Wednesday, June 30, 2004

When is a Soundtrack Not a Soundtrack?

The About a Boy soundtrack achieves that supremely difficult goal of evoking the movie while standing on its own musically. Snippets of short instrumental pieces are interspersed between many standout original songs that cover the gamut of musical styles from old pop to techno. Surprisingly it seems to be universally pleasing. Several of the kids' friends have asked what the CD was so they could buy it. There's no way they'd even acknowledge something was playing unless it was cool. I hear that Badly Drawn Boy's usual style is more experimental and adventurous, which is what you'd expect. A good soundtrack can't be too eclectic or it doesn't do its job. So what I need to find out ... which to try? The Hour of Bewilderbeast or Have You Fed the Fish?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Question of Priestly Celibacy

This is a good overview of the origins of priestly celibacy. Especially interesting to me is that although advocates of a married priesthood always use the early Church as an example, in actuality they were expected to cease marital life upon achieving the priesthood.
Based on solid documentation, these authors show that although one cannot speak of celibacy in the strict sense of the word (not being married), it is certain that since apostolic times the Church had as a norm that men elevated to the deaconate, priesthood and the episcopate should observe continence. If candidates happened to be married - a very common occurrence in the early Church - they were supposed to cease, with the consent of their spouses, not only marital life but even cohabitation under the same roof...

Moreover, Church officials believed a person in those conditions would hardly have sufficient strength to halt marital relations and live under the same roof. Cardinal Stickler emphasizes that because of the mutually self-giving nature of matrimony; a separation would always take place only with the full consent the wife, who, for her part, would make a commitment to live in chastity in a community of women religious.

Via Being or Nothingness.

"God Gives Us Strength But We Must Use It"

This is from the book Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom. Its an amazing book because it is so simple and easy to read but contains such theological depth and wisdom about prayer. The excerpt below is just the kind of thing I have to learn over and over again. Also, it has one of those classic saint tales that remind us no one is perfect ... so there is hope for each of us.
It is absolutely pointless to ask God for something which we ourselves are not prepared to do. If we say "O God, make me free from this or that temptation" while at the same time seeking every possible way of falling to just such a temptation, hoping now that God is in control, that He will get us out of it, then we do not stand much chance. God gives us strength but we must use it. When, in our prayers, we ask God to give us strength to do something in His Name, we are not asking Him to do it instead of us because we are too feeble to be willing to do it for ourselves.

The lives of the saints are enlightening in this respect, and in the life of St. Philip Neri just such an occasion is described. He was an irascible man who quarreled easily and had violent outbursts of anger and of course endured violent outbursts from his brothers. One day he felt that it could not go on. Whether it was virtue or whether he could no longer endure his brothers his Vita does not tell us. The fact is that he ran to the chapel, fell down before a statue of Christ and begged Him to free him of his anger. He then walked out full of hope. The first person he met was one of the brothers who had never aroused the slightest anger in him, but for the first time in his life this brother was offensive and unpleasant to him. So Philip burst out with anger and went on, full of rage, to meet another of his brothers, who had always been a source of consolation and happiness to him. Yet even this man answered him gruffly. So Philip ran back to the chapel, cast himself before the statue of Christ and said "O Lord have I not asked you to free me from this anger?" And the Lord answered "Yes, Philip, and for this reason I am multiplying the occasions for you to learn."

I think it is very important for us to realize that God will act in this way. He is not going to be crucified for you every day. There is a moment when you must take up your own cross. We must each take up our own cross, and when we ask something in our prayers, we undertake by implication to do it with all our strength, all our intelligence and all the enthusiasm we can put into our actions, and with all the courage and energy we have. In addition, we do it with all the power which God will give us. If we do not do this, we are wasting our time praying.

Monday, June 28, 2004

A Tale of Two Tigers

First of all, you should know that I really wasn't interested in seeing this movie. It looked like a simple story watching cute tiger cubs go through some not very dangerous crises. However, St. Francis of Dallas (a.k.a. Hannah the animal lover) chose it and I'm in her debt because it was excellent.

