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Not from Tokyo…as of this writing…no. Ahem.

Check Instagram for more current updates….

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Random links first:

I’m in Living Faith today. Go here for that. It’s unplanned, but very fitting for what’s I’m doing at the moment. For more like it, check out the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days. 

Related: Scripture Passages that Changed My Life –  a collection of essays by Living Faith authors – is now available. I’m in there. And yes, they are essays – not the 150-word Living Faith entries in the quarterly devotional. Full-length reflective essays. For you!

Also – last week I noted that the robins were trying again. Well…it seems as if someone else was watching. Report here. Sigh. 

 

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Here’s some fantastic news: Perhaps you know about Horrible Histories – the great British kids’ show based on some off-kilter British kids’ history books. I’ve written about them a lot, and we love the series around here. The same crew produced another show called Yonderland  – of which we’ve only seen the first season, and enjoyed – and a fun take on young Shakespeare called Bill. 

This is a great post with a list – and video links – to some of the best musical numbers from Horrible Histories. Including, of course…

(Did I ever tell you about the time my daughter ran into Mat Baynton on the very last day of the Edinborough Festival Fringe, where she’d been working for a month? Well – that happened – this young American woman breathlessly saying, “My little brother can sing the whole Pachacuti song!”)

They’re back! With, it seems a fun-sounding variation on The Canterville Ghost. 

Ghosts is a multi-character sitcom created by the lead cast of writer-performers from the award winning Horrible Histories and Yonderland, and the feature film Bill.

The crumbling country pile of Button Hall is home to numerous restless spirits who have died there over the centuries – each ghost very much a product of their time, resigned to squabbling with each other for eternity over the most inane of daily gripes. But their lives – or, rather, afterlives – are thrown into turmoil when a young urban couple – Alison and Mike – surprisingly inherit the peaceful derelict house and make plans to turn it into a bustling family hotel. As the ghosts attempt to oust the newcomers from their home, and Mike and Alison discover the true scale of the project they’ve taken on, fate conspires to trap both sides in an impossible house share, where every day is, literally, a matter of life and death.

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More serious random links:

Why is Rome sidelining Ukrainian Catholics?

First, there was the consistory for new cardinals announced on Pentecost Sunday. Leading the list of 11 new cardinal electors was Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon and head of the Chaldean Church, Iraq’s principal eastern Catholic Church. Creating the patriarch a cardinal was widely seen as sign of solidarity with the suffering Iraqi Catholics.

In 2016, Pope Francis did a similar thing for Syria, though that time he did not choose an actual Syrian bishop for cardinal, but rather the Italian serving as nuncio in Damascus.

Yet in five consistories for the creation of new cardinals, Pope Francis has passed over Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the UGCC and major archbishop of Kiev. Shevchuk’s predecessors have all been cardinals dating back to time when the UGCC – liquidated by Stalin – was the largest underground Church in the world.

Pope Francis is charting a new course in the selection of cardinals, but even given the idiosyncratic nature of his choices, it is evident that suffering Churches and suffering peoples are favoured with cardinals. That Ukraine has been overlooked now five times in five years suggests that Ukrainian suffering resonates less in Rome than the objections of the Russian Orthodox, who regard the very existence of the UGCC as an affront.

Secondly, a good look at Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic Catholic school teacher formation program. Popular, but evidently lightweight – no surprise there. 

The advice is banal, the language clunky: “The people you surround yourself with, and how you let their positivity or negativity influence you, impacts the kind of teacher you are.”

At times it is saccharine: “There is no national monument for teachers. I have never seen a statue of a teacher. But we all build monuments for teachers in our hearts.”

It can be pedantic: “Education is a wildfire. And a single educator is but a flickering of this timeless flare, hoping to shed some light where there is darkness.”

Or condescending: “Let me throw a little theology at you.”

Some of it reads like motivational business-speak: “We respect forever the leaders in our lives who were tough but fair.”

And every so often it calls on a weird source to make a point: “As Friedrich Nietzsche observed, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.’”

You get the idea. Matthew Kelly manages to evade the hard questions mostly by ignoring them. How should I include “Jesus in [my] lesson plans?” Keep “an empty chair” for him, to “remind students that Jesus is always at their side.” What is evil and how should I respond to it? Make “holy moments”! How do I deal with the exhaustion, fatigue, frustration, and pain of teaching? “There is no limit to the number of holy moments you can create.” The prose is as limp as the cloying optimism it promotes. It often circles back to his usual refrain: Be the “best-version-of-yourself.” That was more or less what Eve was told in the garden.

