Monday, July 31, 2006

Right on the Edge ...

... Nehring the Edge has his list of 30 movies that matter posted, with a fantastic intro of thought on Christians and movie watching that deserves to be read even if you don't care about his movie recommendations (but you should care).

He has them divided into Safe, Moderate and ... Are You Out of Your Head? Go see what you think and start taking notes for your next trip to rent movies.

Worshiping in Community: Keeping it Real

(On the Memorial of St. Ignatius, it seems good to feature something from a book dedicated to helping us learn Ignatian techniques.)

There is something in me that always protests, usually silently, whenever someone declares that they don't need to go to church, that they can worship God by themselves. For a very select group of people that is true, but most of us do not have the attributes that were granted to those of the Church Fathers who went to the desert alone. I, for one, really can't contemplate 16 years on top of a pillar. However, I digress. That is another matter.

The excerpt below points out the many reasons worshipping in a community is so important. I have only been a Christian for a relatively short time but have experienced examples of all the things mentioned below.
... Spirituality cannot be a solitary endeavor; it must be grounded in the life of a community, or else it becomes little more than an isolated and ineffective version of self-help. Spirituality that is grounded in community is like the house built on rock that Jesus described (Mt 7:24); it is less likely to be blown away by the winds of change that inevitably move through our lives. When our spirituality arises from our participation in community, several things happen. First, we are challenged to see our prayer as one part of the larger exercise of living the Christian life, for we must apply our prayer to the ordinary problems of living with other people. This prevents us from treating spirituality solely as a private exercise. We will be in a position to encourage others in tough times; in turn, they can help us to persevere in periods of spiritual dryness. Second, participation in community worship means we will be confronting ideas that make us uncomfortable, pushing us outside of the natural comfort zones we develop in our spiritual lives. This point, I think, is difficult but important. It's easy to fall into patterns that must change as we grow. Third, we will begin to see our own spiritual lives in some perspective by seeing the struggles and issues of people who are both younger and older than us. Seeing what younger people confront can make us cognizant of how much more we must still grow. Considering the spiritual journeys of people around us can help us to navigate the changes we, too, encounter...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Saint Martha's Feast Day

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 I think it 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, I also like 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 me, 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 us have 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, I wonder how Martha knew that Jesus had arrived when Mary didn't. What it makes me think of is someone who is attuned to all the little details even in the middle of her grief. Maybe there was a flutter of unusual activity that clued her in, so she went to find out.

When we look at 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. I 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. And, 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). It makes me smile every time because Martha's unwavering, housewifely, detail-oriented common sense is used to emphasize the greatness of Jesus' miracle. The corpse is well into decay in that hot climate 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. 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.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Couple of Good Books

PROVEN GUILTY (The Dresden Files, Book 8)
by Jim Butcher
This is the most recent in the series about Harry Dresden, the magic wielding, wise cracking detective who is constantly in trouble up to his neck while having to save the world. This book finds Harry investigating a vague tip about black magic at a horror movies convention. Anyone who is a horror movie fan probably will get more out of the convention and monster scenes than I do as I am not really a fan. That said, I always enjoy the books in this series but this one was better than usual as it moved the series in new directions at the end. Also, although Harry usually describes himself as "theologically neutral" there is an unusual amount of Christian conversation (relatively speaking) since Michael's (the Templar Knight) family is present for a significant part of the book.
I frowned over a thought. "Padre. Tell me something. Why in the world would the Almighty send Michael off on a mission just when his family most needed him to protect them?"

Forthill arched an eyebrow. "My son," he said, "God knows all things at all times. By His very nature, his omniscience enables Him to know what has happened, is happening, and will happen. Thought we might not be able to see His reasons, or to agree with them from our perspectives, they are yet there."

"So what you're saying is that the Almighty knows best, and we just have to trust Him."

Forthill blinked. "Well. Yes."

"Is there any reason that the Almighty couldn't do something blatantly obvious?"

Poor Forthill. He'd been preparing himself for years for a theological duel with the shadowy wizard Dresden, and when the moment came, I wasn't even giving him a real fight. "Well. No. What do you mean?"
MASON-DIXON KNITTING: The Curious Knitters' Guide
by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne
I am not at all sure that these authors' names aren't pseudonyms for the Summa Mamas. The same down-home, hilarious, quirkiness runs throughout this book. The narrative is delightful and the patterns are simple enough that even the most inexperienced knitter (raising my hand) feels confident at substituting their own touches to make it their own. There is everything from washcloths to felted boxes to rugs. Just when I would look at a section and be prepared to skip it ... never having ever been a fan of the log cabin quilt pattern which they adapted for knitting for example ... I would flip a page and be entranced at how it had been tweaked into a modern and new look which made me want to knit it right then! This was a library book but has gone on my Amazon wish list because their ideas are inspired, varied, and flexible enough to last a long time. As I already said, the narrative is both homey and wacky ... but equally inspired. Below are a few selected items from their timeline of knitting history.
1595 B.C.
Woman waiting for Hittite husband to return from sacking of Babylon picks up string and two sticks, begins "Support Our Troops" scarf.

1595 BC (two minutes later)
Woman drops first stitch, utters first curse word related to knitting.

1896 A.D.
Siobahn Ogwnngyfleioghnn knits so poorly that she accidentally discovers the cable stitch.

1924 A.D.
Kleenex invented.

1924 A.D. (one hour later)
Mildred Farnwinkle of Dubuque, Iowa, completes first Kleenex box cozy.
Also, check out their blog.

As a side note, reading this book is when I realized that I do not have the common problem that most knitters do with a yarn "stash." However, I am finding myself collecting patterns like crazy, especially for socks as of late ... mine is a pattern "stash."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I Have Found Some New Patron Saints

Saint Typo
Patron Saint of Spell Checking and Google Searches

Courtesy of this saint-loving artist who saw a distinct lack of heavenly patrons for graphic designers, come The Patron Saints of Graphic Design. Do not miss these.

Via James Martin, who wrote that heavenly book, My Life with the Saints.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Comments Moderation Enabled

For the time being while I deal with a little troll problem. Note to self, put more chicken wire under that bridge!

In the meantime, should the troll slip through, please don't feed it. Thanks!


Scrutinies can't figure this out and really wants to know the answer. Y'all are good at these classically styled puzzles right? If you know the answer, help her out.
While you look for me and use your head to find my whereabouts, I am something. But as soon as you find me, I am nothing. Who am I?

Speaking of brain teasers, check out GOP Soccer Mom's puzzler.

The Global Catholic Church

I had an interesting conversation during one of the retreat break times that began with a question about the lack of vocations in the U.S. and wound its way through many subjects about the American Church.

It made me remember this good overview of the global Catholic Church from John Allen.

A Bleg That Entertains

A reader writes:
Some friends of mine have put together a promo video for NBC's "The Office" (for some kind of contest, I presume; the winning video/videos will be aired on the network, I believe). It would be really great if you would post a link to it and encourage your readers to vote...

Here's the link: You Reap What You Throw
This cracked me up. Go watch and vote if you feel moved to do so.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Holy Moly. Maybe She Just Had a Bad Day.

