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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Palm Sunday: the hypocrisy in our own hearts

Though musician Matt Maher is more "traditional" than me, it's hard not to like him :) ...

Total Recall

My latest book from the library is Total Recall by Sara Paretsky. I usually read science fiction or fantasy, but my sister reads mysteries and she picked this one out for me.

Sara Paretsky mostly writes novels about V. I. Warshawski .....

a female private investigator. Warshawski's eclectic personality defies easy categorization. She drinks Johnnie Walker Black Label, breaks into offices looking for clues, and can hold her own in a street fight. But she also pays attention to her clothes, sings opera along with the radio, and enjoys her sex life. Paretsky is credited with transforming the role and image of women in the crime novel. [5] - Wikipedia

Here's the Publishers Weekly blurb for Total Recall at the Amazon page for the book ....

Already having established herself as an inventor of the female private eye and a master of the mystery format, Paretsky skillfully expands the form to tackle several convergent themes in a moving novel of discovery and redemption. V.I. "Vic" Warshawski has a traditional mystery to solve: the life insurance policy of black factory worker Aaron Sommers had been faithfully maintained, paid for weekly even when other demands surely seemed of greater urgency. But when Aaron's widow needed to collect, the company denied the claim, saying the policy had been cashed a decade earlier. That leads Vic to Ajax Life Insurance Co. and Ralph Devereux, whom she encountered in her very first case, Indemnity Only (1982). Her investigation is subtly intertwined with another much more personal and wrenching inquiry into the appearance of a man calling himself Paul Radbuka, whose recovered memory as a child survivor of the Holocaust leads him to claim a kinship with Vic's friend Max Loewenthal. Radbuka's claim has an unexpected and drastic affect on Lotty Herschel, Vic's friend and mentor. The twin investigations allow the author to explore simultaneously the issues raised by the Illinois Holocaust Asset Recovery Act and the issue of reparations for the descendants of slaves. Dark, absorbing, probing Paretsky's novel explores the complex web of degrees of guilt and complicity surrounding the fate of Holocaust victims and survivors, with Lotty's story emerging with compelling, terrible clarity and inevitability.

I've never read one of Paretsky's novels before but I've been pleasantly surprised so far. It's interesting that the story takes place in Chicago, where all those Dresden Files novels are also set, and also interesting is the part of the story set in WWII era London.

An intriguing issue brought up in the story is whether our memories can be trusted and that reminded me of the ongoing argument on the subject: read Jonah Lehrer's aerticle at Wired, The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Forever, and this response at The New Atlantis - Jonah Lehrer’s Errors on Memory and Forgetting.

Friday, March 30, 2012

At Bishop Alan's Blog ...

There's a post at the blog of Anglican Bishop Alan Wilson (who knows, maybe the next archbishop of Canterbury?) about the C of E which could apply to the Catholic church as well. Here's a bit of it ....

Time for a reboot not a bailout

Yesterday, for the third time this year, someone expressed to me genuine concern about involving the Church in a project because they feared that dealing with a discriminatory organisation would compromise their moral integrity. The C of E used to be the guardian of the nation’s morals, but is increasingly perceived as irrelevant, or even a threat to them. At first sight this is amazing, because the people I meet in Church are usually kind, upright and morally aware. The nation’s moral instinct has changed, however. The Church in its own bubble has become, at best the guardian of the value system of the nation’s grandparents, and at worst a den of religious anoraks defined by defensiveness, esoteric logic and discrimination .......

Locally, the C of E is often good news. Individual clergy and Christians are often liked and respected on the streets. The figure of Jesus remains broadly attractive, even intriguing and sometimes compelling. The national institution, however, appears disconnected from all this, remote, hierarchical, fixated on its own stuff.

This moral shift makes the conventional language of high, low and broad, conservatives and liberals, traditionalists and revisionists, mods and rockers, irrelevant. The real fault line now in the Church is between those of all stripes who are at home with social change, and whose Jesus inspires them to find ways of living authentic lives in this culture, and those who fear it, and whose religion is a way to prevent it, or even reverse it .......

I guess I'm not the only one ....

