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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

William Barry & communion

My last post about communion reminded me of something I had read in one of Jesuit William A Barry's books, Discernment in Prayer: Paying Attention to God. Here's how chapter 12 starts ....

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Imagine this scene: Pope John XXV has just visited the Cathedral of Canterbury and concelebrated the Eucharist with the Archbishop of Canterbury. This event was a surprise to all, but word of its occurrence quickly spread as the media converged on the scene. Only two members of the Roman Curia, close confidants of the Pope, knew what he intended. The rest of the curial cardinals are aghast and some are quite angry. Pope John returns to Rome and meets with the cardinals in a closed-door session. They rather testily ask him to explain himself. He says: "A week ago I was praying, and I had a vision in which I was offered communion by an Anglican bishop. I started to refuse, but heard a voice say, 'This is my body; take and eat.' It happened three times. Right after that I got a phone call from the Archbishop of Canterbury who told me that while he was praying he heard a voice tell him, 'Invite the Pope to concelebrate at Canterbury.' So I consulted with my two closest confidants , and I went. During the liturgy the Archbishop and I and those around us felt the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit."

I leave it to my readers to imagine the reactions of the cardinals. I have another purpose in mind. As mind boggling as this scenario may seem, something like it seems to have happened in the early church (cf. Acts 10-11) [where Peter decides, thanks to a vision in prayer, that Christianity is for Gentiles as well as Jews] ......

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Who can Commune with God?

The stuff about communion and Guiliani and Egan, etc has really been bothering me (there's an interesting post on the whole subject at the Anchoress's), and has made me very aware of the worth of a person's worth (in the Church's eyes, in God's eyes).

I sadly remember nothing about the Eucharist from my RCIA classes - maybe it didn't come up?! I've looked around the web for stuff on it, and I've found info about who is worthy to take communion but not a lot about why their worthiness matters, except for reference to 1 Corinthians 11, and in particular, "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Cor. 11:27–28) ... and "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" (1 Cor. 11:29) (from Catholic Answers: Who Can Receive Communion?)

In looking around I also came across a past blog post by Ben Witherington that touches on this subject. I know, he's a Protestant :) but I think his take on this is interesting, especially his remark in one of his comments following the post, in which he writes - [...] Jesus came into people's lives, whether sinners, tax collectors etc. without them already being in a worthy condition. And indeed, even at the Last Supper, Jesus distributed the elements to very unworthy participants whom he knew were about to deny, betray, and desert him. By the Catholic view of this, they should never have partaken of that Passover with Jesus in the first place and Jesus should have stopped them! . That expresses my own feeling. I wish I could have found some Catholic discussion of this point on the web, but couldn't, so here below is part of Ben's post .....

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Who can Commune with God? (November 2006)

It is a delicate question--- Who can Commune with God? And today Catholic Bishops have been voting on this matter. The issue is this-- who is worthy to partake of the Eucharist? Should just anyone be allowed to do so? In the past, and now the Catholic Church has taken the posture not that priests should police the Eucharist or fence the table, but that all the congregation should be told in advance that in essence they must police themselves. If they are knowingly in violation of church teaching on some major matter they should not take the Eucharist. For example anyone, gay or straight who is having sex outside of Christian marriage are encouraged to abstain. Now this raises all kinds of questions.

