Archives for January 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Our Favorite Quotes

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

In honor of this great man, mycatholicblog presents some of our favorite quotes by this inspirational Civil Rights leader on love and faith:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Having a Better Morning

I have a confession–I am NOT a morning person! I like sleeping-in, and for that reason, I am not usually very cheerful when I first wake up.  Or a half hour after I wake up, for that matter.  Luckily, I found this great article on Yahoo with tips on “morning mood boosters.”  In it, Yahoo describes ten things that will help a morning mood, including:

#3. Get some fresh air: According to the article, only five minutes of fresh air and exercise (can be light, such as walking) is enough to give a temporary mood boost.  Five minutes is easy–that can simply be the walk from the car to the office building, if you park a little farther away than usual.  The better mood and increased alertness will be well worth a few minutes of cold.

#6: Drink hot chocolate: Delicious, sure, and full of cocoa, a natural mood lifter.  These days,  there are a ton of delicious diet/low calorie hot chocolate mixes as well, so you can feel happy and guilt-free!

#10 Smile: Smiling sends signals to the brain that you’re happy, and the brain reacts accordingly.  Furthermore, smiling improves the moods of those around you, which may in turn make you cheer up–it’s a symbiotic relationship.

Admittedly, the “venti” coffee usually does the trick, but I’m excited to try some of these alternatives, as they’re all healthy and inexpensive.  Good morning, everyone!

Christians Against Poverty Teach Valuable Budgeting Skills

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) are once again teaching their money-managing course which emphasizes the importance of old-fashioned budgeting.  More than 7,000 people attended last year’s course, and with rising VAT (tax) rates, gas prices and a job market that is still pretty bleak, the attendance numbers for this years course are set to increase.

Nearly 800 churches across the UK are set to participate in this course, offering classes beginning this month.  In this “age of austerity,” CAP feels it important to acknowledge our own financial realities.  Founder John Kirby urges, “So many of us are guessing at our finances. We’re hoping for the best while continuing to spend, really without knowing what we have available […] The Bible says the truth will set you free and certainly when you know what your situation is – even if it’s a mess – you can start to tackle the issue.”

For more information, visit www.capmoney.org

Passion Conference Unites 22,000 Students

Over twenty thousand gathered together in an arena for the sake of hearing God’s message–and no, we’re not talking about a Jeremy Camp concert.  This year’s “Passion conference,” held in Atlanta, generated an audience of  22,000 college-aged persons all eager to share in their passage for Jesus.

According to CNN, the Passion movement was held for the sake of raising $500,000 to be donated to various charities, including  Compassion International, Hope International, Haiti Transformed, International Justice Mission, Bibles Unbound, World Made Flesh, Joint Aid Management, Cure International, Living Water International, and the Atlanta Mission and City of Refuge.  However, the final donation amount far exceeded expectations.  Post-conference, Pastor Louis Giglio announced, “The fact that 22,000 university-aged young people would journey to Atlanta and gather for the name of Jesus is staggering in and of itself,” he wrote. “But the fact that, as a result of His grace in their lives, they would pool their resources to the tune of $1.1 million to fund 10 local and global causes signifies a massive shift.”

In explaining the need for creating such an event as Passion Conference, Giglio explained, “Church was never meant to be an island of self-indulgence, but a missional community of Jesus-followers so in love with Him that they can do nothing else but carry His name to the world […] It is truly inspiring to see a generation that is so hungry for an authentic encounter with Jesus … one that exchanges consumer-driven Christ for Christ-centered obedience.”

More about the event can be learned here.

“What To Do About Embarrassingly Bad Christian Music”

MyCatholicBlog came across this amusing article on Christ and Pop Culture from a couple years back.  In it, author Alan Noble gives us some helpful hints about how to react to, and improve, “embarrassingly bad Christian music.”  One of the hints Mr. Noble gives that MyCatholicBlog loves in particular is: Consider whether or not the music you buy is really worth the praise.

Noble warns that just like its secular counter-part, Christian music is often praised simply on its consumer merits alone; that is to say, one assumes that if it’s sold in a specific place (let’s say, a Christian bookstore for example), then that music must be good automatically.  Not necessarily the case of course, and thus Noble urges for us to use caution when listening or recommending Christian music, in order to not perpetuate music that, although it may have a good message, is ultimately just bad.

