Fools, Liars, Cheaters and Other Bible Heroes, by Barbara Hosbach

Straw hats

Barbara Hosbach invites the reader to come away to a place of quiet refreshment in the company of often overlooked biblical heroes. Taken as a whole, Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes, outlines a self-directed retreat or a series of twenty-eight daily meditations. The author sets the stage for each meditation with a substantial biblical quotation. She then expands on the scriptures looking for the untold story behind the often brief description of the featured character.  The author then carefully illustrates each character’s impact and applies the lessons learned to modern life. Each chapter concludes with four to six questions that assist the reader to effectively internalize the biblical teaching.

What impressed me most about this book was the way that Barbara, a retreat and workshop facilitator makes personal contact with her readers in each meditation installment. I could almost smell the coffee as Barbara figuratively sat across from me to share her own quiet reflections on biblical bit-players reminiscent of ordinary people we meet every day. She brings the fools, liars, cheaters to life, including an Old Testament helicopter mom, the wallflower who got the last laugh; the prostitute and several other “aliens” hiding in the family tree of King David and Jesus. She introduced me to the original, “Ms. Understood” and encouraged me through her account of the woman who marked her household with the Red Cord, declaring her allegiance to the One God.

Among the other heroes, Barbara ranks the disabled, doubters, a pampered beauty queen, home bodies, the rich, the poor, the arrogant, the humble, prophets, orphans, widows, worriers, outcasts, silent partners and a secret admirers of Jesus. One after another the heroes share the spotlight. Barbara recounts biblical themes that could have come from today’s tabloids–marital infidelity, the role of women in society, women in the military, espionage and psychological warfare. The impact of heroic deeds by these seemingly minor characters, form the matrix that binds together the greater biblical message.

For example, Anna the prophet and widow, age eighty-four, “never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” She lived to see the Messiah her dream realized when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the Temple of Jerusalem. Barbara shares her thoughts on this brief description, noting Anna’s youthful widowhood and long but solitary life. Barbara asks, did Anna choose to fast or was that the effect of her economic limitations? Barbara prompts me to consider the lives of local elders who frequent daily Eucharist. They were once newly-weds, but now live alone, taking consolation in the liturgy and church community. One of Barbara’s end-of-chapter questions asks if I (or you) or any of my friends have ever experienced a similar, abrupt change in circumstances, and “What opportunities for spiritual growth were present in those times?”  Life springs “opportunities” upon us all the time, if we see tragedies as such. Barbara reminds us to trust in God. God’s grace provides guidance. She also reminds us that God selects the weak and the improbable because God sees things differently than humans do. I feel good about that.

Clearly, I will re-read Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes on a regular basis as part of a program of spiritual enrichment. The good news is that there are many more characters waiting in the wings for inclusion in one of Barbara Hosbach’s future books.

If you want a sneak peak at Barbara’s stories, go to http://www.biblemeditations.net/

Hosbach, Barbara. Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes. Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media. 2012.

(Photo and review, © 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Bilbo’s Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of The Hobbit, by Joseph Pearce

Pearce and Tolkien believed that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were fundamentally religious and Catholic works. Apparently critics had either missed or resented this interpretation. Pearce paraphrased Tolkien in suggesting that the real reason for critical prejudice against Tolkien’s and similar works had grown out of a particular hostility toward Christianity.

The failure to see and understand the hidden meaning of Tolkien’s works, parallels an episode within the pages of The Hobbit where the company of dwarfs and even Gandalf could not see, let alone interpret directions on an ancient map. Elrond did see, understand and read that hidden message because he viewed it on a midsummer’s eve under a crescent moon. These were the same conditions in effect when the message was first inscribed. Similarly, to fully grasp the hidden meaning of The Hobbit, the tale must be read with Catholic eyes.

Who better to uncover the hidden meaning of The Hobbit than  noted Catholic author Joseph Pearce, who wrote biographies of J. R. R. Tolkien and two of the major influences in Tolkien’s intellectual and literary development–Hilarie Belloc and G. K. Chesterton. To further support his assertions Pearce delved into many of the sources used by Tolkien in writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings allowing him to share Tolkien’s perspective.

Pearce opened his arguments with this statement:

Apart from the story’s status as a Christian bildungsroman, charting Bilbo’s rite of passage from ignorance to wisdom and from bourgeois vice to heroic virtue, The Hobbit parallels The Lord of the Rings in the mystical suggestiveness of its treatment of Divine Providence, and serves as a moral commentary on the words of Christ that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). In these three aspects, it can be truly said of The Hobbit, as Tolkien said of The Lord of the Rings, that it is “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.”

Critics faulted The Hobbit for “the continued presence of biased fortune” or incredibly good luck whenever needed. In response Pearce explained that Divine Providence aided those who opened themselves to the influence of Grace, particularly by a show of mercy even to their enemies. Pearce turned the tables on those critics, blind to Grace, who faulted The Hobbit for the excessive influence of “luck,” but who in their own turn explained the  “enormity and complexity of the cosmos” as the effect of “chance alone.”

