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I was thinking about doing a digest for this, but then thought the better of it. Too confining. So  on this Sunday night as Son #5 watches The Hobbit in the next room, I’ll just chat about the weekend.

(He wasn’t a super-early Tolkein freak, but now, at the age of 14, he’s in the midst of reading the trilogy, has immersed himself in the watching of them all on film, and tonight decided he’d take a look at the film of The Hobbit (“even though I’ll probably get disgusted after half an hour.” We’ll see. Update: 90 minutes later – not disgusted.)

The latter part of our weeks are hamstrung – although that phrase gives too negative a light on it, since all that we have is good  – by Wednesday night church activity, Thursday morning high school biology classes, Thursday afternoon jazz classes, Saturday morning volunteer work and frequent Saturday evening/Sunday morning responsibilities (serving, music). A space came free this weekend, so we took advantage of it.

Friday afternoon was Ruffner mountain. About fifteen minutes from our house and a favorite hike/walk of his, a mountain yes, but also a former mining site (as are most mountains around here) Not a favorite of  mine – it’s fairly boring with no water or other features – but that’s not the point, is it? He asked to go, he wanted to walk, explore and talk,  so off we went.

 

 

The overlook is into the former quarry. In the photo on the right, the tiny lump on the horizon is the Birmingham skyline.

After that, to a local beer/wine store – Hop City – at which an English double decker/food truck called Little London Kitchen was parked. They’ve been around for some months, but this was the first time we’d had to sample their wares, and they were excellent! What is it about English fish and chips?

Saturday morning, he did his volunteer work (a religious education program for developmentally disabled children and young people), came home, practiced piano, and we were off to Montgomery. The final destination of the day would be the Alabama Shakespeare-sponsored production of Hamlet at 7, so that was our parameter.

First stop was the EJI National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Otherwise known around these parts as “the lynching museum.” Sorry, but it is. So, yes – go Alabama. But actually – yes. For all of the state’s faults, this is also the state in which you can find this space in which the dreadful past is acknowledged, gathered up, and contemplated.

The Equal Justice Institute is the organization associated with Bryan Stephenson, the author of Just Mercy and of course the force behind EJI.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go to the museum on Saturday, so we simply went to the memorial. We have several other must-sees in the Montgomery area, and we’ll add the museum to that list. (We – including he – have actually been to many of those “must-sees” – but it was at the beginning of our homeschooling years, so he doesn’t remember them. We’ll return to the Rosa Parks museum, the Alabama state archives/museum and the Fitzgerald House – Zelda was from Montgomery and they lived there for about a year.)

The memorial calls to mind the thousands of African-Americans killed by lynching in the United States. It is a sobering and thought-provoking space, and done in exactly the right spirit – of honesty and reconciliation: this is what happened  – and we must admit it, and move forward. 

 

 

Most lynching victims were male, of course, but I am always interested in finding female victims – and I found one –  Elizabeth Lawrence, right in my own present home of Jefferson County, Alabama, killed in 1933:

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Then, since it was on the way to church and he’s a musician, a quick turn up to the cemetery where Hank Williams is buried:

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Again – he’d been there before, but had no memory of it.

More interesting to me than Hank’s grave is the grave – right next to it – of several dozen RAF and French Air Force personnel who died while training at the nearby Maxwell Air Base during World War II. 

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Between June 1941 and February 1943, when the RAF terminated what became known as the Arnold Plan, 4,300 of more than 7,800 RAF cadets sent to the United States completed the three-phase AAF flight training program. Within three months, some of the same schools, including the phase 2 school at Gunter Field, began training Free French Air Force flight cadets. By November 1945, when the US government terminated the French training program, 2,100 French flight cadets out of the 4,100 who came to the United States had received their wings. 

Then to Mass, here. 

An energetically-delivered, substantive homily on the Gospel, and a cantor with a lovely voice, unaccompanied, although there was an organ nearby (and a piano and a drum kit…)

Then….a quick stop at Chick Fil A, and off to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival for Hamlet. 

It was very enjoyable and, for the most part, the perfect first live performance of this play for a 14-year old.

First off – this was not a production of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Their season doesn’t begin for some weeks. This was a production of New York’s Bedlam Theatre – performing this and Saint Joan in repertoire for the next month. 

The conceit? The gimmick, if you will? There are four actors – period. Four actors performing all the roles.

The theater was small – it was the “Octagon” theater of the facility, which is downstairs and perhaps about a hundred seats. In addition, there is some creative staging with this production, so for the first act, for example, there are about two dozen chairs positioned more closely about the performing space – and we grabbed a couple of those for ourselves (since I’d purchased tickets only that morning, our seats weren’t together – but this way, it worked out). Then for the second section (after acts 1-3), seats were re-arranged, and so on.

 

The actors wore ordinary clothes – pants, vests, shirts – for costumes, as well as a hat or two and some glasses. There were three men and one woman. The actor played Hamlet played only Hamlet – everyone else switched around and traded up. There were no other scenes or props other than flashlights and some drapes and chairs.

I’d say that 3/4 of it was absolutely mesmerizing and marvelous. The actors were fantastic, with smooth and impressive transitions between characters. It was the perfect introduction to a live production of Hamlet for a 14-year old boy, what with actors right in his face, even speaking right to him – the actor who played Polonius also played Laertes, which worked fine for most of it, but for the neither a borrower nor lender be speech – he went full Polonius –  and designated Michael as Laertes, directing the entire speech right to him. I’m really hoping that the words –  To thine own self be true will resonate in a particularly personal way for a very long time as a result…

But then?

