Friday, April 29, 2016

Reality Check: Teddy Roosevelt and Current Political Candidates

I didn't plan it this way but I've been listening to the 10-part series on Theodore Roosevelt at Giants of History podcast. He wasn't a perfect man by any means, but there possibly couldn't be a better time to learn about Teddy Roosevelt. He is certainly a great contrast to the current political candidates. And they don't come off well by comparison.

J.T. Fusco does a bang-up job of making historical figures come alive, by the way. He's also got a series about Leonardo Da Vinci and a fair number of stand-alone episodes.

Here at Giants of History, we produce a weekly biographical podcast that explores history’s most fascinating figures from cradle to grave. In each series, we strive to highlight the best stories and most monumental moments in each subject’s respective life. Our goals are to entertain our listeners, as well as provide inspiration through education.
Giants of History: website, iTunes

Worth a Thousand Words: Prince Muhammad-Beik Of Georgia

Prince Muhammad-Beik Of Georgia, Reza Abbasi, 1620

Lagniappe: Lazarus and David Copperfield

One Sunday night my mother reads to Peggotty and me in there, that Lazarus was raised up from the dead. And I am so frightened that they are obliged to take me out of bed, and show me the quiet churchyard out of the bedroom window, with the dead alllying in their graves at rest, below the solemn moon.
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
It never would have occurred to me to think about the story of Lazarus as terrifying children. I can see it though. The walking dead ... not a comforting idea without deeper context.

Genesis Notes: The God Who Creates Out of Nothing

The Creation of the World, Antonio Canova, 1821-22
Photo Gipsoteca, Possagno via WSJ

GENESIS 1:1-31
We just considered the fact that the writers of Genesis retold the creation stories of other nations, correcting them to present the right view of God. So let's look at the biggest way they did this, by pointing out that God, uniquely among other creation stories, creates out of nothing.

This really opened my eyes, from the very beginning of Genesis. For one thing, I don't think we moderns give God enough credit. We just take it for granted because "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is so familiar. But really stop and think about it. Heavens to Betsy! All this around us, created out of nothing!
Genesis begins not just with the beginning of something, but with the beginning of everything. Its first verse uses a word for which there is no equivalent in any other ancient language. The word is bara'. It means not just to make but to create, not just to re-form something new out of something old, but to create something wholly new that was simply not there before. Only God can create, for creation in the literal sense (out of nothing) requires infinite power, since there is an infinite gap between nothing and something. Startling as it may seem, no other people ever had creation stories in the true sense of the word, only formation stories. The Jewish notion of creation is a radically distinctive notion in the history of human thought. When Jewish theologians like Philo and later Christian theologians (who learned it from the Jews) told the Greeks about it, they were often ridiculed.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sweet, Sweet Doubletake — Forgotten Classics is "What's Hot" in iTunes

I was looking through What's Hot in Literature podcasts when I did a doubletake. Nice! I guess when you get past 300 episodes you get a nod sometimes.

I'm going to begin The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart this weekend. Swing by and let me read you one of my favorite Forgotten Classics.

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Mary Sartoris

Frederic Leighton, Portrait of Mary Sartoris, c. 1860
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: Jesus' healings

Jesus' healings are not supernatural miracles in a natura world. They are the only truly "natural" things in a world that is unnatural, demonized, and wounded.
J├╝rgen Moltmann

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

These Just In — New Books You Don't Want to Miss

Thirteen "little sins" that, if left unconfessed, can have a serious impact on our spiritual lives. Through the author's honest (and sometimes funny) examination of these sins in her own life, as well as Church teaching, she gives us the tools to kick these bad habits before they kick us.
First of all, this is Elizabeth Scalia. That means a honest, humorous Catholic writer. Secondly, it is topic which is hits home. I believe I've mentioned before that my problem with confession is not the actual confessing. It is thinking of something to confess. And that is because, especially with my secular background, a lot of the "little" sins slip my mind or don't seem important or are really just a bad habit. Right?

Scalia ain't a gonna let us get away with that. And because she is also a warm and human writer who admits she is first in line for some of these, we don't feel so bad seeing where she's going. This is one I need to read.

This book narrates the harrowing and life-changing experiences of former abortion clinic workers, including those of the author, who once directed abortion services at a large Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas. These individuals, whose names have been changed to protect their identities, left their jobs in the abortion industry after experiencing a change of heart. They have come forward with their stories, not for fame or notoriety, but to shed light on the reality of abortion. They want their stories to change the lives of others for the better.
I did read chapter 4, "Daddy's Little Girl," because it caught my eye flipping through it. It touched me in a very personal way because I had a niece who was having some routine surgery done in a clinic and she almost died because of blood loss and trouble with getting her to a hospital. This chapter brings up that problem, caused by a completely different angle which had never occurred to me. There is nothing gruesome about the chapter but it hit home hard. This book is worth reading.

