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Posts Tagged ‘art’

—1 —

This might be the most random 7QT ever. Sorry about that.

So – be sure to check out my posts over the past week on medium, message and evangelization. Here’s one.

UPDATE:

I wrote this post last night, so here are some morning links that caught my eye:

I go back and forth on Ann Althouse, She is one of the few bloggers I try to look at every day, but sometimes her fixations on whatever minutiae catches her eye gets boring and I definitely think she’s become less interesting since retiring from teaching law. But this is a good, very classic Althousian post – on last night’s Dem debate:

4. Elizabeth Warren was there on the other side of Biden. She and Bernie were double-teaming Joe, and that worked… for Joe. He linked Warren to Bernie: She’s for Bernie/I’m for Barack. I remember Warren reacting to every question with “Listen…” Like we’re the slow students in her class and we haven’t been paying attention and she’s getting tired of us. We should already know what she’s been saying on whatever the question happens to be. She was sunny and bright with enthusiasm when she talked about her early career as a school teacher and how when she was a child she lined up her “dollies” for a lesson. She was, she said, “tough but fair.” I love whatever love there is for tough but fair teachers. Maybe more of that, but we’re not in her class, and our responsibilities are to people and things in our own lives, not in keeping track of whatever her various policies and positions are. 

7. Andrew Yang. I kept wanting him to talk more. His father was a peanut farmer. We made some Jimmy Carter jokes. He wasn’t wearing a tie, but he had on a shirt that — buttoned on the second button — seemed to be strangling him more than a tie. That’s got to be a metaphor for change. It seems like a good idea, making life freer and more pleasurable, but in practice it’s constricting and distracting. Yang said something about picking out 10 families to give $1000 a month. Was that an offer to hand out his own money? I don’t know. He ought to try to seem less weird, not more weird. Unless that’s his goal: to become the most famous weird guy. Sorry, you can’t win that prize. The most famous weird guy is Donald Trump.

Carl Olson on the passive-aggressive papacy:

First, yes, let’s readily admit that Francis has critics who are outrageous, emotional, strident, and even slanderous. So did his predecessors, even if the current criticism has been amplified because of the internet and social media. Criticism comes with the territory, and being thin-skinned, snarky, and even petty about it is not a good look, especially for a pope.

But, secondly, there have been respectful and reasonable concerns—some expressed in critical but not outrageous ways—that Francis has pointedly ignored. The famous dubia submitted by four cardinals (two of whom now deceased) is an obvious example. The dubia were submitted in writing, the cardinals asked respectfully for a response, and they wanted an answer. None came, and none will, I’m convinced. As I noted in June 2017: “I’ll be shocked—and I don’t use that term lightly—if Francis agrees to meet with the four cardinals, or if he formally responds to the dubia. I believe Francis is content to create the mess that is currently spreading throughout the Church, and even, at times, to encourage it even more by way of dubious assertions.” (For more thoughts on the dubia and Francis’ silence, see my November 2016 essay “The Four Cardinals and the Encyclical in the Room”.)

Thirdly, while Francis makes distinctions between good and bad critics, he and his closest collaborators (not to mention his defenders on Twitter, who are equal parts passive and aggressive) rarely, if ever, really address or consider good criticism in a mature, pastoral manner. In many cases they misrepresent it or attack those who put it forward in good faith. Put another way, Francis and company make it quite clear, in the end, that any and all criticism is motivated by some irrational, ideological, political, and unCatholic hatred of Francis. They would rather stonewall, deflect, and even insult rather than actually dialogue. If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it several dozen times.

 

— 2 —

We are currently talking about a trip to Honduras. One of the rabbit holes I fell into the other night in doing so was this day-by-day account of a retired engineer’s bike journey from Mexico City to Costa Rica. No, it didn’t make me want to take up that means of transportation, but it did ease whatever concerns I might have had about going to Honduras (not much, but still a nudge here and there) and it was just so interesting – and lovely to read about his encounters with folks along the way.

— 3 —

Ah – I just discovered a couple of links I’d saved for this space, but forgotten about.

This one touches on some aspects of my rants from the past week or so:

Bonhoeffer Convinced me to Abandon My Dream:

The pastor’s first call is not to envision a church but to receive one. We lead by discerning how Christ is forming a community and by being one of the first to accept that fellowship with gratitude.

The pastor is not an entrepreneur. We are called to a project already underway. So, I would like to offer a dramatically reinterpreted concept of pastoral vision: True visionary leadership is being first to recognize what God has already formed. The starkness of Bonhoeffer’s warning opened my eyes to this new kind of pastoral vision. It forced me to finally see the congregation already in front of me. How had I missed it? While I was dreaming of some other place, God was planting a church in that basement, and he was calling me to pastor it. To my shame, most of our participants recognized it long before me.

