Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Review: These Beautiful Bones

These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body by Emily Stimpson

Kansas Dad read this book a few months ago and immediately suggested I read it. The first few chapters seek to introduce St. John Paul II's theology of the body. Many years ago, I read The Theology of the Body Human Love in the Divine Plan and understood only a small part of it. Ms. Stimpson's explanations are clear without skimming the surface so much as to be inaccurate or too generalized.

The whole point of the book is to fill a gap in the literature about theology of the body. So far, most of the books, speeches, and resources have focused on what theology of the body means for the intimate physical interactions between men and women, but Ms. Stimpson points out that we must also consider what theology of the body tells us about the choices we make in every area of our lives.

Society today teaches us that our bodies are not part of us, but just something we use to experience pleasure, but the Catholic church teaches that we are not just spirit, but body and spirit. St. John Paul II reminds us that our bodies are the method for our interaction with the world and with other people.
Every look we give and every action we take in some way communicates the inmost mystery of our being to those around us.
Rather than quote whole paragraphs of the first two chapters here (many are worth quoting), I'll encourage you to read them yourself. At the end, she says:
Working in harmony with the whole of Catholic tradition (big "T" as well as little "t"), the theology of the body points the way towards new life. It shows us how, even in the midst of a culture that denies the meaning and dignity of the body, we can live lives that anticipate the fullness of redemption.
So now the question for us becomes, what does that life look like?
Then Ms. Stimpson applies theology of the body to the daily issues of work, spiritual parenthood, manners, clothing, food, prayer, and social media. Each receives its own chapter and postscript, any of which could be read in isolation or any order.

I found something enlightening in each chapter. Here's a bit from the one on labor:
More than what work we do, it's how we do our work that matters. It's how we talk to our patients, talk to our secretary, and talk to the quiet old man who sweeps the halls at night--acknowledging them and caring for them as persons, not case numbers or job titles. It's also how we treat those who work for us and with us--with kindness, compassion, and justice, as men not we make every minute of our workday a silent witness to the God we love.
This was such a great reminder to me that my work as a mother and teacher to my children is important, but so is the attitude I have with them. If I check off every lesson on our schedule but spend the entire day yelling at my children (not that I've ever done that, of course), I have failed in my work.

I loved her chapter on manners, too. It reminded me a lot of The Hidden Power of Kindness. Being kind is such a small thing that often people think we are too busy for it or that it doesn't really matter compared to the big things, but it does. Ms. Stimpson clearly shows how our love for Christ is only as deep as how well we treat others. Our manners:
keep us doing the right thing--honoring others, honoring Christ, and recognizing our own dignity--even when we don't feel like it. And it's doing the right thing, even when we don't feel like it, which is the ordinary path to holiness.
Being kind, always, is extremely difficult, but it also seems remarkably simple. St. Therese summed it up as her "Little Way" and it's really a way that's open to everybody. I don't have to sell everything I own and move to Mexico as a missionary to follow Christ. I don't have to give a lot of money to the Church or to the poor. If I am only kind and anticipate the needs of others, I am serving Christ is a very real way.

If you have ever felt like you should learn more about the theology of the body, but couldn't muster enough effort to actually do so, this is the book you should read. If you've read some about the theology of the body and want to groan a little at the thought of reading more, this is the book for you. It's engaging, immediately applicable, and manages to be completely different from almost all the other theology of the body books without misrepresenting theology of the body (or the Church as a whole).

As an added bonus, the cover is delightful.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: UnDivided (and a Small Commentary on Young Adult Dystopian Fiction)

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman

This is the fourth (and final) book of the Unwind series and it's a fantastic ending to one of the best young adult dystopian series in recent years, if not longer.

Lest you think I say that lightly, let me remind you that I have read The Hunger Games Trilogy, the Divergent Series, the Matched Trilogy, the Legend Trilogy, the Tankborn trilogy, at least one other trilogy not even worth the time to look up its name and link here, and the beginnings of a few series still in progress. Many of them were enjoyable (not the third Divergent book, as I wrote in another post), but I was troubled by a recurrent theme: cynicism. In all these books, young people recognized injustice or even outright evil in their worlds and attempted to right the wrongs. That's what young people should do, even the real ones. In book after book, series after series, the young adults in question seem to learn that even among those fighting for "right," there are none who are hold fast to their integrity if it means losing the battle. You'll see, for example, atrocities on both sides not just among a few people here and there, but in the upper echelons of any group in power or seeking to be in power.

