A number of interesting, meaningful, "must read", and "read if you wish" links and items have accumulated over the past few weeks, so I'm going to unleash them here, in no particular order.
• Burlap to Cashmere talk about the writing and recording of the song, "Don't Forget to Write." I like how they talk about the song as a sort of living thing; a neat peek into the creative process.
• Business Week has a piece, "Cashing in on the rapture business" (July 28, 2011) that reports on the big bucks that can be had by marketing the End of the World. I was somewhat amused to see a reference to Jack Van Impe's "budding apocalypse empire", since Van Impe has been peddling doom and gloom for several decades; as a young boy in the 1970s, I listened to many of his talks on vinyl (wow, I just dated myself, didn't I?).
• A recent Gallup poll finds that 41% of Americans consider themselves "conservative"; 36% say they are "moderate"; and 21% count themselves "liberal". What does that means? That 2% of Americans have somehow transcended such labels. Hats off to them.
• The Orientale Lumen XV Conference was held June 20-23, 2011, in Washington, D.C., to discuss the topic: "Rome and the Communion of Churches: Bishop, Patriarch or Pope?” Speakers included Metropolitan Jonah, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, Professor Emeritus of Oxford University, Archimandrite Robert Taft, Professor Emeritus of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, and Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. The talks can be heard online and downloaded as .mp3 files.
• Joseph Pearce, author of Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile (Ignatius, 2011), posts on the Saint Austin Review blog that Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s ‘last stories’ will soon be published in English.
• The very talented illustrator Ann Kissane Engelhart is the co-author, with Amy Welborn, of Friendship With Jesus: Pope Benedict XVI talks to Children on Their First Holy Communion (due in October 2011 from Ignatius Press). You can look at several pages of that book on her website.
• Fr. James Schall's new HPR essay, "Liberal Education and the Priesthood", has this great quote from the novelist Walker Percy: "The fact that novels are narratives about events which happen to people in the course of time is given a unique weight in an ethos that is informed by the belief that awards an absolute importance to an Event which happened to a Person in historic time. In a very real way, one can say that the Incarnation not only brought salvation to mankind but gave birth to the novel. Judeo-Christianity is about pilgrims who have something wrong with them and are embarked on a search to find a way out. That is also what novels are about."
• "So, the story of my conversion is, in part, about the pilgrimage of four men: Pope John Paul ll, my father (albeit, an unwitting guide), C.S. Lewis, and Malcolm Muggeridge", writes Ian Hunter. "But, first, last and always, it is the same story that conversion always is -a story of God's grace and forgiveness and love. Deo gratias."
• My sister, Amy Seeley, who has all (and I mean all) of the musical talent in the family, has a new and very lovely song, "Highlights of Owls", available as a free download. Check it out!
• "The Catholicism Project" is praised on The Catholic Thing as "the most vivid catechism ever created; a high-def illustrated manuscript for the twenty-first century; the best-ever film about the Catholic faith." If you missed it, here is my post praising the project, which I had the pleasure of helping out on as author of the accompanying Study Guide.
• George Weigel writes that "Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI represent the full flowering of a renaissance in Catholic thought that began with Pope Leo XIII..." The fact is, we live in a golden age of popes—and we (including myself) often fail to appreciate it.
• "It is the essence of Christianity that we are all adopted sons and daughters of God, Who not only created us but redeemed us from our sinful alienation, so that we might fulfill the destiny of entering into a union of love with Himself." From this great essay by Dr. Jeff Mirus of CatholicCulture.org.
• Here are two Catholic composers creating outstanding choral pieces: Frank LaRocca, who teaches at California State University, East Bay; and Christopher Mueller, Director of Music for the Church of Notre Dame (Manhattan).
• Back in October 2008, I noted that one of the few issues that inspired a principled stand by then-candidate Sen. Obama was increased access for all to contraceptives (another one being his consistent support of abortion). So it's hardly a surprise that the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services is now requiring insurance companies to cover birth control and sterilization. The Aggie Catholics blog has more information, including a post, "Top 10 Reasons Free Contraception For All Is a Terrible Idea".