Bonhoeffer convinced me to abandon dreaming. A church is never abstract. A congregation is never a demographic goal or an imaginary gathering. We are not called to a possibility, but to God’s work at a specific moment, in this place, with these people.

God is building his church; our gratitude comes from the joy of being in on it. The weight of forming and building a church is more than we can bear—the stories of pastors crushed beneath the work they’ve constructed are endless—but being called to a work God has initiated is a wonderful grace. Pastoral ministry is a gift, not an achievement. The moment we shift our eyes from God’s particular work to future abstractions, we are no longer pastors.

— 4 —

Here’s Daniel Mitsui’s September newsletter. Always worth your time to see samples of his latest work and read his thoughts – and perhaps start thinking about Christmas gifts.

Our Lady of Seattle

 

This drawing (Our Lady of Seattle)  was commissioned by a church near Seattle. In it, I combined iconographic elements from the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady, Undoer of Knots with decorative elements from the art of the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest.

Its shape suggests a copper shield. In the border, pairs of animals approach Noah’s Ark. This is a reference to Chief Seattle, who took the baptismal name Noah. The Ark I based on a Tlingit bone carving of a spirit canoe.

The figure of Mary is dressed similar to a statue in the church, but carrying the Christ Child in a sling. She stands on a crescent moon, a snake underfoot, with twelve stars about her head. The Greek nomina sacra inscriptions are abbreviations for Jesus Christ and Mother of God.

— 5 –

Via Daniel – the Catholic Artists Directory. 

 

— 6 —

Thomas McDonald of Weird Catholic takes a look at a new biography of St. Nobbit  Norbert:

There’s a strange comfort to be found in the dysfunctional corners of Church history. It’s not that the clerical corruption, lax discipline, bad theology and miserable leadership of the past allows us to shrug our shoulders, mutter a world-weary, “’Twas ever thus,” and wonder what’s a body to do when we encounter the same problems today. Rather, it’s the realization that challenges of the past produced saints to meet them — those men and women who looked at Christ and at his Church and said, “We must do better.”

And, fired by the Holy Spirit, they did.

Among the founders of enduring religious orders, St. Norbert of Xanten is the forgotten man. Part of this is due to the currents of history, which battered his reputation and the order he left behind — the Premonstratensians, colloquially known as the Norbertines. At his death in 1134, more than 100 abbeys and other foundations existed throughout Europe, with the strongest presence in France, Germany and Belgium, where Norbert himself lived, worked and preached. Within 200 years of his death, there may have been 1,000 Premonstratensian institutions, yet he wouldn’t be canonized until the Counter-Reformation needed a strong witness to the Real Presence.

As the Norbertines grew, their founder’s reputation was eclipsed by the very men he inspired. First St. Francis and then St. Dominic met the challenges of their days with his sense of boldness, fiery faith and Christlike simplicity. Indeed, it’s impossible to read Thomas Kunkel’s new book on the life of Norbert, Man on Fire, without seeing it as a kind of template for the life of Francis.

A noted biographer (Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of The New Yorker and Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker), as well as the president emeritus of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, Kunkel is well-equipped for the task of writing a fresh and engaging life of the great saint for a general readership.

(For an explanation of the strikethrough – go here)

 

— 7 —

Reminders:

I have books for sale here.

Planning Advent? Check out the family devotional I wrote for Creative Communications.

And the booklet on St. Nicholas I wrote for them. 

Nicholas-Of-Myra

Wonders Of His Love

No: no royalties are made from sales of these booklets or the 2020 devotional. They were written as works-for-hire. 

Check out my son’s writing here – all about the Marvel movies recently. And one of his novels here. 

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

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Seven Quick Takes

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A bit of a week, here. Nothing dramatic, just getting into the groove of this weird new life – of just me and one kid. Described a bit here in this post. 

You also might want to check out the essay I had published in Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal.  I’m going to come right out and say that the final line of the piece is not mine. It was added – I ended with the quote. Which I still prefer. But I’m still grateful for the publication and the wider reach it afforded me, and will be following up with More Thoughts.

While we’re at it – Son #4 on Ingmar Bergman – a retrospective and overview – and then his ranking of Bergman’s best films. 

— 2 —

 

Related to my essay. I thought this was  good – from an evangelical perspective, a reflection on a few prominent defections from faith.  It’s based on a FB post, so it has that “tossed off” effect (which you see, er, here all the time, of course) – but it’s worth a look:

 

My conclusion for the church(all of us Christians): We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or “relevant” people the most influential people in Christendom. (And yes that includes people like me!) I’ve been saying for 20 years(and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20 year old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word. I’m not being rude to my worship leader friends (many who would agree with me) in saying that singers and musicians are good at communicating emotion and feeling. We create a moment and a vehicle for God to speak. However, singers are not always the best people to write solid bible truth and doctrine. Sometimes we are too young, too ignorant of scripture, too unaware, or too unconcerned about the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God we are singing to. Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?

