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Friday, June 30, 2006


- Kilmer

A friend of mine, Jess, just got back from a vacation visiting the Wind River Indian Reservation in WY, and that reminded meof yet another ... yes ... movie.

Thunderheart, a 1992 film starring Val kilmer and Graham Greene. Kilmer plays a young FBI agent sent to investigate a murder on an Indian reservation in South Dakota. Roger Ebert had this to say about the movie ...

- Greene

In "Thunderheart," he (Kilmer) plays agent Ray Levoi, who is at first undemonstrative and even rigid in his dealings with the locals. He's like one of those cops who is blind to the human situation because he's preoccupied with running the rule book through his mind. He's assigned to the case on the reservation on the unconvincing grounds that he is one-fourth Indian. His first contact is the Native American lawman, played by Graham Greene ( Oscar-nominated last year for his work in "Dances with Wolves"). Soon he encounters agent Frank Coutelle, played by Sam Shepard as a laconic cynic .... The movie was directed by Michael Apted and written by John Rusco, who base their story on actual events in the Dakota reservations in the early 1970s when a militant group named American Indian Movement defied the FBI. This fictionalized version of the encounter involves a conspiracy to steal lands from the Indians, and the mechanics of the murder mystery and investigation are well worked out and involving.
- read the whole review

One of the interesting things about the movie is that it's based on real life events that took plac on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the early 70s.

Starting on February 27, 1973, the reservation was the site of the Wounded Knee Incident, a 71-day stand-off between entrenched American Indian Movement (AIM) activists and FBI agents and the National Guard. Some 200 activists occupied the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre in protest of poor conditions on the reservations. In the months after the stand-off ended peacefully, a number of murders of those opposed to the tribal government installed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs took place, many of which were never solved. On June 26, 1975, the reservation was the site of an armed confrontation between AIM activists and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in an event which became known as the Pine Ridge Shootout (Wounded Knee Incident). It resulted the death of two FBI agents and the controversial extradition, trial, and conviction of the AIM member Leonard Peltier.
- Wikipedia

Ebert ends his review with this note ...

This sense of place helps the movie with its weakest story element, the supposition that because the Kilmer character is a quarter Indian, he will somehow summon up his roots to help him decide between good and evil. An FBI agent at the time this film was shot would probably have had little difficulty in choosing between his roots and the rule book, and the rules would have won ...

Perhaps the movie trys to achieve something, through Kilmer's character, that we can see, given the Wounded Knee Incident, is sadly harder to realize in real life ... a peaceful coexistance between two disparate heritages.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Dead Zone

This week's DVD rental ... The Dead Zone. Made in 1983, starring Christopher Walken and directed by David Cronenberg, it is not to be confused with the USA network's TV series. The movie was made from a book of the same name by Stephen King ... of all his stories I've read, I found this one to be both the best and the saddest. It deals with pathos, but also some important philosophical questions, one of which is, would it be ethical to murder one man, if by doing so, you could save the lives of millions?

Roger Ebert writes in his review ...

"The Dead Zone" does what only a good supernatural thriller can do: It makes us forget it is supernatural. Like "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Exorcist," it tells its story so strongly through the lives of sympathetic, believable people that we not only forgive the gimmicks, we accept them. There is pathos in what happens to the Christopher Walken character in this movie and that pathos would never be felt if we didn't buy the movie's premise .... Walken does such a good job of portraying Johnny Smith, the man with the strange gift, that we forget this is science fiction or fantasy or whatever and just accept it as this guy's story.

Wikipedia sets up the plot ...

Johnny Smith (Walken) is a young New England schoolteacher in love with his colleague Sarah (Adams) when he is involved in a serious car accident that sends him into a coma. He awakens under the care of neurologist Dr. Weizak (Lom) and counts himself fortunate when he notes no casts, bandages or visible signs of injuries on his body. However, the awakening turns rude when he is told that five years have passed since he last knew consciousness: his girlfriend has long since married and had a child.

Not only has Johnny lost his job, his girl and his physical health (he needs crutches and later a cane), he has also been "gifted" with an ability to forsee the futures of those he touches. Soon he also learns that he can change that future that he's seen. When Johnny shakes the hand of political candidate Greg Stillson (played by Martin Sheen), he realizes that Stillson will, as president of the US, instigate a world-wide thermal nuclear holocaust, and then Johnny must decide if he should do something to change that horrifying future scenario. He asks his one friend, his doctor, a hypothetical wuestion ...

Johnny - If you could go back in time to Germany, before Hitler came to power, knowing what you know now, would you kill him?
Doctor - I'm a man of medicine. I'm expected to save lives and ease suffering. I love people. Therefore, I would have no choice but to kill the son of a bitch.
Johnny - You'd never get away alive.
Doctor - It doesn't matter. I would kill him.

As Johnny prepares to do what he's decided must be done, knowing he'll not survive it, the film has a voice-over of a letter he'd written to his former girlfriend ...

Dear Sarah,
lt is a hard letter to write, so I'll make it short. I can't go on hiding anymore. That's what l've been doing-- running and hiding. I had this figured out all wrong. I always thought my power was a curse, but now I can see it 's a gift. By the time you get this letter, it'll be all over. You never will understand why. Nobody ever will, but I know what I'm doing. And I know I'm right. Just remember there's never been anyone for me except you. Just wasn't in the cards for us, I guess. I'll always love you, Sarah.
- Johnny.


