (emphases are mine)
Seriously?

I feel as if we're in A Brave New World and it ain't a feelin' I like.

I discovered this because our church bulletin had an insert produced by the USCCB about it. (Thank you!)

Go find out more at the USCCB site, including:

  • the pdf for that bulletin insert
  • an easy way to send a letter opposing this rule to HHS
  • an easy way to send letters of support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (HR-1179).

I just got done doing all this and it didn't take very long.

Please take a few minutes and speak up.

7th Annual Podcast Awards Nominations Now Open! Nominations close September 30th, 2011

You can only submit the nomination form once so take that opportunity to nominate all the podcasts you love ... once "submit" is hit, then you're done for 2011!

Of course, I'm thinking that this might be fun for nominating Forgotten Classics and A Good Story is Hard to Find.

And, then, there are the many other podcasts that I love listening to and want to nominate, such as CraftLit, SFFaudio, and way too many others.

If you like a podcast, drop by and sign them up. It's a nice way to say thanks and share the podcasts you love with people who might not have heard of them.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Person of Interest: Buckle Up, People

Men o' action used to be plentiful in prime-time. Handy with their fists and at ease with weaponry, they'd slug and shoot their way through whatever crooks were available.

Now they're a dying breed. Women call the shots in most of this fall's new dramas, with just one of them dependent on a hard-charging leading man. Old school CBS is the carrier and Person of Interest is the show. Buckle up.

Jim Cavaziel, beaten to death in The Passion of the Christ, gets a chance to mete out punishment as a presumed dead former government operative who feels betrayed and looks like hell until Michael Emerson from Lost finds him.
Uncle Barky's review made me hope that the things interesting me in this new series would hold up when watching it.

What caught my eye?
  • Jim Caviezel
  • That guy who was Ben on Lost (ok, Michael Emerson...he'll always be Ben to me)
  • J.J. Abrams
Then we watched it last night (from the DVR, natch) and I saw:
  • Created and written by Jonathan Nolan (yes, you know that Nolan name from brother Christopher and they work together often)
  • 9/11 themes used for good
  • Big Brother is watching ... and gonna help us out for a change ... albeit cryptically, natch
Good acting, interesting script, nice character establishment, hints of further story arc ... all set for turning into something very watchable indeed.

We're in. And buckled up.

Weekend Joke

An oldie but a goodie.
Two men considering a religious vocation were having a conversation. "What is similar about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders? " the one asked.

The second replied, "Well, they were both founded by Spaniards -- St. Dominic for the Dominicans, and St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuits. They were also both founded to combat heresy -- the Dominicans to fight the Albigensians, and the Jesuits to fight the Protestants."

"What is different about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders?"

"Met any Albigensians lately?"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Prayer Request for Tom's Mother - Updated

After several procedures to check how her foot is healing, Tom's 87-year-old mother is not progressing well.

This afternoon, her leg will be amputated above the knee to avoid gangrene in her foot where much of the flesh is dead (they say "not viable").

Please pray for the surgery to go well and for the psychological effects to be few. We are all dreading how this may affect her spirits during recovery and afterwards.

UPDATE
She came through the surgery well and now is in and out of consciousness, in a lot of pain as we might expect. Many thanks to all who have been praying ... please continue!

I'm at the hospital during my usual blogging time ... or will be for a couple of days. I have a few things that will pop up automatically daily but otherwise will be slow on answering comments, clearing away spam, or responding to email. Thank you for you patience!


Just scroll under this for the newer posts.

Bookin' Along - Updated

It has been far too long since I've talked about books ... so here we go with a gaggle of book-ish things.

UPDATES: scattered below where they seemed to fit. New things I found this morning in my interwebs browsing and wanted to share.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK: Scott Danielson, my partner in crime at A Good Story is Hard to Find, has reactivated his blog. Just in time to remind us that Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book is perfect for October reading. How I loved that book. Not sure how I'll find time but I need to keep it in mind for rereading then.

DRACULA: now that the idea of October reading has been broached, albeit a couple of weeks early, it is perfect timing for Heather Ordover at the CraftLit podcast to begin Dracula. Heather is like the best teacher you ever had, taking you through classic books, while providing the full audiobook at the same time. In this case, she recruited people to read in the book's various voices (it is written as letters). I've been waiting a loooooooooooooong time for her to do this book, which is one of my favorites. She does talk about crafts at the beginning of each episode but if you check the bottom of the shownotes—a time code is given for each episode letting you know when the crafty chat ends and the book talk begins.

REAMDE BY NEAL STEPHENSON: I've never cared enough about this writer's subjects to make myself take the intellectual effort to finish one of his books. However, this one ... well, he addresses a lot of subjects that this review makes me think I'll be interested in reading about. I may make the leap.  (If the link doesn't lead to a full review, go to Google and find it and then click through ... that usually gives you the whole thing.)

LORD OF THE RINGS ... FOR BEGINNERS
: A reader attempting the Lord of the Rings books brings up things I'd never thought of as problems in getting through them ... but finds it worthwhile anyway. A good primer: watch the movies first.

WHY VIOLENCE IS VANISHING: Aha! What we've been saying in our household all along ... we think it is more violent these days (or equally so) to the olden times because it is shoved in our face by modern media so much that we think it permeates the fabric of life. Not so says Steven Pinker in an article adapted from his upcoming book. At least worth looking at the article.

RECOMMENDATIONS IN EARLY CHRISTIAN WRITING: Darwin Catholic answers a reader's question about good reads from early Christians and invites commenters to add to his list. There are some familiar titles and some not so familiar. Though Mike Aquilina hasn't shown up in the comments ... my early Christian reading is dictated by what he shares in his fantastic books featuring the Fathers of the Church. For example, his book Angels of God? *kissing fingertips* Amazing. (Hey, someone's gotta keep an eye on current zombie books for a good worldview, right? So I let Mike ... and Darwin ... keep up with the other stuff.) Anyway, check out Darwin's post and Mike's blog.

