Merchants In The Temple

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51vghvyv-el-_sx327_bo1204203200_When I was offered a copy of Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’ Secret Battle Against Corruption In The Vatican, I was hesitant to accept it. But I decided that if there was something about my Church I ought to know, then I shouldn’t bury my head in the sand.

It is no stretch for me to believe that the administrative arm of my Church needs reform. My whole life I have wondered why administrative posts are filled by ordained men when the local parishes are so short of priests. It’s always seemed to me that it would make far more sense to have lay people run the administrative business of the Church and let the ordained focus on passing on the faith. (Although a priest friend of ours recently argued that in order to make sure money is handled both wisely and from a Christian world view, you need both perspectives.)

I am naturally suspicious of sensational language like battles between good and evil, but I was willing to keep an open mind and process the information in the book slowly and thoughtfully.

Unfortunately, for large portions of the book, I couldn’t follow the information presented well enough to understand what the author was trying to communicate, much less summon any outrage.

In part, that is because the cast of characters and organizations is so sprawling that I simply couldn’t keep track. On the other hand, Nuzzi artificially inflates that cast of characters. For instance, on page 47, in the middle of several paragraphs addressing the size of apartments inhabited by cardinals, there is this sentence: “The former archbishop of Lubljana, he” (Slovenian Cardinal Frank Rode) “had been a personal friend of Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, who had been suspended from the ministry for pedophilia.” I waited for that aside to be shown as relevant to the discussion at hand, but I waited in vain.

In places, like the first part of the real estate chapter, the threads were well unified and the implications clear. In another chapter, Nuzzi does a good job of showing the discrepancy between stockpiles of goods sold in Vatican gift shops versus what is claimed on balance sheets. (To me, this suggests inept management, but not evil.)

But a great deal of the time, I felt like I was reading numbers upon numbers without the necessary context for analysis. For example, he talks about a farm that falls under the Holy See’s domain, but I never saw anything in the text that indicated mismanagement. Eventually there was something about a money transfer to a diocese, but I read the section four times without ever understanding what was problematic about it.

In the end, then, my impression was this: yes, there are problems within the Curia. Yes, there is great resistance to change, and a fairly appalling amount of un-Christlike behavior. But change is happening, albeit slowly. It’s been a mere 2 1/2 years since Francis was elected. How much revolutionary change can reasonably be expected in such a short period of time? A big ship turns slowly. It would be nice if it was otherwise, but that’s reality.

Disclosure: I was given a free review copy of Merchants in the Temple by the publisher, for purposes of review. When I accepted it I was very clear that my opinion would be honest and given through the lens of my Catholic faith.

Book Review: THE PERFECT SON

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White-ThePerfectSon-21053-CV-FT-v4jpgThis year I’ve been volunteering with the Women’s Fiction Writers Association as a host for the “women’s fiction cafe,” which is done on Facebook. Instead of asking everyone to read a book in advance and discuss it, this is a chance for authors to stop in and give people a taste of the book, its themes and locales and inspiration, which (we hope) will make people want to read it.

(By the way, if you’re interested in learning about new books through this format leave me a comment so I can be sure to invite you to the cafe weeks! Click here for next week’s!)

The first author I worked with was the lovely and ebullient Barbara Claypole White, whose enthusiasm endeared her to me, as did her flawed but lovable characters.

Barbara has a new book available now: THE PERFECT SON, and I’m pleased to say that it’s my favorite of her books so far. Here’s my Goodreads review:

Haunted by memory of his abusive father, Felix Fitzwilliam has always held himself at a distance from his teenage son, Harry, who, although brilliant, struggles with Tourette’s and other neurological challenges. But in the wake of his wife Ella’s heart attack, Felix has to take over as primary parent. Lyrical and filled with hope, THE PERFECT SON is the story of these two men learning to trust each other enough to admit their weaknesses and grow together as men.