Though I liked the movie very much, I'm not sure I subscribe to this idea that to kill one very bad person in order to save the lives of many others is ethical ... it's a kind of "ends justifying the means" philosophy. This is, however, the choice the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer made.


I saw this qwuiz - Which Action Hero Would You Be? - at Gabriele's blog and I had to post it here too.

My results were ...

You scored as Neo, the "One".

Neo is the computer hacker-turned-Messiah of the Matrix. He leads a small group of human rebels against the technology that controls them. Neo doubts his ability to lead but doesn't want to disappoint his friends. His goal is for a world where all men know the Truth and are free from the bonds of the Matrix.

St. Alexander Nevsky

Before this blog, I had another one. Here's a retread from the past ...

On this, the Eastern Orthodox Easter, and as the opening approaches of what looks to be an exciting film on the Holy Land Crusades - Kingdom of Heaven,- my thoughts turn to a different movie, one about the crusade against the Orthodox Church.

It was my college boyfriend who introduced me to thie Russian saint, Alexander Nevsky, through the movie of the same name by Russian film-maker Sergei Eisenstein. The movie, with music by Prokofiev, was made in 1938 and directly requested of Eisenstein by Stalin ... it describes a 13th century conflict between the Russian (and Eastern Orthodox) people of Novgorod and the Catholic Teutonic Knights, ending in an epic battle on a frozen lake. The story would be intersting enough if it were fiction, but it's based on real events during the Baltic Crusades.

- Teutonic Knights

The Crusades were “armed pilgrimages” called and blessed by the Pope, originally to reclaim Jerusalem and its surrounding territory in the Middle East, both considered “holy land,” for the Catholic Church. The enemies in these Crusades were supposed to be non-Christian, primarily followers of Islam. As the balances of power shifted in the 12th century, the Eastern Orthodox Church, based in Constantinople and the seat of the Christian Byzantine Empire, became a focus of the Crusades as well ... the motivation of the combatants—primarily knights and princes—was more related to acquisition of land and power than holiness, although the granting to Crusaders of eternal salvation by the Pope was a meaningful incentive. - The Baltic Crusade

The Teutonic Knights, founded in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade, took over most of the crusading and missionary work of the Baltic Crusades after the fall of Acre in 1291. With the help of Sweden, the Knights planned a joint campaign against the city of Novgorod, and that's when Aleander Nevsky joins the story.

Alexander (1220-1263) was the son of Prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich of Novgorod and to him fell the task of defending the city. The Swedes, who were encouraged to invade both by a gain of the fur trade in the region and by a papal bull advocating the religious conversion of those Orthodox, disembarked on the banks of the Neva river in July 1240. The twenty year old prince Alexander took his small army and, with a surprise attack, completely routed the Swedes. The battle saved Russia from a full-scale invasion from the North and Alexander was thus given the name of “Nevsky”.

In the spring of 1241, Novgorod was again threatened, this time by the Teutonic Knights. Alexander gathered a rag-tag army and on April 5, 1242, faced and defeated the cavalry of the Knights on the ice of Lake Chudskoye/Peipsi - the German invasion was derailed.

Alexander’s victory was a significant event in the history of the Middle Ages. Russian foot soldiers had surrounded and defeated an army of knights, mounted on horseback and clad in thick armor, long before they learned how foot soldiers could prevail over mounted knights in Western Europe. Nevsky's great victory against the Teutonic Order apparently involved only a few knights killed rather than the hundreds claimed by the Russian chroniclers; decisive medieval and early modern battles were won and lost with small forces to modern eyes. The cultural value of the victory greatly outshone its strategic value, at the time and ever since. - Wikipedia

Alexander faced other problems, including vassalage to the Tartars, but he managed to maintain for his Russia the religious, if not political, freedom that he'd defended from the Swedes and the Germans. For these reasons, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Alexander in 1547.

- Icon of St. Titus, St. Alexander Nevsky, and St. Polycarp

I hope the day soon comes when all wounds between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are healed.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Science Fiction / B5

Mark's post for today at You Duped Me Lord about science fiction made me think of my favorite and sadly defunct science fiction TV series, Babylon 5. I've mentioned it before, I think, but if you've never seen it and couldn't care less, I hope you'll read on a bit, for B5 was unique in a number of ways, and you can still have the pleasure of experiencing it on DVD or tape.

One unusual thing about B5 was the quality ... the show won a number of awatds, including two Hugo awards for best dramatic presentation. Another atypical thing about the show was the technical advisor chosen ... Harlan Ellison, Nebula and Hugo award winning science fiction writer of such classics as A Boy and his Dog and "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman. The most interesting thing about B5 may be that is was written as a single story, by J. Michael Straczynski, with a five year arc from beginning to end ... as Wikipedia writes ...

The hub of the story is set in the 23rd century (2258-2262 AD) on a large space station named Babylon 5; the five mile (8 km) long, 2.5 million ton rotating colony is built to be a gathering place for fostering peace through diplomacy, trade, and cooperation. Babylon 5 is a center of political intrigue and conflict, and eventually becomes a pawn in a massive interstellar conflict from which it emerges with a victory over forces of darkness and chaos, albeit at great cost .... main characters grow, develop, live, and die. An unabashedly political show, it was always ready to deal with politics, sex, religion, and philosophy.

And something I especially appreciated ...

