Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mud & Poetry: Love, Sex, and the Sacred PART 2

I’m about half way through Mud & Poetry now.

I’ve read some parts that are distinctly Protestant at this point. I can relate and smile while I read it because I used to be Protestant, but I know some of my Catholic friends wouldn’t get it…like the concept of being “saved.” It’s not a pronounced theme in the book at this point, but worth mentioning. I’m pretty ecumenical, so I don’t mind reflecting on how people of other denominations experience their faith. At the same time, I realize that a lot of my readers and Web site visitors are only familiar with Catholicism.

Believe it or not, even though I’m no longer concerned with a “moment” of salvation – I do still think there was one time in my life when I developed a profound relationship with Christ in a Protestant style. That moment probably has more bearing on my faith than anything else. It was more significant, to me, than baptism and confirmation. It was more life changing than any confession or Mass. Religious rituals lose a lot of their meaning, or salt, if you don’t have an actual relationship with your Maker.

But, I digress. Back to the book. I loved this thought on page 73:

“For all we know, we are God’s miracle workers and we don’t even know it.”

More on pages 73-74:
“…God’s long-term plan is to gather everything and everyone together in him, and he sometimes uses seemingly the most unspiritual means to go about it: sex and marriage, ordinary humanness…..But the sad thing is, most of us think we’re too holy for this aspect of it! It’s too coarse, too sensual, too lowborn, too down-and-out human to be of God…..We’d rather have our church programs and our intellectual frameworks, our high stacks of books on chastity. At least in those we can escape the incredible difficulty of the here and now.”

I totally agree.

As I wrote Chapter Seven in my book, Growing Outside Yourself, I remember how jarring it was when someone reviewed it and told me that it was a rather Protestant section. My primary message of the chapter is that Jesus doesn’t always deliver graces in the ways we expect. Why is that Protestant? It seems like Catholics sometimes think that Jesus is only allowed to come through a “Catholic door” or “Catholic toll free phone line.” That has not been my life experience at all, and that is what Chapter Seven is about.

Jesus told the criminal being crucified next to him that he was going to Heaven, or “paradise” to directly quote Scripture. If that happened today, I wonder how many observant Catholics would readily accept it. And, how many modern-day Catholics would ever listen to a sermon from a carpenter in the first place? They’d be like, “Where’s your degree?” We demand credentials these days.

A friend of mine who was trained to be a Jesuit recently told me, “Sometimes, Catholics need to learn to be Christian.” We can get lost in our ceremonies and miss Christ among the formalities….which can include educational programs, courtship books, and other frameworks we are given. I’m sure it’s not just us, but it’s the environment I see most regularly.

Back to reading!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mud & Poetry: Love, Sex, and the Sacred

This book review is going to be different because I’m going to do something I have never done before….but hey, it’s my blog! I’m going to post occasional updates as I read….and wrap it up at the end with one summary. The reason for that is because Mud & Poetry is not your “Oh, I can knock this out in three days” type of book. It’s not an efficient book, but rather a pondering book, and it takes quality time to sift through if you’re going to read it right.

Mud & Poetry by Tyler Blanski is a good alternative to Theology of the Body, Love and Responsibility, or even The Four Loves if you’ve been through those types of books already and burned out on them. It’s contemporary, philosophical, theological, but readable and relatable.

The first chapter is where Tyler describes the differences between Mud Love and Poetic Love. Poetic Love is a higher form of love than Mud Love, and the chapter is filled with various descriptions and metaphors to convey these concepts to readers.

My favorite quote from Chapter 1 is probably on page 15:
“You can’t have poetry without mud. Christianity knows this. This is why, for all its Sistine Chapels and Dantes and Bachs, it remains the faith of messy ordinary people living messy ordinary lives.”

I’m on Chapter 2 right now. Each chapter might be two sittings, and then you want to think about it and talk to people about what you read. That is why I’m choosing to fill you in gradually. Holding my thoughts in until the very end would be painful and unnatural! That said – I would recommend it for a book club. This is exactly the type of book you want: something that is meaty and will generate discussion among both men and women.

In Chapter 2, Tyler talks about how popular culture’s concepts of the roving bachelor are damaging and unhealthy. Yet, he also mentions that Christianity’s courtship movement can also be damaging and unhealthy. He says on page 35:

“Here’s the thing. Reading Christian courting books isn’t at all the same as pornography. But it had a similar result in me. I created a world of romance and sex and relationship that doesn’t exist in real life. It was flowery. It looked pure. But it wasn’t real. It wasn’t a beautiful brown, like a pint of Guinness. And I believe relationships hurtle us, sometimes against our will, into the most fundamental reality of what it means to be human.”

Thank you, Tyler, thank you. You’ve said it well.

I discovered Tyler Blanski on CNN.com’s Belief Blog. When I read his post, I thought “Oh my gosh, I need to talk to this fellow.” Well, he’s a really nice guy and does check his fan mail. Tyler is Anglican and is sometimes compared to a modern day C.S. Lewis. His faith is, to me, pretty traditional and I don’t think Catholics will feel out of their element while reading his work.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Breakfast with the Pope - A Brave Story of Faith



If you are tired of sugar coated Catholic prose, and want a more raw account of a person who tries to lead a Catholic life, drop what you are doing and buy Breakfast with the Pope. Click the link and insta-order. Seriously.

Susan Vigilante chronicles her struggle with infertility, her quest to become a writer, and the joys and sorrows of friendship and family life. A young brother-in-law struggles with cancer as she prays for his healing. A bosom friend leaves to become a nun. She visits Italy and meets John Paul II through Polish friends. And, she gets to know recipients of Padre Pio's many miracles.