In the first place, no one is actually 'worthy' of partaking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. All have sinned and fallen short of the grace of God. If we waited until we were worthy we'd all still be waiting. But there is some pertinent material about this question to be found in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul says there that we must not partake of this sacrament "in an unworthy manner". Now that's a different matter than 'being worthy'. That has to do with how we partake of the sacrament, and Paul somewhat cryptically gives us another clue-- we should partake: 1) together, waiting for one another and doing it as a group together; 2) we should do it in a worthy manner; and 3) we should do it discerning 'the body'. Paul even goes so far as to say that if you violate these three rules you could get sick and die. That sounds pretty serious and drastic. Scholars have debated what 'body' Paul is talking about. In traditional Catholic theology it was assumed that this was a reference to the elements of the sacrament, but this is unlikely. For one thing where is the reference to discerning the blood? For another thing the context doesn't favor this reading of 1 Cor. 11. The 'body' here as elsewhere in 1 Corinthians refers to the Body of Christ in the ecclesiological sense--- that would be us, the church. Paul is saying that if you go ahead and take the Lord's Supper without doing it as an act of the communion of the saints, of the church itself, you have commited a grievous mistake. The Lord's Supper is not all about you and your private relationship with God. Its about your vertical relationship with God of course, but it is also about your horizontal relationship with your fellow believers as well. We have been reconciled to Christ corporately, and one of the functions of communion is to bind us to each other.

Most denominations have some sort of invitation to the Table-- ours goes back to the Anglican liturgy in which we say "all who truly and earnestly repent of their sins, and are in love and fellowship with their neighbor, draw near with faith..." John Wesley was to add to this that if one was prepared to repent and come to the table for the first time as an act of faith, even though one was not previously a Christian that that was fine-- he saw the Lord's Supper as a converting sacrament in such cases, and not just a confirming sacrament. What is however very clear from 1 Cor. 11 is that this is not a sacrament that was intended for those who "do not discern the body". Unlike baptism which is a passive sacrament, the Lord's Supper is an active sacrament, and must be consciously and actively partaken of. So perhaps now is a good time for us all to think about should and shouldn't take communion. One thing is clear to me-- this is indeed a means of grace which changes lives ........

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Insider


- Jeffrey Wigand, Russell Crowe, Al Pacino and Lowell Bergman

I've been re-renting some old movies I've seen before because now that I no longer watch tv, I've been watching the DVDs on my computer and I can see what's happening better (not sure why). I didn't catch The Insider when it came out, but did see some bits of it on rv, and decided to finally see it all. I found it to be both powerful and moving. Here's a little about the movie from Wikipedia ....

"The Insider is a 1999 film, telling the true story of a 60 Minutes television series exposé of the tobacco industry, as seen through the eyes of a real tobacco executive, Jeffrey Wigand. The 60 Minutes story originally aired in November 1995 in an altered form because CBS' then-owner, Laurence Tisch, objected. The story was later aired on February 4, 1996.

The film stars Al Pacino (as Lowell Bergman), Russell Crowe (as Jeffrey Wigand), Christopher Plummer (as Mike Wallace), Bruce McGill (as attorney Ron Motley) ...... The movie was adapted by Eric Roth and Michael Mann from the Vanity Fair magazine article "The Man Who Knew Too Much" by Marie Brenner. It was directed by Mann."

One of the unusual things about the movie is the soundtrack. Here's what All Music says of it ...

Michael Mann is an unconventional director, so it's entirely appropriate that the score for The Insider, his meditation on tobacco whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand, doesn't play by the rules either. The bulk of the album is comprised of collaborations between Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke, with three tracks from Graeme Revell and equally atmospheric contributions from Gustavo Santaolalla, Jan Garbarek, and Massive Attack. The result is eerie and haunting, somewhere between ambient and new age, but always evocative and cinematic. This may be a strange choice for a seemingly dry journalism tale, but it works terrifically and gives a good sense of how unusual and unpredictable The Insider is.

Here below is Roger Ebert's review of the film ...

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Michael Mann's "The Insider" makes a thriller and expose out of how big tobacco's long-running tissue of lies was finally exposed by investigative journalism. At its center stands Lowell Bergman, a producer for "60 Minutes," the CBS News program where a former tobacco scientist named Jeffrey Wigand spilled the beans. First Bergman coaxes Wigand to talk. Then he works with reporter Mike Wallace to get the story. Then he battles with CBS executives who are afraid to run it--because a lawsuit could destroy the network. He's a modern investigative hero, Woodward and Bernstein rolled into one.

