Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Chameleon" - hiding a mystery in church talk

Chameleon by William X. Kienzle is the first of the religious mystery books I've read to prep for my own possible mystery writing adventures.

The book held my interest - good.

The priest detective, Father Koesler, was interesting - also good.

But it is by no means perfect.

As a mystery, too much time is spent lingering on the red herrings, so much so that I knew they didn't do the killings just because the author was working too hard to make it seem like they could be guilty. The actual killer and how he's stopped seemed a bit of a stretch - but I've seen worse.

The part of the book that really did not sit well with me, though, was there was way too much churchy talk. The writer, an ex-priest, seemed to be using the book to ruminate about his own views on the Church, which he clearly loves and cares about, but which in his view needs reform. Okay, I don't object to that, but some of the issues and inside baseball talk seem a bit dated (even though the book is only about 20 years old), and some of the characters go on and on about them. I began to wonder if Kienzle was using the book to deal with his own concerns - or was he just trying to pad to the book to get it to the standard paperback mystery length?

I wasn't sure how this would play with non-Catholics. Indeed, the library from which I borrowed the book has a page stuck in it for reader comments, and one of the previous readers wrote "too much religion."

I think it would be a better book had he cut down on the church talk and spent more time on the mystery, and on the criminal as opposed to the red herrings.

Not a bad book. But it could have been better. I'll try another one of his books later - maybe one of his earlier ones.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's a mystery

As I continue to send out poems - and occasionally get some published (just got word on another haiku being accepted!) - I've gotten an inspiration.

I've always loved mystery stories, and often read ones involving priests, religious, and pious lay people - you know, the cozy, "clean" type of mysteries. Father Brown, Father Koesler, Father Dowling, Brother Cadfael, etc.  So why not create one of my own? It would be an outlet for my fiction side that's been stalled on that horror novel I never could finish in part because it got too dark.

I've even got an idea for a character and a setting.

My detective would be a former print/radio reporter who due to a broken marriage (wife ran off after an affair and now lives with one of his former friends) and ongoing depression sank into the depths of drink, and finally got pulled out though help (a priest or religious with a background in therapy/counseling?), and now, somewhat of a broken man, survives as the extern for a monastery of hermit monks who produce honey, jams and jellies, and maple syrup in the Finger Lakes region. He is the one who makes some deliveries, supervises shipping of products, runs errands, provides contact with the outside world, all the while continuing his process of healing and discernment. But then his contacts from his years as a reporter - including contacts with the police - get him involved in helping to a solve crimes.

Several saints are associated with beekeepers - St. Ambrose is the most commonly cited male patron saints of beekeepers. St. Ambrose Abbey?  St. Benedict is also sometimes cited.

A prayer over bees and beehives:

O Lord, God almighty, who hast created heaven and earth and every animal existing over them and in them for the use of men, and who hast commanded through the ministers of holy Church that candles made from the products of bees be lit in church during the carrying out of the sacred office in which the most holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ thy Son is made present and is received; may thy holy blessing descend upon these bees and these hives, so that they may multiply, be fruitful and be preserved from all ills and that the fruits coming forth from them may be distributed for thy praise and that of thy Son and the holy Spirit and of the most blessed Virgin Mary.


Pax et bonum

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ancestry - I'm Irish

So here I've been clinging to my Scottish roots, a map of Scotland in my classroom, and my heart lamenting the recent vote - and it turns out I'm not really Scottish.

Yes, my mother came from there, but the family stories did acknowledge that ancestors had once lived in Ireland, with the implication was that they had traveled from Scotland to the Emerald Isle a few generations earlier and had simply returned to the mother country a generation or two before my mother graced the world.

Alas, it appears I'm not significantly Scottish, at least not according to DNA.

Meanwhile, the story on my father's side was that a great grandfather had been named McCarthy, but had been adopted and taken on the current family name from his adoptive parent - thus I knew there was some Irish there. Meanwhile, dad's mom was always described  as being of German/Dutch ancestry, with maybe some English.

