Monday, November 29, 2004


Coming to you all live from the Catholic University of Milan. I am here for a few days, as part of an international program in screenwriting that the university offers annually. My sister and I are having fun - even if La Scala, the Duomo and even our hotel are all being renovated...

Judging from my email, Catholic Exchange just posted another of my columns. I can't get the embeded link to work on this Italian keyboard, so go here to read the piece:

It is on why parents need to raise their kids WITH media, instead of INSTEAD of media. ABout half of my email is coming from annoyed parents who all seem to fit in the accusatory, not really a question, "So, how many children do YOU have?!"

I'm so relieved we believers save our nastiness for each other. It would be such a scandal to be this way with the pagans....

Anyway, Ciao y'all!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


[ahem] I will be the official guest-blogger over at BeliefNet today. A group of us are all filling in for Charlotte Hays while she's on a break, so I will be posting what I would normally post here, there. Go see.

Just so's you all know, I got places to go...

Friday, November 19, 2004


[These are the notes from my talk at the Notre Dame "Epiphanies of Beauty Conference." I gave the talk today and people seemed to like it. Sorry if it's hard to follow in it's spottiness - just imagine me doing the Sicilian hand-waving and filling in all the holes.]

I. Intro….Thanks for invitng me to be part of this wonderful event. I am not a theologian or a philosopher. I have recently had a short-lived career as a doctoral student. But after just two courses in which we wrangled over earth-shattering topics like “Towards a Practical Theology: Rebuilding a Hermeneutic of Christopraxis” and “Rethinking the Sermon on the Mount as Divine Triadic Transforming Initiatives,” I decided, that I would probably die while scaling the ivory tower, and I should be humbly content to stay in Hollywood and influence the billions of people who make up the ravenous global audience.

I am an artist - a writer and dramatist, and I am the ring-master of a new community of filmmakers in the entertainment industry. We started out in 1999 to try and get better scripts on the desks of Hollywood executives. We created a pedagogical model to address this problem. We find ourselves now, focused on building a nurturing community for our writers, and then standing around the perimeter, rubbing our hands together and hoping that something amazing will happen when we aren’t looking. The classroom phase of the program is basically just the doorway, rite of initiation.

It’s that “when we aren’t looking” that I want to talk about today. The time of isolation that is the prerequisite to every work of art. It is the biggest cross of the artist, even surpassing in weight the cross of their own weirdness.. Mainly because a lot of their weirdness proceeds from the solitude that they have to make their home so often.

I don’t have time today to dwell too much on the necessary relationship between isolation and creativity. You’re just going to have to take my word about it as a practitioner and one who wrangles practitioners.

I will talk about the following:

A) Two Senses of Isolation, one positive and one negative, and how artists tend to experience them backwards.
B) The relationship – I’m going to call it a marriage - between the artist and their art, and the way it ravages them to salvation, and possibly some of us on the outside too.
C) Why Classrooms Will Not Produce The “New Renaissance”
D) What Kind of Community We Need to Create So That We Might See Some Beautiful Art Again At Some Point. (And When I say Beautiful I mean…)

II. Isolation as the Artist’s Cross

It is a paradox. Art is a striving to connect. To make art, one must disconnect and retreat into isolation. An artist will never get past the struggle with isolation. In so far as they do war against themselves – their fear and sloth, they will be able to enter productively into isolation. Most of the time, they will come away with little to show. They can be inspired with an idea in myriad ways, but in the end, they will have to sit and recombine and knead that idea, working it and letting it work them, until it is ready to be born.


a) Negative Isolation as the Artist Fringing Himself on the Outskirts of Society
I am not an art historian, and I don’t know what led to this situation, but the truth is, it has become a virtue for an artist to be cut off from “the village” to dwell in a kind of haughty isolation. The story of the 20th Century artist has been a tortured tension between the glorification of isolation, and the passion for commercialization and celebrity.

I asked a writer a couple years ago, where he thought ethics for a fiction writer consisted of, and he said, “In being faithful to the voice inside me.” So I said, “Yes, but what if you are sick, and have an infection that could harm other people.” And he kind of unblinkingly parroted back at me, “The role of the artist is to be faithful to his own vision.”

So, putting the best spin on it, artists today tend to think of isolation as the only protection for their distinct voice. And it is true that that voice needs to survive. I would argue that for the real artists (that is, the one who is driven to create) his or her very survival is tied to the preservation of their unique voice.

So says Lord Byron in his poem Childe Harold,

‘Tis to create, and in creating live
A being more intense, that we endow with form our fancy,
Gaining as we give
The life we image, even as I do now.
What am I? Nothing;
But not so art thou, Soul of my thought!
With whom I traverse earth, Invisible but gazing
As I glow, Mix’d with thy spirit; blending with thy birth,
And feeling still with thee in my crush’d feelings dearth.

The result of artists in isolation has been devastating – first and foremost to the artist, who have been left to carry the burden of creativity without the support of a loving community, not to mention sanctifying grace. But it has also meant that the rest of us have suffered the loss of what the Pope calls the artist’s ‘prophetic voice.’ More about what else we’ve lost further on.

So, here’s why I find the Pope’s Letter to Artists so wonderful. It opens with a call “To renew that fruitful dialogue that used to exist between the Church and the arts.” What is Dialogue, but a calling out of isolation?

I guess the point of this conference is to get at what the Church and artists have to say to one another –

III. The Isolation That Is Holy

Several years ago, I went to a dentist and before he put my fingers in my mouth I asked him, “Do you like being a dentist?”…… I hear the same kind of thing from my writers. They are always telling me, “I hate writing. I get so lonely!!!” “Nobody told me I was going to have to be alone so much. You know, by myself!!”

The funny thing, that artists experience loneliness is not a sign that they are doing art wrong. Any more than a dentist getting saliva splattered on his face. A lonely artist is not doing it wrong, he is just doing it. It’s amusing that artists tend to experience the unhealthy isolation as a positive thing, because it is connected to their sense of themselves as islandic, while they experience the healthy isolation as negative – because it is related to humility. The point is, we need to offer artists a kind of community that can support them in their healthy isolation.

In his Letter to Artists, The Pope speaks with compassion about the artist’s need to subject himself to “the demands of beauty.” The principle demand is the price of excellence – the wages of the craft itself – and this is something that can only be achieved in isolation.

The relationship between the artist and his art becomes as defining as a marriage. The artist has to be wedded to his craft, and make every sacrifice for that other. My mother used to say about a successful marriage, ‘There is no such thing as quality time together. There is only time.” And this is true of the artist, there can be no substitute for “the scales.”

“It is easy to forget that the man who writes a good love sonnet needs not only to be enamored of a woman, but also to be enamored of the Sonnet.” C.S. Lewis

We tell our students, “You might be a good writer when you have completed your 1000th page. This is roughly equivalent to eight screenplays, or else one screenplay rewritten eight times. Then, you can stand back and know that you have some basic proficiency with the limits and possibilities of the art form. For a painter, you know what yellow can do on a pallet. For a singer, your body knows how to prepare for and make the transition from a high G to a B flat.

If you don’t write 1000, the most you might have is flashed of goodness. But it will be an incomplete, project that people will refer to as having loads of potential. But it won’t be worth anything in itself.

This being closeted alone with your craft makes for a weird relationship between the artist and their art form. To those of us on the outside, it’s just damn queer. But it will help to think of it as a kind of marriage. Here’s a sequence of clips from Hilary and Jackie…


In order to bring forth new epiphanies of beauty, and artist has to go off by himself, and stare, and brood, ponder. He has to willingly let himself be kneaded by the sufferings and humiliations of life, and stay in that place, until he loses a measure of control and it bubbles up out of him in a process called creativity.

