Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Man on a Balcony

Gustave Caillebotte, Man on a Balcony, Boulevard Haussmann, 1880
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: How Easily You're Offended

How easily you're offended is directly proportional to how dumb you are.
Bill Murray

Supreme Court Decisions and Living the Christian Life

I was surprised at how hard  the decision hit me. I was really hoping they'd go for truth and wouldn't let popular opinion sway them. I was surprised at how fervently I began praying for my country, which I was surprised to realize I love so much, in the midst of its folly.

So — I was surprised by a lot of things. And left feeling adrift, shaken, devastated.

What helped me was two things.

I share them with you in case you're also struggling.

First, I continued my reading of The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton's look at the spiritual journey of humanity through history. After an hour, I switched over to a history of Catholicism from The Teaching Company. I didn't intentionally select these to help my mood. I was just casting around for listening material.

History was the perfect corrective to remind me that this isn't the first time a country has gone off the rails. And the faith persists, because the believers continue to testify to the Truth wherever they are.

Secondly, we had dinner with a young couple that night. When our talk finally lighted on the topic, both said they were dreading having to turn down invitations for gay friends' weddings. The man said that he'd been wrestling all day with how hard this all was.

I'm condensing our conversation here, but in essence he said, "I realized it should be hard. Christianity began as a humble, downtrodden religion. If we fit in too well then something is wrong. We shouldn't be too comfortable."

Those words have come back to me again and again in the days since.

"It should be hard."

That works on a lot of levels.

What hits me in terms of regular life is how hard it is when things become personal rather than an ideal to argue about.

I imagine gay people whose invitations are turned down may think it is because of harsh judgment or bigotry. I'd bet that much more frequently these are reluctant decisions made because the dictates of conscience and faith must be followed no matter how much we love those friends and family.

I always thought of Jesus' words in Matthew 10:34-38 as those for new converts with disapproving relatives. I see that these timeless words apply right now to our society in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man "against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household."

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Do we love them less?

No. But we love Jesus Christ, the ultimate truth, more. So eventually we are driven to choose.

In other words, "It should be hard."

That's how much we should love and pray for those who put us in the position of choosing.

Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul
Chattanooga, TN

Finally, John C. Wright wrote a fine piece about what helped him begin to be able to pray for the conversion and salvation of those who have so wounded us.

It begins in a church. It ends with some of his thoughts. No one can be more inspiring when he gets going. Here's a bit.
In one hundred years, when this ruling is only an historical curio, like the Dred Scott Decision ... the One, True, Apostolic and Catholic Church will still be in business, still preaching and teaching the same truths that she has always taught.

And the Church will still speaking the language of sacrifice and self-denying love to a race of fallen beings ... who are so selfish and self-centered that this language is folly and a stumbling block to them.

Selfishness cannot understand selflessness. The darkness cannot comprehend the light, cannot surround and cannot besiege it, cannot defeat it, even in their hour of victory.

Because when we pray for the souls of our deadly enemy, our prayers are answered.
I'd forgotten the Dred Scott decision.

The outrage we feel now must be the same way people felt back then. Not all of them, of course. But over time we have all come to realize the obvious injustice. Which has been corrected.

That's the third thing.

Let us pray.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Self-portrait with a Harp


Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux (1761–1802, Self-portrait with a Harp
Source. Seen first at Lines and Colors.

Well Said: Chris Rock used to tell a joke about racial hardship

In the 1990s, Chris Rock used to tell a joke about racial hardship. "Do you know how hard it is to be black in America?" he would ask the audience. "I'll tell you how hard. There's not a single white person in the audience who would trade places with me. And I'm rich!"

Perhaps Ms. Dolezal is another sign of racial progress.

Blogging Around: The "So Much Religious Stuff" Edition

Fourteen Things Laudato Si Says. Nine Things It Does Not Say.

Rebecca Hamilton has a nice, succinct look at Laudato Si for those of us who haven't read it yet. Or for those who let their eyes only light on the bits they liked while sliding over those they didn't want to hear.

Via GetReligion whose commentary is also worth reading.

The Benedict Option versus The Buckley Option

I'd probably opt for calling it The Chesterton Option instead of The Buckley Option, but anyway this is an interesting conversation about how we carry our Christianity into the world. Via Brandywine Books.

Gay Marriage, Slack Parents, and Religious Ceremonies

Now that the Supreme Court has let down the idea of marriage which had humanity's entire history on its side, Jennifer Fitz has a very sensible idea (one which I thought we were already doing ... maybe that's just a pipe dream or only in our parish).

Read it all, but here's the money-quote.
Ironically, if we could just follow the Catholic faith, we would have no argument with Caesar. We’ll witness the marriage of any Catholic who is prepared to receive the sacrament, end of story.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Scott and Julie argue about the meaning of ...

... "Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods."

Neighbors tell them to take it to the edge of the woods because it's 2:00 a.m. and "some of us have work in the morning!"

They quiet down long enough to discuss Mockingbird by Walter Tevis at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Moving Offices

We're moving offices. Part to home where I will work and where Tom will work part-time. The rest to new offices where the rent is cheaper (that's always the name of the game, right?).

The result is that not only do we have to clean out all the junk accumulated over the years at work, but we have to do it in the two bedrooms at home.

Oy! Veh!

On the plus side, though, I did get $70 at Half-Price Books for that pallet full of books I hauled over there. Woohoo!

All of which is to say that I'm going to be scarce around here for the next few days.

