Friday, September 30, 2011

A Therese for Everyone

Did anyone else notice how many Teresas are connected to October?  No matter how she is spelled, Therese or Teresa has a hold on this month.  The month starts with St. Therese, the “Little Flower’s” feast on October 1; St. Teresa of Avila’s feast is  October 15; and at least two others Teresas were beatified or canonized in October—Mother Teresa and St. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, better known as St. Edith Stein.  And books, including several newer titles, abound on these great holy women.

If you must choose only one book about the Teresas, make it Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Therese of Lisieux  by Heather King.  This is kind of a spiritual biography of St. Therese, and partly a memoir of King’s Catholic life.   King is best known for her memoir Parched about her life recovering from an addition to alcohol, and Redeemed, chronicling her conversion to Catholicism.

Each chapter of Shirt of Flame is a month and a theme from Therese’s life—for instance, October’s theme is “The Story of A Soul (On Offering Up Our Work). “  You will see Therese in a deeper and different way after reading Shirt of Flame, and you yourself will be different.   Consider this quote from July:  The Little Way (On the Martyrdom of Everyday Life):

“We can try, at great personal sacrifice, to be perfectly righteous, a perfect friend, perfectly responsive, perfectly available, perfectly forgiving.  But at the heart of our efforts must lie the knowledge that, by ourselves, we can do, heal, or correct nothing.  The point is not to be perfect, but to “perfectly” leave Christ to do, heal, and correct in us what he wills.”

The end-of-chapter prayers (written by King) are worth the price of the book alone.  The prayers, like the reflections throughout, help us learn from St. Therese about the brokenness in all of us, and how Christ is there, too.

Shirt of Flame had me noticing how similar were the spiritual darknesses of St. Therese and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  Both experienced a dryness that persisted until the end of life, after times of consolation; both sought holiness through little actions.  As Mother Teresa wrote to a spiritual director, “If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’  I will continually be absent from heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on earth.”  Here, she deepens as she echoes St. Therese’s famous promise, “After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth.” 

This Mother Teresa letter, and many others, are collected and organized by MC (Missionary of Charity) Father Brian Kolodiejchuk in 2007’s Come Be My Light:  The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta.”  The book is quite comprehensive, almost overwhelming at times, in its recounting of Mother’s retreats, letters and other assorted documents.  Gems like the “saint of darkness” quote above, make it worthwhile.

A completely different, and much lighter, book, than either of the above, is the engaging new Mother Teresa and Me by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, about the author’s many encounters over the years with Mother Teresa, from a chance meeting in Washington, D.C., to a long-running correspondence.  Each chapter is charmingly framed with a reprint of a letter Mother wrote to her. 

Some of my favorite parts of Mother Teresa and Me:  Blessed Teresa was fond of “express novenas,” (yes, that’s what Mother Teresa called them) saying the Memorare nine times in a row, instead of over the course of nine days.  Who knew? As one who frequently forgets about mid-way through a novena, this has definite appeal to me.  I also found Cooper O’Boyle’s memories of Fr. John Hardon, S.J. enlightening, and a nice addition to this volume.

This is my October column that appears in this weekend's Catholic Post.  Come back all month long here at the book group blog for discussion on books about saints named Teresa, author interviews, and more.

Friday, September 23, 2011

There Oughta Be a (Catholic) Book

Here at the Catholic Post Book Group blog, I’m starting a new feature in which I don’t review a book, but suggest that someone write a book, from a Catholic perspective.  A truly Catholic perspective is reasonable, intelligent and attractive on many levels.  So here goes!

First up is a reasonable book about modesty, from a Catholic perspective, primarily for younger people.   I’m pretty sure such a book doesn’t exist, but if it does please let me know in the comments.

I participated recently in a very spirited Facebook group discussion about modesty, and I was so appreciative of different perspectives, but still felt that how to dress at Mass (much less other times) is like the third rail of Catholic culture.  How to talk about this subject in a reasonable (and I'm completely stressing the reasonable here) way with our children?

Last month, my daughters and I attended (with several other families) a large event at a local evangelical church called “Secret Keeper Girl Live!”  It was fun, and sparkly—almost a little too sparkly.  (Not that it isn’t “Catholic” to be sparkly.  Here’s what I loved: the girls and their moms were encouraged in dressing and acting as daughters of the King.    They gave very specific, super helpful advice about dressing with modesty—various very practical tests to see if a top was too skimpy, a skirt too short.

