Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review: The Innocence of Father Brown

The Innocence of Father Brown
The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a bit too "English" for my liking, too many descriptions of English scenery, etc. I found the collection of stories charming, if nothing else, having been written around the turn of the twentieth century - also not one of my favorite periods of literature.

I was surprised to find so little overt theology, given that the main character is a crime-solving Catholic priest.

I did, however, enjoy G.K. Chesterton's sharp wit and I look forward to reading his more theological works.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Food Bank Donation Tips

Empty shelf image from

I thought I would share with you today my suggestions on what someone should donate to a food bank. I know that times are tough, and not everyone has the means. But for those who can, I offer my list of priority donations, based on my continued work with our local chapter of St. Vincent de Paul.

  1. The first item to donate, regardless of the food bank organization, is cash. It doesn't matter how much, money is always helpful, since the organizers of the food bank can buy whatever staple might be missing from their shelves.
  2. If your local food bank has a list, then donate items on the list. That, too, is the most helpful. Food banks know their clients. For example, our food bank do not give out raw meat, other than tuna, salmon, or canned beef, but some other food banks do give out meat to their clients.
  3. If there is no list, and you'd rather give food items instead of cash, then go small. As generous as it is to give a huge tub of peanut butter (and I know that this is indeed a very generous act) go small when donating items. Why? Simply because the food banks can serve more clients that way. It is better to hand out small containers of peanut butter than for the food bank to keep a huge jar around until a very large family can use it. In our community, we serve singles, couples and families, but the majority of our clients are single. Given that, it is easier for us to double up on single items for couples, than to give a large item to a single individual.
  4. How small is too small? There is no such thing. I have handed out to our clients individual packets of sugar donated from hotels. There is no amount too small to donate. When we have to, we break open a box of crackers and put a sleeve of crackers in each food bag. Sometimes we can give out a whole box, usually however, we can't. We always break open containers of tea bags and re-package them into smaller amounts. The same goes for 10 pound bags of potatoes, 5 pound bags of carrots, etc.
  5. Put pasta way down on your list. Yes, it is cheap and a big bag goes a long way, but unless your local food bank asks for pasta, they are probably inundated with it. The same goes for Mac and Cheese. Not to say they can't use these products, just that there are other items that are usually in shorter supply.
  6. Our food bank is always short of the following items: canned fruit, pasta sauce, tuna, salmon, canned beef, laundry and soap detergents.
  7. Our clients are generally not vegetarian/vegan, and so they do not generally like fava beans, chick peas, lima beans, lentils, etc. They do, however like red kidney beans for making chili.
  8. Think outside the box, but not too far. A food bank donation doesn't always have to be food. Paper products are always needed. Check first with your local food bank before buying or donating diapers, but they can always use paper towels, toilet paper and tissues.
  9. Rice is another staple that is always good to donate, in small amounts if possible, as are Sidekicks, Hamburger Helper, etc.
  10. Baby food, including formula. All kinds. All the time.
  11. Tea bags and coffee are in constant short supply.
  12. Cookies, puddings and other snack items for children to eat during school recess. 
  13. Although our food bank mostly hands out canned goods, we also take donations of bulk fresh carrots, potatoes, fruits (from local farms). These get handed out first, before the canned goods. But check with your local food bank before donating ten pounds of potatoes.  
Other things to check for, when donating food items:
  1. Pet food is not people food. When people clean out their pantries, sometimes pet food cans get mixed in with people food. It is best that pet food does not get shelved at the food bank and mistakenly given out to clients.
  2. Expiration dates. It the food is past the best by date and you won't eat it, neither will we give it out to our clients.
  3. Our clients can always use a new toothbrush and toothpaste. The same goes for paper towels and toilet paper. We break the larger packages open and hand out a roll of paper towels and 2-4 rolls of TP to our clients, along with their monthly food allowance. This might not seem like much, but it is one less thing that they need to buy on a very limited income. 
  4. Basically, if you use a product in your apartment or house, then the food bank clients could also use it. And so can your local food bank.
This was just a (hopefully) helpful list of things to consider when donating food. Remember, when in doubt, check with your local food bank for specific items. They will gladly tell you what they need.

As a volunteer, nothing feels worse than seeing empty shelves at a local food bank. So please be generous with your donations. And volunteer at a local food bank, if you have the time. I have yet to meet a single food bank client who enjoyed asking for food. And I have found everyone to be very grateful for the help they received.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review: Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since this is a thriller type of story, there's not much that I can say without revealing too much of the plot. I enjoyed the story and the characters, and I look forward to reading the next two books in the series.

Beatrice, aka Tris, is similar to Katniss from the Hunger Games books,and a cursory glance reveals many similarities between the two trilogies: strong young adult female protagonist, a post-war society broken up into factions, political strife mirroring the main character's struggles, leading to an eventual clash between personal growth and society's oppressive laws, etc.

So if you enjoyed reading The Hunger Games, you'll enjoy Divergent. But if dystopian young adult fiction with a nod at religious themes isn't your cup of tea, then you might want to pass.

I'm a fan of both series - mostly because they are so similar thematically.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Attraction to the Theology of the Body

Image from

I was recently asked what my attraction was to John Paul II's Theology of the Body. The following is my very simple attempt to answer that question.

Since I write mostly Catholic-themed novels and romances, I would like my fiction to be consistent with Catholic doctrine. It was while writing Sprainter, my art-themed, young adult, dystopean, Catholic novella that I was drawn to the Theology of the Body (TOB).

The TOB is JP II's series of Wednesday audience catecheses spanning five years, from 1979 - 1985. The presentations were referred to informally as the Theology of the Body, and it looks like the name will stick, although I believe JP II had titled his work Human Love in the Divine Plan. The TOB is JP II's systematic plan to validate and expound upon Pope Paul VI's controversial 1969 encyclical Humana Vitae - the Catholic Church's official general response to contraception, and The Pill, in particular. JP II, as Cardinal Wojtyla, helped to formulate Humana Vitae.

It is important to note that, as JP II frequently asserted, this is not really a "new" theology. Everything that he states in TOB is found in the Bible and is consistent with Catholic dogma and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with the Canon Code of Law. JP II merely presents another way for Catholics to implement the Church's fundamental beliefs into our everyday lives.

The TOB also forms the basis, I believe, of the call to the New Evangelization.

So What is the TOB?

The basic idea of TOB is to show, through a particular type of philosophical analysis (phenomenological analysis - JP II, Teilhard de Chardin, and Edith Stein were all Catholic phenomenologists), what it means for us to truly take seriously the fact that our God (qua Spirit) became incarnate for our redemption. JPII wants us to seriously/theologically understand the physicality of Jesus, as God and as man, and what the implications of the Incarnation mean for Catholics.

[Philosophical side note:
I have a couple of degrees in Philosophy, in the field of Phenomenology as it happens, so that greatly helped to understand the philosophical framework of Blessed John Paul II's analysis. The reason JP II uses Phenomenology as the philosophical framework to support his catecheses is, simply put, because Phenomenology is a philosophy which asserts that there is a real physical world out there, and that we can learn what conceptual reality that these physical objects (such as our bodies, for example) point to by analyzing these physical realities. I realize that this point seems seems trivially obvious to everyone, but it is somewhat revolutionary to philosophers who are not existential phenomenologists.]

In the TOB JP II aims to show how far persons have strayed from the ideal persons found in Genesis, when God first created Adam and Eve "And it was good" to where we are now, with our prevalent culture of death. Through the use of the Phenomenological Method, JP II explores the state of conjugal love before the fall, as he follows Jesus' directive to the Pharisees that to truly understand marriage we must return to Genesis, to the first and authentic mutual self-giving between husband and wife.

Through this analysis, JP II reclaims the human body in all of its original sacramentality, and in particular he shows how marriage is the most fundamental sacrament, from which all other sacraments flow. He also explains how priests and other celibate religious persons partake of this sacramental, nuptual marriage. The argument, quickly sketched out is as follows: since Jesus Christ is understood as the Bridegroom, he married the Church (us) when he performed the sacrifice of the Cross, shedding His Blood for our salvation. So this TOB isn't just for couples, although JP II is more concerned to apply his views to marriage. There are echoes of marriages throughout JP II's analysis of the Church, Christ, and couple's nuptual unions.

The fruits of JP II's study of the sanctity of personhood are only beginning to be understood by Catholic theologians. As scholarship and schools continue to spread the message, our priests will become better acquainted with this new and exciting interpretation of the Bible.

I have heard people beginning to refer to JP II as The Great JP II. I can understand why when I read the TOB. It is a very exciting theology, the result of pious and humble reasoning from a great mind.

Although the issue of elevating the body to such a high level of sacramentality leaves some believers uneasy, and it must be stressed that the TOB is sanctioned by the Vatican. Our local parish teaches the TOB to the middle school and high school kids, in conjunction with sex ed. I believe Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is quoted as saying that we must all learn from JP II how to apply this new way of seeing ourselves, our spouses, and the Church.

Why Should I Have to Study the Theology of the Body?

No one has to study the TOB, but the Catholic Church will most certainly be developing doctrine based on the TOB for years (millenia?) to come. If you value the concept of personhood, of same-sex marriage, of the sacredness of marriage, of the importance of God in a couple's conjugal life, then the TOB is necessary reading. If you have fallen into the Manachean heresy of believing that the human body or sex is "bad" or "evil" and corrupts the soul, you need to read the TOB, if only to rediscover what the Catholic Church truly believes.

If you have not read Humana Vitae, I would strongly recommend reading it before beginning your studies on the TOB. A little bit of Husserl and Edith Stein wouldn't hurt either, but you can pick up the Phenomenology basics as you go along. Humana Vitae is third on my Catholic must read list, behind The Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

You can find much more information on the TOB at the Theology of the Body website:

PS: I take full responsibility for any fundamentally/doctrinally wrong statements in this simplified account of the TOB. So, please do not simply take my word for it, read the TOB for yourselves!

It's a wonderful and amazing time to be Catholic!

PSS: Having re-read my post, I realize that I didn't fully answer the question of why I am attracted to the TOB. Look for Part II soon!
~ JT ~

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Review: The Gospels: A Vault on the Life of Jesus Christ

The Gospels: A Vault on the Life of Jesus Christ
The Gospels: A Vault on the Life of Jesus Christ by Whitman Publishing Co

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For the Christian art lover! This beautiful book illustrates the four Gospels using wonderful full-color reproductions from the Renaissance, except for a few exceptions, most notably Dali's surrealist depiction of The Last Supper. Accompanying the Gospels are pictures, bookmarks, a shekel (yes, a reproduction of the ancient coin from the New Testament!), and small post-card-sized reproductions of famous and lesser-known works illustrating the life of Jesus Christ, as interpreted by a variety of artists from around the globe.

This interactive book offers hours of aesthetic enjoyment and deepening devotion for the whole family.

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