Sunday, November 30, 2008
When I say 'memorable' I mean a villain that is one of those incarnate reminders of the reality of evil; evil showing itself in someone's character - as opposed to just 'the bad guy'. One of those villains whose wickedness jumps out of the lines (or pixels) that forms them in the moving frame. Like the wicked step-mother in Disney's Cinderella. Recall those eyes:
The one exception to this would perhaps be Syndrome in The Incredibles, which is in my personal opinion, Pixar's best flick so far. But even Syndrome is strangely lacking. And Monsters Inc.'s Randall Bogg? Please. Pyromaniac boys, freeloading grasshoppers, sleazy but weak lizards, corporations, sharks and crazy girls with braces, dick-head automobiles, food critics (food critic as main villain? C'mon you guys), midget french chefs, and galactic computer systems that can simply be shut down with the press of a button...these do not make good villains.
So why are Pixar's films completely taken with being cleverly and cutely subversive? The french food critic is the villain! Haha! Isn't that clever? The boy with braces is too! Haha! Clever! The rat does the cooking and he's the best chef in the kitchen! That's so...reversed! Haha!
This gets tiresome after a while. I do not like all this glowing feeling surrounding Pixar, as if their original conceptions were just too wonderful and awe-inspiring to check. As if their imaginative premises automatically equalled their actual stories.
As if they were above the task of coming up with a real palpable villain.
Pixar: your animation is absolutely brilliant, but look, you guys aren't the freaking Shrine of Perpetual Wisdom and Derivers of Life Lessons from the Most Unlikely Contexts (Pixar really wants you to know: FROM THE MOST UNLIKELY CONTEXTS! Aren't we geniuses?) that you pretend to be. Grow up. Step down from your cloud nine. Come up with some real villains.
That way your films will also be more geared toward children as well.
Oh yes, I was going to say something about WALL*E, which I watched last night, and which was the reason for this post. What I wanted to say was...meh.
That's my review. No just kidding. I learned that word from Tim Jones. And apparently we have The Simpsons to thank for it. I won't say feh because I don't hold the movie in contempt, but it is meh. Anyhow, yes, my first complaint you already know. Villains. Totally and utterly lacking. Oh yes, yes, of course; I get it...the REAL villain is waste itself! Or ingratitude for life! Meh.
The character WALL*E (does anyone know how to type in the period so that it shows at mid-height between 'L' and 'E'?) gives one of the best moments in the movie when he discovers a spork - and after some debate places it between his collection of forks and spoons. There's some other stuff too where he gets into outer space going after his robot babe and sees earth and the great, fantastic, Spielbergian wonder of it all is...well, almost as exciting as the part where he discovers the spork.
They board a kind of hermetically sealed planetary space ship. What you discover I'll leave to you. Let's say it's sort of: Down home farm boy with enlightened veggie girl galactic road trip dynamo meets Pigs in Space.
There we come to my other favourite part of the movie: the life of the ones on board the ship. It's quite hilarious, if heavy-handed (pun intended).
Oh yes, I kind of liked the little clean-up robot. These foreign contaminant robots and their crew made me think of...Japan. Even though I've never been to Japan. Strange.
Yeah...it was good I guess. Maybe a little better than Ratatouille. Hard to say. No point in comparing, because I didn't think much of Ratatouille either. Their stories are sorts of flat (if continually clever) expenditures of original premises that gave the artists too much glee in the conception stage, who in the process of their creative euphoria forgot to come up with real villains.
You see, without vivid villains a story doesn't get far past the stage of self-consciousness. The life lessons it has to give, while perhaps endearing in some way, do not get imparted in any visceral level. They sort of remain on cloud nine.
Oh yes. They need real villains.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
was impeccably obliging, she.
Yet gradually it dawned
she was rather cold and shady.
One day spoke on the phone with a Métis;
did not like to leave his farm,
said he didn’t like people,
yet he was wonderfully matey.
while bicycling fast and past
the fields’ ditch’s dusk musk.
Now one may think that that
is no great deal, but stat
and hard the pain it thrust.
A fingertip is too fat
to take out a gnat,
though fingertips may husk
an ear of corn, no spat.
Other pains, in leg or back,
with added pains will bust.
For instance, scratch from cat
would be no great drat,
if you were stabbed after that
with an elephant tusk.
Yet if first you were stabbed
with the tusk, and then the cat
scratched, it would be that
added bit to bring it all back
that would be tor-tu-ous.
Lesson: don't believe every mess
your mind makes out to be is there,
lest you make a bigger mess, and lose your prayer.
I could not remove the gnat,
so settled with the fact
my head has its own digestive tract.
and with too much automation.
While in my car, I wish it would last
more than three blocks' ambulation.
At times I wonder that maybe
just pouring coffee's what's pleasant.
Then the first tip to mouth gives glee,
and where the mug was, coffee's crescent.
You go about leaving these rings,
these really stupid silly things
on table top, dash and paper;
the stain it never tapers.
Sometimes when busy staining paper
with other things than coffee rings,
such as with words, you forget until later,
forget its been half an hour
since you last took a sip - and then you sip
into your mouth, stark cold coffee
and, hmmm, have to, hmmm, swallow it.
Friday, November 28, 2008
"Its circuit boards cracked, the camera refused to start up for ten minutes … at least, not until members of the cast and crew gathered around the camera and prayed over it. At that point it fired up, and the shoot was completed.
