Thursday, December 16, 2010

"True Grit" review

Tonight I had the chance to see “True Grit” at an early showing at the Angelika, and was surprised. Most movies I loved this year have been ones I had little expectations with beforehand: Inception, Scott Pilgrim, and the social network are three examples.

This movie did not transcend the genre of a western movie but sank into it, grew into a massive tree, and people took it as a part of the historical landscape of fine place to visit. The movie felt human, American, and deeply honest in what it saw as the world these people found themselves in; their lack of self-awareness was incredibly refreshing and most likely accurate. Having grown up in the cities and terrain where the movie is set, I felt the call of my past (my family has lived in AK, LA, MS area since the Civil War) sit down on my back porch and tell the story. And telling stories is what the characters did. In the American South we do that sort of thing, sit around and talk in our own distinct way. There was violence in the movie, yet the talking is what stood out, the characters were so articulate it was stunning to watch. The idea that we are far more advanced than previous times is absurd, especially if we read the common letters written by people of earlier times. Obama might be an articulate president, but he is nothing compared to most presidents of the 19th century when it comes to delivering a speech or communicating. Back then it was a subject like anything else, and the tremors of this are felt in the characters of the movie, speaking in arguments and points and rebuttals. We live in a time when language is changing from globalisation in a way it hasn’t before, yet we still don’t have the grasp of language as they did 150 years ago. People communicated in the movie, and the main character, a fourteen year old girl from Arkansas could run circles around most her age today, though I’ll admit her character is an anomaly in the world in which the movie takes place.

The story is of a young girl whose father is killed by a somewhat well known thug of the day and she hires a marshall to find him and kill him. She fights people all along the way and in many forms to stand up for what she sees is good, and largely prevails with a bleedingly hard effort and resolve as the underpinnings of her work. The man she hires is a drunk and a man nearly as filthy as the men he hunts and arrests, but there is a distinction between him and the villains that comes out and is crucial. The exteriors may be similar, but when pushed to it, we show who we are and what we care about. The difference between the good characters and the bad are this resilience that is often hidden side of love we have trouble facing in our day.

Every character except a few, some on the good side of the law and others not, have dignity in this movie, a trait often missed in our reading of previous times. People have morals, even the worst of them, and they see each other as human, and because of it can see when someone is being less than that. It’s clear in the movie. The villains aren’t monsters, they’re confused, impulsive, erratic creatures who are bad- sometimes it’s best to let it stand at that. When you meet the bad men they’re chasing it’s obvious they are not a sophisticated assassins (the good make far better executors than the evil), but scared men who flee. Their running is what must be overcome because it is their strength and they know it, for when they are caught most of their power is extinguished.

The performances were excellent with Bridges’ portrayal being a bit too much at times (though it works) and Hailee Steinfeld playing the leading role of Mattie Ross takes the show. She is a joy to watch, and her work on being Mattie Ross sits in your mind long after the movie ends. Matt Damon does well in a supporting role as many of us don’t doubt he would. He’s a versatile actor and shows it here.

The striking part of this movie, though, and anyone who studies 19th century American culture will inevitably have to face is the vein of religion running through it. The word “Methodist” is mentioned at least three times- circuit riders, preachers, and other references to the denomination are accurate- it was the dominant Protestant denomination of the 19th century in the US. People unabashedly mention God with a backbone and real meat on it, mentioning the name like they’d spent their lives with it as they did. The Coen bros. do this well and I appreciate that about them- they let religion out of its cage without putting a leash on it or beating it unjustly. I can think of several movies they’ve directed that involves religion as a significant part of the plot. Religion is much better as a supporting actress than a lead. The glare is overwhelming when it becomes the main and only topic of a story. Religion loves its members more than itself.

I highly recommend this movie.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

listen to the lyrics

I exchanged "last CDs" with someone about two months ago and apart from it being a revealing thing to do with someone I've known for a good while, there was an interesting distinction that arose when I listened to music other people chose or when we talked about why we like certain songs. Like my dad, I hear only the music and hardly ever the words. I feel stupid saying so, like I'm missing a big part of it, though when I listen to classical music I really get what the composer is trying to convey, or at least I think I do. I think there's a lot of truth in saying a song is sound apart from the meaning of the lyrics, though I don't know if I'll agree in saying the lyrics are the higher part of a song. I will admit that I feel like I'm missing a big part of a lot of today's music, though I see it as like getting a hotel room that I can enjoy with ease just by being in it, and if I want to use go down to the bar, or drink whatever is in the fridge and I'll be charged for later, then fine. I feel like I'm being lazy, though I don't think it's that. It's like two people experiencing an event and walking away with two impressions of it, largely because they saw what they value and embraced it when it was there. I know I'm missing out on a big part of many songs, in fact there are songs with its only great strength as its lyrics (I'm thinking of a lot of country music when I say this), or hip hop, so maybe this will be my new resolution for the next week or so. Listen to the lyrics. Yes. Listen to the lyrics.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

bad habits

The Art of Manliness blog entry for this morning had to do with bad habits, well more exactly it had to do with breaking and making habits. Unfortunately we live an existence that easily forms bad habits (very little effort is required for their acquisition), but to make any good ones it requires weeks and weeks of work. Sixty six days according to the blog. That's a long time especially when I was told 21 days by a friend, but when it comes to settling into reflex behaviors, I'll side with the bigger numbers. Some good advice on the blog though said to avoid changing too many habits at once, seeing how it could overload the system. Good point. I've made that mistake many a time. I'll sit down like I did this morning and make a list of behaviors I want to lose and another list of behaviors I want to take on. Why not do it all at once? The simple reason is that you can't, or you most likely won't. So, I made my list but chose one good habit to replace a bad habit. What were they?

Spending too much time with people.

Reading at night.

Can you guess which is the bad habit? The "too much" gave it away. Yes, it's that I love hanging out with people and I tend to do it so much that it grows to be immoderate, inefficient, and irresponsible. Who wants those in their life? I don't. And I knew this was my big bad habit because there was immediate anxiety at changing it. The thought ran like this:

"Oh no! If I cut back on that part of my life, I'll never have friends and I'll be stuck in my apartment watching 'Friends' reruns all weekend." Most would agree that is a sad existence, but to say I'll jump from social life security to the abyss without a trace of detection on my part is a stretch and unreasonable. So, instead of hanging out with people I will read for a few hours in the evening. So far it's gone well. Next up on the list: video games.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Humbling to say the least

I read on a Catholic blog once that a good practice of mortification is to ask three close friends what they would change about you if they could. I asked three friends and they gave nearly the same answer: emotions. They wouldn't change my emotions per se, but how I express them, or I should say the lack of expression. Of course I get angry and I get sad and I get all the other things a person without asperger's would show, but there is something different about the way I do it, or don't do it.

When I heard the answers I was surprised in a way because I don't think of myself as someone who doesn't show emotions. I laugh all the time, and I do plenty of other emotional things, but there is a learning curve in seeing that what I think I look like is in fact much different than what other people see. Oh yes, this has become very very clear. And this may be why I'm drawn to Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg. Sure, he is a monster in the movie, but all the good things he possesses are the same things I value on a personality level. The guy is an outright atheist and a run of the mill dude/heathen (at least in the movie he is), but the way he talks to people and the way he handles himself is frighteningly similar. The movie was a caricature, though I hear he isn't much different in person, which makes me think that he is an INTP or something very close to it.

Ok, I didn't make a 1600 on the SAT (I didn't even take the SAT) and I am no prodigy at anything as far as I can tell, but if there was a Mark Zuckerberg ballpark, I'd be in it. Oh yes I would. But how does this tie in to emotions?

He walks over people, sees them as objects, operates according to principles, is insensitive, blah blah blah. There's a scene in the movie where his emotion shows itself in an odd way. The opposing lawyer asks him if he has his full attention and Mark responds by saying, "It's raining." You can see how sad he is at what's happening and the Mr. Spock persona is cracking under the pressure of all the talk about the court cases and his past infractions. For a moment it peeked. That's a start.

But for anyone who is like Mark, it makes perfect sense. We hate rom coms and overly sentimental blathery because it's nothing but feeling and the last thing we want is to be thrown around the room by someone's poor portrayal of life as this awkward, smily, teary something that life is in those films. It's soggy cereal that's become one with the milk and formed a blob of dull gray goldenness in a bowl.

I won't begin to worship my emotions like many seem to do, I don't think that's possible for me. That's the fear, but it won't get that far. Where does one begin when this task is before them? I asked three friends what they would do that change me, but they can only point to it while I have the work ahead of me. I don't know if it'll be all that bad.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A job opportunity

I found a job. I wasn’t looking for one, seeing how my writing was going so well and I wanted to continue my work, but it was one of those opportunities that forced itself upon me, the lesser shy of the kind that I couldn’t resist. It happened that I went to Starbucks like I tend to do almost everyday, but this time not to the one in Mockingbird Station. This place is the one restaurant a person passes by in their life but never enters. They always mean to of course, but the time or the will to do it never arrives. So it goes.

I sat down with my laptop and books, entering my usual coffee shop routine of distracted internet browsing and occasional hidden glances at people entering the shop when this woman sitting behind me wearing what looks like the uniform of a person who’d lived in a bed their whole life would wear (tacky yellow pajamas and a t-shirt from a 5k she or someone she knew ran in 1997) turns to me,

“Are you a student at SMU?” she is behind me when she asks this, moving from her table to mine, asking the second question, “Do you mind if I sit with you?”

I comply.

Most people in this situation would wonder what this woman is up to, I did the same, but there was this feel to everything she did that jarred with her outward appearance like she’d just escaped from a prison where everyone is forced to wear tacky pajamas, and the first thing she decides to do while out is pick up some guy at a coffee shop. Though I was certain she wasn’t hitting on me.

She asks about my blog and what I plan on doing with me life, and I tell her. We go on until I realize I know nothing about this middle-aged woman with no bra on, and I ask her about her life and why she’s so interested in mine.

“Because you look like the kind of person we want to hire,” she says.

Oh wonderful, I thought with mild disbelief. I’m always open to employment, though I can honestly say this had never happened and I’m right to never expect it to. Regardless of the unique situation, I was going to listen even if I wasn’t sure what kind of job it would be.

“You have to decide now if you want the job, though.”

I ask her why.

“It’s how it works,” she says, smiling at having to give that kind of answer. I could tell this woman enjoyed whatever it was she did.

“Is there anything you can tell me about it?”

Her answer to this question is straightforward and brutal: she gets up and says to me while standing next to my table,

“You’re offered the job only once,” she says and she exits the shop, leaving an empty seat across from me. I ponder what she has to say, thinking over my options and the reality that I have very little going on besides my writing. This isn’t bad, of course, but why pass this up? I gather my things and follow her out the door, seeing her a few feet from a black BMW parked at the side of the building. She unlocks the door and gets inside, never acknowledging me for a second. I get into the passenger side seat.

“I decided to take your offer,” I say as I sit down beside her, realizing I just entered a strange woman’s very nice car that I’d met at a coffee shop. She doesn’t respond to me, acting as if we’re a couple in the middle of an intense but silent tiff. Her face is expressionless and cold.

“Is something wrong?” I ask her. Nothing about her acts as if I’m there.

We drive north out of dallas, no music is playing on the radio, and I listen to hum and thump of the car on the highway, turning to look out the window at the orange and blue streetlights passing above our car. We drive nearly twenty minutes past McKinney, when I turn to her and ask,

“Where are we going?”

Her eyes begin to close yet she continues driving, somehow keeping us on the road. I take the wheel with one hand, but see I don’t have to when I can feel her steering the car. I reach for my cellphone to call for help, but when I try to do anything with it I only see a blank screen.

Finally we exit the highway onto an empty street with dark pastures on both sides of us. We turn onto a road lined with trees. I don’t want to look at her, thinking she doesn’t want to talk, and any communication I attempt will be met with a harsh rebuke.

The car turns off the road into a driveway with no mailbox and gravel as its pavement. She still guides our car with her eyes closed, as if she were a machine without eyes. I look down at the pedals, and see her feet operating the car with amazing dexterity.

We reach a gate that opens automatically when our car approaches, the letters on the gate are “U” and “H”. The road opens into a stunning scene of a large house with a circular driveway and a fountain in the center of the front yard. Cars are parked in odd places with no clear pattern or direction. Every light in the house looked to be on, with no one standing in any of its windows. Our car stops in front of the steps that lead to the entrance of the house. Once the car comes to a stop, the woman slouches over onto the wheel as she passes out, the only thing missing from her were Xs over her eyes or a blinking battery telling me she is dead.

I thought of running away, though I knew it wouldn’t be worth it, seeing how I didn’t know where I was, and I would have to take my laptop with me. I didn’t want my data to be harmed in any way, especially since I’d been working on getting twenty thousands songs on Itunes and I hadn’t backed up my library in three weeks. All that work would be lost for a weak attempt at escape, I couldn’t undergo such a thing. So, I gathered my courage and decided to face the daunting task of climbing the stairs and finding who the host of this party might be. Without flinching, I ascend the stone steps and knock on the large wooden door. It’s carved with an ornate design of a garden with a man and a woman walking through it. I study the scene until the door opens a minute later.

The house is decorated for a party like the ballroom of the titanic. The scene is magnificent. I enter the house, not realizing there was no one standing behind the door to open it, leaving the question of who allows entry into the house unanswered. Stairs leading to a second and third floor present themselves at the entrance, while lights dot the walls where paintings fittingly take up space. I am stunned by the room and remain there for a time I couldn’t measure, having lost all sense of location. A statue of a woman wearing a toga stands in front of the stairs holding a cup lifted to the ceiling as if heaven would fill it. Her mouth is slightly open in anticipation, and she stands on her toes to get as close to the sky as she can like any second she will break into flight and leave the house. A chandelier hangs above her like all the stars in the sky gathered into a ball and left lazily clinging to one another, unable to get away.

“What do you think of it?,” a man’s voice says from beside me. He is dressed like an art dealer at a fancy hotel bar after work. “I bought it from a friend in Prague who owed me a favor.”

“It’s impressive for sure,” I say back to him.

“Yes, it is,” he stands and admires it like old friend’s photograph. His eyes are bright and intelligent with a young man’s face only a few years older than myself.

I introduce myself, and he responds,

“I know who you are. I’ve been keeping up,” his fingers move on the glass of wine he’s carrying. I assumed its wine.

“You know about me, do you?” with a suspicious tone, though I wasn’t surprised with what had happened up until then.

“I know you just graduated from SMU, and I know the names of your roommates. I can tell you what’s in your pantry at your apartment and I can tell you what the combination to your bike lock is,” he said it in such a calm, almost tired way, I had trouble telling myself he might be lying to me.

“And how did you get all of this information, and why would you even care?” I ask, taking a step back and trying to look as casual as possible while inside completely worried about what this man wants from me.

“I care because you’re someone we need for a project of mine,” he leans in and speaks in a softer voice, “You see, we are attempting something only I’ve tried and with moderate success. Let me ask you this, have you ever wondered if there are any other civilizations around us we can’t see?”

“Sure, like the Sasquatch except a village of them.”

“Like that, but less ape-like. I mean something the way people used to think of gnomes living in the ground and stealing things from us every once in while.”

“People believed that?”

“Who knows what people believed? We can only guess, but I know they talked about it quite a bit, and there are plenty of stories to give us information on what they thought of them.”

“So, you found a bunch of gnomes, have you?” laughing with a nudge to his elbow. He acts annoyed at this.

“No, we haven’t, or I haven’t. It’s only been me working here, trying to find out if it’s true.”

“If what’s true? The gnomes?” growing more curious, but really joking the whole time.

“No gnomes. Forget I said that,” he says flatly as he steps away from me, never making eye contact.

“Will you come with me, please?” he walks through the door where he came from, I follow behind. He takes me through a series of hallways and into a room where a woman and two men are sitting at a table, each hard at writing something by hand.

“Just take a seat and follow the instructions,” he says, making me feel like I was taking the SAT all over again. He walks out of the room and leaves me with the other applicants. I look at them as they write with a serious and concentrated face like their future depended on the results of this test, creating an even greater resemblance to every standardized exam I’ve taken.

“What do you know about the job?” I ask. None of them respond. Getting this sort of reply was expected at this point. I began the exam, which I might add was the most exhausting and silly test I’ve ever taken. My life is examined and I begin to write, picking up an odd blue pen shaped like a harpoon. I write with an inexhaustible vigor and honesty that was surprising. Things I didn’t remember until then emerged onto the paper, and for each answer there came a precise response. Before I know it, I’m on the last question and finishing its last sentence when I look up and the room is empty and the door that I entered into has now shifted to the other side of the room. On the wall is a clock with the second hand unmoving and a pillar beneath it with a green ceramic bowl. My fellow applicants are missing and I am the last one left in the room. I drop my pen and go over to the bowl, and see that inside is a single piece of gum wrapped in red wax paper like the peanut butter candies in orange and black wrappers given out at Halloween.

I put the candy in my pocket and walk through the door. The next room is a conference room much like the one I left, except instead of a table there is furniture lining the walls with the middle of the room open. Occupying some of the recliners were my silent friends from the exam earlier. I find a seat and wait for something to happen, growing sure that no one will talk to me. One of them does, however, the oldest of the men, a gray headed man with a big smile and a moderately overweight and relaxed look. Out of all the people, I’m least happy it’s him that speaks to me.

“So, you were pulled into this too were you? You look like the kind of guy who belongs here, you know? Did you get a look at that chandelier? I’ve never seen anything like it. You’d think this guy has a billion dollars or something. My ex-wife had family like that, though they weren’t the kind you wanted to know. Whew, they just didn’t know when to stop and their money seemed to never end, though it did when the debt crisis happened and they had some investments in a few homes. Bad timing, I suppose,” and he goes on and on with me only slightly listening to him, and him acting as if we were the best of friends after a long time away from each other. He smiles big like a door to door magazine salesman.