Sitting alone with yourself is truly frightening – even if the scariest thing about it may be just how desperately boring it can be. Emily Dickinson expressed it thus:

The Loneliness One dare not sound –
And would as soon surmise as in its Grave go plumbing to ascertain its size.

The Loneliness whose worst alarm is lest itself should see –
And perish from before itself for just a scrutiny.

The Horror not to be surveyed –
But skirted in the Dark –
With consciousness suspended –
And Being under lock.

I fear me this –
Is Loneliness the maker of the soul?
It’s Caverns and its corridors Illuminate? Or seal?

What is the principle fear of isolation? The Pope references a “suffering of insufficiency.” That is, even after having spent yourself completely, you will have to stand back from your work and say not “It is good,” but probably, “It is better than most people could do….but it is still not really good.” So, the artist has to live inescapably with the certainty of his own limits. The most compelling temptation for us all is the vision of the life without limits: “You shall be like gods.” The artist is aware at every creative moment of his limits.

It is a suffering that can make you mad/insane if you fight it, this suffering of insufficiency. The only thing to be done is to embrace it humbly. So that every experience of creativity leads you to realize the distance between yourself, and the Creator.

III. Other Dangers of Isolation

There’s a reason why solitary confinement is among the worst punishments a person can receive.
- Isolation can foster depression. Many artists already have the aptitude for depression. There are myriad studies which have tried to figure out if depression causes artistic creativity – like a person drowning grasping at a line, or if doing art makes you crazy. I think it is a little of both.

- Isolation renders people inadequate in human society. It can make them slobs who will be in their pajamas at 2pm, and whose creative space is somewhere in the middle of the mound of candy rappers and diet Coke cans.

- Isolation can make people intellectually proud. “Thank you God that I am not like other men, but am instead someone who broods and ponders.”

- Isolation can make you think you are alone.

- There are other aspects of the artist’s life which are very isolating: rejection, instability, celebrity

For all these reasons, it has been said, “Instead of coming to the imagination’s rescue, the Church has panicked at its antics.” (Janine Langan, Truth, Justice and the Modern Imagination)hj

IV. Why the Classroom Can’t Produce Great Art

Many reasons that each deserve a separate talk. For example,

- The classroom is basically a consumer environment. People who are all paying tuition cannot be separated out in terms of who has talent and who doesn’t.

- The academy is infected with the fear of absolutes, and so it is considered totalitarianism to say, “This is ugly.”

- And while classrooms should be about encouraging young people, what good is it to validate someone falsely? Teachers tend to have a false sense of what encouraging young people means. We need to bring the deadly serious collegiate sports exclusivity into other areas of academia. Some people just can’t cut it in the arts, and they need to be told that.

Principally, however, the classroom will generally not produce great art because it teaches craft in isolation from life.

It also isn’t a covenant-based community, and the handing on of an art form is very much something that needs to be founded in a covenant relationship.

V. The Studio as the Answer to Artistic Alienation

All of our efforts at Act One, are centered into working with writers until we know that they are serious about pursuing their craft, and we know that they have talent, and we have helped them acquire enough technical mastery, that we can place them with a mentor.

We also blackmail, bribe and extort them to enter into a group of other writers, and then, as soon as they begin to find some success in the industry, we start asking them to mentor the next crop of young writers.

In the studio relationship, the artist gets much more than craft lessons. He gets life lessons. He hears how another person weathered the poverty of the initial years, and how he dealt with being very good, but not the best. (Valerie: “I only need to sing the best song I can sing…”)

Reforming Christian artists guilds and studios, will be a good thing for both the masters and the apprentices…and especially for the Church.

Unlike the classroom, the master can refuse to take a student. He has an interest in not putting disciples out there who would diminish his reputation.

VI. Rules of the Community

The community has a clear covenant.

a) Beauty is the harmonious combination of details and one of the harmonies is in the content or message of the work. It is possible to have a great work of art that is ugly, because it is a lie (like The Hours, or American Beauty). To the same extent, it is possible to have a truthful work of art that is ugly, because it is missing craft.

b) The striving is to live the truth in charity. We have to find a way to validate each other while still being honest about each other’s work. We believe that there are many places in the community and that the ability to appreciate artistic talent, is also a talent from God. He gives this gift in proportion to the gift of talent. (Theo and van Gogh. Sue and Emily: “To Make a Clover, It Takes a Clover, and a Bee, and Reverie))

c) Fidelity to the artist’s vision as a God-given gift: I don’t tell you how to fix your screenplay. I only tell you what isn’t working in it.

d) “Freely you have received. Freely give.”

e) “Be worth teaching. Do your homework (no faking it.).”

f) We owe one another first of all, the witness of a godly life, married to artistic excellence.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


I am giving a talk Monday night at Franciscan University of Steubenville that will be open to the public. Do come and bring hoards of culturally astute philanthropists. Info follows...


a presentation featuring Barbara R. Nicolosi, Executive Director, Act One, Inc.

Monday, November 22, 8pm

The International Room
JC Williams Center
Franciscan University of Steubenville

For more information: 740-283-6450

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


I finally got myself organized with the folks over at Catholic Exchange such that they will now be posting all my columns from the National Catholic Register. This will provide an on-line archive for me (and reveal in no uncertain terms that I really only have about four and a half original thoughts, but I keep recombining them in endless schticks...). I sent them all the articles from the last year, and they will be posting them over the next several months.

They are running one today called, "Five Things The Church Can Do To Fix the Culture Fast". Enjoy it again - it just gets better!

[Inner, dark whiny Barb self] And when I grow up, I want to be listed on their front page along with their special columnists....RIGHT ABOVE Amy Welborn.

[Cough] Clearly, we have a way to go before growing up...ahem.

That's what they're calling an amazing conference going on at Notre Dame this Thursday-Sunday. I love the title of it above, because I find it refreshing to see the phrase "post-Christian culture" asserted directly. I've been going around saying that we're in a post-Christian culture for ten years now, but invariably, religious folks demur. Not sure what happened to put the folks at ND over the edge, but they're welcome to join the ranks of us "with eyes to see."

Anyway, the line-up of academics at this week's event is impressive. Hopefully, there will be a lot of artists there too...and hopefully, the academic papers will be written in such a way as to be intelligible to the artists.

My talk is Friday at 11:20am

Here's more info from the event's web-site...

University of Notre Dame, November 18-20, 2004

"Even beyond its typically religious expressions, true art has a close affinity with the world of faith, so that, even in situations where culture and the Church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience." -- Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists

Pope John Paul II addressed his 1999 Letter to Artists "to all who are passionately dedicated to the search for new 'epiphanies' of beauty, so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these as gifts to the world." In using the word "epiphany," the Holy Father drew attention to art as the manifestation, or "shining forth," of the glorious beauty of God's creation. Accordingly, as the pope says elsewhere in the letter, beautiful works of art serve as "a kind of bridge to religious experience," and thus as a genuine source of moral, spiritual and cultural renewal.

The Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture's fifth annual fall conference will examine the variety of ways in which the fine arts can help build a more genuinely Christian civilization in an era that is ever more deeply post-Christian in its character. Our first triennial series culminated in proposals on how to build a genuine culture of life, and last year's conference reflected on the renewal and formation at the heart of such a culture. This conference will focus our reflection on the fine arts and their place in a culture of life.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

7:30 p.m. Welcoming Remarks

7:40 p.m. Keynote Address
"Shouts or Whispers? Faith and Doubt in Contemporary American Literature"
Gregory Wolfe, Seattle Pacific University/Publisher and Editor of Image

Friday, November 19, 2004

8:00 - 9:10 a.m. Colloquium Sessions

Session 1: Examining the Works of Flannery O'Connor
Chair: Ralph Wood, Baylor University
"Epiphanies of Beauty: Flannery O'Connor's Short Stories in the Interpersonal Communication Classroom"
Janie Harden Fritz, Duquesne University
"A Good War is Hard to Find: Flannery O'Connor, Abu Ghraib and the Problem of American Innocence"
David Griffith, University of Pittsburgh
"Flannery O'Connor's Art of Conversion: Unlikely Sacraments for the Post-Christian Reader"
Joseph Quinn Raab, STL, Santa Catalina School

Session 2: Art and Nature
Chair: Margaret Watkins Tate, Baylor University
"Artificial Nature and the Beauty of Species"
Edwin Bagley, Wingate University
"In Light of Metaphor: Poetry and Environmental Humility"
Deborah Bowen, Redeemer University College
"Fibonacci and Other Natural Forms in Music"
Marjorie Bagley, Ohio University School of Music

Session 3: Architecture and Urban Planning
Chair: Philip Bess, University of Notre Dame
"Everyday Epiphanies: Beauty, Meaning, & the Urban Experience"
David Mayernik, University of Notre Dame
"Designing and Building Homes to Foster the "Domestic Church": Catholic Principles of Residential Home Design"
Sara Freund, University of St. Thomas/Trinity School at River Ridge
"Architectural Modernism and Modern Catholic Architecture"
Randall Smith, University of St. Thomas

Session 4: The Visual Arts and the Imagination
Chair: Jeff Langan, University of Notre Dame
"The Artistic Imagination and its Interpretive Influence on Tradition"
George S. Matejka, Ursuline College
"Kierkegaard and Barocci on the Aesthetic Validity of Marriage"
Greg R. Beabout, St. Louis University
"Creativity and Creation: Nature, Spirituality and the Paradox of Size in Adam Elsheimer's Flight into Egypt"
Michelle A. Lang, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Session 5: Theology and the Arts
Chair: Cristian Mihut, University of Notre Dame
"He Loved Rachel More than Leah: Genesis 26 and 34 as Covenantal Reminders"
Thomas Wetzel, Marquette University
"Christian Art: Beyond Presumption and Despair to Hope"
Douglas Henry, Baylor University
"Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge: Towards a Biblical Theology of the Arts"
Donald Uitvlugt, University of Notre Dame

Session 6: Philosophy and Literature
Chair: Peter Wicks, University of Notre Dame
"Purifying the Source: Flannery O'Connor and Caroline Gordon On the Trail of Jacques Maritain"
Ryan J. Jack McDermott, Duke University
"How to Live a Life: The Quest for the Authentic in the Novels of Walker Percy"
Paul Foster, The Heights School
"The Tragic Hero and Christian Dignity"
Catherine Jack Deavel, University of St. Thomas

Session 7: Case Studies in Film
Chair: Daniel McInerny, University of Notre Dame
"Night Light: Beauty and Truth in the Films of M. Night Shyamalan"
Brian Clayton, Gonzaga University
"The Truman Show and Beyond: Andrew Niccols' Platonic Craft"
Michael Foley, Baylor University
"Beauty and the Divine"
Rev. Robert E. Lauder, St. John's University

9:10 - 9:40 a.m. Break, Refreshments

9:40 - 10:50 a.m. Colloquium Sessions

Session 1: Medicine and the Arts
Chair: Rick Garnett, Notre Dame Law School
Rev. W.P. Grogan and Sr. Judy Niemet, RSM, Provena Health
"Medicine as Art: Dialectic Between Creativity and Methodology?"
Fabrice Jotterand, Rice University
"Icons, Law, and Life"
Richard Stith, Valparaiso University School of Law

Session 2: Case Studies in Literature
Chair: Rev. Michael Heintz, University of Notre Dame
"'Getting Religion': Flannery O'Connor and Conversion in the Society of the Spectacle"
Agnes Kramer-Hamstra, McMaster University
"Gollum, Instrument of Providence"
Tom Harmon, Freelance Journalist
"Structural Ideation: The Methodology of Christian Meaning in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien"
Jana Tuzar, Benedictine University

Session 3: Sacred Architecture
Chair: Bill Westfall, University of Notre Dame
"Learning from Light: What Painting on the Premises of a Gothic Cathedral Has Taught Me about the Nature of Art, Beauty and the Creative Process"
Gael Mooney, MFA, Painter
"Ever Ancient, Ever New: Thoughts on Creating Contemporary Sacred Architecture"
Steven Schloeder, PhD, Institute for Studies in Sacred Architecture
"Art and the Parish Madonna Chapel"
Rev. Timothy Sauppe, STL

Session 4: Philosophical Perspectives on the Arts
Chair: Fred Crosson, University of Notre Dame
"Destructive Epiphanies, Desecrating Art, Godless Culture: Confronting Rousseau's Discourse on the Arts"
John Prellwitz and Kathleen Glenister Roberts, Duquesne University
"Reflections on Newman on Literature"
Ronald Hustwit, The College of Wooster
"Toward an Aristotelian Theory of Art and the Fine Arts"
Matthew P. Lomanno, University of St. Thomas

Session 5: The Arts in Modern Society
Chair: Maura Ryan, University of Notre Dame
"Wellsprings of Beauty: Nurturing the Artistic Soul"
Dolores Flessner, Artists for a Renewed Society
"Mass Enlightenment in a Capitalistic Age"
Jason M. Bell, Vanderbilt University

Session 6: Case Studies in Painting
Chair: Kevin McDonnell, St. Mary's College
"Salvador Dali's The Sacrament of the Last Supper: A Theological Re-Assessment"
Michael Anthony Novak, Marquette University
"Nature, Myth, and Sacrifice in the Paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe"
Ann Astell, Purdue University
"Jean Charlot and Paul Claudel: Apocalyptic Visions"
Marcia Rickard, Saint Mary's College

Session 7: Depicting the Human Face
Chair: Rev. David Burrell, CSC, University of Notre Dame
"Ethiopian Women are the Most Beautiful Women in the World"
Susan L. Sprecher, University of Notre Dame
"Old Man of the Middle East: Son of Abraham? Son of Ibrahim?"
Gloria Smith and Peter Carney, MD
"Icons, Advertising, and the Human Face"
Scott Davison, Morehead State University

10:50 - 11:20 a.m. Break, Refreshments

11:20 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Invited Papers

Session 1: "What Makes a Painting a Religious Painting?"
Alasdair MacIntyre, University of Notre Dame
Chair: Thomas Hibbs, Baylor University

Session 2: "Isolation, Community and the Artistic Life"
Barbara Nicolosi, Act One: Writing for Hollywood
Chair: Mary Keys, University of Notre Dame

Session 3: “J.R.R. Tolkien: Our Post-Modern Contemporary”
Ralph Wood, Baylor University
Chair: David Fagerberg, University of Notre Dame

12:45 - 1:45 p.m. Lunch

2:00 - 3:10 p.m. Invited Papers

Session 1: Jorge Garcia, Boston College
“Chance or Providence? Kieslowski, God, and Contemporary Film”
Thomas Hibbs, Baylor University
Chair: David O'Connor, University of Notre Dame

Session 2: "Poetry and Evangelizing"
Kevin Hart, University of Notre Dame
"The Epiphany of Fiction"
Ralph McInerny, University of Notre Dame
Chair: Donald Schmeltekopf, Baylor University

