Who is like God?

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Today is Michaelmas, or the feast of the archangels. As such, it is my own feast of naming day, as it were. The name, Michael, is translated as who is like God. As a relatively young man I was maybe a little peeved to discover that it is not a declarative sentence, but always understood to be a question, Who is like God? My understanding of that has evolved into a cornerstone of my faith. Through that question I began to comprehend an absolute from which all understanding must flow.

I will let the archangel Raphael explain it in the guise of Ace Redbone:

Finally Ace came to the confrontation at the dining table. He paused, as if to collect the memory. “I wish you could have seen it. You would have to imagine the great archangel arising from amidst the chaos of pride created by Satan and his angels. You would have to imagine the great battle cry, Who is like God? The question that can be answered in only one way, and thus bring clarity, reality itself, and casts out the confusion! Who is like God?”

It is the ground of reality upon which we stand. The War in Heaven was not swords, shields, spears or even B-2 bombers. It was ultimate reality against lies and delusion.

So, happy feast day to all you Michaels, Gabriels, Raphaels. . . and maybe Uriels, but that’s another story.

 

 

A Tale of Two Boys: Reviewing “Little Boy” and “The Confirmation”

I recently and coincidentally watched two films with plots that revolved around a boy’s relationship with his father. One I had heard so much about it I was looking forward to the experience,  the other I approached with more than a little apprehension.

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First up was Little Boy a nostalgic fable of faith. Set during WWII it is beautifully presented, with all the golden light of nostalgia. We have young bullies plucked from any of a half dozen sentimental film recollections of small town life. We have the outside world muscling its way harshly into the gentle idyll. We have the usual parade of idiosyncratic town characters perilously close to stereotype, but with just enough tweaking to lend some freshness.

Yet, in the midst of this fairly well crafted bit of work, there lies a what I believe to be a simplistic, perhaps even poisonous seed that all to often grows into something like the blasphemous  Prosperity Gospel. The notion that if you have faith all your troubles are over. That if you only have faith nothing is impossible.

What message does this send? Especially in light of Jesus having warned against the notion that would tie your fate in this world strictly to your faith? Can you imagine Christ shrugging to a young boy  whose father never returned from war and saying, “Guess you didn’t have enough faith.” Or telling grieving parents who have lost a child that it need not have happened if they only had sufficient faith?

I think this film is worth watching if we keep in mind what I believe was the unintended notion its fairy tale ending delivers. A worthy effort that in the end falls a bit short.

 

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Next up was an very different creation. Gone was the golden hue nostalgia, replaced with a gritty reality. My cynicism meter buzzed a warning at the beginning of the film when an otherwise kind seeming priest hearing a first confession seems skeptical of the boy’s relative innocence. There was a world weary sense of the priest just wanting the kid to uphold his end of a tired ritual, even if the kid just made up something.

What follows is an adventure. The boy is sent to spend the weekend with his divorced father, a barely functional alcoholic. Clive Owen plays this unfortunate man perfectly. Flawed, but goodhearted.  Confused but determined in an avalanche of consequence.

Where the creators of Little Boy polished up the usual suspects in the background, the creators of The Confirmation pull us deeper into them so that they are not stereotypes, but real people whose own stories intersect that of the main protagonists.

The journey ends with the boy now feeling that he needs to confess his “sins” that might not be sins at all (the expression on the priest’s face as he does so is priceless and an example of fine, understated acting).  I believe the affirmation found in The Confirmation  greater than that found in Little Boy because it feels more organic and real.

The Confirmation is beyond worth watching. Much closer to a should watch.

 

 

 

 

Book Signing

I will be in Wilson, NC this Saturday (August 6th) for a book signing at the public library between 1 and 4 PM. I will have a few of the hardbacks ($20) available for sale, and a larger supply of the relatively new softcover books ($15). In this case, a softcover is basically a large format paperback with a sewn rather than glued binding.

Feel free to bring already purchased, gifted or stolen copies of Tobit’s Dog or Bogfoke  around for me to sign. In fact, I’ll sign just about any old book you bring by. I’m easy going like that.

There will be about 30 authors signing/selling their books so it will probably be worth checking out in any event.

I’ll probably look like this. . . except for the sports coat and tie, seeing as how it’s August and all.

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The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

 

Behind that really long title is a wonderful story that I don’t particularly have to encapsulate for you because the title does it for me. It is a nonfiction work, but with the narrative and descriptive drive of a novel. In that regards it reminds me of Thermopylae: Battle for the West, by Ernie Bradford, or The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.