It’s an unspoken assumption that “women’s fiction” must be about women. Barbara Claypole White expands that definition to encompass the story of two men loved by a woman. Felix and Harry are deeply and realistically flawed characters, and I spent every page holding my breath, hoping they would live up to their potential for good. Sometimes they didn’t. But their love and their commitment to their family and each other always brought them back. To watch them grow as human beings gave me hope for humanity. That is what this author does so well: writing stories of hope in situations where too often in reality we see only pain or hardship. This is her third book and my favorite so far.

Monday, Barbara will visit us for a Q&A. She’s such an interesting lady, and extremely personable, so I hope you’ll stop by!

Things I’m Loving Right Now

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Books:

A Marginal Jew. This is a series of four books, actually, and I’m on the second. They are dense reading, with the end notes to each chapter taking more space than the text, and it is ponderous and takes real mental effort to get through. Yet the level of detail in Meier’s analysis brings to light connections I’ve never seen before in the Gospels. Brace yourself for some heresy. 🙂 I’ve often felt like Jesus is kind of tiresome and deliberately obtuse in the way he talks (an impression that really is underscored this Easter, listening to the entire Last Supper discourse in John day after day after day after day). But as Meier sifts through history and context in order to determine what parts of things were actually said by Jesus, and which were later additions, he ends up distilling the essence of passages in a way that brings humor and emotion and exasperation to the front. It helps me see Jesus as, well, a real person.

The Language of Flowers. Just enchanting, and heartbreaking, and mesmerizing.

Music:

Love. This. Song.

Food:

Steel cut oats. (Thanks, Kelley!) With dark chocolate. Although I’m less than enamored of the way they overboil in the microwave.

Miscellaneous:

Manual Mode on my Canon Rebel. The pictures have so much character. They’re often not worth much, while I’m learning, but I’m newly cognizant of just how bland and generic that “auto” setting I’ve been leaning on is. I went out to the Pinnacles again this week. The last time I went, it was still late winter, and I hadn’t started playing with manual yet when I took the pictures for that slide show. Here’s a sample of this week’s pictures.

Blog 1
Blog 3
Blog 5 Blog 6

Blog 2(Can you guess which ONE of the above pictures was taken with the camera’s auto settings?)

My new novel. I am in love. Is it naiveté to whisper in my head that I really, really think this might be The One, at long last? Or is that still second-draft talking, before I hit the “love-hate” stage? The above song is my theme song for this book. And I’m using the Pinnacles for a setting. I just feel like everything is coming together. If I could sit down and work on it all day, I would be a happy woman indeed. But it’s probably fresher and more efficient because I have to stop and think. Stare at your own words too long and you start to get in love with the sound of your own prose. Distance helps me ask questions that need asking.

There are my happy places for this mid-May Friday morning. What’s making you happy today?

Stillwater Rising, by Steena Holmes

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Click on the image to go to Goodreads, where you’ll find an “open preview.”

The Women’s Fiction Cafe is open at Facebook again this week, this time with author Steena Holmes in the house to introduce readers to her book, STILLWATER RISING:

After losing her son in an elementary school shooting that devastates the tight-knit community of Stillwater Bay, Jennifer Crowne finds herself unable to settle back into her role of perfect stay-at-home mom and committee organizer. Meanwhile, her best friend, Mayor Charlotte Stone, struggles to keep the town together, and Charlotte’s husband, the school principal, may not be the hero everyone thinks him to be.

As they try to heal from this irrevocable trauma, Jenn and Charlotte find themselves at a crossroads—within the town and within their friendship. For Jenn, broken and grieving, there is no going back, and she demands that the school be closed so that she can bury the past. Yet Charlotte is equally desperate to hold the town together, fighting the school closure and helping the shooter’s mother regain her place in the community. Jenn and Charlotte’s relationship is put to the ultimate test as each weighs her own interests against the bonds of their friendship.

As always, all commenters will be entered for a giveaway of the book at the end of the week. Hope you’ll stop in!