Session 3: "First, Kill All the Lawyers: Intellectual Property and the Re-Feudalization of Culture"
Leo Linbeck III, Rice University / President and CEO, Linbeck Corporation
Chair: Daniel McInerny, University of Notre Dame

3:10 - 3:40 p.m. Break, Refreshments

3:40 - 4:50 p.m. Colloquium Sessions

Session 1: Musical Performances
Chair: Charlotte Kroeker, University of Notre Dame
James Falzone
Marjorie Bagley

Session 2: Art and Politics
Chair: Fred Dallmayr, University of Notre Dame
"Liberating Art and the Individual"
Raquel Frisardi, Princeton University
"Art: Truth and Politics"
Garth Gillan, Professor Emeritus, Southern Illinois University
"Why I Can Never Own The Last Supper: Lockean Property and Artistic Creation"
Jeremy Garrett, Rice University

Session 3: Relating Art and Religion
Chair: Adrian Reimers, University of Notre Dame
"Enthusiastic Poetry and Rationalized Christianity: The Critical Theory of John Dennis (1657-1734)"
Phillip J. Donnelly, Baylor University
"Notes from a Catholic Pilgrimage to the Temple of Art"
Robert D. Meadows-Rogers, Fordham University
"Shiva the Destroyer v. Scotland Yard: Unique Problems in Interpreting Religious Art"
David Vessey, University of Chicago

Session 4: The Soul of the Artist
Chair: Fred Rush, University of Notre Dame
"Setting a Libertine to Music: Some Questions about the Portrayal of the Hero in Mozart's Don Giovanni"
Joseph Orchard, RILM Abstracts of Music Literature
"The DaVinci Code, The Passion of the Christ and Lord of the Rings: Art as a Reflection of the Soul of the Artist"
Jeff Langan, University of Notre Dame
"Art and a Monastic Practice: Drawing and Lectio Divina"
Iain MacLellan, OSB, MFA, St. Anselm College

Session 5: Working Artists Discuss Their Methods
Chair: Austin Collins, University of Notre Dame
"Ideas to Images"
Jacqueline Belfort-Chalat, LeMoyne College
"Outside of Beautiful: A Painter's Raw Approach"
Don Swartzentruber, Grace College
"Art as an Invitation to Prayer"
Kathleen Walsh, Working Artist

Session 6: The Place of Art in Philosophy
Chair: Thomas Flint, University of Notre Dame
"The Heart of Speculative Thought: On the Place of Art and Aesthetics in Philosophy"
Robert Wood, University of Dallas
"The Cosmos as a Work of Art: Sketches Towards a Response to the Problem of Evil"
Alexander Pruss, Georgetown University

Session 7: Tour of the Snite Museum: Christian Images in History
This tour, led by Prof. Diana Matthias of the Snite Museum, will offer a look at some of the amazing and diverse art collection housed at the museum here on the Notre Dame campus.

6:00-7:15 p.m. Dinner

7:30-9:00 p.m. Lecture-Concert: Olivier Messiaen's Visions de l'Amen
Pianists: Hyesook Kim, Calvin College
Stephane Lemelin, University of Ottawa
Lecturer: Stephen Schloesser, Boston College
Location: Annenberg Auditorium

Olivier Messiaen, one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century, wrote his seven meditations on the word "Amen" for two pianos in 1943 in Nazi-occupied Paris. His inspiration for the piece came from a book given him by his brother entitled Words of God by the 19th century Catholic Revivalist writer Ernest Hello. "Amen" is the final "word," of course --- but it is also the beginning word of creation. In the darkest hours of the twentieth century, then, Messiaen wrote this brilliant work -- thunderous in its lower ranges and dazzling in its upper -- about the origins and ends of the created world.

The concert will be preceded by a half-hour lecture by Stephen Schloesser, a professor in Boston College's History Department, laying out Messiaen's connections to French Catholic Revivalism in particular and to the Symbolist movement in general. Many listeners find Messiaen's music initially difficult to grasp, and it is hoped that this lecture will make this piece much more accessible to audience members who are not already acquainted with his work. One thing is certain: those who watch and hear these live performers will be astonished by the sheer physical stamina required to produce such passionate sounds.

9:00 p.m. Reception

9:30 p.m. Musical Performance: Mark Lang and Nadina Bembic
Location: LaFortune Ballroom
Featuring songs from ND alumnus Mark Lang's debut folk-rock album Simplicity. Nadina Bembic's debut album is due out in December. Demo copies will be available for sale. This performance is free and open to the public, and undergraduates in particular are encouraged to attend.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

8:00 - 9:10 a.m. Colloquium Sessions

Session 1: Music and Culture
Chair: Ed Goehring, University of Notre Dame
"Ethnic Music as the Antidote to Globalism"
E. Michael Jones, Culture Wars
"Epiphany in Word and Tone in The Wild Swans at Coole"
Paul Johnson, University of Notre Dame
Margaret Keefe, Montrose School

Session 2: Conversion Narratives
Chair: Walter Nicgorski, University of Notre Dame
"I and Thou and We: The Catholicity of the Conversion Narrative"
David P. Deavel, University of St. Thomas
"Brideshead Revisited: The Dialogue of Conversion"
Marianne Peracchio, University of Notre Dame

Session 3: Expressing Catholicity through Culture
Chair: Katherine Tillman, University of Notre Dame
"Emblems for a Season of Fury: The Art of Thomas Merton"
Paul Pearson, Thomas Merton Center
"Combing the Tradition: Ralph Fasanella and the Persistence of the Catholic Imagination"
Fred Herron, St. John's University
"John Henry Newman and Romanticism's Redemption"
Damon McGraw, University of Notre Dame

Session 4: Relating Beauty to Truth and Goodness
Chair: Alfred Freddoso, University of Notre Dame
"The Virtue of "Lying": Recovering the "Saving Beauty" of Plato's Poetic Vision"
Nathan Schlueter, St. Ambrose University
"Iconography as Ethics"
Rev. Oliver Herbel
"Hans Urs von Balthasar's Archaeology of Alienated Beauty"
Rev. Edward Oakes, University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary

Session 5: Educating Young People through the Arts
Chair: Catherine Zuckert, University of Notre Dame
"Catholic Formation Through Children's Literature: The Works of Hilda Van Stockum"
Christine Marlin, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy
"Facts, Values and Reading Skills"
Mark Roberts, Franciscan University of Steubenville
"Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Forging Ties That Bind Here and Hereafter"
Christopher Collins, SJ, Weston Jesuit School of Theology

Session 6: Appreciating Religious Themes in the Arts
Chair: Michael Scaperlanda, University of Oklahoma College of Law
"Federico Garcia Lorca's Theory and Game of the Duende"
Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu, The Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley
"'Hotly In Pursuit of the Real': A Novelist's Perspective"
Mick Cochrane, Canisius College

Session 7: Art as Cultural Expression, Part I
Chair: Rev. Pat Gaffney, CSC, University of Notre Dame
"Time and Space Transformed in Holiness: Liturgical Iconography as Windows to Heaven"
Mark Cherry, St. Edward's University
"From the Mask to the Icon: The Fulfillment of Alaskan Native Art"
V. Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, St. Herman Theological Seminary

Session 8: Philosophy, Faith and Fiction
Chair: James Krueger, University of Redlands
"Catastrophe and Eucatastrophe: Russell and Tolkien on the True Form of Fiction"
Christopher Toner, Air University
"The Consolations of Fiction and Philosophy: Iris Murdoch's Reluctant Concession"
Scott Moore, Baylor University
"Blessed With Awareness: Wolterstorff, Danto and Hornby on Responding to Art"
Edward G. Lawry, Oklahoma State University