Ah, that last act. It just didn’t work. I think their mistake was incorporating a bit of comedy in the wrong way. I watched the Mel Gibson version this evening (as I’ll talk about in a moment), and there is some comedy – but very slight and almost bitter – in the combat. What happened here, though,  was some business having an audience member “be” the table on which the poisoned cup sat – and it just broke the entire drama of the moment. Which, I have to say, had been sustained very well up that point, with some moving aspects and powerful speeches. But this, as I said – broke it, and it was unfortunate, as was the production’s ultimate way of interpreting the final set of deaths. It just didn’t work – everyone writhing on the floor, shouting their lines at the same time – but then, oh, the production fell back into an excellent place with the very final lines, uttered in near-darkness by the actors prone on the floor as Fortinbras and Horatio.

They just need to work, I think, on the actual Final Combat. Smooth that out, dispense with the comic business, and you’ve done it.

What was lost, I think, was the central drama of the piece, which was about Hamlet himself, of course. What was he about? And what is thread that takes us from the young man’s first hints that something is wrong and perhaps should be righted to the final irony of the one who had, for whatever reason, decided not to take revenge – almost accidentally wreaking havoc.

We hadn’t finished reading Hamlet by the time we saw it Saturday night, and I found the whole presentation of the final scenes so confusing, I thought he could use another version – and the only free version on any of the streaming services was the Gibson version.

As I said before, this is not *ideal* because Zeffirelli condenses and summarizes, and th age difference between Gibson and Glenn Close is…awkward. But that final scene? Oh, so well done, and so, so moving. 

So yes, we watched that this evening. 

(He was gone all day with a friend, to a swimming hole about 90 minutes away called Martha’s Falls.)

And then I remembered – well, thanks Netflix for reminding me – that Bill Murray had been Polonius in the Ethan Hawke version, and his “to thine own self be true” speech was very good – natural and unaffected, but somehow …effective.


 

I tried to think – what is it that binds all of this together? In fact, I had decided I would ask him to consider this for a writing project this week. Twenty-four hours spent:

  • Walking paths that hard-working miners had trod decades ago
  • Accompanying a differently-abled child, trying to help  him  understand Jesus’ love for him
  • Going to a memorial to the victims of racial injustice  – women and men who’d suffered and been terrorized, among other places, just scant miles from our house
  • Visiting the grave of a genius who’d self-destructed
  • Seeing the graves of men who’d died during a war, far from their homes, but not even in combat
  • Being witness to actors pouring out their hearts, in service to words written hundreds of years ago, meditations on the purpose of life, the specter of death, the response to injustice and the impact of the past on the present
  • Hearing a Gospel of mercy, bound in prayer, sharing the Body of Christ with other disciples all over the world

 

What is it we do when we teach, when we bear the gift of forming a child? To teach “values?” Skills? Prepare for a profession, for life?

All of that, but it seems to me that the most important thing I can do in teaching, raising and forming is sharing bad and good news with that young person. Or just news. It’s just the news, and the news is this: Human beings are beautiful and broken. Created in the image of God, shattered. Some of the brokenness is so deep within it seems as if it is just you, bound up, born that way. Some of the brokenness is manifest in your body, some of it in your spirit. Some of the brokenness comes through things that happened to your family yesterday or your people long ago. Some of your brokenness comes from the way you were raised, and then from your own choices.

And your task, your mission, your purpose as a human creature is to listen, watch and learn. It’s to walk as a broken creature – not deceiving yourself into thinking you are anything but –  in this broken world, listening and trusting. Trusting that despite the brokenness, despite evidence to the contrary, you and every other creature were made by a loving God in his image, who calls you even now. What does that voice sound like? How can you recognize it and not be deceived by imitators?

The walls are high and thick, the few windows in that wall are cracked and dim, the light on the other side seems far away, the music muffled and every other person you see on this side seems like a stranger and even, sometimes, like an enemy, but there is truth about this world, about all of us, about each of us that can heal these wounds, truth to be found, explored, listened to and lived – but we must learn how to recognize it, how to see and how to listen.

What a hard life this is on earth, what suffering we endure and inflict on others. To educate, it seems to me, means to be honest and real about all of this, not hiding a bit of it, to teach a young person to accept all of the brokenness within and without, past and present – but refuse to be defined or controlled by it –  and then, every day, point to the thin places in the wall, polish the glass so the light can shine brighter and crack the door a little wider so when the voice calls and invites us to that healing, nourishing feast – we’ll recognize it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Thursday evening, I dragged the boys to the Independent Presbyterian Church – wait, no, don’t worry, no budding Calvinism here – for a production featuring the choir of that church and the UA-Birmingham  music department.

It was The Three Hermits, a one-act opera by American composer Stephen Paulus, based on a Tolstoy short story. Here’s the text of the story. 

It was a nice production in such an interesting space. The event put me back in full Teachable Moment mode, in which I was able to yammer on about Tolstoy, Russian Orthodoxy, Calvinism and the Reformed tradition and even a little bit of Birmingham history – I held back on Walker Percy, though.

(His parents were founding members of this Independent Presbyterian Church, led by a minister with more interest to matters like the Social Gospel than was found among the mainstream Birmingham Presbyterians at the time. By the way – the link takes you to an article on Percy in the magazine for the wealthy neighborhood in which he grew up – Mountain Brook. It’s a recent article, and I’m glad to see it, for now I can finally identify the house in which the family was living when Walker’s father committed suicide. I had never been able to figure out which house it was. Their first home no longer exists – it was torn down as part of neighborhood-ripping road construction.)

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I don’t know what John Calvin would think of this church. 

The large IPC choir sang from a loft on the right, the organ was in its place in the center loft, which also functioned as the hermits’ island, the orchestra was on the ground level over to the left and the rest of the action happened in the sanctuary, with the pulpit functioning nicely as a well, the lookout pulpit on a ship. Most of the voices were quite good, with one weakness. Best were the hermits, the bishop and his mother.