Here’s what I didn’t love:  it was a little overwhelming, noise and pink-wise, for me.  There was an altar call at the end, always a little awkward for Catholics not wanting to seem holier than thou (um, do I want to ask Jesus into my heart?  I already receive Him every time I go to Mass, but thanks anyway).  Also, I found myself underwhelmed by the "fashion show" portion of the evening, which featured fashions that were cheesier and more “Disney” than my tastes, though all outfits were perfectly modest.  I’m just more of an LL Bean gal.

I really don’t want to make it sound in any way bad, because it was really wonderful in encouraging girls to believe in true inner beauty, both in how we look and how we act.    Dana Gresh, the creator of the events, has a helpful series of books for girls and moms, including one called Secret Keeper, and while we found it interesting and a helpful read for discussion, it lacked a truly Catholic vision.  Our family got a chance to look up modesty in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), and that helped us round out the discussion the book and the event started.

But still, I want a (Catholic) book!   So there “oughta” be a (Catholic) book.

A recent Catholic book to talk over body image, and touch on modesty a bit, is Kate Wicker’s thoughtful new book Weightless: Making Peace With Your Body.  Weightless is  an excellent book and a longer review of that is coming.  But that is written more for older teens and adults, more specifically about body image than dressing and acting in way that is modest. I really want something I can hand to my children (both boy and girls) to read (having read it first), and then discuss casually here and there.

Here are two quick nominations for someone to write this book:

*Hallie Lord:  she’s the popular blogger of Betty Beguiles “Beauty, Fashion and Style … with a Vintage Twist.”  She features a lot of good discussions about fashion as well as Catholic issues.  She’d be great and very encouraging to young women who love fashion, because she does so much herself love fashion.

*Rebecca, a young screenwriter who writes the Modestia blog, “Fashion. Modesty. & General Fabulousity.”   And this blog is fabulous (or has fabulosity?)—she features a lot of fun appropriate fashion, many times featuring new Princess Kate.  I so enjoy her sensible take on things.

What do you think of this idea for a book?   Do you have any nominations of people who should write this book?   Do you have any suggestions of an “oughta be” Catholic book?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

QR Codes as a Tool for Catholic Evangelism

I've been seeing QR codes everywhere, and after reading about it this past summer in a David Pogue column explaining new technology trends.  QR codes are, as Pogue writes: 

those weird, square, pixelated black-and-white bar codes that are cropping up on billboards, movie posters, signs, magazine ads and business cards. Nobody ever bothered to explain them. (They’re QR codes — quick response bar codes. You can scan them with your iPhone’s or Android phone’s camera, using a special app that translates it into an ad or takes you to a related Web page.)

So earlier this summer, I downloaded an App that "reads" them, and our family has been finding them everywhere.  We were at the grocery store at the beach, and there was a QR code on the box of watermelon.  One of the kids scanned it and it had a mobile-ready recipes, information.  It was cute!

One of the things we all noticed about the QR codes is usually how useless they are--they bring you to a web page that might not even be mobile-ready, so you can't even read it, or just not that helpful.   Many marketing pros and others have written about this on the web, and even highlighted the many unhelpful or just plain bad QR code "landing pages."

As we kept discovering them, the good, the bad and the ugly QR codes, depending on where the code "landed" you, I thought, why couldn't this be an opportunity to invite people to prayer?  Or find a way to spread the word about something Catholic?

So I proposed to my editor that we put a QR code in the Catholic Post.  Fortunately, he's always up for trying out new ideas.  It would be related to my September column featuring 9/11 books, but "land" people who scanned the QR code at a page with the prayer of Father Mychal Judge.  The Catholic Post Book Group is mobile-ready, so the prayer is easy to read on a phone or other mobile device.  I actually back-dated the post/prayer to September 11 last year, since my column reaches some people before my column posts on the blog.   The only thing that annoyed me is that a photo of me appears also on the mobile-ready blog, (since I am the blog author), and I couldn't figure out a way to get rid of that.   Here is the QR code I generated using one of the many free sites that offer QR codemaking:

My thinking was that a person who might not read the Post normally might see the QR code (at their parents' or grandparents' house, perhaps?), and, if they were familiar with using them, still scan the code for fun, as we have done so much in our family in recent months.  And then perhaps that unnamed person would pray the prayer, or at least be inspired to read more of the Post and learn more about the Faith.

