Archive | January, 2009

Successful surgery

January 28, 2009

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My friend, John Nesheim, underwent surgery Monday to amputate both feet after he suffered severe frostbite from being stranded at the bottom of a ravine in Battle Creek Regional Park in St. Paul last week. The surgery was a success, although John has experienced a significant amount of pain.

I talked to him yesterday morning, the day after surgery and he was doing better than the previous afternoon, when he was in a lot of pain. They got it under control with medication and he seemed to be in pretty good spirits.

One thing that really impressed me was the group of students from the University of Minnesota that sat at his bedside in two-hour shifts all night Monday to be with him and pray for him as he recovered from the surgery. They all belong to a Christian community called People of Praise, which John and I also belong to. John was very blessed by the students’ presence.

What a great Christian witness! I’m sure at least some of them had never met John before. I believe acts like this greatly please God. I’m so glad John is getting such great support. I pray he can continue to get it as he begins the long road to recovery and the use of the artificial feet he will get soon.

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A visit with John

January 26, 2009

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Last night, I got a chance to visit my friend John Nesheim, who fell into a ravine last Monday and was stranded for two days before being rescued and brought to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. He was in good spirits and I was so glad to have a chance to see him in person.

He is now bracing for the next step in his recovery — and it’s a big one. He said doctors are planning to amputate both of his feet today. The frostbite was so severe that the doctors said they couldn’t save his feet. John said he is at peace with it and feels fortunate to be alive.

A friend of his who’s a doctor calls it a miracle that John survived. I believe it. In fact, John told me he thought he wasn’t going to make it. I’m so happy God spared him and brought him out of the woods alive. I’m sure it must have been agonizing for his wife, Maureen, and daughter, Renee, those two days wondering where he was and waiting to hear from him.

The road ahead is going to be challenging for the Nesheim family. The good news is John and Maureen’s faith is strong and they have lots of family members and friends waiting to help, including me.

One of the key people for John will be his brother-in-law, Al Nicklaus, and his wife, Anne. John and Al have been best friends for years and each was best man at the other’s wedding. John married Al’s sister, Maureen. Al and Anne were at the hospital last night, too, and it was touching to witness their love and care for John. I know they will be there for John and Maureen and I hope I can be of assistance, too. John has done so much for me and has been a great friend for more than two decades.

When my first wife, Jennifer, died of cancer in May of 1995, three of my four brothers decided to take me on a fly-in fishing trip to Canada to get away from it all for a few days. We invited John along and he quickly agreed. On that trip and ever since, John feels more like a brother to me. Last night, we got a chance to laugh about that trip and about how smelly and grubby five guys can get out in the woods for three days. It would sure be great to go on a trip like that again.

Before John’s accident, I had told him that my wife, Julie, and I would like to have him, Maureen and Renee over for a wild game dinner. John and Maureen didn’t get a deer on their hunt this year, so we wanted to offer them a venison dinner. Our favorite recipe is venison meat pie, using a recipe we got from Anne Nicklaus. I’d sure like to make that for John and Maureen sometime. For now, I’ll keep their family in my prayers and encourage others to do the same.

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A tragic fall

January 23, 2009

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I got a surprising call from my brother, Paul, last night. A good friend of ours, John Nesheim, was in the hospital after falling into a ravine while on a hike and being stranded there for two days. He suffered severe frostbite and may lose both of his feet. The story of his tragic accident appeared in today’s Pioneer Press.

The doctors say it doesn’t look good for his feet, but John is just glad to be alive. He went out for a short hike at Battle Creek Regional Park in St. Paul late in the afternoon on Monday and wasn’t rescued until Wednesday morning. He had badly sprained his ankle and couldn’t climb back out and his cell phone didn’t work down in the ravine. He eventually scooted his way to a better position and a call finally went through on his phone, which he answered. He told the caller where he was and help arrived shortly thereafter.

I’ve known John for more than 25 years and consider him one of my best friends. He sells used cars and I have bought at least a half dozen from him over the last 10 years. He has worked hard since getting into the business and he really knows his cars. But, I appreciate his friendship even more than his knowledge of automobiles.

Although the doctors have said his feet will need to be amputated next week, I’m praying for a miracle. I have seen and heard about God working in powerful ways and I am holding out hope for a miracle. I ask anyone reading this to please pray for John and his wife, Maureen, and their seventh-grade daughter, Renee. May God restore his feet and give him a full and speedy recovery.

