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Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Thursday, December 31, 2015

My 2015 in review


- Tom Cruise in one of the movies I saw this year, Legend

So what went on with my blog this past year? Here's a sampling ...

- I posted about some movies I'd seen ... Jesus ... Anna Karenina ... Exodus: Gods and Kings ... Legend ... Interstellar ... The Internet's Own Boy ... The Impossible ... Total Recall ... Cinderella ... Jack's Back ... Avengers: Age of Ultron ... Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - Extended Edition ... Terminator Genisys and Jurassic World

- and some books I'd read ... The Fifth Gospel: A Novel ... The Martian ... Star Wars: Heir to the Empire (The Thrawn Trilogy) ... Sight Unseen (Star Trek: Titan) ... Downbelow Station

- I posted some of my photos (click to enlarge) ...









- I posted some music ....







- and I wrote some posts about Pope Francis ... The Pope's environmental encyclical ... The Pope and the Birth Control Ban ... Frank Brennan SJ on the Pope, the Jesuits, and the Dirty War ... Pope Francis the feminist? Nope ... The Pope’s Failure in Africa

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Forty years ago in a galaxy far far away



I haven't yet seen the Star Wars film but I'm looking forward to it (and meanwhile I'm now reading The Last Command: Star Wars (The Thrawn Trilogy)). Today I saw a commentary by Cornell psych professor Peggy Decker: Carrie Fisher's aging gets judged; Harrison Ford's doesn't ...

Nearly as predictable as the record-breaking box office numbers coming out of JJ Abrams's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is the reaction to the appearance in the film of Carrie Fisher, who reprises a role she first took on some 40 years ago. A number of film goers have taken to Twitter to express disdain that -- spoiler alert! -- Fisher doesn't look as they seemed to expect she might; that the reality of her face interfered, it seems, with their enjoyment of the fantasy flick.

This, in turn, has led to a heated, if tedious, debate over whether or not Fisher has aged well, as if "aging well" was a talent to be celebrated and not an entirely subjective construct used again and again to remind women in Hollywood and elsewhere that they're only as good as their lineless foreheads (which, notably, are nearing extinction). Finally, Fisher was forced to weigh in, taking to Twitter to remind people that she has feelings, and that they were getting hurt, but also that "youth and beauty are not accomplishments." .....






Why does it have to be so hard to be female? :(

Monday, December 28, 2015

"You can’t abandon life ... "



I'm listening to Turn Coat as I walk. The main character, Harry the wizard/private investigator, has just seen something so horrific that he's barely able to hold on to his sanity, but he doesn't give up ....

“Come on, Harry,” I muttered to myself. “Get used to the idea.”

And I thought about the thing I’d Seen.

It hurt. But when I came back to myself, I did it again. And again. And again.

Yes, I’d Seen something horrible. Yes, it was a hideous terror. But I’d Seen other things, too.

I called up those memories, too, all of them just as sharp and fresh as the horror pressing upon me. I’d Seen good people screaming in madness under the influence of black magic. I’d Seen the true selves of men and women, good and bad, Seen people kill—and die. I’d Seen the Queens of Faerie as they prepared for battle, drawing all their awful power around them.

And I’d be damned if I was going to roll over for one more horrible thing doing nothing but jumping from one rooftop to another.

“Come on, punk,” I snarled at the memory. “Next to those others, you’re a bad yearbook picture.”

And I hit myself with it, again and again, filling my mind with every horrible and beautiful thing I had ever Seen—and as I did, I focused on what I had bloody well done about it. I remembered the things I’d battled and destroyed. I remembered the strongholds of nightmares and terrors that I had invaded, the dark gates I’d kicked down. I remembered the faces of prisoners I’d freed, and the funerals of those I’d been too late to save. I remembered the sounds of voices and laughter, the joy of loved ones reunited, the tears of the lost and bereaved.

There are bad things in the world. There’s no getting away from that. But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done about them. You can’t abandon life just because it’s scary, and just because sometimes you get hurt.


I'm not sure I'd always agree with his last statement, but I admire his courage.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Trying to remember tai chi


- a blurry me from the distant past, practicing tai chi

I'm thinking of trying to learn tai chi again - my knee is a bit better and maybe it would be good to add something to the walking. I used to know how to do tai chi: just after college I joined a martial arts school and talked my mom into coming along too. She really liked it and progressed farther than me. Here she is (in the purple) with her tai chi group ...



I still have her wooden practice sword ...



Unfortunately I've forgotten how to do everything, so I've been looking at YouTube for some instruction - maybe Jet Li's school can help :) ...


Friday, December 25, 2015

Some smiles for Christmas :)






Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas carol



Irish singer, Hozier. Most will remember him for his Grammy award winning song Take Me To Church (and Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin dancing to it), but here he does a Christmas carol ...