Or so the film tells it. The film is accurate in its broad strokes. Wigand did indeed reveal secrets from the Brown & Williamson laboratories that eventually led to a $246 billion settlement of suits brought against the tobacco industry by all 50 states. "60 Minutes" did eventually air the story, after delays and soul-searching. And reporting by the Wall Street Journal was instrumental in easing the network's decision to air the piece.

But there are ways in which the film is misleading, according to a helpful article in the magazine Brill's Content. Mike Wallace was more of a fighter, less Bergman's puppet. "60 Minutes" executive producer Don Hewitt didn't willingly cave in to corporate pressure, but was powerless. The Wall Street Journal's coverage was not manipulated by Bergman, but was independent (and won a Pulitzer Prize). Bergman didn't mastermind a key Mississippi lawsuit or leak a crucial deposition. And the tobacco industry did not necessarily make death threats against Wigand (his former wife believes he put a bullet in his mailbox himself).

Do these objections invalidate the message of the film? Not at all. And they have no effect on its power to absorb, entertain and anger. They go with the territory in a docudrama like this, in which characters and narrative are manipulated to make the story stronger. The Brill's Content piece, useful as it is, makes a fundamental mistake: It thinks that Lowell Bergman is the hero of "The Insider" because he fed his version of events to Mann and his co-writer, Eric Roth. In fact, Bergman is the hero because he is played by Al Pacino, the star of the film, and thus must be the hero. A movie like this demands only one protagonist. If Pacino had played Mike Wallace instead, then Wallace would have been the hero.

The decision to center on a producer, to go behind the scenes, is a good one, because it allows the story to stand outside Wallace and Hewitt and consider larger questions than tobacco. The movie switches horses in midstream, moving from the story of a tobacco cover-up to a crisis in journalistic ethics. Did CBS oppose the story only because it feared a lawsuit, or were other factors involved, such as the desire of executives to protect the price of their stock as CBS was groomed for sale to Westinghouse? The movie is constructed like a jigsaw puzzle in which various pieces keep disappearing from the table. It begins when Bergman hires Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) as a consultant on another tobacco story. He learns that Wigand possesses information from the tobacco industry not only proving that nicotine is addictive (which the presidents of seven cigarette companies had denied under oath before Congress), but that additives were used to make it more addictive--and one of the additives was a known carcinogen! Wigand has signed a confidentiality agreement with B&W, and Bergman somehow has to get around that promise if the truth is going to be revealed.

Mann is able to build suspense while suggesting what a long, slow, frustrating process investigative journalism can be. Wigand dances toward a disclosure, then away. Bergman works behind the scenes to manipulate lawsuits and the coverage of the Wall Street Journal (these scenes are mostly fictional, we learn). He hopes to leak parts of the story in truncated form so that he's free to expose its full glory. Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) is beside him all the way, finally zeroing in on Wigand in one of those interviews where shocking statements are given little pools of silence to glisten in. Then a corporate lawyer (Gina Gershon) explains the law to the "60 Minutes" gang: The more truthful Wigand's statements, the more damaging they are in a lawsuit. "60 Minutes" boss Don Hewitt (Philip Baker Hall) sides with the network, and Bergman is blindsided when Wallace at first sides with Hewitt.

It's then that Bergman goes to work behind the scenes, leaking information and making calls to competitors to blast the story lose from legal constraints. And these are the scenes that owe the most to Hollywood invention; the chronology is manipulated, and actions of key players get confused. There is an underlying truth, however: "60 Minutes" did eventually find a way to air its original story, through the device of reporting about how it couldn't--a report that had the effect of breaking the logjam.

Hewitt, one of the patron saints of investigative journalism, is portrayed as too much of a corporate lackey, but Wallace's image emerges intact in a wonderful scene where Hewitt says the whole matter will blow over in 15 minutes, and Wallace says, "No, that's fame. You get 15 minutes of fame. Infamy lasts a little longer." Pacino's performance underlies everything. He makes Bergman hoarse, overworked, stubborn and a master of psychological manipulation who inexorably draws Wigand toward the moment of truth. Pacino can be flashy, mannered, over the top, in roles that call for it; this role calls for a dogged crusader, and he supplies a character who is always convincing.

