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Monday, August 09, 2004
EMILY MONDAY

This is another one of those poems that hworks on two levels. The literal level, obviously, is about a well. I'm wondering about the symbolic/metaphoric level, however. Is it well as person? Or well as work of art? Any other ideas?

1400

What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far --
A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar

Whose limit none have ever seen,
But just his lid of glass --
Like looking every time you please
In an abyss's face!

The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.

Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands next the sea --
Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray

But nature is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
I HATE WHEN THAT HAPPENS..."

Alice Cooper is here in CT for a few concerts. So, his python got out of its cage and, looking for a midday snack, ate a heating pad that was lying around. This is the same fearsome looking python that Cooper uses in his act to freak out his audience. Two of Cooper's crew noted that the snake looked unusually round. One was quoted in the local paper noting that "the snake just shouldn't get that fat eating his weekly rat."

So, now, it was Cooper who was freaked out, because in twenty years of freaking out audiences with his python, he has really bonded with it, and now, here it was with an electric heating pad getting slowly digested in its coils.

A local animal surgeon was located and a mere $10,000 of emergency snake surgery later, the heating pan was removed. Noted the attending vet, "It was a very tricky procedure. I had to work through a five-inch incision in one row of coils."

Both snake and rock idol are reported to be recovering well. Although the vet cautions against the snake returning to freaking out audiences in the next few weeks. He's out...for summer.
HAVE MERCY! YOU'RE KILLING ME!"

In a rare moment of actual jurisprudence, a judge just rejected the bid of felon, Jack "Dr. Death" Kevorkian for a retrial. Dr. Death is currently serving a long sentence for his compulsion to help sick people into early graves. Kevorkian was appealing his conviction on the grounds that he had defective counsel in his initial trial.

The judge's problem with the appeal? Well, Kevorkian had insisted as serving as his own counsel in his first trial.

It's a simple matter of having your case and losing it too.

Join me in a long, low gurgling chortle.
REPAWT FROM THE CONNECTICUT WOODS

Ah, New England! I'm just on my way out to weed the garden with Dad. (Imagine that! Weeding one's own garden is a luxury of which most Angelenos can only dream...) In terms of temperature, we are experiencing what everyone is calling with a Yankee wink, "record high lows." In terms of the Divine preferential option for New England, the steamahs and lobstahs are happily ubiquitious and perfectly sweet right now. In terms of liturgical practice, CT is a place where Catholics can still kneel after Communion...a suddenly strange but welcome grace.

That about sums things up. Back to you....
Friday, August 06, 2004
A GREAT IDEA: HOLLYWOOD MEDIA PRAYER BREAKFAST

Friend and Founder of the Hollywood Prayer Network, Karen Covell, has another great idea in the works. It's the first annual Prayer Breakfast for the Media. Supah smaht, as we say heah in New England. Here's the press release for the upcoming event. If you can help them get some press on the event, please copy and send on.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Hollywood, California--Some of America's most respected leaders from varied
fields of endeavor believe that Hollywood and prayer should come together.
They have endorsed the October first National Media Prayer Breakfast at The
Beverly Hilton. The event focuses prayer on the entertainment industry's
700 most powerful and influential movers and shakers.

Endorsement comes from a diverse group of notables: Ken Blanchard, author
of the "One Minute Manager." Rhonda Fleming, legendary film actress and
philanthropist. Eric Close, a star of the CBS series "Without a Trace."
Norm Miller, Chairman of Interstate Batteries. William E. Simon, Jr.,
businessman and former candidate for Governor of California. Nicholas De
Marco, top New York Fashion industry executive. Sonja McNair, Essence
Communications Partner.

A number of prominent entertainment industry leaders have endorsed the
breakfast: Sam Haskell III, Executive VP of the famed William Morris
Agency. Lowell "Bud" Paxon, chairman of the PAX Television Network. Carl
Vogel, chairman of cable giant Charter Communications. Al C. Sykes,
Former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Tony Thomopolous,
former president of ABC television.

Some of Hollywood's most successful creative talents have also expressed
their desire to see the nation's faithful pray for the leaders of media at
the Beverly Hills event: Pat Boone, for decades one of the biggest names
in pop music and film. Dean Jones, lovable star of a number of Disney film
classics and other performing roles.
Ralph Winter, producer of such hit films as "X-Men," "Inspector Gadget,"
and "Star Trek" films. Dave Alan Johnson, who has created and produces
such successful TV series as "Doc" and "Sue Thomas, F. B. Eye."

The endorsement list also includes notables from the world of inspirational
media such as Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, authors of the runaway
best-selling "Left Behind" book series, David Cerullo, President and CEO of
The Inspiration Networks, and Jerry Rose, President and CEO of Total Living
Network (TLN).

Taken together, the endorsements seem to proclaim, "After decades of prayer
breakfasts focusing on leaders in government, education, and business, it
is time to focus national prayer on the leaders of global media." This,
clearly, is the vision of the National Media Prayer Breakfast.

For information and online registration visit
. The event is sponsored by Mastermedia
International in alliance with the Hollywood
Prayer Network .

For press information, contact Sandy Hungate by e-mail at
, or phone at 1-866-807-NMPB [6672] .
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
"...DOOMED TO REPEAT IT"

I'm back in CT for a week of rest and seafood. I'm also working on research for a screenplay I will be writing this Fall. The script is set up against the Spanish Civil War, and every day I find the rhetoric and climate of pre-bloodbath Spain to be more chillingly like our own.

The divisions in Spain which set up the war were very complex, but the real crux came down to secularism vs. Christianity. Fueled from the social Darwinism of the universities, the intellectuals in Spain went around for a few decades before the war insisting that religion was anti-modern and an enemy of progress. For many of these folks, "Christian" became a hated adjective, synonymous with ignorant. The greatest fury was directed against the moral authority of the Church. How dare the Church constrain anyone in any way with the outrageous suggestion that some things are good and other things are evil?!

In the elections of 1931, the secular side finally obtained some power, and within days, a disgusting and violent attack on the Church was unleashed. Over 100 churches were burned and gutted. Mobs desecrated cemeteries, convents, seminaries and religious schools. Priests, nuns, and anybody displaying religious devotion were assaulted.

Then, the laws started coming. A call was made for "complete separation of Church and State"...which, on the lips of secularists always means stomping all over the citizenship rights of religious people. The Church was forbidden to operate educational institutions. Church property that was not directly connected to the maintenance of the members of a religious institute was confiscated. No fault divorce was legalized. All cemeteries were secularized. (What is it with Spain and cemeteries? So much of the rage of the secularists was directed at cemeteries. They really got off on exhuming dead nuns and priests and desecrating the bodies. Something in the air maybe? Somebody help me...). There was other stuff too, like suppressing the Jesuits and withdrawing clerical wages.

