Monday, March 31, 2014

Well Said: Conspiracy Versus Incompetence

I find [H. P.] Lovecraft's general paranoia a bit hard to empathize with -- I tend to think of the world as being ruled mostly by benign incompetence, rather than malicious conspiracy.
Alex, Goodreads
Indeed. I was struck by this when I saw it a few weeks ago on Goodreads. I'd recently had a conversation with someone who I really respect but who flabbergasted me by saying that he thought the Catholic Church was a vast, malicious conspiracy. Oh, and that the conspiracy began very soon after Jesus' death. This was supported by all the reading he had done.

I have to say that my experience of the Church ... and indeed of most organizations, whether secular or religious ... tends to fall in line with Alex's quote above. Yes, you do get evil sometimes. Hitler's and Stalin's legacies alone testify to that and we all wish those were the only two of their kind we could point to.

But for the most part, most people are generally good at heart. We're just not as good at being competent as we all think we are. And neither is the next guy.

Worth a Thousand Words: Goldcrest

Goldcrest
taken by Remo Savisaar
As always, to fully appreciate Remo's incomparable nature photography, click through and examine the image in full size. I just don't know how he gets these shots. I only know I'm grateful he shares them with us.

Catholic by Choice by Richard Cole

Catholic by Choice: Why I Embraced the Faith, Joined the Church, and Embarked on the Adventure of a LifetimeCatholic by Choice: Why I Embraced the Faith, Joined the Church, and Embarked on the Adventure of a Lifetime by Richard Cole

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I read this for the Patheos book club after they approached me because they needed more bloggers to participate.

Originally I thought, "another conversion story ... I've read so many, do I need to read another?" I forgot, of course, that every conversion story is the same, a love story. And every conversion story is unique because each of us is uniquely different. As it turns out, this was a very engaging reading experience, to the point where I read it in 24 hours.

I really enjoyed reading Richard Cole's very honest account of his internal struggles after it became clear that God was tapping him on the shoulder to invite him to a closer relationship, through the Catholic Church. I appreciated the way he'd tell sitting down at the kitchen table to ask honest questions about things troubling him and then would relate Jesus' answer. Usually direct, often surprising ... and that all rang very true to me.

I also appreciated Cole's honest accounting of dealing with his wife about faith. Interestingly she was in the process of moving away from Catholicism to new age spiritualism. This troubled Cole and led to several conversations which showed two people trying to move into greater relationship with God through very different paths. It seemed especially relevant to our times when so many people are moving away from the faith (or lack thereof) in which they were raised and find themselves adapting to "mixed marriages."

I would be curious to hear the author's wife's reasons for giving her husband that three-day gift certificate to a retreat at a monastery, which is what kicked off his conversion process. Since she herself was in the process of moving away from Catholicism it was a generous and interesting gift but those reasons aren't given in the book.

Cole was a lot more directed in his conversion that I was in mine. I'd just go along, something would happen to get my attention and I'd respond and then go off in whatever new direction seemed indicated, happy and oblivious until the next attention-getting bop on the head from God. Cole worked on his as if it were a Divine Assignment he'd be graded on, with a lot of worry and attention and introspection that would have worn me out.

Not that my own enthusiasm and gung-ho attitude probably didn't get wearing for my own family, it is just that I didn't work it like a program with boxes to check off a list. I might not have been thrilled about the idea of RCIA classes, but I just figured if that was what God wanted, then that's what I'd do. No wonder my spiritual progress during that time was a surprise to me, a welcome one to be sure but still not something I'd expected or worked to get.

And that's what makes each conversion story both different and the same, in some sense. This one is definitely worth reading. Ultimately it focused me on thinking about Jesus' own interactions in my own life, in a different way than I'd been doing lately. And that's a good thing. For me anyway.

NOTE ABOUT THE INTRODUCTION:
For some reason the introduction has a lot of details about how the author's life and family have turned out after his conversion. This was rather off-putting and left me in a distinct mood of not being interested in reading the actual book. Obviously, this was overcome with the first chapter, but there's no reason to put yourself through that. Skip the intro and read it after the rest of the book.

REVIEW COPY PROVIDED FREE
The review copy was provided by the Patheos Book Club. Publishers pay for Patheos to feature their books. My review is my own based solely on the book's merits.

Noah ... the Movie ... the Controversies - MORE UPDATES

I've been pretty excited about the upcoming Noah movie ever since I heard about it. Then I saw the trailer and got even more excited.

This looked like a classic Bible movie, the likes of which I loved watching as a kid. The Ten Commandments. Ben Hur. You know what I'm talkin' about. Eye popping special effects, miracles, heroic struggles, bigger-than-life stuff.

The fact that we were completely secular and didn't give God a second thought had nothing to do with it. These movies rocked.

I was ready for Noah to rock my world in the same way.

Then I began hearing swirling discontent coming from people who were afraid the movie wouldn't be purely Biblical enough.

Probably.

This is a Hollywood movie after all.

Film makers have lots of other considerations and even when they've loved a story since their youth, they make trade offs. This was recently called to mind when rewatching all of The Lord of the Rings movies for A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast recently.

Director Peter Jackson made some choices I agreed with and some I didn't. He mentions in the extras that he actually got lost down the wrong track a few times and was able to return to the original message only at the last minute.

In fact, that's not a bad place to start when considering how stories must be adapted to move from one medium to another. Since the Bible was originally oral and then written down, Jewish tradition often chose to keep everything even when it conflicted. They didn't want to throw something out in case it was important in a way they couldn't see at the time.

And from that arose the tradition of midrash. Midrash is a traditional Jewish way of trying to understand the underlying spirit of scripture, sometimes connecting it to modern life, by creating parables. This allows for some imaginative storytelling as rabbis look for interpretations that are not immediately obvious but are nevertheless held within the original text.

I figured that as long as we got a good, entertaining movie Noah would, at the very least, be an interesting modern midrash on the story's applicability to our times.

Steven D. Greydanus, respected movie critic for the National Catholic Register, devout Catholic, has invested a considerable amount of thought into the flap over Noah.
Whatever the movie looks like, I expect some pious moviegoers, especially biblical literalists, will be upset or angry about anything in the film that goes beyond the biblical text, or that contradicts their own ideas about the story, or that doesn’t dovetail with their conception of the message of the Bible.

Is this really necessary? I don’t think so. By way of providing some perspective, here are a few points that I think thoughtful Christians, particularly Catholics, should consider in evaluating Aronofsky’s film and others like it.