9:10 - 9:40 a.m. Break, Refreshments

9:40 - 10:50 a.m. Colloquium Sessions

Session 1: Educating the Imagination
Chair: Mary Jane Rice, Montrose School
"The Schooling of Desire: Awakening the Moral Imagination through Literature"
Karen Bohlin, Head of Montrose School
"The Restoration of the Catholic Historical Imagination"
Rollin Lasseter, Catholic Schools Textbook Project
"Literature and the Shaping of Character: Plato and Tolstoy"
Andrew Payne, St. Joseph's University

Session 2: The Arts and Language
Chair: Daniel Philpott, University of Notre Dame
"Language, Art, Community"
Paolo Monti, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart
"Which Conversation? Whose Language?"
Jerry Bleem, OFM, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
"Renewing Language: Walker Percy and the Task of the Saint in a Post-Christian Age"
Kevin Haley, University of Notre Dame

Session 3: Christian Aesthetics and Literature
Chair: Douglas Henry, Baylor University
"Painting with Shadows: Re-envisioning Christian Aesthetics"
Cameron Jorgenson, Baylor University
"Sacramentality and Aesthetics in Waugh's Brideshead Revisited"
George Piggford, CSC, Stonehill College
"The Beauty that Saves: Brideshead Revisited as a counter-Portrait of the Artist"
Dominic Manganiello, University of Ottawa

Session 4: Image and Word
Chair: Mark Cherry, St. Edward's University
"Visions of the Word: The Bible in Sculpture"
Scott Sullivan, Sculptor
"Image and Word: The Language of Incarnation"
Tyrus Clutter, Christians in the Visual Arts
"Rembrandt: Narrative to Lyric, History to Self"
Stephen Frech, Millikin University

Session 5: Goodness and Beauty in Secular Films
Chair: Pedro Pallares, Universidad Panamericana
"Beauty and the Judge: Reflections on Kieslowski's Tri-Colors: Red"
Paul Santilli, Siena College
"Reclaiming American Beauty"
James Krueger, University of Redlands
"Baby in the Underworld: Beauty and Tragic Vision in Dirty Dancing"
William Wians, Merrimack College

Session 6: Panel Discussion: The 20th Century Catholic Novel and Christian Morality in a Post-Christian Culture: Three Studies
Chair: James Walton, University of Notre Dame
"The Cross and the Subversion of the Constantinian Question: Evelyn Waugh's Helena"
Paul Martens, University of Notre Dame
"The Mundane and the Transcendent: Graham Greene's Vision of the Moral Life"
Geoffrey Keating, University of Notre Dame
"A Prophetic Vision: Faith and the Grotesque in Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away"
William Jarrod Brown, University of Notre Dame

Session 7: Art as Cultural Expression, Part II
Chair: Rev. John Coughlin, OFM, Notre Dame Law School
"Landscape, Illusion, and Injustice: The Platonic Case Against Painting"
Irfan Khawaja, The College of New Jersey
"Folksongs as Situated Voice in a Culture of Life"
Ronald C. Arnett and Janie Harden Fritz, Duquesne University

Session 8: Panel Discussion: “The Moral and the Aesthetic”
Chair: Rebecca Stangl, University of Notre Dame
Margaret Watkins Tate, Baylor University
Darin Davis, St. Norbert College

10:50 - 11:20 a.m. Break, Refreshments

11:20 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Invited Papers

Session 1: "Worship as High Art: The Liturgy as the Epiphany of Beauty and Truth"
H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., Rice University
Chair: Kevin McDonnell, St. Mary's College

Session 2: “Creating Epiphanies of Beauty”
William Schickel, Schickel Studios
"William Schickel: Metaphysical Realist"
Gregory Wolfe, Seattle Pacific University/Publisher and Editor of Image
Chair: Margaret Watkins Tate, Baylor University

Session 3: "The Strength, Function, and Beauty of Catholic Architecture"
Thomas Gordon Smith, University of Notre Dame
"Pilgrimage and Transcendence: Towards an Epiphanic Architecture"
Duncan Stroik, University of Notre Dame
Chair: John O'Callaghan, University of Notre Dame

12:45 - 1:45 p.m. Lunch

2:00 - 3:10 p.m. Invited Papers

Session 1: "The City is Also an Aesthetic Object"
Philip Bess, University of Notre Dame
Chair: Nicole Garnett, Notre Dame Law School

Session 2: "Love's Labor: The Poetry of John Paul II"
Laura Garcia, Boston College
Chair: Ralph McInerny, University of Notre Dame

Session 3: "Epiphanies, Beauty, and a Father's Love"
David Lyle Jeffrey, Baylor University
Chair: David Solomon, University of Notre Dame

3:10 - 3:40 p.m. Break, Refreshments

3:40 - 4:50 p.m. Colloquium Sessions

Session 1: Developing Artistic Sensibilities
Chair: Gerard Bradley, Notre Dame Law School
"Pseudo-catharsis and the Art of Scriptwriting"
Paolo Braga, Universita Cattolica di Milano
"Educating Teens in the Arts to Decrease the Allure of Television"
Alessandra Bouchard, Montrose School
"The Legion of Decency: Rhetorical Capital in a Post-Christian Age"
Eric Grabowsky, Duquesne University

Session 2: Renewal through Literature
Chair: Rev. Robert Sullivan, University of Notre Dame
"Bridging the Modern Gap: Tolkien's Reintroduction of the Medieval World to a Post-Modern World"
Helen Lasseter, Baylor University
"The Relevance of Recusance: Literature of the English Catholic Spiritual Tradition as a Resource for the Post-Christian Era"
Michael Tomko, Erasmus Institute, University of Notre Dame

Session 3: Images, Ideas and Imagination
Chair: Michael Garvey, University of Notre Dame
"Erotic Dimensions of Art and the Pursuit of Chastity: Mixed Signals in the 'Epiphanies of Beauty'"
Corinna Delkeskamp-Hayes, International Studies in Philosophy and Medicine
"Thomas Aquinas on Radiance, the Divine Artist's Impress, and the 'Ontological Secret' of a Thing"
Matthew Cuddeback, Providence College
"The Hospitality of Images: the Play of the Visible and the Invisible"
John B. Brough, Georgetown University

Session 4: Placing Works of Art in Historical Context
Chair: Sheryl Overmyer, Duke University
"Toward a 21st Century St. Francis"
Janet McCann, Texas A&M University
"Crucifixions: Serene, Surreal, and Subversive"
Ann M. Nicgorski, Willamette University

Session 5: The Arts and the Absurd
Chair: Kaitlyn Dudley, University of Notre Dame
"Art and the Fool's Truth"
Benjamin Huff, University of Notre Dame
"So What's Wrong With a Little Fun? Satire and Comedy"
William Cashore, MD, Brown University Medical School

Session 6: The Arts and Spiritual Formation
Chair: William Schmitt, University of Notre Dame
"The Role of the Fine Arts in the Spiritual Life"
Rev. Basil Cole, OP, STD, Dominican House of Studies
"Signals of Transcendence: Christian Art at the Service of Catechesis and Evangelization"
Jem Sullivan, PhD

Session 7: The Arts in the Protestant Tradition
Chair: Karl Ameriks
"All That Is Seen and Unseen"
Anne Emmons, Artist, Instructor: Colorado Christian University/Red Rocks Community College
"Evangelicals and the Buildings They Build"
Jeff Green, University of Notre Dame

Session 8: Tour of the Snite Museum: Christian Images in History
This tour, led by Prof. Diana Matthias of the Snite Museum, will offer a look at some of the amazing and diverse art collection housed at the museum here on the Notre Dame campus.

