Sixteen Year Blogiversary

I was perusing my blog all the way back to the first post I’d ever posted, and noticed it was May 15, 2004. So while I missed it by two days, this is my 16th anniversary  of digital authorship! Will I continue? Sporadically, I’m sure. Does anyone read this? I don’t think so 🙂 Am I still drawn to writing? Yes 🙂

Blessings & Peace,
Hugo De La Rosa III

Cover to The Subtle Knife from Wikipedia Commons

Spoiler Alert! His Dark Materials

I’m currently sheltering at home and am lucky enough to work at a Catholic school where many of my work and ministry responsibilities can be done at home. One of the breaks I’m taking from normal work is to occasionally sift through 20 years of accumulated work emails, deleting where necessary, moving information off email when possible, and keeping only items that are absolutely necessary, to hopefully come out of this quarantine with both inbox zero and a lean, mean, archived emailing machine. (Of course, I must add that I generally keep a clean inbox, but I do tend to hoard digital files like a chipmunk preparing for winter!)

One of the older items (November 1, 2007 – almost 13 years ago!) was an email I sent to my then-administrator about the movie The Golden Compass (December 2007 release date) as, at the time, there was much social | media buzz about the books it was based on (His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman), especially concerning the anti-Christian slant of both writer and books. Our principal had sent out information to that effect, and this is my response (edited for clarity and for blog reading as opposed to email response), once again timely due to the BBC/HBO adaptation that came out last year (which I haven’t seen):

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS [ALERT] (just in case someone hasn’t read the books published 1995-2000, seen the movie from 2007, or seen the BBC/HBO adaption from last year)

The books come across as anti-religious, but they’re really more anti-authoritarian and anti-blindly-following-what-someone-else-is-telling-you. Pullman uses the imagery of the Catholic Church as the main antagonist, but it isn’t the Catholic Church of our world – it’s a church in another world; the religion it practices is part scientific, part religious. They have the trappings of our church (a pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, religious orders, etc.), but they’re more like scientists then religious experts (or perhaps it’s more correct to say they’re like religious experts in their world, but their faith is concerned with matters of physics, chemistry, technology, etc.).

The church in that world is corrupt with power, and they expect everyone to toe the line or there are pretty severe consequences (alluded to in the books, never explicitly mentioned), but in that it can mirror our own real world church at certain times in our history; it isn’t wrong in and of itself.

The story line is epic, taking place first in a world similar but different then our own, then taking place in our world, then taking place across multiple worlds. In the second and third books we find out that the creature worshiped in the main characters world is not God (our God) but an angel who has been masquerading as god since the beginning of human consciousness. In the third book that angel – named The Authority; now incredibly ancient and decrepit and barely handing on to life – has appointed other angels to continue the deception and to fight against a conglomeration of beings who want to overthrow it. Lyra and Will (the two main characters) find this angel encased in a crystal case – they open the case, and the angel “dies” in a shower of light.

In that sense, the two main characters “kill” “god”, but it isn’t the Creator that they kill (it’s the impostor angel, analogous to Lucifer for us), and they don’t really kill it, it just sort of gives up the will to live as it’s been alive and carrying on this deception for thousands of years, and it quite weary and tired.

There are other plots and subplots, and the main characters don’t always act in good ways (they break laws, for example, but it could be argued that these laws [church/canon laws that also double as civil laws] are unjust because they have been set up by an unjust authority and thus, in good conscience, must be fought against), and there is violence in the form of wars being fought in the third book and some skirmishes in the second book, but all in all there are still good themes:

  • redemption (in some of the secondary characters)
  • consequences of actions (seen in almost every character – when they act in morally ambiguous ways there are consequences they have to live with)
  • the goodness of creation (over and against a church that teaches that all matter is corrupt and sinful to an excessive degree)
  • the goodness of humanity (again, as opposed to a Zoroastrian or Gnostic view where matter is evil but spirit is good)
  • faith (in the community of friends and family, though never explicitly in God)
  • the ability of God to work through us even when we sin (not a theme the author would agree with, but I see it there)

I would say that the major themes of the book are very subtle and probably not picked up by younger children – for them, it’s an action-adventure-fantasy type of novel or movie. But for adults there are some very interesting themes to explore, especially in the book series. I would say that giving a blatant “don’t watch this movie” is excessive in my mind, but after reading the books and exploring them I think parents can make an informed choice about having their kids read or watch.

