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— 1 —

Wow. Has it really been a week…and I’ve posted nothing ? Sorry about that. I am focused on finishing writing this book, which I hope will happen today (Friday). It’s a very solid first draft. I’ll let it sit for a couple of weeks then take a couple of days to go back through it. That’s the point at which I’ll sharpen the writing, strip out the verbiage and tighten the lines of thought.  That’s the enjoyable part of the process, to me. Much better than the “Sitting looking at the computer on the other side of the room knowing you need to work but you don’t want to” part.

Then it will be on to The Next Thingwhich will keep me very busy until March. Which is good.

(I do tend to post daily on Instagram Stories. Some of that finds its way here, but not all.)

 

 — 2 —

This is a fabulous story of faith and life, from the Catholic Spirit.   

The ultrasound technician squeezed gel onto Justina’s abdomen and positioned the wand, picking up a gestational sac and a heartbeat. The couple was elated. Then, a second sac and a second heartbeat. Twins! As the Kopps were wrapping their head around two at a time, the technician found a third sac and a third heartbeat. They were now outnumbered, and they started laughing.

Justina recalls teasing Matt, telling him that parents of triplets must automatically grow a third arm.

Then the technician came across a fourth sac. Empty, she said, suggesting that there had been a fourth baby, but he or she had never developed. Justina recalled feeling a sense of peace with that, trusting that he or she would join a sibling in heaven.

That’s when her doctor came into the room and grabbed her foot. As the technician was going over the three babies again for the doctor and to get more photos, she moved to show him the blighted ovum in the empty sac. This time, it didn’t look empty, and the technician found a heartbeat — the strongest of the four. The Kopps just continued to laugh in disbelief, they said.

“This is quite the shock, huh?” Justina recalled the doctor saying, obviously shocked himself. Even with Justina’s fertility treatments, the probability of quadruplets was so low that statistics didn’t exist.

Justina and Matt said they laughed about the news for two days, and then, overwhelmed, they panicked. Family and friends’ joy helped them have courage that they could handle the task, with God’s help.

 

— 3 —

Tonight, they’re filming a movie just a block from my house:

Bigger Movie

It’s called Bigger. Here’s the synopsis:

The inspirational tale of the grandfathers of the fitness movement as we now know it, Joe & Ben Weider. Battling anti-Semitism/racism as well as extreme poverty the brothers beat all odds to build an empire & inspire future generations.

 

The movie, which spans the 1920s to the 1970s, is adapted from the Weider brothers’ book “Brothers of Iron,” and it stars Tyler Hoechlin from Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” and MTV’s “Teen Wolf” as Joe Weider and Aneurin Barnard from Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic “Dunkirk” as Ben Weider.

“It’s the story of two poor, young immigrant boys who grew up in a Montreal ghetto, and they experienced anti-Semitism, they experienced extreme poverty, (and) they cobbled together eight dollars to launch what became a multibillion-dollar empire,” Jones said….

…The Weider brothers founded the International Federation of Body Builders, which sponsored the Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe competitions, and in the late 1960s, Joe Weider groomed a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had moved to America from his native Austria and began training under Weider in Los Angeles.

Why are they filming here?

“We originally were going to shoot this in Montreal because the Weider brothers are from Montreal,” Jones said. “We actually went up there and did location scouting, but we ended up choosing Birmingham because our director (Gallo) does not like to fly. It’s a quirky situation.

Birmingham locations will double for Montreal, New Jersey and Los Angeles, Jones said. Near the end of the filming, the “Bigger” crew will film in the Mobile area, which will double for the beaches of California, he said.

Among the Birmingham locations will be the Alabama Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, Temple Emanu-El and serveral others, he said.

 

— 4

I do think that if a person is convinced they want to work In The Movies, all that’s needed to cure that bug is take them to a film location. I suppose it has its charms and attractions but it’s really a whole lot of waiting….and waiting…

 

Speaking of lurking around movie sets, some of you may recall that I spent an evening watching the filming of a little tiny scene of a movie in London in the spring. That was The Phantom Thread  – the trailer was released this past week and my post about the little I saw is here.  The very first shot in the trailer (it’s quick) is of Fitzroy Square, which was right around the corner from our apartment and through which we walked every day to get places.

— 5 —

This is good news and perhaps the backstory is news to many of us as well:

Pence delivered the keynote address at the JW Marriott hotel for the annual In Defense of Christians conference’s Solidarity Dinner and told the hundreds of attendees that President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. State Department “from this day forward” to stop funding the United Nations’ ineffective relief efforts. Instead, he said the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would also funnel support to the churches, agencies and organizations working directly with persecuted communities victimized by the Islamic State (ISIS) and other terror groups.

“Christians in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly,” Pence stated.

“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” he added. “The United States will work hand in hand with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith. This is the moment, now is the time, and America will support these people in their hour of need.”  …

…Andrew Doran, IDC vice president and senior policy adviser, told the Register that Pence’s announcement is “a game changer” for the survival of Christians and other minorities in Iraq.

“All organizations doing aid for the victims of genocide and crimes against humanity, who were working with religious institutions, Christians in particular, have to be feeling enormously encouraged following the vice president’s speech tonight,” he said.

Throughout the past three years, Iraq’s displaced Christians, consisting mostly of Assyrians, Syriacs and Chaldeans living in their ancestral homeland of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, were completely supported and sustained by the region’s churches and other forms of private support — not the United Nations. Christians considered U.N. camps too dangerous to enter and consequently did not receive direct humanitarian aid through U.N. agencies.