One of the fascinating things I am finding in my research is how very biased most historians are in relating the attrocities of the War. The Nationalist side is absolutely demonized, and its crimes are minutely detailed. The attrocities on the Right, according to the historians, were premeditated and cold-blooded. (One book I have goes out of its way to constantly refer to the Nationalist side as "the Franco-church contingent.") The attrocities on the Republican side, however, are retold as spontaneous - if regrettable - outbursts of popular emotion.

One book has a photo of the exhumed bodies of some Carmelite nuns being spat on by passing Republicans. A few pages later it explains that these kind of actions by the Republican side were precipitated not by evil but by a kind of understandable exhuberance for justice.

"But the gesture of killing here seems full of passion, of rancor, of punitive terror pervaded by an ancient culture that threw criminals and the damned into hell. Around these deaths is the cry of furor, blind, uncivil but extremely human, that precedes a futile revenge for offenses suffered.. A cry breaking out at moments of helpless suffering, at moments when heaven betrays." (The Spanish Civil War, Gabriele Ranzato, 1999)

The "gesture of killing"? Don't you love it?....

That is, the historians seem unanimous that the Church had it coming. And actually it's God's fault (ie. "heaven betrays"...God exists only when we need Him around to take the blame for something bad.) The murder of 5,400 priests and 10,000 other nuns and religious was, you know, kind of just an outburst of popular expression.

Anyway, my main point here was to say that there is no reason to expect that we today will be any different than the people of Spain in 1936. Every time some celebrity spits out a reference to George Bush as "Christian," it's a red flag. (No pun intended. Some times, I even amaze myself...) If the pattern of demeaning and insulting people for their Christianity continues, we will also eventually have martyrs. Not that there is anything wrong with that in terms of creating a climate for growth in holiness. Just want to be able to say I told you so in a few years.

But the next step in the historical pattern will be changes in the laws to interpret "separation of Church and State" to mean repression of Church. I couldn't help noticing how "separation of Church and State" was listed as a primary issue for the Kerry-Edwards camp coming out of the convention last week. When did "separation of Church and State" become an issue?

Just watch...
Friday, July 30, 2004
THE STATE OF THE UNION'S ORATORY

In the name of full-disclosure, I am pro-life so I won't be voting for John "I don't let my belief that baby humans are getting killed in abortion influence my voting patterns" Kerry. It is my first and primary reason for opposing Kerry. My second reason is every other position he takes on every issue of which I am aware.

But as an artist, I wanted to say a few words about Kerry's speech last night more in terms of its oratorical style than its content.

Clearly, there is a marked departure in style between Kerry and his predecessor Democratic standard-bearer, Bill "I feel your pain" [pause for crowd to roar and shake fists] Clinton. (Did I just step all over my point?)

My idea of a great speech, is one that combines style with substance. Great turns of phrase decorating essential truths that sting to the heart. A great leader leads his hearers to want to be heros. His audience receives the implicit message, "You have power." It is a sleight of speech in which, by seeming to be reminding them who they are, he actually wills them into being better than they are. His words are weighted with truth and passionate belief, that for most other people would seem idealism. "He speaks with authority, not like the scribes."

Clinton is a true demagogue, and, tragically, his style has become the default oratorical style of the Democratic party in the last twenty years. I marvel when people say what great speeches he gives, because, honestly, I always find him boring, pandering, and so, insulting. A demagogue is someone who whips a crowd into a frenzy by alternately appealing to their sense of superiority and then victimhood. He communicates to an audience, "[Some other group] is taking your power. But you and I are smarter than they are." The demagogue's words are weighted with cynicism in what makes a speech a protracted sneer. A demagogue doesn't so much motivate his hearers as flatter them. He creates a mob not a community.

The usual pattern of a Clintonian speech tends to unfold in the following kind of dialogue with the attendant crowd which invariably transitions into a mob.

Clinton: 'Those people over there,' they are hypocrites [implied: "not like you and me"]!

Crowd: (roaring, stomping and clapping) YEAH!!!!

Clinton: I'm here to tell you something true today. Something 'those people over there' won't tell you. [implied: because they are not as smart as you and I are...or else because they are not as virtuous as you and I, and so they can't face the truth]

Crowd: (clapping, roaring and stomping) BILL!!! BILL! BILL!!!!!!!!!

Clinton: I'm here to tell you, that GRASS is GREEN!!!!!!!

Crowd: (jumping and waving...and screaming) YEAH!!!!! (roars) BILL!! BILL!!

Clinton: Is it green?!

CRowd: (ripping up seats and throwing them in the air) YES! YES! YESS!!!!! GREEN! GREEN! GREEN!


I was impressed with the way Kerry seemed so intent on moving away from the Clintonian style of demagoguery. I was wondering why he was rushing so fast through the speech, but then it seemed to me he was trying to control the impulse of the mob to respond to his every pause with a dutiful roar. You could tell the audience was disconcerted by this new pattern of oratory. The cameras caught people several times with quizzical looks as they were stilted mid-roar by Kerry pushing forward to his next point. They have been so well trained in the last twenty years, that they didn't know what part they were supposed to play if not as punctuators.

Unfortunately, as welcome as the effort to short-circuit the punctuators is, it didn't help Kerry in terms of oratorical effect. In his hurry, he was hard to follow. The opposite of wooden is not fast. The opposite of wooden is passionate. The only issues that Kerry has demonstrated any real passion for in his long senatorial career has been his own political future (not sympathetic), securing the legal right to abortion (also not sympathetic with most Americans), and preserving the planet from over-population by poor people (also problematic with the masses of poor people who vote Democratic).

I found Kerry's hand gestures got really annoying by about mid-point of his speech. He was so clearly trying to counter his reputation of Al Gorish woodenness, that he took to waving and pointing and making little triangles and smoothing gestures. I felt like I was watching a stilted hula dance.

In terms of content, I get the reasons for his constant harping on his Vietnam service, although I found it boorish. A good speech injects personal anecdotes, but shouldn't amount to the speaker saying to the audience, "YEs, Yes Yes I do! I've got medals, how about you?" I thought it was fascinating how the real issues that separate Kerry from Bush were either obliquely referenced or left out at all.

The fact is, the liberals, feminists and gay rights crowd are laying down their lives for Kerry because he will put pro-choice judges on the Supreme Court, revoke all Bush's pro-life Executive orders, support gay marriage, and, yeah, that's pretty much it. These are the principle areas in which Kerry differs from Bush. So, why not mention them? Shouldn't he want to put himself in relief for the issues about which he feels the strongest? Instead, the content of Kerry's speech was an unremarkable catalogue of positions that really don't differ that much in substance from the positions of his opponent. At least Stephen Douglas, who might be reckoned Kerry's ideological ancestor, was very clear in all of his speeches that he was basically about one thing: Preserving the right of people to own other people as property. "If that's your issue. I'm your guy."

I find Kerry's reticence to own his defining issues, oddly comforting.

But as oratory, he's really quite dreadful, unfortunately.
Thursday, July 29, 2004
GOING FOR ONE READER IN A HUNDRED YEARS...

Friend, Jen Waters, feature writer for The Washington Times has the following piece running today. Included are comments from one of our Act One faculty, Tom Provost. When I first met Tom at his house, I saw that he had a picture of Flannery on his refrigerator, and I knew we were going to be friends.