Worth a Thousand Words: Natural Candle

Natural Candle
taken by D.L. Ennis

Well Said: You're already on the train.

Albert Brooks, however, confesses that when his children resisted going to temple, he said: "Let me explain something to you: If Hitler came back, he's not going to ask if you went to temple. You're already on the train. So you might as well know who you are and why they're going to take you."
Dave Shiflett's review of Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow

In which we learn how to outsmart delinks ... and Huks.

Part 2 of A Matter of Importance by Murray Leinster is ready for your listening pleasure at Forgotten Classics podcast. Plus the latest podcast I've been binge-listening to.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: X

X
by Karin Jurick
A glass ceiling projecting patterns and shadows on the floor while a young woman sketches in the Sculpture Gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
Karin Jurick's been working her way through the alphabet. Can you find the X in her painting?

Well Said: Epitaph on a Hare

I love that Cowper had a pet hare he loved so much. I also love that he didn't sugar-coat the hare's personality. Sounds a right old crochety fellow, he does.

Epitaph on a Hare

by William Cowper

Here lies, whom hound did ne’er pursue,
Nor swifter greyhound follow,
Whose foot ne’er tainted morning dew,
Nor ear heard huntsman’s hallo’,

Old Tiney, surliest of his kind,
Who, nursed with tender care,
And to domesticate bounds confined,
Was still a wild jack-hare.

Though duly from my hand he took
His pittance every night,
He did it with a jealous look,
And, when he could, would bite.

His diet was of wheaten bread,
And milk, and oats, and straw,
Thistles, or lettuces instead,
With sand to scour his maw.

On twigs of hawthorn he regaled,
On pippins’ russet peel;
And, when his juicy salads failed,
Sliced carrot pleased him well.

A Turkey carpet was his lawn,
Whereon he loved to bound,
To skip and gambol like a fawn,
And swing his rump around.

His frisking was at evening hours,
For then he lost his fear;
But most before approaching showers,
Or when a storm drew near.

Eight years and five round-rolling moons
He thus saw steal away,
Dozing out all his idle noons,
And every night at play.

I kept him for his humor’s sake,
For he would oft beguile
My heart of thoughts that made it ache,
And force me to a smile.

But now, beneath this walnut-shade
He finds his long, last home,
And waits in snug concealment laid,
Till gentler Puss shall come.

He, still more agèd, feels the shocks
From which no care can save,
And, partner once of Tiney’s box,
Must soon partake his grave.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Katz Bookplate

Louis Katz
Punning bookplate dated 1922 , artist's initials EK
The only thing better than a classic bookplate is one that contains a pun on the book owner's name! This is from Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie where you will find many more cat bookplates on display.

Lagniappe: Overeating as the English Vice

Wolsey and Henry VIII, it has to be said, were not exceptional in their love of the table. The English of Tudor times had a reputation throughout Europe for gluttony. Indeed, overeating was regarded as the English vice in the same way that lust was the French one and drunkenness that of the Germans (although looking at the amount of alcohol consumed in England, I expect the English probably ran a close second to the Germans).
Clarissa Dickson Wright,
A History of English Food (The Tudor Kitchen)
Oho, so perhaps our English heritage is showing these days!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Storm


Johan Christian Dahl (1788–1857), Storm

Lagniappe: The White Meats

By the middle of Henry VIII's reign, the white meats — that is, dairy products — were considered common fare and people from all classes would eat meat whenever they could get it.
Clarissa Dickson Wright,
A History of English Food (The Tudor Kitchen)
Now that is really the "other" white meat! That makes perfect sense. Nutritious dairy put on the same playing ground as meat. They may not have had the chemistry but they didn't need it in this case.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Laudato Si Reactions

I haven't read the new encyclical yet and, frankly, am not planning to for a little while. It is very long for one thing. I've got too much other reading scheduled to fit it in.

You can imagine, therefore, that I've been quite interested in the reactions of those I trust to read it thoughtfully and faithfully.

One thing that especially interested me over the last few days was seeing how many people, especially conservatives, were kind of dreading what the pope would say. They prepared by reminding themselves that an open mind and willingness to be guided by the Holy Father were paramount. Very nice.

Here are a few:

The most valuable (and enjoyable) to me thus far was Tom McDonald's live tweeting, believe it or not. 

I'm suffering from a fair amount of fatigue in being yelled at all the time by social justice warriors, environmentalists, [insert latest righteous cause-ists here]. This encyclical felt as if it could easily be more of the same. Tom's comments showed me there are some interesting layers and that there isn't the scolding I dreaded. Or at least it is qualified and thoughtful scolding.

I still don't have time and it'll have to wait. But at least I'm not dreading it!

Worth a Thousand Words: Orange

Orange
painted by Paul Coventry-Brown
One of my favorite painters. Be sure to check out his gallery at the link.

Lagniappe: Wood and the Kitchen

Those of you who, like me, have a wood fire will know that different woods burn hotter than others, some spit and some give a long slow burn. Medieval cooks knew a lot about wood in all its various categories. Bowls for keeping meat or mixing were always made of sycamore: its close grain ensured it didn't harbour germs. Bowls of willow wood were ideal for keeping liquid marinades. Ash was ideal for a kitchen fire as well as for tool handles. The light-coloured woods of beech and lime were used for dairy work and butter tubs. Birch twigs could sometimes be laid in the bottom of cooking pots and the meat placed on top when making soups and stews to stop it from sticking. Oak was crucial for medieval buildings, but oak chips played their part in cooking: they were perfect for smoking. ...

