Archive | May, 2008

An intriguing invitation

May 28, 2008

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Last Friday, I sat in the office of teacher Dick Paul at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley. He is set to retire June 13 after 32 years at the school.

His first year was 1976. The very first day he walked into a classroom at the school, he was announced as my homeroom teacher. I was a sophomore at the time. He also was my geometry teacher that same year. On Friday, I got a chance to tell him that his geometry class was my favorite class in four years at T-G.

But, we spent little time talking about geometry or school. Instead, the talk was mostly about fishing and his upcoming trip to Lake Mille Lacs June 9. He fishes the lake several times each year and invited me along for this one.

I’ve been wanting to go fishing with him for years, but our schedules never lined up. This outing sounds very intriguing. It’s an annual trip on a Mille Lacs fishing launch he makes every year with teachers from both Totino-Grace and Hill-Murray, where his wife, Susan, serves as principal. There is a trophy that goes to the team that catches the biggest fish. The competition is friendly, but can get intense.

“They (Hill-Murray teachers) have possession of the trophy,” Dick Paul said. “We lost it in the last 20 minutes of the trip last year.”

The trip started about 10 or 11 years ago, Paul said, when Duane Buhl from Totino-Grace and Brad Peterson from Hill-Murray worked to put together a combined trip. Prior to that, each of the schools was going out on a launch on Mille Lacs independently.

“It’s nothing but pure fun andd good-natured teasing between the schools,” Paul said. “Inevitably, someone pulls a prank on someone else during the night.”

One interesting subplot this year will be the switching of teams by Aaron Miller. Last year, he fished on the Totino-Grace team because he was a religion teacher there. Then, he was hired by Hill-Murray as assistant principal, starting at the beginning of this school year. So, this year, he will be fishing for Hill-Murray.

Which brought me to the question: Whose team would I be fishing for? Totino-Grace, based on my status as an alum? What about my journalistic code of being impartial, not to mention my code as an archdiocesan employee to support all Catholic schools?

Paul had a quick answer for all of these questions: “You’re fishing impartially for us. You are what you are and proud of it.”

Let the competition begin!

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Lovers of the written word will love “The Florist’s Daughter”

May 23, 2008

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THE FLORIST’S DAUGHTER,
by Patricia Hampl

Scanning through radio stations while driving, I happened upon Patricia Hampl reading from her latest memoir. The life she brought to the words she read instantly made me stop the scan function, and for the next I don’t know how many minutes I was mesmerized by her storytelling.
I knew I had to get the book.

“The Florist’s Daughter” proved even better as a read.

The woman can flat out write.

Details of her life growing up in St. Paul, Minn. after World War II serve as the structure for Hampl to tell us what she really wants us to know, and that’s who her parents were and what her relationship was with them.

She does that so well that you feel you know her chain-smoking Irish-American mother and her handsome, reserved Czech father — the florist of the title — well enough that you could write their obituaries if asked to. In fact, maybe that’s what Hampl has done — at book length.

So much of the book is about what the author was thinking during the events of those growing-up years, how she reacted to the events of life that her family lived, and especially how she both remained the same and yet grew.

How many adult children might empathize with Hampl when she writes about agreeing out of a sense of duty to travel with her elderly mother to Ireland — to “offer it up,” as she inserts — only to acknowledge afterward that her mother turned out to be the best travel companion ever.

Can’t you just picture a middle-aged woman sneaking a bottle of chardonnay and a pack of Merit 100s into the senior living center so her mother can enjoy those forbidden pleasures?

Later on she tells of visiting her mother on her death bed this way: “She would hang by her fingernails from the ledge of life.”

Hampl makes it ease to picture the flooded streets of St. Paul’s old Italian levee neighborhood by describing them as “suddenly Venetian.” Minnesota itself, she writes, is situated “at the nosebleed north of the country.”

During car trips in the family Ford, she and her brother would be “enacting the turf wars of the backseat.”