PREGNANCY BOOK: Sarah Reinhard's got questions about specific pregnancy situations for a book she's writing. Have experience with bedrest, depression during pregnancy, mothering alone (i.e., single parenting), mothering multiples (i.e., twins), pregnancy after abortion, stillbirth, and unexpected (surprise) pregnancies? Then go take her survey!

PRINT ON DEMAND BOOKS: Now this is a nifty idea:
HarperCollins Publishers Inc. ... said it would make about 5,000 current paperbacks available to bookstores through On Demand Books LLC's Espresso Book Machine. The desk-sized device can custom print a book in just a few minutes. That means even if a physical copy is not in stock, it's still available almost immediately.
============

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX: Just finished listening to Jim Dale's superb reading of this book. I can't believe that I have forgotten such big chunks of plot (and it just gets worse with the following books). On the other hand, that allowed me to have a lot of suspense over what was actually in that Department of Mysteries.

SPOILERS follow: I was struck again that Dolores Umbridge is well placed in the position of High Inquisitor. She is on the side of right and yet what a horrible person she is. Between her delight in cruelty and Cornelius Fudge's vanity, those whose hearts are pure (Dumbledore, Harry, et al) have a war on two fronts as they struggle to stop Voldemort from obtaining the weapon he needs. All are nominally on the side of good, yet what a difference is made by intention. And that's the point, of course. Or a big part of it. Interesting to read these books again and finding that the messages I remembered have much harder points than I recalled. Equally striking and moving is hearing Harry's glimpse of Snape's innermost memory of humiliation. Snape has a choice (as do we all) of whether to be hateful and petty but he also has had a life with all too little love and/or respect. Harry is too young to understand but we then see Albus Dumbledore with even more admiration as he trusts Snape. We also realize that just because someone is on the right side, even with the right motives, this does not mean we have to like them ... or even that they are likable.

How could I have forgotten the ending of this book, with the anger and grief and conversations about death? Really well done with a solid moral worldview beneath it.

============

SO MANY BOOKS  ... IN FOR REVIEW: clearly the last month or so is when everyone (and I mean everyone) has books coming out. I've got a big stack of books, some of which I asked for, others which I didn't. All, however, are welcome! My only problem is figuring out what order to read them in and how to work in my monthly book club and podcast reading (Book club: A Mended and Broken Heart: The Life and Love of Francis of Assisi by Wendy Murray; A Good Story Is Hard to Find podcast: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury). A That's a problem that every reader loves, right?

So here's the list of what's waiting at the moment, with super-brief descriptions. All look promising, but if you try one and find something you don't like ... just remember that I haven't read them yet. A flip-through is what made me want to try them. So you have to ask yourself, do you feel lucky? "Well, do you, reader?"
  • Mercury Rises by Robert Kroese: just beginning this (relatively speaking). The sequel to Mercury Falls, which I have yet to review but liked very well as a very amusing take on an angel and a girl preventing the Apocalypse. I'm about 100 pages in and the characters have just gotten into situations that I find interesting enough that I've decided to keep going. A slower start than the first book, but I'll allow it. Amazon Vine review copy.
  • Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body by Kate Wicker: a little book that looks as if it has some good things to say about women, weight, and self esteem. A formula of sorts for health of mind, body and spirit but not preachy (thank goodness!). Author review copy.
  • Centurion's Daughter by Justin Swanton: got this one out of the blue but have read the first couple of chapters and it looks like a well written piece of historical fiction set in Gaul (France) when the Roman Empire was in its last gasps. An unusual period to choose as a setting and, as I say, the writing looks good so far. Next on my list after Mercury Rises. Publisher review copy.
  • The Pope and the CEO John Paul II's Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard by Andreas Widmer: usually the title alone would make me say, "No, no" but a flip through the pages was intriguing to make my heart say, "Yes, yes ... well, maybe anyway." Worth a try for sure. Publisher review copy.
  • The Sufficiency of Grace by Sarah Fotopoulis: Grace is widowed with a young son but even more devastation is on the way. Grace is going to get a chance to learn just what her name means in this Christian fiction. That is all I can really tell from the book description. This is by the wife of a long-time family friend and I heard about it long before I got a copy. Haven't had a chance to do much more than look over the first chapter and, I have to be honest, new science fiction coming in is always going to pull me to it more than straight fiction ... so it may be a little while before I get to this one. But that first chapter looked good and the Amazon listing has a couple of good reviews. Author review copy.
  • Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life by James Martin: We all know this is probably a book tailor-made for me. Catholicism, humor, and Father Martin's writing which has always resonated with me. I'm going to be part of the blog tour for this book with my review on October 24. So I'm putting off beginning it because of other book deadlines ... but it is a hard one to skip over, I'm telling you. Publisher review copy.
  • Reiser's Ramblings by Fr. Bernard Reiser: A collection of the best columns written over the past 30 years, these look homey and straight-forward. All profits from the sale of Reiser's Ramblings go to Haitian relief efforts sponsored by Reiser Relief Inc. Publisher's review copy.
  • Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux by Heather King: What can Therese of Lisieux teach Heather King when she spends a year reflecting on her? Probably quite a lot as I know after simply reading Story of a Soul. Looks very readable as the first two chapters go ... King alternates telling Therese's story with her own life. My sampling was interesting enough that it was hard to put down. Publisher review copy.
  • Hounded: The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne (also Hexed and Hammered): Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, and wields a magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer. Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. And so forth. These YA novels are all the rage and no one loves them more than Heather Ordover at CraftLit podcast, who I trust a great deal. So when I saw the entire series of audiobooks at SFFaudio I thought I'd try them. Just got them a couple of days ago and, what with the Harry Potter listening, haven't had a chance to try them. Publisher review copy.
  • Patient Zero: a Joe Ledger Novel by Jonathan Maberry: Joe Ledger has to kill the same terrorist twice in one week and begins to wonder what's going on. Especially after he is recruited by a very elite group to handle a new security threat in the U.S. I tried the first bit of this on my Kindle after hearing the guys at Writing Excuses podcast speak favorably of them. Once again, I saw it pop up at SFFaudio and so snagged this audiobook to try. Publisher review copy.
  • Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs: Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is hired to find Ramblin' John Hastur. The mysterious blues man's dark, driving music - broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station - is said to make living men insane and dead men rise. Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur's trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas, where he hears rumors the musician has sold his soul to the Devil. Shades of Robert Johnson, anyone? Scott Danielson saw this come in at SFFaudio and thought it looked like my kind of book. I think he just might be right. Have begun listening but am not past the first chapter yet. Rather violent (especially for listening where you can't skim to soften such things), but I'm hanging in there because that sort of thing often backs off once the story and characters are established. So far, so good.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