We are always preaching Flannery to our students and most of them think it is cute and quirky of us, but few of them really take her to heart. I have to have patience because I remember when I first read her, I really found her stories annoying. One day, during my sophomore year (ie. wise fool year) of college, I told my older sister that I thought O'Connor was over-rated. She looked horrified for a minute and then she, who is pathologically incapable of exaggeration and never uses three words when two will do, replied, "Barb, it is going to take the Church one hundred years to figure out where Flannery left us in terms of literature."

So, I took another look. Phew.

ETERNAL O'CONNOR
By Jen Waters
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
page A2, 7/29/04

Aficionados of Southern literature are preparing to commemorate one of the
giants of the genre, honoring Georgian author Flannery O'Connor on the 40th
anniversary of her death.
The "Remembering Flannery" event next week will take place at Andalusia,
the author's home in Milledgeville, Ga., which has been open to the public
since March 2003.
Starting at 15 minutes after midnight - exactly 40 years from the moment
of the writer's death on Aug. 3, 1964 - all of Miss O'Connor's stories from
the collection of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" will be read for 24 hours.
An evening Mass on the lawn will be followed by a blessing in the main
house.
"Coupled with the spiritual nature of her fiction, deeply rooted in the
Catholic faith, we thought it would be a good idea to celebrate her death,"
says Craig R. Amason, executive director of the Andalusia Foundation, which
will organize the program.
"The themes of grace and salvation are central to O'Connor," he says.
"For real fans of O'Connor, the commemoration of her death is an opportunity
for a joyous occasion, under the aspect of eternity."
Miss O'Connor died at age 39 from complications of lupus, an autoimmune
disease. Her small body of work earned her a reputation as one of America's
best fiction writers.
Holding the commemorative event at the O'Connor farm will allow her
readers to behold the environment in which she worked, says Bruce Gentry,
editor of "The Flannery O'Connor Review." He is a professor of English at
Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, where Miss O'Connor
studied.
"Every time I go out to Andalusia, I think about the connection between
the stories and the land," he says. "It's really quite a spooky thrill."
Miss O'Connor knew her time was short because of her disease. She shaped
her writing for people who would read her work after her death, says Paul
Elie, who wrote about Miss O'Connor in his book "The Life You Save May Be
Your Own." She didn't waste time on cultural or religious controversies of
the era, Mr. Elie says.
"She focused on metaphor and imagery and the central drama of
Christianity, the moment of grace with Christ," he says.
"She stylized her work for posterity. ... Flannery O'Connor once said
she wished books could be written and deposited in a slot for the next
century. ... She said that a serious writer would gladly swap 100 readers
now for 10 readers in 10 years or one reader in 100 years."
Her body of work consists of two novels, "Wise Blood" and "The Violent
Bear It Away," and two collections of short stories, "A Good Man Is Hard to
Find" and "Everything That Rises Must Converge."
Two other volumes of her writing have been published since Miss
O'Connor's death: "Mystery and Manners," including various articles,
unpublished essays and lectures, and "The Habit of Being," a collection of
her letters.
"She is better known and more widely read today than when she died," Mr.
Elie says. "She was very well-known around serious writers, but her books
didn't have large sales. They didn't win prizes."
After developing lupus, Miss O'Connor disciplined herself to write every
day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., including Sundays. During the last year of her
life, she wrote for at least one hour a day.
"She took a notebook to the hospital and kept it under her pillow and
wrote some of the new passages in longhand," Mr. Elie says. "She took a
draft of [the short story] 'Parker's Back' into the hospital and marked it
up."
Throughout Miss O'Connor's writing, a common character type is the
intellectual who ironically is lacking wisdom, says Donald E. Hardy, author
of "Narrating Knowledge in Flannery O'Connor's Fiction." He cites the
example of Hulga, a character in "Good People Country" who has a doctorate
in philosophy.
Miss O'Connor "had a complicated relationship with academics," Mr. Hardy
says. "She had problems with the notion that humans could understand
rationally and by reason alone their position in the world."
Frequently in Miss O'Connor's stories, a character comes to a
realization about his life. In "Revelation," the main character, Mrs.
Turpin, was given a vision of a stairway to heaven on which many people she
considered lower class were entering heaven before she was.
"O'Connor is constantly playing with the ambiguity between the physical
world and the spiritual world," Mr. Hardy says. "She takes on pride of
various sorts."
Mr. Hardy says the Southern influences in Miss O'Connor's writing come
through in her sense of humor, and her emphasis on social relationships and
the land.
"She is an extremely rich writer," he says. "She is not just a religious
writer. People just keep coming back to her fiction. She is very readable."
Another defining characteristic is her tendency to write about darker
areas of life, says Tom Provost, 39, a screenwriter in Los Angeles who says
he has been inspired by her work.
"It's OK to explore the darkness in the world and society," he says.
"Not every story you tell has to have a happy ending. If you're going to be
honest about the way society is, you need to focus on what's dark."
Some readers have criticized Miss O'Connor's use of sudden violence in
her stories, says Mr. Provost. However, he thinks Miss O'Connor was trying
to get people's attention by going to extremes, such as when the grandmother
is killed at the end of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."
"She would say sometimes you have to use a club instead of whispering to
somebody," he says. "She was trying to say to the world that obviously there
is God, salvation, goodness and beauty, but yes, there is darkness in the
world, and we need to be aware where our society is headed."
The pain in her own life probably prompted her to explore troublesome
situations, Mr. Provost says.
"She really wanted to travel and see the world," he says. "When she came
down with lupus, at 25, she resigned herself to the fact she had to live on
her mother's farm in Georgia. She had fallen in love twice and would have
very much like to have been married. Both times it was unreciprocated. ...
She had this existence and came to see it as God's will. She accepted her
circumstances as what God wanted her to do."
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
STREAMING ACT ONE

The Act One-Hollywood '04 program is featured on a new doc for TV that was produced by the Catholic Communications Campaign. The CCC has been a major donor to Act One since 2000, and we would not be here if they hadn't come on board. The doc features interviews with students, faculty, and alumns, as well as some shots of classes. Click here to watch some of the streaming video.
Monday, July 26, 2004
SPYING ON MY STUDENTS or 'THE ROCKS CRYING OUT'

Bumming around the Web (Add: when I should have been writing), I stumbled over a blog that one of our current Act One students, Jeff Berryman, has been updating during the month. I link to it basically because it is extravagant with praise for our humble selves.

Seriously, it is kind of cool to see what at least one of the students is experiencing. We know what they tell us -- but who in Hollywood is really trusting that any praise is really real?

If you know anybody out there who is wondering if they should apply to the program next year, send them to Jeff's blog here.
BOURNE AGAIN

Don't have time for a full review, but do want to add my voice to those who are raving about The Bourne Supremacy. It is a stylish, top notch action thriller with a redemptive message. I was impressed at the way the fight sequences were filmed - intentionally disorienting. Makes the audience almost a participant in the action - and ultimately a definite point of view on violence.

