Thursday, March 31, 2005


Retrenchment or Resurrection? Hollywood and American Culture After The Passion of the Christ

Tuesday, April 5
7:00 pm, USC Annenberg School, Room 240

The USC Annenberg Knight Chair in Media and Religion and The Sigi Ziering Institute of the University of Judaism present a panel discussion featuring Michael Berenbaum, director, Sigi Ziering Institute, University of Judaism; Frank Desiderio, president, Paulist Productions; Craig Detweiler, Biola University & co-producer, City of the Angels Film Festival; Barbara Nicolosi, Executive Director of Act One, Hollywood; Diane Winston, holder of the Knight Chair in Media and Religion, will moderate.

Well known for their dynamism and forthright approach to debate, these expert panelists will explore the broader implications of the controversies surrounding Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ.

Space is limited; please RSVP to

Everyone is talking about Christian Comedy….

CNN - NBC Nightly News - FOX News - The New Yorker - The Wall Street Journal - The Washington Post - Radio America

Find out what all of the Excitement is about…

The Christian Comedy Association, presents

An All-Star Comedy Showcase

Sunday, April 3rd, 2005, 7:30pm

hosted by Bel Air Presbyterian Church

Scheduled to appear:

Paul Aldrich * Nazareth * Kerri Pomarolli

Ron McGehee * Michael Rayner

and special guest

Saturday Night Live Alum

Victoria Jackson

Bel Air Presbyterian Church
16221 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles

Tickets available at the door: $10; $30 for a 4-pack. To hold tickets at the box office, call: 818 788-4200

For Further Information:

Sunday, March 27, 2005


I'm back in CT for a few days celebrating the Triduum, and mourning the passion of Terri Schiavo (and it's meaning...) with my family. No blogging likely for a few days. Until whenever, here's my favorite Easter tradition...

Christians, to the Paschal victim
offer your thankful praises!

A lamb the sheep redeemeth:
Christ, who only is sinless,
reconcileth sinners to the Father.

Death and life have contended
in that combat stupendous:
the Prince of life, who died,
reigns immortal.

Speak, Mary, declaring
what thou sawest, wayfaring:

"The tomb of Christ, who is living,
the glory of Jesus' resurrection;

"Bright angels attesting,
the shroud and napkin resting.

"Yea, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he will go before you."

Christ indeed from death is risen,
our new life obtaining;
have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


...great writer and friend, Karen Hall, is ranting artfully over at Some Have Hats about Terri Schiavo's passion. Among the many points she makes that I wish I had thought of first is...

Explain this. The people who were, a few short months ago, screaming that stem cell research was going to cause the lame to walk, any minute ... are the same ones who are now screaming that Terri Shiavo must be starved to death because she's worthless now, there is absolutely no chance that she'll ever be any better.

Guys. Pick one.

While we all sit around waiting for Terri Schiavo's body to dry out, consume itself, curl up, shrink and, then, die, why not pass the time talking about the rhetoric of the culture of death?

"Death with dignity" - There is nothing dignified about death. It's scary, smelly, drippy, awkward and ugly. I can think of few things as undignified as someone pulling my kidneys out through my nostrils - just so people can look at me in a casket and feel unthreatened. Death is innately undignified because it wasn't supposed to happen to us. We weren't made to die. So the spirit clings frantically to the flesh, having to be wrenched away. This rattling struggle is violent and terrible, and anything but dignified.

(I remember Fr. Groeschel once saying that he had heard someone at a wake say about the corpse, "Doesn't she look good?" And Father yelled, "She never looked worse! SHE'S DEAD!!!)

Death with dignity for believers means one thing - being in the state of grace. If you aren't in a state of grace, then, having a painless, calm slipping away is the ultimate cruel joke, because it masks the fact that the demons are casting lots for you on the other side.

What is the point of this phrase in the culture of death glossary? It has to do with control. The suggestion is that the difference between a death with dignity and a death without dignity has to do with the age-old demon "Control" (aka. "You shall be like God.") Those who are in control are the dignified. Those whom God controls are undignified. It's such a sham. The Culture of Death offers all the control of being in your own car on the freewary during rush hour. Zoom zoom.....

"Persistent Vegetative State" - or PVS as the pundits are dropping it. This is my favorite line from the culture of death dictionary. It's right up there with calling a child in the womb "a product of pregnancy"! Fabulous! We call a person a vegetable or a product when we want to subjugate their lives to our own. It's what we used to call in college rhetoric, "The Define and Dismiss Argument".

Human beings are never in a "vegetative state." Beyond folks who are sick or in a coma, even those of us who are Nobel Laureates, or Federal judges, can't manage to make chlorophyl, which is, you know, kind of the defining act of a piece of vegetation. It's unfair, but it's a species thing.