Clarissa Dickson Wright, 

A History of English Food (The High Middle Ages)
I don't know about the idea of using sycamore because of the germs, although that's a side effect we could appreciate now with our advanced scientific understanding. I can see that a close grained bowl would be good for meat or mixing because it wouldn't absorb liquids and would be usable much longer. No one wants a soft wood bowl for keeping a piece of meat in.

Newspeak*: "Trans" and "Cis"

[A quick note about terminology: you'll hear me place people into two subgroups, “trans” and “cis”. “Trans,” of course, means transgender people. “Cis” is the opposite of trans – it's a convenient label meant to designate people whose gender identity is congruent with their birth sex. Basically, if you're not trans, you're cis.]
Skeptoid podcast
I admit the transgender concept baffles me. It just goes to prove that there are people who will pay a lot of money and endure a lot of pain to get life set up just the way they want it.

I'm not sure how happy that will make them because as Thomas a Kempis famously said in The Imitation of Christ:
Wherever you go, there you are.
I also wonder because the desire to continually bring attention to one's transgenderization seems odd. If one finally feels "normal" wouldn't one just shut up and finally enjoy that feeling? For example I have an office mate who has lost 200 pounds in the last two years. His friends and family are pleased for him and he enjoys their congratulations on his accomplishment, but he doesn't go around announcing to everyone he meets that he's lost 200 pounds.

That brings me to the "cis" label.

It is normal for people's "gender identity to be congruent with their birth sex." To add a label it is to assume that it could possibly be abnormal for one's gender to agree with their birth sex. (And just to have to put together the words "birth sex" makes me laugh typing it.)

The day after I came across this term and mentally dismissed it, I read author Ann Leckie's answer to a question about her Ancillary Justice series.
So, I don't think I've ever said that Radchaai are gender neutral--just that they really don't care about anyone's gender, and don't mark it socially or linguistically. So, they're humans, and as such come in all sorts of genders, and they know gender exists, but it's not really a thing they care much about. They care about it, maybe, as much as we care about hair color.

I think it's worth considering (though I know you didn't bring this up explicitly, but I feel it's sort of lurking in the background of your question) how much of what we consider to be "obvious" about someone's gender when we look at them is actually a set of social cues ... And cues that we will often talk about as though they're non-negotiable are full of exceptions--breasts, for instance. I know unambiguously masculine cis-men who have more breast tissue than some unambiguously feminine cis-women.
There was "cis" again.

If you notice, "cis" is completely redundant. If a man was "trans" then wouldn't one expect his body to be consistent with his sex? That's the point of it, right? Leckie's point is moot if the people are not as God made them originally.

The only reason I can see to add "cis" is for political correctness. I'm all for not hurting people's feelings but there's no doubt that such "correctness" changes the way we view others and ourselves.

It's Newspeak*.

And "cis" is Newspeak worming its way into our social consciousness.

Do we need to keep slicing our identities up by continually emphasizing ever-increasing differences? Wouldn't it be better to do as Leckie's "Radchaai" and just not worry about it?

By worrying about how we're different we aren't helping each other. It is only when we recognize how we are the same that we can recognize the humanity inherent in each one of us.

Labeling turns us into the "other" and separates us.

No labels for me, thanks, and I won't use them on you either.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

Reinhold Niebuhr

=========

*Newspeak: language with a limiting and constantly shifting vocabulary designed to control thought and eradicate undesirable concepts. From the novel 1984 by George Orwell,

In which we search for a mysteriously missing space transport ...

... and learn the difference between the police and the military. Part 1 of A Matter of Importance by Murray Leinster at Forgotten Classics podcast. Plus a recommendation of the latest podcast I've been binge listening to!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lagniappe: Medieval Cattle and Kobe Beef

What we would think of as a beef animal had the double purpose of being a working or draught animal that could pull heavy loads. There is an old adage, "A year to grow, two years to plough and a year to fatten." The beef medieval people would have eaten would have been a maturer, denser meat than we are used to today. I have always longed to try it. The muscle acquired from a working ox would have broken down over the fattening year and provided wonderful fat covering and marbling. Given the amount of brewing that took place, the odds are that the animals would have been fed a little drained mash from time to time. Kobe beef, that excessively expensive Japanese beef, was originally obtained from ex-plough animals whose muscles were broken down by mash from sake production and by massage. 'd like to think our beef might have had a not dissimilar flavour.
Clarissa Dickson Wright,
A History of English Food (The Medieval Larder)

Worth a Thousand Words: Brown Hare

Brown Hare
taken by Remo Savisaar

The Other Papal Statement: Embracing Catholic Moral Theology the Day After a Gay Rights Parade in Rome

And now for something completely different. Let's take a glance at some mainstream news coverage of that other recent pronouncement by Pope Francis, the one that didn't get very much ink.

Why is that? Well, the problem is that the pope, in this case, warmly and publicly embraced a key element of Catholic moral theology linked to marriage and sexuality. This is not the sort of thing that ends up getting major play in major American newspapers.
Very interesting. Read all about it at GetReligion.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Blogging Around: The Leaked Encyclical Edition

In case you're curious, here are some good pieces.


12 Things to Know and Share - Jimmy Akin (via The Curt Jester). Everything from "what's an encyclical" to what happened to the journalist who leaked it to what you should believe.