This story of two tiger brothers who are separated from their parents and each other in captivity is a much more interesting and complex movie than I anticipated. It is not just a kid's film in my opinion. It was set in the 1930's in Thailand and showed a very realistic picture of how many people thought of animals. No actual brutality is shown but the implications led to several small children having to leave the film. Of course, there were sympathetic characters also. However it was VERY INTENSE. Late into the film I realized that the packed theater was very quiet (except for a few parents whispering explanations into kids' ears) and that was unusual because there were a ton of little kids there. The screen was bright and I could see all the faces. Everyone was intently watching. The difference was that many of the adults were showing signs of stress in how they were sitting. One dad in particular was repeatedly rubbing his face. I felt the same way. A couple of times I actually was reminding myself that this is a children's movie and therefore the happy ending would come ... naturally, it did.

This Decent Films review says most of what I felt much better than I could myself and is a more thorough look at the movie. I always have heard that The Bear by the same director is a great movie so now I'm going to have to rent it.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Fruit of the Tree

The moment when you hear God's call is a moment of recognition, a moment of receptivity and of deep openness. It is the moment when all we have to do is realize that we are creatures, and that it is God who calls us.

What is he calling us to? He is calling us to what each of us most deeply desires. He is calling us to a life that will bear fruit, for sterility is the most tragic thing that can happen to us. Remember the parable of the fig tree? God offers us fertility. He offers us a life of unimaginable fruitfulness...

We crave greatness for our lives, and God asks us to become little. To pass through the door that leads to his kingdom, we must go down on our knees. Paradoxically, if we do so, we will find ourselves growing in stature, for "eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has reserved for those who love him."

This is a moment of choice. It is one of many such moments, for we will be called to choose every day of our lives until we die. But the fantastic thing about it is our freedom. We are utterly free to turn back from this power that draws us on. We are free to loose ourselves from the bonds of a love that demands our total surrender. Nothing prevents us from saying no. Nothing except God's love.

Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty, via Magnificat magazine

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

"Also" is Kinda Crunchy

I was at out with my daughters, Hannah and Rose, recently when Hannah suddenly turned to us and said, "When I hear words it means a kind of food in my head." We said, "Huh?" (so eloquent). It turns out that ever since she can remember most words link to a food texture and image in her head. For example "also" is pretzels, "mother" is chocolate milk, "listen" is orange Triaminic. It isn't always food and it doesn't happen with every single word (for instance "squirrel" is just a squirrel) but it happens for practically every word she hears.

Luckily, Rose had heard something recently on the radio about people who see colors when they hear words. Thank heavens! I was seriously wondering what was wrong with Hannah.

Like most people in similar situations, Hannah knew this wasn't normal. After mentioning it once to a friend and her mother in the second grade, she kept it to herself. She only brought it up now because for some reason she told one of her friends at school. The friend "tested" her for a while and then said, "That is weird because for me every word means a number and a square or circle." The one person Hannah elects to confide in after all this time and she has a form of synesthesia too. What are the odds of that?

It has turned into a parlor trick where she will suddenly say, "'Julie' is pecan pie" or "'lady' is heavy folds of a skirt." There are little details that make it even more interesting (to me anyway). There are some words she simply will not use because they "link" to very unpleasant things. Also, Hannah told me today that the sensation is much stronger when she says the word than when she hears it. She said that is why she won't talk very much when she's sick. Even stranger is when she'll say that a certain word is a food but she can't describe it. She thinks it is something she hasn't had yet. She told us that a few years ago I suddenly started making this hamburger-gravy thing and that was when she knew what was in her head for a certain word. It always had been there but she hadn't eaten it before.

Anyway, I looked it up on the internet. You wouldn't believe how many word combinations I had to use to get a description but finally I found "synesthesia." It is a recognized condition of several senses being linked together. The most common variation is people who see colors when they hear words or sounds. It is genetically linked. I started wondering who else had this but never said anything because it is so strange. I told eight people over the next couple of days and always got one of two different reactions. Either no one had heard of it and had trouble understanding the concept OR they suddenly got a funny look on their faces and would admit to some sort of the same thing. One friend sees people's names as colors, one sees abstract art shapes when she hears loud music, and so on. I found a person on each side of our family who had a version of it. Hannah felt very free after hearing there actually was a scientific definition and started talking about it at school. Yep. She found a couple more people with different types.

So what is synesthesia? Most of the research about synesthesia has been done by Richard Cytowic who wrote a book about his findings, The Man Who Tasted Shapes. As he is a neurologist it has a lot of science but it is interspersed with chapters that are easy to read about the people he worked with in studying this condition. The first thing I found that was understandable and remains the easiest to read was a transcript of an interview with Cytowic done on ABC Radio National.
Richard Cytowic: You know the word 'anesthesia' which means no sensation; well 'synesthesia' means joined sensation. And what is joined is two, three, or all five senses together. So that my voice, for example, to a synesthete is not just something that they hear, but also something that they see, or smell, or touch.