So, why does the culture of death need PVS? Well, what do we do with vegetables? We chop them and fry them in a little oil and throw them down the garbage disposal. Basically, we do whatever we damn well please. There's no moral dilemma in clipping the sharp leaves off an artichoke.

(Once, a journalist for Daily Variety was interviewing me, and he noted that his main problem with Christians was our opposition to abortion. He shrugged, "And do you have a problem with dental floss too?")

And nevermind the Christian ethical worldview. How about the historical argument? The fact is, in the long history of humanity, no group that EVER defined down another group of humans so as to kill/control them, has been judged to have been right. Not once. Women, blacks, Jews, the mentally ill, Gypsies, Indians, homosexuals, Aboriginees...who else do you have? In every case, the people who defined another group of people as "not people...or at least not like us" have been judged to have been greivously wrong, and even evil. Why, oh why, do we keep doing this?!

"Right to Die" - Is anybody else completely sick to death of the whole shifty-eyed, ever-expanding, trump all, litany of rights stuff?! There's a reason the forefathers only put ten rights in the Constitution. The emphasis is not on what is owed to you, but what you achieve through your labor and honor.

But really, the "right to DIE"? Sure, and tomorrow we can secure your rights to have zits, to get your car repossessed and to get fired from your job just before you're eligible for a pension. Dying isn't something to be fought for! (Quick, some judge somewhere is about to rule that the Right to Die ipso facto includes the implied rights to have your bodily fluids drip through your eyeballs and to have maggots bury their larvae in your flesh. Chant with me, "Drop Dead, Good-bye, Don't You Touch Our Right to Die!")

But seriously, isn't every other right trying to stave off death?! Good #$@$! grief.

"I wouldn't want to live like that." - (I'm principally addressing myself to Christians here, because, pagans can't be expected to understand the nuances of the following...not having a theology of suffering and the Cross like we Jesus people do...)

A big grief to me over the Schiavo case is how many Christians are assenting to the "I wouldn't want to live like that" thing. If one more Christian tells me they are making a Living Will! See, we aren't the people who decide when we are ready to check out. We just die when we die because we believe that God is Sovereign, the Lord of our Lives. (Besides the fact that I knew a healthy 68 year old woman who died because she had a Living Will and when she got pneumonia, the doctors couldn't treat her by putting her on a respirator to save her life.) We have to stop talking like the pagans do who get to make choices about stuff that we don't because of our faith.

Here's the only answer to Christians who are going around mumbling the above: "Suck it up, Louise!" It's "Church Militant" - not "Church Effete."

I don't want to live in L.A. 3400 miles from my family. Jammed freeways. Over-taxation. The kingdom of petulant hedonists, hating my God and screaming about their rights, careful not to spill their lattes. Four hundred too many shoppping plazas where the grass should be. The Big-One always over-due. With a Church where they won't let me kneel at Communion. Barbara Boxer speaking for me in Washington! And today it's cold and gray AGAIN! I don't want to live this way!

Overweight. Under-paid. Over-worked. Always one more dreadful idea for a movie to be heard. Wondering if we can make payroll next month. The damn "Service Soon" light flashing on my dashboard. A vein popping out on my right pinky (don't ask...). Fourth week of a stupid flu. I DON'T WANT TO LIVE THIS WAY!

Distracted when I try to pray. Frustrated at all the good inspiration that never gets realized. Frightened by the people who want Terri to die. Furious at another Clinton judge. Feeling guilty because I didn't make my Easter duty yet. (Wishing I lived in Manhattan so I could walk into some corner church before Mass and get shriven.) Disoriented by the three staff questions I had to answer just trying to write this. Late on two columns. Late on a book proposal. Late on an outline for a speech tomorrow night. I - DON'T - WANT - TO - LIVE - THIS - WAY! - !

I remember a great line I heard from the British Tolkien scholar, Joseph Pearce, a couple years ago. He said that his biggest objection to Peter Jackson's take on The Lord of the Rings, was the way the movies had been made into "the hero's journey" with a strong vanquishing of the bad guys at the end. Pearce said, "Tolkien's point in The Fellowship was not the victory over evil, but the fellowship itself. The idea is that we will never stop being in a valley of tears, and so we need a company of friends - the Church - to ensure our survival." And then he chuckled, "It's not as though we are ever going to fix the whole planet and then whistle up to Jesus, "Okay, Lord, it's okay for you to come down now. See, we've prepared a pretty place for you to sit over here."

We are not supposed to WANT to live this way! It's a world wracked by sin. But we trudge on, "making up with our sufferings what is lacking in the suffering of Christ." We suffer and we offer, and we believe that nothing offered to God with a pure heart is a waste.

Onward Christian...soldiers???