Film has one of the best chase sequences I've ever seen. The audience here in L.A. actually applauded when it finally reached its crashing end.

My only objection was that, FRANKly, they killed the best part of the franchise in the first half hour. (I say nothing, nothing...)

Two thumbs up. I'm going to tell my mother to go.
EMILY MONDAY

652



A Prison gets to be a friend --
Between its Ponderous face
And Ours -- a Kinsmanship express --
And in its narrow Eyes --

We come to look with gratitude
For the appointed Beam
It deal us -- stated as our food --
And hungered for -- the same --

We learn to know the Planks --
That answer to Our feet --
So miserable a sound -- at first --
Nor ever now -- so sweet --

As plashing in the Pools --
When Memory was a Boy --
But a Demurer Circuit --
A Geometric Joy --

The Posture of the Key
That interrupt the Day
To Our Endeavor -- Not so real
The Check of Liberty --

As this Phantasm Steel --
Whose features -- Day and Night --
Are present to us -- as Our Own --
And as escapeless -- quite --

The narrow Round -- the Stint --
The slow exchange of Hope --
For something passiver -- Content
Too steep for lookinp up --

The Liberty we knew
Avoided -- like a Dream --
Too wide for any Night but Heaven --
If That -- indeed -- redeem --
Friday, July 23, 2004
THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR JUST LEADS TO THE GUTTER

Thanks to friend Frederica Matthews Greene for this great review of the new film Door in the Floor . Based on another novel of John Irving, this film seems calculated to have us all sitting around drinking nostalgically to the insulting propaganda of Cider House Rules. Door has, of course, been getting a lot of buzz here in town for being "important" - which ALWAYS means "morally repugnant" these days.

I am so grateful that Frederica has spared me from having to be smeared with this particular piece of important tripe.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
OVERLY AMBITIOUS?

We are in the last 8 days of Act One-Hollywood. I will be flying back to CT for a week with my family on August 1. So, that means in the next week, I have to meet with thirty students, teach a couple of classes, read a few dozen evaluations and writing assignments, write and deliver a short speech for the program Closing Banquet, and reconnect with the myriad (lovely and wonderful) alumni who will be descendnig on Los Angeles for the annual alumni pizza party and Closing Banquet.

That's just the stuff relates to the month-long program.

Unrelated to the month-long program, I have to make site visits to four different buildings with the realtors who are searching for Act One's future home; have a meeting with a faculty member who will be creating a monthly ongoing formation program for the alumni community; interview a few applicants for the Director position of the new Business of Hollywood program; have a story meeting with the production company that is hiring me to write a screenplay this Fall; read a couple of hundred pages of screenplays that MUST MUST MUST get some feedback from me before August or I will have to change my name and move far, far away; write two columns for the NCRegister, both of which are now officially late; get Tibby the cat to the vet, because he still isn't quite himself, and it would be nasty to leave a semi-sick feline with my roommate.... I would also LOVE to knock-off a few CD-Rom classes for my Fuller studies, but perhaps that is overly ambitious.

Anyway, all this ambition means blogging becomes an indefensible extravagance. At least for the next week, forgive the sporadicness. Send prayers for the students.
SIGMUND VS. CLIVE

My friends from Walden sent the following release about their upcoming PBS doc.

Walden Media, WGBH Present Lewis/Freud Series "The Question Of God"

Special Program To Air On September 15 & 22nd On PBS

The Question of God, a four-hour series on PBS, explores in accessible and
dramatic style issues that preoccupy all thinking people today: What is
happiness? How do we find meaning and purpose in our lives? How do we
reconcile conflicting claims of love and sexuality? How do we cope with the
problem of suffering and the inevitability of death? Based on a popular
Harvard course taught by Dr. Armand Nicholi, author of The Question of God,
the series illustrates the lives and insights of Sigmund Freud, a life-long
critic of religious belief, and C.S. Lewis, a celebrated Oxford don,
literary critic, and perhaps this century's most influential and popular
proponent of faith based on reason.

"It may be that Freud and Lewis represent conflicting parts of ourselves,"
Dr. Nicholi notes. "Part of us yearns for a relationship with the source of
all joy, hope and happiness, as described by Lewis, and yet, there is
another part that raises its fist in defiance and says with Freud, 'I will
not surrender.' Whatever part we choose to express will determine our
purpose, our identity, and our whole philosophy of life."

Through dramatic storytelling and compelling visual re-creations, as well
as interviews with biographers and historians, and lively discussion, Freud
and Lewis are brought together in a great debate. "The series presents a
unique dialogue between Freud, the atheist, and Lewis, the believer," says
Catherine Tatge, director of The Question of God. "Through it we come to
understand two very different ideas of human existence, and where each of
us, as individuals, falls as believers and unbelievers."

The important moments and emotional turning points in the lives of Freud
and Lewis - which gave rise to such starkly different ideas - fuel an
intelligent and moving contemporary examination of the ultimate question of
human existence: Does God really exist?

Airing September 15 & 22, 2004, at 9:00 pm ET on PBS (check local listings)


The Question of God is produced by Tatge/Lasseur Productions in association
with WGBH and Walden Media.

For more information or to schedule an interview with Dr. Nicholi please
contact: Erin Mackey at: Emackey@walden.com

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

All over the world, people are asking the same questions: Why is there so
much pain and suffering in the world? What does it mean to be happy? Is
there such a thing as evil? Does God really exist? This September, through
the brilliant minds and personal struggles of two of the most influential
thinkers of the twentieth century, PBS presents an emotional and
intellectual journey into the meaning of life.

About Part One
The Question of God Part I presents the early stories of C.S. Lewis and
Sigmund Freud, two men with very different ideas of human existence. In
childhood, each embraced the religion of his family. But the early death of
Lewis's mother, and the horrors he witnessed in the First World War tested
his faith. In middle age, Lewis found his once-passionate atheism
troubling, and began searching for faith again. Freud, studying medicine in
the age of Darwin, found he had no use for a creator. As he developed his
theory of psychoanalysis, he came to see belief in God as just another
human fantasy.

To grapple with the questions raised by the lives and ideas of Freud and
Lewis, Dr. Armand Nicholi leads a panel of seven thoughtful men and women
in a wide-ranging discussion of some of the fundamental questions. What
influences us to embrace or reject religious belief? Is the scientific
method, as Freud wrote, the only path to the truth? Does the human longing
for God, as Lewis wrote, actually prove that God exists? Do miracles
actually happen?

About Part Two
As Freud and Lewis entered middle age, their divergent beliefs about the
existence of God were fixed. But tragedy would test each man's convictions.
For Freud, it was the terror of the Third Reich and the death of a beloved
daughter. For Lewis, in his fifties, the brief happiness of new romance was
turned to ashes with the untimely death of his wife, igniting the greatest
spiritual crisis of his life. Yet in the end, each man confronted his own
death with his beliefs intact.

