Monday, January 29, 2007

the silence of the yams

This article in the New York Times Magazine is the perhaps the single most interesting and instructive thing I have ever read about food, health and nutrition. By all means read it here. But if you want to skip straight to the advice, you may go here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

"*** save the queen"

I have just returned from seeing "The Queen," which has been, as I understand, been nominated for several Aacademy Awards. Since there has been such a dearth of worthwhile movies of late, I hope this gets something. Helen Mirren, no doubt, deserves the Best Actress trophy for her portrayal of Elizabeth II R. Overall, I'm pleased that the movie was so nuanced: much more than they tend to be in these days of cheap emotions and shrill polemics.

The film raised some interesting associations in my mind while I was watching with the ideas of René Girard, my intellectuel du jour. To understand this parallel, one must remember that the movie is set against the events that unfolded in the wake of Diana Spencer's death following a car accident in a Paris tunnel. The death of the "people's princess," as PM Blair (regrettably) called her at the time, brought out the populace in droves who put on a tremendous, spontaneous display of communal grief. HRH, duly noting that Diana was no long a member of the royal family, and even as a member, a particularly difficult one, restrained from taking action, preferring to let the Spencer family handle the affair. In the movie, this is portrayed as essentially a political mistake, since it she failed to recognize and capitalize on the "mood" of her subjects, the monarchy lost face and was diminished in the hearts and minds of the British. Be that as it may, I believe that more importantly it effectively illustrates and even substantiates the arguments of Girard as to the development and continued operation of culture.

Girard's main thesis explores the concept of mimetic desire as the origin of human culture. According to him, people are fundamentally mimetic (that is, imitative) creatures. We learn and develop by copying each other. This same propensity for imitation results in conflict and violence when two desire the same thing, the second simply because the first wanted it. The conflict quickly escalates because it is not centered around the contested object at all but on the other person. Then more and more people, following suit, become entangled in the initial conflict. Acts of violence beget imitative reprisals, and soon violence threatens to destroy a fragile community. The violence is stopped, however, by the devolving of blame on one individual by the community, who then receives the punishment for the initiation of violence in order to expiate it from the community. In this manner, order is restored and culture is born through the introduction sacrificial rites. What is important here is that at some point the community unites against a common enemy, a scapegoat whose death will cease the violence which endangers their society. Furthermore, the community is able to exempt itself from any guilt in the spread of violence because it successfully projects its guilt onto the scapegoat. In Girard's scheme, this scapegoat is also the origin of law. Since the scapegoat's power in the community to stop violence which forever looms over them gives this individual special status and a surplus aura and is usually attendant with special privileges in the community, the delay of time between the selection of the scapegoat-victim and the execution of punishment can give the scapegoat the opporunity to consolidate power and privilege into a more permanent position, thus giving rise to kingship. For Girard, a monarch is never more than a paroled victim. Another key moment is that community is united and consolidated by its opposition to an individual who is necessarily excluded from it. As I believe he put it, the community belongs to the victim, but the victim does not belong to the community. In effect, the victim creates the community.

What matter all this? Well, the effects of this idea become far reaching, in personal and public spheres, although that is not what I want to explore here. However, Girard's theory about the formation and operation of culture must first be validated, and I believe that "The Queen," although without at all meaning to do so, does just this. In fact, because it is inadvertent, its proof necessarily takes on more weight than an intentional proof does, since it confirms that this is indeed a natural and inevitable mechanism of human societies. How does it do this? In "The Queen" (and here I am generally assuming it accurately represented the general events as they occurred), an act of violence, in this case the death of Diana Spencer, threatens the community with disintegration by grief, and even a public uprising, which is intimated by Tony Blair. The community, the general mass of Britons, seeking justice, does not lay the blame at the feet of the paparazzi who drove her car into the ground, nor at Diana herself--who perhaps justly reaped the rewards of her wanton and frivolous lifestyle--nor even itself, for its relentless consumption of the tabloids that paid the photographers who hounded her to death, but on the royal family, who failed to see what a "saint" she was. The cards among the flowers left at Buckingham Palace crystalize this, explicitly citing the queen as the author of Diana's demise. While rationally, this is absurd, in the Girardean scheme, the queen must get the blame because she is the monarch and thus the scapegoat. This allows the excess of violence in the community to be cathartically channelled into the victim for the preservation and consolidation of the community, here represented by the resounding applause given to Diana's brother's milquetoast eulogy.

