Jeffrey Miller

Nov 122014
 

I can almost always rely on maximum spin and distortion for a story from the Religion News Service. This article by Kimberly Winston delivered via RNS and Crux is very laughable in a sad way.

Were some Catholic saints transgender? Berkeley show raises eyebrows

BERKELEY, Calif. — Step into the one-room art gallery inside the Pacific School of Religion and look closely at the saints in the paintings: Some have beards; some have buzz cuts; some have their breasts obscured; some appear in unisex clothes like tanks tops and jeans.

Are they women or men?

That’s the point of artist Alma Lopez’s new show, “Queer Santas: Holy Violence,” on display at this theological school known for its embrace of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. In playing with the gender characteristics of religious icons usually depicted as feminine, Lopez asks us to reconsider our ideas of religion, beauty, and gender.

Justin Tanis, who teaches at the school, said it’s as if these saints, with their direct eye contact and open arms, are saying, “‘I am natural, I am one of God’s people.’ And yet this is an image that many people would consider heretical because gender play is involved.”

Gender play is at work in each of the icons in the show — St. Lucia, St. Wilgefortis, and St. Liberata.

Lopez, a visiting artist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said she was attracted to these saints because their stories have a common theme — each one tried to step out of the expected role for a woman of her time and, as a result, was the victim of terrible violence.

Take St. Wilgefortis’ story. A 14th-century noblewoman promised in marriage without her consent, she prayed to God to be made ugly so she could keep a vow of chastity she made to Jesus. God granted her a man’s beard. The marriage was off, but Wilgefortis — whose name means “strong face” — was crucified by her father.

The stories of St. Liberata and St. Lucia are similar: Liberata sprouted a beard, and Lucia had her eyes torn out when she disappointed her family.

“All of these saints are women who took their own agency and stepped outside gender norms,” Tanis said as he stood before Lopez’s rendition of St. Liberata, arms splayed in a way that suggests both crucifixion and winged flight. “In that sense, they were queer and violence was done to them for it.”

As they say “Read the whole thing” if you want to get hit repeatedly with the stupid hammer.

“So far it’s been quiet,” he said. “But we are prepared to offer hospitality to any protesters.”

In other words “Where are the protesters? We did something shocking to draw the loving media gaze and nobody is giving us free publicity by protesting us.”

Nov 102014
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 10 May – 9 November 2014.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Angelus

General Audiences

Homilies

Speeches

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

Nov 032014
 

Another excellent column by Msgr. Charles Pope.

If the ladies will pardon me (for women have their own sort of strength), I want to issue a special summons to men, especially fathers, husbands, and priests. The summons is simple: be a man. We need men in these dark days, men who will heroically speak and act, men who will announce the truth and insist upon it wherever they have authority, men who will stop being passive fathers and husbands, priests who will stop “playing it safe” by remaining silent in the moral storm. Yes, be a man.

It has often been observed that men are rather disengaged from the practice of the faith and attendance at the Sacred Liturgy. Frankly, there is a reason—not a politically correct one, but a reason nonetheless. Most of the men I talk to find the Church rather feminized. There is much talk in the Church about forgiveness and love, about receptivity and about being “nicer.” These are fine virtues, all of them necessary. But men also want to be engaged, to be sent into battle, to go forth and make a difference.

After years of radical feminism, men are shamed for seeking to take up leadership and authority in their families and in the Church. It starts early. Any normal boy is full of spit and vinegar, is aggressive, competitive, and anxious to test his wings. But many boys are scolded, punished, and even medicated for these normal tendencies. They are told to behave more like girls and to learn to be nicer and to get along, etc. It will be granted that limits are necessary, but the tendency for boys to roughhouse is normal. The scolding and “socializing” to more feminine traits continues apace into early adulthood. And then there are other cultural phenomena such as the slew of “Men are stupid” commercials, etc.

