A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

What I'm Reading

I have a confession to make: I haven't read Deus Caritas Est yet. Oh, I've started it. I printed it off pretty quickly once I found a link. I've read about half of it. Still, though I was eager to print it off, I didn't devour it the minute it came out. . . am I slipping? Is this what the backsliding of a Literate Catholic looks like?

Nah. It's just that I've got a mountain of books that I started reading and set aside to read other things, plus new books keep arriving (ok Teresa, time to stop buying yourself belated "birthday gifts") and I want to read them. Then that's not counting all those books I got at a Paulist Press blowout last year and haven't read yet. And did I mention how susceptible I am to used books? C'mon- it's only $2.00! Plus shipping! And all of this is just "fun reading," in addition to the academic work that I am reading, or was supposed to be reading, or want to be reading. There are still some books from my comprehensive exam list that I never read and would like to read.

So here's the list. Here's what I'm reading, in the loosest sense possible.

Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend. This is probably the hottest Christian self-help/pop-psychology book of the decade. And it may well deserve to be so trendy: it' s good. I don't know if I've really learned any life-changing insights, but I have been forced to view some aspects of my behavior in an uncomfortably honest way. Recommended for people who like this sort of thing, or who have boundary issues, though the sad thing is that most people who have boundary issues don't know it, and wouldn't know it unless/until they read the book.

For Women Only, by Shaunti Felhahn. I think that this book would be more useful if I hadn't recently read Eggerich's Love and Respect, which really is potentially life changing. One difference between the two is that Shaunti did some actual sociological research, and her book is based on her research. This may impress some science-minded readers more than Eggerich's book, in which the "evidence" is generally drawn from letters and testimonies of people who've gone to his conferences.

Living the Jesus Prayer, by Irma Zaleski. I hadn't read much on the use of the Jesus Prayer, though of course I'd heard of it. Prior to beginning this book, I was under the vague impression that the Jesus prayer was prayed just like the rosary, but without mysteries. I now realize that the purpose of prayer is really quite different. In any event, I am reading this book for a little extracurricular project I'm working on- more on that later, perhaps.

The Bible in a Year. (OSV's edition, edited by Paul Thigpen.) Um, I'm still on December. And the pages are already falling out. Enough said. I think that when I DO finish, I'm going to come up with a lighter Scripture reading schedule.

A Summer Knight's Tale, by Ronda Chervin and Gene Grandy. Let me say first that I enjoyed Ronda's earlier novel, Ties that Bind. This book, however, may be beating me. I don't know if I'll finish it. It's interesting, but just too "preachy," and there are two many stylistic problems. And although I got 167 pages into it, I still don't really care about the characters. For me, that's a major setback. I want to care about the characters in my leisure reading. Heck, I want to care about the characters in my "work" reading, too. I have always disliked Wuthering Heights precisely because I thought none of the main characters were worth caring about.

At Home in Mitford. I've been reading the first Mitford novel for what seems like a year now. It's good, but I don't think that I've become a Mitford-o-phile. I think for some reason, the fact that you can put the book down and come back to it whenever you have time is a major plus. For me, it's a hindrance: I am tempted to simply put the book down and never come back to it.

And that's what I'm reading now. I may follow this post up with a list of "what's on the plate:" all the books that I WANT to be reading but am not. Or maybe I won't. Who can say?


Catholic readers of my blog may very well be familiar with the work of cartoonist and tract writer Jack Chick. He's known in Catholic circles as a bad guy, because he has produced several anti-Catholic tracts. He's also known as a rather stupid bad guy, because his tracts- well, they just aren't very accurate. Not only are they misinformed, they aren't necessarily logical. Truth is, they can be downright funny, in a rather sad and ignorant sort of way. Ah, I remember the high times my family had laughing at The Death Cookie.

Catholics aren't the only people to think there's something a little. . . off. . . about Jack Chick's work. (Okay, more than a little.) After all, Chick tracts aren't only about Catholicism: they also cover such serious threats to Christianity as role playing games. Unfortunately, the author of "Dark Dungeons" doesn't appear to know a great deal about RPG culture. Someone else came along and made a Mystery Science Theater 3000-style criticism of Dark Dungeons which is well worth reading- particularly if you or anyone you love has an addition to paper-based RPGs.