... with these concerns - 7 reasons Catholics leave church (in Trenton, #1 is sex abuse crisis) - CNN. The article at America magazine on the study is really worth reading, but here below are the reasons given by people in the study that especially resonate with me ......

1. The sex abuse crisis

Byron and Zech asked ex-Catholics to cite their main reason for leaving: “If you could communicate directly with the bishop, what would you say?”

The most common answer: the church’s inadequate response to clergy sex abuse. “The bishop’s refusal to list pedophile priests on the diocesan Web site and his non-support of the effort to lift the statute of limitations for bringing sexual abuses cases forward in the courts” did it for me, one man said, according to the report.

Several respondents said they had been victims of sexual abuse by church leadership.

2. The church’s stance on homosexuality

The second most cited reason for leaving the church was that former worshipers felt homosexuals were unwelcome in the church.

As recently as March 9, Pope Benedict XVI denounced what he categorized as the “powerful” gay marriage lobby in the United States. In the same speech he noted these views would be seen as “countercultural” to young people, but told bishops to not back down to “powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage."

When those surveyed were asked if there were any religious beliefs in the Catholic Church that troubled them, a number cited views on same-sex marriage. “The church’s view on gays, same-sex marriage, women as priests and priests not marrying, to name a few,” said one respondent, explaining her departure from the church.

“Hypocrisy,” said one person. “History of discrimination against women, anti-gay stance, unwelcoming attitude.”

William D’Antonio of the Catholic University of America recently published a study called “Catholics in America: Persistence and change in the Catholic landscape.” found that even though the church and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out against homosexual relationships, only 35% of Catholics surveyed said the church’s opinion on homosexuality is “very important.”

The same survey found that 86% of respondents believe a Catholic “can disagree with aspects of church teachings and still remain loyal to the church."

... (snip) ....

5. Perception that church hierarchy is too closely tied to conservative politics

Politics was a mixed bag, according to the survey.

Though some people wanted the church to become more conservative – “change the liberal-progressive political slant to a more conservative,” said one person – others responded differently.

“Eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing,” said one person. Another respondent said politics and the church shouldn’t mix: “I feel the church should stay out of politics; it should certainly not threaten politicians.”

... (snip) ...

7. The status of women

With the political debate over religious conscience and contraceptive coverage, women’s rights and the church have come to the forefront of debate in American politics. According to the Trenton study, a number of people who have left the church cite a “history of discrimination against women,” as one reason for leaving.

Respondents also took issue with the fact that while other churches allow women to become ordained priests, the Catholic Church does not.

“If the Catholic Church does not change its archaic views on women, it is going to become a religion that survives on the fringe of an open-minded, progressive society,” one person who was surveyed said.

I wrote in a comment to a post at someone else's blog that as far as I could tell, the church hierarchy, and many Catholics too, seem completely disinterested in those people who do have concerns .... they just really don't care if people leave the church or stay. No one responded to my comment, which is an answer in itself, I suppose, and it's mirrored here in my blog - all the Catholics I once knew no longer visit. I hoped belonging to a church meant you were a member of a community, a family - that you might have disagreements but that you would care enough to discuss them, that you would care about the other members. Makes me sad.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Before The Hunger Games ...

... there was The King Must Die.

There's a post at America magazine's blog with a video of Fr. Barron talking about The Hunger Games and the stories from earlier cultures that might be its inspiration. One of those stories is that of the Greek hero Theseus. In her 1958 novel The King Must Die, Mary Renault wrote of the early life of Theseus, including his adventure in Crete with the minotaur. At that time, Minoan Crete was the great power in the area (check out the palace of Knossos) and the Mycenaean Greeks had to send tribute - boys and girls to be sacrifices to the minotaur. Mary Renault changed the mythological story a bit to be more in tune with actual history and had the boys and girls, Theseus included, sent to Crete not to be passive sacrifices but to be teams of athletes, trained to fight with bulls for the entertainment of the Cretans. Here's a fresco from Knossos showing "bull-leaping" ....