About this time our host enters the room and everyone falls silent. Without a word he strolls to the center of the room,

“You all did very well,” he says, rummaging through a stack of papers I assume are our exams. “I knew I chose the right people.” He makes a point of looking at each of us, giving his approval with a glance. The man seemed very knowledgable and professional in what he did.

“Can anyone of you guess why you’re here?” he asks.

“Work,” the older man who was talking to me laughs with an obnoxious guffaw, sitting in the chair next to mine. I cringe and hope no one thinks we came there together.

The man gives a mild grin.

“Yes, but what exactly?” he asks. No one speaks, which comforts me because I also have no idea.

“Pay attention,” he says. And taking one of the candies similar to what I found in the green bowl, he places it on his tongue, bites down, and disappears right in front of us. All breath leaves me as I’m stunned.

That was an hour ago, and I’ve had the chance to use this laptop I found in the room. He has wireless here, so I thought I’d check facebook and blog about this.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


If you saw the trailer, it’s all there. A action/suspense movie that shows itself to be that and nothing more. This isn’t a fault of the movie because it never said it would be anything else. When I saw the trailer, I thought there’d be more to why the train is out of control, like terrorism or aliens or ghosts, but no, it’s none of that. A worker botched up a simple job and the results are a disaster.

Writing about the movie the next day makes me wonder why it was so good. It had all the elements of a suspense movie, more of the disaster kind though on a smaller scale than a volcano or a tidal wave, or even the end of the world. But isn’t it nice to see a movie that buys into the thought that to make bigger and louder and more dramatic moves means a better movie. Anyone who has written or read a story that tries to be larger than it actually is knows that the story is the disaster, not whatever wreck they dramatize within it.

It’s an out of control train that the company is trying to stop. Two men with lives and all the good and bad that comes with that step in to halt the train. Sentiment is there, they have families, they have their own back stories, it works. We smile, we sit on the edge of our seats, we sigh in relief, it’s a disaster movie. It works. Tony Scott did a good job with it.

Denzel Washington. He does what Denzel has done in the dozen other movies he’s been in. I know he’s a great actor and he plays that character well, but I’m beginning to wonder if he’s niched himself into the same person in every movie he plays, only with slight differences due to setting and situation.

Also, I found it encouraging to see a character who wears mostly denim, those yellow sunglasses people wear at shooting ranges, drives a large red truck, and jabbers with a mild southern accent about military strategy to a waitress in a diner who doesn’t care at all about what he’s saying. What’s remarkable about this character is that he isn’t portrayed as a bumbling idiot who never got through middle school. If you couldn’t tell from my description of him, he’s what we in Louisiana would call a redneck. Usually if there’s one of these in a movie, he wants to rape another man or shoot him, or both. But hey, he doesn’t do either. He helps stop the train. And he isn’t bad at it either. His truck comes into play too. Look at that. The rednecks of the world can make a positive contribution.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Choosing evil in games

I sat down this afternoon to play a video game my roommate bought a few years ago where it's the typical situation of me picking if I want to be an elf, barbarian, or whatever other strengths or weaknesses the races in the game have, and continue with the realtime RPG funtime until I either grow sick of it or defeat all my foes (far less likely). As these games have tended to go recently, I was faced with the choice between choosing good (the default plot of the game) or choosing evil, shown by the bright blue door, or the red flaming door.

I never liked choosing evil in these games because I always thought it'd affect me in some way.

Is this irrational?

Assuming there is a such a thing as evil and good, and good is preferrable to evil like my Christian roots will inform me, will my spirit be affected by playing a game where I choose malevolence over goodness? Is it just a game and it has absolutely no bearing on my moral strength or my life outside the game?

I find it absurd to say that video/computer games don't affect their players. They do. If I sit and play Gears of War for three hours, or decide to play the original Zelda, this will affect me. The question is whether or not it's negative.

I believe it is.

Have you ever been sucked into a video game where it becomes more real than your actual life? Do you think the decisions in that world where a person has immersed themselves make no difference in their real life, or even reflect who they are?

I am convinced these games are more influential than we might think. Look at those guys on youtube that scream and break things because of Halo or WOW.

This is not me being another voice condemning video games outright as evil. I enjoy them and will play them, but I will not separate them from the rest of my life and say that what I do in that time has no effect. It's ME playing the game. I am in control, so what I do says something.

This is one reason I never like Grand Theft Auto, Gears of War, or games of that ilk.

It undeniable that they're violent, and it's undeniable that we immerse ourselves in them.

It makes a difference somewhere, how much I don't know, but I do know it can't be overwhelmingly good.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sufjan Stevens Concert

Sufjan Stevens in concert was what I thought it would be, and it wasn’t. He’d like that answer.

One thing was clear after listening to his music and his short monologues between songs, Sufjan is in a stage of purgation. My guess is that he’s dealing with some messy stuff in his past or in his present, which comes out in his music. It’s significantly darker than his earlier material, and I’d say even the brighter parts of it are not the hope I hear in previous albums.

“If anyone came here to listen to me play the banjo, they can see me after the show. There’s a money-back guarantee.” Those were his words towards the end of the concert. At least he was aware.

The concert was almost entirely any work he did in the past two albums, and really just “Age of Adz” (which I learned at the concert is pronounced odds, not ads). If anyone has listened to this album, they’ll notice a dramatic shift to synthesizers with a heavy electronic sound. I don’t mind this, and I don’t mind his older material, but it is a shift, and I’m sure we all had to change our Sufjan paradigms when we heard it. The concert was a visible form of this shift.

Two strong points about it.

The videos played during the songs. These were wonderful. The most memorable was the multicolored sea plant that grew from the bottom left corner of the screen to eventually fill the entire background. Other times, inspired as Sufjan said by the artwork of Royal Robertson, it was like we were a few feet off the surface of another planet with all sorts of moving architecture flying toward us. This went on for many of the songs. It worked, though I felt like I was in a 60s sci-fi movie throughout much of it.

And the choreography, particularly the dancers themselves. Yes, there was choreography at the Sufjan Stevens concert. They seemed to have a dance for each of the newer songs and Sufjan would sometimes join as if the words went along with the songs, like a person could jump in at any time depending on what words or moves went at that part. Sufjan’s dancing was a mix between undulations and robotic gestures that fit with the music.

The best song during the show was his 25 minute song, “Impossible Soul” that ended with a kind of dance-off between one of the dancers and Sufjan on the tiny runway in front of the stage. His new style seemed to work in longer doses, letting the listeners enter a meditative state.

He finished the show with three of his older songs: “Chicago”, “Casimir Pulaski Day”, and “Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid).” A friend of mine said this made the concert worth it. This is true because if he stayed with only his newer material, it’d be a denial for both himself and us.

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Blog

I started this blog in the spring with no clear direction and around June I stopped posting. We know why we start things usually, but when they fade the reasons aren't as clear. However, after a few months to think on other matters, I decided to start blogging again, though this time with a bit more organization and focus.

I decided this blog will be for personal things. Topics such as movie reviews, thoughts on living, encounters with felines, etc. Before, this blog had all sorts of topics, but there will be two I will leave to another blog, my most recent creation.

Here is the link:

The other blog will be for religious, spiritual, and sometimes political issues, the more serious things I blog about. Heaven forbid I leave humor out of it. Lord, have mercy on us if I do.

Thanks to everyone who reads my blogs, and I apologize for dropping it all and never saying a word since June. I hope to be more consistent in the future.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Music and Time

One of my greatest fears is to grow out of touch with what's new regarding music and movies. Getting older usually contributes to this, so does having children, a drug addiction doesn't help so much either. I am getting older, but the other two are not quite in my life yet- one I hope to have, the other not so much.

Ever met that guy that is listening to the same music he did ten years ago? I don't want to be that person. I counter this by spending a little time a week listening to NPR: All Songs Considered and DayTrotter as well as having people in my life that look for good music even on daily basis. Of course, I trust their opinion and they're usually right.

As I spend the afternoon going through new music, I realized for the first time as I'm watching the little dot on the bar that shows the song progressing that music and time are related, closely related. Tempo, time measure, and even the seconds ticking by as a song plays all point to time. Music exists in time, but I wonder if in some way humans attempt to transcend time through music.

I went to see Sufjan Stevens in concert this week and I felt above time for a good bit of that concert. Good music absorbs the person and time stops, but in order for that to happen, there has to be structure in time, the foundation that gets us to heaven, so to speak.

Music is around us more than ever, but do we have a philosophy of music or think of its purpose. I can't think of a church that doesn't have music, even the ones with no instruments are singing. Music might be part of the divine image we are created in. This is something I'd like to research more.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

After the Social Network

This is a movie to see. If you haven't gone out and seen it, please do before it leaves theaters.

Aside from the interesting story it depicts behind the startup of the company that made the youngest billionaire alive that is in fact not true in some key places but we allow for the sake of the plot, there is an interesting point the movie takes that is only one part of it, though a crucial part. Is facebook a waste of time? Are social networks one of the worst parts of our lives in the twenty first century that only carries with a replacement for real social interaction, face to face as they say?

I don't think they are.

Zuckerberg made a few brilliant moves to get him where he is, but it was the idea that carried facebook. He took the social experience and put it on the internet. Simple. We're social creatures, we watch each other, we imitate each other, we disagree with each other, so why not put it online? Yes, that's the point.

If facebook is all a person does for their social time, they're probably depressed and headed for a cycle that they need to break. It alone will not fulfill a person. However, it is affirming and it's a way to connect to people in ways we couldn't before. I affirm it. Get on facebook, just don't stay on it all the time.

Point two. Zuckerberg is in many ways a model for something new and where I believe business and work are headed. There's a kind of integration he did with his own life and facebook that is refreshing and personal, and much needed in the business world. Ideas are valuable, and they are dangerous, and yes, they can make a person a lot of money. Corporations are heading for something different, not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of keeping up with a changing world.

This movie is a nice late ending to an overall bad summer for movies. Inception and Scott Pilgrim were good, but this one holds its own. Besides, I love Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Social Network

Before I begin, I will say I have no idea why this is the first entry in what? Five months? It got to be such a long time that I ended up thinking I needed something big, like massive, to write about to break the months-long silence, and this is it: I know nearly nothing about Mark Zuckerberg, I know little about the origins of Facebook, and I know the movie that just came out is getting good reviews.

More information. I'm the same age as the main characters in the movie. I graduated college in 2005, which means me and Mark are kin in some way, generationally, as much as two people could be.

And there's this feeling I get about what I see in that movie. The guy did something, he had an idea and went with it, and look what he has. It's not the fame or the money that I'm talking about. It's this chasm I see between those in their forties and older and what I see in my peers. I feel close to this guy, Mark.

There are several things I've read in the past few months that say to me that my generation is a lost one on the edge of a decline in what has been a long period of ascendency in American culture. For the first time in a while, they say, parents aren't sure if their children will be better off than they were.

Those born in the 50s and 60s had parents born in the 30s and 40s. From what I can tell, the "revolution" of the 60s wouldn't have happened without the stability of the 40s and 50s. But what happens when that generation has children? Us. The gen Xers and the millenials.

If a person has divorced parents and marries someone without divorced parents, they are 50% more likely to get a divorce. If both people in a marriage come from divorced homes, the likelihood is 200% greater than if they weren't.

A writer for Time magazine wrote an article after Obama was elected saying the young generation that helped elect him is the direct descendant that moved in the late 60s.

I feel like things are changing. Their parents aren't our parents. Their experience isn't much like ours. I feel like that changes something along the way, and it is this: they challenged the institutions of society and looked to take down what was built. That project failed, I would say, and what is left is the American home gutted of values that once made it strong.

What does this have to do with Mark Zuckerberg? I have no idea.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Feel the Pain

There are parts, facets, tasks in life that a person must do to keep alive, which applies to the saying that some people die at the age of twenty five and are buried at seventy five. I think it was Ben Franklin. I ask myself, why do I avoid those things over and over?

During my senior year of college, I came to the conclusion that I needed three things to happen in order to have a good day: prayer, reading, and exercise. If I had those three, then all was well. That list has changed since then because I'd add something like writing onto that reading line, but for the most part it's who I am, which lately has come with a happy acceptance of that reality. I am who I am. Sure, there are sins that keep me from those higher, truer parts of myself, but it's all there waiting to be redeemed. A nice thought for sure.

This brings me back to the five day absence of writing on this blog. What's the trouble, just post something and be done with it. The trouble, the horrible horrible, troubling trouble is that those important things, those things that make me feel alive- because that's what I was really saying when I said they are required for a good day- are the individual and unique things I do. They are the special gifts- without the modern obsession with contribution, efficiency, and all that other garbage that kills pure, budding talent- in all of us that many never realize. It's all simple and pure when looked at from the outside, someone else that is, someone else's life. There they are, you said it, just follow through with what you said.

But where does the apprehension come from?

The quick answer is sin. The long answer is fear of that being abused or hurt, or feeling some kind of pain due to my exposure to reality, which all of those activities do. Yes, believe or not, we are creatures who do not like pain, even if it's good for us, and by good for us I mean actually there, true, whatever you want to call that. It is.

I run from prayer, I run from writing and reading, I run from exercise (though this one is the hardest to fit into that category of causing pain, though it is pain in a strictly physical sense), but they all are life giving. Insane. How do I ingrain these practices in my life?

Cardinal Newman said one difference between the true Christian and the false one is the first keeps God's law when it is simply that, God's law. There is no other benefit to obeying other than God said it.

The truth is some things in life are good and not easy to attain in the least.

What's the thing you're avoiding?

Btw, sorry for the pause in entries, whoever it is out there in cyberland that reads these things.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Insightful with a laugh.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review of "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt

I heard of this book from a famous homosexual, celibate, elderly, Catholic blogger, a woman, and thought I’d check it out. I’d never heard of it before, so I ran with no previous thoughts on the book, which can have its advantages.

The story is of a small, elite group of undergraduates studying ancient Greek at a private university in Vermont with a professor who takes no salary because he’s independently wealthy. The book, though promising to be about ancient Greek philosophy and all its mysteries, did not live up to my initial expectations, as small as they were. What could’ve been a nice undercurrent through the novel ends up being a group of touch points that serve as catchphrases between the characters and gives them a false sense of superiority over everyone else, which in reality they are a group of immoral, cold, drunken, kids who think they have a lot of the world figured out when in fact they know very little. There is a sense of wisdom to the group that does distinguish them from most undergraduates, yet for most of the novel they seem nearly indistinguishable from the generic brand, highly intelligent private college student. However, they do try to understand and live out the principles they see in the works they study, which does deserve notice. Nonetheless, the layout of the story makes for an oil and water mixture between ancient cultures and the modern world, which doesn’t make sense to them, much less to everyone else.

Also, it’s unfortunate that so many novels rely on murder and suicide to create drama in a plot. However, I could use the same criticism on Shakespeare- because we all know there’s plenty of murder and suicide in his plays- which makes the case for using it well. Sure, we’ll have a murder here or there and we’ll make it exciting as the characters lie or plot to find the killer, but when so much is centered around it, I don’t know what to say. This novel made it clear to me how much death we see in stories human’s tell, and how hard it is to work around that base to create something memorable. It doesn’t work here.

The strong points of the novel are the characters Henry, Julian, and the twins Charles and Camilla. Tartt does a good job creating the icy disposition of Julian, and Henry’s ignorant, falsely secured, and blind admiration for the man. He is presented as a desirable man with a fresh perspective on the world, rooted in ancient literature, but like pagan philosophy, there is a dark side, an emptiness and hopelessness that hides behind an overly cerebral view of the self and others. It’s his type that gives the West such a bad name, along with individualism. Nearly all characters are tragic and doomed from the start, which gives the story a nice Greek tragedy feel to it, but it also never lightens up. As a result, the read was exhausting.

Overall, the promises to be revealed, that seem telegraphed when written, don’t pay off to a satisfactory reading experience. The Vermont setting and the dreary, drunken college life of the central characters gets tiresome and the numbness of being drunk makes the story lukewarm.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What the Hell?

After my former blogpost on preaching about hell, I’ve been thinking I might start a whole series on the subject. I mean, why not, huh? There’s no reason we should let fundamentalist Protestants and pop culture take the podium on the issue. Besides, it’d be a refreshing turn after spending so much time at Perkins hearing the arguments for universalism and those whole hold that view burn the straw men that hold the opposing view.

It’s unfortunate and disturbing to find how many Christians get their ideas of hell and heaven from pop culture. More specifically, how Looney Tunes has influenced this. Think of how many times we’ve seen characters die and turn into angels with wings and a harp, or how many times, as comical as it is, Satan is depicted as a red guy with horns, a goatee, a pitchfork, and a tail with the spade at the end. The only accurate part of that would be the goatee since it’s true that not every person with a goatee is evil, but every evil person (females excluded) has a goatee. This seems obvious when heavy thought is given to the subject.

For my second foray into hell I’d like to point out three things:

“Hell” is a Northern European word. Yep, the Vikings aka the Norsemen, are the ones who coined the term, which might be a bit different than the way Christians talk about it today. Jesus refers to hell as Gehenna or flames or eternal fire, not hell. “Hell” in fact comes from Nordic mythology, which shows our English language roots influenced by the Vikings. English is a Germanic language even if it’s loaded down with Norman influence. Personally I think our best words come from the Anglo Saxon side of things. Words like: fire, water, cup, cow, dog, television, and entrepreneur.

Depictions of hell are usually heavily based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” which I think is quite a compliment to ol’ Dante in his use of imagery in an epic poem. Needless to say, I highly recommend reading it. The typical image we have when we imagine Satan, usually in a comical sense, comes from this work. I’ll go out on a limb and say this is not what Dante intended when he wrote Inferno, that is it’s not a work to laugh at or take lightly. However I do admit he called it the Divine Comedy. I’ll leave that one alone. And why does everyone talk about the Inferno, the first third of the book, and not the other two. It’s like watching Episode IV of Star Wars and never seeing Luke train and become a jedi. I’ll grant that vice and sin can be more interesting at times, but isn’t that just a call for better marketing on the part of virtue?

Lastly, why do we need to discriminate in our depictions of Satan? I mean, if a person agrees that there is a Satan, why make him out to be male? If Satan is an angel- a fallen one at that- and angels have no sex, then making him a “him” is unfair and discriminatory toward men. I guess you’ll never hear feminist theologians, if they accept the existence of Satan as a independent being and not some archetype in the human psyche- make an uproar over that longheld church tradition. Besides, I think the Great Tempter would be much different if he were depicted as a female, wouldn’t you? For example, compare the movie “Bedazzled” (Liz Hurley) to “Devil’s Advocate” (Al Pacino). And I wouldn’t look too much into the acting abilities of either candidate.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


For my job this summer we use twitter to report what’s happening at the two desks on campus, which I thought gave me a nice opportunity to impart wisdom to my coworkers. The thought first came when I noticed how “on the ball” everyone was the first weekend we had to work, which reminded me of a proverb my grandmother taught me over spring break, “A new broom sweeps clean.” I’d never heard this, and when I did I thought, “How brilliant.”

I went to Catholic school from the second grade all the way to the tenth, and in my exposure to church life, particularly the Bible, I came to have certain things I liked more than others. One was Reconciliation. I love going to Confession, and still do. Is it weird to say that? Am I suppose to loathe it?

Another aspect I came to love was the book of Proverbs. I remember sitting in Religion class and reading each of the proverbs and thinking, “These are absolutely wonderful. I can apply them anywhere.” There is something powerful about this kind of wisdom.

Later in seminary when I took Introduction to the Old Testament, we had a lecture devoted to this book, and I remembered all of a sudden how much I loved this. I think there’s a legitimacy and deep truth in what we’re drawn to as children. I loved wisdom as a kid. Not bad, if I may say so. I still do and not until recently have I thought about what’s going on when someone recites a proverb. Our Old Testament professor said a proverb is simply letting nature teach us. It’s an observation. Notice the one I used earlier.

“A new broom sweeps clean.” Taken literally it’s just a fact. Sure, new brooms sweep clean, but something in our brain connects with our soul and says, “Aha. That’s wise. So true.” Robots would have a tough time picking up on this. Unless those robots have souls, which is something I don’t want to think about.

“A single ant can destroy the whole dam.”

“One bad apple spoils the bunch.”

“Birds of a feather flock together.”

“Even a sheet of paper has two sides.”

And so on.

Aren’t these great? “Even a sheet of paper has two sides.” I love that one.

Well, I decided I’d gather proverbs from cultures all over the world and put one on each report I give on twiiter for work. So a tweet might look like this, “Will at VS desk. All keys present. ‘A fall into a ditch makes you wiser.’” Not only are my coworkers being informed, they’re souls are enriched by the wisdom I’m spreading like fertilizer in a flower garden.

Here are my favorites so far:

From little acorns mighty oaks do grow.

Good fences make good neighbors.

All men are fools, but all fools are not men.

Dream different dreams while on the same bed.

Flies never visit an egg that has no crack.

If you do not study hard when young you'll end up bewailing your failures as you grow up.

An inch of time is an inch of gold but you can't buy that inch of time with an inch of gold.

Like ants eating a bone.

A sly rabbit will have three openings to its den.

No wind, no waves.

Vicious as a tigeress can be, she never eats her own cubs.

You can't catch a cub without going into the tiger's den.

One who chases after two hares won't catch even one.

A merry companion on the road is as good as a nag.

Adversity is the foundation of virtue.

Those who have one foot in the canoe, and one foot in the boat, are going to fall into the river.

Those that lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.

There is nothing as eloquent as a rattlesnakes tail.

Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass.

Of course, not all of them are observations of nature, they might seem more like statements that place value on certain actions of virtues. Either way, we’d all be a little better off to remember these sayings.

One last point, though, I have to make. These proverbs sometimes seemingly contradict each other, yet both remain true. “Birds of a feather flock together” seems to contradict “Opposites attract,” but something must be said about their application. It’s not as if a person merely makes a comment affirming what they see, it really is true that each might apply in that case. They are still incredibly valuable, and serve as guideposts in making decisions and living. I won’t go as far as to say that when it comes to wisdom it’s all relative and situation specific, which would be false. Hard work and patience are virtues, so are rest and decisiveness. These virtues all imply a kind of moderation, which is at the center of all such wisdom. This kind of morality exists. Love, hope and faith, however, should never be moderate.

Has this kind of wisdom and proverb-sharing fallen to the wayside in our time? Is it needed?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Preaching Hell

For those who aren’t Catholic I’ll let you in on something you may not have thought of, something not well represented in movie versions of this part of Catholicism. It’s that during Confession, if a person goes at least once a month or more, you get to know your priest fairly well, and obviously vice versa. It’s a unique relationship because it’s completely one-sided, similar to psychotherapy. Although I think there are fewer restrictions on how much the priest can divulge to the confessor because I’ve learned quite a bit about the priest I visit. Because of our time together, he’s come to learn my reading habits as well as my theological interests, which inspired him to give me one of the books he just finished reading.

Walter Hilton’s “The Scale of Perfection” is exactly what I needed in where I am spiritually. The short chapters and the focus on holiness and working through my salvation in prayer and other spiritual practices has brought nothing but renewal. The introduction to the book had some interesting points about the style in which the book was written, which emphasized damnation and hell to spur people to take their baptismal vows seriously. This struck me as immediately distasteful due to this approach to preaching and spiritual growth coming under heavy fire in the past fifty years or so, which I suppose has its value. The question is what have we lost in fearing damnation and does it have a place in preaching the Good News?

Here are a few points I’d like to make:

There must be a theology that allows for a person to sin away their baptism in order for this work. Walter Hilton was a 14th century British Augustinian monk preaching renewal to people who were baptized and languishing in spiritual apathy. Languishing would be a compliment, they were numb to it. It worked well for that. But would once saved, always saved (perseverance of the saints) work with this? It could if they assume some people in the church are in fact not saved at all. It’s the old argument that if someone fell away from the church and denounced God and all that business, then they were never in fact saved. It works as a justification for preaching hell to them. Personally, I never understood the purpose of that rhetoric inside a theology that accepts once saved, always saved.

To inspire people to take their spiritual lives seriously, he talked about the consequences and deprivation of what it’s like to be separated from God, which most Christians would agree with at the fundamental level. Sure, God is the source of life, we need Him for salvation. Check. But would Christians today jive with his idea of talking about hell and scaring people into embracing God? I’d imagine many wouldn’t. This is where we get the hippy-style worship of the seventies, the Jesus movement stuff, Buddy Jesus, etc. Also, we have the reactionary approach to evangelism found in the emerging church movement where people may never even mention Jesus when they evangelize. Although St. Francis may have said preach without words, he didn’t rule out the value of words themselves; the guy was a talkative fellow and couldn’t contain expressing his love for God. He preached the Gospel with words.

It implies there’s a hell and damnation. Well, this could be controversial for some- our universalist friends across the river (figuratively speaking)- but it’s worth noting. I preach hell and damnation and separation from God because I believe there is such a place. It could work where a person doesn’t believe in hell and preach this kind of message, but it’d seem weak at best. “Things are not that great, people. Repent and come back to God, but if you don’t it’ll be ok because you’ll be with God whether or not you like it in the end.” For one thing, I believe God will let us be eternally separated from Him if that’s what we want. Regardless, I think there’s value in showing the deprivation (not total deprivation mind you) of separation from God. It’s grim without God, and making that clear has a nice rhetorical and theological effect on people. If it’s true, even better.

I’ll finish this by saying I think great harm has come from preaching this approach and God’s love for us can easily fall to the wayside when this kind of message is preached. When this happens, though, the Gospel isn’t preached, the Good News isn’t given in its fullness. I don’t care what a person is preaching, if they don’t preach God’s love for us as the motive for any action on His part then they’ve missed it.

Also, I’ll say that the objection of bringing people to unnecessary guilt is not valid here. Guilt isn’t inherently a bad thing. Jesus made people feel guilty all the time- the Pharisees are a good example of this, and interestingly the guilt quickly moved to anger- and he used the guilt to bring people to God. Guilt that goes nowhere and immobilizes a person is no good to anyone, that’s not what I’m talking about. Let the healthy guilt that drives a person to become better be the ticket. It’d be nice to have some of that to counter this is self-esteem/self-help.self-actualization obsession we have today that seems to bleed into the Christian spirituality.

I need to wash my hands now. I’ve got all this controversial goo on my fingers after typing this post.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


My gateway into learning of and studying the Eastern Orthodox Church was through reading “Franny and Zooey,” particularly Franny’s encounter with the Jesus Prayer through the classic Russian Orthodox work “Way of a Pilgrim.” A diary left on the doorstep of a monastery in the 19th century, the book is the telling of a lame (he couldn’t use one of his arms and was nearly useless in the peasant culture of 19th century Russia) Russian peasant who learns about the Jesus Prayer from a monk and decides to roam the country reciting the prayer and teaching it to others. He was a pilgrim.

Ever read the Canterbury Tales? The story behind the stories is the gathering of a group of pilgrims on their way to St. Thomas Beckett’s shrine in Southwark. Pilgrims.

Wait, and don’t we have a holiday in the US with Pilgrims traveling from England to the New World? I believe we do. There it is again.

I haven’t studied much on why they were called pilgrims, but the idea makes me wonder why there aren’t any pilgrims around today. It’d be easy to blame Protestantism on this, particularly in the US, but I don’t know many US Catholics that go on pilgrimages except for trips to the Holy Land, which are not called pilgrimages. There are a few things I’d like to note concerning pilgrimages:

They are not vacations. Somehow traveling in our day and age is for reasons of work- moving for a new job or traveling somewhere to temporarily work in a different city- or they’re for recreation- vacations, road trips, etc. Why not travel for spiritual reasons? I’m sure there is an aspect related to a retreat: getting away from home, seeing new places, meeting new people, relaxing at times. But the fundamental difference is that relaxing and getting time off from work is not the point, the point is holiness. It’s time devoted to God for a particular trip to visit a holy place. Which brings me to the next point.

It implies some places are holier than others. I’ve talked to three people who have visited the town of Assisi in Italy, and seen the burial place of St. Francis and all have said the same thing, “It was a holy place.” I believe some places are holier than others. The idea is heavy in Catholicism and runs all through many of the church’s practices.

I can hear that voice in my head, the comment I’ve heard from numerous people, “But God is everywhere.” True, God is omnipresent, but is He present in the same way in all places? The Holy Spirit is certainly present in some places and in some people and not others, you would agree? I can’t talk about this without getting into demonology a bit. Have you noticed how obsessed demons were with location? They asked Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs (a sign of uncleanness in Jewish culture). Demons know some places are holier than others. Or what about the holy of holies in the Jewish temple where a person who was not atoned for in their sin that entered the place would be struck dead because God was uniquely present there? Or what about Jacob’s comment, “God was here and I didn’t know it.” Many of us have had this feeling, “This place is holy. I feel safe when I’m here,” or “I am not comfortable being in that house. I just get a bad feeling about it.” Knowing where the holy places are to travel to- the Catholic Church has a nice system to map this out for a person- is crucial.

For Protestants who don’t have this kind of tradition, what about going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land? How about visiting John Wesley’s home or places he preached (there are a ton)? John Knox’s home?

This brings me to another point.

It’s a journey, not a destination. Why don’t we just serve communion at mass, then leave immediately afterward? Why all the stuff beforehand if the Eucharist is the most important part? Because we are people on a journey, we all have spiritual work to do in obtaining holiness. A pilgrimage is a fine example of this process in journeying to God. Let it be a time of openness to God as you travel, pray along the way, learn the discipline of praying at fixed hours throughout the day. In a sense the person has arrived, yet they are traveling a destination. A nice analogy for our spiritual life with God.

It’s not a mission trip. Although evangelization can happen on a pilgrimage, the point is devotion to God first, then growing in holiness as a side effect or secondary goal. The gospel can certainly be spread on a pilgrimage, yet the telos is altogether different. The goal on a mission trip is to reach a certain group of people, the purpose of a pilgrimage is to travel to a holy site and encounter God along the way.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a church trip, similar to the way mission trips have become so common and nearly industrialized, where a group goes on a pilgrimage together? I’d love to see it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I think I have that written down somewhere

Since my graduation, new facets of my life have opened to interesting tasks I feel compelled to do. One is fight crime, but that post is for another day.

The other is memorizing important writings. This seems insane in a world where we have immediate access to just about anything we could think of to say that we need to remember anything. I certainly don’t remember phone numbers anymore because they’re all stored in my phone. Why would a person carry around a heavy sack of obsolete items, when there’s a perfectly good eighteen-wheeler following them around to carry whatever they wish?

This may be true for phone numbers, but what about words?

The biggest is that it shapes the way we think and speak. If you were to memorize the whole canon of Scripture, it would become a part of your language so much so that you would hardly notice it. Conversations would arise and proverbs or the sayings of Christ would roll off your tongue unconsciously. Read the works of saints like Bernard of Clairvaux or Augustine of Hippo and see how Scripture is woven throughout their work as if it were the underpinnings or foundational pillars of their thought, only peeking to show themselves every so often. So it goes with anything.

Winston Churchill copied the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by hand for the reason of developing a style as sophisticated as the one in that work. Immersion in the work of respectable author offers such a close association that it can be recited by memory is a lost art, and one that could benefit all of us.

Jews in biblical times would memorize the whole Old Testament. St. John Chrysostom memorized the whole New Testament.

Wouldn’t this dampen a person’s sense of style, their own voice? No, it would do the opposite, in fact. A person develops their own style through imitation of the great artists, then gives their own take on the subject. Influence coupled with honesty will do the job.

The genre I’ve been interested in memorizing is poetry, a form I believe was meant to be remembered and scrutinized (not necessarily analyzed, but scrutinized. Just take a phrase and ruminate on it, etc.) The first I took was “Bright Star” by John Keats, and once I learned it I would recite it to myself as I did ordinary, daily tasks. What I found is that the poem came to life and spoke to me in ways I never thought possible. What I also saw was that I couldn’t see those things after a superficial reading of the work. It would’ve been impossible. It’s like meeting a person and saying you know all there is to know about them. It can’t be done. And so it is with great art.

A few nights ago I had someone teach me twenty seconds of choreography for a performance. After repeating the moves for a while, my body memorized the motions and I could do the routine without thinking. It was nice, because at that point I could focus on other things like my facial expressions or adding feeling to my movement. This closely applies to words as well.

What I’ve come to realize in myself is that I not only skim most of what I read, but I usually only read things once and never return to it; even with books I love. It’s tragic.

I’ll venture a guess and say there are two things still memorized in our culture (besides things like words in order to speak. Come on). The first is song lyrics. I can sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” on cue without the music and have been able to do this since my childhood. I can do this because I’ve heard it so much. Other people, I’m sure, have a similar experience with music. Such is the nature of the beast.

The other is in some church denominations there’s the Sunday school tradition of memorizing Scripture and doing Bible drills. From what I can tell, this only happens in strongly conservative Protestant denominations. But I’ll expand this and say religion itself promotes memorization, especially the more liturgical traditions. I recite the Nicene Creed, the Our Father, the Act of Contrition, and several snippet responses throughout Mass. I’ve known these prayers since I was a child.

Of course, the criticism is that memorization doesn’t necessarily lead to any connection as anyone who has been a part of a liturgical tradition can attest. They’ve gone to church for a while, known the prayers most of their life, but never felt any significance in it. In this case the problem is not with memorization, but it lies elsewhere, particularly with awareness and critical thinking. I would encourage someone in this situation to read the prayers on their own, and study their history and meaning.

The beauty of memorizing prayers is that they continue to speak to a person once they’ve entered and found permanent residence in a person’s psyche. The prayer stays the same, but the life circumstance has changed. Anyone who has read a great work of fiction twice with a sufficient gap between the readings can probably say the same, and the same applies to the constancy of poetry, speeches, or quotes when they’re held close. We bring our ever-changing selves to the words of those that came before use, and we let them condescend to bring understanding, comfort, or needed wisdom wherever we are in life.

I’ll ask the question that is the title of this post: does memorization have a place in our culture or will it increasingly become obsolete?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dogs and Poker

Do you recognize this painting? Yes, a famous one.

Ever had that situation where you're given a task requiring 10% of your cognitive ability, and once your into it for a while and break into stride there's this thought, profound and massive that blinks like that lightbulb above people's heads in cartoons, and the excitement from your brilliance threatens to do away with the original idea? I think Doctor Emmett Brown in "Back to the Future" had this happen to him when he fell and hit his head on a toilet. Take that, turn the toilet thing into a mundane task, and that was me today.

The original thought started with me walking from one dorm to another, and one the grass next to a sidewalk was a crippled, wounded baby blue jay clutching to a broken limb on its back as it squeaked to me in fear whether or not we were predators. Well, we were, and we ate it right then and there. I'm kidding. Really, though, the mother was in the tree above us watching with futility as me and two coworkers huddled around the bird and tried to brainstorm, lightly I may add, as to how to save the bird. We concluded that it'd be best to leave it for it was doomed from the moment it fell from the tree, so we all kept trucking on. How death is taken so lightly in our world today.

Anyway, I pondered what kind of predator would come to eat this baby bird, and dogs and cats flooded my mind with their particular hunting styles. Somehow that went to this particular painting above- dogs playing poker- and one key observation became that mental lightbulb.

First, I intentionally did no research on the painting before posting this, to keep my observation pure and untainted, delivered to you the reader, soI know nothing about this painting, absolutely nothing. If you feel the need to tell me what it's really about, then by all means do it, but I in no way try to give the proper interpretation. Is that even a term in art? "Proper interpretation." I don't like it if it is. I don't know. I feel less sophisticated the more I write about this. Regardless, now that the art snobs are put in their place, we can move forward.

Here is the observation:

Dogs would make horrible poker players.

