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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Get With The Program

I just saw "Man Of Steel", AKA the new Superman movie. I am not capable of providing a review full of movie-buff knowledge or cynicism; I'm just not that guy. My very being resonates with unalloyed Truth and Love; if you want to play my heart-strings, they are available. I make no bones about that. I'm sorry.

This movie lays the Christ-homage on thick, and I loved every second of it. Superman's real name is Kal-El, or "Kal, son of El," which means plainly, "son of God." Clark/Kal tells us he is 33 years old. Actually, the film reminds us of this more than once, in case we are dull. We get views of Kal's childhood, and his foster father's wise decision that Kal should keep his true identity secret "until the right time," more than vaguely reminiscent of St. Mark's "Messianic Secret." In fact, Kal's human parents are so saintly that if you don't think of Mary and Joseph, well, I know some good PSR/RCIA teachers you can talk to.

In fact, the only thing approaching a first millennium Christian heresy is the fact that Kal doesn't know his origin (nor does he die, but this is forgivable). The movie goes from allegory to outright visible depiction of Our Lord when Superman speaks to his father toward the climax. Jor-El says to his son, "You can save them all," and as he departs the vessel we see Superman's arms spread forth as in the Crucifixion. You would have to be Dawkins or a dullard to either miss it, or to fail to be thankful to God while watching it. More than this, in Jor-El's synopsis of the destruction of their planet Kypton, he says it was the result of "population-control efforts." An orthodox Catholic could hardly ask for a stronger rebuke of the Culture of Death. Good is good, Bad is bad. The morality play is straight-up; there are no blinkered heroes or sympathetic villains. We need stories like this right now. I noted with some dismay that all the previews involved apocalyptic scenarios; we are a troubled people, and our stories reflect that. I'm glad this film is here to give us hope. In fact, Kal tells us that the 'S' on his chest means "hope." It is very difficult not to be moved by this.

It was a very clean movie overall; very little foul language, and no sexual situations worth mentioning. Lois Lane and Superman kiss at the end, but it isn't gaudy or offensive. Whether you take your children is up to you. But I am thankful that this movie moves us in a direction where our hero stories are but echoes of the Hero Story to end them all. Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever! (And the movie really was awesome.)

The Loss

I am a long way
from fond memories;
from the cold
that made us laugh,
the keys and the strings
which held such wonder.

I am very far from the hopes
caused by magical arrows
from a messenger's bow.

If I am only
The Disappointed One,
it is rather you who has
misjudged me.

In my anger still,
I would rather die
than harm you.
But it shows me
that I am wounded.

Do you still believe
you owe me nothing?
Are you certain you know
this man who does not exist?

If you knew the pain
I carried,
I do believe
you would not stay silent.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Here's My Sign

There's a scene in one of my favorite movies, For Love Of The Game, (note that there is not in fact another "The" in the title) where our co-protagonist Jane is caught off-guard by Billy's forwardness on what amounts to a first date. So, she makes a semi-joking comment that people should wear signs about themselves. It would save everyone time, she says.

Well, mine would have more than one word, unlike in the movie. Of course, I got to thinking what I'd put on mine. Forgive me if this betrays some frustration, but mine would say, "I am neither same-sex attracted nor asexual, and I am most certainly not your brother."

On the other hand, it's true that I'm not exactly the same as you, ever so desirous I may be to feel as "normal" as possible. Living with a physical disability from the beginning makes you different. I couldn't really understand it until I listened to Stanley Hauerwas. I am vulnerable--even emotionally--in ways that you are not. I must trust others in ways you do not. I find it even amusing that I am a living rebuke to self-centeredness, because at any moment, I may have a need that requires the assistance of whomever is there. I almost crashed down a hillside last night, and two random guys felt the need to rush over to help out. They could have been murderers, for all we know. There is a child-like innocence about me that I both cherish and despise.

Every person wants to feel strong and in control. That could be pride, many times, but it's also part of our dignity as human beings in God's image. We have something to give, all of us. If you deny me that, you're denying God who made me. Yes, there is something dreadfully wrong. I know it as well as you. You think I failed to notice that I am not 9-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis?

I once joked in a somewhat off-color way that I would start a conversation with a group of women by flatly stating, "Everything works." I grant you as a Christian that this would be crude, but I'm a filthy liar if I tell you I haven't wondered if that wasn't exactly what someone wanted to know.

But I no longer live with the conceit that we are the same. And yet, there are still those profound human things that I still want and need. And things will go better if I know you understand that.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

So, That's Happening

Big Things. Dude. At least I can say that if my old buddy wasn't struggling with a medical issue or getting on TV, I'd have less to write about. [That was shockingly self-referential.--ed.] I know.