 

— 5 —

 

 

All right! So our great Japan 2018 Voyage got off to a rocky start. An aggravating, puzzling and somewhat infuriating start.

The plan was: fly out of BHM to DFW – land in DFW around 10:30, flight to NRT (Narita airport in Tokyo) departs at 1:30. Perfect, right?

Well, you would be wrong. You would not have taken into account the long wait on the Birmingham tarmac brought on by: weight issues, which led to a delay as people were asked to volunteer to disembark, people thought about it for a while, and a couple of people finally decided to accept the $700 offer. (These offers are never made when I’m able to accept them). Secondly, weather between BHM and Dallas, which required a changed flight plan which took about 30 minutes to work out and which would be a longer flight.

So we didn’t land in Dallas until about…1:30. We taxied right by gate D33. I saw our plane pulling away. Waves. 

Oh well – surely there’s another flight to Tokyo today? Surely they can at least maybe get us to Los Angeles or somewhere further west and we can go from there and still get there almost on time? Surely? 

Again – You’re wrong!

But there’s another aspect to this story that takes it to another level, to the level beyond, eh, things happen – it’s air travel. You expect it. 

It was hard not to miss the dozen or so Japanese young adults on our small plane from Birmingham. We wondered if they were also headed to Tokyo on the same flight.

As we disembarked and lined up in front of the rebooking agent in Dallas, they gathered behind me. I turned and asked if they were on flight 61 – they didn’t speak much English, didn’t understand me at first, so I showed my ticket, pointed to the number, they got theirs out – and yes, that was their flight too. They were…surprised that they missed it.

So here’s my question. There were, at my count, between 12-15 of us on a single flight ticketed for another specific flight.

Why did they not hold the plane? 

We’re not talking hours here. The planes passed each other in the gate area. There was no mystery about where a large percentage of the missing passengers were – Hmm….15 people haven’t showed up for this flight? Where could they be? Such a mystery! Shrug. No – they know exactly where everyone is and exactly when they’ll be coming in.

I’ve been on planes that have been held for one or two passengers before. This was crazy, and although I got scolded a bit on Twitter for this, told that I just “didn’t undertand” how these things work – I stand firm. As I said, I’ve witnessed planes being held. The AA supervisor who eventually helped us was aghast, as was her co-worker.

So – a bit about customer service. For some reason, I’m fascinated by stories of good and bad customer service – I slavishly read the Elliot site all the time. So it’s also instructive to be in the middle of something like this, observe the dynamic and see what works – and what doesn’t.

The first guy I went to for help was doing his job, but doing it without any energy or compassion. I wasn’t panicked or angry – I was amazed that the plane hadn’t been held, but was ready to move on. Fine. But the options he was giving me were terrible and he was using the same tone with me as if he were asking paper or plastic – and who cares.

So, you could fly out of Chicago tomorrow morning, I guess. 

When would we go to Chicago?

Tonight. 

Where would we stay – in the airport?

I guess. Yeah. 

I wasn’t biting on any of these options, convinced that there had to be a better way, so he offered to call a supervisor – obviously eyeing the 12 Japanese students behind me, as well. So he radioed for a supervisor, I stepped aside and waited.

And waited. And waited. Minutes went by, no one showed up. I stepped closer to the original guy and caught his eye. He waved to an open door across the hall and mouthed – go there. 

Okay.

So I went to this open door, where a man in a tie stood – he listened to me very politely,if clearly a little puzzled about why I was telling him about this. He poked his head back in the door, said something to a woman inside. She came out, they had a puzzled conversation, she agreed that she’d help me, but first, we had business with Guy #1.

Well, she had business. She was pretty ticked at him. Why didn’t you call a supervisor? I did. They didn’t come. They’re right over there – why couldn’t you just wave someone down? I’m busy – I tried. 

I sensed that her anger at this other guy just might work to my advantage, so I was just super nice. Not pathetic – because you know, this is a First World Problem in the extreme, and no pathos allowed, in my view.

As it turned out – there were no great options. Nothing was leaving from DFW later, and anything else she was able to work out would involve many stops and wouldn’t get us into Tokyo much earlier.

So – we got booked on the same flight, 24 hours later.

But she did give us a hotel voucher. I don’t think she was supposed to, since the reason for the mess was “weather”  – one of the many, many reasons airlines use to excuse them leaving you on your own (and I get it – they’d go broke if they compensated everyone for everything we feel we should be compensated for).

But she did anyway, saying, “It’s going to be a long day for you all.”