Following the trail of comments to my reporting of good reviews of The Lady in the Water, I came across another to add to the gaggle. Sarah at The Drama of Existence also reveled in the storytelling in that movie. In the process she mentioned something that I also had wondered about ... however, not having seen either movie I didn't comment.
I'm sorry to pick on Ms. Nicolosi again, but for someone to say Lady in the Water is "monstrously bad storytelling," and then call The Devil Wears Prada one of the best movies of 2006 shows the sad fact that originality and imagination and hidden meanings and allegories and even fairy tales are no longer appreciated nor wanted.
Now this is not unusual criticism for a movie critic to receive. And, it is not the first time that Barbara Nicolosi has been way off target from my point of view. Beginning with her strong dislike of The Lord of the Rings movies she has established a pattern of disliking movies that I usually love.

Well, we can't agree all the time. She and I can hardly agree any of the time about movies. So I simply ignore her reviews. I enjoy her other writing quite a bit and disagreeing on movies is hardly a crime (or so I thought until today). Possibly, it is as simple as Enbrethiliel's comment, made after hugely enjoying the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie which Barbara Nicolosi most emphatically did not find entertaining, "I guess that Barb Nicolosi, for all her wonderful qualities, has just, to quote another work of Uncle Gilbert's, 'never been a boy.'"

I was frankly stunned to see the tone and severity of the remarks that Nicolosi made in Sarah's comments boxes under the guise of "(and I am being harsh here to match the harsh comments you made about me as a critic)." Tit for tat.

Go read them for yourselves. Because here's the thing y'all. I thought that Nicolosi was a pro. A Hollywood pro. I also thought she understood how the industry worked and the way that blogging works.

Most of all I thought she was the type of person who wouldn't attack like that (read "a faithful Catholic practicing her faith"). We all have bad days. We all react suddenly sometimes when surprised and hurt. We all make mistakes. Here's hoping that someone who knows something about cinematic storytelling having been a screenwriter for a decade, after getting a graduate degree in it, and then afer having worked in a production company ... who has read hundreds of scripts and screened hundreds of films as a film juror for several national film festivals and awards ... oh, and so much more y'all ... here's hoping she also knows something about making an apology.


Barbara Nicolosi ... one classy lady. Well said!

Lady in the Water: a Gaggle of Reviews

Harry Knowles predicted that people would either like or loathe this movie.
There’s a scene in the movie where Paul Giamatti’s character has to be childlike, so that this ol Korean lady will tell him the whole story, so he can figure out how to save the Narf that has come under his care. He drinks milk, getting some on his moustache, he curls up, laying down on their couch… and has a carefree look upon his face. The scene, if seen through a serious light is ridiculous, but to me – that scene is how you have to see the whole movie. This is a fairy tale, a bedtime story told by M. Night Shyamalan as a tale about where inspiration comes from.

At least, that’s how I see it. It’s about throwing out logic and practicality. It’s about letting go of being self-conscious. It’s about goofily marching forward with chocolate syrup on your face while gnawing on centipedes. It is about breaking the real world down and placing it in a ludicrous bit of bedtime illogic.

Can you handle that?
What I find most interesting is the wide range of people who do like this movie.

John Mark Butterworth liked it so much that he followed up his review with an analysis. This is from the review.
Shyamalan is inviting those who can become as little children with minds for wit to contemplate how humans suffer and how they can be healed. He is calling the audience to be gentle as doves and wise as serpents. In fact, he makes Cleveland Heep reduce himself to that of pretending to be a child in order to persuade the Asian mother to reveal more of the Narf tale.

The crowd I saw it with had a hard time with this strange, filigreed plot and denouement. They seemed baffled, dismayed, or threatened by the purity and its attempt to thrust us into the heart of the Real for a moment.
Steven Riddle who I respect deeply especially for his ability to see below the surface. (scroll down to "Lady in the Water" as his permalinks are not working right.)
It is a film with a tremendous philosophical appeal, and that may be the flaw that makes it, perhaps a lesser film. Sometimes, the veil is torn away and one gets the "lecture" that has been hiding in some of Shyamalan's other films. This may be what bothers critics, but if so, it seems a case of intellectual laziness.
Jelly-Pinched Wolf liked it although his review focuses mostly on why people might not like it.
There's a character in the film who is a critic. He's a wanker, and is treated rather badly. This, I think, may be the source of so much bile from the critics. But what the character represents is not so much critics themselves, but the tendency people have to overanalyse books and movies--not after the experience, but during it. How can you possibly enjoy a story if you're sitting there the whole time thinking, "Oh, this is now the part when x will happen to this character, and then y will ensue, resulting in z ending." To be sure, many of today's movies do follow these formulas, and it's often hard not to notice them when they appear. But that doesn't mean we should go searching specifically for them during the movie. I'm not saying we should turn our brains off during movies (God forbid we should ever do that), but at the same time, how can you possibly enjoy a story if you are constantly trying to plug its parts into some analytical definition or another? But of course, the critics can only take the character who is a critic at face value. And I do wonder how much of their ire stems from that.
Jeffrey Overstreet gives it a B- and gives us hope by beginning with this observation.
Let’s put aside for a while the hype and hysteria regarding M. Night Shyamalan’s ego... the way he likes to talk about Bob Dylan and Michael Jordan as if he's their big screen equivalent. Let's turn away from the rants of those bloodthirsty critics who would like nothing better than to tear apart the film because of their dislike for the filmmaker and his reputation-crafting media hijinks.

The question for critics and general audiences alike should be — Is Lady in the Water a good movie?

And the answer is: Almost.

There are some nice ideas at work in this film that show off the director’s strengths. There is exactly one impressive performance. And one image in particular will stay with me forever. There are problems as well. But I’m not going to respond by presuming that Shyamalan is running out of ideas, or that his career is finished. Many artists go through dry spells, or stumble into bad imitations of their own work. And while this is, for me, the least of his big American movies, it isn’t even close to an occasion for derision. After all, substandard Shyamalan is still superior to the most engaging films of many familiar directors.
They've talked me into it. I want to see it.

Beyond Cana: the Retreat

Thanks so much for everyone's prayers. I think we can say the first St. Thomas Aquinas Beyond Cana retreat was a smashing success.

A.K.A. The Holy Spirit was flowing.

Our deacon attended most of the retreat not only to supply the liturgical side but also to evaluate the retreat itself, which was being given by the San Antonio team which developed the program. As he said, "I think it's great but the retreat isn't for me. We'll know by the fruits."

The fruits were very evident as the couples stood together in front of the altar, holding a single candle between them, looking in each other's eyes and smiling beatifically while renewing wedding vows. They certainly were evident from the fact that every single couple wanted to help in some way with the next retreat.

God has his hand on this process most personally as I was startled to realize (silly me, I know) when I was watching the wonderfully talented musician from the San Antonio team play his guitar and lead us in song. I thought, "Where will we ever find someone to do what Bill does?" And the thought popped into my head, "I will provide." Sure enough, at the end of the retreat one of the women was volunteering to do whatever was needed to help ... and we realized that she has a degree not only in music presentation but also in theology (related to music in some way but can't remember exactly how).