It was also the first sci-fi series to respect Newtonian physics in its space battle sequences, since utilised in other series such as Joss Whedon's Firefly and the Sci-Fi Channel version of Battlestar Galactica.
- Wikipedia

... for as we all know, if, in spece, no one can hear you scream, they definitely can't hear your exploding spce ship go "ka-boom" :-). The construction of the space station (B5) was based on the O'Neill cylinder, a space habitat design proposed by Gerard K. O'Neill, a physicist at Princeton, in his book The High Frontier.

There are some major themes that run through the stroyline of B5 (Wikipedia does a nice job of examining them) but here are two that especially touched me ...

Authoritarianism vs. Chaos - (light vs. dark vs. gray) -
The central theme in Babylon 5 is the conflict between order and chaos, and the people caught in between. The Vorlons and the Earth Alliance Government (as it had been under President Clark) both represent oppressive, authoritarian philosophies: you will do what we tell you to, because we tell you to do it .... The Shadows represent chaos. Their belief is that by creating conflict, a stronger generation is born — pure "survival of the fittest". To accomplish this, the Shadows encourage conflict between other groups, who choose to serve their own glory or profit. ....The Rangers ... represent a third way; their unwavering commitment to compassion and self-sacrifice, epitomised by the character of Marcus Cole, opposes both the emotionless war of the Vorlons and the chaotic brutality of the Shadows .... Ultimately, the main characters try to strike a balance: sometimes selfish, sometimes self-sacrificing, and making many mistakes along the way. Sometimes they impress us, and sometimes they horrify us.

Love -
Unrequited love may be the source of all pain in Babylon 5. Ivanova loses everyone she loves. Lennier is the ultimate victim of unrequited love, but also of his own immaturity. Sheridan and Delenn know true love; Sheridan comes back from the dead for love .... Marcus says, "Sometimes love is funny, sometimes very sad." Garibaldi takes a long time to figure it out. Ivanova says she doesn't speak with her heart any more. Vir knows what true love is from the beginning; his problem is getting to "number six". In the first season, Sinclair is cautioned by Garibaldi to find something to live for, rather than something for which to die. Later in the series, Marcus, the chaste warrior, sacrifices his life for the woman he loves. It was only at the last moment that he could tell her this.

It's hard to encompass all that'ss worthy in Babylon 5, but I hope from the little I've posted here, I've aroused some curiosity about the series.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What's in a name?

Today's the Solemnity of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, and despite Shakespeare's implication that a name means little, the naming of John makes us wonder ...

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed.
- Luke 1:57-63

- The Virgin, the Baby Jesus and Saint John the Baptist, William Bouguereau

Hildegard of Bingen

In my net travels, I came across a page that lists mystics ... Who's Who in the History of Western Mysticism by Professor Bruce B. Janz. One of the mystics listed was Hildegard of Bingen. Here's a bit about her ...

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) is a particularly fine example of a German Medieval female intellectual and artist. She wrote The Divine Works of a Simple Man; The Meritorious Life; 65 hymns; a miracle play; and a long treatise of nine books on the different natures of trees, plants, animals, birds, fish, minerals, & metals. The Mother Superior, from early in life, claimed to have visions. When the Papacy supported these claims, her position as an important thinker was galvanized. The visions became part of one of her seminal works, Scivias (Know the Ways of the Lord), which consists of 35 visions relating and illustrating the history of salvation in 1142. The illustrations in the Scivias, as exemplified in the first illustration showing Hildegarde experiencing visions while seated in the monastery at Bingen, differ greatly from others created in Germany in the period. They are characterized by bright colors, emphasis on line, and simplified forms. While Hildegard likely did not pen the image, their idiosyncratic nature leads one to believe they were created under her close supervision.
- Women Artists - Wikipedia

And more about her music ...

Approximately eighty compositions survive, which is a far larger repertoire than almost any other medieval composer. Among her better known works is the Ordo Virtutum ("Order of the Virtues" or "Play of the Virtues"), a type of early oratorio for women's voices, with one male part - that of the Devil. Much of her music was created with an evangelical purpose to be performed not only by the nuns of her convent but also by male communities as evidenced by her gift to the Cistercian Abbey at Villers. The text of her compositions uses a form of modified medieval Latin unique to Hildegard, for which she created some invented, conflated and abridged words ...
- Hildegard of Bingen - Wikipedia

Below are some illustrations from Scivias (there are no officals titles for the illustrations) ...

- Self-portrait

- Cosmic Egg

- Creation

- detail

- Taming the Devil

- Light Stars, Dark Stars

- New Heaven, New Earth

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Poetry and Theology

Poetry ... I find it hard to understand, but it conveys something about religion that reasoned arguments and footnoted essays can't. Theology Today usually has poetry in each issue, and in the article quoted below (October 1995 - Vol. 52, No. 3), Patrick D. Miller writes about why that is so.

.... If one starts with some reflection on the place of poetry in the Christian tradition, then the combination of poetry and theology is not all that surprising. From Milton and Dante to Donne and Herbert, from Gerard Manley Hopkins to Eliot and Auden, there is a powerful and highly influential strain of poetic articulation of religious and specifically Christian sentiments and tradition.