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Links



- From Crux: The Crux 2015 Christmas Book and DVD List. I mention it because one of the books is from the Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva - The Confessor. That's the series about the Israeli art restorer/agent that I've often posted about. I mentioned The Confessor in a past post about the Great Synagogue of Rome. Here's what Allen says about the book ...

I spend a lot of time on airplanes, and generally like to indulge a guilty pleasure by reading spy novels. The Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva is always in the mix, and “The Confessor” is my absolute favorite because it involves a juicy Vatican conspiracy — confronted, in this case, by an Israeli spy, working in tandem with a reforming pope and his basically agnostic but ferociously loyal priest-secretary. It’s all fantasy, of course, but let me just say this: Silva, a former journalist who was born Catholic but converted to Judaism, deserves an honorary membership card in the Vaticanologist union, because he really did his homework. (Anyone who doesn’t recognize a real Vatican personality in his depiction of the fictional Cardinal Secretary of State Marco Brindisi, for instance, just hasn’t been paying attention.)

- From NPR: The Case Against Wearing Hijab To Support Muslim Women and from the Washington Post" Meet the honor brigade, an organized campaign to silence debate on Islam

- An article by Nick Trakakis at ABC Religion & Ethics: Why I Am Not Orthodox. I had posted about him in 2006.

- In Harper's Magazine: When I Die: An end-of-life doctor faces his own end

- From TIME: The best space photos of 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Fallen tree



Last night a big dead tree fell over here. I had been worried about this happening but thought it would be too expensive to have someone cut it down. It missed the kitchen window and it doesn't seem to have fallen on any creatures - I haven't seen Thor the cat yet today, though :(

Monday, December 21, 2015

"We are not too sexy for our hair."

See, I'm not the only one who thinks the recent love fest with the hijab is a wrongheaded embrace of a sexist symbol. Here's the beginning of an article I saw today at the Washington Post ...

As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the ‘hijab’ in the name of interfaith solidarity

Last week, three female religious leaders – a Jewish rabbi, an Episcopal vicar and a Unitarian reverend – and a male imam, or Muslim prayer leader, walked into the sacred space in front of the ornately-tiled minbar, or pulpit, at the Khadeeja Islamic Center in West Valley City, Utah, the women smiling widely, their hair covered with swaths of bright scarves, to support “Wear a Hijab” day.

The Salt Lake Tribune published a photo of fresh-faced teenage girls from Corner Canyon High School at the mosque, their hair covered with long scarves. KSL TV later reported: “The hijab — or headscarf — is a symbol of modesty and dignity. When Muslim women wear headscarves, they are readily identified as followers of Islam.”

For us, as mainstream Muslim women, born in Egypt and India, the spectacle at the mosque was a painful joke and reminder of the well-financed effort by conservatives to dominate modern Muslim societies. This modern-day movement spreads an ideology of political Islam, called “Islamism,” enlisting unsuspecting well-intentioned do-gooders, while promoting the headscarf for women as a virtual “sixth pillar” of Islam, after the traditional “five pillars,” the shahada (or proclamation of faith), prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage. We reject this interpretation. We are not too sexy for our hair.

This modern-day movement, codified by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Taliban Afghanistan and the Islamic State, has erroneously made the Arabic word hijab synonymous with “headscarf,” furthering a sexist interpretation of Islam that women and girls must “protect” their “honor” by covering their hair. Hijab literally means, “curtain” in Arabic. It also means “hiding,” ”obstructing” and “isolating” someone or something. It is never used in the Koran to mean headscarf ........

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Two Towers - Extended Edition


- Shadowfax :)

This week's movie rental was Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - Extended Edition. As in the first movie of the trilogy, there were lots of bits left out of the theatrical version. The extended version made the story and the characters more complete.



One scene I liked was where Aragorn soothes a frightened horse, speaking elvish to him ...





Another scene I especially liked was one in which we saw a glimpse of the past, an encounter between Boromir, his younger brother Faramir, and their father, which helps us to understand Faramir's character .....



I'm really enjoying the extended version. Next up - The Return of the King.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Victor Victoria



Today's the first time I've had to take one of the cats living in my yard to the vet, aside from for spaying/neutering. It was Vicky .... she had gotten in a cat fight and a bite on her head had turned into an abscess. They gave her some antibiotic shots and we're supposed to makes sure the wound keeps draining, but the shocker of the visit was finding out Vicky is a neutered male. For the last two years, I've thought she was a girl - the mystery of her never having babies though I'd not yet caught her for spaying is now solved. It's hard getting used to the change, though :)

One God

In the news - The Professor Suspended for Saying Muslims and Christians Worship One God. I thought what the teacher said about God was fine, but I wish she hadn't picked the hijab as her symbol of solidarity - to me the covering up of women's hair/bodies is a sign of sexism.