At Last! TV Schedule for "Catholicism" Series on Public TV

I have mentioned before how much I am enjoying reading Catholicism by Father Robert Barron, which is an accompaniment to a new video series. Four episodes are going to be aired on public television and finally they are sharing that schedule with us. Sadly, none are airing in Texas but there are a ton of other stations showing it.

(Really Texas public stations? C'mon, they're even showing it in California! Where's your state pride?)

Check it out and set your DVRs!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reed Hastings: "It is possible we are moving too fast – it is hard to say."
23,000 Angry Netflix Commenters Think It's Pretty Easy to Say.

I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. I’ll try to explain how this happened.
[Can you read the subtext there? "I'll try to explain how this happened" written to an angry subscriber who is not upset about humility but about price ... instantly becomes "and not use big words since you're fairly stupid." Going on for about eleven paragraphs doesn't help because few are going to slow down enough to read all that. Just from an advertising point of view this is a train wreck.]

We aren't Netflix subscribers but Rose is, although she suspended her account after the price increase and moving home for a while where she won't really need it.

She got an email from Netflix's CEO, Reed Hastings, and we read it with astonishment. Rarely have we seen a letter that came off as more condescending while also informing her of supremely inconvenient changes to the service. As anyone interested knows by now, they divided their DVD service into a separate company from the streaming service ... and are treating both as two separate companies so that you must have two accounts, subscribers' ratings don't show up on both websites, and so on and so forth.

[Someone needs to show Reed a little website called Amazon where they manage to sell lots of different things in one place. Actually, it is more probable that they just don't want to provide continual comparisons between the 100,000 titles available on DVD versus the 20,000 titles on streaming. But I digress...]

Inadvisedly, or so we thought, he invited readers to go to his blog post which is even longer (this guy really doesn't know his market)and leave a comment. I was fascinated to know how many comments there would be but never would have come close to guessing.

When Rose clicked through, there were 19,000 comments. In the 20 minutes that she took to compose her own comment (a letter back to Reed), one thousand more comments had been made. This morning, close to 23,000 people ... mostly negative ... had commented. Wow. That's a lot of angry people.

Interestingly, the comments are linked to Facebook, which allows readers to "like" them and, thus, spread them beyond Netflix's website. Which also seems like very bad judgment. But why should that be any different from the way the rest of this has been handled?

I don't have a dog in this fight. We just find it fascinating to watch the train wreck in progress ... and speculate on whether it is a result of Reed Hasting's ego or simply astoundingly bad marketing/public relations advice.

This did prompt Rose to check out Blockbuster where a popup window lets you know that Netflix prices rose 60% and that they are offering a 30-day free trial. It will be interesting to see if this actually translates into action which benefits another company who is positioned to throw itself into the breech, whether Blockbuster or someone else.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I've Got a Date With "Machine Gun Preacher"

Starring Gerard Butler (you remember him from 300 don't you? I do.).

Directed by Marc Forster (who directed Monster's Ball and The Kite Runner).

I'd seen those two items and gotten interested because those aren't two names I usually associate with faith-based movies (and let's face it ... those are the only sort that I am invited to ... not that there's anything wrong with that).

Dipping into the plot pushed the interest higher.

Then I read Hell Burns' review and got intensely interested. (Much more at the link.)
Sounds like a badass film, doesn’t it? Only the irresistible (and accurate) title is badass. Otherwise, this is a story about a badass guy (NOT portrayed as attractive or without consequences) who becomes a goodass and begins saving children in Sudan from becoming child-soldiers in the vicious LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army)—and worse.

Sam Childers (a thoroughly winning and Sam-Childers-approved Gerard Butler) was a violent drug dealer and biker in hillbilly Pennsylvania in his younger life. He got saved, became a Reverend and went to the Sudan to do volunteer construction work. But in Africa, he saw way more than he bargained for and wound up taking up arms to save children and innocent villagers from kidnapping, maiming, atrocities and slaughter.
One of the things that interested me about Sister Helena Burns' review (or maybe it was the letter to Sam Childers which she includes) is that the movie helped her gain an appreciation that "there is a vocation/call to be a warrior for just causes." As my brother is long-time warrior for our country, I have long been grateful for that vocation. It is nice to see that this movie helps foster that appreciation.

Finally, last night they had the screening sign-up info ready and I'm scheduled to see this interesting looking film next Monday. Sam Childers, whose story it is, is supposed to be there and I hear that they're seeing if they can work it out so that Gerard Butler is there.