There is, I admit, a contradiction in a film about journalism that itself manipulates the facts. My notion has always been that movies are not the first place you look for facts, anyway. You attend a movie for psychological truth, for emotion, for the heart of a story and not its footnotes. In its broad strokes, "The Insider" is perfectly accurate: Big tobacco lied, one man had damning information, skilled journalism developed the story, intrigue helped blast it free. "The Insider" had a greater impact on me than "All the President's Men," because you know what? Watergate didn't kill my parents. Cigarettes did.

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Like Roger Ebert, I had an emotional response to the movie - it made me think of my mother, with whom I'd watch 60 Minutes every Sunday night, who was a smoker and died of lung cancer.


Friday, April 25, 2008

The Woodsman

I can't remember if I posted something about this movie before, but the Pope talking to the clergy sexual abuse victims brought it to mind again. The Woodsman, a2004 film ,was directed by Nicole Kassell and starred Kevin Bacon as a convicted child molester who returns to Philadelphia after 12 years in prison. Also in the movie are Benjamin Bratt and Kyra Sedgwick. I think the movie is a good one and that we shouldn't look away from movies like this, though they can be disturbing. Here's Roger Ebert's review of it ....

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For the first several scenes of "The Woodsman," we know that Walter has recently been released from prison but we don't know the nature of his crime. Seeing the film at Cannes last May, I walked in without advance knowledge and was grateful that I had an opportunity to see Kevin Bacon establish the character before that information was supplied. His crime has now been clearly named in virtually everything written about the film, and possibly changes the way it affects a viewer.

Walter is a pedophile. The film doesn't make him a case study or an object for our sympathy, but carefully and honestly observes his attempt to re-enter society after 12 years behind bars. Maybe he will make it and maybe he will not. He has a deep compulsion, which is probably innate, and a belief that his behavior is wrong. That belief will not necessarily keep him from repeating it. Most of us have sexual desires within the areas accepted by society, and so never reflect that we did not choose them, but simply grew up and found that they were there.

Bacon is a strong and subtle actor, something that is often said but insufficiently appreciated. Here he employs all of his art. He seems to have no theory about Walter and no emotional tilt toward his problems, and that is correct, because we do not act out of theories about ourselves, but out of our hopes and desires. Bacon plays the character day by day, hour by hour, detail by detail, simply showing us this man trying to deal with his daily life. Larger conclusions are left to the audience.

He gets an apartment across from a grade school playground. He did not choose the location; he found a landlord who would rent to an ex-con. He gets a job in a lumberyard. No one there knows about his crime, but a co-worker named Mary-Kay (Eve) doesn't like him and senses something is wrong. Lucas, his parole officer (Mos Def) visits regularly and is hostile, convinced it is only a matter of time until Walter lapses.

There is a woman at work named Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick), who is tough-talking but has an instinctive sympathy for the newcomer. She's a fork-lift operator, a realist. They start to date. We know, but she doesn't, that this may be the first normal sexual relationship Walter has had. She is not only his girlfriend but, in a way, an unknowing sex therapist. He eventually feels he has to tell her about his past. How she deals with this, how she goes through a series of emotions, is handled in a way I felt was convincing.

Eve finds out the truth about Walter, and posts a Web site at work. His privacy is gone. There are other developments. Watching the playground through his window, for example, he becomes aware of a pedophile who is obviously hoping to find prey there.

The film has a crucial scene involving Walter and a young girl named Robin (Hannah Pilkes). Without suggesting how the scene develops, I will say that it is so observant, so truthful, that in a sense the whole film revolves around it. There is nothing sensational in this film, nothing exploitative, nothing used for "entertainment value" unless we believe, as I do, that the close observation of the lives of other people can be -- well, since entertaining is the wrong word, then helpful. It is easy to present a pedophile as a monster, less easy to suggest the emotional devastation that led into, and leads out of, his behavior. The real question in "The Woodsman" is whether Walter will be able to break the chain of transmission.