Catholics will be teased throughout as memories of religious practice float through the text, and — because she grew up in its shadow, the Cathedral of St. Paul almost takes on the role of a character as Hampl crafts this wonderful story out of, to use her phrase, “the delicate scrim of daily life.”

There is a sense of place that this University of Minnesota professor has preserved for us, first for the very Catholic hometown of her childhood, perhaps best explained with this quote from the book:
“Ours was a pre-freeway St. Paul, a time-place where it was possible to spend an entire lifetime without straying over the Minneapolis line where the Scandinavians went about their Lutheran business.”

But there is another sense of place Hampl brings us to, the place of a daughter, the roles that fall to daughters, and maybe this paragraph sums it up:
“I sit with my mother, as has been destined since time began because a daughter is a daughter all her life. We stay like this, hand in hand. We have all the time in the world — world without end, amen. Words we recite by heart when she asks me to say the Rosary with her, the last phrase of the Gloria, the little prayer at the end that puts to rest all the Hail Marys.”

Thanks, Patricia. — bz

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Everybody thinks they have a book in them

May 20, 2008

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It must be part of modern culture that everyone who ever received a B+ or better on a high school essay has a gut feeling that they could write a book someday.

Whether prompted by illusions of penning the great American novel, delusions that a lot of other people will care about your life story or sincere conviction that others will benefit by knowing your take on a topic, the urge to write can be overwhelming.

Also overwhelmed, in turn, are book reviewers.

Write a few reviews and the hopeful of the literary world beat a path to your in box.

That’s okay, though. Keep ’em coming.

As I crack the spines of new deliveries that appear with the request for reviews, a question that regularly comes to mind is this: Who does the person who wrote this think will be interested in this?

That may be a valid question, but others, and a better ones are: Might there be people out there who would get something out of reading this? Are there gems in here that make this worthwhile?
Let me give you a couple of examples.

Ready for your coffee table?

Judy McCabe, who lives in Minnetonka, put together some of her thoughts of home with photos — some good, some just ordinary — to create a well-design, coffee table book titled, um, “Thoughts of Home.”

McCabe, a member of St. Patrick in Edina, has moved around the country, and she wrote, “What I really want to do with the book is open a dialog for people who are relocated or transferred.” Could viewing scene of normal, every-day life around homes of various kinds inspire fond memories and help people appreciate home life?

To be perfectly honest — and I told McCabe this — the book didn’t do anything for me. I did like the book’s design, and I think it works as a coffee table book to browse through. The ordinariness of the home life she describes, though, doesn’t compel me to give a ringing endorsement of “Thoughts of Home,” but McCabe deserves at the very least a pat on the back for not letting her creative urge lie inert.
Find out more about McCabe and her work at http://www.thoughtsofhome-judymccabe.com/.

Life story of interest?

Then there’s Bill Mori. Mori is a member of St. Paul in Ham Lake who pulled together his memories of growing up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, during the 1950s.
“East End Italian” is a series of brief chapters that, for the most part, aren’t unique. Life in Fort Dodge and at Holy Rosary Parish there isn’t much different from life elsewhere in the country that I could see. Yet….

There are slices of small town life that Mori has preserved by being willing to try this authorship thing. My favorite concerns his job at the local mom-and-pop grocers, a holdout to the supermarkets of the day. Customers came in to Brechwald’s with a list of items, and schoolboys like Mori ran through the aisles to “fetch” them, as he writes. Never heard of that before.

Mori’s got some funny, funny anecdotes. There’s a great story about being fascinated with airplanes, writing away to obtain photos from the manufacturers like Lockheed, Boeing and McDonald Douglas, only to have the government agents show up at their door, wanting to question a certain William Mori who was so curious about the latest military aircraft.

If you want to know more, contact the author at bmori@comcast.net.

Spiritual poetry, anyone?

Margaret Peterson has been rhyming for years, and now her poems are collected in her first book, “The Pearl of Great Price: Spiritual Poetry to Life the Soul.”