Monday, March 21, 2005


This was a Poet -- It is That [which] distills amazing sense
From ordinary Meanings --
And [also distills an] Attar so immense from the familiar species
That perished by the Door --

We wonder [if] it was not Ourselves
[that] Arrested it -- before --
[ie. Good poetry seems to remind us, not inform us]

Of Pictures, the Discloser --
The Poet -- it is He --
Entitles Us -- by Contrast --
To ceaseless Poverty --

Of portion -- so unconscious --
The Robbing -- could not harm --
Himself -- to Him -- a Fortune --
Exterior -- to Time --

Just fabulous.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


I'm spending my Sunday morning watching with mixed horror and fascination, as the legions (ref: "What is your name?" "My name is Legion...") of pagan pols and pundits try to stake out the highest ground possible in the quest to starve Terri Schiavo. Some of the macabre lines I've heard this morning include...

"Not having nutrition and hydration isn't as painful as these pro-lifers are making it sound!" (some pundit guy on CNN...AMAZINGLY, the CNN host didn't follow up with something like, "Oh, and how does starvation feel?")

"Marriage is sacrosanct. I can't believe these people are getting between husband and wife!" (This from a politician who opposed the Defense of Marriage Act because, you know, marriage is a religious construct and anything BUT legally sacrosanct.)

"This is the most disgusting abuse of federal power into the actions of private citizens!" (Democratic strategist guy...and I bet he wasn't even trying to quote Jefferson Davis.)

"What happens in a family is no concern to the government!" (A Congresswoman from Florida...and traditionally, that hasn't included murder...are we changing that now? Scott Peterson wants to know.)

"There is a point, when life loses its value." (Dem strategist guy...and we trust you'll let us know when your life has lost its, you know, we can give your food and water to somebody else.)

Lord, have mercy.

Don't miss the NBC Nightly News Monday night (March 21st). Act One will be featured in a segment on Faith in Hollywood. See Act One faculty and alumni in action! (And cross your fingers that it's a positive story -- we think so, but one never knows.)

NBC called us last week, wanting to add us to their spot about Christians in Hollywood. They wanted to know what they could film that we do. So, we got together an event which we called the "Academy Award Debrief" in which about twenty of our alumni and four faculty, discussed the Oscar-winning films.

The discussion was very high level about craft and the social consequences of entertainment -- it will be interesting to see which clips NBC picks up.

At one point, one of the alumns was trying to excuse the bad portrayal of a priest on Million Dollar baby as coming from the fact that "Maybe a lot of folks here in Hollywood have had bad experiences with priests. For example, I have heard gay people here say that when they went to the Church for help, they were disappointed."

I'm gonna put my money on that quote making it onto the news...

Friday, March 18, 2005


"Our goal is not to 'tap' the faith-based audience but to provide a service where there was none. I'm a good Catholic boy and don't feel like I'm exploiting the marketplace. We realized its potential before 'Passion,' but that movie was like getting a PhD; it cemented our knowledge." (Mike Dunn, president of Fox Home Entertainment on the sudden interestin Hollywood in finding movies for the "Christian audience.")

Come learn and interact with Top Industry pro's from Film, Radio, Journalism, PR, & Worship

The 10th Annual Biola Media Conference presents,

THE DEEP END: Navigating the Open Waters of Hollywood

Saturday, April 23, 2005
9:00am – 8:00pm

$50 Admission
$35 Student
(Lunch Included)

Biola University
13800 Biola Ave. * La Mirada * CA * 90639

Register NOW online at

For our 10th annual gathering, we want to go deeper, to take more risks, to wade further into the turbulent waters of Hollywood in this unparalleled era of opportunity brought on by the success of The Passion of the Christ, Bruce Almighty, Joan of Arcadia and many others.

We've invited experts who have learned to swim with the sharks, people of faith who have discerned what it means to be shrewd, to combine ambition with innocence – to work, serve and thrive in the open waters of Hollywood.

Top Industry Pro’s Scheduled to Appear:

Terry Botwick Producer/ CEO of Thunderpoint Studios
Ralph Winter Executive Producer of XMen, Fantastic Four
Mark Zoradi President of Buena Vista International
Lori McCreary Producer/ CEO of Revelation Entertainment
Phil Cooke Producer/Director and CEO of Cooke Pictures
Steve Taylor Musician/Producer
Brian Godawa Author/Screenwriter of To End All Wars
Craig Gross and Mike Foster
Peggy Patrick Literary Agent with Shapiro Lichtman
George Bellias Award winning DVD/Video/Audio Producer
Steve Borden A.K.A STING Pro Wrestler
Ned Lott, Rick Dempsey and Mark Joseph of Disney Voices and Walden Media - Premiering clips from The Chronicles of Narnia

Worship Technology – Church Media

MARK DREISTADT Infinity Concepts
LOU DOUROS Grass Roots Software
JOHN BROADHEAD Edirol Corporation

So come, grab your life jacket and join us as we dive into THE DEEP END! or 1-866-334-2266

Ms. Nicolosi,

I am a Catholic singer/songwriter whose praise and worship band, Cor Sanctum (, has been invited to perform at World Youth Day in Germany this Summer. My bandmates and I took a chance, sent a couple of our CD's in to the organizers and were informed that we made the final cut, beating out almost 600 other bands world-wide. Now we have to, somehow, find the "sufficient funding" to be able to go.

