More Thomas Merton

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.
— Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

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Highlights from Loaves and Fishes by Dorothy Day

Loaves and Fishes by Dorothy DayPublished: 1963

   “First of all,” Peter used to say, “one must give up one’s life to save it. Voluntary poverty is essential. To live poor, to start poor, to make beginnings even with meager means at hand, this is to get the ‘green revolution’ under way.
   “St. Francis of Assisi thought that to choose to be poor is just as good as marrying the most beautiful girl in the world. Most of us seem to think that Lady Poverty is an ugly girl and not the beautiful girl St. Francis says she is. And because we think so, we let the politicians feed the poor by going around like pickpockets, robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
(the Peter that Day is quoting here is Peter Maurin.)
— page 48

   It never ceased to grieve me how quickly men could lose their dignity when they were down-and-out in this way. As members of a group, as union men on strike, they could endure poverty and privation. But to be forced to go on a breadline or to go to a mission for the bare necessities made them feel completely degraded.
— page 63, 64

   Poverty is a strange and elusive thing. I have tried to write about it, its joys and sorrows, for thirty years now; and I could probably write about it for another thirty without conveying what I feel about it as well as I would like. I condemn poverty and I advocate it; poverty is simple and complex at once; it is a social phenomenon and a personal matter. Poverty is an elusive thing, and a paradoxical one.
— page 71

   Yes, the poor will always be with us – Our Lord told us that – and there will always be a need for our sharing, for stripping ourselves to help others. It is – and always will be – a lifetime job. But I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor. The class struggle is of our making and by our consent, not His, and we must do what we can to change it. This is why we at the Worker urge such measures as credit unions and cooperatives, leagues for mutual aid, voluntary land reforms and farming communes.
— page 74

   This and other facts seem to me to point more strongly than ever to the importance of voluntary poverty today. At least we can avoid being comfortable through the exploitation of others. And at least we can avoid physical wealth as the result of a war economy. There may be ever-improving standards of living in the United States, with every worker eventually owning his own home and driving his own car; but the whole modern economy is based on preparation for war, and this surely is one of the great arguments for poverty in our time. If the comfort one achieves results in the death of millions in the future, then that comfort shall be duly paid for. Indeed, to be literal, contributing to the war (misnamed “defense”) effort is very difficult to avoid.
— page 86

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Thomas Merton

The humble man receives praise the way a clean window takes the light of the sun. The truer and more intense the light is, the less you see of the glass.
— Thomas Merton

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The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci, read by the author

Sports Audiobook - The Cubs Way by Tom VerducciThe Cubs Way by Tom Verducci
Read by Tom Verducci
13 hours [UNABRIDGED]

I started following the Cubs a season before wunderkind Kris Bryant took the field (2015), so I am not what you’d call a long suffering fan, but I sure enjoyed the 2016 season. The World Series was best thing to happen in 2016 for certain.

This book is an account of how the Cubs were built. The players, the coaches, the front office – how was the team put together, piece by piece. That was all interesting, but the most valuable thing I got out of the book was a look at the philosophies of Theo Epstein (the Cubs’ President of Operations) and Joe Maddon (the Cub’s Manager). As I walked the dog listening to Joe Maddon’s 13 Core Principles of Management I, as a close follower of the team, could not only see how his philosophy directly impacted the Cubs, but I could also see the application of much of what he said in my own job. The same with much of what Epstein had to say about building a team.

Tom Verducci both wrote and read this book, and he’s an excellent narrator. His account of Game 7 near the end of the book had me as glued as I was on November 2, 2016. What a game that was. And what a team this is. Highly recommended, I enjoyed it a great deal.

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Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger

History - Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey KlugerApollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger

A lot of things didn’t go well in 1968. Senior Time Magazine writer Jeffrey Kluger (author of Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13) gives us the story of one of the things that did: NASA’s Apollo 8 mission in December of that year.

Astronaut Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13 and the focus of Kluger’s Lost Moon, is one of the crew of Apollo 8, but the person Kluger spends the most time with in this book is this mission’s commander, Frank Borman. When the Apollo program was struggling, especially after the Apollo 1 accident that claimed the lives of Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee, Borman spent a lot of time on the Apollo capsule factory floor representing the astronauts. He was so good at the job that he nearly lost his place as an astronaut due to extreme competence.

