Jeffrey Miller

Apr 202015
 

Stephen J. Binz’s book Scripture–God’s Handbook for Evangelizing Catholics is one that in my review stack that I had not prioritized in reading. I had stereotyped it in my mind as another general book on the subject urging Catholics to go deeper into scripture. Besides the title is easily misconstrued. In fact in social media, where my progress through this book was recorded, several people thought that this was a Protestant book based on the title.

What I found in this book was something much deeper than encouragement in reading scripture and how Catholics should read scripture. I don’t really like how often the term holistic is used, but in this case it is what comes to mind. This author who has written on Lectio Divina before builds on this and how we can approach scripture with the senses along with the sense of beauty. How the use of a Catholic informed imagination can bring scripture to us and let us meditate on it.

I also liked his descriptions regarding blocks to reading scripture. For example relativism as blocks to scripture “We cannot witness to God’s word unless we not that it is not subject to changeable opinion or personal whim.” Relativism is also closely tied to individualism where we don’t read with the mind of the Church, setting personal interpretations as the highest arbiter of truth.

I especially enjoyed the chapter regarding the example of six saints and how their contact with scripture changed them. While St. Augustine was not one of the examples given, I was recently thinking about this in regards to him. Having not long ago re-read his “Confession” I was struck by how much Scripture permeated everything he wrote. This was especially true regarding the chapters after he describe this conversion. I saw so many more scriptural allusions this time around in reading it. Of course the only way for us to be also permeated with scripture is to read it, meditate on it, and allow it to change us.

The main theme of this book is evangelization with examples of this throughout Old and New Testament history. Letting the reading of scripture deepen our own conversions to be able to go out and evangelize others. This book contains much to reflect upon and to incorporate. For me it has been helpful in slowing down and not just reading scripture as if involved in a Evelyn Wood speed reading competition.

Apr 162015
 

I have often heard on Catholic radio that the size of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is intimidating for many people. I am not one of those people since a 802 page tome is like a good start for me. Still I can totally understand why this is so for many people. The Church understands this also which is why there is a Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Still having a range of other formats is a good idea such as the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (YOUCAT). In a Church of over a billion people it is a very good idea to explore multiple ways to deliver the teaching of the Church.

When I received a copy of Tweeting with God #Big Bang, prayer, Bible, sex, Crusades, sin, career I was wondering exactly what this book was. I figured it was filled with short pithy messages 140 characters or less. Besides before the Tweet was invented we had a long history of short prayers called ejaculations or aspirations.

That is not what this book is at all. What the author Fr. Michel Remery has done is taken the idea of Twitter and used it as a thematic format to present information about the faith. This book uses lots of formatting to present information. Graphics, use of colors, textual formatting, along with a Twitter thematic format.

There are lots of ways this thematic metaphor could go wrong, but I found for the most part that the format actually works. Each page presents a numbered Tweet about the topic. These are used like paragraph references throughout the book. Paragraphs are presented with subtitles implying a sort of hash tag. Photos, graphics, info graphics, are also used to present information or illustrate a point. Related information is presented in a orange panel with black text. At the end a summarizing Tweet is used in another panel. You can see an example of the format here.

As a layout it works pretty well to present information and to divide up content. I found I had no problem reading through the content without being distracted by the format. Although I would not be surprised that some will not like the format at all. When ever you have heavily formatted content you will run into subjective tastes.

Reading through the book my main interest was exactly how accurately the faith was portrayed. Being that this is published by Ignatius Press it wasn’t a major concern. Still I wondered if it would be heavy on formatting and light on actual content. Exactly how would so-called hot button topics be presented?

What I found was that the topics were handled very well and accurately. Having only one page with a facing page to present a topic is a difficult task. Especially considering the amount of nuance often required. So I was happy to find that the Church’s teaching were presented quite accurately and not watered down at all. Over and over I was quite impressed with the presentation and that there was no effort to back down from hard teachings. This does not mean that I had absolutely no quibbles with information contained. Some things could have been phrased better. Plus when you try to condense so much history there is going to be information loss.

Another facet of this book is that it is not meant to be a Catechism, but more of a book exploring a range of topics and aspects of the faith. There is an apologetics aspect to this book, although I don’t think that is its main thrust. Mostly I see this book as a tool to help Catholics learn more about their faith. From the theological, to prayer, to living the faith, to just building on knowledge of Church history along with all the various nomenclature we should know. There is a ton of basic knowledge in this book, but probably a lot of what should be basic is not well-known.