We are asking for prayers first and foremost. We are also asking that people visit our website (, check out our musical offerings, and perhaps purchase a CD or two.

When one thinks about how much money one typically spends on entertainment... movies, CD's, etc... I don't think it too much to ask to use a small portion to help out a small Catholic praise band trying to use their talents for God's greater glory. And get a wonderful CD of good Catholic praise and worship music to enjoy.

Could you, please, take a little time to check out our website? All our recorded music is available to listen to on-line.

Being accepted to World Youth Day is a HUGE opportunity for us. Please help us get the word out about our band...

Thank you and God bless.

Stephen M. Tefft

Thursday, March 17, 2005


Other Act One alumns are part of the group that has been having weekly holy hours here in Hollywood for the entertainment industry. For any of you who have Christians out here struggling alone as actors, writers, directors, musicians, etc., the holy hour is lovely...and pretty much everyone there is smart, talented, good, under thirty and just waiting to be married.

I'm just sayin'...

Here's the announcement:

Just a reminder to all that the HOLLYWOOD HOLY HOUR is this FRIDAY,
MARCH 18th at St. Victor Church in West Hollywood from 8pm to 9pm.

Come for a special night of prayer and adoration. We look forward to
seeing you there.

St. Victor Church
8634 Holloway Dr.
West Hollywood

P.S. To those of you drowning around L.A. in liturgical mediocrity, the 5:30pm Saturday mass at St. Victor's is becoming a beachhead for beauty for Hollywood Catholics. A group of Act One alumns, as it happens, approached the pastor and asked if they could sing Gregorian Chant at the Mass every week. A few others offered to serve the Mass. The Pastor is a wonderful priest, and we actually kneel to receive Communion! ("Don't tell! They'd Banish us You Know!") So, you can walk into this amazingly lovely high Mass, now, on Saturday nights in the middle of West "boys town" L.A....Too weird is God! The guys in the choir, who are well-practiced, sound so great up there. I always get so distracted being proud of them when I should be praying...

After Mass, a good group of us almost always end up at some L.A. eatery, laughing and processing the week.

"It is not good for 'the artist' to be alone." Come and pray with us at St. Victors'!

Here's news about yet another cool project being driven by an Act One alumn...

The 168 Hour Film Project is a competition where films are created during production week to premiere at the Film Festival. Based on a bible verse, each film gives opportunities for cast and crew. Signup at Free Signup Seminar: All You need to know to enter. TUES. MARCH 22ND 7:30-9:30PM, 26 E Providencia Ave. Burbank. Featuring Producers of MAX, Best Short Film 2004.
168 Project Entry Deadline: Friday, April 8th. To enter, download forms from the website. email:
818-557-8507, 818-557-0870 fax


The Website is now open and accepting registrations from filmmakers, cast and crew. This year, "168" will give genesis to potentially 100 films all themed on, "The Teachings of Jesus." ALL of them in will screen LAKE AVENUE CHURCH, capacity 4300. Lake's THE BRIDGE Entertainment Fellowship will also be a cornerstone in putting on the gala festival.


NEW WEBSITE FEATURES: Sort on cast and crew positions to search for candidates to round out your team. PAY ONLINE. BUY TICKETS ONLINE. DONATE ONLINE. DVDs Available online.

STREAMING VIDEO: See video on the web. A 5-minute clip shows some of the best of 168. And oh, the promos. Is that John Wayne?


Once again Ralph Winter (Producer: X-Men Series) will serve on the 168 final judging committee which screens the award winners in 14 categories of technical and artistic merit. Gary Hall, VP of Post Production at Fox TV returns, and Hudson Hickman, Senior VP of Television Production at MGM joins the team.


Sat. April 9th 9am-3pm $40 ($55 After April 5th) Lake Avenue Church

Includes general and break-out sessions covering aspects of producing/production management, directing, writing, acting for camera, cinematography, sound design, and editing by industry professionals. With: Hudson Hickman, Senior VP of Television Production at MGM, Greg Michael, Second Unit Director VAN HELSING, THE SCORPION KING, Bobby Garabedian Director of Academy Nominated short film, MOST, Korey Pollard, Wes Llewellyn and more.