The King Must Die is worth a read, and if you're interested, you can read more about it at Mary Renault's Theseus. As to The Hunger Games, I'm signed up at the library for the audio version but over 100 people are ahead of me so it may be a while before I get to see what all the buzz is about ;)

Startide Rising

I saw there's news about the social/sexual lives of dolphins - Dolphins - Living Loose in the Ocean - and that reminded me of a science fiction novel I read years ago ... Startide Rising by David Brin. Here's what the Publishers Weekly blurb at Amazon says ...

In its original paperback editon of 1983, this novel won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Brin's extensive revisions make this first hardcover edition an SF event. What remains most impressive is the complex background of political, cultural, linguistic and many other connections and missed connections among innumerable different species. Against the backdrop of an ancient spacefaring conglomerate, whose shared traditions have not halted their wars, the upstart Earthlingshumans, dolphins, chimpanzeesalso stand divided. Brin raises questions not only of understanding but of ethics, for a "patron" race may genetically uplift another only to indenture them. His depiction of the dolphins' gains and losses now that they've become space pilots is particularly moving. Although Brin's characterization and storytelling are less adept here than in the work he has since written, this is one of the outstanding SF novels of recent years.

One of the ideas I remember from the book was that of the Whale Dream ...

The concept of endless parallel universes was one known by dolphins long before humans learned fire. It was integral to the Whale Dream. The great cetaceans moaned complacently of a world that was endlessly mutable. In becoming tool users, amicus dolphins lost this grand indifference. Now they understood the whales' philosophy little better than did men. (p. 174)

You can read excerpts from the book here at David Brin's website.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What do George Harrison and Catherine of Siena ...

... have in common?

I'd been reading a post at Lee's blog - A simple argument for vegetarianism - and realized that aside from John Dear SJ and Andrew Linzey, I know of few other vegetarians. So I found a Wikipedia page that lists vegetarians. Such a disparate group of people, from poet Rainer Maria Rilke and existentialist Franz Kafka to Catherine of Siena and John Chrysostom to half the Beatles, a number of Playboy bunnies, and Frankenstein's monster (and hey, Brian Greene is a vegan - list of vegans) ... now I don't feel so alone :)

Monday, March 26, 2012

A bud ...

of my little columbine that's about to open. It looks like some kind of flowery giraffe's head -

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Raising of Lazarus

by Giusto de' Menabuoi ...

Friday, March 23, 2012

The latest on Fr. Roy Bourgeois

I've been wondering what's been happening with Maryknoll priest Fr. Roy Bourgeois since he refused to recant his beliefs about women's ordination.

Today I saw a post about the situation at NCR - Maryknoll votes on Bourgeois' dismissal from order. Apparently the order has voted but the consequences of that vote - two for dismissal and three abstentions - is unclear and Fr. Bourgeois and his lawyer, Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, are not being kept apprised of what's happening. Here's a bit of the post ...

[...] In his interview, Doyle said the vote regarding Bourgeois' removal from the order is "especially interesting now," considering the stance the U.S. bishops' conference is taking regarding freedom of conscience over a controversial federal mandate requiring coverage of contraceptive services in health care plans.

"All these American bishops are speaking about freedom of conscience and exercise of religion," said Doyle. "But they will not respect one of their own people who wants to appeal to the same dynamic."

For his part, regardless of the uncertainties surrounding the dismissal vote, Bourgeois said the fact that several members of the council had apparently not endorsed his dismissal has given him a "glimmer of hope."

"I'm always talking about solidarity -- that we should be in solidarity with women called the priesthood -- and I felt it was a very good expression of solidarity with a member of the community," Bourgeois said. "To be very honest, I felt some joy and a glimmer of hope because I am fighting ... to stay in our community."

For those interested, here's a little about Fr. Bourgeois from Wikipedia ...

He attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in geology. After graduation, Bourgeois entered the United States Navy and served as an officer for four years. He spent two years at sea, one year at a station in Europe, and one year in Vietnam. He received the Purple Heart during a tour of duty in Vietnam.

After military service, he entered the seminary of the Catholic missionary order of Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers (Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America). He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1972 and sent to Bolivia.

1972-1975 Fr. Bourgeois spent five years in Bolivia aiding the poor before being arrested and deported for attempting to overthrow Bolivian dictator General Hugo Banzer.