Daniel James Brown  draws you into a full sensory presentation by focusing most tightly on the story of rower Joe Rantz. However, the book is rich with back story for the people and events presented. It abounds with intriguing behind the scenes historical detail. These details never hinder the narrative, but rather serve to enhance it. I can’t imagine ever having the mental discipline to do the amount of quality research this book had to have demanded.

The only caveat, as relates to why I enjoyed it more than maybe some readers might: I love history, and I’ve always been fascinated by rowing. That said, I do not  believe this review can do justice to the sensory, spiritual and emotional impact The Boys in the Boat delivers.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Boys-Boat-Americans-Berlin-Olympics/dp/067002581X/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

All is well with my soul.

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I recently was told the story of a toddler who had been so badly abused that the social worker, upon returning to her office could only sit down and cry for the child. While DSS removed the child from the home and placed it in a hospital it is unlikely to be placed in a foster home with a male for quite some time due to the issues surrounding the abuse.

This morning at Mass, as we moved from the liturgy of the Word to the liturgy of the Eucharist, I thought of that child. Sadness welled within me so intense I had to fight tears. Why do we do such things to one another?

Take this, all of you, and eat of it,
for this is my Body,
which will be given up for you.

I tried to  devour my own sadness as if doing so could alleviate some of the fear and hurt that child had borne. As if my soul could absorb the loneliness and betrayal. Why do we do such things to one another? Then I thought of the abuser. For a moment I wanted to be the avenger, but to what end? It burned to think that God loves that wretch as much as he does the innocent child. God can love only one way, absolutely.

Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the chalice of my Blood,
the Blood of the new and eternal covenant,
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.

I know nothing of the abuser. He may have himself been abused. He may have been so damaged that he never recovered. Perhaps drugs fed on his anger, dragging him further and further into depravity. It was not for me to judge the worth of his soul.

The mystery of faith. . .

We proclaim your Death, O Lord,
and profess your Resurrection
until you come again.

When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup,
we proclaim your Death, O Lord,
until you come again.

Save us, Savior of the world,
for by your Cross and Resurrection
you have set us free.

The child, Lord. The child.

Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb. . .

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

The child, Lord. The child. Heal the child.

With that fey sadness like a yoke upon my shoulders I stand and proceed to the priest.

The Body of Christ. . . 

Amen.

Then to the deacon and the chalice.

The Blood of Christ. .  .

Amen.

Then back to my seat. I ponder the child, and over and again the Agnus Dei is repeated in my mind.

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world.

Have mercy on the child.

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world.

Have mercy on the child.

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world.

Grant that child peace.

Leaving Mass, I tell Mary, one of the three Massketeers I blogged about earlier, the story of the child and asked her to pray for this nameless victim of such depravity and betrayal that my mind reels from pondering it. If you are given to prayer, pray for that child and all like it. Difficult as it is, pray too for the abuser.

If you are uncertain in faith, just say, “God, if you are there, heal that child.” If you believe not at all, just do some small kindness for a child. If there is a God, then acts of kindness are the best of all prayers.

(Photo from Archdiocese of Kansas City)

The Last Ugly Person by Roger B. Thomas

My facebook timeline reminded me of this blog. I’ve decided to reblog it because it’s easier than writing a new blog. Also, it really is a very good anthology of short stories by an insightful author. . . even if he IS wrong about Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh.

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I chanced upon the short story collection “The Last Ugly Person”  because the author wrote a favorable and insightful review of Tobit’s Dog. We traded some messages and emails that led to me sending him a copy of my earlier novel, Bogfoke, and him sending me a copy of his collection of short stories.

Short stories seem out of favor these days, and this collection proves that is too bad. This particular collection ranges from the prose-poem length “I Have Slaved For You” to the near novella length “Numaris.” Like C.S. Lewis or Charles Williams, they lean much on allegory.

The Last Ugly Person, from which the collection gets is name, is a particularly finely crafted story. I mean, it is jewel-like in its precision.  Of course, the problem with allegory is that it is very difficult to give many plot details for fear of revealing too much. I have mentioned…

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Just a rainy Sunday morning when I’ve gone to Mass on Saturday evening.

 


I love the sound of tires on a wet road. Even a major highway sounds better when it is wet, but I’m talking really about the random vehicle passing through a quiet neighborhood.

It is one of the few sounds of technology that can at times enhance a “pastoral” scene. I kinda like the distant sound of a solitary lawnmower on a sunny day as well.

Not a sound, but I also like walking around a neighborhood and passing through the scent of a clothes dryer.

The Three Massketeers

 

 

An unlikely friendship given that we’re about a generation apart. This photo is from this past Ash Wednesday (2/10/16). To my right, with the short hair is Mary and to my left is Audrey. Not too long after I had returned to the Church, these two ladies basically adopted me as their friend. These are not you typical “church ladies” to be sure.

Somehow we just “clicked” as Audrey has pointed out. There’s hardly a conversation in which Mary at some point doesn’t say, “Your wife has got to be a saint!” Then there was the time Audrey was telling me about her son having really enjoyed my book. I expressed my appreciation for that. To which Audrey replied, “I told him it wasn’t that good.”

Recently Audrey has had some trouble with dizziness (the real sort, not the blonde sort) and hasn’t been able to often make daily Mass. Mary and I conspired to get her to and from for a Mass dedicated to her late husband. Sitting between us she patted our hands and said, “This is nice.”

It was. It felt like how it should be. So Mary and I made plans to do it again for Ash Wednesday. This photo was taken after the Mass. It was supposed to show our “Holy Smudges” but owing to all the sunlight in the church atrium, all that white hair, and my expansive forehead, evidence of the ashes is near impossible to see.

Afterward we went to lunch. We made each other laugh. It was nice.

I hope that when God looks at us, He is thinking, “The agape is strong in these three.”

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. . . and it all started as a joke.

So I was talking with a friend, back in April or so, who was going on a trip in early/mid June. The itinerary was London, to Paris, to Rome/Vatican, Naples/Pompeii/Capri. The National Gallery in London was one of the planned stops. I jokingly suggested it would be cool to have a photo taken of Tobit’s Dog in front of the Gallery, considering its relevance to Francis “Crafty” Forgeron  in Tobit’s Dog. We bantered about that the way friends do (or at least the way my friends and I do) for awhile, and then I forgot all about it. . . until I got a call from Rick a few days before his departure telling me he was in fact taking a copy of the book with him.

As it turned out, the National Gallery was removed from the itinerary, but while he was in London he did take a photo of Tobit’s Dog from the top of the London Eye, that giant Ferris wheel. I saw it on his phone, but he forgot to load it onto the flash drive of photos he gave to me. Still, London was not wasted. Knowing my love for classic cars, especially British and European classic cars, he did include this:

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Then it was off to Paris, where Rick and his wife, Brenda showed Tobit’s Dog the sights:

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Tobit’s Dog got to go to Notre Dame:

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It even got to go into the cathedral:

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Then it was off to Italy, where Tobit’s Dog seemed especially excited about going to the Vatican. . . while Rick is best described as looking, errr, determined.

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So in to the Vatican:

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Rick said he kept seeing statues similar to these in both the Louvre and the Vatican. He thought it would be a great idea to pose Tobit’s Dog in their hands or whatever. Unfortunately, he decided that ropes, glass, metal grates, rails, security guards and probably Brenda, made it impractical:

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We like to think that this seagull is the same one who was sitting on the chimney of the Sistine Chapel during the election of Pope Francis:

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With the tour of the Vatican done, it was on to Pompeii. By this time Tobit’s Dog was a bit travel weary, so it skipped the ruins. However, the hard travelling. hardworking  hardback was treated to day of rest and relaxation on Capri:

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When Rick returned to the USofA, he brought the copy Tobit’s Dog to me as a gift, complete with stamps, stickers and stuff it had accrued during its travels. It had even been taken into the Vatican to be blessed. Rick said a stranger, with an American accent, said he wanted to read that book, but that it was difficult to get American books in Italy. Rick pointed out the publishers name and told him it should easily be had online at Ignatius Press or Amazon, even in Italy.

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It seems to me that a man can easily have too many acquaintances, but never too many good friends. Another, late, friend of mine, Stephen Carter (still luv’ya and miss ya, man), loved this quote:

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.
― Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

If so, I have been very lucky indeed.

Next Chapter Bookstore

The Next Chapter bookstore in New Bern, NC is now carrying Tobit’s Dog. Should you be in downtown New Bern, stop in and check out the store, which in addition to used books features books and art by local artists.

 

Really, visiting the Next Chapter is a good excuse for visiting downtown New Bern, which is almost always a fun do.

http://www.thenextchapternc.com/