I just got the results of a DNA test. The breakdown:

Ireland - 56 %
Scandinavia - 16 %
Great Britain - 10 %
Iberian Peninsula - 8 %
Western Europe - 5 %
A few odd traces - 3 %

So ... clearly Irish. I had guessed that before, and the 56 % figure is no surprise. Scandinavian? Maybe a bit of Viking mixed in - explains my fondness for Beowulf. And Mead. Great Britain apparently includes Scottish and English and Welsh - but I thought there would be more Scottish, or even some direct indication there is some Scottish in me. Only 10 % is below what I'd thought. But Iberian Peninsula - where did that come from? Spanish or Portuguese (or, given my separatist ways, Basque)? And the Western Europe could be a bit of Dutch or German.


Makes one think.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Litany of Mary, the Mother of Mercy

For a retreat on non-violence at our school I composed the following Litany as a concluding prayer. I did take a few lines and ideas from other litanies.


LEADER                                                                     ALL

Lord, have mercy on us.                          Lord, have mercy on us.    
Christ, have mercy on us.                        Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.                          Lord, have mercy on us.    
Christ, hear us.                                         Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of heaven,                       have mercy on us.
God the Son, redeemer of the world,      have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost,                               have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God,                            have mercy on us.

Holy Mary,                                                              pray for us.
Holy Mother of God,                                               pray for us.
Mother of Christ,                                                     pray for us.

Mother of Mercy,                                                     pray for us
Mother who cares for all victims of violence,         pray for us.
Mother who cares for all the unborn,                      pray for us.
Mother who cares for the poor,                               pray for us
Mother who cares for the sick                                 pray for us
Mother who cares for the hungry,                           pray for us 
Mother who cares for those who are abused,          pray for us
Mother who cares for refugees,                               pray for us
Mother who cares for those caught up in wars,       pray for us
Mother who cares for those oppressed by prejudice    pray for us.
Mother who cares for those in prison,                          pray for us
Mother who cares for those denied education,             pray for us.
Mother who cares for those denied justice,                  pray for us.
Mother who care for those denied equality,                 pray for us.
Mother who cares for those who are unwanted,           pray for us.
Mother who cares for those who are ridiculed,             pray for us.
Mother who cares for those who are neglected,            pray for us
Mother who cares for those battling addictions,           pray for us
Mother who care for those who suffer mental illness,  pray for us     
Mother who cares for all creation,                                pray for us 
Mother of Mercy,                                                          pray for us.

O Queen of Mercy,                                                    pray for us.
Queen of Peace,                                                         pray for us.
Queen of Healing                                                       pray for us.
Queen of Compassion                                                pray for us.
Queen of Comfort                                                      pray for us.
Queen of Good Counsel                                             pray for us.

LEADER                                                                                 ALL   

Queen of Reconciliation                                            pray for us.
Queen of Justice,                                                       pray for us.
Queen  of Mercy,                                                       pray for us.

Lamb of God, Who takes
  away the sins of the world,        spare us, O Lord!
Lamb of God, Who takes

away the sins of the world,          graciously hear us, O Lord!
Lamb of God, Who takes

away the sins of the world,          have mercy on us, O Lord!
Christ, hear us.                            Christ, graciously hear us.

Let us Pray. (All)

O Lord, grant that all Your servants may remain continually in the enjoyment of health of mind and body, that they may be treated with compassion, justice, and fairness, and through the glorious intercession of Mary, the Mother of Mercy, may be delivered from any present sadness, and enter into the joy of eternal happiness. Amen. 

(Still some refining to do?)

Pax et bonum

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It could be a blue Christmas ,,,

This has been a strange September. Normally I don't get the blues this early - they tend to wait until winter enshrouds us. But the other morning I was so down I wondered what would happen if I just quit my job; I didn't want to face it. I was lapsing into silence, unable to work or focus.

Even my haiku began to take on a darker edge.

just before sunset
is often the darkest time
winter's come early

into the darkness
step from shadow to shadow
listen to that wind

on a night when clouds
conceal the moon and the stars
one candle still glows

a slug among weeds
has days when each song he sings
comes out as the blues

a slug among weeds
is sometimes overwhelmed
by the sound of her soul

I didn't quit. I did get up. I did do what needed to be done. No thoughts of suicide. But not in good spirits.

