Friday, August 1, 2014

Movie Review: Calvary

Not for the faint-of-heart. But simply astounding. 
A real masterpiece that provides food for thought for everyone from Catholics to atheists.
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"No point in killing a bad priest. I'm going to kill you because you're innocent."
Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is hearing confessions when the parishioner on the other side of the screen tells him about five years of childhood abuse at the hands of a bad priest. The man plans to exact revenge by murdering Father James, who is given a week to wind up his affairs. It is a small community and the priest recognizes his parishioner's voice, although that identity is not revealed to the audience. Father James takes no immediate action but spends the week tending to his small flock. They are an erring lot who are flawed, wounded, and deeply critical of Father James, who they verbally flay for the suffering, real and imagined, that they have experienced at the hands of the Catholic Church.

Father James' life is further complicated by his tenuous relationship with his daughter, Fiona. (Father James entered the priesthood after his wife died.) We also see him contrasted with his bishop and a fellow priest, both of whom are not bad men but who are not fully engaged in their vocations. This leaves the audience in the position of trying to suss out the mystery while observing a truly good priest struggle to live his vocation under seemingly impossible circumstances.

Writer and director John Michael McDonagh has given us a layered and nuanced film made for anyone who has ever struggled with faith, forgiveness, betrayal, and revenge. Above all, he looks at the cost to good priests who must struggle with the human fallout and suffering caused by bad ones. Brendan Gleeson, heading up an excellent cast, portrays the good priest with subtlety and depth which allow you to see into his soul as the week progresses.

Some reviews have criticized the villagers as quirky, broad caricatures. I felt that was intentional and that it would be a mistake to think they are intended as realistic personalities. The sharply drawn characters give Calvary the feeling of a morality play where each is a personification of a different sin or modern struggle with religion. Yet McDonagh doesn't allow it to rest there. In each case we are given glimpses, however brief, below the brittle facades to the human beings beneath. The director does not intend to allow us the detachment which has led to the problems his film highlights.

The most fully realized characters and relationship are Father James and Fiona who translate the struggles to live an authentic faith into real human terms for us. The insistence on the value of each person when combined with Father James' absolute integrity are the messages at the core of this movie.

You may see this billed as a dark comedy. I think that is inaccurate. It is a drama, straight up. Yes, there are some lighter moments but that is because life itself has some lighter moments even in the midst of trouble and darkness. It is no comedy.

Fundamentalists of both sorts, from atheist to Catholic, will either celebrate or mourn this movie as an attack on the Catholic Church. That approach is far too simple. Those who know real truth is never that easy will appreciate the way McDonagh shows both sides without setting up straw men to knock down.

The movie never felt like an attack on the Church to me. Instead of looking at the "evil clergy" McDonagh took the novel and welcome approach of presenting a good priest who doesn't defend horrific actions of bad men but also never denies his own vocation in the very Church to which they all belong. In fact, the inclusion of an angry Buddhist highlights the point that the problem of authentic faith is not constrained to any one religion but is a matter of each person's cooperation with God and others in their community.

If Calvary makes you uncomfortable, it is meant to do so. That's what the truth does. In this magnificent film we are shown Truth shimmering beneath the surface of a week in the life of this good priest. And given grace for viewers to take back into the world with them.


Rated R for sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use.

NOTE
I had the opportunity to interview the director/writer John Michael McDonagh. That interview will appear soon.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: The Kiss and the Heels

Via Not Pulp Covers
I might not have noticed this if I hadn't just listened to 99% Invisible's episode Feet of Engineering. It discusses the history of high heels, pointing out that no one had worn them for a long time until they were featured in pinups for our guys overseas. And when they came home, the high heel left the dubious world of pinup eroticism and merged with fashion to become daily wear.

Go listen to the whole thing.

Well Said: Persistence and Talent

Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent.
Steve Martin, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Let's face it, this is why Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 Hour Rule resonates. Most of us are not geniuses or inherently talented like Mozart. We've got to be persistent to get where we want to go. It's also why a lot of cultures traditionally venerate the elderly. They've put in their 10,000 hours. They might have some wisdom or skills to pass on.

That's not a message that's really popular in mainstream American culture. But it's true nonetheless.

Daily Prayer: St. Patrick's Breastplate

I usually only trot this out on St. Patrick's Day but a couple of months ago I began praying this aloud every morning. I can't recall why although probably something specific prompted me. After all, it's pretty long to just say on a whim!

But the first time I did so, my voice gained strength and momentum as I went. I could almost hear something like war drums in the back of my mind as I read. It leaves me with the feeling that I can face anything the day dishes out. I liked that.

What I liked even more was the way it grounded me in reality. I mean, of course, the reality that undergirds everything a Catholic should keep in mind.

And finally I like that it comes from someone real, St. Patrick, who had to face much greater hardships than I ever encounter.