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Sequel to novel on building of cathedral depicts life two centuries later

January 23, 2009

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“World Without End,”
by Ken Follett

I loved “The Pillars of the Earth,” Ken Follett’s epic that delivered readers back to the 12th century to meet the people who built a great fictional English cathedral. It was a great story of achievement, of overcoming obstacles — human and stone — and of hope’s triumph.
“World Without End” picks up the story two centuries later, delivering us to that same cathedral, now in need of repairs after two hundred years of storms.

And the characters that populate the medieval cathedral town are just as interesting and compelling in the sequel as were their ancestors in the original story, which is why this was at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

It’s a bawdy tale, I must warn you, and a gory one. Some sexual scenes are very, very explicit, and the violence is bloody, but not “chainsaw-massacre” stupid.

Remember, it’s fiction

Catholics who read “World Without End” will have to keep in mind the fictional nature of this book, because elements of the Church of Rome play the black hat roles in many cases. Bishops, priests and nuns do things in the novel that we would hope bishops, priests and nuns don’t do. I don’t think modern-day readers can deny that incidents described in Follett’s novel never happened in reality; some of the more contemporary sins by church people would be pretty good evidence that there is at least a possibility that 14th century clergy and religious were not immune from such sin.

For the most part, though, offenses of the moral kind are not held up to be celebrated; rather, the protagonists stand for what is good and right and moral despite displaying their humanity, sins and all.

It’s a huge novel — 1,014 pages in New American Library’s paperback version — and every bit a great read. — bz
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Minnesotan’s work pitches baseball and faith

January 23, 2009

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“The King’s Game,”
by John Nemo

In the middle of a month when temps across the Midwest have bottomed out well below zero, a baseball novel can have a warming effect.
Minnesotan John Nemo — who covers baseball as a professional journalist — combines his knowledge of the national pastime with his deep spirituality to come up with a page-turner that will keep any fan on the edge of his seat.

“The King’s Game” is more than just a sports story. People of faith will quickly pick up on the allegory woven through the compelling tale of the life of Cody King, a great pitcher. The events of King’s life — beginning a birth – would test anyone’s belief in God.

Nemo adds a love element, a friendship element, and best of all a father-son relationship element, exploring all of these while all the while taking us through the seventh and deciding game of a fictional World Series.

As a baseball junkie myself, I notice one faux pas in the action on the diamond: In the third inning, the pitching coach goes out to settle down the opposing pitcher, and later in that same inning the manager trots out to the mound, too. Any fan knows that second visit to the mound means there has to be a pitching change, but that doesn’t happen in the novel. The pitcher stays in the game. Ooops.

This appears to be a self-published book, so if you’re interested in getting a copy, contact the author at john@johnnemobooks.com. — bz
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Delightful dinners

January 21, 2009

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Twice in the last week, I had the chance to cook dinners for landowners who have allowed myself and my family to hunt on their land. Last Thursday, my brother, Paul, and I took a crockpot full of wild rice casserole, plus homemade bread and apple crisp to the home of a landowner in Cannon Falls, where we have successfully hunted wild turkeys. Then, we went to Prescott, Wis. on Saturday with venison meat pie for a landowner, his wife and one of their sons and his roommate.

Both meals were a success and it felt great to be able to give something back to landowners who have been so generous to us. In the first instance, the landowner’s wife was out of town and he had to cook for himself for two weeks. He seemed to appreciate having someone else do the cooking on one of those days. In the second instance, we just wanted to prepare some venison that came from the deer my son, Andy, had shot on this landowner’s land. The landowner, now in his 70s, hunted many years ago and it has been a while since he has enjoyed a venison meal.

In both cases, we experienced good fellowship, plus we were able to take some time for prayer. I think prayer makes a difference and I’m hoping that the prayers we offered provided some benefit for these generous landowners.

I am growing stronger in my belief that we, as hunters, need to look for, and take advantage of, opportunities to give something back to landowners who let us come out and hunt. Not only is it the Christian thing to do, it’s something that can help ensure that we’ll continue to have places to hunt. I have witnessed and heard about many instances of bad behavior by hunters and I think we’re in danger of having landowners decide to stop giving permission to hunt on their land. In some cases, I can’t blame them.

That issue aside, I’m just thrilled to have been able to bestow a small blessing on some very good people.