Before the Post QR code printed, our local parish bulletin featured a QR code, a pretty cool one with the "Word on Fire" logo in the middle, which landed my iPhone at the promo video for Father Robert Barron's Catholicism series.  I was so glad to see this great use of a QR code, better than pretty much any of the ones to promote a product that I have seen. 

I am hoping to do this again in the future, perhaps along with my October column on books about Teresas, landing at a prayer by St. Therese or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.   Any suggestions on a good prayer for that?

What do you think about QR codes?  Do you use them?   Do you think they have the potential to be a tool for evangelism?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Q&A with Kelly Ann Lynch, author of "He Said Yes: The Story of Father Mychal Judge"

I'm so grateful to author Kelly Ann Lynch for doing this Q&A with me this month about her book He Said Yes:  The Story of Father Mychal Judge, considering her busy schedule this month marking the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.    Thanks, Kelly!

Father Judge was your family friend for many years.  After his death on 9/11, how did you get the idea to write a book about his life?

One of the first thoughts I had after Father Mychal’s death was that his story needed to be shared, especially with the next generation of children who might otherwise never know of the man who changed the lives of so many.

I was at a weekday Mass when the words, He Said Yes, came to me, and I began picturing Father Mychal’s life and all the ways he said yes … from the time he was a little child in Brooklyn and began shining shoes to help make ends meet for his family; becoming a priest; ministering to the homeless, recovering alcoholics and the dying; becoming the fire chaplain to the New York City Fire Department; befriending NYPD Detective Steven McDonald and his family; blessing my daughter before her surgery; and ultimately saying “yes” on September 11, 2001 when he gave his life.  I believe the inspiration to write this book came directly from the Holy Spirit.  I was “on fire” when I left Mass that day after hearing those words (He Said Yes) and began writing notes immediately.  I could see the story unfolding before my eyes.  I called a friend – an artist who created the first logo for Mychal’s Message – M. Scott Oatman – and I asked him about getting together to create a book.  He said, “yes” and then explained how he had an idea for an illustration, using doves in place of the Twin Towers, to depict that fateful day.  That illustration, the last page in my book, was the first painting completed.  I believe the book was a product of divine inspiration and two friends who said, “yes.”

After showing the book to Franciscan priest, Father Cassian A. Miles, OFM, he said, “this book should be published.”  We contacted Paulist Press, and … well, they said, “yes” too.  The book has sold over 6,000 copies since its release in 2007.

I write in my review that I felt your children’s book was more successful than other bios of Fr. Judge in capturing Father Judge's essential work and how he “said yes.”    Thoughts on that?  Was it easy or difficult to write?

It was always my desire to share Father Mychal’s story with children.  I believe in children – their prayers, their presence, their witness – they are the next generation.  To teach them about a man who lived simply by loving others (while passing judgment on none) was my way of allowing God to work through me and leave a beautiful legacy for Father Mychal – the man, the friend, the priest who changed the life of my family.  The book is written simply and shares the story of the priest I knew, the stories I knew.  It is written to encourage and inspire children to be the best they can be, to say, “yes” and to allow God to work through them.  I believe it also teaches children that they can become anything they desire when trusting in God’s Will for their lives and that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when following God.

Your website ( shows a range of activities that you are currently involved in—speaking, presentations, storytelling—to spread the Catholic faith.    Are you planning to write any more books in the future?

I have written another book that is currently in the process of being published (by Paulist Press).  It is a children’s book and encourages children to be who they are.  It is okay to be different because God has a special and unique plan for each of our lives.  It’s a unique book, unlike any others on the market, in that it is a fictional story based loosely on actual accounts in my own life.  This book was also inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Two others that I am also working on are written for children.  I work with children all year in “Armata Bianca” (White Army), a children’s rosary group, where we discuss and learn the beauty of growing up Catholic in today’s world.  I encourage the children to wear a scapular, pray the rosary, and know their saint friends, while teaching them the importance of prayer, penance and the sacraments.  

Tell Catholic Post readers more about Mychal's Message, a non-profit you started to help the homeless and poor.

