Steven Riddle: August 2006 Archives

A Loss to the Literary World


Naguib Mahfouz, one of the great novelists of Egypt died at the age of 94 yesterday. May he find peace and glory.

I particularly liked Miramar and Midaq Alley, but I know that he published a great many other worthwhile works and I regret I am not more acquainted with his work. I shall endeavor to be so now.

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Some Eminent Christians


Two interesting perspectives on Catholic figures from a vehemently anti-Catholic chronicler of the lives of Eminent Christians.

from Lives of Eminent Christians
John Frost, LL.D., 1854

Savonarola, the connecting link between the reformation of John Huss and Martin Luther. . . .

[regarding Sir Thomas More]

In the next parliament he, and his friend Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, were attainted of treason and misprision of treason for listening to the ravings of Elizabeth Barton, considered by the vulgar as the Holy Maid of Kent, and countenancing her treasonable practices.

Our limits will not allow us to detail many particulars of his life while in confinement, marked as it was by firmness, resignation, and cheerfulness, resulting from a conscience however much mistaken, yet void of intentional offence.

Which goes to make my point about non-fiction. Provoked by the strong language of the passage in reference to Elizabeth Barton, I went to the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917, which provided, what I thought was about as fair and reasonable a coverage as could be considering all the facts.

She protested "in the name and by the authority of God" against the king's projected divorce. To further her opposition, besides writing to the pope, she had interviews with Fisher, Wolsey, and the king himself. Owing to her reputation for sanctity, she proved one of the most formidable opponents of the royal divorce, so that in 1533 Cromwell took steps against her and, after examination by Cranmer, she was in November, with Dr. Bocking, her confessor, and others, committed to the Tower. Subsequently, all the prisoners were made to do public penance at St. Paul's and at Canterbury and to publish confessions of deception and fraud.

In January, 1534, a bill of attainder was framed against her and thirteen of her sympathizers, among whom were Fisher and More. Except the latter, whose name was withdrawn, all were condemned under this bill; seven, including Bocking, Masters, Rich, Risby, and Elizabeth herself, being sentenced to death, while Fisher and five others were condemned to imprisonment and forfeiture of goods. Elizabeth and her companions were executed at Tyburn on 20 April, 1534, when she is said to have repeated her confession.

Protestant authors allege that these confessions alone are conclusive of her imposture, but Catholic writers, though they have felt free to hold divergent opinions about the nun, have pointed out the suggestive fact that all that is known as to these confessions emanates from Cromwell or his agents; that all available documents are on his side; that the confession issued as hers is on the face of it not her own composition; that she and her companions were never brought to trial, but were condemned and executed unheard; that there is contemporary evidence that the alleged confession was even then believed to be a forgery. For these reasons, the matter cannot be considered as settled, and unfortunately, the difficulty of arriving at any satisfactory and final decision now seems insuperable.

So it is possible to approach objectivity in one's reporting, and not all is completely obliterated by bias, although even the Catholic Encyclopedia article could be read as "in favor of," though I think that a rather strong reading of the passage.

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A Return to St. Blogs


Santificarnos has returned with some excellent stuff. Go and see.

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For those paying attention--which probably only includes those of us in the path, Ernesto has become a lumber, wet, slow-moving blob of barely circulating air that will tumble across the peninsula, and with any good luck at all spill out into an Atlantic that simply can't give it back its punch. This is the best possible scenario for a TS/Hurricane. Let us pray that it be so.

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Fiction v. Nonfiction

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A while back at one blog or another--I seem to think it was at Patrick's but it may have been at TSO's, or perhaps both, I was disconcerted to read that someone thought nonfiction reading more worthwhile than fiction to the point where they rarely, if ever read fiction. This is not meant to be critical of that attitude, but to present another side of that coin.

Of recent date, I have grown so strongly suspicious of nearly all nonfiction that reading almost any of it is a waste of time for me. When I was reading Mandelbrot's book on the misbehavior of markets, I kept wondering what evidence contradictory to his conclusions was he suppressing. As I read Pat Buchanan, I couldn't help but think that everything was informed by the bias of the observer and I was uncertain that things he cited as historical fact were indeed. I remember commenting to TSO after he had read one or another of John Cornwell's books, "Why did you waste the time, now you have to read three others just to see if anything he stated was, in fact, true."

What I've discovered over time is that nonfiction books very rarely present anything like nonfiction. That is, most postmodern nonfiction. When your view of reality is that reality is shaped by the language you use to describe it and by the oppressions, hidden or overt that define it, it would be difficult to present anything in an objective way, because there cannot be any objectivity.

Fiction, on the other hand, shows me the human condition, and because the author lays his cards on the table on way or the other, I can determine whether what is shown is truly reflective of human experience or is shaped by the bias of the author to lead me to an agenda. If the latter, and if the agenda is one that I do not like, I am likely to throw the book across the room. But when it is an agenda I concur with, such as Flannery O'Connor, I get so much better a snapshot of reality than in any nonfiction I've read in the last ten years.

In addition, I tend to read nonfiction that I know I agree with the standpoint of the author. Problem there is that I continually push my own bias to the point of obliquity.

Fiction presents a picture of life that can be measured by our experience of life. As a result, some of the pictorial representations of life arrive at a time when we are not ready to pursue or truly understand them. I don't think most of Henry James is even remotely accessible to most people under 40. There are always extraordinary exceptions, but even among them, I notice the focus is not so much on what James has to say, but on the way he goes about saying it. We hear much praise of his psychological novelistic technique, and so forth, but little about whether what he says in The Golden Bowl is true, in part, I believe because many of the commenters simply haven't the experience in years to know whether or not James is relating the truth or a truth about human relationships.

Fiction, therefore, might be at once more informative and less informative about the human condition--more informative because you are presented less with facts than with the reality of the created world--something you can't fact check. Less informative because the world is created and you aren't learning anything substantive about the empirical reality of this world.

And that's where fiction soars--it is very rarely about empirical reality in the point of objective fact, it is more about nuance and subtlety and understanding human interactions and relationships. Fiction presents a world and asks you to look and experience and judge and find satisfying or wanting. Nonfiction seems to present a "here are the facts" scenario, when in fact it presents a "here are the facts I want you to know in order to understand my point." How many books are there on the religious views of the Founding Fathers? And how many opinions? And these all purport to be nonfiction and to be telling us the truth about the Founding Fathers. And yet, if you read every one of them are you a nanometer closer to knowing what the founding fathers thought? Or are you, more likely, more entrenched in your own conceptions or those conceptions amenable to your viewpoint.

Philosophical books are somewhat better in this regard. The problem with most of them is that they take certain things for granted as starting points, and if you question one of those things, then the underlying construct becomes shaky. For example, if you should question St. Thomas Aquinas's assertion that the intellect is a positive good, nearly the entire system of thought falls apart. What if you think the intellect is merely neutral? What if you regard the intellect as a potential good or a potential evil depending upon how it is formed? What then? Other philosophical systems have similar sorts of problems. However, you can at least enter the system and sometimes ferret out what the underlying assumptions are and holding in abeyance judgment on their validity, you can assess the merits of an argument.

Well enough. It is my contention that I have learned far more about life and the things that really matter from fiction, or from non-fiction disguised as fiction than I ever did from reading non-fiction. C.S. Lewis's vision of heaven and hell in The Great Divorce has done more to make me think seriously of the last things that any dozen books of straight theology on the last things.

All this said, we are different people, differently constructed. It is through coming to an appreciation of these differences and attempting to view the world from the other side that we grow (in part). I will still consume nonfiction in minuscule and carefully regulated quantities, but I can at least try to do so now, appreciating the sage advice of many in St. Blog's who appreciate it more than I do.

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The Decalogue: IV and V


As I noted in the review of the first three films in this series, it is not always possible to sort out which parts of the decalogue are being dealt with in any given episode. This is particularly true of IV, but not at all true of V.

Film IV appears to encompass honoring your father and mother, not coveting your neighbors wife (husband), and not bearing false witness. In IV a Father leaves his daughter during a business trip. She discovers an envelop that has written on it "To be opened in the event of my death." And she considers opening it. Finally she does open it to find within another envelop, labeled in a different hand, "To my darling daughter." From this simple kernel, a plot of intrigue, deceit, false and real betrayal and reconciliation all spins out. By far and away one of the more complex of the series so far.

In V we get a simple admonition, "Thou shalt not kill." We see a young man who, apparently at random, decides to rob and murder someone. Everything possible is done to make the young man thoroughly unlikable. His counterpoint is the young attorney who is assigned to defend him and who does everything in his power to convince the court that capital punishment is not justice but institutionalized revenge. This is the summary speech that occurs at the beginning of the film and which only gradually begins to make sense.

I'm uncertain what feeling I was supposed to leave with. We have at the end the young attorney hammering on his car in a field and saying, "I abhor it. I abhor it." I don't know if he speaks for the director, for himself only, or for some other group. But I didn't find the appeal particular persuading in this instance. While I am sympathetic to the argument overall, this didn't strike me as a very strong entry in opposition to it.

Still, despite that failure on my part, it is enjoyable to watch. Most interesting are some of the cinematic techniques used to couch the whole story. And also interesting is the appearance of the young man, said by some to symbolize Christ or His Angels. He has appeared in every film to this point, always at key junctures. In IV he appears twice and seems to be the impetus toward reconciliation and redemption.

So far, the only thing close to a misstep in the series is # 3, and even that was supremely interesting. Highly recommended.

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A graphic "novel" by animator Guy Delisle recounting some of his experiences while visiting Pyongyang as head of an "off-shore" animating group. While I wasn't particularly fond of the cartoon style, the observations are interesting and often chilling. For example, at one point in the novel, Guy notices that he has not seen a single handicapped person. He asks his official guide and interpreter about this and is told that "North Korea is a homogeneous society and as such gives birth only to strong, healthy North Koreans--apparently without irony--or at least any that he would have been able to detect.

For aficionados of "the world is flat," we get a glimpse into what the flat world means outside of this country. At one point Delisle reports about a woman who was ecstatic to be returning to the relative freedom of Beijing. During his stay, Guy was never allowed anywhere unescorted, he was allowed to eat in a total of three restaurants. He observed that on payday, along with the meager pay checks the employees received a ration of rice that was stockpiled and redistributed by the studio.

The litany of sad, surreal, and frightening things goes on and on, and these were only the things Delisle was allowed to see. Naturally he never got closer than rumor to the "reeducation camps of Northern North Korea." The constant, watching image of the two Kims reminded Delisle of the Big Brother of 1984. Only, in some ways, 1984 was a benign vision of the world compared with this. North Korea seems to have fully implemented it and upgraded it--constant streams of propaganda from the state-run station, posters, images, icons, statutes, monuments, memorials, and palaces dedicated to the two Kims, who are never really seen as separate people but as one continuous leader. Most frightening of all, all of this is a city that has power only for the hotels that host foreigners and for the lighting of their shrines of the two Kims.

North Korea has been reduced to abject poverty by the oppressive regime that has been in control over the past 50 or so years. At one point in the novel, speculating at about reunification of Korea, Delisle points out that the South Koreans might not be in any rush to welcome back a huge unemployed workforce that has approximately 1/60th of the income of South Korea--he points out the huge cost that West Germany took upon reunification with the East.

I don't know if I really recommend this book, but I did find it interesting and wondered about the accuracy of many of the things recorded in it. Of course, in a country so closed to the outside and so sequestered from all inquiring eyes, it may not be possible ever to know very much about what really goes on there.

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Gutenberg Science Fiction


Via Hassenpfeffer a list of Science Fiction books available in electronic format--they include works by Terry Carr, Andre Norton, and H. Beam Piper, among others.

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Pluto Demoted


By now you know this, and I sit in the peculiar position of having it have an enormous impact on my every-day work.