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Take a Sistine Chapel tour without ever leaving home

January 19, 2009

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“Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel,”

by Andrew Graham-Dixon

If you’ve ever taken a tour with a guide who wasn’t connecting with his or her group, you come to appreciate really good tour guides, people who not only know their subject but engage you in the topic, bringing information, insight and even entertainment.

My wife and I had that excellent kind of guide — Liz Lev — with a group touring the Vatican Museums. Everything we saw became so much more meaningful thanks to a great guide who was able to help us see not just artistic value but intention and the works’ place in history.

With “Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel,” Andrew Graham-Dixon offers much of the same insight to his readers.

It’s not quite halfway into his book that the London-based art critic begins an absolutely thorough interpretation of Michelangelo’s famous paintings on the ceiling and wall of the Sistine Chapel.

But that’s because he sets up his art instructing by first giving readers a rather complete picture of the artist and his world at the beginning of the 16th century.

Inside Michelangelo’s world
No piece of the life of Michelangelo Buonarroti is left untouched, and I came to feel that the biographical section of this book was as helpful and important for understanding the Sistine Chapel as the interpretation of the world-renown paintings itself.

We learn of the artist’s family background, his training, his benefactors — and most importantly his faith.


Graham-Dixon’s analysis is that Michelangelo felt the hand of God in his life:

“Before he was ever chosen by the Medici, or the pope, he had been chosen by God. . . . He felt that he had been given his gifts by God, and charged with serving the purposes of the divine will.”

Using those God-given skills then, “Michelangelo did not just invent a new kind of art, but a new idea of what art could be,” Graham-Dixon claims. “He put his own sensibility, his own intellect, his own need and desire to fathom the mysteries of Christian faith, centre stage.”

A superior user’s guide
The heart of the book, written in observance of the 500th anniversary of the start of the work by Michelangelo in 1508, is Graham-Dixon’s interpretation of the Sistine Chapel ceiling itself. While not ignoring style, he focuses on what Michelangelo meant by what he painted, how the pictures’ meanings unfold, the subtle ways through which the artist gave expressive life to this amazing group of interlinked compositions.


As a user’s guide to the Sistine Chapel, this book is superb.


Graham-Dixon walks us through each section and each panel of each section, pointing out not only beauty and the technical skill but why each figure is painted the way it is.

What we learn is that Michelangelo was a student of Holy Scripture — especially the Hebrew Books — and that he aimed to paint “his own vision of what he believed to be the eternal truths of Christianity,” the author states.


Readers will come to understand the geography of the chapel ceiling, how the famous depiction of creation — with God’s pointed finger reading out to touch the finger of Adam — fits into the rest of the biblical history, with the great cast of characters including Eve, Noah, David and Goliath, Judith, Jeremiah, Jonah and on and on.


Graham-Dixon gives his excellent interpretive skills to helping readers grasp in much the same way Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement,” painted 15 years after the ceiling. Taking up the entire wall behind the chapel’s altar, it is a monumental fresco as rich with meaning as the ceiling above.


Sadly, details of this beautiful work are depicted only in black and white photos, which hardly do justice to this colorful masterpiece.

Bigger would be better
And, if there is any fault at all in “Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel,” it is the small size of the pages — six inches by nine inches. There are 32 full-color pages that bring the Sistine’s ceiling right into our hands, but I couldn’t help but think how much more delight to the eye would have been deivered in a larger format. Perhaps Skyhorse Publishing will be able to work that out in a later edition.

As it is, though, I compared the printing in this latest book with the same Sistine Chapel panels printed in a larger, coffeetable-sized book given to me as a gift several years ago.

The color work — the brightness and the clarity — in “Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel” is far superior.

If you plan to visit the Vatican, take this along to read on the plane ride. It’s a fact-filled yet easy read with the beautiful prose that is the hallmark of a fine writer.– bz

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Monk’s poetry invites us to view biblical stories and characters from non-traditional perspectives

January 16, 2009

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“God Drops and Loses Things,”

by Kilian McDonnell

Bible stories we’ve read before, biblical characters we’ve met before, but never this way. That’s what fills the pages of Benedictine Father Kilian McDonnell’s third book of poetry (St. John’s University Press).

Perhaps you — like myself — feel you are out of your area of expertise in reading, no less reviewing, poetry. But take a chance, challenge yourself and try to see with the eyes of this monk from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.

I stuck a Post-It note on at least a dozen of the nearly 50 works because they said something to me.