Music for example is not just a sound and a melody, but it's like a visual fireworks that they see in front of them on a little screen, rather than in the mind's eye.

...we don't know why some people get it any more than we know why some people get migraine headaches or why some people are left-handed. They just are. And synesthesia is fairly rare; it happens in about one in 25,000 individuals world-wide. My initial estimate was like one in a million, but as people made themselves known to me over the course of 15 years, the incidence has dropped down, and we might find that in fact it's more common.

It occurs in women more than men; women are twice as likely to be synesthetic than men, and it also runs in families. So most synesthetes are surprised to discover as children that their playmates and families don't perceive the world in the same way. And they might make some innocent comment like, 'Oh Mummy, look I've drawn an airplane sound, or a helicopter sound' or they might talk about the colors of the individual letters - that 'A' is red and 'C' is blue, and things like that. And then they'll get a strange response like 'Are you crazy?' and then they'll learn to not talk about it for a long, long time, not quite sure about the reality of it themselves. But it is quite real.

Finding out that such a thing exists has left me full of wonder at the world we live in. Once again, God's creation has me laughing at the sense of possibility, surprise and playfulness that is all around us. It reminds me that our ways are not His ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts. Who would want to be boxed in by mere human imagination when we can have something like synesthesia lurking to jump out and add a whole new dimension to life?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Bonjour Mes Amis!

It was a great vacation and Montreal was very enjoyable if a bit hard for us to get used to. I guess our problem can be summed up by Rose's and my reactions to it. Rose was bothered because it didn't seem right for somewhere that seemed so basically American (including the people) to have people speaking French in casual conversation. I was bothered because the French seemed right but it was too familiar, too American, to be a foreign country. However we got past all that. Montreal is a beautiful city and the weather was fantastic, although all the natives kept darkly mentioning the long, hard, terribly cold winters.

We really hit vacation mode once we got our Metro passes. It seems that our best vacations always take place when we can use the subway to get around. We took all but 3 of our 150 photos on the digital camera card and visited everything we could find, which mainly consisted of large, gorgeous churches. Montreal, like so much of the U.S. doesn't tend to have a lot of the monuments and memorials of the sort that we like to visit. What better for a bunch of "happy Catholics" to do than drop in on a lot of churches? My favorite was one we didn't plan to visit but wound up going to first because it was near the hotel ... Marie Reine du Monde (Mary, Queen of the World). It is a one-quarter size replica of St. Peter's in Rome, light, airy and a fitting tribute to Our Blessed Mother and Our Lord. We'll be posting photos later but for now a few of my favorite memories are:
  • Hannah saying a prayer on each of the 300 steps up to l'Oratoire St-Joseph while climbing on her knees ... yes, on her knees. Somewhere in Japan her photo is going to be shown to everyone because one gentleman just couldn't believe it and took a long time getting just the right shot.

  • Rose saying a prayer on each step while walking up them and then sitting at the top of each flight to lend her sister moral support.

  • Visiting Basilique Notre Dame and talking to a young couple. The man kept repeating over and over in awestruck tones, "This is incredible." Then the woman turned to him and asked if he was ok. He had tears in his eyes and said, "I'm fine. I'm just having a moment."

  • Attending the Mass in French at Marie Reine du Monde. I looked sideways halfway through and realized that we were in the "crossfire" so to speak of the magnificent shrines to Mary and Jesus. Really a perfect moment.

  • Our whole family being convulsed with laughter while fighting over the only chair we could find, halfway through the McCord Museum. I was reminded then of why we take vacations ... to enjoy being with each other in a unique way that is our family's alone.

  • The entire vacation being punctuated by one-liners from The Simpsons, Futurama and This is Spinal Tap, thanks to Hannah and Rose. Again, its a family thing.

  • "The Name Game" which was played all over Montreal, with Tom and me supplying various options whenever someone got stuck, which happened more and more as our brains got more disconnected from "reality."

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Oh Canada!

Ok, we're gone to Montreal for our first family vacation in 3 years. Woohoo! Back on Tuesday!