— 6 —

Of course, there’s going to be a lot of Reformation talk over the next few days. I’m with the Cardinal on this one:

German cardinal Gerhard Müller has said the Protestant Reformation was not a “reform” but a “total change of the foundations of the Catholic faith”.

Writing for Italian website La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said modern-day Catholics often discuss Martin Luther “too enthusiastically”, mainly due to an ignorance of theology…

…Cardinal Müller strongly contradicted this view, however, saying it is wrong to think Luther’s intent was simply to fight abuses in indulgences or the sins of the Renaissance Church, the Cardinal said.

“Abuses and bad actions have always existed in the Church. We are the Holy Church because of the grace of God and the sacraments, but all Church men are sinners, all need forgiveness, contrition, and penance.”

Instead, Luther abandoned “all the principles of the Catholic faith, Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, the Magisterium of the Popes and Councils, the episcopate.”

It is therefore unacceptable to say that Luther’s reform was “an event of the Holy Spirit” because “the Holy Spirit helps the Church to maintain its continuity through the Church’s magisterium”.

— 7 —

Here’s art historian Elizabeth Lev on another aspect:

Against the Catholic claim of the rootlessness of Protestant thought, Luther said his teaching was “not a novel invention of ours but the very ancient, approved teaching of the apostles brought to light again.” The Protestants sought not “to have anything new in Christendom” but instead struggled “to hold to the ancient: that which Christ and the apostles have left behind them and have given to us.” They claimed that this teaching had been “obscured by the pope with human doctrine, aye, decked out in dust and spider webs and all sorts of vermin, and flung and trodden into the mud besides, we have by God’s grace brought it out again … to the light of day.”

So, who had the claim to tradition? Which teaching had the martyrs died for? What role did relics play — testimony to ancient history, or were they, as John Calvin wrote in his Treatise on Relics, an “abomination”?

An astonishing find on the Via Salaria on May 31, 1578, gave the Church a potent response. The entrance to one of the Christian catacombs was accidently discovered by some workmen, leading to the underground burial sites with thousands of tombs. These mass graves, lost since the 9th century, were decorated with hundreds of paintings, witnesses to the early Christian Church and its beliefs.

Antonio Bosio, a young lawyer-turned-archaeologist who was close to Philip Neri’s new congregation of the Oratorians, took it upon himself to explore these underground sites. Dubbed the “Columbus of Underground Rome,” his lifetime of work was crowned with the publication, three years after his death, of Roma Sotterranea Cristiana: a guide to the catacombs, complete with illustrations.

 

 

And maybe, in “honor” of the anniversary, take a look back at this article I wrote last year on women and the Reformation.
For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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— 1 —

I have read more individual, separate, actual books in the past six days than I have in ages.

It’s self-preservation. It’s my way of keeping myself off the Internet.

Not off the internet for the purpose of not being informed, but off the internet as a way of fighting the temptation to Fly My Own Very Important Signal of Virtue.

As one of my older sons said to me on Monday, “My Twitter feed has so many Hot Takes, it’s like it’s six thousand degrees.”

Why add to that?

I had wanted to do separate blog posts on them all – and as you can tell from this post on Ride the Pink Horse, I intended to. But I don’t see my pace of reading diminishing any time soon, so I won’t indulge in the fantasy that I’ll actually be able to do that. So some short, not-so-hot takes on recent reads.

— 2 —

 

But first, how’s the homeschooling going? Going fine, but slowly, as my son adjusts to what this “unschooling” thing is all about and I fight off the instinct to ….not unschool.

Math is mostly The Art of Problem Solving’s Pre-Algebra, which is a daily mind-blower for him, but he’s picking it up. He’s done so much Beast Academy¸ he’s accustomed to the approach, but that intervening year of just regular 6th grade math pushed him off the rails just a bit.

I will say that it’s nice to be spending time with Richard every day again.

We begin day with prayer: a mash-up of Morning Prayer and the day’s Mass readings if we are not going to going to Mass, and a reading about/discussion of a saint of the day. This usually leads to various rabbit holes – this week (if you are following the daily Mass readings) about the death of Moses, the early days of Joshua and the geography of Israel.

Then Math – some Komen review followed by AOPS. Then, depending on what else is going on, I tell him to do whatever – just no screens. I’ve done some directing on the philosophy front – he said he wanted to straighten out Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, so we’ve been doing a bit of that. Other than that, his “school” time is taken up with reading about animals of one sort or another, music theory and practicing piano.

This week has been not quite normal because his good buddy from down the street has not started school yet, so he’s been able to spend time with him. Next week will be off, too, as he’ll have two piano lessons (one to make up for the one missed today…because my car wouldn’t start. But then it did. For the AAA guy before he’d even started to jump it. Of course. ) plus one whole day will be occupied with serving at the convent for a Mass for Full Professions followed by an orthodontist appointment.

Oh, and of course Monday will also be All Eclipse All The Time along with the rest of the nation.

So we’ll see!

— 3 —

FYI – and this is mostly for the homeschooling parents out there. I am not doing any planning – because we are purportedly mostly unschooling. But what I am doing is recording. He’s in 7th grade, so keeping a record of what he’s doing is pretty important, although it’s not required by the state. So here’s what we do.

First, a daily record – recorded in a daily planner. It includes specific section/page numbers of the math, any books he’s read in/topics he’s been reading about, the titles of educational videos we’ve watched, the titles of whatever books he’s reading, the music he’s studying and anything “extra” we do.

IMG_20170817_232618

And then at the end of the week, we’ll collate it all in a more general way. This is the template I whipped up last night. If it doesn’t work, we’ll tweak it.

IMG_20170817_232630

His extra classes at the Catholic co-op and the science center don’t start until September, but when they do, it will be twice a week. He’ll be playing basketball starting in October. Boxing class will start soon. He’ll probably be doing debate club at a local Catholic school. He’ll be busy.