Tim says that in the whirlwind of post-production he and his brother completely forgot about the incident - until they sent the camera back to the manufacturer. The manufacturer, he relates, said that “all the circuit boards were cracked and there was no way this camera should have been able to work.”
This incident, which the young director posits may be a veritable miracle, is just one of a host of remarkable stories that surround the making of “Volition.” Indeed, the creation of the short film is steeped in coincidences and startling circumstances that hint that “Volition” yet has some definite purpose to serve."" (From Thursday, November 27th. LifeSiteNews)
The Morgan brothers (Tim and Matthew) made this short film Volition, which interweaves three time periods that together, contextualize abortion as a great part of that long line; the constant inclination throughout history "[to] classify other groups of people as less than human, as sub-human, through scientific means or whatever means possible, so as to rationalize the mistreating and the suppressing of the other group.”
LifeSiteNews has the article on the making of the film here.
The film, started as an outline by Tim in a fever one night in Israel, was later funded by Doorpost, an online film competition the brothers had entered some time back and had forgotten about. (Doorpost website found here.) The competition's theme was 'Hope'.
The film (Volition) can be viewed here, among the others.
For the kind of short film that it is I think it works on a number of levels. Typically a film that juxtoposes time periods to give context would make me yawn, but here it has vitality. Interesting is how the very title, Volition, as an objective fact of life, has such bearing on the direction of life. Personal human life is either this great miracle or it is dross, and our choices (non-choices included) either contribute and enrich that miracle or dishonour it, and its Creator. Abortion is the ultimate 'test' of that either/or recognition.
These filmmakers show much promise. And so does the actual fact that such films are getting their ground in high level competitions. Says Tim:
"[The Christian community]...has kind of left the art world on the back burner. My vision would be them treating the art world, the film world, with the same sense of urgency as they’re treating, for instance, an overseas mission.
“This is an emergency for our culture, to be able to influence our film, our arts, the American pop culture in this way.
“I know there’s a lot of Christian investors out there...My vision is kind of having the Church as passionate about the art world and the culture and film, and having people, kind of like in the old days of the Church, where they would sponsor the artist that would influence the modern pop culture. I guess my vision is of seeing that happen again, where the Church sees the urgency of influencing the film and entertainment world.”
More about Tim and Matthew Morgan and their film company can be found at: http://www.rockyfarmstudio.com/
H/T: Spirit Daily
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
It's a rather new phenonomenon occurring more and more with yahoo. And I say 'new' because I have been using yahoo for around seven years now.
I know my weaknesses (at least some of them), and well, want a different e-mail.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
St. John the Baptist
A young lady who I used to work with at my old job. Drawn from memory.
These plants are easy to spot. Just look for the hugest single leaves you've ever seen. The ones with the diameters of hoola-hoops - or larger. They are also very leathery. Once the fall hits here in British Columbia you can still see who has them in their yards by the three foot heaps of brown mush. The decomposed leaves go into protecting the root crown over winter. Though some people clean up the mush instead. We get wet moderate winters - thankfully.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
The traffic slips through. It is unheard
virginal song only. The gathered intimacy
of frosted miles that sung the night
is now revealed a little while.
The day was a gasp and done. To dark.
The day was an eyelid pried slowly back
and the orb held stark for no memorable pace
before being closed quick with
no hark or recognition
of another beholder.
On the skyline of the day's eye whites,
coal conifers never once went green.
Why the field’s rabbit has for a tail
a cotton swab, like a small snowball,
is not perhaps a why the evolutionist would court
in his thesis on the growth of lagomorphs.
“Perhaps it’s a kind of fluff appendix:
its use not obvious or apparent
as the teeth or feet or ears…O blast it,
a mystery for the diary!” which would be
the end of the tedious enquiry.
Cruel to be kind – in a sense true, to wit?
Cruelty is cruel because, says the sweet lip,
you must ride kindness with a whip
in order to be cruel, propagate it.
There are rushing voices come fresh from the hill
tree-clad, up to the redwoods and firs that crown
the top, where one can wait and draw in
the distillations of the din, and so
hear them right - from the flats and beyond below
flecked so one may see their far expanse
with the last of the snow. What is worst has skunked the air:
precept hearsay, taken to be rock, that the breaking
of the perfect aim is perfect.
When he was no longer an infant in her lap,
but then lay there with faltered arm and rent hand,
expired as morning, was Christ ever
so inexhaustibly his mother’s?
Thursday, November 13, 2008
smiths and farmers and traders and traitors
to the brink of the hamlet came. Smoky day:
mud cleaving to feet, faint lowing, cow stool falling,
clutch of children coughing; few others bawling,
and standing before them their leader decreed:
"We are being stripped and stripped in a
deepening winter which we do not heed.
The belly’s skin is exposed already,
and a ruddy shiver scribbles over it a scroll, reading:
famishment, though presently it’s plump, and the great tree
in the forest’s midst has fallen which we
once thought could not be felled by any wind.
"And people see it lying on its side
and only have this to say:
“So it was not such a great tree after all”
And there are others who say to them:
“But you always disbelieved it was great when you
did not wish to nourish its roots”,
while still some others say:
“But both your tree-talk is an overbearing curse
and we must all amalgamate into
a new talk.” And still some silent others
with sore stressed bones, in blackening winds which cut
their vision off like monolithic stage drapes,
plant saplings without a word."