When Alison Bernhoft set out to homeschool her six children, her grand plans were constantly derailed by the second law of thermodynamics: Entropy. It enters our houses, spreads toys and dishes around, creates chaos throughout the day, and most importantly steals our time. But Alison discovered that chaos and homeschooling are far from mutually exclusive.

Using alternative education methods, marvel at the specialization of birds feet through your kitchen window. Recognize musical eras as you drive. Use raisins to introduce your kindergartener to algebra. 
Ok, this is a highly unlikely book for me to read or promote. That's just how charming this author is. Her email completely captivated me. As did the book when I received it. Just flipping through it keeps grabbing my attention. So I'm going to read it ... and if I were ever going to homeschool (may the good Lord have mercy on any under my tutelage), the entropy approach would definitely be my best friend.

Prolonged, multiple wars in the Middle East. Waves of immigrants crossing the borders. Ongoing economic recession. Increasing political polarization, often with religious overtones. Conflicts over ideologies that pit the progressive against the traditional. Sound familiar? These conditions not only describe the United States, but the situation of the Roman Empire in the third century. That situation led to religious persecution and the eventual collapse of the empire. In the middle of the third century, the Roman Empire was roughly the same age as the United States is now.

This book examines the practices of the Early Church—a body of Christians living in Rome—and show how the lessons learned from these ancient Christians can apply to Christians living in the United States today. The book moves from the Christian individual, to the family, the church and the world, explaining how the situation of the Early Church is not only familiar to modern Christian readers, but that its values are still relevant.
Ok. First, true confession — I don't have this book. Second — it's Mike Aquilina! It's about a year old but it's new to me and the authors' perspective is one that I espouse all the time. But I do so without their indepth knowledge or examples. Not sure how this slid under my radar but in case it slid under yours also, I thought I'd bring it up!

Worth a Thousand Words: Horse

James Ward, Horse

Well Said: Pope for Both

I have to be pope both of those with their foot on the gas and those with their foot on the brake.
St. John XXIII
I don't think things have changed much since then.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Hilye

Hilye, Hafiz Osman
This is calligraphy from the Ottoman Period. Isn't it gorgeous?

Lagniappe: Brown Beer Bottles and the Wedge of Lime

Brewers learned long ago that dark bottles protect beer from the light and prevent it from developing a skunky "lightstruck" taste. But it wasn't until 2001 that scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found out exactly what causes that nasty flavor. Certain compounds in in hops, known as isohumulones, break down into free radicals when exposed to light. Those free radicals are chemically similar to the secretions of skunks. And it doesn't take long for the transformation to happen: some beer drinkers will notice the skunky flavor at the bottom of a pint glass that sat in sunlight while they drank it.

So why are some beers sold in clear bottles? First, it's cheaper. Second, some mass-produced beers are made with a chemically altered hop compound that doesn't break down. But if you see clear-bottled beers sold in a closed box, chances are it's because the brewer knows the taste will degrade quickly in light. And the tradition of adding a wedge of lime to the beer? That's just a marketing ploy to disguise the skunky flavor.
Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist
AHA! I knew about the brown bottles, light, and flavor degradation. But the lime? That's news to me. Those marketing devils!

Genesis Notes: A Hymn of Creation

God the Geometer, The Frontispiece of Bible Moralisee, mid-13th C.

GENESIS 1:1-31
This chapter is the oh-so-familiar story of the creation of the universe. Anyone who has ever done any Bible study or, indeed, ever had their back to the wall when talking to a dedicated believer in science knows that Genesis is not worried about how creation occurred. It is concerned with the fact that God created everything and that God made man in His image. If you read it out loud and listen to the language and cadence you fall into it almost reads like a Psalm.

The problem that I, personally, always had trouble reconciling is the fact that there are a other creation stories out there that seemed to echo Genesis. If that is the case, then is Genesis just another man-made story as I had been told by nay-sayers? The way that The Complete Bible Handbook explains it helped me sort this out.
The major point made in the Bible is that, however Creation is interpreted, and whatever account of Creation one follows, God is the author of the story; and if there is a design, then God is the Designer. All the accounts of Creation in the Bible make this point. In this respect, the stories of the Bible differ hugely from other stories told about Creation in the religions and beliefs of the nations that surrounded Israel, such as Babylon and Assyria. The biblical writers used different stories of Creation, and at least two of these accounts are shared with Israel's neighbors in the ancient Near East. But the Bible retold these stories of other nations and - from its own point of view - corrected them to make its own basic point: the true reading of Creation sees it as the consequence of One who gives it order and sustains it's being.