Mychal’s Message was founded in 2002 by my daughter, Shannon Hickey.  It is a non-profit organization created to honor the life of Father Mychal F. Judge, O.F.M. (From our website, my words):  During his life, Father Mychal shared his message with the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, firefighters, police officers, and friars, and the many men, women and children who called him 'friend.' His message was simple, interdenominational, and touched many lives. It is the mission of Mychal's Message to continue sharing that message with others. It is a grace to walk in his footsteps and encounter the homeless and poor, meeting basic needs, while restoring dignity with love.
Mychal's Message began in January 2002 as 11-year-old Shannon marked the anniversary of her liver transplant. Every year she celebrated her anniversary with a party, presents and cake. That year, Shannon decided to mark the anniversary in a more meaningful way. In lieu of gifts, she asked for socks for the homeless. "I'll give them away in memory of Father Mychal," she told us. Father Mychal, a dear family friend, was an inspiration to Shannon and on her transplant anniversary in 2002, she wanted to celebrate her life by remembering his.
Word spread quickly and before long, Shannon collected 1,500 pair of socks. A printed card with Father Mychal's prayer was attached to each pair. As those first socks were being distributed to the homeless, we realized that the prayer was as important as the socks. The prayer became Mychal's message. Father Mychal inspired Shannon, Shannon inspired us, and Mychal's Message was born.
On the Breadline at St. Francis Church in New York City where those first socks were distributed, a man approached my mother (Shannon’s Nana) and asked her for underwear.  My mom could not forget that man or his request all day.  That night, she told us, “I know what I want for my birthday this year … men’s underwear.”  And “Blessed Bloomers” was born … and we return to the streets of New York City every year on the anniversary of September 11 with new underwear for the homeless.
Mychal’s Message is a family-run ministry.  My dad hand writes a personal thank you note to each person who sends a donation.  My husband sorts and packs the vans each time we travel into the city.  My mom does the shopping and packing.  I write the newsletters and press releases.  My children distribute the items to the homeless.  And there are no salaries paid, no overhead expenses other than printing of prayer cards, newsletters and postage.  

It’s been 10 years since 9/11.  What did you do to mark the anniversary?

We attended the annual Walk of Remembrance in NYC last weekend, and that is always a special day for our family as we remember and honor Father Mychal and all those who gave their lives on September 11.  

On the anniversary of September 11, as a family, were on the Breadline of St. Francis of Assisi Church in NYC to distribute our annual “Blessed Bloomers” to the homeless.  This year, we also distributed a full-size chocolate candy bar to each of the men and women we encounter – something “sweet” on a “bitter” day.  We attended the 11:00 Mass at St. Francis Church (the firefighter’s Mass) with FDNY Chaplain Father Christopher Keenan, OFM.  We  then went to the Firemen’s Museum for the 1:00 dedication of Father Mychal’s helmet and bunker coat (found after 9/11 at Ground Zero, unharmed and intact).  We had hoped to visit Totowa, NJ, just outside NYC, where Father Mychal is buried, but the recent flooding in that area prevented us.

Is there anything else you would like to share with Catholic Post readers, or anything else you wish I would have asked?

It has been a blessing for me and for my family to walk in the footsteps of Father Mychal Judge.  We are always aware that none of this would be possible without the generous donations of people all over the country.  And we are grateful, so grateful, that others allow us to use their donations to help others in Father Mychal’s memory.

I had hoped to share with Catholic Post readers a photo of Father Mychal's grave, so when Kelly Ann Lynch mentioned she would have liked to have visited his grave on 9/11, I knew this was the right day.   The reason I  have a photo of Father Mychal's grave (this one from last summer) is that my husband's grandparents are buried just a few yards away in the same cemetery, and so for years, when we make a visit East to visit family, we visit his grave, as well.  His grave is always decorated.

Friday, September 9, 2011

More Stories About Father Mychal Judge

There are so many good news articles about the 10th anniversary of 9/11, but two that Twitter friends have shared are particularly good, and they both relate to Father Mychal Judge, the first official fatality on 9/11 and the main subject of my column this month for the Catholic Post.

They are both NPR stories, and wonderful to read, but even better to listen to:

Religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty, who always produces thoughtful stories, had an excellent profile of Father Judge.

Another story, titled "Bury His Heart, But Not His Love," is beautiful, and includes long excerpts from the funeral homily given by his friend and fellow Franciscan, Father Michael Duffy.