The play of poetry allows a play in theology that is less permissible in theology's more discursive forms. The ambiguity of expression that is intrinsic to poetry permits paradox, contradiction, multivalency, and open-ended articulation of matters of faith. The elliptical style of poetry, which means it may leave out as much as it includes, also gives room to play and resists finality, completion, and closure at every point. That is why poetry is often "difficult." What eye and ear perceive and hear make us aware that there is more here than meets the eye and ear. The images of poetry speak to startle and puzzle us, to provoke us and cause us to think. They set the imagination free, opening the reader to theological possibilities that might be less acceptable or even unthinkable in the essay mode. Images, dreams, personal experiences, sensual realities-all these aspects of our life that are often filtered out of theological work are front and center when poetry is the medium of faith's expression ....

I don't always (ever? :-) really get poetry, but it touches me. Here's an example ...

The Angels

They all have weary mouths
and bright souls without marge.
And a yearning (as for sin)
sometimes haunts their dream.

They all seem so alike;
in God's garden silent they remain,
like many, many intervals
in his power and melody.

Only when their wings spread out,
they are the awakeners of a wind:
as if God with his broad hands
of a sculptor went through the pages
of the beginning's dark book.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

News Bits

Some stuff in the news today ...

San Francisco's plan: health care for all
San Francisco, eager to put its own stamp on the health care debate, unveiled an ambitious plan Tuesday that would make it the first city in the nation to provide every uninsured resident with access to medical services. When rolled out next year, the city's 82,000 uninsured residents would become eligible for a wide array of benefits, regardless of employment or immigration status. The complex, $200-million-a-year plan requires funding from existing government sources, uninsured residents who will pay based on income and a mandated contribution from all San Francisco employers with more than 20 workers.

Sounds good to me :-)

Resolution discourages gay bishops
With only hours left in the nine-day General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA, the body on Wednesday passed a resolution asking the church to refrain from considering gay and lesbian bishops.

Sigh. As a non- Anglican, maybe I shouldn't comment on what's happening, but I will post a link to a cartoon page on the Windsor Report ... the cartoons

East Timor president threatens to quit
Xanana Gusmao, East Timor's president has said he will step down if the prime minister does not assume responsibility for the country's crisis and resign, but the premier said he would not quit.

It's pretty scary in East Timor. I read elsewhere that the head of Caritas Australia has asked for an independent inquiry into how many people were killed during the recent violence in East Timor and establish who is responsible. It's calimed by some that a number of people have been killed and buried in secret graves. This is nothing new ...

The local Church has always supported the peoples’ struggle for independence, and paid a tribute of bloodshed in the building of the new nation. Three priests and two nuns were among between 1500 and 2000 victims in massacres which followed the 1999 referendum which voted for independence: a parish priest, Father Hilario Madeira and two Jesuits Father Karl Albrecht and Father Tarcisius Dewanto, Sister Erminia Cazzaniga and Sister Celeste Pinto.
- Society of St. Pius X

- Caritas Australia distributing non-food relief items in East Timor

Monday, June 19, 2006

Magical Thinking

A post today at The Lesser of Two Weevils, about the book Widdershins by Charles de Lint, made my thoughts turn to magic.

As an aspiring writer, I'm a fan of the literary gerre of Magic Realism ... think Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez. And as a person, I'm a fan of magic itself. I grew up on fairy tales and in college, my boyfriend bought me the complete set of the Andrew Lang Fairy Books ...

... and introduced me to HP Lovecraft's Necronomicon and historical oddities like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (with members WB Yeats, Arthur Machen and Aleister Crowley).

- Yeats

I'm not sure about the details of conflict between religion and magic ... maybe they can co-exist, and do so in books like the Deryni series by Katherine Kurtz, where the Catholic vowed religious practice magical rites. I should be the last one to define the difference as I'm often accused of magical thinking :-) but if there is a line between magic and Christianity (that line sometimes seemed blurred - think about Novenas) perhaps it has something to do with the difference between the need to make life's events conform to one's desires, and a trust in Divine Providence.

- Midsummer Eve by Edward R. Hughes

Sunday, June 18, 2006

St. Basil's Cathedral

One of the cathedrals I especially remember from art history classes is St. Basil's in Moscow. Wikipedia says of it ...

The cathedral was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible and built between 1555 and 1561 in Moscow to commemorate the capture of Khanate of Kazan. In 1588 Tsar Fedor Ivanovich had a chapel added on the eastern side above the grave of Basil Fool for Christ (yurodivy Vassily Blazhenny), a Russian Orthodox saint after whom the cathedral was popularly named .... Saint Basil's is located at the southeast end of Red Square (55°45′08.88″N, 37°37′23.00″E), just across from the Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin. Not particularly large, it consists of nine chapels built on a single foundation .... The initial concept was to build a cluster of chapels, one dedicated to each of the saints on whose feast day the tsar had won a battle, but the construction of a single central tower unifies these spaces into a single cathedral. Legend says that Ivan had the architect, Postnik Yakovlev, blinded to prevent him from building a more magnificent building for anyone else.

- closeup

- interior shot

- another

Here's a bit more about the saint, Basil, after whom the cathedral is named ...

Saint Basil or Vasily (known also as Vasily Blazhenny, Basil Fool for Christ or Basil the Blessed; Russian: Василий Блаженный) is a Russian Orthodox saint born to serfs in 1469 .... Basil is considered a yurodivy or holy fool. Originally an apprentice shoemaker in Moscow, he adopted an eccentric lifestyle of shoplifting and giving to the poor. He went naked and weighed himself down with chains. He rebuked Ivan the Terrible for not paying attention in church. He is buried in St. Basil's Cathedral.
- Wikipedia


You can read more about Basil atOrthodox Church in America

And more about Fools-For-Christ here

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Rowan Williams and Philip Pullman

A couple of years ago I bought the first book in a fantasy trilogy - His Dark Materials, by writer Philip Pullman. Here's part of what Wikipedia says of the trilogy ...