We all grow up with this version of the story, we read it to our own kids, and many of us never look at the text any other way. (For example, picture books invariably stick with the “two by two” motif, ignoring the verses that refer to seven pairs of “clean” animals.)

There’s nothing wrong with this familiar version of the story. But we shouldn’t mistake it for the canonical story itself — nor should we be too quick to reject interpretative or imaginative approaches to the text that challenge our assumptions. A retelling that defamiliarizes the story, that makes us rethink what we thought we knew, can be a valuable thing.
Greydanus hits the nail on the head. He's got several good pieces which I read with interest as they came along. If you are curious about why the movie is worth watching, despite not being what might be called "strictly Biblical" then these may interest you also. Heck, they're interesting no matter what.
Here's another piece (WSJ: Ark-itectural Digest) which has nothing whatever to do with controversies, but has everything to do with how the filmmakers combined digital and physical elements for the special effects. For instance they actually built the ark to Biblical proportions. The ultimate test was when Hurricane Sandy came along.
In a clearing within a woodsy arboretum on Long Island, on dry land, Mr. Friedberg's crew spent about six months erecting the front entrance and sides of an ark about 60 feet high, out of steel and foam designed to look like logs. For scenes in the ark's interior, they built a three-story set to the same scale inside an armory in Brooklyn.

"We decided that it would be built to biblical proportions," Mr. Friedberg explains. That means it isn't a seafaring ship but a large rectangular box intended to keep Noah's family and the menagerie afloat, specified by scripture to be 30 cubits high, 50 cubits wide and 300 cubits long (a cubit is the distance from human elbow to middle fingertip). Sunk in a cement foundation, the "ark" was framed in I-beams.

In October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit like some kind of cosmic message and flooded parts of New York. "The ark did fine," says Mr. Friedberg. "It enjoyed its chance at some real weather. It did better than some of our own houses."
I can't wait.

UPDATE
Other Christian reactions to Noah, all via Brandywine Books.
  • Phil Cooke: Why I'm Recommending Christians See The Movie Noah
    He's got many good reasons, but this was my favorite:
    9) Do we as a Christian community really need to “protect” ourselves from a movie that isn’t 100% Biblically accurate? Would the Apostle Paul have run from the challenge? Rather than withdrawing from the discussion, I suggest that we seize the moment, turn the tables, and use this to our advantage. Pastors should be preaching messages on the Noah story. Let’s use the film to share our faith with friends and co-workers. Like the Old Testament’s Joseph, who rose to remarkable heights in an alien and hostile culture, let’s not shy away from these opportunities, rather, let’s use them to demonstrate the power of God’s Word.
  • Gregory Alan Thornbury: Darren Aronofsky's Noah.
    It's a long, thoughtful piece that you need to go read for yourself, but let's let this give the overall tone:
    Aronofksy's Noah is a way of putting ourselves before the Bible's "dangerous question" as Barth put it. The grim, gritty, and supernatural antediluvian biblical world takes us back into ancient history, of origins. Who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? Where is justice? Is God there? What does he have to say? That ancient world sets us back on our heels and forces us to take stock in this strange new world inside the Bible.
YET MORE UPDATES
Steven D. Greydanus is turning into quite the authority on the Noah movie. He's being interviewed everywhere, asked tons on questions, and has a couple more pieces written. I'm not reading either of these until I've seen the movie, but wanted to share these links.

  • The Noah Movie Controversies answers the many questions he's being asked. If there's a misconception out there, he's addressing it.
  • Noah: A Theological Reflection. Here's the description of the piece: Darren Aronofsky’s controversial film is sometimes divisive and divided, but is also deeply serious about Scripture and essential questions.
AND ANOTHER UPDATE
  • Father Barron's take on Noah ... What is significant is that Noah remains utterly focused throughout, not on his own freedom, but on the desire and purpose of God. God, creation, providence, sin, obedience, salvation: not bad for a major Hollywood movie!
  • Darwin Catholic's review ... which comes down halfway between Greydanus' enthusiasm and (as Darwin put it, taking the words from my mouth) "Barbara Nicolosi's bizarre rant." (Note: Nicolosi's piece made me long for Roger Ebert's witty, erudite reviews of movies he hated. Nicolosi is no Ebert.) At any rate, Darwin is always worth reading and I'll go past his spoiler alert once I've seen the movie.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Shadow Play

Schattenspiel (Shadow Play)
by Edward B. Gordon
I simply love Edward B. Gordon's artistic style and the fact that he records everyday life in the city. This painting exemplifies both those traits.

Well Said: Masks and what is behind them

Having given up God so as to be self-sufficient, man has lost track of his soul. He looks in vain for himself. He finds masks, and behind masks, death.
Jacques Mauritain
There could hardly be a better summary of the modern condition. This, too, is one that is worthy of meditation during Lent. The path to the Cross is hard, no doubt. But what lies beyond is not death, but life.

Where do we cling to masks, where do we eschew the Cross, which is to say Christ's own sacrifice for us? It is these realizations that send us to Confession, which helps us see ourselves and God as masks are stripped away and soothing, healing light is let in.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain detail
taken by Joseph at Zombie Parent's Guide
As I've mentioned before, I am thoroughly enjoying Joseph's pictorial records of his family's travels while they are living in England. I'm getting views of places like Pompeii and Rome, among others, that I might never get to see in person.

Book Review: The C. S. Lewis Bible

C. S. Lewis Bible: New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) (Bible Nrsv)C. S. Lewis Bible: New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I've never understood the enthusiasm for study Bibles on a single theme or with a single person's commentary. Obviously, they are popular because you can see them everywhere. When this Bible came to my attention, I blanched.

However, it seems as if 2014 is fast becoming my "year of C.S. Lewis" as I work my way through his books in audio format. So I took a closer look on Amazon where I found Brandon Vogt's review, which I encourage you to read. I trust Brandon's judgment a lot from having read his blog. His thoughtful comments also showed that he, too, was leery of this sort of study bible. He pointed out that, with care, one can view such a work as having midrash available on scripture and that opened up another way to consider it.

I'm not crazy about the NRSV translation but that is a matter of personal taste admittedly. Catholics will note that this is a Protestant Bible and so has fewer books than a Catholic Bible would. The committee who put this together does seem to have done an impressive job of carefully matching Lewis's comments in the appropriate spot without overdoing it. It is definitely a Bible first and foremost, with occasional C.S. Lewis comments from a wide variety of sources. It quickly became a favorite morning read.