Dr. Armand Nicholi and his panel continue their debate, exploring the
implications of choosing a spiritual or secular worldview for the primary
questions of life - of love, morality, suffering and death: From where do
we get our concept of right and wrong - from the Creator or from human
experience? How do we square the existence of an omnipotent, all-loving God
with all of the evidence of evil and suffering in the world? How do these
starkly different worldviews help us resolve the riddle of death?
Monday, July 19, 2004
EMILY MONDAY

1380


How much the present moment means
To those who've nothing more --
The Fop -- the Carp -- the Atheist --
Stake an entire store
Upon a Moment's shallow Rim
While their commuted Feet
The Torrents of Eternity
Do all but inundate --
Sunday, July 18, 2004
I, TIE-IN

"FIRST LAW: "THE STORY MUST NEVER SERVE STUFF OVER THE AUDIENCE."

The new Will Smith vehicle, I, Robot is not so much a piece of cinema as it a stylish piece of commercial advertising. Although shameless product placement has become a staple of big-budget movies, it becomes peculiarly awkward when you are trying to hawk 2004 goods in a futuristic, sci-fi arena. The only way they could manage it here, was to make Will Smith's character anti-technology, and then hope that we would accept the idea that he has accompanying fetishes to wear hundred-year old shoes and listen to hundred year old stereo systems. I suppose this makes his character an Austin Powers kind of animal -- only here, they are trying to play it straight.

There are three (ultimately insulting to the audience) refereneces to Will's hi-top sneakers, which he proudly describes to his grandmother as being "vintage 2004." I swear, he almost winked at the camera when he said it. Too bad he didn't. It would have provided one genuine laugh for the film. We get two close-ups of the brand of his stereo system, and four or five closeups of the Audi logo on the back of his car.

This is bad for the movie because it yanks the viewer out of the story. It is bad for society, because it makes selling products feel icky and manipulative.

"SECOND LAW: STORIES THAT SERVE AN ACTOR WILL FAIL, PARTICULARLY WHEN THEY ALSO VIOLATE THE FIRST LAW."

I generally enjoy Will Smith, but this project is as close to watching him prostitute himself as I have ever seen. Several times, we get long gratuitous looks at various naked parts of his formidable physique. There is even one long slow shot of the whole of him naked in a shower --from the side, but there he is, standing in a shower, letting the water pour out the sides of the tub onto the floor, because, well, if he pulled the shower curtain shut the camera wouldn't be able to catch him standing there beautifully unclad.

There just isn't much for Will to do here except swagger around modeling clothes and selling cars and sound-systems.

"THIRD LAW: MOVIES THAT POSTURE ABSURDITIES WILL FAIL, PARTICULARLY THOSE THAT VIOLATE THE FIRST AND SECOND LAWS."

This movie is so superficial in its treatment of a big theme, that I thought for a moment I was watching a Steven Spielberg film. It starts to make a point about why robots are not as good as people, and then ends up subverting that point by coming to the conclusion that really, really well-made robots can be as good as people. They can be unique and self-sacrificing and have dreams -- as long as you use a better kind of alloy, you see.

In a society that is so very confused about what makes personhood, I, Robot is just one more thing for thinking individuals to be depressed about. Or else, one more sign of the times for apostolic souls to pray about. Whatever. If it survives at all, it will only be to stand as a marveling point for future human societies. They'll watch the film in sociology and history and theology classes and scratch their heads saying, "You mean they really thought human beings and machines had the same value! No wonder they ended up destroying themselves!"
Saturday, July 17, 2004
RED (V.O.)
I have no idea to this day what
them two Italian ladies were
singin' about. Truth is, I don't
want to know. Some things are best
left unsaid. I like to think they
were singin' about something so
beautiful it can't be expressed in
words, and makes your heart ache
because of it. I tell you, those voices soared.
Higher and farther than anybody in
a gray place dares to dream. It was
like some beautiful bird flapped
into our drab little cage and made
these walls dissolve away...and for
the briefest of moments -- every
last man at Shawshank felt free.

(from The Shawshank Redemption)
Thursday, July 15, 2004
BLIMEY!

Here is a new web-site for Christians in the arts and media coming from some great folks in London. They have a group that has a ministry with a vision very similar to what Act One is busy about here in Hollywood, basically to create community for Christian artists.

The principle visionary, Steve Cole, and I had an interesting discussion about exactly what are the parameters of Christian community. Act One's vision is to create community animated by the organizations keynotes: ARTISTRY, PROFESSIONALISM, TRUTH, PRAYER.

Artisan's keynotes, on the other hand are (from their web site):

UNITY – HUMILTY – PRAYER

It sounds good, but what does it mean in reality?

Unity – We need one another. Life and our relationship with God was never designed to be a solo journey.

Humility – As individuals we all have our part to play, but we are not the key. Only God can transform these industries.

Prayer – As in all of life, prayer must be central. It is so often key to seeing God breaking into nations; people; industries.


It seems to me that you can see an American - European divide in the keynotes...not that there's anything wrong with that. Still, if we are going to renew the culture (HA!) it is going to take a whole lote of different keynotes.

So, God bless the Artisans!
HOLY UNDERDOG! CBS' MAID MARCHES ON!

More kudos to Barbara Hall and her crew at Joan of Arcadia for securing an Emmy Award nom for Best Dramatic Series! In light of the fact that this was the freshman season for the series, this is already an extraordinary achievement. But when you throw in that this is a show in which God is rendered Good, and there are ongoingly positive portrayals of priests and authentic spirituality, this is a miraculous achievement.

Still, part of me can't help feeling like all of this success of and for the show is just a private exchange going on between Barbara and Jesus, who are both loving on each other with efforts and accolades that the rest of us get to enjoy as bystanders on the sidelines...

Anyway, here's a nice new piece on Barb and Joan that CNS just released.

'Joan of Arcadia' asks more questions than it answers, says creatorBy Paula Doyle

Catholic News Service

WESTWOOD, Calif. (CNS) -- Inspired as a child by the girl "icon," St. Joan of Arc, Barbara Hall grew up to eventually create and produce the acclaimed CBS television series, "Joan of Arcadia," a contemporary drama about a teenage girl's visits from God.

The show was both "jinxed and unstoppable," Hall said in a talk at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Westwood to members of Open Call, an entertainment industry spirituality group.

Hall, an award-winning writer and producer of such television shows as "Chicago Hope" and "Judging Amy," said she got the idea for the show thinking about how her daughter would talk to God if she met the creator in person. She would probably argue, Hall figured.

When Hall went to pitch the show to CBS, she had no more than three sentences out of her mouth before network executives said they wanted the show.

The quick acceptance, however, preceded a number of production challenges, including casting the demanding part of "Joan" (played by Amber Tamblyn) and coping with disasters that occurred during the filming of the pilot episode, including the heart attack a crew member suffered.

Just as bad things happen to good people in real life, "Joan of Arcadia" mirrors the kinds of tragedies that people encounter. Joan's brother, Kevin, played by Jason Ritter, lives life in a wheelchair because of injuries he suffered in a car accident.