The entire article is filled with wit and insight, and was a pleasure to read.

“How Little Exercise Can You Get Away With?”

It is an obvious and scientifically-proven fact that exercise is directly linked to improving mental health.  But according to an article published a week ago by The New York Times, reaping the mental benefits of exercise may come easier than thought.  Apparently, if mental health is your primary goal than as little as 20 minutes of activity a week may be enough to boost your mood.  How easy is that?!

Now of course, everyone’s physical needs are different, as the effect of exercise is contingent on one’s health history, current health status, lifestyle, etc.  But for the general population, this is great news!  Make yourself feel better in 20 minutes? Easy.  Be healthy, be happy.

The more technical analysis can be found in the NYT article here .

Vatican and Discovery Channel Set to Create Exorcism TV Series

Mycatholicblog cannot say it enough: we love the Deacon’s Bench, the blog run by Deacon Greg Kandra.  Check out this interesting story he posted  about the newest plans from the Discovery Channel:

Discovery Channel is teaming with the Vatican for an unprecedented new series hunting the deadliest catch of all: Demons.

The Exorcist Files will recreate stories of real-life hauntings and demonic possession, based on cases investigated by the Catholic Church. The project includes access into the Vatican’s case files, as well as interviews with the organization’s top exorcists — religious experts who are rarely seen on television.

“The Vatican is an extraordinarily hard place to get access to, but we explained we’re not going to try to tell people what to think,” says Discovery president and GM Clark Bunting.

Bunting says the investigators believe a demon can inhabit an inanimate object (like a home) or a person. The network executive says he was initially skeptical when first meeting the team but was won over after more than three hours of talks.

“The work these folks do, and their conviction in their beliefs, make for fascinating stories,” Bunting says.

If the show’s first season is successful, the network hopes its partnership with the Church will pave the way for producers GoGo Luckey to take the series to the next level — joining Catholic investigators on live demon-purging ride-alongs. (Move over, Syfy’s Ghost Hunters.)

As frightening as this series sounds, and as peculiar of a collaboration it may be, mycatholicblog will definitely be watching!!

NOTE: Reports have since been released that the collaboration between the Vatican and the Discovery Channel is absolutely unofficial, and the exact extent of the Vatican’s involvement remains unknown at this time.

Interview with John Desjarlais

From 6th Century Irish legend to Mexican-American woman: John Desjarlais entertains, thrills, and intrigues.  Mycatholicblog is honored to present our interview with this incredibly talented author, professor, and former radio producer.

Let’s start at the beginning.  Your first book The Throne of Tara, first published in 1990, is based-off the true story of Columba of Iona.  What compelled you to write this story, and what kind of message are you hoping readers will take away from it?

I began “Tara” soon after producing and scripting a documentary on the history of Western Christianity. During the research, I became fascinated by Irish monasticism and discovered Columba in particular. This was the best man the 6th Century could produce: a warrior, scholar and poet, gifted with Second Sight and a thunderous voice, a natural leader with a serious flaw – his Irish temper. He went to war over a book (a copy of the Latin Vulgate, most believe, that he copied by hand but lost in a court dispute to the owner of the original) and in the “Battle of the Book” in A.D. 560 nearly 3,000 men were slain. In remorse and in order to avoid excommunication, Columba exiled himself among the savage Picts of Scotland, vowing to win as many souls to the Church as were lost in the battle. The records say he encountered the Loch Ness monster on the way. Once in the royal court (which he entered miraculously), he dueled the Druids, miracles versus magic, in a contest of power. Well, all that said ‘great novel’ to me and I was off.

As for the ‘take-away value,’ it’s hard to say. Writers with a message in mind often mess up a great story. There are some clear themes, though, such as the conflict between nascent Christianity and the Old Religion of the druids. Both respected nature and recognized power in the natural order but had a different understanding of where the power came from.

And what made you transition from a producer with Wisconsin Public Radio to college professor?

I was let go during the recession of 1993 and since I’d just published my second novel, “Relics,” and I was placing short fiction in magazines, I decided that earning a second Master’s degree in English or Creative Writing that enabled me to teach writing at the college level would be a wise career path. Funny thing is, given my media background, I also teach the mass communication courses at my community college, including Radio Production.

