Monthly Archives: June, 2011

Review: “Elsewhere”

Imagine waking up dead. I’ve always had a soft spot for the ludicrous nature of that question, but it’s worth pondering. If you went from this exact moment and suddenly found yourself dead, how would you react?

photo by Kevin Dooley

MercyMe treated the question of the afterlife in their hit song “I Can Only Imagine,” but Gabrielle Zevin takes a different approach in Elsewhere, a young adult (YA) novel published in 2005. It’s been on my Round Tuit book list for ages, but this seemed like the proper time to engage it. I’ve read books and seen movies about conceptions of the afterlife before (The Lovely Bones novel and What Dreams May Come film), but I have never read one quite as whimsical, fresh, and enchanting as Elsewhere.

Read the rest at Austin Catholic New Media.

Sunday Snippets Recap

Just in time for the opening of this week’s Sunday Snippets submissions comes my highlights from last week’s. That’s sort of on time, right?

  • Anthony laments the general public’s knowledge of what logic, morality, and philosophy truly are. I agree. It’s much like I mentioned in a previous post about how nonreligious people seem offended by religious people’s simply being religious. It’s as though the only acceptable path of acceptance is to give up your right to do what you want. I will add a mini-lament that most people have never seen formal academic debate of the type that debate teams do, so they have no idea what it really means to debate something. “Debate” is not code for “sanctioned oral fighting.”
  • For Father’s Day, NC Sue recounts a reflection she gave at her father’s memorial service. It sounds like he was a great example of a faithful Catholic husband.
  • For the week, Kathleen shared several great posts. Her engagement story is lovely. You know a marriage is grounded in the Church when the beginning of the preparations for it happens literally in the church! She also reflects on the relationship between chores, sex, and marriage. I agree completely with her ideas. Marriage is supposed to be about mutual giving and receiving. You can’t expect to receive without giving first and in return. There’s a word for that: it’s “use.”

Here’s hoping that I’ll have highlights for today before next Sunday.

Friday Five: Travel

Another theme, hooray!

  1. What is your favorite way to travel (ship, place, car, train, etc)? Living in the South for several years has made me very fond of driving. It’s not as fast as flying, but it’s much cheaper. Road trips with friends can be great fun, and I love having hours of calm and sing-alongs when I’m by myself.
  2. Who is your favorite person to travel with? I like traveling alone a lot. I do that most of the time. Other than that, I like traveling with peers better than traveling with family. There’s less drama that way.
  3. What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken? I haven’t gone on a proper vacation in a long time. Hawaii was nice, but that was back when I was in middle school.
  4. Where will your next vacation be to? I’m more of a staycation kind of girl. My idea of a great time away from work is just relaxing at home and getting things (or nothing) done.
  5. If you had the time and money to go anywhere you wanted, where would you go? It’d be great to visit Sarah or to go back home and wander around the Smithsonian museums I haven’t seen.

The Friday Five

Booking Through Thursday(s): Own or Borrow, and Soundtrack

I’m going to pick up two Booking Through Thursdays at once to catch up. I must say, I’m enjoying the opportunity to reflect on books without having to read endless piles of books or book reviews. (I’ve been greatly enjoying following FYA, but I’m about ready to declare review bankruptcy.)

June 9: Own or Borrow?

All things being equal (money, space, etc), would you rather own copies of the books you read? Or borrow them?

I would own all my books in a heartbeat. One of the most difficult things about officially moving out of my parents’ house was that I had to leave behind so many books. I already had most of the clothes I wore, and I was very conscientious about evicting anything that I wasn’t prepared to use right away in Austin. My books are a notable exception. I made three groups: books to haul all the way here in my trunk, books that I wouldn’t cry over never seeing again, and books that I would bring with me if I could. I have flirted with ideas for getting the last category here sometime, but then I remember how nice it is to have a bookshelf that isn’t filled to bursting. I still own plenty of books, but I wish I could own more.

June 23: Soundtrack

What, if any, kind of music do you listen to when you’re reading? (Given a choice, of course!)

I prefer to read without listening to music. The sole exception is when I’m on a plane. My noise-canceling earbuds are so amazing that I usually pop on my iPhone and listen while I’m reading a book. The last time I flew, the plan was to watch some Firefly and then read Dorian Gray while listening to my iPhone. Since I don’t use iTunes to sync, though, turning off my phone ruined the sync and I was left without music or rented TV. I opted to put in the earbuds and plug them into my phone anyway. I looked perfectly normal, I cut out most of the obnoxious plane roar, and I read and played Fruit Ninja quite peacefully. I might start just putting in the headphones without any music as a new habit so I can have the relative quiet for reading!

Our Faith and Our Flags

In catching up on some old e-newsletters, I came across an argument that I feel uniquely credible about discussing. Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft, wife of a former UCC student and employee, blogs for BustedHalo, which is run by the Paulist Fathers, for whom I now work. Confused? You’re not alone; I’m still surprised at how close to (web) celebrity I became. Last week, Vanessa posted a further reflection on a previous post about separation of Church and state in the actual church building itself. She strongly feels that displaying the American flag along with the Vatican flag in the sanctuary is inappropriate: it brings the secular state into what ought to remain distinctly sacred space. She concludes that this could be off-putting to non-U.S. Catholics in a way that contrasts sharply with the universality–the catholicity–of the Church.