"So, the task at hand, you folks, standing on this hill:
which one to be hailed, which one to be hoodwinked,
which one to be misrepresented and which one to be killed?"
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
This is, strangely enough, one of those hidden gems that go unnoticed in the world of film. And not because no one has heard of it, or because no one has watched it - that is the strange part. It is very well known, but its actual quality as a film seems to go with nary a word. People ransack the most obscure, most "independent" of filmic depths, looking for the great ones that hardly anyone else knows about, and so resurface holding to the light what they think they discovered, and lo, Criterion has done a restoration of their find, and every other miner of obscure films knows about it. And there sits The Karate Kid, a film (a big box office one of its time) of quiet and understated depths, of the most natural acting you'll ever see, of some of the most excellent film direction that it doesn't even need to try to be original, happily and contentedly wearing its deceptive and rumoured mask of 80's melodramatic-teen-championing-against-all-the-odds dorkiness.
People watch it and think they know what they're seeing. People actually think this movie is dated. People think because they imitated Daniel LaRusso as kids, doing their crane kicks on the trampoline with a band around their foreheads, that therefore the movie must be 100% pure 80's cheese. Still others grant the movie some sort of begrudging merit, but only under the ruse of waxing nostalgic.
Many movies retain the fashions of the time of their making yet remain timeless in spite of them. You know, just try and sort of ignore the bellbottoms and dead slang. The Karate Kid on the other hand is not good in spite of its 80's fashions, but it is good alongside them - because it is that good. The movie lets its 80's milieu be complete and lets it go right alongside, neither trying to make this companion relevant or irrelevant. Instead the movie's goodness gets the best of this companion: it even uses this companion to hide its eternal truths, thereby (paradoxically) making this blatant companion rather invisible. The movie does it so successfully that even if this companion tries to take its revenge under a song track entitled, "You’re the best" by Joe Esposito during the climax tournament towards the end, its efforts are still turned towards the good.
I cannot praise enough how well buried are the themes in this film. And how finely they come out. It is so subtly there that it makes other more sophisticated films about human relationships look like pigs running for their slop.
The buried undercurrent, the palpitation running throughout is the dynamic of father and son. The father teaching his son true manliness, and the son imitating his father. Is it coincidence that Mr. Miyagi's (Pat Morita in one the best performances of film) continual referring to Daniel as "Daniel-san" (a Japanese custom of courtesy when speaking anyone's name) sounds remarkably close to "Daniel son"?
Is Mr. Miyagi's back story any hint in his motivations? And what about Daniel (in one of the best teen performances of film), who comes to California with his mom - no father even mentioned? Yet the film hides these things so well that they would go unnoticed - and to me, that is why they are so powerful.
The reverberations reach to the suburban asphalt and fiberglass vehicles.
In Flanders Fields
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) Canadian Army
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Consider a subscription to StAR, right here. They send out six issues per year - and at a reasonable cost. You get more than your money's worth.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Yet just another vapid but scary article on yahoo about the ascendancy of spiritually and morally bankrupt narcissistic drones coming to kill the unenlightened. The reviewed author Don Tapscott talks about "Net gen-ers":
"They are a generation with really strong values of integrity"
This statement would tell us that the generation in question has no integrity to speak of. Values of integrity? What in all the blazing heaps of horse shit is that supposed to mean? It's a bunk statement. You can reverse the order of the words and it would make no difference: They are a generation with a really strong integrity of values. They have integrity with really strong generation values. They value a generation with really strong integrity. They are a really strong value of generation integrity. They generation integrity values strong really. Blah blah blah.
"Don Tapscott says those weaned on the Internet - people born roughly between 1977 and 1997 - are more politically savvy, socially engaged and family-centred than society gives them credit for."
Oh really? That would include me. Me! Me! I am more politically savvy, socially engaged and family-centred than society gives me credit for! I am way better (and to say that means I must be family-centred) than all those before me who were politically unconfident, socially unengaged and not family-centred (yes, all those people before me who partook of those three things without depositing "I" as a precursor), even though political confidence, social engagement and family-centeredness are merely the natural foundations that go into the make-up of every single human person ever before and ever to come on the face of this planet in whatever degrees, including the most psychopathic, and is therefore nothing special to boast about, but never mind.
"This is the first time in human history when children are an authority about something really important," said Tapscott, author of a dozen books on the use of technology in society including "Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything" and "Paradigm Shift: The New Promise of Information Technology."
Even the titles of his books are stupid and self-negating: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. For the sake of argument, if the entire globe were "collaborating", then what are they collaborating on? Something really important. How do we know it is something really important? Because children are an authority on it for the first time in human history (the ones who weren't aborted). The children are an authority on what? On something really important. What is really important? That children are an authority on it for the first time in human history.
""Still, he acknowledges there are widespread stereotypes and fears about this group. They've repeatedly been called lazy, unmotivated, dumb and narcissistic, said Tapscott.
"None of this is supported by the data," he said, pointing to IQ scores and college graduation levels to support his thesis.
"We've always been uneasy about young people," but the fact that today they are authorities on all things Internet is "a real formula for disruption, and for challenging many institutions. We fear what we don't understand.""