Personally, I think the definition adopted is poorly configured and poorly construed and erects new categories where there is no clear division or way to make a clear delineation. On the other hand, I hope the scientists get through their debate quickly so the matter can be settled. But this is not the sort of thing that tends to die down in scientific circles. I suppose one must just wait to see which way the majority.

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A Prayer Request


Someone from India posted this to a post too old, perhaps , to be read by many, so I repost it here unedited:

Dear sir, I am kavitha from India.One of my friend his name is Senthil
and he is suffering from polio attack from his childhood.he is now
26yrs old and his one hand and leg is very thin and please pray for
his healing and pray for him to accept jesus christ has his
saviour.Praise the lord.Thakyou

Please pray for Senthil and for his friend Kavitha who was thoughtful enough to request of strangers the favor of a prayer.

If you stop by again, thank you Kavitha for allowing me to be of service. I will pray for Senthil and for you, that your bright Christian spirit bring life to those around you. God bless!

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"Friends of Christ"

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from The Way of Perfection, 1.3
St. Teresa of Avila

O my redeemer, my heart cannot bear these thoughts without becoming terribly grieved. What is the matter with Christians nowadays? Must it always be those who owe you the most who afflict you? Those for whom you performed the greatest works, those you have chosen for your friends, with whom you walk and commune by means of your sacraments? Aren't they satisfied with the torments you have suffered for them?

Who knew she could see so far into the future and see my life and my conduct? But praise God that she did and she could raise for me the warning flag--look how I treat Him! Look at what I do each day and ask, "How does that give Him honor?" And the truth is, it does not. Day by day I find my ways to avoid being a friend to Him here below and in his heavenly home.

But He doesn't care. I come straggling along, and He is leaping with joy to see me. He leaves the party of the Saints to bring me in. Every time. Every single time. I am transformed, I am broken and renewed. Every time. What grace--words fail, so St. Teresa may speak for me. And while I grieve for my sins and for my treatment of Him, I rejoice in knowing how He loves me nevertheless.

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"Lazarus, Come Out!"

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Too many are dead in their faith. And there are so many ways to be dead. This is part of what Jesus meant when He said, "Narrow is the way and strait is the gate that leads unto salvation." For indeed, the way of living faith is narrow indeed.

Some are dead in their political faith. While politics should always be informed by religious sensibility, the spiritual life should never be informed by politics. When it becomes so, it goes astray, looking for secular solutions to eternal problems and straying from the narrow way. That is not to say that those with a political faith do not know Jesus, but they do not know Him in His fullness. They have chosen their own way to know Him rather than His way to know Him.

However, the form of dead faith and half-life that is most insidious and most hidden is regret--either conscious or unconscious over things done or left undone. Regret is another killer of faith because regret always lives in the past and faith is the eternal present. The person of faith is informed and formed by his or her past, but that person is not slave to their past. We don't see St. Teresa of Avila dwelling on her past even as she struggles to write her life. There is the constant infusion and interjection of the person St. Teresa is now, and a kind of irritation about talking about the past and all of its dead things.

So too with St. Therese, who wrote of the past in obedience, but whose past and present constantly fuse and intermingle. The past is only important as it exists in who we are now. What we did not choose, what we did not do is part of who we are, but it is not to be dwelt on, merely learned from.

When we enter the land of regret, we enter the tomb. And interestingly, regret is one of Satan's slyest weapons, because often the regret might be over vocations not pursued, spiritual opportunities not embraced, good paths not taken. All of these things can be very good things if they help us to make the right choices for the future. But more often than not regret is a form of creeping paralysis. What I did not do in the past I cannot choose to do now. That opportunity is gone and will never come again and I cannot be whole unless I can go back and undo it. And because I cannot, I am not who I could be and I cannot make the choices I would make.

What utter nonsense! What we did not do in the past, what we rue today, we can choose to undo in different ways. Let the past become present and remember the incorrect choice and use it as a guide, a signpost to make the correct choice. The Road to Joy is marked by many, many self-created sorrows. If we let Satan have control, we can continue down that long dark path, Orpheus descending. But as soon as we learned how to use the past to inform the present, as soon as we push regret out the door and call upon God in faith, Jesus says to us, "Lazarus, come out!" We, who were the people Christ wept over when He learned that we were dead, return to Him, live and vibrant and complete in Him.

But to do this requires complete surrender. It requires us to say, "Je ne regrette rein." I am who I am because of what has gone before. My choices made this person, and even this person is one whom God loves beyond all telling. This person can choose life, can choose God at any moment. This person can shed the dead past and enter into the vibrant, living present. This person can come alive in Christ.

Are there things in your past that you would choose now not to have? Are there things, experiences you would choose to undertake? If so, turn regret into joy by recalling these things and using them as guides. God gave us signposts in His interactions with us. It is time that we came to understand His signposts and used them to move toward Him. Pull off the shroud and join the living. Give up regret, for Lent and forever. Live in light and joy--turn the past darkness into a beacon for the present and thank God for all that you have learned as a result of what has happened in the past.

Narrow is the way and strait is the gate that leads unto salvation. But that narrow way is Jesus Christ, the vast eternity of Incarnate Love. And that straight gate is love of Him and embrace of his life, death, and resurrection. Hardly what we would think of as narrow or strait in comparison to the small prison of self that we choose when we choose regret, greed, politics, or anything other than God. Jesus speaks of a narrow way, but I see a passage the size of a world, the size of a galaxy, the size of the Heart of God. It is narrow because there is only one way to it--surrender.

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Children as Waste

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One extremely distressing moment in Crunchy Cons came in the course of an interview with a food provider. And to put this in proper perspective, I'm certain that the person interviewed did not mean what he said to sound as it does, but let me quote the line:

"The children of those illegals come in and clog the school systems."

Like so much sewage the children clog the system. There's something very, very wrong when you can think of any person as "clogging" the system, but particularly a child who has absolutely no choice in the matter. A child goes where his or her parents go--if that means to another country to be educated, so be it, but that child, although they cause an additional burden on the system, cannot be regarded as a mere thing that "clogs the system."

This kind of thinking distresses me and causes me to rethink the Crunchy Con phenomenon. I thought the emphasis would be on people and community, loving people, and accepting people. Even if one is strongly opposed to all immigration, to regard children in this way is very distressing.

Perhaps I need to rethink affinities, because what is important first and foremost is the dignity of the person as the image of God and my relationship with persons not with things. "Whatsoever you do unto one of these, the least of my brethren, that you do unto me." When we regard children as "clogs in the system" something is wrong with the worldview.

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You knew there had to be one! And it isn't too far into the book that one finds it.

Mr. Dreher sets out to tell us that a Crunchy Con is an anti-materialist, not involved with bigger and better and the acquisition of more and different things. Then, in the first two chapters of his book he talks about food and homes. Admittedly it isn't about acquisition so much as it is about how to "do it properly," but the end result is an almost obsessive concern about how you get your food and what kind of house you live in.

It would be ridiculous to say that these are of no importance--they do affect how we live and how we feel. However, they are not the end-all, be-all, nor do they necessarily dictate how we relate to one another. If one buys one's food at a supermarket, one could still hold the values that place people and relationships above things. And yet, there is a sense in which it does not seem that Mr. Dreher thinks this possible.

One final point, in the discussion of homes, it is evident that Mr. Dreher thinks that if you don't live in a gentrified inner city or in a rural setting you simply aren't living anywhere that is livable. There is a constant denigration of the way that most people must live. Calling suburban house "McMansions," etc.

Because the book is a first stab at the articulation of a principle, this is probably the fallout of attempting to define a concept. What would be more helpful is to say how one could modify the mode of life one is in without pulling up stakes and moving to the inner city. I think in food Mr. Dreher makes some useful suggestions about how we might alter the way we live--but he fails utterly at making accommodation for present circumstances in the section he calls "Homes." And more to the original point, it seems to be overly concerned with material objects. Our homes are important--but I have discovered during the extended absence of this summer that home is not a place or a building, it is the gathering of the people you love deeply. My home is wherever Linda and Samuel are.

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Reactionary Radicals

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When Mr. Kaufmann typifies himself as a Jeffersonian decentralist, he has me, because that is where my home is (without some of the other Jeffersonian trappings, I might add). Mr. Snyder of The Western Confucian was kind enough to leave a reference to Reactionary Radicals from which I derive the excerpt. Sounds like another book I will have to look into. And while I think it may take Mr. Dreher a little down the line, it certainly sounds along the lines of what Dreher suggests in Crunchy Cons.

from Look Homeware, America
Bill Kaufmann

I am an American patriot. A Jeffersonian decentralist. A fanatical localist. And I am an anarchist. Not a sallow garret-rat translating Proudhon by pirated kilowatt, nor a militiaman catechized by the Classic Comics version of The Turner Diaries; rather, I am the love child of Henry Thoreau and Dorothy Day, conceived amidst the asters and goldenrod of an Upstate New York autumn. Like so many of the subjects of this book, I am also a reactionary radical, which is to say I believe in peace and justice but I do not believe in smart bombs, daycare centers, Wal-Mart, television, or Melissa Etheridge’s test-tube baby.

“Reactionary radicals” are those Americans whose political radicalism (often inspired by the principles of 1776 and the culture of the early America) is combined with—in fact, flows from—a deep-set social “conservatism.” These are not radicals who wish to raze venerable institutions and make them anew: they are, in fact, at antipodes from the warhead-clutching egghead described by (the reactionary radical) Robert Lee Frost:

With him the love of country means
Blowing it all to smithereens
And having it all made over new
Look Homeward, America

These reactionary radicals—a capacious category in which I include Dorothy Day, Carolyn Chute, Grant Wood, Eugene McCarthy, Wendell Berry, and a host of other cultural and political figures—have sought to tear down what is artificial, factitious, imposed by remote and often coercive forces and instead cultivate what is local, organic, natural, and family-centered. In our almost useless political taxonomy, some are labeled “right wing” and others are tucked away on the left, but in fact they are kin: embodiments of an American cultural-political tendency that is wholesome, rooted, and based in love of family, community, local self-rule, and a respect for permanent truths.

Obviously, this is something requiring careful consideration, but at least I know of it now to consider it. You have done me a great service Mr. Snyder, thank you.

With respect to Mr. Dreher, I must admit to coming late to the party--but it's the only way that I attend such things. After the furor has died down, I can sit and take my time with the canapes, snacks and leftovers and enjoy the relative stillness to determine finally whether it was a party worth attending. So far in my reading of Mr. Dreher's book, it has proven to be so. I hope that continues.

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Images in Christian Life


from Renovation of the Heart
Dallas Willard

There are many things we need not see and are better off not seeing--thought, if you wish, you have a "right" to see them. Anyone who thinks that if I have a right to do X it is good for me to do X, simply hasn't thought deeply about the matter. Paul's wise counsel, by contrast, was, "Whatever is true, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let you mind dwell on these things" (Philippians 4:8)> Make no mistake; this is a fundamental and indispensable part of our spiritual formation in Christ.

Images, in particular are motivational far beyond our conscious mind and they are not under rational control. We must take care that we are nourished constantly on good and godly ones, without necessarily being able to see and say what is wrong with the others. "What is wrong" with them well may be something we cannot bring before our consciousness, but which works in the depths of our soul and body as an instrument of feces beyond ourselves.