I do want to mention that except for the cover, this book is a work of beauty. The typesetting, format, and overall look are gorgeous. The cover ... well, you can see that for yourself. Nothing can make it anything except ugly. But once the cover is opened, the interior is beautiful. This is the book that proves the old adage. Don't judge this book by its cover.

Well Said: Comedy and Diversity

Jerry Seinfeld responding to a question about a lack of diversity in his online series, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," on CBS This Morning, February 2014.

People think it's the census or something. This has gotta represent the actual pie chart of America? Who cares? Funny is the world I live in. You're funny, I'm interested. You're not funny, I'm not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that. But everyone else is kinda with their little calculating, "Is this the exact right mix?" To me, it's anti-comedy. It's more about PC nonsense than "are you making us laugh or not?"
Precisely.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Almost Brand New Puppies

These three baby boys came in overnight with no mom. The person who found them tried to care for them the best she could, but at just a few days old, they needed more care than she could provide. Thanks to your donations of heating pads, bottles, and formula they are still alive. It's touch and go, of course, but YOU are making a difference.
This takes me back to the old days when my parents raised and bred Bulmastiffs for show. We sometimes had teeny tinies like this who needed extra care. I can still remember getting the feeding tube down a bitty baby and watching it suddenly go to sleep in my hands as I pushed the syringe slowly and it became ... full.

I've gotta say that no one uses Facebook to better advantage than Dallas Animal Services. They update it continually with pictures and stories that make me feel good, know their needs, and just generally keep them top-of-mind. Aside from our Boxer needs, we generally have adopted rescue pets from the SPCA. However, the next time we'll probably go to Dallas Animal Services. The SPCA has some very generous donors and now has a "no kill" policy but Dallas Animal Services doesn't have that luxury.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume

The Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume (1763). Alexander Roslin (Swedish, 1718–98).
via Books and Art where there is more about the painting
The dress! Just look at that glorious dress! I could look at it all day long...

Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin

Jesus: A PilgrimageJesus: A Pilgrimage by James J. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I am a fan of Father James Martin's books, especially A Jesuit Off-Broadway. When Scott chose this book for our next religious book discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast, I was excited, having been interested since I first saw it mentioned at Amazon.

This is a much thicker and more substantive book than I expected. The bibliography alone makes one step back and realize there is more hard-core scholarship than in any of his previous books. Yet it is written in Father Martin's trademark style, interspersing personal experience with the main book text. It is accessible and interesting. It isn't dumbed down and isn't too scholarly. It's juuuuust right.

Martin's goal is to help us consider our answer to Christ's question to his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"

This means we must consider what it means to be "fully human and fully divine." Martin does a very good job of presenting a lot of contextual information for understanding Jesus' life and ministry through this lens. As we travel through the gospels, so to speak, he intertwines the various stops (recruiting the disciples, healing demoniacs, etc.) with his own pilgrimage to Israel. He then stops to place everything in the context of our own lives and is extremely generous in sharing his own life changing experiences, whether flattering or not. I especially appreciate Martin's openness in sharing the spiritual experiences he had, most notably that in the Church of the Resurrection.

I especially appreciate the way that Father Martin approaches questions from all angles. For example, when considering Christ's healings of "demoniacs," Martin isn't afraid to discuss the idea of psychological or physiological illness as a cause. This will be welcome to those who like to get down to examining facts. However, he always does this in a thoughtful, thorough, Christian way that leaves no doubt we are reading about the Messiah and that miracles can (and do) happen.

Each chapter ends with Martin's deeper thoughts on how our own lives can be enriched with the aid of what Christ has shown us about this part of his life. This is where the rubber meets the road for most of us and Martin brings great sensitivity and understanding to these pages. In fact, I was enduring great inner turmoil about something when I read Martin's thoughts of what it means to take up your cross daily. The whole section spoke to me strongly, but nothing more than "wait for the resurrection" which I sorely needed to hear that very day.

This is the sort of book that used to be much more common. To Know Christ Jesus by Francis Sheed and Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen are just a couple of the older books I've read like this.  We have been sorely in need of a new one and I'm so pleased that James Martin wrote this book which is truly a treasure for reading and rereading. I'm beginning to feel that this book might be a "must have" for Christians who want a more rounded, personal experience of Christ. Or for those who don't understand the "Christian thing" and would like some general context of their own.

I also have a feeling that a lot of readers are going to come away wanting to visit the Holy Land. Not me, but I appreciate Father Martin's descriptions as it helps me "feel" the place a bit better. And, to be fair, I've never especially felt the need to go to Rome or anywhere else on pilgrimage, for that matter.

However, what it did was help me feel a deeper familiarity, connection, friendship dare I say, with Jesus when I encounter Him in the gospels. It made me think of Father Martin's story about his spiritual director showing him a green tree and reminding him it would be red in autumn, without anyone ever seeing the gradual change. That's what happened to me. A step closer. All to the credit of this book, which is doing it without "wows" or "aha" moments. Truly that is a credit to this work.

NOTE
I also received the audiobook for review. I was eagerly anticipating this but was surprised to find that Father Martin's reading was extremely plain and without nuance or subtlety. In a sense, it was like a father reading to his children who is unused to reading aloud. I'm used to authors reading their work who are extremely good at it, such as Father Robert Barron or Neil Gaiman (yes, I know that is an unusual pair to put together but both are excellent at reading aloud).

That said, once I adjusted to Martin's style, or lack thereof, it actually worked fine for this book. In a sense, it took out any of his own personality and allowed the text to speak for itself. Which is actually just as it should be for a book like this. With that in mind, I can recommend the audiobook.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

I was completely blank on today being a feast day of any sort. Thanks to Ingrid for pointing out to me that this is the Annunciation so I could join in celebrating the wonder of Mary's yes to God's messenger.

This actually makes me think about Tolkien's including March 25 as a significant date in The Lord of the Rings. (Yes, three podcasts and all that talking have left me with Tolkien on the brain.) 


I think of Tolkien mentioning in a letter that faithful Sam was truly the hero of the book. He humbly served Frodo for the love of his master. The hardships he went through as Frodo's companion were more than he'd have been able to imagine. And yet he never even considered turning back, though Elrond made it clear that anyone except Frodo could without any need to feel obligated.

Tolkien was such a devout Catholic that surely Mary's loving service and "yes" without understanding the cost to herself surely had to be part of the worldview that went into creating Sam's character. It surely helps me understand Mary just a tiny bit more.

And now with that lengthy thought out of the way, here is something from those who gave this celebration due consideration and which I last featured in 2012.