Literary Mayhem

THE EYRE AFFAIR by Jasper Fforde
Set in an alternate history, this novel not only has a good mystery but is hilariously funny to anyone who loves literature or the genre that Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams have made so popular. Set in Great Britain around 1985, the Crimean War is still going on after 131 years, Wales has become The People's Republic of Wales and literature and art are the most popular fads of the day. Thursday Next is a detective in the Literary Ops department. She is assigned to recover the Martin Chuzzlewit manuscript which has been stolen by arch-villain Archeron Hades. Hades kidnaps Thursday's uncle who has invented a portal that allows people to enter books. After a minor character from Chuzzlewit is found murdered (and subsequently missing from every published book), the pressure heats up when Jane Eyre's manuscript is stolen next. This book not only has mystery and humor but a denied romance based around the angst of old war experiences. In other words, it has everything but somehow Fforde makes it all come together for a totally enjoyable experience.

My favorite parts were the ones that showed how thoroughly literature was part of the overall culture ... kids trading Henry Fielding bubble gum cards, a live performance of Richard III with audience participation a la the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the fact that everyone Thursday meets has their own theory about who wrote Shakespeare's plays and is conversant with all the details of the other theories as well. It didn't hurt that Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorite books and it was delightful watching the manuscript's original wrong ending get turned by the story into the ending we all know in this history.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Those Pesky Samaritans

LUKE 9:52-53
We're always hearing about deep hostility between the Samaritans and the Jews. I'd forgotten all about this incident when a Samaritan village tells Jesus' messengers that He can just keep on walking. James and John want to call down fire on the village (got to love those Sons of Thunder) but Jesus says no and they move on. Of course, a little later in Luke there comes the story of the good Samaritan and again we hear about that hostility. The Navarre Bible points out that the Samaritans aren't just another pagan tribe, which would be easy to ignore. Based on this description, I can easily see the hatred between them because the Samaritans would see the Jews as "holier than thou" while the Jews would despise the Samaritans for not "keeping the faith."
The Samaritans were hostile towards the Jews. This enmity derived from the fact that the Samaritans were descendants of marriages of Jews with Gentiles who repopulated the region of Samaria at the time of the Assyrian captivity (in the eighth century before Christ). There were also religious differences: the Samaritans had mixed the religion of Moses with various superstitious practices, and did not accept the temple of Jerusalem as the only place where sacrifices could properly be offered. They built their own temple on Mount Gerezim, in opposition to Jerusalem (cf. Jn 4:20); this was why, when they realized Jesus was headed for the Holy city, they refused him hospitality.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Deadly Storm

LUKE 8:22-25
Reading about Jesus calming the waters I always imagine a little boat full of people and some high waves. I tend to think more of the metaphors that always are trotted out in homily after homily. I rarely think about what being in an actual storm in a small boat would be like. Again William Barclay adds some historic perspective that makes the scene come alive, both in imagination and in application to all those metaphors. This is not just about some high waves or tough times of life. It is about those times when you're not sure if the boat is upside down or right-side-up and you're hanging on for dear life.
Then the storm came down. The Sea of Galilee is famous for its sudden squalls. A traveler says, "The sun had scarcely set when the wind began to rush down towards the lake, and it continued all night long with increasing violence, so that when we reached the shore next morning the face of the lake was like a huge boiling cauldron." The reason is this. The Sea of Galilee is more than six hundred feet below sea level. It is surrounded by table lands beyond which the great mountains rise. The rivers have cut deep ravines through the table lands down into the sea. These ravines act like great funnels to draw down the cold winds from the mountains; and thus the storms arise. The same traveler tells how they tried to pitch their tents in such a gale. "We had to double-pin all the tent-ropes, and frequently were obliged to hang on with our whole weight upon them to keep the quivering tabernacle from being carried up bodily into the air."

Monday, June 14, 2004

In Search of ... Those Who See The Blessed Virgin

THE MIRACLE DETECTIVE: An Investigation of Holy Visions by Randall Sullivan
I was intrigued because this book is about Medjugorje which I hear friends mention in awestruck tones but never see mentioned when reading about places where Mary has appeared. I picked up the 448-page book from the library intending to glance at the first chapter and see if it looked worth reading. To say that I found this story gripping is an understatement. I read it in 24 hours. This was facilitated by the fact that I had hurt my back and was forced to do nothing but sit around the house but that couldn't account for my fascination.

