In Praise of Boredom

By James K.A. Smith, IMAGE

The long human grind of mere survival, still a daily reality in too many places, has always threatened to consume any time or energy for play. Plato’s philosopher-kings banish poetry from the city, while consumerism’s corporate-kings are more sly, turning every endeavor into a commodity. Fascists shut down the theater while the gods of stem shut down the music program.

But human longing has always managed to overcome such threats in order to make art that limns the beyond. Somehow our ancient forbears, exhausted by hunting and gathering, made time to create the ancient beauty that adorns the walls of caves in Lascaux. A Hebrew shepherd, and the poor of Appalachia, made stringed instruments sing. Those oppressed by slavery bequeathed to us jazz and the blues. We don’t deserve A Love Supreme. Out of the unspeakable horrors of the Shoah, Night appeared.

Every work of art that is true or beautiful is, one might say, a pièce de résistance, telling the truth about how the world really is and offering us a portal to what we’re called to be. Such art resists lies, apathy, and all the forces that would diminish us to mere consumers or enemies or copulating pieces of meat. Such imaginative works are at once disconcerting and enticing. They remind us that we’re not as good as we think we are, and they call us to so much more than this. As in Terrence Malick’s Thin Red Line, a dappled light finds its way through the cathedral of palms while war rages below, making us look up and wonder. And hope.

To read the entire essay, click HERE.

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The History of Hot Sauce in America

By Matt Gross

Illustration by Jeremy Nguyen

Once upon a time, in 1830s New York City, a woman named Jane McCollick noticed a barefoot 11-year-old selling newspapers at Washington Market. McCollick had an idea for the “plucky young waif”: He should offer to clean up the meat scraps from the butchers and sell them to Indians in Hoboken. The kid, whose name was Seaman Lichtenstein, took her up on it and made one dollar the first day. He soon became McCollick’s ward, boarding with her, studying at night school, teaching her the bookkeeping tricks he learned, and eventually investing $600 in her food business.

With Lichtenstein as a partner, J. McCollick & Co. grew to become a manufacturer of—as one 1860 newspaper ad put it—“Pickles, Preserves, Sauces, Jellies, Jams, Catsups, Syrups &c.” Among those sauces was a hot sauce, technically a “bird pepper” sauce, likely made from chiltepins and sold in a hexagonal glass bottle. This wasn’t just any sauce, though—it’s the one of the oldest commercial hot sauces in America, and probably the oldest for which bottles (empty, sadly) still exist.

Today, this country is awash in hot sauce. From sea to shining sea, fiery condiments crown our every meal, transforming workaday eggs, chicken wings, and noodle dishes into incendiary delights. It seems like there’s always a new hot sauce debuting at a farmers’ market or Whole Foods, made from famous or obscure chili peppers. Those racks and racks of bottles fuel an industry that’s currently valued at $1.5 billion—and growing fast.

It was not, however, always this way. Cast your palate back just over a decade, and Sriracha, the so-called “rooster sauce” from California-based Huy Fong Foods, was still a niche player. Go back another decade or so, and you might not have tried anything fancier than Tabasco. In fact, the whole history of hot sauce in the United States isn’t much more than 200 years old—which is kind of odd, considering that people have been eating chili peppers for thousands of years. Here’s how it all went down.

To read entire article, click HERE

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Celebrating the first Native American congresswomen

Candidates Deb Haaland, New Mexico, and Sharice Davids, Kansas. (Twitter photo)

CNN – The first two Native American women elected to Congress hugged on the House floor Thursday after being officially sworn in. Democratic Reps. Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas shared the tender moment just before new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House to order to congratulate all the new members of Congress. Haaland appeared to wipe away tears.

Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, and several of her guests wore traditional dress to the swearing-in. “New Mexicans are in the house, the US House that is,” she tweeted Thursday with pictures of her guests. “I believe that Native women are seeing positive role models in the wins that happened this year. I will keep supporting them.” Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, also makes history as the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress to represent Kansas.

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Sister Wendy Beckett, BBC Art Star, Dies at 88

Sister Wendy Beckett in 1997. She soared to international stardom with her BBC documentaries on the history of art. Credit Librado Romero/The New York Times

By Robert D. McFadden•       Dec. 26, 201

Sister Wendy Beckett, a Roman Catholic nun who interrupted a cloistered life of prayer in England in 1991 and soared to international stardom with lyrical BBC documentaries that made her one of the most improbable art critics in television history, died on Wednesday in the village of East Harling, England. She was 88.

Her death was confirmed by the Carmelite Monastery in Quidenham, England, where she had lived in a trailer for decades, though not as a member of the Carmelite order.