5:00 p.m. Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart

7:00 p.m. Banquet

Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture
1047 Flanner Hall - Notre Dame, IN 46556
Phone: 574-631-9656 Fax: 574-631-6290 Email:

Monday, November 15, 2004



It might be lonelier
Without the Loneliness --
I'm so accustomed to my Fate --
Perhaps the Other -- Peace --

Would interrupt the Dark --
And crowd the little Room --
Too scant -- by Cubits -- to contain
The Sacrament -- of Him --

I am not used to Hope --
It might intrude upon --
Its sweet parade -- blaspheme the place --
Ordained to Suffering --

It might be easier
To fail -- with Land in Sight --
Than gain -- My Blue Peninsula --
To perish -- of Delight --

Thursday, November 11, 2004


I probably get five inquiries a week that are a version of one of the following questions. (Note that each question comes with an implicit unspoken question. I'll write those in italics.)

- "I have a REALLY great idea for a movie. Can I tell it to you?"
"And can you find someone to buy it from me?"

- "My daughter/son/nephew/neighbor wants to be an actor/writer/director/composer, can you give him/her some advice about starting out?"
"And can you help them find a job?"

- "I've written a screenplay. Can you read it and tell me what you think?"
"And then can you find someone to buy it from me?"
OR, the new more recent twist,
"Can you get it to Mel Gibson?"

- "I just moved to L.A., can you help me get plugged in?"
"And can you help me find a job?" And/or "And can you get my script to Mel Gibson?

- "I'm totally passionate about the movie business. Should I go to film school?"
"Or do you just want to hire me now?"

- "I am a musician, do you know someone who could listen to my stuff?"
"And then pay me for it?"

- "I love the movie business, but I'm not sure whether I want to be a writer or director or actor. Where should I start?"
"Can't I just do them all? And when do you think I should start writing my Oscar speech?"

Thank God, there is a new ministry in town that has been set up just to take these questions out of the in-boxes of Act One, Inter-Mission, Actors Co-op, Hollywood Prayer Network, Premise, Open Call, CIMA, LAFSC, Mastermedia, Entertainment Fellowship, Reel Spirituality, and any of the other pastors, churches and ministries that serve the entertainment community.

Hollywood Connect is a program to help all of the people just getting off the bus, or those folks who are thinking about getting on the bus. It's a great, smart, comprehensive doorway in program that any Christian coming to Hollywood should check out seriously. Michelle Suh is the new Director of Hollywood Connect, and she has a thoroughly pastoral, ecumenical sensibility. And, as a professional musician, she can speak with heartfelt compassion as to how hard it is to make a start here.

A few more thoughts about the questions above...I feel a rant coming on.

The problem with all of the above questions is that the answers tend to be way more than the askers want, or are ready to hear. So, often, I just want to respond, "Why? What do you really want? Because I probably do not have that to give." Most of the time the implied, unspoken questions reveal their askers to be people who see the entertainment industry as a lottery, not as a profession.

The people who ask for connections to celebrities elicit another whole kind of sigh. I always want to say to them, "You really don't have any idea what you are asking."

For example, three times this week (which represents a dip in the weekly number of this particular request over the last year) people have asked me to make a connection for them to Mel Gibson. Two of the people wanted me to try and get Mel to speak at their place. The last one wants me to get Mel to endorse their book. What I always want to say back to these queries is, "And WHY should I make that call for you?"

First of all, I don't know Mel well enough to presume upon him to trust me to make a referral. Do you know what I mean? But, even if I did, it is, you know, inappropriate for people I barely know to ask me to make that connection for them. If anyone in this town acquires any kind of access to celebrity, it's been the result of lots of work and favors and relationships that come only from being in the middle of this weird world for a long time. It isn't fair to try and trade off that, pretty priceless, capital in a short-cut maneuver. One of my friends who works in TV calls it "looking for cheap grace."

Another point about the above questions is how many of them, at heart, have to do, not with art, but with making money. Christians are just as bad as everybody else in this area, and maybe even worse, because they always seem to squeeze in, "It isn't about the money for me." And I always want to respond, "Oh really? Cool! Here is a legal agreement in which you sign over complete ownership of the property to me. Need a pen?"

It is about the money. And in this business, it can be about lots of money. It is spiritually dangerous to underestimate how seductive the desire for money and celebrity can be.

Most of us who have been answering these questions for more than a couple years, are absolutely touched with cynicism. We have spent too many hours sincerely offering people notes on their work or talent, only to find that the person really didn't want that kind of help at all. They want to win the lottery, and you can discover this fairly easily when you try and give them some serious feedback. They move quickly from a posture of deference and sincerity to impatience. Then, as you keep bringing their attention to problems that will take years of application to fix, their eyes tend to flash in annoyance. And then they shut you off and walk away.

All of my friends have been through this many times. It makes you very suspicious.

When people come to me to talk about working in entertainment, I usually ask them many more questions than they ask me. Questions like, "Why?" That's the biggie. Then, "What are you good at?" and "What is the biggest problem you think you will have working in Hollywood?" and "How do you see yourself spending your working hours in this business?" and "How many years are you prepared to spend acquiring a skill that someone else will want to invest in?" and "How will you know when you are a success?"

When people ask me to read their script, I ask, "Why? What do you want from me?" If they say, "Your opinion." I say, "Why? Are you looking to rewrite it?" It's amazing how many people look at me and blink. They are, kind of, hoping I will LOVE LOVE LOVE the script (like that ever happens...) and then want to pass it along to my friend - the big studio producer guy. (Or, like, Mel...)

But even when people do indeed just want my opinion on their script, I still want to say, "You don't realize what you are asking!" See, I do this script reading stuff for a living. I'm good at it because I have read hundreds of scripts and because I spent $30,000 getting a degree in screenwriting from a top film school, and then, because I have spent years working with writers, and also, because I have spent six years sitting in the back of the classroom at an AMAZING scriptwriting training program. All of that has been an investment that I have made. And most of my friends in the business have paid the same price in different ways.

When you ask one of us to read your script, it's kind of like asking a lawyer to give you free legal advice, or asking a psychiatrist to give you a free two-hour session, or like asking a surgeon to do some free out-patient surgery.

And so we come back around to the thing I always want to say, "Why should I do that for you?"

And it isn't even just about getting paid to do it...even if the people who ask offer to pay...which most don't! Because, frankly, most of the efforts that come my way are too painful to make it worth reading for any amount of money...Well, not ANY amount of money, but certainly it isn't worth $300 to me. Or $500. And I imagine some day, it won't be worth $1000....Not there yet.

There's something about this business, that draws many more queries than any other. I think it's, again, because people disrespect Hollywood as a professional, skill-based environment. They think it's a game you have to win, as opposed to a career like any other. My dad was a museum director for forty years. I bet he only met two or three young people in those four decades who wanted to sit down with him to find out how they should break into the museum director business. That's because, people respect that being a museum director takes years of study and then working your way up while always getting better in a wide array of different skill-sets.

Working in Hollywood is like that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Here's some press coverage of one of the talks I gave in Austin. (My friends in Austin wanted me to say that there were 75 people at the talk, not 40.)


I actually made it into an article in the November 2004 issue of Elle magazine.

[Good Lord! A fashion magazine!]

They have a feature running this month on Barbara Hall called "Heaven Can't Wait" - or something like that. It's primarily about Barb's spiritual journey, and so the reporter interviewed me as the person who had met with Barb for RCIA.