A recent episode, titled "Death Be Not Whatever," dealt with human suffering over the death of a loved one.

Coincidentally, the script was written just days before the death of Ritter's father, popular actor John Ritter of "Three's Company" and "Eight Simple Rules."

"I wanted the series to be as dark as life is," said Hall. "The show is mainly about questions, not answers."

When Joan sees God, appearing in different disguises, ages and genders, she wrestles with the assignments she is given, many of which don't immediately make any sense.

"I have more questions about God than answers," said Hall.

Raised Methodist, Hall as a young adult was not affiliated with any religious denomination. Seven years ago she became a victim of a violent crime and afterward "sort of had an understanding of something bigger than myself," she said.

She embarked on a spiritual journey where she studied every major world religion. A couple of years ago she became a Catholic.

She decided to "make the leap and figure everything out later," she said.

An underlying principle of "Joan of Arcadia" is the belief that God is available to everyone all the time, Hall explained. Another central theme is self-discovery.

"The most important thing about 'Joan of Arcadia' to me is the idea that everybody is here (on earth) to fulfill their true nature," said Hall.

She believes that depression and alienation occur when people become separated from their nature and purpose in life.

While no one religion is held up over any other one on the show, clergy from various denominations show up to guide Joan as she tries to fulfill God's sometimes confusing requests.

"It's not going to happen that we do a show about God and not mention religion," said Hall, who stood her ground with industry executives wanting a religion-free show.

Hall believes the show's "across-the-board appeal" comes from each episode's unpredictability and, perhaps, the portrayals of God by males and females, dog walkers and punk rockers alike.

"The main thing people like is it's not what they thought it would be," said Hall.

END


Tuesday, July 13, 2004
ART AND THE FORMATION OF PRIESTS

I just got back from a quick trip to Chicago for a presentation to an assembly of people who work in the formation of seminarians. Here are notes of the talk I gave. The notes are sometimes succinct, sometimes verbose - it's all I have. I can't imagine ever being asked to give this talk again, so I am putting the notes here for posterity...

THE ARTISTHOOD OF THE PRIEST

I. Intro –
a) Thank you for having me. I very much appreciate the “vision” required to invite Hollywood screenwriter to speak to your assembly. I feel sure I am the only one of the invited presenters whose last published work was a bold attack on Director Sam Rami for failing to significantly advance the theme of Spiderman II from the franchise precursor.
b) My credentials – an artist, an entertainer (that is storyteller), a former formee (nine years of religious life); not a theologian, but a doctoral candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary
c) I am the Founding Ringmaster of a community of faith-centered artists primarily in Hollywood, who have come together for so many reasons:
- to find all the goods of Christian community: accountability, fellowship, friendship, mentorship;
- to try and bring some community to the heart of the industry and to the arts which are everything but communities;
- to spur one another on to creating and producing a brand of entertainment that would combine mastery of craft with responsibility in content;
- to have a fundamental option for the audience as poor at the table in the corporate, creative and marketing dominated world of entertainment;
- to identify, mentor, nurture and place the next generation of faith-centered artists;
We spend a tremendous amount of time brooding over what we call “the priesthood of the artist” and how to form the kind of artists that the world needs and will need more as mechanization and globalization continue to obfuscate the details of life wherein meaning lies.
d) I have no business talking to you about how to form priests – but I can speak about some of what we have come to in trying to form artists and in the same way that we are trying to realize the priesthood of the artist, perhaps you can begin to brood over the artisthood of the priest?

I am hoping this will be much more of a reflection or a musing on the power of the arts – and specifically what the arts bring to priestly formation. I am going to make a slight distinction between the arts and entertainment. I am going to discuss the arts for the formation of the priest himself, and I am going to spend a bit of time on the central work of art that will be of concern to the pastor of souls, that is the liturgy. Finally, I am going to speak about the role of future pastors in facilitating artistic beauty to the people of God, and even the secular world.

[CLIP from The Mission: Gabriel begins to evangelize the Guarani through playing his oboe] – How did that make you feel? Who do you want to be in this clip? Why? What kind of a pastor is Gabriel? Why does Gabriel start his ministry with the oboe? There is a work that needs to be done in the people, before he starts to use words. He is telling them who he is through his music. He is also telling them who he thinks they are by introducing himself via music.

In our context, I suggest that the young people who are in our care are the Guarani – coming as they are from a climate in which they have lost faith in everything institutional, they are looking at us askance, with more than a touch of suspicion. The arts can get around their barriers and begin to establish the filial relationship necessary for formation.

II. Why We Need the Arts in General

We need the arts because there are truths that cannot be put into words. There are spiritual journeys that are too big for our reason to process and our language to describe.

Of course, the arts are also inadequate. People told me that the movie The Passion of the Christ was too much for them. Without getting into a discussion of the artistic merit of the film, it is still worth saying that, as bad as all the violence was in the film, it still doesn’t even come near to representing with any accuracy, the horror of one venial sin. (Which seems to subvert my point today very nicely…maybe I should leave?) But I guess the point is, if the arts are inadequate at pointing to reality through symbols, parables and metaphors, how much more is theological language?

The Pope notes in his Letter to Artists, “Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must translate into meaningful terms that which in itself is ineffable…[in so doing] it nourishes the intuition of those who look and listen.”

He goes on to make the pretty radical statement - particularly in this moment of ecclesial and artistic “disengagement” - that art is not just an object that proceeds from theological brooding, but is actually a source of theology.

That is, if you don’t reference the arts when you are studying the Annunciation, for example, in theology, you are missing other layers of meaning. You need to listen to the movements in Bach’s Gesu, Word of God to more completely “get” the Incarnation. I love this. It points to the fact that the sacred artists is as much a vehicle of divine inspiration as are theologians.

a) Entertainment as ‘the work between the work’ – to provide calisthenics for the soul. To stretch them so they don’t have to sin. Because Frodo lost his hand at Mordor, you won’t have to.

b) Have to say a word or two about beauty. The understanding of beauty, as with everything else in our post-modern confusion has become one more flag to wave in the strange and wonderful world of Church polarization. I was born in the mid 60’s amidst the impulse in which the Church seemed to be purging herself of dross. I grew up as a Gen Xer, mystified by the missionary zeal with which the Baby Boomers in the Church were stripping every vestige of the rituals, symbols and traditions from our faith.

“The Church that marries the spirit of the age is a widow in the next generation.” (Dean William Inge)

(We need to remember that even the immensely climactic moment of the reforms of Vatican II, are still just a moment in ecclesial history. In watching the backlash against the changes of the last forty years, I can’t help wonder with a little exhausted breathlessness, exactly what will survive. There has been so much damn suffering, I hope something makes it.)