A Different Kind of Book Club

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This week, I am hosting/moderating an online book discussion about Lisa Verge Higgins’ novel, Random Acts of Kindness:

With the remnants of her past rattling in the trunk of her Chevy, Jenna Elliott abandons her Seattle home determined to start life anew. Her journey compels her to the door of two friends: Claire, an ex-Buddhist nun and cancer survivor, eager to escape her overbearing family for what may be her last chance to fulfill a dream; and Nicole, a professional Life Coach who can’t even control her own teenage son. But what starts out as an impulsive road trip soon becomes an inexorable journey to their past, as the women grapple with who they were, who they are, and the strange twists that have now set them on the road to their hometown of Pine Lake. There, Jenna discovers that her random act of kindness has rippled out into the world like a stone dropped into a deep pond, coming back to rock her life—and those of her friends—in ways they never expected.

It’s a little different than most book clubs. We don’t expect you to have read the book. In fact, we just want to encourage people to come over and meet the author and visit with others about how this idea–random acts of kindness–has played out in your life.

I’ll be posting questions for Lisa Verge Higgins midmorning every day, and in the afternoon she’ll be asking us to share on topics close to her heart and the heart of the book. And what Cafe week would be complete without a book giveaway? Leave a comment on any of the discussion threads and you’ll be entered for a drawing!

If you enjoy fiction, I hope you’ll spend this week with me at the Women’s Fiction Cafe.

All-Star Game and Break CONTEST and BOOK SALE

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All-Star Game and Break CONTEST and BOOK SALE
Busch Stadium by Phil http://www.flickr.com
It’s the middle of July. Baseball fans everywhere know that means it’s time for the All-Star Game and short break from regularly scheduled baseball games across the United States. For non-loving baseball peeps, you can just keep on enjoying your summer as you have been: curled up with your favorite book, sipping cold lemonade, and relaxing by the pool. However you want to celebrate this week, please also join in the fun with young adult author Margo L. Dill as she holds a contest and book sale! 
Why during All-Star Game Week?
Great question! Margo’s young adult novel, Caught Between Two Curses (Rocking Horse Publishing, March 2014), is the story of 17-year-old Julie Nigelson, who is cursed. So is her entire family. And it’s not just any-old-regular
curse, either—it’s strangely connected to the famous “Curse of the Billy
Goat” on the Chicago Cubs, hence the All-Star baseball week celebration.

Julie must figure out this mystery while her uncle lies in a coma
and her entire love life is in ruins: her boyfriend Gus is pressuring
her to have sex, while her best friend Matt is growing more attractive
to her all the time.
Somehow, Julie must figure out how to save her uncle, her family’s future, and her own love life—and time is running out! 

What have people been saying about Margo’s book?
Here are a few lines from a couple reviews on Amazon.com:
“This book is one of the best I have read in a long time. Once I opened it up I could not stop until I was finished.”  ~Janet Cannon
 “A baseball mystery and a contemporary, heartfelt romance, CAUGHT BETWEEN
TWO CURSES is sure to score big with the young teen audience!” ~Cathy C. Hall

“I definitely recommend this to young adults, but
really any adult because it’s a story that keeps you interested and
will stay with you long after you finish.” ~Amie Merz
Okay, so what is the contest and the sale???
photo by DonkeyHotey flickr.com
Here’s the part you’ve been waiting for.  First the sale: 
The Kindle ebook is…99 cents July 14/15, $1.99 July 16/17, $2.99 July 18/19, and back to $3.99 July 20.
The print copy is for sale ON MARGO’S WEBSITE (http://margodill.com/blog/books/) and is $5.00 off the cover price, so only $6.95 (+$3.00 for shipping and handling). She will autograph it and gift wrap if it’s a gift, plus include a bookmark for free. More details at the link above. (The print version is also on sale for $10.76 (10 % savings) on Amazon.com.) 
 If you are an Amazon Prime Member, you can check out the e-BOOK for free at anytime!
The contest:
Go to the Rafflecopter form below this post–all you need to enter is your name and e-mail, which is how I contact you if you win one of the prizes. Do at least one of the tasks below and then click on the entry button to enter the contest. You can do as many tasks as you want! If you are confused or have any questions, please feel free to e-mail Margo at margo (at) margodill.com. Tasks range from leaving a review of Caught Between Two Curses to announcing the contest and sale on a social media page to uploading a photo of you in baseball gear. See below for more.
Margo L. Dill
The prizes:
One winner with a United States mailing address will win a $25 gift card to either Applebee’s, TGI Fridays, Starbucks, Panera Bread, or Olive Garden (winner’s choice). One runner-up winner will receive a free 3000-word critique from Margo (Editor 911)–this can be anywhere in the world as long as the document is in English. The contest goes from July 14 to July 20. Winners will be announced on July 21! 
What are you waiting for?