My guess is that poetry experts might judge her work as syrupy, Pollyannish maybe, and definitely old fashioned, as if that’s a crime. But I liked it. It wore on me.

Yeah, it’s a bit on the sweet side, but I’m going to bet Peterson is sweet, too. This is a lady who has taught 4th grade faith formation at her parish, St. Bonaventure in Bloomington, for more than 20 years, and just loves doing it, we hear.

There is surely simplicity in some of her poems, but others carry wisdom — and do so with great economy. Two samples:

Mirrors
A mirror reflects
Whatever it views
We reflect
The paths we choose.
The Pearl of Great Price
God is the pearl
In the ocean of life;
Will we love Him or cast Him aside…
And spend our lives searching
For something unknown
To ease the longing inside?
Find out more by looking her up at http://www.margaretpetersonpoetry.com.

Courage counts

These are just three examples of local people who have yielded to the urge and tried their hand at the book world. Their work may or may not be your cup of tea or may have value for just a small number of readers.

But if wholesale endorsement of a work isn’t in the cards, anyone with the courage to work hard at getting a book out of their system deserves applause for at least that effort. And who know when the next author of bestsellers might be one of those folks brave enough to put words on paper. — bz

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Turkey time in Wisconsin

May 19, 2008

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I went on a turkey hunt with my dad in Wisconsin last week. In that state, like in Minnesota, you get drawn for a five-day season. This was the second-to-last season, so we were hunting late in the year. But, with the late spring we’ve had, this turned out pretty well. The birds were active and the weather was beautiful on each of the three days we hunted.

The first day, we had birds gobbling and strutting, but they wouldn’t come in. Then, I moved our blind right to the edge of the property line and had a bird gobbling as we were setting up. But, a tractor pulled onto the neighbor’s land and started planting corn. Then, another neighbor whose land touches the property we were on drove up on a tractor to plant a food plot for deer. That ended things for the day, but we decided to come back to the same spot the next morning.

Turkeys love freshly-planted corn fields and they were definitely there the next day. I moved the blind to the spot where my son had killed a nice bird the previous year, just 20 yards from a large strip of freshly-planted corn. Two toms were gobbling on the neighbor’s land, but wouldn’t come over. Then, at about 6:30 a.m., a hen crossed in front of us. I tried to call her into the decoys, but she just kept going. About 10 minutes later, two more hens crossed in front of us. This time, they turned and came right to the decoys, which we had set up 5-10 yards from the blind.

I was thinking it would be nice to have a gobbler follow the hens in when I heard a gobble just over the hill to my left. I looked and saw the top of a tail fan pop up, then another. The two birds came strutting over the hill and I was hoping they would veer right so my dad and I could both get a shot. He was on the right side of the blind (where I thought the birds would come from) and I was on the left.

But, these darned birds stayed left and began to slow down and act cautious. They came out of strut, ran their heads up and stood there. My choice was to keep waiting and risk them leaving, or shoot now and at least get one. I chose to shoot and I dropped the bird in front at 40 yards. Unfortunately, the other one took off right away and my dad didn’t get a shot.

We went to another farm (where my son Andy had shot a bird April 13) and hunted there for a few hours that day and then again the following morning until noon. We had birds gobble and come part way in, but we couldn’t pull one in close enough for my dad to shoot. So, we ended up one for two. I was hoping my dad would get one, but I think he just enjoyed being out in the woods with me. At his age, 86, that’s an accomplishment in itself. He did manage to shoot a bird the week before in Minnesota while hunting with my brother, so he did get his bird this year.

Several weeks ago, I shot a bearded hen in Minnesota (which is legal), but it is not the same feeling as shooting a big tom. Mine weighed about 20.5 pounds and had an 11 1/4-inch beard that was nice and thick. All in all, a great bird and an awesome hunt. I’m thankful to the Lord for the time with my dad and the bird we were able to harvest.

