Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hide in Plain Sight

 What's he think?

 Every year in Wednesday Night Sunday School we cover this bit of Isaiah:

"The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's manger; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand."

And connect  it to these bits of Luke:

"And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."

"And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger."

See, Luke mentions the manger twice so we can understand the birth of Jesus in the context of chapter 1 of Isaiah: here's the Messiah right here in this manger, he's the master, nobody knows about it but dumb animals and the like. That is, Luke says manger to point out something from the past. I mean, what other reason would Luke have for bothering us with where Mary happened to plop Jesus? But he specifies manger to also say something about the future. I've been teaching Catechism of one sort or another since the late 90s, and don't think I've ever mentioned this other connection about mangers and Jesus:
 Miracle bread in Bethlehem*, get it? No? How about this:

Miracle bread and flesh, see? No? OK then, this:

You know: "the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." Of course the dumb-yet-French-speaking ox and ass knew perfectly well all along that you put food in a manger**. But that would be Isaiah's point: sometimes the dumb and lowly know better than their betters.
*Bethlehem:  בֵּית  לֶחֶם Beyth Lechem, House [of] Bread.

**Manger: French, to eat.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Greenville-Ephrathah 11

 Li'l 'phrathah

Recent news:

"A federal appeals court in Washington has reinstated the lawsuits for two religious colleges challenging a federal law that would compel them to cover contraception, abortifacients and sterilization in their employee health-insurance plans...During oral arguments Tuesday, HHS lawyers promised that the government would “never enforce” the mandate in its current form against Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Illinois, or Belmont Abbey, a Catholic liberal arts college in North Carolina." (National Catholic Register)

But what makes the story Ephrathah-worthy?

Last week I was listening to one of the local Fundamentalist radio stations; their format is music, news, and gospel-preaching. When Catholicism comes up, it's in the context of its false teachings. In fact right now, the radio preacher is saying we've become our own priests and don't need a priest in a box. Straight to Jesus, amen! That's fine with me: I'm glad they just say what they mean. But when their newsman introduced the above ruling, he said it was in favor of "two Christian colleges," which he then proceeded to name. It would've been easy enough say a Christian college and a Catholic college, which is what I would've expected. It's a small thing; but not less significant to me for its smallness.

Kind of like the first Ephrathah.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hommage au Chacal

This scope lets me see nearly 40 years into the future

Five or six nights a week, My Fabulous Wife and I will watch an episode of something on Roku or Netflix. Lately we've been watching Season 1 of Homeland, and I've noticed some homages to a few of my favorite movies. 

The first homage I recognized is based on this line from 1974's Chinatown: "When Mulvihill here was sheriff of Ventura County, the rum runners landed hundreds of tons of booze on the beach and never lost a drop. He oughta be able to hold on to your water for you." (Jake Gittes) In one of the first episodes of Homeland, Carrie (IIRC) makes a similar snide remark about a cop she thinks is corrupt, or at best, incompetent. She paraphrases the Chinatown line into a reference to illegal drugs.

Next is from 1972's The Godfather: 

"Hey, listen, I want somebody good - and I mean very good - to plant that gun. I don't want my brother coming out of that toilet with just his **** in his hands, alright?" (Sonny Corleone). In Homeland, Carrie and an FBI agent are arguing about a SWAT team fiasco. One of them uses the same vulgar imagery as Sonny to describe the hapless shooters.

After these two, I was primed for any other homages I might recognize. Then last night in Episode 9, "Crossfire," a scene opens with a sniper in the woods. I pause the show, and tell Janet, "This is going to be an homage to Day of the Jackal (1973). He's going to set up a target on a tree, then zero in his scope. He'll take two shots, adjusting his scope after each one; then take a third shot which will hit the bull's eye." I press Play, and- he does just as I expected. 

Near the end of the episode, the sniper fires another shot, this time with his rifle held steady by resting the barrel on a knife he has stuck into a tree. This is yet another Jackal homage based on the image at the top of the page, where the assassin steadies his rifle by tying the barrel against a tree.

Always fun to see that moviemakers and I like the same movies.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review 2, Sort Of

Originally posted at New Evangelizers on Dec. 13

I read a Whole Lotta Books, but most of them aren't germane to my blog content. And if you want a review of Neptune's Inferno or Korsun Pocket, there are plenty out there that I can't improve on.

On the other hand, the New Evangelization Thing absorbs lots of my free time via 6th-grade Catechism class; and before that, teaching RCIA and Adult Ed with an explicitly Evangelical context. Although back in the late '90s when my wife and I were doing that, we didn't speak of, and I don't think we even had heard of, the New Evangelization. We were simply about helping old and new Catholics understand their faith in a way that enabled them to explain it to their decidedly un-Catholic friends and family.

It's only been in the last 10 years or so that I became aware of the phrase "New Evangelization;" JP2 first used the term about 30 years ago. I didn't know! Regardless, the Bible-Belt Catholic world I inhabit has had an Evangelical posture at least at the margins for what, 15 years or more? So it ain't all that New around here anyway.

About 8 years ago our parish had a 'Called and Gifted' workshop put on by the Siena Institute. It's 'designed to help Christians discern the presence of charisms in their lives.' I didn't attend, already having discovered that my charism was making 6th-graders suffer in Catechism class. But I thought the whole premise was intriguing, and later bumbled into Siena's website and blog. The blog was an eye-opener for me: Siena staff held Called and Gifted events all over the Anglosphere, and the blog was full of close-up observations of worldwide Catholicism: some encouraging, some pretty bleak. Now this was amazing to me because virtually all my friends in Upstate S.C. are gung-ho Catholics; time-treasure-talent Catholics; motivated, energized Catholics. And there are dozens and dozens of them: last Christmas/ New Year's we had two drop-in parties, invited about 100 of our "closest Catholic friends" and still couldn't invite everyone we wanted to.