This is all far too sketchy, I am sure to adequately cover the ground, but I hope it whets appetites for closer reading of Girard (who is a Christian, by the way). His thought and writings, I find, are deeply rewarding. As a postscript, though, I think this same parallel can be seen in the public response to our president. Suddenly and swiftly, Bush is being abandoned by everyone. He is losing support because he must. In order to channel our fears concerning the state of the world, Bush is being blamed for not only Iraq, but the environment and every other global crisis. By villifying him--and given the tone of bumperstickers I see these days, even murdering him--people are able to exempt themselves from their own role in the perpetuation of violence in the world. In less than two years, Bush will no longer be in office, and will no longer affect the problems which he inherited from his predecessors. And lo, the problems will not vanish in his passing.

As a post-post script, the asterisks in the title refer to the (accidental) bleeping of the word "God" from the version of "The Queen" shown on commercial airlines. Nevertheless, God save the Queen.

Friday, January 26, 2007

dallas man lost, found

Here's a bit of interest from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, one of the epicenters of this 'blog.

Bieger walked out his front door with his two dogs one morning last fall a beloved husband, father, grandfather and assistant high school athletic director. Minutes later, all of that, indeed, his very identity, would seemingly be wiped from his brain's hard drive.

Via the AP. Note the statue of the BVM in the picture.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Not Just Whistlin' Dixie

So this is the nave of my parish. The flags are those of each of the colonies present at the Albany Congress of 1758(?) when the colonies tried to establish a united plan of defense against the French; there are also a few other flags. One you can't see here, but which hangs just beyond the upper left corner of this nave photo, is the flag of the state of Georgia as of 1956 (which is pictured here, and which was the flag of that state about the time these flags were originally hung in this space).

I found myself today strolling down the aisle of the nave, in a jovial mood, whistling - as I am oft wont to do when in a jovial mood. I had chosen Dixie because I find its melody's ability to express different moods intriguing, and its range challenging. Having, in addition, an especial affinity for the lyrics of that masterful tune, I was thinking them as I whistled, and when I reached the phrase, "live and die for Dixie..." -- such inspiring words -- my eyes happened to glance upward at the Georgia flag pictured above.


It was a beautiful moment.

God bless the South, sustain me in my exile, and bring us all to His Heavenly Home -- by which I mean Virginia. And I'll add to my next confession the sin of not being actually more Southern than I am.


more prayers to cut out and put in your bcp

Under the heading: Devotions for the Holy Eucharist. My advice is to put these in your BCP, bring them to Mass with you, and pray them as you wait to come forward to receive the Sacrament.

Act of Faith

Of a truth I firmly believe, O good Jesu, and with lively faith confess, that thou thyself, equal to God the Father in glory and in power, true God and Man, art verily and indeed present in the Sacrament. For thou, the Very Truth Itself, hast said, This is my Body, This is my Blood. I believe whatever the Son of God hath said. Nothing can be truer than this word of him who is the Truth. Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief, increase my faith.

Act of Hope

O Christ Jesus, I am sinful dust and ashes, but thou callest to thee them that labour and are heavy laden, that thou mayest refresh them. Art not thou my Refuge? To whom else should I go? Thou alone hast the words of eternal life, thou alone canst comfort me in every trouble. Lord, I am weak and sick, but thou art my Salvation. They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. Therefore I come to thee, my Physician and my Refuge, hoping that this Communion may be to me the increase of Faith, Hope, and Charity; a firm defence againsat the snares of my enemies; a help to the removal of the fault and defect of . . . and to the bringing forth of works well-pleasing unto thee, especially . . . and a pledge of future glory. This is the hope and desire which I cherish in my heart, for thou art pitiful and of tender mercy, and in all thy promises most faithful.

Act of Love

O most sweet Saviour, Jesus Christ, how great was thy love, which drew thee from the bosom of the Father to this vale of tears, to take our flesh, and endure infinite miseries and wrongs, yea, even the death of the Cross, and that only for us miserable sinners, and for our salvation. O how great was thy love? Thou mightest have condemned us, and thou didst rather choose to save us: we were guilty, and thou, the Sinless One, didst endure our punishment to set us free.