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Solving Mother’s Day Dilemma

May 14, 2008

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Sometimes, the most valuable hunting and fishing trips are the ones we don’t take.

Say what?

Let me explain. First of all, I like the outdoors as much as anyone. For that reason, Saturday’s fishing opener weighed heavily on my mind.

In fact, in anticipation of this year’s fishing season, I bought a boat that has all of the features I wanted. And, as recently as two weekends ago, during one of those nasty stretches of cold weather, I went out into the garage and climbed into my boat, dreaming of the warm, fishing days of summer.

That said, I realized I had a tough choice to make this past weekend — fishing or Mother’s Day. Because I had a work commitment on Saturday, that left only Sunday to ply the waters in search of walleye.

As tempting as this idea was, I felt a hesitation in my spirit about leaving my wife on Mother’s Day to spend time in my boat.
Maybe I could come up with some sort of compromise, like taking my wife fishing with me. With that idea in mind, I casually queried my wife, Julie, about her interests for Mother’s Day.

Without hesitation, she shot back a quick, definitive answer — clean up the yard.

Yes, that gets me outside, but that wasn’t exactly the type of outdoors experience I was hoping for. Yet, I felt like I could not ignore her wishes.

In the end, I determined that fishing and Mother’s Day, for me, would be incompatible this year. I would spend Sunday sprucing up the landscape and filling a trailer with things my wife wants gone.
The walleye would have to wait. I realize that probably gets me in trouble with other husbands who will insist my decision makes them look bad.

Believe me, that is not my intent. And, I would caution “fishing widows” out there not to wave this column in front of their husbands and make this type of cynical retort: “See, loving husbands do NOT go fishing on Mother’s Day.”

No, I do not presume to make some type of theological ranking of Mother’s Day above walleye fishing. Even the state legislature backed away from this one as it briefly pondered changing the date of the fishing opener so as not to conflict with Mother’s Day.

Rather, I leave each fisherman to his own conscience in settling this matter with his wife.

I merely believe that there are times when men ought to have enough courage and enough conviction to recognize and grab hold of opportunities to make sacrifices out of love for their wives.
I can’t say I have a great track record in this. Just three years ago, I went turkey hunting on Mother’s Day with my oldest son.
Bad idea. Not only did the hunting turn out to be lousy, but the conversation I had with my wife on the way home was nothing short of painful. She made it clear just how disappointed she was in the choice I had made to leave her on Mother’s Day.

I resolved not to make that mistake again. The experience played a big role in my decision this year. As recently as the Friday of Mother’s Day/fishing opener weekend, I was feeling pretty confident in my decision.

Then, I ran into Julie Pfitzinger of St. Joseph in West St. Paul. She and I both were at St. Joseph School in West St. Paul to cover a talk by Imaculée Ilibagiza of Rwanda on her personal experience of the genocide that took place there in the 1990s. Pfitzinger is a mom and a freelance writer who has written about issues like this over the years.

After the talk, we spent a few minutes discussing the issue. Julie’s insights confirmed I was making the write choice.

“Although my husband isn’t a fisherman, I have friends who have been ‘Mother’s Day widows,’ ” she said. “I don’t think it’s ever about them [mothers] wanting the big spotlight to shine around them on the second Sunday in May, but is really about the desire to just spend quality family time together.”

That simple remark made me realize that what my wife — and, I suspect, many other wives — really wants is merely the chance to spend time with me and feel a little special.

Lord knows, moms take a lot of abuse in our culture these days, often from members of their own gender. This is just one day out of 365 when we husbands can show them a little appreciation for all that they do to make our families strong and vibrant.

And, as Pfitzinger pointed out, this also is an opportunity to send a message to your children, especially boys, about how to set and maintain the right priorities.

“I believe that every opportunity we have to model to our kids the importance we place on family should be taken now — it’s all part of helping prepare them to raise their own families some day,” she said. “I guess if that means missing the fishing opener in favor of spending Mother’s Day together, the valuable message inherent in seeing Dad choose family over fish is more than worth keeping the tackle box packed for a few more days.”