As the Apollo program fell behind the schedule set with President Kennedy’s “before the decade is out” challenge, and with Russia making giant strides, a decision was made that changed everything – instead of executing the cautious plans currently in the schedule for Apollo 8, why not make a bold leap forward and make Apollo 8 a lunar orbital mission, thus accelerating the schedule? Kluger details the preparation over the following 16 weeks that led to the mission, which became the first manned mission to the Moon.

Without the successful Apollo 8 mission, containing and achieving the goals set for it by the launch date, Apollo 11 would not have been the Apollo that landed on the Moon. How that would have changed things is fodder for authors of alternate history.

Two remarkable things about the Apollo 8 mission:

First, it is where the famous “Earthrise” NASA photograph comes from. Borman, Lovell, and Anders were the first people ever to be far enough away from Earth to see it as a globe. All previous missions achieved orbit around Earth or less. In other words, all the astronauts to this point could look “down” and see the Earth beneath their feet at all times. Apollo 8 was the first mission for which that was not true.

    …Now, however, Borman, Lovell, and Anders could see the planet floating alone, unsupported, in space. The Earth was no longer the soil beneath their feet or the horizon below their spacecraft. It was an almost complete disk of light suspended in front of them, a delicate Christmas tree ornament made of swirls of blue and white glass. It looked impossibly beautiful – and impossibly breakable.
    What Borman said aloud was: “What a view!”
    What Borman thought was: This must be what God sees.
    Then he collected himself. “We see the Earth now, almost as a disk,” he radioed down.

Earthrise, Apollo 8, NASA

Second, at one point on the way to the Moon, the Apollo 8 capsule stopped climbing uphill against Earth’s gravity and started falling toward the Moon due to the pull of the Moon’s gravity. Borman, Lovell, and Anders were the first people to be far enough away from Earth to experience that. The first people to be far enough away from the Earth for the Moon (or any other object) be the primary gravitational influence.

Both of those things are amazing to consider!

Jeffrey Kluger’s Apollo 8 is a crystal clear, well written history of this important event in the history of mankind’s exploration of space. It’s filled with details and he lingers just long enough to consider the implications of what was happening. It’s got a quick pace, it’s enjoyable, it’s moving.

According to a telegram Borman received after the Apollo 8 mission from a stranger: “Thank you, Apollo 8. You saved 1968.” The Moon was one thing, but saving 1968? That wasn’t a small feat, either.

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Sandkings by George R. R. Martin

Science Fiction Short Fiction - George R. R. Martin wrote some excellent science fiction stories back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. “Sandkings” is one of the most popular of those. It won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus Award for Best Novelette. This time I read “Sandkings” in Volume 1 of Martin’s big Dreamsongs collection.

I so thoroughly enjoyed A Game of Thrones, the first volume of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, that I eagerly read “Sandkings” the first time I came across it. I found the novelette to have the same clear, readable prose style as his novel. It also showcased Martin’s ability to build suspense. Another time through (my third?), I still think it’s excellent.

In the story, a man named Simon Kress lives on a planet somewhere (I’m fairly certain it’s not Earth, but I don’t recall it ever being specifically stated). He’s a rich man that is fond of exotic pets. He’s also a powerful man that is fond of his power. On a shopping trip to replace some of his pets that died after being neglected during an extended business trip, he purchases some sandkings – intelligent ant creatures that work with a collective hive mind. He puts them in a large terrarium, and he observes with delight as the creatures war with each other over resources.

Even more fascinating? The sandkings worship. Kress projects a hologram of his own face over the terrarium, and the creatures build shrines to him, etching his likeness on their small castles. When Kress gets bored, he shakes things up a bit by not feeding them. He manipulates them into fighting in every way he can think of. And things go badly.

The story is as much a commentary on the dangers of playing God (or the need some people have to do so) as it is a horror story about uncontrollable dangerous creatures. In fact, it completely succeeds at being both of those things, which is why I enjoy re-reading it so much. It’s a rich story that leaves me both unsettled and contemplative.

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