Sometimes bits of it come to mind, reminding me of something I need to ground myself in for that moment's need. And that is the best part.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven, (God the Father)
Light of sun, (God the Son)
Radiance of moon, (Our Blessed Lady)
Splendor of fire, (God the Holy Ghost)
Speed of lightning, (Saint Michael)
Swiftness of wind, (Saint Gabriel)
Depth of sea, (Saint John the Baptist)
Stability of earth, (Saint Joseph)
Firmness of rock. (Saint Peter)

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and all evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise.

Christ in the heart and mind of every one who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me or to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me or my works,
Christ in every ear that hears me or hears of me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

(The full text of what has come to be known as St. Patrick's Breast Plate. While it's not known for sure, ancient tradition has ascribed the prayer to Patrick himself. This is an older translation.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Boy by the Water

Boy by the Water, Paul Gauguin, 1885
via WikiArt
This was inspired by the Lines and Colors post "Not the usual Gauguins" which I encourage you to check out. I discovered that what I disliked were the most recent Gauguins, not his early work. And there are a lot of early pieces that I liked a lot. Including the one above which evokes the sound of rippling water and cool shade, with some bird song. All in all a perfect place to while away a summer afternoon.

Well Said: Making others as you wish them to be

Be not disturbed that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.
Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
This is so spot-on that I have a feeling it is in more than one of my quote journals. And that's probably a good thing. There is always that temptation to point the finger at others when what we should be doing is turning a mirror upon ourselves. This quote reminds me so perfectly and simply.

Another Note on Rereading The Lord of the Rings: Sources of Story

The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3)The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

When the full light of the morning came no signs of the wolves were to be found, and they looked in vain for the bodies of the dead. No trace of the fight remained but the charred trees and the arrows of Legolas lying on the hill-top. All were undamaged save one of which only the point was left.
I've been thinking of Tolkien coming up with all this fantasy, which was a really new thing for its time, in terms of story, structure, and complexity. For some reason I was particularly pondering it deeply, thinking of how in the world he came up with it all, when I read the above paragraph.

Somehow I could FEEL the age of legends stretching back to cold Northern halls.

Now, I felt foolish once that came to mind because I knew that. I'd read it time and again. But it was a more visceral connection this time. Not just intellectual. I really could feel it in my bones.

Vietnamese Cooking: Grilled Salmon with Chili-Lime Sauce

This could not have been easier or more delicious. Get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Well Said: The world must be hungry

Eight out of ten letters about Cross Creek ask for a recipe, or pass on a recipe, or speak of suffering over my chat of Cross Creek dishes.

"Bless us," I thought, "the world must be hungry."

And so it is. Hungry for food an drink — not so much for the mouth as for the mind; not for the stomach but for the spirit.

... Food imaginatively and lovingly prepared, and eaten in good company, warms the being with something more than the mere intake of calories.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek Cookery
Yes, it is the company that makes the meal come alive. Rawlings wrote this in 1949 so it is unsurprising she was getting so many letters about food, many of them from soldiers overseas. However, it inevitably calls to mind Proverbs 15:17, which takes it one step further "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."

Worth a Thousand Words: Cuttlefish Poster

Title: Shinshin chinka Kattoru = Cuttlefish [Cuttlefish] 新進珍菓カットル
Description: A cuttlefish. "Cuttle" or "Cuttle Fish" (a snack), Chishima-ya Shoten (千島屋商店).
Subject (Company): Snack foods
This is via BibliOdyssey which has a big selection of Taishô Posters to peruse. It was a tossup between this and one with several Japanese maidens dreaming of a steamship.

Let's face it, I'm a sucker for a cuttlefish. Isn't this little guy cute? And the way he's obligingly holding the product box up? Adorable?

What I'm Reading: Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?: . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers' In-box at the Vatican ObservatoryWould You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?: . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers' In-box at the Vatican Observatory by Guy Consolmagno



Got an advance e-book from the publisher. Am waiting for the actual book to show up but couldn't stop from taking a quick peek. And was off and running because this book grabbed me. I'm halfway through.

The authors want to discuss two things.

1. The fact that science and faith are not things that live in separate categories but can inform each other.

2. What are the deeper questions behind the ones which materialize in their in-boxes.
(How do you reconcile the The Big Bang with Genesis? Was the Star of Bethlehem just a pious religious story or an actual description of astronomical events? What really went down between Galileo and the Catholic Church – and why do the effects of that confrontation still reverberate to this day? Will the Universe come to an end? And… could you really baptize an extraterrestrial?)

This dual intent leads to rich, interesting dialogues. I use the word dialogues intentionally because the book is structured as a conversation between the two authors who are astronomers for the Vatican. Each is a highly accredited scientist and a Jesuit.

They are really good so far at talking about both science and faith in ways that are eminently reasonable and understandable. I think this would be an excellent book to share with all sorts of folks, whether Catholic or not.

More after I finish the book.

Please Allow Me to Bend Your Ear About St. Martha, My Patron

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, Jan Vermeer
via Wikipedia

Today is Saint Martha's feast day and I still have not written anything I like better about her than this piece, which I present again.