I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?

 

— 3 —

School is proceeding apace. This week has seen:

  • Latin – reviewing a chapter, preparing for a test that he’ll take Friday
  • Math – working through chapters 3 and 4 of Counting and Probability. Permutations and Combinations. I will throw in Khan Academy on the same subject tomorrow, to give a slightly different take.
  • Hamlet – reading aloud Acts 1 and 2, watching the Great Courses lecture by Professor Marc C. Conner – accessed through the pay-monthly Great Courses Plus. It’s a decent take – not deep, but good enough for us right now. We’ll be seeing the production of the Bedlam Theater of the play that is in residence at Alabama Shakespeare this month – I’m intrigued by the conceit – four actors playing all the roles. Watched snippets of the Yorick speech – the David Tennant, Branagh and Mel Gibson versions. I think David Tennant won.
  • Iliad  – listening to the Derek Jacobi audiobook reading. Not sure where we’re at. After listening to chunks on the trip, we’re on smaller snippets on shorter car trips to here and there. I’ll probably say, “Just read the next four books without listening” so we can get it all done by the time the Audible free trial ends.
  • Spanish – he’s doing on his own with a few resources. I’m not involved at this point.
  • Daily religion of Mass readings/saints – also started introducing the Old Testament using this book. 
  • Biology: Homeschool class taught by Ph.d. from a local college began this week.
  • He’s been grabbing the computer and writing something – short story or novel, I don’t know.
  • He’s still reading The Lord of the Rings
  • Regular piano lesson & jazz lesson. Organ will probably start back up next week.

Weekend:  High school football game; service project; serve Mass. Etc.

 — 4 —

Homeschoolers are forever talking about “spines.” Not – as in – you’ve got to have a strong spine for this line of work– but more in terms of a central organizing resource. What spine are you using for World History? That sort of thing.

Last night, M and I stopped by a local brewery to check out the Office trivia event they were having. It was rather a letdown. I told him we wouldn’t participate because I by no means thought we’d know enough to compete against people who’ve watched the whole series through ten times – as I know some people have. But, as it turned out – the questions were pretty simple (M knew all the answers, and he hasn’t watched it through ten times…I don’t think), and perhaps we should have entered. But then – the thing was so inefficiently run, during the 45 minutes we were there, all of six questions were asked. So…it’s good, in the end, we didn’t bother.

But then I thought – hey! There’s trivia almost every night somewhere in this town. How about using bar trivia nights as a homeschooling spine? 

Well?

Who’s in?

 

— 5 

Speaking of homeschooling – this was a link I used to post all the time when homeschooling younger fellows. A very nice monthly collection of quotes and poems related to that particular month and season. I like it – good for reading, sharing, copywork if you still do that. 

6–

More education rants. I do my share of griping about technology and education, but do you want a more succinct, knowledgeable treatment, one that you can easily pass on to your school administrators? Yeah, here you go:

But the technology pushed into schools today is a threat to child development and an unredeemable waste. In the first place, technology exacerbates the greatest problem of all in schools: confusion about their purpose. Education is the cultivation of a person, not the manufacture of a worker. But in many public school districts we have already traded our collective birthright, the promise of human flourishing, for a mess of utilitarian pottage called “job skills.” The more recent, panicked, money-lobbing fetish for STEM is a late realization that even those dim promises will go unmet.

Second, it harms students even in the narrow sense of training workers: the use of technology in schools actually lowers test scores in reading, math, and science, damages long-term memory, and induces addiction. Both advanced hardware and the latest software have proven counterproductive. The only app or device found to meaningfully improve results with any consistency is an overhead projector in the hands of a competent human teacher.

Finally, educational technology is a regressive political weapon, never just a neutral tool: it increases economic inequality, decreases school accountability, takes control away from teachers, and makes poorer students more vulnerable to threats from automation and globalization…

….

Yet, after decades of trying, it is clear that injecting more tech­nology into education turns out to be a massive waste of time and resources, even according to its proponents’ own criteria. The massively subsidized rush to convert schools into Apple stores only diminishes students’ capacity for “creativity” and “innovation.” Technology, even in the narrowest commercial sense, depends on the liberal arts—pursuits that are subject neither to the practical demands of society nor to its untrained desires—to provide the higher ends that technology serves, as well as the new thinking on which it is based. The blatant commercial wastefulness and impracticality of number theory, not to mention literature or playing the violin, offers hints that those pursuits are priceless rather than worthless.

The sciences and mathematics have a historic place in the cur­riculum, and technology does not, for the simple reason that the latter is not inherently “about” anything. Absent human contributions on specific topics, cut off from the subject matter of academic work, technology is nothing—an electron microscope without any samples, darkened VR goggles, an empty spreadsheet. Specializing in techne as such means trying to teach people to be good at “making” without having any idea of what to make, or why to make it.