— End Original Email —

So that’s a view into my reading habits via a thirteen year old email – may God continue to move us to reading literature that can both challenge us and help us grow!

Blessings & Peace,
Hugo

Empty cardboard Church

Presence and Thanksgiving in the Time of COVID-19

My diocese, along with every other diocese in the United States, has halted the public celebration of Holy Mass for the foreseeable future. That is, priests, either accompanied by a deacon or alone, are still celebrating Holy Mass in the privacy of their parish or chapel, but without any parishioners in attendance (following the CDC’s recommendations to physically distance ourselves from others, both for our safety and theirs).

It’s good for us as Catholics to remember that Holy Mass is still being celebrated, just not with us sitting in the pews and physically being a part of it. So how do we participate?

  • Spiritual communion: Generally done when we attend Mass and aren’t fully prepared (need to go to confession!) or are unable to (broke an arm, felling sick) consume Holy Communion; in this case, it’s a way to continue to join ourselves to the celebration of Holy Mass as we aren’t able to be physically present
  • Read and meditate on Scripture: Read the daily Scripture readings alone or with another person (physically present, over video chat, over the phone, from your balcony, etc.), practice some Lectio Divina over a portion of the daily scripture readings (yes, yes I did just link to my own blog, from my own blog – it’s blogception!), or find some online or offline reading material that helps you delve deep into the different ways of reading Scripture
  • Personal and communal prayer: Take time every day to pray, both alone and with others, and both on a set schedule and spontaneously. Immerse yourself in familar prayer paths (the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours) and in some new ways of prayer (with music, through movies, scrolling through social media, reading a spiritual or theological book, etc.
  • Practice seeing the Presence of Jesus in the people around us: Jesus was pretty clear that making sure our relationships with others is important, so important that leaving the Temple and going to be reconciled with them was the best thing to do; in another section of the Gospels, Jesus reminds us that the way we treat others is the way we treat him – if we truly believe that Jesus is fully present in the transubstantiated bread and wine, how much more is his presence, his power, his joy, his peace, and his love present in those around us? Practicing seeing Jesus in those who are always around us is the best spiritual practice to help us believe in his Presence in the Body and Blood of Christ.

This is one Lent where we’re experiencing spiritual dryness by not being able to celebrate Holy Mass as a community. We’re experiencing a bit of the dark night of the soul that St. John of the Cross wrote about, where we continue to stay faithful to our God, even in the midst of suffering. It gives us a chance to offer the suffering of missing Holy Mass for those areas where Mass is only celebrated a few times a year (remote areas with very little priests) or not at all (areas where it’s still dangerous to openly practice faith). If only for a little while, we join our crucified savior in his Lenten retreat, and ask for the grace to be his Presence to the people around us. We are called to become the Eucharist for others, even as we strive to see the Eucharistic Presence in them.

Prayers for all of us during this time of challenge.

Blessings & Peace,
Hugo De La Rosa III

Cleanup & Migration

I migrated my old Blogger posts and comments to this site, so now there’s a quite a bit of things to read 🙂 I’m also going through and deleting over 10,000 fake subscribers – at least I know I’m popular with scammers! On the off chance I delete an actual subscriber, please feel free to subscribe again!

Blessings & Peace,
Hugo

Mini-Campaign

D&D Crew: Joe is estimating he’ll be ready to run us again once summer hits. I’d like to run a mini-campaign until then. The game would be at my house, with the same time frame as before (once a month, 6 pm start time, first game can be Nov. 3 or Nov. 17).