Though many in past decades have sought to describe the Church as “male-dominated,” nothing could be further from the truth. Most parish leadership structures are dominated by women. And women do fine work. But the Church has done a very poor job of engaging men as men and equipping them to be strong husbands, fathers, and priests. Virtues related to bold leadership and the effective use of authority are in short supply whereas other virtues such as collaboration, listening, empathy, and understanding are overemphasized.

This lack of balance, wherein traditionally manly virtues are downplayed—even shamed—has led many men to become disengaged from the Church.

As they say “Read the whole thing

I was thinking about this to some extent at Mass yesterday once again noticing how few men are in attendance compared to women.

Nov 032014
 

Despite the good intentions of some in spreading the Gospel. Sometimes it can go totally awry with proselytism in the pejorative sense. Case in point:

Sioux Falls officials could face a cloudy legal fight over a dispute about religious artwork that students painted on two city-owned snowplows despite a disclaimer that is being added to the plows.

City officials said the disclaimer would be attached to the 27 student-decorated snowplows to show the city isn’t endorsing a particular point of view, but the message doesn’t appear to be enough to satisfy the concerns of the artwork’s critics, the Argus Leader reported Sunday.

Students at Lutheran High School and Sioux Falls Lutheran School painted the plow blades as part of the city’s Paint the Plows program. One blade includes the words “Jesus Christ” and the other “Happy Birthday Jesus.”

The Siouxland Freethinkers complained, arguing the religious artwork on publicly owned vehicles violates the constitutional separation of church and state

… Two days later, Huether and city attorney David Pfeifle announced the disclaimer would be added to all the student-decorated plows.

Part of the disclaimer reads: “Any message or views expressed are not those of the city or endorsed by the city.”

I can feel for the poor atheist who thought at least snow plows were free from religious messages. The forced conversions due to atheists inadvertently seeing such a message on an intimidating machine is proselytism in the worst sense. This is just another sacred plow that must be eliminated. Hopefully the disclaimer will be large enough to prevent accidental conversions.

Nov 032014
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 4 October – 1 November 2014.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Angelus

General Audiences

Messages

Speeches

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

Oct 292014
 

I have been very impressed with the work of Trent Horn of Catholic Answers. I always enjoy when he is answering calls on Catholic answers and his last book Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity was excellent. So when I had heard he was writing a new book I certainly looked forward to it.

Now having read Persuasive Pro Life: How to Talk about Our Culture’s Toughest Issue which was recently released I can say this book is another winner. Still I had wondered if this book would just be a collection of all the pro-life defenses I have heard. I should have known better.

Since Trent Horn hosts the mostly shows where he answers questions from atheists and considering his last book I thought apologetics regarding this topic was his expertise. I did not know about his years working full-time in the pro-life movement and all that he had learned during those years. He references some of his work during this time and what he had learned from his own mistakes in talking to people.

What I especially found worthwhile is that what he lays out in this book is not just confined to pro-life apologetics. There are many basic principals that apply when talking to people on most subjects that are highly polarized. The basics of actually listening to people and not just waiting to unleash your counter-argument is evident, but so easy to be forgotten. Asking questions and not just making statements also helps.

He provides a wealth of practical advice when dealing with others. A central theme seemed to be staying on point. There are so many side channels that such discussions can diverge on. Rabbit holes crossed with connecting gopher holes. In this case always leading the discussion back to the central question “What are the unborn?” He provides lots of advice on how to do this. The tool _“Trot Out a Toddler (TOAT)” is one of those ideas that can stick in your mind and to help in these discussions. He provides other mental tools and acknowledges their sources.

Much of the book provides tactics in how to stay on track and to be able to answer both common and more uncommon questions. He goes in-depth regarding just how to answer these questions and to drive the question back to the central point. While ad hominem arguments are common among those who defend abortion, he also points out ad hominem arguments that are common among pro-lifers. I think his prudential approach to some common pro-life arguments and while some of them are very good points, they don’t prove the central point. This book is very thorough in answering objections and categorizing these objections for later reference. Appendices at the end of the book goes into How to Talk to Pre- and Post-Abortive Women and Answering Infanticide.