1980 Fr. Bourgeois became an outspoken critic of US foreign policy in Latin America after four American churchwomen, Sister Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, Sister Ita Ford, and Sister Dorothy Kazel, were raped and killed by a death squad consisting of soldiers from the Salvadoran National Guard, some of whom had been trained at the School of the Americas.

1990 Fr. Bourgeois founded the School of the Americas Watch or (SOA Watch), an organization that seeks to close the School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001, through nonviolent protest.

1998 Fr. Bourgeois testified before a Spanish judge seeking the extradition of Chile's ex-dictator General Augusto Pinochet ...

There's something seriously wrong with a church that will lift the excommunication of someone like Holocaust denier Richard Williamson but will excommunicate and fire a man like Roy Bourgeois.

It's about failure

There's a post at the NYT's philosophy blog - Does It Matter Whether God Exists? by Gary Gutting - that opines that the practice of religious rituals (and I'd guess the comfort of a religious community) without a belief in God us a worthy road to trod .....

Discussions of religion are typically about God. Atheists reject religion because they don’t believe in God; Jews, Christians and Muslims take belief in God as fundamental to their religious commitment. The philosopher John Gray, however, has recently been arguing that belief in God should have little or nothing to do with religion. He points out that in many cases — for instance, “polytheism, Hinduism and Buddhism, Daoism and Shinto, many strands of Judaism and some Christian and Muslim traditions” — belief is of little or no importance. Rather, “practice — ritual, meditation, a way of life — is what counts.” He goes on to say that “it’s only religious fundamentalists and ignorant rationalists who think the myths we live by are literal truths” and that “what we believe doesn’t in the end matter very much. What matters is how we live.”

Gutting goes on to give what he thinks will be the opposing view - the idea that belief in God matters because of "salvation" - but then he states that belief in God's existence cannot be logically proven, so he ends up agreeing with John Gray.

I have some thoughts ...

First - I think Gutting is wrong in his theory that the important thing about believing in God for most people is salvation ... relationship with God is what's important to many, and salvation is just part of that.

Second - I know about belonging to a religion without believing in God: that was me when I joined the Catholic Church. Many people find this a worthy endeavor but it didn't work for me and I think the reason why is that joining a church without a belief in God but instead for the practice, the rituals, the companionship of others in the organization, is like marrying someone not because you've fallen in love with them but because you can't stand being alone anymore and want to be part of a family. It's about settling and making the best of things, of embracing the form because you don't think you'll ever find the substance. I think it's about failure.

I can't help but think of what it must have been like for the first disciples of Jesus to decide to join him. They had to leave behind all those things that Gary Gutting's people join a church in order to find, and they were leaving them behind because they had found something better ... love.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Your Brain on Fiction

Read a neat article, Your Brain on Fiction, about what happens in our heads when we read stories. Here's a bit of the article ....

[...] In a 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers in Spain asked participants to read words with strong odor associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. When subjects looked at the Spanish words for “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex lit up; when they saw the words that mean “chair” and “key,” this region remained dark. The way the brain handles metaphors has also received extensive study; some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. Last month, however, a team of researchers from Emory University reported in Brain & Language that when subjects in their laboratory read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active. Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not .......

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings ....

Spring - Gerard Manley Hopkins

- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Politics, religion, and castration in the Netherlands

ABC Religion & Ethics had a past post - A Christian alternative to America's broken political duopoly - opining we need a Christian political party. I think it's a terrible idea - today I read an article showing why ...

Forcible castrations and the Dutch old boys' network
- Robert Chesal

The revelation that a number of minors, who were abused in Dutch Roman Catholic institutions, were also forcibly castrated has shocked the Netherlands. It casts grave doubt upon the recent findings of a commission set up to look into abuse in the church ..... We now know that former Dutch cabinet minister Wim Deetman did not meet the expectations he raised when he chaired the commission of inquiry into sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church ..... We know this thanks to investigative journalist Joep Dohmen of the newspaper NRC Handelsblad .....