Image result for \homeschool oh no i forgot to socialize

Not a problem.

]— 4 —

Today we finally got down to the Moss Rock Preserve. It’s one of his favorite places – we had intended to go a couple of weeks ago, but this weather has been crazy, and it just didn’t work out.  We walk, he observes, and he talks to me about everything from remembering Guatemala to Star Wars to geology, botany and zoology. And I say, “Uh-huh” and “Really?” a lot.

I’m a born teacher.

 

 

 

— 5 —

Super quick take: I’ll have devotionals in Living Faith twice next week: 8/22 and 8/23. So look for them.

And yes, I’m working on the Guatemala e-book. It will happen. I have signed a contract for another book that will be due on 12/15, but this, as they say, has my heart, so hopefully you will see it in a month or so. Once I get one more chapter done I’m going to get a “cover” made, get an ISBN and go ahead and put it on Amazon for pre-order. I even have a title, and the lovely part is that I don’t have to fight with an editor or publisher about said title. It can be as lame as I want it to be.

 

— 6 —

This past Tuesday, we went to Mass at Blessed Sacrament Parish for the Feast of the Assumption.

(I’m running out of Takes…..those book reviews might have to be post-length anyway….)

You can see from the photographs that’s it’s a gorgeous church. It might just be the most beautiful church building in the Diocese of Birmingham – a lovely Romanesque/Deco/Other Modern feel to it. The building was finished in the early 1930’s,  but the interior not until the mid 1950’s.  You can read the history of the parish here. 

The parish is the home of one of the diocese’s Tridentine Mass communities – our bishop is very open to the older form.  The Mass we attended, however, was in the “ordinary form” and we ended up there because it was the only mid-morning Mass in a parish within a 10-mile radius that was not a school Mass. (and I was committed to a lunch with a friend – so the usual noon Mass at the Cathedral was out – as was the 6:30 AM Mass…for different reasons….)

 

 

 

A side note, inspired by this Mass on the Feast of the Assumption.

I have friends and acquaintances  – mostly non-Christian/secular/eventhepagans who are quite distressed about the Present Moment and worry about their privilege and what they’re communicating to their kids about said privilege.

So….my advice?

I’ve said this before, or things like it. You want a more global outlook? Be  Catholic. You want an outlook that transcends racial, ethnic and national boundaries?  Be Catholic. You want your kids to have a sense of purpose and place in the universe? Be Catholic.

There’s a hot take for you.

But just consider what happens when your day is shaped around these things: Prayers, first of all,  for those in need; prayers that the activities of your day be directed towards others and not your own desires; prayers of gratitude; the reality of the death and the hope beyond it; your own identity as a child of God, no greater or less than any other child of God no matter where they might live or what they might look like; honoring women, men and children from every corner of the world and from all walks of life as role models and intercessors for you in your moments of need; Going to worship, led by a priest who might share your ethnicity, but also very well might not. Being a Caucasian American of European extraction and going to Confession to and seeking spiritual counsel from a priest who might be from Nigeria or the Philippines or Colombia or India, and calling that man your spiritual “Father.”

And then, on a certain Tuesday in August, you might end up in the so-called “bad” part of town – the part of town that your Woke Friends’ parents would never dream of taking them  – to worship God and give thanks because that is just what you do and it is really not even strange because Jesus is there, and you go where He is.

 

— 7 —

 

 

 

Ah, well…I’m just about out of takes, and I remembered another church-related note I wanted to share, so book reviews might happen over the next few days. I read another one tonight, so it’s just as well…

Last Friday, the Cathedral of St. Paul here in Birmingham celebrated a Mass – celebrated annually – in memory of Fr. James Coyle, a priest murdered on the front porch of the rectory in 1921. Earlier in the day, Fr. Coyle had married a young Caucasian woman, and a convert, to a Puerto Rican man. The murdered was the young woman’s father – a member of the KKK and a Methodist minister. At trial, defended by future Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, Stephenson was acquitted.

On Oct. 17, only nine days before President Warren Harding arrived in the Magic City to mark its semi-centennial, “the trial of the century” was gaveled to order in the crowded Jefferson County Courthouse. A jury consisting of mostly Klansmen was impaneled by Judge Fort.

Hard evidence clearly pointed to Stephenson’s guilt, but the prosecution called only five witnesses to present its case, three of whom were rendered questionable in the public mind by the defense’s assertion that they were Catholics. Religious prejudice was wielded like a cudgel through inflammatory statements such as Black’s, “A child of a Methodist does not suddenly depart from her religion unless someone has planted in her mind the seeds of influence.” This played to popular fears that agents of the Pope might be trying to brainwash susceptible Protestants.

Worse, Stephenson’s defense team had no qualms about groundless appeals to racial bigotry. In what might be the nadir of Black’s career in private practice, he tried to present Ruth’s husband, Pedro Gussman, not as a Puerto Rican but as a black man, going so far as to close the Venetian blinds in the courtroom before Gussman’s appearance to make his complexion seem darker than it really was. By invoking the basest taboo of Jim Crow’s South — race-mixing — Black sought to suggest that Father Coyle’s enabling of depravity might well have driven his client past rational response to the commission of murder.

The story is told here in this article, as well as in the book Rising Road. 

Ah, yes – so the noon Mass last Friday was celebrated in memory of Fr. Coyle, with a reception and talks following. You can read the rector, Fr. Jerabek’s homily here (scroll down for the link)  – nicely tying in the feast of St. Clare (which it was) with Fr. Coyle’s story. 