Bending backward in her black habit in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, gazing up through large eyeglasses at Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” Sister Wendy spoke with a storyteller’s wonder at the solemn, sensuous moment on the ceiling as two fingertips near the touch that begat the creation of life.

“Adam’s sprawled there in his naked male glory, but he’s not alive,” she told viewers in 1996. “All he can do is lift up a flaccid finger, and out of the clouds whirls down the God of Power. In his great flying cloak there’s a world. Whether that’s Eve or not, there’s a human face there looking straight at Adam with the eyes daring him to respond to the challenge. And God’s finger touches that of Man.”

It was a magical moment of television, too. Sister Wendy was small and stooped, with a plain face, buck teeth and a slight speech impediment that rendered R’s as W’s. But her insightful, unscripted commentaries — a blend of history, criticism and observations on Leonardo da Vinci, van Gogh, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Monet and other Western masters — connected emotionally with millions in Britain and America.

By 1997, as she marked 50 years as a nun, the Oxford-educated Sister Wendy had made three television series, the most successful BBC arts programs since “Civilisation,” the art historian Kenneth Clark’s landmark 1969 documentaries. She had also written 15 books on art and religion, and was a celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic, featured in articles and mobbed by fans.

For all her success, she remained a nun with commitments to prayer, solitude (when possible) and vows of poverty. She assigned all her earnings to a Carmelite order that had sheltered her for decades, and she attended Mass daily, even when traveling.

Until she was 61, she had been a model of worldly renunciation: a hermit living in a windowless trailer on the grounds of the Carmelite Monastery in East Anglia, subsisting mainly on skim milk and rarely speaking to anyone. She prayed seven hours a day and went out only to morning Mass or to a mobile library van for books.

She was ambivalent about celebrity. She liked “wonderful sweet people” who thanked her for helping them understand paintings, she told The New York Times in 1997. But, she added: “Nothing is more humiliating than being on television. You make such a fool of yourself.”

Some art critics agreed, calling her amateurish. But audiences were captivated by her richly human tales, which brought art to life. At the British Museum, standing beside a Greek wine jar painted 2,500 years ago, she embroidered the portrayal of Achilles slaying Penthesilea, the Amazon queen, at the fall of Troy.

“As he drove his spear through her throat,” she said, “their eyes met, and he saw how young she was and how lovely and brave. He fell in love — but he killed her.”

Sister Wendy eventually wrote some 25 books, including collections of poetry and meditations, and made a dozen documentaries, many released on DVD. She always returned to the austere seclusion that was her home for nearly a half-century, although her trailer was upgraded in 1994.

“The sisters worried about the lack of insulation, so they put up a small mobile home, which has a lavatory, bathroom and light fittings,” she told The Telegraph of London in 2010. “I have an electric kettle, fridge, warming oven and night storage heater, so my life is as comfortable as it needs to be.”

To read entire New York Times obit, click HERE

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Loss and hope at Advent

President George H.W. Bush and his daughter Dorothy at Camp David in 1991. Photo courtesy of the George Bush Presidential Library.

“Growing up, Christmas was about tamales, guacamole, caroling, and cousin skits,” writes Jenna Bush Hager in Southern Living, a magazine where she serves as editor at large in addition to her work on The Today Show. “But mostly, it was all about family, and it centered around our grandparents, our North Stars.”

Hager’s fond memories of a Tex-Mex-infused holiday is not surprising since she was raised in The Lone Star State. She is one of the daughters of President George W. (43) and Laura Bush and the granddaughter of the recently deceased President George H.W. (41) and Barbara Bush – the North Stars.

For most of us, this is the time of year we focus on family, food, and our faith. As stressful as the Christmas season can be (and it usually is), in its finest moments it is supposed to be a joyous time of gift-giving, carol-singing, and spending time with rarely-seen relatives.

Uniquely, George H.W. and Barbara Bush celebrated every Christmas for 38 years with the Secret Service. Some of the memorable stories during President Bush’s recent funeral at the beginning of Advent was from retired agents who testified to the President’s compassion, humility, and kindness. Even as the leader of the free world, those around him said that he was always thinking about others and their families. Continue reading

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Darlene Love: My 5 Favorite Christmas Songs

Larry Marano/REX/Shutterstock

By Andy Greene, Rolling Stone

The powerful voice behind the 1963 “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on the holiday classics she loves to sing most. Over the years the song became a holiday classic, helped in no small part by David Letterman bringing Love onto his show to sing it every Christmas for three decades.