10 Things That Won't Be In Pope Francis's Encyclical "Laudato Si" - Acts of the Apostasy (again via The Curt Jester). Which means it will be funny (#8 Indulgences will not be granted if you install solar panels on your house). There are some calming words of common sense included too.

Beware of Early Media Speculation - GetReligon

Pope Asks For Open Hearts - Vatican Radio (via The Deacon's Bench)

UPDATE
Here's the link to the final version at the Vatican website.

Worth a Thousand Words: Travelers

Travelers
painted by Karin Jurick
Karin Jurick has so many paintings that are evocative of American summer vacation on her blog right now. Be sure to check them out. I love them so much!

Well Said: Sometimes History Yells

History does not always repeat itself. Sometimes it just yells, "Can't you remember anything I told you?" and lets fly with a club.
John W. Campbell Jr.
That's why I have so many headaches!

Seven Continents Book Challenge — UPDATED

Via Melanie Bettinelli, this seemed like fun.

Keep in mind that "favorite" is often a shifting term for me. I have a hard time pinning things down to one favorite.


1. What is your favourite book set in Europe? Who is your favourite European author?
Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger

J.R.R. Tolkien
2. What is your favourite book set in North America? Who is your favourite North American author?
Uncle Tom's Cabin

Can't really lock an author down as "favorite" — just for the moment let's go with Walter Tevis who wrote the truly amazing Mockingbird.
3. What is your favourite book set in South America? Who is your favourite South American author?
I got nuttin'.

UPDATE: Via J. Balconi at The House of Nonsense, I realized I actually have read a book setin South America — and I liked it! The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.
4. What is your favourite book set in Asia? Who is your favourite Asian author?
Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was which the author very kindly allowed me to read on Forgotten Classics.

Madhur Jaffrey
5. What is your favourite book set in Australasia? Who is your favourite antipodean author?
UPDATE: How can I have forgotten that The Rosie Project is both about a New Zealand couple and by a New Zealander, Graeme Simsion? So much so that we discussed the book on A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Father Paul Glynn who wrote A Song From Nagasaki and The Smile of a Ragpicker
6. Have you ever read, or do you know of, any books written by authors in Antarctica/ the Arctic?
UPDATED: Joseph at Zombie Parent's Guide points out "Brother Guy Consolmagno lived in the Antarctica for a while and I've read a book by him that partially covers his time there, though I don't think he wrote it while he was there." And I loved Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial by Brother Guy and Joseph Mueller.

And I had the honor of virtually meeting Brother Guy when he chose a book for A Good Story is Hard to Find discussion. So that's a double Antarctic connection!

7. Who are your favourite African authors & books set in Africa?

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Elspeth Huxley
I realize what this list really shows is how little actual fiction I read and how much genre / memoir / cookbook reading I do.

I regret nothing!

Your turn ...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Well Said: Keeping a Journal

Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in your life as you sometimes think. When you reread your journal you find out that your latest discovery is something you already found out five years ago. Still it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper ito the same ideas and experiences.
Thomas Merton
That is certainly true in blog writing. I don't know how many times I've had an "original" idea for celebrating a saint's day only to find I already used the very picture and comment for several years running. One can only hope there is deeper penetration in my mind and soul!

Worth a Thousand Words: Tick-Tick

Briton Riviere, Tick-Tick, 1881
via Arts Everyday Living

Encountering Truth by Pope Francis

Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the EverydayEncountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday by Pope Francis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A promise that comforts, a request for generosity, a mission to fulfill. This is how Jesus makes himself present in the life of a Christian. ...

Promise, request, mission. These three moments are found not only in an active life but also in prayer. First, "a prayer without a word of Jesus and without trust, without promise, is not a good prayer." Second, it is good to ask Jesus to help us be ready to leave something behind, and this gets us ready for the third moment, because there is no prayer in which Jesus does not inspire "something to do."
Early every morning, Pope Francis celebrates a personal sort of Mass in the small Saint Martha chapel at the Vatican. The audience is made up of gardeners, nuns, cooks, office workers, and always changes. What doesn't change is that the pope gives his homilies without notes just as he did when he was a parish priest. This book features highlights from almost 200 daily homilies covering a year from March 2013 to May 2014.

I was enthralled by Antonio Spadaro's introduction which has an in-depth look at how Pope Francis prepares, including what the pope thinks is important in contemplating and conveying the Word of God to the faithful. Spadaro also gives a "map" of the way Francis circles round various topics, engaging them from different angles as the liturgical readings progress day to day. That was a new idea for me, that to get a full sense of his teachings one must patiently look at them from day to day.

I have been reading these homilies as daily devotionals and can testify that the "circular" approach is true. As one works through the liturgy with Francis, one begins to see the way he backs up and tilts his head for different angles on the material we've heard so many times that we take it for granted.
The hunt for the only treasure that we can take with us into the life after life is a Christian's reason for being. It is the reason for being that Jesus explains to the disciples in the passage from the Gospel of Matthew: "Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." ...

"The Lord has made us restless so that we will seek him, find him, grow. But if our treasure is a treasure that is not near the Lord, that is not of the Lord, our heart becomes restless for things that are no good, for these other treasures ... So many people, we ourselves are restless ... To have this, to get that, and in the end our heart becomes tired; it is never satisfied; it becomes tired, lazy, a heart without love. The weariness of the heart. Let's think about that. ...
(I honestly never thought about St. Augustine's "restless until we rest in you" and "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Maybe it's obvious, but it wasn't to me.)