Out of love it was that thou camest down to save our flesh; and when about to depart from this world to the Father, thou didst leave to us this Sacrament as a pledge of thy love; that after a new and wondrous manner, thou mightest abide with us for ever; thou, whose delights are to be with the sons of men.

O Lord, how worthy art thou of love, who dost so much for love of us! Wherefore I will love thee, O Lord, my Strength, my Refuge, and my Deliverer.

O God, thou art very Love! He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in thee, I desire to receive thee in this Sacrament, that I may be more firmly united with thee in the bond of love. Who shall separate me from the love of Christ my Saviour? O that neither life, nor death, nor any creature, may have power to do so.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

more prayers to cut out and put in your bcp or office book

For +++++KJS and the other heretic Prince-Bishops of ECUSA, in all charity and for their salvation, and in obedience to God's desire that we pray for the Church, for those in authority, for our enemies, for those who persecute us, and for those whose senseless minds are darkened:

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, Who savest all men, and willest not that any should perish; look upon the souls which have been deceied by the fraud of the devil (especially N.N.); that all heretical perversity may be driven away, and the hearts of the erring may repent, and return to Thine unshaken truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

DISSOLVE, O Christ, the schisms of heresy, which seek to subvert the faith, which strive to corrupt the truth, especially among Anglicans in North America; that as Thou art acknowledged in heaven and in earth as one and the same Lord, so Thy people, gathered from all nations, may serve Thee in the unity of faith. Amen.

O GOD, Who delightest in the devotion of the faithful, make Thy people, we pray Thee, to be devoted to Thy holy things; that they who depart from their duties by ungodly depravity of mind (especially N.N.), may be converted by Thy grace, and return from the snares of the devil wherein they are held captive; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

pray for the primates

My dear friends, the primates of the Anglican Communion will be meeting in Tanzania next month (February 12-19). No one knows quite what will happen, nor apparently even quite what the agenda will be in its particulars. But there is a general consensus 1) that the meeting is incredibly important, and 2) that ECUSA's fate will be, if not determined, at least clarified.

That being the case, I hereby officially urge everyone to pray every day for the primates. Include in your intentions that they would be given wisdom and grace, especially Rowan, who will chair and preside at the meeting. And pray that Katharine would be blessed and converted to the Christian faith, that the only Son of God would reign in her heart and that she would know him.

The keystone of devotional blogs, Lent and Beyond, has tremendously helpful resources for those of you (I hope all of you) who would like to pray for particular intentions and particular primates. Go there. Pray.

Lastly, here is a prayer I have been saying as a part of my Daily Office, adapted from a 1662 prayer (with the addition of a single little phrase):

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who alone workest great marvels; send down upon our primates, bishops and curates, and all congregations committed to their charge, the healthful Spirit of thy grace; and that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honour of our Advocate and Mediator, Jesus Christ. R. Amen.

Now, print out that prayer, cut it into a card sized thing, and put it into your Prayer Book.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

vestments seldom seen

Its wonderful to see his grace, the Bishop of Wakefield glorifying the Lord with the seldom seen clerical apron. The clerical apron is like a short cassock worn with gaiters and knee-length black trousers. It fell into disuse during the latter half of the 20th century. Before that time it was often worn by bishops and archdeacons (for whom it was black), being more conducive to equestrian transportation than the normal clerical cassock. Here it is deployed, as is meet and right, with the frock coat.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

yet more evidence that the episcopal church (so called) is unanglican, and hostile to christianity as it has always been practiced

"...I pray that the Archbishop of Canterbury will understand that the recommendations made by the panel are incongruent with Episcopal Church polity and therefore inappropriate for implementation."

This is from Bonnie Anderson, the president of the House of Deputies of the General Convention. Not surprisingly, she concludes that the General Convention Knows All, Sees All, and is All Powerful, that its canons eclipse the Word of God, catholic tradition, and the doctrine of the Anglican Communion. And she clarifies that the General Convention has decreed that all bishops must "ordain" women, or be driven out. There's more (much, much more) here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

crown him the king of kings

"Moral leadership played a profound role in the justice work that King did. As the nation looks for a new King, the LGBTQ community need not look any further, because he is right among us—the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson."

