Friday, July 30, 2004

I, Robot

The book and the movie have three things in common: robots, the three laws of robotics, and their quality ... not great but pretty good. (I speak as a long-time Asimov reader. I am not talking about the two "robot" mysteries he wrote ... just the "I, Robot" book of short stories.) It was a typical big-budget, action movie with the plot twist at the end, albeit with robots instead of monsters or men as enemies. Will Smith and his female costar (name?) were both effective. Sonny was a viable third character and not a bad action hero either, all things considered. The girls and I really enjoyed Will's love for his pie-baking GG and the way he saved that cat when the house was being demolished all around him. Hey, what do you want me to say ... we're a bunch of girlie-girls here!

Freed Italian Hostages Credit Padre Pio

Padre Pio is one of my favorite saints and I see that I'm in good company. John Allen reports that Italian devotion to Padre Pio is reflected by three Italian hostages who were freed by U.S. Special Forces in Iraq on June 8.
On June 23, all three men, accompanied by their families, made a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo, the chief national shrine to Padre Pio, in order to give thanks to the Capuchin saint ... The three told reporters they had prayed to Padre Pio during their captivity and promised to make this pilgrimage if they survived.

"I'm very devoted to Padre Pio and I prayed often during our imprisonment," Cupertino said. "They too," pointing to Agliana and Stefio, "were united with me in prayer because they know Padre Pio."

In another twist, Cupertino's 10-year-old cousin Carmelina, after going with her parents to San Giovanni Rotondo on May 31, apparently returned home and wrote "freed" on a calendar hanging above the family telephone on the date of June 8 - exactly the day the Italians were liberated. She says the date came to her in a dream.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Feasts and Banquets, Part I

LUKE 14:15-24
Jesus tells the parable about the man who invited a lot of people to a banquet only to find that they all had lame excuses for not attending when his servants showed up to fetch them. The man then told the servants to go out and invite every downtrodden person they found. Obviously this is a parable about the nation of Israel declining God's invitation to Heaven. Therefore, God opens everything up to sinners, outcasts, and gentiles.

Why Jesus tells this parable is not obvious until we have a greater understanding of mindset of the Jews in Jesus' time. The parable is prompted by a statement made by another guest.
One of his fellow guests on hearing this said to him, "Blessed is the one who will dine in the kingdom of God."

William Barclay tells why this comment made Jesus start talking about the kingdom of Heaven.
The Jews had a series of ever-recurring conventional pictures of what would happen when God broke into history and when the golden days of the new age arrived. One of these was the picture of the Messianic banquet. On that day God would give a great feast to his own people ... It is of this banquet that the man who spoke to Jesus was thinking. When he spoke of the happiness of those who would be guests at that banquet he was thinking of Jews, and of Jews only, for the average, orthodox Jew would never have dreamed that gentiles and sinners would find a place at the feast of God. That is why Jesus spoke this parable.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Poor Man's Lord of the Rings

It wasn't a bad movie but it wasn't one of the greats either. Realizing that no one really knows the legend of King Arthur, the movie makers lifted a few names, put their story in England and named it "King Arthur." The "R" rating saved me from having to take Rose to see "Troy" and if there was any consistency in the rating system, this would have been "R" too, if only for Arthur and Guinivere's little triste. I thought the one redeeming thing it had was some pretty good looking guys ... until I watched Tom Cruise in the Last Samurai and realized I was settling for way too little in that department. Clive Owen, eat your heart out.

These excerpts from King Arthur in 15 Minutes (registration with required) take care of my review (which says a lot right there).

Historical? No.
VERY SERIOUS TEXT: Recent historical evidence suggests that Arthur was actually some Roman guy named Arturius. This, therefore, is a completely historically accurate movie, because God knows you can count on a Bruckheimer flick for your history lessons.

Predictable? Yes.
LANCELOT: Whatever. Clearly I'm going to die in battle, and I'm really hoping it's not going to be this one, but when I die, don't bury me on this stinking island. Burn me and cast my ashes to the wind.

ARTHUR: Awww, dude! Look what you went and did!


ARTHUR: Now you're totally going to have to die, so we can dispose of your body in that precise manner. It's like, a rule.