About halfway through I began expecting to be surprised with each homily, even if only by a throw away line that illustrated the main point. The surprise was good because it made me rethink issues, look deeper into myself, and learn to know God a little better.

To be honest, that's not usually the way I feel after reading Pope Francis's writing. So this is a rare find for me. (What can I say? Pope Benedict's style resonated with me from the get-go. It ain't Pope Francis's fault. I get that.)

These are pretty short, about a page and a half usually, and each has the references for the scriptural readings on which Francis was commenting.

This one's good for people who want to know Pope Francis better, need daily inspiration, want a good gift to give new Catholics, need to reinvigorate their relationship with God, and more. Definitely recommended.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Blogging Around: "The Arts" Edition

Oscar-winner Morricone composes Mass for pope, Jesuits

The Washington Post reports that Ennico Morricone is has composed a Mass, “Missa Papae Francisci," in honor of the 200th anniversary of the restoration the Jesuits.

Fantastic!

I notice they mention his score for The Mission but not for Fistful of Dollars or Once Upon a Time in the West.

If there isn't a harmonica in that Mass I'm going to be disappointed!

The Martian Viral Video

You may recall that I was a big fan of The Martian by Andy Weir, as is my husband who doesn't read much fiction but loved this audiobook.

So we've both been eagerly anticipating and simultaneously dreading the movie. Thus far the trailer seems to support the eager anticipation, which we could tell because it has spoilers galore. About a minute into in Tom started saying, "Too many spoilers! Stop!"

What's more fun is this viral video promo which introduces you to the crew before their mission to Mars begins. It is very much in keeping with the book where NASA keeps funding going by pushing mission news through every outlet they can.

Who wrote this amazing, mysterious book satirizing tech startup culture?

A mysterious little book called Iterating Grace is floating around San Francisco right now. At least a dozen people have received the book in the mail—or in my case, by secret hand-delivery to my house. (Which is a little creepy.)

The artifact itself consists of a 2,001-word story interspersed with hand-drawn recreations of tweets by venture capitalists and startup people like Chris Sacca, Paul Graham, Brad Feld, Sam Altman, and others.

The story’s lead character, Koons Crooks, goes on a spiritual quest by contemplating the social media feeds emanating from the startup world. It leads him to a Bolivian volcano and a chillingly hilarious final act with some cans of cat food, a DIY conference badge, and a pack of vicuñas (which are sort of like llamas).
I first heard about this in Robin Sloan's newsletter (the author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore who emails so rarely that I forgot who he was ... and I thank him for that lack of clutter in my inbox!).

But you can read about it and pick up a pdf version of the book here. As Sloan said, "P.P.S. If this really is viral marketing I'm going to be so mad."

Scott can't find a match for his Camels. Julie wants beer but all they've got is iced tea. Rose's little man ...

.
..  is warning her about teaming up with these two — even if it is to talk about Double Indemnity.

That's right, baby. It's you and me, straight down the line. Join us at A Good Story is Hard to Find for a discussion of one of Billy Wilder's most famous films.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Customer Experience happens… one way or the other.

We're all tired of corporations saying they want us to have an "excellent customer experience" ... and then putting us through the wringer.

Tom at General Glyphics has some advice about the "Customer Experience" strategy and how companies get it wrong.

My Interview at Big C Catholics

I am honored to be Matthew Coffin's "June Blog of Note" at Big C Catholics.

Matthew asked thoughtful questions on a variety of topics ranging from coincidence to answering the Church's detractors to what I've been reading lately. I had fun answering them and hope you enjoy reading the results!

Check it out!

Worth a Thousand Words: The Floor Scrapers

The Floor Scrapers, Gustave Caillebotte

Well Said: Life is this simple

Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable, it is true.
Thomas Merton

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Celia Thaxter's Garden

Celia Thaxter's Garden, Isles of Shoals, Maine - Childe Hassam
Source

I Didn't Know That: Small Sheep

Incidentally, although the Cistercians did much to improve the quality of sheep, the animal remained much smaller than its modern descendants; as late as the early eighteenth century a sheep wasn't much bulkier than a Labrador Dog.
Clarissa Dickson Wright,
The Medieval Larder in A History of English Food

On Small, Petty Men and Loving One Another

Mrs. Darwin wrote about a recent encounter that left her with the "wound that will not heal" — hatred toward an old lady who shrieked at her child in a restaurant.
As we were finishing up everything, William gave one more yip.

"Shut up!" screamed a lady from the card-playing table.

Our table froze in a collective horror. Finally I turned around and looked at the ladies. I stared each one in the face, and I hope I may never again see such coldness and hostility. ...

I stood up, seizing William out of his high chair and knocking over the glass of lemonade.

"I am sorry, " I said, in a voice that was not quite as controlled as I wanted it to be, "that a little child offends you."

The blue lady fidgeted. "He's been screaming ever since you brought him in," she said, gilding the patent falsehood with the very slightest defensive edge of explanation.

I repeated myself.

"Poor parenting skills," said the screamer, and the table tsked and murmured in agreement.
I've been on both sides of this situation. Luckily not as a screaming old lady, but there have definitely been times when I've been wincing at piercing shrieks and wishing that someone would take a child outside.

And I've been the mother of a small child when an old lady shrieked at her across the produce section because my little girl touched the twist ties container. I shrieked back at her, defending my child. My knee-jerk reaction is to lash out. (I'm getting better but that comes with age and Christianity, neither of which I had at the time like I do now!) We're just lucky it was late in the evening and we had relatively few witnesses.