This book is just a treasure-trove in regards to both information and advice. Really this is the best presentation on this topic I have ever seen. I would say it would be highly useful to anybody from someone who might have casual arguments on this topic with co-workers and friends to those on the front lines of defending life.

Oct 292014
 

Maureen aka suburbanbanshee posts Worst Vatican Translation Yet at # Over the Rhine and Into the Tiber

On October 27th, Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and talked about evolution as one of God’s probable methods of Creation. News reports in English had the Pope saying, “God is not a divine being.”

What the Pope actually said was, “….Dio non è un demiurgo….” which is the Italian for “God is not a demiurge.”

In heretical Gnostic theology, the creator of the material universe was an evil or depressed lesser being called the Demiurge [Builder] who was often identified with Satan, whereas God was a higher being (or beings, or eight beings, or….) who never wanted matter created at all. Christian Gnostics justified this term (like many others they used) because it was used once in the Bible in Hebrews 11:10 – “For [Abraham] looked for a city that has foundations, the Architect and Builder of which is God.” (Of course St. Paul didn’t mean it like they meant it.)

So yeah, maybe some of you will believe me now about the pathetic inaccuracy of the current Vatican English translations.

I do have to wonder if the English translator is a native English speaker or not since there have been so many egregious translations. Is there even a team that cross-checks translatons? I would not be surprised at all to find out there isn’t.

Her primary blog is Aliens in This World which covers a cornucopia of topics and has been a long-time favorite of mine.

Oct 272014
 

When it comes to books regarding J.R.R. Tolkien and his books it has become much like scripture interpretation. Which means in this case is that you learn much more about the philosophy of the author and very little about Tolkien’s works. Famously his books have been taken up by socialists who rather crazily assumed he was a fellow traveler, to environmentalists, and hippies. Anybody with a narrative can read into his books much like scriptural eisegesis.

So I was both intrigued and wary of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot which was recently released by Ignatius Press and authored by the team of Jay Richards and Jonathan Witt.

Regarding Tolkien’s books I am relatively late to the game. For quite a while I ignored Fantasy as being unscientific and embarrassingly held a view much like Richard Dawkins disdain of Fairy stories. Added to that I remember seeing a parody novel as a youth called “Bored of the Rings” which I think unconsciously prejudiced me as an added weight towards any interest in the novels. Seeing the Rankin-Bass animated version certainly did not reduce my prejudice against the novels. It was only on my way into the Catholic Church that I kept running across references to these novels and I finally picked them up. Since then The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy have been close to being an annual revisit. I am no Tolkien scholar by any means, just a Tolkien reader. The only biography I have read on him is Joseph Pearce’s Tolkien: Man and Myth, a Literary Life.

Reading these books through a lens of economics and small government could be such a distorted view with all the problems I referenced in the introduction paragraph. Is the Shire to be taken for an idealistic view of economics and government? Can some of Tokien’s views in this regard be seen in the novels. Coming away for this book I do think the authors make a good case for what the novels reveal about Tolkien’s economic and government views. Using the novels, his letters, and the originally unpublished volumes of his works they make a good case while not asserting something when there is ambiguity. Thankfully this book does not just concentrate on this narrative and leaves open where there is some doubt regarding Tolkien’s thoughts. I think I even enjoyed more the discussions regarding freedom, corruption of power, and just war theory. These discussion for me teased out more from the book and provided insights that will help me on my next read.

I remember the first time I read Return of the King and was very surprised that the destruction of the ring at Mt. Doom was in the middle of the novel and the episode of The Scourging of the Shire made little sense to me thematically. I have grown to appreciate that episode much more since and the chapter on this subject helped me even more. The final chapter titled Love and Death in Middle-Earth was also very enlightening. The book goes through the novels showing how much love and death was an integral part thematically. Over and over I was drawn to a deeper understanding of the novels and even such minor things as etymology of words used also brought this out for me.