I'm making some generalizations here and some of these series are more permeated by this idea than others, but I kept saying to myself, "There are people of integrity in the world! It is possible to fight injustice without merely inflicting it on someone else!"

I feel this is an important aspect of young adult fiction not only because there are people of integrity, but because we are already living in the time of God's kingdom on earth and we are called to be a part of that transformation which means standing for Truth and Love without falling into the same sins as those we are fighting. Ideally, we wouldn't be "fighting" at all, but rather leading. In some ways, dystopian fiction is a genre that is perfect for young people precisely because it can accentuate some subtle (but present) flaw to extreme proportions and then allow young idealistic people to battle those flaws, all in ways not possible in contemporary realistic fiction (which also happens to often be quite depressing; there's more room for joyous success in dystopia).

Then I read the Unwind series. From the very beginning, I was excited by the big ideas presented in the books. The questions raised regarding abortion, faith, the value of a person, what it means to be human, the commercialization of medical procedures, and so much more, are fascinating and strikingly relevant. In the books, a tragic civil war broke out in the United States over abortion. In the end, a compromise made abortion illegal, but allows parents to "unwind" teenagers in a medical procedure that takes every piece of the young person apart so they can be used to heal, cure, or replace parts in other people. The technology is later advanced further, resulting in the ability to put pieces of people together to create life (just like Frankenstein without the need to pilfer cemeteries for dead bodies). Of course it's ridiculous to think such a thing could happen, and yet the scenario provides an interesting way to contemplate humanity. Personally, I think it provides a fertile ground for discussions about abortion, all the more so because the reviews on Amazon (which I glanced at before writing this post) often neglect to mention it at all.

To return to my point above, do characters on the "right" side of the debate in the Unwind series show integrity? I think they do, absolutely. There are plenty of people who seem to be on the "right" side who end up to be only looking out for their own interests and there are plenty of people fighting for reason and hope who make mistakes, some of them tragic and devastating, but there are a great many people who sacrifice whole-heartedly. There are also many people who yearn for a better way, who take small risks when offered an opportunity and indicate a desire to do even more, if only they could muster up enough courage and had the right leaders.

In each of these books, there is a great hope, a hint that a society can recognize mistakes and rectify them. (A few people, and then more, begin to think, "My God...what have we done?)

Most importantly, there is hope for forgiveness.

I fully intend to read these books with my children when they are older. There are plenty of mature themes in the books (mainly of violence and abuse) so they are definitely for older teens. I also think the Catholic church is not portrayed at all as it would really be if something like unwinding were to become a reality, which I believe is more due to ignorance of Catholic beliefs than an anti-Catholic bias by the author. That portrayal gives even more to discuss with young Catholics (and probably other Christian denominations as well).

I hope I have written enough to make you rush out to your library or bookstore and read these books but not so much to give away any spoilers!

Friday, October 24, 2014

First Son's Interesting Copywork

This year, I have been letting First Son choose his own copywork. He can choose from Scripture, a book of saint quotations, a selection of Shakespeare quotations, or his memory work binder (poems and such). He can choose something from his school books, too, but that I have to approve in advance. Everything else is up to him.

Today, I was reviewing his work and found this quote from St. Monica:
Guard your tongue when your husband is angry.
It's illustrated, too, with an angry husband.

I can't decide if it's a funny joke or some sort of warning.

Let's go with joke.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A New Page

I realized a few days ago that our 2014-2015 books and resources were never published. I started the page and then forgot all about it. I've finished it and posted them here (and in the list under School Books and Resources on the right).

I'm sure you've all been waiting and wondering about them. Now you can relax.

On the plus side, I was able to update it with the modifications I made after the school year started.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: My Sisters the Saints

My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell

Yes, it's another saint book, but this one is a little different from most saint books. While it briefly tells the life of each saint, it focuses on the impact of the life and works of the saint on the life of the author.

It's about the author's rediscovery of her Catholic faith and how the writings and lives of six particular saints were a source of hope and solace to her in the most difficult moments of her life: on her college campus, as a presidential speechwriter, balancing work and family, through her father's illness and death, infertility, and a difficult pregnancy. Even if you have never struggled with these particular issues, the memoir shows clearly how reading what saints have written and studying their lives can have a deep and lasting impact on our own spiritual journeys.