The biblical account is coherent with many other stories, whether those of the Babylonian accounts of creation, or, much later, the theories of Darwin and his successors, and has translated them into an account that endures, even when Babylon and Darwin have faded into history. These different theories of Creation are not in competition with the Bible. The stories of Creation in the Bible give the reader the opportunity to go deeper into the understanding of the universe and of our place in it, to understand the way in which God brings all things into being and to understand how God is continually in the act of creating.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Well Said: A healthy dose of self-cricitism

We also need to be humble and realistic, acknowledging that at times the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat other people has helped contribute to today’s problematic situation. We need a healthy dose of self-criticism.
Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love)
I'm reading it a little each day and finding it a complex, thoughtful, and rich work. It is especially interesting to consider that the Pope keeps mentioning the other contributing bishops from the synods on the family. This is not just one person's vision. It is that of many of those who serve families around the world.

For those who feel this is too long to face, take heart. I'm not actually reading the 264 page book formatted by the Vatican and released as a pdf. I was able to copy and paste it into my own document which came down to 50 pages. The pdf's tiny pages, large type, and big margins are what made it so long in published form.

Worth a Thousand Words: Opposition

Opposition, England, 1890
from the Library of Congress's Photochrom Travel Views collection

Friday, April 22, 2016

Blogging Around

Kobe Bryant is Catholic?

Yet during one of the darkest moments of his life, Kobe Bryant turned to his Catholic faith. In an interview with GQ last year he explained:

“The one thing that really helped me during that process — I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic — was talking to a priest. It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ‘Of course not.’ Then he asks, ‘Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ‘Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point.”
Read it all at Aleteia

The Mercy of Shutting Up.

This is one I struggle with, sometimes more successfully than others. Joanne McPortland finds something unexpected in Pope Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). I especially liked her specific ideas for applying "hold your peace." The one I mention below seems specifically applicable to Americans (we like to help!) and is one where I am specifically working on improving my own behavior.
Here, then, are just of few of the many situations in which I need to practice mercy by holding my tongue — and atoning for the times I have not.

When I’m just trying to helpful, damn it! This is a trap a lot of us fall into, rushing to meet others’ silence or sadness or need with a flood of unsolicited advice. In almost every such situation, the merciful and truly helpful response is receptive silence, listening presence. Too often, I react instead with links to medical websites, amateur psychoanalysis or (worst of all) anecdotes about how my experience was so much worse.

Work When You Work, Play When You Play

The key to a happier life with more time in it. The problem is that we seem to have forgotten how to do that. Never fear! The Art of Manliness is here ... with ways to combat today's distractions.
Restlessness is one of the acute maladies of our time, and there are many causes of it, from the gap between how fast information moves and the stubborn slowness of “real life”; our increasing distance from nature and lack of physicality; the avalanche of options we have to choose from in all areas of life; and the amount of “shadow work” corporations have outsourced to us consumers.

There’s another obvious factor in our restlessness as well, and that’s the sheer number of distractions that constantly pull at our attention, erode our focus, and keep us from concentrating on the task at hand.

Happily, while the other sources of our restlessness often require comprehensive changes to our culture and our personal lifestyle, this last factor can be attended to with the adoption of a simple principle: work when you work; play when you play.

Well Said: The wood of this cross ...

The wood of this cross that now breaks your back first grew in the soil of your heart.
Staretz Macarius

Worth a Thousand Words: The Neapolitan Girl

The Neapolitan Girl, Hugues Merle

Genesis Notes: Introduction - In the Beginning

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

This is one of the most famous lines in all literature. It begins our journey of discovery of not only one of the oldest pieces of writing in history but about ourselves. Because this book was designed to help us answer the oldest questions of all. Who am I? Who is God? Does He exist? How do I know when I meet Him? How should I live?
The book of Genesis does not merely tell quaint stories about people who lived at the dawn of time. The roots of all that Christians believe are found here. Read properly, Genesis reveals the essence of the nature of God, of creation and man. It shows how man fell from grace and God's friendship. It reveals the nature of sin. In it we see the first hints of God's plan of redemption, and the promises he makes that lay out the blueprint for the rest of salvation history. It is also the beginning of a very important family history: that of the family of God.
I must say that if I took nothing else away from studying Genesis, it is that human nature is the same now as it was 4,000 years ago. The way we live is different, but people are still recognizable as those you might meet anywhere. I was shocked to recognize and often deeply understand these ancient personalities that I met in this book.