"PG-13?" No way. Try "R".
GUINEVEIRA: *pulls up her skirt and pushes Arthur's hand under*

ARTHUR: Baby, I'm Clive Owen. I think I know where it is.

MOTHERS IN THE AUDIENCE: OMG this movie is so not PG-13!


SOMEONE IN THE MUSIC DEPARTMENT: *actually digs up a Celtic porno sax*

Thanks to Cleolinda Jones, genius writer of the 15 Minute Movies, for making this review so easy. 'Nuff said. Next movie!

Friday, July 23, 2004

That Special Bond

There is something so special about the bond between a father and daughter. Not only is it important on a personal level but how will tomorrow's women know what a good man is unless they spend time with one? Like any hard-working father, Tom has to make a significant effort to squeeze in the time so that he really knows the girls. For some time now, he has been driving Hannah to school every morning just to get some of that one-on-one time. When he runs errands on the weekends, he makes sure Rose is invited as she just loves riding in the car and that becomes "their" time.

Tom and Hannah are in San Francisco right now for a special father-daughter celebration of her 16th birthday. We had a lot of AAdvantage miles so she got to pick anywhere in the continental U.S. Wise girl, she chose San Francisco.

They have been scouring the DK Eyewitness book for the perfect activities ... our St. Francine (aka Hannah) is hoping to see sea lions on Fisherman's Wharf, as a long time lover of all things Asian she wants to scour Chinatown's alleys for the really authentic shops, Tom has planned a drive to Bodega Bay and along High 1, reservations have been made to tour Alcatraz.

It touches my heart to think of the special memories they are making, memories that I hope last a lifetime ... which is the real perfect activity of this trip.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Groovin' to the Oldies

Tom was in Houston this weekend so the girls and I took the opportunity to have our own Numb-Butt-A-Thon (a la Ain't It Cool). Hey, its Texas in late July ... we're gonna stay inside anyway. Surprisingly, everything we chose to try was old. I'm assuming most everyone knows the premise for all these; if not, check the link for a basic description.

Watching "groovy Jesus" in The Gospel of John, made me think of "Godspell", the original groovy Jesus movie. I saw part of this musical based on the Gospel of Matthew when I was in high school on late night TV and figured it probably didn't age well with the "flower children" disciples and music dating it beyond belief. Then the girls discovered that Jesus was portrayed by Victor Garber, the much admired "coolest old guy on TV" as Jack Bristow in Alias. Now we had to see it. I figured that it only would take half an hour before they gave up were laughing hysterically and quit watching. Not so. We watched it twice because we all liked it so much.

It is dated, but when you get past that to the basic show, "Godspell" is a wonderful entertainment. First, and most often mentioned by everyone, is the amazing location photography. You have to see it to appreciate it. Next is the music which is really good, a little 70's musical style but that's no big deal. Best of all was the joyfulness and exuberance which gets lost in way too many religious movies. Young Victor Garber showed that he was a great actor even 30 years ago. The second viewing made it easier to get "Jack Bristow" out of our heads, although Rose delighted in pointing out the same sensitive expressions she's seen on Alias ("Sydney, I'm sorry about involving you in Project Christmas. I was trying to protect you..."). This was the surprise movie favorite of the weekend.

I like Tim Burton's movies but never was interested in seeing this one. I really had a hard time watching it because I was filled with such pity for Edward the entire time. Not only was he stuck with those scissorhands but it was all too clear where the story was going. The story was really one dimensional with a sad ending that did nothing to redeem it ... and no one really learned much. Oh, Edward and Kim both learned what it is to love and lose but it was handled so superficially that there seemed to be no point to it. Rose liked it better than I did but agreed it seemed unredeemably sad.

It was interesting to watch as an early Tim Burton movie, though. I could see elements that he used in Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Big Fish. Any of those movies were better and more complete than this one, though. Johnny Depp was excellent, as were the rest of the cast, but that wasn't any surprise. Certainly it was not worth the agony that it was for me to sit through this movie.

I always heard this was a great series but we don't have cable (yes, our house is in the Stone Ages). We rented the first two DVD's from the first season and set out to see if Nikita can hold a candle to Alias' Sydney Bristow. Pffft! Of course not!