Premise/Synopsis

  • Special ops type team, working together (each character must know at least one other character – friend, relative, spouse, co-worker, former special assignment, former roommate, ex-boyfriend, business partners, friendly rivals, etc.).
  • Apart from that, let me know what elements (if any) you’d like to see in-game: city, frontier, jungle, arctic, dungeon, underwater, cave, different plane, zombie apocalypse, super hero style, horror, Harry Potter meets Jaws, Lord of the Rings meets Venom, general type of foes, etc. [No promises, but I’ll try to add as best I can]

Table/House Rules:

  • Characters level every 2nd session or so (after the session; no tracking XP)
  • No Player vs. Player (no attacking each other, stealing from each other, causing a town to hang an innocent warlock, etc.)
  • All dice rolls declared before rolling, and only on your turn
  • Escalation Die During Combat: Each round of battle after the first, PC’s & elite/solo creatures get cumulative +1 to attack (up to +6)
  • Miss Token: If a PC misses, they gain a +1 to hit on their next attack (cumulative until spent; this will go away if it becomes too much trouble to track)
  • Action Points: 1 per combat; can be used for extra standard action (as normal), to roll twice and take either result (declared before the roll), or to recharge an encounter power that missed (after the fact, or course); can have up to two (2) APs at one time, and can use both in the same combat, but not sequentially (so use on the 1st round of combat, then another the third round of combat)
  • Immediate Action Rule: If the DM calls on you and you instantly declare your action(s) and take your roll(s), you get a +1 to those rolls (attack, damage, skill, death save, etc.)
  • Second Wind used as a move action (Dwarves use it as a minor action, since they originally used it as a move action) (this will go away if it becomes too much trouble to track)
  • Rituals: no material component cost; if you use the suggested component cost gain +1 to +10 to the roll (per up to 100 g of suggested component)
  • Feel free to reflavor / reskin your race, class, abilities, etc. (No mechanical differences, simply cosmetic differences)
  • Magic Items: Keep a list of magic items you would love to find (4-10 items, level 1-8) – when appropriate I’ll have you roll on that list to see what items pop up (email me this list before Saturday, or bring a print out on Saturday)
  • Selling Items: unused items are assumed to be sold/bartered for 1/2 the listed value (in the character builder)
  • All summoned creatures (spells, class abilities, etc.) have an instinctive attack if not already listed – that way you can summon, they can attack, and you can still do something as well; this may change if it gets overpowering or bogs down combat (if no instinctive attack is listed we’ll create one)

Character Creation Rules

  • All characters must be created, stored and updated on my character builder account
  • Point Buy for stats (no stat above 18 before racial modification at 1st level)
  • No evil characters
  • All characters turn on “Inherent Bonuses” (Under the “Manage Character” tab) – no other options should be turned on (Dark Sun, Harper, etc.)
  • Every character begins with additional feats (instructions below):
    • Improved Defenses
    • Toughness
    • any one skill training or skill focus (must be level 4 or below)
    • any one expertise feat (must be level 4 or below; generally your weapon type or implement type)
  • Every character begins with five total magic items (level 1-5) from this list:
    • arms
    • armor
    • feet
    • implement
    • neck
    • shield
    • weapon
    • (you can pick two weapons or two implements, but no more than five items total)
  • Every character begins with one consumable from this list:
    • Coin of Good Luck
    • Four-Sided Caltrop
    • Nail of Sealing
    • Oil of Lasting Flame
    • Potion of Cure Light Wounds
    • Potion of Elven Fleetness
    • Potion of Healing
    • Potion of Resistance (heroic)
    • Potion of Spectral Form
    • Talent Shard (level 3)
    • Vial of Darkness
  • Every character begins with an Adventurer’s Kit
  • Mundane items you desire (arrows, food, water, coin pouch, knife, etc.) are automatically assumed to be possessed by character

To add additional feats:

  • On Step 7: Select Feats (in character creation), click on the orange button at the top of the feat selections screen
  • You’ll see Step 7 turn Orange (on the left hand side) and a new green button will be added to the bottom of the feat selection saying “Level 4 User Edit”
  • Click on it, and search for your specific feat (heroic tier, up to level 4)
  • Once selected, do again (a total of four times)
  • You’ll end up with four additional feats + your normal 1st, 2nd and 4th level feats

To search for / add magic items:

  • To add these, go to Step 8: Add Equipment in character creation
  • Click the tab for “Find Equipment”
  • Hit “Advanced”
  • Click “Show only proficient items”
  • Click “Use level range” and set to “1” to “5”
  • Click “Item Category” and select what you’re looking for
  • Click “Item Subcategory” if you know what specific type of item you’re looking for
  • Hit search
  • If more than 300 items appear you’ll see a note that mentions that, and you’ll need to further limit by level, or try a keyword or a subcategory to narrow your search
  • Click the “add” button (not “buy”), and equip in the equipment tab
  • To add your consumable, type it directly into the search bar in Step 8 – highlight your choice and click “Add” (not “buy”)
  • Same for Adventurer’s Pack
  • For arms, feet and neck, select “Magic Slot Items”, then the correct subcategory
  • For shields select “Armor”, then subcategory of “shields”

Let me know if y’all are up for this side-quest and which start date you’d prefer – we’d need at least three players available. Characters should be fully created a few days before the first game day (so I can verify them and adjust if/as needed).

Blessings & Peace,
Hugo

Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash

An Enchiridion of Syllabic Erudition

I’m currently working through my first semester of the online Master’s Program in Catholic School Leadership at St. Joseph’s College of Maine. The class that I’m about to finish is on Curriculum Design, Development & Assessment, with my current assignment set to to illustrate the major points of developing a Curriculum Map. To quote Chaucer from A Knight’s Tale (2001):  “And so, without further gilding of the lily, and with no more ado, I give to you …” A Curriculum Map’s Tale.

Act I: Prolegomenon

“Rather than starting a mapping initiative by abruptly declaring that ‘We are going to start curriculum mapping, folks,’ the leadership teams and district personnel [begin] by looking at the needs of their specific student population (Jacobs, 2004, pg. 1).”

The initial phase in curriculum mapping for any nation, district, school or classroom is taking stock of the current curriculum and the needs of the students who will be subjected to the new curriculum standards. This can include

  • researching what other schools in the area are doing
  • deciding what specific, measurable outcomes in student performance to strive for
  • deciding who will work on curriculum mapping [begun here, but focused on during Act II]
  • drafting an action plan
  • analyzing the educational background and general readiness of all staff members
  • deciding on the format for meetings and technology use to facilitate the planning process
  • setting a timeline for research, feedback, training, and implementation

 

Act II: A Sodality of Luminosity

Once a framework has been set for curriculum mapping, the next major step is deciding who will put in the necessary time to craft, revise and help implement the new curriculum plan that comes from the curriculum mapping process. This involves

  • assessing the educational background, training, formation, current work assignment and interest in curricular mapping of all personnel
  • assessing the available time commitment of interested and qualified personnel
  • researching and/or creating training, formation and professional development opportunities for assigned perssonel
  • assigning leadership roles from assigned personnel
  • formulating, with help of assigned personnel, possible objections to the curriculum mapping process
  • formulating, with help of assigned personnel, possible solutions to the objections

 

Act III: Asperous Interregnum

Once the leadership teams have been set, the time for the meat of the work is nigh – each group sifts through the current curriculum, looking at the essential questions for each subject and for each unit within that subject, working on crafting drafts of the curriculum, then getting those drafts sent out for massive amounts of peer review and editing. During this review/editing process, the teams are looking for

  • repetition of material from grade level to grade level
  • gaps in essential information (content, thinking processes, skills, and assessments) from grade level to grade level (Jacobs, 2004, pg. 155)
  • places where no change is needed
  • places where material is good, but can use updating
  • inclusion of local, state and/or federal standards
  • any changes needed to the document itself (vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, formatting, etc.)

 

Act IV: Consummate Execution

Once the new curricular map has been edited, revised, and generally run through the educational gauntlet, the time is ripe for the implementation of the new material. Once implemented, however, there should be a process in place for continual review and revision – resting on our laurels, even after years of work, is a recipe for eventual disaster, while putting in the effort to do periodic evaluations, even of starting the process over again, will ensure that the curricular mapping work already done is as relevant and up to date as possible.