So I found this book to be worthwhile giving me much to think about, but not being a Tokien scholar or a scholar of any kind I can’t testify to their assertions. Since I am already inclined to the views of the book my own biases could get in the way of a more critical read.

Oct 222014
 

If you blog, write notes, write articles or books, or any form of writing with formatted text you might want to consider using Markdown.

John Gruber who created Markdown a decade ago describes it this way:

Markdown is a plain text formatting syntax that allows you to write in an text editor and then have it converted to valid XHTML (or HTML).

What this means is that you can write formatted text using any text editor and then via a software tool have it converted to an HTML document. As the use of Markdown has grown there are tools for converting it to many other forms including PDF. One source document can be converted to multiple formats.

I use Markdown as part of my daily workflow to write notes, help documents, blog posts, and pretty much any writing workflow. The main reason I like Markdown is that I can write even heavily formatted documents in plain text and still have the plain text version be very readable. Often I don’t even convert these documents since I can easily read them as is. While I could certainly write them using HTML tags that really reduces the readability and it can quickly be difficult to read in plain text form. Once I have written a document in Markdown I can quickly convert it into the medium of choice. I use it to quickly create ebooks from Markdown documents along with converting online web pages into Markdown for reference later.

To give you an example of how easy Markdown is to use, here are some examples.

By using one or more Number signs # I can quickly write headers and use > to create blockquotes.

For example:

# Header 2

> This is an example of a blockquote

Header 2

This is an example of a blockquote

Bold and italics can be accomplished using:

    This item is **bold** and this is using _italics_.

Becomes:

This item is bold and this is using italics

Want to write lists?

+ This is item one
    * Indented list item
+ This is item two
+ This is item three

1. This is a numeric list item one
2. This is a numeric list item two
3. This is a numeric list item three

Becomes:

  • This is item one
    • Indented list item
  • This is item two
  • This is item three

And:

  1. This is a numeric list item one
  2. This is a numeric list item two

    a. Another

    b. Another

  3. This is a numeric list item three

But what I really love about Markdown is how I can insert links.

Now it is easy to do inline links to create a link with the text you give it or a naked link like using angle brackets.

[Some Site](http://www.ewtn.com)

<http://www.ewtn.com>

Becomes:

Some Site

http://www.ewtn.com

This is fairly readable, much better than <a href=“http://www.ewtn”>Some Site</a>, still I find reference links even better.

With a reference link I can name a link and then put the actual URLs at the end of the document. This makes reading the plain text version much easier and you have alllk your links in one place and you don’t have to repeat them when using the same reference.

Here is a link to [Some site][ewtn] along with a link to [Catholic Answers][catholic]. Plus here is a link to [my blog][jester] and another link to to [Catholic Answers][catholic].

[ewtn]: http://www.ewtn.com
[catholic]: http://www.catholic.com
[jester]: http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester

Becomes:

Here is a link to Some site along with a link to Catholic Answers. Plus here is a link to my blog and another link to to Catholic Answers.

Reference links make my life so much easier. When I post the Weekly Francis I write it in Markdown and I have all the URLs listed at the bottom of my document for both readability and be be able so easily spot malformed URLs.

Images can also be inserted via inline or reference links.

![](http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/vatican_top_button.jpg)

and

![][uparrow]

[uparrow]: http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/vatican_top_button.jpg

Becomes:

and

Now this post is not intended to be a full Markdown tutorial. Just one to show you the simplicity and power of Markdown and why it might be something you could use.

Since Markdown was originally released a decade ago the syntax has remained stable. Still there are other flavors that have added onto the original Markdown standard such as MultiMarkdown and a new standardization format called CommonMark. While all these variants support the original syntax they also add support for other features such as tables and more advanced formatting features. You can also use straight HTML format in Markdown documents along with Markdown syntax.