• Nicholas Kristof complaining in the New York Times about "Evangelical blowhards" is as if Hugh Hefner complained in Playboy about the evils of fornication: he'd have a good point, but his moral indignation would ring a bit hollow.
• The Gawker has a lengthy and very disturbing piece (warning: graphic language and images!), "The Catholic Church’s Secret Gay Cabal", that describes the incredibly sordid episcopate of the former Archbishop of Miami, John C. Favalora. The lone orthodox Catholic interviewed in the piece, Eric Giunta (who writes for RenewAmerica.com), describes the piece as "a substantially accurate portrayal" of the Archdiocese, which is now starting to clean house and turn the corner under the leadership of Abp. Thomas Wenski, who was appointed to Miami in April 2010.
• "Every time that Benedict XVI legislates – for example, by liberalizing the Mass in the ancient Roman rite or reinforcing the norms against the 'delicta graviora' – he does everything he can to demonstrate both the foundation of truth of the decisions made, and their specificity with respect to the laws of the earthly city. Where this 'emphasis of the fundamental options of the faith' is lacking, he is careful to avoid complying with the 'provocations of today's sensibility.' For him, orthopraxy cannot be separated from orthodoxy, just as 'caritas' is such only 'in veritate.'" That from Sandro Magister's article, "'Non Prævalebunt.' How and Why Benedict XVI Is Standing Up to the Attacks" (Aug. 1, 2011). For more background on Benedict's understanding of the relationship between orthopraxy (right practice) and orthodoxy (right doctrine), see Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions (Ignatius, 2004), written shortly before he was elected pope.
• "The Internet has returned us to the alphabet … From now on, everyone has to read. In order to read, you need a medium. This medium cannot simply be a computer screen.” So says the Italian novelist and scholar Umberto Eco, who also states, "The book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved.” I tend to agree. I like my Kindle; it has some notable strengths. But, in the end, it is not an alternative to books, but a variation on the beautiful things known as "books".
• Speaking of books, the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), has been crunching data taken from "fiction, popular magazines, newspapers, academic texts and transcripts of spoken English" in order to study differences "between the vernacular and standard diction". One essential finding: "Dan Brown, of 'Da Vinci Code' fame, is partial to eyebrows. In his techno-thriller 'Digital Fortress,' characters arch or raise their eyebrows no fewer than 14 times." Those characters were all thinking the same thing: "Please help me escape from this dreadful piece of rotten writing. Please! [Arched eyebrows]"
• And speaking of Dan Brown, which I do once or twice a year, this piece in The Daily Mail approvingly declares The Da Vinci Code to be "middlebrow" and a "sensible choice" for people who are bored by "highbrow" (that is, classic novels, opera, etc.) but still sentient enough to avoid trash labelled "lowbrow". Which is exactly how I would describe Brown's novel, except instead of "middlebrow", I'm describe it as "pretentious brain rot for lazy readers attracted to groupthink and conspiratorial Catholic-bashing". Then again, maybe Brown's are really challenging for some readers. Shudder the thought.
• An atheist reader assumes that I live in some sort of Catholic ghetto, apparently unaware that I was raised in anti-Catholic, Protestant home: "Do you have a deep understanding of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Islam, to pick just a few major religions? No? I'll bet your knowledge of them is very superficial." Well, I am currently co-authoring a book on Catholicism and Buddhism, and I currently own 84 (given or take one or two) books on Buddhism (with about thirty on Islam). Which doesn't mean my knowledge of Buddhism isn't superficial, but I suspect I know more about it than I'm being given credit for.