Leonardo da Vinci. The Annunciation.
Detail. c. 1472-1475. Oil and tempera on wood. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

On today's feast the Church celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation and, at the same time, the vocation of Our Lady. It was her faithful response to the angel's message, her fiat, that began the work of redemption...

The setting of this feast day, March 25th, corresponds to Christmas. In addition, there is ancient tradition that the creation of the world and the commencement and conclusion of the Redemption all happened to coincide at the vernal equinox.


As the greatest proof of his love for us, God had his only Son become man to save us from our sins. In this way Jesus merited for us the dignity of becoming children of God. His arrival signalled the fullness of time. St. Paul puts it quite literally that Jesus was born of a woman. (cf The Navarre Bible, Romans and Galatians, note to Gal 4:4) Jesus did not come to earth as a spirit. He truly became man, like one of us. He received his human nature from Our Lady's immaculate womb. Today's feat, therefore, is really in honour of Jesus and Mary. That is why Fr. Luis de Granada has pointed out: It is reasonable to consider, first and foremost, the purity and sanctity of the Woman whom God chose 'ab aeterno' to give form to his humanity.

When God decided to create the first man, he first took care to create a fitting environment for him, which was the Garden of Eden. It makes sense, then, that when god made ready to send his Son, the Christ, he likewise prepared for him a worthy environment, namely, the body and soul of the Blessed Virgin. (Life of Jesus Christ, I)


As we consider the significance of this Solemnity, we find Jesus very closely united to Mary. When the Blessed Virgin said Yes, freely, to the plans revealed to her by the Creator, the divine Word assumed a human nature: a rational soul and a body, which was formed in the most pure womb of Mary. The divine nature and the human were united in a single Person: Jesus Christ, true God and, thenceforth, true Man; the only-begotten and eternal Son of the Father, and from that moment on, as Man, the true son of Mary. ... (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 274)
Have you ever noticed how many annunciation paintings have Mary interrupted at her reading? This is because of Mary's association with the Word. I never noticed this myself until I had to look through many paintings on the subject for a book I was laying out.

Also, it's a feast day, y'all! No fasting. That means no Lenten sacrifice. So Tom can have some ice cream! It's the little things, right?

Well Said: The cardinal sin

Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.
W. H. Auden
I tend to think of impatience as being a specifically American flaw. However, this makes me reflect that impatience is perhaps simply a human flaw. Certainly it is food for reflection.

St. Peter's Bones by Thomas J. Craughwell

St. Peter's Bones: How the Relics of the First Pope Were Lost and Found . . . and Then Lost and Found AgainSt. Peter's Bones: How the Relics of the First Pope Were Lost and Found . . . and Then Lost and Found Again by Thomas J. Craughwell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 1939, while reconstructing the grottoes below St. Peter's Basilica, a workman's shovel struck not dirt or rock but open air. After inspecting what could be seen through the hole they'd made in the mausoleum's roof, Pope Pius XII secretly authorized a full-scale excavation. What lay beneath?
This book was interesting and well written as one would expect from Thomas J. Craughwell. However, it had a major structural flaw. What I was interested in was the discovery of St. Peter's bones by the archaeologists excavating the catacombs. Every time the action reached a peak moment the next chapter would stop and drag us back into Christian history, completely stopping the momentum and eventually frustrating me to the point where I just would skip the history in order to get back to the main story.

It is a fine thing, one supposes, to educate as one goes, but in this case it not only messed with the book overall but felt as if one were being forced to have a history lesson.

You won't be wasting your time in reading this book but a far better telling can be found in The Bones of Saint Peter by John Evangelist Walsh (my review here). He just tells the exciting story with historical bits wound in only as necessary for understanding.

St. Peter's Bones has a small amount of updated developments since the 1982 publication of The Bones of Saint Peter so there is that going for it.

NOTICE: This book was provided by the publisher for me to review. I think it's pretty obvious I didn't let that influence me.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Person of Interest: "/" "Root Path"

Holy moly the last episode knocked me out.

I was so surprised to see several threads all woven together with one big message presented from different angles: each person matters, the ends don't justify the means, and there is a big plan for each of us. These came from unexpected sources in the show also.

I especially love the way that The Machine is putting Root's personal good over it's own survival. If ever there was a Catholic theme in this show, this show had it.

The Value of Reading Exodus, a Chapter at a Time

I'm not sure how I fell into this habit.

I come home from work, fix a cuppa Joe, the dogs whisk around me excitedly as I add the milk and sugar (they know what's coming next) ... pick up my Bible from the hearth and open the patio door, the dogs race to the bottom of the yard together, and I go out to sit in the sun.

I sit in the sun and open up my Bible to Exodus to slowly read the next chapter.

I must have begun this two or three weeks before Lent began. For some reason, I'd been wanting to read Exodus for a while. Maybe because I'd read Genesis several times in the last couple of years for various reasons. (Surprisingly, you can have various reasons to read Genesis. I'd never have believed it in my pre-Christian days.)

I tried also reading commentaries but it turned out that what I wanted, deep down, was to just read the words ... and see what I found there for myself.

Maybe that's why I like the Ronald Knox translation I have been using. The lack of subheads, unobtrusive placement of verse numbers, the paragraph structure, the relatively few explanatory notes ... all these things lend themselves to simple reading. It's restful to simply sit and read.

Maybe that's also why things in the text stand out and surprise me.

I was surprised to find it dawning on me that all Moses asked of Pharaoh was to let the Hebrew slaves go worship in the desert for a few days. Not to "let my people go" out of slavery. Just to go worship ... and then they'd come back.

I guess I really absorbed more of The Ten Commandments than I realized.

Then I was bemused by Pharaoh's stubbornness. Yes, I know God said he'd harden his heart, but this looked like a familiar pattern. Something we all understood.

When he finally began to relent, Pharaoh said, well ok but you have to worship here. No leaving the country.

More plagues.

Then Pharaoh relented. A little. Ok, but who's going with  you? What? You want to take the women, children, and livestock? Absolutely not. Just the men can leave.

More plagues.

Ok, I'll let you take the women and kids. But not the livestock. No way. They stay here.

More plagues ... and the death of all the firstborn and Pharaoh's famous full relenting.

How many times have we done that? We try to work deals with God. We'll give in, a little, but we want to maintain control, have things on our own terms as much as possible. We're not fooling anyone, certainly not God. Just like Pharaoh. To think I'd never have come across that if I hadn't been just sitting and reading a little at a time.

Right now I have been working my way through the liturgical instructions that come along with receiving the tablets of commandments written "with God's own finger."

I had no idea that after hearing the commandments, Moses was sent back down the mountain to round up the top 70 elders and bring them back up as witnesses for more in-depth coverage of just how the laws would apply.