One day at Siena's blog, founder Sherry Weddell posted about a lonely fired-up Catholic somewhere who didn't know a single other fired-up soul in his parish; and I commented how shocking that was, since my S.C. parish has more than you can shake a stick at. She asked if I belonged to St. Mary's parish in Greenville (she had done the Called and Gifted program here). I said yes, and Sherry remarked that it was not a typical parish.Well, yeah: but that atypical? And there are parishes that apathetic? 

In the meantime I was hearing more about the New Evangelization, which was an idea that harmonized well with my observations and goals in 6th grade Catechism class. I believe the Church is caught in a generational riptide where indifferently-catechized adults are indifferently-catechizing kids; who then grew up to be indifferently-catechized adults, etc. I'm not saying that Institutional Catechism is incompetent, but I am saying it's not very compelling by the time it goes into children's ears. At least I don't find it compelling. And my class goal is explicitly that the kids not just learn their faith, but learn it in a compelling way; and prepare now to evangelize later. I tell them in the first class that they have to pay attention and learn everything they can because I expect them to grow up to be catechists and evangelizers. And they start with their parents: their homework is to tell their parents what they learn. Breaking the riptide must start here and now, and will be a big part of the New Evangelization.

But I tell you what: I've read and heard hundreds of thousands of words about the New Evangelization on video, in print, and in person. And it all strikes me as 95% recycled generic Catholic information with a new name slapped on it. Or a lot of exhortation: like a football coach motivating his team in the locker room. Which is fine, but if the coach hasn't first trained his individual players in how to execute, they'll just get their asses whupped, exhortation or not.

So this brings me to the book, Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell.

I first heard the term 'Intentional Disciple' at the Siena blog. It's the best one I know of to describe the sort of lay Catholic without whom there will be no New Evangelization, just a lot of talk about the New Evangelization. I like to say 'fired-up Catholic' or 'motivated Catholic;' but 'Intentional Disciple' is much better. Now Sherry could have defined that term on page 1, and then exhorted us to be intentional disciples and get out there and be New Evangelizers or whatever for another 249 pages, but she doesn't. She and her staff have been training, working with, and listening to, thousands of individual Catholics for more than a decade. So her book is based on that accumulated one-on-one, boots-on-the-ground experience.

Sometimes I tell My Fabulous Wife, "Bein' married t'you ain't like being married t'other women;" which is a compliment. Likewise, reading Forming Intentional Disciples isn't like reading other books on the New Evangelization. Which is also a compliment. The first few chapters describe the indifference and lassitude of the vast majority of the Catholic laity. Some info is statistical (not too much), but Sherry also includes lots of personal testimony from Catholics she has interviewed. Stuff I never heard of and would not have guessed at; and I expect most Catholics wouldn't guess at, either.

Then she describes real people and real parishes where things were turned around by small groups of...intentional disciples. At this point she could exhort you, the reader, to make a bunch of intentional disciples, turn around your parish and get busy with the New Evangelization! But she doesn't: the bulk of the rest of the book describes a step-by-step process of, you guessed it, actually Forming Intentional Disciples. Some of it is managerial and general, but there's lots of specific, interpersonal stuff in it as well, such as:

  • Talk explicitly about Jesus. 
  • Questions to ask people to draw them out about how their faith is lived (or not).
  • How to listen.
  • The stages people go through to become intentional disciples, and how to recognize where an individual is in that process. And again, these chapters are full of examples of real people in real parishes. 

The last chapter is titled 'Expect Conversion,' which would be a vacuous exhortation except that it is preceded by 11 substantial chapters containing concrete steps, specific advice, and real-life examples of what is already being accomplished by parishes using Siena's system. Particulars aside, the main reason I like this book is that it plops the responsibility for New Evangelizing right where it belongs: in the lap of the laity. And having done so, it then shows how the laity can get the job done. Not by talking about the New Evangelization, but by generating a critical mass of intentional disciples in one's parish. Based on my experience, if a parish has that, the rest happens of its own accord.

I'm not going into more detail. I'll close by saying that any Catholic who wants to see his or her parish become salt and light to the world would find Forming Intentional Disciples both an interesting read and a useful guide.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pitchers 15: Shoot

We want a real Messiah

Here's the board from the 11/28/12 Isaiah class. This is when the kids remind me that the Jews want the good old days back, when David and Solomon whipped Israel's enemies, and the Chosen People weren't little dogs living in a big-dog world. Some drawing accompanies me reading a series of Isaiah prophecies while the children figure out what they might mean.

The lower left sketch shows how highway builders trim down the high points and use that material to fill the low points to make a smoother road, as in: "prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level."

Above that is the Temple on the Mountain, both of which figure repeatedly in Isaiah.

To the right is the sort of Messiah/ Mashiah/ Christos/ Anointed One which the Jews are hoping God will send them: a fighter who's gonna get Israel some payback from the likes of Babylon. Once this cartoon is drawn, we start on the prophecies.

"Y'all tell me who David's daddy was. Joseph! No, but close...Jesse!  Yes. And David's son? Solomon!  Yes again. And what sort of Messiah were the Jews hoping for? One like David and Solomon. Yes. Now we're going to learn about a lot of Isaiah's prophecies to see what sort of Messiah the Jews were actually going to get.

Y'all tell me about the Jesse Tree from last week. It's a tree that grows out of Jesse and Jesus is at the top. Yes...here's Jesse, he's kind of lying on a sofa so the tree can grow out of him...here's the tree, it goes way up. That doesn't look like a person! So what? I just said it's Jesse. Use your imaginations, you're 6th-graders. Anyway, Israel's enemies have conquered Israel, and cut the tree down (I erase it). All that's left is...this...stump. There ya go. I need the green marker now...OK, what would Israel like to happen to this cut-down tree? For it grow big again? Yes, like so, tall and green with a conquering King at the top. But let's hear what Isaiah has to say about this stump: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse..." Do y'all know what a shoot is? No? Look, it's like this...just a little green sprout with a leaf or two:

Could you build a house from that sprout, that shoot? No it's too flimsy. Make a fishing pole? No it's too small. So what's it good for? Nothing. Right, it's not very practical. But who is that little shoot coming out of Jesse's stump? David? Umm, no, this is a prophecy, David's in the remote past. Ummm...Jesus!  Yes! So why is Jesus a little green shoot instead of a big strong tree? Isn't the Messiah supposed to be big and strong? Yes! So...? Well, Jesus wasn't big and strong. Right. Isaiah is telling Israel that the big strong David and Solomon tree isn't coming back, but a humble little twig will grow that's related to Jesse and his kingly descendants."