May the Most Awesome Average Blog Win! It's Voting Time in the 6th annual Cannonball Catholic Blog anti-Awards.

I am honored that Happy Catholic is nominated in the Best Potpouri of Popery category.

Just to be in the company of Jeff Miller, Darwin, Heather King, Amy Welborn and Margaret Perry is very cool.

Based on that, I'm pretty sure that it's very cool to be in Rebecca Fretch's company too, but Shoved to Them is a new blog to me. (And isn't that really the point of these things whether pro- or anti-award?) To find the new blogs you wanted to read but hadn't heard of yet?

You can vote every day, but seriously ... more than anything, just go check out that giant blog list. There's some good reading waiting for you!

Book Giveaway Winners ... Living the Call by Michael Novak and William E. Simon

Google+: only one person entered there so that was easy ... Jeffrey Ferguson!

Facebook: no one entered there so that book will go into the Happy Catholic giveaway pile.

A Good Story Is Hard To Find podcast: as in Google+ only one person entered ... Kevin Mastel!

Happy Catholic: Nicole Stallworth, Sawyer MacMillan, and Karen!

If you haven't received an email from me, then I don't have your email addresses. Drop me a note to let me know your actual address and I'll get your books underway.

julie [at] glyphnet [dot] com

Congratulations to the winners and many thanks to Encounter Books for donating the books!

Bridge of Birds begins at Forgotten Classics

The tale of Master Li and Number Ten Ox in an Ancient China That Never Was. Brilliant fantasy and adventure from Barry Hughart. This is truly a forgotten classics.

Forgotten Classics is proud to begin this book, with the author's permission. Join us for Episode 168 in which we meet Number Ten Ox and Master Li ... and discover how a plague can learn to count.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Talkin' About Happy Catholic on KDKA Radio, Sunday Evening

I will be talking with Father Ron Lengwin tomorrow evening about my book Happy Catholic.

Father Ron hosts Amplify, Sundays 9-11 p.m. (8-10 Central time) on NewsRadio 1020 KDKA. They also stream the show so you can get it if you're out of range.

I'm curious to hear some of Father Ron's favorite quotes and also talk about some new ones that I found since the book came out. We had quite a good time chatting during our brief conversation setting up the interview so I am really looking forward to it.

Weekend Joke

This is one of my favorites. Thanks to Merry for sending it to me!
A new pastor was visiting in the homes of his parishioners. At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door.

Therefore, he took out a business card and wrote "Revelation 3:20" on the back of it and stuck it in the door.

When the offering was processed the following Sunday, he found that his card had been returned. Added to it was this cryptic message, "Genesis 3:10."

Reaching for his Bible to check out the citation, he broke up in gales of laughter. Revelation 3:20 begins "Behold, I stand at the door and knock."

Genesis 3:10 reads, "I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid for I was naked."

Friday, September 16, 2011

NASA Discovers Planet That Orbits Two Suns

This artist's concept illustrates Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars -- what's called a circumbinary planet. The planet, which can be seen in the foreground, was discovered by NASA's Kepler mission.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
This makes me so happy. Go to NASA to see the image full size and to read more about it.

Preparing for Meatless Fridays in U.K.

A great deal of what we know about the early English diet comes from a Latin vocabulary written by Ælfric, Archbishop of Canterbury from 995. It was written in the form of dialogues: with the baker, the ploughman, the fisherman, the shepherd. From it we know that in spring and summer women made cheese and butter from the milk of sheep or goats before smoking the cheese and salting the butter to preserve it.

In gardens, people grew carrots (purple in those days), leeks, garlic and herbs like rue and fennel. Kale was a popular winter vegetable and for a time gave February its Old English name of sproutkele. Ælfric lists animals eaten for their meat (pig, goat, deer, swan, duck etc), but the fact that our modern words beef, veal and mutton are Norma, rather than Anglo-Saxon suggests these animals were mostly valued for their wool, hides, milk and working abilities rather than their flesh.

The Rule of St Benedict stipulated that only sick monks could consume the “flesh of quadrupeds” but this was quickly interpreted as excluding fish and fowl, hence the monastic tradition of maintaining dovecotes and fishponds (stews). Bede railed against the excesses of the monastic table, circumventing not only the letter but increasingly the spirit of the Rule, and St Anselm complained that the clergy dined on “chicken spiced with pepper and cumin”. But fasting and abstinence shaped not only the culinary rhythm of the week (no meat on Fridays or Wednesdays) but also of the year (Advent, Lent, Ember Days). Unless you were very young, very old or very sick, meat was absent from the table for a considerable portion of the year.
Father Gardner at the Catholic Herald writes a fascinating and well-rounded article that includes food history, meatless recipes and the reminder that "no flesh" does not automatically mean "substitute fish."

I notice he doesn't include bean and cheese nachos among the recipes. Pity. That's a regular Friday favorite of ours as we practice meatless Fridays as our choice of Friday penance. (You know ... the penance that we're all supposed to do every Friday, all year long ...)

Via The Deacon's Bench.

Neil Gaiman on How to Read Gene Wolfe

I cannot tell you how to meet Gene Wolfe. I can, however, suggest a few ways to read his work. These are useful tips, like suggesting you take a blanket, a flashlight, and some candy when planning to drive a long way in the cold, and should not be taken lightly. I hope they are of some use to you. There are nine of them. Nine is a good number.
Now this is advice I can use. I picked up the link from Tamahome at Goodreads, where I love seeing what other people say about the books they are reading.

Snapshot: Improving Sound on Our TV


We got a new flat screen TV earlier this year with our tax return money. We knew it was one of the least expensive but we didn't realize that all the cheaper flat screen TVs have terrible sound.

