Monday, April 25, 2016

Detroit - Chicago - Geneva

April 25, 2016 The Feast of St. Mark Peace and Good, Last Sunday I traveled to Detroit for a meeting with the Definitory of St. Bonaventure Province, the Chicago Province. The Minister General has asked us Assistants to visit the various definitories when we have a chance in order to know better what is going on in the provinces. This is the second definitory that I have visited this year. They were dealing with a lot of personnel issues, especially as they are half way through their four year term. It is a good time to check whether things are running smoothly, and to start making plans for the future, which is what they did. On Tuesday, we drove from Detroit to Chicago where I was catching a plane on Wednesday evening. I had to fly to Geneva for a meeting of Franciscans International. This is an NGO at the United Nations which lobbies for human rights issues for those who are weakest in society. A few years ago the group had run into serious financial difficulties, but now things are running well and we were able to begin planning for the future (and not just deal with a current crisis, as had been the case in the past). That meeting ended a bit early, yesterday afternoon, so today I am catching up before I fly out to Baltimore for a week or so of meetings. The weather here in Geneva was quite nice until yesterday. There is still snow on the mountains that surround the city, but it was actually warm until a cold spell hit yesterday. I am looking out the window at the clouds over the mountains and I think it is snowing there right now. I finished some books: Understanding Japan: A Cultural History by Mark Ravina This is a teaching company course to explain the history and culture of Japan. It was a fascinating book that gives very good insights into a different world. I was able to get a glimpse of how the Japanese think, and it helped me develop a bit of cultural humility (understanding when I do not understand). It reminds me of the Chinese cultural world in which allusions to situations and poetry are made in very subtle ways. It would take forever to enter fully into their world, but even viewing it from a distance is enlightening. As with all of the courses from the Teaching Company, this was a very good experience. 1914: A Novel by Charles B. Smith This is an epic story of the first year of the war in 1914 from the time of mobilization until the famous Christmas truce when soldiers laid down their weapons and played soccer games along the front. There are various people in the story including Germans, French, English and Americans. We hear stories from the air war, the infantrymen on the ground, wounded soldiers in hospital, and artillery men. It is almost like a large series of short stories on a common theme. We hear the mood pass from quite excited to incredibly black as the soldiers slowly lose touch of who they were before the fighting began. Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos This is the story of an African American family in Washington D.C. One of the sons grows up and joins the police where half of him wants to serve and protect while the other feels a betrayer to his own people. The other son joins the army and returns wounded. When he recovers, he has a difficult time putting his life together. The story starts in the early 60’s, but then the major part of the story is in the days before and after the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the resulting rioting in Washington. It is a good story. The Gun by by CJ Chivers This is the account of the invention and then spread of one of the most famous guns ever to be produced: the Kalashnikov, the gun used by the Soviet Union and its client states. Chivers begins with an outline of the invention of the machine gun during the 19th century, its every increasing use in the 20th century, and its use by rogue states and terrorists in these recent years. He also speaks of the failure of the US to produce as useful a weapon, instead deciding to use the M16 during the Vietnam War which was a flawed weapon. Although many of the stories are troubling, yet they help one understand a whole dimension of warfare and how it is fought. Sad Wind from the Sea by Jack Higgins This is the story of a down and out sailor who finds a woman being beaten up. He defends her, and enters into a story of lost gold and a plan to aid refugees. He joins a plan to recover the gold for his own reasons, but eventually he falls in love with the woman and this changes all of his plans. This is not the best of Higgins’ books, but it is still quite a good adventure story. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