So, join in the fun and while you’re entering the contest or buying a sale copy of Caught Between Two Curses, join in a rousing rendition of  “Take me out to the ballgame. Take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks. I don’t care if I ever get back. . .” 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Organized Simplicity (and 7QT)

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Yesterday morning I hired a sitter so I could go someplace offsite and dig into writing without being interrupted by children bashing each other , wailing over toys being taken, or making epic messes. Example A: Nicholas is beating on the box to Alex’s toy using a stick. This annoys Alex, who decides the best way to stop Nicholas is to beat on the stick using the box. I know. It doesn’t make any sense to me, either. And in the process, he lands a blow on Nicholas’ temple which is still swollen two days later. Example B: I come home from a generally successful writing morning to discover that Julianna has dumped out all the Anomia cards, all the Memory cards, all the Crazy 8 cards, all the Snap cards, and part of the Uno cards. And that was only Julianna’s part of the mess. Example C: When I come upstairs after making her clean it up, I discover that Michael has been playing at the table with the water pitcher, a cereal bowl and two glasses, all of which had liquids left in them.

Christian was gone from Saturday through Tuesday, and during that time I basically did no writing at all. I simply accepted that my life was about being a mom and keeping all of us sane. And it was successful, which was very revealing. During this weekend I also began reading a book: Organized Simplicity. Since chaos and disorderliness seems to be my life, and since these things stress me ridiculously, and since I spent the whole last half of the school year wailing to my husband that we were doing too much and we couldn’t keep this pace up, it seemed like the answer to a prayer.

Of course, I haven’t made it very far into the book, but the initial task is to come up with a family mission statement to direct everything else you do. Her discerning process involves a questionnaire. Here is part of mine:

___1___

Collectively we are at our best when we are…organized and not overscheduled, when we don’t have commitments piled on top of messes needing to be cleaned. That’s when we can enjoy each other’s company. We are at our worst when we are…fighting to juggle all the commitments: baths and cleaning and writing and lessons and practices.

___2___

If we had a completely free day as a family, how would we spend it?

We would do something outdoors–bike ride, playground, pool, etc.–and have both family breakfast and family dinner. Otherwise we’d probably do about what we do now, just at a more relaxed pace. Go get ice cream. Go see a movie. Something fun.

___3___

Name three things we think we could do better as a family.

1–home organization, i.e. cleanliness

2–starting early, so we don’t end up doing things in a rush all at the last minute

3–“unplugged” time as a family

___4___

What would we like people to say about our family as a whole in thirty years? I’d like them to say, “What a great family. Look how much they love each other. I want to be like them.”

___5___

If we could name one principle from which we want our family to operate, what would it be? Seeking God in each other and in all life’s situations.

___6___

What are the top priorities we want our family to value? Stewardship of our material things, of the earth, of our gifts and of our talents.

___7___

What is the main purpose of our home? To provide a safe haven and a place of rest and unconditional love for all our family members.

All this adds up to my first attempt at a, well, at least a personal mission statement, since I’m not involving the whole family:

To use our activities, our home, and our possessions in such a way that we can live in tranquility amid busyness, not let love be overwhelmed by the stress of chaos, and be an inviting example of what a Godly family can be.

Check out the book here.