Frustration-free proof-reading

Proofreading is hard. Really hard. Have you ever noticed how you can wash a paintbrush forever and the paint keeps coming? Texts and typos are like that: proof and proof and proof your text, and mistakes keep pouring out.

Well, I have discovered a master secret for proofreading: text-to-speech software. The human eye is too smart, often filling in what “should” be there and so glossing past a mistake. Computers are mercilessly dumb. Whatever you have printed, they just read it, and if it’s a typo then it will sound strange.

Any time I write an important letter, a blog post, or anything else that is (a) destined for scrutiny and (b) relatively short, I crank it through my text-to-speech software. I use Natural Reader, but there are great free options as well.

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The universal call to theology?

Today a friend asked me about the distinction between philosophy and theology. In the course of responding, I said what I have said before on this blog, namely that theology is what happens when faith gets to follow its own impulses. He then asked me, reasonably enough, whether it is not important to distinguish between faith and theology.

Yes, I said, of course it is: you can’t be saved without faith, but you can be saved without “doing theology.” Similarly, everyone is capable of faith, but not everyone is capable of becoming a theologian.

But one must be careful about drawing these lines too sharply. Trying to distinguish between theology and faith is a lot like trying to distinguish between the religious life and the universal call to holiness: Continue reading “The universal call to theology?”

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Thomas Aquinas, Batman, and the Brutality of Grace

Around the turn of the year, I asked myself:  If my circumstances were to change dramatically—if I suddenly lived somewhere else and did something else—what would I regret not having done with my time here in Lander, Wyoming?  The first thing that came to me was:

Not having spent time with irreplaceable friends.

So it was that yesterday I had lunch with Joseph Susanka.  We were roommates in college for four years, we talked each other through the ups and downs of courtship, and we have now worked at the same place for seven or eight years, and yet we hardly ever see each other.  How dumb is that?  Shortly after the new year, we agreed to get together every second Thursday for lunch and a conversation.

Topics are all over the place.  Combining a classical education at Thomas Aquinas College with two years of film school in Los Angeles, Joseph loves movies and all the fundamental elements of film:  photography, music, and story—and when you think about it, that’s a huge umbrella.  His online movie reviews have acquired something of a following.

Last year, Joseph was invited to give a talk in Gallup, New Mexico about movies, and in a single, tightly-structured lecture he covered:

  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Joan of Arc
  • The Batman trilogy
  • “No Country for Old Men”

It’s a penetrating piece with many implications.  I highly encourage both of my readers to to check out in general and “The Brutality of Grace” in particular.

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Children en Mass

As a 6th grade CCD teacher, I found myself yesterday afternoon at a Children’s Mass. My reactions to Masses geared toward children typically range from fatheaded (“Never!”) to broadminded (“Fine as long as I’m not around”). About half an hour into his homily Father warned the kids not to go to the bathroom during the canon of the Mass, and my 11-year-old son leaned over to whisper, “If we ever get to that part!” Kids and keepers alike began to unravel.

But lo and behold! We did get to the canon, and as the solemn tones of that august prayer rolled over the pews the seething mass of kinderfolk settled into an uncharacteristic moment of focus. Like a vision, awareness suddenly gripped me of the baptismal character at work in each tiny head. Continue reading “Children en Mass”

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From a father’s heart

The other night, I lay beside Matthew as he was “sleep training.” This means that he stood up in bed and fussed and chewed on my arm while I lay on the big bed next to his. I could just about make out what he was saying, in his 9-month-old way: “You’re RIGHT THERE and you KNOW what my problem is! Why can’t you just FIX IT?! What’s the PROBLEM?!”

But I ignored him, because he needs to learn how to lay down and go back to sleep by himself. I told him he was OK and that I loved him. After a while he slumped onto his bed, muttering to himself, and soon he fell asleep.

I hate doing that to him. I lay awake long after he was asleep, taking these quiet moments to talk with God. “Why have things been so HARD lately?” I asked him. “No one else can see inside me, but you know EXACTLY how worn out I have been! If Matthew could just sleep, so much would be better—and you could do it EASILY! Why won’t you just FIX IT?!”

But after a while I just slumped back onto my pillow. I could feel God’s presence, as though he were assuring me that he was right there and that he loved me. “God, I don’t know what’s going on,” I said, “but I give all of this back to you as a gift—and I’ll give you back anything else you send me. Thank you for letting me give something to you.”

And soon I fell asleep.

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All that is gold does not glitter

Last night I read a reflection written by my father two or three years ago. Every culture, he said, seems to have a legend about a “golden age” when things were better and people more virtuous and the goods of this life more abundant. Along the same lines, most people have their own picture of “back when things were better,” usually drawn from the misty memories of childhood. Some spend their lives trying to recreate that golden time—but it’s a mistake. That was Eden, and the way back stands barred by a seraph with a flaming sword.

I feel the pull. There was a period when I was a boy that seems now like a lost paradise, and there was a period early in my marriage that in retrospect seems calm and enviable. Recent years have been hard: bad health, strife at work, a difficult baby, my wife exhausted—sometimes I have felt that it just couldn’t go on.

But I realized even as I read my father’s note that this, right now, is my Eden. My wife and I enjoy a kind of deep friendship only possible after trials have worn away the sharp corners of selfishness. I have an easy, natural friendship with my oldest two children, a friendship that promises to be life-long. My younger kids are too young for real friendship but they are neat people and just beginning to show their future selves. My baby is soooo attached to his Papa that I can hardly leave the room without a scene. My colleague next door at the office is a true friend, someone who calls me up when I’m depressed and forces me out of my self-imposed isolation. Never in my life have I enjoyed such a cornucopia of different kinds of friendship—and not just any friendships, but the ones that will seem meaningful at death’s door.

Friendships and hardships together have brought me closer to Christ than at any point previous. I know firsthand what St. Francis meant about “Sister Death,” and why the cross is the most beautiful object in the world. I know by experience that we only find ourselves in a sincere gift of self. This, this now, is what I have wanted from life.

At first, just glancing from far away, in my present sorrows I see a flaming sword between me and Eden, but that’s a trick of perspective. Close up, I see a pillar of fire leading the way to the promised land.

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