Having, perhaps, more of a tin ear than most, I didn't really notice the sound that much. But it drove Tom crazy. I had ordered an iPod dock for his birthday but the company was never able to deliver. So I canceled that and gave Tom carte blanche (within the limits of our fairly slender budget).

He got the JVC TH-BC3 sound bar. It serves as an iPod dock but, better than that, it can easily be hooked up to the TV where we were delighted to hear theater-style sound emerging.

Wow! I never realized just how bad the sound from the TV was. We may never use an iPod in it as popular acclaim is keeping it attached to the television.

Reviewing 31 Prayers for Courage by Nathaniel Turner

Joshua 1:9
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

============

Dear Lord,

How forgetful I can be! You have told me before, writ in Your Word when You spoke to the Israelites, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Moses, to Joshua, Your servants: I should not be afraid because You go with me. No matter what opposition I face, You accompany me. Wherever I go, You are there; if I ascend to the heavens, or go down to the place of the dead; if I pursue the dawn in the east or the ends of the sea to the west; truly, even if I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, there You are to guide me and protect me, as you Promised Joshua and the Israelites as they entered the land which You had given over to them. Help me to remember these things, O LORD, and not to fear.

In Thy Son's Name I pray, AMEN
31 Prayers for Courage: Daily Scripture-Based Prayers to Access the Power of God contains not only 31 prayers, keyed off of a piece of scripture, but also has them in different sections so that one may look for prayers based on what one needs courage for.
  • Courage When Facing Difficulty
  • Courage to Fear God
  • Courage When Facing Others
  • Courage to Remember God's Promises
  • Courage When Needing to Be Rescued
  • Courage When Facing Spiritual Battles
  • Courage When Facing Spiritual Opposition
  • Courage When Troubled by Temptation and Sin
  • Courage When Facing Uncertainty
  • Courage When Feeling Weak
  • Courage in Tribulation
I like the fact that the prayers seem to take in the context of the scripture in case one needs reminding in a time of need.

I myself tend not to pray this sort of prayer and would probably tend to use this more as inspiration, with the prayers almost as mini-homilies in times of need. However, I have several friends who would enjoy this sort of book and use it a great deal. It works either way, as the author mentions at the beginning of the book.

This isn't a Catholic book but I didn't see anything that looked off base for Catholics, especially since it is simply scripture and prayers. The author is planning a series and I could see this being a useful gift, depending on the topic of other series.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Subliminal Messages ... for Anyone Interested in Catholic New Media

Pat Gohn ... that gal can always make me laugh. Check it Pat's subliminal message and take advantage of those extra tickets that are available.

9/11, Our Choices, and Making a Stand

My 9/11 reflections which somehow (or perhaps inevitably) led me to thinking about Stephen King's classic, The Stand. Read it at Patheos in my A Free Mind column.

Don't Forget the Book Giveaway!

Just leave a comment to be entered for the "Living the Call" giveaway.

Click through for details.

Viper by John Desjarlais

It was five years ago.

At that time, like every time, Selena saw right away why he called himself La Serpiente, The Snake.

For one thing, he wore rattlesnake-skin boots with the steel toes that Bragg and her Anglo colleagues at Drug Enforcement sneeringly called "Fence Climbers." When he crossed his sinewy legs and swung his foot, the tip glinted.

For another, his unmoving onyx eyes fixed on her cleavage -- not all that uncommon when she met men -- but that gaze was not measuring her size. It was calculating a striking distance. She averted her eyes to the side, a demure Mexican custom she hadn't lost through acculturation. Locking eyes is also how snakes paralyze their prey. She wouldn't give him the pleasure.
Viper is the sequel to Bleeder, which featured Reed Stubblefield's story, but it functions well enough as a stand-alone thriller. Selena loves sexy shoes, working on cars, and Reed, although his Anglo heritage makes her worry about introducing him to the family. Abruptly, her past as a Special Agent in the DEA comes back to haunt her when she learns that La Serpiente is back. Her name's been found on a list where the only way off is when you are killed.

Viper immerses the reader in Hispanic culture as Selena deals with family problems as well as the more thrilling ones that threaten her life. The Catholic culture is less obvious although it is still important to Selena's life and to solving the mystery. Luckily for readers, Desjarlais navigates both well.

Viper is enjoyable although I found Selena's immersion in her culture made the story a bit one-dimensional. I'd have liked seeing her interact with others from outside the Hispanic or DEA community. That said, I found Viper an enjoyable thriller and am hoping there will be a third book where we get to see Selena and Reed together.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Better Book Titles: Mein Kampf

I found Better Book Titles through Books on the Nightstand podcast. The concept is simple. As creator Dan Wilbur puts it:
This blog is for people who do not have thousands of hours to read book reviews or blurbs or first sentences. I will cut through all the cryptic crap, and give you the meat of the story in one condensed image. Now you can read the greatest literary works of all time in mere seconds!
Language warning for some titles ... so beware if that is a problem for you.

The cleverest, though, manage without bad language. As we can see...



AttackWatch: Are We Positive This Isn't an Onion Ad?


I'm still not sure it isn't. It has parody written all over it.

But now I see that Strange Herring has written President Obama an open letter on the subject.
I see that you have launched AttachWatch.com in an effort to fight off lies, smears, and misrepresentations of your policies. Far be it from me to mock such a noble enterprise, as some are doing.

But we know who they are, don’t we?

And if we don’t, I do.

How much is it worth to you?

I will deliver the names, addresses, email accounts, and phone numbers of several hundred thousand men, women, and children who I know for a certain fact have cast aspersions in your general direction — which, if not a crime, should at least be a misdemeanor, given that you probably just had the carpets cleaned.
There's more and it's all funny ... though still not as funny as that AttackWatch thing.