Team ITALIA will be coming straight from Milan to make a 168 film. They caught 168 fever when Team O'Keeffe took Max to Milan and walked with the 1st prize hardware.

168 is looking for housing for them. Seven adults. No stairs would be a plus. A house with a kitchen at a cheap rate is their desire. Dates: 11th April 11th to May 1st. Please help us show our international friends some American Hospitality.

168 Hour Film Project Schedule:
Events to be held at Lake Avenue Church, 393 North Lake Avenue, Pasadena CA 91101

Wed. April 6th 7pm-10:00pm Producer's Mixer - Come meet potential crew members.
Sat. April 9th (Sign-in 7:30am) 8am-3pm 168 Production Workshops-See Website.
Tues. April 12th 6pm-9pm Assignment of Verse, Pre-production week starts.
Sat. April 16th 8am-3pm Casting Session - Hundreds of Actors to choose from.
Tues. April 19th 8:00pm Start of Production Week - 168 hours = 7 days
Tues. April 26th: 8pm Deadline! Final Projects due by 8pm sharp!
Fri. May 13th Festival Screening (Times to be announced)
Sat. May 14th Festival Screening/Awards 9am-11pm, Reception 11:00pm

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


I went to hear the very good writer Anne Lamott read from her new book tonight. Packed into the Beverly Hills Duttons with a few hundred other folks, I spent the night milling between the shelves, listening to Anne's wonderful turns of phrase, and marveling at the relationship between having a really screwed up life and being a great writer. (I used to think sin was necessary to making a great writer. But, then, a good woman I met in Ohio straightened me out, saying, "It isn't sin that makes someone deep, but rather suffering. It's just that the worst kind of suffering is that which has the aded burden of remorse.")

The coolest thing about Lamott is how much she loves Jesus. He's perpetually just a thought or two from her frontal lobe, and so keeps slipping into every anecdote, as the other half of the inner dialogue Lamott lives in.

I thought, as I leaned into the foreign language book shelf, "There aren't a lot of writers I would stand around a bookstore listening to for a couple hours." It gets more impressive when I add that I couldn't even see Lamott from my vantage points at the outskirts of the crowd.

Still, I wonder if Lamott's work will last. Her writing is so reliant on pop-culture references and on having some kind of understanding of the historical anomalies that all come together in her prose: the baby-boomer's clawing through the last half of the 20th century, flailing around protesting everything, going on marches, doing drugs and having lots of unmarried sex. I would like to think that in a few decades, people won't "get" Lamott, because we'll be past the groundless search for meaning that propels Lamott's musing and ranting.

But, regardless, her writing is wonderful. Fabulous eye for detail combined with self-effacing vulnerability.

That's why it almost physically hurt me, when this woman - my sister in Christ - and someone whose craft I absolutely admire - started raging against "right-to-lifers" and ridiculing "rightwing Christians." She animatedly detailed her hatred for the President at nauseating length, noting that she spent weeks after the election choked with such antipathy, that it almost drove her to a kind of madness. But she really seemed to enjoy the madness. When she gave herself over to her disdain of religious conservatives, Lamott morphed from being a compassionate and attractive disciple, to being a cliched, bitter paradox. It made me very sad, because unfairness and ridicule are awkward on her.

Lamott is great now, but she will be fabulous as soon as she gets honest about abortion. She aborted one or two of her kids in her pre-Jesus years, and she keeps obsessing over it, mainly trying to convince herself that she did the right thing - "I had to do it! Pro-lifers only care for fetuses and not for starving poor unloved children who would be born without abortion!" Her self-defense here fuels her gnashing of teeth political diatribes. If she lives long enough to confront the fact that abortion is evil, the BIG ONE, in her hit parade of personal mistakes, Lamott could be a great saint.

Monday, March 14, 2005


This list was published by Image Journal, which is a publication that looks atthe intersection of religious faith and creativity. But I wonder how much that perspective skews this list? I'd like to see a similar list from some pagans at Berkeley or Wesleyan. How many of our literary saints would make it on their list?

Some of the titles here are just, well, silly, and reflect the huge contingent of baby-boomer theologians and ex-nuns in Image's community. You gotta love The Last Temptation of Christ and This I Know to Be True on the same list with The Diary of a Country Priest. It is a modern "trying to make a point" that would have made Chesterton gurgle and wink. (I met Wally Lamb once at a booksigning, and I found him, well, petulant. Maybe he was having a bad day. I could have forgiven him, if I didn't also find his writing cloying and narcissistic...)

And clearly, the list is crippled by the fact that they only chose one book by each author. Graham Greene alone has about four others that are better than Kathleen Norris' Dakota. (Dakota is a sweet book..but come on.) And I seriously doubt all the poets listed here deserve to be on the greatest books list. Sigh. When you have Emily as the standard, most other attempts at poetry are mostly embarrassing in their obviousness.