With this foundation we then look at about a half-dozen Jesus-specific prophecies, time permitting. The little shoot sets the mood for the rest of them. Now I could have just said hey, listen to this verse, it means that Jesus is meek and humble like a little sprout and he's not what the Jews expected in a Messiah. But the kids learn so much better if they can access the emotional content, and see some fast sketching that helps them think.

As you can see, even bad drawings work well with narration.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Greenville-Ephrathah 10: World Premiere

 Li'l 'phrathah sez: Git fired up 'bout Evangelizin'!

Saint Mary’s Catholic Church will host George Weigel for his premier lecture on his new book Evangelical Catholicism : Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church. For more information about the event, click here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lesson Plan on the Fly

I have a syllabus of sorts for the whole year, but it's rare that classes start or end as predicted. So before every class I take a look at where we left off and make a quick lesson plan based on that. Here's the one for Dec. 12, which took only a few minutes to work out:

1. Isaiah Xmas- Last week we finished the Old Testament by reviewing a bunch of prophets and prophecies, right up to the last words of the last book. But I didn't cover any of Isaiah's Christmas prophecies because I save them for the last class before Christmas.

2. Review O.T.- Then we'll close out the Old Testament by reviewing the whole thing in about 10-15 minutes, starting with God before Creation, and ending with Malachi's prophecies:

"Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts."


"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes."

Mostly I just prompt the kids: "and then what/ who's next/ what's this mean?" They usually surprise me with how well they remember.

Intro N.T. - A few minutes of big-picture discussion about how the N.T. will be different from the O.T.; but also how they complement each other. I may compare them to the husband & wife in a marriage.

3. Imm. Conception- Part of the N.T. intro involves figuring out why the Immaculate Conception thematically lies between the O.T. & N.T., but is not mentioned in the Bible. I usually pull in some discussion of the Annunciation as well, just enough for them to see how the two are related, but separate, events.

& Isenheim-  I'll hand out an image of the Annunciation from the Isenheim Altarpiece. It shows how Mary is a hinge between the two Testaments based on symbolic elements which the kids can figure out. We'll also use this to discuss the Annunciation, and analyze another batch of elements. We also look at and act out a terrific portrait of Eve and Mary, emphasizing how the two women represent the Testaments. We also use this picture to discuss Mary's pregnancy. The images work well as a pair to transition from the O.T. to the N.T.

4. John the Baptist- for the first time this year, the kids will hear me read from the New Testament as we get started not with Jesus, not with Mary, not with John; but with John's parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Time permitting, we'll start on the Annunciation once Elizabeth is pregnant.

Isenheim & Mary/Eve- these rectangled words reminded me to put together this side-by-side handout of these two images:

 Eve and Mary by Sr. Grace Remington, O.C.S.O; and the left-hand panel of the second configuration of Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece

That's all the Lesson Plan I'll need. I've taught this material before; so yes, it's sketchy, but it's enough.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas & Epiphany

(Yes, that Christmas; but no, not that Epiphany.)


Years ago the mother of one of my students (Abby) made me a terrific little thank-you note which still sits on the base of my computer screen. I should mention that Abby was a Very Good Student. She must be about 19 years old now, a young woman.

This year I am teaching Abby's younger sister, Katie. We're getting close to Christmas, and before Wednesday night's class started, I received another thank-you from their mother; this time in the form of a Christmas-tree ornament. I'll have to tie it around the base of my computer screen.

G.K. Chesterton fans, eat ya hearts out...and uh, Merry Christmas!


In class we we covered bits of prophecy by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah, and Malachi. I read each passage and the kids figured out what each one prophesies. Mostly they anticipate something about Jesus, but not always. This is the bit I read from Daniel:

"...lo, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him... Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him, and myriads upon myriads stood before him."

The kids will readily connect this to the Second Coming. I'll say a bit about the 'son of man,' and tell them to look out for Jesus quoting Daniel after he's arrested. ("I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, "He has uttered blasphemy.")

But before I could get to any of that, Abby's-younger-sister-Katie blurted out, "That's the same as the song at church last Sunday!" And I'm looking at her: huh? what? Last Sunday we had that song! Umm...ok...yes, yes, we did, genius daughter, this one!" and I sang the opening verse, more or less:

"Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
something-something of his train:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign."

"That's an Advent hymn! Yes daughter, we just started Advent last week! The words are based on Daniel’s prophecy! You are too smart! By the way y'all, lots of hymn lyrics are taken from the Bible, so pay attention, you may recognize stuff from class in the hymns. And if you do, you will of course point it out to your parents."  

I should mention that like her sister Abby, Katie is a Very Good Student.

Friday, November 30, 2012

New Evangelization 1999

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Originally posted at New Evangelizers on Nov. 8 

Some might say: Yes. This.

Right now I'm about 2/3 of the way through an interesting book, Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. I'll call it a blueprint for kickstarting the New Evangelization at the parish level. Just a few minutes ago I was on page 167, and read this bit: "...Doug and I went through our old RCIA outlines, and basically threw almost everything out...We began asking ourselves, "Where do we want people to be spiritually when they are baptized or making a profession of faith?"

Which reminds me of my wife and myself in 1999.