Uh, what about the narcissistic part? "None of this is supported by the data," he said, pointing to IQ scores and college graduation levels to support his thesis. You know when a generation is narcissistic when they point to their authoritive "data" and IQ scores as proof that they are not narcissistic. They are a real formula for disruption, and for challenging many institutions. They are not lazy because they are authorities on all things Internet. They are motivated because they want to cause disruption and challenge many institutions. They are smart because they graduate from dumbed-down colleges and regard information and data as wisdom. They are not narcissistic because they look outside of themselves only to cause disruption.
""Today, the 11-year-old at the breakfast table is an authority on a digital revolution that's changing every institution in society."
He outlines eight "norms" of this generation, such as prizing freedom of choice and customization - adapting work stations, cellphones and so on - at work and play. They are skeptics when presented with information online and elsewhere, and expect speedy responses when buying items on the web."
Yes, their norms (read: standards) are these: freedom of choice (the "right" not to be told they cannot do whatever they feel like doing) and fiddling with their gadgets while disbelieving anything presented to their senses, and expecting their web-purchased items to arrive at their door step nearly immediately or else it will provoke their wrath. Oh no; no narcissism there.
"Tapscott said his latest research filled him with hope because "Net gen-ers are smarter, quicker and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors.""
Quicker in what ways? Smarter in what ways? Let's subtract one element, lets say...electricity - and then ask the question. Quicker in what ways? Smarter in what ways? More tolerant of diversity than their predecessors in what ways? But don't you love that last part? More tolerant of diversity than their predecessors. One thing is sure: you have to be one of the most bigoted, subtly intolerant, head-up-your-own-ass arrogant, perfectly blind persons to read that sentence and feel, with a nice, harmless, self-assured feeling, that it applies to you.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Crucifixion -- Georges Rouault
“I do not touch the political side,” said the Count serenely, “but only the philosophical. It illustrates how the wise man can get behind time and space and turn the levers of them, so to speak, so that the whole world turns round before our eyes. But is it so hard for you people to believe that spiritual powers are really more powerful than material ones.”
“Well,” said old Smart cheerfully, “I don’t profess to be an authority on spiritual powers. What do you say, Father Brown?”
“The only thing that strikes me,” answered the little priest, “is that all the supernatural acts we have yet heard of seem to be thefts. And stealing by spiritual methods seem to me much the same as stealing by material ones.” -- The Song of the Flying Fish, Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton
Even the Catholic Church's negative proclamations (condemnations, prohibitions) are an embodiment of something at her centre that is not of this world, and of which her followers do not sustain within themselves by following their own will; indeed, not even preserved by their faith, though their faith is essential.
The Church's negative proclamations are not essentially what make her stand against the grain. For every one of her negative proclamations opens out behind itself, if given thought for longer than one's bigotry allows, and connects to a vast cosmology and reason - reason elevated in the Incarnation, which holds the eternal destiny of people in mind.
For instance, the depth, meaning and sacredness of family grows positively and reveals more beauty and gravitas alongside, though not due to, the Church's negative response to contraception. The prohibition of contraception as a mortal sin is inherently tied to an even more uncompromising stance on the positive sacredness and goodness of the family, springing from the sacred conjugal act. The Church's unwavering negative prohibitions are connected to, and outweighed by, an even more extreme goodness, sacredness and freedom - these, as objective realities. One cannot take into account her prohibitions as such and expect to understand them without taking upon oneself the immense positive proposal that is our personal fulfillment and salvation. This positive proposal that is also the most practical and sensible. The proposal that make sense of our very reason, by giving us reason's end.
No sooner do we accept these (prohibitions), even hypothetically, than the whole of the Church's universality threatens our own paradigm with the Word in whose image we are made: it is not the prohibitions that gall and inflame her enemies' cynicism, but that she has all the apparent madness of being unreservedly hardwired to reality, to the core of it, so much so, that the precarious and vastly unrewarding life her accusers are enslaved to, under the forms of entitlement, relativity, autonomy, worldly acceptance and so on, the Church engulfs in the mere advanced initial flames of produced reason. No dichotomy. (What! Using reason as though it were connected to objective truth!) While in so doing, she completely reframes the whole scenario, the entire battle (whether one recognizes the battle or no), from the timeless precursor that is her endless potency within, which is the Blessed Sacrament, the institution of which is the for-real, unbloody reenactment of Calvary.
Now, it is the very point that the Church's rules and guides and principles and prohibitions are there precisely because of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ; because of Christ's coming to us; because of God sending His only Son; because of God's scandalous coming to His creatures as one of His creatures. No, God did not become perfect man for the reason of making a bunch of rules, but what we don't seem to realize is that if those preexisting sanctions were altogether abolished, it would be an imposition - among other things. Since Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, the rules are there on the basis of His Incarnation - in the form of being simply sustained from the past and transfigured into a whole new meaning. They are in a very real sense no longer rules or laws because our end is not in them, but in Jesus. Because of Jesus' Incarnation, everything of and about the human person, except sin, has been so identified with God - identified to the point of actual incarnation - that everything human takes on an immense and exquisite importance. Not to mention delicate and joyful importance. Man is a sacrament.