Great Scott! Read it all here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

building a church, and paying off a sacred debt (from the ny times)

A lovely story. I wish Anglicanism in North America had more pastors like this guy. Not, obviously, in all the particulars. But I wish we had pastors who shared his faith (in the broad sense), his hope, and his love.

Today, the word “pastor” hardly describes this dynamo who propels a flock of 60 — most of them Dominican immigrants of modest means — round the clock and through the week. Teacher, chief cheerleader and social director, he is even the chauffeur who ferries them to services all over town in a secondhand airport van, usually after eight hours at a factory job making luxury handbags.

To the adults, he is the confidant who counsels them through crises. To the teenagers, he is the surrogate father who praises them and takes them on outings. To the needy, he is the benefactor who slips them a little cash. To all, he is the leader who promises a glorious future in a grand new church, even though they have saved a small fraction of the fortune it would cost.

“Pelea, pelea, pelea,” he murmured one night as he made his rounds in the church van, mouthing the words to a hymn. Fight, fight, fight.

Read it all here.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

the baptism of our lord

The ceiling of the Arian* baptistry, Ravenna, Italy, 5th C. AD

Father in Heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan didst proclaim him thy beloved Son and annoint him with thy Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Saviour; who with thee and the same Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting.

*This picture was taken by me on a trip to Italy in 2005, and since it has been made into my desktop art, I scrutinize it daily. I don't detect anything heretical in it, but if others do, I would be pleased to know about it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

another embarassing rant from our pb

How can you tell she's said something crazy and anti-Christian? Because she's opened her mouth in public again. Some highlights.

Commenting on our Lord's self-asssertion in John 14.6: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me," +++++KJ-S has this to say:

I think Jesus as way – that’s certainly what it means to be on a spiritual journey. It means to be in search of relationship with God. We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? Jesus as life, again, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar.


[This verse...] in its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities. In its broader construction, yes, human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. Through seeing God at work in other people’s lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.

She then goes on to say men care more about sex than about helping the poor, that southerners are racists, and that the life of the world to come is less important than life in this world. I'm paraphrasing. Read it for yourself. Then take the antidote. Most of all pray for Katharine, that she would receive every blessing, that she would be delivered from darkness and death, and that she might come to faith in the only Son of God and be filled with His grace and truth.

Homily on the Feast of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury

This sermon began with the reading of Archbishop Laud's biography from Lesser Feasts and Fasts. It continued thus:

If there's one thing Archbishop Laud was not, it was a political opportunist. He was not in it for sheer political power, because such people are usually shrewd with power when they get it and don't make the kind of colossal political blunders that Laud did. Opportunists and change their stripes with the whims of the people -- Laud was beheaded, in large part, because he refused to embrace the fashionable ideas of his day and persisted -- curmudgeonly, tyrannically -- in pushing his very unpopular ideas. Nor was he a pragmatist. Pragmatists do what will work, even if it goes against their ideals -- Laud persisted in his ideals even when, by all accounts, they didn't work toward peace, reconciliation, or a resolution of any of the troubles he faced. If he was not therefore an opportunist or a practical man, what was he? What makes a person so devoted in pursuit of his cause that he would, for the sake of supporting that cause, risk starting a war that ended with his own execution and that of the King he supported?

