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.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Beckwith on Conversion

A few weeks ago, two sectors of American Christianity (the Evangelical world and the Catholic world) were rocked with the news that Baylor philosopher Francis Beckwith had returned to Roman Catholicism. (Note that it is really not correct to refer to Beckwith as a convert, since he was raised Catholic. Technically, he is a revert.) Some of the reactions were good; some were bad. Some Evangelicals called Beckwith an apostate and suggested that he was going to Hell. Some Catholics took the opportunity to brag, pat themselves on the back, and generally behave triumphalistically. (Hint: that's not endearing to your brothers and sisters in Christ!) Edited to add: for more on triumphalism, see this NCR editorial.

Beckwith had already done an interview for the evangelical magazine Christianity Today, as well as discussing his conversion on his blog. Now, he has an interview for the National Catholic Register. Frankly, I feel that this is the most interesting work on his conversion to date, as it goes into much more detail about the issue of justification.

Many blogreaders have been asking Beckwith about justification. His initial statement on his conversion stated:

. . . in January, at the suggestion of a dear friend, I began reading the Early Church Fathers as well as some of the more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors. I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible. Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible, I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the church’s historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient church of the first few centuries.

Many people wondered what he meant by that. For many evangelicals, what he said above seems inconceivable. Others (including myself!) just wanted to know what he'd been reading that changed his thinking. Beckwith promised a future lengthy work-an article or book- on the subject, but many people had questions now.

The NCR interview clarifies some of this.
For example, I found these paragraphs very interesting:

Then I read the Council of Trent, which some Protestant friends had suggested I do. What I found was shocking. I found a document that had been nearly universally misrepresented by many Protestants, including some friends.

I do not believe, however, that the misrepresentation is the result of purposeful deception. But rather, it is the result of reading Trent with Protestant assumptions and without a charitable disposition.

For example, Trent talks about the four causes of justification, which correspond somewhat to Aristotle’s four causes. None of these causes is the work of the individual Christian. For, according to Trent, God’s grace does all the work. However, Trent does condemn “faith alone,” but what it means is mere intellectual assent without allowing God’s grace to be manifested in one’s actions and communion with the Church. This is why Trent also condemns justification by works.

I am convinced that the typical “Council of Trent” rant found on anti-Catholic websites is the Protestant equivalent of the secular urban legend that everyone prior to Columbus believed in a flat earth.

I still hope that Beckwith may produce an article in the future focusing specifically on Justification, but the new interview offers a good start.

Beckwith brings with him a very positive take on the possibility of better relationships between Catholics and Evangelicals. (See, for instance, the question: "What can evangelicals and Catholics learn from each other?" in the NCR interview.) Let's hope that he's right!

HT: Jimmy Akin

Saturday, May 26, 2007

When is an Apology not an Apology?

When it's "dextificiation," according to Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner. Drs. Rick and Rick explain that when people come to them claiming to have a problem with apology, the problem is usually that they are actually "dextifying."

Drs. Rick and Rick define "dextify" (yes, it's a made-up word) as follows:

1) To defend, explain, or justify while claiming to apologize.
2) To hold oneself blameless for a variety of reasons.
3) To have a good excuse for actions that produce mental or emotional distress in others.

When people "dextify," they don't really apologize at all. They may say "sorry," but they immediately add a disclaimer that absolves themselves of guilt. "I'm sorry I yelled at you, but I had a bad day at the office and my car broke down on the way home." "I'm sorry I forgot your birthday, but I had a really important project due." As Brinkman and Kirschner point out, this kind of "apology" is more focused on the person who apologizes than on the feelings or needs of the one receiving the apology. The person who receives the apology receives the message that his or her feelings aren't nearly as important as the needs or emotions of the apologizer. So rather than solving a problem, this kind of apology may lead to more hurt feelings and more distance.

I do this a lot myself. I say, "I'm sorry I said such and such, but. . ." Sometimes the material that comes after the "but" is important. Sometimes it needs to be addressed. When people act under provocation, the provocation may need to be acknowledged and dealt with.

However, what I'm coming to realize is that the material that comes after the "but" does NOT belong in an apology. It should come later, once there has already been reconciliation. The way to apologize is not to say: "I'm sorry that I was rude with you at dinner, but it really hurt me that you were late. The food was getting cold and that's all I could think of." The proper way to apologize is to say: "I'm sorry that I was rude to you at dinner. It was wrong for me to treat you that way. I will try not to let it happen again."

The "being late to dinner" issue can wait for a better time; it does not need to be brought up now. Confusing the process of explanation with the process of apology may result in failure of the recipient to accept the apology. To put it more simply, the recipient may say (as I have said to myself in the past when encountering a dextification) "Where's the apology?"

Friday, May 18, 2007

Decline and Fall

After years of deliberately not watching television, I have gradually been sucked back into following a few shows with my husband. We started with television shows on DVDs, then somehow progressed to actually watching them as their air. And now I find that I've been pulled into the drama of wondering not just "what will happen next?" but "will anything happen next?" Now, after a long span of near-freedom from the whims of (this branch of) the entertainment marketplace, I find myself worrying about whether the shows we watch will be renewed another year.