As God worked his way through all the circumstances and applications of law, I kept thinking of how these people were just like us. And they were in circumstances just like the ones that we find ourselves in. What a tangible connection between me and those long-ago people.

Even in the lengthy chapters about how the tabernacle was to be constructed, how the priests' garments were to be woven, how the poles would go through the altar, I found fascinating tidbits. I thought about how God selected the craftsmen by name, saying that their creative spirits were given by him to be used for this purpose.

I could picture the tabernacle and how the men would carry it, based on the careful description of making holes for the poles to go through. It also gave me a sense of just how deeply the connection went for the Hebrew people to their temple. If God cared so much about these details, they surely would carry over to everything connected to him. I felt it in a deeper way than merely "knowing" the facts.

I'm not always fascinated. But I read it anyway and there is always something that I stop and think about. This is truly a different sort of Bible reading for me.

After I'm done I will most probably pick my Navarre Bible and read through the commentary. But for now, experiencing the Word without a filter is a truly enlightening and inspirational journey into the desert.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Dodo Head

Dodo head (detail)
via Biblipeacay
This detail comes from a much more thorough post at BibliOdyssey containing Zoological Atlas pages that are a treat for the eyes. I'm sad there's no chance of ever seeing a Dodo in real life but grateful for the images.

DVD Review: The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land

This review is by Scott Danielson, my podcasting partner over at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.





I haven't made a trip to The Holy Land, but would like to go. There's got to be something special about walking where Jesus and his contemporaries walked. The escape from day-to-day life into a world that's very different (for me) yet very familiar. I imagine contemplative moments taken after stepping away from the groups, where one can really process the fact that one is truly and actually in the Holy Land. I imagine that such a trip would be faith affirming, and... well, there's no need to imagine what it would be like because Diana von Glahn took us along with her on a tour.

The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land is a joyful, personal, and informative travelogue. Diana is the host and her husband David shoots and directs the show.

I thoroughly enjoyed all six episodes. The tour starts at Mount Carmel and ends with the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On the way, Diana shows us the Dead Sea, Bethlehem, Jerusalem's Walls, the Sea of Galilee, and many other places.

On of the reasons for my enjoyment is that Diana not only explains the historical significance of the art and architecture she encounters, but she also shares her faith. Sometimes clearly moved, she shares her personal thoughts at several of the sites. In turn, I come away from this series moved myself. I'm both thankful for the experience of having watched and am more eager to take a trip myself.

But whether I take that trip or not, I appreciate and agree with what Diana said near the end of the series as she muses about whether or not the contested sites along the Via Dolorosa are the actual path that Christ took to Golgotha:
What matters is what's in our hearts and what we bring to these windy streets. Whether we meet Jesus along them, I think, depends on our willingness and desire to do so. Our frame of mind. And the openness of our hearts.
Amen.

The Faithful Traveler is available on DVD and is also airing on EWTN. For more information, visit The Faithful Traveler website.

PILGRIMAGE
Diana and David von Glahn have organized a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for this summer. I've got to say that were I ever to go on pilgrimage, this is the group I'd want to go with. Who wouldn't want to hang out with Diana? (Probably with David too, but I haven't seen him on screen ... so I've got nothin' to work with here.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Lady Reading in the Garden

Lady Reading in the Garden (1894). Niels Frederik Schiøttz-Jensen (Danish, 1855-1941). Oil on canvas.
Via Books and Art
It's the official first day of spring and although it looks as if it is summer in this garden ... this made me feel spring like. As spring like as when I sat on the back porch after dinner last night, reading magazines in the long lasting light with the birdsong swelling all around.

We just can't stop talking about The Lord of the Rings ...

... so we watched all the movies (extended editions, 12 hours well spent) and went on talking! Catch it in episode 79 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Good Pope, Bad Pope by Mike Aquilina

Good Pope, Bad Pope: Their Lives, Our LessonsGood Pope, Bad Pope: Their Lives, Our Lessons by Mike Aquilina

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Of course, we all know about Pope Francis.

Even when he became a bishop and then a cardinal, he was in the habit of walking rather than riding, fasting, staying up all night to pray, and in general acting more like a humble servant than like a prince. But now that he was a pope, he was surrounded by imperial pomp. Would it change him?

The people knew right away that this pope was different. He gave his gifts to the poor.

The change of tone did not stop there. He lived in the magnificent palaces built by his predecessors, but he lived like a man who had taken a vow of poverty. He would visit the bedsides of the sick, minister to lepers, and wash the feet of the poor.
Except this isn't about Pope Francis.

It is about Michele Ghisleri, elected pope in 1566, who became Pope Pius V. (I changed just a bit of the wording to avoid mentioning Pius's name, or the Borgias and Medicis ...) When I read this, though, it was obvious that our good Pope Francis was not unique and would have been easily recognizable to Catholics in 1566. That's just one of the interesting things I found out when reading Good Pope, Bad Pope.

I was intrigued by the idea of reading about some bad popes (aside from the usual acknowledgement of their existence and then ... let's never speak of them again). As it turns out, this book was unexpectedly inspiring. The good popes, of course, one expects to be inspiring. However, by placing bad popes firmly in context of their time and without making apologies for their terrible moral qualities, Mike Aquilina shows that these men's shortcomings actually helped keep them from damaging the Church.

Pope Alexander VI, born Rodrigo Borgia, who was roundly hated by the people of Rome sowed the seeds of much needed reform with his appalling behavior. Pope Virgilius worked like a dog to become pope so he could lend support to his favorite heresy. But once he was installed he seemed to lose interest and actually became quite orthodox. I found this not only fascinating but inspiring as a record of the Holy Spirit's safeguarding of the Church under even the worst leaders.

This was a great, quick read and it fills in a gap in Catholic history that we would rather sweep under the rug. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Winged

Winged
by Belinda Del Pesco
Belinda's posts are always interesting and, I imagine, would be of great interest to artists. She always takes one through the steps of creating her work. In this post she also discusses her inspiration for the piece.

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

Mere ChristianityMere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

C.S. Lewis explores the common ground upon which all of those of Christian faith stand together. Bringing together Lewis’ legendary broadcast talks from World War Two, Mere Christianity provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear this powerful apologetic for the Christian faith.
I recall reading this some time ago and really liking it. Having grown to think of Geoffrey Howard's narration as C.S. Lewis's voice when listening to Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, I was interested to hear him read this nonfiction.