The song has been a centerpiece of Darlene Love’s annual Christmas show for years. But all throughout this month she’ll be on the road singing her favorite Christmas songs along with her classic hits like “He’s a Rebel,” “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry” and “Wait ‘til My Bobby Gets Home.” As she geared up to hit the road, Love called up Rolling Stone to talk about her five favorite Christmas songs.

  1. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
    This is a big choir song we used to do in my father’s church. It’s all about spreading the news about Christ being born.
  2. “Joy to the World”
    “Joy to the World” is one of those kind of songs you can really make it gospel rather than a standard sing-along song.
  3. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
    This is one of my favorite songs, since it’s all about our Christian beliefs and where Christ was born. I would say it was probably a cold winter night, although they say in the song it’s bright and it’s clear and the stars are shining bright. And then there is one particular star in the sky that’s shining brighter than any other light and it’s over where Jesus Christ was being born in Bethlehem.
  4. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
    I will always have to include this song in my show. It’s one of my favorite songs and it really has become a traditional Christmas song now.
  5. “Silent Night”
    I’ve been singing this my whole life, but many years ago, I saw Barbra Streisand sing it in Central Park in the summer. I went “Wow, I’ve never thought about this song like this. You can sing the song any time of the year ’cause you’re just talking about a silent, white, holy night and that can be any night.”
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George H.W. Bush’s Texas Education


By Jon Meacham

In the summer of 1948, George H. W. Bush loaded his car in distant Connecticut and headed to the Lone Star State, a move that would shape the man and launch the future president’s political career:

“Within a week of arriving in Odessa, Bush rented half of a duplex on unpaved East Seventh Street and sent for Barbara and the baby. The apartments were connected by a common bathroom. On Chapel and Edwards Streets in New Haven, the Bushes had shared a bath before, but the similarities between Yale and Odessa ended there, as Barbara discovered when she and Georgie got off the plane from New York after a twelve-hour trip. They were stepping into what she called “a whole new and very hot world.”

Back home in Rye, New York, Barbara’s mother, Pauline Pierce, was puzzled by the whole business. “Who had ever heard of Odessa, Texas?” Barbara wrote of Mrs. Pierce’s reaction to the move. “She sent me cold cream, soap, and other items she assumed were available only in civilized parts of the country. She did not put Odessa in that category.” The Bushes’ fellow renters next door, a thirty-eight-year-old mother and her twenty-year-old daughter, were prostitutes whose callers often locked the Bushes out of the bathroom.

To read the entire article in Garden and Gun, click HERE.

Selection adapted from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jon Meacham’s book, Destiny and Power. The biography chronicles the life of the forty-first president and the forces that shaped his character.

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Finding Gratitude When Paradise is Lost

Bus driver Kevin McKay and fourth-grader Charlotte Merz. Photo by CNN Newsource.

By Steve Beard

As families and friends gather on Thanksgiving to watch football, meticulously avoid politics, and feast on holiday favorites, the day will be starkly different for the first responders and fire victims in California. Accounting for dozens of deaths, nearly 250,000 acres in Northern and Southern California have been scorched.

More than 11,700 family homes have been turned to ashes.

Thanksgiving meals for the exhausted fire fighters and devastated victims (many are the same) will be shared using plastic utensils and paper plates on makeshift tables and folding chairs. Many are living in tents in the Walmart parking lot in Chino– 15 miles from ground-zero of the devastation, the town of Paradise.

Continue reading

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Hopes and Dreams (This Train)

By Bruce Springsteen

Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

This train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls

I said, this train dreams will not be thwarted
This train faith will be rewarded
This train hear the steel wheels singin’
This train bells of freedom ringin’

This train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls

I said, this train carries broken-hearted
This train thieves and sweet souls departed
This train carries fools and kings
This train, all aboard


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St. Augustine on the love of God

St. Augustine statue at St. Augustine Catholic Church (est. 1854) near Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.

When he poses the question, “What do I love when I love my God?” St. Augustine responded:

“Not the beauty of any bodily thing, nor the order of seasons, not the brightness of light that rejoices the eye, nor the sweet melodies of all songs, nor the sweet fragrance of flowers and ointments and spices: not manna nor honey, not the limbs that carnal love embraces. None of these things do I love in loving my God.

“Yet in a sense I do love light and melody and fragrance and food and embrace when I love my God–the light and the voice and the fragrance and the food and embrace in the soul, when that light shines upon my soul which no place can contain, that voice sounds which no time can take from me, I breathe that fragrance which no wind scatters, I eat the food which is not lessened by eating, and I lie in the embrace which satiety never comes to sunder. This it is that I love, when I love my God.”

— Translated by F.J. Sheed, Confessions (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2006), 193.

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