Though I suppose saying so is going to get me turned in on some list. Is this a great country or what?

Spicy Cajun Shrimp

Lip smacking good ... get it over at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Asking a Favor ... of any fellow Magnificat readers out there

There was a fantastic quote about the crucifix featured at the bottom of  the saint profile for either yesterday or the day before. It was from a saint I'm not familiar with ... and I tore it out (as is my way ... yes, I'm a de-constructor). But then I lost it.

If anyone could look it up and tell me what it was I'd be soooooo verrrrrrry grateful!

Thank you, Ginny!

She thoughtfully included both Monday's and Tuesday's great quotes in the comments. It is Tuesday's that is going straight into my quote journal:
Oh, what a great book for us is the cross! It is a summarization of the apologetics of our faith, a practical knowledge for our moral life, and the most tender lesson of love that the Lord has shown.
St. Gaspar del Bufalo

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New Blog: The Catholic Gene

I myself am not into tracking back family history but Tom has certainly gotten some interesting information through through the Ancestry.com membership I gave him for Christmas.

For example, my family (Austin) had an actual, real-live Puritan come over in 1638 (or some equally outrageous long ago time). Crazy! And fascinating!

For those who are interested in tracking their Catholic family history, here is a new blog that is good looking and well written ... The Catholic Gene. Donna, obviously a pro at genealogy, tells us:
I've had a genealogy blog for several years called What's Past is Prologue. Recently I saw a need in the blogosphere for information on genealogy as it pertains to Catholics in particular. I rounded up a group of some of the best genealogy bloggers out there - who also happen to (happily) be Catholic. Thus, a new blog was born. May I present The Catholic Gene!

The Catholic Gene was founded by a diverse group of friends who share two common things: a love for both genealogical research and the Roman Catholic faith. Most of the authors were “born Catholic” and some came to the faith later in life. Some aren’t actually Catholic but appreciate the faith as much as the rest of us. We hope that this blog will provide readers with useful information about the Catholic faith and genealogy.

The Catholic Gene’s mission is to present various aspects of the faith of our fathers…and mothers. But we’re genealogists at heart, so we’ll present the faith as seen through the eyes of a family historian. Whether its details about ecclesiastical archives, profiles of religious, our ancestors’ churches, vintage photographs, personal reflections, or lives of the saints in genealogical records, The Catholic Gene will offer something for everyone interested in
researching their Roman Catholic family or learning more about all things related to the Church.
Drop by and say hello ... and check out all the info!

Bad Dog: A Love Story by Martin Kihn

Lorena leaves me with a handout titled "The Rules of Passive Dominance," which begins: "Ignoring attention-seeking behaviors is the highest form of dominance."

The highest form?

Attention seeking: Grabbing shoes and making you chase her. Soft sweet cries and I say, "What's wrong, Hola, you hungry doll?" Poke and pet, roll over and rub reflexively, even yelling "Drop!" when she's got our neighbor's kid's sandal in her mouth, shaking it like a squirrel that's dead enough already.

Negative or positive--it's all attention seeking.

What she lives for.

"Her job is to train you," Lorena had said. "She's better at her job than you are because she is more focused. It's all she thinks about."

Hola's toolbox consists of annoying me until I do what she wants.

Which I always do.

Why?

Because it's annoying, that's why.

And if I don't?

Drama queen.

She'll collapse on the floor like a character in Gossip Girl tossing her Fendi bag onto the davenport.

Now I'm seeing her behaviors through a new frame. Her whining isn't an existential scripture on the brevity of life. The way she pokes her head and makes me pet her isn't a rhapsody on the mutability of love.

No, the new hermeneutics is that she's a spoiled kid throwing tantrums just to get her way. The more I look at her I see she is in a state of perpetual tantrum. She makes spoiled kids look evolved.

How can I have been so wrong for so long?

Ignorance is an expensive occupation.
Martin Kihn was a high-functioning alcoholic, although very few knew it. Like many alcoholics he was expert at hiding the signs. One who loved him wasn't fooled though, and that was his dog, Hola. Untrained and unruly, she exhibited increasingly bad behavior up to the point of threatening his wife.

Martin had been told that his dog reflected his behavior. However, it took his wife, Gloria, leaving to make him take it seriously enough to pursue obedience training. This set him on a a journey of exploration which resulted not only in learning about a variety of dog training philosophies but in healing self-discovery.
Petra Ford opens a door in my heart: she shows me that dog training is a form of art and an act of love. I've never seen two beings listen so carefully to each other or care so much. I think of Gloria. I think of Hola.

Humility is not thinking less of myself. It is thinking of myself less.
I enjoyed this book for the dog training overviews, especially since that technique that worked best for Hola is the one we've had to use in our household of four dogs. I also liked the glimpses that Martin shared about his dawning realization that God ... or as he terms it "HP" for Higher Power ... is out there, reaching out to him all the time. These glimpses are few and subtle so readers who are turned off by such content don't need to worry that they will detract from the story.

Overall, this is the story of a man and his dog and how they helped each other to a more fulfilled life. Recommended.
That night I take an exhausted Hola on a slow walk through a darkening forest, over ruts in the track from horses and ATVs.

We look up at the clouds so close I can almost touch them, and I receive a wordless message from HP.

I need to stop wishing my dog is something else.

I need to stop wishing I was someone else.

This feels like just the first step of the first awakening.

But still, it's the first.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-changes ... for Jacob and hearing about Esau's progeny. Yes - the "begats" are upon us.

Episode 167 (how can there be that many?) of Forgotten Classics returns us to Genesis, chapters 35-36, where we're in transitional mode. Also Gail contributes a list of comic podcasts to try out. Check it out.

