The first books I got addicted to were murder mysteries. I began with the Boxcar children series, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Hardy Boys and made my way to Agatha Christie by fifth grade. Every once in a while, I try to grab one at the library. The cover of the most recent Potzsch book about the Hangman of Schongau looked interesting, so I decided to find the first volume in the series.
The story begins with a young man being found dead in a river with a mark on his shoulder that resembled the symbol of a witch. The town had witch trials years ago, and the hangman’s grandfather was the hangman at the time. The midwife in town was the main suspect as she was seen with witch items and with several orphans, including the boy who died.
Pötzsch paints a wonderful image of life in the dark ages, and by wonderful, I mean dire and desperate and insane. But the characters are very well formed, especially the main three: the hangman, his daughter, and the local doctor’s son. The story was alright though. It had a flow and became easy to read. Most of the twists did not turn too much. In the end, this was more about the characters and the time period than the murder of the young child.
Torture plays a large part in the entire book. The hangman has the duty to get a confession out of the midwife that he believes to be innocent. Through his training and experiences torturing people, he gives the midwife tactics and in some cases, drugs, to make the torture more bearable. Obviously, this theme has ramifications today – but the whole of this story puts town over truth, morality, and justice. All of the major characters seem to be okay with the torture. All of the major characters appear to know why the ending is justified.
A few more books follow these characters and I may pick them up. There is a lot to like about this book. And honestly, a lot more to think about at the end than most thrillers.
When I was in sixth grade, I remember someone asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. And at this point in your childhood, you stop saying you’re going to be a race car driver or a fireman or something outrageous and begin thinking seriously about your career. Kids begin to understand what their parents do. They begin to understand what their friends’s parents do for a living. Lawyers emerge. Doctors blossom. And I said that I wanted to be the Pope.
I never aimed low. I wasn’t going to be happy as a local parish pastor. I wanted to be the Pope. Most likely, if you want to be the Pope, you shouldn’t be the Pope. But I was an altar service and Mass was incredibly important to me. I was coming up to my confirmation and was about to become an adult in the Church, which meant I decided if I wanted to go to Church and how I would grow up as a Catholic.
To put it lightly, this was not something that continued as I got older. I drifted from the Church for multiple reasons. But recently, thanks to a few of my friends, reacquainting myself with Father Larry when he was back in the United States and the fact that John likes to sleep in and I have nowhere to really go on Sunday mornings if he sleeps past nine, I have returned to the Church.
I go just about every Sunday and have rediscovered why I love it so much. But it is hard. I disagree with so many positions that the Church and its representatives have taken. I am incredibly happy with myself and how I live, but I doubt the Church would agree. So, when I was at the library last week to find a few books to read to try again to read a book a week, I saw Fearing the Stigmata by Matt Weber.
Fearing the Stigmata by Matt Weber
Mr. Weber works for CatholicTV and does short videos about being a young Catholic – young being 27. The book made me very intrigued by Mr. Weber’s videos. And I really enjoyed his book. He wrote about a lot of events and situations that reminded me of fears that I had growing up Catholic.
Weber seems like a guy I would really enjoy talking to about the Church and life. He has a great perspective on what the Church means and how he describes the universality of it. The stories that stuck out to me involved him going to a Portugeuse mass and realizing that it is still the same thing and that even though he understood nothing of it, it was still powerful and it still showed exactly why the universal Church is so amazing. I also enjoyed his stories of fear. The title of the book points to this, but the Church does make someone who truly wants to live a holy life fearful of so much. All of the mysteries and miracles are frightening. The altar is also a frightening place – you cannot cross it, you must bow in front of it, its reverence. But it is frightening, not like a horror movie, but in its glory. All that it represents makes you feel small and that is scary. Many of the stories that Mr. Weber tells relate to this fear of what the Church represents.
My only dilemma with the book is its subtitle: “Humorously Holy Stories of a Young Catholic’s Search for a Culturally Relevant Faith.” I don’t know if these stories really hit on the search for a culturally relevant faith. The only part of the book that touches on this, in my opinion, relates to how one’s Catholic-ness figures into one’s American-ness. Unfortunately, it is only a few pages. I wanted more of this and hope to find it in Mr. Weber’s videos.
But as a 30 year old who is trying to navigate his way through and back into the Catholic Church, I really enjoyed the stories and how Weber details what the Church and religion means to him.