I remember once back in 1990 as a junior professed, it was a big feast day for our community – Solemnity of St. Paul, and I was stationed for the first time away from the Motherhouse. We were celebrating the Feast day at a local parish for the friends of our community…My fellow junior and I wanted to make it as cool and beautiful as possible, and so we set out the nicest vestments and did the flowers, blah blah blah. When father came in, we asked him if he would be okay using incense and he suddenly got inappropriately irate exclaiming, ‘It took us twenty-five years to get rid of all that nonsense, and now you people want to bring it all back?!”

I didn’t know what “people” he was talking about. I wanted to use incense because it is cool and holy, and because I loved the symbol from the psalms of our prayers rising like incense. The priest was reacting against something of which I had had no experience, and associating it to incense. Incense is not the problem. The problem was formalism. More about that later.

Anyway, I think in some ways, it is easier to train artists than priests, because we have a way to tell very clearly if they are in the wrong vocation. If they don’t have talent, we gently encourage them to become a supporter of artists. The Divine Economy seems very unfair at times, but ‘if the Lord doesn’t build the artists, in vain do the gurus nurture.’ (It would be an interesting question as to whether there is a comparable “God-given sign” of vocation in the priesthood….what would mastery of craft look like in a pastor of souls?)

Here are some principles about beauty that have become part of the presuppositions of the Act One program:

1. Beauty makes us homesick for heaven. It is a “holy sadness”.

Some great quotes:

“I have always – at least, ever since I can remember – had a kind of longing for death.”

“Ah Psyche,” I said, “have I made you so little happy as that?”

“No, no, no,” she said. “You don’t understand. Not that kind of longing. It was when I was happiest that I longed most. It was on the happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine…where we couldn’t see the village or the palace. Do you remember? The colour and the smell, and looking across at the Grey Mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, ‘Psyche, come!’”
(from Till We Have Faces, CS Lewis)

“[When we see beauty] …in the midst of our workaday cares, we raise our heads and unexpectedly gaze into a face turned towards us, and in that instant, we see: everything which is is good, worthy of love, and loved by God…The world is not out of joint after all; everything is moving toward its appointed end; despite everything there is peace, wholeness and splendor in the depths of things; God holds in His hands the beginning the middle and the end of all things.”
(Josef Pieper, Problems of Modern Faith, 1985)

2. Beauty is not necessarily pretty.

“Heaven is revealed upon the earth both in Michelangelo’s David, and in the cup of cold water which is given to the poor.”
(from Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy in Art; Gerardus van der Leeuw

3. Beauty is expensive to produce: time, details, talent, money. The little things like getting the lighting just right, having the flowers arranged, rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing. You are going to have to pay your artists to practice and produce. (My sister is a professional opera singer. She used to get $100 a week to cantor at the local Episcopalian church which has an endowed chair for a mezzo soprano. At our parish church, they want to pay her $40 a week, and as she has said to me wth a shrug, “And they want me to sing crap.”

It has to be said. Much of the art we are making as a Church is ugly and painful. It has the opposite effect that it should. There is a problem when the Church is singing music that would be better suited to an episode of Barney, and Nora Jones is singing music that stings people to the heart.

“To put it bluntly, God is not adequately praised and adored with the showy, the pompous, the self-serving, the mawkish, the cleverly casual or the thoughtlessly comfortable forms of art.”
(from Worship and Theology, Don E. Saliers)

I teach RCIA to people in the entertainment industry. These are incredibly talented people. It is most often embarrassing to take them to Church and have them come to the realization that what they do every day professionally is much superior to the artistic expression they find in the Church that is supposed to be a gift of God inspired by the Holy Spirit.

[God accepts whatever humble offering his children make]…”But the lowliness of the origins of the music or art offered cannot be made into a rule against continuing to find forms that best serve to articulate the deeper mysteries of God and the human condition.”
(from Worship and Theology, Don E. Saliers)

4. Beauty is exclusive: it is the harmonious selection of details. There is an elitist aspect about beauty which I know from your homogeneity of age group (Baby Boomers all!) is surely disconcerting to many of you. Take a breath. The principal should be that we strive to produce the best forms to express the liturgical realities. Beauty is not an option. It is not an extra. We have to change the way we think about it.

5. Beauty is not necessarily old, but many old things are beautiful. Best notion is from the Scriptures, “Blessed is he who can bring forth from his storehouse, both the old and the new.

I want to stop and ask you to recall a powerful beautiful arts moment from your past, and what it meant to you. When Fr. Rohr said that healthy celibates NEED a moment of genuine connection with God, it is very often arts moments in which these can be found. I tell you mine, and then I want you to think of yours.

We used to have the custom of saying the rosary from May to October… We would chant the litany of Mary. I used to love it best in the Latin (I had studied Latin for two years so it was more than just the texture and the sounds, it was the meanings too.) I can still remember the power of those evening moments: the coolness of the summer evenings, the colorful flowers in the garden out of which rose the lifesize marble statue of the Madonna; the voices of the sisters, some of them always adding spontaneous harmony. I used to feel my heart swelling with the psalms, “How good it is for us to be here!”

I imagine that if it was photographed, that image of the group of us, all looking the same would remind some people of the horrible loss of individuality. But I didn’t find that ritual diminishing. I found it comforting. There was something so steadying in the knowledge that for fifty years, our sisters had been singing like this together, on a hil outside of Boston, calling down God’s love and mercy on all the hoards of people of the city and of the world.

I used to feel this way at the chanting of vespers. Singing the Salve Regina.

Remember your moment and if you come away with nothing else, recommit yourself to recreating those moments for your seminarians.

III. Seminarians Need Arts and Entertainment for Their Own Spiritual Growth
a) They need more beauty because more renunciation will be required of them. Arts can achieve a “storing up” of intimate encounters with God. They will need to bank these moments for the future. Since leaving the nuns, it has seemed to me at times ruthlessly unfair how beautiful the liturgies were in the Motherhouse…It made the real world outside seem like a vast desert of liturgical ugliness. Sometimes, I look around at the other lay sheep in church and wonder, “Why are you people coming here?” But I think it is as “unfair” as the fact the apostles had three lovely, intimate years with Jesus – tromping around fields and villages, sitting by late-night fires, sharing untold meals and prayers, before they had to all go live and die for Him.
b) Again, we have to know the kinds of things the seminarian can learn in a classroom, and the kinds of things that are learned elsewhere. When I was younger – in college, I used to go around saying, “The truth can change people. If you just expose them to the truth, they will cleave to it.” This is a naïve view. You can lead a chicken to a hen house but you can’t make him brood. The sense of “You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free” is the sense of knowing in which the Scriptures also speak of sexual intimacy, “Adam knew Eve.” So, it’s the cleaving to the Truth that makes you free, not having it blare out at you from the speakers in a classroom or in black words on a white page. You can discover reasons for conviction and certitude on the pages of a textbook, but if you want compassion that will motivate someone to sacrifice, you can find it much quicker in a movie like Shine. Ethics can tell me about the disordered attractions of my own soul, but Madame Bovary will sting me to the heart. “The heart has reasons of which reason nothing knows.”

The making people cleave to things inwardly – beyond the province of language - is the terrain of the arts. Compunction, sorrow, sympathy, joy, horror, wonder – and communion besides are the powers here.