I've been teaching 6th-grade Catechism for so long that I forget that my wife & I taught RCIA and Adult Ed back around the turn of the century.  In the late '90s we had been running a topically-driven adult class. In covering those assorted topics, time was spent on learning how to respond to all the odd questions Catholics here in the Bible Belt are regularly asked: why do y'all worship Mary, the Pope, saints, statues, and the "wafer god"; where is x, y, and z in the Bible; why can't priests get married; why can't you contracept; annulments are just Catholic divorces, etc. For a given topic our usual system was to find some useful content on the internet. We'd hand it out a week ahead, and everyone would read it before the next class. We would prepare a 30 minute lecture. The next class would combine the lecture material and the handout into an hour's worth of learning and informed discussion. It was a terrific system, and class prep had us reading all sorts of things: the Bible; the Catechism; the Catholic Encyclopedia; encyclicals; Ecumenical Council documents; Jack Chick tracts; books and articles by David Currie, Steve Ray, Scott Hahn, Karl Keating, Robert Sungenis, Jimmy Akin, Mark Shea, and the like; and the famous/infamous Roman Catholicism by Loraine Boettner.

Then after 2 years of Adult Ed, the pastor asked us to do RCIA starting in the Fall of '99. We said sure; we'd combine the RCIAers with the adult class crowd, which'd be good for both groups. We took the RCIA program materials home and started to compose a syllabus.

But we soon decided that the diocesan RCIA program wasn't well-suited to Bible-Belt catechumens and candidates. The typical adult converts here were Evangelicals or Fundamentalists. The Bible had persuaded them that the Catholic Church just might be the one true church which Christ had founded on Peter; and they were in RCIA to learn more about Catholicism from a Scriptural perspective. The RCIA materials were orthodox, but were sourcing faith more from Vatican 2 documents and the Catechism than the Bible. That's fine as far as it goes, but these folks were going to be defending and explaining their conversion to friends and family who'd reject Catholic sources out of hand. So like the people on page 167, Janet and I asked ourselves, "Where do we want people to be when they are done with RCIA?" And our answer was that they should be able to evangelize their non-Catholic friends and family, even if that evangelization were limited to the kitchen table.

Outlining our RCIA vision to the pastor, we got the go-ahead.  That Fall we ran RCIA like Adult Ed but with a bit more organization. At the first class meeting, everyone received a red 3-ring binder, empty except for the 26-class syllabus, a Table of Contents, and 10 tabbed dividers corresponding to each section, which were:

1. Faith and Reason/ Revelation: Scripture and Tradition

2. The Bible

3. Jesus and the Pope

4. History of the Church

5. The Sacraments

6. The Commandments/ Morality and Conscience

7.The Mass/ Church Calendar/ Vestments and Vocabulary

8. Mary, Prayer, and the Communion of Saints

9. Modernism

10. Catholic Evangelization/ Catechism and Apologetics

Then each class worked like Adult Ed: one or more handouts to read the week before class; and a lecture and discussion based on the handout. Class discussions often included what had been talked about around a water cooler or a kitchen table the week before. There was a lot of energy and excitement. And the cool thing was that the hole-punched handouts would go in a particular section of the red binder. We had 26 class meetings, so each tabbed section would accumulate handouts for more than one class, e.g. we had three classes on the Bible, and 8 handouts (some were only a couple of pages). By the end of the year each person had a customized sourcebook that they were familiar with.

Anyway it was only in reading that bit on page 167 of Sherry's book that it occured to me that our RCIA class was a good example of the New Evangelization. Major 1999 New Evangelization concepts included:

1. The explicit goal of evangelizing.

2. Action. That is, we didn't talk about the need for an effective RCIA program; we made one.

3. A nimbleness and responsiveness to what people wanted/ needed to know.

4. Using new media/ no textbook/ multisourcing.

5. Content offered in vernacular language spoken by a non-scholarly audience.

6. Lay initiative and responsibility. This strikes me as the most important.

Recalling those years, and turning the pages in my old red binder, I realize now more that I did then what a substantial evangelical project that first year of RCIA had been; how it didn't seem like a lot of work, but it was; what a little (well, big) family we all became, and still are when we see each other; and how the Holy Spirit moved within that class in a lovely way that I notice for the first time even as I write this.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Geniuses at Work

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets 

Tonight the kids were on a tear. Sometimes they get up on the wave and ride it 'til we have to go home.

Class ran from the death of David's firstborn son and the birth of Solomon, through Elisha taking up the mantle of Elijah. As usual I established the idea of Solomon being the Son of David, which then became a Messianic term which people living centuries after Solomon applied to Jesus. I drew my usual cartoon of Solomon on his throne, with a vacant throne at his right. The kids figured who would be sitting beside him: his Momma, not his Wife Posse. I add Bathsheba, and a B and an S over the Royal Heads. We then reviewed 1Kings2 to see how Bathsheba interceded for Adonijah, and how her son honored her:

"Then Adonijah the son of Haggith came to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon./ I have one request to make of you; do not refuse me." She said to him, "Say on." 17 And he said, "Pray ask King Solomon--he will not refuse you--to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife." 18 Bathsheba said, "Very well; I will speak for you to the king." 19 So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king's mother; and she sat on his right. 20 Then she said, "I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me." And the king said to her, "Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you." 21 She said, "Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah your brother as his wife."

The kids sussed out why Adonijah got Bathsheba to intercede for him (e.g., as Moses interceded for the calf-worshiping Israelites). I mention that Queen Elizabeth's mom was also a Queen Mother, the Queen Mum. In prior years I'd jump ahead to Cana at this point, and they'd connect Jesus'n'Mary to Solomon'n'Bathsheba; and check out the last lines of the Hail Mary. But this year I did not make that jump.

Instead we moved along, getting to how Elijah fled King Ahab and Jezebel, and was Hungry in the Desert. Being Hungry in the Desert like the wandering Israelites of old, who received Miraculous Bread and Flesh in the forms of manna and quail, Elijah likewise received Miraculous Bread and Flesh (from a raven). Then we covered Elijah's bread miracle at Zarephath: "And she went and did as Elijah said; and she, and he, and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of meal was not spent, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD which he spoke by Elijah."