In the days that followed her encounter, Mrs. Darwin was left struggling to bring her better self to the fore while being unexpectedly blind-sided by the hatred that would suddenly begin looping through her brain.

This is something that I struggle with. We all do.

It is part of the human experience.

We've all been wrong. That's the great joke.


In calm, intellectual moments it is easy to see that we are just as C.S. Lewis points out in The Great Divorce.
"Oh, of course, I'm wrong. Everything I say or do is wrong, according to you."

"But of course!" said the Spirit, shining with love and mirth so that my eyes were dazzled. "That's what we all find when we reach this country. We've all been wrong! That's the great joke. There's no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living."
That doesn't always cut it when I'm suffering from the I-want-to-see-you-groveling-at-my-feet-and-begging-forgiveness scenarios that I concoct again and again.

The Middle Manager of My Soul


Luckily I have a loving husband who knows just what to say to restore a sense of proportion.

He once looked at me as I was mid-tirade and said, "'I'm a small, petty man, Bart.'" I stopped short, took it in, and we both completely cracked up.

Recovering, he said, "That's the problem with middle managers, you know. Sometimes they'll fight to the death for control over the most ridiculous things."
Bart: So, I guess the two things sorta cancel each other out, right?

Principal Skinner: I'm a small man in some ways, Bart. A small, petty man. Three months detention.
The Simpsons, The Boy Who Knew Too Much
Is it wrong to write that on a card so I can look at it when the anger gets too great? Because that's what I did.  If I don't make mild fun of the person who has harangued me, then it turns into something that can take over my brain and control me.

The person is almost never actually a middle manager. That's beside the point. As my husband says, "A bad middle manager is frustrated because they can't control the big picture. So they over-manage the things they can control."

It's both jolting and grounding to realize that 90% of the things that infuriate me are because someone is acting like a petty middle-manager, like Principal Skinner.

Without that card, I lose sight of a greater danger. I am also often being "a small, petty man." That quote cuts both ways. Bart is rarely completely innocent.

My life is better when I assume that people are doing their best.


Lately I've also been reflecting on something in Brené Brown's "Rising Strong." Brown was grappling with her feelings about someone whose behavior made my jaw drop when I read it.

Her therapist suggested that perhaps the offender was "doing the best she could." In typical researcher fashion Brown began asking this question of everyone she met. What she found tended to sort people into personality types until she thought to ask her husband.
"Do you think people are doing the best they can?" [...]

Steve said, "I don't know. I really don't. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be." His answer felt like truth to me. Not an easy truth, but truth.
His answer is one that opens the door for me to follow Jesus more closely: I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. (John 13:34)

I don't know what someone is going through and they don't know what I'm going through. Only God knows. And how much has God had to forgive me? So very much.

It is only by continually fighting my worst impulses that I get a tiny glimpse of His point of view. Because I can't ignore the fact that, from His point of view, I also am doing my best ... even when I'm being hateful it's not because I set out to be malicious. (I wish I weren't but I can be just as hateful as the next person I will dislike for something.)

And I do strive for my "best" to become better. Just as on a different day the blue-haired lady and Mrs. Darwin may have been completely undisturbed by each other.

A really good prayer


My shorthand for all of the above when I am in such situations is to use a really good prayer, which I will repeat here.
Lord, have mercy on me and bless [insert name here].
Amen.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Well Said: Why I Am a Catholic

The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, “It is the only thing that…”

G.K. Chesterton, Why I Am a Catholic
As you may recall, last week The Anchoress asked why we stay Catholic. My answer was, like many, short and sweet.

Even as I wrote it I was aware that it was woefully inadequate. There were so many different things that added up to the whole: the Eucharist, millennium of thinking and logic and grace to draw upon, my brothers and sisters in Christ here and around the world ... and so much more.

Turns out Chesterton articulated my brief answer beautifully (of course).

His expansion on the subject is quite good also. Click through on the link to read the entire essay.

Worth a Thousand Words: Queen of Time, Selfridges

Gilbert Bayes, The Queen of Time, at Selfridges
Source 
Isn't this magnificent? If ever I get to London again I will certainly be sure to go to see it and all the other wonderful art at Selfridges. I first came across the reference to this glorious piece of art in Art: A New History by Paul Johnson.

Be sure to go to the source link for more photos and information about the art of Selfridges. For more of this artist's work, check out the page at The Victorian Web.

xkcd: Geeks and Nerds

Courtesy of xkcd
Believe it or not, this actually came up yesterday as Tom was crafting a work email.

Which led us to the natural question, "What's the difference between a geek and a nerd?

Hah! Geeked it!

Free Dracula Audiobook

I just wanted to give a heads up that Sync has a free download of the Naxos recording of Dracula.

If you ever thought you might listen to Dracula it is worth getting.


I'm about an hour and a half in and it is simply wonderful. And it opens one's eyes to more about the book itself. 

For example, listening to Jonathan Harker talk about his encounter with the vampiresses (yes, I'm positive it is a word), we get titillation (which is definitely there). But we also get an intimate look at how a vampire's victims feel, at why they would allow someone to get that close. 

The combination of sexual tension, fascination, and revulsion is really fascinating. It is skillfully done and makes me realize Stoker's craftsmanship with a wonderful story.


If you're not familiar with Sync, SFFaudio did a good post some time ago about how to download Overdrive.

This recording will only be available through Thursday so get it while the getting's good!