The trilogy follows the coming of age of two main characters, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, as they wander through a multiverse and a backdrop of epic events. The story begins in Northern Lights with fantasy elements such as gypsies, witches, and armored bears. As the trilogy progresses, it acquires allegorical layers of meaning, introducing a broad range of ideas fields such as metaphysics, quantum physics, philosophy (especially religious philosophy), and Biblical symbolism.

One of the things I liked best about that first book, The Golden Compass, was the introduction of the idea of personal Dæmons (not demons :-) ...

One defining aspect of Pullman's story is his concept of dæmons. In several universes in the trilogy's world, including that where Lyra Belacqua, the story's protagonist, is born, the human soul is manifested throughout life as an animal-shaped "dæmon" that always stays near its human counterpart. Dæmons can talk to their humans and to each other. During childhood, the dæmon can change its shape at will, but upon adolescence it settles into one form. The final form reveals the person's true nature and personality, implying that these stabilize after adolescence.

One of the controversial things about the trilogy is its largely unflattering view of Christianity. On that subject, I came across an interview/conversation between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and the author of His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman, in which they explore how literature, theatre, poetry and film convey religious experience, as well as the significance of mythology, gnosticism and the deeply held conviction of many that things are not what they seem :-). The whole interview can be read here, but I've posted some of it below ...

- Pullman and Williams

Dr Rowan Williams:
I suppose one of the questions I would like to hear more about from Philip is what has happened to Jesus in the church in this world [of His Dark Materials], because one of the interesting things for me in the model of the church in the plays and the books, is it's a church, as it were, without redemption.

It's entirely about control. And although I know that's how a lot of people do see the church, you won't be surprised to know that that's not exactly how I see it. Chance would be a fine thing! There is also the other question which I raised last week about the fascinating figure of The Authority in the books and the plays, who is God for all practical purposes in lots of people's eyes, but yet, of course, is not the Creator. So those are of course the kinds of differences that I am intrigued by here.

Philip Pullman:
Well, to answer the question about Jesus first, no, he doesn't figure in the teaching of the church, as I described the church in the story. I think he's mentioned once, in the context of this notion of wisdom that works secretly and quietly, not in the great courts and palaces of the earth, but among ordinary people and so on. And there are some teachers who have embodied this quality, but whose teaching has perhaps been perverted or twisted or turned, and been used in a fashion that they themselves didn't either desire or expect or could see happening.

So there's a sort of reference to the teaching of Jesus which I may return to in the next book - but I don't want to anticipate too much because I've found that if I tell people what I'm going to write about, I don't write it, something happens to prevent it, so I'd better not anticipate that too much. But I'm conscious that that is a question that has been sort of hovering over people's understanding of the story anyway.

The figure of The Authority is rather easier. In the sort of creation myth that underlies His Dark Materials, which is never fully explicit but which I was discovering as I was writing it, the notion is that there never was a Creator, instead there was matter, and this matter gradually became conscious of itself and developed Dust. Dust sort of precedes from matter as a way of understanding itself. The Authority was the first figure that condensed, as it were, in this way and from then on he was the oldest, the most powerful, the most authoritative. And all the other angels at first believed he was the Creator and then some angels decided that he wasn't, and so we had the temptation and the Fall etc - all that sort of stuff came from that.

And the figure of Authority who dies in the story is well, one of the metaphors I use. In the passage I wrote about his description, he was as light as paper - in other words he has a reality which is only symbolic. It's not real, and the last expression on his face is that of profound and exhausted relief. That was important for me. That's not something you can easily show with a puppet to the back of the theatre.

(Big Snip)

Which leads us to Mel Gibson. Have you seen that film?

I haven't seen it.

Nor have I, so we can talk about it! That's all right.

We're allowed opinions without the constraints of reality!

He is presumably selling his film on the basis that it is very realistic. I mean people are thinking that they're getting close to seeing what happened.

What fascinates me about the phenomenon, is that churches apparently are spending thousands of pounds buying, block booking tickets and giving them away to atheists in the hope that by seeing someone tortured to death we'll reform.

It's a real concern I think because - I don't mean atheists reforming, though that'd be nice! - the question of how you represent what Christians believe is the pivotal event in the history of the universe is no simple one and I don't think can ever be answered.

But I thought the pivotal event was the resurrection which doesn't come in [to The Passion].

The pivotal event is the whole of that Easter complex, if you like, not just the resurrection, which is why a realistic representation of the crucifixion on it's own won't say what has to be said. And curiously, along the history of the church, the way it's been done in the church's liturgy and art very often doesn't seem very realistic in that sense.

You walk through the experience of Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday in a sort of ritual way: picking up a bit of the gospels here, a bit of the prophets and the psalms there; performing certain ritual acts (in the Catholic tradition particularly); watching through the night; participating in a very curious and distinctive liturgy for Good Friday, with the bare cross being brought in and unveiled. All of that is an attempt to say what a mere recitation of the story, or a mere photograph, couldn't say.

There's much more to the interview, with questions asked of both the Archbishop and of Pullman afterwards.

Friday, June 16, 2006


My sister came back from Monterey today and brought me a small cookbook from an English tea shop. For those who like recipes, here are a couple from the book ...