The movie is the first film by Nicole Kassell, a recent graduate of the NYU film school, who wrote the screenplay with Steven Fechter, based on his play. It is a remarkably confident work. It knows who Walter is, and to an extent why he is that way, and it knows that the film's real drama exists inside his mind and conscience. This is not a morality play but a study of character -- of Walter's character, and of those who instinctively detest him, and of a few, including Vickie and his brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt), who are willing to withhold judgment long enough to see if he can find redemption.

The reason we cannot accept pedophilia as we accept many other sexual practices is that it requires an innocent partner, whose life could be irreparably harmed. We do not have the right to do that. If there is no other way to achieve sexual satisfaction, that is our misfortune, but not an excuse. It is not the pedophile that is evil, but the pedophilia. That is true of all sins and crimes and those tempted to perform them: It is not that we are capable of transgression that condemns us, but that we are willing.

"The Woodsman" understands this at the very heart of its being, and that is why it succeeds as more than just the story of this character. It has relevance for members of the audience who would never in any way be even remotely capable of Walter's crime. We are quick to forgive our own trespasses, slower to forgive those of others. The challenge of a moral life is to do nothing that needs forgiveness. In that sense, we're all out on parole.

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You can read an interview with Kevin Bacon about the film here.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

E8 - a modern mandala?


- a Buddhist mandala

I've just finished reading/listening to Wheel of Darkness by Preston and Child, the latest FBI Agent Pendergast novel in which he and his ward, Constance, travel to a Buddhist monastery in Tibet. The monks there mention that a mysterious ancient artifact has been stolen and ask Pendergast to retrieve it for them. His quest takes him (and Constance) aboard an ocean liner where they encounter a strange mandala, a creepy tulpa, much violence and destruction (and some sex), before they are able to accomplish their task.

The book, in some ways, is about the mind ..... a tulpa, for instance, is a materialized thought that has taken physical form, like the one in Jorge Luis Borges' book Las Ruinas Circulares ..... and another object in the story is a thangka, or mandala, a painting that's used in meditation to help bring about enlightenment - sort of the Eastern version of the Illuminations of Hildegard von Bingen .... and towards the end of the book, Constance asks Pendergast how just a picture like a mandala can effect a person so profoundly. He mentions in response that research has shown that what we see can actually change the structure of our brains (link) and he brings up a modern example of a mandala - E8.

I have to admit up front that I'm too much of a dope to understand what E8 is, aside from grasping (I think) that it is a multi-dimensional representation of, er, something mathematical. Here's a bit about it from a past BBC news story - 248-dimension maths puzzle solved .....

An international team of mathematicians has detailed a vast complex numerical "structure" which was described more than a century ago.

Mapping the 248-dimensional structure, called E8, took four years of work and produced more data than the Human Genome Project, researchers said.

E8 is a "Lie group", a means of describing symmetrical objects.

The team said their findings may assist fields of physics which use more than four dimensions, such as string theory.

Lie groups were invented by the 19th Century Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie (pronounced "Lee").

Familar structures such as balls and cones have symmetry in three dimensions, and there are Lie groups to describe them. E8 is much bigger .....

"While mathematicians have known for a long time about the beauty and the uniqueness of E8, we physicists have come to appreciate its exceptional role only more recently," commented Hermann Nicolai, director of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (the Albert Einstein Institute) in Germany.


And here's a representation of E8 ....