How did we get here? The American public education system, a rusted-out 1976 mustard sedan whose “check engine” light is always on, is driven by a psychopath who wants, by turns, to crash it for the insurance, to insist that cars can be submarines, and to spend hilarious sums on unnecessary parts

— 7 —

Zillions of words uttered, gallons of ink spilled, all to try to explain Christianity and distinguish it from other belief systems – or even to declare that it perhaps isn’t so different after all. Shrug. 

These very few words from Scottish composer James McMillan answer both the seeker and the doubter, it seems to me.  What is the human person? Who are we and what are we about and what are we to make of this life on earth, strange, beautiful and suffering? McMillan and his family found the answer embodied in the brief life of his disabled granddaughter,

…the important things in human existence are not the money you make or the power you accrue, or the influence you bear — it is something which is embodied in a little [pause], in a little broken child, like Sara…

…And that’s the kind of revelation of sorts that comes through a knowledge of what the Catholic Church teaches. And a teaching that is made incarnate in a very damaged wee girl.

 

 

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

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It’s what they call them over EWTN way down the road.  Here’s one for you.

 

 

(Yes, posted before – from the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville –  but today’s the remembrance – the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.)

 

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Image result for velazquez mary martha

We are now in the heart of summer, at least in the northern hemisphere. This is the period in which schools are closed and the greater part of the holidays are concentrated. Even the pastoral activities in parishes are reduced and I myself have suspended the Audiences for a while. It is therefore a favourable time to give priority to what is effectively most important in life, that is to say, listening to the word of the Lord. We are also reminded of this by this Sunday’s Gospel passage with the well known episode of Jesus’ visit to the house of Martha and Mary, recounted by St Luke (10: 38-42).

Martha and Mary are two sisters; they also have a brother, Lazarus, but he does not appear on this occasion. Jesus is passing through their village and, the text says, Martha received him at her home (cf. 10: 38). This detail enables us to understand that Martha is the elder of the two, the one in charge of the house. Indeed, when Jesus has been made comfortable, Mary sits at his feet and listens to him while Martha is totally absorbed by her many tasks, certainly due to the special Guest. 
We seem to see the scene: one sister bustling about busily and the other, as it were, enraptured by the presence of the Teacher and by his words. A little later Martha, who is evidently resentful, can no longer resist and complains, even feeling that she has a right to criticize Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me”. Martha would even like to teach the Teacher! Jesus on the other hand answers her very calmly: “Martha, Martha”, and the repetition of her name expresses his affection, “you are anxious and troubled about many things; only one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (10: 41-42). Christ’s words are quite clear: there is no contempt for active life, nor even less for generous hospitality; rather, a distinct reminder of the fact that the only really necessary thing is something else: listening to the word of the Lord; and the Lord is there at that moment, present in the Person of Jesus! All the rest will pass away and will be taken from us but the word of God is eternal and gives meaning to our daily actions.

Dear friends, as I said, this Gospel passage is more than ever in tune with the vacation period, because it recalls the fact that the human person must indeed work and be involved in domestic and professional occupations, but first and foremost needs God, who is the inner light of Love and Truth. Without love, even the most important activities lose their value and give no joy. Without a profound meaning, all our activities are reduced to sterile and unorganised activism. And who, if not Jesus Christ, gives us Love and Truth? Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us learn to help each other, to collaborate, but first of all to choose together the better part which is and always will be our greatest good.

****

Let’s talk about that painting. I do love it. But then, I just love Velázquez, period. I probably stood in front of Las Meninas for fifteen minutes when I saw it in the Prado a few years ago. I didn’t want to leave. I’ve seen many well-known paintings in person after getting to know them in reproduction form, but the difference between the real and the reproduction was never as vivid as it was to me with that work.

Anyway, what do you see in that painting?

There are varied interpretations. My initial gut reaction – immediate – was that the resentful-looking young woman in the foreground is Martha herself. But most experts don’t see it that way.

One view:

It is one Velázquez’s early genre paintings, referred to as bodegones, which seems simple at first sight, but may be harder to decipher. We are to interpret the kitchen scene in light of the image of Christ speaking to Mary and Martha in the upper right corner. Christ rebukes Martha for criticizing her sister Mary for sitting at Christ’s feet while she works to prepare the meal. Jesus explains that Mary has chosen the better part and that it will not be taken away from her. Is the older woman, in turn, rebuking the younger one? If so she seems to be calling her to harder work, not less of it. Or, is she pointing her directly to the scene, reminding her of her more important duties?