I agree. But, make no mistake, my tackle box will open soon.
And, walleyes of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, beware.

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God’s goodness in Buffalo County

May 6, 2008

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Over the weekend, I took my No. 3 son, William, to an annual father/son weekend for boys in grades second through sixth and their dads. We go down to a farm owned by a friend’s parents in Buffalo County, WI. The county is known as one of the top places in the country for trophy whitetail bucks and there are more and more hunters gobbling up prime hunting land in this area.

Last spring, I shot a turkey on this farm and have also taken three deer, all antlerless. This weekend, however, was not about hunting. It was about helping about 20 or 30 boys have a good time and bond with their fathers. Thanks to God’s grace in turning away foul weather on Saturday, I’d say we accomplished our mission.

One of the highlights is a hike to the top of a bluff along the Mississippi River near Nelson, WI. It was cool and windy at the start, but the sun popped out just when we reached the top and it stayed out the rest of the day. It’s a spectacular view from there, overlooking the Mississippi backwaters and Lake Pepin. We lingered for a while to take in the scene, then came back down and enjoyed ice cream cones in Nelson. My son saw a wild turkey on his way down and we saw two others near the farm. I hope to see turkeys like these when I go turkey hunting in Wisconsin next week.

Speaking of turkey hunting, my 86-year-old father shot one in Minnesota on Friday (see photo above). He was hunting with the my brother, Joe, and they called in two jakes (young toms). My dad took the first shot at 28 yards and downed his bird. My brother shot next and missed. Although he hunted three more days after that, he did not get another opportunity. That’s the way turkey hunting goes. But, everyone in our family is thrilled to see my dad get a bird. I wonder if he is the oldest turkey hunter in the state to get a bird — or, even oldest in the country. I’d love to be able to find that out. I hope to help him get bird No. 2 next week in Wisconsin.

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History worth knowing about link between capitalism and religion

May 2, 2008

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“GOD AND GOLD,”
by Walter Russell Mead

Capitalism’s ability to raise the standard of living in the English-speaking world – and to spread British and American social and economic culture around the globe – owes no small part of its success to a religious element, perhaps even a religious foundation.
And religion can continue to play a role in humanity’s pursuit of peace and development.
That’s a key take-away from the reading of “God and Gold,” a compelling book that’s worth a slow, reflective read.
Author Walter Russell Mead, a U.S. foreign policy expert, forces readers to view the past 300 years of history from both an inward looking perspective and that of an outsider, forcing us to see how others see us.
Mead’s premise is that the rise of first British then American capitalism is the most important development in the history of the modern world, and that the capitalistic culture that the United States leads today may be an enduring one, unlike fallen empires of old.
He backs up his hypothesis with hundreds of pages of historical evidence, but maybe more important is his work to help us understand the challenges that our country faces today, especially from some of the Muslim faith who also champion a religious fervor but who – tied down by refusals to change and to be open and tolerant – have failed to take advantage of capitalism’s fruits.
Mead moves readers from the importance of domination of the seas – ala England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada and the U.S. efforts to protect the oil markets of the Persian Gulf – to the importance of the willingness to try new methods and technologies, to continually adapt and move on, and to be tolerant and accepting of various expressions of religious faith.
Societies that insist on the domination of one religious sect or persuasion and societies that are unaccepting of ethnic diversity have proven unable to utilize the gifts of immigrants and those of other faiths that have so enriched more tolerant cultures.
That spirituality plays such a large role in economic and societal success is a pivotal slice of American pie, just as important as it had been for the Brits before.
“Since the 17th century,” Mead notes, “the English-speaking world or at least significant chunks of it have believed that embracing and even furthering and accelerating change – economic change, social change, cultural change, political change – fulfills their religious destiny.”
As successful as English speakers have been the past 300 years, the religious fervor that plays such a positive role also lends a dark side. Leaders from Cromwell through Roosevelt, Reagan and Bush II demonize the enemies of their states – and if they do so with lies, so be it. The Soviet Union isn’t merely an aggressive if brutal competitor during the Cold War years, it is labeled an “evil empire.”
Fulfilling the destiny of the British and Americans sometime led to sinful trampling on and even annihilation of native peoples, a concern that rarely troubled people of faith at the time yet something that is embarrassing to think of today.
Today, Mead sees Evangelical Protestantism as the one social movement with the power to sway public opinion, and that is a cause for concern in his mind.
Diplomacy with other cultures is paramount to peace and development around the globe – and continuation of American social and economic dominance – yet “Evangelical America is often considered – as it has often been – the section of the population most committed to uncritical flag waving, to simplistic understanding of foreign peoples and culture, and resistant to complex and nuanced discussions of the international issues facing the United States.”
A saving grace?
Common opposition to abortion and a common desire to defend the place of religion in American society are connecting evangelicals and Catholics, and Mead finds this a positive.
“The encounter with Catholicism, both at a personal and at an intellectual level, has also exposed many evangelicals to a much richer and more complex body of Christian thought and social reflection than they have previously known.”