The fact that this tract only deals with D&D style paper-based games begs the question: why doesn't this tract address the perils of computer games and online-gaming? Does Chick not know that these things exist? Or is role playing only dangerous when it has the potential to create or reinforce social bonds between live flesh-and-blood people? I would have thought that socially, getting together with the guys to play a game was healthier than sitting in front of a computer, alone, to play against the computer, but what do I know?

"Webwarlock's" MST3K-style commentary does a fine job of pointing out there inaccuracies and incoherencies of this tract, but let me just add something I noticed which I thought indicated the real root of some of Chick's anxieties:

Why does Debbie call the game master "Ms. Frost"? It appears that Ms. Frost is an adult, but I don't think high schoolers usually play role playing games with adults: they play them with their peers, or near-peers. If they did include older players in their gaming, I very much doubt they'd call them "Mr." or "Ms." "Debbie" and "Jane" are more like it. Certainly, if Jane calls Debbie "Debbie," Debbie would not respond by calling Jane "Ms. Frost." In our culture, we use titles for authority figures and/or work-related situations. We do not usually use titles for people with whom we are socializing, unless it is a formal occasion. First-name reciprocity would apply in most informal social events (that is, if you call me Teresa, I will assume that I may call you Joe-Bob, rather than Mr. Smith. My assumption is that if you really wanted me to call you Mr. Smith, you'd call me Ms. H.T.). Disparity in address usually applies only in cases where one person has authority over the other.

In fact, the most likely situation in which a high school student would address a young adult as Ms. (outside of a work situation) is in the classroom. Debbie might call Ms. Frost "Ms. Frost" if she were a teacher, or the parent of a friend. She would not call her "Ms" if she were merely the older sister of a friend. This inaccuracy may simply be just that: it might just show how out-of-touch with reality Mr. Chick is. When he was a high school student, he may very well have been in the habit of addressing all those older than him formally, even in the midst of game play. And he may very well not have realized how much less formally young people are today.

But it seems to me that there's more going on here, as we like to say in literary criticism. It's likely that Chick has cast an older woman -an adult who clearly serves as an authority figure- because he really fears that there are authority figures (teachers? parents of friends? who IS Ms. Frost, anyway?) whose goal is to lead children to dabble in the occult. These older adults, who have already been initiated, live only to corrupt young 'uns through the power of the game, which is somehow essential to the "spiritual development" of witches-in-training.

This, my friends, is paranoid. There are no wolves out there prowling around, trying to get children to play just one game. And if there were, they wouldn't be picking on the Debbies of the world- they'd be picking on the Joe-Bob's: a fact which makes "Webwarlock"'s comment about the fact that all the good characters in the tract are men, and the bad or susceptible ones women, a very astute one. Why is Chick worried about girls being subject to corruption this way? The Debbies of the world are seduced to the Dark Side (if they are seduced at all) by stupid teen novels and wretched television fair, not by D&D. So, Chick, I'm waiting. . . if you're so concerned about the souls of young women, when are you going to take on the public library and the advertising industry? Or is it that these institutions are too mainstream for you to tackle? I'm sure it's a lot easier to critique activities that appear to be fringe- after all, the public is already suspicious of them anyway.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Evangelical Outpost for bringing this to my attention. This blog had a fine response to/reading of Chick's Halloween tract back in October.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Prayer for Christian Unity

January 18-25, as many of you may know, is celebrated as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This is a time when Christians of all different hues and stripes pray -whether together or alone- for the full unity that we believe Christ promised to His Church.

There are a number of different resources available online. I'll list only two: the World Council of Churches webpage, and the Vatican's Resources for the Week of Prayer.

Finally, there's also a way to pray throughout the week focusing on different "families" of Christianity:

Some Christians undertake to pray for different Christian groups on the different days of the Octave. Here is one possible list for that purpose. Please remember that praying that the other group will see the error of its ways and join your group is not the idea.

    (18) East Orthodox, Coptic, and other Eastern Churches
(19) Roman Catholic and Uniate Churches
(20) Anglican, Old Catholic, and allied Churches
(21) Lutheran, Moravian, and Methodist Churches
(22) Congregational, Presbyterian, and Reformed Churches
(23) Baptist, Amish, Mennonite, Hutterite,
and Christian (Disciples of Christ) Churches
(24) Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches
(25) Other groups, particularly "non-mainstream" ones;
theologians and councils seeking to promote
Christian Unity while preserving Christian Truth

- from James Kiefer's website, courtesy of the AIF listserve
(emphasis mine)

I rather like the idea of praying for different communities,
though it is in fact rather hard to pray for unity without praying,
"Lord, change their stubborn hearts." Perhaps one would do best
to quietly substitute "my" for "their" every time this happens.
"Lord, change my stubborn heart" is a prayer all Christians
can make together!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Weeding Out the Catholic Faculty at Wheaton

First, my apologies for the semi-pun in the subject line. It is, I realize, the sort of thing that my husband would write. But I couldn't think of a sufficiently interesting subject line.