But anyway, I thought it might be interesting to watch a 2007 lecture by Keith Ward, former Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford, that touches on the 'one God' thing. It's titled Islam and Christianity: Is a clash of civilisations inevitable?.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Posting about religion

Sorry I haven't been writing much about religion lately. I'm feeling kind of discouraged with it, both with the Catholic church and with my own beliefs.

I can remember how excited and hopeful I was when Francis was chosen as pope. The day after the conclave, there was a story in the news that he had visited the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the church where the notorious Bernard Law holds sway, and had banished him. The story was completely erroneous. The disappointment I felt in the pope has only been compounded as time has gone by. While he's loved by the press and by moderate Catholics, I see a man who has done nothing for women in the church, has done nothing either for LGBT people, has made no real change in the clergy sex abuse situation, has clung to a failed teaching on birth control even in the face of its effect on climate change. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

And meanwhile, my prayer life is pretty yucky. I had read Teresa of Ávila's The Interior Castle and Ignatius of Loyola's Autobiography .... they both had mystical experiences that seemed to be undoubtable ... and that's what I've used as a benchmark for prayer life. But I don't think I've ever really achieved that, and over the years the bad things that have happened to me and to others have made it increasingly hard for me to believe there's a God who really cares about us.

So, I'm feeling less attracted to writing posts on religion, but I haven't completely given up on religious posting or religion. Yet. ;)

Monday, December 14, 2015

To hell and back



Just watched the final winter episode of Once Upon a Time, in which Captain Hook dies heroically, sacrificing himself to save everyone else :( ....



But all is not lost - Emma and her parents (Snow White and Prince Charming) and friends will travel to the very underworld to bring him back ...



I love this show - must be all the fairy tales I read as a kid and teen. I think many people look down on them, but fairy tales have a sort of elemental worth. I don't usually like what Rowan Williams writes, but here's a past article by him on the subject ... Rowan Williams: why we need fairy tales now more than ever

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Old song

Friday, December 11, 2015

Out in the yard








Thursday, December 10, 2015

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - Extended Edition



This week's movie rental was Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - Extended Edition.



This version has been available for years but it has only just made it to Netflix. I loved the theatrical version but I liked this version even more - I had no idea so much of the film had been trimmed.



Here are a couple of bits that had been cut out of the theatrical version. On the trek to Rivendell, Aragorn sings a song about an elf who marries a mortal ...



And here's the fellowship arriving in Lothlórien ...



Looking forward to The Two Towers next.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Fiat Lux

The Vatican Like You've Never Seen It Before ... St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican will be transformed Tuesday into the canvas for a spectacular public art project designed to draw attention to climate change and endangered species.


Monday, December 07, 2015

Links

- Duke NT scholar Mark Goodacre gives a brief talk on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the childhood of Jesus. I read that non-canonical gospel shortly after becoming a Christian ... a bit creepy! It has some nice imagery, like that of the child Jesus bringing clay birds to life, but it also shows him as a murderer ...



- Russian priests pose with pet cats in hit 2016 calendar

- Who knew there were medieval Irish "abortionist" saints? Research examines the ‘abortionist saints’ of medieval Ireland ... A recent article on sexuality and childbirth in early medieval Ireland reveals some surprising attitudes towards abortion held among the Christians during this period, and that hagiographical texts recount four Irish saints performing abortions .... The saints who took part in these abortions were Ciarán of Saigir, Áed mac Bricc, Cainnech of Aghaboe, and Brigid of Kildare – who are thought to have lived during the fifth and sixth centuries.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

San Bernardino shooting

Watching a news video at Google about the San Bernardino shooting ...



I've been to San Bernardino - it's about 400 miles south of here, near Los Angeles. Though California has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, the Weapons in San Bernardino Shootings Were Legally Obtained. My sister, who lived in Japan for years, said the gun laws there are very strict. A recent article in The Atlantic goes into detail ...

[...] Almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed. Even the country's infamous, mafia-like Yakuza tend to forgo guns; the few exceptions tend to become big national news stories .... The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do ....

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.


I fear that no really useful gun control legislation will get passed in the US, much less something like in Japan, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying ... Reform might be difficult, complicated or unlikely. Debate about it may rally those on either side of the cause. But that really is not a valid reason to abandon all efforts to create change.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Terminator Genisys and Jurassic World

I had been looking forward to watching and posting about a couple of movies - Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys - but somehow that seems irrelevant given all the mayhem in the news. Maybe instead I should post about the need for gun control, the creepiness of religious fundamentalism, the depressing probability of the extinction of all animal life due to climate change, and then there's the fact that I'm beginning to believe God doesn't care about us, or worse, just doesn't exist. Or maybe on second thought I should just go ahead and write about those escapist movies after all - I think they and their ilk are the only things keeping me (sort of) sane. So ...