Looking at more current literary achievements, your novel Bleeder tells of protagonist Reed Stubblefield, a professor who must face the challenges of physical disability, the loss of his wife and (as the story progresses) becoming a murder suspect. Why did you feel it necessary to portray a character that has faced so much suffering?  How does it facilitate the character’s spirituality and religious perspective?

One reviewer called BLEEDER ‘a novel-length contemplation of the mystery of undeserved suffering,’ and that captures it pretty well. Surely a traditional ‘mystery’ is about an unsolved crime and the restoration of justice, but I wanted to explore “higher mysteries” that we all think about: why is there evil and injustice in the world at all? Why do we endure undeserved suffering? Is it, in any way, ‘redemptive?’ What meaning can we draw from the suffering of Christ – exemplified in the stigmata of Father Ray – to comprehend our own? All mystery novels consider to some degree the problem of human grief, loss, and woundedness – but awfully few go beyond the solving-of-the-puzzle. The Catholic understanding of human frailty and fallenness, of human promise and potential, is very deep and profound, and something that moved me as I wrote the story as a devout Presbyterian. Soon after finishing the book I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. My character Reed doesn’t. One of the things that makes so much “Christian fiction” sentimental and spiritually smarmy is the inevitable conversion at the end. Reed, an Aristotle expert and logician, comes to recognize new possibilities beyond his secularized understanding of the world. He grows to respect people of faith as intelligent and winsome, and not as superficial or saccharine. One might say he is newly opened to the mysteries of faith, hope, and love, although much remains unresolved at the end.

Along these same lines, with so many deep questions to ponder, why did you decide to write Bleeder as a mystery novel?

Mysteries – classic murder mysteries, I mean – connect with something deep inside us. They are the modern form of the medieval morality play, where the sleuth is Everyman who works against time, big money, a determined antagonist, daunting odds and his own flaws to expose evil and to restore the balance of justice. At the end, readers who identify with the successful hero or heroine feel a little better about the world and about themselves. A critic might say that mystery novels are escapist, since they offer a fantasy world in which justice prevails, right always wins over wrong, and love finds a way. But what’s wrong with that? That’s healing. I really think the ‘entertainment’ aspect comes first. This is why people read mysteries.

However, mysteries are close to the barest human desires and fears, and because they deal so openly with death, they have a built-in opportunity to explore life’s higher mysteries, as I mentioned earlier. All literature tries to make meaning out of the frightfully short dash between our birth date and departure date on our tombstones, and the hardships during that short dash. So the ‘mystery novel’ is a perfect vehicle to consider the mystery of undeserved suffering and the problem of evil in a world created by a good God.

What can you tell us about the inspiration for your newest novel, Viper?  How did you create the character of Selena De La Cruz, and how do you write so convincingly as her?  Was much research into the Mexican American community necessary?

As a new Catholic, I was excited by observing all the new customs and practices I hadn’t known as a devout Protestant. One of them was the “Book of the Dead” on All Souls’ Day, where a ledger is placed in the church for relatives to record the names of loved ones who have passed away during the year so they can be remembered and prayed for. The mystery writer in me asked, “What if there were names in the book of people who weren’t dead yet? And what if they were killed one by one in the order in which they were listed? Who are they, and who would kill them and why? At about the same time I learned about the Mexican “Day of the Dead,” a festival celebrated at about the same time and blended with All Souls’ Day in Mexican-American culture. That’s when I knew my Mexican-American insurance agent minor character from BLEEDER, Selena De La Cruz, would be the protagonist in the sequel. And her name would be last on that list. Once she walked on the stage in BLEEDER in those cherry high heels, with that attitude and driving that vintage Dodge Charger, I knew she had a story of her own. It took me a little while to realize she had a former career with the DEA and she’d left it under a cloud and was trying to start her life over as an insurance agent in rural Illinois. It took off from there.

And I was scared to death. How could I – an Anglo guy – presume to write the story of a Mexican-American woman? I feared the audacity of it and anticipated objections from the Latino community: “How can you, an Anglo man, tell our stories? And how can you, an Anglo man, represent a proud Latina?

So for nearly two years I became a second-generation Mexican-American woman.