London - Oxford - Detroit - Chicago

April 19, 2016 Peace and Good, This past week I visited two of our friaries in Great Britain. I traveled to London and stayed in our friary near Waterloo station. Our custos has been ill, for he was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease. He is under medication, but his symptoms are still visible. Please keep him, fr. Peter Damian, in your prayers. I then went up to Oxford to visit our house of studies there. Our friars study with the Dominican friars there, and I also visited their theologate. It was a good trip, and I always enjoy to see the student friars of this jurisdiction who are so hope filled. Then on Saturday I flew to Detroit. It was one of those trips that was not easy in terms of travel. The connecting flight from Chicago to Detroit was repeatedly postponed, and they kept changing gates. Yet, I did get in safe and sound. I was in Detroit to attend one of the definitory meetings of St. Bonaventure Province. That went very well, and today I drove back to Chicago with the provincial. Tomorrow I will be heading out to Geneva for a meeting of Franciscans International. I finished some reading: Alexander the Great and His Time by Agnes Savill This is a very British version of a biography of Alexander the Great. It is well researched and well written. Saville speaks both of his life and the culture of the times, thus giving good background material concerning the philosophers, authors, religion, and other concerns of ancient Greece. She shows Alexander to be a driven man, but who was nevertheless considerate of those whose lands he conquered (famously treating the mother and wives of the king of Persia with royal deference after the king and fled and left them to be captured). Acqua Alta: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon This is the first book by Donna Leon that I have read, but it will certainly not be the last. She writes about a detective in the city of Venice who must investigate an art theft and a murder. She truly knows the character of the people about whom she is writing. She reveals the attitudes of Italians (and Americans) in this story. She is familiar with the Byzantine system in so many of the offices of Italy. She writes a very good story. The only problem might be that she does not always translate phrases uttered by characters in Italian. Victory 1918 by lan Palmer This is an account of the last months of the First World War in Europe. It shows how the year began on a very pessimistic tone, but toward the end of the year it was obvious that the Axis could not hold out very much longer. Yet, as the end approached, many of the goals that had been proposed by President Wilson to create a more just world were sacrificed in the face of expediency. This gives a good overview of the main characters involved and the major campaigns throughout the year. It is a good read. The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport This is an account of the execution of the Romanov family during the Communist Revolution of 1917. They were taken to the city of Ekaterinburg and kept there until Lenin and his council decided to put them to death. It is a gruesome story, but one which doesn’t glory in the gore. They are presented as very human with all their goodness and flaws. The communists are shown to be deceptive and cruel. The story is well written and tries to be balanced. The one who comes out of the story the worst, besides the communists, is King George of England who probably could have saved his cousin but did not for his own reasons (to protect his own reign) and then covered up his involvement in all of this. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson This is a very thorough outline of the history of ancient Egypt from the days of its earliest civilization to the time that the Romans conquered it after the fall of Cleopatra. It is not as constant a history as one would expect. At various times, Egypt was ruled by the Nubians, Libyans, Persians, Hyksos, etc. Furthermore, many of the monuments that we so admire (Pyramids, temples, etc.) were constructed with the sweat of the brow of the poor who were oppressed by an autocratic government (up to the last days of the independent kingdom of Egypt). Wilkinson presents the material in an honest, forthright manner with only the occasional ax to grind. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Rome - London

April 11, 2016 Peace and Good, This past week we had our definitory meeting in Rome. There were no really big items on the agenda, and we had had a series of meetings in the past few months, so we actually ended up finishing the meeting early, something about which no one complained. The weather in Rome is slowly getting warmer for the beginning of Spring. There are afternoons that we can walk outside without a sweater (although for most people it is still sweater weather - I do not suffer from the cold very much, as is evident from the fact that I can wear sandals all winter long without socks. Yesterday I flew into London. I will be here in England (both London and Oxford) until Saturday, when I will fly out to the States. The weather here is considerably cooler than it was in Rome. They tell me it has been raining quite a bit, although yesterday and today were/are fine. I have not seen the custos here in a few months, and he has had some health problems, so it was good to catch up a bit. Oxford is our house of formation. I will take the train up there on Wednesday, and then on Saturday take the bus down to the airport. I finished some books: A Certain Justice by P.D. James This is the second book written by PD James that I have read. She writes about a detective named Daglish and the other detectives with whom he works in London. This is the story of the murder of a very good attorney who is arrogant and makes many enemies. Thus, when she is killed and her body left in a scene that was intended to mock her, there are almost too many suspects to count. Chief among the suspects is a young man whom she defended for killing his aunt (of which he was guilty, but found innocent) who has become engaged to her daughter (an unloved child). The plot is twisted but well explained. I intend to continue to read PD James’ books for they offer an entertaining opportunity. The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries by James Walsh This is a book that I read a long time ago, when I was ka freshman in college. I saw that it was available on (an internet site where you can listen to out of print books read by volunteers). The author wrote this in the early twentieth century and was trying to show how many of the things which we assume are modern were actually invented or even perfected in the thirteenth century. This was a century that was the true beginning of the Renaissance. There are a lot of good details, but the authors constant refrain that the thirteenth century is undervalued gets a bit old at times. Hideaway by Dean Koontz Originally I thought that the hideaway would be a place in the mountains where some robbers had fled, but it turns out to be a very different type of hideaway. A man and his wife are in an accident as they are driving along in a snow storm. They are driven off the road into a mountain river where she survives and he is brought back to life by an ingenious doctor. This same doctor had brought his own son back to life, but the boy was pure evil. This first man is close to pure good. The man and his wife adopt a handicapped child who is the joy of their lives, but they must protect him against the insane predator who now stalks them. The Rise and Fall of Soviet Communism by Gary Hamburg This is a series of lectures by a professor from the teaching company that deals with the before, during and early after of communism in the Soviet Union. The presentation is good, but the voice of the professor is a bit annoying. It is a bit whiney. Yet, the content helps one overcome a natural aversion to his presentation. The Anatomy of a Moment by Javier Cercas Four years after the death of Francisco Franco, a group of army officers seized control of the Spanish parliament in an attempt to overthrow the government of Alfonso Suarez. The king refused to back the rebellion which was being called in his name, and the coup was crushed. This book investigates what led up to the coup, what happened during the seizure of the parliament building, and what followed it. The coup was not so clear cut as many would like one to think. The only problem with the book is that it has an overly journalistic, overly philosophic way of expressing things – almost as if the author wants to produce a great classic but only succeeds in producing a cheap copy of one. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Rome - Ndola (Zambia) - Rome