This brave memoir is easy-to-read, well written, and covers many topics that will fascinate Catholics. It has laugh out loud moments. But, more importantly, the story urges readers to be more compassionate, open, and real with themselves and others. It challenges us to acknowledge what we really think when things get awkward or go completely off-course.

In Breakfast with the Pope, Susan introduces us to her unexpected candor and uncommon honesty. Rather than artfully sidestepping her crosses or disappointments, she walks through the burning coals. Instead of taking a detour away from the Church and following an easier route, she stays the course and takes us over the bumps in the road with her.

She has also known profound privilege and good fortune. How many of us will ever have breakfast with a pope? It’s a story you have to read.

While I think everyone needs this book, it's not your typical Catholic bookstore item. Even though Susan stands by her faith when many others would throw in the towel, it wouldn’t get through most Catholic publishing houses. Lines would have been struck in the editorial rituals, conformity checks, and hyper-piety filters. It’s not sandpapered down. Thank God it got published as is though. We need bold story telling to convey big life lessons in all of their natural texture and glory.

The book itself is beautiful. The cover design, the high quality paper, the uneven finish of the pages. I read it within three days and it is a keeper, because I will certainly read it again.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Courtship vs. Dating: Why Dating is More Likely to Get You Married



I briefly mention in my book that I am not a fan of courtship manuals, but didn’t go in depth on my reasons why. From my perspective, it was more helpful to focus on positive and action oriented suggestions that would help women find a good man. However, some readers want more information on why I am not a fan of the courtship fad.

If this topic is of interest to you, please check out this Valentine’s Day piece I wrote for The Catholic Exchange.

I also mention this topic here in an interview with The Catholic Post.

I’m sure these won’t be the last places I talk about this topic, so stay tuned.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Save $25 on AveMariaSingles.com – Code AM0051


Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’m doing a radio tour for Valentine’s Day and you know what my top advice is for people who want to find a spouse? Get online!

For observant Catholics, AveMariaSingles.com is good option and I’ve met some AveMaria marriages in recent months, so it does work for some people. That said, please consider putting an egg in this basket.

AveMariaSingles.com does a one-time membership fee rather than billing by the month, so it does cost a little bit more up front than other Web sites. But – use the code and get $25.

Let me know if you meet anyone!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Faith Was Lacking at 2011 AWP Conference


When you move mountains in your schedule to attend something, it’s annoying when the event doesn’t turn out to be as advertised. That’s what I feel happened to me with the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference this year.

Oftentimes, it turns out that my favorite artists are fallen away Catholics or can’t articulate their spiritual beliefs. So, you can imagine my excitement when I saw these two sessions advertised for the February 3rd line up at the conference:

Faith and the Writer: Inspiration and Practice.

The Rosary Effect: The Challenges of Writing from a Catholic Perspective.


I paid $110 for the privilege of attending the conference that day. So excited was I to find other professional writers with faith that I came early to both of these sessions in order to secure a front row seat. However, as the sessions unfolded, I felt scammed.

It was difficult for me to identify more than one or two people who seemed to have authentic faith of any kind on these panels. I heard a lot of anti-Catholic, anti-church, or anti-religion people describe their thoughts and feelings. Some of the speakers seemed incapable of understanding what faith is and means to the 90% of Americans who reportedly have it.

While a token atheist or agnostic would have provided diversity for the Faith and the Writer session, I didn’t get the impression that anyone felt the need to maintain balance or think about the audiences these titles would attract. The sessions, from my perspective, needed more panelists with a confident sense of belief to fly.

It didn’t feel “right” to attend a session that promised discussions about faith and writing, only to hear something like, “Oh, I really don’t think so highly of faith or have it myself.” It was a tad bit condescending, and in the end, I felt that my faith was manipulated to support a cause that was misrepresented in the program.

I hope to propose a session for next year’s conference that gives a more compelling analysis of faith and writing.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Beautifully Written Catholic Memoir


Burst is the Catholic memoir to read when you want a well-written, inspirational story that won’t take weeks to complete. It’s a small book with a big message and one-of-a-kind stories.

I met Kevin Wells through our editor. We both went through the same publishing house, Servant Books, and signed our books together at the National Shrine recently. What a great guy! He dubbed me “Servant Sister” and that makes him my “Servant Brother.”

I bought his book, had him sign it for me, and immediately started reading it. It starts with him being taken to a hospital when his brain starts bleeding, and so the title, “Burst,” refers to blood vessels bursting.

What Kevin suffered through will make anyone shake their head in dismay. How could this happen to a young father and husband in good health? But, severe illness and brushes with death can bring blessings, and through this book, Kevin shares his with us.

Suffering can refine people’s perspective on life and bringing them closer to God. Kevin already had a close relationship with God prior to his illness, so I think that means that his pain and misery brought him especially close to God. Sitting in that spot with him may help you come to some important realizations too.

With this unique perspective, Kevin takes us through his early career as a sports writer, struggles with infertility, and the nightmare of losing his beloved uncle, Monsignor Wells, to a murderer. He takes us through the adoption of his three children and the healing power of God. I’m talking real physical healing…through the intercession of the saints. Yes – miracles still happen!

And the writing – oh the writing! He’s a real pro. I re-read many of his exquisitely crafted sentences. You will seldom find such beautiful writing in a contemporary Catholic non-fiction book. This book gives you a powerful story of God’s grace that is very Catholic without sacrificing style or the art of words. You will also laugh; Kevin has a great sense of humor. He’ll certainly write many more books!

Kevin Wells is a writer you want to discover early on. Buy Burst. It’s the perfect length for a lazy weekend, a retreat, or a snowy day! Later, when Kevin on some prestigious literary list, you’ll say, “Oh, I was a fan from the beginning.”