With our artists, btw, we are moving more and more out of the classroom and into small groups headed by a master or guru. The classroom is just a rite of initiation into technique. Great art doesn’t come from classrooms, anymore than do holy priests.

c) Will provide them a more profound sense of “what the world without God looks like” which should heighten pastoral urgency. A seminarian I know was deeply impacted by the film Requiem for a Dream…
d) Arts can bond the group. Experience a work of great art together can be an intimate, powerful experience that connects you to another human being in a way as unrepeatable as the moment.

“Celebration is the song of joy and thanksgiving flowing from a sense of unity, but also creating and deepening it…Nourishment comes in those moments when the whole community becomes aware of the current of life which flows through it.”
(from Community and Growth, Jean Vanier)

[CLIP from The English Patient OR Babette’s Feast]

e) The seminarians need to be given a formation to discern healthy entertainment from unhealthy. Again, this should be a common sense discussion, but it has been hijacked by the polarization of the times. So, people on the Right think anything with any sex, language and violence is bad. I spoke to a group at Steubenville and I said to them, “We never want to get to a point in which we would keep our children from looking at Michealangelo’s David. Right?” There was a dead silence in the crowd. Many weren’t too sure… Traditionalists too often over simplify by saying anything old is good. And correspondingly, anything new is bad.

The movie In the Bedroom a couple of years ago made a profound statement about forgiveness, and that we forgive not so much as a mercy for the one who wounded us, but because if we don’t forgive, we will end in doing worse things than they did to us. Yet, most of my religious friends didn’t support the film because there was a subplot of out of wedlock sex, and because in the end, the couple gets away with committing a crime…. “Yeah, but they were insane!”

On the left, people sneer at the suggestion that anything in media is really harmful. These are people who generally get the idea that eating junk food can be physically toxic, but who posture that making careful selections in media is somehow a fascist attempt to thwart the First Amendment. There’s a leftist leaning nun I know who is always getting seduced by flashy looking Hollywwod movies. Several of them have been damnably subversive in their storytelling technique. But she doesn’t see that, because I think she thinks she is immune or something.

It’s absolutely absurd.

The way through all this is to resist oversimplifying what is essentially a complex problem of modern life. We need to help our young people to live in this age in which they live moderately, prudently and pastorally. Priests need to watch media not as fans, but rather as people trying to stay alert to ‘the signs of the times.’ It would be a good thing to have some mandatory courses for pastors to be in cinema as it is the art form of our time. To demystify the screen storytelling process and techniques would serve your men well. First and foremost, it would help them get away from just seeing movies in terms of their story content.

III. Seminarians Need a Formation in Aesthetics and Entertainment for the Rest of Us
a) Once they are ordained, your seminarians will need to enter into dialogue with media-saturated sheep. They need to absorb as a strategy that they should not compete with the arts, but should instead work with them. Especially with young people. It is a pastoral necessity today to be able to talk about what the matrix means, who Joan of Arcadia is talking to and the relative odds that love found with The Batchelor won’t be unconditional and life-long. I would say, you are functionally irrelevant as a pastor in this particular moment if you cannot complete the sentence, “With great power comes…_______?”
b) They will need to minister to and with artists in their future parishes.
c) They will be the ones to commission works of art – Renaissance comes from pastors…
d) They will need to harnass the power of the arts for the Gospel
1. Definitely need musical training.
2. Absolutely they need training in Oratory – Sorry, but that is their art form – Maybe they won’t be Fulton Sheen, but they can be rendered competent. Studies in craft can lead to competence if not genius. They need to learn what it means to “speak with authority,” and what are the principles of good parables.
A. Parable principles:
-The story is enough;
- Story/Metaphor must always be Clearer than the Truth your are trying to explicate
- You say it in a story because you can’t say it in a sentence
- A good story needs Pathos, Logos, Ethos (something for the heart, something for the mind, something magical/memorable)
- A good story has a clear beginning, middle and end which all develop a central point. It ends when it is done. It doesn’t wind down agonizingly in search of a reason to exist…
- Best parables are the ones from their own lives (it will give the preaching passion because there is nothing we would rather do than talk about ourselves)
B. What is it to speak “With authority”?
- Two cardinal rules of Hollywood – and should be for every preacher: Don’t bore me. Don’t waste my time. You bore me when you tell me something that is obvious. (In order not to tell me something obvious, you have to prepare and do research). You waste my time when you tell me something irrelevant. Things that are irrelevant may be fine in themselves, it’s just not the question that is meaningful to me right now. Hence it is irrelevant. It means you need to know your audience. (Can’t speak to every age group out there. Hollywood would never do that. Speak to the adults. Let them translate down.) We tell our screenwriters, “Commerciality is in the intersection of the passion of your heart, with a cry of the world.”
- You take risks. You put what you believe out there without equivocation. I write magazine articles. After I write an article, I always go back and then cross out all the phrases like: “in my opinion”; “I think,” or the corollaries, “I feel” or “I believe”; “it might be said”; “perhaps”;

Removing these phrases gives power to speech. It also enrages people who disagree, but that’s between them and God…
- You are speaking Macro themes that have been derived from your own micro stories. “This I know to be true.”

V. Liturgy as the Priest’s Primary Art Form

“Liturgy is the common art of the People of God in which the community brings the depth of emotion of our lives to the ethos of God. In these acts, we discover who we are, but primarily, we discover who God is in this art.”
(from Worship and Theology, Don E. Saliers)

a) The liturgy doesn’t use art. It is Art. The art of worship includes formation in theology, liturgy and aesthetics.
b) Aesthetic experience is not the purpose of worship. The point is to make the ethos of God at the center with the pathos of human beings
c) We are NOT trying to create an artificial formalism that substitutes propriety for genuine encounter with the living God.
d) Liturgy as an art requires all that art requires: form, material, discipline, imagination and pain
e) The liturgy is symbolic, parabolic, metaphoric
f) It isn’t a performance around the people: The people are the players. We have to rouse them to their best creation: reverence + compunction
g) Again, ecclesial polarization is messing everything up here. On the Right, the focus in liturgy is exclusively about beauty and reverence and solemnity. On the Left, it is exclusiely about community and particularly celebration. The fact is, genuine liturgy must be both and more. It must be a meeting of the truth about God – making the holy present, with the truth about us. The awareness of God leads to awe and wonder. The awareness of our reality leads to humility, anger, sorrow, openness.

[The Liturgy in which God is not experienced] “is a spectacle and a sin.”
(Gerardus van der Leeuw)

III. End
The knowledge conferred by faith is the preeminent knowledge. Yet, it too can be enriched by artistic intuition and the sense of wonder stirred by the beautiful. In his closing of his Letter to Artists the Pope describes a progression that moves a person from beauty to wonder to enthusiasm:

“People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm if they are to meet and master the critical challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, every time it loses its way, humanity will be able to lift itself up again and set out on the right path. In this sense, it has been said with profound insight, that “beauty will save the world.”