First, dogs are social creatures. Man's best friend, in fact. They're like humans in that regard. They cannot talk and are not very much like us, but only in one way that shapes their behavior to make it seem like they're reading our minds or they can understand our words. They cannot. They only read our behavior, and are excellent at it.

Think about it. How well does your dog hide his excitement or interest? Not very well I'm sure. This is what I see as ironic. Dogs, as opposed to cats, tend to express themselves in louder ways, thus are easy to read. If a person owns a dog and a cat and they come home, who will be waiting at the door, jumping around, licking, barking, running, and knocking things over? The dog. Cats are happy to see you, and they'll show it, but they won't go really out of their way to get your attention. "Patient" could be a word for this. I like to turn cat traits into virtues. They deserve it.

I'm sure that's not all there is to this painting, but it's something. Something. Food for thought at least.

I mean, if you're ever in some alternate dimension or travel in space to where dogs and cats rule a distant planet, and you're given the choice to play poker against either species, choose the dogs. They may be better at reading you, but you'll read them much easier.

You'll thank me later.

Friday, June 4, 2010

ad hominem

Ever had a discussion with someone and their response was a clear attack on you rather than what you said? There’s a name for that: an ad hominem argument. Take this example.

“That’s interesting what you’re reading there, Philmore. What is that, the new issue of News report?”

“Why yes it is Gerald. That’s exactly right. There’s a great article on the new immigration law just passed in Arizona.”

“Oh it’s an atrocity, isn’t it? I mean, all those people escaping the horrible conditions of their country only to meet even more injustice and oppression in our own. I can’t stand to hear about it.”

“I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there, Gerald. Those people have illegally come into our country and broken the law. The process of naturalization that is required for any immigrant is overlooked and shows an overall disregard for the laws of this country.”

“But you can’t really say anything can you? You’re not Mexican. My family immigrated in the 70s and I was the first generation to live in the US. We had to go through the process of becoming citizens and you never did. You can’t say anything about this issue.”

And cut.

See what happened there?

An argument was given and the response was an attack on the person, somehow giving reason to dismantle the argument of the other. That’s called an ad hominem argument.

Ad hominem means “to the man” in Latin, and denotes a style of arguing where the person’s argument- or even her credibility and reliability- are brought under question, and some characteristic disqualifies her argument.

Another example,

“You can’t say Canadians are violent because you’re not Canadian.”

See how the argument is deflected and not even addressed by simply attacking the person? See how irrelevant it is?

Where can someone find this type of argument? It happens in politics all the time.

A black Ivy League professor criticized black churches in the American South for being too theologically conservative among other things. He had a list of criticisms. The response? Something along these lines: “Well, you can’t talk about us because you’re all the way up there in the Ivy League world, so you don’t know what it’s like in our part of the country and in our communities.” Ad hominem. His criticism was overlooked and the counter-argument was directed at the individual.

Unfortunately, like many debates and discussions in our country, to disagree or to offer criticism is seen as a personal attack on the person. I even find myself getting angry when someone opposes me, when in fact- like I do so often with people I may agree with- they could only be inquiring into my specific position rather than responding out of offense at what I’m saying.

Does this happen often? Have you ever had a discussion where the response was an ad hominem argument? Have you ever fallen into disregarding someone, not because of credibility or reliability, but for another characteristic of the person?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Encouragement?! Ha!

I’ve never been a huge fan of wanting to do exercises where the person is forced to say or do things out of what I would consider comfortable, these tasks, otherwise a horrible thing, can serve a good purpose, and they have a name: icebreakers. They help people get together and shed whatever social boundaries they may have put up with people they don’t know. You’re put in a room where you don’t know anyone and the guard goes up, at least most people will do this to some degree, even the most extraverted will hold back a little around people they don’t know well, at least out of courtesy for them in breaching some existing line.

Ice breakers are what they’re called, exercises where people are forced to certain rules to act in a specific way that somehow reveals to everyone else something about themselves while at the same time they shed that politeness and reservation we all seem to carry into these situations. They’re great for training or orientations, and they actually work, even with ninety percent of the people participating roll their eyes when the phrase is thrown out. I’ve done quite a few of these in the past few weeks, and at the beginning I vowed to change my approach to it all. “Will,” I said to myself as the leaders were explaining the rules of the ice breaker, “you’re going to enjoy this. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.” The words formed their thought-bubble goodness above my head, shortly followed by thoughts of lunch approaching, and as a result I had no idea what the ice breaker was or what to do during it. One victory at a time is a decent approach, I suppose.

That’s a long introduction to what I have to say. Here it is: we need positive feedback and we need it regularly. This may be an incredibly unpopular view in a culture that pushes for independence and needing anyone else for anything is taboo. Well, it’s not true. Sometimes we do need to be encouraged. This may seem simple and obvious, but if you stop and think about it, when was the last time you thanked the people in your life that sustain you. Stop and think about it. This blog isn’t timed.

It can be from anyone. If you’re a theist and believe in a God that loves humanity, even you, then I’d say a great place to find encouragement is through the many ways God has manifested His love to us, and you specifically. Go on, there’s nothing selfish about that. Doing a regular inventory of where God speaks and works in you is crucial to a healthy spiritual life.

I don’t want to overly spiritualize this practice or give it this great theological significance, so I won’t. I’ll only say it’s ok to ask for encouragement when you need it. Damn the bastard that ever shuns another person needing help, such a person has far worse problems than the one asking.

What I’m getting to is that this morning we did an exercise for our staff meeting where we put a sign on our back with our names on it and everyone else wrote a positive trait they saw in that person. Personally, I tend to focus on where people need to grow or where faults are, not because I have this thing in my craw that I need to work out, and if I don’t I remain this judgmental crab to everyone else. It’s legitimate to look at a situation and see where it needs improvement in order to help. Would you want to visit a doctor that only pointed out what was right with your health and never talked about what needed healing?

Wisdom lies in knowing when to play the doctor and when to play the encourager. If someone thinks they can fix any problem in life by a little positive thinking, they’re delusional and headed on the road to chronic denial.

I also want to avoid any “balance” or “middle of the road” focus on this sort of thing. “Will, I think you’re full of it. It needs to not be one or the other. It’s a balance. Don’t use one all the time. Life is painted in shades of gray.” Well, I never thought gray was a great color. Give me checkerboard over solid gray if I had the choice. The extreme center is not a good position for this sort of thing. It’s the wisdom to know which is proper, or even to mix the two. I don’t want friends who tell me what’s right about me all the time. Such a life will lead to a passive-aggressive sand pit I can’t escape where everyone eventually becomes so paranoid they interpret every little action as meaning something else. Blah. I’d like to trust the other person to tell me when something’s up. Ah, the sweet third way.

(I feel like this relates to a former post. Yes, I believe it does.)

What’s your style? Where do you find encouragement? Where do you find healthy criticism from someone you trust?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Theological Epiphany at Wal-Mart

I normally don’t go to Wal-Mart, but today I found myself walking through the cold, concrete floors filled with hurried people pushing me around to get at those low prices. I’ll give Wal-Mart this much, they do have some low prices. While I was there I realized something I believe changes my whole view of God, theology and Christianity. It was in my search for the best laundry detergent that suits my lifestyle- that of a mildly productive, highly-critical, sometimes lazy, single guy in his twenties that is not the kind to shop at Wal-Mart but once a month- that I received a vision of the real, true Christianity beaming down on me like one of the many fluorescent shop lights hanging from the metal-frame skeleton ceiling a hundred feet above me.

It started with one question: who was at the council of Nicaea (the council in the 4th century where they decided on the doctrine of the Trinity which abolished arianism)? A bunch of men. Who wrote the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament (to our knowledge)? Males. Who has more books of the Bible named after them than any other gender? Men. Who controlled the church for centuries up until the faint glimmers of light we have in the past few decades? Men.

“My God,” I thought to myself, “we’ve had control of this whole enterprise since the beginning.” These thoughts had completely crowded out whether or not I would buy Tide with Downy mixed into it or regular Tide. I do like soft clothes, but do I want to pay the extra two dollars?

Go back to the early church. Who were the great theologians of that time? The Church Fathers. I’ve never noticed this before. And the Gospels: Matthew (a man), Mark, (as masculine as they come), Luke (a dude), and John (a hombre if I’ve ever heard of one).

What a travesty! This probably means at that council in 325 they got together to see what the best way to keep themselves in power as long as possible was. I bet it went something like this:

“Guys. I’m glad you all could make it to the council. Notice the gender distribution of the meeting (snickers and laughter among the bishops). Any women? Exactly. I’ll say no more. (probably a few chuckles ripple through the crowd). I know it’s a long trip for some of you, and many of you are probably tired, but we all see the importance of why we’re called together. As you know, we’ve recently made a large step in securing our power in the world with ol’ Constantine over there making Christianity legal in the Roman empire. Finally we men can use our power and dominance to keep men on top and those inferior women below us. So, let’s get things started shall we? What’s first?”

From the way things ended up, I bet that’s how they were talking, and not a woman in sight. And I bet that’s how the other six councils went.

I’m not going to let men write herstory (see what I did there?) and dominate theology any longer. Let’s tackle the big issues, shall we?