I've just learned, for example, that Veronica Mars is not listed on the CW's fall line-up. There have been rumors that the show would not continue in its current format, but this is a bit of a disappointment nonetheless. It's true that the show had gone down-hill. It opened with an excellent first season, but never repeated the depth or quality of that first season. The last few epidoses of this (the third season) have been stand-alone mysteries, which are entertaining in their own way but nothing at all like the tightly plotted narrative arc that drew me into the series. If that's the best they can do, maybe it's time to let the series go.

I won't say much about Lost, the other show I'm worried about. Plenty of bloggers ramble on and on about Lost. I'll just say that I feel that it, like Veronica Mars, had an excellent first season and has never been able to recapture the effect. I almost think that Lost would have been better as a mini-series than as a long-running television show. It needs some closure, people!

What interests me, though, is the contrast between those two shows, with their decline in popularity and quality, and the other show I regularly watch, Supernatural. Whereas we started watching Veronica Mars and Lost on DVD after hearing good things about them, we started watching Supernatural as it aired from the very beginning. I like ghost stories; it's a show about brothers who hunt ghosts, demons, and vampires. It seemed like a good fit in terms of content.

If you had asked me about the show last year, though, I would have said that I followed the series almost in spite of itself. I thought the writing was bad, especially the dialogue. I thought the acting was bad. I didn't like the main characters. I hated Jensen Ackles. I thought the sentimental moments were cheesy, and the comic moments (such as they were) unsuccessful. The only thing it had going for it was the "supernatural" content, and occasional signs of intelligently crafted plotting. Supernatural was my "guilty pleasure" in terms of television. Other graduate students watched Lost and Veronica Mars, and understood the appeal, but I felt that I had to apologize for Supernatural.

Imagine my surprise now, when I compare these three different series, and suspect that Supernatural might outlast Veronica Mars and Lost. Though Supernatural started off rockily, it has really improved. The plotting seems smarter and tighter. I think the plotting has improved, too: time and time again I would say "hey, what about da da da da," only to find that the writers were going to answer my question later that episode, or later that season.
The dialogue seems quite a bit better during the second season: some of the witty one-liners are actually FUNNY now. The writers have also developed a deeper "culture," to the show, creating a background community which was lacking in the first season, and hinting at more of a mythos. Perhaps most promising of all, the writers have begun experimenting with comic episodes, in the style of X-Files. (No surprise there: as I understand it, they have always admitted their debt to X-Files.)

The show is just plain getting better: more entertaining, more gripping, and more emotinally engaging. I care much more about the characters now than I did last year, and I want to know what happens next. The season finale, Tulip and I agreed, was just what a season finale SHOULD be: it wrapped up the important plot threads of the last season, providing narrative and emotional closure for the fate of one character in particular, but left open some plot lines to be resolved next season.

So that leaves me with some musings about what really makes for a successful series. Were and Lost and Veronica Mars in some ways actually handicapped by the success of their first seasons? Would they have done better if they had started off with "room to grow"? One might argue that when a show stops growing, it starts declining. And when a show starts declining, fans start watching. In terms of maintaining a fan base, perhaps it's better for a show to start off roughly and improve. Last season, I had doubts about whether I wanted to keep watching Supernatural. I wasn't sure that it was really worth an hour of my time every week. This season, there's no question: I want to keep following the series, in part because I think there's a good chance that's it's going to keep developing. I wish I could say the same thing for Lost and Veronica Mars. Even if they are renewed (the jury is still out on a new version of Veronica Mars), they just might not be worth the time commitment.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Super-Depressing Quote of the Day

Are you ready for it?

Grad school generally makes you less employable, not more employable. For example, people who get a graduate degree in the humanities would have had a better chance of surviving the Titanic than getting a tenured teaching job.

- from Ten Questions with Penelope Trunk

All depressing quotes of the day aside, this article contains some interesting -if debatable- claims, such as this one:

Question: Is it more important to be competent or likable?

Answer: People would actually rather work with someone who is incompetent and likeable than competent and unlikable. [. . .]

So stop thinking you can skate by on your genius IQ because you can’t. You need emotional intelligence as well. This situation is so pronounced that there are special-education classrooms rife with kids who could read when they were three. Social skills matter as much as intelligence when it comes to long-term success, even for the geniuses.

I emphasized that last sentence because I think that's the sort of thing that really needs to be taught in graduate school (er, even though we apparently aren't supposed to waste our time getting graduate degrees), because -let's face it- we gifted-program people aren't always equally gifted when it comes to social interactions. There are plenty of very gifted people out there wondering why they aren't successful. This may be part of the answer.