Many bloggers, both Protestant and Catholic, have recently discussed a Wall Street Journal article concerning the firing of one of Wheaton's professors. You may get the whole article here
if you've not already read it, but these are the main points of the case, as I understand it:

1) Joshua Hochschild was an Episcopalian when he was hired at Wheaton to teach medieval philosophy.
2) He converted to Catholicism while a professor at Wheaton.
3) He informed the college of his conversion, knowing that, as per Wheaton's policy of employing only evangelical Protestant faculty, he might be fired.
4) He said that he could still affirm the college's mission statement.

5) He was fired anyway.

Other bloggers have already discussed whether a Catholic really could, in good conscience, accept the Wheaton mission statement. I'll just say briefly that I as a Catholic could affirm it, with the understanding that agreeing that the statement that "the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing, so that they are fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in all they say" does not mean denying that there are matters on which the Scripture does NOT speak, for which there may be a different authority. Catholics do believe, after all, that the Church cannot contradict the Bible. That means that Scripture is the final authority in all it says: neither the Church nor the Pope can overrule it.

Of course, I can also understand why some Catholics might read the statement differently, given that it was actually intended to prevent hiring Catholic and Eastern Orthodox academics. While I could affirm such a statement in the abstract, I would not sign it -or recommend signing it- if doing so was assumed to be a denial of my beliefs as a Catholic. Nor, for that matter, would I want to be employed at a school that had a general policy of non-hire with regard to believing Catholics, even if I could squeak by as an exception of some sort.

Having said that, I'm not out to discuss whether Professor Hochschild was right or wrong in thinking he could or should remain a faculty member at Wheaton. Rather, my concern is with a statement of President Litfin, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal article:

Mr. Hochschild was "quibbling," the president retorted four days later. "Perhaps Wheaton College has come to a point where, because of challenges such as yours, it must revise its documents to make more explicit its non-Catholic identity."

This quote is what stuck out to me when I read the article. I wasn't surprised that Wheaton had fired a professor who converted to Catholicism: I had already known of its policy against employing Catholic faculty. I do understand that Wheaton has a commitment to its own faith tradition, and that it has a right to retain only faculty members who represent that faith tradition. I understand that there may be Wheaton alumni and parents who would be disturbed if students were to be taught by Catholic faculty. The firing of Hochschild, while it might have been a cause for disappointment on my part, isn't what disturbed me.

My concern is that President Litfin’s comment about rewriting the mission statement seems to indicate a clear rejection of recent Evangelical and Catholic efforts to establish common theological ground. Rather than rejoicing at learning that a Catholic colleague could affirm the same twelve points he could, Litfin suggests that such a statement isn’t exclusive enough. (For that matter, Litfin’s comment also suggests that the college’s mission statement is not, in fact, intended to mean what the school's website says it is intended to mean. If it is a document that needs to be changed to make clearer the school’s Protestantism, the statement should not be said to provide merely “a summary of biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity” but rather to provide a summary that is limited to the theological shape of evangelical Christianity.) Though the current statement represents (for the most part) a common ground of mere Christianity which could be a starting point for further dialog, Litfin at least wants to retreat from such possibilities, to move from a statement of truly historic Christian beliefs to a litmus test that will more clearly “weed out” any unwanted Christians.

There’s nothing wrong with retreating when under threat -nothing wrong with rallying the theological wagons in order to protect the living treasure within- IF the threat one faces requires such action. What saddens me is that Litfin, at least (I’d hate to assume that Wheaton as an institution agreed with him) thinks that this is the proper response to the current, much-improved state of affairs between Evangelicals and Catholics. While other Evangelical Christians are reaching out, he wants to reach back. That, to me, is the real tragedy of the Hochschild case.

