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Monday, October 31, 2005

Now This Is More Like It

The Democrats are in a snit, and the Republicans are beaming. We're no longer operating through the upside-down looking glass of unlikely Supreme Court Justice nominees. This one's a keeper. We're in for a lively time before Samuel A. Alito Jr. is confirmed to the high court.

To quote a famous campaign slogan, "bring it on." It's high time Republicans stopped tippy-toeing around Congress, worrying about the next election and the other side's feelings. We've already won the election, and, in case no one has noticed, Republican feelings never figure much into Democratic logistics. So let's suit up and get these confirmation hearings over with.

It'll be a verbal slugfest, no doubt. But I think the Jersey boy will do just fine.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Kingdom of Hollywood

I watched the DVD of "Kingdom of Heaven" last night. Right up front, I'll admit that I wished I'd seen it on the big screen. Directed in the grand, sweeping, visually electrifying style we have come to expect from Ridley Scott, it's a quality production with a meaty, historically based story and a stellar cast.

All that being said, the movie was an overly simplistic representation of that era. For starters, there was a lot more than this one episode involved in the Crusades.

The Crusades were a varied series of military campaigns that for lasted hundreds of years. One of the major reasons for these wars was for Christianity to secure control of the Holy Land. But the many wars we have come to call the Crusades had numerous other geopolitical causes, among them defense of European peoples against Muslim invasions. None of this is mentioned or even implied, and perhaps it would be unfair to expect that. Hollywood scripts do not lend themselves well to historical layers and complexity.

Orlando Bloom plays Balian, illegitimate son of Godfrey, played by Liam Neeson. I'm not quite sure how Godfrey knows to direct his cavalry through Balian's village en route to Jerusalem, thus meeting his son for the first time. Godfrey invites Balian to join the Army, so to speak. Balian, lost in the nether regions of personal grief, decides to find meaning in life by following Dad. And there you have it--instant plot.

After giving Balian some rapid sword training, Godfrey is mortally wounded. In true Hollywood fashion, Godfrey gives his most eloquent, sage, and dramatic speech to Balian while stepping through death's door. Considering the fact that he only knew his father for a few days, the speech made quite a lasting impression on Balian, because he spends the rest of the movie parroting Dad's words back to various and sundry supporting characters.

Balian is a lost soul. He finds no solace in religion, but forges his own path to leadership in a very pioneering, modern-day humanist fashion. He is a true hero, inspiring the army of Jerusalem to defend its walls. But it is highly unlikely that someone of his era in history would be applying post-Enlightenment thinking to his actions.

There are no good Christians in this movie, period. Priest, bishop, or leader, they are portrayed as evil, corrupt, cowardly, and stupid. Undoubtedly, such Christians participated in the Crusades, but I'm sure there were a few good eggs among the garbage. Muslims, on the other hand, are played as wise, thoughtful, and compassionate in their responses. Again, no doubt true in many cases. But the stacks of decapitated heads silently suggest a more brutal Muslim response on at least a few occasions.

Which leads me to the director's favorite special effect, copious sprays of gushing blood. They are ubiquitous in this film, so you'd better brace yourself for plenty of spatter during the battle scenes. It's not for a queasy stomach.

"Kingdom of Heaven" is a mediocre history lesson, but it is a very good film. If you're curious about the history of the Crusades, it's an interesting starting point--provided you plan to keep reading on the subject.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Good Call

While recent umpire calls may have been questionable, Harriet Miers' good judgment in withdrawing her nomination is beyond reproach. I think she did the right thing, and not a moment too soon.

To quote TV judge Judy Sheindlin, it's time to "put a period" after this SCOTUS episode and move on. But do you know who I really feel sorry for?

It's not Harriet Miers or President Bush.

It's poor Sandra Day O'Connor, who just wants a few years of peace and quiet to relax and enjoy her family! Retirement doesn't seem to be in her stars just yet. Hang in there, Justice O'Connor. Hopefully, the next nominee will get you where you want to be.

Sweeping Victory

Congratulations to the Chicago White Sox, World Champions of baseball for 2005. The Sox won fair and square with masterful playing.

Chicago, enjoy your celebration. I'm sure this victory tastes especially sweet after the 88-year wait.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Second Guessing

It's World Series season, one of my favorite times of the year. This year, the post season games don't seem to be as much fun to watch as they used to be. Several of the umpire's calls have been tough to take.

Umpires are human, they make mistakes like everyone else. But when umpires screw up, millions of people agonize over their errors. It's way more public than just ticking off the boss at the office. No way I'd want the ump's job.

I was pulling for the Angels to win (naturally!), so the officiating left me cold. Now, I'm routing for the Astros. There are several reasons why. They've never been to the World Series before. Roger Clemens just lost his mother. I've always liked Andy Pettitte (even though I despise the Yankees). And the city of Houston has been a kind and generous neighbor to evacuees from this year's Gulfcoast hurricanes. I'd like to see Houston win.