Given that it’s Tolstoy, the original scenario would suggest, you know, Orthodox religious all ’round, but here they all became Roman. Which was fine – the point is still made, although productions doing Catholic Things would do well to always have an actual Catholic be a part of Tech Week to double check accuracy on that score. They did fine, with one except – at one point a non-cleric makes the sign of the cross over himself with his hand sideways, as a cleric blessing others would do.

It’s an interesting little opera – called a “church opera” in some descriptions I read. A few steps up from a “church musical,” with far finer music. The strongest elements were the choral elements and then the exchanges between the bishop and the hermits in which he is attempting to teach them how to pray the Lord’s Prayer (the point of the story being his pride and blindness to the strength of the hermits’ faith, as “simple” as it seems to him).

An hour of quality music, well done, in a lovely church, free, five minutes from home – not a bad Thursday evening! Still time to finish Calculus homework and practice Liszt, which of course is super important to everyone.

— 3 —

Weeks of insanity begin…now. 

Over the next six weeks, we have:

Eighth grade Passion Play; Eighth grade class trip to Nashville; Eighth grade research paper and oral defense; Eighth grade exams; Eighth grade appreciation dinner; Eighth grade graduation; Senior Guys Trip to (of all places) Boston; 3 AP exams; High school awards night; High school baccalaureate Mass, High school graduation; law school graduation; 3 piano competition performances; 1 piano recital; jazz piano lessons; pipe organ lessons; practice for all of those;

Right after Eighth grade graduation, former Eighth Grader immediately transitions to high school and begins with Latin, Spanish and Algebra II/Geometry tutors (that’s the trade-off when you’re going to spend part of the “school year” in places like Moab and Yosemite and Palenque and Guatemala and Thailand and Cambodia and Spain and such. Yeah, while you’re in town? You’ve got to do school, Son. )

Add several orthodontist (although one is just a retainer check now and hopefully the other will have the wires and brackets stripped soon, too) and dermatologist appointments, and really, thank God – seriously  – thank God this 58-year old single mom is fit and healthy (for the moment).

–4–

Speaking of school and such, if you didn’t read Caitlyn Flanagan’s take on the college admissions scandal – scoot over to the Atlantic and do so. I don’t agree with her final, final take – it’s too narrow – but it the sharpest writing you’ll find on the mess, penned by a person who actually worked with families like this, both as a teacher and then, yes, as a guidance counselor.

–5 —

From First Things: “Pro-Life Liturgy: How the Orthodox Tradition Teaches That Life Begins at Conception” – 

 

When we sing hymns of the Annunciation, when we gather for a weekday liturgy to remember Righteous Anna’s Conception of the Mother of God, when we kiss the icon of the Conception of St. John the Baptist as he stands next to his parents, and when we receive the Eucharist that was borne through the royal doors with the Annunciation icon, we experience the truth that each one of us is fully a person from conception. And we celebrate the fact that we are, as soon as we are conceived, unique, irreplaceable, and infinitely valuable.

Our liturgical experience furthers our encounter with reproductive and medical technology today. The language of bioethics is insufficient to us as Christians because it, by design, attempts to keep pace with the ever-changing scientific understanding of prenatal development. The liturgy offers another way of knowing, one that will never be subject to revision. Through the experience of worship, we embody an integrated truth: that the nature of creation is ineffable and that conception is inseparable from the advent of a new person.

Conception is akin to a sacrament of the Church. As in a sacrament, the Holy Spirit, and not just the workings of humans, is involved. And as we do not seek to explain the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and the blood in the Eucharist, we need not square current embryology with the creation of a human person. Leaving this veil on the mystery of the creation of a new person untouched does not deny the biological mechanics of the union of a sperm and an egg and the development of an embryo after fertilization. Instead, we honor the coexistent but higher reality, the more mysterious one, of the beginnings of a human person. 

— 6 —

And now for something completely different: from the NYT – an op-ed suggesting that we don’t need more tech in our cars (aka the self-driving car) – we need to be more engaged with our cars and our driving – hence, we should bring back the manual transmission. 

I mean – not that it’s gone. One of our cars is a stick and teaching my son to drive it was certainly harrowing, but I’m very glad that’s what he’s driving – for all the reasons this writer suggests and more.

But there’s one feature available on some cars today that can increase a driver’s vigilance instead of diminishing it — the manual transmission.

A car with a stick shift and clutch pedal requires the use of all four limbs, making it difficult to use a cellphone or eat while driving. Lapses in attention are therefore rare, especially in city driving where a driver might shift gears a hundred times during a trip to the grocery store….

….When I bought that first five-speed BMW, my dad cautioned me about safety, thinking that driving a stick would be more distracting and less safe. He was wrong. Though research on the safety of manual transmissions is scant, one study on the driving performance of teenage boys with A.D.H.D. revealed that cars with manual transmissions resulted in safer, more attentive driving than automatics. This suggests that the cure for our attentional voids might be less technology, not more.

I’m not gearhead, but I do think that driving a manual transmissions deepens your understanding of what is actually happening to your car while you drive it.

It also might be a theft deterrent – I read, on one of the local neighborhood discussion boards – of someone’s account of an attempted carjacking, abandoned because the car was a stick, and the would-be thief had no idea how to drive it….

Also, speaking to the cell phone issue – I have a friend here in town who has many kids. They’ve been doing new drivers pretty constantly for probably almost ten years now. She said they always have their new drivers drive a manual transmission because it makes it impossible for them to text and drive. Smart!