There also was a bit of excitement and panic as Tom and I found out exactly how quickly we could get home from Las Colinas when one of the girls called to say the the other was having chest pains bad enough to make her cry. We didn't beat the paramedics there but I can say that without driving dangerously it is a 15 minute trip. Luckily it turned out to be nothing serious but I did miss a portion of the retreat since I stayed home with the ailing one until the next morning.

No matter. It was in good hands.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

-- Homer J. Simpson
If we are to understand spirituality, we can begin by taking a look at how Ignatius wrote about it in his text: spirituality is a practice, a regular endeavor through which we come to build our lives on the love of God -- to order our lives according to God's plan for us. Its focus, then, is not primarily ourselves but, rather, God. In naming his spiritual practices "exercises," Ignatius sought to suggest something about how we ought to approach them: as undertakings we must repeat again and again in order to progress slowly toward a goal. We can see spiritual exercises, then, as a part of regular maintenance for the soul. If we practice them, we will give ourselves the chance to know God more intimately and to know God's will for us. Why is this important? Because, to paraphrase the themes of Psalm 139, God knows us better than we know ourselves. If God called us into existence and continues to intimately shape our existence very second, then God counts every hair on our heads and wants our good. Too often our lives bring us suffering, which seems so meaningless; and our natural reaction is to fight our suffering -- and often God, too -- in order to rid ourselves of it. Faith, I think, is the gift that enables us to suspend our judgments so that we might retain the belief that even through our suffering, God seeks our ultimate good.

The key word here is ultimate. Clearly, when I am suffering, I can't see any good in it. But if my concern is my ultimate good, then there are times when I must inevitably accept suffering. Back to our model then: if my life were devoted to the elimination of all suffering, then I could never grow strong. I would avoid all exercise because exercise sometimes involves certain levels of pain (no pain, no gain, right?). Taking this a step further, though, let us recognize that the objective is not pain per se -- not all pain is acceptable. There is a difference between the pain of my burning lungs after a good hard cardiovascular workout and the pain of a pulled muscle. Athletes must learn to distinguish good pain from bad pain, and in so doing, they learn how to tolerate the good and avoid the bad. Similarly, then, in the spiritual life, we must be concerned with learning how god helps us confront certain kinds of suffering that help us grow and how he helps us avoid the suffering that only breaks us down. Moreover, we can see from this example that the spiritual life must be more than simply avoiding suffering; rather it must be learning to discern among types of suffering and accepting the kinds that leads us to greater spiritual growth.
Exercise! Not a fan. Nope. But I never really thought about it applying to my spiritual life. You'd think that is the sort of thing that is a no-brainer but no ... it was an eye opener for me and that is just from part of the introduction to The Ignatian Workout: Daily Spiritual Exercises for a Healthy Faith by Tim Muldoon. If I'd have excerpted all the text that gave me "aha" moments then I'd have reproduced then entire introduction here for you.

Maybe this wouldn't have hit me so hard if it wasn't essentially the last whack from that holy 2 x 4 God keeps having to haul out for me.

The Operative: Do you know what your sin is?
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: Aw hell, I'm a fan of all seven... but right now, I'm gonna have to go with wrath.
Preparing the series on the seven deadly sins I'd nod my head here or shake it there over various of the individual sins. Let's face it, it is the rare soul who doesn't recognize at least a bit of themselves in most of them. However, when I got to Sloth I was taken aback. Somehow though I knew it was a sin I didn't really think about it ... certainly not to the point where I saw most of my major failings being described as seemed to be happening at that moment (now y'all can't wait for me to get to that post I know).

Ahem. Talk about a definition of why I am having a hard time with getting things done, especially in being disciplined about my prayer life. It was like a dash of ice water in my face. Time to wake up. Time to stop letting myself get so distracted and get focused on doing one thing at a time ... UNTIL IT IS DONE.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12:1 (English Standard Version)
Time to apply the remedy ... diligence.

With that in mind, I will be beginning the 34-week online retreat on Monday with two friends. These two wonderful women are not only great friends but they are great advisors. Both are so grounded and so different from me ... and that is all to the good when getting help in staying on the straight and narrow.

Also, I have begun listening to the Pray-as-you-go daily podcasts. Each is only ten minutes long but I was literally shocked at how often I was impatient simply while praying and meditating during the first session. Another wake up call, more ice water at how far I had slid from the days when I would gladly shut myself into our spare room three times a day for a few minutes of prayer.

Finally, we come to this book, which I first heard of through the Spirited Talk Today podcast. Anyone see a trend here? I sure do, reaching clear back to when I was Surprised by Jesuits.

There is definitely a plan and I am certainly being pointed in that direction. Of course, it's easy to recognize problems, to talk about solving them. The hard part is staying the course and doing it. Which is where that self-knowledge and diligence are going to come in on my part ... and leaning on my friends whether here or in that cloud of witnesses ... and, of course, God.

About the Only U2 Song I Know

Your Theme Song is Beautiful Day by U2

"Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away"

You see the beauty in life,
especially in ordinary everyday moments.

And if you're feeling down,
even that seems a little beautiful too.

Via Miss Cellania who shares my optimism!

There's No Critics Like Show Critics

Existentialism, the nature of truth and memory, whether it is damaging to watch other world views in movies, and much more ... we've got a high level discussion that has been going on for two days in the comments boxes of my list of movies for Movies that Matter. Check it out.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Movies That Matter, Part I: The Review

MOVIES THAT MATTER: Reading Film Through the Lens of Faith
by Richard Leonard
... St. Thomas argued that wherever faith, hope, love, justice, fidelity, self-esteem, prudence, mercy, and hospitality are present, then named or not, Christ is present. The best of missionary dialogue has been conducted on this basis, recognizing and affirming the goodness in culture. What applies to non-Christian cultures equally applies to non-Christian elements in our own culture -- at the metroplex.

We approach the task of inculturation by not being against everything. If a film presents virtues and values, and many do, then named or not, Christ is present in and through them. We should say yes to these movies and promote them. Yet we often insist that the world talk our talk and walk our walk. Jesus' great commission to go our to the world does not lead to that conclusion. Rather, Christ sends us to meet our sisters and brothers where they are, as they are. Again, Jesus is our model. The parables do not mention God. They rarely have a religious setting. Jesus takes ordinary events of daily life and draws out lessons about faith, hope, love, justice, fidelity, self-esteem, prudence, mercy, and hospitality. The cinema's parables can provide us with a venue in which to fulfill the great commission.
Richard Leonardi examines fifty-four popular movies and shows how Christian subtexts can be found in the most unlikely subjects. He begins by talking about the power of media to shape ideas and goes on to a good examination of positive and negative cultural "signposts" that can be found in current movies. This is followed by a look at individual movies which includes "teachable moments" to be found in each, a plot summary, how each shines a light on a particular Christian value, and a few simple questions that can further discussion.