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

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— 1 —

All right! A couple of publications this week: first, on Flannery O’Connor, in Catholic World Report – which you saw if you were here yesterday. 

(I do blog almost every day…in some form or other. One of the few left! Most of the action has moved to Facebook and Twitter, of course, but I #resist that, especially the Facebook part. I just use it to toss out links, mostly and sometimes post family photos for a smaller sub-group of my “friends” group.)

Secondly, in the Catholic Herald– on relics. Most of it’s behind a firewall, but the beginning is here. 

And yes, I am working on the Guatemala thing. Got the prologue and one chapter done. I have a rather tedious project I must finish this weekend, but after that, my early fall will be working on this and getting a new Loyola book rolling.

This one will be out soon! The Amazon entry says the 8th, but I’m not sure if that is correct. I was told I’d have it mid-month.

Remember…you can help Catholic authors – all of us – by gifting our books to schools and parishes – and requesting that your local public library purchase them as well.

— 2 —

 

Old school. Today is the feast of St. John Vianney, whose life was part of the inspiration for Georges Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest. Ages and ages ago, I wrote a super short piece on the novel for Liguori. It’s here.

— 3 —

Life’s going to  change around here next week. School starts for the older one and he’ll be driving himself so…

amy-welborn

He’s been driving himself to work all summer, but school is in a different part of town with far more challenging traffic. So I have two years of that to look forward to, thnx.

]— 4 —

And…it’s back to the Homeschool for the 7th grader. We’ll see how life goes after this. I’ll write more about it next week when we things calm down a bit – I have a busy beginning of the week, plus a project I have to, have to have to finish this weekend. The schooling is going to be mostly of the Un-type, with math being the exception (AOPS Pre-Algebra). Everything else will be up to him.

— 6 —

Lengthy but important read, I think. From The Atlantic: “Have Smarthphones Desroyed a Generation?”  

The article takes on and expands what I have long felt was an important negative of internet/smartphone use – especially the young: the potential for anxiety and depression that results from exaggerated, continual, never-ending social pressure.

Share this, especially with teachers and school administrators, in the hopes that it will encourage them to move away from the delusion that a school best serves its students and families by preparing them for life in the 21st century by taking away books, papers and pens and putting making life onscreen and inscreen even more difficult to escape.

— 7 —

No family movies this week what with work and travel. One watched Innerspace, which is currently on Netflix. Another got one of the Star Wars movies from Redbox.

Currently being read around our house: The Andromeda Strain, The Jungle (for school), The Fellowship of the Ring and by HEAVENS I’m going to finish Doctor Thorne this week. I will.

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

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— 1 —

This week’s takes are mostly about listening and watching. Things will get interesting over the next few days, but probably mostly on Instagram – so head over there to keep up.

— 2 —

In Our Time has sadly gone into its summer break, but it ended on a very high note with an excellent program on bird migration. What I particularly enjoyed about it was Melvyn Bragg’s infectious awestruck attitude about the whole business, which mirrors mine – How do they know?  – and the fact that he just couldn’t get over it, which is the proper attitude in the face of mystery. Secondly, the scientists on the program were all refreshingly honest about the answers to Melvyn’s questions, which most of the time involved a lot of we’re not sure and maybe and…we just don’t know. 

So much of the media’s reporting on science is couched in almost religious and certainly ideological certainty – a certainty which many, if not most scientists themselves would reject. I always enjoy the scholars on In Our Time, who are willing to admit what they don’t know and engage in respectful disagreement about what they think they might have a handle on.

— 3 —

Also this week, I listened to In Our Time broadcasts on the poet John Clare, of whom I am ashamed to say I had never heard, and Hannah Arendt. 

The program on Clare was interesting because, well, it was all new to me, but also because of the material presented about Clare’s relationship with publishing. He was a farmer, and while we might think, “poor lower class poet rejected by the smart set,” in fact the truth was the opposite – ever since Burns, the search had been on for the next Big Country Poet, and it was thought for while that Clare might be the one. And then he ended up in insane asylums for two decades, sadly, probably because of manic depression.

The program on Hannah Arendt set her work in helpful context, with a great deal of discussion about how she was misunderstood by critics. In brief, the “banality of evil” is not an invitation to diminish evil, but an explanation of how evil can become just another job to do.

— 4 —

And then I discovered a new BBC podcast program!

It’s called Science Stories and while the format is different than In Our Time, the general attitude and approach are the same, emphasizing the importance of  context as we seek to understand past scientific endeavors, which is something I appreciate so much, and is so refreshing, surrounded as we are in our media sea of context-free accusations, assertions, presumptions and fabrications.

And guess what? Religion is quite often part of the context – and might even be a paradigmatic framework for the context – and that is okay. 

On a science program!

So, for example, a program on Robert Grosseteste, 13th century Bishop of Lincoln and teacher, famously, of Roger Bacon. Grosseteste was, as many learned men of the time were, a polymath, but this particular episode of Science Stories focused on what the presenter termed his proto-“Big Bang” theory rooted in his observations of light and informed by his Genesis-shaped faith. It’s only 28 minutes and well worth your time. A taste:

Scientist: The story I was told when I was growing up was before 1600, all was darkness and…theology and dogmatism…and then suddenly Newton, Galileo, Kepler, who-hoa – all is light and Enlightenment and we get back on track with science. And you know, that’s never rung true because science doesn’t work like that – we all make little steps and we all, as Newton said, stand on the shoulders of giants. I think in Grosseteste, we’ve come across one of the giants on which the early modern scientists stood…..

….Presenter: And the motivation, certainly, for people like Grosseteste was ultimately a religious one, a theological one.