 

— 7 —

Image result for the man who killed don quixote banner

 

My Movie Son on:

Paisan

The Thin Red Line

Why the bridge sequence in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly hurts the movie

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Stardust

 

 

Get your gift books! Do!

First Communion

 

 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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I do post more frequently than once  a week! Click back for more entries, including last Friday’s trip to the highest point in Alabama, seeing a bunch of pianos in action at the same time, a saint, and various informative and annoyed thoughts.

Also check out my homeschooling , travel  and Lent links up top!

 

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Just because I really like this photo and keep looking at since unearthing it earlier on Thursday for this post. Kid on the left turned 18 on Thursday, kid in chain mail is now 14. Location. 

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Michael Leach, writer, editor and publisher emeritus of Orbis Books, has been writing about his life caring for his wife Vickie, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. I point you to this column: Deserve’s Got Nothin’ To Do With it: 

Even this crazy Alzheimer’s thing has its graces. When we wake up at seven in the morning, Vickie laughs and speaks in tongues until about 9 a.m. when her brain starts to get tired and she slips in and out of some kind of dream. But don’t we all go through our days in some kind of dream? How many of us express joy for up to two hours a day? Vickie has years left of having her needs met without having to ask, and I have more time to keep learning what she has taught me and our boys by her example: gratitude, no matter what. She used to say, “How could I not be grateful? Some people never get a miracle in their lives. I’ve had two. I got a new eye when I was 22 and got to look like everyone else. And I met my prince.”

Truly, I tell you, I was a frog, kissed into royalty by a Cinderella.

Now here is the best thing, the thing we all know and too often forget: Miracles come to everyone, to Vickie, to me, to you, without our earning them or deserving them. They just come. Never on our timetable, and never the way we plan. But we’re so preoccupied with thoughts of what we want and how we want it and when we want it that we don’t recognize them. They may as well never have happened.

Vickie used to begin many a day by saying, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad!” Gratitude is the alchemy that lifts the scales from our eyes and lets us see the spiritual blessedness that is in our sight.

 — 2 —

An historical look at the American Catholic Press and comic books:

 First published in 1946 and finishing up in 1972, Treasure Chest was issued bi-monthly until 1968 when it became a monthly release, although each issue was now double in size. It was issued over the summer months. only in 1966 and 1967. Treasure Chest was distributed through bulk subscription in schools and extensively used as teaching aids. The artwork was realistic, crisp and clean.  An engaging eclectic mix of non-fiction illustrations and text as well as more typical comic sequences, Treasure Chest holds fond memories for many older Catholics.

A long-running storyline by Frank Ross called `Chuck White’ featured the son of a mixed marriage (Catholic and Protestant) and depicted racially integrated friendships. Other features included `Skee Barry- Salvage Diver USN’, `Rumpus  Room’ and the `What if Fairy’ which appeared whenever a child pondered to ask `what if?’ Reed Crandall who also drew for Quality, Dell and Entertaining Comics(EC) was responsible for most of the `This Godless Communism’ stories, that ran in many Treasure Chestissues in the early  1960’s and have made those issues highly collectible in the secondhand  market.

— 3 —

Speaking of art, but on a more elevated level – hope you are keeping up with Daniel Mitsui. Here’s his latest newsletter. 

ST. KATERI TEKAKWITHA

 

OUR LADY, UNDOER of KNOTS

–4–

Jordan Peterson isn’t someone I pay attention to (just because there’s so much to pay attention to in the world…time is limited!), but I thought this was worth sharing: What Pastors Can Learn from Jordan Peterson:

Even when Christians do speak the truth, we so often speak it glibly and lightly, as those who aren’t putting weight on our words. We have polished answers to objections, platitudinous counsel, and tidy theological frameworks, but possess no gravitas because our hearers regard our words as little more than a showy yet hollow façade. Declarations of the profoundest doctrines trip off our lips as if they weighed nothing at all. We can become more exercised about a recent piece of pop culture than about Christian truths by which we can live and die. Our speech is superficial and shallow, conveying no recognition of the seriousness of handling the truths of God and our responsibility for the lives of our hearers. Much of what Peterson is saying is not new at all, but is familiar to anyone who has been around for a while. The difference is that Peterson is declaring these things as if they really mattered, as if in his speech he is actually reckoning with reality in all of its power, scariness, and danger. This wakes people up.

–5 —

And here’s an entertaining Exhibit A : The Instagram account PreachersNSneakers 

Let’s say that, like roughly half the citizens of the United States, you attend church on at least a semi-regular basis. And then let’s say that you’re one of the ten to 25% of church attendees who “tithes,” or gives some of your income (traditionally ten percent of what you make) to the church. 

Would it make you think twice if you saw your pastor, whose salary you directly contribute to, wearing rare Yeezy sneakers that sell for almost $4,000?

It’s this line of questioning that inspired the creation of @preachersnsneakers, an Instagram account chronicling the hype-worthy shoes — and their hefty price tags — worn by celebrity pastors.

That’s from an article about/interview with the all-of-two-week old account that’s getting a lot of attention:

You’ve had some ministry people comment on your account saying this is why they only wear Forever21 and knock-off Yeezys, but Forever21 has a terrible human rights record in its supply chain and knock-offs are often tied to crime rings. Do you think it’s more important for pastors to wear clothing that’s ethically made, or accessibly priced?

Man, that’s a very heavy question. I can see a case for paying more to “buy it for life” and getting quality and ethically sourced goods. But I don’t think, if we’re talking about pastors, they should buy flashy stuff and chalk it up to it being ethically sourced.

It’d be one thing if they were to come out and explain, like, ‘this is why I bought this pair of Off-White Chicago 1s, because I feel strongly about how they’re made.’ If you could get a congregation to somehow agree that their money going to those $2,500 pair of kicks was good for the kingdom of God then I can’t have argument with that.

