7 Things I Liked in 2012

I don’t “do” New Year’s. It’s a lame un-holiday, notable only for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. We usually watch an old movie, eat snacks, and go to bed.

It is, however, a useful time for looking back on the Year That Was, seeing who died, and remembering all the awful things that happened. I wrote a long rumination on the miseries of 2012, and decided to put aside, for now at least, in favor of some of the better things that happened in my life for the past 12 months.

So let’s begin, as all my days begin, with …

 1. Chickens!

 One day last spring my wife said, “The local feed store is having an open house about raising chickens. Why don’t we go?” From such small things great projects are born. We got three chicks, my daughter jumped into 4H with gusto (providing a blessed reprieve from Girl Scouts), and I set about my three month quest to buy/build/steal a chicken coop.

In the meantime, the little darlings were being hand raised from 3 days old by a doting little girl. In the process, they became more than just poultry: they became pets. Amber, Diamond, and Ruby each have distinct personalities, and though they’re not the smartest critters on the block, they’re not as dumb as people like to think. They would have given us a lot of pleasure without even producing the 15 eggs a week they do in prime laying season. (Reduced to about 5 a week for winter.) We’re too disconnected from our food supply, and even a small step like keeping chickens helps ground us a bit more in the reality of the things we need to sustain us.

I initially intended to just post week-by-week snapshots of them as they grew from fuzzy McNuggets into beautiful hens, but people were interested so I continued with the Monday Morning Chicken for a few months.

For those missing their chicken fix, here’s 18 seconds of pure finger lickin’ chicken goodness:

2. Halfway to a Masters

I started working on my Masters in Theology in Summer of 2011, at the request of my parish, and with the support of my diocese. They needed more people to train catechists and teach adult formation, and asked me to go back to school to get the credentials. As of this month, I passed the halfway point, and should finish by this time next year.

I never expected it to be easy, and it hasn’t been, but it’s remarkably fulfilling. It’s redirected my interests to new and unexpected places: away from St. Thomas and towards St. Augustine, away from the NT and towards the OT. Small bits of some of my work for the degree have appeared on the site, and I hope to adapt some more in the upcoming year.

3. Reading For Pleasure Again

My reading load for school was so large that I rarely opened a book that wasn’t assigned. Towards the end of the year, I made a point of carving out some time for light reading. I started with Paul Johnson’s little bio/rant about Socrates, which I do recommend, as long as you take his anti-Plato views with a grain of salt. Then, during Sandy, I began reading Anthony Trollope‘s Barsetshire Chronicles, and just loved it. I’ve been spending my Christmas break with old comics, and will try to continue making some time for light reading as I begin my next semester with classes on Moral Theology and Patristics.

4. Watching TV 

I try not to be one of those people who sniffs and says, “I don’t watch television,” saying the word “television” with the same tone they’d say “turd.” The fact is, though, I really didn’t watch all that much network TV, choosing instead to mostly watch movies, British dramas and detective shows, and 1960s spy series (The Avengers, The Saint, Danger Man, The Prisoner, Wild Wild West, etc), all on DVD or Netflix. The only thing I’ve follow for years was Smallville, Lost, and Fringe. This year I started watching Once Upon a Time, Person of Interest, Alcatraz (cancelled), Elementary, and Arrow, and I enjoy them! Good writing, fine acting, strong production values, and (often) good messages. Heck, even Arrow (on the CW of all places!) manages to work interesting moral messages in the superhero format.

5. Meeting The Bishops and Bloggers

I don’t get out much, so it was fun to drive down to Baltimore, participate in the bishops and bloggers meetup, and spend a bit of time in a pub with some other bloggers.

6. Techie-Type Stuff

Since tech, games, and gadgets are my bread and butter, I’m going to write something a bit longer about my 2012 experiences, thoughts, and best-ofs. Short version: iPad 3, Wii U, Kindle Fire, iPhone 5, Skyrim (a winter 2011 release, but played more than anything else in 2012), 10,000,000,  The Room, Notability, Newsify, Quantum Conundrum. The Samsung Galaxy line and the Surface tabs are also looking good in demos, but I haven’t had hands on time with them. More to come…

7. This Blog

 In Summer of 2010, Elizabeth Scalia asked me to consider writing for Patheos. (No, I don’t know why either. Too much Mystic Monk Coffee that day?) In any case, she was interested in adding me as a blogger, but I wasn’t sure about that level of commitment. I already had a modestly successful blog about gaming (now on hiatus), and starting another about religion seemed like folly. I wasn’t even sure I had anything to say in the format, so I told her I’d think about it.