Dragon Sickness, a recurring theme evoked the image of the avaricious and arrogant Smaug the Terrible buried in a pile of stolen dwarf treasure, but its symptoms included Bilbo’s clinging to the comfort of his Hobbit hole and eventually “The Ring.” Pearce reminded his readers of Tolkien’s description of Elrond’s virtuous disposition and that he did “not altogether approve of dwarves and their love of gold.” Pearce warned against modern contamination with Dragon Sickness as applied to the human tendency toward “bourgeois vice” whereby individuals clung to life within a “comfort zone.”

Gandalf’s apparent abandonment of the company of dwarves brought about Bilbo’s coming of age as adversity prompted ethical decisions and the flow of Grace allowed the Hobbit to grow beyond his comfort zone to realize his true capabilities. In the end Bilbo profited from the adventure, despite his personal suffering and loss.

Through Bilbo’s Journey Pearce offered his readers a spiritual commentary as well as a literary guide to Tolkien’s work. Bilbo’s Journey, a storehouse of topics worthy of spiritual reflection deserves multiple readings that offer both inner peace and a more complete understanding the Catholic roots of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

Pearce, Joseph. Bilbo’s Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of The Hobbit. Charlotte, NC: Saint Benedict Press. 2012.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Greater Treasures, by Karina Fabian

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From the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty the words of Emma Lazarus proclaim:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Despite Emma’s offer of a warm embrace, should we welcome winged reptiles or instead tell them: “Dragons need not apply.” Prejudice fanned by legend and literature strongly suggests we urge each to, “Go back to where you came from,” in this case, across The Interdimensional Gap. Perhaps we might exhibit some in the zoo or tolerate them at Halloween, but otherwise, let them be gone.

Karina Fabian, author of Greater Treasures, begs her readers to mitigate any prejudice toward dragons by face to fang (or flame) contact with Vern, a grouchy PI, hired to uncover a relic of the past. Recite the words “dragon” and “treasure” in the same sentence and visions of the massive and greedy Smaug the Terrible emerge. Vern isn’t like Smaug …anymore. It’s his clients who seek a treasure, launching a quest reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

An attack on Vern’s partner in crime-solving, Sister Grace, leaves the dragon detective concerned, vulnerable and overworked. His “friends” in law-enforcement share only suspicion, ingratitude and condescension. His clients excel at duplicity, hypocrisy and extortion. Although capable of devastating retribution Vern struggles for inner peace as frustration and interference grind at his resolve. Weariness, pains in his wings, and grief abound but Vern can’t just stop, there’s too much at stake.

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Vern won me over, not just because of his uncanny perception, his intellect tempered by wisdom, his piety, his understated humor, but mostly his demonstration that “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He willingly risks his life, even to the point of shedding his blood for those who really matter.

Greater Treasures delivers a spiritual message. As Vern struggles to carry his special burden without seeking retribution we witness his mercy and his own tolerance. Vern’s goodness convincingly argues against any prejudice toward dragons, lifts the reader’s heart from the mire of preconceived bias, encourages tolerance of all other works of God’s creative hand, especially the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of teeming foreign shores, the homeless and all others in need.

(Photo and review: © 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

The DNA Connection: Tannenhauser’s Theory, by Joan L. Kelley

High schools and school systems that promote curriculum integration must consider Joan L. Kelly’s The DNA Connection: Tannenhauser’s Theory. The author has stirred genetics, technology, high-powered research, American history, art, social justice and ethics into the flow of this “timely” action-adventure thriller.

A quick look at the book cover disclosed that a field trip for honors science students turned into an adventure in time travel. The author credibly explained the theory of time travel with quotes from Albert Einstein and then inserted Tannenhauser’s Theory which uniquely directed the path followed by each traveler. Kelly’s characters grappled with the ethical dilemma of the modern tendency to push scientific exploration beyond the range of current human wisdom.

Kelly introduced her many vibrant characters with such clarity that this reader easily followed each from the beginning of the book through all their travels. A critique group composed of teens and pre-teens helped Kelly as she shaped her diverse, authentically representative and realistic travelers.

Kelly grabbed this reader’s attention especially when she stranded her travelers in grim circumstances of the past. These sometimes painful encounters turned the facts of history into lived experiences, often with considerable emotional impact. Readers, young and old can never forget these historical events and persons once they have encountered them face to face.

Kelly affirmed the maturity and generosity of her gifted characters. They each learned about themselves, applied their talents to unfamiliar circumstances and opened dialogue with characters in the past in ways that affected their own survival and future prospects. Above all Kelly’s honor students learned to appreciate their ancestry.

Each character and story line was so rich in potential that Kelly could spin-off a dozen novels based on this book. She never relented from teasing the reader as she clearly set up a sequel with the last paragraphs of the book. Who knows what she’ll devise next? Let’s hope it happens soon.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Kelly, Joan L. The DNA Connection: Tannenhauser’s Theory. Bezalel Books: Materford, MI, 2013.