I definitely don’t want to say you should fund sweat shops. But I also think there’s got to be a balance between that and wearing Burberry sneakers.

— 6 —

Can’t disagree with this column in  The Week: “Don’t Idolize Your 2020 Pick.” 

I said the same thing way back in early November 2018:

Over the past few days, protests have broken out over the country, centered on the meme #NotMyPresident. The anger, shock, dismay and yes, grief, is on full display.

When I look at this on the news or on my social media feeds, I see, above anything else, a spiritual vacuum.

There is room, of course, and if your conscience demands it, an obligation to express hesitation and opposition to a stated program of action with which you disagree or feel some aspect of your life to be threatened by. But even so, most people would, you know, wait for the person to actually take office and make decisions to make a judgment on how to react to that. To engage in this kind of protest at this stage is nothing more than attempts at intimidation.

No, what I sense goes deeper, and it’s not just the events of the last couple of days that lead me to that, but also the spiritual dimension of what I wrote above.

It’s too much. It shouldn’t be that important. 

But for some reason, it is. Why?

Well, when God has been chased out of your life, when the transcendent is simply what you make it to be, it is almost inevitable that the inborn yearning that we have for certainty in identity, belonging and meaning will be transferred.

Basically, this: If the election of the head of the executive branch sends you spinning and feeling distraught because the president doesn’t represent your values and moves you to disrupt your life to cry out  #NotMyPresident! …the presidency is too important to you. It’s become an idol.

MORE

— 7 —

I’m pleased to see that the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols made the final rounds for the “Excellence in Publishing Awards” from the Association of Catholic Publishers. 

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More on the book here:

 

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I’ve been rambling about tech all week.

Here – Introductory Thoughts

Here – Contrarian thoughts on new media and evangelization – Dom Bettinelli has a response here. 

Here – Thoughts on tech and education

More on educational tech. 

I have one more to go – I don’t know if I’ll get to it today (Friday) – my original plan. I’ll try, but you never know.

Computers 1979

Source

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Also on this here blog, I’ve started a more or less daily digest of what I’m reading, watching, listening to, cooking…etc. It’s really for myself more than for you people, a way Image result for vintage exerciseof getting myself going in the morning – the mornings of this new kind of day in which I have hours stretching in front of me, hours of uninterrupted work time, hours during which I have no excuses any more…early morning writing calisthenics, I suppose.

So:  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday….(none today – this post counts for Friday)

 

— 3 —

Charter schools have had a very hard row to hoe down here in Alabama. They have only been  permitted in the last couple of years – vigorously opposed by the Alabama Education Association –  and there are just a few open at this point. Here’s an article about an interesting effort in northwest Alabama – a charter school that’s the only racially integrated school in the county:

At 7:50 on Monday morning, when school started at the University Charter School in Livingston, in west Alabama’s Sumter County, students in kindergarten through eighth grade began a new era, hardly aware of the history they were making.

For the first time, black students and white students are learning side-by-side in integrated public school classrooms. More than half of the school’s 300-plus students are black, while just under half are white.

While not fully representative of the county’s split—76 percent black, 24 percent white, no public school in the county has come close to reaching the percentage at UCS, according to historical enrollment documents.

— 4 —

At some point in the recent past, I reminded you of the case of Fr. James Coyle, murdered in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Birmingham in 1921. Every year the Cathedral holds a memorial Mass for him and has a program – it happened last Friday, and here’s a local newspaper article about it:

St. Paul’s Cathedral held its annual memorial Mass on Friday to remember its former pastor, a priest who was killed 97 years ago at the front of the cathedral.

The Rev. James E. Coyle, who had been pastor of St. Paul’s Cathedral since 1904, was shot to death on the porch of the wood-frame rectory, the priest’s house next to the cathedral, on Aug. 11, 1921.

The murder trial was historic, partly because of the role played by future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. Black defended the accused killer, the Rev. Edwin R. Stephenson, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan paid the legal expenses of Stephenson, who was acquitted by a jury that included several Klan members, including the jury foreman, according to Ohio State University law professor Sharon Davies, author of “Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America,” about the Coyle case.

“The Klan held enormously successful fundraising drives across Alabama to raise money for the defense,” Davies said. “They portrayed it as a Methodist minister father who shot a Catholic priest trying to steal his daughter away from her religion, to seduce his daughter into the Catholic Church.”

Stephenson, who conducted weddings at the Jefferson County Courthouse, was accused of gunning down Coyle after becoming irate over Coyle’s officiating at the marriage of Stephenson’s daughter, Ruth, to a Puerto Rican, Pedro Gussman.

— 5 –

NYTimes story on the hollowing out of Christian life in Syria:

The number of Christians across the Middle East has been declining for decades as persecution and poverty have led to widespread migration. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, considered Christians infidels and forced them to pay special taxes, accelerating the trend in Syria and Iraq.

In this area of Syria, the exodus has been swift.

Some 10,000 Assyrian Christians lived in more than 30 villages here before the war began in 2011, and there were more than two dozen churches. Now, about 900 people remain and only one church holds regular services, said Shlimon Barcham, a local official with the Assyrian Church of the East.

Some of the villages are entirely empty. One has five men left who protect the ruins of the Virgin Mary Church, whose foundations the jihadists dynamited. Another village has only two residents — a mother and her son.

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— 6 —

Look for me in Living Faith on Sunday. 