Finding the right cookbook

To make the best use of a slow cooker, you really do need a slow cooker cookbook. You may be asking: why? Well, first of all, try asking a non-crock-using friend what one can make in a slow cooker. (You may first have to explain that by "slow cooker" you mean what most people mean when they say "Crockpot" but without the copyright infringement.) Your friend may likely think of two main things: roasts and stews. And yes, both of these foods are excellent in a slow cooker. However, there are a number of other things you can make in a slow cooker that one wouldn't normally think of: roast chicken, for one; hot breakfast cereal, for another; apple cider, for a third. (But I don't have to limit the list to foods I've discussed on my blog!) How many people think of making hot wine punch in their crockpot? Or champagne chicken? Or "Thai pork with peanut sauce"? Be honest. Did you know that you could make Thai pork in a slow cooker?

I would not have thought of making any of these things, either, if I hadn't caved in and purchased a cookbook for my slow cooker. (And then another, and another, and another. . . .) My early attempts at using a slow cooker were mostly failures, even though the recipes I was trying to make were very basic. While I don't want to bash the easy classic slow cooker recipes, I hope my readers realize that slow cookers are not just for soups, stews, and roasts. They are extremely versatile, and the best way to explore that versatility is to buy one or more good slow cooker cookbooks. You can start with the books which Rival publishes for use in its trademarked Crockpot, if you like (and don't forget that they have free recipes online), but you don't have to stop there. There are a number of slow cooker books out there, some elegant, some simple.

The mother of all crockpot cookbooks is probably Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman's 500 page Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook. (The Thai pork recipe mentioned above is from this book.) This book, written by professional food writers, features hundreds of dishes. This book should be a staple in the library of serious crockery cooks. The recipes range from homely to exotic. The upside: there are whole sections on crockery favorites such as chili and beans, including some innovative dishes. In fact, the categories the book is broken down into are quite user-friendly, making it easy to find a range of workable recipes. The downside: many of these require several steps (including browning, presoaking, or other non-crockery prep cooking) or hard-to-find-ingredients. This is, after all, not your mother's cookbook. So what if what you really want is the kind of meal your grandmother used to make? Are you just lost in the modern forest of culinary relativism, forced to search your pathetic IGA for ingredients like hoisin and crimini mushrooms?

Be not afraid! There are plenty of books which still include a lot of "down home" type recipes. Wendy Louise's The Complete Crockpot Cookbook is an excellent starter cookbook for someone who doesn't necessarily need"fancy-schmancy" meals or exotic foods for his or her family dinner. Many of the recipes in this book are quite simple, but there are also some more elegant dishes suitable for entertaining. The cornish game hen recipe in this book is alone worth the cost. Who would have guessed that chicken went so well with currant jelly? Upside: the simplicity of most of the recipes makes this a good starter book, while it still includes a wide range of foods, including multiple pot roast and stew recipes. Downside: It simply doesn't have as many recipes as some of the large books; it has about 170 at my count. More importantly, the organization is, in my opinion, inferior to that of the Not Your Mother's book. Louise has tried to divide the entrees not into classic categories such as "beef," "poultry" "fish" and so on, but into the kind of meal which is made or the kind of recipe. While a section called "Dinner is Served: Fancier Entrees" may be of use if your question is "what can I make for our next dinner party?" it is not so useful if your question is "what can I do with all this chicken in the freezer?"

Finally, the daring cook may get a kick out of Rebecca Jager's How to Make Love and Dinner at the Same Time. The main selling pointd of this book are its "cooking and sex are similar" conceit and the girl-to-girl style "Crocktalk" comments which Jager includes in the margins of many of the recipes. Upside: This book is really funny. However, since most people don't buy cookbooks based solely on the humor value, I ought to say something about the recipes, oughtn't I? This book probably falls in between Louise's and the Hensperger-Kaufman book. There are a number of "exotic" (i.e. not country-style Americana) recipes included, but most of the recipes are simple and easy to make. The final section includes a number of hot alcoholic punches, which is something you don't find in every cookbook. Her organization system is an improvement on Louise's book. Downside: This is a smaller book, with only 200 recipes, and you may reasonably ask whether it is worth it, given that there is some overlap between these recipes and those in other books.

My suggestion is that those who want to start small consider either the Jager book or the Louise book. Which you prefer will depend on what you want to make. If you want homecooking, with a few more elegant recipes, try Louise's book. If you want simple but unusual recipes, try Jager's. Jager's book would also, it seems to me, lend itself well as a wedding gift to a couple who is also receiving a slow cooker.

There are, of course, many, many slow cooker cookbooks out there which I haven't tried. For now, I'm trying to restrain myself from buying more, but if I finally cave in and get another cookbook or two, you can expect further reviews.