Monday, April 29, 2013

Pithy Book Review

Not by this guy, although he obviously is a fan.

See Patrick Vandapool's review of my book here. And check out the rest of his entertaining and informative blog while you're there; it ain't the usual. за Родину!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tough Guys Don't Pitch Tents

not too shabby

About 30 years ago I read the Norman Mailer novel, Tough Guys Don't Dance. It's about a son, Tim Madden, who simply will never be as tough a guy as his father Dougy. Tim must be about 40, but still feels he's a wimpy disappointment to Dougy, now an old man. In one passage (IIRC), Tim recollects a scene from his childhood: Dougy is silently parked in front of the TV, Tim's mom stands in the doorway to the kitchen. Not complaining, but just making the observation, she says to Dougy, "You never tell me that you love me." Dougy doesn't miss a beat or take his eyes off the TV: "I'm here, ain't I?"

As the story develops we learn that Dougy indeed loves both his wife and his son; but he is in no way affectionate. Too tough I guess.

In catechism class, we learn lots about God's love, which I find examples of all over the Bible; but less about God's affection, which is harder to suss out and communicate to the kids. It's important for all Christians, but especially kids, to understand God's affection for his children. Like Tim Madden, we think of affection as something physical, and among the Trinity only Jesus has a body. But even having one, Scripture doesn't show Jesus using it to hug, kiss, tousle hair, or hold babies. The closest we get in the Bible may be Jesus laying his hands on the little kids; but that's a formal, ritual gesture.

So anyway, in class I elaborate on verses that to me are implicitly affectionate so the kids can get the emotional message. Here are a quick few:

"Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me." Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands..."  (Isaiah 49)

 "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows." (Luke 12)

"God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 21)

I don't plan ahead for affectionate verses, but I talk them up when they come around during the year. And I keep an eye out for new ones.

Any of you know Mary Renault? She wrote historical fiction about ancient Greece some decades ago, including The King Must Die and The Persian Boy; and also The Mask of Apollo, about Greek theater. In that last book she spelled the English word scene the Greek way, skene:

 "That evening we were summoned back to meet the chorus-master, the flute-player and the skene-painter...When we heard who were doing the masks and costumes, painting the skene and training the chorus, and for how much, even the Persian-backed play at Delphi looked like a fit-up...The skeneroom was just a flat-topped shed, with a crazyladder to the god-walk on its roof."

In Greek, skēnē/σκηνη is not a uniquely theatrical term. It means tent; what the Romans and the King James Bible would also call a tabernacle, or a booth, a plain little shelter. I imagine that itinerant Greek theater troupes would set up a skene, a tent to house their stuff; have one side painted, and would act in front of that painted side.

Speaking of tents, y'all already know that the wandering Israelites lived in them; and that God dwelled among his people in a tent, too. Considering that a tent's primary function is to provide shade, to overshadow, it's no surprise that the Greek word skene is a cognate of skia/σκιά/shadow. I like to think of skene in its literal sense of shader, or shadower.   

Next Wednesday is the last class of the year, and the last class on the Mass. We'll cover how the Mass fuses with the heavenly wedding feast of the Lamb. We'll look again at Revelation 21, especially, "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God." This verse will get special attention because it shows not only God's love, but as it turns out, his affection. 

The last few chapters of Revelations tie up every loose end in the Bible: bodies are reunited with souls; the saints are reunited with God; there's a New Jerusalem in which to live. Of course the New Jerusalem is no mean burg: "The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass."

Yet amid this splendid city God doesn't live in temple, or even a nice house; but a tabernacle, a little house. But can't a little house be spectacular? Not this one. Look at this bit again, and notice the verb: "the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them." Uh-huh. So?

So, the English word dwell is used in the New Testament to translate an assortment of charming Greek verbs. Most of them are based on οἶκος/ oikos/ house, as in economics and ecology:

οικέω/ oikeo/ to house oneself, to dwell.

ἐνοικέω/ en-oikeo/ to in-dwell;

κατοικέω/ kat(a)-oikeo/ to thoroughly dwell (you know: kata as in Catholic and catalog); and

συνοικέω/ syn-oikeō/ that's right, to dwell together (you knew that).

But none of those verbs tell us that God will dwell with his people in the New Jerusalem. This verb does:  σκηνόω/ skēnoō. Not to house oneself; not to dwell per se; but to shade oneself: that is, to set up a skene, to pitch one's tent. Amid the wonder of the City of Gold, God is happy to pitch his tent among his people as he once did in the desert.