I also was interested to reread this because one of the most common critiques I see of this book is that it isn't easy for modern minds to relate to it. That puzzled me because I didn't recall anything that was particularly specific to the 1940s, other than perhaps an occasional reference to Nazis as examples of evil doers. And those sorts of references are easily understood even in these "modern" times if one gauges the matter from TV and movies.

Having read the book, I don't understand that critique. I suspect that those who have such complaints are not being fully honest with why they might not approve of some parts of what Lewis is saying. They need not agree, but what he says is actually the way Christians see the world.

I enjoyed this immensely as an extremely logical and understandable explanation to which anyone can relate. One need not agree with the author about Christianity or God, but one gets an excellent description of how a Christian understands the world. And that is a valuable thing these days, it seems to me. It is also a good devotional as I was reminded of many of the basics upon which my life is based and to which I aspire.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When the owner's away ...

The dog is not allowed on the bed. The owner set up a camera to see what happens when he is gone. This made me laugh. It is just what Kaylee would do ...




Via Miss Cellania (language warning for some entries on her blog).

Review: Today We Saw the Face of God

This little documentary tells the story of the final day of a medical team visiting Haiti to provide regular medical care to villagers near Port au Prince. Just as they are ready to leave, the catastrophic 2010 earthquake happens and they are thrust into the center of the disaster.

I enjoyed the way this documentary didn't only focus the medical team's experiences after the earthquake but also gave us a good idea of what it  was like beforehand. We got to see the Haitians as regular people, coming for medical treatment in everyday life. We also got to know the mission team members a bit as they told about their reactions to Haiti before the disaster. This made the impact of their story afterward all the more interesting.

I have to say that for a movie with the title "Today We Saw the Face of God," there was remarkably little talk about faith in the film. That was rather surprising and led to a bit of a shallower feel than I'd have expected. Why were these people moved to make the medical mission? It seemed clear from remarks made at the end that they were moved by their faith but we were left to put that together ourselves. There were some other moments where we were left to connect of the dots ourselves more than I'd have liked also, most of them seeming to do with faith.

Those quibbles aside, the documentary is worth watching as this team seemed to be the only stopgap in place before the emergency teams got to the island after the disaster. It is a view into a situation that is blessedly unimaginable for most of us.

FULL DISCLOSURE
This is a documentary that Rose, our youngest daughter, edited when she was a senior in film school. I don't think it swayed my reaction. But there's always that possibility.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Bingo 4 - A Book With Mystery

Now this is an easy one. I'd finished an audio book and was wanting to get back to my favorite back-up audio, something featuring Sherlock Holmes read by Derek Jacobi.

In this case, the audiobook I turned to is the last collection of Holmes short stories: The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.

Nothing could be more splendid than the way Jacobi characterizes Holmes, lightly and with a touch of playfulness ... almost like a seriously minded Bertie Wooster. It lightens up the Holmes-Watson relationship quite a bit and makes these a sheer delight. I'm on the third or fourth story and they do seem to be more of a mixed bag than the usual lot, but Jacobi's narration makes me simply enjoy the ride no matter where it takes us.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Best Kept Secret in Dallas: Sorolla and America


We went to the Meadows Museum at SMU yesterday to see the Sorolla and America exhibit. Sorolla has long been one of my favorite artists. The opportunity to see 150 of his paintings up close was too good to be true, especially in this venue which rarely seems to have anyone in it. (The Meadows Museum - best kept secret in Dallas).

And Thursday nights are free! Better and better.

I swiped the above photo display from lines and colors which had a notice about this show some time ago. It includes some of my favorites from the display. I especially loved the portrait of Louis Tiffany in his garden. Color was so important to Tiffany's own art that it must have been irresistible to include all those blossoms around him.

The show will be in Dallas for another month and then is moving on to San Diego and Madrid.
The Meadows Museum in Dallas, in cooperation with the San Diego Museum of Art and Fundación MAPFRE, has assembled over 100 works by the Spanish master Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida for an exhibition titled “Sorolla and America“. 
The exhibition will be on display at the Meadows Museum until April 19, 2014; it then moves to the The San Diego Museum of Art (May 30-August 26, 2014) and Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid (September 23, 2014-January 11, 2015).

Worth a Thousand Words: Cistercian Architecture

Cistercian Architecture: Poblet Monastery, Catalonia
via Barcelona Photoblog
Isn't this lovely? I can just imagine slowly pacing along it, looking out at whatever is on the other side of those open arches.

Click through to Barcelona Photoblog for a bigger image and to see details about this architecture.

Well Said: The manner in which one lives

… what is important is less the environment in which one lives than the manner in which one lives there. Adam was lost in Paradise and Lot saved in Sodom.
Virgil Georghiu
Oy. Veh. Sobering words. How am I living right where I was planted, here in Texas?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Just Married by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak

Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of MarriageJust Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage by Gregory K. Popcak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is now the book I'm going to give newlyweds. I wish we'd had it when we got married. I wasn't religious at all then and my husband was not a practicing Catholic. Nevertheless, I stand by that. It would have helped us tremendously.

I don't like self-help books generally but this one is spot-on for issues that we've encountered in our 30 years of marriage and after helping with our parish's marriage retreat for seven years.

Greg and Lisa Popcak are at very good putting issues in a way that both opens our eyes and makes us want to do better. These three tidbits were in the same section, although not connected by the authors in the way I'm going to do below. They are a sample of what stayed with me from the book. And, to be honest, they stayed with me months after I read the book.
The biggest contributor to marital problems and, eventually, marital breakdown is that husbands and wives tend to love their own comfort zones more than they love each other.
Ow. Recognize anyone? I did. In the mirror.

With that in mind, consider this.
The fact that marriage is a sacrament means, at least in part, that marriage is all about getting you and your spouse out of your comfort zones in order to create a unified couple.
Woah. That elevates our marriage and my feelings about my place in it. It's more important than just me and my husband.

And now, to the practicalities.
Learning to love your spouse more than you love your comfort zone means being willing to be loving to your spouse in ways that make absolutely no sense to you but mean everything to your mate.
Ok. It doesn't have to make sense. And that in itself, in a funny way, does make sense.

Make no mistake. This is a self-help style book. It has lists, it has exercises, it has "Lisa says" and "Greg says," and so forth and so on.

However, also make no mistake about this: it's a treasure for every newly married couple and for those who have been married much longer. Definitely recommended.

Worth a Thousand Words: Chestnut in Blossom

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), Chestnut in Blossom
via Wikimedia Commons
Inspired by lines and color's post featuring many of Renoir's landscapes.

Well Said: If I really believe Christ is in control ...