He discovered that the Deetman report failed to mention a certain political figure who tried to secure a royal pardon for Gregorius and other convicted Catholic brothers from Harreveld. That was Victor Marijnen, a former Dutch prime minister and leading member of the Catholic People's party (KVP). The KVP later merged with Protestant parties to form the Christian Democrats (CDA) – the political party of inquiry commission chairman Wim Deetman.

Marijnen was in an extraordinary position in the 1950s. Not only was he a rising star in his political party and a high-ranking civil servant in the agriculture ministry (then and today, a Christian political stronghold in the Netherlands), he was also vice-chairman of the Dutch Catholic child protection agency, and – most pertinently – director of Harreveld boarding school. The Deetman commission was aware of these connections and the potential conflicts of interest they represented. The commission was aware of Marijnen's letter to the queen on behalf of sexual abusers, too, but omitted these facts in its report .......

The bigger picture is this: Marijnen was just one member of a wider elite of Catholic notables who wielded vast power in the 1950s. They were captains of industry, chairmen of commissions, judges, high-ranking civil servants and politicians. They could reign supreme in Catholic circles thanks to the rigidity of Dutch society back then.

All of public and private life was organised around the church you belonged to. If you were Catholic, you married, shopped and voted Catholic. You knew, unquestioningly, what school you would attend and what clubs you could join. Dirty laundry was never aired in public, certainly not outside your religious community. And in this setting, a small group of men, the old boys' network that Marijnen belonged to, could hush up the abuse at Harreveld and other Roman Catholic institutions. In short, the Harreveld castration story reveals collusion between institutions, bishops, politicians, the police and the justice system that enabled sexual abuse in the church to continue unpunished for decades on end ....

Monday, March 19, 2012


Bye to Rowan Williams

I see that Rowan Williams is changing jobs. There's much online to read on the subject, mostly people being sad he's stepping down as Archbishop of Canterbury - I'm probably one of the few that will not be sad he's leaving. There's a lot about him I like .... his article, The Body's Grace ... his poetry ... him standing up to the Vatican on the decision to ordain women bishops.

But when I think of him I also remember ... he wouldn't let Bishop Gene Robinson attend the Lambeth Conference ..... that he told Katharine Jefferts Schori she couldn't wear her hat of office when she preached in his country ... that he kept Jeffrey John from advancing in the church ... that he believes there's "public truth" and "private truth" ... then there's the whole covenant thing .... and ok, I might as well admit I also hate his view of petitionary prayer ;)

But maybe I'm just being nitpicky. I wish him happiness in his next job at Cambridge.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Some music for St. Patrick's Day

Shedd Aquarium

Latest (audio) novel from the library is another in The Dresden Files series, and in this one, Small Favor, Harry spends some time at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium ...

The John G. Shedd Aquarium is an indoor public aquarium in Chicago .... The aquarium contains over 25,000 fish, and was for some time the largest indoor aquarium in the world .... It is surrounded by Museum Campus Chicago, which it shares with the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum of Natural History.

One of the aquarium creatures mentioned in the Dresden novel is the sea otter. Wikipedia says of sea otters ... To keep from drifting apart, sea otters may sleep holding paws. ...

Here's a (silent) video from the Shedd Aquarium of a baby sea otter being fed :) ...

Thursday, March 15, 2012


The latest of 'The Seven Deadly Sins on Film' series at Thinking Faith is up ... Sloth by Rob Marsh SJ ... and the movie exemplifying the sin is American Beauty. The article examines the true nature of sloth, acedia, and those interested in Ignatian spirituality and how desire fits into that will find this especially worth a read.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Reading about poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg (Supernatural Love). As Susan told me, she was married to philosopher Robert Nozick who died in 2002. She didn't write another book of poetry after that for a decade. Her newest book is Heavenly Questions, and I saw an excerpt from the beginning of one of the poems of that book ....