I just wanted to share a few things I appreciate about Russ Ramsey while I'm at it. In case he doesn't know, or has forgotten.

There is not a single inch of the world that doesn't belong to Jesus Christ, ultimately. And if you meet Russ, you know it. Better still, you believe it. I didn't know when I met Russ that I was a creative person; I didn't know that I had something a little unique to give. He used to have these very colorful sheets of paper outlining the talks he'd give. There'd be all these pop culture and literature and art references; he sees Christ in everything. And he never did it to be cool, although frankly, it didn't hurt the cause. He did it to show us that the reason that we resonate with so much of this stuff is because its goodness comes from God, and we are made to resonate with Him.

He always had a little space called "Kettinger's Korner" or something like that, where some question I asked would be used to clarify something. I always felt really special at those times. Would you believe that I have doubted whether I was worth talking to at all? Well, he won't let anyone pass feeling like that. And if he were right here, he'd say, "especially not you." Fair enough.

I learned that e-mails and other assorted messages from Russ were rare. It's true; he told me himself. But I have had the privilege of receiving three. One I remember distinctly. He had gone to Mexico on some kind of mission. I won't share his part of it, but I had been afraid. Well, he shared some things in a manner only creative types can, and the lesson was this: No matter what you experience, don't close your heart to God. And be prepared to be surprised.

One of his inspirations in the form of a teacher also gave advice to me. And I took it. Or at least I'm trying to. I mark the trip to PA on Spring Break in 2005 as a life-altering one. Russ wasn't there, but he was. You never realize little moments, little things, until later. And those people who bless you probably just think they're doing what they do. But they are the ones you tell stories about, the ones you give thanks for.

At the risk of overt sentimentality, Russ is one of those people. His heart isn't quite working right, but his heart in the biblical sense certainly is. And I have known the benefits. I commend him to the Heart of Jesus, giving thanks.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sigh

Did you know that I'm not a mind-reader? I do have a great deal of emotional intelligence, I'd say, but there's a big difference between cleverness of a sort, and being a telepath. Anyone who knows me knows I just say what I think. There's a big variance between being frank, and being willfully hurtful, too. Yet I count on people to contextualize what I say with what they know. It doesn't always work, and I'm not even close to being a good friend in so many ways.

I expect a lot of my friends. I expect them to tell me when there is a problem. I expect them to listen to my response, and not just be thinking of the next thing to say. My response may be foolish, unjustified, or otherwise unrealistic, but if your friends don't know you're a fool, they're not your friends.

It's a powerful word: "friend." As outgoingly ENFP as I am, as skilled as I may be at connecting with someone who was previously a complete stranger, I don't use it lightly. At all. I guess it hurts more than anything to know that other people don't mean it the way I do. "Broken friendship" does not exist in my vocabulary. It just doesn't. If we hurt each other, we talk about it, and we forgive. End of story.

I could understand that it might take time. I've been angry before. It's hard. I have taken to using the term "frustrated" when I feel upset about something someone did or said. It seems a tame word at first, but think on it more with me: Aren't you describing some effect within yourself, rather than the thing itself? That is, the good purposes of my life are being frustrated by whatever it is.

Well, I've got one of those things. To be perfectly honest, it's a daily effort, a ritual, to deal with the things that I feel. I still get as angry as I did before. I want to talk about it, but with whom? To what end? So he or she can tell me, "That sucks" or "It's your fault" or whatever they would say? To be honest, I'm not even sure I know exactly what I did wrong. Was it one word, or a series of them? Was a sentiment I expressed unknown or surprising? I don't know.

I searched myself, and I found selfishness instead of open love, and I said so, right here. But I can't say I'd take anything back. What really stinks is, it may have been better to leave it unsaid, but then, I was feeling boxed in that it was unsaid. I thought I could rely on the goodwill I had built. I was wrong.

I am so willful and rebellious, it's a little questionable whether I'll make it to Heaven. But if there is any light from Heaven that shines from me, let me use it to say I'm sorry. But I need it to be known that I'm angry about what has happened. What was done in response did not do justice to me, as I person who put a lot into being a friend. Did I fail? More times than you know. But it was real. I was real. But you can know that I was never mad enough to wish harm, or anything less than blessing. I still pray. I still hope.

Lord, I offer you this suffering for the conversion of sinners, and for the good of the world. You who are all-seeing, see the good in me, and grow it. I ask this through Christ, Amen.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bites

5 Thoughts For Today

5. If I want juice and crackers, I'll go to the grocery store.

4. If I need to remember what Christ has done for me/us, that's what Rosaries and Bibles are for.

3. If I want Jesus in the Eucharist, I'll go to Mass.

2. There is no dichotomy between the Sacred Scriptures, and Sacred Tradition.

1. As it was in the time of the Apostles, neither is there a dichotomy between Truth written, and Truth spoken.

Hospital Dramas

Have you noticed that they do pretty well? St. Elsewhere ran from 1982-88. ER ran from 1994-2009. Grey's Anatomy is currently running its 9th season. And there are a couple lesser-known ones. I got to thinking about this last night. What is it about drama that pulls us? I don't know, but I think a medical drama has a special resonance. Death has a way of burning away the chaff. This is why medical drama usually does well.