This book can be used as a resource in a couple of ways. Since it is divided into topics somebody could use it as a reference to read more about something. There is some repeating of information to be able to make each topic standalone without having necessarily read a related topic. So you could go through this book rather scatter-shot just reading what is of interesting or reading through the whole thing. Plus the numbered Tweet references point to related material.

At over 400 pages this book covers a great deal and easily covers all the topics you would expect. Still there is one topic I wish was addressed. That is the various Rites of the Church. The Roman Rite was mentioned once, but there was no explanation of what a rite was, much less the number of rites in the Church. This is a bit of a hobby horse for me, which is why I noticed it.

Now a book with a social media metaphor you would expect some social media connection with the book. Well there is a Tweeting with God which has links to a iOS or Android app. This app actually includes much of the text from the book, but not all. Each topic tweet has the introduction along with subtitles and their content. Missing are the info panels and graphics other than the header graphic. Still it is certainly a way to consume some of the content along with sharing information on social media. In the book under the header graphic is a scan icon. You can use the app to scan the image in the book to bring up that section in the app. This is interesting integration, but questionable how useful it actually is.

They of course have a Twitter feed, a related hashtag #TwGOD, and Facebook page.

Julie D. at Happy Catholic also was impressed by this book and has her review here which includes links to pages from the book.

Apr 152015
 

My mind is so random that odd things strike me during the Mass. Concentration on what is important is not my strong point. So during Mass while kneeling to receive Communion on the tongue instead of concentrating about the full meaning of receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord in the Eucharist, I started thinking about some more mechanical aspects of this.

Mostly I started thinking about how few Eucharistic Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC) know how to deliver the Eucharist for those who receive on the tongue. Maybe part of it is that they don’t get much practice, at least from my own anecdotal databank of personal observations. For the most part the Ordinary Minister’s of Communion are better at this.

Often the experience is rather awkward. Really thinking back I can describe some of the different forms this takes.

  • Alligator delivery: The Eucharist is given as if they were expecting some kind of trap. That they thought my jaws would clamp down on their fingers. The hand dashes in and quickly withdraws.
  • Swish delivery: In basketball to make a shot where the ball falls through the rim without touching it is called a swish. Some EMHC’s must pride themselves on sailing the host into my mouth in a similar manner.
  • Cooties delivery: They properly place the host on my tongue, but they look as if they wish they were wearing a Hazmat suit when doing so.
  • Dumbfounded delivery: A couple of times I had EMHC’s totally at loss about what to do. In one case they still tried to put it into my hands even though they were held together in prayer. I have some sympathy for the dumbfounded EMHC. If someone who looked like me was kneeling down with their tongue sticking out I too might be dumbfounded.

So certainly in my experience EMHCs could use some training in doing this correctly.

During RCIA I was hoping we were going to get some instruction in receiving Communion. We didn’t and so I was kind of unsure exactly what the mechanics were for receiving on the tongue. Just how wide should you open your mouth and how far should you stick out your tongue? I soon found out that I did not have these mechanics figured out. During a daily Mass the priest instructed me to stick my tongue out farther. There was about a second where I felt totally embarrassed (well maybe more than a second). That is until I realized that this was exactly the feedback I was looking for.

Apr 142015
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 29 March 2015 to 14 April 2015.

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.

General Audiences

Homilies

Messages

Regina Cæli

Speeches

Papal Tweets

Apr 082015
 

My genesis as a constant reader really came into full bloom just before high school. Before that I enjoyed reading, but wasn’t constantly reading. What really changed that was the discovery of the genre of Science Fiction. The Apollo program and the landing of the moon had me convinced we were living in a new age and SF fed that for me. The books of Isaac Asimov were my first real book-love and from there moved to all the other authors of the golden age of SF and beyond. I actually skipped classes to read books from Asimov and others. I don’t regret that at all as no doubt I probably made out on the deal. For decades the likelihood of the current book I was reading being SF was almost certain. It was only much later that I branched out into Fantasy, mystery, military fiction, thrillers, etc.

So I certainly consider myself a SF fan. While a fan though, I have never been much involved in fandom. I am sure I would love to go to one of the conventions and converse with other fans. Well at least I like the idea of it. I would describe myself as a gregarious introvert. I really like being around others and hearing what others have to say. If perhaps I have spent six months among such a group I might even be comfortable contributing to conversations. I mean other than making comedic cracks since for whatever reason being the class clown was the more gregarious part of my nature. Although this aspect I have found is not uncommon among introverts and jesters.