Randall Sullivan became fascinated with religious apparitions when a local family began seeing the Virgin Mary appear in a painting hanging in their trailer. He thought this would be a great subject for a book and started on a journey that would take him to Rome, Medjugorje, Scottsdale (AZ) and New York City. Along the way, he unexpectedly began a personal, spiritual journey of discovery. In the process, Sullivan uses an even handed approach to give a lot of information including describing the Catholic Church's process for investigating and approving miracles; detailing the apparitions at a variety of places including Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje; and giving an in depth history of Bosnia including the fighting that was going on while he was there. Some reviewers disapproved of these "side trips" but I liked having so much information about most of the subjects. The step by step look at discovery of apparitions at various holy sites was fascinating and more detailed than anything I had been able to find anywhere else. Certainly I had no idea that a group of people had claimed to experience apparitions of Mary and Jesus in Scottsdale, Arizona.

I found the interspersing of factual reporting and personal story of discovery worked very well. Because Sullivan is sorting out what he thinks of all this, as well as coming to terms with God personally, we see all sides. I especially appreciated the reminder that most priests are not welcoming of apparitions as they can come from a variety of things: the person is faking, the person is crazy, the apparitions are demonic or they are true. As Father Benedict Groeschel reminds Sullivan, they can come from a combination of those things also. For me, Groeschel's inclusion in the book, albeit brief, was one of the things that pointed to an honest effort at truth seeking. The first book I ever read about apparitions was his A Small, Still Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations which reminded the reader that the first thing anyone is supposed to do is to reject an apparition as it is too easy to fool yourself or be fooled by outside influences. That advice made a strong impression on me and added a note of verisimilitude as it was repeated throughout the book by priests on both sides of any given apparition sighting.

I also liked the fact that emphasis is made toward the end of the book that the Church depends on time to help reveal whether apparitions are truly from God. Not only does it help calm the attendant public hysteria that may accompany revelations, it gives enough time to properly evaluate the theology of any messages, etc. The only revelation that we are required to believe is entirely public ... the Scriptures. As to all others it does not hurt to reserve judgment. There is a famous case of a well accepted series of "revelations" made to a nun long ago only to have her make a deathbed confession that she had sold her soul to the devil in exchange for her supernatural abilities. No wonder the Church is cautious.

On a personal level the most endearing thing I found was that the author's personal revelations of God always were accompanied by hilarity, as if God and he were laughing at a huge joke together as Sullivan would suddenly "get it." This went along perfectly with someone in the book who said that she had found Jesus has a great sense of humor and always was making jokes. It sounds so silly, so corny and, as it is just what I have experienced myself, so true.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book. Also highly recommended for anyone interested in apparitions are A Small Still Voice mentioned earlier and Apparitions: Mystic Phenomena and What They Mean by Kevin Orlin Johnson.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Off to See the Wizards

The girls and I saw the new Harry Potter movie and gave it three thumbs up. Best Harry Potter movie yet. The first movie looked picture perfect but we were distinctly disenchanted because it lacked heart and soul. Perhaps this was emphasized by the fact that the first Lord of the Rings movie came out at the same time and proved that the story didn't have to be told in every detail (no Tom Bombadil, I know, get over it) to capture the essence that made the book great. We didn't bother with the second HP movie for that very reason.

This movie, however, looked different just from the trailers. More real. More interesting. Different from the first two. What an improvement this was. Yes, this movie is missing some plot points but nothing that leaves huge holes in the story. Ok, it would have been nice to get the back story on the map, thus showing why Snape is so awful all the time, but big deal. The acting was better, the kids actually got dirty in their adventures, the scenery was fabulous and you felt as if this was a real place not just movie sets. The Leaky Cauldron especially felt like one of those British places that's been in use for 400 years. I'm actually looking forward to the next HP movie.

Just to add to my enjoyment, Rose found that Cleolinda had finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Fifteen Minutes. The perfect top off to the movie.

Monday, June 7, 2004

Guilty Pleasures

BRIDE OF THE RAT GOD by Barbara Hambly
This is one of those guilty pleasures that is totally legitimate but would make me blush if anyone caught me reading it in public. The title alone is bad enough. Repeating the plot doesn't redeem it much: an ancient cursed necklace worn by a 1923 Hollywood movie star condemns her to death by a demon (the Rat God itself). She must deal with this and much more ... explosions, cryptic omens, people who refuse to die even when their skulls are cracked open, and a mysterious Chinese wizard. This combines the hokiest elements of an old Hollywood movie with the great writing and characterizations that Barbara Hambly is known for. The characters are clever enough to know the story they are living is totally unrealistic but realize that doesn't matter much when being stalked by a giant rat-demon. This is the kind of light reading that is perfect for the beach or just to forget a hard day at the office, which is why I pick it up time and again. Hambly has written many other great books but they don't hit that "guilty pleasure" meter by virtue of being set in parallel universes. You might not take this out of the house but you will thoroughly forget where you are and enjoy every second spent with Chrysande Flamande eluding the Rat-God.