I realized, in the end, that if I really believe that Christ is in control then he is also in control of the Catholic Church, knows what he is doing there and always has. … The Bible does not give leaving and founding one’s own church as an option during difficult times—to do so is a direct contradiction of scripture. On the contrary, we are to stay put, keep our eyes on christ, and refuse to get caught up in division and controversy. Our job is not to run the Church or run away from the Church, but to love the Church and each other in the Church, and Christ above all, as one, and stay put in the Church. …
Historical Christian blog
Yep. This is a truth that goes back to the very beginning, never mind 1500 years after it was all founded. Do we believe what He told us or not? Do we trust Him or not? 

I'm lucky because this has been something I chose as an adult and it has been a joy for me to be Catholic. That doesn't mean it has always been easy. But we weren't promised "easy." We were promised that true followers will have to pick up their cross and follow Him.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Well Said: Catholic Faith, Exuberance, and Hope

I feel about Catholicism as G. K. Chesterton did—that it encourages an exuberance, a joy about the gift of life. I think my conversion was a natural growth. Even in the darkest hours of my childhood, I was an irrepressible optimist, always able to find something to fill me with amazement, wonder and delight. When I came to the Catolic faith, it explained ot me why I always had—and always should have—felt exuberant and full of hope.
Dean Koontz
Rereading an old quote journal I came across this quote which reminded me of blogging days of old, when it was a new discovery that Dean Koontz is Catholic. This must be why his horror novels, though they may contain some very bad things indeed, have characters who are themselves full of hope and determination.

Win a "CATHOLICISM" trip to Rome and Paris

I'm a real fan of Father Robert Barron's book Catholicism (my review here). When my husband and I helped with RCIA last year, they were using the DVD series to supplement the classes and we fell in love with those as well.

I am delighted to see how well the book has done (over 100,000 copies sold!). I'm even more delighted to see that this has prompted a sweepstakes for a trip to Rome and Paris. Wow, talk about a dream coming true for the winner of that sweet deal.

So here are all the details below ... quick, go sign up!

(And if you haven't read the book, grab yourself a copy. It is a sweet deal on its own. One that keeps giving every time you pick it up.)

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



How would you like to go to Mass at Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris, explore the home of St. Therese of Lisieux, and attend a Papal Audience at St. Peter's Basilica?  One lucky winner and their guest will have the chance to do all this and more with Catholicism Sweepstakes sponsored by Image Books and Word on Fire.

Fr. Robert Barron’s book Catholicism has sold over 100,000 copies and has deepened the faith of Catholics around the world. To celebrate, Image Books and Word on Fire are partnering to send two people on the trip of a lifetime.

One winner and a guest will travel to Rome and Paris with 206 Tours to view firsthand some of the marvelous places explored in the book.

The sweepstakes runs from March 11 to May 2, 2014 and is open to legal residents of the contiguous United States, including the District of Columbia (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico), who are the age of 18 or older at time of entry.

Twenty-five (25) runners-up will each receive a copy of Father Robert Barron’s DVD box set, Catholicism(valued at $99.00).

Official sweepstakes rules can be found here
To view package specifics, visit the 206 Tours website.

To enter the Catholicism Sweepstakes, go here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Sit a Bit

Sit a Bit
by Karin Jurick
Artist Karin Jurick says this is "From the Sculpture Gallery in the Art Institute of Chicago." As soon as I read that, I knew how those feet felt. Tired, a bit aching, and ready to be surprisingly tender when an upright position is assumed again.

But what a place to wear 'em out. Love that museum!

Well Said: Marriage, a very great adventure

From a letter Marshall McLuhan wrote to his fiance about their upcoming marriage.
You and I are faced with one of those situations (which fortunately are not very numerous in one lifetime) which cannot possibly be adequately judged beforehand. It strikes me as a colossal gamble, or rather, a very great adventure. And personally I am considerably exhilarated by the risks! ... The greatness of the adventure perhaps consists partly in the fact that as a Catholic I can marry only once! But, as with being born, perhaps once is quite sufficient! In the Church, you know, there is a great heightening of every moment of experience, since every moment is played against a supernatural backdrop. Nothing can be humdrum in this scheme.
The Medium and the Light by Marshall McLuhan
I love that comparison of marriage with birth and the idea of exhilaration at the great adventure. We always like to have our options open. But it is, in fact, often the limitation should make us realize that we are embarking upon a tremendous gamble, a very great adventure.

Fascinating, as is much of this book. The concepts are such, occasionally, that I have to pause and reflect in order to absorb them. And they often range across enough paragraphs that I didn't share them here. But I highly recommend this fascinating, thought provoking book.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Well Said: The Medium and the Message

A colleague, Joe Keogh, wrote in the Ottawa, Ontario G. K. Chesterton Newsletter of a curious exchange between my father [Marshall McLuhan] and Toronto's then Archbishop Pocock. The good Bishop, it is said, once asked that given John's famous prologue to the fourth gospel, did this not indicate that Christ Himself is the archetypal example of the medium as message? He readily assented.
Introduction to The Medium and the Light by Marshall McLuhan
Isn't that just the best? I love the way this guy (and that bishop) thought.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Goldfinch

Carel Fabritius, The Goldfinch, 1654
via Idle Speculations
This painting inspired the best selling novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Idle Speculations has an interesting piece about the painting, the novel, the artist, goldfinches trained in captivity in the 1600s, and a Scriptural reflection. Click through the link above to read it.

Reading Envy - Book Talk with Jenny, Scott, and Me

I was honored to be the guest on Jenny and Scott's Reading Envy podcast. Each of us talked about three books we wanted to share, which led to other interesting topics along the way. Listen in and see how long your "to read" list grows!

Book Bingo Challenge 3: Read a Book Published This Year

Well, well, well, Book Bingo Challenge. We meet again.

And this time you will not make me look to the Heavens, howling, "Noooooooo!"

Because I just began a book that's not even coming out until next month. Yeah, you heard me. Next month.

Is that "This Year" enough for ya?

Book Bingo Challenge, meet Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin S.J.

Which I'm enjoying very much, by the way. Very much indeed.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

Humans of New YorkHumans of New York by Brandon Stanton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This was my selection for Book Bingo "a best selling book" after I combed the NY Times Bestseller List three times. Just my luck that recent branching out had caused me to knock off three book from that famous list without even knowing I was doing it until this Bingo challenge led me to bother to glance over it.

Brandon Stanton, in his attempt to become a photographer, discovered a love of photographing people where he came across them in his rambles around New York City. He wanted to create a photographic census but wound up with an engaging blog which has since been turned into this book.