Leonard has written a book that serves as a good primer for people who never have examined a movie beyond whether it entertained them or not. I can think of several friends who would benefit from such a book. Leonard's writing is clear and concise. He does a good job of communicating how to find Christian subtexts in the movies and how to apply them to our lives. Indeed, in the case of several movies that I thought I had thoroughly mined for information, he had several new ideas that I really enjoyed thinking about. For instance his discussion of The Exorcist and the nature of true evil as well as how The Exorcist is wrong on some key points was welcome and enlightening. When Leonard points out the sacramental nature of Chocolat I suddenly realized that chocolate in that movie is Eucharistic. Everyone who eats it suddenly realizes their true and better nature. The Lord of the Rings trilogy brings an insight about a Trinitarian imagery that I hadn't considered. I was well aware of Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn as Christ figures. However, I hadn't caught another reference.
Alternatively, we have a reimaging of the Trinity: Gandalf, the father who creates and calls; Frodo, the son who bears the form of the least but whose destiny is to save; and Galadriel, the spirit who inspires, enlightens, and comforts.
Unfortunately, a true movie aficionado will find that Leonard's commentary about The Lord of the Rings also embodies one of the ways that he falls prey to his own personal prejudices. He has a habit of using surprising and inappropriate moments to push his own personal agenda, which leans heavily towards social justice. Quite often, the interjection of a seemingly random, albeit quite pointed, comment throws the reader off stride since there is rarely any preparation for the remarks and seldom any followup. Many Catholics won't be surprised to find that Leonard is a Jesuit since this is a particular passion of that order. Social justice as a theme is certainly a purview of the movies, however, one only wishes that Leonard could contain his passion for more appropriate moments unlike his introduction to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Some Christians object to stories about wizards, elves, and dwarfs. For those who take evil seriously, such objections are nonsensical. I only hope those who get into a lather over the evil of fictitious creatures are equally committed to the anything-but-fictictious fight against starvation and the unjust distribution of wealth.
Unfortunately, instead of the author's intended effect, the above passage had the unintended result of making nearby people ask this reader what was so funny in response to the resultant snort of laughter. Similarly, one finds his anything-but-subtle commentary about theology scattered throughout as well. This continues through remarks about more accurate renditions of violence being shown if more women directed movies, the idea that only Jews can recognize blatant anti-Semitism (yes, that tired old horse is being beaten in his Passion of the Christ comments which can only have been included for Leonard's desire to castigate it considering the overwhelming negativity), and the idea that we have "overdone the father language in theology and liturgy" from which we are liberated when we pray to "God as mother." This becomes quite tiring after a short exposure and the reader wishes that the editor had been more vigilant about the author's interjection of personal commentary.

One suspects that this passion for social justice is also what prompted the quite predictable inclusion of movies which the moviegoing public needs no help with in seeing a Christian subtext. Almost half the movies (21 of 54) are those in which the theme is so blatant that the title is all one needs to know the social issue being explored. Usually the movies also have been discussed ad nauseum so that one knows the specific message without having to have seen the movie as well. Gandhi, Romero, JFK, Unforgiven, Schindler's List, The Shawshank Redemption, City of God, The Magdalene Sisters ... the list goes on and on. We already know these movies matter. Movie critics have told us so time and again. It would have been refreshing to have Leonard show us how movies matter that don't necessarily pound us over the head with message, however sensitive or well done. A few of these movies are to be expected but for such a large percentage to be so very obvious becomes quite boring and one again wishes for a more vigilant editor who would call the author to a higher standard. Even these could be forgiven if the author plumbed new depths but he follows the same well-trodden path as every other commenter. Perhaps that is because there are no other depths to be found in these films. As praiseworthy as the subjects of these pointed films are, they are not the movies which the general public is flocking to see, as is evident from the list in the beginning of the book of top ten grossing movies of all time. If the author was going for the obvious movies, these would have been the ones to include. We then would have seen such films as Titanic, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Star Wars, and gone with the Wind discussed. What enthralling and unexpected commentary that would have been for many.

It is obvious that Leonard does understand what sorts of movies that are both interesting and informative to discuss simply because of the strong possibility that no one ever looked for a Christian subtext. It was delightful and fascinating to see Groundhog Day, Finding Nemo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Italian for Beginners, and Chocolat discussed.
Christianity has had a variable relationship with the world. At times the world has been viewed as a hostile place with temptations and risks to the life of faith. This is the Marlin school of theology - venture out only when necessary, and then do so with extreme vigilance...

The Nemo school of theology holds that the world is the gift of God, to be explored, dealt with, delighted in, and within which we learn who we are and who God is in the scheme of things.
I never would have considered this reading of Finding Nemo and it was quite eye opening. I did not necessarily agree with the reasons given for his assessment (not included in the excerpt) but agreement is not necessary. Simply having the concept brought up opens new vistas of a movie in which one can then go on to explore those themes for oneself. Those glimpses of depth and insight applied to more popular movies were what frustrated the most in finding so few of these movies discussed. Even with these movies one does wish for an additional, deeper level of discussion such as can be found in the reviews from such favorite reviewers of deep faith as Nehring the Edge, Overlook Journal or Decent Films. However, if this book is viewed as a primer the lack of depth is more excusable.

Despite the negative, this book does have value and a place in the education of the film going public, especially those faithful Christians who haven't considered looking below the surface of movies that don't have an obvious Christian message. As I mentioned, the author does have some very interesting things to say even to those who are used to examining every movie indepth. The mere fact of disagreement with so much of what Leonard included has been the subject of on-going discussion in our household for the past three days. Any book that can engage such conversation is definitely worth reading. However, one must do so with an awareness that the author has his own specific nonsubtle message as well as simply pointing out how faith lies beneath seemingly ordinary entertainment.

Coming in Part II ... some movies to replace the "social justice, politically correct" choices included in the book, a.k.a. movies that the public might actually have gone to see.

This was a review copy provided by Loyola Press. I highly recommend their podcast "Spirited Talk Today" available through iTunes for hearing author interviews of upcoming books.

The Cheerful Struggle

When I think about keeping going in that interior, daily struggle, it is really funny (and amazing) how often the Galaxy Quest motto goes through my head ... "Never give up. Never surrender." It's funny because it's true.
The Christian's daily struggle will generally be specific and will entail fighting on very minor matters. Fortitude will be necessary in order to fulfill with sincere effort our acts of piety towards God, without abandoning them no matter what presents itself during the course of the day, and so as not to let ourselves be carried away by our state of mind at the time. The way we live charity, overcoming sudden ill-temper, making an effort to be warm, good-natured and considerate towards others -- these will be important, as will our efforts to finish off the work we have offered to God, without skimping or taking any shortcuts, doing it as well as we possibly can and using the means to receive the formation we need...

There will be moments of victory and defeat, of falling and of rising again. We must always begin again ...; it is what God asks of all of us. The struggle demands a love that is vigilant and an effective desire to seek God throughout the day. This cheerful struggle is the exact opposite of lukewarmness, which is characterized by carelessness, a lack of interest in seeking God, laziness and sadness in fulfilling our obligations towards God and other people.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What You Need to Know About the War in the Middle East

American Papist has put together a wonderful set of resources. I haven't said much about this because quite frankly I'm not very well informed, so I especially welcome this set of links.