I absolutely understand her reasoning, and I think it makes a lot of sense. I also disagree.

First, let me make it clear that I neither desire that the UCC and its sister church, St. Austin (the two Paulist parishes she mentions in the more recent article) display the flags in the sanctuary nor purposely keep them out. Second, I reiterate that the opinions I express here are my own and do not reflect my workplace, the diocese, or the Paulists.

To my knowledge, there is neither a requirement for nor prohibition against displaying national flags in or near the sanctuary. I could be wrong, but I’ve seen it done in places that are otherwise liturgically conservative. Take my home, for example. The Catholic Student Center at my college displayed the U.S. and Vatican flags just outside the sanctuary “platform,” so to speak, as does the parish I attend when I’m back in Maryland. There are rules for which flag is displayed to the right or left of the home country’s flag, so they have designated sides, but I can’t remember which goes where. To me, it seems like a sign of shared, but different loyalties.

photo by Eric

Being so close to the nation’s capital means that many members of the congregation work for the state or federal government, my own parents included. Patriotism is what we do. It’s a natural part of our worship because it’s part of who we are. My home county has unusually high black and Filipino populations. Many Filipinos are Catholic, and a great majority of the nation’s few black Catholics live in Maryland (the Catholic colony) or D.C. Neither of these ethnic groups are traditionally Catholic for pleasant reasons. That history is full of white slave owners and Spanish conquistadors. Yet we have this faith now, and we claim it along with the country in which we live.

I see no problem with displaying the flags of our faith and our freedom. If I ever get the opportunity to attend a local Mass in another country, I will not be at all surprised to see that national flag along with the Vatican’s displayed at the heart of a church. It is this country, symbolized by its flag, that gives us the right to even have our church here (other legal woes notwithstanding). Neither the church nor the country is perfect, but only the church is guided by the Spirit of God.

When I was on the Notre Dame campus for my two ACE summers, I made a point to spend some downtime near the Sacred Heart Basilica. The outer door on the side opposite the Grotto bears a famous inscription: God. Country. Notre Dame. In that order. All are important, and all deserve recognition, but God comes first.

My Case for Cursive

As any of you who have seen me write in the last two years or received a snail mail letter from me know, I like to write in cursive. I was always good at it in elementary school, but I opted to print for most of my adult life. When I was in college, Maura gave me a beautiful journal for Christmas the second year we were roommates (I think). I decided to use it as a spiritual journal, and I decided that I would only write in cursive in my spiritual journal.

Wow, were those first couple of entries hard! I remember how to write all the letters, but my hand was definitely out of shape. I persisted, though, and eventually I got my cursive back. A few years later, I switched to using entirely cursive while I taught, with understandable exceptions for my students with dyslexia and my English language learners. I’m not cruel, just stubborn.

At work today, I was following up on my recent trip and checked out the Beloit College Mindset List from last year. The Mindset List summarizes the way each incoming class of college freshmen sees the world with the goal of helping professors understand their new students. The very first item on the class of 2014 list is, “Few in the class know how to write in cursive.”

mosiac compiled by Tom Magliery

What a shame! I realize that this isn’t the days of To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout was admonished for knowing how to write cursive as a first-grader and told to only print until third grade. We’re beyond my grandfather’s day, when the mindset that adults wrote only in cursive led him to do so to this very day. We’re even beyond my father’s day, when whatever they taught him in school evolved into his odd half-capital, half-lowercase, half-printed script. (Yes, three halves; you have to see his writing to truly understand.) But the mere existence of people who wrote in cursive and the primary sources they leave behind still makes reading cursive, at the very least, a useful skill.

This NYT article from April draws a lot of the same conclusions I do about cursive. I reasoned that, perhaps my students could get by with print and word processing, but knowing how to read cursive is essential. Some things, such as those pesky confidentiality agreements on the SAT and ACT, don’t allow print. At the very least, you have to have a signature. I even had two students whose cursive was phenomenally better than their print. They tended to retrace their printed letters in a very strange way–you can’t do that writing in cursive. I hate to see such a beautiful and historical skill disappear. Heck, even calligraphers get business during wedding invitation season!

This may be a 21st-century world, but if the 17th century still matters, we’re going to need people who can look at the Declaration of Independence and have no greater confusion than that tricky F-that-looks-like-an-S situation.

Booking Through Thursday: Interactive?

Well, it is definitely not Thursday, but I hate to fall too far behind on a brand-new meme.

With the advent (and growing popularity) of eBooks, I’m seeing more and more articles about how much “better” they can be, because they have the option to be interactive … videos, music, glossaries … all sorts of little extra goodies to help “enhance” your reading experience, rather like listening to the Director’s commentary on a DVD of your favorite movie.

How do you feel about that possibility? Does it excite you in a cutting-edge kind of way? Or does it chill you to the bone because that’s not what reading is ABOUT?

I read an article a couple of years ago about a novel that was designed to be read in tandem with the book’s website. You didn’t get the whole story from the ink-and-paper book; you had to go online to complete it. I was horrified. I don’t mind adding to the content with extras like glossaries and full-color illustrations that would be too expensive to print on paper. The Harry Potter Lexicon, although controversial, is a fantastic resource.

However, I remain convinced that the printed word will endure. eBooks are often cheaper than paper books, but I haven’t noticed the price of paper books going up. People are still buying them. Yes, eBooks are the wave of the future, but I’m not excited enough to give up that new book smell.

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