The Light-Gray Soil

Shambles of grief in daylight under heaven.
I sit among the living, in a park,
Three miles from where he’s laid to rest, three months.
Foot traffic dimly swirls around me, throngs
Of the unbidden pass me, the unburied.
I sit inside a coat he gave me once.
Systole and diastole. Not knowing when
I halted at this bench, not knowing when
I ceased to stalk the sidewalk, came to rest,
Not knowing, since it doesn’t matter when.
My heart-walls moving of their own accord.
A helpless deed, systole and diastole,
Two halves carved from a pre-existing whole.
Contracting, and the chambers fill with blood.
Dilating, and the blood is surging through.
Five heaps of being, five, the beggar said.
O beggar, I have seen the mound of earth
When all the rivers call their fountains back.
I wore my shoes away, I wore away
The stockings from my feet, seeking the house
Where no beloved person ever died,
No father, mother, husband, wife, or child.
Earth’s crust diminishing beneath my feet.
The mantle glimpsed. The churning iron core.
My hand lies next to me, begging, unheld:
Another earth. Give me another earth ......

A book from the library ...

... Jesus of Nazareth by William Burclay. It's about the 1977 Franco Zeffirelli movie of the same name and is a kind of novelization of it with lots of photos.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Who is Joseph Kony?

I saw this at Denny's blog and thought I'd post it too. It's about finding and stopping a bad guy, but it's also an example of how the global-village social-networking technologies are changing our perceptions of not only what's possible but of our responsibilities .....

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière

Still reading about Christian symbology and today came across the three hares circular motif, which lead me to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière ...

a minor basilica in Lyon. It was built with private funds between 1872 and 1884 in a dominating position in the city. The site it occupies was once the Roman forum of Trajan, the forum vetus (old forum), thus its name (as an inverted corruption of the French Vieux-Forum). Speculating on the reasons for the construction of such an elaborate and expensive building, one author makes the possibly questionable statement that: "The reaction to the communes of Paris and Lyon were triumphalist monuments, the Sacré-Coeur of Montmartre and the basilica of Fourvière, dominating both cities. These buildings were erected using private funds, as gigantic ex-votos, thanking God for the victory over the socialists and in expiation of the sins of modern France." Notre-Dame de Fourvière was included when the whole historic center of Lyon was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

When I see churches like this I'm not sure what to think - they're beautiful and it feels good just to look at the art, but call me a Puritan if you must :) I can't help thinking that the money used to create this would have been better spent on people. Wikipedia has a lot of photos of the Basilica. Here are a few of them ....

Friday, March 09, 2012

In Time

- not a day over 105

This week's movie rental was the 2011 science fiction film In Time which stars Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, and Cillian Murphy, and which posits a future where people don't age biologically beyond 25 and in which time has become the main bargaining substance, giving a whole new meaning to that expression 'time is money'.

I really liked the movie. So much science fiction has been done on this theme - I remember it being a peripheral element in C. J. Cherryh's Hugo award-winning Downbelow Station - and I don't doubt that some day soon science will do away with human senescence. When people are old, the outward evidence of that - cellular damage - is what often defines them in today's society, but in a future where no one's body ages, what may define the old will be their accumulated experience instead, experience that might make them more formidable and compassionate, or that might make them want to just stop being ... as Queen asks, who wants to live forever? :) and as the main character of the movie states, No one should be immortal if even one person has to die.

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars in his review. Here's the beginning ...

We are all of us engaged in the trade of buying and selling time. When we stop smoking, we hope we are buying years. When we drink and drive, we are willing to sell a few years. But those are gambles with the odds. "In Time" is a science-fiction movie in which time is a fungible commodity. Are you willing to pay for 10 minutes of sex with an hour of your life?

The premise is damnably intriguing. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, maker of such original sci-fi movies as "Gattaca" (1997) and "S1mOne" (2002), it involves once again people whose lives depend on an overarching technology. In this case, they can buy, sell and gamble with the remaining years they have to live ...

Here's the trailer ...

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


The latest article on the seven deadly sins and the movies is up at Thinking Faith .... Lust by Gemma Simmonds CJ. I haven't seen the movie mentioned, Shame, but I remember seeing the trailer, mostly because it starred Michael Fassbender. Roger Ebert gave the NC-17 rated movie four stars in his review.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on 60 Minutes

Very worth a watch .....

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Andrew Brown ...

writes If lay Catholics now accept remarriage, why not gay marriage? in the wake of UK Cardinal Keith O'Brien's bizarre comments on same-sex marriage. Here's a bit of it ....