Sunday is, of course Sunday – which takes precedence over any feasts and memorials, but it’s worth noting nonetheless that the day (August 19) is the memorial of St. John Eudes, dedicated in  part to the reform of diocesan clergy. Certainly worth attending to any time, but perhaps particularly in these times:

 In 1563 the Council of Trent issued norms for the establishment of diocesan seminaries and for the formation of priests, since the Council was well aware that the whole crisis of the Reformation was also conditioned by the inadequate formation of priests who were not properly prepared for the priesthood either intellectually or spiritually, in their hearts or in their minds. This was in 1563; but since the application and realization of the norms was delayed both in Germany and in France, St John Eudes saw the consequences of this omission. Prompted by a lucid awareness of the grave need for spiritual assistance in which souls lay because of the inadequacy of the majority of the clergy, the Saint, who was a parish priest, founded a congregation specifically dedicated to the formation of priests.

 

— 7 —

 

Don’t forget – The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols.

NOTE: If you really want a copy soon – I have them for sale at my online bookstore (price includes shipping)  Email me at amywelborn60 AT gmail if you have a question or want to work out a deal of some sort. I have many copies of this, the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, the Prove It Bible and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days on hand at the moment.

Also – my son has been releasing collections of short stories over the summer. He’s currently prepping his first (published) novel, The Battle of Lake Erie: One Young American’s Adventure in the War of 1812.  Check it out!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires.

Hey, there’s Paul writing to the Ephesians. It’s the second reading for Sunday’s Mass, and, very conveniently, a decent hook for talking about the return of Better Call Saul.

Yes, Saul. 

better-call-saul3Better Call Saul – which begins its fourth season Monday night – is at once a prequel and (we think- I hope) sequel to Breaking Bad. In that (great) series, Saul Goodman emerged in season two as Walter White’s smart, opportunistic criminal defense attorney (“You don’t want a criminal lawyer. You want a criminal lawyer.”). Better Call Saul takes us back in the timeline to explore the question of where this guy came from.

Originally conceived almost as a joke, and, before production really got rolling, as a mostly comedic treatment of an already extreme character who lives life at a pace as rapid-fire as his quips, Better Call Saul has evolved into something quite different and surprising: an almost leisurely, affecting deep-dive into the question of identity: Who are we at a given moment – and how did we become that person?

(There are plenty of articles online about the series. This interview with showrunner Vince Gilligan is particularly good. And before I dig into the deeper stuff and get all meta and serious, let me say that the show is just wildly entertaining – masterful cinematography, compelling direction and great setpieces, hilarious and always surprising. It’s the only show I’m currently watching.)

It’s not dissimilar from Breaking Bad, which traced the descent of Walter White from mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher to cold-blooded meth king. The dramatic arc is a little different though – there was always a level of uncertainty about Walter White: would he ever turn back? Would he respond to opportunities to take a different path? With Saul Goodman, we already know the answer (in part). When we first meet him in Breaking Bad, he’s a slimeball. So there’s no suspense on that score. There is suspense, though – which shows you how skilled everyone involved in this is – because we don’t know how Jimmy McGill became Saul Goodman – and we actually care.

And why do we care? Because, as singular as this character’s life is – low-life con artist getting through law school (University of American Samoa represent!) and trying to make something of himself, it’s essentially, in the end, about that question of identity and choices, presented in an engaging way that doesn’t shy away from complexity. Jimmy could be – and, if we’re honest, probably is, in some way  – any of us.

For it would have been easy to take this character – Jimmy McGill – and make his trajectory a sure thing because of either all his own choices or all what others and life have done to him. A clear-cut perp or victim, either way. A victim of a background in which he saw his parents, particularly his father, taken advantage of, and then a victim of his brother’s arrogance and contempt, as well as the usual course of bad breaks. A victim of his own flaws – as his brother Chuck (who has his own issues)  growls at him, more or less constantly, You’ll never change. You’ll always be Slippin’ Jimmy.  Of course he turned out the way he did!

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But no.

Every step of the way, we see, sometimes in subtle ways, the choices Jimmy McGill makes – and could make. One step forward, two steps back – that’s his life – sometimes because of what happens to him, sometimes because of his own choices. Like every one of us non-fictional characters, he’s a mix of inherent goodness, the lingering effects of original sin and the impact of temptation, pure and simple. It’s a hard sell, and it’s relentless and it’s exactly what Paul is telling the Ephesians.  He’s being sold a bill of goods: that his old self is his true self and his desires aren’t illusory, but real, and they’re not corrupting him – they define him.

There’s really not a thing wrong with anything fundamental to his drive or character: he wants to make something of himself, he knows he’s got charm and creativity, he wants to live well. But how it all gets perverted: perverted by greed, fear, a desire for revenge, pleasure in seeing someone twist in the wind, and most of all, because it is the root of all sin – pride.

And all of this – good and evil, possibility and cynicism, surge, course and fight for the soul of a man  – is he Jimmy, Saul, Gene – or all of the above? Or none?

There’s more than one battlefield. With Gilligan and Gould at the helm, every character is fully-developed, every one distinct and interesting, every one moving in one direction or another, every one of them making choices, too, using what’s at hand, reacting and bouncing off one another. It’s such a fantastic cast all-round with my favorites being Rhea Seehorn, who plays Jimmy McGill’s business and personal partner, Kim Wexler, and Patrick Fabian, who plays Howard Hamlin, a partner in Jimmy’s brother’s firm. Both roles are played, not against type, but simply not as a type, which is refreshing on television. Kim Wexler is one of the best female characters on television – ever – hard-working, real, but intriguingly reserved. Kim and Jimmy’s relationship is subtle: there’s obviously deep mutual affection and support, but it’s understated – so understated that’s it weird to see them express affection –  and works as a foundation (up to this point), not a plot point. Howard initially strikes you as typical high-powered, aggressive jerk, but he’s much more as he navigates his way between everyone’s best interests. He really is one of the show’s secret weapons, and I suspect he’ll play an even greater role in the coming season, as he has to grapple with Chuck’s death. (No spoiler alert – it’s in the plot synopses).