Quick version of the rest of the saga: I had hoped to get our luggage (just two suitcases – we travel light)  which I had CHECKED EVEN THOUGH I NEVER CHECK LUGGAGE…..GRRR – but was told by two different people that while it might take 30 minutes to retrieve the bags, it might also take three hours and there was no way to predict. We had most of our toiletries with us (aka the most important for me – my contacct lens stuff) and J had a pair of gym shorts in his backpack, so we just decided to grin and bear it.

I did rent a car instead of doing a shuttle to the hotel. I managed to get one through Hotwire at about half the cost they were quoting me at the rental counter. I wanted a car because it was still fairly early, and this would enable to us run and get a couple of t-shirts and anything else we needed and – if we had time – to see a bit of Dallas.

Which we did…

(And please know –  In my communications to AA about this – both via Twitter DM and through their system – I praised the helpful AA employee by name, several times. Do try to do that – when someone gives you good service, note their name and communicate their good work to the powers that be. It helps them. I did the same with the woman at the rental car counter – we had no problems, but she was just very nice and engaged, striking the perfect balance – helpful but not annoying – I noted her name and commended her to her company, too. It matters.)

(I do have travel insurance – both through the credit card I used to book the tickets, and a separate policy which I always get for these trips. I’ve never, ever filed a claim – and even though it’s not much, I think I’ll give it a shot, just to see what happens.)’

And may I reiterate? First World Problems. I’m annoyed that we lost a day of our time in Tokyo, but for heaven’s sake – we’re going to be in Japan.  I have nothing to complain about.

 

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So…Dallas. 

When we started out, I thought we’ll get barbecue – but then they noted that In n’ Out is in Texas now, and they opted for that. It’s okay – I wasn’t hungry. We then made our way downtown – I’d probably been in the Dallas environs (outside the airport) once as a child, and probably only to a mall (that’s my vague recollection, anyway).

So we just shot downtown, parked, and walked around for about thirty minutes. It was hot, there weren’t a ton of people in the area – done and done.

 

 

 

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 Coming in July:amy_welborn9

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Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

More book reminders (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page.  

He’s released his second set of stories, which are science fiction-y in nature. 

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

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All right – first things first. As in…my things. 

I was in Living Faith on Monday – here’s the link. Look for an entry next Wednesday, as well.

Also check out Instagram this weekend – there’s a road trip happening.

The cover for my next book is up for viewing at the Loyola Press site!

Coming July: The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols.

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Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

It’s a series of books with which I’m very pleased – due in no small part to stellar design and artwork, for which I can take no credit. Please check out the whole series here and consider gifting it to your local Catholic school, parish – or even public library!

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The most comforting thing I read this week was from Graham Greene’s preface to a collection of his stories. He wrote:

I would like too to explain the digging up from a magazine of the twenties of a detective story, “Murder for the Wrong Reason” Reading it more than sixty years later, I found that I couldn’t detect the murderer before he was disclosed. 

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I found it comforting because this week I noticed that book to which I was allegedly a contributor was being published this summer. I had no recollection of this essay, but a quick search through my files revealed that yes, I had written said essay in March of 2017, sent it in and even invoiced for it. Once I reread the piece, I did, indeed recall it in detail, but there were those few moments before that in which you’d asked me out of the blue, Hey , what about that essay you wrote for the Living Faith collection? I would have stared at you…blankly. Granted, there’s a big difference between a sixty-year memory glitch and..well…one year. But still. I’ll take that small comfort, if allowed.

To be published in mid-June: 

PDF sample available here, and here’s the Table of Contents. With my name in it, indeed.

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More book news (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page. 

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Moving on….

Very interesting: “How I got the BBC to apologise for misrepresenting my Jesuit ancestor.”

It was in these dangerous circumstances that Fr Gerard, a tall and dashing young Jesuit, landed by night on the Norfolk coast, shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, when anti-Catholic feelings were at a high. Disguising himself first as a falconer and then as a country gentlemen, he met contacts in Norwich who introduced him to a network of Catholic sympathisers across Norfolk and nearby counties.

Moving from one country house to another, Fr Gerard managed to persuade their owners, at substantial risk to themselves, to use their houses as centres for building local Catholic communities. In the process he made numerous converts to the faith, at least 30 of whom subsequently became priests themselves….

….

After three years Fr Gerard was moved to the Tower of London where he was further interrogated and badly tortured. But despite being weakened by imprisonment and ill treatment, he engineered a daring and ingenious escape across the moat, listed by Time magazine as one of the 10 greatest prison escapes in history. Somehow he managed to resume his activities and continue his mission for another eight years, until he was forced to leave the country in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot.