One of this week's movie rental was Terminator Genisys ...

a 2015 American science fiction action film, directed by Alan Taylor and written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier. The fifth installment in the Terminator franchise, the film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, reprising his role as the eponymous character, along with Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, and Jai Courtney. The film's plot follows soldier Kyle Reese (Courtney) in the war against Skynet, an artificial general intelligence seeking to destroy the human race. In a sequence of events similar to 1984's The Terminator, John Connor (Jason Clarke), leader of the Human Resistance, sends Reese back in time from 2029 to 1984 to protect Connor's mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), who is being targeted by Skynet. However, once Reese arrives in the past he discovers the timeline has been altered, and Sarah has been raised by a reprogrammed Terminator, known as the Guardian (Schwarzenegger), since her childhood.

The movie will probably be best appreciated by those who, like me, are fans of the whole series. The story creates a new and different timeline, effectively changing history and opening up a new future for the characters. This was frowned upon by critics, but I'm not sure why .... this was the same M.O. used by J.J.Abrams to reboot the Star Trek franchise (see Star Trek). But if you find the whole alternate Terminator timeline thing confusing, here's a brief explanation :) ...



I did enjoy the movie, especially all the references to the first two films in the series, and the special effects were interesting. It was fun to see Arnold make a reappearance too. The one thing I didn't really like was this version of the character Kyle Reese. There have been 4 iterations of him in the various movies, the last one being played by Anton Yelchin in Terminator Salvation, but my favorite has always been the first version played by Michael Biehn. Here's an interview with him from back in the day, discussing Terminator and another James Cameron film he had just finished, Aliens ...



And here's a trailer for Terminator Genysis ...





The other film I watched was Jurassic World ...

a 2015 American science fiction adventure film. It is the fourth installment of the Jurassic Park series. It was directed and co-written by Colin Trevorrow, produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley, and stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard .... Set twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, Jurassic World takes place on the same fictional island of Isla Nublar, off the Pacific coast of Central America, where a fully functioning dinosaur theme park has operated for ten years. The park plunges into chaos when a genetically modified dinosaur, Indominus rex, breaks loose and goes on a bloody rampage across the island.



I'm a fan of the whole Jurassic Park thing. The two books - Jurassic Park and The Lost World by Michael Crichton - from which the first two films in the series were made are some of my most favorite reads. The movie I liked best of the series up til now has been the third ....Jurassic Park III ... which starred Sam Neill, William H. Macy, and Téa Leoni.

I did like this film too and critics mostly liked it as well. The Guardian gave it 4 out of 5 stars in its review and here's a bit from a review in The Atlantic ...

[T]his is not a movie that you go to for the human beings, and the dinos on display are consistently first-rate, from the armor-plated ankylosaurs to the whale-sized mosasaur, to the wide variety of flying pterosaurs. Director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) has a nice eye for the action sequences, and he keeps the film moving along at a sharp enough clip that its deficiencies of characterization and plot never quite prove fatal. (Among the latter is the decision to release a pack of deadly, poorly trained velociraptors in the hopes that they’ll hunt down the Indominus, a plan that practically comes in a manila envelope with “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” stamped on it in red lettering.).

A trailer ...


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Pope’s Failure in Africa

Here's the beginning of this NYT's editorial by Paul Vallely ...

The Pope’s Failure in Africa

Pope Francis, now safely back in Rome, missed a major opportunity on his trip to Africa. His pleas for peace and reconciliation between the continent’s Christians and Muslims were well-received, by both faiths. His castigation of the indifference of the rich, as he stood amid a cardboard slum, was apt. He was widely applauded when he warned of catastrophe if this week’s Paris climate negotiations do not succeed. But when it came to the way gay people are treated on a continent in which homosexuality is illegal in many countries, he offered only a deafening silence.

His defenders will say that gay rights are a Western obsession and that it would have been counterproductive for Francis to raise the matter on such a brief visit to a continent which is hostile to the pope’s desire to make the Roman Catholic Church more welcoming to people who are gay, or divorced or cohabiting without being married. But that is wrong. How gays are treated is fundamental to the future of the universal church — and Pope Francis knows it ....

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Links

- Pope Francis passes up chance to condemn Uganda’s anti-gays ... Homophobia is rife in present-day Uganda .... Despite the hopes of LGBT activists and supporters, the pope made no mention of the persecution of gay people in his homily.

- For Robert Dear, Religion and Rage Before Planned Parenthood Attack ... One person who spoke with him extensively about his religious views said Mr. Dear, who is 57, had praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing “God’s work.” In 2009, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for the privacy of the family, Mr. Dear described as “heroes” members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion extremists that has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings.

- Thinking about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Saw a story in The Atlantic about Gates ... ‘We Need an Energy Miracle’: Bill Gates has committed his fortune to moving the world beyond fossil fuels and mitigating climate change. ... and I've been looking at the trailer for the movie (staring Michael Fassbender) about Jobs ...