Scientist: Yes, it’s very clear that he would have been mystified by the question, “Can you reconcile your science with your religion?”  – he would have looked at you very askance and said, “What do you mean? That’s why I’m doing this science!”

.

— 5 —

The episode on “The Anglo Saxon Remedy that kills MRSA”  was also fascinating, involving researchers who are exploring these 1100-year old books of remedies with the aim of not only figuring out the origins of these remedies but also their effectiveness.

As in the previous program, spirituality is given due credit and respect as are techniques and approaches we might want to initially wave off as nothing more than superstition – for example, chanting a rhyme or prayer in association with the application of the remedy. As the researchers pointed out, it was not mere superstition at work here – in a world without clocks, this would be a way of keeping time as you applied the compress or shook the mixture.

— 6 —

My older son has been working a lot at night, so we haven’t been doing a lot of movies – two we have watched over the past week have been The Seven Samurai and Twelve Angry Men.  We spread out The Seven Samurai over two nights, although I think we could have done it all in one, in retrospect. It’s quite absorbing and didn’t feel at all like an almost 4-hour movie (as opposed to the Heston Ben-Hur which felt every minute of it to me during last year’s rewatch after 40 years, probably –  #confessyourunpopularopinion)

They really liked The Seven Samurai, and so I see more Kurosawa in our future, whenever we can manage another evening, which won’t be for a while, it looks like, what with travel and work. Probably The Hidden Forest, which inspired Star Wars, would make the most sense, although I’m more interested in Stray Dog. We won’t do Rashomon. 

Twelve Angry Men is, of course, much shorter – having begun as a television drama – and quite an efficient and compelling way to introduce a good discussion of appearance, reality, truth and integrity. There’s one simplistic psychological-torment-motivation subplot that was annoying and overwrought, but then that is par for the late-50’s course.

Oh, and one night after work, the 16-year old pulled Doctor Strangelove off the shelf and "amy welborn"took it in his room to watch it. Speaking of context, what I offered him afterwards was that early 60’s context of nuclear terror which led the young parents of a two-year old, living in Texas in the fall of 1962, to formulate a plan about what they’d do if the bombs dropped – a plan that involved an overdose of sleeping pills, as they calmly reminisced a few decades later. The grown daughter was startled, to say the least, but the fact that her quite traditional parents had felt driven to concoct such a plan showed how frightened people really were at the time. They weren’t building bomb shelters just for the fun of it.

Speaking of mid-century psychological-torment-subplots..

Kidding!

— 7 —

Okay! Let’s have a saint!

Today is the feast of Kateri Tekakwitha. She’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints – a couple of pages of which are available online. 

 

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

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Once there were two brothers….

How many tales have begun that way?

Today’s first reading does not begin with that exact phrase, but it could, for it’s the story of Jacob’s deception of his father Isaac, and the theft of his brother Esau’s birthright.

Once there were two brothers….

A few weeks ago, the third season of the FX series Fargo concluded. Fargo is a different kind of television series. It is “inspired by” the Coen brothers movie of that name, but takes from the film, not the exact plot, but rather setting, tone and general theme: The Fargosetting of the upper Midwest, the tone of black humor, and the general themes of randomness and of human beings using their free will for evil, but also in very stupid ways that always end in someone’s death.

Accident, serendipity and just the craziness of being in the wrong place at the wrong time play a huge role in this universe – as they do in life, in my opinion, which is why I am so strongly drawn to the series, I think.

That said, although I enjoyed the first season of the series, I never got around to watching the second – I think it coincided with a busy time of life, and then I never could catch up – but I did watch this recently concluded third season, and, in contrast to some viewers, who saw it as a definite downturn, I liked it a lot – and in ways thought it was stronger than the first season.

I’ll hasten to say that the seasons of this program are not intricately connected – the first and second were, but the third (I think) is a completely different story with different characters doing similar, but different things.

There’s too much going on for review in a single blog post – and you can certainly get that in other places. I suppose what I’ll do then, is just focus on what pulled me into this third season of Fargo. I won’t say, “And why you should watch it,” because people’s tastes vary so widely, I never assume that others will agree with my reading, listening or viewing preferences. And come to think of it, you probably shouldn’t watch it. There. Does that cover my bases?

Fargo was wild and arresting, but as with all wild and arresting creations out there these days, you have to be careful and ask: Is there a point to this, or is it just random visual flailing to get my attention and make me think there’s Something Serious going on here? That happens a lot – in my opinion, it happened in Twin Peaks (the original – didn’t watch the recent reboot or whatever) – and is pretty much the norm These Days, since the norm for quite a bit of artistic energy in the modern era is just about the startling superficial image, and not really about anything – since there’s no substantive Anything for anything to be about.

So with Fargo, I held my judgment until the end. I suspected it was about something real, but I couldn’t be sure if I was being taken for a ride or not until the end. And then the end came, and while it was the most deeply satisfying ending I could have envisioned, like the ending of The Sopranos – it fit. Fargo seemed to me about something real, after all.

And what was it?

It was about all those things I spoke of at the beginning, those matters which fascinate me so much – how we are in the place where we’re in at any given moment, not so much because of our deliberate choices (no matter how much we like to think that’s the reason), but because of chance, accidents and the good and evil that’s happened in the past.

But Fargo was also about the nature of truth – and how much of what surrounds us, and what we construct our lives around is just fable, myth and self-serving lies – but – BUT – truth does exist. There is a true story, and there are, indeed, still small voices in our midst, doggedly witnessing to that truth, usually at a great price.

Fargo begins and ends with interrogations of accused men by government officials.

(My discussion will be as spoiler-free as possible. So if I’m vague…that’s why.)