However, I will add these links to Middle East bloggers that I read regularly. Keep an eye on them for commentary as well. If nothing else it gives an interesting insight to more than one side of the conflict.
  • Against the Grain has some additional news and commentary to add to the links given us by American Papist.
  • Spero News has had very good coverage throughout.
  • GOP Soccer Mom has been waiting for people to remember their history about what people were offered opportunities that they short-sightedly turned down.
  • Sand Gets in My Eyes points out an unexpected though welcome reaction from the Saudis.
    In making the statement, King Abdullah clearly condemns Hezbollah for their actions and lays the responsibility for making things right firmly on their heads.

    “It’s your mess,” he tells them. “Clean it up.”

    Instead of spewing Arab hatred at Israel and questioning the measure of their response, the King publicly reprimands Iranian-backed Hezbollah calling them irresponsible and unaccountable...

    And King Abdullah isn’t the only Saudi official speaking out...

Friday, July 14, 2006

It's Pretty Clear That We Need More Pirates

Since I'm all about saving the environment and everything. Via Listen 2 Your Uncle Jay who I found thanks to March Hare (who you all should be reading!).

The Interior Struggle and Failure

It is really true that how we treat failure in our lives is just as important as how we treat success.
In the interior struggle we will also meet with failures. Many such failures will be unimportant; other will be more serious, but our atonement and our contrition will bring us even closer to God. And if ever we smash into small pieces what we felt was most precious in our life, God will be able to mend that very thing if we are humble. He always forgives us and helps us when we turn to him with a contrite heart. We must learn to begin again many times; with new joy, with new humility, for even if we have caused serious offence to God and have done much harm to other people, we can still later come very close to God in this life and be happy with him in the next, as long as there is true repentance, as long as we make room in our lives for penance, humility, sincerity and repentance -- and begin again.

God allows for our weakness and always forgives us, but we need to be sincere, to repent and to struggle to rise up again. There is incomparable joy in heaven each time we begin again. Throughout our journey on earth we will have to do so many times, because there will always be faults, shortcomings, weaknesses and sins for us to recover from. May we never lack the straightforwardness to acknowledge this and to open our souls to Our Lord in the Tabernacle and in spiritual direction.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Powerful Stuff

Rosalind Moss's talk, "Mary, Our Jewish Mother" which can be found on iTunes under Ave Maria University Presents. Not just about Mary but also about her conversion when she accepted that Jesus was the Messiah. Here's the link to their website.

What Happened Here?

In Mountain Meadows, Utah on September 7, 1857.
Aaargh! Apologies to all ... I mistyped and got the date wrong. Based on the comments so far I think that my brother and Rick Lugari are clued in on this incident.

Answer (in invisi-type)
The Fancher party, comprising more than 120 emigrants from Arkansas headed to California by wagon train, was attacked by a party variously described as Paiute Indians acting at the behest of Mormons, or Mormons disguised as Indians, or a combination of Mormons and Indians. The emigrants were besieged for five days; then a group of Mormons promised to lead them to safety. Instead, on September 11, they shot all but seventeen of the emigrants point-blank in what is now called the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The seventeen survivors, all children under five, were distributed among Mormon families. All but one were later recovered by a federal agent.

To Persecute the Church is to Persecute Jesus

I never thought about it this way ... about how it applies to us today.
Those people who claim to approach Christ whilst leaving his Church to one side, and even causing her harm, may one day get the same surprise as Saint Paul did when he was on his way to Damascus: I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9:5) And, the Venerable Bede reflects that He does not say "why are you persecuting my members, but why are you persecuting me?" For He is still affronted in his Body, which is the Church. Paul did not know until that moment that to persecute the Church was to persecute Jesus himself. When he speaks about the Church later on, he does so in words that describe her as the Body of Christ; (1 Cor 12:27) and he describes the faithful as members of Christ's Body. (1 Cor 2:27) It is not possible to love, follow or listen to Christ, without loving, following, or listening to the Church, because she is the presence, at once sacramental and mysterious, of Our Lord, who prolongs his saving mission in the world to the very end of time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Where'd That Word Come From: Armadillo

This peculiar animal -- noted for its distinctive armored appearance -- gets its name from the diminutive form of the Spanish word armado, which means "armed man." The root word is the Latin verb armare, meaning "to arm."
The Word Origin Calendar

Quickest Movie Reviews Ever

I waited too long to see this and the genre has passed it by. It is sadly dated. I watched for 45 minutes to give it a fair chance, also since I like Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis ... *yawn*. Predictable. The clever lines ... weren't. Next!

Lauded by critics everywhere. Written and directed by Quinten Tarentino whose movies I'd never seen. Also, it was based on an Elmore Leonard novel, which worked marvelously well for Get Shorty and Out of Sight. Here's more proof (beyond X3) that the director can kill a good premise in a movie. That's another two hours of my life I'll never get back. Too long, story told in an extremely uninteresting way and a complete waste of top notch acting talent.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Update on My Friend Cynthia

Just got this news from someone who saw her this morning.
She has been moved from the ICU to a regular hospital room (#822). They had just gone through a physical therapy session, with Cynthia walking for the first time (with assistance). Her right side is still only at about 70%, which is a great deal better than the 0% of a few days ago. Her angiogram indicates that the blood vessel sealed itself, so surgery may not be necessary. However, a great deal of rehab will be required.
Praise God and keep those prayers coming!

Second Verse, Same as the First

The socks are done!
Hannah put them on as soon as the last one came off my needles and
I had a difficult time getting her to take them off for this photo. Quite satisfying!

Next up, a pair for Rose using Magic Stripes yarn.

Also, I'm beginning a feather and fan patterned afghan for Hannah to take to school. I'm realistic ... just hoping to get it done before she graduates! I am using Plymouth Encore Worsted because you've gotta be able to throw this in the washer and dryer. She chose Soft Rose for the main color and Cranberry for the contrasting color.

The Whole Scoop on the Holy Grail

Grail Code by Michael Aquilina and Christopher Bailey

I have written about this book fairly frequently so y'all know that I like and recommend it. Upon finishing it, I think that the thing that stands out the most is just how much our age misunderstands the grail story in its entirety, misled by story tellers of long ago who misinterpreted it to suit their times (almost Da Vinci Code style one might say). If you are at all interested in refuting the Da Vinci Code or in the stories of King Arthur and the Holy Grail then you owe it to yourself to get the whole story.

By the way, speaking of the Holy Grail which Valencia has some longstanding claims for, check this out.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Prayer Request for My Friend Cynthia

I was greatly shocked by the news that my friend Cynthia Vasquez is in ICU suffering from an aneurysm. She's a vibrant 30 year old who is loving and giving ... I also have worked with her as a client where she was a dream to work with.

Please pray for her recovery and for her family.