As a priest, he knew several of the plotters and was quite close to at least one of them, whom he had converted to Catholicism. Robert Cecil, James I’s spymaster and principal adviser, wanted to pin the blame for the Gunpowder Plot on the Jesuits and on John Gerard in particular, whose earlier escape from the Tower had not been forgotten.

But despite extreme methods, Cecil was unable to extract any credible evidence against Fr Gerard. Under interrogation and in one case torture, the two surviving plotters “admitted” that he had said Mass for them after their first meeting, but both firmly insisted that he had no knowledge of the plot itself. Another of the plotters wrote that they had deliberately kept him in the dark, because they knew he was opposed to violence and would have talked them out of it….

…He has been an inspiration to members of my family for hundreds of years and it came as a shock to see him featured in the BBC historical drama Gunpowder, clearly represented as being “in on the plot”. The characterisation of Fr Gerard was so far removed from all historical accounts that I believed it could only have been a deliberate misrepresentation.  More

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And this:

Obianuju Ekeocha, the founder of Culture of Life Africa, has written an open letter to MPs ahead of a Westminster Hall debate tomorrow on “Access to reproductive rights around the world”.

In the letter, sent by SPUC, Ms Ekeocha, author of Target Africa, takes issue with the premise of the debate being sponsored by Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, saying it confirms the reality that the UK has become a “lead neocolonial master.”

Reproductive rights?

In the letter, Ms Ekeocha explains that although her country, Nigeria, is now independent of British colonial rule, “in recent years, we are noticing the footprints of the United Kingdom all over Africa as they have become one of the most enthusiastic western proponents of so-called ‘reproductive rights’, a concept that is seen and understood all across Africa as abortion, contraception, sterilisation and graphic (age-inappropriate) sexuality education.”

Funding illegal abortion

She points out that about 80 per cent of the African countries have continued to resist and reject the notion that abortion should be legal, and that it is “an idea that is incompatible with our culture which teaches us that every human being carries bloodlines of clans and families that are never to be forgotten and that our lives begin right from our mothers’ womb.”

We find “organizations like Marie Stopes International, International Planned Parenthood Federation and IPAS…running expensive lobbying campaigns at our parliaments to legalize abortion even against the will of the people,” she continues. “And when we investigate, we find out that some of these organizations are performing illegal abortions in African countries where abortion is not legal.”

 

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Great news for Catholic education in Birmingham – one of our already excellent Catholic schools is taking it up a notch and going classical – in other words, thinking with the mind of the Church on education. 

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

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Other than Writing Things (look for me in Living Faith on Monday, by the way) – a music-heavy week around here. The big state competition is Friday – and may even be over as you read this. So there’s been a lot of practicing, especially of the Kabalevsky concerto movement that he is playing with his teacher.

IMG_20180508_174857.jpgI’ll have more to say after it’s over. I’m superstitious that way.

I may even post some video.

(If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen it in Stories – snippets through the week.)

It’s not that I’m any kind of stage or Tiger Mom as far as this business goes. It’s simply this: He’s been working on these four pieces for almost a year. He’s performed them in various settings (including retirement homes and a temporary residence for cancer patients as part of the requirements for being in the Honors Ensemble). I don’t give a flip whether or not he “wins” – I simply don’t want him to walk into this, bearing the fruit of a year’s worth of hard work, and then blunder in a way that throws him off and then throws off the piece – the consequence being that in this particular setting, the fruit of his work won’t be evident.

— 2 —

The work is bearing fruit in other ways, to be sure. He’s just begun taking jazz piano, which is coming fairly easily to him – but only because of the kind of work he’s been doing in classical piano for three years. Same with rock – his friend down the street takes rock guitar lessons, and they’ve invited M to play with the band for the recital – and he can pull it off with not much time because of Beethoven and Kabalevsky.

But still….dozens, if not hundreds of hours on this Kabalevsky, in particular….it sure would be nice….

— 3 —

So there’s that. Stress levels have also been heightened this week because of

AP Physics exam

The end of the 2nd year of law school

Ready for the school year to be over. Oh, and you know how parents of older children always say to parents of younger kids: You’ll look back to the years of no sleep and potty training and think…that was easy.

There’s a reason. It’s true. Cleaning up a puddle of urine on three hours of sleep is nothing compared to the stress of giving counsel to young adults worried about the course of the rest of their lives and their relationships  and then watching them drive away in 2-ton death machines.