This had begun to creep in a couple of weeks ago. Maybe the final straw was discovering that because of a contract I signed last year I will not be able to work as Santa at the mall this year or next.

A new company took over the local mall Santa concessions, but the old company had had us sign an agreement last year that we could not work for the mall or another company for two years. I had signed it; it was one of many papers shoved in front of us, and I had no suspicions that the old company would not continue running the mall operations.

People suggested that since the old company is not working in this area any more and that the "no-competition" agreement may not really be legally binding that I could just go ahead and work for the new company at the mall. But I did sign it. I gave my word. I feel ethically bound to keep it - what kind of Franciscan would I be if I tried to use legal loopholes to get around having given my word?

But it is so late in the season to find another gig, and I'm not really one to market myself. So except for two volunteer parties, I may not be doing Santa this year. There's one place to check, but that's all I can think of.

I even trimmed my beard a bit for the school picture. Ho. Ho. No.

That's enough to bring up the blues. But it's more than that. This year it's hit early and hard. Harder than usual. Thank God for God - and my faith. The candle I mentioned in one of my haiku is the hope my faith gives me.

But I need to watch this. Right now I'm in better shape - but what if it hits again?

Pax et bonum

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Joan Rivers and the Culture of Death

When in in 1995 St. John Paul II issued Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), the encyclical and its implications lead to much discussion of what came to be called the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death. Although the focus of the encyclical was on life issues like abortion and euthanasia, it has come to be understood that "Life" touches on aspects not only of physical life (and death), but also to respect for human dignity. Conversely "Death" involves how people are mistreated in life in terms of such things as unjust treatment of workers, sexual exploitation, humiliation, and degradation. There is a range in those activities - from that which hurts to that which kills. And there are different levels of awareness. Some people may do things out of ignorance. Same may do them with malicious intent.

I thought of the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death after hearing of the death of Joan Rivers.

Rivers, who died September 4, has received lots of media attention since, with people pouring out all sorts of praise. The more I heard and read, the more troubled I became.

For in that outpouring of praise we seem to be forgetting that Rivers made her name (and lots of money) in part through sometimes viciously insulting and hurting others.

Now insult humor has been around for a long time. It can be done in a way that does not hurt others, even with obvious affection - watch an episode of Duck Dynasty, for example. But in Rivers' case, the humor sometimes went well beyond being good-natured to being downright cruel and insensitive.

I sure Rivers' defenders will say that it was all in the spirit of fun. Lighten up.

I don't lighten up when I hear people (or their children) being called fat, ugly, and so on.

That kind of humor seems to me to be part of the Culture of Death. It degrades other human beings. It may not kill them, but it certainly hams them.

I don't know why Rivers did and said what she did. Maybe she really was oblivious. Maybe she was exorcising personal demons. Maybe she just found it a way to make money.

But with her humor, she sometimes did not treat other people as human beings. She treated them as objects, as targets, as means to an end (fame, money, acceptance, whatever).

She dehumanized people.

Similar to the way abortionists and abortion activists dehumanize unborn children.

And even though she may not have killed, she and others like her helped to make us lest sensitive to the feelings of others - helping to lead to the kind of insensitivity that can lead to abortion, euthanasia, abuse of women, sexual exploitation, mistreatment of workers, selfishness, and so on.

She was part of a spectrum of people who helped to desensitize the culture through art, films, literature, magazines, and so on. She may have helped to open doors for people who went further than she did. She may have helped to make it easier for people to be cruel, and even more cruel.

She was part of the spectrum that helped to nurture the Culture of Death.

She helped to make violent films and games, graphic porn, 50 Shades of Gray, and so on "acceptable" with justifications being offered in the name of art or free speech or individual freedom.

Joan Rivers in her personal life may have been generous when it came to charity. She may have been a wonderful mother and a good friend. She may have been kind to puppies. She may have made the world a brighter place for some people.

Indeed, perhaps even as I write she is being embraced lovingly by God. I leave judging her soul to Him. I offered a prayer for her.

But when it came to her insult humor, in my judgment, I believe she helped to make the world a darker place.

Pax et bonum