However, "La Femme Nikita" does have a charm of its own. It is much more of a "typical" TV show with each plot ending within each show however it shows a little more reality than Alias. I liked the fact that Nikita had a run in her stocking halfway through her first shootout ... that her hand shook so much on her first few times to try to kill someone ... that her across the hall neighbor is astute enough to notice that Nikita has to take off each time she answers the phone. Also, the level of angst is handled a little more quietly, with Nikita having wet eyes rather than being as dramatic as Sydney over her problems. I was relieved to see that, although it was created for cable, there wasn't an extreme level or sex or violence. In fact, it was tamer than many regular network thrillers. We also kept reminding each other that this series is from 1997 and probably influenced Alias creator J.J. Abrams. We liked it enough to watch 6 in a row (numb butts for sure!) and definitely will keep renting and watching Nikita's adventures.

Actually, we watched "The Magnificent Seven" a couple of weeks ago so we rented "The Seven Samurai" to see how close the two movies were to each other. Unfortunately, the DVD was so scratched that we didn't get very far into it before it would freeze up. So we will watch it another weekend when Tom can see it with us. However, just a word about "The Magnificent Seven". I had forgotten what a really great, classic movie this is. Westerns just don't get much better than this. How can you not love watching something that has the Magnificent Four in it? Of course, I'm talking about Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. Oh, right, there were other magnificent actors but that's not the kind of magnificence I'm talking about ...

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Nothing New Under the Sun

LUKE 13:31-35
In this section of Luke, Jesus is warned by some Pharisees of Herod's plan to kill him. Until going through Luke bit by bit I never noticed this part. It is surprising to see that not all the Pharisees hated Jesus. Except for Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea we always get a very one dimensional picture of the Pharisees. There were both good and bad among the Pharisees in Jesus' time ... and the people knew it well. William Barclay tells us more.
The Jews themselves knew very well that there were good and bad Pharisees. They divided them into seven different classes.

The Shoulder Pharisees. These wore their good deeds on their shoulder and performed them to be seen of men.

The Wait-a-little Pharisees. They could always find a good excuse for putting off a good deed until tomorrow.

The Bruised or Bleeding Pharisees. No Jewish rabbi could be seen talking to any woman on the street, not even his wife or mother or sister. But certain of the Pharisees went further. They would not even look at a woman on the street; they even shut their eyes to avoid seeing a woman; they, therefore, knocked into walls and houses and bruised themselves; and then exhibited their bruises as special badges of extraordinary piety.

The Pestle-and-Mortar or Hump-backed Pharisees. They were ever reckoning up their good deeds and, as it were, striking a balance-sheet of profit and loss with God.

The Timid or Fearing Pharisees. They went ever in fear of the wrath of God. They were ... not helped but haunted by their religion.

The God-loving Pharisees. They were copies of Abraham and lived in faith and charity.

There may have been six bad Pharisees for every good one; but this passage shows that even amongst the Pharisees there were those who admired and respected Jesus.

Once again I am reminded that people are much the same no matter what day and age they live in. There always are the nitpickers, the hypocrites, the judgmental, the bad ... the people who drive us crazy. In most cases, they're not fooling anyone but themselves. We can see what's going on just like the people who came up with those great nicknames for the types of Pharisees. That just makes me all the more grateful when I see the many priests who are God-loving and good.

Its the Simple Things In Life That Matter

Simple things like pie crust. Yes, you heard me ... pie crust. Its always a touchy subject among cooks and I can't blame anyone for using the pre-made ones in the red box (Pillsbury?). I have to admit they really are the best commercial alternative to homemade.

However, (you knew there had to be a "however", right?), in response to the comments for Apple Pie last week I had to post this recipe, which is the easiest and most foolproof I've ever found. When Rose was making it, she accidentally added an extra 1/4 cup of water and wound up with something like a thick batter. We improvised by sprinkling extra flour in until it looked right and ... voila! A delicious, flaky pie crust with no problem. Now that's hard to beat.

It is from The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffry Steingarten. Marion Cunningham, baker extraordinaire, made about a zillion pie crusts while detailing every step along the way so Steingarten could get it just right. The beauty of it is that this makes a lot more dough than you need so you don't have to worry about scrimping to get the crust just perfect when rolling it out.

I have posted it here. It looks intimidating but that's because it details every step needed. Rose was a first time pie maker and had no problem. I also put a bonus recipe in the same spot for a Sour Cream Pound Cake. Enjoy!