Thus, there is a sense in which the true freedom we want is to be found in the Church precisely because she covers all these details about the life of man while at the same time not being bound to them (the rules) as though they were her, and our, end. To repeat from before, the fact that the Church has these prohibitions in actual fact testifies that she does not infringe on one's personal freedom; but she would be infringing on one's personal freedom if she somehow excised the rules and merely minted us with our end. She leaves to us this inescapable notion that the way to true freedom begins where we recognize where we are shackled. Some would say the Church shackles people, merely because the Church addresses all these things that shackle us. The prohibition of contraception is nothing but a perfect thing (as far as prohibitions go). For contraception is nothing but a prohibition. (It would be superfluous to note how ironic it is that a person complains that the Church wants to infringe upon and imprison one's freedom with regards to her stance on contraception - contraception which is the act of putting constrictive, infringing devices around the gift of sex - but well, there it is)
What if, while eating at the breakfast table, you had a curiosity about what 'your horoscope' had to say in the newspaper, which happened to be open at the horoscopes page? Say you had a curious impulse to read just for fun - as though it were no more than say, perusing the comic strips. Would you think it rather extreme if you were told that such an impulse came from the 'dark side'; that it was very much a real temptation to be resisted, and if not resisted, a sin?
Aided by the mediocrity and lack of standard surrounding us (indeed, the imposition of non-standards), we find that when it comes to our own experience, we isolate it, in what is a kind of reverse hypocrisy: we give it the "humble" aspect of having no importance, of having no ramifications. This is one of the main causes of peoples' depression, or nagging emptiness; it is not the recognition of the sin and ensuing repentance that is a cause of depression, but the sustained inability to come to grips with it. The sustained inability to see sin as sin is a virulent cause of depression today. In short, unreality. I throw a baseball through a pane of glass…and maybe the glass was made to break; after all, that's what glass does - it breaks. Recall Chesterton's words about how when he was told, yes, he was right, he felt horrible, but the minute he was told he had been wrong, he leapt for joy.
Where does one encounter the spiritual world if not at the breakfast table? In the addressing of such miniscule details begins either our path to truth and freedom, or begins our path of subjective rationalizations. And we are always beginning. How many are there today, who, when you say the word "spiritual", actually think, That which is more real than this world and which actually gives this world material form? Not many. Most are actually inclined to think of it as the reverse. Many tend to associate the ethereal and vague with the word "spiritual", like something produced entirely by ourselves - like gas. But it is here where the Church becomes distinctly clear-cut and not vague.
All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future.48 Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. 2116
First thing of note is the assigning of horoscopes (those seemingly glorified fortune cookies) in the same section that addresses divination and "recourse to Satan, demons, conjuring up the dead…" While certainly horoscopes are not in the same intensely dark league as "recourse to demons", especially when read for passing entertainment, horoscopes are, in the Catechism, unmistakably placed right alongside all those other much darker things. It is not what you would call a good thing. Then there is the unabashed language itself: "…all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers." (emphasis mine)
Aside from the thoroughness and straight-up manner in which such things are addressed in the paragraph, the word conciliate jumps out at me. Some definitions of conciliate:
To overcome the distrust or hostility of; placate; win over: to conciliate an angry competitor
To win or gain (goodwill, regard, or favour)
To become agreeable or reconciled
To overcome the distrust or animosity of; appease
To regain or try to regain (friendship or goodwill) by pleasant behaviour
To make or attempt to make compatible; reconcile
To gain or try to gain someone's friendship or goodwill
Cause to be more favourably inclined; gain the good will of
Come to terms
Make (one thing) compatible with (another)
Hidden powers. There is in everyone this wish to appease. To win over people (or the unseen forces from people) who would otherwise dislike us, or seem to. One of the things that play in this is the worship of our self. The obsessing over whether we are liked by someone is to 'consult our horoscope', and see what it says about our self. What condiment are you? What does your taste in food say about you? Take our quiz. What art era are you? Take our quiz. Just fill in the blanks and we'll tell you what kind of person you are. I want the full scoop on myself; tell me doc, hold nothing back. Please God, let the diagnosis consist of more than ten syllables. I couldn't bear anything less. The wish to conciliate hidden powers. The actual consulting of horoscopes is but a form (a rather pathetic form) of practising this 'conciliation'.
If that were not clear about where the Church stands in her belief in the realm of spirit, and the Church's place in it, testifying that this reality we call a spiritual world is conveyed through its being a literal war, going on right now, there is the next section:
All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity. 2117
"…by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion". I quote this not as pertaining to horoscopes specifically but for the language. Note how much the Church believes in the objective reality of this subject. There's no generality here; no making it fuzzy by declaring it a lot of fickleness; no pietistic incompetence about the reality of the darkness. It is the language of one, a soldier perhaps, coming in from the noisy battle lines, with injuries perhaps, and, being on his way to get healing, doesn't mince his words to the bystanders who ask him for a little information about what is going on out there.
Her declarations of truth (in the case of this essay, merely the declarations in the form of negative prohibitions) about the matters of this world have a precursor of revealed truth about that world which gives this world material form: the spiritual world, which is continually intersecting and penetrating this world. And she announces again and again, much to the chagrin of others who want their quietism: "There is a mighty war going on between the angels of heaven and the demons of hell; but be assured hell will not prevail". And in the words of Pope John Paul II:
I would like to remind everyone of a basic principle of faith: prior to and beyond our projects there is a mystery of love which surrounds and guides us: the mystery of God’s love. If we want to give good direction to our life, we must learn to discern its plan, by reading the mysterious "road signs" God puts in our daily history. For this purpose neither horoscopes nor fortune-telling is useful. What is needed is prayer, authentic prayer, which should always accompany a life decision made in conformity with God’s law. (Angelus address, Sept. 6, 1998)
There we come to what was also addressed in the sections from the Catechism: the mystery of God's love. Again, from section 2116, after listing all those 'divination' things (like horoscopes) we ought not to do, says: They contradict the honour, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
This is the most important in understanding the prohibition of horoscopes, and all the Church's prohibitions for that matter. Why do these things contradict the mystery of God's love? Or to put it another way: why do they have to contradict God's love? Why can't one read horoscopes and still not contradict God's love? Precisely because God's love has already given us the ways and means of attaining what we wish to attain when we read horoscopes.