• A CNN Belief Blog post, "Do you speak Christian?", quotes Marcus Borg as saying, "The rapture is a recent invention. Nobody had thought of what is now known as the rapture until about 1850". In fact, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) was using the term in the late 1820s/early 1830s; the term (as used by Darby and Co.) apparently has roots in the book, The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty, written around 1791 (translated into English in 1821) by Manuel de Lecunza y Diaz, a renegade Chilean Jesuit. The piece also states, "The rapture has become an accepted part of the Christian vocabulary with the publication of the megaselling 'Left Behind' novels and a heavily publicized prediction earlier this year by a Christian radio broadcaster that the rapture would occur in May." Actually, the term "Rapture" was spread in the early 20th century via the Scofield Bible, as well as through the many fundamentalist Bible colleges founded in North American in the 1920s and following. It became even more widespread with the publication of Hal Lindsey's mega-selling book, The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), which declared the "Rapture" to be "the real hope for the Christian, the 'blessed hope' for true believers..." And, of course, Lindsey later wrote a book titled, The Rapture (1985). For more, see my article, "A Short History of the 'Left Behind' Theology".
• I've already written a post about my favorite CD of the year, Burlap to Cashmere. But that's not the only good music of 2011; here are twenty-even other CDs that I've been enjoying this year:
1. "21" by Adele. Not my usual cup of tea, but what a voice!
2. "Stranger Me" by Amy LaVere. Quirky. Catchy. Twangy. Strange. Did I mention quirky?
3. "Across The Way" by Brad Shepik Quartet. Exceptional, tasteful jazz guitar.
4. "Live At Benaroya Hall With The Seattle Symphony" by Brandi Carlile. Looking forward to seeing her in concert in three weeks.
5. "Songs of Mirth and Melancholy" by Branford Marsalis & Joey Calderazzo. Telepathic horn and piano duets.
6. "Barton Hollow" by The Civil Wars. Outstanding harmonies and songwriting. One of the year's best.
7. "100 Lovers" by Devotchka. Balkan music meets American folk. In Denver.
8. "Covers 80's" by Duncan Sheik. I was suspicious, but it works. Really well.
9. "Three Stories" by Eldar Djangirov. A piano virtuoso shows he has both artistry and technique.
10. "Hard Bargain" by Emmylou Harris. One of the most great American voices in top form.
11. "Rave On Buddy Holly" by Various Artists. I usually avoid tribute albums, but this is quite enjoyable.
12. "Best Of Vegas" by Frank Sinatra. Do I really need to explain how good this is? No, of course not.
13. "The Lost and Found" by Gretchen Parlato. Her version of "Holding Back the Years" is quite stunning.
14. "Voice" by Hiromi. More dazzling keyboard magic.
15. "Caribbean Rhapsody" by James Carter. An ambitious and rousing meeting of jazz and classical.
16. "James Farm" by Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Matt Penman, Eric Harland. My favorite jazz CD of the year so far.
17. "Love & War & The Sea In Between" by Josh Garrels. An eclectic and engaging Christian artist.
18. "LP1" by Joss Stone. A stripped down singer-songwriter-oriented album that is most agreeable.
19. "Director's Cut" by Kate Bush. "Re-dos" by Bush of earlier songs. Full of lushness and longing.
20. "Faithful" by Marcin Wasilewski. One of the finest piano trios performing today.
21. "Skala" by Mathias Eick. Another great ECM release, something of a Scandinavian neo-fusion album.
22. "Destroyed" by Moby. His strongest, most melodic effort in several years.
23. "Revolu$ion" by Nemo. Adventurous, energetic French prog-rock with great guitar work.
24. "10 Stories Down" by The Pineapple Thief. This English band never disapoints.
25. "Follow Me Down" by Sarah Jarosz. Exceptional neo-bluegrass; fine version of Radiohead's "The Tourist".
26. "Live On I-5" by Soundgarden. Actually recorded in 1996. Grunge at its live best. New album in 2012!
27. "Fly From Here" by Yes. Strong album, sans Jon Anderson. Heresy? Perhaps, but...
• Finally, a quote from the conclusion of the aforementioned Truth and Tolerance by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: "When the existence of God is denied, freedom is, not enhanced, but deprived of its basis and thus distorted. When the purest and most profound religious traditions are set aside, man is separating himself from his truth; he is living contrary to that truth, and he loses his freedom. Not can philosophical ethics be simply autonomous. It cannot dispense with the concept of God or dispense with the concept of a truth of being that is of an ethical nature. If there is no truth about man, then he has no freedom. Only the truth makes us free."