(As some of you know, I grew up Catholic, and a year ago went back into the fold. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll propose these changes to the Catholic Church specifically, but you can try them out on your own denomination if you like. I see nothing wrong with that. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach.)

The Trinity.

This is a big one used to oppress womyn (see what I did there?). How? It’s obvious. What is the Trinity? God. Sure, but Who is the Trinity? Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Do you see the patriarchy reeking like some nasty, green, cheesy stench smelling of nothing other than the worst scourge of our time? How do these men think they can get away with this? Of course we need to change that to Mother, Daughter and Holy Spirit. You may be thinking, “Wait, Will. I understand the change to Mother, but Daughter? Jesus was a man.” Of course you think that. That’s what men have been saying all this time. I have one question for you: who wrote the Gospels? Men. Exactly.

Besides, I think two millenia of a male Savior is about enough. Let’s let the women get a chance to identify with an Only-Begotten Daughter of God. I like the sound of that. We’ll write some new material where there was in fact a Daughter of God doing the same sort of things as Jesus. I’m sure we can make that work. She’ll be Jesus’ sister, no wait, older sister and she pretty much taught Jesus everything he knows. Even better.

Mary can still be the Theotokos because our new savior- also of the same substance as God- can be born of a woman as well. Nothing should change in that area.

And for all those people out there that squirm when they hear father used to refer to the Godhead, well you can have a Mother. I like the sound of that too. This just keeps getting better.

The Bible.

Hmm. This is a tricky one. There are women in the Bible but not enough of them for sure. How about just taking out any passage dealing with men and keep all the parts with womyn? It’d be like the Jefferson/Deist Bible where he took out all the miraculous stuff, but this one would be all stuff involving men and their patriarchal ways. The Womyn’s Bible Commentary wasn’t enough, we need a Womyn’s Bible, revised and updated regularly.

And we can change that stuff in Genesis where Eve listens to the serpent and gets Adam on board. We all know that’s probably not how it really happened. Eve was most likely against the whole thing and never ate of the fruit. This could be why womyn are clearly superior to men. That’s an interesting idea now that I think about it. The sinlessness of womyn. I guess I’d be ok with saying God is the one who saves mankind. The men were the only ones needing salvation.

In our version, the story of Samson and Delilah wouldn’t depict her as a bad figure, we’ll polish that story up too. Also, the work in Samuel and Kings is chock full of men doing manly things we could do without. We’ve had enough of that. But we could keep the story about God not wanting a king. The material about Deborah, the womun Judge was good, but we all know what was really going on when the people of Israel asked for a king and God objected. God knew what Israel needed. It wasn’t a king, but a queen. It would’ve turned out much differently if they’d have asked for a queen. Womyn in power. I like the sound of that.

All those parables with womyn we can keep, and especially keep the material on Mary and all the other womyn. In fact, we can rearrange the whole Bible in order of importance rather than chronologically (what I mean by importance is how womyn are superior to men in all ways except incompetency). First would, in fact, not be the material on Mary, but the story of the Syrophonecian womun telling Jesus what to do (Matt. 15: 21-28). Then we’d have that story in John at the wedding where Mary tells Jesus to perform the miracle. This would be followed by the material in Revelation that talks about the Queen of Heaven. And so on. I feel like I would enjoy that Bible much more than the patriarchal mess we’ve inherited in this so called Christianity.


This is a controversial one. Although some may not like the idea of hell, I think they’ll sing a different tune after hearing this proposal. In the new church we would have a doctrine of hell and it would be like ol’ Dante’s vision of hell, but only with a few minor revisions. There’d be a three tiered system:

The first tier would have the womyn who accepted patriarchy and fed the lie of subservience to men for so long. These would be people like Sarah Palin, Monica Crowley, and any womun who was ever in the Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, or Bible church denominations and remained there.

The second tier would have the men who were against patriarchy, but they didn’t do anything about their oppressive ways and eventually stopped trying to change society.

The third tier- in the bowels of hell at its deepest and darkest abyss- holds those men who kept womyn held down for so long. Many of them, I would venture to say almost all of them, would be here. If you listen closely you can probably hear their screaming right now. Do you know what it would sound like? Justice. Sweet Justice.

Womyn’s Ordination

Men were the only ministers for nearly two thousand years, it’s womun’s turn to rule things. It will be a womyn’s-only priestesshood. The discussion to ordain men will open again in another 2000 years.

It’s Womyn’s Turn

This was the epiphany I received. I spent four years at Perkins hearing the arguments for the end of oppression toward womyn and how anything men do is disastrous, and now after I graduate I understand what they were saying. The revision of herstory (not history. See what I did there?) has begun. It doesn’t matter if I never bought laundry detergent. Womyn have been doing the laundry of men for centuries. I need to get a grip on herstory.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Right and Left Brainiacs

For some reason the end of the school year (this has always been the case and is particularly true after graduating) leaves me in a right-brained renaissance where I just want to go outside, employ as many senses as I can, crawl up to interesting things and look at them as closely as possible or step back and view something I'd never seen as a whole. My guess is that it's a response to all the left-brained academic work I push myself to finish at the end of the year, the papers, the exams, the scheduling, the organizing, the deadlines at the end of the year. Yuck yuck yuck. I'm left turning in my paper and not remembering anything I do for about four days because half of my cranium is exhausted and needs a few weeks to recover, thus I follow some schedule my unconscious beams down to me from outer space, similar to what happened with the Power Rangers (wasn't that how it worked?).

Nevertheless, in my roaming the internet for some label in which hemisphere I use, here is the best test I've found that is free.

My results:
32% left brained- (most dominant to least dominant) symbolic, linear, verbal, reality-based, sequential, logical

68% right brained- (most dominant to least dominant) random, concrete, fantasy-oriented, intuitive, nonverbal, holistic

Take the test and post your results.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Gravity of Denominations

I’ve been inspired to read more Catholic fiction, a desire that began with Chesterton, moved to Graham Greene, and has now moved to Evelyn Waugh. The book that was suggested to me, other than his most famous work “Brideshead Revisited”, is a biography he wrote on St. Edmund Campion, a Jesuit priest martyred in England during some of their most tumultuous years in transitioning from Catholicism to the Anglican Church as the state religion.

I suggest to anyone who is interested in either systematic theology or church history to devote a significant portion of their study on the Reformation with all its interesting elements and nuances that ripple far through the centuries and meet us in the our congregations every Sunday. Personally, I’ve been more interested in the early church period rather than the thousand years later that changed the West permanently, but the more I’m alive and study theology the more I see its value.

After reaching the halfway point in Waugh’s account of Campion’s life, I find myself perplexed at what occurred within Christianity four hundred years ago. The massacre of other world religions during the Crusades seems somewhat understandable, but when I read about Christians killing other Christians something inside me is unsettled. It’s the difference between fighting between families and fighting within families. The latter seems far graver. Religious freedom in our time is usually a conversation about Christianity among other world religions. This is not to say there is tension between denominations, but Islam and the West is undoubtedly a bigger question in the mind of our culture.

Imagine this: the United States makes the necessary changes to the constitution to abolish freedom of religion and institutes, let’s say the Southern Baptist Church, as the national religion in which all citizens are required to attend worship every Sunday under penalty of fines on the first offense, incarceration on the second, and death for the third. All other forms of worship are forbidden by the state. Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Muslims, scientologists, etc. are all forbidden to have their weekly, monthly- whatever they want to do- services.

Take that scenario, which is very similar to what happened in England in the 16th century, particularly toward Catholicism, and combine it with a popular view of Christianity and denominations in the US. What view is that? Ever heard someone say, “Most Christian denominations believe virtually the same thing. We’re all brothers/sisters in Christ”? I heard an ordained elder in the UMC say he could be a minister in any Christian denomination except Catholicism only because they require celibacy for priests (the elder was married). This is the general attitude.

In this scenario, especially if you’re not Southern Baptist, would you “see all denominations as the same”? Of course, you’d have to sign on to a set of beliefs about God, Scripture, etc. to be a part of the national church, which all congregations would confess every Sunday. In this case, the doctrines of once saved always saved, the inerrancy of Scripture, believer’s baptism, and all the other trademark stances the Southern Baptist church takes would be included in the confession.

St. Edmund Campion and Rome saw it as imperative that missionaries be sent to England to reevangelize the country and support those who are loyal to the Catholic Church in England. As a result, Campion and hundreds of others were hanged, drawn, and quartered for their loyalty to Catholicism.

What’s implied- the text between the lines that seem painfully glaring out from the page- is that Campion saw the Catholic Church as the one true church and the Anglican Church as a heretical sect. Why? Why not? When a person says they believe something, why not really mean it?

It’s easy to criticize these people as fanatical, intolerant, radicals compared to our “enlightened” religion of the 21st century, but what value lies beneath this chapter in the church’s history?

Does it seem insane? If there was a persecution to this degree of your denomination would you feel compelled to stand up for it and put your life on the butcher block simply to confess what you believe, or would you take the “all denominations are basically the same” approach and confess beliefs contrary to your own?