Spiced Oxford Cake

10 oz flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon mixed spice
6 oz butter
6 oz soft brown sugar
8 oz raisons or sultanas
3 oz chopped mixed peel
2 oz black treacle, slightly warmed
Juice of half a lemon
5 fl. oz milk

Set oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and base-line an 8 oz round cake tin. Sift the flour, baking powder and spice together into a bowl and then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, fruit and peel. Mix the treacle and lemon juice together and stir into the mixture and then add sufficient milk to give a dropping consistancy. Turn the mixture into the tin and bake for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, covering the top with a peice of kitchen foil if it appears to be browning too quickly. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Devonshire Apple Scones

8 oz whole-meal self-rising flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 oz butter
2 oz soft brown sugar
2 medium-sized cooking apples, peeled, cored and finely diced
1 medium egg

Set oven to 375 degrees F. Mix the flour, cinnoman and baking powder together in a large bowl. Rub in the butter, stir in the sugar and apple and lastly stir in the egg. Mould into 10 or 12 small, rough heaps (as you would for rock cakes) and place on a floured baking sheet. The mixture must not be too wet or the scones will lose their rocky shape. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack. Serve split in half with butter.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

It's All Greek to Me

I really like Greek history, I guess because it reminds me of happy times at college ... Greek art, Greek philosophy ... my boyfriend buying me Greek coins with Athena's owl on them, my sister and I spending afternoons pouring over our green-covered copy of Plato's Republic :-)

A post on Paula's blog made me think about Greek history in general and the battle of Thermopylae in particular.

- Leonidas at Thermopylae by David

The description of the battle can be read in Herodotus' twenty-second logos: Thermopylae... a nice online translation with modern commentary. But you can also read the long-story-short version at Wikipedia, which writes, in part, ...

In the Battle of Thermopylae of 480 BC an alliance of Greek city-states fought the invading Persian army in a mountain pass. Vastly outnumbered, the Greeks held back the Persian advance for three days. Leonidas, the Spartan King commanding the army, held up the enemy in one of the most famous last stands of history. The resistance of the Spartan-led army offered Athens the invaluable opportunity to make battle preparations and decisively defeat the Persians at the battles of Salamis. The final blow was delivered at Plataea, ending the Persian invasion of Greece and marking the rise of the Athenian Empire as a political and cultural world power. The performance of the defenders at the battle of Thermopylae is often used as an example of the advantages of training, equipment and good use of terrain to maximize an army's potential, as well as a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.

There have been a number of films, books and even poems about the battle ... one of the most recent efforts is a graphic novel, Frank Miller's "300", from which is being made a 2007 film with the same title. The movie, which stars Scottish actor Gerard Butler as Spartan King Leonidas, will use a digital backlot technique, in which actors do their thing in front of a blue screen, with the locations added on later by computer. I'm not a big fan of this technique (the film Sin City is an example) but on the other hand, after seeing how traditionally made movies like Troy and Alexander have turned out, well ... :-)

I'm a peace-nik, so it's odd for me to be so interested in a military battle, but I think it's that I'm intrigued not by the fighting, but by the human qualities shown through the fighting ... courage, self-sacrifice, and perhaps even more, a defiance in the face of assured defeat. Such defiance can be found in the words spoken by Leonidas to Xerxes, when the Persian king offered to spare the Greeks if they'd surrender their weapons ...

Come and get them.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Prayer Life

I think I mentioned in some earlier post that my prayer life is in serious decline. I've searched the net for info on prayer and I've found different kinds, but two dominate ... contemplative or centering prayer and imaginative prayer. Wikipedia says this of centering prayer ...

Centering prayer is a popular method of contemplative prayer, placing a strong emphasis on interior quiet and the experience of God's presence. Though most authors trace its roots to the contemplative prayer of the Desert Fathers of early Christian monasticism of the 300s, to the Lectio Divina tradition of Benedictine monasticism, and to works like The Cloud of Unknowing and the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, its origins as part of the "Centering Prayer" movement in modern Catholicism and Christianity can be traced to several books published by three Trappist monks of St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts in the 1970s: Fr. William Meninger, Fr. M. Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating.

I know it's the most well known and probably the most often practiced, but I don't like centering prayer much ... it seems to be about not being :-) ... and I prefer one of the styles of prayer used by the Jesuits, which, as William A. Barry SJ writes, advocates using all of our faculties, including sensation, imagination, mind and will. Not surprisingly, Wikipedia had no entry for Ignatian prayer, but one can experience it at the Sacred Space site.

Weird though it may seem, prayer is a popular subject. Books on prayer sell, and I came across one that did quite well when it was released - The Glenstal Book of Prayer: A Benedictine Prayer Book by Monks of Glenstal Abbey. The Glenstal Abby monks call prayer ... a duet of love between God and man. An article in Crisis Magazine had this to say about the book ...

Drawing on "the Bible, enshrined in Benedictine liturgy, on the experience of modern monks, and on the wisdom of the Christian Church throughout her long and varied history," the Glenstal Book is, as its introduction says, "a rich resource for the dark, mysterious, but exciting journey which is prayer."

The book has four sections ... the first has morning and evening prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours, the second part features familiar Catholic prayers like the Rosary (in English, Irish and Latin), the third sction has prayers for various occasions, the final section includes additional psalms, readings from the Rule of St. Benedict, and a Calendar of Saints ... the third section sounded the most interesting to me ...

The third section, "Prayers for Various Occasions," is enormously useful. It includes graces for before and after meals and prayers for peace, for guidance, and for safety when traveling. There are also blessings for a house, a family, a sick person, and those in need of inner healing. There are prayers for the elderly and the dying, as well as prayers for the dead. Derived from many different sources, centuries, and places, these prayers are all beautiful and thought-provoking, and some are so unexpectedly apt that they give the reader an intellectual and spiritual jolt. For example, who would expect to discover these whimsical words of the 19th-century American Protestant poet Emily Dickinson next to a prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola:

At least—to pray—is left—s left
Oh Jesus—in the Air—
I know not which thy chamber is—
I’m knocking—everywhere—

Now that I've read up on the subject, I know more about prayer, but I'm not sure how much that will help with the actual doing of it ... Fr. Barry sees prayer as a personal relationship with God, and since I learned how to pray from an Ignatian retreat, that's how I've seen it too ... have I mentioned I'm no good with relationships? I guess the good news is that if prayer is indeed a relationship, I'm not the only one in it who's trying.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

For with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle;
Dry shood o'er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice every day the waves efface
Of staves and sandelled feet the trace.
- Sir Walter Scott

You can read about Lindisfarne at the island's own website, but below are just some photos ...

- Lindisfarne castle

- the Priory ... take a virtual tour of it

- Statue of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne, founder of the first monastery there

- St Cuthbert, bishop of Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne Gospels ...

- Openning page, Gospel of St. John

- St. Mark

- Incipit to the Gospel of Matthew

And last, but not least :-) ...

- Lindisfarne Mead from St.Aidan's Winery

Friday, June 09, 2006

St. Martin of Tours

I saw a book while browsing at Amazon today about St. Martin of Tours. Martin (316-397) was stationed in Gaul (modern Amiens, France), a member of a Roman cavalry unit. He's most well know for The Legend of the Cloak ...

While Martin was still a soldier at Amiens he experienced the vision that became the most-repeated story about his life. He was at the gates of the city of Amiens with his soldiers when he met a scantily dressed beggar. He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clad me." (Sulpicius, ch 2). In a later embellishment, when Martin woke his cloak was restored, and the miraculous cloak was preserved among the relic collection of the Merovingian kings of the Franks.

He eventually left the military, became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, and after establishing a monastery abbey, traveling and preaching throughout Gaul, was made bishop of Tours

Here's the book ... Martin of Tours: Soldier, Bishop, Saint by Regine Pernoud, Michael J. Miller (Translator)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

My Pulp Fiction

I'm inspired by Liam's post on Pulp Fiction to post some of the pulp fiction I read while in college ... these books were frowned on by my English teachers as being either badly written or non-PC on a number of levels ...

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Wikipedia has this on Heinlein (1907-1988) ...

Robert Anson Heinlein ... was one of the most influential and controversial authors of "hard" science fiction. He set a high standard for science and engineering plausibility that few have equaled, but also helped to raise the genre's standards of literary quality. He was the first writer to break into mainstream general magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s with unvarnished science fiction.

Conan the Barbarian by Robert E Howard. From Wikipedia, this about Howard (1906-1936) ...

Robert Ervin Howard ... was an American writer of fantasy, horror, pulp and historical adventure stories published mainly in Weird Tales magazine in the 1930s. Although Howard's readership was limited during his life, his works have become highly influential among writers and fans of the sword and sorcery sub-genre .... On June 11, 1936 at around 8 o'clock in the morning, after learning his tubercular mother was unlikely to regain consciousness from her coma, Howard settled into the front seat of his car with a borrowed .38 Colt automatic and shot himself in the head .... On the morning of June 11th, Howard wrote this poem, which was found typed on a strip of paper in his billfold in his hip pocket:

All fled—all done, so lift me on the pyre—
The Feast is over, and the lamps expire.

This couplet, once thought to be a paraphrase from Ernest Dowson's poem "Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae," is actually from a little-known poem entitled "The House Of Cæsar" by Viola Garvin.

At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft. Wikipedia on Lovecraft (1890-1937) ...

Howard Phillips Lovecraft ... was an American author of fantasy, horror and science fiction, noted for combining these three genres within single narratives. Lovecraft's readership was limited during his life, but his works have become highly important and influential among writers and fans of modern horror fiction.

The Bowmen by Arthur Machen. Wikipedia writes of Machen (1863-1947) ...

Arthur Machen ... was a leading Welsh author of the 1890s. He is best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy and horror fiction .... In this story (The Bowmen), written and published during World War I, the ghosts of archers from the battle of Agincourt lead by Saint George come to the aid of British troops. This is attributed (by some at least) as the origin of the Angels of Mons legend.

The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer. Wikipedia writes of Rohmer (1883-1959) ...

Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward ... better known as Sax Rohmer, was a prolific English novelist. He is most remembered for his series of novels featuring the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu .... It was an immediate success with its pacy and racist story of Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie facing the worldwide conspiracy of the 'Yellow Peril'. The Fu Manchu stories, together with those featuring Gaston Max or Morris Klaw, made Rohmer one of the most successful and well-paid writers in of the 1920s and 1930s.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


To a Cat - Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

STATELY, kindly, lordly friend,
Here to sit by me, and turn
Glorious eyes that smile and burn,
Golden eyes, love's lustrous meed,
On the golden page I read.