The Amazing Barn Owl

Bing.com always has some great image on the home page but today's very short video takes the cake.

Don't miss it. Simply amazing.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Well Said: The Suction of Story

Human minds yield helplessly to the suction of story. No matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can't resist the gravity of alternate worlds.
Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal
Preach it!

Rising Strong by Brené Brown

Rising StrongRising Strong by Brené Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The physics of vulnerability is simple: If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall. The author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection tells us what it takes to get back up, and how owning our stories of disappointment, failure, and heartbreak gives us the power to write a daring new ending. Struggle, Brené Brown writes, can be our greatest call to courage, and rising strong our clearest path to deeper meaning, wisdom, and hope.
I scored this off of NetGalley. I was unsure how I'd feel about reading a Brene Brown book since I have only watched her TED Talks and listened to The Power of Vulnerability which is a series of workshop courses she gave.

I shouldn't have wondered. Brown's voice grabbed me from the moment I read the introduction. In fact, early in the book Brown's realization that "you can't skip Act 2" (a reference that will be clear if you read the book) was revelatory for my husband and me in a work situation that we're slogging through at the moment. It didn't change our point on the map, so to speak, so much as to point out where we were and that we weren't really lost in the Slough of Despond ... just working our way through it to Act 3.

I like the way Brown has our innate connection to storytelling as a parallel thread. On one hand, it defines ways we can recognize and recover from dangerous trajectories. On the other, just reading what she's found about us as storytelling beings hits a note that interested and connected with me.

The reason I only gave this three stars is that the last third of the book somehow felt very different, much more self-help oriented than what preceded it. Suddenly there were a lot of acronyms, bullet pointed lists to consider and work through, open ended questions to ask yourself, and a couple of case studies that seemed very unnecessary. My eyes glaze over at that sort of thing which is why I've enjoyed Brown's work so much before this. Now I haven't actually read one of her other books so she may have followed this pattern before. It may work for everyone else in which case the problem is mine alone.

At any rate, I still recommend the book. It allowed me to make a lot of connections in my own life between my behavior, internal logic, and how to avoid or recover personally from falling hard when taking a risk.

Worth a Thousand Words: Brown Bear

Brown Bear
taken by Remo Savisaar
I can't resist this. Who could? And it makes the perfect beginning to the week.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Lagniappe: Writing Advice

In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.
Letter to Joan Lancaster, June 26, 1956
C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children
I guess this is lagniappe only if you are not a writer. Although we could all use it when wondering why a book isn't grabbing us the way it should. Perhaps we're being asked to do the writer's job.

Blogging Around: The Brief Edition

Remembering Carl

A memory from Brandywine Books about growing up on a farm and selling lots of eggs to Carl. I liked it and you will too.

Scammers Selling Tickets to See Pope Francis in America

There are no tickets. Don't fall for this one. The Deacon's Bench has more details.

Milking a Moving Target

Ever seen a cow hop on two legs? That’s how she avoided me when I closed in with the milk bucket.
I was engrossed by this engaging story at The Slow Cook .

Worth a Thousand Words: Still Life with Eggs

Georg Flegel (1566-1638), Still Life With Eggs
Source, via Lines and Colors

This looks both soothing and delicious. I don't know why I love looking at it but I do.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Well Said: The Compliment of Trust

To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.
George MacDonald

Worth a Thousand Words: Gismonda


Alfons Mucha, Poster for Victorien Sardou's Gismonda
starring Sarah Bernhardt at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris.
Source

The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

The Great DivorceThe Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I read this five years ago and, prompted by Louis Markos' chapter about it in Heaven and Hell, picked it up again. Clearly, I read it too soon in my own faith life the first time and now am giving it the proper five-star rating it deserves.

Written as a response to Blake's poem, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Lewis is showing that Heaven and Hell must always be divorced from each other by sheer virtue of their essences.

We ride along with Lewis's ghostly form as he boards the bus that will take him from Hell, a ghastly gray town full of quarreling people, to Heaven. As they journey it became for me almost a reversed, positive look at The Screwtape Letters, Lewis's other famous book about how to get to Heaven or Hell. I really loved that Lewis's own heavenly guide was George MacDonald, whose writings were very inspirational to Lewis in real life.

(Who would be my guide? Tolkien? Lewis? Only Heaven knows, I suppose!)

This is such a brief book that I read it in an evening but it really had an impact. It shows reality and our own passions, whether good or bad, in a new light which is both inspirational and enlightening. Or was for me at any rate.

This is one to read again and again.
"Oh, of course, I'm wrong. Everything I say or do is wrong, according to you."

"But of course!" said the Spirit, shining with love and mirth so that my eyes were dazzled. "That's what we all find when we reach this country. We've all been wrong! That's the great joke. There's no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why Do I Stay Catholic?

As I've mentioned many a time, I don't worry about Pew numbers on religion and suchlike. But it does give people something to talk (and blog) about. Which sometimes gets much more interesting than the Pew results.

And sometimes you have fun with it, too.

The Anchoress has some good links AND issued a challenge:
It's a challenge! I'm calling out the entire Catholic World on the Internet. Tell us why you are staying
And I was tagged. Hey, I don't turn down those challenges.

Especially when the answer is as easy as mine. Super. Easy.

Ready?
I stay Catholic because it's true. It's all true.

Where else would I go?
===========

And the makes-me-laugh-but-still-true answer — I met God in the Catholic Church and none of that was coincidental. I dance with the one what brung me. (Plus it all turned out to be ... true.)