Well, I think about things really slowly, and it wasn’t until March of this year that I decided to give it a shot. I’m still figuring it all out and trying to find a tone and a pace and a good mix of content to make it all coherent, but it’s been a decent enough start and I’m honored to be sharing the roster with some really talented people. I had a few posts get a good deal of traffic and shares, and I hope to get better at the format as I go along. I’m still working on folding this whole blog thing into my regular life (school, family, work, and teaching), and I thank you for your patience and patronage. Time is our most finite and valuable commodity, and I’m honored that you’d spend a little of yours with me.

I’d like to leave it on that note, even though 2012 was a year of many miseries. We are blessed with life in a world abundant with beauty, truth, and love for those who choose to seek it. As the years go by, those things may get harder and harder to find, until they’re no bigger than the size of a pearl. But that pearl, when we grasp it, will shine so brightly it will banish all the darkness of the days that came before.

Jim Henson: How to Make Puppets

I’m finally home, and taking a couple days just to clean the house and soak up some time with family and presents, but Open Culture has a great 15 minute video full of ideas for kids on Christmas vacation. Jim Henson and friends teach you how to make puppets out of that fabled thing: “Ordinary Household Items.” Puppets are popular at Casa McD, so I imaging we’ll be gluing stuff to tennis balls and potatoes over the next few days.

Enjoy the rest of your break, and may the light of the season continue to fill your home with love and warmth.

 

Gaudete, Christus est Natus

From my family to yours, may you all have a very blessed Christmas.

Gaudete, Gaudete!
Christus et natus
Ex maria virgine,
Gaudete!
Rejoice, Rejoice!
Christ is born
Of the virgin Mary,
Rejoice!
Tempus ad est gratiae,
Hoc quod optabamus;
Carmina laetitiae,
Devote redamus.
Now is the time of grace
That we have desired;
Sing songs of joy,
Give devotion.
Deus homo factus est,
Natura mirante;
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.
God is made man,
And nature marvels;
The world is renewed
By Christ who is King.
Ezechiellis porta
Clausa pertransitur;
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.
The closed gate of Ezekiel
Is passed through;
From where the light rises
Salvation is found.
Ergo nostra cantio,
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.
Therefore let our assembly,
Sing shining Psalms;
Let it praise the Lord:
Greetings to our King.

Adelaide Procter: The Church in 1849 … And Now

Anti-Emancipation cartoon, 1829

I intended just to share one of Adelaide Procter’s Christmas poems, but “The Church in 1849” seemed too relevant to skip. We all think we’re sailing through unique trials that will shake the church, but every generation faces such trials. We will have our difficulties, particularly since a majority of our coreligionists voted for a man actively hostile to our beliefs, but try to keep it in perspective, and remember this: the Catholic Emancipation Act passed in Procter’s lifetime, 20 years before she wrote these lines.

Here is Procter writing about the state of her church in 1849. Every line could be written today.

THE CHURCH IN 1849

by Adelaide Procter

OH, mighty Mother, hearken! for thy foes
Gather around thee, and exulting cry
That thine old strength is gone and thou must die,
Pointing with fierce rejoicing to thy woes.
And is it so? The raging whirlwind blows
No stronger now than it has done of yore:
Rebellion, strife, and sin have been before;
The same companions whom thy Master chose.
We too rejoice: we know thy might is more
When to the world thy glory seemeth dim;
Nor can Hell’s gates prevail to conquer Thee,
Who hearest over all the voice of Him
Who chose thy first and greatest Prince should be
A fisher on the Lake of Galilee.

Adelaide Procter: Catholic Poet

Adelaide Procter is almost forgotten today, but she was Queen Victoria’s favorite poet, and in her time (1825-1864) she was second only to Tennyson in sales and popularity. She was admired and published by Dickens, and if today she is remembered at all, it is either for their work together, or for Arthur Sullivan‘s setting of her poem, “A Lost Chord.”

Procter, Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Wilkie Collins collaborated on “A House to Let” and “The Haunted House,” and Dickens wrote a lengthy encomium to introduce a posthumous edition of her poems. In it, he alluded to the cause of her death at age 38 being related to her tireless charitable work, thus placing her firmly in the mold of the Idealized Dickensian Woman Who Sacrifices Herself.

Procter’s work with the poor–particularly women–was extensive, and inspired by her conversion to Catholicism in 1851. She was friends with writer and feminist Bessie Parkes, who would also later convert to Catholicism and give the world a couple of famous children. Procter , Parkes, and their circle worked to uplift the condition of the poor, with a focus on helping women to be self-sufficient.