Knit Bit

"Knitting for Britain" was something of an escape from more serious work at a British boarding school during World War II. I suppose therapeutic, perhaps, at a time when life was so tangled. But no one ever thought it odd that a school of 200 boys should be busily whiling away the hours in such an activity as knitting.
"When Knitting Was a Manly Art" by Clinton Trowbridge
from the Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 1997

Get Your Thinking Caps On

From the Mensa Puzzler Calendar.
Find the word that best completes the following sequence.


Did I get this? Pfft! No!

Mark Mossa emailed me the answer about 30 seconds after I posted this so I'll go ahead and put it up now...
c) NINETY (each word starts with the last letter of the preceding word).

Saturday, July 8, 2006

On Loving Our Enemies

Copying this into my quote journal tonight, I thought of the uproar caused some time ago about a blogger who admitted that she had deliberately passed by a mother and small children whose car was broken down because at the last minute she saw a political sticker she didn't agree with (either Vote Republican or something in support of George Bush ... I can't remember and that isn't the point anyway). Later, I am so happy to say that the blogger repented although many of her commenters were much less praiseworthy in their wholehearted approval of her initial actions.

Then I thought of this post that I read today at The Anchoress. I confess that I didn't go read the original linked commentary because what The Anchoress said made it very clear that this woman was so enraged that she was almost not recognizable as a human through her hatred. I didn't want to read it in the original. I didn't want to sully my mind with words I probably wouldn't be able to forget. Honestly, I felt real pity for that woman who was letting her emotions control her actions so. I am going to pray for her. (You know that prayer by now, right? "Lord have mercy on me and bless her...)

I was going to post this next week but thought that maybe now was a better time. It is a longer version of one of my favorite quotes from one of my very favorite saints ... Augustine ... seems all too appropriate to the situation of the woman who said that her enemy and his child were "no longer human."
Saint Augustine (354-430)
Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and Doctor of the Church

Commentary on the 1st Letter of John, 8,10

"It is mercy I desire"

In loving your enemy, you want him to be your brother. You do not love in him what he is, but what you want him to be. Let us imagine some oak wood that has not been carved. A capable craftsman sees this wood that has been cut in the forest; he likes the wood. I do not know what he wants to make out of it, but the artist does not love this wood so that it might remain as it is. His art lets him see what the wood can become. He does not love the rough wood; he loves what he will make of it, not the rough wood.

That is how God loved us when we were sinners. For he said: "People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do." Did he love us sinners so that we might remain sinners? The craftsman saw us like a piece of rough wood coming from the forest, and what he had in mind was the work he would draw from there, not the wood from the forest.

It is the same with you: you see your enemy who opposes you, who overwhelms you with scathing words, who is harsh in his insults, who pursues you with his hatred. But you are attentive to the fact that he is a human being. You see everything that this person did against you, and you see in him that he was created by God. What he is as a human being is God's work; the hatred he bears towards you is his own work. And what do you say to yourself? "Lord, be kind to him, forgive his sins, inspire him with fear of you, change him." In this person, you do not love what he is, but what you want him to be. Thus, when you love your enemy, you love a brother.

My Itty Bitty Vacation

Tom and Rose are on the long awaited Father-Daughter trip (marking Rose's achievement of becoming 16). They are having a fabulous time in Chicago by all accounts. The art museum blew them away. They took more than 200 photos, talked to most of the guards by all accounts, and I can't tell you the number of times that Tom said, in awed tones, "World class, really world class!" The pizza crust at Uno's also blew them away (how did they get it so light and not bready but still substantial) while the sauce got lower grades. Today they are off for the boat architectural tour as well as other things not yet decided upon by last night.

Meanwhile, I am loafing. Just plain loafing. Begging off a meeting that was requested (which I never do), watching movies with Hannah (how could I have forgotten just how excellent All That Jazz is?), playing Shadows of Amnh for the umpteenth time (if anyone knows of a similar high quality D&D game that will play on the Mac cube puhleeze let me know!), knitting and listening to podcasts. Getting ready to take Hannah shopping for a few college essentials (doesn't everyone need a Hello Kitty body pillow for their dorm bed?). Reading fluff novels until midnight.

How does this differ from my regular routine you might ask? Well, I am not worrying about what to fix for dinner. Or sticking to any routine ... it probably is not all that different but let's just pretend shall we?

Friday, July 7, 2006

Gandhi, Spinning, and Sacrifice

I think of the poor of India every time that I draw a thread on the wheel. For a person suffering from the pangs of hunger, and desiring nothing but to fill his belly, his belly is his God. To him anyone who gives him bread is his master. Through him he many even see God. . . . Therefore I have described my spinning (a daily activity) as a penance or sacrament. And, since I believe that where there is pure and active love for the poor there is God also, I see God in every thread that I draw on the spinning wheel.
Mohandas Gandhi, Khadi, pages 110-111
Heather at CraftLit has a very interesting essay that I found quite thought provoking. She talks about 9/11 and how the only people who seem to be making sacrifices are the soldiers and their families. She is talking about the sort of sacrifices that the average citizen made during WWII and which we all have heard about whether from grandparents, books, or movies. This then segueways into a discussion of Gandhi and how he spun yarn for half an hour every day as a combination of solidarity, service, and penance for impoverished Indians.
You might ask how it is possible to find God through the spinning wheel. . . . One has to learn to efface self or the ego voluntarily and as a sacrifice in order to find God. The spinning wheel rules out exclusiveness. It stands for all, including the poorest. It, therefore, requires us to be humble and to cast away pride completely. When self is shed the change will be reflected in our outward behavior. . . . Everything we do will be undertaken not for little self but for all.
Mohandas Gandhi, Khadi, page 115
This essay was unusual for several reasons. First, CraftLit basically is a knitting podcast so when a knitter begins ranting I lose interest. It is inevitably about something like the fact that someone has called knitting a hobby or some such other thing that I feel is being way too touchy.

Second, as you can imagine the idea of performing a service as a penance and offering it for others perked up my ears because that entire concept is so Catholic. Then when I heard about the humbling effect of spinning for others I knew it was Catholic ... yes, expressed by someone who wasn't Christian, but it is one of those common splinters of truth that God spreads throughout the world. To hear it coming from Gandhi and then being pulled around and applied to us in the war on terror was fascinating. (And she's right, y'all.)
To find God one need not go out anywhere. He resides in our hearts. But if we install self or ego there we dethrone God. . . . Although He is the King of kings, Most High, Almighty, yet He is at the beck and call of anyone who has reduced himself to zero and turns to Him in uttermost humility of spirit. Let us then become poor in spirit and find Him within ourselves.
Mohandas Gandhi, Khadi, page 115
Third, it actually inspired me to go to the blog and read Heather's 9/11 story (which I strongly encourage y'all to do). She was right in the middle of 9/11, being a teacher at the time in a school that was in the shadow of the World Trade Center. It is a harrowing tale. I also read the piece linked to about Gandhi and spinning which was quite good.

If you download Episode 11 (which you can do on iTunes or from the CraftLit blog) just listen to the part where she gets on her "soapbox."