Movie Driveby: Up in the Air, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Most people have heard of these movies, or so it seems to me. Certainly the number of people urging me to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind seem legion. So I'll keep it brief.
  • Up in the Air: George Clooney plays a corporate downsizer Ryan Bingham who flies 325,000 miles a year. His isolated life becomes challenged by proposed business changes, a young woman he is training, and a romantic interest he encounters. I was stunned by how good this movie is. Not only does it suddenly change course when you think you are comfortably ensconced in a predictable plot, but George Clooney shows that he really can act superbly when he is cast in something that requires it. He communicated more in several moments of silence than many other actors could with pages of dialogue. My grade: A+.

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Emotionally withdrawn Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and unhinged free spirit Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) are inexplicably drawn to each other, despite their very different personalities. When the relationship goes downhill, they each individually visit a doctor who has found the technology allowing them to erase each other from their memories. This beautifully illustrates why we need the bad with the good and how we can't just cover up (or erase) the memories we don't like. Director Michael Gondry did as many special effects as possible on set, as is his wont, and that is quite impressive. I was distinctly upset by a spot in the middle of the movie where Joel is trying to keep his memories and the technical assistants are frolicking around his unconscious body. It put me in mind of Being John Malkovich, another famous movie by Charlie Kaufman, who wrote this one, which was not a favorable memory for me. Also ... let's face it ... Jim Carrey was much too old to date Kate Winslet. Period. However, they pulled it off ok. My grade: B.

Updated: Book Giveaway! "Living the Call" by Michael Novak and William E. Simon

Never before in the history of the Church have laypeople been asked to do so much and the opportunities for spiritual fulfillment been so great. How are we doing and what effect is this having on our Church? Novak and Simon provide the answers in Living the Call.

The first part of the book tells the personal stories of nine faithful laypeople now serving the Church in new and diverse ways. How did they find their calling? What do their roles demand of them? How do they serve their communities? To lay the groundwork for even more lay vocations, the second part of Living the Call offers practical advice and reflections. How can we enter the presence of God? What forms of prayer can best refresh our minds and deepen our souls? What readings can we turn to from Scripture and the Church Fathers to bring ourselves toward holiness?
I have just begun looking through Living the Call but it looks solid. I really like the idea of giving practical examples of people involved in lay ministry and combining that with faith basics to bring us closer to God. After all, if we don't have friendship with Christ, then how are we going to recognize Him when we try to serve those around us? Great, great combination.

The publisher sent me several copies to give away, two of which will be given away right here at Happy Catholic!

Leave your name in the comments and next Monday I'll use the random number generator to see which two are the lucky winners!

UPDATED
I knew I was forgetting something. I am so sorry but this giveaway is not available to international addresses ... unless, they are willing to pay postage. I can handle the media rates for the U.S. for these books but international rates tend to be very high.

Homilies and 9/11

The readings for Sunday were rich in discussion of mercy and forgiveness. They looked as if they'd been planned to accompany the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Some homilists took advantage of that and others didn't. I've seen a good bit of commentary from people around the internet about this.

Our pastor didn't mention 9/11. I can easily imagine that he was avoiding getting sidetracked onto patriotism when we should be putting focus on worshiping God. I can respect that. It was a fantastic homily about mercy, forgiveness, and applying it to our own hearts.

I did my own thinking about 9/11 anyway and he may have been counting on parishioners to do that. Hannah went to the 5 p.m. mass and said that priest also didn't mention it.

It did leave me a bit sad, though, that it was the only public group I was in that day and other than a mention in the prayers of the faithful and the bulletin art, there was no acknowledgment of our feelings. The more I thought about it and engaged in an email conversation with a fellow parishioner who asked for my thoughts, I wondered that my sadness came back.

It came to me this morning that the need to acknowledge and discuss 9/11 is not about patriotism. It is about our national identity as a people. It is a blow that was struck to each one of us and which still leaves us reeling when we think of it.

The nearest I can come is in thinking of the Hebrew people exiled in Babylon.
By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.

Psalm 137
The Babylonian exile marked the Hebrew people forever. We see it in the psalms and the prophetic books. I'm not sure the U.S. has a long enough memory to be marked forever. But this close to the attacks on our innocents, we're marked, scarred, and still traumatized.

To acknowledge that is simply to state truth. To apply mercy and forgiveness as a homily topic to that event is to help us heal. If the homily is the practical application of the Gospel to our lives, this is one of the biggest things that many of us needed help with yesterday.

We're not New Yorkers but that day ... as we saw on the window of a pickup truck ... we were all New Yorkers on that day. It marks us all.

I suppose that is why I still feel sad today when I think about the missed opportunity of the homily. In a funny way I guess I was waiting to grieve with others. And didn't get the chance.

In that spirit, here is the homily I wish I'd heard (albeit utterly different in tone than our pastor would have delivered had he talked about 9/11... and that's ok too). Thank you, Deacon Greg. I needed that.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Reminder for those who read the blog through RSS feeds

If you do that then you're missing the daily quote that goes in the sidebar, the daily horoscope, and usually one other tidbit which I find amusing ... lately it is a piece of misinformation from Dr. Boli's Encyclopedia.

Plus my Goodreads listing of current books and such things are there too.

I've gotten several emails and comments lately about them so I thought I'd just mention those little add-ons.

Weekend Joke

Via My Little Sister's Religious Jokes.
O'Toole worked in the lumber yard for twenty years ...

... and all that time he'd been stealing the wood and selling it. At last his conscience began to bother him and he went to confession to repent.

"Father, it's 15 years since my last confession, and I've been stealing wood from the lumber yard all those years," he told the priest.

"I understand my son," says the priest.