Though there are several reasons why people may devote themselves to such causes, in Laud's case, I think he had the deepest of reasons -- he was a man in love. He had caught a glimpse of the Church of God, the Body of Christ, in all its glory and beauty, in all its catholic splendor; a church both reformed -- with a vibrant gospel to preach -- and catholic -- faithful to the doctrine and leadership handed down from Christ through the apostles to the bishops. Laud was enamored of this Church for the same reason that he was enamored of his King: Laud believed that both the monarchy and the Church were divine institutions, established by his God and imbued with holiness, righteousness, and the ability to express God's nature -- indeed, the very Gospel -- in a broken and disordered human world. Laud hated disorder, especially in the church, and He saw God as the source of order and right-ness and beauty. Everyone who falls in love knows that love always contains, in some measure, an appreciation of aesthetics, of beauty. Laud loved the beauty of the church and the beauty of the divine-right monarchy. This beauty was, to him, God's own beauty. Loving church and supporting monarch were the equivalent, to him, of loving and obeying God. That's why he was willing to sacrifice everything valuable in the world to stand up for God's beautiful church and God's beautiful monarchy. He sacrificed a normal family life when he was ordained, for at that time most English clergy maintained celibacy. Laud sacrificed his career by supporting a doomed monarch. Laud sacrificed the churches over which he had charge, in one instance by pushing the Scottish prayer book on a church that didn't want it (but needed it, in Laud's eyes, to be more like the beatific vision of Christ's Body that Laud loved). For the sake of loyalty to God and King, Laud sacrificed his parishioners and countrymen by dragging them into a war that would claim many of their lives. For the sake of his love, Laud even contributed to the downfall of the King he served, since that downfall was necessary to maintain the ideals of divine-right monarchy and traditional catholicism. And finally, but to Laud least importantly, he gave his own life as a sign that the ideals of catholicism and divine right of kings were gospel truth.

The question before us today, as we celebrate the great love of a great but flawed man for God and His church, is "What do we love?" What has enamored us? Have we caught a glimpse of God's beauty in the world, and has it captured our hearts? If the beautiful vision Laud saw of Church and monarch was real, and really remains in existance today, have we seen it? Have we seen the glory of God's church, Christ's Body, prepared as bride for her husband? Have we grasped, as Laud did, the miracle of the Church, Emmanuel, God with us, the beautiful Word made flesh and dwelling among us? Are we in love? Would we self-givingly sacrifice everything, even the thing itself that we love, to further express and obtain God's beauty? Some say beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- God's beauty is always controversial, and pursuing that beautiful vision will always lead, as our Gospel reading today says, not to unity, but to estrangement; not to peace, but to a sword. Are we willing to go there? Do we love that strongly? Are we willing to walk in the way of the cross of our Savior, who himself, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father? From that seat He beckons us to fall in love with God, as Laud did. From that seat flows the beauty that should enflame our complacency, consume our pride in paltry human dignity, and leave our sin-hardened hearts broken and weeping, overcome, choked up, repentent -- enamored of the Beauty of all Beauties. May God enflame our hearts. May the vision of His glory consume our pride. May His face inspire repentence and smile in forgiveness. May we love God and His church with all our hearts. May we be able to say, with the Psalmist, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And having you, I desire nothing upon earth. Though my flesh and my heart should waste away, God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. Truly, those who forsake you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful. But it is good for me to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge."


anthony sacramone, of first things, on 'children of men'

Right. What he said. A.k.a. my sentiments (more or less) exactly... though I haven't read the novel.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

a glimmer of hope in dark times

Those Anglicans who hold to the catholic teaching about apostolic order have had their consciences defended by the Panel of Reference appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Read the Panel's report on the Diocese of Fort Worth (which does not accept the ministry of ordained women) here. Know ye: its a pdf file. Read Fort Worth's response here. And here is an article in the Living Church. ++++++Jefforts-Schori has issued her own response, to which +Iker refers in the Living Church article; but I have not been able to find it online. The Panel's report is not legally binding (very few things in Anglicanism are legally binding at the global Communion level). But it carries a great deal of moral authority, and is something of a vindication of the integrity within Anglicanism of the Church's universal teaching about the ordained ministry. It is absolutely unconscionable and appalling to me that the integrity of the Church's universal teaching on this (and many other issues) actually needs to be defended from the power of ECUSA. But it illustrates very clearly that ECUSA is hostile to the historic faith.

Highlights of the Panel's report include:

...while the Communion is in a process of reception, no diocese or parish should be compelled to accept the ministry of word or sacrament from an ordained woman; and that provision has to be made to meet the conscientious objection to ministry by women.


The Panel recommends that it be made clear that it is legitimate for a diocese to ask of candidates for election as bishop that they abide by the particular policy of the diocese in relation to the ministry of women, and that theological views on the ordination or consecration of women should not be a ground on which consent might be withheld by the Province/House of Bishops.


The Panel also recommends that the Archbishop of Canterbury continue discussions with the Diocese of Fort Worth and with the Episcopal Church with the aim of securing the place of Fort Worth in the Communion.