QUOTES FROM “GOD AND GOLD”

“Since the seventeenth century, the English-speaking world or at least significant chunks of it have believed that embracing and even furthering and accelerating change – economic change, social change, cultural change, political change – fulfills their religious destiny.”

“The idea that the world is built (or guided by God) in such a way that unrestricted free play creates an ordered and higher form of society is found in virtually all fields and at virtually all levels of the Anglo-Saxon world.”

“Foreign opinion is often bemused by the way in which the Anglo-Saxon powers are so frequently troubled by the existence of conditions that are almost as old as humanity and likely to be just as long-lived. Bribery, protectionism, cruelty to animals, smoking, sexual harassment in the workplace, the excessive use of saturated fats in cooking, unkind verbal epithets for low-status social groups, ethnic cleansing: in much of the world things like these are deplored, but a vigorous and puritanical attempt to suppress them altogether is viewed, not entirely unreasonably, as a cure that can be worse than the disease.”

“An open, dynamic, and capitalistic society generated innovations in finance, technology, marketing, and communications. These innovations offered the open society enormous advantages in world trade. The wealth gained in this way provided the basis for military power that could withstand the largest and mightiest rival empires of the day.”

“The ability of the overseas English-speaking societies to welcome and assimilate vast numbers of immigrants from all over the world remains a key factor in the continuing strength of the United States (and other countries) to the present day.”

“The power of mass consumption, harnessed by flexible markets to the economic interest of the talented, may be the most revolutionary human discovery since the taming of fire.”

“The rise of new classes to unprecedented affluence, the changed world created by emergent technologies and media, the opportunities for self-expression in a culture largely free of political (though never of cultural or moral) censorship: these helped create the popular culture of the English-speaking world that has horrified and hypnotized foreigners ever since.”

“A St. Francis of Assisi, A St. Catherine of Siena, A Martin Luther, A St. Ignatius Loyola, or a Martin Luther King Jr. is seized by a vision of a new way to live and, under its influence, goes on to live a different kind of human life than any seen before. One woman or one man experiences the vision directly or subjectively, but the power of the ideal is so strong that others, seeing it second- or third-hand or reading about i8t in books, feel the power and are inspired to live this way themselves. They permanently enrich and deepen the world’s perception of what it is to be human, and they give the rest of us new choices and new possibilities.”

“The countries which are in most respects the most thoroughly modernized by any definition that rests on economic and technological progress – Britain of the nineteenth century, the United States today – are significantly more religious than most.”

“Disagreement and controversy are not signs of a decadent society; they are the necessary conditions of spiritual progress.”