The ways and means God has provided cost Him nothing less than His life - His only begotten Son. And His Son, being our very life, is intent upon and fascinated (in the most disinterested way) with the details of our very life - more than we typically are ourselves. No dichotomy.
Yet we act as though this uncomprehended Love was a mere matter of opinion or some kind of political difference and go ahead and do foolish things like read horoscopes or have our palms read or worse things, as though it were more conducive to who we are as human persons, who go about as people asleep in the depths of salvific history.
What an insult to the exposed, sacred heart of God. Do we understand that Christ makes Himself vulnerable in the Blessed Sacrament? Yet this is His power over our hearts: His practically imperceptible tenderness. When you see how masterfully Jesus abides in us when we receive the Blessed Sacrament, how he masters someone by making Himself dependent on that one, you see that when you stray away from this, it is a sin against Love itself. It is also an ugly expression of ingratitude. Compounded on this after a little time there rises fear. Fear that God is some bully wanting to nearly crush us like some overbearing and rigid father; one who wants to take away our fun and pastime comforts and our shelter.
Of course, in reading horoscopes the way most do, for 'entertainment', one doesn't commit an extremely grave offence on par with those committed by Satanists, who steal the Blessed Sacrament and desecrate it in their rituals. But make no mistake: it is a transgression; one that needs to be obliterated and washed away in the sacrament of confession - along with all our other offences.
I was working at a lawn and garden equipment store (a job which I quit after around two months) and one day the wife of my boss, who was also my boss, asked for my driver's license before I went with their truck to deliver an order to another equipment store, since it was my first time doing delivery. When I showed her my driver's license, she became interested in my birth date. I believe she said her birthday was October 27 or something, two days after mine, and with an interested bantering that I could tell was yet serious, she said with a kind of intentness, "So, you’re a scorpio too. That's good; you also bite." ("Bite" here was intended as the synonym for "sting", and not "bite" in its derogatory slang sense)
I could tell she put stock into such things, though it was fun-seeming. The thing is, though it was just a passing incident, it was quite an enormous temptation. A temptation to what, one might ask. Well, a temptation to pride. To selfishness. To vanity. Maybe we've heard these words too much before. Maybe try something else: To an untested, hermetically sealed complacency. Let's try another. To gazing into the mirror of the false self and glorying in one's own "personality". Let's try yet another. To conciliating 'oneself' through a manner that will never give it to one, while ignoring the undeserved and freely given manner in which one can conciliate oneself (confession). In other words, to things that lead one away from the cross. (This by no means is intended to mean that I live my life in full accord consistently with the cross; but, well, one is either being led closer to the cross, or away from it)
Pride? We picture pride in phantasmagoric shapes, overthrowing us like it does some guy climbing the echelons of privileged society in some mob movie. Where does pride occur but during such mundane seconds of everyday life and, in consistency with those everyday mundane seconds, in a form quite subtle, even homely, even passing? Such temptations can come about in the span of a few words. And they are indeed spiritual. All that old "monkish" talk of past saints, mystics, hermits and the like, about avoiding the ways of the world have something very vital to tell us. There is too often an artillery of flaying knives, flying spears and arrows in the everyday gabbing between folks.
You will notice the cross comes between things. One fellow in the Epiphany Sacred Arts Guild, who is an experienced calligrapher and illuminator, and who funnily enough, made his past living as an enamel sign-maker, recounted an episode where he was involved for a day or so with some prison ministry. He was repulsed by the insincerity of the prisoners' feigning interest in being evangelized. They were all big smiles and enthusiasm, but retaining the full con-man awareness of the hardened inmate. And so, he was telling how much he wanted to get out of there, naturally being disgusted. It is of course necessary that prison ministry still do what they do, in spite of such things, because you never know, and besides, the ministry is not to be curtailed or shaped by immediate response. Anyhow, he strolled outside after some session to where the inmates were, who just a minute ago were 'being evangelized', and they were talking full tilt amongst themselves about their 'signs'. When he came in contact with their group they asked him what his 'sign' was. His initial disgust not yet being quelled, he said back in his Swiss accent, not without some indignation: "The sign of the cross!"
And that pretty much says it. Because that is our true sign. Not only that but it is the sign that preserves for us the very reality and nature of signs. Signs and symbols have a peculiar way of aggregating what they signify. Then there are the ultimate signs, the sacraments of the Church. They are signs that literally impart the reality they signify. Signs that are what they signify. There are seven of them:
Anointing of the sick/dying
The cross before the riches; the riches through the cross; the cross opens the floodgates of riches; and the riches are made all the more rich through the fact that the cruciformed soul, being both enriched and crucified, does not hoard the riches lavished on it. The soul's partaking of those riches becomes of such a delicate, exquisite partaking, that the soul desires more and more this being cruciformed. It can take delight in the smallest of things, for the soul's ultimate desire is set in order: the desire for God. The soul desires a certain obliteration which is the opposite of suicidal nihilism, or quashing of the self; it is the desire of being fully small as one is and being lost in the depths of God. It is a desire of proportion taken to its ultimate end; the desire of the proper proportion of the creature in relation to God. This lived proportion is endless.