For one thing, Killian gives a voice to the women of Holy Scripture — Miriam, for example, and Mary Magdalene — whose thoughts the Bible authors mainly ignored.

My favorite might be “Widow Rachel: Matchmaker,” as much a short essay as a poem, but cleverly imagined thoughts from the mind of a woman trying to find a wife for the carpenter, who doesn’t seem to be interested:

“Mary needs grandchildren. The man is thirty and still at home with his mother, so of course the women whisper as they gather at the market stalls.”

It’s a treasure.

See how quickly you find the “prodigal daughter” entry.

Moving from the Hebrew Testament to the New Testament, Father Kilian re-writes parables with a new, imagined tone that somehow makes the stories of Jesus mean more to today’s hearer.

I loved “The Catholic Thing,” an accusation in poetic form that correctly charges us Christians with being so unchristian at times.

Toward the end Kilian favors us with a few pieces that come from his person — family and Benedictine family — that are filled with rich images, take us to the places he chooses to share with all of us. We’re so blessed that he does. — bz
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By the light of the moon

January 13, 2009

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I wasn’t exactly bursting with excitement at the prospect of removing snow from my sidewalk and driveway last night after the daytime snowstorm. It was dark, cold and windy and I much preferred to sit in our back room and get a fire going in our fireplace.

But, I dragged myself out to the garage and pulled out the snowblower. Thankfully, it started and I was soon sending streams of freshly-fallen snow into the stiff, arctic winds.

Surprisingly, the hour I spent outside in the cold proved both peaceful and enjoyable. As I headed down the sidewalk tottering behind my blower, I happened to look up and notice a full moon — or close to it — just above the trees.

It was a crisp, beautiful scene. There’s something about a clear winter sky on a subzero night that I find very attractive. It made me want to stop, look and pray. The day had been unusually stressful for me and I couldn’t help but think God created this opportunity so that I could find a brief moment of peace.

I felt gratitude and took my time finishing the job so that I could enjoy this lunar display. It’s one of the beauties of winter that I suspect a lot of folks overlook. As much as many people dislike cold and snow, God is in the midst of them both continuing to display his creative works. May I always have eyes to see his awesome wonders!

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Goodbye, Emilie

January 5, 2009

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The joy of Christmas was dimmed a bit by the death of my former coworker at The Catholic Spirit, Emilie Lemmons. She lost her battle with cancer Dec. 23, and I attended her funeral at the Basilica of St. Mary Dec. 29.

On that occasion, I was reminded that Emilie had a love for photography, especially outdoor photography. It was an interest we both shared. For her, it started during the latter part of her employment here at the Spirit, where she worked until the birth of her son Daniel, now 2.

I remember her quizzing me on several occasions about cameras, lenses and techniques. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to display my knowledge of photography on her wedding day, as I gladly accepted her request to shoot her wedding. It turned out to be a beautiful May day and we got the chance to shoot some outdoor pictures outside St. Luke (now called St. Thomas More) and on Summit Avenue.

We were able to incorporate some beautiful lilac bushes in the photos. The flowers were past bloom, but there were plenty of beautiful green leaves to incorporate into the pictures. I remember how joyful Emilie was at being able to experience such a beautiful spring day. God certainly blessed her and her new husband, Stephen, with some of the finest weather Minnesota has to offer.

That contrasted sharply to the bitter cold that blasted our state the day of her funeral. It made this sad occasion seem even grimmer. I’m so glad I have some positive images of Emilie to hang onto. In fact, I was flattered to learn that one of the pictures I shot at her wedding was on display in the church during the visitation that preceded the funeral liturgy. It was a shot of her with her sisters. I remember that we took deliberate care to take this photo. It was important to Emilie and, I suspect, it is important to her family now.

Getting through the funeral was tough for me. As many people know, I lost my first wife, Jennifer, to cancer in 1995, leaving me a single father with two young sons, Joe and Andy, who were 3 and 2 at the time. Emilie’s husband is in a similar position. Stephen has two boys, Benjamin, who is 9 months, and Daniel. I was able to greet Steve before the funeral and I sincerely hope I can support him in the days and months ahead.

As tragic as this event is, there is hope for Steve and the boys. That is what I learned when Jennifer died and what I hope to share with Steve. Hopefully, as time goes on, he will be able to enjoy the opportunities to look at pictures of his wife, and also look at pictures taken by her.

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