A Facebook friend mentioned that she felt the 9/11 coverage seemed excessive.  Perhaps I haven't been too tied into media the last few days to be overwhelmed by it, but I find it cathartic and helpful to remember.  What about you?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Helping Children Make Sense of 9/11, 10 Years Later

The primary book that I reviewed this month was a children's book about the events of 9/11, He Said Yes:  The Story of Father Mychal Judge, by author Kelly Ann Lynch.   It wasn't entirely intentional to focus on a children's book, but as I argue, sometimes "just a kid's book" can be more insightful and meaningful than books for adults.

Earlier today, I listened to a radio interview with a American studies professor discussing the "art of 9/11," focusing exclusively on novels, movies and songs for adults that have come out of the tragedy, and their meaning, and how they have helped us heal (or not) after 9/11.  It was a fascinating interview; yet I found myself thinking about how much more do children need help in processing and understanding difficult events like what happened on 9/11.

I am a volunteer in the library of our children's grade school, and I'm fortunate to get the chance to read to the students.  Earlier this week, I read through He Said Yes with different grades of kids, and we talked about what happened that day.  This book ended up being a great way for kids who were unaware of 9/11 to learn about it gently, as 9/11 images are all over the news, and the students are bound to be confronted with it.  Learning about the heroism of Father Judge and others will give, I hope, some framework for understanding beyond the images.  

Some of the kids asked me, "Is that a true story?" so we talked about how Father Judge is the listed as the first official fatality on that day.  I was surprised that every single time I read it, I choked up on the last pages of the book, when author Lynch quotes John 15:13, "When Father Mychal ran to the towers, he was following in the footsteps of Jesus, who told his disciples, "No one has grater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Here are several other children's books to help children to learn about and understand 9/11 as we remember 10 years later:

The Little Chapel That Stood by A.B. Curtis is a beautifully illustrated and lyrical poem-book about Old St. Paul's Church, which survived the attacks at Ground Zero, and became a place of refuge for firefighters and others.

If you can, reading an actual copy of The Little Chapel That Stood makes for great reading with small children; the book itself is handsome and a nice size.  Unfortunately, it looks like it is difficult to order quickly; for instance, I see Amazon lists it as a one- to three-month delivery time.  Fortunately, I discovered an online version of the story on the author's website.  Do read it, and be prepared to choke up a little if you do read it out loud, when you read many lines, especially about how the firefighters hung up their shoes on the fence of the church: "Oh what gallant men we did lose, who never came back to get their shoes!"

[The interesting Catholic trivia connection to Old St. Paul's, an Episcopal Church, is that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born canonized saint, was married to her husband, William Seton, in St. Paul's, on January 25, 1774.]

Also, blog commenter Marie jogged my memory about The Little Chapel That Stood, that I hadn't picked up in years. Thanks, Marie!

Fireboat:  The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman, is another great book about the great and small heroism around 9/11.  This book, too, shows how ordinary people worked to stop the fires at the Twin Towers with a previously retired and restored 1930s-era fireboat.  The illustrations are a kind of modern folk-art, and the text is delightful in conveying such difficult themes.

Do you know of any other 9/11 books for children?  How are you discussing 9/11 with your children?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Prayer at Ground Zero

As we reflect this month at the Catholic Post Book Group on 9/11 10 years later, I wanted to share some good links and content out there.  Here is a great short reflection by Father James Martin, SJ, of his memories of the days after 9/11.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Meet a Reader: Corey Krengiel

I'm delighted to feature another seminarian as a "Meet a Reader."  Our family met Corey this summer as he was one of the four energetic team members of our parish's summer "sort-of, but much better than a VBS" program, called Totus Tuus.  Quick ad here:  if you are not aware of the fantastic Totus Tuus program, you can read a little more about it from its home diocese, Wichita.  I cannot stress enough how amazing Totus Tuus program is.  We feel extremely fortunate that our pastor brought the program here and it will continue in future years.  Thanks, Corey!

How you know me:

I am Corey Krengiel, a seminarian for the Diocese of Peoria, and I'm originally from Lemont, IL.  I attend Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD.  If God wills it, I will be ordained in 2014.  I invite your prayers for me.

Why I love reading:

I love reading because learning new things gets me very excited about life, and we should be excited about life.  I love reading books, and making them my own.

What I’m reading now:

I’m reading Three to Get Married by Servant of God Fulton Sheen.  Archbishop Sheen’s wisdom seems bottomless, and he writes is such a clear and dlever way.  Hacing a good understanding of how God intended marriage to work provides an important part of a Catholic sacramental worldview.