Dwelling with us shows God's love; pitching his tent among us shows his affection.

photo from 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pitchers 16: Revelations 4 & 5

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Partial whiteboard from April 17, the second of three classes on the Mass:

Bits I read (not all at once!) while I draw and we discuss the continuity between the worship in Heaven and on Earth:

"At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! 3 And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads. From the throne issue flashes of lightning, and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God;  and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:  the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle.  And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" I don't have time to draw everything; the goal is to draw enough.

 "And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain...the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints..." 

This was about 1/3 of the whole board, so figure 20 minutes of classtime on this developing image while talking about Mass, the Heavenly Worship, incense, harps, singing, elders-presbyters-priests, the Paschal Lamb, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Holy Holy Holy, the 4 Evangelists and their attributes (Angel, Lion, Bull and Eagle); reading relevant bits of Eucharistic Prayer #1 from the Missalette; and of course, the Holy Tornado.  I draw something like this every year, but the content and execution varies with my interaction with the kids. I'm posting this to emphasize how drawing can organize information in a way that's easy to refer to as the discussion proceeds, and much more effectively than just writing words on the board. When it's done, it's an ensemble of concepts; not merely a listing of them.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Smart Kids 2

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets 

not even half done

Last Wednesday was the first of three Mass classes. Early on, I guided the kids in figuring out that in the word Liturgy (Leitourgia), '-urgy' means work, as in energy. There's no good way to have them figure out that lit means people, so I just gave them that datum (which rarely happens). Then they conclude that lit-urgy is people-work (more or less). And like in the Loaves and Fishes miracle, at Mass the people do their work, and Jesus does the God work.

Later when discussing the Offertory, I asked if it'd be ok for us to bring up wheat and grape juice instead of bread and wine. Usually someone is quick to say bread and wine was used by Jesus or Melchizedek, so that's what we use. But this year for the first time, a child said, "If it's just wheat and grapes then we haven't done all our work." What a genius! Typically they don't figure out the 'work' aspect until we discuss these bits:

 "...through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands/ it will become for us the bread of life.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands/ it will become our spiritual drink."

And by the way, that's the new translation, which as usual I prefer to the the prior one for catechetical reasons. In the old trans we have: "this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made." In the new, it's: "the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands" This is better in class because using the word work directly corresponds to the meaning of Lit-urgy, people-work. I wonder if the translators did this with deliberate reference to the etymology of Liturgy? Regardless, it makes for clearer teaching.


For those who must know, the Catechism says:

1069 The word "liturgy" originally meant a "public work" or a "service in the name of/on behalf of the people." In Christian tradition it means the participation of the People of God in "the work of God."

Harvest by Mykola Pymonenko

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Re-read: Curves of Pursuit

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets   

I first read this novel in 1984. My father had picked it from the new fiction shelf at the library, said I might like it too. Told in the first person, it's nominally about two brothers, and whom they've loved, and try to love; and how they want to be loved back. It's gently written, with no gratuitous sex, or violence, or vulgarity; and not even a plot in any conventional sense. Regardless, as an unmarried 27-year-old, I was struck by the brothers' sense of masculine helplessness in the face of their disintegrating marriages. Both wives have moved out after, oh, 5 years or so, and neither brother has a clue as to any ameliorative action they might take. They're intelligent, reflective (you know, for guys), and they want to stay married to their wives. But life is a mystery, often frustrating and sad; and not every problem is fixable.

The main lesson I drew in 1984 was: marry the right woman. Four years later, I did just that.

I have regularly remembered bits of the book over the last 30-odd years, and recently bought an intact library copy online. Finished it today, liked it even better this time.

But now I'm married 25 years with 5 kids and 2 grandkids. Now what Curves of Pursuit shows me are two marriages at loose ends partly (mostly?) because nobody wants any children. The book isn't explicit about it, I just gather that intentionally 'child-free' marriage (and all that entails) is the model for both the characters and the author. Two troubled marriages, 4 smart people, 186 pages, not a peep about kids, pregnancy, the future, nothing.

Now I'd never say that having babies is a panacea for marital problems; but in my marriage, having kids certainly made the marriage more of what it was already: more love, more life, more God, more married. So: would my marriage have failed without kids? I doubt it. But I know that what we had before kids was less than what we had after- and I found that out only by having them.