Beauty is essential in spiritual formation. Beauty is not beauty without truth and goodness--it is "as an Angel of Light" whose heart is complete darkness. The most beautiful image in the world that denies God only seems beautiful--it is a seed of darkness. This is probably similar to what Savonarola taught the people of his day, only he made the mistake of assuming that anything suggestive of the beauty of the human form was somehow tainted and evil. There are the Venus de Milo La Primavera and La Trionofo di Aphrodite, all of which portray the female body in its splendor without necessarily provoking the prurient. When one approaches works like The Naked Maja and such like, the question becomes more nebulous, and for some of us none of these images in any amount is licit. That is the individual way and path. Nevertheless, it is part of spiritual formation to dwell upon the beautiful because it bypasses the eternal censor and tells us something that mere intellect cannot tell us about God. God cannot be apprehended, much less embraced by intellect alone but only through the union of intellect and emotion that make up the mind of the person. Certainly our senses feed the mind, but it is ultimately the mind that is the primary gatekeeper and the spirit within us that says, "Let it be done unto me," to God. And these things may only happen when we have surrendered all to God.

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I May Have Found a Home

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I picked up Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons this weekend and after reading the manifesto, decided that I may have found a home. There were several points that helped inspire this feeling.

From the foreward:

from Crunchy Cons
Rod Dreher

In late summer of 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. As the people of New Orleans waited for help from a bumbling government bureaucracy incapable of handling mass catastrophe, the city descended into anarchy and chaos. Just weeks later, another hurricane, Rita, annihilated much of coastal southwestern Louisiana. There, however, the small-town and rural Cajun people of southwestern Louisiana instantly pulled together. The difference? In Cajun country, the ties of family and community were much stronger than in New Orleans. This point is central to Crunchy Cons: For the sake of communal self-sufficiency, we must recommit ourselves to building up family and social networks. Right ow, joining the volunteer fire department or a local farmers' co-op might be more authentically conservative than joining the Republican Party (not that there's anything worng with that!).

Now, if what is stated is true, and even if we leaven it with the fact that a small town is not the same kind of entity or scale of entity as a big city, it speaks of the kind of society and community I would like to live in. I always thought a Catholic community modeled on Amish and Mennonite models would be one of the most perfect places imaginable. (But then I pause to recall the lessons of Animal Farm and I hesitate.)

But this statement is fundamental to my entire political philosophy:

But we are not liberals. For one thing, we don't share the liberal faith in the ultimate goodness and perfectibility of mankind. Because we believe in evil and the duty of good men and women to confront it with violence if necessary, we are not pacifists. We don't believe that morality is relative, and that each generation is free to find its own truths, and to adopt a moral code that suits its desires. We object to the idea that there's nothing wrong with our country that a new tax or government program can't fix.

We don't believe it's the government's job to guarantee social equality, only equality before the law and, within reason, equality of opportunity.

I'll have to see how the rest of the book bears out, but the manifesto and these passages, only a few pages apart speak to me in the deepest labyrinths of my thought. Obviously, I probably won't agree with every point Mr. Dreher has to make, but perhaps there is enough contiguity for me to able to identify with a group.

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During the great Aesthetics controversy of 2006, there were many (some proponents) of the side that opposed changing artwork that suggested the better course might be to support those artworks, however feeble they might start as being, that better express our worldview. In providing economic incentive to publishers and film-producers we could achieve at least part of our end through these reasonable means.

So, I'm here to mention and strongly suggest that anyone interested in the Arts might want to take a look at James F. David's mainstream SF novel Judgment Day. I'm not sure that it is a very strong novel, but what it IS is a novel that is published by a mainstream publisher (Forge, a division of Tom Doherty), on speculation, as it were. I think Forge decided to try to cash in on the Left Behind phenomenon.

I haven't finished the book, but I can say that what I've read so far has been far better written that any single volume of Left Behind. The Christianity that informs the work is of the same kind tending toward literalist interpretation, though not overtly so--and the author doesn't appear to be as antagonistic to Catholic Christianity as the authors of the Left Behind series. AND the story is not an extended retelling of the visions of the Book of Revelation. In fact, while there is some talk here and there about Apocalypse, there isn't the overall brooding on the subject that the other series has.

What Judgment Day gives us is a world in which a determined group of Christians has been granted, by means of a vision, the ability to achieve space-flight without rockets. It isn't as bad as it sounds. The visions occur and a dedicated team works for 20 or more years to realize the essence of the vision. That's what inspiration is about.

Of course the entire world is up in arms about fundamentalists possessing space flight and not sharing the secret with all. And there is an antagonist who is a literal human-sacrificing Satan worshipper who schemes and plots to bring the entire thing down. Of course this person achieves a certain prominence in the political world and is able to pull various strings that bring events to a boil.

As I said, I haven't finished the work, but I did want to recommend it to those who are looking for SF or other fiction that isn't afraid to take faith seriously. I'll keep you apprised as I complete the book--but so far, it's reasonably good SF. In fact, some of the only readable SF I've set eyes on for a while. But then, I've been out of touch for some time.

While you're at it, and if you're interested, scroll down the left column and you'll find a group of sites headed with SF. These are Christian SF sites that I discovered via Speculative Catholic and Claw of the Conciliator. If you're interested in SF, you might be interested in some of what these people have to say. Except for MIrathon, who appears to be a Catholic SF writer residing in Miami, you will be straying outside the strict bounds of the Catholic World. But so far as I've been able to determine at this point, none of these sites is virulently anti-Catholic--most tending to a moderate, if very strong and very heartening Evangelical or other mainline protestant faith. If you discover otherwise, please drop me a line.

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Tetsuo: The Iron Man


My initial and stronger reaction was: "What the heck was that?" My secondary reactions follows. And my tertiary is the wrap-up.

Japano-bizarro vertigo-fest filmed á la Eraserhead and Night of the Living Dead and owing much to the Cronenberg-Romero-Lynch triad. Grainy, jerky off-centered, over-exposed and jumpy. The story a teratological blend of cyberpunk and self- and other- loathing rarely, if ever, seen this side of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with a dollop of the frigid and horrifying eroticism of Tennessee Williams in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth. Then inflate it with the excesses of Cronenberg's Crash, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch.

What passes for a plot lumbers by mercifully undisturbed by such things as logic and sequence. And so the film speeds along like Koyannisqatsi on an overdose of caffeine and designer club drugs careening wildly from one oddity to another without ever pausing to smooth out wrinkles and attempt to make sense.

And in writing this I know I've told you nothing about the movie--and yet everything essential. Finally a film for hardcore fans of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.

In sum--far more unpleasant than the gestalt formed from blending all of the references above together and filming them in black and white. And weirdly interesting. Although only recommended for the hardcore Asian film fanatic or the collector of the odd and outré.

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Five quotes that describe you or your belief systems from the Random Quote Page

If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it's another nonconformist who doesn't conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity. --Bill Vaughan

I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it. --Groucho Marx

If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little. --George Carlin

Those who flee temptation generally leave a forwarding address. --Lane Olinghouse

Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. --Georgia O'Keefe

And then some sundries I just wanted to keep around:

"Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped."Groucho Marx (1890 - 1977)

"I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare, but if he did not it seems to me that he missed the opportunity of his life." J. M. Barrie

"A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers." H. L. Mencken

"The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, 'Is there a meaning to music?' My answer would be, 'Yes.' And 'Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?' My answer to that would be, 'No.'" Aaron Copland

"There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking." Thomas A. Edison (And Edison's own association with and sympathy for anti-semites and proto-nazis certainly goes a long way to proving this point.)

"One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar." Oscar Wilde

"Thomas Jefferson once said, 'We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.' And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying." Ronald Reagan

"If you scatter thorns, don't go barefoot." Italian Proverb

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Leaning against the Master's Breast


There is a certain kind of person who makes me nearly nauseated with envy; a kind of person from whom I would rob what they have, were it robbable and take it for myself. This isn't laudable, but I may as well admit it. The type of person is one of those who has never for a moment been more than a step away from Jesus. You know them--you really want to believe that all their nicey-nice God-talk is all made up because then you'd have a little surcease from your own inner kvetching--but you also know that it's authentic. You want to think of it as a put-on because that makes it easier for you to pretend that this isn't a real state, the real state that people are called to.

I say you and I mean me. I was born to perpetual rebellion. Jesus lifts me up in His arms and like a recalcitrant two-year-old, I throw myself back in one of those fits trying to escape that prison that threatens to keep me from whatever it is I want--only, of course, I don't know what it is I want. I circle round and round Him, never coming at the front, but hoping to sneak up like the woman with an issue of blood and claim the prize and run away. What a terrible state!

I know full well what I should do, but I also know I cannot do it on my own. I'll never be able to be one of those people who look like they're about to swoon when they speak of the Blessed Mother, or who piously and gently touch the feet of all the Holy Statues in the Church they pass by; people whose faith and devotion sears me because my own is so weak.

That's the angst. But the assurance is that God made me the way I am and He will bring me to Him in the way He wishes me to come. I am not piety and grace embodied--I am not the poster child for the Christian way. Rather, I'm one of those battered circle-with-a-bar in it signs warning everyone else to find a different way. My example is more often than not negative rather than positive. And I know that through the grace of God in time that will change also. But in the meantime, I look upon those who seem constantly leaning against the Master's breast and ask Him, why can't that be me? Why must I go by this other road thick with brambles and barely marked out? What have I done to merit this hard way?

Of course, I don't know how hard the way is of those I look on with envy. It may be even harder. Oh, but this will of mine, unruly, constantly trying to assert its own dominance, constantly singing with the famous atheist poet:

William Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

What lies! What falsehoods! But my pride draws me back again and again--and at times I think of Calvin and how some are elect and wonder if I have fallen out of that group. But I remember, no longer Calvinist, I'm free to believe that the elect are those who despite themselves long to be and face that fight and continue to move forward despite themselves. Christ died for all, not for some, not for many. That all do not come to Him is the choice of the all, not His preferred plan. There is no elect separate from humanity, all of humanity has the calling and the possibility. Some of us just don't seem to get it very well.

And so the struggle goes on. The comfort comes from Jesus' words, "To whom much is given, much is expected." And I have been given much and more. I have been blessed beyond reasonable blessing, and I am treasured and cherished as a Child of God. I hold onto this hope even as I struggle with obedience, pride, willfulness, lack of charity, lack of discipline, and anger. God will, in His time and way, bring me home. I trust that, I know that, I rely upon that. He is the Father who loves all of His children, and even when I feel very distant, I know He is near always waiting for the prodigal.

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Advice to Writers


from Jennifer Weiner here

and a Christian Guide to Pop Culture Here


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Holy Terror


Thanks indirectly to Elliott at Claw of the Conciliator, I found Holy Terror which avers to be a site for those who would write "Christian Horror." No, not mutually contradictory, but a very fine line indeed and worthy of some attention. If you're interested in the genre, you might wish to check out what the site has to offer.

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Jules et Jim


Sometimes I watch films recommended by the critics and I understand the art and the beauty behind them. Perhaps I'm not aware of all the filmic techniques that went into making them, nor entirely persuaded as to the art, but I find them powerful, enjoyable, watchable, and perhaps even entertaining.

Not so with this highly recommended film by François Truffaut. Obviously I do not have the sensibilité Français, and, frankly, if this film represents either French or European sensibilities, I'm glad to be stuck in my American rut. It is an aimless mishmash of a ménage á trois that fails to entertain, amuse, enlighten, or even be nice to look at.

Jules and Jim are best friends; Jules is Austrian, Jim is French. In the course of the film they both fall for Catherine, a rather shallow, self-centered, vicious adulteress. At the start of WW I Jules and Jim are separated by their allegiances and Jules marries Catherine--a mistake if ever one was made. AFter the war the three reunite and carry on in a fashion unbecoming goats, much less human beings. Jules realizes that Catherine is about to live him and their daughter Sabine so he invites Jim to be her husband and live together in the same house. But, of course, Catherine tires of Jim and so the story goes.

I could see neither the directorial brilliance of Truffaust (which, honestly eludes me with every film I see by him) nor the value of the film that earned rave reviews from several major critics. I couldn't believe that anyone would put up with the nonsense dished out by Catherine or would choose to live their lives in such an unstable and unsettled fashion. The cinematography did not enchant and the endless odd angels of railway stations, the Eiffel Tower and whatever other object happened to fall under the camera's scrutiny was enough to induce vertigo. What we have is a amoral mishmash that winds up in a tragedy that leaves the viewer heaving a sigh of relief that the film is finally over. Why I watched the whole thing, I do not know. I suppose I thought something might happen that would redeem the hideous spectacle that was playing out before my eyes. I don't know what I was supposed to have gotten from this film--but all I was left with was a sense that I would think very carefully about watching another Truffaut film. (This despite the fact that I did enjoy L'enfant Sauvage and Fahrenheit 451

NOT recommended unless required by your local film department and then, please be so kind as to tell me why anyone thinks this film is magnifique.

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Breakfast at Tiffany's

Capote, that is.

Perhaps it is memories of Music for Chameleons, lingering traces of story and prose, moments that come back every now and then that convince me that Capote was a writer of enormous potential and great power. Unfortunately, for the most part, that power and potential were wasted in work that rarely surpasses the level of gossip in an apartment stairwell.

Take Breakfast at Tiffany's, one of the works he is most well-known for, in large part due to the movie based upon the book. I've never been able to sit through the movie despite the enormous talents of Ms. Hepburn, and I find that the reason lay not in the film itself, but in the source. Perhaps there are layers and layers of meaning and character and idea all imbedded in this tale of Ms. Holly Golightly who is, for lack of a better term, a prostitute. Although Capote is not so crude as to call her that in the course of the work, and his job is to get us to sympathize and collaborate with Holly in her goings-on, for this reader he failed utterly. And he didn't fail simply because the matter is immoral--so are the basics of the plots of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. The difference is the prurience and the gossip that seem to pervade Breakfast at Tiffany's. As you read the story you are told about Holly by many different characters, each whispering in the hallway, wondering what has happened to her.

In Cold Blood the real masterwork that made his name, is much of the same tone. A "non-fiction novel," which, as one commenter has pointed out was more a marketing ploy than an innovation--(witness John Hersey's Hiroshima and Walter Lord's A Night to Remember as examples in Capote's recent past that did much the same thing. In Cold Blood takes on the same persona of endlessly unwinding tales out of school and rumor and gossip. Of course, that is how a murder story would evolve in a small town where everyone knows everyone else, so in some sense the tone is justified. But the work still suffers from the pervasiveness.

Reading Summer Crossing a recently discovered "unfinished" novel from very early in Capote's career, I realized what flaw linked them all together. Or perhaps what flaw made many of them charming and interesting. In his writing, Capote could never leave Capote at home. He's always there, always commenting, always churning, always getting things moving, always starting the conversation, always seeking information, always sharing half-truths--or perhaps more correctly Truman's version of the truth. This flaw enters all of the works. You cannot read Capote without hearing him talk in that strange mixture of hoarseness and lisp. And while that could be all very find, Capote himself is such a conflicted person that you can't trust his narrative or his voice.


The movie, to my great disappointment, was about the writing of In Cold Blood. I'm told that Philip Seymour Hoffman delivered a superb performance. And on one level that seems true. He seemed very much like Capote. But the movie failed for me and it failed precisely at Capote himself, and perhaps its failure is inevitable given its subject. Capote, even at this point is an empty shell of a human being, casting about endlessly for support, love, and meaning. This new book is to make is meaning and his mark, and he sets about its creation with a firm purpose and resolve that would have done the founding fathers proud.

But the endless need weighs on one as the film progresses until, finally, one is bogged down under the weight of it and turns the film off. There are too many great things in the world of books and cinema, and its no sin to say, "I've given this the time to engage me and it has failed to do so." I gave Capote an hour of my life and it was far too much.

It's a shame, because Capote is charming in his own way. He has to be because he isn't seeking so much fame and glory through his writing, although that too is part of his ambition; he is seeking acceptance as a broken and not particularly likable man who was too firmly made in the image of the women who brought him up. Flamboyantly gay, he came of age at a time when being gay might make you a character, but still earned social opprobrium and disdain. To some extent the same is true today, and will always be true, because there is some streak in those who are not gay that resists the charms and allures and recognizes the transgression of natural law and, unwarrantedly, uses that as a bludgeon, sometimes literally. While one must not endorse the gay "lifestyle" or "way of being," the person who is gay is a person first and must have the respect, love, and acceptance that any person needs to survive. Truman attempted to get this through ingratiating himself to others with his gossipy ways, and with his attempts at being the modern-day Oscar Wilde. This attempt ultimately undermined him and deprived him of nearly all associations until is long, slow, suicide culminated in his early death at the age of the age of 59.

He was iconic and he was provocative, and he was in his time important. Whether that will continue to be true after the generation that knew him personally is gone, remains to be seen. The difficulty is that he did write marvelously well. The prose he composed was such that one is almost compelled through the unreadable by sheer force of his voice and storytelling. Almost, but not quite--as it was in his real life, so it remains in much of his extant writing. And that really is a shame.

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Equal Time


While certain actions on the part of the Israeli government cannot be countenanced or argued away, with reports like this, is it any wonder?

Hezbollah's top official in south Lebanon said the group welcomed the Lebanese army's deployment even as he hinted that the Shiite guerrillas would not disarm in the region or withdraw but rather melt into the local population and hide their weapons.

"Just like in the past, Hezbollah had no visible military presence and there will not be any visible presence now," Sheik Nabil Kaouk told reporters Wednesday in the southern port city of Tyre.

So, we'll wait around for the cease fire to quiet things down and then start them all up again. It's no wonder that Israel might take some exception to Hebollah actions. It's hard to be too harsh on the Israelis when they are dealing with those who would be much happier if they didn't exist at all.

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Equal Time


While certain actions on the part of the Israeli government cannot be countenanced or argued away, with reports like this, is it any wonder?

Hezbollah's top official in south Lebanon said the group welcomed the Lebanese army's deployment even as he hinted that the Shiite guerrillas would not disarm in the region or withdraw but rather melt into the local population and hide their weapons.

"Just like in the past, Hezbollah had no visible military presence and there will not be any visible presence now," Sheik Nabil Kaouk told reporters Wednesday in the southern port city of Tyre.

So, we'll wait around for the cease fire to quiet things down and then start them all up again. It's no wonder that Israel might take some exception to Lebanese actions. It's hard to be too harsh on the Israelis when they are dealing with those who would be much happier if they didn't exist at all.

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Evolution--On Ann's New Book


I am no fan of Ann Coulter, just as I am no fan of any detractor. When one ceases to deal with issues and starts to deal with people in disrespectful ways, one ceases to command my attention. I haven't time for it.

However, this review has within it a provocative paragraph that may just go a ways toward supporting Ann's supposed hypothesis.

Rather, a lot of folks apparently like her ravings -- suggesting that, on some level at least, they must agree with her. And this means that the hundreds of thousands of Americans who put Coulter at the top of the best-seller lists see evolution as a national menace.

Well, that's hardly news. We've known for years that nearly half of all Americans believe in the Genesis account of creation, and only about 10 percent want evolution taught in public schools without mentioning ID or other forms of creationism. But it's worth taking up the cudgels once again, if only to show that, contrary to Coulter's claim, accepting Darwinism is not tantamount to endorsing immorality and genocide.

What I want to know is why anyone cares whether or not evolution is accepted as a theory outside of the scientific community. I am a staunch evolutionist (minus the philosophical trappings) and I could care less if all of St. Blogs were staunch young-Earthers. I would advise them to stay out of the fields of genetics, biology, and palaeontology, all of which have a certain necessity for the fundamental belief in the change of organisms through time. But so long as you are not a scientist practicing in one of these fields, why should I care about how you think the world came into being. It is utterly trivial and absolutely none of my business. And I like it that way.

I do not go about proselytizing evolution. I don't care who thinks it correct and who thinks it incorrect. What I do, and will continue to do is correct those who think they understand the matter at its base and then come of saying something like "ID is a better theory because." ID is merely a new smoke-and-mirrors philosophical construct built up around what is patently observable--organisms change through time. If people refuse to accept that empirical observation, I'm also fine with that--so long as they don't advance their opinions on scientific matters in ignorance of the facts. For example, if one wonders about the change of organisms through time, one must examine the cases of anti-biotic resistant bacteria and one must consider the case of ligers, and the many breeds of cats and dogs and horses. I don't want to belabor the point, but most people arguing for ID do so out of fear and plain ignorance of the facts of the matter. ID is not a scientific theory--it is a philosophical and religious construct that is no more subject to the rigors of the scientific method than is the neo-darwinist formulation of evolutionary theory. Both rely upon propositions that at base may be accepted or rejected but which ultimately can be neither proved nor demonstrated. It is no more probable that everything proceeds randomly than that everything is specifically designed and engineered to go the way it will.

In short, I don't care what any individual believes about how life came to its present diversity. It isn't my business, unless someone feels they must make it so, and I would prefer that it remain unknown to me. There are a good many evolutionists, myself among them, who at once hold to the essentials of evolutionary theory and to the complete teachings of the Catholic Church as understood outside of ultra-traditionalist circles. It is not beyond imagining, and it isn't really a problem for the faithful.

The problem is not evolution, nor its teaching, nor any number of other single attributes one might blame, but rather the whole societal synergy toward death. We live in the culture of death and this whole debate is about more of the same. It is a symptom rather than the disease, although, I suppose it gives some comfort to think that if only this evil thing could be rooted out condoms, pre-matital sex, abortion, and corrupt politicians would vanish at a single blow. It isn't going to happen--not by this mechanism at least. Those who think it will attribute far too much power to scientific discourse in the popular imagination of a fairly stringent anti-intellectual culture.

On a side note, this paragraph very aptly characterizes Ms. Coulter for me:

Coulter clearly knows better. I conclude that the trash-talking blonde bit is just a shtick (admittedly, a clever one) calculated to make her rich and famous. (Look at her website, where she whines regularly that she is not getting enough notice.) Her hyper-conservativism seems no more grounded than her faith. She has claimed that the Bible is her favorite book, she is rumored to go to church, and on the cover of Godless you see a cross dangling tantalizingly in her décolletage. But could anybody who absorbed the Sermon on the Mount write, as she does of Richard Dawkins, "I defy any of my coreligionists to tell me they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell"? Well, I wouldn't want Coulter to roast (there's not much meat there anyway), but I wish she'd shut up and learn something about evolution.

One is left to wonder what the quotation taken out of context might mean. The charitable might consider that she is saying the notion of even so arrant a servant of the atheistic agenda as Dawkins burning in Hell is laughable; however, I don't think that my charity extends that far.

But I do agree with the first sentence. Ann manufactured for herself a certain celebrity in her abrasive brashness--she competes toe-to-toe with Al Franken, Molly Ivins, and Maureen Dowd, and I suppose there is some divine justice in leveling the sides in such a way.

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From The Devil's Advocate


I may have much to say about this book when I am finished, as I have very mixed reactions to much that is in it. However, for the time being, I thought the following passage nicely said it all.

"It's not the opinion that worries me, Meredith. It's the tendency: the tendency to elaborate so much by commentary, glossary, and hypothesis that the rigid simplicity of the essential faith is obscured, not only for the faithful but also for honest inquirers outside it. I deplore this. I deplore it greatly because I find it raises barriers between the pastor and soul he is trying to reach.

It is possible to think too much about faith--to think it into a dryness and an austerity that it does not essentially have. To my mind, this is what some very faithful Catholics do. By the time they are finished with the faith it is a dry and useless husk of rules, regulations, injunctions, restrictions, subtle equivocations, and circumlocutions--anything that might once have been said about Christ in the course of it is completely obscured. This tends to be a fault amongst a certain kind of ill-prepared apologist who, rather than coming back time and again to the well and the source of the faith, spends too much time poking about the obscurities of the Second Vatican Council documents and delineating why, exactly, they are in conformity with all that has gone before. While there is some good in this, there is a great deal more in prayer and in turning to the God who gave us Vatican II.

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Thérèse (1986)

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As promised, I got and watched the 1986 production of Thérèse--a film in French celebrating the life of St. Thérèse, and by far and away a better film than the more recent production, although it does have several cinematic austerities. Interestingly enough, for this viewer the austerities work to the improvement of the overall feel of the film. There were no full "sets," only furniture against a constant backdrop of grey-brown. There was no music, only the ambient sounds of the actors and their movements. The entire motion of the film is a series of vignettes separated by dissolves or wipes, one moment not necessarily carrying clearly from the next. One of the difficulties of the film was keeping all of the women straight in my head. I often found myself wondering who was who as the action continued. While disorienting, it served also to emphasize the singularity of Thérèse herself.

Everything about the production was quiet, subdued, and intimate, inviting the viewer in to the intimate life of Thérèse herself. And of this intimate life, one got far more of an impression that with the other film of the same title. There is much more sense of Thérèse as a fully rounded person--Thérèse as impish, young, and terribly dedicated.

The Hairshirt and the Celice

There were some moments in which Thérèse had slightly the wrong emphasis, or a tweak in the wrong direction--not because what was depicted was incorrect but because it was not modified by what we now understand of Thérèse. Most notable among these is a scene in which Thérèse is preparing for the day. They show three different devices for mortification--a hairshirt, and two toothed or spike straps or belts--one for around the upper arm, one for around the upper leg. We see Thérèse putting these on and smiling her little smile. As noted, this is not an error--Thérèse was an obedient child of her time and observed the practices of the Carmelites at the time; however, Thérèse was one of the first to observe that these practices were utterly unnecessary. Indeed, part of the emphasis of the little way is that life itself brings mortification enough in the course of the day, one need seek out no more.

And this is well demonstrated by another scene in the film during which Thérèse falls asleep during the reading of scripture before the meal. Mother Superior tells her to go and lie on the floor before the refectory, and the nuns proceed to (mostly) step over her.

Je souffre. . . De mieux

One of the more dramatic moments in the film is a dialogue between Thérèse and one of her sisters. Thérèse is near the end of her life and talks about her suffering. She says Je souffre, and at first her sister responds Non.

Je souffre . . . Non
Je souffre . . . Non
Je souffre . . . Non
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux
Je souffre . . . De mieux

So the dialogue goes getting faster and faster. The sister's later response is translated in the film as "good" but a better translation might be, "For the better."(Good is merely bien, something subtly different is being said here. Not that suffering is good, but that it is for the better). But the real point is that I had failed to notice up until this moment how similar the French Je souffre and Jésus are. Toward the end of this interchange it sounds as though Thérèse is speaking the name of Jesus over and over again. This is notable as nearly the only time in the film where the name is spoken, Jesus is referred to under a number of different names, but rarely spoken of by name.

Thérèse et Thérèse

This 1986 film gives a much more realistic, much grimmer look into the last sufferings of Thérèse, and it does not candy-coat the dark night. In addition, it feature one of the most revolting episodes committed to film, and reinforces my allergy to the notion of self-administered mortifications--it strikes me the that are often a perverse form of pride--taking upon ourselves what is more properly the realm of God. However, this beautiful little film does portray a Thérèse who is at once girl and Thérèse--who accepts the everyday realities of life even as she struggles to grow closer to Jesus.

Overall, a much more satisfying and fulfilling treatment of similar subject matter. Be forewarned that there is much more here that is more difficult to take that in the more recent production of Thérèse. And as a result, the film emerges as a truer, more intimate portrait of Thérèse. (Also, it doesn't hurt that it is in French, so some of the more saccharine things said, don't sound nearly so bad nor so French school-girly.

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Well, I'm relieved to say that this wasn't nearly as awful as I had been led to expect from the previews and trailers. Not a masterpiece--and if you didn't like Thérèse before, this isn't likely to make you think more of her. In addition, things were taken out of context or recontextualized to make journal entries be something that is spoken in the course of the film. But apart from that kind of fiddling, what's here is true to the story.

Part of the difficulty is that it is very hard to sympathize with a poor little rich girl who had every advantage in the course of her upbringing and whose insistence upon early admission to Carmel must just as easily be viewed as headstrongness as it is desire to serve the Lord.

The movie tries to give us the whole of Story of a Soul and that may be in itself another difficulty. The book was not composed as one coherent history, but as at least three separate manuscripts. And there is much tha tThérèse said and thought that did not make it into Story of a Soul. As a result the film is episodic and depends upon the viewer to fill in many of the blanks. In addition, the director of the film has chosen to leave out those things that Thérèse accounts that might make both her and the film more palatable--her sudden temper tantrums, her own stubbornness and selfishness, and the interior of what hid behind the smile given to one of the more acerbic nuns. We are left with the outward drippings of piety and devotion, and this can make long work of a short story.

And when at last we come to the long dark night of Thérèse, it seems like another trip to the park. This most important aspect of Thérèse and her spiritual life is reduced to the level of one of her comments about dolls. Once again we get the pietistic Thérèse, suffering a minor discomfort rather pettishly.

I can say that I really enjoyed the film score tremendously, and despite the shot-on-video look of most of the film, it had some beautifully done moments.

Recommended for Thérèse-admirers only. I wouldn't recommend showing this to people who you want to get to admireThérèse, it really doesn't do her the justice needed for that kind of work.

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Soon to be known, probably far less effectively, as Pulse in an American Remake.

The central concept--the Internet is populated by ghosts. That's it. They're there and they cause a lot of problems. No, more than that, they bring about an apocalypse that starts in Tokyo.

The film is quiet and horrifyingly effective with very little of the trick photography or the overt horrors of many lesser works. This film works because of its suggestion. It also works because it has more to say that most horror films. It asks questions about death and eternity that it doesn't dare answer or even really suggest answers to--but it asks them in a most disquieting way.

The imagery of the film is odd and suggestive. People disappear into shows of themselves left imprinted on the walls. Those in turn "pixelate" and vanish. But it is interesting that Kiyoshi Kurosawa has chosen this imagery for the disappearance of humankind, most particularly as it is the haunting imagery of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and of the Katsuo Oda short story "Human Ashes."

Be forewarned, the story never really goes much of anywhere--the film is almost entirely about atmosphere and about the loneliness of the human condition--both points conveyed superbly. And it does provide a few creepy moments and some surprising jolts.

Understated, elegant, and thoughtful--for those into the Asian Horror Movie field this is a superb entry. High Recommended for adults.

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Ukiyo-e IV and V


For those kind enough to ask, I present below a preliminary of Ukiyo-e IV--it may be finished, but I'm waiting for some sense of doneness--can't say it any better than that. V is too preliminary to Post. VII and VIII are underway with one mostly complete.

Hope that these really do work as the Japanese Prints were meant to do, even if they cannot compare in magnificence. Please consider it my way of remembrance, my memorial.

Ukiyo-e IV--Clouds


The eye of Horus, huge and blank and blue stares down at me from between two banks of cloud-blanched sky. The eye of the son of the sun reminds me just in time that providence rewards the
wise eye and I tap on my brakes to avoid the bumper of the car driving free-form in planck-space.

Waiting now in the slow-crawl-stop of the turn lane. Trees, wires, telephone poles, ibis-necked street lamps transform the eye from merely blank to baleful or beautiful. I make my turn.


Have you ever stood connected to the sky watching the convecting clouds? The boundless yearning upward surge, the penetration of deepest blue by rising white. The cloud cap expands and then subsides, vanishing entirely into the growing bank.

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Ukiyo-e VI--The God-Shaped Hole

I got back to filling the God-shaped hole today. I can't tell you what a nuisance it has been, what with people and things falling in all the time. Last week two vintage Ferraris, the week before my mother and my aunt. And the hole keeps growing.

When I first found it, a smoldering pit in the middle of my best field, I called the fire department and paid to have sea-water helicoptered in to fill it. Thought perhaps I could make a pond of it. But the water just kept on running and the hole got no fuller and no cooler.

So then I realized that I needed to line it. Started with quikcrete and figured I cover it with gunite smooth it out and line it with white Carrera marble, from that quarry that gave us David and Moses. It's a good thing I'm a man of means because six million cubic yards of quikcrete later and still no sign of an end.

If I couldn't fill it up, perhaps I could cover it over. That's what we're trying today. Three different ways. I figured I could span it with chicken wire and then plaster it over. When that's done, we'll drape it with crêpe de chîne and silk streamers--make it at kind of neo-Cristo pavilion type experience.

So we'll see. One way or the other, we'll find a way to fill it. With rocks and sand, with books and paper, with long dark alcoholic nights, with prada shoes and Givenchy and Chanel, with polo clubs and yachts, with coq au vin and curry poulet vindaloo with a Dom Perignon '65, with Picasso and Matisse and Gaugin and Brancusi. Cover it up, fill it in, one way or another we'll close that gap and I'll feel whole again, my perfect field restored.

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Here's the problem.

If we take as a starting premise, a premise I accept and even embrace and to which I can propose no reasonable alternative, that one may not do evil that good may result, one might be forced to conclude that information derived from certain sources that help to define today's potential catastrophe should not have been obtained and should not be used.

Let's consider several examples:

(1) Information derived from listening in on conversations: So far as I can tell there is nothing MORALLY wrong with this, nor within the profession of spies ethically wrong with it. There may in some instances be problems with it legally, but legality and morality often don't coincide. So unless one can tell me otherwise, it would seem that information obtained this way is "clean."

(2) Information from a plant or a mole. This, it strikes me, is much more problematic. In order for a plant or mole to succeed he must mimic the surroundings. He must dissemble or lie in order to fit in. There may be things that the group does as a whole that are completely immoral that he must participate in in order to remain undercover. Information derived from dissembling (bearing false witness) would seem to be tainted under the "You must not do evil that good may result."

(3) Information obtained from a paid informant. Once again, we're at a place that I wonder about. If betrayal of one's friends and comrades is a sin (Dante certainly seems to think it is) then suborning such action is supporting such action and is, how is it phrased proximate material collusion? It would seem that information obtained by paying someone to rat out his friends is indeed "tainted."

All of that said, I don't know if any of it is true, and it is the reason that I've decided that I need to be just an interested spectator in the bloody arena of practical and applied theology. If I really stopped this long to analyze all of my actions of a day I would just have to admit complete paralysis and give up doing anything other than analyzing the potentials. Obviously theologians don't do this because they know of some "loophole" that gets them out of the eternally descending spiral (Uzumaki) of omphaloskepsis.

Oh, and before you start badgering me about saying that I think the actions and information acted on today were bad, please know that I don't. I just wanted to use this illustration to show how my brain gums up the works and why it is simply better for me to sit staring at Jesus than to try to figure out the mind of God on matters too lofty for me.

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Two Posts on the Plot--I


My first point about the plot uncovered in Great Britain to explode several airplanes at once should be noncontroversial. Praise God that it was discovered!

More than that, I am always astounded when we do discover these things. When you consider that they are the work of 25 or 30 people out of millions of possible "suspects," it seems nearly miraculous that we can avert any of the attacks. Unlike most of the nation, I was not disappointed in our security services with the 9/11 incident, rather, I figured it was only a matter of time before some key link was missed. In this case, let us hope that all of the key links have been found and all take caution from what was discovered today.

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The Decalogue I-III

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In 1987 Krzysztof Kieslowski did a series of ten films for Polish Television. We might refer to it as a mini-series; however, it differs in that while some characters show up in the films that feature others, there is no continuity of story and no strong connections between them. These are short stories, short films, to be viewed each as a separate piece. Kieslowski employed ten different cinematographers so that there would be a distinct visual style with each one.

So far I've seen the first third of these films and all I can say is that if television were like this even 10% of the time, it would be worth watching. They are superbly acted miniatures, each dealing with the dilemmas and problems that come from violating the commandments. Roger Ebert points out that there is little purpose in trying to determine which film is linked to which commandment, as many are linked to more than one, and some are obscure.

For example, in the first film, a young, brilliant professor and his son work together to devise a program that will calculate when ice will be thick enough to safely skate on a nearby lake. The results are disastrous. It appears that this might be "I am a jealous God , thou shalt have no other gods before me." But it's difficult to say. The second of the three is somewhat easier--"Thou shalt not commit adultery." But it presents us with a profound moral dilemma of the type "you will not do evil that good will result."

What follows has spoilers, although I'm uncertain that these films can be spoiled. A young woman consults her husband's doctor to find out if her husband is going to survive after an operation. She loves her husband but she had been seeing another man and is pregnant by him. If her husband will survive, she will abort the baby--her only chance of having a child because her husband is infertile. But if he will die anyway, she will carry the child to term. In the Poland of this time, there appeared to have been restrictions with regard to the term during which one might have an abortion and she is at the very limits of that term. Anyway, the problem is resolved because of a lie the doctor both manufactures and supports with false evidence and another doctor's opinion. The husband will survive after all and the end of the movie shows the husband thanking the doctor for the lie that will preserve the child he and his wife are to have.

Thus, this film deals not only with adultery, but also with false witness--a pair that seems to go together rather naturally. Believe it or not, even with this spoiler, there is tons of other stuff going on, both subtle and overt, that make this film worth watching over and over.


The third of the three I've seen so far has been the weakest and least conclusive. It covers "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." It features a woman who at one time had an affair with a man and now, on Christmas Eve, seems to be seeking him again.

The films are instructive in another sense. We see in them the elite of Polish society--a musician in an orchestra, a Doctor, a Professor. We see also the conditions in which they live, which, while not absolutely squalid, are bleak. The hospital the husband is recovering in has a leak in the ceiling and down the walls and the paint is peeling off and flaking, the Doctor's offices are tiny uncomfortable cubicles. We have here a chronicle of just post-Soviet Poland and the bleak grayness to which communist policies reduced everything.

So far these films have the very highest recommendation. They are short, taut, brilliantly conceived. They are to cinema what Chekhov or deMaupassant were to literature--brilliant miniatures connected by theme and recurrent characters, but each an individual film.

As I view the remainder I'll keep you updated.

Tonight we'll do the Swedish Film, Fanny and Alexander, supposedly an autobiographical film by Ingmar Bergman. Also on the agenda are possibly a Thai film found at the local public library, a post-invasion/war Iraqi film Turtles Can Fly and François Truffaut's masterpiece Jules and Jim. I'm getting quite the film education this summer. It helps when there's ironing to do.

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Ukiyo-e III-Junk Mail

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Ukiyo-e III--Junk Mail

Yellow and black, bright red, Sale! Sale! Sale! Letters fan out in stationery blue, clear plastic windows crinkling as the mail is sifted. Two tan envelops fall, the paper equivalent of a rock slide, as they tumble toward the black mouth of the abyss that yawns wide to receive all that falls, or is hurled into it.

A brick of a book of beads, bright beryl and malachite and hematite and onyx, rolled out against a calla-white cover. And here a craft catalogue, a litany of linen, threads and yarn.

The chunk, chunk, chunk of paper fall, the dark pull of the black.

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Tonight's Agenda


Originally I had scheduled two short Polish films (the Decalogue II and III) and Franny and Alexander which is a three-hour long Swedish film. (Linda asked me if I would be speaking English by the time she got home.)

But I think I'll probably watch the two short Polish films and a surfing movie, perhaps Step into Liquid--it's been a while since I've seen it. And except for the surfers, the scenery is spectacular.

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A Notice

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In the near future there will be a day when this blog as well as others organized at this main address will be down as servers are changed. Then I'll be haunting all of YOUR blogs and making snarky comments rather than confining them to my own. Won't you be the lucky ones?

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Ukiyo-e II-- Arriving


Understand that I don't claim that these little pieces begin to approach the beauty of the wood-block prints by masters such as Ando Hiroshige or Hokusai Katsushika or Utagawa Toyokuni II. But eventually, I would like to contribute some small part to the beauty of the world even in its ordinariness.

Ukiyo-e II--Arriving

Sun-faded pink fabric walls catch the trickle of sunlight that passes mylar shade and mini-blind. Dusty rose makes so much more pleasant a cell compared to the gray walls of just a few years back.

The windows drip with the dew of too cold a building just emerging from Florida night, blurring the figures of the live oak, hedge, elephant-ear philodendron, and the gray strip of pavement that through the crawl of countless cars separates us from the dolphin-pools and tourists that throng in these summer months.

Mundane and ordinary, the world is nevertheless beautiful beyond my poor ability to express. But it will always remain out of my reach if I do not try.

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Ukiyo-e I

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Ukiyo-e-Pictures of the floating world. Mundane life distilled from ordinary images of the day. Edo period. Beautiful in its sameness.

Ukiyo-e I

Blue shadows spil from the unseen new moon. The eaves etch navy ridges against the milk-lit stucco walls and the thick grass is no-color-at-all.

Three lights flashing, an airplane lumbers across the field of pinpoint white stars. The warmth of the summer night fills my lungs with each breath. If only I smoked or drank or took interest in women other than my wife I could be standing here in my boxers in my screened porch cradling a world weary scotch, or stirring my Sangria with a finger, or puffing away on my little black filterless Belgians, or lightly rolling my Ybor City mock Cuban between thumb and forefinger, or stroking the taut but silky smooth stomach and lower breasts of this week's love while waiting for my dog to do his business. But I'm not. I'm standing here thinking how wet this heat feels, and watching the plane vanish across the sky above the pink sodium lights of the neighborhood pool.

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Oddest Food

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Okay, I've freighted your mind with weighty issue enough today. So a poll, answer, if you please in the comments box:

(1) What is the oddest food you've ever deliberately eaten? (We're not counting swallowed flies or accientally ingested spiders here--this is food that you chose to eat.)

(2) What food do you really, really like to eat but many people around you find utterly revolting?

My answers:

(1)This is a tough one. On the plant side I've had stewed nettles, fiddleheads from maidenhair fern, and the cabbage palm "cabbage" and the stewed seeds of a local ground-cover cycad (I think--although it strikes me that they would be likely to be filled with taxine, so perhaps it was something else). On the animal side I've had fresh nautilus, Cassiopeia jellyfish (served as a sort of dried chip), scorpions, a bread made primarily from bees (and yes, surprising it was sweet), and most revolting of all holothurian. Google it and look for a picture. (In grad school we used to have "phylum feasts" to see how many phyla we could cover in one meal and throughout our career. My brave and intrepid little group managed a great many of the more common phyla--we balked at a few because of the rarity of the animals.

(2) Stewed okra, pickled okra, fresh okra, fried okra, gumdoed okra, fricasseed okra. People think of this as a southern thing, but I got into the habit from my Grandma who lived in South eastern Ohio at the time. She took me out to her garden and showed me one of the loveliest flowers I had ever seen and told me it was the flower of the okra plant. And later that season I got to eat my grandma's fresh cooked okra--yum!

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K'ung Fu-tzu

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I know, it's the old Wade-Giles transliteration, the one that I'm comfortable with--but I'm just stealing a quotation from The Western Confucian anyway:

To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.

We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters outside of the faith--and too often we forget it. Our lives are made immeasurably richer by the depth and the beauty of those, who not knowing Christ, nevertheless were granted to hear his voice:

"My sheep hear my voice and they know me."

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Why it even appears that some Jesuits remain Catholic:

Torture is an affront to the dignity of the individual. And belief in this dignity is supposed to be cherished by the same politicians who proclaim their support of the “culture of life,” especially during election years. But respect for life does not end at birth; it should continue unbroken from birth to natural death.

From, of all the odd places The Baptist Standard A Texas Baptist Newspaper.

This reference and the one below were courtesy of The Western Confucian--would that there were more such Western, Catholic, Confucians.

Later I just realized that what I wrote above could easily be misunderstood--I don't consider The Baptist Standard an "odd place" just an odd place for a Jesuit to show up.

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Another Day to Remember

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The sixth of August is bad enough, often forgotten are the horrors of the ninth of August with the near obliteration of the largest Christian community of Japan.

Such means are never just and never justified--no matter how one argues for the case for potentially shortening the war. And we must stop to consider why these weapons were deployed in Japan and not in Germany--one is led to suspect that it may have been that we didn't really regard the Japanese as fully human.

And are there people that we look upon that way today? Perhaps Arabs? Perhaps Muslims? If so, shame on us--it is time to learn that one cannot abstract a person. One cannot rely upon that abstraction to provide distance from the persons harmed. We owe it to ourselves to live the life of those mothers whose children have been taken from them, those husbands and wives who have lost their spouses. These are personal moments, personal tragedies, intimate and horrifying moments of human destruction and loss. Abstracting a person for a principle results in far too many such moments. The devil is in the details--the details of lives sundered and destroyed, that too often in our comfort we choose to ignore, or more culpably, we choose to explain away or try to justify.

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A Restatement

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From an E-mail sent to a another member of St. Blogs--a restatement of some of the posts made earlier.

For me St. Thomas Aquinas, amongst others, is in a room marked "Staff Only." My problem is that I've been trying to barge in. I should just stay in the hall with the riff-raff.

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The Chair of Peter

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I don't know what to make of this as I've never been there. But it sounds true enough

from The Devil's Advocate
Morris West

The next step was the Chair of Peter; but this was a high leap, halfway out of the world and into a vestibule of divinity. The man who wore the Fisherman's ring and the triple tiara carried also the sins of the world like leaden cope on his shoulders. He stood on a windy pinnacle, alone with the spread carpet of the nations below him, and above the naked face of the Almighty. Only a fool would envy hm the power and the glory and the terror of such a principality.

I can't speak to the truth of it, but I certainly hope that it is with thoughts like these that any person approaches the Chair. I suppose it's a Catch 22--if you really want the position, you are undoubtedly not qualified for it.

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A Useful Definition of Happiness


from The Saints' Guide to Happiness
Robert Ellsberg

But what if happiness is not subjective, a question of how we feel, or a matter of chance, something that simply happens? What if it is more like an objective condition, something analogous to bodily health? Aristotle took this view. The word he used for happiness, eudaimonia, is not a matter of feelings but a way of being, a certain fullness of life. Happiness, for Aristotle, has to do with living in accordance with the rational and moral order of the universe. It is more like the flourishing of a healthy plant than like Freud's pleasure principle. Because it is rooted in habits of the soul, it is the fruit of considerable striving. But for the same reason it is not subject to the vagaries of fortune.

The Greek-writing authors of the New Testament did not use Aristotle's word for happiness. The drew on another word, makarios, which refers to the happiness of the gods in Elysium. In the Gospel of Matthew this is the word that Jesus uses to introduce his Sermon on the Mount, "Happy are the poor in spirit. . . . Happy are the meek. . . . Happy are they who mourn. . . ." St. Jerome, who prepared the Latin translation in the fourth century, used beatus, a word the combines the connotations of being happy and blessed. Hence these verses are known as the Beatitudes. Forced to choose, most English translators have opted--probably wisely--for the more familiar "Blessed are. . . " The Beatitudes, after all, are not about "smiley faces" or feeling happy. They are not about feelings at all. They are about sharing in the life and spirit--the happiness--of God. In that spirit a disciple (like Jesus himself) could experience mourning, suffering, and loss while remaining "blessed"--happy, that is, in the most fundamental sense.

Happiness, as spoken of in the gospels and in the Bible is not of the moment. It isn't an instant of good feeling. Rather, happiness is the way of living as God would have us live. Outside of God everything is ephemeral, fleeting. Ecclesiastes would tell us that all is vanity, vanity. "If the Lord does not build a house, then in vain do the builders labor."

Happiness comes from what we do, not how we feel. That elation or good-feeling we sometimes experience is a pale shadow of true happiness that becomes apparent only in the light of eternity. Striving after anything else is in vain--only in obedience to His commandments and His word is happiness to be found.

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The One Thing Necessary


delightfully exposed.

from The Saints' Guide to Happiness
Robert Ellsberg

What is the "one thing necessary"? Its form is different for each person, though its content is always the same. It is "to fulfill our own destiny according to God's will, to be what God wants us to be."

Tomorrow, if there's time, I'll copy out the passage about happiness itself.

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Farewell to Theology


I tire of theologians who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Those who go on and on about how masturbation is a sin and anyone engaging in it is going to Hell, but then come up with terms to justify the slaughter of the innocents. Theology is supposed to be the divine science, but it is a deeply flawed human endeavor that more often than not seeks to justify the ways of humankind to God.

No more with "just wars" and debates about prudential judgments and subtleties about who can be killed under what circumstances. All justifications for continuing as we have always done, hard of heart and head. No more--I will have no more of it. Tiresome and puffed up like a blowfish and ultimately empty of anything not already revealed, but tricked out to look like a king's wardrobe--indeed, the very Emperor's New Clothes themselves.

Theology--the science of straining at a gnat to swallow a camel. If I thought that great love of God resulted from it, it would have some use. But what I find more often than not is greater love of self and greater love of knowledge. Those who pursue theology often do so as a means of fleeing God.

A pox on it all. Holy Mother church teaches and her word informs more often despite her theologians than because of them. The Church teaches through the Holy Spirit and through the inspired scripture, but when we start dragging in the inventions of the theologians--annulments and just war and original sin and limbo, one quickly loses one's way in the thicket. A fog of confusion, doubt, and questions that lead to no real end.

The more I read of them, the less I need to read of them and the weaker any faith I may have grows. My faith survives despite the theologian's best attempts to extinguish it entirely--to fill my head with the God who allows the slaughter of children and of innocents to further the goals of any particular regime.

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Who better does the Father's will--the one who knows all manner of doctrine and all the subtlety thereof and who can explain it and argue its fine points with other and who completely assents to it, but lives a life in direct contradiction to every one of its tenets?


The person completely ignorant of doctrine, unable to discern or explain the divine hypostatic union, completely unaware of predestination and justification, unable to make an intelligible statement about doctrine, who yet lives it to the hilt--feeding the hungry and giving to the poor?

Too much knowledge stuffs the head and the ego--it fills us not with knowledge of the Divine, but with knowledge of our own self-importance. Knowledge stored in the head but never acted upon is less than useless. And action in complete ignorance of the whys and wherefores, the rules and the statutes governing it, that action which is within God's will is the action of love, the action of the saving Christ, shown in a way no words will every tell.

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and the horror of the disfigurement.

from Hiroshima Diary
Michihiko Hadhiya, M.D.

[From the entry for August 6]

Clad in drawers and undershirt, I was sprawled on the living room floor exhausted because I had just spent a sleepless night on duty as an air warden in my hospital.

Suddenly, a strong flash of light startled me--and then another. So well does one recall little things that I remember vividly how a stone lantern in the garden became brilliantly lit and I debated whether this light was caused by a magnesium flare or sparks from a passing trolley.

Garden shadows disappeared. The view where a moment before all had been so bright and sunny was now dark and hazy. Through swirling dust I could barely discern a wooden column that had supported one corner of my house. It was leaning crazily and the roof sagged dangerously.

Moving instinctively, I tried to escape, but rubble and fallen timbers barred the way. By picking my way cautiously I managed to reach the roka and stepped down into my garden. A profound weakness overcame me, so I stopped to regain my strength. To my surprise I discovered that I was completely naked. How odd! Where were my drawers and undershirt?

What had happened?

All over the right side of my body I was cut and bleeding. A large splinter was protruding from a mangled wound in my thigh, and something warm trickled into my mouth. My cheek was torn, I discovered as I felt it gingerly, with the lower lip laid wide open. Embedded in my neck was a sizable fragment of glass which I matter-of-factly dislodged, and with the detachment of one stunned and shocked I studied it and my blood-stained hand.

Where was my wife?

A small memorial to a monumental folly that we still try to think of reasons and ways to justify. We had entered into the age of almost unimaginable cruelty at the beginning of the century, but this marked a new plateau, a plateau that has stayed with us from that day to our own. A plateau that it were better had it never been reached.

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Variously translated Spiral or Vortex, Uzumaki is yet another one of those Japanese Horror films that is disturbing or odd and at some place inaccessible to western Audiences. It provides the same mysterious non-explanation of events that haunts films like Ringu and Gu-on and so the film comes off more as a nihilist dadaist exercise in film-making. Indeed, as I watched it, the Dadaist classic, Vormittagsspuk which I saw in a short film festival with Un Chien Andalou.

The film centers on the obsession of first one character and then many others with spirals and spiral patterns. The real infection in the film is this obsession which gradually turns people into giant snails and sends the smoke from their cremations into the atmosphere in anti-tornadoes.

I don't know what the point of this film was or what I was supposed to derive from it in terms of horror or even sense. However, that said, I did enjoy it on its own terms. There was a kind of surrealist/dada sensibility to it that permeated it in a far more profound way than anything since the 1930s. The events make no real sense, and yet they are compelling and interesting to watch and the film plays out to an inconclusive conclusion that is its beginning.

While not particularly frightening, it is eerie and unsettling, and perhaps on some level even thought-provoking.

Recommended for fans of Japanese Cinema, Horror Movie Completists, and Dadaist/Surrealists. Wouldn't recommend for anyone younger than teens.

For additional comments on films mentioned in this review:




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Isn't It Romantic?


Ron Hansen labeled this book An Entertainment perhaps an with an eye to sidestepping the criticism I am about to levy--the book is a wildly improbable blend of story-telling and musical comedy wrapped up into a highly entertaining, fluffy bon-bon of a read.

The difficulties the book presents are numerous, if one were to take the work seriously at all. The coincidences are too numerous to list. The prat-falls, gags, and jokes, are very evidently an hommage to Preston Sturges who is actually mentioned in the course of the book. That our French Heroine, who at times has difficulty understanding English, would know it well enough to sing Isn't It Romantic and that a Nebraska cowboy would do the same is, shall we say, odd?

But those are the kinds of things one says about a work meant to be taken seriously. Hansen disarms and forewarns us--so I retract my criticism of the other day. A person acquainted with his work coming to this novel might well be completely disoriented by the experience.

As a light romance and a smart comedy, the book works very well. Recommended for light entertainment and for Hansen completists.

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Trois Coleurs: Rouge


The third, and perhaps the best of the trio, Rouge is the story of doubles and a kind of romance. The story really gets underway when our heroine accidentally runs into a dog. She picks up the dog and takes it to her owner who turns out not to care much. It is the relationship with the owner that causes things to get interesting.

The owner is an ex-judge. He spends his time listening to the phone calls of others, spying on them. This judge is double in many particulars of his story by a young man who is taking his exam to become a judge.

It was in the course of this film that I realized that the enlightenment trinity Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité has actually, in the course of the three films been transmuted into the three theological virtues Faith, Hope, Love.

In Bleu, the young woman has lost everything that she lived for, she's lost all sense of self and all desire to continue an existence and yet cannot find itself in her to end her own life. So she decides to live a life without connections. It is her belief and her inner strength that brings her back to the real world, to an attempt at communion with humanity, to love and charity. In the Blanc, the man getting a divorce hangs on perpetually to the hope that his ex-wife really does love him. Time after time this hope is dashed, but ultimately it proves itself in unexpected ways. And finally, in the most compassionate of the three, the young heroine in Rouge brings life to an old man and to those around her through her simple compassion, love, and humanity. At the end of this film the three virtues are united and they stand alone in an odd juxtapositioning.

The three films are well worth seeing and they must be seen, for full impact together or at least in close proximity. I'm glad that I wasn't waiting a year between films when these came out because the freshness and the meaning would not have come through as clearly as it does watching them all within a week or so.

High recommended for ADULT audiences. Some of the finest film-making I've seen in a while.

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Where Is Truth to be Found? II


In the interest of fairness and to reinforce the point from yesterday this news report:

Hezbollah Uses Christian Villages as Shields (From The Inn at the End of the World.)

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Trois Coleurs: Blanc


I found this segment of the trilogy interesting, engaging, but a bit more problematic than Bleu. Blanc (White) is the second of the three and stands for the second in the Enlightenment French trinity--&eaucte;galité. The thematic color is white, from the statue the hero steels to the snow-dusted polish fields, to the (literal) climax of the film--white predominates until at the end, it becomes mixed with red portending the next and last of the three, Rouge.

Karol is a Pole living in Paris. His wife decides to divorce him for a number of reasons, among them the lack of consummation of the marriage. But Karol believes that Dominique still loves him.

He meets a fellow Pole in the train station and schemes to go back to Poland. He packs himself in a trunk and goes as part of his new friend's luggage. Upon arrival the bag is stolen and when the thieves open it and find only poor Karol they thrash him.

Karol was a successful hairdresser in Warsaw and all the ladies are glad he is back. But he is not content and starts to make a new life for himself.

Okay, enough of the plot because once again this is an intimate film turning on very small moments and to say too much would be to ruin the surprise of the film. But to the problems of the film. It is an interesting paradox, the film is big-hearted and small minded or small-hearted and big-minded. Or perhaps it is Karol who is big-hearted and terribly confused. Whatever it is, the &eaucte;galité when it domes is &eaucte;galité in smallness, in pettiness and in revenge that ends oddly and interestingly.

I don't quite know what to make of the film except that I really enjoyed every moment. Not so simple and clear as Bleu., Blanc will reward multiple viewings with, I think, both depth of meaning and depth of feeling.

Highly recommended to all ADULTS. A rewarding, interesting, fascinating film with enough substance to be appreciated time and again--and enough to think about to keep you thinking for days to come. Excellent.

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Two Amusing Moments

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from Isn't it Romantic
Ron Hansen

Sighing, Madame agreed, in the grudging way of one who thought some people would garden in basements if you let them. . . .

She shook her head and said she would like to tour America on an overland route from the East Coast to the West.

Madame Dubray held her face carefully fixed as she asked, "How?"

Natalie felt unfairly tested. "Railway?"

Madame smirked, "Railway," she said, "In America."

"Or perhaps I could rent an automobile."

Madame scoffed, "Aren't you the audacious one? Motoring through all forty states."

"There are fifty."

"Well, not worth seeing," said Madame.

Mr. Hansen has taken the somewhat pretentious track of Graham Greene before him deliberately labeling this confection An Entertainment, as though one would be incapable of figuring it out for oneself. Moreover, what is he trying to protect, this author of Hitler's Niece (atrocious in almost every way) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford entertaining but idiosyncratic in its "nouning the verb." (He socked his feet. . ."

Just right, we can figure out on our own what we would like to take seriously and what we would not care to. I've never understood the autoclassification of works into those of major and minor importance. It didn't work with Greene, who is arguably a better writer, and it doesn't work here. But the book looks to be entertaining.

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The Book of the Dead


A light read in the tradition of Preston and Cloud, The Book of the Dead is the third, and perhaps best of the "Brothers Pendergast" trilogy. Now, this trilogy in no way compares with one more familiar to Catholic readers written by some British Catholic Writer; however, it is summertime beach-reading and acceptable for that purpose.