(You notice that I’m not saying much about the other two major plot lines – the Gus Fring/Nacho/Hector trajectory and the Mike storyline. I enjoy them, but they just don’t interest me as much as the Jimmy/Chuck/Kim/Howard material – although they are certainly on their way to converegence.)

In a series full of heartbreaking storylines, probably the most heartbreaking of season 3, and the one that expresses all of the contradictions and temptations of Jimmy McGill, is this one:

In a previous season, Jimmy had stumbled upon the dishonest ways of an assisted-living facility corporation, and had, on behalf of some senior-citizen residents, sued this company. Using all of his charm, Jimmy worked his way to a settlement that would benefit these residents and, of course, himself. There was fallout from that settlement that led to all kinds of complications, but it reemerged in this season and Jimmy discovered that the settlement had not actually been settled yet – that the law firm he’d left the case with (not of his own choice) was holding out for more from the company. Settling at this point, would solve all of Jimmy’s considerable financial problems, so he went to work.

The work involved essentially isolating the woman who represented the class in the suit from her friends – putting the pressure on her so that she’d go ahead and accept the settlement. Joining himself to the mall-walkers and chair-yoga practitioners, he planted seeds of doubt in her friend’s minds, building hostility to the point where the holdout broke down in tears after Jimmy rigged the community bingo game in her favor, trusting that this would be the straw.

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And of course it worked. She settled, all the elderly got their money, as did Jimmy – but at what price? That’s always the question.

There are, of course, other story lines in the show – story lines that will eventually converge in a way that sets the stage for Breaking Bad. But it’s the character study that has me hooked. Who are we? Why do we do what we do? Is the person I’m convinced I am at this moment inevitable?

Near the end of season 3, Kim Wexler, already a driven workaholic, takes on even more work to compensate for the partnership’s losses now that Jimmy McGill has been suspended from practicing law for a year. As a consequence of this and related choices, she dozes off while driving and ends up wrecked on the side of the road, her arm broken and documents scattered to the wind. This conversation between her and the future Saul Goodman encapsulates the moral questions at the heart of the show:

Kim: I could have killed someone, Jimmy.

Jimmy: Yeah, yourself.

Kim: I worked most of last week on maybe six hours of sleep and then I crossed three lanes of traffic and I don’t remember any of it.

Jimmy: Look, you were just doing what you thought you had to do because of me.

Kim: You didn’t make me get in that car. It was all me. I’m an adult. I made a choice.

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This moral dimension plays out in the aesthetics of the show in a number of ways, but in my mind, most powerfully in an aspect that some critique: the show often proceeds, let’s just say, at a leisurely pace. There’s the “let’s take a third of an episode to watch Mike figure out a tracking device” or “let’s watch Nacho create fake heart pills for ten minutes” or “let’s watch Jimmy doctor documents for a while now” and  “let’s watch Chuck tear apart his house forever.”

What does this say? I’d imagine the directors and writers have their own rationales, but the way it strikes me is as a powerful visual expression of the conviction that everything matters. There’s no such thing as wasted movement in this universe, no such thing as a meaningless gesture. No, we don’t want to tumble into scrupulosity, but you remember what the Man said, right?  Even the very hairs on your head are numbered. That tight, sustained gaze of Better Call Saul  won’t allow us to forget: We’re adults.  Every choice we make takes us in one direction or another, towards greater clarity or even darker illusions about ourselves. Every single one.

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— 1 —

I’m still working on a couple of Japan wrap-up posts. I’d thought I would use one of them here, but nah. I’ll just toss up some recent news and links, instead.

First, saints:

Lots of interesting saints coming up this week (well…there are always interesting saints coming up in our calendar, aren’t there?), among them Camillus de Lellis – former gambler, soldier of fortune –  on July 14.

I wrote about him in The Loyola Kids’ Book of SaintsLoyola didn’t choose to excerpt from my book for the entry for their “Saints Stories for Kids” webpage, but you can read most of it at Google Books, here:

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(Kateri Tekakwitha, whom we also remember on July 14, is also in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints, but the available excerpt on Google Books is pretty minimal, so…..)

— 2 —

Summer time for us usually means a lot more movie-watching in the evenings – a time for Mom to say…you get to play your video games and watch your stupid YouTube videos about video games, so now it’s my turn to pick. 

It’s not always easy. They get it. They understand that what we watch might be a little challenging for them to access at first, but that I try my best to share movies that are substantive and still engaging for them. By this point, they mostly trust me. I think what turned it was (speaking of Japan) The Seven Samurai. At first, they were deeply skeptical – a 60+ year-old dubbed, black-and-white movie? Even if it is about samurai?

Well, of course, it was fantastic. We split the viewing over two nights (this was last summer) and they were totally absorbed and engaged.

So, yeah, they trust me. Mostly.

— 3 —

This summer has been different. My older son works, and most of his shifts are in the evening, and much of the time he’s not working, he’s off doing other things. That’s how it goes! And it’s good – because you want them to be shaping their own lives.

So we’ve not watched a lot of movies this summer so far. Two recent viewings, though, one before Japan and one after:

On the Waterfront.  This was a film I used to show my morality classes in Catholic high schools. It is, of course, a great discussion-starter about the cost of doing the right thing, but it also offers a great opening to talk about evangelization and what it means to take the Gospel into the world – embodied, of course, in Karl Malden’s character, Father Barry:

Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. They better wise up! Taking Joey Doyle’s life to stop him from testifying is a crucifixion. And dropping a sling on Kayo Dugan because he was ready to spill his guts tomorrow, that’s a crucifixion. And every time the Mob puts the pressure on a good man, tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen, it’s a crucifixion. And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows that happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of our Lord to see if he was dead… Boys, this is my church! And if you don’t think Christ is down here on the waterfront, you’ve got another guess coming!