Monday, July 19, 2004

Are There Animals in Heaven?

More to the point, "Will my cat, Puff, be there?"

This question is one that comes up time and again, especially with teenage animal-lovers around. This answer from Peter Kreeft's Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven makes sense to me. He doesn't look at it from the "immortal soul" angle that usually is raised, but from the promise of a "new earth" that is made in the book of Revelation.
The simplest answer is: Why not? ... Much more reasonable is C.S. Lewis' speculation that we will be "between the angels who are our elder brothers and the beasts who are our jesters, servants, and playfellows" (That Hideous Strength). Scripture seems to confirm this: "thy judgments are like the great deep; man and beast thou savest, O Lord" (Psalm 36:6). Animals belong in the "new earth" (Revelation 21:1) as much as trees.

C.S. Lewis supposes that animals are saved "in" their masters, as part of their extended family (The Problem of Pain). Only tamed animals would be saved in this way. It would seem more likely that wild animals are in Heaven too, since wildness, otherness, not-mine-ness, is a proper pleasure for us. The very fact that the seagull takes no notice of me when it utters its remote, lonely call is part of its glory.

Would the same animals be in Heaven as on earth? "Is my dead cat in Heaven?" Again, why not? ... Though the blessed have better things to do than play with pets, the better does not exclude the lesser. We were meant from the beginning to have stewardship over the animals (Genesis 1:28); we have not fulfilled that divine plan yet on earth; therefore it seems likely that the right relationship with animals will be part of Heaven: proper "petship". And what better place to begin than with already petted pets?

UPDATE: There is a discussion going on over this at Catholic and Enjoying It where, interestingly enough, Mark Shea posed exactly the same question. Its worth taking a look at if you're interested in the subject.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Catholic? I Thought You Were Christian...

Protestant Elliot Bougis writes a thought provoking article, Praying with the Enemy? Anti-Catholicism in the United States.
Anna Antonio hardly stands out. She is no political radical. She is no class clown. A friendly and diligent math major at the University of Florida, Anna is also a devout Christian. As she enters her junior year, Anna is just starting to fit in, to find her niche. Unfortunately, though, one of the craggiest niches for Anna to occupy is among her Christian friends.

No matter how quiet or friendly Anna is, she eventually faces a chilling question from her Christian peers. To an outsider, the question seems as harmless as a hand-grenade looks to a two-year-old. But to Anna, it rolls into a conversation with as much destructive power as a live grenade tossed into a barracks.

"So, Anna, what's your faith background?"

"Oh, I'm Catholic."

Stunned silence. Suspicious stares. Words are unnecessary. Their faces say enough: "Catholic? I thought you were a Christian. Don't you love God enough to...?"

I haven't experienced this personally although there is ample evidence in the media of general anti-Catholicism. Its surprising how many jokes or comments are routinely reported without comment that would cause an outraged outcry if made about any other group. I have long wanted to read The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice by Philip Jenkins. This article may be the impetus I need to finally spend that money at Amazon.

In addition to his own site, Elliot Bougis is the guest blogger at Catholic and Enjoying It which is where I saw this.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Apple Pie

I have been on a cooking moratorium for about a year now ... just doing what I must to get by. That's not what my family is accustomed to because I always have cooked a lot, stocked the freezer, etc. I think that my Christ Renews His Parish involvement took the extra energy and interest that I used to put into spaghetti sauce, homemade rolls, and salad dressings, to name just a few things.

Anyway, Rose made apple pie yesterday. She loves it and loves cooking so I found the recipes for her and she launched in. Other than a little faux pas with the pie crust ... which we recovered from gracefully ... it all went smoothly. She did everything but I hung around for instruction and tips. Tom has never been interested in cooking so I have gotten used to it as a solitary affair, although my parents liked to cook together when I was young. We rediscover this every so often, Rose and I, that cooking together is fun. So we're doing it again tonight ... making Spicy Dan Dan noodles.

The pie was great by the way. Oh, the apples weren't quite cooked in the middle and it was really runny. But it tasted good and the crust was better than anything you can buy. We ate it a la mode and talked about how we would adjust the recipe next time. Right after we make a peach pie ...