All your wondrous wealth of hair,
Dark and fair,
Silken-shaggy, soft and bright
As the clouds and beams of night,
Pays my reverent hand's caress
Back with friendlier gentleness.

Dogs may fawn on all and some
As they come;
You, a friend of loftier mind,
Answer friends alone in kind.
Just your foot upon my hand
Softly bids it understand.

Morning round this silent sweet
Sheds its wealth of gathering light,
Thrills the gradual clouds with might,
Changes woodland, orchard, heath,
Lawn, and garden there beneath.

Fair and dim they gleamed below:
Now they glow
Deep as even your sunbright eyes,
Fair as even the wakening skies.
Can it not or can it be
Now that you give thanks to see ?

May not you rejoice as I,
Seeing the sky
Change to heaven revealed, and bid
Earth reveal the heaven it hid
All night long from stars and moon,
Now the sun sets all in tune?

What within you wakes with day
Who can say?
All too little may we tell,
Friends who like each other well,
What might haply, if we might,
Bid us read our lives aright.

Wild on woodland ways your sires
Flashed like fires;
Fair as flame and fierce and fleet
As with wings on wingless feet
Shone and sprang your mother, free,
Bright and brave as wind or sea.

Free and proud and glad as they,
Here to-day
Rests or roams their radiant child,
Vanquished not, but reconciled,
Free from curb of aught above
Save the lovely curb of love.

Love through dreams of souls divine
Fain would shine
Round a dawn whose light and song
Then should right our mutual wrong---
Speak, and seal the love-lit law
Sweet Assisi's seer foresaw.

Dreams were theirs; yet haply may
Dawn a day
When such friends and fellows born,
Seeing our earth as fair at morn,
May for wiser love's sake see
More of heaven's deep heart than we.


For fun, take a trip to The Beast Page of Felix Just SJ :-). Here's a bit towards the end of it ...

What or Who Is the Beast?

The answer to this nearly 2000-year-old question depends on how you choose to interpret the Book of Revelation (a.k.a. the Apocalypse), the last book of the New Testament.

Near the middle of this highly symbolic book are descriptions of several strange creatures:

* First, "a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads"; it is described further after being defeated by Michael and his angels in a battle in heaven: "The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him" (Rev 12:3-18);
* Second, "a beast rising out of the sea having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names... [it] was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority..." (Rev 13:1-10);
* Third, "another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast..." (Rev 13:11-18).

At the end of the paragraph about this third beast, the author challenges the reader with an intriguing puzzle: "This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six." (13:18).

.... What about June 6, 2006?

Relax! Although this date could be abbreviated 6/6/6, it has absolutely nothing to do with the "Beast" of the Book of Revelation!


Learn more about Fr. Just, Jesuit and Assistant Professor of Theology & Religious Studies at University of San Francisco, here


Tonight I watched a movie on TV I hadn't seen before ... Frequency ... from 2000, starring Jim Caviezel and Dennis Quaid. Normally I wouldn't post about every odd movie I watch on TV, but this one especially touched me because of my father.

- Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ

The movie begins by showing us Jim Caviezel's character, John Sullivan, a 36 year old homocide detective, whose life has been deformed by the death of his firefighter father, Frank (Dennis Quaid), thirty years earlier, as he tried to rescue someone from a burning warehouse.

- Quaid

One night, John (Caviezel) takes out his father's old ham radio and, due to some weird combination of sun spot activity and the Aurora Borealis, he is able to cannect with and speak to his father, on the same radio, in 1969, the day before he is killed ... John convinces Frank to alter his actions at the warehouse and saves his life. The rest of the movie involves the solving of a series of murders and the many unpredictable results of time travel.

As Roger Ebert writes in his review ...

The paradox of time travel is familiar. If you could travel back in time to change the past in order to change the future, you would already have done so, and therefore the changes would have resulted in the present that you now occupy. Of course the latest theories of quantum physics speculate that time may be a malleable dimension, and that countless new universes are splitting off from countless old ones all the time--we can't see them because we're always on the train, not in the station, and the view out the window is of this and this and this, not that and that.

But "Frequency" is not about physics, and the heroes are as baffled as we are by the paradoxes they get involved in. Consider a scene where the father uses a soldering iron to burn into a desk the message: I'm still here, Chief. His son sees the letters literally appearing in 1999 as they are written in 1969. How can this be? If they were written in 1969, wouldn't they have already been on the desk for 30 years? Not at all, the movie argues, because every action in the past changes the future into a world in which that action has taken place.

The thing that's intriguing about the movie isn't the time travel/multiverse science fiction (though I do like that stuff :-), but the pathos of the father/son situation. Ebert writes ...

I know exactly where the tape is, in which box, on which shelf. It's an old reel-to-reel tape I used with the tape recorder my dad bought me in grade school. It has his voice on it. The box has moved around with me for a long time, but I have never listened to the tape since my dad died. I don't think I could stand it. It would be too heartbreaking.

I don't have a tape of my father's voice, don't have his old ham radio, just a yellowed photograph of him. I never saw or heard from him after my parents were divorced when I was about three, and I'm not even sure I remember him. I finally decided to look for him some years agoo, only to find out he was dead. I don't how I can miss a person I never really got to know, but I do.

I recommend Frequency ... it has some steep suspension-of-belief issues to overcome :-) but as Eberts observes ... The result, however, appeals to us for reasons as simple as hearing the voice of a father who you thought you would never hear again. That's good enough reason for me, and maybe also for you.