This is all good news for folks (like your friends at Whitehall) who defend the catholic faith with regard to the all male priesthood.

pray for the primates

We'll see whether the primates' meeting coming up in February will be a make or break thing. But it has the potential of being such. In any event: the primates need prayer. The folks at Lent and Beyond are providing suggestions and resources for praying for the primates. I commend them to you.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

the epiphany

Why, impous Herod, shouldst thou fear
Because the Christ is come so near?
He who doth heavenly kingdoms grant
Thine earthly realm can never want.

Lo, Sages from the east are gone
To where the star hath newly shone;
And on by light to Light they press,
And by their gifts their God confess.

The Lamb of God is manifest
Again in Jordan's water blest,
And he who sin had never known
By washing hath our sins undone.

Yet he that ruleth everything
Can change the nature of the spring,
And gives at Cana this for sign:
The water reddens into wine.

Then glory, Lord, to thee we pay
For thine Epiphany to-day;
All glory through eternity
To Father, Son, and Spirit be. Amen.

V. O worship the Lord, alleluia.
R. All ye Angels of his, alleluia.

To-day to her heavenly Bridegroom is the Church espoused, forasmuch as in Jordan Christ hath washed away her iniquities; Sages with their offerings hasten to the royal marriage; and with water turned to wine the guests are regaled, alleluia.

Friday, January 05, 2007

thank you; it's good to be here

Fr. WB has kindly invited me to become a contributor to his blog. The bar has already been set high by the current roll of writers and readers, but I will endeavour to do my best. One could hardly ask for more.

Since by training and inclination I am an art historian, and by conviction and grace a Roman Catholic, I suspect that many of my posts will center around the nexus of those issues (in other words, cultural rather than theological issues; and much sympathy for my Anglican brethren and sistren).

Look for more of me in the future, but for tonight, I have little energy left for a more extensive post.

which brings me to my next point...

The Best Movies of 2006 that I Saw (in no particular order):

Munich - Spielberg's "quiet masterpiece." Indeed. Its greatest quality is moral ambiguity, a quality I believe to be inherent in secular points of view. I applaud Spielberg's honesty in emphasizing it.

Children of Men - See below.

Crash - Complex, sensitive, heartbreaking.

Infamous - Far and away the better of 2006's two movies about Truman Capote. It delves considerably deeper into the psychological issues at play between Capote, In Cold Blood, and the killers.

Babel - If it had had a worse, or a less happy, ending (up to which it seemed to be building), I felt it would have been more essentially Christian.

The Departed - Incredibly bleak; incredible nonetheless.

Caché - Technically released in 2005, but not until toward the end, and in any case I didn't see it until 2006. This movie gets under your skin.

Casino Royale - Rehabilitating Bond after years of the franchise's mere plodding toward increasingly facile nonsense (with bigger explosions). This managed to be moderately facile, with few big explosions and one incredibly tedious poker game.

Also Good (though I wouldn't say "best") Were:

Little Miss Sunshine
The Last King of Scotland
The Queen
The Illusionist
Jesus Camp

Movies from 2006 which I have not seen, but intend to:

Match Point
Half Nelson
The Prestige
Letters from Iwo Jima
The Good German
Inland Empire
The Good Shepherd
The Science of Sleep
Old Joy
The Painted Veil
Blood Diamond
Pan's Labyrinth

Movies Pointedly NOT on Any List of Mine:

Snakes on a Plane
Clerks, part 3
V for Vendetta
And let's not forget... The da Vinci Code

All in all, I think 2006 was a little lackluster filmwise.