Friday, June 4, 2004

The Sower and the Seed

LUKE 8:4-15

In the familiar parable of the seeds that fall on four types of ground my mental picture always was very literal. The stony ground had lots of little rocks sticking though the soil, weedy ground had scattered tiny plants growing in it, etc. You have to think what an idiot that sower was not to avoid those bad conditions. William Barclay's commentary enlightened me again by pointing out that, knowing sowers and soil as they did, Jesus' listeners understood the key element to His parable quite well. All the types of soil probably looked very similar ... so we don't know what type of soil the seeds are falling on until the test of time makes it clear.
It is in fact quite likely that he (Jesus) was looking at some sower sowing his seed as he spoke. The parable speaks of four kinds of ground.

(i) The common ground in Palestine was split into long narrow strips; between the strips there were paths which were rights of way; when the seed fell on these paths, which were beaten as hard as the road, it had no chance of getting in.

(ii)There was the rocky ground. This does not mean ground that was full of stones but ground which was only a think skin of earth over a shelf of limestone rock. In such ground there was no moisture or nourishment, and the growing plant was bound to wither and die.

(iii)The ground which was full of thorns was ground which at the moment looked clean enough It is possible to make any bit of ground look clean simply by turning it over. But the seeds of the weeds and the fibrous roots of the wild grasses had been left in it. The good seed and the weeds grew together, but the weeds grew more strongly; and so the life was choked out of the good seed.

(iv) The good ground was ground that was deep and clean and well prepared.

Barclay also suggests a reason for Jesus telling this parable that goes beyond the common interpretation that I have heard before. I like it and think that, as in many other situtations, it is perfectly likely Jesus would use this teaching opportunity for a dual purpose.
It is suggested that the parable is really a counsel against despair. Think of the situation. Jesus has been banished from the synagogues. The scribes and the Pharisees and the religious leaders are up against him. Inevitably the disciples would be disheartened. It is to them Jesus speaks this parable...

Thursday, June 3, 2004

Candy Freak Alert

This will make you very happy, whether you are Catholic or not! After reading CandyFreak I have been eyeing the candy racks by the Central Market check out stands. I realized that they carry a lot of the old fashioned candy praised in the book. Yesterday I picked up a Valomilk. Think of a peanut butter cup but with a "flowing" marshmallow center ... and about a thousand times better. The chocolate is thick and excellent quality. I don't like marshmallow but this didn't seem like marshmallow at all. It was delicious. Rose and I shared the package and then wished for more. If you happen across one of these grab it and prepare for a little taste of heaven.

Diverse Women

LUKE 8:1-3

One of the things that always delights me about reading the Bible is how much is said in very few words if you know the "code." That is why William Barclay's commentaries hold such charm. Oftentimes something that I would skip over as a "throw away line" hold a wealth of meaning. In this case, describing the women who accompanied Jesus on his travels reemphasizes what we learned through watching him choose disciples. They are a varied and diverse group from all walks of life who normally would never be associated with each other.
There was Mary Magdalene, that is Mary from the town of Magdala, out of whom he had cast seven devils. Clearly she had a past that was a dark and terrible thing. There was Joanna. She was the wife of Chuza, Herod's epitropos. A king had many perquisites and much private property; his epitropos was the official who looked after the king's financial interests. In the Roman Empire, even in provinces which were governed by proconsuls appointed by the senate, the Emperor still had his epitropos to safeguard his interests. There could be no more trusted and important official. It is an amazing thing to find Mary Magdalene, with the dark past, and Joanna, the lady of the court, in one company.

It is one of the supreme achievements of Jesus that he can enable the most diverse people to live together without in the least losing their own personalities or qualities.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Common Courtesy

LUKE 7:36-50

Wiliam Barclay describes the basic courtesies extended to guests in Jesus' day in commentary on this familiar reading. Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to eat with him but doesn't extend the basic courtesies that normally would be offered to a guest. As always this additional information about daily life lends insight and richness to the Scripture message.
The scene is the courtyard of the house of Simon the Pharisee. The houses of well-to-do people were built round an open courtyard in the form of a hollow square. Often in the courtyard there would be a garden and a fountain; and there in the warm weather meals were eaten. It was the custom that when a Rabbi was at a meal in such a house, all kinds of people came in - they were quite free to do so - to listen to the pearls of wisdom which fell from his lips. That explains the presence of the woman.