In college, everyone had America Online Instant Messenger (AIM). We all had screen names that were related to us but that were not our God-given monikers. Mine was nightwing8782.
I wish I could pull this off
I still use that today on many things, such as my Xbox. I remember sitting at my Dell for hours at night hoping that someone would send me a message to see how I was. I would post statuses that would just ask for communication. And it drove me crazy whenever no one would say hello. I would go to chat rooms or other places just to have some personal interaction. The ironic part is that only five feet away was a roommate, twenty feet away were fellow cross country runners, and within a quarter-mile was over 900 real-life people.
When I read the article Is Facebook Making Us Lonely in this month’s The Atlantic Monthly, I had to agree with the main point, but I also had to disagree with the idea that this is a new phenomenon or that it is isolated to Facebook. The Internet has created a home for the lonely in a way that even Roy Orbison couldn’t imagine. It gives us a glimpse into the good days of all of our acquaintances. It allows people to stay close but far enough away as to not get hurt. But as the writer notes in the article, it’s a tool that can be used in many ways.
Over the past few years, I have worked at using the Internet, Facebook, and even this blog, as more of a tool instead of my source of communication. I do not sit on Gmail, or AIM, or any other instant message mechanism hoping that someone will contact me. I do my best to call people and now I actually make the bold decision to have physical friends. I turn to Facebook to share in people’s joys, not to dwell in my failures. I use Facebook to post stories that I have written, this blog that I have begun to take more seriously, and share a few thoughts about my day.
But the Internet over the years has also given me confidence.
This past weekend, I went to C2E2, the Chicago Comic-Con. Yes, there are lots of people who wear costumes of their favorite superheroes (as shown above), video game characters, and other themes that they enjoy. I went with friends from work who had listened to me talk about the mundane daily interactions among the comic book Internet community. When I first read comics in high school, I did not know a single other person who went to a comic shop on Wednesday. Even in college, I would hide them under my bed because I thought they were embarrassing. No one understand my AIM moniker for instance. Nightwing is the adult version of the first Robin, Dick Grayson. But then I went online to find people who like what I like. I found communities with message boards, blogs, podcasts, and lots of other mediums. I wrote a Blue Beetle story for a fan fic Yahoo Group. I realized I wasn’t alone. And it was marvelous!
But the Internet can be an angry, lonely place. At The Iceberg Lounge, Steve K. writes blogs about recent trades or comics and recently wrote about the state of the Internet community. This is a community that I dream of becoming a part of. I imagine sitting around a table at a convention one day with all of these great critics and men and women who just love comics. I find comics so interesting and amazing and I dream of talking about it. I love talking about the different art styles, some that I like and some that I dislike. I think to myself about the great writing being done at many of the small presses.
As Steve K. notes, it is also full of vitriol, and it seems to be on the rise. The Internet (and Facebook) give us all the chance to complain to a wide audience. We all become Simon Cowells – judging people we barely know to try to be funny, iconoclastic, annoying. I am sure that everyone has at least one friend on Facebook or Twitter or whatever that is constantly complaining about their job, their spouse, their kids, their … I might be that friend to you.
And there is a reason why: people like reading angry diatribes. People like bad reviews. A good review or a good story doesn’t get the attention of someone talking about how sad they are or how bad their friend/spouse/boss/President is. Think about your likes or comments on a wall. Do you respond to positive thoughts or to negative thoughts? I know I remember the negative ones more. The same is true about comic book commentary. I remember when someone writes badly about Stephen Wacker or Marvel. I remember when someone badmouths something that Dan Didio is doing over at DC Comics. It’s more entertaining.
From Comic Book Resources
This creates isolation, however. If the marketplace of ideas does not hear good thoughts due to lack of voice, then those who, for instance, liked Avengers v. X-Men don’t feel comfortable adding their two cents to the dialogue. If someone is trying to get attention on Facebook posts about how great their day was and no one asks why, but if they post about how bad their day was and get five people trying to sympathize, what behavior is incentivized? The Internet can become very homogeneous with everyone agreeing and posting on a topic such as to to fit in. The Internet can become very homogeneous because no one wants to counter the points that others are making and decide to hide in the shadows instead.
Loneliness created from a man-made device is difficult. It may be ingrained into distant relationships. But when people reach out because they want to talk about a comic or their day at work, it may be helpful to try to respond to the positive ones than only the negative ones.