Mostly when it comes to fandom I find it interesting, but mostly would just rather read than participate in fan sites and other fan related activity. When I read someone as knowledgeable as Maureen at Aliens in This World on conventions and other aspects I wish this was otherwise for me.

So mostly I was unaware of much that was going on in the SF/Fantasy world in regards to political correctness. Still I was picking up more regarding this from some publishing site blogs along with the limited number of author blogs I read. In the last year the nonsense has been much more apparent to me. Last year there was this article on Tor.com Post-Binary Gender in SF: Introduction. The introduction gives you a taste of the this:

I want an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories.

What do I mean by “post-binary gender”? It’s a term that has already been used to mean multiple things, so I will set out my definition:

Post-binary gender in SF is the acknowledgement that gender is more complex than the Western cultural norm of two genders (female and male): that there are more genders than two, that gender can be fluid, that gender exists in many forms.

As far as I am concerned this is total idiocy. All I want to do is read is a good well-written SF story. I have certainly read very good SF where such topics were explored and was never put off if alien reproductive abilities were totally different than humans. Just as long as it was a good story. But now I have seen more and more of articles of this type demanding agenda driven message fiction.

Then there were articles like I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year. This article which included a picture of the finger-waving author would have been awesome if printed by the Onion. Although I guess self-parody is a form of parody.

I thought: What if I only read stories by a certain type of author?

Well I thought knock yourself out if that is what you want to do. Strangely I couldn’t care less about the race, sex, or political persuasion of an author. There have been many times after reading a book I happened to find out more about an author and that they held views contrary to my own. This never stopped me from buying another of their books if I enjoyed their previous ones. Sure there is a special delight to find that an author you love does share your views. If I decided to boycott authors with different views then my own I would save a lot of money and Amazon’s stocks would probably slide.

Today I saw Maureen had written a response to a study coming out about author Lois Mcmaster Bujold.

Acclaimed science fiction scholar Edward James traces how Bujold emerged from fanzine culture to win devoted male and female readers despite working in genres–military SF, space opera–perceived as solely by and for males.

She puts the idiocy in context regarding all the women writers who have written both military SF and space opera. Not just written in this genre, but creating classic books in these SF sub-genres.

Bujold is remarkable because she is a Darned Good Writer.

Exactly. I’ve read 22 of Bujold’s books in the last two years and look forward to more.

Last year I picked up Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia due to a recommendation by a Facebook friend. I really enjoyed his first book and soon read everything he has written. I enjoyed that series along with totally loving his The Grimnoir Chronicles. The audiobook versions with Bronson Pinchot are phenomenal. I knew nothing about him other than I really liked his books. I started finding references about him and that apparently he was pissing off all the right people (in my opinion). So I added his blog to my small selection of author blogs.

One author blog I have followed for several years is that of SF author John C. Wright. Mark Shea had once linked to a post of his critiquing the so-called technological singularity when AI will surpass human intelligence. I enjoyed that post and picked up his Golden Age trilogy which was already on my wishlist to read. He quickly became another author where I quickly read everything they had and whose new books were instant preorders. Plus his blog posts are a wonder to behold in their rhetoric and philosophical discussions. His back and forth with readers of his blog and especially critiques keeps me coming back for more. Instead of the “shut up” of the left he engages in more of a “explain yourself” and questioning tone. Certainly polemical, but the target is always ideas and not persons.

I was rather thrilled when Larry Correia started linking to John C. Wright’s posts and vice-versa. Three years ago Larry Correia was fed up with Hugo nominations that were all agenda driven and tongue-and-cheek started the Sad Puppies campaign. He attempted to get his own book nominated along with books from other authors. Such campaigns were not nothing new to the Hugo’s, just that a hated conservative would are to do the same thing. This is the third year of the campaign and this time it is being run by Brad R. Torgersen. I read his book The Chaplain’s War last year and highly recommend it. He also came up with the sample slate of books for Sad Puppies 3. What caught pretty much everybody by surprise is actual Hugo nominations announced was obviously heavily influenced by the Sad Puppies sample slate.

Not surprising is the freak out over this and the total slandering of the campaign. Would you be surprised to find that the Sad Puppies campaign was orchestrated by right-wing conservative, homophobic, misogynistic, racist, straight white men? Yes the typical punch-card of epithets was invoked. Funny how the actual sample slate was actually politically and racially diverse along with including both men and women. While last years winners were hardly diverse at all. There has been some truly awful reporting on this. Typical agenda journalism with no fact checks or even attempts at talking to members of the campaign.

