Archive | September, 2009

Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” pulpy and preachy

September 30, 2009

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“The Lost Symbol,”
by Dan Brown

Can the writing style of a novelist get boring by just the third book?

I’m sure Doubleday is going to sell enough copies of Dan Brown’s latest puzzler to wallpaper every monument and public building in Washington, DC inside and out. However.

Although I really liked “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels & Demons” wasn’t that good and didn’t hit the charts until Da Vinci made the author famous, and frankly “The Lost Symbol” got to be 500-plus pages to fight through.

By chapter 126 I was struggling to stay awake, and there were seven more chapters and an epilogue to go.

First-time readers of Brown may find the sleuthing of main character Robert Langdon fun to follow, but readers of Brown’s first two Langdon novels are likely to see the tramping about Washington in search of clues as formulaic — way too similar to the tramping about Paris and Rome in those earlier works.

Throw in the usual gruesome deaths and violent tortures, Brown’s usual mysterious society — this time the Masons — and you’ve got your typical pulp novel. Of course that doesn’t make for a 500-page book, so Brown does readers the real disservice of going way too deeply into explanations about ancient philosophies, symbols, religions, languages, sciences, archeology, plus off-the-chart mind-over-matter silliness, all of which seems like filler in what should be an action-packed story.

Anti-religion once again
Catholics and others who practice a traditional life of faith will notice that Langdon, Brown’s protagonist, continues in this latest novel the insidious assault on organized religion and its traditions that he put forward in “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons.”

Brown does his best to work in subtle jabs at the Catholic Church in particular and other faiths as well, questioning the veracity of truths they teach in some cases, in other times bluntly alluding to what he paints as errors.

An example is a passage half-way through the novel. You need not even know the context to see what I mean:

“Then he discovered the writings of Aleister Crowley — a visionary mystic from the early 1900s — whom the church had deemed ‘the most evil man who every lived.'”

Really Mr. Brown? Two sources I read credit the British press — not “the church” — with calling Crowley “The Wickedest Man in the World.” And your brief reference to him as “a visionary mystic” hardly do justice to the depraved person Crowley was.

Interested readers should Google Aleister Crowley to see what kind of person Brown is holding up to his readers as he puts down “the church.”

Minus the overbearing scientific explanations and the graduate-school lessons in antiquities, “The Lost Symbol” might almost be a decent page-turner of a story. But then Brown succumbs to the temptation to get preachy.

Much of the reading satisfaction that was to be savored gets sucked right out. — bz

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A moose for Father Joe

September 29, 2009


I have been anxiously awaiting news from Father Joe Classen of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He went on a moose hunting trip to Alaska earlier this month and spent 10 days in a remote area accessible only by plane. He just got back and sent me two e-mails describing his hunt. The following are excerpts from those e-mails:

“Made it back home in one piece (besides a few scars, bruises and being 12 pounds lighter) from the self-guided moose hunt in the Alaskan Yukon Delta!  It was genuinely the adventure of a lifetime!  All the fall colors were in their prime and just being out there was 10 of the most beautiful (and brutal) days of my life!  It was certainly an experience that put our skills, will power and sheer determination to the test.

“In the end, it was a safe, a sanctified…. and yes…..on the second to last day of the hunt…an ultimately successful trip.  Didn’t get the king bull of the Delta, but the nice medium-sized bull that the Lord provided was fine by me!  Trying to haul out anything bigger would have seriously killed my hunting buddy and me.  The Lord’s hand was truly upon us in many ways, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.  For those of you on Facebook…you can check out the entire photo album there on my page.

“The full story is a long one, which I’m sure will make it into a book, and it might even make it into a hunting magazine or two.  Man, am I beat!  I just can’t seem to shake off the exhaustion of the last few days of the trip.  Hauling out the moose through knee and waist high swamp and tundra was the most brutal thing I have ever done in my life!”
Congrats, Father Joe!

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Bishops are people, too! Who knew?

September 28, 2009


“Effective Faith,”
by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

I’ve just read Bishop Thomas Tobin’s book for the second time, and I liked it just as much as I did the first time.