children of men and a reflection on current affairs

I went to see Children of Men last night. It reminded me a good deal of Apocalypse Now: A cynic on a weird redemptive journey through apocalyptic weirdness and violence. Unlike Manolha Dargis of the NY Times, I'm not naive (or unobservant) enough to think that there is no ideology behind the movie. It does sort of masquerade as mere reporting. But as with V for Vendetta (which I found intensely irritating in this respect), the clear implication of the movie is that the policies of the governments of America and Britain (today) are on a path leading civilization to the brink. This is implied mainly by the ubiquitous stylistic and thematic elements of Children of Men that were taken directly from the news media's coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For example, in Children of Men, the cynical protagonist (Theo played by Clive Owen) is caught in the crossfire between a misguided government and a misguided resistance. We are left to guess at the particulars of what drives the resistance, apart from their vague and vaguely benevolent concern for immigrant rights (in the movie, immigrants are distractingly referred to as "fugees"). Moreover, the resistance is a make-believe group called "The Fishes." By contrast, the implied continuity of the government with its real world counterparts is more than evident in constant references to "The Department of Homeland Security" (this time in Britain), whose thugs dress like American soldiers and parade around with vicious German Shepherds, rounding up immigrants, beating them indiscriminately, and dressing them à la Abu Ghraib torture victims (complete with sacks over their heads, etc.). Further continuity with reality is implied by little touches like anti Iraq war memorabilia in the home of one of the movies unambiguously good guys: an old hippy played well by Michael Caine.

Technically - and overall - the movie was impressive. Certainly much better that 90% of today's cinematic schlock. One action sequence in particular, which has Clive Owen running through an urban battlefield while bullets and rockets zing around him, is very impressive indeed - it felt real, and really violent, without being especially gory. And the actual theme of the movie (overlying its Bush-critical subtext) is taken straight from the pages of our culture's Christian mythos: a child is miraculously born in disadvantaged circumstances, and brings with it to the world the hope of peace, righteousness, joy, etc. And you can't help liking a protagonist (Clive Owen) who's only motivation is to protect a helpless mother and child. Who doesn't like helpless mothers and children?

Okay, so what's my problem? Its not that I am a big fan of the Iraq War or of some particular set of immigrants or immigration policies. What I do dislike, however, is ham-fisted criticism of any of the above, though it be implied. The challenges facing contemporary society (particularly the challenge of Islam - what is called in public "radical" Islam) are multifaceted and incredibly deep and complex. Does this mean the Bush Administration is engaging them wisely? Not necessarily. But I don't see a cultural or political consensus on a viable alternative. I see myriad potential alternatives (e.g. more troops in Iraq, fewer troops in Iraq, no troops in Iraq, etc.), the viability of any of which are to my mind far from demonstrable. And over and over again I see in the media reductionistic accounts of the conflicting ideologies which, in their grossest form, usually go something like this: the American government wanted to steal oil, so they invaded Iraq; this has provoked radical Muslims to rage against the West.

Piffle. The media occasionally reports with indignation that many in the American Government don't know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. I don't doubt this, and its a horrifying fact. But who in the media knows the difference? You can't begin to understand the West's conflict with Islam until you understand something about Islam. And no one seems to. It looks to me like Alfonso Cuarón (the director of Children of Men) is buying into the notion, pervasive in Western culture, that prophecy consists of one part recognition that there is, in fact, a conflict going on, and one part inculpation of our side's leaders for their role in it. Again: piffle. Mordacious criticism, to my mind, is made credible only in being accompanied by a constructive alternative to the object of criticism.

But in the meantime, notwithstanding its subtextual punditry and minor flaws, Cuarón has made an interesting, compelling, and visually very impressive movie. Go see it.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

an interesting comparison

Fr Cantrell has posted a trenchant little comparison between the Old Religion (Christianity), as represented by Fr Louis Bouer's book Liturgical Piety, and the New Religion (ECUSA), as represented by ++++++Jefforts-Schori. One of the things I find so intensely irritating about the New Religion is how jargony it is: MDG's, reconciliation, shalom, the Reign of God, etc.

Here's a snippet from Fr Bouyer's book:

We do not, therefore, get to the heart either of the problems of the world or of the task of Christianity until we seriously face the problem of sin and accept, not the way of some illusory reconciliation with the world, but the way of conflict which is the way of voluntary death in and with Christ.

No doubt, you see the contrast. Christianity has ever been a religion of ascetic struggle for its devotees. That's totally left out of the New Religion... and its having been left out is a damnable error for which we will be held accountable.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

i am still around; i'll always be around... and around... and around... and around...

(Cf. The Highwaymen, etc.)

Just an update: I have been with my beloved family for Christmas, and with beloved friends for a wedding and New Year's festivities. Look for my re-entry into the blogging fray in the coming days.