My favorite book:

My favorite book is In the School of the Holy Spirit by Father Jacques Philippe.  I am reading it now for the third time because each time I read it, I gain deeper insight into how to live a life rooted in God.  I also like it because it is broken into many short sections, making it easy to pray with.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Remembering 9/11

It’s been 10 years since 9/11, but I can still recall exactly where I was and every tiny detail of how I learned what had happened. It was an almost too-sunny Tuesday morning as I drove over the McCluggage Bridge on my way to a Scripture study.  Our two little daughters were in their carseats, sweetly singing along with a CD about the three little kittens who lost their mittens….  Then one of my sisters called my cell phone to tell me about the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, where her husband worked at that time, and life changed for everyone.

That kind of total recall is probably true of most Catholic Post readers, but what do we do with those memories?  As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, remembrance is not just important, but healthy, especially when we do so prayerfully in light of our Catholic faith.

He Said Yes:  The Story of Father Mychal Judge

In his writings and talks, Pope Benedict XVI returns again and again to the theme of saying “yes” to God.  The Holy Father ended one of his addresses to World Youth Day pilgrims in Madrid by saying, “(L)et us pray that, like (the Blessed Mother), our “Yes” to Christ today may also be an unconditional “Yes” to his friendship, both at the end of this day and throughout our entire lives.”

Saying yes to a life of faith is not a one-time event, but a daily, often moment-by-moment, decision.  This is captured beautifully in the children’s picture book, He Said Yes:  The Story of Father Mychal Judge by Kelly Ann Lynch. 

Father Mychal Judge was the NYC fire department chaplain, and is listed as the first official casualty of 9/11 at Ground Zero.  The photo of his body being carried out of the North Tower by NYFD members remains one of the iconic images of the destruction that day.

In the years after Father Mychal’s death, there have been several well-written biographies written about him. These books recount how Father Mychal prevailed through numerous obstacles--such as family dysfunction and his own alcoholism--to be and to bring Christ to so many hurting people.

Yet in its simplicity, He Said Yes captures the central message of Father Mychal’s life more successfully.  The picture book does this by distilling Father Mychal’s essential work: how he continued to say yes to Christ, to his vocation, and to the people he served, until the very end.  A bonus is that proceeds from the book He Said Yes benefit Mychal’s Message, a non-profit started by author Lynch to help the homeless and poor.

Franciscan Voices on 9/11

Franciscan Voices On 9/11 by St. Anthony Messenger Press, is a collection of reflections on the attack and its meaning 10 years later.    Since St. Francis was known so much for his emphasis on peace and reconciliation, having a Franciscan perspective to mark the decade is enriching.

Essays range from the deeply personal, such as “Looking Back, Moving Forward”--  those whose lives have been dramatically changed after 9/11; to several political analyses; to a beautiful essay, “Prayer Out of Pain,” by Franciscan Scripture scholar Michael Guinan, who uses Lamentations as a way to help people respond to the memory of 9/11.

Easily the most interesting and informative section is “Franciscans and Muslims:  Eight Centuries of Seeking God,” by Franciscans Jack Wintz and Pat McCloskey.  Here is history about St. Francis’ trip to the Holy Land in 1219 to preach the gospel to the Sultan (the Muslim leader) during the time of the Crusades, and how Franciscans still maintain a considerable presence there to this day.   

As Wintz and McCloskey recount, because St. Francis approached in peace and love, and disregarded the gifts offered to him, the Sultan showed greater respect for him and did not kill him outright.  St. Francis bravely “proclaimed the triune God and Jesus Christ, with steadfastness, courage and spirit,” and the Sultan told him, “Pray to God for me, that God may reveal to me the law and the faith that is more pleasing to him.”  Franciscans still serve in the Holy Land as guardians of many shrines.

Franciscan Voices on 9/11 is available in only as a Kindle book, which can be read on a wide variety of devices.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

First, What Are Reading? Volume 13, September 2011

Here are my answers to the four questions I ask on the first of each month:
first, what are you reading?
what do you like best about it?
what do you like least?
what's next on your list to read? 

As always, I hope you'll consider your current reads on your blog and/or sharing here in the comments or on Facebook.  Happy reading!

What are you reading?  

Get Real: What Kind of World Are You Buying? By Mara Rockliff.  This book is about responsible buying and consumerism. 