The beginning of this lived proportion cannot begin anywhere but where you are the worst, right in the concrete details of your life. For there lies our assurance that we will not try and set bounds to God's love, which is boundless. And the fact is that every one of us has in the depths of his or her heart, the seed of rebellion - the seed of rebellion which we, because of our fallibility and fallen state, inherently take to be normal, and which we normalize and rationalize. It doesn't matter that you’re a nice person. Niceness never has and never will be the final test of human behaviour. Plenty of nice people are nasty. Some will say that peoples' niceness is precisely where they are most nasty.
A person who guffaws the Church's statements on these matters most likely does not realize that the Church takes these signs, like horoscopes, more seriously than those who read them. Not only seriously as in the Church regards them as something that will draw people away from the truth, but seriously as in the Church regards them as an objective reality, as consequential and real as fire. If you are ever in doubt about one or other of the Church's teachings, remember this: at that very moment of your doubting, the Church believes more the reality of Satan than you do.
So, there are three basic things here: the Church in condemning the reading of horoscopes and other forms of divinization typically takes more seriously and objectively those things than does the sinner mired in them. Secondly, the really important thing to remember about the efficacy of such prohibitions is the Love of God, and that it is His love which offers us more than we can imagine, and being fully open to us, is open to offence, which is what we often commit against His Love. Thirdly, signs aggregate realities; some totally (sacraments), some in lesser but still significant manners, and our true sign is the sign of the cross; the sign of the cross contains God's Love (of the aforementioned second point), and renders real and readable all other signs placed in our way, as opposed to not seeing objectively their reality as mentioned in the above-mentioned first point.
Being in this way entails humility towards signs and their real significances. This gives way to a humble approach to the deepness of reality, an approach imbued with awe. We take care then, in our contact with seemingly insignificant signs; we will be that much more unclouded in our perceptions.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
"There was an end to Ilium; and an end came to Rome;
And a man plays on a painted stage in the land that he calls home;
Arch after arch of triumph, but floor beyond falling floor,
That lead to a low door at last; and beyond that is no door."
I've held off posting what is perhaps my favourite Chesterton poem, but today feel I should. It is The Ballad of St. Barbara.
I had the mysterious fortune of encountering G.K. Chesterton without secondary reference. Perhaps I should thank my parents that they had a few of his books lying around the house, which I started reading somewhere around mid high school - as I thought, merely through a kind of curiosity. I think the first book was a compilation of essays entitled, by the editor, Brave New Family. That was in mid high school and I did not largely know what Chesterton was talking about in these essays, but what did register was his tone, his voice. I loved it immediately.
So, some years later, out of secondary school I was well immersed in Chesterton, and getting more and more immersed with all of his works. I was in a book store and came across a cheap new paperback of his entire collection of poems. I remember the cost was below five dollars, as it was also put on a bargain sale. One of the best things I ever bought. (Anyone could say that of any of Chesterton's works of course)
The cover of the book had that detail from Sir James Gunn's realistic painting of G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and Maurice Baring around the table. I remember being surprised at how fat G.K. Chesterton was. I had been picturing him the whole time as a debonair thin guy.
Anyhow, I still have that book, and it is wonderfully tattered and well-worn. Because it was well read. The Ballad of the White Horse and Lepanto were of course poems I returned to often. But The Ballad of St. Barbara really, really spoke to me. Dale Ahlquist has a good review of it here.
Here's the poem (found here):
The Ballad of St. Barbara
By G.K. Chesterton
(St Barbara is the patron saint of gunners, and those in danger of sudden death.)
When the long grey lines came flooding upon Paris in the plain,
We stood and drank of the last free air we never could taste again:
They had led us back from the lost battle, to halt we knew not where
And stilled us: and our gaping guns were dumb with our despair.
The grey tribes flowed for ever from the infinite lifeless lands
And a Norman to a Breton spoke, his chin upon his hands.
"There was an end to Ilium; and an end came to Rome;
And a man plays on a painted stage in the land that he calls home;
Arch after arch of triumph, but floor beyond falling floor,
That lead to a low door at last; and beyond that is no door."
And the Breton to the Norman spoke, like a small child spoke he,
And his sea-blue eyes were empty as his home beside the sea:
"There are more windows in one house than there are eyes to see,
There are more doors in a man's house, but God has hid the key:
Ruin is a builder of windows; her legend witnesseth
Barbara, the saint of gunners, and a stay in sudden death."
It seemed the wheel of the world stood still an instant in its turning,
More than the kings of the earth that turned with the turning of Valmy mill:
While trickled the idle tale and the sea-blue eyes were burning,
Still as the heart of a whirlwind the heart of the world stood still.
"Barbara the beautiful
Had praise of tongue and pen:
Her hair was like a summer night
Dark and desired of men.
Her feet like birds from far away
That linger and light in doubt;
And her face was like a window
Where a man's first love looked out.
Her sire was master of many slaves,
A hard man of his hands;
They built a tower about her
In the desolate golden lands,
Sealed as the tyrants sealed their tombs,
Planned with an ancient plan,
And set two windows in the tower
Like the two eyes of a man."
Our guns were set towards the foe; we had no word for firing.