It is no secret that Martha is my patron saint. I chose her because she is the patron saint of housewives but it soon became clear that it probably was God who chose to put us together. I relate to Martha in so many ways and her life stands as a measure of the person I work toward becoming ... a faithful servant who loves Jesus and is his good friend.
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me."

The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."
This is the story about Martha that springs to mind for most people and this is the first time (chronologically) that we hear her mentioned. We have all heard variations of the basic message about this passage of keeping your mind on Jesus no matter what else you may be doing.

However, we also see the confidence Martha shows when approaching Jesus with her complaint. What good friends they were for her to feel so comfortable coming to him like that. Jesus' affection is clear as he answers her much more gently than he often does his disciples.

For us, it also is a lesson in the fact that there is nothing too small to go to Jesus about. He will always help us with anything, even if it is something like helping give the right perspective.
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.

So the sisters sent word to him, saying, "Master, the one you love is ill."

When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus...

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home.

Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. (But) even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise."

Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day."

Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you."
Again, a familiar story featuring Martha though more often it is told from the point of view of the miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. First of all, we may wonder how Martha knew that Jesus had arrived when Mary didn't. What it may make us think of is someone who is attuned to all the little details even in the middle of her grief. Perhaps there was a flutter of unusual activity that clued her in, so she went to investigate.

When we examine Martha's conversation with Jesus, we see again how familiar and friendly she is with him. She doesn't hesitate to say that she is disappointed that he didn't save her brother. How can one not love the confidence and trust that shows?

Martha also shows her great faith and understanding in unmistakable terms: I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world. What an amazing moment that must have been between Jesus and Martha. Yet, after such a moment, she also doesn't forget her sister, Mary, who is still at home mourning. Martha is both loving and practical to the bone.

We have an unmistakable example of that practicality when Jesus is getting ready to raise Lazarus from the dead and we are told: Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days" (John 11:39). Martha's unwavering, housewifely, detail-oriented common sense is used to emphasize the greatness of Jesus' miracle. The corpse is well into decay and yet he will still be brought back to life. How like God to use the mundane and practical moment to catch our attention and bring it to an even greater realization of His glory and love for us.
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus 2 and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Through watching Martha's progression in the previous Scripture, this very simple mention speaks to the difference between the first time we saw her and now.

Martha served.

That is all that needs to be said. Nothing about needing help is brought up now or comparing another's service to her own. Mary serves Jesus in her way while Martha serves Jesus in hers. Together they complement each other as both have chosen the better part. A beautiful end to a beautiful journey of faith.

I pray that my own journey may prove as fruitful as my dear St. Martha's.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Brown Bear

Brown Bear
taken by Remo Savisaar
Another wonderful look at the natural world from the incomparable Remo Savisaar.

This speaks to me today because I am worn out from the Beyond Cana retreat this weekend. It is good for me to shake free from mundane concerns of everyday life by recalling that most of the creatures on the planet have very different immediate concerns.

Their lives are both simpler and with more direct action and consequence. It both refreshes and anchors me in reality.

Well Said: Mysterious Good Art

Good art often seems to us mysterious because it resists the easy patterns of the fantasy, whereas there is nothing mysterious about the forms of bad art since they are the recognizable and familiar rat-runs of selfish day-dream. Good art shows us how difficult it is to be objective by showing us how differently the world looks to an objective vision.
Iris Murdoch
Many thanks to reader of this blog, Tom, who sent this quote because of the art featured here. I like it because it seems to encapsulate the mysterious draw of pieces that I keep coming back to again and again. I know not why. They just draw me. And that is the link with the mysterious which Murdoch points out. It is also that link with the Divine which continually draws us through myriad sources to which we are attracted, though we may know not why.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Beyond Cana marriage retreat this weekend

How could I have forgotten to mention this? Just busy I guess.

The Beyond Cana marriage enrichment retreat is going on this weekend. So far it is going very well.

We're behind the scenes this time around, in charge of the food. Both behind the scenes and in front of the folks have their own sets of rewards and challenges so it is nice to get a change of pace, actually, in simply "doing." Speaking of which, I've got to get busy making banana pudding!

Prayers for its success would be welcome!

Thanks!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Well Said: Being polished

If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?
Rumi
I'm so guilty of this. I continually am struggling with being irritated by every rub. This simple saying has been good for keeping me a bit more mindful ... and going with the flow better.

Worth a Thousand Words: Green Dress 3

Green Dress 3
painted by Edward B. Gordon
We all know I'm a big fan of Edward B. Gordon. This painting gives a good idea of why. It just draws me in.

When the Game Stands Tall - immediate thoughts

Saw the screening last night.

I came for Jim Caviezel. And the football (always the football).

I was surprised by how good this movie is. And that it is layered giving us more than one look at the central question in which football is a means to an end.

The trailer doesn't really give an idea of how this movie does NOT hit every point with a hammer, but for me it was head and shoulders above The Blind Side or Remember the Titans. And it even gives Friday Night Lights a run for its money. Not in technical know how, but in heart.

Review to come soon.

If you get a chance for an early screening don't wait for me. Go see it.

Opening August 22.