“Pluralism, even at the cost of rational consistency, is necessary in a world of change. Countervailing forces and values must content. Reason, scripture, tradition: they all have their uses, but any one of them, unchecked,
will go too far. Moreover, without constant disputes, constant controversy, constant competition between rival ideas about how society should look and what it should do, the pace of innovation and change is likely to slow as forces of conservative inertia grow smug and unchallenged.”

“We are always saying goodbye to something we love, always leaving our fathers’ homes for an unknown future. . . . Yet at the same time, there must be room for nostalgia and a resistance to change. There must be religious voices denouncing godless secularism and calling mankind back to eternal principles.”

“Christianity in the American context is less and less a matter of family or ethnic identity, more and more a matter of personal choice. . . . Religion today is increasingly part of a self-constructed, chosen identity for Americans. It is perceived as a response to a call – an inherently dynamic religious orientation, even if the doctrines embraced are venerable.”

“To engage in the struggle for change and reform is not to oppose the religious instinct, but to give it its fullest expression.”

“To abolish war, we must, surely, vanquish the causes of war. Mass poverty can clearly no longer be accepted if war is to be eliminated. . . . Peace is impossible without justice and economic development.”

“Americans . . . generally believe that their country has a covenanted relationship with the power or person who directs the historical process. America is on a mission from God – and the well-being of the United States depends on how faithful Americans are to their mission.”

“It is when we are most confident that we are acting righteously, most sure of the moral ground beneath our feet that we are in the greatest danger.”

“The quest for more scientific and technical knowledge, and for application of the fruits of that knowledge to ordinary human life, is not simply a quest for faster cars and better television reception. It is a quest to fulfill the human instinct for change, arising out of a deep and apparently built-in human belief that through change we encounter the transcendent and the divine. The material and social progress that is such a basic feature of Anglo-American society and of the broader world community gradually taking shape within the framework the Anglo-Americans have constructed ultimately reflects a quest for meaning, not a quest for comfort and wealth. . . . From the Anglo-Saxon point of view, participating in this adventure is not materialist, even if the quest brings material benefits. Abandoning the quest is materialist; to turn aside from this challenge is to embrace a merely material existence and to abandon the spiritual values that make human life truly human.”–bz

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Book of Prayers from the stars needs less stats and more prayer

May 1, 2008

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“A Book of Prayers: To the Heavens from the Stars,”
by Chuck Spinner

Chuck Spinner knew he didn’t have this project exactly right. He says so right up from by acknowledging some weaknesses.

The idea of asking celebrities from the sports and media world their favorite prayer is a good one, and even better is Spinner’s introductory remark about the purpose of his book. Actually a quote from former football coach and present 49ers’ GM John McVay about the importance of formal prayer, the purpose is to “get us started talking to God.”

That’s a great measure of success, and to that end, Spinner has been successful.

But I think he could have done better. And I think this could have been a book that really touched folks deeply and done a lot to initiate more conversations with God.

I think readers will find there is a bit too much celebrity biography and not enough prayer.

I’m not sure how many readers will care to know all the years that Ann B. Davis won Emmy’s for “The Brady Bunch.” Was it crucial to include U.S. Olympic hockey hero Mike Eruzione, telling all his collegiate all-star mentions, when his favorite prayer is the Our Father!

That repetition of prayers is one of the weaknesses of the book that Spinner acknowledges, but after the third time he includes the text of The Lord’s Prayer or the Memorare, it’s not reinforcing or even interesting, it’s plain irritating.

And some celebrities sent in poems, not prayers; they should have been edited out.

There are gems, though, and the salvation of the book comes when you find them.

There’s the ending sentence from Olympic softball star Leah O’Brien-Amico’s favorite: “Change me from the inside out and make me the person you want me to be.”
Pitcher for the old Brooklyn Dodgers Carl Erskine sent in: “Lord, I don’t pray for life to be easier, but for you to make me stronger.”

All in all, I’m forced to say that this is a use book of prayer. Advice to readers might be, ignore the biographical introductions to all these folks and search for prayers that touch you. Mark them somehow, and return to them when you need a kick start for your own conversations with God. — bz

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