The young woman has a look that attracts sympathy. She’s been working hard: just look at her red hands! You can see her youth in her pale and smooth skin, which contrast strongly with the older woman. Is she new to the work and being taught how to do it (or chastised for not doing it well enough)? She’s looking away from it and must be longing for something else. Is she feeling like Martha, wanting to get away from it, either fed up with it and/or wishing for something better. Her red hands (unused to work?) contrast with her earrings and lace head-cover.

The older woman clearly has more experience and perhaps more wisdom. Is she more like Martha, encouraging harder work, or is she actually encouraging the opposite by pointing to Christ in the image? Her hand that points to the image also contains a rosary wrapped around it, showing her devotion to prayer. She’s clearly admonishing or encouraging the younger woman, which may place her in the role of Christ pointing to the “one thing necessary” that Christ named in Mary’s devotion.

The image from the Gospels could be a painting on the wall, though some have suggested it could also be a mirror or even a window into the scene. Any of those options, however, still indicate that the painting of the two women should be interpreted in light of Christ’s encounter with Mary and Martha in Luke 10. The relation of work, prayer, and hospitality are the key themes that connect them. 

Another:

“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” depicts a scene of a maid preparing garlic mayonnaise to go with the fish that will be served for dinner. The maid’s expression indicates she is upset and the woman behind her is calling attention to a scene in the upper right corner of the painting. We can not be sure if the smaller scene (like an inset) is intended to be a reflection in a mirror, a hatch (an opening) through which we are looking into an adjacent room, or a painting on the kitchen wall. Velázquez used devices such as reflections and paintings within paintings throughout his career.

In the usual interpretation of this painting, the two figures in the kitchen and the figures in the upper right hand scene are many centuries apart in time. The smaller scene shows Jesus seated in the home of Martha and Mary (Luke 10: 38-42). Mary is seated at his feet and Martha is standing behind her. In the biblical story, Martha became busy serving food and drink while Mary seemed oblivious to the fact that her sister was doing all of the work alone. Instead of helping her sister, Mary sat down and listened to Jesus. Martha was frustrated at this and wondered if Jesus cared that her sister was leaving all of the serving chores up to her; she hoped Jesus would ask Mary to help her. Jesus told Martha that her concern was misplaced and that in sitting and listening to him, Mary had made a good choice.

The frustration of the maid pictured by Velázquez is similar to that of Martha. She is trying to make preparations for a meal but is working by herself and is distraught about all that needs to be done. The woman behind her is calling the maid’s attention to the scene of Jesus, Martha, and Mary; pointing out that spiritual nourishment is an important part of life as well.

It has been suggested this kitchen scene is not set in seventeenth century Spain but rather is in the home of Martha and Mary when Christ was there. If this interpretation of the painting is accepted, the person believed to be an upset maid in the kitchen is actually Martha herself and the second woman with Jesus in the smaller scene is another guest.

 

 

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Well, it’s been a few days since we digested, so let’s go for it:

amy_welbornWriting:  I was in Living Faith last Sunday. Next appearance won’t be until the beginning of May.

Several blog posts – just scroll back for those. Lots of travel blathering to assuage my guilt about privilege and such. Dug up an old piece I wrote on St. Benedict the Black (Moor), posted that and discovered that I’ve been annoyed by the same things for a long time.

Lots of sitting around, staring and jotting notes.

Oh! The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols is a finalist for an “Excellence in Publishing Award” from the Association of Catholic Publishers. 

Listening:   Much Liszt and Ginastera still, but not as much Beethoven – we may be almost done with this particular piece for the year after last Saturday. Hopefully not img_20190409_200229completely done – that would mean he didn’t do well enough to advance to the state level – but we’ll see. Waiting for those results.

As that area of piano winds down, the jazz and organ levels up. Lots of listening to this this week – and for the next few weeks. 

Reading: All right, here we go. First, let’s do what’s in progress.

Rare for me, I purchased a brand new book, simply on the basis on a recommendation. I don’t remember where I saw this mentioned, but since it involved the Gospel of Mark – along with John, one of my two favorites – and seemed to take on some of my concerns, I was in: The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel of Mark. 

Simply reading the introduction was a revelation and prompted me to regret, once again, the thrust of Biblical studies in the era in which I came of age – the 80’s and 90’s – rooted in the historical-critical method, aka – as it panned out for most of us –  skepticism. I suppose what we are seeing now needed that stage to exist. Perhaps this moment couldn’t have come to life without both the shaking of old pietistic assumptions as well as the hard contextual work of the historical-critical scholars, but still. What time wasted, what distance created between the reader and Christ by fixating us – even the lay reader via Bible studies and homiletics – on what Matthew is saying to his Jewish readers here and how it differs from what Luke is saying to his Gentile readers there. 

More as I go along.

I’ve read two novels since last we spoke on these matters:

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Why this and how? The typical rabbit-trail route. Browsing the “new releases” I came upon her TranscriptionIt looked mildly interesting, which led me to go to the “A’s” in the fiction section and see what else she’d written – a lot, as it turned out – so I plucked out a couple to try. I ended up starting with this one rather than the newest. It was..okay.