"Can you make a Novena?"

O'Toole said, "Father, if you have the plans, I've got the lumber."

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Favorite of the Greatest Uses of Trash Talk in the History of War

It's #4 in the countdown from 10 to 1 but it was my favorite in this fascinating piece from Cracked.com (as always, language warning).
After maxing out his army's tech tree and throwing his enormous weight around in the Third Sacred War, Philip turned his eye toward the oiled abs of Sparta. So, in 346 B.C., he decided he would do a little smack-talking of his own to the Spartans:

"You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army on your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people and raze your city."


The Spartans answered ...

The Quote:

"If."

As in, "That's the only relevant word in all your tough talk."

The Aftermath:

Sure enough, it never happened. Both Philip II and his son Alexander ended up spending the remainder of their military careers fighting as far away from Sparta as humanly possible.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Making a Private Journey in Public: Reviewing "The Way"


I have been intrigued by pilgrims walking the thousand-year-old El Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) ever since reading author Robert Ward's experiences walking it in Virgin Trails: A Secular Pilgrimage.

I came away with a healthy respect for the physical accomplishment of walking almost 500 miles (800 kilometers) over mountains and across plains from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Also, there was the attraction of that rarity — the idea of investing full attention on God for a month or so — which seemed like a romantic deed still available in modern times.

I probably will never get the chance to take that pilgrimage. It has just been one of those things that made me perk up my ears when El Camino comes up. Surprisingly, it comes up much more than you'd think, if you read the right blogs.

When I received the invitation to prescreen Emilio Estevez's new film, The Way, about a bereft father walking the Way of St. James, my ongoing interest in El Camino was a large factor in my attendance. If I can't get there any other way, the wonder of film can take me. Also, with Estevez and his father, Martin Sheen, involved it seemed to me as if there were less chance of this being a sappy, trite story ... which is what I fear any time I am tapped to prescreen a movie. (They see "Happy Catholic" and "Christian movie" is what they think ... which often leaves the story behind at expense of pounding the pulpit ... but I digress ...).

I was pleased to find a solid little indie film with gorgeous cinematography and a simple but engaging story.

Martin Sheen plays Tom, who travels to a town in the French Pyrenees to identify the remains of his estranged son who was killed while walking El Camino de Santiago. Ruing his lack of connection, overcome by his grief, Tom decides to walk the Camino for his son, leaving handfuls of ashes at shrines along the way.

As he goes, Tom acquires three unwanted companions, each of whom have their own hidden reasons. Estivez, who wrote the script, readily admits to being inspired by The Wizard of Oz but in truth one could compare The Way to any story that is based around a journey with a misfit group of comrades. This storytelling device is well known and for good reason. In watching the people rub against each other's pet peeves and tread unwittingly on their hidden secrets, we learn about them on a deeper level. We know the device because it is also the story of our own lives as we do the same to those around us. It is how we are made:  to journey through life both alone and in company.

The story was told in an understated way for the most part. Characters didn't preach sermons at one another and several revelations were very touching in what they showed of regret in choosing the wrong way. The acting was good also and although I am used to seeing Martin Sheen's familiar style, I was moved to tears when his character shrank at entering the morgue, saw his son's face, and later spread the ashes at the first shrine. For those whom this sort of thing concerns: none of the pilgrims identify themselves as practicing Christians so occasional swearing, drug use, and the like are able to be looked on simply as secular behavior. There were a few moments that struck me as false such as the first encounter with Jack the writer where his Irish eloquence about "the road" was so over the top that I winced. However, there were not many of those moments compared to the others that I enjoyed.

As I said before, this is a solid little indie movie and I recommend it. In fact, since I watched it from the third row of the theater, I plan on renting the DVD when it comes out and watching again when my eyes aren't crossed on the close ups. It is simply gorgeous, if nothing else, and I found the simple story inspirational.

MILD SPOILER & PONDERING ABOUT STORY
Despite recommending the movie, I was pondering what made The Way a "little indie movie" versus something like The King's Speech which also has a simple and inspirational story but seems more complete. The Way seemed to lack a layer or two of complexity that would have made a more well-rounded story.

My husband, Tom, (my date for the movie) became intrigued by El Camino and began looking up what he could find about it. He surprised me by saying that the filmmakers didn't tell the entire story in telling that when you show your filled Camino passport at the end of the pilgrimage you receive a certificate. Making the pilgrimage for religious reasons has historically earned a plenary indulgence* and that is still true today. Also those who state they made the pilgrimage for religious reasons receive the Latin version of the certificate.

Tom said that he thought the filmmakers missed an opportunity by omitting these details. How much more powerful, he asked, would it have been if when Sheen's character had the official change the name on his Camino certificate to his son's name if the indulgence had been explained then? It would have gone far in speaking about Sheen's attitude shift and his reconciliation with his son as a result of the journey. And it would have spoken to hope for life after death.

During the question-and-answer period following the film, Estevez said that he was "open" about faith. He hadn't made up his mind but bore no ill will to any specific faith. That openness, translated into this movie, seemed to take away a bit from the focus it could have had if he had been willing to take a firmer stand and push all the way to defining the conclusion more. The film is not afraid to show religious symbolism as, indeed, it could not be considering the subject. If only they had been a bit more willing to put the necessary firmness into the message.

As it was, we were left questioning the point and emotional impact of Tom's throwing the rest of the ashes into the ocean. It seemed an unnecessary coda, although I very much liked the final scene that followed it.


*The Handbook of Indulgences states that a plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who perform the works listed below. This means the full remission of all temporal punishment (time spent in purgatory) due to sin in one's entire lifetime up to that point. Plenary indulgences can also be requested of Our Lord for the deceased. (source)