Good Calories/Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.

What do you like best about them?

Getting Real is very eye-opening in its discussion of where things come from. I like best that it challenges kids to not think as consumers but as people.  The book helps kids realize that they hold enormous power in their buying power, and also that they are influenced by the ads they see, regardless of what they think.   I gave it to my 13-year-old daughter after I read it, and told her that I didn’t agree with everything in the book.  She agreed that she didn’t like everything about it, but especially thought that she was more immune to advertisements than others.  I had to laugh at that, and we had a good discussion about trying to remain conscious about the lure of consumerism.

I think that’s one of the best take-away points.  You are influenced by the culture around you.  Realizing it and accepting it will help you be a savvier consumer, and overall a better person.  That’s not just true about consumerism, but also media we consume.  If you think you can watch or read whatever is around and think it has no effect on you, you’re wrong.

I’m not sure what I like about Good Calories/Bad Calories.  He is good and award-winning science writer, but it’s a science and nutrition book I found hard to get through.

What do you like least about them?

Getting Real is a little, no, a lot, on the frankly polemic side against any sort of non-local business, whether it’s Wal-Mart, Starbucks  or McDonalds. I find those kind of attacks that shed more heat than light, and disregard the strides these companies have made.  I will admit, of course, that it’s because of the strident protests by people like Rockliff.   What I find annoying about Rockliff’s approach is that it’s kind of an either/or, rather than a both.

For instance, I can find much more, and better quality, organic produce, at our closest Wal-Mart than I can at our local grocery store.  I also can find that at our local farmer’s market, which I do in the summer, but I am so grateful to have the source of great healthful produce (and inexpensive other groceries) year-round from Wal-Mart.    And while my kids dislike McDonald’s in general (except for the breakfasts), I enjoy the oatmeal and the salads and enjoy having those healthful options when traveling or needing a drive-through.

I just don’t buy the notion that all big business is bad, just like I don’t buy the notion that big government is bad.  I’m glad that there are McDonalds, Starbucks and Wal-Marts, and I’m glad there are national parks, the military, and lots of other things in federal government.  I know both those “biggies” can improve, but Getting Real seems to think we’d be better off without big business, instead of trying to improve them, in the same way some more radical libertarians want to do away with the federal government.   Both those are too extreme for me.

Good Calories, Bad Calories is frustrating because there’s essentially no conclusion, other than the argument it makes that a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet is not good fit for human consumption.  More troubling, I find, is Taubes apparent claim that the only way to live healthy, long and trim, is with essentially a no-carbohydrate diet.  He claims that people who eat only meat suffer no ill effects.  Some of the arguments in the book just made my head spin.  So if eating only meat and high-protein, high-fat foods is the only way to go, what do you do when it’s your birthday?  No birthday cake?  No vegetables?  Strange.

Reading this gave me a kind of reverse of déjà vu from reading The China Study several years back, a book that makes an equally dense and impassioned, well-documented argument that the only way to live healthy, trim and long is through a vegan diet.   I’d like to get these two authors in a room to duke it out.

My problem with both of those nutrition exposes (not sure how to get the accent there, I mean the noun, not the verb) is a tendency to over-dramatize.   Yes, clearly, the low-fat, refined carbohydrate diet is not healthy, but I thought we all know that by now.  By the same token, few people will be able to stay on either a no-carbohydrate or completely vegan diet forever, regardless of how healthy.

Much more interesting, but only occasionally referenced, was the notion that overweight and obese people do not necessarily overeat, but may have a barely perceptible hormone imbalance.  That would be interesting to explore or solve.

Finally, I just found it ridiculous that Taubes dismisses exercise as a way to manage weight and stay healthy.   I’m not going to even start on that.

What’s next on your list to read?

I’ve actually just finished The Wilder Life:  My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure, and I LOVED it, but I want to wait to next month to write about it.  It’s that good.  Stay tuned.

I’ve also downloaded for the Kindle App some Georgette Heyer books, written in the mid-20th century.  They’re kind of romance/mystery/madcap books for people who love Jane Austen.  I learned from Austenblog earlier this month that there was an e-book sale, so I grabbed a couple of titles I have not yet read.    Unfortunately, I have not had much free “fun reading” time, but having these great Heyer books makes me want to find some time.

So, what are you reading?  Any books to add to my growing stacks?