Still, the list is a useful thing to have. We give a similar list (of the greatest stories ever written) to our Act One writers and ask them to check of how many they have read. They generally average about 12. I logged 25 on this list.

Anything missing here? How about Steinbeck's East of Eden? All Quiet of the Western Front? Orwell's Animal Farm? Huxley's Brave New World? Others?

W.H. Auden - Collected Poems
Georges Bernanos - The Diary of a Country Priest
Wendell Berry - Sabbaths
John Berryman - 77 Dream Songs
Doris Betts - Souls Raised from the Dead
Leon Bloy - The Woman Who Was Poor
Heinrich Boll - The Stories of Heinrich Boll
Robert Bolt - A Man for All Seasons
Ray Bradbury - Something Wicked This Way Comes
George Mackay Brown - Selected Poems
Frederic Buechner - Godric
Scott Cairns - Recovered Body
Willa Cather - Death Comes for the Archbishop
G.K. Chesterton - The Man Who Was Thursday
Paul Claudel - The Satin Slipper
Elizabeth Dewberry - Many Things Have Happened Since He Died
Annie Dillard - Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Andre Dubus - Selected Stories
T.S. Eliot - Four Quartets
Alice Thomas Ellis - The Sin Eater
Shusaku Endo - Silence
William Everson - Collected Poems (The Residual Years; The Veritable Years)
Horton Foote - The Trip to Bountiful
Christopher Fry - The Lady's Not for Burning
Denise Giardina - Saints and Villains
Jose Maria Gironella - The Cypresses Believe in God
Julien Green - Diaries
Graham Greene - The Power and the Glory
Patricia Hampl - Virgin Time
Ron Hansen - Mariette in Ecstasy
Mark Helprin - A Soldier of the Great War
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Geoffrey Hill - The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Peguy
Edward Hirsch - Earthly Measures
Paul Horgan - Great River
Andrew Hudgins - The Neverending
John Irving - A Prayer for Owen Meany
Josephine Jacobsen - In the Crevice of Time: New and Selected Poems
Mark Jarman - Questions for Ecclesiastes
Elizabeth Jennings - Collected Poems
David Jones - The Anathemata
Nikos Kazantzakis - The Last Temptation of Christ
Thomas Keneally - Three Cheers for the Paraclete
William Kennedy - Ironweed
Wally Lamb - I Know This Much is True
Anne Lamott - Traveling Mercies
Madeleine L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Denise Levertov - The Stream and the Sapphire
Philip Levine - The Mercy
C.S. Lewis - Till We Have Faces
Torgny Lindgren - Light
Robert Lowell - Lord Weary's Castle
Paul Mariani - Salvage Operations
Francois Mauriac - Viper's Tangle
Alice McDermott - Charming Billy
Thomas Merton - Collected Poems
Vassar Miller - If I Had Wheels or Love: Collected Poems
Walter Miller - A Canticle for Leibowitz
Czeslaw Milosz - Collected Poems
Brian Moore - Black Robe
Robert Morgan - The Truest Pleasure
Malcolm Muggeridge - Chronicles of Wasted Time
Edwin Muir - Complete Poems
Les Murray - Collected Poems
Kathleen Norris - Dakota
Patrick O'Brian - The Aubrey/Maturin Novels
Flannery O'Connor - Short Stories
Virginia Stem Owens - If You Do Love Old Men
Katherine Paterson - Jacob Have I Loved
Charles Peguy - The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc
Walker Percy - The Moviegoer
David Plante - The Francoeur Trilogy
Chaim Potok - My Name is Asher Lev
J.F. Powers - The Presence of Grace
Reynolds Price - Three Gospels
Richard Rodriguez - Hunger of Memory
Dorothy Sayers - The Mind of the Maker
Ignazio Silone - Bread and Wine
Louis Simpson - New and Selected Poems
Isaac Bashevis Singer - Collected Stories
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Muriel Spark - Memento Mori
Tom Stoppard - Hapgood
John Heath Stubbs - Collected Poems
Allen Tate - Collected Poems
J.R.R. Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings
Anne Tyler - Saint Maybe
Sigrid Undset - Kristin Lavransdatter
John Updike - In the Beauty of the Lillies
Peter de Vries - The Blood of the Lamb
Dan Wakefield - Returning
Walter Wangerin, Jr. - The Book of the Dun Cow
Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited
Elie Wiesel - Night
Richard Wilbur - New and Collected Poems
Charles Williams - All Hallows' Eve
A.N. Wilson - Wise Virgin
Tim Winton - Cloudstreet
Larry Woiwode - Beyond the Bedroom Wall
Tobias Wolff - In the Garden of the North American Martyrs


There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons --
That oppresses,
like the Heft of Cathedral Tunes --

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us --
We can find no scar,
But [it causes an] internal difference,
Where the Meanings [in us], are --

None may teach it -- Any --
'Tis the Seal Despair --
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air --

When it comes, the Landscape listens --
Shadows -- hold their breath --
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death --

Friday, March 11, 2005


(Ahem) As I have said several times, my biggest shock over Million Dollar baby was not that it was made, and was not that it was such an unfair caricature of Christians, and not that it was such a criminally incomplete treatment of the next BIG MORAL issue that will ravage our society.