The Astros are down 2-0 in the Series. Maybe that's why I'm blogging instead of watching the game. But I just checked the score, and it's 2-zip Astros, bottom of the third, 2 out, first and third. Time to leave the past behind and give the umpires another chance...

Base hit, 3-0 Houston. Bye for now!

Update: Final, White Sox 7-5 in the 14th. Can't blame this one on the umpires!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Books of Faith

Hugh Hewitt's OneTrueGodBlog recently requested a recommended reading list for young Christian college students, for the purpose of deepening their faith. Continuing on the reading theme from my last post, here are my five favorite faith-based books:

The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton. I first read this book at age twelve (I was always a precocious reader). It was summer vacation, I was bored and out of reading material, and my parents had a first edition hard cover on the den bookshelf. Merton's story was immediately fascinating to me, and I swallowed it whole. How could one so misguided in his early life end up such a spiritual success? In addition to reading Merton's other works, I have referred back to this book many times over the years. It shows that any soul can rise to greatness through faith. For me, it was a life-changing read.

Crossing The Threshold of Hope, by Pope John Paul II. You don't have to be Catholic to enjoy and learn from this book. God is explained as very close to and very involved in our modern world. Written in an open, welcoming, question-and-answer style, the expansive and ecumenical themes of this book are easily embraced by any person of faith. The profound wisdom and experience of this elder giant of the Church is simply communicated in an engaging way that young people will appreciate.

Blue Like Jazz: Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, by Donald Miller. Recommended to me by a fellow blogger, Alan Riley of In the meantime, this book is breathtaking in its simplicity. It's written in a heartfelt, conversational style that is both touching and humorous. If you have ever felt far away from God, out of step with your faith, or too worldly to be religious, this is a book that will show you how your misgivings and second thoughts are all part of your spiritual journey.

Great Lion of God, by Taylor Caldwell. An excellent historical novel about St. Paul, his life and times. This was another vacation read, this time during my college years. Taylor Caldwell was one of the most prolific and popular fiction authors of the 20th century, and my aunt read all her books. She loaned me "Great Lion" for the train commute to my summer job. It was the first time I had ever read a fictionalized account of a Biblical person, and it was impossible for me to put down. It brought the New Testament to life in a way I hadn't imagined before. Saints were drawn as real-life, flesh-and-blood people, complete with serious flaws and problems. It made me hungry for more, so shortly after I finished it, I read the fifth book on my list:

Dear and Glorious Physician, by Taylor Caldwell. Another fine historical novel by the same author, this time recounting the life and times of St. Luke, the evangelist. It was the first time I had ever seen Mary, Mother of Our Lord, appear as a character in the pages of a novel. Again, great saints of mythical proportions were portrayed vividly as real people. I seek out this type of novel to this day. It helps me to remember that each of us in our turn must walk the road set before us by God, striving to do the best we can in our human circumstances.

It's always helpful to know that we're not alone in our inner spiritual struggles. Perhaps at no time is this knowledge so important as in late adolescense and early adulthood, when youngsters stand poised at the crossroads of so many momentous decisions. It is my hope that all college students may find something of worth in the above list. As I have learned, reading always makes a journey more enjoyable.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Reading and Righting

Of all the sad stories in current events, perhaps none is more discouraging to me than the news that America's children are poor readers, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

To quote from the report:

"To me, this goes beyond disappointing," said former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance For Excellent Education, an advocacy group that promotes high school reforms. "It shows that we are failing to gain ground on the very conditions we need to reverse to improve our graduation rates and produce more students who are ready for college and the workforce."

No matter what educational or career path a young person chooses, he or she will not succeed without good reading skills. That's not being dramatic; it's just common sense. If you can't read, you can't study. If you can't study, you won't learn. And if you don't learn, your choices in life are limited at best.

Aside from the practical necessity of reading, the joy of it is also missing from these young lives. The limitless possibilities of thought and the delightful journeys of imagination that reading offers are closed to those who don't read. If I had a dollar for every hour I've spent immersed in a good book, I'd be retired by now. To know that some young people do not have the option of reading, either for fun or to further themselves along life's highway, is a depressing thought indeed.

The schools can't do it alone. Parents are vital to a child's learning to read. Mom or Dad setting aside ten minutes for reading the kids a bedtime story is more important to a child's reading development than a full hour spent with the teacher in reading class. When new parents ask me the secret to raising their babies to be successul young people, I tell them to read bedtime stories every night. I can say truthfully that bedtime stories worked for me--both as a child and as a parent.

The proof is in the pudding. I read that somewhere.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Out of the Park

Victor Davis Hanson hits a home run once again in his latest posting. It's worth reading every word, but here's my favorite sentence:

The story of the war since September 11 is that the United States military has not lost a single battle, has removed two dictatorships, and has birthed democracy in the Middle East.

Not a bad batting average for our troops. And on the topic of baseball, congratulations to the Houston Astros, 2005 National League Champions.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What, Me Worry?

"When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened" ~ Sir Winston Churchill

Judging by the news, we humans are in a very sorry state of affairs, overall. Americans, in particular, have been suffering considerably heavier-than-average slings and arrows of late. The news can become quite discouraging, if allowed to be.

A list of my current Top Ten Catastrophe Headlines (and the way they appear to me) is below:
  1. Bird Flu (It's Coming, We're Going)
  2. Global Warming (Chilling Future)
  3. Hurricanes and Floods (It's Bush's Fault)
  4. Earthquakes in Various Places (Don't Act Surprised, You Read It First In Matt 24)
  5. Mudslides and Famine (See #4)
  6. Harriet Miers (The Liberal Liability)
  7. Harriet Miers (The Conservative Curse)
  8. China Takes Over World (U.S.A., Sit Down and Relax For A Change)
  9. Terrorist Threat (They've Got A Ways To Go Yet)
  10. President Hillary (Don't Be Sillary)
I suppose we could all torment ourselves with any number of potentially disastrous scenarios. But what's the point? Que sera, sera and all that mellow, Zen philosophy stuff.

On the other hand:

"Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough."
~ George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Ides of October

Even the U.N. had to admit that things went pretty smoothly.

"The secretary general pays tribute to the courage of the Iraqi people and congratulates the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, as well as the thousands of Iraqi election workers and monitors, on having organised and carried out the referendum in such challenging circumstances," a U.N. spokesman said in a statement.

All of this is true and well deserved praise. Conspicuously absent is any mention of the U.S. military's impact upon the successful election process in Iraq. But that's fine. Our troops know what their contribution has been and don't need verbal bouquets from the U.N., of all places.

Naturally, I wonder just how often the U.S. would have been mentioned in that statement had the voting gone badly. The mind boggles at how quickly a poor outcome would have altered the U.N.'s perception of the event.

But it's a moot point. Thanks to both the courageous Iraqi people and our dedicated U.S. troops, all's well that ends well for yesterday's crucial election. Terrorists, beware the Ides of October. Your number has come up, and it's not a winner.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Joyful News

What a relief it was to receive this e-mail last night from Soldiers' Angels:

"We are happy to report that your troop (name & unit) has returned home safely."

I've requested another name from the Angels and look forward to having a newly-adopted soldier to fuss over for the holidays. Supporting the troops has proved to be a very rewarding addiction. I recommend it highly.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Saturation Point

A bit more than a week ago, I had never heard of Harriet Miers. Today, I have grown more weary at the sight and sound of her name than at Hillary Clinton’s.

I can only recall one other personal name that burst upon the media with such immediate and intense saturation. That was Osama bin Laden, on 9/11. Not that I wish to compare these two individuals in any other way besides public overexposure.

I’m willing to wait for the hearings to listen to what the lady has to say. I’ve seen and heard more than enough of what everyone else and his constituent has to say. Probably the most amusing commentary I read came from James Dobson, who noted that she has “been a believer in Jesus Christ since the late 1970s” and that he “knows the person who led her to the Lord.”

How does that square with the fact that she "had a Catholic upbringing”? Who does Dobson think Catholics believe in? And if she needed to be “led to the Lord,” where does that leave the Catholics? Apparently, we’re outside the Lord’s sphere on the evangelical compass. We're a bunch of lost sheep, awaiting a good evangelical shepherd to herd us in the right direction.

Baaahh-loney!

Chief Justice Roberts was required to affirm the "wall of separation" between his identity as a practicing Catholic and his judicial persona. It will be interesting to see if, in the course of the hearings, Ms. Miers is also expected to differentiate so strongly between her religious faith and her judicial philosophy (whatever that may be).

As previously stated, I'm tired of the overkill coverage on her, and I’ll wait for the hearings and listen to the lady speak before drawing further conclusions. I may be Catholic, but I try to be a fair-minded one (see Matt 7:1).

Monday, October 10, 2005

Due For Flu?

With all the ominous discussion about avian flu, I'm among the many who are wondering if our number is up for a worldwide killer bug.

Pandemics have been a constant in human history. Considering the burgeoning world population, it's surprising we haven't had this concern before now. Six billion germ-carrying humans bumping elbows is a lot of exposure to innumerable unhealthy agents.

There are theories that pandemics are nature's protection against overpopulation and overuse of resources. This line of reasoning contends that when the world reaches a state of critical mass, some natural catastrophe, such as a pandemic, purges the human population down to a manageable size. The life and growth cycle can then renew itself. It's a troublesome thought, but it does make a certain amount of sense.