Verdict: They though it was “a little slow” in parts, but liked it, especially as it built towards the end.

— 4 —

Earlier this week, we took on The Great Escape another long one, and another success. It’s based, of course, on a real escape from a German POW camp, and I’d say is about 60.2% faithful to history – with characters and time conflated of course, and well, you know there was no Steve McQueen racing a motorcycle to the Swiss border, right? That didn’t happen. Sorry.

Verdict: Very positive.

This, from the Telegraph, is a great graphic and verbal summary of the history behind the escape.  

On the night of March 24, 1944 a total of 220 British and Commonwealth officers were poised to escape by tunnelfrom North Compound, Stalag Luft III, the main camp for allied aircrew prisoners of war at Sagan in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The subsequent events, thanks to numerous books and the 1963 Hollywood epic The Great Escape, have become the stuff of legend. However the real story had nothing to do with Steve McQueen on a motorbike and over the top derring-do by a few men – in reality some 600 were involved.

Despite being meticulously planned by the committee known as the X Organisation, the escape was a far messier affair than we have previously been led to believe. Events unfolded in chaos with numerous hold-ups and tunnel collapses. Some pushed their way in line; others fled their post altogether.

Now, after corresponding with and interviewing survivors, and seven painstaking years of trawling through historical records in archives across Europe, prisoner-of-war historian Charles Rollings throws new light on the night of the ‘Great Escape’.

SPOILER ALERT: (Seriously, don’t read if you haven’t seen it, know nothing about it, and want to see it) – Be warned that if you’re thinking about showing this to younger or sensitive children: one of the things the movie is accurate about is the fact that most of the escapees were caught and killed. The jaunty theme and occasionally comedic aspects might lead you to think this is  a hijinks-and-fun-caper flick, but don’t think that. It’s very fast moving, enjoyable, has quirky characters and a couple of amusing set-pieces and has good lessons about resilience and standing up to injustice, but just know…most of them don’t make it.

— 5 –

Ah, okay, I said “links.” Here’s a link – a wonderful one:

How this classical Catholic school welcomes children with Down Syndrome:

Students with Down syndrome study Latin and logic alongside their classmates at Immaculata Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., that integrates students with special needs into each of their pre-K through 12 classrooms.

The school emphasizes “education of the heart,” along with an educational philosophy tailored to the abilities of each student. About 15 percent of students at Immaculata have special needs.

“When you look at these students with Down syndrome in a classical setting, it is truly what a classical education is all about — what it truly means to be human,” the school’s founder, Michael Michalak, told CNA.

— 6 —

Last week under this very take (#6), I shared a link about a former Catholic church in Boston being, er, transformed into a Dollar Tree store. 

Well, here’s some good news – another perspective from Baltimore:

Baltimore City is hurting. It is bleeding. It is in need of hope and healing. It needs Jesus Christ in the Eucharist—the source of all hope.

And yet, because of the danger in the City I have to close the Basilica at 4 PM every day. It can’t be open without a security guard. And we only have enough money to have a guard until 4PM.

THIS MUST CHANGE!

In my prayer, I know God is calling me to open the Basilica. He is calling me to make Him available to the people of Baltimore every single day in Eucharistic Adoration. He is asking me to offer his forgiveness in confession at all hours of the day. He is asking me to walk the streets and invite the people who live in my neighborhood to get to know Him. He is asking me to provide a sanctuary for those who are ill, lost, homeless, and hopeless. He wants young adults in our neighborhood to have a refuge to flee to after work and school.

I must provide that refuge here in the City. I honestly KNOW that God is demanding this of me.

I agree. I’m ready to help!

But in order to provide this refuge, I need your help. I will explain exactly what kind of help I need in a moment. But first I want to lay out what God is asking me to do at the Basilica.

— 7 —

While you’re waiting for those last Japan posts (should be over the weekend), in case you haven’t seen them – here’s what I have so far:

Also check out Instagram for photos. 

Some previous trip entries:

Mexico – spring 2018

London – spring 2017

Belize and Guatemala  – summer 2017

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Perhaps you recall this year’s Baby Robin drama…

It began when I noticed a nest being constructed between a downspout and an eave.

 

Soon, the robins had laid their eggs, and just a couple of weeks ago,  they hatched.

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We watched them the best we could – we of course didn’t want to disturb them, but even if we did, the parents were vigilant guards, perching on nearby branches and wires whenever we came near, squawking repeatedly and even swooping down towards us if it all became too much.

A week and a half ago, we checked on the babies on Sunday evening, and saw their little heads.

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Monday morning:

Carnage:

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What made it even sadder was that the parents were still around, perched, chirping, squawking and swooping. You have to wonder – what did they “think” – if anything?

I thought that was the end of it. I left the nest on the ground for the moment, intending to take it up later. Before I could do anything with it, the yard guys came and just put it back up atop the downspout.

Nice, I thought. But why?

The next day, I noticed that the parents were flying around with grass in their beaks – they were rebuilding the nest.

And now, a few days later – look at that.

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They’re trying again. I had no idea that would happen.We will probably be in Japan  by the time they hatch – but depending on when that is (they say 12-14 days) – we might be back for part of the infancy, although my daughter will certainly be here and can keep us posted.

I just hope the hawk has moved on to other parts of the neighborhood….

(Six years ago, in our previous house, we had a fantastic view of the entire process, as robins built a nest on a window ledge. Here’s a post summarizing what we were privileged to witness.)

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