I don't know if I'd recommend Wheel of Darkness - there were a couple of icky parts I wish I hadn't read - but it did bring up some interesting ideas. You can read the first chapter of the book here.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Herbert McCabe OP

More than one of McCabe’s sermons ends with something like this summary of the heart of the Christian faith: "For God the Father, through his Son, is even now sending us the Holy Spirit so that we shall ourselves live that life of love and joy for eternity." That formula returns us to the main point of McCabe’s ethics. Ethics does more then help us make choices in difficult situations; it helps us to discover the deep meaning of life, a meaning deeper than our superficial wants and desires. The job of ethics is to aid us in discovering and living out the deepest desires of our fleshly, human hearts. And that deepest desire, the end of all our lives, turns out to be nothing other than sharing the life of God available to us through the body of the man Jesus and the Spirit whom he sent. - from Don‘t talk nonsense: Why Herbert McCabe Still Matters by by L. Roger Owens, The Christian Century, January 25, 2005.

I'm still thinking about virtue ethics, and someone kindly recommended I look at Herbert McCabe's book, Law, Love and Language. I don't know if I'll get to the book, but not knowing anything about Herbert McCabe, I looked him up - what an interesting guy! Here's a little from Wikipedia ......

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Herbert McCabe (1926–2001) was a Dominican priest, theologian and philosopher .....

He became editor of the journal New Blackfriars in 1965 but was removed in 1967 following a now-famous editorial in that journal in which he criticised the theologian Charles Davis for leaving the Church. Davis left the Catholic Church publicly, denouncing it as corrupt. McCabe countered that of course the Church was corrupt but that this was no reason to leave it. He was reinstated three years later, and began his editorial that month in characteristically combative style: "As I was saying, before I was so oddly interrupted..." ......

He was a member of the Slant group and while firmly committed to Catholic orthodoxy, he was nonetheless unafraid to criticise what he perceived as erroneous applications of the tradition, such as the ban on contraception in Humanae Vitae, and the reservation of priestly ordination to men. He combined a commitment to the thought of Aquinas and Wittgenstein with a socialist political stance, influenced by Marxism .....

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Here's a bit about prayer from one of his books ......

"For real absolute waste of time you have to go to prayer. I reckon that more than 80 percent of our reluctance to pray consists precisely in our dim recognition of this and our neurotic fear of wasting time, of spending part of our life in something that in the end gets you nowhere, something that is not merely non-productive, non-money-making, but is even non-creative, it doesn't even have the justification of art and poetry. It is an absolute waste of time, it is a sharing into the waste of time which is the interior life of the Godhead. God is not in himself productive or creative. Sure he takes time to throw off a creation, to make something, to achieve something, but the real interior life of the Godhead is not in creation, it is in the life of love which is in the Trinity, the procession of Son from Father and of the Spirit from this exchange. God is not first of all our creator or any kind of maker, he is love, and his life is not like the life of the worker or artist but of lovers wasting time with each other uselessly. It is into this worthless activity that we enter in prayer. This, in the end, is what makes sense of it."
- p. 75, God Still Matters

To learn more about him, see the article in The Christian Century I linked to above, and you can read one of his homilies online - The Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) (C), 14 June 2001


St. George & Fr. Ron Rolheiser


- the cult of St. George originated in the Middle East, among Eastern Christians in the Holy Land. Here's the bas-relief on the sarcophagus of his tomb in Lot, Israel

Nope, I'm not aware of any actual connection between St. George and Fr. Rolheiser, but wanted to mention both today .... George gets a picture, but Fr. Rolheiser speaks to a question I received in comments to a recent (deleted) post - a sort of "why religion" question. The person who asked seemed to say that people became Christian to be better people, to become good. That's not true for me, though, and when I read Fr. Rolheiser's post I recognized my reason - I need to hear, I'm waiting to hear, my name spoken by God in love. Here's part of his post ....

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Mystic or Unbeliever

A generation ago, Karl Rahner made the statement that there would soon come a time when each of us will either be a mystic or a non-believer.

What's implied here? ...... There has be a deeper source than outside affirmation to give us meaning, justification, and energy to continue to do what faith asks of us. What is that source?