My biggest shock over this film was why so many critics lined up to lavish praise on it. Including the Christians. (Honestly, the only thing praise-worthy in the film was Morgan Freeman, who is always brilliant.)

If a Christian writer tried putting in a heavy-handed "This is what you must think and feel" voice-over into his or her movie, Christian and secular critics alike would revile and lambast the same.

Why, suddenly, is a two-hour parade of one-dimensional caricatures, great art? Principally, I point to the Trashiest of White Trash Southerners from whose loins sprang the heroic Maggie Fitzgerald. The director didn't let these poor folks have a single glimpse of sympathy. This has traditionally been the definition of bad characterizations.

Why is it okay to have shoddy research and (frickin' mind-blowlingly) implausible plot points - like a woman being a knock-out artist with no boxing acumen, and a blatant cheater winning after violating obvious boxing rules? Just to name a couple...

Why was it okay to telegraph every beat in the film as though having a keen sense of the obvious was a good thing in a drama?

Why didn't critics sneer when Frankie Dunn prayed out loud to God - JUST SO THE AUDIENCE COULD HEAR IT TOO?

Why didn't people choke on their own bile at the pathethic pile of pennies which Maggie uses to pay for her speed bag?

All good questions. I really want to know. REALLY.

Anyway, here's a sports writer who agrees with moi.

I had a fascinating conversation yesterday with a producer here in L.A. who is on the vanguard of the wave of new technologies that are shortly going to reshape the whole way Hollywood distributes and pays for its product. But before I tell you about it, I have to go pour some Purina Seafood Delights into my cat, Brie's, bowl. Every other dry catfood Brie has eaten usually sat there for her to graze off after she had gulped down her wet food. But with Purina Seafood Delights, she doesn't even seem to see the wet food! She just charges in and gobbles the crunchy wonderfulness that cleans her teeth and preserves her urinary tract health too.

So, my friend and I spoke all about commercial branding on television. With everybody TIVOing commercials out of their TV shows, Madison Avenue is pushing new ways to pay for television that would be TIVO proof. There are huge ethical and artistic implications to the options being bandied around. And everybody involved in television is tuning into this conversation -- the best of which are happening on Nokia cel phones like mine with the high res, picture-taking capability that gives 'a picture is worth a thousand words," a whole new meaning.

The first wave of ideas about how to pay for commercial television involved embedding advertisements right into the television shows themselves, kind of the way the fruits and nuts are chockful in every spoonful of Post cereal's Banana Nut Flakes. In this scenario, a sponsor would pay to have Joan Girardi and her family relishing Kraft Macaroni and Cheese around the Joan of Arcadia dinner table. It will mean the guys on CSI wipe down their autopsy tables with Brawny paper towels, all the while noting that the "quicker picker upper" just can't handle tough jobs like blood and guts.

The ethical concerns in this kind of ad embed come down to the ability of the viewer to even discern the ads. It will be a violation of freedom to many people - especially children - for whom the selling will be invisible. I know we were really worried about the negative impact of violent video games on my five year old nephew John, especially after we bought the groundbreaking book, "Mommie, I'm Scared," by psychologist Joanne Cantor and available right now from

Ad embedding - they call it branding around town - also poses huge artistic concerns. My friends who write television see themselves as artists. The idea that they might also have to peddle products - the way Lance Armstrong peddled his state-of-the-art wide wheel mountain roadbike from Sears to seven Tour De France vistories - is abhorrent to them. Marketing is incompatible with parable making. (More about that hopefully soon.)

Another implication of the embedded ads thing, a positive one in terms of storytelling, is that it will give serious minutes back to every show. Most prime time shows have been whittled down to nine minute segments between the act breaks, so that the networks can eek out a few more commercials. But if you don't have to stop for commercials, a show can go for the full hour. This will make Law and Order kind of like the Everready battery which keeps on going and going long past all other batteries have tuckered out.

Secondly, embedding will change the whole way TV shows flow, built as they are around commercially disctated act breaks. Imagine it. No act breaks. Just a beginning, middle and end. This has huge artistic implications.