The first scene of the series us to East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. A man has been hauled in for questioning. He protests his innocence and indeed maintains, with increasing panic, that he is not the man accused and there is no rational reason to suppose him to be.

Fargo

The government official, cool and calm in his assertions, constructs a narrative, and the narrative is that the man in front of him is guilty. He is imposing a new identity on this man, and this narrative that he is a criminal is now the “truth.” It is now a true story.

The series ends in another small room, decades and half a world away from the first scene. Another government official sits behind a desk facing another accused man. Truth again is the issue, but this time, the dynamic is different. The official and the accused face each other, each maintaining the truth of their stories. Identity is again at the core, but now the roles are reversed. The accused has assumed identities in order to avoid detection of his criminal activities, and the official is maintaining, calmly and coolly, that she knows the truth of who he really is. She knows the true story.

There is only the faintest direct connection between the two scenes – one figure common to both narrative strands – who is, by the way, not physically present in either one. But this character’s existence serves to reinforce that other important Fargo theme of the role of random human connection in the course of life.

In between the two scenes are ten episodes in which characters are seduced by greed, deluded, killed, in which they face the truth and construct more lies, and most of the time face the consequences of their actions as the universe – bizarre and mysterious, but ultimately just, it seems – doles them out.

For the reason the events in that last scene came to the point that they did are this, in part:

Decades ago, someone traveled to Los Angeles with literary and filmmaking stars in their eyes, was exploited and mistreated, and bearing the physical consequences of this mistreatment, decided to leave it all behind, including his identity, and change his name to one he saw on a toilet bowl.

And

Decades ago, two brothers (ah…here we are) watched their father die. One brother knew the real value of the inheritance and tricked his brother into letting him have what was most valuable, traded for what the younger brother thought he wanted and needed at the moment, but was of little value beyond that immediate moment.

And here we are in this moment – dealing with the fallout and making our own present-day choices, carrying that weight.

Given that this is a crime drama, of course the choices are heightened and expressive of the most deadly sins – primarily greed and pride – always pride – here. And you watch fargoalong, filled with dread as characters you know have a glimmer of good in them insist on making decisions that range from the stupid to the short-sighted to just evil.

Along the way, Fargo gives us gorgeous cinematography, memorable images and intriguing metaphors – bridge plays a huge role, and along the way we dip into Peter and the Wolf, and find ourselves in a mystical bowling alley – a la Big Lebowski, but different – and excellent acting. Ewen McGregor plays both brothers, and while some critiqued his accent at times, I thought he was fabulous – the greatest challenge being when McGregor must play the brother Ray pretending to be his brother Emmitt.

Fargo_-_Emmit_and_Ray_Stussy

The central character here, though, is really the villain – one mystery man V.M. Varga, played by David Thewlis, whom some of you might know from Harry Potter – he played Professor Lupin.

In Fargo, Varga is the man in charge of some sort of mysterious global entity that steps in to loan Emmit Stussy – the Parking Lot King of Minnesota – some money. The trouble begins when, seeking to repay the loan, Stussy discovers that he’s been had – that the money was not so much a loan as a buy-in to the company, and bit by bit, Varga and his people are taking control.

How sin begins: We open ourselves up to a bit of shadow, and find ourselves in its grasp.

Varga, played by Thewlis is mesmerizing and -yes – disgusting. The character is bulimic. He gorges himself with all manner of food, methodically and greedily, and then vomits it out. As a consequence, his teeth are rotting away – the work of stomach acid. Food is not nourishment here. It is something else, something to fill need both deep-seated and pressingly immediate, then to be vomited out.

FARGO -- Pictured: David Thewlis as V.M. Vargas. CR: Matthias Clamer/FX

Varga’s bulimia is echoed in his other actions, as he takes in more and more money, more and more property, and vomits it all out in the form of, first of all elaborate self-justifying tales of false history presented as fact, and secondly, human lives.

This character is, to me, an embodiment of the deadly sins, as he perverts what is good, ingests it, takes it all into himself, but for no purpose except for the consumption, discards it, spews out self-justifying lies, and ultimately rots away.

The villain in the first season of Fargo was named Malvo and was played by Billy Bob Thornton, who is always a pleasure to watch in anything, even when he’s playing a villain. Some critics prefer his villain to Varga, but to me, there’s no contest. Thornton was good, but there was an element of the plot and character that I found so unrealistic – even in the heightened, unrealistic world of Fargo – that I lost interest in him. (If you watched it – I’m talking about the dentist part). Varga was weird and lived on a level of exaggeration, to be sure, but there was, at times, fear in his eyes. He wasn’t invincible.

Which, lest you think this is all about the darkness, is the point. As is the case with every Fargo iteration, the beating heart of the series is a police officer – usually female – who is doggedly and patiently pursuing the truth and believes in justice. Here, she’s played by Carrie Coons (of HBO’s The Leftovers) and the character is certainly more than just a symbol of conscience. It’s her stepfather whose murder sets off another chain of events in the series, and although she is not onscreen as much as other characters, it’s clear she is subject to the same dynamics of the universe as they are: she is in the place she is in, both professionally and personally, because of weird, random things that happened in the past. What to make of it all? What’s the truth? And how do you live with it right now?

 

We like to think that life, as we’re living it, is the result of conscious choices that we and others have made.  We read history this way, don’t’ we? We know how the story ends, so we read it as a narrative with decisions and steps leading up to that ending.

But it’s not that way. The way it is, instead, is a way of missteps and accidents, and while I can know some of it, most of it I won’t know.  We do live in the midst of a narrative, but it’s not because there’s no True Narrative to be known – it’s because we’re too small, as God tells Job, to even begin to grasp it. But someday, we will. We cling to hope that we will, we try to find the True Story as we go, and try not to fabricate too many false narratives on the way.