Grey in the gateway of St Gond the Guard of the tyrant shone;
Dark with the fate of a falling star, retiring and retiring,
The Breton line went backward and the Breton tale went on.
"Her father had sailed across the sea
For the harbour of Africa
When all the slaves took up their tools
For the bidding of Barbara.
She smote the bare wall with her hand
And bade them smite again;
She poured them wealth of wine and meat
To stay them in their pain.
And cried through the lifted thunder
Of thronging hammer and hod
"Throw open the third window
In the third name of God."
Then the hearts failed and the tools fell,
And far towards the foam,
Men saw a shadow on the sands
And her father coming home."
Speak low and low, along the line the whispered word is flying,
Before the touch, before the time, we may not loose a breath:
Their guns must mash us to the mire and there be no replying,
Till the hand is raised to fling us for the final dice to death.
""There were two windows in your tower,
For all between the sun and moon
In the lands of Africa.
Hath a man three eyes, Barbara,
A bird three wings,
That you have riven roof and wall
To look upon vain things?"
Her voice was like a wandering thing
That falters yet is free,
Whose soul has drunk in a distant land
Of the rivers of liberty.
"There are more wings than the wind knows
Or eyes that see the sun
In the light of the lost window
And the wind of the doors undone.
For out of the first lattice
Are the red lands that break
And out of the second lattice
Sea like a green snake,
But out of the third lattice
Under low eaves like wings
Is a new corner of the sky
And the other side of things."
It opened in the inmost place an instant beyond uttering,
A casement and a chasm and a thunder of doors undone,
A seraph's strong wing shaken out the shock of its unshuttering,
That split the shattered sunlight from a light beyond the sun.
"Then he drew sword and drave her
Where the judges sat and said,
"Caesar sits above the gods,
Barbara the maid.
Caesar hath made a treaty
With the moon and with the sun,
All the gods that men can praise
Praise him every one.
There is peace with the anointed
Of the scarlet oils of Bel,
With the Fish God, where the whirlpool
Is a winding stair to hell,
With the pathless pyramids of slime,
Where the mitred negro lifts
To his black cherub in the cloud
With the leprous silver cities
Where the dumb priests dance and nod,
But not with the three windows
And the last name of God.""
They are firing, we are falling, and the red skies rend and shiver us,
Barbara, Barbara, we may not loose a breath -
Be at the bursting doors of doom, and in the dark deliver us,
Who loosen the last window on the sun of sudden death.
"Barbara the beautiful
Stood up as queen set free,
Whose mouth is set to a terrible cup
And the trumpet of liberty.
"I have looked forth from a window
That no man now shall bar,
Caesar's toppling battle-towers
Shall never stretch so far.
The slaves are dancing in their chains,
The child laughs at the rod,
Because of the bird of the three wings,
And the third face of God."
The sword upon his shoulder
Shifted and shone and fell,
And Barbara lay very small
And crumpled like a shell."
What wall upon what hinges turned stands open like a door?
Too simple for the sight of faith, too huge for human eyes,
What light upon what ancient way shines to a far-off floor.
The line of the lost land of France or the plains of Paradise?
"Caesar smiled above the gods
His lip of stone was curled,
His iron armies wound like chains
Round and round the world,
And the strong slayer of his own
That cut down flesh for grass,
Smiled too, and went to his own tower
Like a walking tower of brass,
And the songs ceased and the slaves were dumb;
And far towards the foam
Men saw a shadow on the sands;
And her father coming home...
Blood of his blood upon the sword
Stood red but never dry.
He wiped it slowly, till the blade
Was blue as the blue sky.
But the blue sky split with a thunder-crack,
Spat down a blinding brand,
And all of him lay black and flat
As his shadow on the sand."
The touch and the tornado; all our guns give tongue together,
St Barbara for the gunnery and God defend the right,
They are stopped and gapped and battered as we blast away the weather,
Building window upon window to our lady of the light.
For the light is come on Liberty, her foes are falling, falling,
They are reeling, they are running, as the shameful years have run,
She is risen for all the humble, she has heard the conquered calling,
St Barbara of the Gunners, with her hand upon the gun.
They are burst asunder in the midst that eat of their own flatteries,
Whose lip is curled to order as its barbered hair is curled...
Blast of the beauty of sudden death, St Barbara of the batteries!
That blow the new white window in the wall of all the world.
For the hand is raised behind us, and the bolt smites hard
Through the rending of the doorways, through the death-gap of the Guard,
For the cry of the Three Colours is in Conde and beyond
And the Guard is flung for carrion in the graveyard of St Gond,
Through Mondemont and out of it, through Morin marsh and on
With earthquake of salutation the impossible thing is gone,
Gaul, charioted and charging, great Gaul upon a gun,
Tip-toe on all her thousand years and trumpeting to the sun:
As day returns, as death returns, swung backwards and swung home,
Back on the barbarous reign returns the battering-ram of Rome.
While that the east held hard and hot like pincers in a forge,
Came like the west wind roaring up the cannon of St George,
When the hunt is up and racing over stream and swamp and tarn
And their batteries, black with battle, hold the bridgeheads of the Marne,
And across the carnage of the Guard, by Paris in the plain,
The Normans to the Bretons cried and the Bretons cheered again...
But he that told the tale went home to his house beside the sea
And burned before St Barbara, the light of the windows three,
Three candles for an unknown thing, never to come again,
That opened like the eye of God on Paris in the plain.