So once you have written a document using Markdown syntax you might wonder just exactly how you convert it to XHTML or other format. There are a growing number of editors that allow you to write in Markdown and preview it live and then convert it. On Mac OSX I happen to use Marked 2 app because it is super-powerful allowing me to use any text editor I want and get a live preview of the document along with ability to convert into multiple formats. If you come to like Markdown and have a Mac Marked 2 at $13.99 on the Mac App Store is worth every penny.

While you can use any text editor to create these documents it can be useful to use an editor specifically created using Markdown more like a traditional word processor. Here are some suggestions. Not an exhaustive list by any means as this is a growing field.

  • OSX
    • MacDown – A free an open source version for the Mac.
    • MultiMarkdown Composer A paid app, bu they have a demo version.
    • Marked 2 which I previously mentioned.
    • Ulysses III a writer’s tool for long-form documents including novels which can be used with Markdown and other markup languages.
  • Windows
    • MarkdownPad. This is the only one I have used on the Windows side and it has a free and a pro version.
  • Linux
    • No experience regarding Markdown editors on Linux, but they are available. If you have suggestions let me know.
  • OSX and Windows
    • Scriviner 2 Another professional app for writers that is very powerful and can use Markdown syntax. Lots of management features if you are writing anything from a research paper to the Great American Novel.
    • HastyScribe A command line program to convert Markdown Documents to self-contained HTML pages.
    • Sublime Text 3: Powerful text editor that has packages supporting Markdown. $70.
    • Atom.IO: A free open source text editor with both support for Markdown formatting and previewing. Also very powerful and similar to Sublime Text 3 and created by GitHub.

In addition many websites already allow the use of Markdown such as reddit, wordpress.com, and Squarespace along with countless sites used by programmers such as StackOverflow and GitHub.

The amazing thing about Markdown is that I could write this post in plain text and have no problem viewing it as plain text. I will use Marked 2 to create the HTML which I will paste into my WordPress blog. I keep this original post in a plain text document which I store in Dropbox. I wrote this in Sublime Text 3 which is my text editor of choice.

Markdown References

Original Markdown

MultiMarkdown

CommonMark

Markdown Tutorial

Heck Yes Markdown Converts a web site from HTML to Markdown. Can also format document using Readabililty

MDwiki: Create a Wiki site using Markdown using a single document to launch it.

Jekyll: A framework for creating websites and blogs using Markdown and generating a static website.

Oct 212014
 

I love to read and mostly I have transitioned over almost totally to ebooks. That transition started four years ago with the introduction of the original iPad in April of 2010. At the start the apps for reading ebooks was rather limited with only basic features. The original version of iBooks was pretty good and the notes and highlighting features worked from the start. The introduction of the Kindle app opened up reading books from the Amazon store. Still as time went on I wished for more powerful features.

One of the positive features of eBook readers is being able to quickly highlight text for later along with attaching notes. In both iBooks and the Kindle apps there were some mechanisms for seeing these notes/highlights outside of the app.

The feature I wanted most was to be able to copy my notes/highlights to a text file for easy access and search outside of an app.

  • With the iBooks app you could see all notes/highlights for a specific book but couldn’t easily share the whole set. Now that OSX also has an iBooks app, it is a bit easier to access/copy these notes. If you import a book into your library this all works the same way.
  • Amazon allows you to view all your notes via a web page. This works fairly well and you can even navigate to location in the book referenced. Unfortunately if you import a book into your Kindle library not purchased from Amazon, no notes/highlights will show up.

So I started looking around for an eBook reader that would better fulfill my requirements. Specifically I wanted to be able to export all notes/highlights in plain text for reference. I did not want to be tied down to any proprietary system where I could loose access to these notes.