That mystery and strangeness is at the heart of life, and it’s at the heart of the Scriptures – a messy narrative full of human weakness, a story of God working and ultimately victorious, not just through the saints and their great works, but even through the poor sinners  and their weaknesses, crimes and lies.

 “Are you really my son Esau?” 
“Certainly,” Jacob replied….

****

Note: I have a theory about the connection between the bowling alley and Nikki’s fate – but I’ll wait to discuss it in the comment section at some point. 

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His memorial is today.

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Here is a good version of his life:

One of the patron saints of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, was Bl. Peter To Rot, a native son of Papua New Guinea. A second-generation Catholic during the evangelization of his Southern Pacific island in the early twentieth century, Peter was an exemplary husband, father, and catechist. In 1945 he suffered martyrdom at the hands of Japanese soldiers for his courageous defense of Christian marriage…

 

…The mission field in Oceania was immense but the missionary priests were few, and so young men were trained as catechists to work with them. Peter threw himself cheerfully into his new daily routine at St. Paul’s College: spiritual exercises, classes, and manual labor. The school had a farm that made it largely self-supporting. When the tropical sun was blazing and some of the students preferred to take it easy, Peter by his example and urging convinced them to get down to work. He was a “joyful companion” who often put an end to quarrels with his good-natured joking, although he learned to refrain from humor at the expense of the instructors. Through frequent Confession, daily Communion, and the Rosary, he and his fellow students fought temptations, increased their faith, and became mature, apostolic Christian men.

Peter To Rot received from the bishop his catechist’s cross in 1934 and was sent back to his native village to help the pastor, Fr. Laufer. He taught catechism classes to the children of Rakunai, instructed adults in the faith and led prayer meetings. He encouraged attendance at Sunday Mass, counseled sinners and helped them prepare for Confession. He zealously combated sorcery, which was practiced by many of the people, even some who were nominally Christian.

In 1936 Peter To Rot married Paula Ia Varpit, a young woman from a neighboring village. Theirs was a model Christian marriage. He showed great respect for his wife and prayed with her every morning and evening. He was very devoted to his children and spent as much time with them as possible.

A Time of Trial

During World War II, the Japanese invaded New Guinea in 1942 and immediately put all the priests and religious into concentration camps. Being a layman, Peter was able to remain in Rakunai. He took on many new responsibilities, leading Sunday prayer and exhorting the faithful to persevere, witnessing marriages, baptizing newborns, and presiding at funerals. One missionary priest who had escaped arrest lived in the forest; Peter brought villagers to him in secret so that they could receive the sacraments.

Although the Japanese did not outlaw all Catholic practices at first, they soon began to pillage and destroy the churches. To Rot had to build a wooden chapel in the bush and devise underground hiding places for the sacred vessels. He carried on his apostolic work cautiously, visiting Christians at night because of the many spies. He often traveled to Vunapopé, a distant village, where a priest gave him the Blessed Sacrament. By special permission of the bishop, To Rot brought Communion to the sick and dying.

Exploiting divisions among the people in New Guinea, the Japanese reintroduced polygamy to win over the support of several local chiefs. They planned thereby to counteract “Western” influence on the native population. Because of sensuality or fear of reprisals, many men took a second wife.

Peter To Rot, as a catechist, was obliged to speak up. “I will never say enough to the Christians about the dignity and the great importance of the Sacrament of Marriage,” he declared. He even took a stand against his own brother Joseph, who was publicly advocating a return to the practice of polygamy. Another brother, Tatamai, remarried and denounced Peter to the Japanese authorities. Paula feared that her husband’s determination would result in harm to their family, but Peter replied, “If I must die, that is good, because I will die for the reign of God over our people.”

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And then the homily on the occasion of his beatification by Pope John Paul II, in 1999:

3. Blessed Peter understood the value of suffering. Inspired by his faith in Christ, he was a devoted husband, a loving father and a dedicated catechist known for his kindness, gentleness and compassion. Daily Mass and Holy Communion, and frequent visits to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, sustained him, gave him wisdom to counsel the disheartened, and courage to persevere until death. In order to be an effective evangelizer, Peter To Rot studied hard and sought advice from wise and holy “big men”. Most of all he prayed – for himself, for his family, for his people, for the Church. His witness to the Gospel inspired others, in very difficult situations, because he lived his Christian life so purely and joyfully. Without being aware of it, he was preparing throughout his life for his greatest offering: by dying daily to himself, he walked with his Lord on the road which leads to Calvary (Cf. Mt. 10: 38-39).

4. During times of persecution the faith of individuals and communities is “tested by fire” (1Pt. 1: 7). But Christ tells us that there is no reason to be afraid. Those persecuted for their faith will be more eloquent than ever: “it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you” (Mt. 10: 20). So it was for Blessed Peter To Rot. When the village of Rakunai was occupied during the Second World War and after the heroic missionary priests were imprisoned, he assumed responsibility for the spiritual life of the villagers. Not only did he continue to instruct the faithful and visit the sick, he also baptized, assisted at marriages and led people in prayer.

When the authorities legalized and encouraged polygamy, Blessed Peter knew it to be against Christian principles and firmly denounced this practice. Because the Spirit of God dwelt in him, he fearlessly proclaimed the truth about the sanctity of marriage. He refused to take the “easy way” (Cf. ibid. 7: 13) of moral compromise. “I have to fulfil my duty as a Church witness to Jesus Christ”, he explained. Fear of suffering and death did not deter him. During his final imprisonment Peter To Rot was serene, even joyful. He told people that he was ready to die for the faith and for his people.