Blogging Around: The Romero Edition

I've been interested to read some of the pieces out there now that controversial Archbishop Oscar Romero has become beatified (the last step before sainthood). As it turns out, the controversy has been because of the fact that he existed in an environment that was confusing. To just about everyone.

Here are some links that shed light and help give a balanced perspective.

The Politicization of Everything

I know from experience it is quite easy to fall into this suspicious mindset and to assume something untrue about now-Blessed Romero. ...

What most people don’t realize is that it was Pope Benedict XVI who removed the final hurdle in the 35-year process. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia told reporters that it was Benedict who “gave the green light.” Paglia says Benedict told him this Dec. 20, 2012 that the case has moved forward. It would seem ironic that the same man who wrote the CDF’s warning on aspects of Liberation Theology, would be involved in Archbishop Romero’s cause moving forward. Ironic only if the Archbishop actually was a proponent of this theology.
Jeff Miller has an interesting overview with plenty of links.

Becoming Blessed Oscar Romero

Critics have faulted “Romero” for the flatness of the supporting characters, a fair charge. Yet the portrayal of Romero himself is admirably textured, from its sensitive depiction of his gradual transformation to its nuanced handling of Romero’s relationship to liberation theology, disparaged by some critics as thinly baptized Marxism.
Steven D. Greydanus says that the film Romero is a good place to begin learning about the now Blessed Oscar Romero. This is a movie I skipped because I just wasn't interested. South American politics. Ugh. I guess I'm more interested now. Plus, Raul Julia!

Profiling Martyrs Who Don't Fit the Typical Categories

Many times this blog has mourned the lack of decent coverage on the persecution religious minorities, which should be the No. 1 religion story in the world every year. The numbers of people dying for their faith – or for stands mandated by their faith (and there is a difference) – is at ever increasing levels according to the latest Pew research.

Which is why it was nice to see Crux’s package this past Sunday on Christianity’s new martyrs in Colombia. Assembled by veteran reporter John L. Allen (who was down that way for beatification ceremonies in El Salvador for Archbishop Oscar Romero), it concentrated on a part of the world that has gotten less attention than, say, the Middle East in terms of human suffering.
Crux has put together a lot of pieces about Columbian martyrs. I'm sending you first to GetReligion because that pulls the links together in one handy spot where the article is a nice overview and guide to what's available.

Worth a Thousand Words: Iron Rolling Mill

Adolph Menzel (1815–1905), The Iron Rolling Mill
Source
I came across this when reading Paul Johnson's Art: a New History. I love these big subjects with the humanity reflected in the little scenarios around the corners, like the fellows in the bottom right having a quick meal.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What We've Been Watching

SPY GAME (2001)
Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, director: Tony Scott (Director)

Retiring CIA agent Nathan Muir recalls his training of Tom Bishop while working against agency politics to free him from his Chinese captors.

Reading the reviews ahead of time, I saw people either loved this or didn't believe the relationship between Redford and Pitt.

I was watching this for a movie group I lead and didn't have great expectations after I saw it was directed by Tony Scott. I know watching a Tony Scott movie is going to be entertaining but I don't expect it to be very deep.

So no one was more surprised than me that I loved this movie so much. But it worked for me. Really well. I bought it hook, line, and sinker.

This one benefits from discussion. I watched it for the movie group I lead at a nearby assisted living place and a lot really came out of our conversation. I'm pairing it with Three Days of the Condor, which we'll be viewing in a couple of weeks to contrast and compare Robert Redford then and now, our views of spies and government after Watergate versus after terrorism. ... and much more!

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)
Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson,
director: Billy Wilder, screenplay: Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler

An insurance representative lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator's suspicions.

This classic film noir was #10 in my Movies You Might Have Missed series.

I rewatched it because Scott and I will be discussing it for A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Wow. How can I have let so much time go by without watching this? The sizzling dialogue and perfect delivery transported me yet again.

ROBOT & FRANK (2012)
Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Peter Sarsgaard

Set in the near future, an ex-jewel thief receives a gift from his son: a robot butler programmed to look after him. But soon the two companions try their luck as a heist team.

The trailers made this look as if it might be too cute and too obvious to work. And one strand of the story was precisely that. The other strand didn't seem to fit in well somehow, being very bittersweet and dwelling on the very real effects of old age.

We liked it but at the end were wondering what we were supposed to take away from it. Great acting but the slight story needed more work.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Blues

The Blues
painted by Karin Jurick
From the Art Institute of Chicago, a woman in blue views Claude Monet's 'Irises'. I love Jurick's series of people watching while they view art.

Monday, June 1, 2015

On the Road to Isengard

Over at SFFaudio we continue our journey through The Lord of the Rings with book 3 (that's the first half of The Two Towers). Aaragorn, Legolas, and Gimli join up with the Rohirrim on a joint quest while Merry and Pippin find Entwash is no match for a good chewable meal and a pipe of Longbottom Leaf.

Well Said: Looking at Light

In the same way that Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Light of the World, and yet remained a virgin, light can pass through glass without altering the glass. When the glass is coloured, the symbolism deepens: the light takes on the same colour as the glass, just as God had “passed through” Mary, and took on her nature, humanity, in the form of Jesus.
Richard Stemp, The Secret Language of
Churches & Cathedrals

Worth a Thousand Words: Kingfisher

Kingfisher
Photographed by Remo Savisaar