— 4 —

And then there’s son #2 who has his own news – a writer of many stories and a few novels, all unpublished, he has decided to go the e-book route, and going about it in a very methodical way. He’s publishing short collections of stories over the next few months, and then releasing a novel in the fall.

You can find his website here. There are links to all the collections.

The collection you can purchase now is here.

And here he is on Twitter, chronicling the process of writing his next book.

Please go check it out!!

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 Okay, this is fantastic:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fstpaulsbhm%2Fposts%2F2020270931557798&width=500

 

Come to Birmingham for Pentecost!!

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The Lumen Christi Institute:

Founded in 1997 by Catholic scholars at the University of Chicago, the Lumen Christi Institute brings together thoughtful Catholics and others interested in the Catholic tradition and makes available to them the wisdom of the Catholic spiritual, intellectual, and cultural heritage.

They’ve just started making podcasts of their sponsored talks available as free podcasts. The page with links to the various podcast sites (Itunes, Google Play store, etc.) is here. 

— 7 —

Mother’s Day is  Sunday, so it’s too late to order this online, but I’d bet your local Catholic bookstore has it: 

It would also be a great end-of-year gift for a teacher or DRE! 

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First Communion

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

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Monday morning catching up

First of all, I’m in Living Faith today – go here to check it out.

If you’ve landed here because you read that entry and want to know more about the trip – click here. It will take you to the pertinent blog entries.

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The boat on the day mentioned in the story in Living Faith. 

All of this just might prompt you to think…wait. Didn’t she say she was going to publish an e-book about that Guatemala trip?

Why yes, yes she did. And it’s still sitting there, three chapters in. The thing is, things keep popping up. So, for example, over the next two weeks I have three fairly large pieces of a bigger project due – the due dates are spread out over six different days, but I have to keep a steady pace of five chunks of it a day in order to keep up.

(Started this post  Sunday morning. Guess what happened….everyone ended up gone all afternoon…I finished every bit of this week’s material. Freedom!)

Plus this other ongoing project, not due until next January, but again, one I need to do in chunks right now or else I’ll be sitting there in December, regretting my life.

So, let’s catch up via my favorite – bullet points.

  • Still here, still overseeing the end of someone’s junior year in the brick and mortar Catholic high school, and homeschooling the 7th grader. Come back tomorrow for a post on Homeschooling the Last Few Weeks of Seventh Grade When the Kid is Going Back to School For Eighth Grade and No One Really Cares Any More.

 

  • There have been no – as in zero – out of town adventures lately, and there won’t be any for a few more weeks. There is just too much stuff every weekend, and we are reaching Peak Piano – and have tossed in jazz piano lessons and pipe organ. And when there’s not a piano thing, there’s an altar serving thing or something else.

 

  • But there are travels on the horizon. I’ve not yet committed to tickets, but we are indeed going to Japan this summer – probably in June. So I guess I’d better get on that, eh? (The thing is – ticket prices tend to stay steady for that route and don’t fluctuate at this point – so I’m in no hurry.)

 

  • Recent viewings:

Aside from the video game Fortnite, the majority of screen time around here over the past few weeks has been devoted to the four seasons of Jeeves and Wooster starring, of course, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. I had my 13 year old read a couple of the stories a while back, and thought he might enjoy a look at the series. Ra-ther!

It does get a bit repetitious: Bertie is attempting to flee the clutches of some female and one of his aunts, something must be stolen, and Jeeves fixes it all. But oh, my, at almost every step of the way it’s so beautifully done, with plenty of silly yet sharp satire of the useless English ruling class, and Laurie and Fry fully inhabit their roles and are just a joy to watch.

My older son said, “Mom, you’re kind of like Jeeves. When you talk, it’s like you’re agreeing with us, but underneath, you can tell you think we’re kind of dumb. And you solve everyone’s problems.”

Very good, sir.

One of our favorite elements of the show is how they used Laurie’s musical talents and have Bertie regularly tooling around at the piano (which he didn’t in the Wodehouse stories), usually singing popular novelty songs of the period, with Jeeves passing through the background rolling his eyes.  So now I have a 13-year old who’s got “Nagasaki” memorized (speaking of Japan) and thanks to Bertie Wooster, was introduced to “Minnie the Moocher” and has become fascinated with Cab Calloway.