5. On the day of his death, Blessed Peter asked his wife to bring him his catechist’s crucifix. It accompanied him to the end. Condemned without trial, he suffered his martyrdom calmly. Following in the footsteps of his Master, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn.1: 29), he too was “led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Cf. Is. 53: 7). And yet this “grain of wheat” which fell silently into the earth (Cf. Jn. 12: 24) has produced a harvest of blessings for the Church in Papua New Guinea!

He’s included in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints in the section, “Saints are People Who Come From All Over the World.” You can click on the individual images for a larger, more readable version. I include just the end of the entry because that’s what’s available online.

 

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— 1 —

Are you in the Long Island area, or able to get there easily?

Ann Engelhart and I will be giving a talk at the library of the Theological Library of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington.   PDF flyer is here. 

Come see and hear us, and say hello! I’ll probably be wearing the same dress I have on in the headshot! Because I own maybe four dresses and only really like one of them!

I’ll be in the area for a few days before that with one of my younger sons.

— 2 —

Well, by the time most of you read this Summer Will Have Begun. One has been out of school for a week, and is busy working at his two jobs (one for The Man and the other a less formal arrangement, but $$$ nonetheless), and the other finishes up school on Friday. And by “finishes,” I mean…finishes. By his own choice. More on that…later. For his part, he might put it this way:

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And as for me? I’m like:

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Really!

— 3 —

The whole job thing for the 16-year old means that summer might be weird, and not as travel heavy as before. I am trying not to look back at we were doing exactly a year ago today:

A time for everything…everything has its season…just keep repeating and be grateful….

It’s okay, really. We do have a bit of travel planned (New York, obviously), and on the days that my son has off, we’ll be exploring our own area with gusto. Younger son and I have a big trip planned in July for a week during which older son will be away at an academic kind of activity in Chicago.

So, no. No complaints. Just gratitude. Lots and lots of gratitude for it all, past and especially present.

— 4 —

No listening this week – the weather has been rainy and chilly, so I haven’t been walking – which is my listening time. I did read, though. I sped through this one.

Peter Andreas’ parents were Kansas-born Mennonites who married in the late 1950’s – his mother was quite young – just seventeen – when they wed. As the years went by, she…evolved and your normal, everyday Mennonite pacifism turned into an intense 60’s radicalism. The mother separated from the dad, filed for divorce, took the kids to Berkeley (of course) and then with Peter, the youngest, whom she basically kidnapped and headed to find a good revolution down in South America, first in Chile, then in Peru.

I usually avoid childhood-centric memoirs. I find it hard to trust the author’s memory, perhaps because my old childhood memories are so sketchy, and I have generally have no idea if I am really remembering something, remembering a photograph, or remembering a story I was told about what I think I’m remembering.

Take The Glass Castle, which so many loved.I was put off from the book’s opening story, which is a very detailed recollection of an admittedly traumatic event, but which Walls recounts in quite close detail including dialogue between her 3-year old self and others in the hospital. Sorry, I didn’t buy it, not for a second.

I had moments of skepticism in this one, too, but was ultimately won over by the fact that Andreas based the book, not only on his own memories, but on his mother’s voluminous and detailed journals – and other writings.

So I guess so….

Andreas seems to have survived this strange childhood, emotional and mental health intact, able to see his mother’s faults, forgive and hang on to the good fruit that came out of the situation, as much suffering as he endured

Anyway, it’s a fascinating, dreadful and ultimately hopeful story, even as it serves as warning to any of us parents, even if we have not grown into adulthood from our Mennonite youth then happened to kidnap our children and run off South America in search of revolution.

Basically: What of your own crap are you burdening your kids with? And can you please try to stop?

— 5 —

Speaking of books, via the blog Tea at Trianon, children prefer real books: 

There is a common perception that children are more likely to read if it is on a device such as an iPad or Kindles. But new research shows that this is not necessarily the case. In a study of children in Year 4 and 6, those who had regular access to devices with eReading capability (such as Kindles, iPads and mobile phones) did not tend to use their devices for reading – and this was the case even when they were daily book readers. Research also found that the more devices a child had access to, the less they read in general. It suggests that providing children with eReading devices can actually inhibit their reading, and that paper books are often still preferred by young people. These findings match previous research which looked at how teenagers prefer to read. This research found that while some students enjoyed reading books on devices, the majority of students with access to these technologies did not use them regularly for this purpose. Importantly, the most avid book readers did not frequently read books on screens. (Original Post)

As I was re-reading this (on a screen!), a thought popped into my head in answer to the question why? Because honestly, I prefer reading a book as a book myself – especially non-fiction and longer, more complex fiction. I wonder if childrens’ preference for the physical book has something to do with a sense of accomplishment. Children tend to like feeling as if they have completed something, built something, finished something – and can point to that thing and say, “I did that.”  Think about younger readers and the satisfaction they get from successfully reading a whole book – especially a chapter book! – all by themselves.  Swiping through a series of screens just would not (I wouldn’t think) produce that same feeling of satisfying accomplishment as being able to hold a physical book full of pages of lovely pictures and big words, snapping it shut, holding it out and crawing, I read this! 

— 6 —

People, I cannot tell you how many posts I have brewing in my brain, and one of them is an extra-screedy screedish rant on technology in school classrooms. It’s coming. Hold me to it.

— 7 —

Speaking of books….I posted this last week, but I still like it, so here you go – coming in a few months.

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It’s still May, so it’s a good time to read a free book about Mary. Originally published by Word Among Us, now out of print and available in a pdf version here.

Amy Welborn and Michael Dubruiel

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

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