The piece isn't bad. It isn't great either. They are desperately trying to make Barbara Hall someone they can live with in the story. They got her to own up to being a Democrat, and then insinuated that she is pro-choice and pro-gay rights by citing her saying 'The Church has to evolve."

[the rolling of eyeballs]

Everyone over the last 2,000 years who has said the Church needs to "evolve" is now dead. And the Church rolls on somehow....But in three years of knowing her, I've never heard Barbara make that kind of comment. It made me mad because she's much more circumspect than that, and putting those words in that context makes her come off as one more blue-state Hollywood cliche. And she's really not. So, I'm officially taking a little bit of umbrage for my friend.

After the story was written, the editorial fact-checker called me and wanted to be sure that Barbara and I were actually in fact Roman Catholics. She said (paraphrase) "The editors were confused because of your emphasis on encouraging spiritual and intellectual questioning. That didn't seem to match with the Catholic Church as they have ever experienced it."

[good grief....oh, did I say that already?....Sheesh!]

I suggested that maybe they needed to expand their experience.

The best part of the piece from my standpoint, was not anything I said, but rather something that was said to me, that I was happy to pass on. On the day she was received into the Church, when Barbara went up to receive her first Communion, her ten year old daughter, faith leaned over to me and said, 'This is making her very happy."

I thought that was so neat. Here was a woman who runs television shows, with immense cultural power and influence, who has more money than she can ever spend, with talent to burn in several art forms, and who is on the receiving end of much of the best things the world has to give, but, it was God who was making her really happy.


Monday, November 08, 2004


Muchas gracias to all the kind folks who recently hosted me in Austin, TX. Everyone was so kind and generous to me - with special thanks going to Jarin, for driving me around for three days and listening to me rant, and to host-extraordinaires, Martha, John and Sara, and to David for everyone he wrangled into various chewing over food and ideas. It was a wonderful experience of Church for me, and I am so grateful for the kindness of so many strangers. (Like there is any such thing in the People of God...)

Anyone in central TX who is interested in the matter of this blog, I recommend you check out the goings-on at Hope Chapel. It is a very cool, ecumenical community of Christians who are all turning to the arts as the next missionary imperative for the Church.

It is always a sign of the Holy Spirit's work, that he gives the same great idea to many people in many places at the same time.

...the election, because I am already getting enough vitriolic, frenzied, hair-pulling out, silicon breast beating, insulting messages from various entertainment industry friends who don't seem to have any conception that I might not agree with them that Bush is the worst, most dumb and stupid, dangerous idiotic 'hood ornament of a leader' since - how do the smart folks say it? - "Jen-jis" Khan.

I would reprint here some of the emails I have received or that have been forwarded to me, but, I DON'T USE X-RATED LANGUAGE LIKE THAT ON MY BLOG.

I will say a couple of things avoiding any partisan indications at all...

1) It is ALWAYS bad strategy to convince yourself that your opponent is stupid. It doesn't help you fight him, because it makes you underestimate him. From a more pastoral standpoint, calling your opponent a stupid idiot makes you less inclined to take him to your heart and engage him in any real dialogue.

2) People who go around calling Americans who disagree with them stupid, neo-Nazi, moronic, freedom squelching, bigotted and intolerant theocrats, must then wait a mandatory fifteen minutes before bemoaning the "frightening," divisive, uncivil rhetoric that is splitting us all into two Americas.... I mean, just to keep all of our heads from spinning around too fast.

3) In the end, all the frenzy just sounds like so much toddleresque, foot-stamping temper tantrums. Always getting what you want is bad for you. It makes you think it is the end of the world when someone shockingly steps in and takes some of your toys away.

Yesterday was the, always interesting, Catholics in Media Award brunch. It is an annual "foo-foo, chi-chi" event at the Beverly Hills Hilton, in which Catholics come together to pray with their bishops and priests for the world here in the biz, and beyond.

This year's award winners were Mel Gibson for The Passion of the Christ, Barbara Hall for Joan of Arcadia, and Jane Wyatt who won CIMA's life-time achievement award.

Overall, the event came off very well. The liturgy, which used to be the terrain of the "Joan Baez was the summit of Western Civ music" leaning baby-boomers, has started to cede to some of the Gen Xers yearning for tradition and holiness. So, we had the best of all possible renditions of that dreadful song, 'I will Raise You Up' (which used to be 'And I Will Raise HIM Up' before we realized as a Church that God wouldn't be able to bless women too with that patriarchal, oppressive gender insensitive translation of the Scriptures...), then, during the offertory, a lovely Latin version of 'Ubi Caritas,' and then a rousing black Gospel ditty with great music but lyrics too simple for four-year olds as our recessional. During the Communion meditation - or, as we think of it here in L.A., the time we are allowed to sit after standing since the Lord's Prayer - John Debny, the composer from TPOTC, led a female vocalist an oboe and a flutist (floutist?) playing a haunting melody from the film. It was so beautiful, people forgot we were at mass and broke into applause at the end. The sheep are so unused to beauty at the liturgy, that they feel like they have to bang their hooves together in pathetic gratitude whenever they get some.

Mel Gibson wasn't supposed to attend the awards, but I had a feeling he would come, and sure enough, he strode in unobtrusively during the banquet and took a seat up front with the other folks there from the film: Producer Steve McEveety and his wife, Jim and Carrie Caviezel, John Debny and Fr. Fulco, sj who translated the dialogue into Hebrew, Latin and Aramaic.

Mel's acceptance speech was a bit rambling. He noted that he hasn't been picking up any of the awards being given to the film, "Because it really wasn't about awards for me." But this one, coming as it did from Catholics, meant something special to him. [Official Catholic support of the film, you will recall, wasn't exactly impressive when it would have mattered most. It was our Vatican that voted for the film before we voted against it - "It is as it was." and then, 'No, it wasn't"...] Mel also took the opportunity to note that this is a very ominious, dark moment in human history. He said, "As we Californians who were just prop 71'ed into realizing." He noted (paraphrasing here), "The sign of the end of any human society is when it practices human sacrifice. We've been doing it on one level for forty years in this country, but this breeding of humans to be used for their parts, this is literally human sacrifice."

Half the assembled Catholics - mostly the young ones! - broke into applause and gave him a standing ovation. Bishop Zavala (filling in for our Cardinal who is on sabbatical somewhere apparently), on stage beside Mel applauded nervously (which someone much unkinder than me would say is actually the perfect way to fill in for our Cardinal...). The other half of the audience - ah, that would be the gray-haired baby-boomers for the most part - still shell-shocked by the recent incomprehensible blow to their beloved Democratic party, sat awkward and stony.

Ah, such interesting times in which to live.

I made a brief visit at the new Ave Maria University near Naples, FL a few weeks ago. They are still on a temporary campus, while the plans go ahead for the new campus that is being funded by philanthropist, former pizza-man, Tom Monaghan. Having been to several of the "real" Catholic, higher-ed schools, clearly Ave Maria's temporary campus is pretty much nicer than the other schools permanent sites. I'm sure part of the impression came from the lovely, bright Florida sunshine and omni-present flowers, but the place seemed like a lovely place to get liberally educated to me.

More impressive was the climate on campus. The students seemed normal and happy -- not at all like they were in training to be future 1950's misfits on the fringes of 21st Century American culture. They looked college-y in jeans and flip-flops, and when I mentioned cultural icons like The Matrix and the show about nothing, they were right there with me. They were open-eyed,laughed in all the right places, and breathed out a kind of happy confidence. I thought to myself, "Now THIS, the 'New Evangelization' can work with."