Blessings & Peace,
Hugo De La Rosa III

 

References

Erickson, H. L. (2008). Stirring the head, heart, and soul: redefining curriculum, instruction, and concept-based learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Helgeland, B. (Writer), Helgeland, B. (Director), & Helgeland, B. (Producer). (n.d.). A knights tale [Video file].

Jacobs, H. H. (2004). Getting results with curriculum mapping. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J, (2004). Understanding by design: professional development workbook. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Old Chapel Hill Cemetery - Wikipedia Commons

Another Moment

There’s a moment . . . a single solitary second . . . when the full weight of the casket hits your hand . . . your arm . . . your shoulder. It settles on and around you like a weight – an insubstantial shroud that feels heavier than the weight of a thousand worlds. Every step feels leaden . . . and laden with memories and unsaid truths that brush up against the spoken banalities of everyday existence.

I don’t wish it on anyone.

Yet hearing the ghost of the whisper of the trajectory of our existence . . . nudging ever closer to the limits of our personal event horizon . . . starting to walk in tune with the melody of our own mortality . . . becoming cognizant of the gossamer and ethereal strands that bind us to our world, our communities, ourselves . . .

That . . .that I wish on everyone.

Blessings & Peace,
Hugo

An Octet of Baleful Reveries – Avaritia, Gula & Superbia

The California based band Thrice came onto my musical radar after hearing, and falling in love with, their song Black Honey. My wife got tired of hearing this on my personal heavy rotation, and finally asked me one day why I liked it so much. The descending guitar/vocal bit was what first caught my attention, but as I listened to it more I found that the references to several of the Seven Deadly Sins kept me coming back to the song.

[As an aside, I just found out that the lead singer for Thrice, Dustin Kensrue, was actually a pastor and worship leader at Mars Hill (until he resigned in 2014). Makes me want to listen to the rest of their songs to see if I can discern other Christian messages in there :)]

The seven capital (“head,” most deadly, most important) sins are derived from an earlier list of eight evil thoughts that were codified by Pope Gregory I around the year 600. The standard list is:

  • Pride
  • Greed
  • Gluttony
  • Lust
  • Sloth
  • Envy
  • Anger

This particular song, in my not so humble estimation, exemplifies gluttony, pride and greed.

Gluttony technically refers to eating and drinking to excess, but can be expanded to over-indulgence in anything. Greed (avarice) also has to do with excess – the desire for power, material things, or an attitude of stinginess. Pride (usually seen as the worst sin, or the root sin) is inordinate love of self, the ultimate expression of selfishness that elevates personal whims and desires above all else.

The song lyrics hit all of these; to begin:

I keep swinging my hand through a swarm of bees
I can’t understand why they’re stinging me
But I’ll do what I want
I’ll do what I please
I’ll do it again till I’ve got what I need

The song begins with the singer swinging his hand through a swarm of bees because he wants honey. He continues to do so, even when they sting him, but then says that no matter what he’s going to keep doing it until he gets what he wants.

It goes on to say:

I’ll rip and smash through the hornet’s nest
Don’t you understand I deserve the best?

That attitude of “I’ll do whatever I want because I deserve the best” perfectly exemplifies the trio of deadly sins – a disregard for what others may want or need due to an excessive focus on personal needs, even if those needs are unimportant.

The song finishes up with this:

Then I
See them coming after me
And they’re following me across the sea
And now they’re stinging my friends and my family
And I
Don’t know why this is happening
But I’ll do what I want
I’ll do what I please
I’ll do it again till I’ve got what I need

In the song, even though the bees are hurting both the singer and his loved ones, he continues with his self-destructive behavior because he still wants to fulfill his selfish desires. With no time for reflection, he’ll never understand why bad things keep happening to him – but it doesn’t matter, as long as he gets what he needs.

This Lent, whether you’re Catholic or not, Christian or not, a believer or not – we can try to root out these attitudes / affectations in order to help ourselves, our families and our communities become havens (I’m binge watching at the moment – had to sneak it in there!) of peace and loving service.

Blessings & Peace,
Hugo