This might be one of my favorites – it’s enjoyable as it is, but even more so if you’ve watched the entire episode, of which it’s the end – it’s sort of like one of the Lost endings that just gets you with music playing over an ensemble scene. Except this wraps up an episode centering on an African totem, mismatched couples and (of course) attempts to steal said African totem – but it’s still a nice moment.

The main theme to the show is also wonderful – quick, jazzy and interesting. I found a duet version that we’ve been playing around with.

Once I get the current batch of work done, I have some shows I want to try out. I did watch The Letdown it’s a 7-episode Australian show about new motherhood starring the quite wonderful Allison Bell, who also co-created it. I watched it because it features Celeste Barber  in a supporting role– the comedian who is famous right now for her #ChallengeAccepted Instagram account in which she, er, recreates the poses of models from the perspective of a real, non-model person. She’s hilarious – and currently on her first US tour. Anyway, she’s in it, so I tried it out – and enjoyed it quite a bit. (language alert, etc)  It’s darkish comedy – along the lines of Catastrophe, but it’s that edge that makes it real and relatable, and with enough unexpected turns to keep it interesting – the instigator of the lactation sit-in, it turns out (for example), wasn’t kicked out of the cafe because she was breastfeeding, but because she never bought anything and gorged on their free wi-fi. The next-to-the last episode which takes Audrey (the main character) on a weekend journey with her aging hippie mother to visit her horsewoman mother was a succinct, moving and true exploration of the complexities of motherhood: mothers making their choices so often in reaction to the way they were mothered end up simply on the very same road, despite themselves.

There’s even the slightest bit of a Catholic angle and as seems to be so often the case with these shows, even though the characters usually fancy themselves above and beyond religion and even though religious practice is just there and not presented as anything particularly true, what always ends up happening is that as the non-religious bump up against the religious, it’s the former that end up looking foolish and in a sort of denial, protesting far too much. Interesting.

Anyway, if you wouldn’t be offended by language and some frankness – check out The Letdown on Netflix.

Reads:

I’ve read several books over the past couple of weeks, but none have really stuck with me. I’m going to try to make this quick:

  • Anatomy of a Miracle started out promisingly and indeed offered a compelling narrative at first, and one that was – in terms of the Catholic stuff and regional quirks – accurate to the level of painstaking. But then the novel took a rather predictable turn that left me saying well of course that’s his issue  – bored and skimming the last few chapters.
  • The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Tom Rachman, who wrote a novel about expat journalists in Rome that I sort of liked. But I should have remembered that I didn’t like it that much and maybe thought twice about spending the hours I did reading this. It had a structure that was either intriguing or irritating – I can’t decide. Centered on a young woman coming to grips with a quite unusual childhood, I suppose I would conclude two things: first, the reason for the upbringing was not as compelling as we’re led to believe early on and secondly, the nature of certain relationships are withheld from us in a way that ultimately comes off as coy and manipulative. If this main character didn’t know who these people were and only gradually discovered it, that would be one thing – but she knows all along, and we’re only told halfway through the book – maybe further. Bah. That happens? You feel manipulated when the narrative eye is hers.
  • I liked Memento Park the most, and I’d recommend it. It’s also about an adult trying to understand his past, this time a C-list actor with Hungarian roots. He’s challenged in his self-understanding by news of a painting that, it’s said, his family has a claim to, a claim that is possibly traceable to the Nazi era. The novel is short, but complex, with a definite, if subtle spiritual subtext.

I’m back on non-fiction now, reading a book that would probably bore the heck out of you, but is right up my alley. It’s called An Empire Divided – 

Between 1880 and 1914, tens of thousands of men and women left France for distant religious missions, driven by the desire to spread the word of Jesus Christ, combat Satan, and convert the world’s pagans to Catholicism. But they were not the only ones with eyes fixed on foreign shores. Just as the Catholic missionary movement reached its apex, the young, staunchly secular Third Republic launched the most aggressive campaign of colonial expansion in French history. Missionaries and republicans abroad knew they had much to gain from working together, but their starkly different motivations regularly led them to view one another with resentment, distrust, and even fear. 

In An Empire Divided, J.P. Daughton tells the story of how troubled relations between Catholic missionaries and a host of republican critics shaped colonial policies, Catholic perspectives, and domestic French politics in the tumultuous decades before the First World War. With case studies on Indochina, Polynesia, and Madagascar, An Empire Divided–the first book to examine the role of religious missionaries in shaping French colonialism–challenges the long-held view that French colonizing and “civilizing” goals were shaped by a distinctly secular republican ideology built on Enlightenment ideals. By exploring the experiences of Catholic missionaries, one of the largest groups of French men and women working abroad, Daughton argues that colonial policies were regularly wrought in the fires of religious discord–discord that indigenous communities exploited in responding to colonial rule. 