I was glad to see that, even though it is optional, there were many students packing the noon Mass, which was also a normal 21st Century looking Catholic liturgy.

My sense is at AMU, they are fitting up their grads to be players in this current culture and Church...not more of the cave-dwelling anawim. Thank God.

I did over-hear one slightly distressing conversation in the student lounge, in which one young guy - cocky with all the insecurity of twenty-something guessing at manhood-ness - was making a case to several other students that women could never be president of the U.S. because they are crippled by emotions. A couple of the female students would have none of it, but they weren't exactly making a slam dunk response. When I mentioned it to the female faculty member I was with, she said, "I have two words for that kid: Margaret Thatcher." I laughed, okay, more than a bit relieved.

One other anecdote from my visit that has been hovering in my brain...The Mass the day I was at AMU was in honor of one of the Roman martyrs - St. Calistus maybe? Anyway, the priest celebrating the Mass noted in his homily, "Now, probably, none of us will be asked to give our lives for our faith...."

I immediately thought, "And what planet do you go home to at night, Father?" It struck me as somewhat irresponsible assurance to a large group of prayerful, orthodox, committed young Catholics, living in the middle of a society that more and more scapegoats them as 'what's wrong with the world.' In my research on the Spanish Civil War, I have found the same kind of willful refusal to note the signs of the times on the part of the clergy back in 1930's Spain. Deafened for decades to an ever-rising tide of hate rhetoric against the Church, these shepherds were holding parish festivals, liturgical processions, youth fieldtrips and catechism classes, right up to the moments when the anarchists stormed the church steps, and swept tens of thousands of priests, religious and laity into mass graves.

There is something so very un-creative in religious leaders refusing to see just a few feet past the obvious. The current horizon (of intra-parish warfare between the Hispanic music ministry fund and the Filipino dinner dance and "who is organizing the next seniors' trip to Vegas anyway?") obscures the future, instead of revealing it. Not that clueless, surprised martyrs are any worse than grim, prepared ones.

But, anyway, if I was a 17 year old again, looking for a college to go to, I would choose AMU over all the others out there. They're doing a good job now, and it is only going to get better. God willing....


So, sorry I have been such a recalcitrant blogger lately. Every year, the weeks between labor Day and Thanksgiving seem to get busier and busier for me - it's conferences and grant writing and program debriefing and upcoming program planning. Mainly for me these past few weeks it has meant Delta, Us Air, United, Northwest and Continental. You know you travel too much, when you know exactly where you are when you are in ORD, PVD, PHL, IAD, CLT, and EWR.

I have dozens of brilliant thoughts to blog in the last couple months, but every time I get a moment, I seem to, well, fall asleep, instea of write. Here are some short blippy posts representing scattered impressions and notions. Let me know if you want more of anyone and I will try and oblige in upcoming posts...



The Only News I know
Is Bulletins all Day
From Immortality.

The Only Shows I see --
Tomorrow and Today --
Perchance Eternity --

The Only One I meet
Is God -- The Only Street --
Existence -- This traversed

If Other News there be --
Or Admirable Show --
I'll tell it You --

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


I will be giving a talk in Austin, TX on Friday, November 5th. It will be my "Gospel Spirituality for Artists" talk (which, if I keep giving as talks, I will presumably never need to write into a book...there won't be anyone left to buy the book if I keep at it like this anyway...) and will be open to the public.

If you live in the Austin area, or know a Christian artist who does, please join us.

The talk will be at 7pm at:

Hope Chapel
6701 Arroyo Seco
Austin, TX 78757

To RSVP, or for more info, contact: David Taylor, 377-3900,

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


I walked to the school that serves as the east Hollywood Hills voting place at 6:40am. My neighborhood is about 80% entertainment industry people, and, pretty much, successful ones.

There were already about 20 tense people in line, even though the polls didn't open till 7am. People were standing there all grim and silent, and then a weird thing happened.

We were lined up along Franklin, which is a major thoroughfare that runs at the base of the hills. A red car at the school corner a few yards from us, was waiting to make a right-hand turn while the crosswalk escorted a couple of five year olds and their nanny (I presume) across the street.

All of a sudden, we heard screeching tires and then a car that was looking at the
line of voters smashed into the rear of the red car. Nearsighted though I am, I instinctively made a note of the license number. Everyone in line watched in shock as the smashing car, watched the red car pull over around the corner, and then zoom away - a hit and run. People started yelling and shaking fists. I said the license number aloud, and the lady next to me (in a "Whack Bush" T-shirt) helpfully offered me a pen and paper to jot it down. She said, "Go help her. I'll hold your place in line."

Three of us approached the distraught red car driver, who was looking at her dented bumper. We had all jotted down the offending car's license number and car info, and provided our phone numbers in case she needs witnesses. When we walked back to the line, people started applauding. The ice broken, everyone spent the next twenty minutes talking about the incident. It was a nice American moment, and I felt better about today, regardless of what happens.

When the poll doors opened, we all filed in, most of us gripping the voter booklet that had been sent us by the State. Mine specified that I should vote at the "Green Table." The lady ahead of me was an "Orange Table" and the fellow behind, "Blue Table." When we got inside, there was one long line with no obvious distinctions between the three sets of tables and polls in the auditorium. I leaned across the red, white and blue streamers meant to keep us in line and asked a poll-worker lady, "I am supposed to be voting at the green table. Where is that?" She said, "Huh?"

So, the lady in front of me waved her booklet, "And I am orange. Where do
I go?" The poll worker shrugged, "There is no green and orange here."

Then, I noticed that at the front of the room, written on a black board in chalk were the words "GReEN tABle" (kind of just like that - five year old handwriting). The three poll workers were sitting in front of it eating donuts and talking to each other without any voters to distract them. I broke out of the line and said, "Is this the green table?" One of them said, "Yeah." I said, "Why don't you put something green on it? People don't know which of the three sides of the room to go to, so everyone is milling around..." The lady said, "Yeah, somebody should do that."

I made my way to the person recording L-Z people. She asked my name and found me in her print-out. I tried to show her my license but she said, "We don't need that." I said, "Really. Cause I'd kind of feel better if you looked at it." She said, "It's against the law. We aren't to cause voters any undue burden." I said, "But how do you know I am me?" She shrugged, "We trust."

In the poll booth, I did the Bush-Cheney thing, and then Bill "Not a Chance Against Boxer" Simon (or is it Jones? He hasn't exactly run a hell of a campaign), and then was disgusted to see that my Congressional Rep, Diane Watson (D) is running unopposed - unless you count the Libertarian guy - who got my vote, btw. Times like these, I almost wish I was pro-choice so I could run for Congress from Hollywood, CA.

The only thing controversial on the ballot here in CA are the 17 referenda. Prop 71, for example, is on the ballot as an additional "Screw Bush" measure. This measure is to allocate $6 Billion dollars to breed baby humans in utero, and then suck out their cerebral cortexes, so as to heal ailments in selfish baby boomers. This, in a state with a $50 Billion dollar debt! Thanks, Arnold.

Anyway, it took me twenty minutes to vote and get out of there. Leaving
the building at about 7:20am, I noted that there were probably about
seventy-five people in line.

The local news are reporting huge lines all over the city. Good, I guess.

I went to Mass right after and was comforted by the first reading for
today...tell me these things are accidents:

Wisdom 3,1-9.

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall
touch them...For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope
full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the
furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to
himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart
about as sparks through stubble;

They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the LORD shall be their
King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the
faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his
holy ones, and his care is with the elect.

God bless America.