- Hat tip to Michael Spencer at Boar's Head Tavern

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Surprisingly Good Pot Roast

I have a confession to make: most of the meals that I make are nothing to shout about. They usually aren't bad, but they usually aren't great, either. When I try a new recipe, the best I can reasonably hope for is that the result is something that's good enough to add to our repertoire of "old stand-bys." The question we ask ourselves about a new dish is not: "Is this incredible, or what?" but "Is this worth having on a regular basis?" I consider the meal a success if the answer is "Yes, it's pretty good." Likewise, when I try a variation on a classic stand-by, I may hope for something that stands above the competition, but I'm satisfied if the result is deemed "good for a change."

Every now and then, however, I come across a surprise. Today's meal was one of those. I've made pot-roast with cream-of-whatever soup countless times. It's never been something to get excited about. . . until today. I can't say that I understand why today's meat was so much better than usual. Maybe it was the cut of meat. (It was one of those marked-down-because-it's-going to-go-bad-bargains.) Maybe it was the wine. Or maybe I really did come up with the perfect blend of seasonings. Whatever the cause, today's roast turned out tender and unexpectedly flavorful. I'm not positive that I can duplicate the results, but I shall nevertheless attempt to record the recipe for posterity.

1 small (1.5 to 2 lb) beef arm roast
1/2 of a medium sized onion, chopped, quartered, or sliced
1 can cream of celery soup
3/4 cup white wine (I used pinot grigio, simply because that's what was on hand)
1 can sliced mushrooms, drained
celery salt
garlic powder

1) Prepare your medium-sized oval slow-cooker by spraying with cooking spray.
2) Chop, slice, or quarter onions. (I recommend chopping, but you may prefer larger pieces.) Place onions in bottom of slow cooker.
3) Prepare roast by sprinkling generously on both sides with salt, pepper, celery salt, and garlic powder.
4) Place seasoned roast on top of onions.
5) Pour cream of celery and wine over roast. Top with mushrooms.
6) Cook on HIGH for about 4 hours, or until done. (As always, this may take longer with an older slow-cooker.)

Note: Serve the roast with the sauce on the side so that diners can add the preferred amount. This recipe should produce far more mushroom sauce than will be needed for serving with the meat. Use the additional sauce by pouring over white or brown rice, or over buttered noodles.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Harry Potter Prediction #1

(WARNING: SPOILER ALERTS. Do NOT read this post if you have not read all six books in the Harry Potter series.)

July 20 is a very important day for me this summer: at my university, it's the deadline for submitting one's dissertation to the graduate school in time for graduation this summer.

But the day after that, July 21, is a day that will go down in history, at least in the personal histories of Potteraphiles. It's the day that the seventh and final volume of the Harry Potter series will appear. (And yes, we've already ordered our copy, thank you very much, although we have not yet figured out how best to share it.)

In preparation for the release of the final Harry Potter book, I've been rereading the series. I've even branched out: no longer content with reading Harry Potter books, I'm now reading Mugglenet speculations about the series. And, in order to savor this time of anticipation all the more, I've decided to start a blog series of my own predictions as to what may happen in Book Seven. I've decided to start with one an issue that's been the subject of much controversy since the publication of Half Blood Prince: the fate of Dumbledore.




My prediction: Dumbledore will return!

When I first scoured the pages of, I became convinced that maybe, just maybe, Dumbledore was alive, thanks to Snape's "double-dealing." Like many Potter fans, I want to believe that Snape is good, not evil. I want to think that his apparent murder of Dumbledore was something else; perhaps a pre-arranged escape plan.

Now, since starting to read What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7, I have my doubts. Maybe Dumbledore really is dead. But. . . I still think he's going to return. Why? Because his Patronus is a phoenix. And does a phoenix do? It dies, and rises again from ashes. I don't know how or why Dumbledore will return -maybe it will be in a slightly different form- but I predict that Dumbledore is going to pull a Gandalf/ Obi Wan and come back more powerful than ever. He may reappear only for a brief time, in order to say good-bye and possibly help Harry out in a dark moment. But I think we'll see him again.

If I'm right, it'll be something of a disappointment. I'm sure I'll be happy if I'm right, but I'll also be sad if Rowling plays the "wizard dies only to return" card. The resurrected leader is a powerful myth, but not every story needs a Christ-figure. Certainly not every fantasy needs a Christ-figure Wizard. Say what you will about the strength of archetypes, there gets to be a point at which a cliche is just that.

In a way, then, if Dumbledore truly is dead and he doesn't come back in some form, Rowling will have made (artistically) the right decision. But if she's not going to bring back Dumbledore, why kill him off in the first place? Was it really necessary? Some people have argued that Dumbledore needed to die to allow Harry to act as an adult. That's possible, but it seems a little drastic. Most children do manage to grow up into independent adults without needing to have their parents killed off. If my prediction is wrong, and Dumbledore makes no return appearance a a living being, ghost, spirit, or Patronus, then I'll have to reconsider this issue of whether he needed to die.

In the meantime, I'm sticking to my story: I think Dumbledore will be back in book seven.