[...] Archbishop Vincent Nichols ... runs the Catholic church in England and Wales. He's not, one notes, a cardinal, as archbishops of Westminster usually are, and as O'Brien is. Some people say this is because he had a reputation as a liberal, others that his ambition was too open. In any case, he seems to be riding the waves of secularity rather more gracefully than the ironclad cardinal. Only last week, he gave permission for the "gay masses" in Soho to continue for another five years, though naturally it is assumed that no one who goes there could possibly be having sex, or, if they are, could feel good about the practice .....

Nichols went out of his way to mention the similarities between remarried Catholics and gay ones. Neither can really be married, in Catholic teaching. Nor should either group have sex, according to the Vatican. This will come as bad news to prominent Catholics such as Cristina Odone (married to a divorced man) and Clifford Longley (on his second wife). Yet both of these journalists are quite rightly regarded as adornments to the English Catholic church.

Admittedly, there is for straight people always the option of having the first marriage annulled, which for some reason gets easier the richer and more powerful you become. This is one of those loopholes that makes the surrounding law look even more unjust.

But apart from that, the condition of gay and of remarried Catholics is pretty much the same and the scriptural warrant for rejecting divorce is quite a lot stronger than the evidence for damning all gay people. I think it's pretty clear that the authors of the Bible would have been horrified by gay marriage, but it is nowhere explicitly denounced the way that Jesus denounced divorce.

Despite this, the policy of the Catholic church, in England and Wales at least, is the eminently sensible and humane one of doing everything possible to keep divorced and remarried couples as part of their parishes, attending church regularly. It may be that this is driven more by necessity, or horse sense, than humanity: if only Catholics who fully accepted the church's teaching on sex went to churches they would all empty. Nonetheless, the argument from humanity would be widely accepted. In Christian language, remarried couples can be a means of grace to one another.

And, if remarried couples can, why can't gay couples, too? .....

Monday, March 05, 2012

Plum blossoms in the yard

Judas and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I haven't read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe since I first read it as a teen. It was interesting to hear Matt Maher work the book into a mention of Judas at the last supper ......

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Mill and the Cross

This week's movie rental was The Mill and the Cross ....

a 2011 drama film directed by Lech Majewski and starring Rutger Hauer, Charlotte Rampling and Michael York. It is inspired by Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 1564 painting The Procession to Calvary, and based on Michael Francis Gibson's book The Mill and the Cross ... The film focuses on a dozen of the 500 characters depicted in Bruegel's painting. The theme of Christ's suffering is set against religious persecution in Flanders in 1564.

The movie is visually extraordinary. It begins with a real life representation of the artist's painting, and then shows experiences of some of the people in the painting, incliding Jesus. There's hardly any dialogue, which probably contributes to the eeriness. I'm afraid that I wasn't able to watch the whole thing: fairly early on we meet a young couple and their little calf, and me being me I worried from then on about the calf coming to an untimely end, but it was the young man who was so shockingly done in .... Catholic/Spanish soldiers whip and beat him brutally, tie him to a cartwheel, and hoist it up on a tree trunk to allow birds to peck out his eyes as his wife weeps down below (and what happened to the calf!?).

I quit watching at this point, though I did fast-forward to the crucifixion scene. There's a bit in the Wikipedia page about the painting that says ... In Bruegel's day public executions were well attended occasions which had the air of festivals or carnivals. Here Bruegel shows the absolute indifference of the gawping crowds to the fear and misery of the condemned men. This is Pinker's theory - a lack of empathy in people of the past. I'm not sure I buy this belief, but the film certainly follows the painting in representing a nearly universal lack of empathy in the characters shown, which I found really disturbing. Perhaps what made it seem worse (to me) was the beauty with which all this was portrayed.

This isn't to say the movie isn't worth a watch - Roger Ebert gave it four stars. Here's the beginning of his review ....

The Mill and the Cross
BY ROGER EBERT / October 19, 2011

Here is a film before which words fall silent. "The Mill & the Cross" contains little dialogue, and that simple enough. It enters into the world of a painting, and the man who painted it. If you see no more than the opening shots, you will never forget them. It opens on a famous painting, and within the painting, a few figures move and walk. We will meet some of those people in more detail.