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Why Are They Still Together?

We'll never know. And I don't really care because Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About is just too funny.
That's not to say that she's a bad driver. She's a better driver than I am, certainly. But a better driver in, um, well, by the "male" definition of better, let's say. If we were in a rally, Margret would leave me in the dust. She is never more alive than when reversing into a tight space. Gears matter to her. However, I've only had one crash, and that was indisputably not my fault (someone drove through a red light into the side of me). Margret has hit countless things. Hit them in England. Hit them in Germany. (I was in a car with Margret in Germany once, when she'd been back and forth between there and England quite frequently. She's racing along the centre of a country road. A car appears heading straight for us, and Margret shouts at me, 'Which side should I be on!?' A nice moment. If I'd been out to score points I'd have remarked that, if you're asking that question, then perhaps slowing down at all might be a thing to do also. I didn't say anything, however, as at that point I was busy finding religion.)

Via Short Attention Span Theater.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Ask and You Will Receive

In this parable Jesus presents us with the householder who has had a late guest show up. They are out of bread and have to go to great lengths to wake up a neighbor for bread. Jesus then points out that we do not have to go to these extreme lengths to get what we need. God is our generous, loving father who will not make us beg. What is not clear to the modern mind is just what extremes of "shameless persistence" Jesus was presenting to Jews of that time. I was amazed at the degree of trouble that these few sentences represent. William Barclay tells us exactly what the hapless householder had to go through to borrow that bread.
Travelers often journeyed late in the evening to avoid the heat of the midday sun. In Jesus' story just such a traveler had arrived towards midnight at his friend's house. In the east hospitality is a sacred duty; it was not enough to set before a man a bare sufficiency; the guest had to be confronted with an ample abundance. In the villages bread was baked at home. Only enough for the day's needs was baked because, if it was kept and became stale, no one would wish to eat it.

The late arrival of the traveler confronted the householder with an embarrassing situation, because his larder was empty and he could not fulfill the sacred obligations of hospitality. Late as it was, he went out to borrow from a friend. The friend's door was shut. In the east no one would knock on the shut door of a house unless the need was imperative. In the morning the door was opened and remained open all day, for there was little privacy; but if the door was shut, that was a definite sign that the householder did not wish to be disturbed. But the seeking householder was not deterred. He knocked, and kept on knocking.

The poorer Palestinian house consisted of one room with only one little window. The floor was simply of beaten earth covered with dried reeds and rushes. The room was divided into two parts, not by a partition but by a low platform. Two-thirds of it were on ground level. The other third was slightly raised. On the raised part the charcoal stove burned all night, and round it the whole family slept, not on raised beds but on sleeping mats. Families were large and they slept close together for warmth. For one to rise was inevitably to disturb the whole family. Further, in the villages it was the custom to bring the livestock, the hens and the cocks and the goats, into the house at night.

Is there any wonder that the man who was in bed did not want to rise. But the determined borrower knocked on with shameless persistence - that is what the Greek word means - until at last the householder, knowing that by this time the whole family was disturbed, arose and gave him what he needed.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Spider-Man 2

This movie was so satisfying on so many levels. It has all the action, color and outrageousness expected from a comic book/super hero movie. Spider-Man is even more like a spider in this movie than the first right down to the various "resting" poses as he perches above people. The characters are properly fleshed out. Doc Ock isn't given just a couple of throw away lines so that we know he begins as a decent human being. He has several scenes to establish him as a likeable, caring humanitarian. All this and more has been written about by reviewers much more competent than I. The Decent Films review is probably my favorite of the ones I've read.

However, I don't think that Decent Films takes it far enough in the struggle that Peter Parker faces. This movie also is about the next step to becoming great, the day-to-day reality of being a super hero. The first movie showed Peter learning the reality of his uncle's favorite phrase, "With great power comes great responsibility." This movie is about just what must be sacrificed to achieve greatness. It is not just about the sacrifices (even of our hopes and dreams) that we must make when taking up great responsibility. It also is about the process of discerning our path and that the sacrifice must be whole hearted.