I do want to mention that this podcast would be good for anyone who is interested in literature. Although I have described it as a knitting podcast, it doesn't really have a lot of knitting content. There is a bit at the beginning and then the rest is given over to chapters of an audiobook. The idea is that it is something good to listen to while knitting (or washing the floor, folding laundry, driving, etc. ... which are also things we can offer to God ... though whether as prayer or penance depends on how much you might dislike those tasks!).

I find that one of the most enjoyable parts is listening to Heather's commentary on what happened in the last chapters and teasers about what is upcoming in the current episode. She is quite enthusiastic and that makes the book all the more enjoyable. Currently, she is presenting Pride and Prejudice but has been entertaining suggestions as to the next book which range from Tom Sawyer to Tristan and Iseult. If you are at all interested in such things, do go give it a try ... who knows when the next time is that Heather will break loose and give us a good, thought provoking rant? You don't want to miss that, do you? I didn't think so!

The De-Deification of the American Faithscape

Very rarely do I regret not having cable. Watching this clip of Steven Colbert is one of those times. This is hilarious not only for his comment about "the one true faith" but just all round.

Via Mormon2Catholic whose own commentary on all this is well worth reading (welcome back girl, we've missed ya!).

What a Puzzler!

From the Mensa Puzzle Calendar.
Our local toy store prices its merchandise according to the owner's whim. A doll costs 70 cents, a train costs 80 cents, a drum costs 70 cents, and a dollhouse costs $1.40. According to this system, how much will a jumping jack cost?
$1.90 (vowels are worth 10 cents; consonants are worth 20 cents).

God Did Not Spare His Own Son For Us

This month's Word Among Us articles are all written by one of my favorite homilists, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, who I believe is preacher to the papal household. Everything he says always has such a weight of truth, reality, and beauty for me. You can go read all three articles online but here is an excerpt, lengthy to be sure, from the one I read this morning about the mystery of God's love for us.
“My Father Was Holding Me.” A child who is certain of his Father’s love will grow up strong, secure, happy, and free for life. God’s word wants to do this for us. It wants to restore this security to us. Our solitude in this world cannot be overcome except by faith in God the Father’s love.

Observe a child walking with his father, holding his father’s hand, or being swung around by him, and you will have the best picture of a happy, free child, full of pride. I read somewhere that once an acrobat did a stunt on the top floor of a skyscraper; he leant out as far as he could possibly go, supporting himself on the bare tips of his toes and holding his small child in his arms. When they came down, someone asked the child if he had been afraid, and the child, surprised at the question, answered, “No. My father was holding me!”

God’s word wants us to be like that child. And reminding us that God did not spare his own Son for us, St. Paul cries out joyfully and victoriously, “If God is for us, who is against us? . . . Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:31-37). And Jesus tells us therefore to free ourselves of fear, of all cowardice, of all discouragement. Your Father knows you and your Father loves you, Jesus says. You were not given the spirit of slaves, to fall back into fear, but the spirit of children to cry out: Abba, Father!

Absolute Trust. Before such an incomprehensible love it comes spontaneously to us to turn to Jesus and ask him: “Jesus, you are our elder brother; tell us what we can do to be worthy of so much love and suffering on the Father’s part?” And from the height of his cross, Jesus answers us: “There is,” he says, “something you can do, something I also did, for it pleases the Father: Have confidence in him, trust him against everything, against everyone, against yourselves. When you are in darkness and distress, when difficulties threaten to suffocate you and you are on the point of giving up, pull yourself together and cry aloud, ‘Father, I no longer understand you but I trust you!’ And you will find peace again.”

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Ladies, I Highly Recommend ...

... that if you happen to be in a bookstore and see this edition of Rolling Stone, just pick it up and turn to page 48. Now, there's a sight that'll take your breath away.

Rose is considering putting it on her wall. I might have to start tucking in her in at night again.

Here is Jeffrey Overstreet's review. I'd go see the movie this weekend but will wait until Rose and Tom come back from Chicago.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

At the Movies: Quick Reviews

Everyone knows the story to Pixar's latest hit, right? Hot shot racing rookie Lightning McQueen is on his way to ultimate fame and glory at a race in California. However, he accidentally gets derailed and winds up in Radiator Springs, once a bustling town on Route 66, but little more than a ghost town populated by a few die hard citizens. Yes, the story is predictable. However, it is told so well and with such loving attention to the details (I did say it is a Pixar movie, right?), that predictability doesn't matter in the least. I have heard critics bemoaning the two-hour run time and a slow beginning. We noticed none of those things. By the way, his is where it helps to have a car buff sitting beside you through the movie to point out all the clever details. As with all Pixar flicks be sure to stay until the credits are done. Especially watch the fun they have with the cars at the drive in while the credits are running. Genius, pure genius! (HC rating: Nine thumbs up!)

A sweet and light hearted little movie, this is the one that launched the Wilson brothers and Wes Anderson. Owen Wilson plays the relentlessly intent leader of a group of quirky losers who plans a heist and can't see how absurd his plans are. Along the way the group falls under the tutelage of a real crime boss (James Caan). Meanwhile, the other members of the group are learning to deal with love and family members in their own ways. I can't really communicate just how goofy and funny this movie was but we all loved it. (HC rating: Good despite lack of flubber)

A perfect balance of the absurd and sincere, Shaolin Soccer is the story of an old, lame soccer player who wants to coach and teams up with a young, intense man (Steel Leg) who wants to show that Shaolin Kung Fu can make life better for everyone ... oh, and he also needs work. They gather together Steel Leg's old kung fu brothers and embark on a journey to win the soccer championship against the local reigning champions (need I add that they are evil?). This movie somehow pulls off a sort of wacky cartoonish quality at the same time as sincerely telling a good story. Complete with Hollywood movie references, really funny lines at unexpected times, fantastical martial arts, and unworldly powers, this movie should not be missed. One caveat, the captioning is truly off at times, with such problems as "bald" being consistently spelled "blad" and "the soccer ball" being called "the soccer." However, this is not enough to detract from the magic of this tale which we loved. Now, I can't wait to rent Kung Fu Hustle, also by this director. (HC rating: Nine thumbs up!)

Watching this riveting movie made me wish that Spike Lee made more "big hit, mainstream" movies. The trailers sold this all wrong. It really is about watching smart hostage negotiator Denzel Washington play a game of wits with crime mastermind Clive Owen (who never looked better, by the way). We don't know Owen's plan until the very end but our family was thinking out loud with Washington the whole time. This movie takes us for a great ride with a smart plot, great acting, and a welcome lack of violence along the way. The "R" rating is for liberal use of language. (HC rating: Nine thumbs up!)

Trailers that caught our eye...
Most of the trailers that we saw with Cars looked downright bad. "Flicka" especially enraged me as I loved that book as a child and to put a girl in the lead instead of the original boy is the height of political correctness. Aaargh!

However, these two looked good enough that we'll be checking out the reviews when they come out.

That Imbalance Rooted in the Heart of Man

"They begged him to leave their neighborhood"

The modern world shows itself at once powerful and weak, capable of the noblest deeds or the foulest; before it lies the path to freedom or to slavery, to progress or retreat, to brotherhood or hatred. Moreover, man is becoming aware that it is his responsibility to guide aright the forces which he has unleashed and which can enslave him or minister to him. That is why he is putting questions to himself.

The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man. For in man himself many elements wrestle with one another. Thus, on the one hand, as a creature he experiences his limitations in a multitude of ways; on the other he feels himself to be boundless in his desires and summoned to a higher life. Pulled by manifold attractions he is constantly forced to choose among them and renounce some. Indeed, as a weak and sinful being, he often does what he would not, and fails to do what he would (cf. Rom 7:14ff.). Hence, he suffers from internal divisions and from these flow so many and such great discords in society...

Nevertheless, in the face of the modern development of the world, the number constantly swells of the people who raise the most basic questions or recognize them with a new sharpness: What is man? What is this sense of sorrow, of evil, of death, which continues to exist despite so much progress? What purpose have these victories purchased at so high a cost? What can man offer to society; what can he expect from it? What follows this earthly life?

The Church firmly believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all (cf. 2 Cor 5:15), can through his Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under the heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved (cf. Acts 4:12). She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and the goal of man as well as of all human history. The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever (cf. Heb 13:8).
Second Vatican Council
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), 9-10


Tuesday, July 4, 2006

God Bless America, Land That I Love

Happy birthday, USA!


Some good holiday reading can be found at:
Good holiday listening can be found at:
  • Maria Lectrix where Maureen treats us to The Man Without a Country by Edward Everett Hale. I have never, ever forgotten this story, read long ago in school. It made a huge impact on me and if you have never come across it you are in for a treat.

Monday, July 3, 2006

NCR's Eric Scheske Gets Brave ...

... in search of youthful Catholic bloggers and finds out that there are some darned good ones out there. Some are familiar to me such as Shrine of the Holy Whapping and American Papist. However, he lists many I haven't heard of that I have gotta check out (because that's what I need ... more blogs to read ... right?).

You can read the whole column over at Totus Pius, a blog I'm going to be visiting often in the days to come.

I was really happy to see my pal Laura H under bloggers to watch and encourage. She definitely deserves it.

Eric also was extremely kind to Happy Catholic in his reader recommendations. Thanks Eric! His blog is a fairly new one to me but not to those in the know. If you haven't been by there, go check it out.

C'mon Baby, Don't Fear the Jedi

People bemoan the state of modern society. They lament the seeming stranglehold that secularism, modernism, relativism, pop culture, and ... yes, a new paganism seem to have on our hearts. At times it can seem overwhelming and ... let's admit it ... a bit hopeless.

Let's see how St. Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 604, instructed St. Augustine of Canterbury when he was faced with similar circumstances in Britain.
To his most beloved son, the Abbot Mellitus:

Gregory, the servant of the servants of God.

We have been much concerned, since the departure of our congregation that is with you, because we have received no account of the success of your journey. When, therefore, almighty God shall bring you to the most reverend Bishop Augustine, our brother, tell him what I have, upon mature deliberation on the affair of the English, determined upon, vis., that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let holy water be made and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more familiarly resort to the places to which they have been accustomed.

And because they have been used to slaughter many oxen in the sacrifices to devils, some solemnity must be exchanged for them on this account, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they may build themselves huts of the boughs of trees, about those churches which have been turned to that use from temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer beasts to the devil, but kill cattle to the praise of God in their eating, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their sustenance; to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God.

For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface everything at once from their obdurate minds; because he who endeavors to ascend to the highest place rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps. Thus the Lord made himself known to the people of Israel in Egypt; and yet he allowed them the use of the sacrifices which they were wont to offer to the devil, in his own worship; so as to command them in his sacrifice to kill beasts, to the end that, changing their hearts, they might lay aside one part of the sacrifice, whilst they retained another, that whilst they offered the same beasts which they were wont to offer, they should offer them to God and not to idols; and thus they would no longer be the same sacrifices.

This it behooves your affection to communicate to our aforesaid brother, that he, being there present, may consider how he is to order all things.

God preserve you in safety, most beloved son.
This comes via Grail Code where the authors go on to point out that this practical advice is also quite tolerant and understanding of human nature.
The people are used to coming to certain places for worship so let them continue -- but to worship the true God, not pagan idols. The people love their traditional feasts, so keep the feasts -- and use them as opportunities to celebrate the new faith. The very things the people enjoy most about their pagan traditions can be the means of leading them to Christ.
Not only does that give us good information to use when people bring up the fact that Christian holidays are often held at the same time as previous pagan ones, but it gives us a wonderful insight of practical application of that old saw "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar."

Hard upon the heels of reading the above excerpts, I came across Rod Bennet's wonderful talk about the new mythology that is arising from pop culture.
Well, here in the 21st century we really are witnessing the birth of a new mythology. A popular, media-based mythology just as elaborate as that of the Greeks and the Romans -- and for many people (not just kids) it serves the same semi-religious function in life. I'm talking, of course, about the rise--to an almost central role in the lives of our young people--of fantasy films, video games, and literature in our culture.

Most of you spend time with children or teenagers on a regular basis. So I'm sure you know by now, that large continuing fantasy sagas like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Pokemon and so forth are a major part of cultural discourse these days. Each of these sagas has its own elaborate backstory, it's own body of arcane knowledge, and our kids have made mastering the minutiae of their chosen discipline into something like a private devotion. Anthropologically speaking, it's an amazing thing to watch--and certainly something those of us involved in raising children today ought to be talking about.
That excerpt is just the tip of the iceburg in a wonderful series of posts that touches on modern icons like Superman and Spiderman, modern mythologists like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and ... wait for it ... the Holy Spirit crying to modern hearts from the splinters of light contained in pop culture.
Secondly, we need not despise nor fear "the Jedi religion"--any more than St. Justin despised Platonism. As Justin did, we can respect it, even enjoy it--without actually believing in it. We need constantly to remember that our students, our friends, our neighbors are not turning to things like "the Jedi religion--out of perversity or sheer cussedness...they struggle along on these thin hopes because they have, for whatever reason, despaired of any rational religious hope. Possibly they've never heard the Christian Gospel at all. Also: the multiplicity of competing, contradictory sects in America is enough to make anyone conclude that it's all just human opinion...nonsense. And the Church's own shortcomings contribute to this. We ourselves make the Faith hard to believe--every time we leave a scandal uncorrected, an abuse unreformed. These modern myths are not so much rivals to the true Faith as very imperfect substitutes for it. Stop-gap measures. And if no Christian ever comes to shepherd these longings to a happier conclusion--whose fault is that? Certainly not the poor pagan's...struggling along with his "conflicting thoughts." Our attitude should be that of Chesterton: "[The mythmaker does not speak] with the voice of a priest or a prophet saying 'These things are.' It is the voice of a dreamer and an idealist crying, 'Why cannot these things be?'
Please do go read all five of these posts. The New Gods, Romance Is Religion, Good Dreams, The God-Shaped Vacuum, and Conclusion. I think you will find it well worth your time. (Via Way of the Fathers.)