She writes well, and that’s why it wasn’t time wasted for me. I learned some things from reading her. But the novel wasn’t ultimately satisfying for me and led me to decide to just return the others I’d checked out and move on.

There are three mysteries introduced in the story, which end up being…sort of connected. I think what put me off was, first, I figured things out pretty early, and I never figure mysteries out. Maybe I’m just getting smarter, but I doubt that.

Secondly, there is a theme of abuse within a family which is treated rather lightly by surviving family members when it comes to light. The abuse was terrible, and I found the reaction of characters both unbelievable and – hate to use the word, but this is it – offensive.

My only other comment on the book is that once again  – Catholic themes and imagery pop up, and I wasn’t even looking for them – again. A family member ends up in a convent and while the treatment of this tumbles a little bit into caricature, and I honestly don’t think this person would have actually been accepted into religious life considering her issues and weirdness, still – there was a theme of contrition and doing penance for one’s sins that required a working out, and where do you go when you need to make that happen? Catholic Land, of course!

Now, for a much better, more serious book – The Blood of the Lamb by Peter de Vries. 

(The link goes to an archive.org version that you can “borrow.” The book is still in print, though and easy to find. )

As I mentioned the other day, de Vries was a favorite of my father’s and was quite popular in the 60’s. I’d never read anything by him, and this novel is a departure from his usual humorous work – although it has its moments as well.

I rarely, if ever suggest to you “You should read this book” –  simply because life is short, people’s tastes vary, and who am I?

But I’m going to make an exception here. I think you should read this book – if you’re interested in faith, period, but particularly faith and art.

Here’s an excellent essay from Image introducing de Vries, and particularly this book:

IT WAS AN ORDINARY autumn night in suburban Chicago when I received the most disturbing book I have ever read. I was seventeen, slouching in my bedroom making a half-hearted attempt at homework, my sweaty cross-country clothes festering on the floor. My father appeared at the doorway and handed me a yellowed paperback that looked at least a few decades old.

“You might like this,” he said.

It was The Blood of the Lamb by Peter De Vries. I had heard De Vries’s name for the first time only a few days earlier. It came up at the family dinner table, and as I learned about him, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of him sooner. He was once a well-known satirist who published twenty-six novels, most of them commercially successful. He spent forty-three years as an editor at TheNew Yorker, his short stories appearing regularly in its pages. He enjoyed a privileged perch in the cultural landscape, friends with J.D. Salinger and James Thurber.

And he came from our people—the Dutch Calvinists of Chicago. He attended my religious high school and college. He grew up in the same South Side neighborhood as my grandmother, worshipping at the same church, Second Christian Reformed on Seventy-Second Street. According to a family story, he had dated her, or tried to date her. Or they shared a hymnal at a Sunday evening church service. By Dutch Calvinist standards, that’s practically second base.

A short synopsis:

Don Wanderhope is , as the essay above says, from Dutch Calvinist stock, living in Chicago, when we first meet him, in the late 1920’s. His father runs a refuse company (common among Dutch Calvinists, according to this essay), and he grows to adulthood listening in on theological arguments, helping his father, going to school, discovering girls, and yearning for a different, more refined life.

Image result for blood of the lam de vriesHe gets into a bit of trouble with one girl (a hilarious scene – I mean, who can blame them for not anticipating the model home being shown on a Sunday evening?) but is spared from marrying her by a TB diagnosis. He goes to Colorado sanatorium (I always enjoy fictional sanatorium scenes because my mother had TB and spent time in one in New Hampshire in her youth – and remembered the time, in a way, as the best time of her life.) where he meets another girl, falls in love, but that ends and he heads back to Chicago, mostly healed (if he was ever really that ill at all) discovers his father in the beginning stages of dementia, goes to college, marries, moves to New York, works in advertising, has a daughter who eventually dies of leukemia.

I won’t say spoiler alert because everyone knows that the illness, suffering and death of the character’s daughter is the center of the novel – because it’s autobiographical. The novel was published a year after de Vries’ own 10-year old daughter died of leukemia, and oh, it is raw and painful and sorrowful.

So, no – if subject matter like that would be difficult for you to handle, you shouldn’t read it.

But if you can handle it, and you want to be immersed in a very honest, challenging exploration of faith and theodicy – pick it up.

Before I read it, I was under the impression that the book was the cry of an atheist soul, but it’s really not. It’s the cry of a suffering, loving soul who just doesn’t understand. It’s a dramatization of the question: You, a human parent, would do everything you could to alleviate your child’s suffering – why doesn’t God do the same for his own suffering children? This. Makes. No. Sense.