I’d only spent a handful of hours in the bishop’s company a few years ago, but I was invited to read a proof of a collection of newspaper columns that he’d written for diocesan newspapers in Ohio and Rhode Island.

What I said about the writing of the Bishop of Providence then ended up as an endorsement on the back cover:

“Bishops are people, too! Who knew? Expecting a book by a bishop to be dry and theological? ‘Effective Faith’ . . . is the antithesis. Meet a down-to-earth, self-effacing human being who happens to be a Catholic priest and bishop.”

Teaching without preaching

I added at the time that this collection of columns deserves a wider audience, and I’m glad that Seraphina Press from Minneapolis has made that possible with this easy-reading, 175-page paperback.

What the bishop does best is take the news of the day — the topics real people are talking about — and make them the perfect subject matter to grab readers’ attention and engage them in the lessons that life keeps teaching him.

That means writing about sports, about casinos, about how life changes, about all the “stuff” in his life and ours and the need to get rid of some of the baggage.

One of my favorite chapters is “The Gospel at 30,000 Feet,” where he describes getting the third-degree about the church from a non-Catholic seat-mate on an airplane. The questioning is priceless!

There’s a beautiful chapter about his interior thoughts as he held the baby he’d just baptized and pondered the world she would find on her journey.
“Ashley’s World” lets us all into Bishop Tobin’s world, if you will, and the questions we all have about what the future holds.

The chapters are short, worth savoring one a day for 40 days, worth reading and spending time reflecting on our own view of life, faith, the issues of our day and our own little world.

Nice job, bishop. — bz

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Let the hunt begin!

September 21, 2009


One of the hunts I’m very much looking forward to this fall is one in which I will not be carrying a weapon. It takes place in early October and I don’t mind one bit that I won’t have any chance at harvesting an animal.

Rather, I will pin my hopes on my good friend, John Nesheim, who will be participating in a special hunt for the disabled put on by the United Foundation For Disabled Archers (UFFDA). The organization offers its members free, guided hunts on private land using crossbows. John, who had his feet amputated last winter due to severe frostbite, will be going on his first UFFDA hunt and is very excited.
So am I. It will take place near Park Rapids and I am very optimistic that John will have a fun and successful hunt. I pulled together a few of John’s friends and we bought him a new crossbow at Schaffer Performance Archery in Burnsville. John Schaffer not only gave us a nice discount on a crossbow, he helped John sight it in so he’s all ready to go.
John will have several days to try for a whitetail, and I hope to join him in a blind for at least part of a day, hopefully, more. After all he’s been through, first with the amputation and then with the adjustment of using prosthetics, it sure would be nice to see him make a successful shot on a deer.
I’ll be praying for him!
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Quotes show comments in past were as nasty as today’s

September 20, 2009


by Robert Schnakenberg

Don’t believe the voices clamoring about our 21st-century society being exceptionally rude and willing to belittle others more virulently than ever.

“Distory” proves that people — especially some in high office — have been saying ugly things about the rest of God’s children for a good long time.
When Charles the Fifth led the Holy Roman Empire, he slammed an entire country: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”

Nineteenth-century Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative Thomas Reed blasted congressmen of his time with the cutting remark, “They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.”

And author Charles Dickens once called Henry VIII “a blot of blood and grease upon the history of England.”

The whole book is like that, a series of quotations by individuals who have taken the kidgloves off and vented about another.

Insults through the years

Because the quotes are organized into chapters of insults by and about a) Americans, b) Brits, c) military figures, d) other nations and e) miscellaneous, and because they are listed chronologically, “Distory” can claim to teach us a bit of history as well.

Robert Schnakenberg subtitles this St. Martin’s Press work “A Treasury of Historical Insults.”

“Treasury” might not be the choice of nouns that polite folks would have used. In fact, some of the remarks are clever and witty. Others plain mean and graceless.

But I found it valuable to read the American chapter from beginning to end. It was a refresher course in history — and a mostly witty one at that. I learned, too, what some of the great names in history felt about others of their time, perspectives that weren’t in my elementary or high school history books.
Guess about whom pamphleteer Tom Paine — the lauded author of “Common Sense” — called “treacherous in private friendship . . . and a hypocrite in public life”?