Peter Parker is miserable because being Spider-Man is forcing him to be less than whole hearted at the other things that he loves in his life. We learn later that he has taken up this responsibility because he felt it as a debt to his uncle; these were his uncle's ideals he was living out. It is only when Spider-Man faces the sacrifice squarely in the face and then still wholeheartedly embraces the responsibility, that he can truly be great. Some think that the fact that he still gains his heart's desire in the end is a cop out but I don't agree. Often it is just when we have made the effort necessary to embrace what we think is a sacrifice that we find our greatest rewards. This is a Catholic concept and I think this movie shows it perfectly.

Heavy stuff for a comic book movie? Yeah, but its handled well in an action packed, lighthearted package, full of eye candy, so go anyway.

Marching Home - One Battle at a Time

"Travel to distant lands, meet strange and exotic native peoples, and kill them."

That's military science fiction for you, although in this case it also is the slogan of the Bronze Battalion of the Empress' Own Regiment.

After terrorist sabotage, Prince Roger MacClintock and the Bronze Battalion space marines are stranded in the wilderness of the planet Marduk, noted for high mountains, high temperatures, low technology and the short tempers of its nine-foot, four-armed, slime-covered natives. They must march halfway around the planet to get to the nearest spaceport. Along the way, they must make allies and battle barbarian tribes who are out to destroy everything in their path. All this turns the prince from a spoiled brat into a valuable member of the company and a true leader.

Great storytelling and plot, deceptively deep characterization, and a sneaky sense of humor all contribute to make this a thoroughly enjoyable read. Unlike most military science fiction and indeed, other works by the two authors separately, these books don't get too bogged down in technical details or battle descriptions. In fact, the battles scenes are handled so skillfully that I actually read all of them instead of skipping them as I might in other books. History buffs might recognize this as a takeoff on the story of Xenophon.

This is the first of a series continued in March to the Sea and March to the Stars. Fans are awaiting the next installment to see where Prince Roger will march to next.

Friday, July 9, 2004

Attitude is Everything

This time of year I am reminded why Tom and I love Bishop Lynch High School. I remember before Hannah's freshman year we went to a parent-hosted party that was jammed full of gung-ho parents who all "loved" Bishop Lynch. Oh, sure. These parents had to be the top 10% who never look below the surface, right? What school, Catholic or not, could merit that kind of praise?

Well, they were right. Sure there have been a few bad teachers, a few less than ideal situations. That is unavoidable. Those situations are training in making things work out ... lessons in people skills for the future. What makes this school so great? The academics are top notch but that can be found at a lot of schools. The difference is that Bishop Lynch (BL) has the most Catholic attitude I've ever seen ... and they make the kids live it.

It shows first of all in their acceptance policy. They'll pass up a straight A student with a bad discipline record for a well behaved one with a C average. If you have school aged kids, I don't have to tell you how unusual that is, especially for a college prep school that regularly turns away half the applicants for lack of space. They can have their pick and they pick character.

The first pep rally Hannah ever attended had one of those goofy contests to see which class could cheer the loudest. The freshman class cheered and then the senior class booed them as a joke. Guess what? That's not the BL way. The seniors stayed behind for a huge lecture, the class president read a letter of apology on "BL Live" (the school morning news show) the next morning, and for the next two weeks every freshman was talked to and hugged by seniors making amends for not being welcoming. That made a huge impact on the freshman class ... and on us because most people would take a little good natured booing in stride as a joke.

What brought all this to mind was the letter we received from the school yesterday. The Dean of Students was writing to compliment Hannah on her perfect conduct record for the second year running. She's a good kid but it isn't unusual to get a detention when they can be given out for unbuttoning one too many shirt buttons or wearing the wrong shoes. What is unusual is for the school to take the time to find these kids and specifically write to compliment their behavior.

These all are the sorts of things we looked for in vain at the girls' Catholic grade school. We finally decided that it was too idealistic to expect them. In this day and age, who holds to such standards of character? What a pleasure to be proven wrong.