In the gospel of John, the first words out of Jesus' mouth are a question: "What are you looking for?" Essentially everything that Jesus does and teaches in the rest of John's gospel gives an answer to that question: We are looking for the way, the truth, the life, living water to quench our thirst, bread from heaven to satiate our hunger. But those answers are partially abstract. At the end of the gospel, all of this is crystallized into one image:

On Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdala goes out searching for Jesus. She finds him in a garden (the archetypal place where lovers meet) but she doesn't recognize him. Jesus turns to her and, repeating the question with which the gospel began, asks her: "What are you looking for?" Mary replies that she is looking for the body of the dead Jesus and could he give her any information as to where that body is. And Jesus simply says: "Mary". He pronounces her name in love. She falls at his feet

In essence, that is the whole gospel: What are we ultimately looking for? What is the end of all desire? What drives us out into gardens to search for love? The desire to hear God pronounce our names in love. To hear God, lovingly say: "Mary", "Jack", "Jennifer", "Walter".

Several years ago, I made a retreat that began with the director telling us: "I'm only going to try to do one thing with you this week, I'm going to try to teach you how to pray so that sometime (perhaps not this week or perhaps not even this year, but sometime) in prayer, you will open yourself up in such a way that you can hear God say to you - I love you! - because unless that happens you will always be dissatisfied and searching for something to give you a completeness you don't feel. Nothing will ever be quite right. But once you hear God say those words, you won't need do that restless search anymore.�

He's right. Hearing God pronounce our names in love is the core of mysticism and it is too the anchor we need when we face misunderstanding from without and depression from within ........

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Upping the Malthusian catastrophe

A couple of things from the past came to mind as I read the news stories about food riots around the world ..... the movie Soylent Green and the book The Population Bomb. One was science fiction and the other treated as science fiction but both spoke of an increasing population that caused incredible food shortages in the future.

Soylent Green is a 1973 dystopian science fiction movie depicting a bleak future in which overpopulation, global warming, and the resulting severe damage to the environment have led to widespread unemployment and poverty. Real fruit, vegetables, and meat are rare, expensive commodities ...... Half of the world's population survives on processed rations produced by the massive Soylent Corporation (from soy(bean) + lent(il)), including Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow, which are advertised as "high-energy vegetable concentrates". The newest product is Soylent Green - a small green wafer which is advertised as being produced from "high-energy plankton". It is much more nutritious and palatable than the red and yellow varieties, but it is in short supply, which often leads to riots. - Wikipedia

And ...

The Population Bomb (1968) is a book written by Paul R. Ehrlich. A best-selling work, it predicted disaster for humanity due to overpopulation and the "population explosion". ...... The book is primarily a repetition of the Malthusian catastrophe argument, that population growth will outpace agricultural growth unless controlled. Ehrlich assumes that the population is going to rise exponentially, but that the available resources, in particular food, are already at their limits. Whereas Thomas Malthus did not make a firm prediction of imminent catastrophe, Ehrlich warned of a potential massive disaster in the subsequent few years. Unlike Malthus, Ehrlich did not see any means of avoiding the disaster entirely. The solutions for limiting its scope that he proposed, including starving whole countries that refused to implement population control measures, were much more radical than those postulated by Malthus. - Wikipedia

Add today's problems of global warming and the use of crops for biofuel to overpopulation and we're up to speed. Here's just the beginning of an article from the Sunday Herald, 4/23/08 ....

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2008: The year of global food crisis

IT IS the new face of hunger. A perfect storm of food scarcity, global warming, rocketing oil prices and the world population explosion is plunging humanity into the biggest crisis of the 21st century by pushing up food prices and spreading hunger and poverty from rural areas into cities.

Millions more of the world's most vulnerable people are facing starvation as food shortages loom and crop prices spiral ever upwards.

And for the first time in history, say experts, the impact is spreading from the developing to the developed world.

More than 73 million people in 78 countries that depend on food handouts from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are facing reduced rations this year. The increasing scarcity of food is the biggest crisis looming for the world'', according to WFP officials.