Would you believe George Washington?

John Quincy Adams termed Andrew Jackson “a barbarian who cannot write a sentence of grammar and can hardly spell his own name.”

General George McClellan called Abraham Lincoln “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon.”

Teddy Roosevelt said that William McKinley “has a chocolate eclair backbone.”

Press no shrinking violets

Media are often accused of being much more mean than their predecessors, but Baltimore Sun columnist H.L. Mencken was as nasty as they get when it comes to insults. He wrote this about Franklin D. Roosevelt:
“If he became convinced tomorrow that coming out for cannibalism would get him the votes he sorely needs, he would begin fattening a missionary in the White House backyard come Wednesday.”
Journalist Hunter S. Thompson at the end of the 20th century had a poison pen as well. Thompson on Richard Nixon:

“He was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad.”

And Gerald Ford said, “Jimmy Carter wants to speak loudly and carry a fly swatter.”

Brits: Masters of the ‘craft’

Our friends across the pond, of course, have made political insults a science. Politico John Bright in the 19th century said of prime minister Benjamin Disraeli: “He is a self-made man and worships his creator.”

Disraeli came back with this about the man who was both his predecessor and his successor, William Gladstone: “If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone pulled him out, it would be a calamity.”

My favorite quotations, however, are this clever bit of repartee between playwright George Bernard Shaw and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Shaw: “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play, bring a friend — if you have one.” Churchill replied: “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second — if there is one.” — bz
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Now’s the time to enjoy fall colors

September 17, 2009


I went up to the North Shore of Lake Superior earlier this week. I brought a visitor who had never seen the lake, and this was the time he could go.

He’s from another country where there are no fall colors, so I was hoping to find some changing leaves. It’s a little early yet, but I figured the maples would at least be starting to turn. Waiting another week or so would have been better, but this is the only time he could fit in the daylong journey.
There was very little color on the drive up, and not much along the North Shore, either. There were a few trees here and there that were starting to show color. Finally, as we made the drive to Palisade Head just north of Split Rock Lighthouse, we ran across a little more color, at least enough to give him some idea what the fall colors are like.
He loved it. I pulled over and we both got out of my car and pulled out our cameras. We snapped away for about 10-15 minutes, then went on to Palisade Head for a spectacular view of Lake Superior. It’s the highest point on the North Shore and you can see for miles out onto the lake from atop this majestic cliff.
Even without the colors, the view was worth it. Starting this weekend, the fall colors will start to spread from north to south across the state. The first to turn are the maples inland from Lake Superior. Then, about a week to 10 days later, the birch and apsen trees turn brilliant shades of gold and yellow along the shore. From there, everything proceeds south, ending in southeastern Minnesota the second or third week in October.
For those with the time and ambition, there is about a month’s worth of fall colors to enjoy. I used to go to the North Shore every year in late September or early October. But, life got busy. I sure would like to go again in another week. What fun it would be to spend several days surrounded by beautiful colors. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy fall.
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Another 5K

September 14, 2009


On Saturday, I ran my the second 5K event of my life and second in the last month. There were only 35 people entered and most were not serious runners. Still, I was excited to be a part of it.

Joining me was my son, Joe, who runs cross country for his school, Trinity at River Ridge in Eagan. That’s where the event was held and two of his teammates were there to compete.
Within minutes, they left me in the dust and ran at a much faster pace. But, that was fine with me. I just wanted to finish and try to run at a good pace. I ended up beating my previous time by more than two minutes. My time was 26 minutes, 7 seconds. Meanwhile, Joe ended up winning the race. He and another guy led the pack for a while, then the other guy faded. Joe won by about 30 seconds.
Some people remarked afterward that they didn’t know I was a runner. Actually, I have never considered myself a runner, though I have been walking and running for more than two months now. It feels good to keep it up and improve my time.
But, a Dick Beardsley I am not. And, that’s quite alright with me. I’m just happy to be able to do regular exercise and stay in good health. It’s a blessing from the Lord and I’m very grateful.
As for running more races, we’ll see.
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When baby No. 2 comes along…

September 11, 2009


“Not Yet, Rose,”

written by Susanna Leonard Hill,

illustrated by Nicole Rutten

“Is the baby here yet?”