The painting is "The Way to Calvary" (1564), by the Flemish master Pieter Bruegel the Elder. We might easily miss the figure of Christ among the 500 in the vast landscape. Others are going about their everyday lives. That's a reminder of Bruegel's famous painting "Landscape With the Fall of Icarus," about which Auden wrote of a passing ship "that must have seen something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on." Extraordinary events take place surrounded by ordinary ones ......

Here's the trailer ...

Turn Around

I'm a neophyte in the world of religious music. I don't really know anything about it and all I find is just stuff I come upon by accident, like this Lent-themed song I heard today by Catholic Matt Maher ....

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Bishops, the Republicans, and women

Recently I posted a video of Catholic Georgetown University law student Sandra (not Susan) Fluke saying what she would have said at a congressional hearing on contraception, had she been allowed ....

Since then, Rush Limbaugh has called her a slut and a prostitute and has asked her and other women who use contraception to post sex videos online. Here's a bit about all this from Amy Davidson's New Yorker blog ...

Has Limbaugh Identified the G.O.P.’s Woman Problem?

On Friday, President Obama called a law student at Georgetown to tell her not to take it to heart that Rush Limbaugh had called her a prostitute .... On Wednesday, Limbaugh called her “a slut” .... And here is Limbaugh’s response, on Thursday, to the anger those remarks caused, which he found “Absolutely hilarious… that has sent them into orbit!” He added, “Look, at least I didn’t call her ‘a woman driver,’ ” and mused on whether lesbians need contraception.

* "So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal: If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch." *

And that, roughly, is where the Republican party has dragged the debate on women’s health in this country—a demand for sex videos. When the Blunt amendment, which would have given employers broad leeway to dispense with contraceptive coverage on religious or “moral” grounds, was debated in the Senate this week, its proponents argued that it was not about women, but about the freedom of religion—even though there are exemptions for churches, and the “moral” clause is wide enough to encompass an aversion to almost anything .....

And this bit about the US Bishops from U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt's amendment on contraception defeated ....

On the eve of the vote, the Catholic bishops' office issued a memorandum branding as "preposterous" Democrats' claims that millions of women could lose health care services.

I keep thinking that my opinion of the Republican party and the US Catholic Bishops can't sink any lower, but they keep proving me wrong.

Chicago's Graceland Cemetery

- Henry Honore family crypt

My latest book from the library is another novel about wizard Harry Dresden by Jim Butcher - Ghost Story ... it has 224 five star reviews at Amazon :)

While the books are about magic, there is a lot about Christianity in them too ... one of the recurring characters is a Catholic priest at St. Mary of the Angels church ....

In the novel I'm reading now, Harry has been killed, has become a ghost, and must return to the world to find his murderer and save civilization as we know it. He spends some time at his gravesite in Graceland Cemetery .....

Graceland Cemetery is a large Victorian era cemetery .... The cemetery is typical of those that reflect Queen Victoria's reconception of the early 19th century "graveyard". Instead of poorly-maintained headstones, and bodies buried on top of each other, on an ungenerous parcel of land; the cemetery became a pastoral landscaped park dotted with memorial markers, with room left over for picnics, a common usage of cemeteries. The landscape architecture for Graceland was designed by Ossian Cole Simonds .......

Many of the cemetery's tombs are of great architectural or artistic interest, including the Getty Tomb, the Martin Ryerson Mausoleum (both designed by architect Louis Sullivan, who is also buried here), and the Schoenhofen Pyramid Mausoleum. The industrialist George Pullman was buried at night, in a lead-lined coffin within an elaborately reinforced steel-and-concrete vault, to prevent his body from being exhumed and desecrated by labor activists. Along with its other famous burials the cemetery is notable for two statues by sculptor Lorado Taft, Eternal Silence for the Graves family plot and The Crusader that marks Victor Lawson's final resting place.

- Schoenhofen Mausoleum

Thursday, March 01, 2012


The gray squirrel waits high up in the dead tree for me to leave so he can come down and get the peanuts I left. The brown squirrel lets me get within arm's length before he runs away but the gray squirrel is much more cautious.