Larry Correia was not personally involved in the campaign this year and he also turned down a Hugo nomination when called by the committee. He has a great post on the subject. A post I admire a lot since it was funny, self-deprecating, and addressed the common criticisms about the Sad Puppies. I especially liked how he was actually reaching out in this post and spelling out areas where disagreements are just fine. John C. Wright has also been writing a good deal on the topic and his post In Which a Morlock Chides Me gives a very good overview of the lack of quality in previous nominations that were hardly even SF. There is also a lot of outrage over the number of nominations that he received. In my opinion the stories of his that were nominated are well-deserved and his novella One Bright Star to Guide Them is easily one of the best things I read last year.

The best thing about the Hugo nominations this year is that I have actually read some of them and others look well-worth reading. It is hard to believe that Jim Butcher has never even been nominated before. His latest book Skin Game part of the Dresden Files series has almost 3,000 reviews with the large majority being five stars. It is not as if the previous books were not as popular.

But as I said in the title of this post, political correctness ruins everything. Everything it touches is lessened – The Minus Touch. PC did not give us better SF and Fantasy, it promoted approved message driven propaganda over storytelling.

Sorry for the long post which I doubt few will read. It is that when you try to mess with my beloved genre I get my dander up a bit.

Oh by the way one of my absolute favorite podcasts is A Good Story is Hard to find with Julie Davis and Scott D. Danielson. They discuss books and movies and whatever else interests them and this week they discussed Isaac Asimov’s classic SF book “Foundation”. Their tagline:

Two Catholics talking about books, movies and traces of “the One Reality” they find below the surface.

Apr 082015
 

From an article originally published by the Catholic News Agency.

WASHINGTON — The editor of Religion News Service has denied that a grant from a wealthy LGBT advocacy funder has biased its coverage of traditional religion, which includes a recent controversial story on Cardinal Raymond Burke.

The Arcus Foundation dispenses millions of dollars in grants every year to support LGBT activism. Its 2014 grants included $120,000 to the Religion Newswriters Foundation, the owner of the widely syndicated Religion News Service.

The Arcus Foundation’s grant listing said the one year of support was intended “to recruit and equip LGBT supportive leaders and advocates to counter rejection and antagonism within traditionally conservative Christian churches.”

The foundation’s Sept. 23, 2014, announcement said the grant aimed at “fostering a culture of LGBT understanding through the media” by funding the production of feature stories and blog posts “about religion and LGBT peoples of color.”

Kevin Eckstrom, RNS editor in chief, told CNA that receiving money from the advocacy group did not influence editorial choices.

I believe Kevin Eckstrom’s statement is totally accurate. RNS would have given us biased coverage in support of LGBT activism regardless of the grant. Their awful coverage of the Church was not affected at all by this grant. David Gibson would have written stupid stories on the Church regardless of the grant.

No the grant was just an honest acknowledgment of the work RNS has done in the past and will do in the future.

The best thing about the RNS byline is that I know it will be not worth my time reading and not even worth fisking.

Apr 072015
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 26 March 2015 to 6 April 2015.

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

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences

Homilies

Letters

Messages

Papal Tweets

Apr 062015
 

John Allen Jr. in his latest column writes An Easter reflection on what Christians and atheists have in common.

This week, Holy Week no less, two stories broke that together illustrate a towering irony about the rise of violent Islamic extremism: In a growing number of places these days, nobody has more in common than Christians and atheists.

In Kenya, the militant Islamic group Al-Shabaab launched an assault on Garissa University College, beginning by shooting up a Christian prayer service. The gunmen then moved on, leaving Muslims unharmed while killing or abducting Christians. All told, 147 people are believed to have died.

It’s not clear if the militants deliberately chose one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar for the assault, though Christmas and Easter tend to be periods of special risk for Christian minorities in many parts of the world.

In Bangladesh, a blogger passionately opposed to religious fundamentalism named Washiqur Rahman was hacked to death in Dhaka by two men wielding knives and meat cleavers. It followed the eerily similar murder of Bangladeshi-American atheist blogger Avijit Roy in late February. Roy was assaulted by two men with machetes.

Reports out of Bangladesh assert that over the past two years, several other atheist bloggers have either been murdered or died under mysterious circumstances.

Both these Kenyan and Bangladeshi victims were targeted not just for being non-Muslims, but a specific kind of non-Muslim.

Among Islamic radicals incensed with the West, no two groups stir rage like Christians and atheists. Christians symbolize the perceived sins of the Western past, while atheists embody what Islamists see as the decadence and apostasy of the Western present.