April 4, 2016 Peace and Good, After spending the Triduum at home in Rome, I flew with two other friars from the Curia down to Ndola in Zambia to facilitate a province assembly in preparation for their coming provincial chapter. The weather there was quite warm, in the 80's most days. It is south of the equator, so it is entering into fall. Zambia is a very fertile country, and the people are very welcoming. During the week, after we had completed our talks, we took a trip to our new novitiate in Kitwe, which is about an hour away. There are about 85 friars in the province, and like all new provinces, they have a bit of work to do to iron out the rough spots. My presentation was on the topic of minority as in being a friar minor. I took the talk from the Gospels and other New Testament writings. We then had the friars break up into small groups to discuss first of all who had served them as models of minority in their own lives, and then what elements of minority they thought that their province needed to address in these next four years. We have found that it is always better to let them decide their priorities rather than to try to impose them from above. They ended up saying exactly what we would have hoped, but it came from them and not from us, and that makes all the difference. On Friday night we flew back to Rome. It is a long flight - four hours from Ndola to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and then another six hours from there to Rome. We left at 3 in the afternoon and arrived around six the next morning (after a four hour layover in Addis Ababa). Once again, we found that the flights were very good. Air Ethiopia is a very good airline. However, the airport in Addis Ababa can only be described as chaotic. The only good thing was that there were three of us, so you didn't feel that you were struggling to figure out what was going on alone. I will be in Rome this week for our General Definitory, and then Sunday I head out to England for about a week. I have finished the following: Citizens of London by Lynne Olson This is an excellent presentation about those Americans who lived in London during the war years and helped the British win the war. This includes Ed Murrow, Gil Wynant (the ambassador), Averill Harriman (the leader of the Lend Lease Program there), and General Dwight Eisenhower. It gives an excellent impartial portrait of those people, both speaking about their talents and generosity as well as their faults. I would recommend this book to anyone who wanted more information about what it was like to survive the blitz and the other difficulties during the war. A Stranger in Mayfair by Charles Finch This is a book about a young detective who has just married and also been elected to Parliament in England. He is asked to conduct an investigation by a fellow member of Parliament who then asks him to discontinue his investigation. That man is acting very oddly, and the detective and a young man who he is mentoring decide to continue the investigation of the murder of a footman of the second parliamentarian. It is set in the 19th century, and is quite good in a Arthur Conon Doyle sort of way. Claudius the God by Robert Graves This is the second in the series on the emperor Claudius (who ruled after Caligula and before Nero). He was a decent man, a scholar, but someone who was easily manipulated by his wives, two of whom were not nice people at all. This book is based on ancient biographies of the emperor, and it gives a very human portrait of a person who never wanted to be emperor and who wanted to reinstitute the republic in Rome. Hawaii by James Michener Michener’s books are incredible, but terribly long. I thoroughly enjoyed this book which is a series of vignettes about people whose lives intersected from the arrival of the first Polynesian on the islands to the time when Hawaii became a state. It is especially interesting to see the heritage of the early congregational ministers who came to the islands as missionaries and whose families went on to own much of the land. There is also the interplay of the Chinese and Japanese immigrants who were brought to the islands to work the pineapple and sugar cane fields. The next Michener book I will read is on Poland, but I will give it a break for a while because I have been reading this one for so long. The Gardens of Kyoto by Kate Walbert This is an odd little book about a mother who is speaking with her child about things that happened when she was young and later when she grew up. When young she had a cousin who was a special friend. He was drafted during the Second World War and was one of the last soldiers killed during the war. He left her a beautiful book on the Gardens of Kyoto which was given him by his true mother (although he did not know she was until he was a teenager). The book was written by a soldier of the First World War who was shattered by the violence he saw and experienced. There is a sense in the book of how war destroys people in opposition to the peace found in the zen gardens in Kyoto. Absolute Monarchs by Julian Norwich This is an excellent treatment of the history of the papacy. It is quite long, but never gets caught up in unnecessary details. Norwich is critical without being cynical. He is an Anglican, but treats the papacy with great respect, without ever hiding from nasty details. I certainly will be seeking to read some of Norwich’s other books. Single and Single: A Novel by John le Carre Most of le Carre’s books are about spies, but this is a bit of an exception. It is about figures involved in high finance with very shady underworld investors. Tiger Single is the head of an investment firm in London that deals with mobsters from Russia after the fall of the Soviet empire. Oliver, his son, has revealed information about those dealings to the revenue agents in England, and they are on the trail of the money laundering. In the meantime, a number of disasters has befallen the Russians and they are out for revenge. As is typical of le Carre’s books, it is well written and a bit convoluted, but excellent reading. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude