Friday, November 30, 2007

Saved in Hope: Pope's New Encyclical Released

Pope Benedict XVI released Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope) today. The very word "encyclical" seems intimidating but I often have found encyclicals to be surprisingly easy to read and understand.

So now the Pope has written about love and hope. Can an encyclical on faith be far behind?

John Allen reports "Benedict wanted this encyclical to appear in the Christmas season, since Christmas is the great feast of the Incarnation, traditionally understood as the principal symbol of Christian hope. On Saturday, the church enters the period of Advent, pointing towards Christmas."

Get the Vatican's English translation of Spe Salvi.

John Allen has two articles about it already which I will be reading after I have read the document itself.

"God bless America and I mean it."

These were words uttered by Rosalie Schiff last night at a talk she and her husband, William, gave at Rose's school. As they are Holocaust survivors telling their stories, attendance yielded students an extra credit in history (a worthy lure). We also were grateful for their talk as Rose retold it throughout dinner last night. It was touching, inspiring, much was sorrowful, and the sheer evil described was incomprehensible. However, it is important to keep this reminder in front of us that we may attempt to keep history from repeating itself.

Interestingly, when we looked up their book (find it here) Tom remembered hearing that the Schiff's live in Dallas and their co-author goes to our parish. Sometimes it is a very small world.

I completely missed the fact that the Dallas Morning News was publishing excerpts, for which you can find links here and here.

Ready for Some Latin?

Or perhaps I should say, ready to help ME with some Latin pronunciation?

Here it is:

"Flammascat igne caritas accendat ardor proximos ..."

May the fire of love burn ever bright, enkindling others with its flame."

11-1, How Sweet It Is!

How 'bout those Cowboys?

I also was happy to see how well the second string Packers quarterback played when he got the chance (as long as he didn't play so well that they won the game, that is). Working in Brett Favre's shadow must be fairly unsatisfying and I could imagine his family's delight at seeing him doing so well last night..

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

So Many Movies, So Little Time

We watched so very many movies over Thanksgiving that I was astounded. However, it was great fun. I already reviewed American Gangster and mentioned The Prestige. Here is a very quick rundown of the others:
  • My Best Friend (French): a nice little story about a man who suddenly realizes that he has no friends at all and sets about making some. The surprise that happens to the taxi driver in the end of the movie had us laughing in appreciation of the familiarity. You'll know it when you see it.

  • Reign Over Me: I was surprised at how very much I liked this movie. It had the potential to be a real downer as it examines grief from several angles, but thanks to the strength of friendships and comedy the movie wound up being uplifting.

  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: spoofing noir at the same time as BEING a noir movie. Hard to do but this is great. It is also great fun watching Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer in this movie.

  • Citizen Kane: Tom and I hadn't seen this for (mumble, mumble) maybe 20 years? Rose wanted to see it and it was fascinating to watch for the many techniques that Wells did for the very first time and that are now common. As well, the final shot of the movie hit me like a slap in the face ... I just didn't see it coming. (And, no, I'm not talking about Rosebud.)

  • Amelie: (we actually watched this the weekend before Thanksgiving). This was a delight to me simply for its sheer Frenchness. It is difficult to see how any other culture would have made this movie with its mix of whimsy, sex, romance, and ... well ... Paris. It also is a celebration of friendship, love, and connectedness.

Bringing the Saints to the Streets

... the streetwise lingo represented the playwright's attempt at what theologians call an "inculturation of the Bible--that is, a translation of the Gospel texts not simply into a different language but for a different culture.

For Guirgis, that culture is contemporary urban life. Hence, his saints and apostles speak (and often shout) as if they were standing on a crowded subway platform at rush hour. Freed from the need to provide historically accurate quotations for his characters, Guirgis deploys such language to reveal the essential nature of his characters in surprising ways.

For example when the defense attorney in Judas faces difficulty in getting Judas's case heard before a judge in the afterlife, she appeals to Saint Monica, the fourth-century woman whose relentless prayers are credited for the conversion of her wayward son, Augustine. In the biography Augustine of Hippo, church historian Peter Brown describes Monica as an "all-absorbing mother, deeply injured by her son's rebellions."

In Guirgis's world, a fiery Monica is a self-described nag who encourages the audience to seek her intercession: "I got a calling, y'all--you should try giving me a shout if ya ever need it, 'cuz my name is Saint Monica ... and ya know what? My ass gets results!"

Among some Jesuits, Guirgis's approach got results, too. After one performance, a friend said to me, "Maybe I should start praying to Saint Monica again."
A Jesuit Off-Broadway turned out to be one of my favorite books of the year. I am not alone as the book made Publishers' Weekly list for best books of the year (noted here along with a link to a chapter pdf). Father James Martin wound up acting as theological consultant for the Off-Broadway play, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot when Sam Rockwell, the actor portraying Judas, and the playwright, Stephen Guirgis, were directed to Father Martin for background and insights. Later, as the cast somewhat adopted him, Father Martin wound up acting as a unofficial chaplain to the group.

Father Martin leads a diverse group of actors in theology "classes," gives them biographies of saints, and helps them dig deeper into essential questions of faith in everyday life. In return, he finds their fresh approach to the Gospels and the main characters therein to be thought provoking. It can be enlightening for us as well to see how well the playwright encapsulates characters to give us fresh insights.
In Stephen's play, the defense attorney questions the high priest about his decision to hand over Jesus to the Roman authorities. Caiaphas responds with growing impatience:
Our Torah has six hundred thirteen Sacred Laws--I can't even count how many Jesus broke or treated with wanton disregard and disdain! He broke the laws that came from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! He violated the word of God. He violated the laws of Moses. He consorted with the Unclean, and women, and prostitutes. He performed Miracles on the Sabbath. He proclaimed himself Messiah! He forgave sin! Who was he to forgive sin?!Only God can do that! If that's not crossing the line, then I don't know what is!
..."Sometimes," explained Jeffrey [the actor portraying Caiaphas], "I would feel such rage on his behalf. Rage to the point of tears. Having to answer questions from the lawyers suggested that Caiaphas was less of a man, less of a human being, and even suggesting that he was evil."
As the play script develops and production begins, he not only takes us behind the scenes with him but shares how this all affects the actors with distinctly different religious backgrounds who are living their faith on widely differing levels. I especially liked the fact that Father Martin did not pass judgment on these people whatever their backgrounds but simply engaged them in conversation about the topic of the moment. Granted, those topics were generally Jesus, the saints, and Christianity. However, it gives us a good pattern for remembering how best to share our faith in our own lives, as Madeleine L'Engle put it:
We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
I also really enjoyed the way Father Martin uses the inspirations he realizes to make side trips into other, related subjects such as Jesuit theater, celibacy, Mary of Magdala, and the historical Jesus. I was also delighted when, after teasing us with snippets of the play throughout the book, Father Martin gives us a synopsis at the end. This is a play that I would have wanted to see and one in which I was deeply interested after reading about the actors and process.

Perhaps the best tribute to this book comes in the forward from the playwright who says that he didn't read the book as it is difficult to be a "character in someone else's story." That just made his testimony the more valuable.
... And along the way, Father Jim accomplished that thing that I hoped, and hope, to accomplish with the play itself: he got good people thinking about God again, and even got some back to the church. Even me.
Highly recommended to do that very thing, get us thinking about God in a new way. Christmas is coming. Get it for a theater lover you know.


Busted Halo features a book excerpt focusing on the play's director, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Read it here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What a difficult, annoying religion!

To those of you who think religion is a self-delusion based on wish-fulfillment, all I can remark is that this religion does not fulfill my wishes. My wishes, if we are being honest, would run to polygamy, self-righteousness, vengeance and violence: a Viking religion would suit me better, or maybe something along Aztec lines. The Hall of Valhalla, where you feast all night and battle all day, or the paradise of the Mohammedans, where you have seventy-two dark-eyed virgins to abuse, fulfills more wishes of base creatures like me than any place where they neither marry nor are given in marriage. This turn-the-other cheek jazz might be based any number of psychological appeals or spiritual insights, but one thing it is not based on is wish-fulfillment.

An absurd and difficult religion! If it were not true, no one would bother with it.
No freaking kidding. John C. Wright says a bit more on this, amusingly and correctly. Read it all.

More on The Golden Compass ...

... since I seem to be on a linking roll on this subject.

I thought that I had linked to Jeffrey Overstreet's writings on this, which came out a week ago, but perhaps I didn't. In any event, it's worth linking to again. Anyone who has read Through a Screen Darkly knows that Overstreet loves movies and doesn't require them to toe the Christian party line to convey a message that is worthwhile. He also has written an excellent fantasy, Auralia's Colors which shows among other things that he has a deep understanding of the genre.

Specifically, he has read all three books and has some intelligent commentary and also answers people's questions, including how to approach this subject with your children. Read it all here.
Okay, so we shouldn’t start boycotts and complain.
But what should Christians do?
These recommendations come from my humble opinion, and you’re welcome to disagree.

  • Educate yourselves. And equip your kids with questions… lenses, so to speak… that will expose the problems in these stories.
  • Respond with grace and love. And truth.
  • Worried about putting money in Pullman’s pockets by investigating the books? Fair enough. Here’s a little secret I’ve discovered: The Public Library!
  • Admit that, yes, Christians have committed grave sins in the name of Christ, and that those shameful misrepresentations of the gospel have made many people fearful of, and even repulsed by, the church. But Christians have been called to serve the oppressed, proclaim freedom for the captives, bring healing to the sick, to seek justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly, and to bring good news of “great joy.” And by God’s grace, many are living out that calling. They paint quite a different picture than what Pullman has painted.
  • Encourage the artists and storytellers in your church. If you see talent and imagination, provide resources and opportunities for those artists. We don’t want visionaries abandoning the church because they are tired of being misunderstood or having their talents exploited for the sake of evangelism.
  • Do not get hysterical, mount massive boycotts, or behave in ways that the Magisterium in Pullman’s books would behave. You’ll just make Pullman’s stories more persuasive, and you’ll confirm for the culture around us that Christians only really get excited when they’re condemning something.
  • Equip yourself and your kids with sharp questions that expose the lies of this story. Here are a few examples:- If we cast off all “Authority” and set up “free will” as the ultimate source of guidance, where will that get us? Has the world shown us that the human heart is a trustworthy “compass”? Does free will lead us always to the right choice?- If the heroes accept the “truth” of the aletheometer (the compass itself), aren’t they letting themselves be guided by just another source of truth… another “Authority”? But wait a minute… the movie told us that “Authority” is bad and we should only follow our own hearts, didn’t it?- If there are “many truths,” then aren’t these heroes being as self-righteous and wicked as the oppressors by demanding that their version of the truth is better than others?- What is so inspiring about the battle between the bears? Hasn’t this story led us to a place where it’s just “survival of the fittest” all over again? Should we really hope that the world falls into the hands of the strongest fighter, rather than into the hands of love?
  • Finally… pray for Philip Pullman. Pray about the influence of his work. And pray for humility and wisdom in your own response.Pullman is just a man who, somewhere along the way, got a very bad impression of the church.I also cannot help but note a detail from biographies published online: Pullman’s father died in a plane crash in the 1950s, when Pullman was only seven years old. I don’t know if that had anything to do with his view of God… but I do know that many of the men I know who have struggled with the idea of a loving, caring, benevolent god are those whose fathers abandoned them or died while they were young. Boys without fathers often grow up with deep resentment, and having no focus for that pain, they target God.I want to be careful here: I am not explaining Pullman to you, because I don’t know him. But that detail made me stop and think about how little I know about his experiences and motivations. Shouldn’t I be praying for him instead of condemning him? Shouldn’t I be looking for ways to show love and respect to the man, even as I look for ways to expose the flaws in his work? Pullman’s not likely to reconsider his notions about God if those who believe in God organize a full-scale assault against him and his work.
He also gives us as much of a hint as an ethical movie reviewer can as to content without breaking promises about not jumping opening dates with a review.
Today, I saw the movie. And I’m not going to change a word of what I’ve written as a result. If the filmmakers tried to “tone down” the anti-religious content, they pretty much failed. “The Magisterium” is not a term invented by Philip Pullman. It’s a reference to the Catholic church. And it isn’t hard to see that in the film.

But by professional film-critic standards, I cannot publish a movie review until the day the film opens. (That doesn’t mean that scores of critics won’t break the rules and post their own in order to win readers. But I’ve agreed to play by the rules.) So you’ll hear from me about the movie when it opens.

Monday, November 26, 2007

God's Not as Fastidious as We Are

... Odd, she [Philippa] had thought, I never seriously visualized coming out of Brede again; it had not occurred to her, but in those minutes it occurred painfully. She could have blushed to think how once she had taken it for granted that, if she made enough effort -- steeled herself -- it would be settled. "I know," Dame Clare said afterwards. "I was as confident. Once upon a time I even thought God had taste, choosing me!"

Dame Perpetua had been more blunt. "Weren't you surprised that God should have chosen you?" a young woman reporter, writing apiece on vocations, had asked her. "Yes," Dame Perpetua had answered, "but not nearly as surprised that he should have chosen some of the others -- but then God's not as fastidious as we are," said Dame Perpetua.
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Great Moments in the History of Technical Services

537 B.C.
The National Library of Babylon, finally switching to papyrus, ceases maintaining its clay tablet shelflist, but is unable to discard it for nostalgic reasons. Two years later, under seige by the Persians, the city finds a new use for the old tablets and manages to inflict severe losses on the beseiging army by pelting them from the ramparts with large quantities of shelflist tablets.

43 B.C.
First attested use of an ISBN (for the special collector's edition of Caesar's Gallic Wars with an introduction by Marc Anthony): IXIVVIIXVIIIVIIIVIVII.

81 A.D.
Second gospel of the Christian New Testament becomes the first document written in MARK format.

427 A.D.
The Library at Alexandria decides to contract out its annual weeding project; Vandal hordes are the lowest bidder.
The geek-index is high for this one. Read the whole list here. Via Catholic Bibliophagist.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Shaped to Have Meaning

The statue seemed to emerge almost naturally from the stone, though again, statue seemed the wrong word, it was so alive. "He's uncovering it," said Dame Gertrude, marveling.

After the novitiate had watched him, Sister Constance had said, "It's like us. We come as a rough piece of stone and have to be carved and shaped to have any meaning."

"But he can only shape," said Cecily. "He can't put anything there that wasn't there before."

"Still more like us, "said Philippa ...
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Dishonesty in Homilies

Two people came into Church to pray, one was a Roman Catholic Cardinal in Charge of Church doctrine who prayed "I give you thanks oh God that I am not like others - greedy dishonest or like those living in Africa where AIDS is killing everyone even there we can never allow condoms to be used."

The other was an African widow dying of AIDS who stood off to the side and prayed "Oh God, be merciful to me for not refusing the advances of my husband without a condom, soon I will follow him to the grave and leave our six children orphans.

Jesus concluded – the last person went home more worthy in God's sight than the first.
The Curt Jester tells us that this was a real-life example from a homily given by a parish priest who was scoring points for a topic close to his heart. As he points out this is dishonest to the congregation and is an extremely simplistic sort of rhetoric that is all to easy to flip the other way. Sheez. Give the congregation some credit. Go read it all.

I haven't been following the story that this all illustrates but I am highlighting the homily because I absolutely despise people who put words into Jesus' mouth.

Isn't there enough in three readings, plus the psalm of the day, to craft a homily? I submit that there is. To sink as low as the example above is to show a horrendous lack of imagination, study, and scholarship. Not to mention displaying oneself as a tower of pride and disobedience.

It is true that sticking to what Jesus said might not give you the building blocks for the message that that the homilist wants to deliver. However, that probably is for a very good reason and there just might be another message there that both the homilist and congregation need to hear even more.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

It's About Honesty: American Gangster

The movie is also able to traffic in a large quantity of moral ambiguity but never lose sight of the human costs of what its characters do for a living. Frank Lucas is successful, intelligent and sympathetic, but the film takes pains to show the end result of people using his product. On the other hand, in many ways Frank is preferable to the corrupt narcotics detectives who attempt to shake him down. At least he is not betraying the same kind of trust that they are. He is exactly who he says he is and providing a product that people have always been willing to buy. Franks treats his own people, at least the ones he perceives as loyal, far better than Richie Roberts’ people treat him for the crime of being a good cop.
Celluloid Heroes has a very accurate review of this movie.

I can say that because Tom, Rose and I went to see this excellent movie yesterday. (Hannah was sleeping off the 5:00 a.m. sale at Best Buy and passed on the annual Friday-after-Thanksgiving-movie.) I knew it would be gritty. I knew it would be violent. I knew it was about a crime lord who was unsuspected for most of his career. Not my usual sort of movie, to be truthful. (I was pulling for Lars and the Real Girl.) However, Rose won and I am happy that she did.

Certainly I also knew that we would be seeing two actors at the top of their form, Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. What I didn't know was that it is directed by Ridley Scott and stars a gaggle of high talent "hey, it's that guy ... the one whose name I never remember" starting with Chiwetel Ejiofor, known to our family as "The Operative" from Serenity.

Outwardly respectable gangster, Frank Lucas (Washington), makes an excellent living by selling low-priced, high quality heroin on the streets, and surrounding himself with family members who he can trust. He and his entire organization are largely anonymous to the law. Meanwhile, the parallel story of Richie Roberts (Crowe) shows someone who is basically a loser, right down to the point that his extreme honesty has made him anathema to all the other cops. Assigned as the head of the local arm of a federal effort to stop the drug trade at its source, Richie eventually stumbles across Frank Lucas.

This is a very complicated story but the viewer has no trouble following it, which says a lot for the skill and talent of the director, editor, and screenwriters. There is not a big moral to slap us in the face in large part because this is based on a real story and real stories don't always have an easily seen message. However, in thinking the movie over, it seemed to me that at the base it came down to honesty. Frank Lucas never lies to himself about what he does. He insulates himself and those he loves from it but that isolation is different from lying. This is seen in subtle things such as his stillness for a moment when his nephew tells him that he is giving up his lifelong dream of becoming a professional baseball player because, "I want to be like you, Uncle Frank." It is subtle, but it is there. Frank knows that is not a worthy goal. Another telling point about honesty is made when Richie's ex-wife confronts him with an unpalatable bit of truth about him. His reaction is quite telling. Similarly, the end of the movie (which I will not mention for fear of spoiling it) is only possible because Frank at last comes up against a completely honest man in Richie Roberts and that is the one quality that they can appreciate about each other.

Highly recommended.

Columbia College Here She Comes!

Rose got her admittance letter from Columbia College yesterday! Woohoo! (We had gotten a hint since the letter to parents arrived two days ago, telling about all the ways that they work to make sure students leave school employed ... no fools they.)

Not only is she excited about that, but she's also very happy not to also have to do the admissions essays to UT as a backup school. She'll be majoring in film editing.

And I'll finally get to visit Chicago.

This has so many upsides to it.

We're not gonna borrow trouble and think about how far away from home Rose will be. Yet. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Making Christmas Shopping Easy

For the patristically-minded, Mike Aquilina has a list of books that surely cover most anything you ever wanted to know. I highly recommend the ones that say "by Mike Aquilina" for full satisfaction.

The history of the Christmas Card is set out for us by Ian.
Actually, if you look carefully at the card you will see some unhappy figures on the edges. Sir Cole was very concerned about the poor in England and wanted to remind his friends to do something charitable during the Christmas season so he had these cards sent instead of handwriting individual letters. (This is true).
As for the shopping aspect, check out Ian's online Catholic store, Aquinas and More. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but you will be supporting a family run business, and that is always close to my heart.

Update: Can't believe I forgot to mention this, but Ian reminds me that everything is 15% off through Monday evening. Let your fingers do the shopping, cheaply!

Speaking of family run businesses, if you want to see an example of Tom's design work and my layout production, then get the latest edition of Letter & Spirit. Scott Hahn is the editor, David Scott is the managing editor (and a nicer guy you'll never meet) and this is full of essays that dig deeper theologically than you are wont to find in Hahn's regular books (you know, the ones that I read ...). They've scored thought provoking writing about "The Hermeneutic of Continuity: Christ, Kingdom, and Creation" by Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Dulles, and Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, to name just a few among the erudite authors. Some of the topics are the biblical basis of indulgences, feminine and maternal images of the Holy Spirit in early Christianity, and the "image of God" doctrine in St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings. (We also worked on the second edition ... always the insides not the outside ... but as y'all know it's what it says, not how it looks that is important. Check out all three editions.)

All I Want for Christmas Is ...

... a really great calendar. (Though, truth be told, I'm a calendar junkie ...) Order this one, and see more photos of it, at Confessions of a Pioneer Woman.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

And, now, if you'll excuse me ...

A Glass of Rioja by Edward B. Gordon

I'm off to do some Thanksgiving cooking and celebrating all the many things that I am so thankful for, including every single person who stops by here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

I Leave Footprints. How About You?

Mama T asks:
How many of us write notes in our books? Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?
She is a Preservationist but, luckily for me, Smock Mama takes notes in books so I'm not alone. I used to feel terrible about writing in books but got over it. This is usually marking paragraphs or sections of interest, especially in any theology books I have on hand. Otherwise I'd never find anything again.

Praying for the Souls in Purgatory

During November the Church especially prays for all who are in the purifying fires of Purgatory, waiting for the day when they will join the company of the saints in heaven. We are getting toward the end of the month but I wanted to direct everyone to The Lion and the Cardinal where Daniel Mitsui has been unearthing some truly amazing art to help us keep that prayer goal in mind by focusing as he says "on the appropriately morbid." Above is one of the more eerie and striking examples but there is also the very beautiful to be found as seen below. Do go look around through his November posts.

Joe's Old Clothes

Joe had not been a sight. When Admiral Twiss took Kissy to him, he was lying peacefuly in the grass. Kizzy held the Admiral's hand.

Nat came out, took Kizzy's other hand, and together the three of them stood looking at the big still body, at Joe's head with the white blaze on his nose, his eyelashes -- Nat had closed his eyes -- his great legs and mighty hooves that were split and grey -- it was a long while since he had worn shoes. His bay coat still shone. Nat had given it many a rubbing. Joe seemed as if he were asleep, but a deep, deep sleep.

Kizzy went nearer. "Careful," said Nat. "He's getting stiff."

"Will -- will the knacker, the hounds, get him now?"

"They can't," said Admiral Twiss.

"Can't?" Kizzy's head came up.

"Joe's safe," said the Admiral, "because this isn't Joe. He's not here."

Kizzy broke from him and put her hand to Joe's nose, not touching. "He doesn't huff," she said.

"Of course not. He isn't there."

Kizzy looked at the Admiral as if weighing what he had said and put her hand again to Joe. "The warm is gone."

"Yes." Admiral Twiss came to her and gently touched Joe's body. "This is just his old clothes, Kiz. He doesn't need them any more."

"Where is he?"

Mrs. Blount might have said, "In the horse's heaven," but Admiral Twiss was plainer. "We don't know. Nobody knows, but I believe we shall find out."

"When we're dead?"

"Perhaps. It seems to make sense, doesn't it?" said the Admiral. "If Joe isn't here, he must be somewhere. Come. We'll leave his body to Nat."
Rumer Godden, The Diddakoi

Friday, November 16, 2007

What do you think people are?

"I never know how to place Olivia Brooke," Mrs. Cuthbert had to admit. It was annoying as usually, given half an hour, she had people clearly and properly labelled, "As if we were all tidy glass jars," said Miss Brooke.

"Glass jars? I never said that." Mrs. Cuthbert was nettled. "And what do you think people are?"

"More like caves to explore," said Miss Brooke. "Mysterious caves. One never gets to the end of them."
The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden
Even in a children's book, she just hits that nail on the head.

Rose and Friends Give Beowulf Six Thumbs Down ... Way Down

Overall, I found Beowulf to be like the product of multiple personality disorder. Sometimes it wants to be taken seriously; sometimes it seems to aspire to be little more than a cartoon. I guess I’d describe it as uneven. There are scenes, like the dragon fight near the end, that are visually spectacular. Other scenes, like the fight with Grendel (in which a running gag is the number of ways a nude Beowulf’s privates are obscured by foreground objects), seem pointlessly contrived.
This sounds like a synopsis of Roses diatribe of faults for this movie.

It also probably doesn't help that her Literature class just finished reading the book. They said that they managed to wait until the end credits before bursting out laughing. A favorite mocking point was turning the sea hag (Grendel's mother) into a luscious babe (Angelina Jolie).

This is the same girl who, after seeing The Count of Monte Cristo starring Jim Caviezel, stretched and said, "The book, the sandwich, the movie ... all completely different and yet I love them all." So we know it isn't the lack of accuracy she's objecting to (at least not wholly ...).

Getting better with age

Age is a strictly limited reference in terms of the current television season, of course. Moonlight and Journeyman, however, have been quite rewarding in terms of beginning character development and complications that form a larger story arc than a simple story that lasts one show. (Please keep in mind that we're running a week or so behind on everything, due to our extreme work schedule and Rose's plethora of special projects for school.)

Moonlight remains largely a romance (which is just fine with Rose and me, natch!) but suddenly has a much needed layer of depth and interest with the addition of his former wife who somehow has become human after he thought he had killed her (when she was a vampire ... oh, it's complicated folks!).

Journeyman has not only the complications of simply disappearing into the past and trying to figure out what he's supposed to do, but that of constantly running into the sweetheart he thought long dead, and of a brother who has an understandable lack of faith in him (due to a heavy duty previous gambling problem). Oh, and then there's the mysterious think-tank professor who keeps showing up with comments about tachyons and quartz (both supposedly good for time travel) and shows no surprise at all when Dan suddenly disappears into time practically in front of his eyes.

If they begin running reruns due to the writers strike, give them a try (not that Moonlight would be that difficult to pick up now ... Journeyman, on the other hand, is getting to the point where you are having to factor in past hints to keep up with current developments).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"God's the ultimate scientist ..."

Via First Things' good article about Stephen Colbert comes this classic moment of truth.
... bioethicist Lee Silver from Princeton visited the show. Colbert told him he believed that science and spirituality could go hand in hand and that all people, embryos included, have souls. Silver begged to differ. He told Colbert that, in the shower, we scrub off thousands of skin cells every day, and that the cells on his arm are human life in the same way that embryos are. To which Colbert responded: “If I let my arm go for a while and didn’t wash it, you’re saying I’d have babies on my arm.”
Click on the link in the quote to see the 5 minute clip from the show. Colbert doesn't give an inch and sets a good example. There's a Simpsons ad first but its short.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Some men just want to watch the world burn."

Click through above for the first trailer for the sequel to Batman Begins. I have a feeling we're going to see a whole new side of Heath Ledger as The Joker.

Courtesy and Respect

Rose and I were talking this weekend about something that Hannah has mentioned before as well ... the fact that Tom's father was a true gentleman. Both have brought this up more than once and it is a true tribute to a man who was a gentleman no matter how he felt on a subject. You could not doubt it if he disagreed with you but he did it with such politeness.
Good manners depended on paying moral attention to others; it required one to treat them with complete moral seriousness, to understand their feelings and their needs.

... How utterly shortsighted we had been to listen to those who thought that manners were a bourgeois affectation, an irrelevance, which need no longer be valued. A moral disaster had ensued, because manners were the basic building block of a civil society. They were the method of transmitting the messege of moral consideration.

In this way an entire generation had lost a vital piece of the moral jigsaw and now we saw the results: a society in which nobody would help, nobody would feel for others; a society in which aggressive language and insensitivity were the norm.
The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
This goes hand in hand with respect, actually for both sexes, but what Hannah and Rose have gone on to discuss after good manners is that Grandpa respected women and showed it by treating them with courtesy. They both long for and admire guys who treat them in this way. Certainly, that is usually mentioned when they talk about qualities they want in the man they will marry.

John C. Wright wrote about this just last week. Go read it all but here is a bit for you.
I am the only person I know who stands up when a woman enters the room, the only one who offers women my chair when the room is full. I am not bragging, I am complaining. It is so wrong that it should be this way. Courtesy should be unnoticed; it should be a background detail; it should be subliminal.

Courtesy should be like an aura: an invisible field surrounding every man, so that when she steps near, she turns into a lady in his eyes. Why? You put a woman in a culture where every man gives off unconscious and unselfconscious signs of respect for womanhood, your young women will naturally absorb an impression that their femininity is worthy of respect. You put a woman in a culture were every man gives off the unconscious signs of hostility all men feel for rivals and the contempt for eunuchs, your young women will absorb an impression that their pseudo-masculinity is worthy of disrespect. Women of low self esteem and weak willpower are easier for ruthless Lotharios to victimize. It is merely a matter of economics: what men hold at low esteem, they value lightly. That is true for self-esteem as for other estimations of value.
Grandpa had that aura and my girls picked up on it without anyone ever mentioning it. It is too bad that they noticed it because it is such a rare commodity. However, at least they have had his example and know what to look for.

Of course, the flip side of this is that women should show men the respect and courtesy they deserve, first and foremost by stopping showing men in ads, movies and television as "fat, sloppy, stupid, lazy, sex-obsessed and unable to function without the help of the fit, very together, stylish, driven, educated and sex-sensible woman." That quote is from The Anchoress' son Buster and for more on that subject do go read her wise post on the subject.
But no matter how stupid young men are in these ads, or sitcoms, their fathers are always stupider, and in some commercials, both parents are completely vapid and need to be set straight by their lecturing, Superior Lifeforce Children.

“Don’t buy stuff from those advertisers,” Buster would tell me. “Don’t patronize businesses that make men look like bums and idiots. I’m all for women and girls being portrayed respectfully, but I’m tired of it being at the expense of men. And don’t buy stuff that uses kids to lecture at you.”
This is a trend we have followed with dismay in our household. As Hannah and Rose will tell you, they need not take classes in evaluating media or advertising. We've always been the sort who are interested in the "subtle messages" of all media and they have absorbed that as they grew up. So for those guys out there who understand about treating women with respect and courtesy, we're sending a couple of girls who understand about treating respectfully in return.

Thank You to Our Veterans

In great appreciation of your suffering and sacrifices on our behalf, thank you to veterans as well as to those who are serving now.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Coming Soon ...

Mark Windsor is turning the raft around to chart a new course in a different current of the Tiber. (Wow, that confused even me. He's changing direction slightly on his blog.)
Over time, I’ve come to see the Bible itself as the raft. What other raft could there possibly be? The Bible is our common language and common heritage, the God-breathed gift that all should know and love. To that end, this site will be rededicated to a bible-based understanding of Catholicism. I certainly am not the first to do this, and I’ll likely not be the last, but I hope that visitors will find something unique here anyway.

In addition, I really hope that this new format will be of serious interests to Catholics as well as potential converts. Why? Well, the simple fact is that many Catholics really are biblically illiterate. This is through no fault of their own – modern Catholic catechesis is pretty miserable in general, and particularly when we talk about the Bible. But I’ve recently noticed a real hunger amongst Catholics that want to understand the Bible more deeply.
Read more here. It will be a couple of weeks before he's got it up and running but I look forward to this direction. There are plenty of people out there who have questions about Catholicism that would be interested in seeing where the scriptural base is. While listening to the Understanding the Scriptures podcast I have been blown away time after time seeing various Church teachings threaded throughout the Old Testament. (I'm still working my way through, being on episode 17.) I can't wait to see what Mark writes (but then, I'm a fan).

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Theme for the Day: Guilt

Lois: For crying out loud, that's no monster, that's your conscience. Be thankful God gave you one. It's a gift. And you know what most people do with theirs? They keep 'em in the closet all year, and only bring it out when they think he's coming to visit. You're not like that. Good for you.
Malcolm in the Middle
Over neglecting a dear daughter

Over not reading a review book

Ah, guilt. The Catholic's friend ...

Pet moments ...

This morning, I was letting Daffy (our boxer) eat the oatmeal off the serving spoon. Of course, it is stuck onto the bowl of the spoon in such a way that she can't lick it off and she doesn't have long enough teeth to really bit it off. Though she's trying. After a while I started laughing. She stopped for a second, looked up at me and began wagging, then went back to her attempts still wagging. Yes, we were laughing together at the absurdity of it all.

So I am calling the other dog to help with this oatmeal treat. He never hears me. The cat, however, sits down ready for her share. I tell her, "You will hate this." She looks calmly at me, "I will love it." So I am going to prove it by giving her a bit off my finger. She sniffs, delicately tastes, then yanks off a bit and takes it away to savor. And came back for seconds. Dang. She was right.

(And yes this post is for Hannah ... and any other random pet lovers out there...)

Ok, you know what I really hate?

When I am so lost in thought but also determined to push ahead with my routine so that I get to work.

And then I wash my hair (in the kitchen sink as is my wont ... really short hair, y'all) ... but never brought my towel into the kitchen.

I am telling you, my hair may be short but there is no way a kitchen towel wraps around my head!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Reading Right Now ...

All are highly recommended.

Sucker Punch by Marc Strange
This book grabbed me right from the beginning. A hardboiled detective novel, it is told by Joe Grundy, a former prize fighter, who is the head of hotel security for the Lord Douglas Hotel in Vancouver. A hippie inherits billions of dollars and his plans to give the money away to anyone who asks, a hundred dollars at a time, is a threat to the people running the trust which used to receive the money. Naturally, he stays at the hotel and is killed. Grundy must track down the killer to clear one of his security men of murder charges. I am a sucker for these hard boiled detectives as y'all know and Strange writes characters just enough out of the ordinary without being annoyingly quirky. I'm about halfway through and it is a page turner.

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross
This is the sequel to Stross' The Atrocity Archives. The premise puts me in mind of Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos stories about an alternate reality where werewolves and witches are the norm. In this scenario there are numerous parallel universes, some of which contain extremely hostile alien entities who would like to reach through any open portals and wreak havoc. They often reach our world through the inadvertent use of complex math, which we know as "magic." Bob Howard is a computer nerd assigned by the Laundry (secret British agency) to contain these incidents. Along the way he encounters exotic women and situations while saving the world. Call it "Chuck" meets "Operation Chaos." Entertaining and often highly humorous. I'm also about halfway through this one.

The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ by Lee Strobel
My current "serious" book. Lee Strobel visits various scholars and experts in order to take a closer look at six modern challenges to traditional Christianity's understanding of Jesus. The Amazon summary of the challenges:
  • A different Jesus is seen in ancient documents that seem as credible as the four canonical gospels
  • Tampering by the church has damaged the Bible's portrayal of Jesus
  • New explanations refute Jesus' resurrection
  • Christianity copied pagan religions regarding Jesus
  • Jesus didn't fulfill messianic prophecies
  • Contemporary people should be able to choose what to believe about Jesus
As always, Strobel approaches this from the angle of an investigative reporter, though I, for one, could do without his sudden seeming doubt in his faith. He seems to begin every book this way and if he hasn't come to a personal relationship with Jesus then the guy has a bigger problem than The Gospel of Thomas. However, that is a small quibble and it comes from one who is a fan of his other books (my review of Case for a Creator).

Strobel always provides a good overview of any topic with plenty of references so that the reader can do their own digging in the direction that intrigues them most. This book is no exception and I was particularly interested in the look at pagan religions versus Christianity since that is an argument I had never heard refuted. This book would be an excellent gift to that person who is always bringing up the current day objections to Christianity. (Yes, I have a couple in mind.) I'm about two-thirds of the way through this one.

I Think Baby Gabriel Has a Very Special Destiny

Mrs Jones learned she was expecting twins when she was ten weeks pregnant. She said: "When they told us we were over the moon."

But at her 20-week scan, doctors had some devastating news. One of the boys was half the size of his brother.

They didn't know what was causing it, but somehow he wasn't getting enough nutrients.

Then doctors said his heart was three times normal size and it was likely he would have a heart attack or a stroke in the womb.

Mrs Jones said: "They told us that if he died, it could be life threatening for his brother.

"We had to decide whether to end his life and let his brother live, or risk them both."

They said it would be impossible to keep him alive afterwards as he was so poorly.

It would be kinder to let him die in the womb with his brother by his side than to die alone after being born.

"That made my mind up for me. I wanted the best thing for him."

Ironically, it looks as if the doctors' attempts to kill Gabriel were what contributed toward saving his life. Read the whole story here. (This story has been all over the place but I just got time to post it ...)

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Really Good, Really Long, Really Exhausting Weekend ...

The wedding is over. It was wonderful, the bride was gorgeous (she'd look gorgeous in a potato sack so in all her finery she was a real knock out), the groom quietly beaming (think a young Kyle Chandler look alike). And we all partied like there was no tomorrow. Well, most people did. We were Grandma's hosts (Tom's mom) and she doesn't stay out until 3:00 in the morning like everyone else (can we all say Thank You Lord here?).

The best news of all was that there was a final family gathering at our place Sunday afternoon at the end of which Grandma decided that she was going to move to Dallas (she and Steve and Dan had earlier toured Caruth Haven's assisted living). When pressed for a deadline, she thought that before Christmas would be nice. WOOHOO!

This is what everyone has been working toward. The family nucleus has moved to Dallas. She was practically alone in Houston except for her sister and one brother who has his own young family and can't devote himself to checking on her all the time. Grandma is already planning what to keep and what to give away.

Although that only gives us a month to get her packed up and moved ... but we have champion organizers in this family and I believe this will happen by December 15. What great good news (I just had to say that again!).

More later, I'm sure...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Latin Bleg

I know, I know ... this is not the place you'd expect to see someone asking for help with Latin.

However, I am beginning to read China Court for the podcast and it follows the "Day Hours," beginning each section with a description of the page of the book. Naturally, that includes some Latin as the "Day Hours" book is old.

So the first section is for "Lauds" and I need a pronunciation guide to this sentence:
"Nox praecessit, dies autem appropinquavit. ..."
Please keep in mind that I know next to nothing about Latin. In case it helps, the translation is:
The night is far on its course; day draws near.

The perfect dress ...

As I mentioned before, it's the big wedding tonight. Lots of family gatherings at various times of day began on Thursday and will go on through tomorrow (the wedding is tonight at 7:30).

Also work is busy (but it's a good kind of busy) ... and I need to begin recording for the podcast as well as doing some of the work I brought home.

I still feel so very happy about my morning that I don't care, even if I did wake up at 8:10 (darned alarm clock) with an 8:30 appointment to get my hair done (nothing like that adrenaline rush, is there?).

Last night in post-rehearsal-dinner-conversation, around 10:30 Rose and I discovered that we had wildly different ideas about what she should be wearing to the wedding. We were both tired so that led to some teenage stomping ("Fine!") and my despairing thoughts of having to shop for four hours with both of us getting unhappier all the time. Which led to my wholehearted, brief prayer, "Lord, please let us see the perfect dress right away." (All the time wavering between thinking that the good Lord has more to do than find Rose a dress ... and then thinking that He cares about everything doesn't He? I have these conflicts every so often ...)

We got off the escalator at Dillard's today and glancing over at the nice dresses section I pointed at an elegantly simple, gauzy, black creation and said, "Like that dress. It would be good." We checked the price and moved toward Rose's age group clothing. After picking up a top and skirt that would be adequate but not elegant we realized that they would cost as much as that dress. That dress which, of course, fit Rose perfectly as if made just for her. The dress we saw at first glance. Which turned her from a blue-jeaned teenager into an elegant young woman who will wow anyone who sees her.

I'm still conflicted about asking God to find Rose a dress. But it looks as if He just might care enough to have had one ready for her.

"Preach the Gospel Always. If Necessary Use Words"

St. Francis of Assisi spoke those wise words and Jen at "Et tu" confirms them. However, in Jen's case, she went looking for words as her exploration of Christianity consisted of the blogosphere.
So, in typical me fashion, I turned to the internet. I had no idea how one would go about finding blogs by practicing Catholics, so I just Googled stuff like "Catholic mom blog", "Catholic blog", "Christian mom blogs", etc. It took me a while to find what I was looking for, but I finally found a few blogs written by Catholic and other Christian women. I added them to my bookmarks, sat back, and read. I almost never commented. I just quietly watched their lives unfold, like an anthropologist studying a new culture. Almost everything they did was so foreign to me -- they casually mentioned praying about this or that, wrote about the goings on at their churches, discussed how they turned to God in tough times and disappointment, etc. I had never known anyone who did things like this (at least not that they shared with me), so I was fascinated.

I didn't really realize it at the time, but as I would read these blogs, in the back of my mind I always though, "This is what it means to be a Christian" or, "This is what Catholic mothers are like." I didn't exactly intend to hold these authors up as the very definition of their religion, but since I didn't know any other people from their religion they were all I had to go by.
She then goes on in her thoughtful way (which is why her blog is one of my "must reads") to muse about Christian responsibility in blogging to give a good example. Which sets up a good conversation in her comments box about honesty in blogging and other issues.

It made me think of the fact that being a blogger makes me a better Christian. Funny sounding isn't it? But if I can't be honest on the blog then I'm not gonna do it. And I have to live my life in a way I can write about and share. Sadly, this means that when I miss the mark sometimes I do it right here with snarky posts or comments ... and then I've gotta live with that too. Oh, it's so good for my humility!

It also was a great compliment (and humbling) to find out at the end of the post that Happy Catholic was one of those blogs Jen was watching to see what Christians are like. So the other lesson is ... you never know who's watching or why! I read all but one of the other blogs she mentioned and agree that you can honestly see people living their faith there.

Good stuff. Thanks Jen!

Friday, November 2, 2007

A Little More Straight Talk About Mercy

Some more about the quality of mercy from Heaven in Our Hands (review is here). By the way, recently I brought up The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom to some friends and was shocked to hear that none of them had ever heard of this wonderful book. Somehow I thought that every teenager (or teenage girl anyway) went on to it after reading The Diary of Anne Frank. If you haven't read it then check your local library where they are sure to have several copies. It is a moving testimony to the power of God.
Mercy burns up the IOU's of life. It generously forgives debts, even emotional or psychological wounds. Rightly practiced, it never says, "I can forgive anything but that."

Pam Moran, who helped me with this book, provides the following account based on the experience of a Dutch Christian woman, Corrie ten Boom, During the Nazi occupation of Holland, this remarkable woman and her family were sent to Auschwitz because they had hidden Jews in their home. There Corrie soon came to hate the sneering guard who mocked their naked bodies whenever they were taken to the showers.

Corrie watched her sister die in the camp, but she survived and vowed never to return to Germany. Many years later, however, she did return for a speaking engagement. Her first talk centered on the topic of forgiveness: extending the mercy of God to those who have wronged us in some way. To her absolute horror, there, sitting in the audience, was the same guard who had so taunted them at Auschwitz.

This man could not possibly have remembered Corrie as one of his emaciated and shorn prisoners, but she would have recognized him anywhere. Yet on this occasion, he looked decidedly different; his face bore a radiant expression that suggested a dramatic transformation had taken place in his life. Nonetheless, Corrie had no desire to renew their acquaintance.

As it turned out, she had no choice. After her talk, the smiling man approached her and extended his hand. "A fine message, fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!"

Feeling only intense hatred for this person who had inflicted such pain, Corrie ten Boom heard the Lord tell her to put out her hand. She described what happened:
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"
The stored-up hatred of years was melted away in a moment by the warm oil of God's mercy. Could you have endured such horrible abuse and been able to take the hand of your tormentor?

St. John Climacus: He's a Soul Man

Soul Provider by Edward L. Beck showed up at my front door this week. I looked at the the back cover and saw that the Dalai Lama praised it. This is not necessarily a good thing from my point of view, especially when weighing whether to add a book to my already high stack of religious reading. It's not a deal killer, mind you, but it does make me wary.

Then I opened the book and saw a black and white version of The Ladder of Ascent (shown above). Hmmm, intriguing.

Proceeding to the intro and first chapter, I got sucked in. Beck was at a monastery on retreat when he saw the above painting which was a long-time favorite of his. Looking into it further, he found his way to The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus from the 7th century. This book of the 30 steps toward God was so fruitful that Beck has reworked it for our modern imagination.

I haven't read any further yet although this book definitely has made the cut for my "to read" list. On the other hand, Steven Riddle is going full steam ahead, providing excerpts and reflections. Below is a taste and you can get started here.
Fr. Beck's book seems to be a very hard-headed, light-hearted, full-spirited survey of how to improve one's life with God. The advice given is solid, orthodox and complemented by insights from other religious traditions that both inform and help to bring out implicit aspects of each topic. Each chapter ends with a set of very hard, very pointed questions that allow the reader to reflect upon his or her own state with respect to the Ascent to God.

Straight Talk on the Beatitudes

Heaven in Our Hands: Receiving the Blessings We Long For
Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R.

My friend Susan lent me this book. As happens sometimes with those books that are given because "you'll really like it" this one languished in my book stack for some time. I would glance through it and always be pulled away by some newer book, something more "a la minute" than this seemingly simple take on the beatitudes. In fact, the very simplicity was not appealing. Hadn't I heard all this stuff before? Yes, but when will I ever learn not to take things at face value?

When I finally picked this up to "blast through" it so that I could return it, I discovered that the straightforward simplicity hid things I needed to hear. Things we all need to hear. Father Benedict Groeschel has a real talent for expounding on a subject with examples and angles that show us the subject from a new light. He also has a talent for tossing in little laughs here and there along the way that make this most readable as well. All in all, one winds up reexamining a subject that was thought to be well understood. No matter how simply written about, that is something to be valued.

In fact, this is one of the more successful books that Tom and I have read together every evening. We have just begun but it has provided food for thought and conversation between the two of us that "deeper" thinkers such as C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft have failed to do. In short, this hits both Tom and me where we live spiritually and practically. Believe me when I say that we are very different in our approaches to our faith life and for a book to do that means it has a wide appeal.

Highly recommended.

Oh, and Susan? I'm going to be hanging onto this for a little longer.
[On the subject of mercy]

What if you suspect that someone might be abusing your charity? Decide once and for all not to let it bother you in the least, and then live by that conclusion. Better to take the chance of being cheated than to neglect mercy. Merciless people never have to worry about being cheated; they just don't help anybody. Foolish people, on the other hand, help everybody! Those who decide to be merciful in an intelligent way should probably expect about a 12 to 15 percent loss on their investment. This is the amount I figure will inevitably go to charlatans or crooks or people who could be helping themselves a bit more than they are. ...

I suspect that a great many people would like to be merciful but are unsure of how to begin and afraid of being cheated. My advice is: take stock of your limited resources -- time, money, mercy -- and decide what to do with them. Then just try it! And if you're afraid of being cheated, cheer up. You've already been cheated by lots of other people besides the poor: the federal government, many prominent corporations, most financial institutions, and perhaps even some religious organizations!

... Having been cheated regularl.y and repeatedly by these very respectable people, you've managed to live with it. And you've probably lost much more to the government than you're ever going to lose to somebody who needs mercy. In short, the fear of being cheated is not a legitimate reason to avoid practicing mercy.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Dream Team: Whedon and Minear

... Whedon explains: Dollhouse is a suspense drama about a girl who can have any personality except her own." So it's part Alias and part Quantum Leap, "because Echo is literally changing who she is," he continues. "She gets into people's lives a little bit."
Now, that's what I'm talking about. Tim Minear and Joss Whedon together again ... with a seven show contract. Now if Fox will only not cancel after three episodes have been shown, a la Firefly. Via Ain't It Cool.