After decades of conflict, Catholics and republicans in the empire ultimately buried many of their disagreements by embracing a notion of French civilization that awkwardly melded both Catholic and republican ideals. But their entente came at a price, with both sides compromising long-held and much-cherished traditions for the benefit of establishing and maintaining authority. Focusing on the much-neglected intersection of politics, religion, and imperialism, Daughton offers a new understanding of both the nature of French culture and politics at the fin de siecle, as well as the power of the colonial experience to reshape European’s most profound beliefs.

 

Why is that fascinating to me, and a book I pick up more eagerly than I do most novels? Well, because it’s history – and a chunk of history that’s new to me, and I’m always up for that. It’s also in the broader genre of Ah, you thought you had the general gist of things – like colonialism and Catholic mission? Well, let me tell you something….

More when I finish it.

Now to finish this and get ready to answer the phone to do a bit of radio – I’m about to be on the Sonrise Morning Show to talk about St. Catherine of Siena – this piece in particular. 

 

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What a day!

Up at 6:30 am, over to 7 am Mass at one parish with my working-man-son, sent him off to work, dashed over to the Cathedral for a talk on sacred music from our wonderful Music Director, Bruce Ludwick, then back home to spend the entire rest of this rainy, chilly day..

BY MYSELF.

Yup. With one kid working and the other off to Atlanta on a friend’s birthday jaunt, I was..

BY MYSELF.

Did I mention that I was

BY MYSELF?

For an introvert homeschooling Mom, that’s about as good as it gets.

It can hardly get better.

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Even if you don’t think that is so terribly odd, what comes next might give you pause. You might indeed think it strange  that the cherry on this cake was not Netflix binging or watching movies or even reading a good book – it was…work.

I GOT TO WORK ALL DAY!

(With apologies to the Lord’s Day.)

And I didn’t mind a bit. My work is not hard at this point, but it does take chunks of time. I’ve been managing to get ‘er done in in the early mornings (really only by letting my homeschooler sleep until about 9:30 each day, which he does not mind) and in the evenings. This has worked find for one major project, but another has suffered a bit. The first project will be wrapping up in the next couple of weeks, but the second is ongoing to the beginning of 2019, and I was really feeling the need to gather my resources on that one and get myself organized so that I can work on it more efficiently, perhaps in 30-minute/day chunks. Freeing me up to work on the long-promised, freakin’ Guatemala e-book – which I am determined – determined – to finish and get to you before our next trip, which is coming at the end of March.

So that’s what I did. I banged out work for Project #1 that’s due this week and next – finished, edited, dusted off and invoiced – and got myself deeply organized for Project #2.

It was fantastic. 

And now, with a few more minutes before our very own Publix Employee returns for the evening, some random Sunday night thoughts:

  • My 13-year old and I attended one of the Alabama Symphony’s “Coffee Concerts” on Friday – this one featured Dvorak’s New World Symphony. I have to say, I am so impressed with this symphony and this conductor. Or, as they have branded themselves in typical friendly Southern fashion, “Your Alabama Symphony Orchestra!” The performance was vibrant, vivid and quite moving. Strong, delicate and urgent all at once, looking forward and backwards, east and west.
  • It didn’t hurt that this time, instead of seating us with all the other hordes of schoolkids in the balcony, they put is in the Orchestra seating with all the other old people (and other homeschoolers).
  • This is what we read in preparation, and we also watched a short video which I can’t locate at the moment – but know it was very helpful, especially in understanding the very last measures of the piece. Sorry.
  • Saturday was music – a piano festival competition thing – basketball – last game of the regular season, playoffs start Tuesday – and serving – Confirmation retreat Mass at Casa Maria Convent, led by Fr. Augustine Wetta, OSB, who is the author of this new book, which I am hoping to read soon. My son really appreciated what Fr. Wetta had to say during his homily – which is one of the reasons I have them serve over there at the convent. Every time they do, they are privileged to hear excellent homilies from either one of the local friars or the retreat master for the weekend. Religion Class: Check.
  • Over the past two weeks, homeschooling son has read Murder on the Orient Express as his “school” reading. (He’s reading the Dune trilogy as his leisure reading) It was his suggestion, and so we went with it, doing some background on the history of detective fiction and so on. After re-reading it, I’m thinking we could have done better – I probably should have had him read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or And Then There Were None – but perhaps neither of those would have held up, either.
  • I haven’t read Christie in decades. As a teenager, mysteries were my gateways into adult fiction, my favorites being Christie, Ellery Queen and Rex Stout – the last being my absolute favorite. So I don’t think I’d read her in probably 40 years (so weird to think in that kind of time span when speaking of my own life), and no, I wasn’t impressed. She wasn’t a stylist, that’s for sure, and this book, in particular, plods along (Murder. Interview many people. Cogitate. Announce.) and the climax and denouement are, in my mind rather shocking (spoiler alert!) – as the murder is, we are led to infer, excusable since the murderers act as jury to do what institutional law enforcement did not.
  • We’re read a lot of books, stories and poems this year – this one will be last on the quality list. I’m not completely sorry we read it: we did some geography and history inspired by it and it’s good to read books of which you can be critical – so there’s that. Plus issues of justice and law, of course.
  • The 1974 film version was one of the last movies I remember seeing with my parents in the theater (along with Young Frankenstein and Being There – with, respectively, those super fun “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” and “I like to watch” scenes putting an end to that activity and any future potential awkwardness). We watched the trailer for that and last year’s version, both of which left my son saying, “Uh, I don’t think I want to watch either of those….”
  • What’s going on with school? We are indeed finishing up homeschooling 7th grade and finishing the 11th grade in a Catholic high school. Next year, everyone will be in school – 8th grade in a local Catholic school (because they do a very nice 8th grade year in this particular school and he has friends there…) and senior year in the same high school. And then….well who knows? Actually we do have a sense: the older one will go to college and the younger one and I will set out – God and good health and the stock market willing – on roadschooling/roamschooling/unschooling way of life for a while. We’ll keep the Birmingham homebase for a time, but will hopefully be able to see a good chunk of the world in between stints back here. But that’s more than a year away, and who knows what can happen between now and then? That “plan” is one more reason for him to return to school for a year – we can both have a breather, I can get some ducks in a row without having to think about teaching Algebra, and then…here we go….
  • Oh, I’m in Living Faith today – here’s the devotional. And if you missed it, I was also in another day last week – here it is.

 

 

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From last year’s Living Faith entry for this day: 

Who is he? Who is this man–this Lord, friend, teacher–full of power but hanging powerless on a cross?

Our faith is marked by questions. We seek, trusting that there must be a source to satisfy the hungers we have been born with. St. Thomas Aquinas was a man of questions and answers, all born of deep hunger and love for God. Balanced, he prayed the Mass with intense devotion, wrote beautiful hymns, sacrificed much to give himself wholly to God and share with the world the fruit of his search.

(By the way, tomorrow – January 29 – will be another Living Faith day for me. Check it out here when the time comes.)

Also, if you have seen Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series, you know that Aquinas is featured. Here’s a teaser:

I wrote the prayer book that accompanies the series, and so did several chapters on Thomas.  There are no excerpts available online, as far as I can tell, but here’s a couple of paragraphs from the first chapter:

Catholicism is not all theology. It is caritas . It is sacrament, communion, art, family life, religious life, the saints. It is all of this and more, but what we can’t help but notice is that even these seemingly uncomplicated aspects of the disciples’ lives lead to questions. What is “love” and what is it proper for me to love and in what way? How does Jesus come to meet me through the sacraments of his Body, the Church? How do I know the Scriptures that I’m supposed to be living by are God’s Word? God is all-good, why does evil and seemingly unjust suffering exist? How can I sense God’s movement and will in the world, in my own life? And what is the difference?  Theological questions, every one of them.

So our own spiritual lives, like Thomas’ call for balance. Emphasizing the intellect too much, I find a cave in which to hide, avoid relationship and communion with God and others.  But in disparaging theology, I reject the life of the mind, a mind created by God to seek and know him, just as much as my heart is. I may even avoid tough questions, not just because they are challenging, but because I’m just a little bit afraid of the answers.  Theological reflection from people with deep understanding helps me. It opens me to the truth that God is more than what I feel or personally experience, and this “more” matters a great deal.

He’s in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints not surprisingly,  under “Saints are People Who Help Us Understand God.”  Here’s a page:

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It’s my turn:

My 12-year-old son and I were in the car, on a dirt road through a forest, on our way to a swimming hole.

“Wait,” he said. “Is that an owl?”

More…

 

 

And for more of the same, try the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days here or, as Lent approaches, you can still grab digital copies of two Lenten devotionals I’ve written – Daybreaks and Reconciled to God. 

 

 

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