I'd never heard of the blog before and was grateful to my Book Bingo challenge for introducing me to Brandon Stanton's work. While I was waiting for the book to arrive, I began reading the blog.

This showed up from the library yesterday and, as with most books that are photos with a smattering of text, I polished it off in a couple of hours. They were very enjoyable hours, during which I often pestered my husband to look. As a result he had me put it in his "to read" stack when I was done.

I'd say that the book's greatest failing is that the quotes and anecdotes he gathers from each subject are not always included in the book. Also the all caps typesetting can be difficult to read for long anecdotes.

The tendency, when thinking of those who live in New York is to focus on the quirky, of which this book shows a multitude. Therefore, I found myself enjoying most the photos of less flamboyant subjects which were found more among the young, the old, those at Lincoln Center, and dogwalkers. Obviously these are broad categories, but they were the images I liked best.

My favorite: the spread of the man walking the three French Bulldogs who has met up with the Asian man whose little boy is on a leash. The tender smile on the dogwalker's face as he looks at the little boy made me come back again and again.

This is a highly enjoyable book and I hope it allows Brandon Stanton enough income to continue his blog and photography. I like to see dreams come true.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Im Wald

Im Wald
painted by Edward B. Gordon

Im wald means "in the forest" in German. I can see the forest in winter but it also looks something like a dream or mirage to me. And that opens up a world of enjoyment in just gazing and contemplating the shapes and possibilities.

Well Said: If there were only two Catholics left in the world ...

Another gem from the introduction to The Medium and the Light.
He [Marshall McLuhan] had a number of unusual theological ideas, among them the observation that, given the structure of the Church. If there were only two Catholics left in the world, one of them would have to be Pope. Unusual, perhaps, but theologically accurate: it throws a peculiar light on the papacy and its relation to the rest of the faithful.
By gum, he was right. Never would have occurred to me, but he was right.

A Few Good Science Fiction Books

I was asked by a friend the other night if I could recommend some good classic Science Fiction. She'd not really read any.

These are all solid, basic books that range from early books through what is called the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and a bit into our own age also.

In no particular order, other than how they occurred to me, here are some classics (and a couple of extras) that I love and hope will usher my friend into enjoyable reading.

  • I, Robot - Isaac Asimov (short story collection)
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth - Jules Verne
  • The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells
  • Alas Babylon - Pat Frank (credited with being the first apocalyptic novel)
  • The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (featuring my favorite idea of an alien species ... very, very alien)
  • Agent to the Stars - John Scalzi (light and easy, featuring very friendly aliens and Hollywood)
  • Citizen of the Galaxy - Robert Heinlein (my favorite Heinlein)
  • Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury (arguably Bradbury's only science fiction)
NOTES
These recommendations are for someone who has never read any science fiction before. There are tons of good books out there, but I'd argue that many of them are at least what I'd call "second tier" books ... those which might actually turn someone away from the genre if they haven't read anything else in it.

I was also trying to be fairly specific about science fiction versus fantasy, with which my friend has a good acquaintance already.
Science Fiction: fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Well Said: The Church, the Media, and the "Prince of this World"

He [Marshall McLuhan] frequently turned his attention to examining the relation between the Church and media:
It is not brains or intelligence that is needed to cope with the problems with Plato and Aristotle and all of their successors to the present have failed to confront. What is needed is a readiness to undervalue the world altogether. This is only possible for a Christian... All technologies and all cultures, ancient and modern, are part of our immediate expanse. There is hope in this diversity since it creates vast new possibilities of detachment and amusement at human gullibility and self-deception. There is no harm in reminding ourselves from time to time that the "Prince of this World" is a great P.R. man, a great salesman of new hardware and software, a great electric engineer, and a great master of the media. It is his master stroke to be not only environmental but invisible for the environmental is invincibly persuasive when ignored.
The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion by Marshall McLuhan
True. Not something I expected to hear from Marshall McLuhan. Which is one of the joys of reading this book.

Scott and I have a bad feeling about this mission.

Luckily, we know how to land a Soyuz and/or a Shenzhou after watching Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity. From the technical to story to the Catholic point of view, there is plenty to talk about. Join us at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

This Just In — Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin

Jesus: A PilgrimageJesus: A Pilgrimage by James J. Martin




I am a fan of Father James Martin's books, especially A Jesuit on Broadway. When Scott chose this book for our next religious book discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast, I was on board, having been interested since I first saw it mentioned at Amazon. This gave me the impetus to seriously hunt down review copies and mine arrived yesterday. On Ash Wednesday.

Ok, I can take a hint. I believe my Lenten reading has been selected through what some would call coincidence ("if chance you call it").

This is a much thicker and more substantive book than I expected. The bibliography alone makes one step back and realize there is more hard-core scholarship than in any of his previous books. Yet when I flip through I see Father Martin's trademark style, interspersing personal experience with the main book text.

COMMENTS AFTER READING 160 PAGES
Yes, I read that much last night, so you can tell I find it accessible and interesting. It isn't dumbed down and isn't too scholarly. It's juuuuust right.

Father Martin's goal is to help us consider our answer to Christ's question to his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"

This means we must consider what it means to be "fully human and fully divine." Father Martin does a very good job of presenting a lot of contextual information for understanding Jesus' life and ministry through this lens. As we travel through the gospels, so to speak, he intertwines the various stops (recruiting the disciples, healing demoniacs, etc.) with his own pilgrimage to Israel. He then stops to place everything in the context of our own lives and is extremely generous in sharing his own life changing experiences, whether flattering or not.

I have not yet read anything that knocks my socks off, possibly because I'm only on page 160, possibly because I've read tons of Biblical commentaries. But I do appreciate the way that Father Martin approaches questions from all angles. For example, when considering Christ's healings of "demoniacs," Martin isn't afraid to discuss the idea of psychological or physiological illness as a cause. This will be welcome to those who like to get down to examining facts. However, he always does this in a thoughtful, thorough, Christian way that leaves no doubt we are reading about the Messiah and that miracles can (and do) happen.

I'm beginning to feel that this might be a "must have" for Christians who want a more rounded, personal experience of Christ. Or for those who don't understand the "Christian thing" and would like some general context of their own.

I have a feeling that a lot of readers are going to come away wanting to visit the Holy Land. Not me, but I appreciate Father Martin's descriptions as it helps me "feel" the place a bit better. And, to be fair, I've never especially felt the need to go to Rome or anywhere else on pilgrimage, for that matter.

More as I get further in, I am sure.