Jeffrey Frank, writing in The New Yorker in 2004 about De Vries’s legacy, calls the following hospital scenes “as unbearable as anything in modern literature.” I can’t say that he’s exaggerating. Don and Carol make a series of visits to a New York hospital, each time receiving assurances from her oncologist, Dr. Scoville, about his progress researching cures. De Vries charts the development of her leukemia in excruciating detail, tracking the cycles of remission and broken hopes, with each medication more desperate than the last.

Don joins the other parents in trying to preserve a sense of normalcy. They throw birthday parties and speak of returning to school in the fall. He watches a dying infant crawl the hallway “wearing a turban of surgical gauze, whom a passing nurse snatched up and returned to its crib.”

He describes these incidents as if laying out evidence against a heartless God. Here the book’s title becomes clear. It refers not to the blood of Jesus, the lamb of scripture, but to the young girl. Don’s innocent lamb is poisoned by her own blood.

When I read the book at seventeen, it was De Vries’s intensity that rattled me so deeply. The Blood of the Lamb attacked my community’s faith, furiously, from within. That’s something that Hitchens and the so-called New Atheists couldn’t do. We were taught to expect “the world” to mock our faith. But here was one of our own doing the same, and he struck me as funny, sophisticated, and intelligent in doing so. I felt an uncomfortable shiver of recognition, because I knew, even if it went unspoken, that our faith clashed with modern science, that our scriptures carried contradictions, and that religion often fueled as much bigotry as good in the world. I couldn’t defend the reasons for my faith against De Vries.

Returning to the book as an adult, I realize I misremembered two things. First, De Vries reserves as much rage for medical authorities as religious ones. When Dr. Scoville glibly tells him about the “exciting chase” of developing chemotherapy drugs, Wanderhope responds, “Do you believe in God as well as play at him?”

Second, I remembered Wanderhope as a settled unbeliever from his university days onward. Yet it’s clear that he keeps searching for divine guidance until the very end of his daughter’s life, even carrying a crucifix and medal of Saint Christopher. His retort to Dr. Scoville is a bitter joke, yet it’s also the question he can’t stop asking.

I’m going to close with a few quotes from the novel, but I want to point out something alluded to in what the essayist says here, something that is so interesting to me. De Vries’ background was solid Dutch Calvinist, and the theological discussions at the beginning take on faith in that context – predestination, and so on. But as the novel moves to New York, the religious context and imagery become very, very Catholic. The practical reason is that there’s a Catholic church on the way to the hospital. Wanderhope is always passing it and even stopping in. The crucifix outside the church becomes the focus of a final, enraged gesture.

Partly, I suppose because this reflects de Vries’ own actual experience, partly because well, Calvinists don’t have a lot of imagery that lends itself to dramatization of inner faith turmoil.

Once again. 

He resented such questions as people do who have thought a great deal about them. The superficial and slipshod have ready answers, but those looking this complex life straight in the eye acquire a wealth of perception so composed of delicately balanced contradictions that they dread, or resent, the call to couch any part of it in a bland generalization. The vanity (if not outrage) of trying to cage this dance of atoms in a single definition may give the weariness of age with the cry of youth for answers the appearance of boredom.

 

I made a tentative conclusion. It seemed from all of this that uppermost among human joys is the negative one of restoration: not going to the stars, but learning that one may stay where one is.

 

The greatest experience open to man then is the recovery of the commonplace. Coffee in the morning and whiskeys in the evening again without fear. Books to read without that shadow falling across the page.

Dead drunk and cold-sober, he wandered out into the garden in the cool of the evening, awaiting the coming of the Lord.

There is a point when life, having showered us with jewels for nothing, begins to exact our life’s blood for paste.

And then, on a light note, this – reflecting the mid-1930’s. The content is more explicit now, but really, has anything changed? The pride in putting something stupid out there and selling it as a manifestation of some sort of artistic progress?

One summer when Carol was attending day camp, Greta had an affair with a man named Mel Carter. He was an Eastern publicity representative for a film studio, and often instructed dinner parties to which we went in those days with accounts of the movies’ coming of age. ‘We have a picture coming up,’ he said once, ‘in which a character says “son of a bitch.” Lots of exciting things are happening. Still, it’s only a beginning. Much remains to be done.’

 

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The introvert is recovering from over a week of not-solitude. I’ll get there.

MondayLast week was spring break in these parts, and we stuck around. Our one adventure was a day trip to Cheaha State Park, chronicled here. It was fine. Older son worked, younger son got a lot of music in, we had some family visitors. Nothing wrong with staying home and not spending a lot of money.

We have a great deal of travel coming up – still trying to figure out the parameters of Spain in June – and of course, there’s next year Roadschooling, so yeah.

Anyway, to a digest.

Watching: Lots of basketball, of course. People around here are ecstatic about Auburn, but the Vol and Gator in this house keep their distance.