Not literally, of course. Lacking any personal experience as a Latina, I immersed myself in the experiences of Latin women vicariously in many ways. With the recent meteoric rise in this population’s numbers in the USA, there are many new books in circulation by Latinas about coming to terms with one’s culture and traditions (especially family traditions and the Old-World expectations placed upon women) while trying to fit into New-World American society. I read most of them and took careful notes, as with any other research I had to do for VIPER (DEA undercover operations, police interrogations, crime scene processing, shooting a SIG Sauer which I really did, snake handling which I really didn’t, Aztec religion and so on). I studied Mexican holiday customs (especially The Day of the Dead and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe), Mexican Catholic practices and Mexican cooking and proverbs and on and on, all online. I subscribed to Latina magazine for fashion, beauty, relationship and lifestyle issues. I paid attention to any news related to this community, especially immigration issues. I browsed Latinas’ blogs and web sites to see what everyone talked about, especially with regard to family life, work and social life, negotiating two cultures at once and living with a bi-cultural identity. Just like the Dad says in the movie Selena, “We’ve gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans both at the same time. It’s exhausting!”

I interviewed Latinas and visited social spaces online where Latin American women (Cuban, Puerto Rican, Guatemalan and so on, not just Mexican) talked about their life experiences. By dipping into so many other Latinas’ life experiences, I noticed things that were common to them all that I could easily adapt, and other things I could tweak and make my own – well, Selena’s own. I built a very thorough backstory – life story – for her based on all this research. I had pages of notes and stacks of cards that I browsed through repeatedly to remind myself of small details that were of possible use as ‘bits’ in the story or for possible flashback scenes. In these ways I was able to construct an authentic Mexican-American woman with a real family and real-life inner conflicts most Latinas could identify with – not a ‘composite’ but a unique and genuine person.

A Latina translator helped me with the Spanish phrasing and reviewed the work-in-progress, and at one point she told me, “I am SO into Selena!” That’s when I knew I was getting it right – down to the 3-inch heel faux leopard Giuseppe Zanottis.

Finally, what else can we expect from John Desjarlais in the upcoming year?

I’m gathering material for the third book in this series and it’s all vague at this point. Insofar as VIPER considered Selena’s relationship with her mother in some detail (to correspond to her developing relationship to Our Lady of Guadalupe), I think the third book needs to consider her troubled past with her father, a former PEMEX executive who suddenly moved to Chicago to take a position with the Mexican Consulate there shortly before he died under questionable circumstances. I expect Selena will have to investigate and resolve all this before she can move ahead in her life.

NRB Media Award for International Innovation given to HCJB Global-UK

Whistling Frog Productions, a department at HCJB Global-UK, is to receive the 2011 National Religious Broadcasters of America (NRB) Media Award for International Innovation.
The award is given each year to an organization based outside the US that “excels in innovative uses of electronic media in the proclamation of the gospel of Christ”.  Whistling Frog dedicates itself to bringing Christian radio to a secular audience.

HCJB Global President Wayne Pederson said: “[Whistling Frog] represents some of the most engaging and unique radio spots I’ve heard. In our secular, post-Christian culture, it’s this kind of non-traditional creativity that will connect with people whose minds are far from God. I’m so impressed with the strategy and creativity of the Whistling Frog Productions team.”

HCJB Global-UK Director Colin Lowther claims : “We push the doors of mainstream commercial radio stations and are often surprised at the welcome we receive […] The opportunities are out there, but sadly, the Christian church often looks down on the mainstream media and sees them as a lost cause.  In our experience they are certainly not a lost cause […] Often the only way in is to ‘sneak up on [a secular audience]’ on their favorite radio stations.”

The 2011 Media Award for International Innovation will be presented at the NRB’s 68th annual convention taking place in Nashville, Tennessee, from February 26 to March 1.

Chilean Students Spread Gospel

From January 3-13 over 2,000 Chilean students from over 50 universities across the country will be spreading the Gospel under the theme “United at your table, Lord, let us enliven the Church in Chile.”

The national festival began this past Monday with a Mass of commissioning celebrated by Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, the Archbishop of Santiago.

As part of the festival, which has occurred annually since 2004, each morning students share the Gospel through workshops, events, festivals, and going door-to-door.  They also visit hospitals, prisons, and orphanages.