When a guest entered such a house three things were always done. The host placed his hand on the guest's shoulder and gave him the kiss of peace. That was a mark of respect which was never omitted in the case of a distinguished Rabbi. The roads were only dust tracks, and shoes were merely soles held in place by straps across the foot. So always cool water was poured over the guest's feet to cleanse and comfort them. Either a pinch of sweet-smelling incense was burned or a drop of attar of roses was placed on the guest's head. These things good manners demanded, and in this case not one of them was done.

In the east the guests did not sit, but reclined, at table. They lay on low couches, resting on the left elbow, leaving the right arm free, with the feet stretched out behind; and during the meal the sandals were taken off. That explains how the woman was standing at Jesus' feet.

A woman at the feast washes Jesus' feet with her tears, dries them with her hair and annoints them with perfume. Barclay also elaborates on the significance of the woman's actions in regard to common behavior.
The woman was a bad woman, and a notoriously bad woman, a prostitute. No doubt she had listened to Jesus speak from the edge of the crowd and had glimpsed in him the hand with which could lift her from the mire of her ways. Round her neck she wore, like all Jewish women, a little phial of concentrated perfume; they were called alabasters; and they were very costly. She wished to pour it on his feet, for it was all she had to offer. But as she saw him the tears came and fell upon his feet. For a Jewish woman to appear with hair unbound was an act of the gravest immodesty. On her wedding day a girl bound up her hair and never would she appear with it unbound again. The fact that this woman loosed her long hair in public showed how she had forgotten everyone except Jesus.

Scriptures, and the Gospels in particular, delight in emphasizing important points by using obvious contrasts. Knowing these customs makes it abundantly clear that we are being shown the desirability of losing ourselves in Jesus versus caring about ourselves so much we barely acknowledge his presence.

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

The Struggle for Texas Independence

How a Ragged Army of Volunteers Won the Battle for Texas Independence - and Changed America by H.W. Brands

After seeing The Alamo I was curious about its historical accuracy. It says a lot about just how curious I was that I actually checked out Lone Star Nation from the library and read all 527 pages. I never read this sort of historical book, preferring instead to rely on Tom for interesting historical tidbits from whatever book he is reading. However, I found this book riveting.

Brands' treatment of all involved in the conflict is very even handed. As with all good histories, there is no side or person that is entirely good or bad as all are flawed in some way. The story is told not only through the larger than life figures of Austin, Houston, Crockett, Bowie, Santa Anna, Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams but also by a host of lesser figures on both sides whose stories also were intertwined with the battle for independence. I really enjoyed seeing the appearance of small characters whose names now loom large in Texas history ... Lamar, Seguin, and Fannin being just a few.

I had no idea that Stephen Austin's fight to establish and defend his colony came as the result of a deathbed request by his father, the original conceiver of a colony in Texas. Also I had no idea that Sam Houston's long retreat before Santa Anna was an overall strategy of getting close to existing U.S. borders where President Andrew Jackson had the U.S. Army standing by to come to their rescue by claiming that Santa Anna was trying to invade the country. Needless to say, this book sheds light on the motivation for all sorts of events during this time in Texas history such as why Santa Anna sacrificed 600 soldiers in the final attack on the Alamo, Fannin's fatal flaw that caused the capture of the Goliad defenders, and much more.

What about the question that started me on this quest? Was The Alamo historically accurate? I found it surprisingly so although some of the character motivations were tweaked ... which was no surprise at all.

This Fun Summer Movie Isn't in Theaters


Now I know why "Van Helsing" didn't have any mummies in it. The director used them all up making the infinitely superior movie The Mummy a few years ago. It was recommended by such diverse people as the antidote to "Van Helsing" that we took a flyer on it for our Friday Family Movie Night. The Mummy is everything that a summer movie is supposed to be ... great special effects, good looking stars (Brendan Fraser for me, the chief of the Pharaoh's bodyguards for Rose), semi-rational plot, quips, funny side kicks, and disgusting creatures ... in this case flesh-eating scarab beetles. I know that most of America already saw this movie but maybe its time to check it out again or if you inexplicably missed, it as we did, give it a whirl.