I think the goodness and dignity of human beings that people tend to celebrate when people die begs for us to inquire as to its origin. Goodness endures. "The good is diffusive of itself." People often doubt God exists because of evil, but isn't the far more interesting question, "From whence did good come"? We can define it, we can name it, we know what it is and isn't. Isn't that odd?

Existentialism, the philosophy that each man defines himself and his own meaning, doesn't jibe with a pretty universal standard of what the good is. I think most people who hold this are feeling guilty about something, or they are stupid, either by design, or by repeatedly violating their own consciences.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Spock Makes Star Trek Go

And you don't realize it at first. And this character seems oddly cold at times, with his logical analysis and suppression of emotion. The story on the Vulcans is that they are deeply passionate people with a lively spiritual life, but some centuries ago, those passions almost destroyed their civilization. A man named Surak led the people in prizing logic over emotion. The frustrations of the other characters at this philosophy often pushes the story forward.

But Spock is no ordinary Vulcan. His mother Amanda was human. After she died, his father Sarek (not to be confused with Surak above) took another human wife, Perrin. Spock often feels the tension of his emotions, believing them to arise from his human half. Of course, he is mistaken; the passions of his Vulcan heritage dwarf that of any human.

But his friendship with Jim Kirk would change how he understood humanity and himself. James T. Kirk is a roguish, passionate, loyal, and supremely courageous man. He has cheated death countless times, and when he finally died, it was in service to people he did not know, and to a ship and crew that were not his. It's hard for any of us to know when and how this unlikely friendship formed, but we know that Spock was his closest confidante. Kirk calls him "a brother," and is quite willing to sacrifice everything for him.

The truth of the matter is that Kirk is often a consequentialist. He needs Spock to remind him that what feels right is not always right, that intending to do good is not sufficient. Where logic and true humanity intersect, there is the natural law. And the aged Spock is one who took the best of Kirk and what he had known and fused them. Spock is the most Christ-like of all the characters in the Star Trek universe. When Spock died, he did so to save his friends. (Note to the reader: I am referring to the original timeline.) You can almost hear the words of Jesus echoing in your ears as you watch the scene: "Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends." It remains the most affecting scene in the history of Star Trek.

At Spock's funeral, Kirk said, "Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most human." And the sense of that is in Christ, the "perfect man," who in His Incarnation, reveals man to himself.

Somewhere in the written adaptions for the episodes for what we call, "The Original Series," D.C. Fontana, an important writer for Star Trek, relates a conversation with Gene Roddenberry (its creator) about Spock. Star Trek is still here because of this character. And Roddenberry agreed. There is plenty of humanist nonsense in Star Trek. But it finds its deepest resonance in those themes and motifs that are first present in the story of our redemption, and in Him by whom it is accomplished.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Just A Guy

I spent all day with Bob yesterday. He and his wife are huge Trekkies. That's awesome. And it followed upon Confession and Mass in the early afternoon. And then we ate meat. I stayed until late in the night. We watched the TOS episode, "The City On The Edge Of Forever." I love you, "Edith Keeler." Even if you are a humanist hippie. [Dude, she's like 75 now.--ed.] Don't you kill my dreams. [Your dreams are stupid.--ed.] I grant that it would be better if she were 25, Catholic, and actually real. [Duh.--ed.]

Most of the time, I mock either Captain Kirk or the writers for subjecting us to their amorous whims. Not this time. Dark black hair, eyes to light up a city...sheesh. Well played, Kirk, well played. [But...--ed.] Shhhh. There might be people who haven't seen it. But of course, it won't work out. We all know that Kirk's true love is the Enterprise. Remember Elaan of Troyius? She literally chemically addicted him, and he just quit her. Cold turkey. If you don't get who Kirk's true love is, you don't get Star Trek. That's why Mr. Wise included the shuttle-pod scene in The Motion Picture. Many people were critical of that scene, and the pacing of the whole film, but they are wrong. It is quintessential Star Trek, and we Trekkies don't need explanations. I understand that for our culture to persist, we must appeal to the casual fan. I support that effort. But we just get it, and that's it.

But the new movie is great. I love what they have done, almost without reservation. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto just get it. They have nailed the two most important roles in the whole canon: Kirk and Spock. I have more to say about this later.