At this point we jumped ahead to Jesus: "Y'all tell me the first time Jesus worked a miracle like this. When he did the loaves and fishes! Yes! More Miraculous Bread and Flesh! People were so impressed with Jesus' food miracles that when Jesus asked "Who do men say that the Son of Man is?" [T]hey said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." Now tell me about a Jesus food miracle before the loaves. Well, at the wedding he made wine...yes, good, wine counts as food. Tell it." And the Cana story tumbles out of the fired-up children. I interrupt to ask why the stewards talked to Mary about their problem. They stop: one child looks at the Solomon/ Bathsheba cartoon, and yells "cause it's like Solomon and his mom! Genius, yes! Somebody tell me, what's like Solomon and Bathsheba? Jesus loves his mom and wants to help her! Yes again! He honors her like Solomon did; and what Commandment says to do that? The...the fourth! Yes! Y'all are too smart!

Then my Magic Finger rubs out the B and S over the cartoon royalty. "Y'all tell me what initial goes here now. J for Jesus! Yes, he's...King! Of...Heaven! Yes. And- M for Mary! Yes, ya too fast! So she's...the King's Mom! Yes. How come her chair is little? Well, Mary is God's Mother, but she ain't God, is she? No! Now remember in the Creed we say "He is seated at the right hand of the Father" so who do I still need to draw? The Father! Yes, here we go...so Jesus sits...at his Father's right hand. Yes, and Mary...sits at Jesus' right hand. Good children! Yes? How come God isn't the King? God? Which flavor? The Father...why isn't he the King? Well, which person is called the Son of David? Jesus. Yes, and the Son of David was...Solomon. Yes, so Jesus is like Solomon; not God the Father. Jesus was mashia'd, anointed like David. Not Jesus' Daddy. So tell me about it. Jesus is the King. Yep. Is the Father jealous of his son? No, he loves him! Yes!

Just another night of Catechetical Bliss.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Page 94

There's your problem

I recently finished reading Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. It's a how-to book on Newly Evangelizing yourself; then your parish; and then the world. I mark up books like this and later go back to re-read the marked-up bits.

I was Confirmed in 1968 or so. I was also Baltimore Catechized, and understood that Bishop Unterkoefler was going to lay hands on me and I would receive Gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as...well, I forget. I was 11. Anyway, when you're Confirmed, you get 'em: charisms. So I got Confirmed but never did feel any different, like I had gotten some ka-riz-um. (Chaucer! Rabelais! Balzac!)

Living in South Carolina can be bracing for Catholics. Partly because one might not have at any given instant the best answer to a polemical question; but also because dialogue seems to give way so quickly to argument and uncharity. Is uncharity a word? It is.

One afternoon in 1998 I was at home around lunchtime to let the bug-killer spray the house. Nice young man, mid 20s or so, comes in with his gear, starts spraying. Notices the Jesus 'n' Mary statues; the Crucifix; the palms. He says, I see you have statues of Jesus and Mary...are y'all Catholic? "Yes, we are," and I'm gettin' stressed for the usual grind. Well, can I ask you some questions about that? "Sure, go ahead." And it's mostly the regular questions- but some were deeper, more informed, more inquiring, more than just boilerplate. I was really having to think and respond to particulars, and consequently feeling more tense than usual.

Then all of a sudden I was perfectly calm and relaxed. I seemed to have no involvement with the engaging responses that came out of my mouth. I was in an evangelical flow state, being lifted up and out, thinking and conversing in this weird, effortless, liberating, charitable, open way. And I thought, "Wow...could this be a Confirmation Gift of the Holy Spirit? A charism? Who'd'a thunk it after all these years?" I continued to accompany the bugman as he walked around the inside and outside of the house for the next 30-odd minutes, answering questions, asking a few, having a pointed yet pleasant conversation. Then we sat down while he wrote up his bill, which took the rest of the hour, as we were still talking. Only once did things get a bit tense, I think it was over good works in this bit by St. Paul:  "For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life...glory and honor and peace for every one who worketh good." But neither of us felt compelled to beat the other up over it, to win. Before he left, I learned that Mr. Bug Killer was only part-time, and was studying at Bob Jones for his divinity degree. He said he enjoyed our Christian dialogue; and while I hadn't persuaded him of anything it was interesting nonetheless. I agreed, and he left, both of us grinning like Cheshire Cats.

Page 94 of Sherry's book is in a section titled "Discerning Charisms." Like me, everyone has them, but we don't all get identical doses. And also like me, people often don't know what their charisms are. Sherry writes:

"...charisms almost always manifest after the point in our life when our faith becomes personal..."

Which was true in my case. But more specifically, she adds:

"They may also manifest for the first time when we meet a person or situation for which that particular gift is needed."

Which perfectly describes my experience...how'd she know that?

I marked up the rest of page 94 with additional underlining, brackets, and comments such as: Yes; Yes; Absolutely. A whole page of remarkable observations about my own experience of charisms. I could say more, but it's better if you read page 94 (and the rest of the book) yourself.

Order direct here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I Already Know About the Bible

 ...and they followed the North Star to Baby Jesus' igloo.

I remember the time one of my kids came up to me after class looking serious.

"Hey, Stratopops? Hey, what? I...I want to be moved to 7th grade. Oh yeah? Why's that? I'm in 7th grade in school, but I went to a Christian school last year, so this year I got put in your 6th grade class. Besides, I already know what you're teaching. Oh...what am I teaching that you already know? The Bible, we learned it in Christian school. Hey, that's great, you have a head start. So you already know what Melchizedek has to do with Mass? Well, we didn't learn about Mass. Oh. How about Melchizedek, you already knew about him before we covered him a couple of weeks ago? No we didn't have that. Oh. How about Isaac and Abraham? I know about them. Do you know what they have to do with Mass? No, we didn't talk about Mass! Oh yeah, that's right. How about Manoah and the angel? What? You know, Manoah, Samson's daddy, and the angel? Y'all didn't cover them I guess. Umm, no. Or how that angel is part of Mass? Uh-uh.

How about Passover? Yes! And what does Passover have to do with Mass? I don't know. That's ok, we'll cover that later. And Moses and the bread and flesh in the desert? Yes! And how that fits in with Mass? We didn't have that. Oh..how about sprinkling blood on the people, and mixing it with water and all that? We didn't have that. Huh...we were learning about the Meeting Tent last week, didja know about it? Yes! Good! Do you already know how a Catholic Church is like the Tent? Huh? Never mind, we'll get to that next week. Look, it's ok with me if you move to 7th grade, it's not my call anyway. But there's a whole lot about the Bible and Mass and being Catholic that we'll learn this year that you wouldn't get in Christian school, and because you already know a lot of Bible stuff it'll be interesting for you. So I think you oughta stay in my class."

So- did this child stay in my class? Umm...I don't remember.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Not in the Book

Last week one of the kids asked how old God is. This is one of a batch of God-questions, including: what created God/ when did God start/ what did God make the universe out of/ how can he know the future if it hasn't happened yet/ how big is God/ how do we know there's a God/ how can he know everything, etc. I get asked one or more of them every year, and this is a flexible model for how I answer them:

"Honorary son, that's a great question: how old is God? The short answer is that God has no age because He created Time just like he created a tree, a camel, or the Sun. How did he create those things? He just thought about them! Yes. Can the Sun burn God or give him a tan? No, that's silly. Right; stuff God thinks into existence can't control or limit him; so like the Sun, Time has no effect on God...see? But if he's been alive for millions of years isn't he old? [Sometimes this pitch works on 6th-graders, but not this time.] Well, no. But let's try something else.

Who knows who JK Rowling is? I do, she wrote Harry Potter. Yes. Any of y'all read any Harry Potter books? A couple of you...anyone seen the movies? Everybody, good. Are those characters real? No. Right- but in the books are they real? Yes! No! Try this: do any of the characters realize they are in a book? No! OK. Now those 7 books each cover a year in Harry's life. Did the author need a year to write each one? What? If the time in a book covers a year in a character's life, does that mean the author wrote it in a year? No, that's silly. Why is it silly? Because the person who wrote the book isn't in the book, they wrote it! Yes. But suppose I wrote a book about a real year of my own life, so I was in the book: would that take me a year to write? No, the time it takes to write it doesn't have anything to do with how much time is in it!  Right. But how about if you read a book: does the time you spend reading it match the time-span in the book? No they don't have anything to do with each other either. Yes. How about if the story is in the desert...would you be hot? No! And if it were in a blizzard? I wouldn't be cold. Right. And if you were an author, could you write about England while you lived in America? You can write a book about anywhere! You don't have to be there! Uh-huh. So can the world in a book affect the author or the reader in any way? Just how they feel. Yes. And if we sin and ignore God...he feels sad. Yes. So tell me about God and the Universe he created: does it make him hot? No? Cold? No! Hungry? No! Does gravity pull him around? No! Does time make him get old? No! Is he tall or short? No! Fast or slow? No! Sleepy at night? No! Right. God's the author of the Universe: the stuff he created doesn't control him or limit him, not even gravity or distance or time."

If time permits I might expand the discussion to preemptively answer other similar questions. It's usually better to cover related bits comprehensively rather than piecemeal. For example, this is how I would typically extend the subject into God's omniscience:

"Now remind me how God creates. He just thinks of stuff and that makes it real. Right, like when God thought, "let there be light"...there was light. Yes. How long did God need to imagine light? Well, he just did it, I don't think it took any time. Yes, it was instantaneous. And how did JK get the idea for Harry Potter? She just thought of it? Sure. That's usually the first step for humans to create something, too: to think of it. We often do things in a God-way because in Genesis, God made Adam from...dirt! Yes, and...he breathed into Adam's mouth! Yes so we've got God's creative spirit in us in a way that animals don't. But if JK imagines Harry, is he real? No. Right. So her creativity isn't equal to God's. They're related but not comparable by any means. But still, she may have created her first idea about Harry instantaneously, like the way God creates.

So tell me what Harry knew about himself when he was little. He knew he was a wizard and his parents were dead. Yes. Did he know his future? No. But did the author know about Harry's future? Yes. In fact, who knew everything about Harry...Harry? No, the author! And about the whole world of the books: who knew all about it? The author! Yes. Because if she hadn't thought of every single person and thing and detail in the books, including Harry's past and his future...then none of it would be there. Right, the only reason any of it exists is that she imagined it, created it. So, who knows my future? God? Yes, why? 'Cause he made you. Yes, God's my author, so to speak; and what else did God make? Well, he made everything. Yes, and to create everything is to...know everything? Yes."

Or our knowledge of God:

"What does Harry know about JK Rowling? Nothing. Right. But suppose he got the idea that his world was created by something or someone...then could he determine who or what it was? I don't think he could figure that out. Right. But suppose JK wanted Harry the character to know about her, the author. How could she do that? Well, she'd have to get into the book and tell him I guess. Yes. She'd have to reveal things about herself in the book. Maybe Harry would find an old, mysterious note about the "Author"; or she might even appear in the book as herself, JK Rowling. That sounds weird. Maybe; but how has God appeared in our world? The Burning Bush? Yes, but I'm thinking about a person. Jesus! Yes. So what's the only way Harry could really know anything about JK Rowling? She'd have to tell him. Yes, tell him where? In the book! Yes, in Harry's world which she created; kinda like how God reveals himself to us in our world, which he created."

BTW, I don't have any compelling opinion about Harry Potter one way or another; it's just a series all the kids are familiar with. Probably a computer role-playing game would work better as an analogy, but I don't think enough of the kids know what they are.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Greenville-Ephrathah 9: Organic Gravity

Little Ephrathah 

My Fabulous Wife & I had Sunday lunch with a Priest Acquaintance of ours; his Wife; a visiting Catholic Author; and a Deacon Acquaintance, who commented on the burgeoning Catholic Gravity of another Bible-Belt American City Which Shall Remain Nameless. How does its gravity compare to Li'l 'phrathah's?

That's a good question. Li'l 'phrathah is about one tenth the size of Gargantua; obviously 10 kilos has 10 times the gravity of 1 kilo. And any Southerner or Stalinist can tell ya [although from opposing viewpoints] that quantity has a quality all its own. But still, here's a case where quality has a quantity all its own. What quality? Why, the quality of...organicness. Or organicity; or both. See, while Gargantua does have Catholic Gravity, it's mostly Institutional. Top-down. Cathedral. Higher Education. Seminary. Big Numbers. And there's nothing wrong with that, y'know? But 'phrathah's gravity is bottom-up, lay-driven, informally-structured, self-organizing, self-motivating, self-energizing, diffuse, nimble. A Catholic Swarm Intelligence transcending local parish boundaries and other geographies.

Of course, a bottom-up approach isn't unique to the Upstate. Check out these Cascadia guys, they get it too. Put in more familiar terms, what we are seeing are evolving, living models of the New Evangelization.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pitchers 14: Ziggurats & All That

 This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

As usual for these whiteboard posts, my comments are limited to the images and don't describe the whole class content.  Click the image for a bigger version.

Class starts with a quick review. That is, the kids tell me whom we've covered so far: God/ Adam & Eve/ Cain, Abel, Seth/ Enoch/ Methuselah/ Noah. I introduce Abram & Sarah. Brackets indicate 10 generations from Adam to Noah; and 10 more from Noah to Abram. As usual, a child objects to 'Abram'; I tell him God will change Abram's name in a few minutes.

The kids tell me about Mesopotamia. A quick map illustrates Abram's journey from Ur of the Chaldees to Canaan. While I draw they talk about the rivers, the people, the ziggurats. I draw a ziggurat. I mention Sumerian beer. They laugh.

When Abram gets to Canaan he makes an altar & offers a sacrifice [I add that beside the ziggurat]. We see that "offerings are typically done on something that gets the offering closer to heaven...such as...altars?  Yes, or...mountains?  Yes, or artificial mountains like...ziggurats!  Yes." But on one occasion, a priest named Melchizedek offers bread and wine for Abraham. "The Mass mentions Melchizedek, so y'all pay attention at Mass and tell me when. He's the King of Salem, which means King of Peace. Whom do you think of when I say King of Peace? Jesus.Yes. Melchizedek, like Abel (and Isaac, who hasn't come up just yet), is a type of Christ."

I add Abraham's wife Sarah. Quick review: "God is...? Powerful? Yes, and...knows everything? Yes, he's 'omniscient'. And...powerful? You said that already. [I start to draw a heart] Love! God is love! Yes. Remind me what love always wants to do. Ummm...create! Yes. Love creates. So tell me about Abraham and Sarah. They were married. Yes, so...they were in love? Yes, so...what does love do? Create! So? So their love made babies! Well, not just yet." We discuss their sadness, and jump into the Hospitality of Abraham using this mosaic:

And this fresco:

One of the kids explains mosaics; I add that a fresco is painted on wet (fresh) plaster to make it permanent.

When Sarah later gave birth to their only son, Abraham & Sarah were so happy they named him Yitzhak, laughter. In English we call him Isaac. I tell the kids that the neighboring tribes worshiped false gods such as Baal and Moloch, to whom the people sacrificed their firstborn sons. So Abraham knew he was getting a good deal from his God who didn't seem to require that.

But years later, God wants Abraham to make that sacrifice; we use the mosaic to guide our discussion. I draw Mount Moriah and add Abraham's altar on top. A child asks how Isaac would have felt. I say he and his parents probably weren't surprised that God would eventually ask for this sacrifice; but they'd sure be happy to swap a sheep for a son!

Class is over when this line of discussion ends.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Borrowers

6th-graders never mention this, but back when I was doing RCIA, this bit of Jeremiah always came up: "Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger." You know...wayward Chosen People chasing after their neighbors' false gods; so Mary being Queen of Heaven is likewise an idolatrous mess of pagan pottage, right? Well, no: she's the King's Queen Mother. But I'm thinking it's time for a new topic already: Cherubim.

The Bible is full of cherubim. In Sunday School we use the Hebrew word, kerubim, the near ones, God's bodyguards. There are no surviving images of the kerubim mentioned in Scripture, such as:

"And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat.  Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be...Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet stuff; with cherubim skilfully worked shall you make them." (From the LORD's instruction on the temple and its furnishings.)

From King David's Psalm 18: 

"In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. 7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. 8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. 9 He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. 10 He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind."

 And from Psalm 80:

"Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou who leadest Joseph like a flock! Thou who art enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth 2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh! Stir up thy might, and come to save us!"

On the other hand there are plenty of surviving pagan images of kerubs. Let's match a few up with the corresponding Bible descriptions:

 "The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another..."
 Isis and Nephthys overshadow Osiris.

 Isis and Nephthys in King Tut's tomb, protecting...nothing? Nope, protecting Tut's spirit.

"He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind."

Maybe David saw God riding this Babylonian Kerub.

Or maybe this Phoenician one.

  "Thou who art enthroned upon the cherubim"

Maybe God's throne is like King Ahiram's.

Closer up...which reminds me of...

this old Papal chair.

And this one.

And this one.

All this talk of Cherubim reminds me of the Ark of the Covenant: "They shall make an ark of acacia wood; two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 And you shall overlay it with pure gold, within and without shall you overlay it, and you shall make upon it a molding of gold round about. 12 And you shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark by them."

Cubit-wise, it was bigger than this ark, found in King Tut's tomb:

No gold rings, though.

Of course the fact that assorted ancient pagan cultures had to work things out about God before the LORD revealed himself to Abraham doesn't make them automatically wrong in every jot and tittle; and doesn't make the Chosen People wrong for borrowing from them, either. Nor were they wrong to borrow pagan architecture or furnishings. And by extension, it wasn't wrong for the Church to borrow key philosophical concepts from the pagan Greeks and apply them to Christianity (I'm especially thinking of the Logos).

Nor is it wrong for the Church to understand Mary is the Queen of Heaven, assorted un-borrowed pagan 'Queens of Heaven' nonwithstanding.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Forget to Remember*

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

 Not appropriate for the Confessional**

When we cover Confession in Wednesday Night Sunday School, a child will always ask if a priest can tell the cops if someone confessed to a murder. I say of course not; and that leads to the idea that the priest forgets your sins. And then someone will ask: but what if he doesn't forget?

To answer this I first refer to these gracious verses:

Is 43:25 "I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins."

Jer 31:34 "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

Heb 8:12 "For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more."

(They're highlighted in my class Bible, but I'll just paraphrase them if time is short.)

This does beg the question: how does an omniscient God not remember something? Well, isn't it in the nature of a loving parent to not remember? Those verses remind me of my father's memory of my several-thousand-or-so, umm, childhood misbehaviors: 

"Hey remember that time that I...."
"Mmm...no...I don't think I remember that."
"Yeah, but it was like thus and so, and..."
"Uh-huh...I just don't much remember you being bad."
"That's probably just as well."

And it's the same with my kids...were they bad? I suppose...yeah, if I put my mind to it they were bad some. Well, not really bad; they were just kids, learning to be good...I don't remember that much about it. Not remembering your child's sins isn't a matter of deleting the data from your brain, making them irrecoverable; it just means the forgiving parent no longer pays any attention to them, and is not going to ever pay any attention to them.

And if God will remember our sins no more, then the priest, acting in persona Christi, would also not remember them, at least in a sacramental sense. That is, even if the priest through his human frailty does remember our sins, he may act only as though he does not remember them, in the same way that God does not remember them.

Thus the Seal of the Confessional.


*One of my many favorite Frank Sinatra songs.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fabulous Endorsement and Review

 I heartily endorse this book. I only wish it had been written when I was, you know, alive; I would have converted much sooner.

A gracious review of my book by blogger, catechist, homeschooler, and author-under-contract (which is more than I can claim) Jennifer Fitz: Teaching Techniques with Christian LeBlanc: The Bible Tells Me So

And the diocesan reviewer has recommended it for an Imprimatur. Woohoo and huzzah.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Forerunner

I bumped into this icon recently at Charleston Vocations:


Look at all that cryptic writing at the top...what does it say?

I like to translate as much icon Greek as I can just for the exercise. Because I use icons and other Greek art in Sunday School, I have to know what they say: the kids always ask about the funny marks. And it's good for Catholic kids to get a little exposure to Greek beyond Κύριε ἐλέησον*. The Greek on this icon is too fussy for 6th-graders; but not for you grownups, so let's have a look. 

On the upper left of this icon is a typical abbreviation, OA IO: O Agios Ioannis/  O Άγιος Ιωάννης/ The Holy (sanctus, saint) John (ω is lower-case Ω, O-mega, 'big O'). Now for the right...uh-oh...Led Zeppelin's glyph** ? It doesn't even look like Greek. But it pays to be patient...an M or Y...above that, a D/Δ or an L/Λ. Then...R/P...P/Π...O...S/ς.  Ha! O Pródromos, the Forerunner! But it's as much a puzzle as an abbreviation. The M (not a Y) overlays the P; the D (not an L) sits on top of them. R and O have to be pronounced twice: once in PRO, then in DRO. So the whole icon reads O Άγιος Ιωάννης O Πρόδρομος, Saint John the Forerunner. The West would never have made it so complicated- or so artful.

There are apparently some traditional limits as to how far an iconographer can go in playing with the letters. This recent icon by Efrem Carrasco is very similar, but not identical:

This very old mosaic in Hagia Sophia is more conservative, although it still is free with the letter arrangement. Maybe in Justinian's day the idea of letters-as-art wasn't so advanced.

Another mosaic, this one in Thessaloniki; not like the others, in that a single O does triple duty (pro-dro-mos) but still on the same page, so to speak:

But I'm happy that iconographers can still just spell it all out if they are so moved. Here's a recent work by Ελισάβετ-Ειρήνη Μιχαηλίδου (Elisabet-Irene Mikhailidou): like St. Lucy having her gouged-out eyes in her head and on a plate at the same time, martyred John is both decapitated and intact.

And all the words have all their letters. O AGIOS IOANNIS / O PRO...DROMOS, The Holy John / The Forerunner. As we say in the South: Thank Ya, Jesus, I can read!

*Kyrie eleison

**For those too young to know:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Der Großartige

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

That je-ne-sais-quoi Upper-Rhine look

I like to guess where German-language surnames come from. Living in America, I bump into unfamiliar German names regularly; based on a surname's look and sound I sometimes can suss out where someone's ancestors came from in Germany (or Austria), where they settled in America, and at about what time.

Germany didn't exist as a unified political entity before 1871. By that late date, its agglomeration of kingdoms, marches, duchies, baronies, counties, free-states, and free-cities had for centuries possessed their own identities, dialects, literature, architecture, and last names. I expect it's no mystery to Germans whence their surnames originate, but for me it can be tough.

nobody could stuff all that into one sausage

So today at the bank, my deposit was handled by a Mrs. Deiwert. Never heard of Deiwert before. Didn't sound Colonial, e.g., from Pennsylvania; not from Louisiana's German Coast; didn't sound postwar; maybe it's an Ohio River valley name, 1850-ish. Yep, her husband is from south Indiana. Then I supposed the name came from the Upper Rhine, which was a reach.

But this afternoon while searching online for Deiwert I bumped into this terrific site: Karte zum Namen, i.e., Map of Names. You just type in a surname, and using Germany's telephone data, you're shown a map of the name's distribution. Turns out Deiwert is a very uncommon name, found in one small district, Schwäbisch Hall.

 3 phone numbers in the whole country for Deiwert

Schwäbisch Hall lies on the Kocher River; which flows into the Neckar; which flows into...the Upper Rhine. So there.

The net can be such a blessing: I love having the data at my fingertips.
The net can be such a curse: I'll miss the thrill of guessing.

* Der Großartige: the greatest, the most terrific.