There's no point in stressing about what might happen. There will be time enough to worry should the disease break loose. And even in that unhappy event, we are probably better prepared for a flu outbreak, from an informational and technological standpoint, than any other generation in human history.

There is one added consolation; not everyone who falls ill in a pandemic succumbs to it. I'm the granddaughter of a 1918 "Spanish flu" survivor. One can only hope that such an iron chip is hardwired into the DNA circuit board.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Charitable Priorities

If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
~ 1 Timothy 5:8

When multiple tragedies strike in close succession, the charitable giver must make choices. We can not deny our own financial responsibilities, yet we wish to help to the extent that our resources allow. How do we choose our charities to assist our neighbors in need?

This is the question posed on OneTrueGodBlog in the wake of today's earthquake in Asia. Most American charitable givers continue to support hurricane relief efforts; now there is a new demand placed upon our consciences. So how do we make the call as to where our money goes?

I use St. Paul's first letter to Timothy, quoted above, as a guiding principle, because I do believe that charity begins at home. Some of my annual foreign missions donation was diverted to hurricane relief here in the U.S., to fellow Americans in need--my "family."

But when catastrophes such as today's occur, the boundaries of family are widened to include our faraway cousins. While I won't forget my countrymen, I am called upon to remember also those suffering in other lands. If I want to be able to say I am at least attempting to meet Our Lord's expectations, I have no other choice:

...go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. ~ Mark 10:21

My October contributions will be divided between both U.S. and foreign charities, accompanied by prayers for all. I haven't sold all that I have, so I'm not expecting "treasure in heaven." But I'm hoping that, for my good faith efforts, I may be worthy of a gift certificate.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Sister's Triumph

Since I first learned of her efforts and posted on them, I have followed Debra Burlingame's story. The depths of her steely courage, fierce outrage, and unwavering determination to fight against diluting the memory of the 9/11 victims, particularly her brother, is inspiring.

"Take Back the Memorial" was her battle to stop the International Freedom Center at Ground Zero in New York, to prevent the cheapening of the 9/11 deaths that were American casualties of war. She fought on behalf of her brother, Charles Burlingame, the pilot of Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon, as well as for all the 9/11 victims. Even under formidable pressure and duress, she would not give up. She fought as valiantly, as fiercely, as any soldier.

This week, Debra won her victory. I was among the tens of thousands who signed her petition. But that was the smallest thing I could do for this greatest of sisters. I can only hope that, in her shoes, I would have had the inner fire, the perseverance, and the dedication to travel the rough road this brave and remarkable woman did.

Wherever her big brother is, he is smiling.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Saints Are People, Too

October 4 is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. I didn't pay too much attention to this saint until recent years, but the loss was mine. As I read about him, I'm learning that he's an interesting fellow.

Francis Bernardone came from a wealthy family, had a good education, but squandered his privileges during his wild, wayward youth. He became a soldier and was captured in battle. As a POW, he had a conversion experience in which Christ called him into service. Upon regaining his freedom, Francis renounced worldly possessions, to his father's fury, and embarked upon a religious odyssey that would last the rest of his life.

Francis lived in poverty, wore the rough garments of Our Lord's day, begged for food, and tended the sick. He founded two religious orders, the Franciscans and the Poor Clares. Towards the end of his life, Francis received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ.

St. Francis had great affection for animals and is the patron of animals and animal welfare societies. (My dog wears a St. Francis medal on her collar, along with her license.) One of his most famous prayers, very popular in modern times, appears below.


Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Monday, October 03, 2005

Angst and Applause

Reaction to President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court has run the gamut of extreme emotion. Most of the solid conservatives in the media are moping so morosely you would think that the Senate Republicans had just had their majority status revoked.

There are a few notable exceptions. Some conservative commentators think this is another brilliant stroke of W's hidden genius. And it may well be. But I'd feel a little better about Miers' nomination if our national borders didn't continue to be one vast frontier open for anyone and his cellmates to roam through. “You're with us or against us" is hard to take seriously when illegal entry terrorists may be renting the condo down the street.

I hearken back to that November 2001 speech only as a barometer of trust. The president is asking us to take him at his word that Miers is a good choice. Living in Southern California, I would trust his word more easily if the borders were under control. With President Bush, I’m at a “trust, but verify” stage of relationship.

But that’s my problem. As president, George W. Bush gets to choose the nominees for the Supreme Court vacancies. That’s the rule, and it’s worked out well for a couple of centuries. The disappointed will have to cope, and the gratified still need to wait and see how this whole drama shakes out. If confirmed, Miers could be an unmitigated disaster, or she could be the best hidden blessing to ever grace the high bench.

We can trust, for now. Time will verify.