My search for these features along with a wealth of others was fully satisfied when I found an app called Marvin which is iOS only (I will give an Android suggestion at the end of this post). With Marvin you can annotate away and then via email:

  • Send highlights and notes. A HTML and a comma-separated values (CSV) version are attached to the email that is sent. The body of the email also includes title information.
  • Send vocabulary (any words you wanted defined while reading). You can choose to send any vocabulary words for the selected book or any vocabulary words from any book you read via this app. Format is also HTML along with CSV.
  • Export annotations (all highlights/notes/bookmarks/vocabulary). This sends an .mrv file which can be imported back into Marvin at a later date or shared with somebody who has the same book and the Marvin app.

These features alone sold my on the app. The fact that this app is constantly updated and well maintained adds to the joy of using it. The interface is aesthetically pleasing without getting in the way.

As with most third-part eReaders the books you read must not have Digital Rights Management (DRM) which is copy protection added to many books. There is little movement towards publishers releasing books without DRM, but some publisher do. For books on Amazon it will note whether the book has DRM or not. Ignatius Press does release there books without DRM. Sites such as Project Gutenberg have books in the public domain that can be used along with other sites. For the more adventurous it is relatively easy to remove DRM from books you have bought.

Since I have a number of ebooks I use the open source and multi-platform application called Calibre to manage my library. Besides providing a central location to manage ebooks it will also convert from one format to another along with a wealth of other features. I keep my Calibre library stored on Dropbox since this provides both backup and can be accessed from iOS/Android apps.

Calibre

To read my books from my library in Marvin I can import them directly from Dropbox or I could use the Calibre connector. What I found unique about Marvin is that when I select from Dropbox it lists recently added files first. This makes it very easy to find recently added books regardless of where they are stored in Dropbox.

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It is very easy to manage the local library on your device to both add content and to just swipe to delete. You also have access to themes to change out the UI. As for the main reading environment you have all the features of other eReaders such as font size and foreground/background color. But a wealth of other elements to tweak are also available such as margin width, line spacing, paragraph indent etc. Along with setting your preferred gestures to navigate from page to page. The wealth of features can be a bit overwhelming.

A rather unique feature is called Deepview which searches the book for characters and often used terms and then lists them by number of uses. From this view you can also quickly connect to an authors Wikipedia page or other articles about them. You can even create your own summary quickly including what is found in Deepview.

Book syncing is provided via Dropbox. So it is quite easy to continue reading the same book going from an iPad to an iPhone and I found this worked well in practice. Marvin is now a universal app for both the iPad/iPhone. In the past they were separate apps. Searching for text in a book works well and I only mention this because I have not found this true for all eReader apps.

The app even includes a timer so you can be reminded to stop, although not a feature I use. More importantly it does tell me how many pages are left in the chapter so I know if I can squeak in some more reading before finally quitting for the night. I really love this app and it just keeps getting better.

Now for those who are on Android there are two apps I have used that I could recommend. They are not as good as Marvin, but have their own strengths.

  • Moon+ Reader Pro – You can import books from Dropbox or Google Drive in multiple formats including PDF. You can also use Text-To-Speech (TTS) and switch between reading and using any voices available on your device. This worked, but I found it buggy, which is why I found a different app to use.
  • Montano Reader – Fairly advanced with many features. For Android this was my preferred reader. Sync though is a paid feature requiring a subscription. TTS worked very well here and I could easily switch between reading and listening.

Marvin is geared towards EPUB formatted books and that is my format of choice. I use Calibre]calibre to convert Kindle books to EPUB. What Marvin can not handle is PDF documents. For PDF I use an app called Goodreader which is also only for iOS. Goodreader is also very powerful also allowing you to note/highlight and export this information out. It also works with multiple cloud services such as Dropbox and make reading PDF’s almost a delight. You can visually crop a document to get rid of excessive margin whitespace making it more readable. Marvin and Goodreader together pretty address all my reading needs.