Setting the Scene

There isn't anyone in Western culture who doesn't know the classic story of the good Samaritan rescuing the half-dead traveler. It adds a whole new depth of understanding and nuance to know the importance of the scene in which Jesus placed this story. As always, William Barclay is of great assistance in this.
... The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a notoriously dangerous road. Jerusalem is 2,300 feet above sea-level; the Dead Sea, near which Jericho stood, is 1,300 feet below sea-level. So then, in somewhat less than 20 miles, this road dropped 3,600 feet. It was a road of narrow, rocky defiles, and of sudden turnings which made it the happy hunting-ground of brigands. In the fifth century Jerome tells us that it was still called "The Red, or Bloody Way." In the 19th century it was still necessary to pay safety money to the local Sheiks before one could travel on it. As late as the early 1930s H.V. Morton tells us that he was warned to get home before dark, if he intended to use the road, because a certain Abu Jildah was an adept at holding up cars and robbing travelers and tourists, and escaping to the hills before the police could arrive.

What becomes more obvious is that the traveler not only is badly injured but is that way because of his own reckless behavior. The lesson is more pointed when we realize that it does not matter if the person needs help because of their own deliberately foolish actions. They still need help and we are the ones called upon to give it should we happen across them. Translated into the types of situations I come across in my own life that means no self righteousness allowed. Ouch!

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Thank You, St. Anthony

I know St. Jude is the guy who really appreciates public acknowledgement but no harm in giving credit where credit is due, right? So, thank you, St. Anthony, for putting my address book right on top of everything in the bag that I already had searched three times. It had every important phone number and was going to be a real pain to reproduce.

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

When Mother Teresa Carpet Bombed Washington

I vaguely remember that Mother Teresa spoke to the National Prayer Breakfast. What I didn't realize was what she said and how she said it. Peggy Noonan's eye witness account Still, Small Voice made me think of one of God's prophets appearing. Mother Teresa didn't follow the standard speech giving "rules." No hand shaking or chatting or sitting on the dias with the powerful. No jokes or putting everyone at ease. Just saying what everyone needed to hear and not necessarily the way everyone wanted to hear it. Also surprising in that account is the reaction of those who didn't agree with her.
It was something, the silence and surprise with which her words were received. Perhaps she didn't know that we don't talk about birth control in speeches in America. Perhaps she didn't know, or care, that her words were, as they say, not "healing" but “divisive," dividing not only Protestant from Catholic but Catholic from Catholic. It was all so unhappily unadorned, explicit, impolitic. And it was wonderful, like a big fresh drink of water, bracing in its directness and its uncompromising tone.

And of course it was startling, too, as if someone had spoken in favor of the Volsted Act (ed. note: Prohibition). And indeed the Clintons and Gores looked, by the end, as if they’d heard someone promise to outlaw Merlot.

And Mother Teresa seemed neither to notice nor to care. She finished her speech to a standing ovation and left as she had entered, silently, through a parted curtain, in a flash of blue and white.

Read the entire speech for yourself. Both it and Noonan's article are classics. Via Being or Nothingness.

Friday, July 2, 2004

The Story of the Weeping Camel

This is one of the most satisfying movies I have ever seen, possibly because it is true to life. In the southern Gobi Desert families of nomads raise camels. A camel has a long and painful delivery and refuses to let her baby near her. It will die unless she can be persuaded to take it back. That will happen after she weeps when listening to a traditional song played on the violin. This is a simple story but one that is much more cheerful that the subject would sound. In the process we see how the family lives and, when the two boys are sent to town to fetch a musician, we see how modernization is creeping in. It fascinates the younger boy who loves to watch television but, interestingly to me, the older boy does not seem tempted by it. As painful as it was to watch the baby camel cry for his mother and run to catch her, it was equally joyful when the music worked its charms and she relented. Watching the "reunited" pair was really unbelievable and it is undeniable that the music is what did the trick.

I discovered when reading Roger Ebert's review that this was not strictly filmed as it happened but that makes it a no less valid look at these people and their way of life.
The movie has been made in the same way that Robert Flaherty made such documentaries as "Nanook of the North," "Men of Aran" and "Louisiana Story." It uses real people in real places and essentially has them play themselves in a story inspired by their lives. That makes it a "narrative documentary," according to the filmmakers. A great many documentaries are closer to this model than their makers will admit; even "cinema verite" must pick and choose from the available footage and reflect a point of view.

What Isaac Shows Us

The story of God ordering Abraham to sacrifice Isaac usually is used to point out Abraham's total obedience and trust in God. Those of us who are parents can't imagine just saying, "Sure thing, Lord." and picking up the knife. That kind of thing usually leads to lengthy insanity hearings later. However, there is another side that I've never heard mentioned ... Isaac's role.