At the same time, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned that rising prices have triggered a food crisis in 36 countries, all of which will need extra help. The threat of malnutrition is the world's forgotten problem'', says the World Bank as it demands urgent action.

The bank points out that global food prices have risen by 75% since 2000, while wheat prices have increased by 200%. The cost of other staples such as rice and soya bean have also hit record highs, while corn is at its most expensive in 12 years.

The increasing cost of grains is also pushing up the price of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. And there is every likelihood prices will continue their relentless rise, according to expert predictions by the UN and developed countries.

High prices have already prompted a string of food protests around the world, with tortilla riots in Mexico, disputes over food rationing in West Bengal and protests over grain prices in Senegal, Mauritania and other parts of Africa. In Yemen, children have marched to highlight their hunger, while in London last week hundreds of pig farmers protested outside Downing Street.

If prices keep rising, more and more people around the globe will be unable to afford the food they need to stay alive, and without help they will become desperate. More food riots will flare up, governments will totter and millions could die ......

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Passion Fish


- John Sayles on Passion Fish set

I don't understand the readings in John and it's the last (depressing) week of the retreat, so here's a bit instead about a movie I recently watched ..... Passion Fish.

This 1992 film (rated R), directed by John Sayles and starring Mary McDonnell (yes, she did work before Battlestar Galactica :), Alfre Woodard, and David Strathairn, speaks of disability and friendship and love and what people do when things don't turn out the way they'd hoped. Here's some of Roger Ebert's review of it .....

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Her life is essentially going nowhere before her accident. She's in a dead-end career, her marriage has ended, and she's filled with a deep discontent. Then she is paralyzed in an accident, and goes back home to Louisiana to recover, filled with resentment.

In a typical TV docudrama, this would be the setup for a heartwarming tale of uplift and courage. But John Sayles' "Passion Fish" cuts closer to the bone. This is a tough, muscular story about a headstrong woman who wants things to go her way.

The film stars Mary McDonnell as May-Alice, a soap opera star whose life is suddenly changed by fate. She has some money and a home down in the bayou country, where her family is from, and after she finishes with rehabilitation therapy (where she is a very poor candidate), she goes back down there to sit in her chair and drink wine and harbor her bitterness.

She has enough money to hire a full-time companion, and she interviews several of them, all with a lot of problems of their own.

A couple are hired for varying lengths of time, before they are fired or walk off the job. She is not easy to work for, and she has just about reached the bottom of the local employment pool when Chantelle, a black woman played by Alfre Woodard, arrives.

Chantelle is a strong woman, too. She is also determined to keep the job. She needs it, for more reasons than we know. She sizes up the situation, sees that May-Alice needs less coddling and a lot less wine, and tries to take charge. May-Alice fights back. And "Passion Fish" is essentially about the struggle of their wills.

John Sayles says he has been interested in such relationships between client and companion ever since he watched them develop in his own family. It is an interesting division of power: The companion is healthy and able-bodied, and has the freedom of movement. The client, like May-Alice, has power over the sources of money, and can try to control the other person through threats to their economic security. So there is a delicate balance, a struggle, sometimes unacknowledged, that goes on all day.

Sayles writes his own movies, which range from "Eight Men Out" to "Matewan" to the powerful "City of Hope," and he has rarely written more three-dimensional characters than this time.

Although his subject is a minefield of cliches and the material cries out to be processed into a disease-of-the-week docudrama, he creates vivid, original characters for his story - characters like Uncle Max (William Mahoney), who comes to visit and reveals his entire lifetime in a few sentences, or May-Alice's childhood friends, or the actresses who worked with her on television.

Each of these meetings between May-Alice and her past requires her to play a different role, and that's also the case when Rennie (David Strathairn) turns up one day to make some repairs on the house. This was the guy she had a crush on in high school, before she left him and all the rest of her early life behind and moved to New York. Now he is married, and she is in a wheelchair, and it seems as if all possibilities of romance have disappeared. But things are not always as they seem .....

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