That said, it brings up my main beef with these writers and their editors. The writing is lazy and slipshod. Take this minor example:

from The Book of the Dead
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Dr. Nora Kelly stood in her laboratory gazing at a large specimen table covered with fragments of ancient Anasazi pottery. The potsherds were of an unusual type that glowed almost golden in the bright lights, a sheen caused by countless mica particles in the original clay. She had collected the sherds during a summertime expedition to the Four Corners area of the Southwest, and now she had arranged them on a huge contour map of the Four Corners, each sherd in the precise geographical location where it had been found.

As exposition, there are so many things wrong with this, it's hard to start to identify the flaws. For example, Nora Kelly is, in fact, looking not at the table, but at the potsherds on the table. Another point--if the potsherds are Anasazi that cannot be anything other than ancient--there are no modern Anasazi to make potsherds. Finally, no matter how large the map, the sherds are going to be too big to mark a precise location by themselves. Moreover, even if you had a map at a 1:10 ungainly scale, you're hardly using the tools as you ought if you're placing priceless fragment on the paper itself to mark the locations--better to use the catalogue numbers and write them on the map with precise lines to indicate position found.

The book abounds in such sloppiness, most of it one grits ones teeth and passes over in interest of the story being served--a fascinating confection of betrayal, secrets, and revenge in multiple layers.

Diogenes and Aloysius Pendergast are brothers. Over the last two books Diogenes has been promising to commit the perfect crime to ultimately defeat his brother. Think Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft with Mycroft morphed into Moriarty. (In fact, the denouement is quite reminiscent of the scene at Reichenbach falls--only translate the falls to another location and the contestants to. . . oh well, that would be telling wouldn't it.

So Diogenes arranges for the curse on an Egyptian tomb opening in a New York museum to come to life.

Preston and Child are all about entertainment. There's absolutely nothing to be gained from reading these books in the way of knowledge, information, or insight into the human spirit. But they are full of eccentric characters, chase scenes, jailbreaks, madness, mayhem, revenge, and the most bizarre and eccentric devices you can begin to imagine. I tolerate the prose for the sheer romp that is the story. And I have no qualms in recommending this for all who love fiction and need a brain break from the serious prose one usually peruses. But you may want to read Cabinet of Curiousities, Brimstone, and Dance of Death to give you a little background before you launch in. You needn't, of course, but it helps to flesh out what is happening in this book.

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The Subtle Art of the Subtitle


An example from Blanc:

Actual Line: Dites-moi quelque choses.
Translation: Say something (or several things) to me.
Subtitle: Say anything.

Actual line: N'importe quoi.
Translation: It doesn't matter what.
Subtitle: Anything.

The art of the subtitle is to try to get across the essence of a spoken passage without tiring the viewer by having him or her read the entire script/spoken part of the film. But sometimes the compression goes too far, and something is lost. Fortunately, in French films, I am less reliant on the subtitles than I am in other foreign language films. Blanc, however, is in French and Polish, so I'm only halfway home.

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Where Is Truth to be Found?

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According to this article found at Western Confucian, the one defense offered for Israel's actions against the Lebanese is false.

This is one of the reasons why I rarely bother with the news. Is this article reporting the truth? Is CNN reporting the truth? Does the truth lie somewhere between? How are we to discern justice if we can't know the plain facts of the matter? Where is truth to be found in reporting? Where is enough of the bias stripped away that there is some discernible smidgen of reality? In this case I do not know if it can be because whoever is reporting has such a strong bias one way or the other in the matter.

However, if it is true, what does THAT say about the conflict? We need to be careful to separate the unquestionable right and responsibility of Israel to protect its people from a carte blanche to do whatever is required. We must support Israel as a sovereign nation while reining in the impulse to smash everything around them that might give rise to difficulty--an understandable impulse in an unstable part of the world.

I am a supporter of Israel and of her people, but not one who is willing to say that everything done in the name of defense is defensible. As with so many things I simply don't know, and frankly I don't even know how to find out. Whatever may be the truth I have grave misgivings about the present approach to the resolution of the difficulties between Israel and Lebanon. But I also have no advice to give on how to secure one's homeland in a fair and equitable way.

But back to the point--how do we know the truth?

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I miss out on so much because my stats counter doesn't filter a lot of stuff and after the first few days of the month people who visit from distant lands are pushed to the bottom that I cannot read while the spiders rule. This month I was fortunate enough to find among my visitors a very interesting site with a most interesting name and epigraph Jelly-Pinched Theatre appears to be a site interested both in Relgion and, most interestingly, The Literary Gothic--one of my very favorite sites. I never fail to be amazed when I encounter persons with similar taste among the faithful; but then I suppose that is why we are the Catholic Church rather than the "almost-Catholic Church."

Visit if you're so inclined for a nice review of Lady in the Water among other delights.

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Authentic Religion

from Hammer and Fire Father Raphael Simon, OCSO

The human personality can only be transformed by truth, goodness, and beauty. Everyone seeks a real or apparent goodness. Everyone has an ultimate end which actuates his or her life, be it pleasure, self-enhancement, a career, service or goodness itself: God. This ultimate end is the person's religion. But there are false religions and true ones, authentic religions and inauthentic, a complete religion and incomplete religions. . . .

This book is about the authentic, the true, the beautiful and goodness itself--the true ultimate ground of human existence and development. That is known by true philosophy which has the full use of reason and is harmonious with science, but it is known even more by the Revelation of God, Who Himself is the sure ground of truth and goodness. Moreover He has the power to make known to humankind His own inner life, which He has done in sending us His Own Son, Jesus Christ and His Spirit.

The goal of the book is to outline a plan of transforming union with God and thus human happiness. The effectiveness of the book depends upon how well disposed one is to hear and implement the plan despite one's own inclinations to read another book on the same subject or watch another film on any subject in preference to what one really ought to be doing. Nevertheless, it is in the constant remember that one hears His voice and is brought back around to doing what one ought to do. Books such as this one serve the extremely important role of being border collies responding sensitively to the commands of the One True Shepherd. They harry one and nip at one's heels and assure one of the passage to home and safety--the way back to the Shepherd.

May it be so for me as I read it and for all of you who pick it up to try to follow the way back.

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Catholic Small Presses


I received a book the other day in the mail--the newest from Zaccheus Press--Hammer and Fire by Father Raphael Simon, O.C.S.O. And it prompted me to make a plea to all to support these fine small Catholic presses. If we want quality literature and quality Catholic writing, we owe it to ourselves to support presses like Zaccheus and our own Requiem Press run by blogger Jim Curley of Bethune Catholic.

I will confess I do not do this enough, but then you can ask my wife, I don't buy any book at full price any more (an economy necessary with a single income). The few that I buy are from such places. In this case I am deeply indebted to Mr. O'Leary of Zaccheus Press, who very kindly sent me a copy of the newest release without so much as a request on my part. And it is another very fine publication as far as I can tell with a brief survey of the book. I'll be sure to keep you informed as I continue to read. Mr. O'Leary's Press produces other books that are available through the address above and are also distributed by Ignatius Press, or have been so far. Every one of them comes with an unqualified recommendation. They are beautifully produced and substantial volumes, both in construction and in instruction: Christ, Life of the Soul by Don Columba Marmion, Our Lady and the Church, by Fr. Hugo Rahner, and A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist by Abbot Vonier. All have been well worth while and well worth reading. If it is within our means, we owe it to ourselves and others to support such worthwhile endeavors as those of Mr. O'Leary and Mr. Curley.

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I don't know what it was about yesterday.

On the way home I was stopped at a traffic light where there was a woman claiming to be a homeless veteran holding up a sign asking for money. It was a gorgeous day, even if 95-96 degrees and I was driving, as usual, with my windows down. (I live in Florida so I can ENJOY the weather, not hide from it--if I wanted it to be 76 year-round I'd move to San Diego.) I didn't have any money--nothing smaller than a fifty in my wallet or in my car and I didn't do what I usually do in such circumstance--roll up my window. (I need to remember to carry a stock of small bills for just this kind of thing--problem is if I carry small denominations I just fritter the money away.)

I must have been looking sheepish/guilty and/or tired/weary. (How's that--three word pairs in a row? To quote a one-time hero, "I meant to do that.") She said to me, "Honey, you got to smile--it just cain't be that bad."

That did, in fact, make me smile. She continued collecting money, and I must have returned to whatever ruminations I was in because she was back and said. 'Come on, smile. What's that pink ball doing on your antenna?" (We have a pink Minnie Mouse/Cinderella's Castle ornament on the antenna--Linda's Idea--used to be stars and stripes Mickey.) And of course the silliness of the antenna bob made me smile again along with embarrassment at being offered encouragement by one who certainly had no reason to be encouraged, God love her.

So I got a lesson on smiling and wonder what it was I must have looked like to that woman on the corner. What a wonderful, humbling experience--to get a lesson on life from one who lives much closer to the bone.

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Book Meme

1. One book that changed your life: Honestly, I'm not certain there are any, the closest might be Tom Sawyer or Winesburg, Ohio.

2. One book that you've read more than once:
See above and add to it Turn of the Screw by Henry James

3. One book you'd want on a desert island:
(excepting the Bible) Tom Sawyer or perhaps Robinson Crusoe (might be something useful there).

4. One book that made you laugh:
The Wit and Wisdom of Oscar Wilde

5. One book that made you cry:
The Kite Runner and I was on the plane-trip home--how embarrassing.

6. One book that you wish had been written:
A really good ghost story like those of M.R. James--either a collection or a novel.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
The Kinsey Report

8. One book you're currently reading:
The Book of the Dead

9. One book you've been meaning to read:
Gilead--tried three times now to get enough of a running start to get through it--failed miserably.

And I pass this on to TSO, if He's willing, Brandon S., who could answer in the comments, and Zippy, if he has the time and inclination.

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Here. Thanks to Brandon.

I'd like to play in this game, but I can't because I dislike Ann Coulter's approach to things in the same way I dislike Maureen Dowd's, Molly Ivin's, and Al Franken's. For me, she unman's any point she may have to make with a vitriolic diatribe directed at tearing down a person--an unacceptable way to relate to others and a poor example. And its a shame because she has some good points. But rather than viewing her points as serious arguments, I'm afraid I look upon her as a largely self-aggrandizing, vicious clown--rather the terrestrial version of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. But that's just my view--I've little patience for those whose mode of argument is embellished with ad hominem remarks of, as Florence would have it, the sledgehammer sort.

Nevertheless, the article is good, and its King's rapier that is my own preferred mode of operation if one must--but mostly one mustn't.

"I can't afford to hate people. I don't have that kind of time."

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Nuance and Ambiguity

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I have thought a bit about my tendency to overgeneralize, to leap to conclusions and I have concluded that it comes from my excessively strong "J" aspect personality. I like rules. I like black and white. I don't have much use for the myriad shades of grey, though I admit they exist. I don't care much for nuance in living.

Which is odd because in art I admire fruitful ambiguity--an ambiguity that is deliberate and which gives rise to multiple layers of meaning. But Art is not life, it is not about fashioning a rule-book. Properly done, Art is about discovering the rule-book, uncovering what has always been known through revelation, but making it new again. Art is mimetic, but it is ambiguous in a way that gets us to think and to consider.

There again, I go with the generalizations. Art is probably none of that, but great Art gets at that. Whatever the case may be, I love Art because of the insight I get into God and his mercy through it. I despise nuance because I see it too often misused to side-step the unpleasantness of moral requirements. If one spins it just right. . .

But it is useless to pretend that nuance does not exist and that every rule is always and everywhere exactly the same. It is comforting, but useless. But my role, as artist and even as poor thinker that I am, is to articulate the black and white and leave it up to better thinkers to fill in the shades of grey. We all have our roles, and mine the most humble, but it is mine and it is how I am constructed. No matter how I try, I will be looking for the black and white in everything--and I will accept gladly notification of the shades of grey others discover in between.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Steven Riddle in August 2006.

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