I was blown away the first time I realized that Isaac knew exactly what was going on. After all he grew up watching his father make animal sacrifices. True, he asks where the sacrifice will come from but that still leaves him lying on that altar watching his father brandish the knife over him without any recorded protest. How's that for obedience and trust? What I didn't realize until reading it yesterday was that Isaac's significance goes far beyond underscoring trust. He is a "type," a forerunner of Christ, as In Conversation with God points out. Very cool.
Origen points out that the sacrifice of Isaac makes us more clearly understand the mystery of the Redemption. "The fact that Isaac was compelled to carry the wood for the holocaust is a figure of Christ who was made to carry his cross on his shoulders. But at the same time, carrying the wood for the holocaust is the task of a priest. So Isaac was both victim and priest... Christ is at one and the same time Victim and High Priest. Indeed, according to the spirit, He offers the victim to his Father; according to the flesh, He himself is offered on the altar of the Cross. In Conversation with God, Vol. 4 (Origen, Homilies on the Book of Genesis, 8, 6, 9)]

Thursday, July 1, 2004

The Gospel of John

Our learned Deacon Ken is doing a Bible study of the Gospel of John that features watching part of the movie after we discuss the chapters. DK knows his stuff and its all very illuminating. Of course, its not really fair to judge a movie that you watch in pieces but it seems like a typical "Bible" movie to me ... in other words, not the best "movie" I've ever seen although an interesting accompaniment to studying the gospel.

It does have a lot of great stuff though. So far my favorite is John the Baptist. Now this guy really looks like he's been living on locusts and honey in the desert, dressed in a skin ... the stuff crazy prophets are made of. When the Pharisees asked why he was baptizing, he jumped up and started waving his arms around and wailing about being the voice in the wilderness. You could just see the Pharisees edging away, not daring to turn their backs on this nut in case he jumped them. Perfect.

As for the other actors, they all are about what you'd expect. Except Mary. She looks like a dowager duchess who is slumming without her diamond necklace and formal gown. I could handle an old Mary who looks like she might have ever set foot in the Middle East but what were they thinking to cast this woman? She looks as if she's about to call Jeeves over to discuss the wine list. I can't wait to see how she handles the crucifixion scene.

Jesus is ok although I understood what Tom meant when he said that Jesus was a little too "groovy" for him. Well, Jim Caviezel set that bar pretty high in "The Passion of the Christ" so I can live with a "groovy" Jesus even if he does have the obligatory English accent. As Hannah says, doesn't everyone know that Jesus spoke with an American accent?

Waiting Around

The girls and I saw The Terminal yesterday. It was funny but fell short of being a great comedy. Just like Victor Naborsky, stranded in the terminal, I kept waiting for the character development that would have taken this movie past the "ok for rental" point but unfortunately its not there. We saw very little of anyone's motivation and none of the characters really learned anything.

All the characters were treated much the same as the villain, who was merely a villain. We never knew why he was so awful. He repeatedly was given examples and specifically told how he needed to change but never made any attempt. It would have moved him past being such a two-dimensional character if we had been told what made him unable to change. Of course, minor characters don't need this but in this movie it was if all of the characters were minor in that sense. Wonderful acting from the great cast can't save a movie in that case.

It would be far more satisfying to rent Moscow on the Hudson which deals humorously and well with similar themes of a foreigner stranded in this country learning our culture. Too bad I seem to remember some "R" rated material or I'd get that to show the girls.

Smash Mouth

Astro Lounge
Smash Mouth
Get the Picture
How do you describe Smash Mouth? They're listed under alternative rock but that tends to send out a foreboding image, at least to someone like me, that just can't describe how much fun it is listening to them. They have songs about little green men, how wonderful life on Earth is, and then take on social and personal problems that would drag you down forever ... if they weren't just so darn happy and irreverent about it all at the same time. In other words, they're unpredictable. Just take "All Star", the song most people have heard because it was featured in Shrek. In the midst of all that bouncy "only shooting stars break the mold" there's a little message about global warming. The music is all over the place, 60's and 70's sounds, reggae, punk, psychedelic, surfer rock ... and a drummer that works overtime even on the slow songs. They're the summer music of choice at our house ... and just plain fun.