He goes on to write about how a coalition of Christians and atheists could evolve concerning an agenda of some shared goals along with some give-and-take. That also Pope Francis would be a key in putting such a partnership together.

Ideally such a coalition makes sense because there certainly is overlap in countries where Christians are a minority in how they and atheists are treated. Still I see little chance of this happening on any major level. The so-called new atheists emerged more into the public after the terrorist attack on 9/11. Making distinctions has never been a strong point for them. While this movement has been extremely anti-religion from its start, it has also mostly played out as anti-Christian in practice. The new atheists at times will criticize Islam, but much of their thrust has been anti-Christian in the amount of critique.

There is also a lot of overlap with the new atheists and secularism in general with a heavy dose of political correctness. They are natural allies and once again the thrust is anti-Christian with what should be a strange bend towards the defense of Islam. Strange indeed the secular apologists for Islam when it is so contrary to so much they profess. It only makes sense in light of the fact that these groups are primarily anti-Christian. As Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy “..any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with.”

There are of course notable exceptions to this with some atheist commentators making distinctions and seeing the threat as it is. But figures like Oriana Fallaci are few. I would love to see common cause in this where our goals do indeed intersect and that my own pessimism about this being totally wrong.

Note: The fuller quote is “This began to be alarming. It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with. What again could this astonishing thing be like which people were so anxious to contradict, that in doing so they did not mind contradicting themselves?” — G. K. Chesterton. “Orthodoxy”

Mar 312015
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 12 March 2015 to 31 March 2015.

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

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences

Homilies

Letters

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “The laity are called to become a leaven of Christian living within society.” @Pontifex 26 March 2015
  • “Life is a precious gift, but we realize this only when we give it to others.” @Pontifex 27 March 2015
  • “As disciples of Christ, how can we not be concerned for the good of the weakest?” @Pontifex 28 March 2015
  • “Holy Week is a privileged time when we are called to draw near to Jesus: friendship with him is shown in times of difficulty.” @Pontifex 30 March 2015
  • “Confession is the sacrament of the tenderness of God, his way of embracing us.” @Pontifex 31 March 2015
Mar 302015
 

I don’t really need to write anything about the idiotic backlash to Indiana’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Others have taken up the task much more ably. So mostly I will point you to others with minimal commentary.

First off, Brandon Vogt replies to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook misguided editorial about how such laws are “dangerous”. His post nicely points out where Tim Cook is wrong What Apple’s CEO Gets Wrong About Discrimination and Religious Freedom. Like Brandon I am a fan of Apple’s products and have been impressed with Tim Cook’s overall leadership. Personally I have been less than impressed with his other forays into the political realm. Under his time as CEO an app was banned from the app store. It was an app developed by the group behind the Manhattan Declaration in support of social goals including the dignity of marriage. Tim Cook talks about religious freedom, yet this app which also called for Freedom of Religion was banned. I found this political censorship rather egregious.

Tim Cook like President Obama has a very confused view about exactly what religious liberty means. Apparently it only regards your ability to attend worship services and not actually acting on your beliefs if it conflicts with political correctness.

Ross Douthat at the NYT times posts some questions for critics of this bill. He provides seven questions about future steps in regard to this issue. Although I doubt these critics for the most part are interested in answering these questions.

Kevin Jones at the Catholic News Agency wrote No, Indiana did not just pass a law discriminating against gay people. Here’s why. He provides examples from multiple others states who have instituted the same law and the positive results.

Much has also been made of the fact that Indiana’s law reflects the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by a nearly unanimous Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton who came out against Indiana’s law of course did not explain this. So yes you can play a “gotcha” game with critics, but to really no gain. What Congress passes is almost always about what is popular at the moment and not some action to be held for all time. That politicians will support something while it is popular and then support the contrary when the contrary is popular. Look at all the about-faces on same-sex marriage among Democrats for the most part.

One more aspect of this as Ross Douthat wrote:

I don’t think the view taken by these florists/bakers/photographers is necessarily mandated by orthodox Christian belief.

I’ve listened to what Al Kresta has also said along the same lines. From a moral theology view exactly what level of cooperation with evil is involved in these cases? My initial reaction is that in some of these cases it would indeed be cooperation with evil. Other cases it might be considered remote material cooperation. Regardless the person whose conscience has made that determination should not be forced to do otherwise. When I was a liberal I remember that freedom of conscience was a big deal and often talked about. Although probably is was always the case that supporting freedom of conscience was contingent regarding what you were objecting to.