We did watch the film Inception – which I’d never seen. I hadn’t intended to watch it, either, partly because I don’t like Leo, but also because I was convinced that I would end up simply letting confusing images wash over me for two hours. But I ended up sitting there, anyway, and mostly understood it, but it also left me mostly indifferent to the characters’ fates – I mean…they were in mental spaces, right?  

It was mildly thought-provoking on the subject of the power of ideas, which was, I suppose, the intention. The youngest came into my room some time after the movie was over, puzzling over one aspect of it, and said, I just can’t stop thinking about it…

To which, of course, I had to respond…So..it’s like someone implanted it in your brain???

In this category, I suppose I’ll put the two minutes it took to watch the trailer to the new Mary Magdalene movie. Here it is.

Just FYI, this movie has been out for a year in other countries, so reviews are easy to find. Here’s one from the Australian Catholic Conference and here’s one from an independent Catholic website.

My take, just from the trailer? I’m up for Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, but I’d also probably watch Joaquin Phoenix as  Queen Elizabeth, so take that into consideration. But of course, from the trailer and the reviews, the movie seems to get a zillion things wrong or weirdly interpreted. The effect of this seems to be, as it so often is, the ironic outcome of trying to be more contemporary, less traditional and straying from the narrative as we have it is a flattening of the story that buries the truly radical nature of both Jesus’ treatment of women and his message in general.

It’s an interesting take – Luke tells us that MM was possessed by seven demons (the number seven being, in part, symbolic of completeness). Jesus freed her from those demons and in response, she followed him – but not alone. In Luke 8, she’s described as being a part of a group of women who became disciples. The movie renders this “possession” as a social construct: MM doesn’t want to follow traditional female norms, so, of course, everyone thinks she’s crazy.

As I said – sticking with the Scriptures would seem to me to be far more compelling.

Hey! Here’s a book on Mary Magdalene!

Cooking: Since we didn’t travel for spring break, we traveled through area restaurants. I didn’t cook much, but the kitchen is seeing life again today.  For some reason, I keep thinking I’m out of celery when I go to the grocery store, but I never am, so one of the goals for today is Use All the Celery.

A thrilling prospect for my customers, I’m sure.

Reading: 

My son on some weird movie. 

It’s almost like there is a lesson, and that there is evil in the world that can’t be accommodated. Invite the evil in, treat it kindly, and it will still have no objective other than to destroy you. The only thing to do is to prevent evil from coming into your house.

Over the weekend, I read the novel Talk to Me by John Kenney. Why this? The usual – I was in the “new books” section of the library, read the description and the blurbs, and felt it might be worth a look. It was – a very quick read that I finished in the space of twenty-four hours and enjoyed quite a bit.

The plot: A nationally-known and beloved television news anchorman is recorded doing something bad just before a broadcast. Nothing sexual, just – very abusive and hurtful. Of course, it goes viral, and the book is about contemporary internet culture and society through the prism of that fallout. It’s complicated and enriched by family matters – the anchor’s adult daughter works for a Buzzfeed – type outfit and has her own deep issues with her father. If the plot only existed on the level of viral video, memes and comments sections, we wouldn’t have much here. But the family and relational elements give it a necessary and even moving depth and raise questions quite fundamental to this whole wretched scene – as in: why can’t we just live in privacy and peace….well…why don’t we live like this? Why do we choose to subject ourselves to the online life and how does it change us?

The book is easy and amusing and, as I said, even moving at points. What interested me, as it would, is that ONCE AGAIN, a fictional protagonist accesses hints of a way forward in this terrible situation via the sounds, symbols and just simple existence of Catholic things. It’s not ham-handed or painfully direct, but it’s definitely there. His thoughts about seeking forgiveness coalesce as he stumbles into a church, and then a sense of his unity with struggling, weak humanity comes to him as he’s walking around the city, observing people…with Gregorian chant playing in his earbuds.

Trust it. Trust that faith we’ve been given, try to live it and let it live in the world. People are looking for it.

Writing: 

Back to work. I have Living Faith stuff due this week. 

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In him the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment. What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to them, he held in his arms.  – from a homily of St. Bernardine of Siena. 

Some images for you, first a vintage holy card from the Shrine of St. Joseph in Montreal that interests me because it predates the construction of the large basilica:

From the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.  

I just love the blues on the card above and the not-quite Art-Noveauishness of it.

At the shrine featured in the vintage holy cards.  Summer 2011. 

The sign says “Reserved for pilgrims climbing on their knees.”

 

SECOND DREAM of ST. JOSEPH

The wonderful Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui, whose depiction of St. Joseph dreaming is above, has  a blog. It is an absolute treasure trove of wisdom, whether you are an artist or not. Please go visit, bookmark, visit every day and support his work.  Easter’s coming. Surely there’s someone out there who’d appreciate the gift of one his prints?

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