As a young writer in Washington, D.C., Ms. Campbell struggled with a separation from her fiance and the necessity of delaying their marriage. For a year, she vacillated, waiting for an "unmistakable sign" from God to show her what to do.
All this time, I realized, God had not been asking me to obey him. He had been asking me to trust him. I could stay in DC or return to St. Louis. Either way, he would be with me. But going home was the desire he had put in my heart, and going home took more trust. It would take the sort of trust that Faustina had: that no-holds-barred, no-looking-back faith that allowed her to risk looking crazy for love of Jesus and made her a powerful conduit of his grace as a result. The only way to gain that trust was to act as if I already had it, to step out in faith with nothing other than God's hands to catch me if I fell.
So St. Faustina helped guide the author not to the proper decision, but to trust in God and in the subtle call he had placed in her heart.

In her heartbreaking chapter on the infertility she and her husband experienced, she writes of her thoughts after a doctor emphatically insisted they would never have children without the use of IVF (a procedure considered illicit by the Catholic church).
I knew God could forgive me for choosing IVF. I knew that if he allowed me to conceive a child using IVF, he would love hat child as much as one conceived according to his plan. Yet I also knew my relationship with him would never be the same if I purposely made such a fundamental, life-altering choice against what I knew to be his will for me. I suspected that the presence of a child conceived through IVF would always be tinged with sadness for me, since it would remind me that, at a critical juncture in my life, I had chosen my need for control over God's invitation to trust.
While the author is talking about her struggle with infertility, the thought of choosing our own control over trusting God is one that applies in so many situations, especially in our modern world so full of temptation and voices telling us to follow our own desires rather than those of God.

In the book, the author talks often of her father as he suffered the effects of Alzheimer's. After his death, she found herself studying the experiences of Mother Teresa.
It seemed too simplistic for the deep-thinking Christian I considered myself to be. But day after day, as I soaked up Mother Teresa's words in that chapel and stared at that silent host, I grew in my conviction that such simple perseverance might just be the essence of authentic faith: showing up to pray when you feel nothing, continuing to confide in God when he answers you with silence, loving and serving him even after you accept that he may never give you what you so desperately want or answer the question that confounds you the most. That was the blind faith that sustained Mother Teresa through her decades of desolation. It was the faith that sustained Dad through his crucible of dementia. And it was the faith Jesus was trying to teach me, through the very trials that I kept begging him to take away.
The last line in particular struck me. How often we pray for God to take away our trials and suffering, but they may be the very method of our growth. We become discouraged when we cannot feel God's presence or hear his voice, but it may be that times of closeness to God are the exception rather than the rule. Continuing to pray in the silence is all he asks. Our priest has said, "There is no prayer without God." So if we pray, we are with God even if we can't feel him.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are my own.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

September 2014 Book Reports

Genesis: The Book of Origins by Fr. Albert Joseph Mary Shamon is one of the recommended background books for teachers to read in preparation for Connecting with History volume 1 which covers creation and Genesis. It covers creation through the story of Joseph with insights into each one. I found it a decent book, though I already knew much of it from other readings. Certainly it would be valuable for someone relatively unfamiliar with the meaning of those Scripture readings beyond the Sunday School stories. (purchased at Sacred Heart Books and Gifts)

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus is a wonderful book of historical fiction based on the true life of Manjiro (John Mung), a Japanese fisherman shipwrecked as a teenager who makes his way to America (perhaps the first Japanese person to visit the United States) in the 1840s. It contains a vast amount of information on whaling, prejudices in America and Japan, America's inventions, and the Gold Rush, as well as courage and perseverance. I loved it. The drawings and reproductions in the book are often those of the real Manjiro. We also listened to the audio book, which was wonderful and let me avoid trying to pronounce the Japanese words. Be aware there are graphic descriptions of whaling, comparisons between Christianity and Buddhist faiths (not always to Christianity's benefits), and an episode where Manjiro steps on an image of Mary and Jesus when he returns to Japan. All of these seemed accurate depictions of the time in which Manjiro lived. (library copy)

Revolutionary by Krista McGee, read to review for another website and not worth your time. (purchased for the Kindle)

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen (a review for Blogging for Books)

The Night is for Hunting (The Tomorrow Series #6) by John Marsden, also read to review for another website. If you've read the first five books in the series, you'll read this one, but the series as a whole isn't that interesting or well-written. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Links to Sacred Heart Books and Gifts and RC History are not affiliate links.