Every parent who has another baby on the way will empathize with the answer “Not Yet, Rose.”

Better yet, parents will want to read it to their toddlers — and because the story is so right on, they won’t mind reading it over-and-over — fact-of-life for parents of toddlers — because it offers such teachable moments.

Teachable moments for adults are there, too, for those able to get past the exasperation of their child/children and see the book’s parents as role models worth emulating.

Sibling rivalry is most likely going to happen later, for sure, but Hill’s gentle touch is sure to ease the mind of many a first-born as they wonder about their own life after the baby comes out of mommy’s tummy.

Will my life change? Will it be the same?

Do I want a brother? Would a sister be better?

Maybe I don’t want a brother or a sister at all!

Rutten’s illustrations with their soft palate and warm tones create just the right atmosphere for cuddling up with this wonderfully done book from Eerdmans.

Baby No. 2 on the way? Buy this book. — bz

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Last gasp for bass

September 8, 2009


I took advantage of the beautiful weather over  the weekend to go fishing for bass on Lake Calhoun. It likely would be my last trip of the year for bass. Although fall fishing can be good, I have never done well in late September and October for bass.

So, this would be it. I was hoping the stretch of stable weather would mean a good bite. The fishing wasn’t outstanding, but there was enough action to make for a good day on the water. I ended up with four nice bass in the 18-inch range. I caught one that went 18 1/2 inches, another that was 18 1/4, a third that was 18 even and a fourth that was 17 1/2.
I was hoping for at least one fish a little bigger, but I was not about to complain. One of those fish I probably shouldn’t have landed. I felt a bite and set the hook, then my line broke. Usually, that’s it, but, strangely, the line caught on one of the guides on my rod and held. It took me a second or two to figure out what had happened, then I quickly grabbed the line before the bass pulled it loose.
I pulled in the line hand over hand and, amazingly, I was able to get the bass up to the boat. Then, the line caught on my trolling motor and, once again, I figure the fish was lost. But, it didn’t make a run to break the line, and I was able to pull the motor up to free the line. I proceeded to pull the fish boatside, and I then lip landed it.
This was the strangest landing of a fish I have ever had. That made the trip more memorable. Unfortunately, the trip ended up being memorable for a negative reason as well. I made a costly mistake when I tried to take a picture of myself holding two of the nice fish. I positioned my camera on a pedestal seat in the front of the boat, then reached into the livewell to grab the fish. I bumped the pedestal and the camera fell into the livewell.
It got completely submerged, which spells doom for any camera. So, I lost the camera, lens and flash. I was very bummed about the incident, but called to mind a Scripture verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
That is my hope. And so, I will wait upon the Lord to see how he will make this situation work for good.
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Hamstring healing

September 4, 2009


Two days ago, I went for my usual morning run near my home in St. Paul. I have battled through tightness in my Achilles tendon in my left leg and have been stretching it before and after every walk or jog.

But, on this day, it was my left hamstring that gave me trouble. Moments after waving to my son, Joe, who passed me going the opposite way, I felt a sharp pain in my left hamstring. I limped home and battled pain for the rest of the day. That evening, I got together with several friends and they said a prayer over me for healing.
The next morning, it was tight, but I managed to go on a 2-mile walk. Then, today, almost all of the pain was gone and I was able to go on a 3-mile run. I feel as though God healed my hamstring. I was worried I pulled the muscle and would not be able to run for days, even weeks. But, just two days after the injury, I was able to complete my run.
Praise God! He listens to our prayers and reaches in to offer healing. Perhaps, the injury wasn’t as serious as I first thought. Still, I think it’s remarkable to see such improvement in just two days. To be sure, I’ll be careful to avoid further injury and will be diligent about stretching before and after every walk or run.
I also hope to continue to “confidently approach the throne of grace” as the Scripture says “to find help in time of need.”
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