Her faith deeply informed her work, which is rich in Catholic imagery and symbolism, particularly “A Chaplet of Verses,” published to benefit the Providence Row Night Refuge for the Homeless Poor. Moderns tend to dismiss Victorian poetry–particularly religious poetry–not just because of its traditional forms, but because of a misunderstanding of Victorian piety, which they associate with treacly verse and lace holy cards featuring a cherubic, rosy-cheeked infant Jesus. If you want a better sense of Victorian piety, think of this. There was a deep concern for the social ills of the time, which naturally flowed from Christianity. This was more than mere surface piety: it was a deep faith that moved people like Procter to help those in need while also expressing her faith through her art.

Procter deserves to be read today, and I intended to run one of her Christmas poems, but “The Church in 1849” seemed important to share. We all think we’re sailing through unique trials that will shake the church, but every generation faces such trials. We will face our difficulties, particularly since a majority of coreligionists voted for a man actively hostile to our beliefs, but try to keep it perspective, and remember this: the Catholic Emancipation Act passed in Procter’s lifetime.

Here is Procter writing about the state of her church in 1849. Every line could be written today. If we are indeed sailing into several years of troubled waters, perhaps her words can give us heart:

THE CHURCH IN 1849

by Adelaide Procter

OH, mighty Mother, hearken! for thy foes
Gather around thee, and exulting cry
That thine old strength is gone and thou must die,
Pointing with fierce rejoicing to thy woes.
And is it so? The raging whirlwind blows
No stronger now than it has done of yore:
Rebellion, strife, and sin have been before;
The same companions whom thy Master chose.
We too rejoice: we know thy might is more
When to the world thy glory seemeth dim;
Nor can Hell’s gates prevail to conquer Thee,
Who hearest over all the voice of Him
Who chose thy first and greatest Prince should be
A fisher on the Lake of Galilee.

“Coventry Carol”: A Bit of History

From France to England, and a beloved Christmas song that takes on added poignancy this year.

One of the things ultimately killed off in the English Reformation were the regional “mystery plays”: local pageant cycles in which the common folk performed dramatized Biblical stories. (The York cycle is the most famous.) Many of the surviving texts derive from the flowering of Middle English in the wake of Chaucer and Langland, and are of a very high literary quality.

The performances were mounted by various guilds and professions, so the coopers would dramatize the Fall of Man, the shipwrights the building of the ark, the tile-thatchers the Nativity, the butchers the Crucifixion (yes, really), and so on. The plays were done on “pageant wagons”: essentially horse-drawn sets not unlike parade floats. It was a way for a largely illiterate population to learn their Bible stories, but it smacked too much of popery so the authorities forcibly repressed the practice. Fortunately, we live in more enlightened times.

Pageant wagon (note the trade symbol)

One cycle of plays was the cycle for Coventry, and the play put on by the shearmen and tailors was the slaughter of the innocents. When Hamlet refers to an actor who “out-Herods Herod,” he’s talking about the over-emoting brought to the villainous role of Herod by amateur actors in these pageants.

After the slaughter of the innocents in the play, the women mourn for their lost children by singing them a final lullaby, and this is the origin of “Coventry Carol.” This performance is from the Mediaeval Baebes, and is the most delicate and haunting I’ve heard.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

“Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle”

Okay, so I said I was signing off for the rest of the pre-Christmas season, but I think I’ll post some more uncommon Christmas songs and poems for the next few days, such as this dandy little French ditty. “Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabella” (also spelled Isabelle in some copies) dates to 16th century France, and describes the village folk grabbing torches (flambeau) in the night to run and see the Christ child. This version is sung by Diane Taraz, and the English is below.


Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabelle!
Bring a torch, to the stable run
Christ is born. Tell the folk of the village
Jesus is born and Mary’s calling.
Ah! Ah! beautiful is the Mother!
Ah! Ah! beautiful is her child!

Who is that, knocking on the door?
Who is it, knocking like that?
Open up, we’ve arranged on a platter
Lovely cakes that we have brought here
Knock! Knock! Knock! Open the door for us!
Knock! Knock! Knock! Let’s celebrate!

It is wrong when the child is sleeping,
It is wrong to talk so loud.
Silence, now as you gather around,
Lest your noise should waken Jesus.
Hush! Hush! see how he slumbers;
Hush! Hush! see how fast he sleeps!

Softly now unto the stable,
Softly for a moment come!
Look and see how charming is Jesus,
Look at him there, His cheeks are rosy!
Hush! Hush! see how the Child is sleeping;
Hush! Hush! see how he smiles in dreams!

Harry on Mary

“Sorry Excuse for Blogging” goes into it’s fourth straight day! Held over by popular demand! Who knew that nasty colds and 10 years of immunosuppressants were a bad combination?

Anyway, here’s one of my favorite seasonal songs, just so you don’t think I’ve forgotten you: Harry Connick’s “Mary’s Little Boy Child.” I like it because it’s unabashedly Marian (Connick is Catholic) and manages to not sound like any other Christmas song.