So, TV writers are going to like that part of this horizon -- but, my guess is, they are going to resent much more, having to shill everything from lawn fertilizer to viagra. But that isn't going to stop advertisers and networks from demanding it. What might delay and derail this kind of product placement is the fear of the viewers rejecting it and lashing out. You be the judge, how damn annoying has this piece been to read, salted as it is - like Borden's high-grade salt made right here in America - with sales pitches.

Another option to pay for television in TIVO times, will be a banner ad or icon on the side of the screen during the whole or parts of any show. My friend said to me, "The shows will be introduced as coming to you from Ford cars and trucks, and then there will be a little Ford icon on the left side of the screen, directly across from the NBC icon on the right, both of which will stay there for the whole show." They'll never leave you, like All State Insurance, the good hands people.

The embedded and sponsored shows are going to drive another option for viewers affronted by the whole idea of such things -- pay-TV shows from the networks, that you will be ordered and paid for up front. If enough people are willing to pay the networks directly for the shows, then the network will deliver those subscription-based shows without ads. But if people are going to order TV shows like they plunk down money for movies, we have to create shows that they will want to buy, which goes to quality - people will buy very good stuff, and also pornography.

It's all very interesting. And I didn't even get to the impact of new technologies on movie distribution. But that will have to wait, as I have to get into my Pontiac Grand Am coupe now, and luxuriating in its stylish leather interior, drive its purring 6-cylinders to work. If only the drive was longer!

Here's a heads-up about a cool thing going on in L.A. this weekend. The Damah Film Festival is making its Los Angeles debut, having been an annual event up in Seattle for the last several years.

Damah highlights short films that examine spiritual experience, giving awards for the best projects in categories determined by project length.

One of the smart decisions made by the team behind Damah, was to enlist top Hollywood filmmakers and critics as judges and seminar leaders during the festival. This has pushed the quality level of the submissions and made the event a competitive venue for lots of young filmmakers who would otherwise not have turned their attention to producing overtly spiritual projects. Smaht, as we say in New England.

Events like Damah have an indispensable role in preparing the next generation of filmmakers who want to talk about the transcendant, but who need to get their artistic and professional chops together first.

Having just completed an "overtly" Christian screenplay that I was hired to write, I suddenly have a whole lot to say about the business of putting our sub-culture stories on screen. I think we've all been thinking about it in the wrong way. The answer is not to try and soft-peddle the Christian stuff. The answer can only be to push it. If we make Christianity something in the background, we are lying about what it is. ESPECIALLY if we are telling a story about a Christian hero. If you strip God out as the primary motivator for the radical decisions Christians make, you make us into social workers, or just nice people. This is another kind of lie.

If you know what I'm talking about, you know what I'm talking about. And what I'm saying is very radical in terms of the trajectory of the thought of Christian filmmakers out here. I hardly know myself anymore on this subject.

I think this is what Ron Austin has been meaning all these years, only I couldn't hear him yet.

Anyway, check out Damah. If you can't come, pray for it.

Monday, March 07, 2005



It's like the Light --
A fashionless Delight --
It's like the Bee --
A dateless -- Melody --

It's like the Woods --
Private -- Like the Breeze --
Phraseless -- yet it stirs
The proudest Trees --

It's like the Morning --
Best -- when it's done --
And the Everlasting Clocks --
Chime -- Noon!

Okay, so what is "It"?

Saturday, March 05, 2005


Wow. I saw the Academy Award nominated German release
Downfall last night. This film lost the "Best Foreign Film" Oscar to Spain's euthanasia propaganda movie The Sea Inside, which, having now seen Downfall strikes me as a double crime.

Relating the incidents surrounding Hitler's death and the fall of Berlin, Downfall has got to be one of the best war movies ever made. Truly, a fascinating movie, that will haunt me for many years. The film doesn't so much tell a story, as record psychological truths about power and war.

A peripheral note...For several years, I have contended that the reason the European film "industry" doesn't compete with Hollywood, is because they can't figure out how to hold the audience's attention. Having seen Downfall I am having to change my thinking. It's not that the Europeans can't make a good movie, it's that most often they just won't. But in the case of Downfall, the German team has definitely made itself a good movie. I think maybe the material is so innately dramatic, that even Europeans couldn't screw it up. Because the facts being recreated in Downfall are so horribly close to home, the filmmakers couldn't bring themselves to make the facts fodder for the usual weird and self-indulgent visuals that generally become the real raison d'etre behind most European projects. The story is an excuse to hang visuals on. In Downfall the elements of the "story" deserve and get more respect from the filmmakers. I don't think there is a single lyrical image in the telling. Which, ironically, I'm going to say is the project's principal "downfall." This just means that the filmmakers are still too close to the facts. We'll have to eventually see one more movie about these events, for the artists to really take a crack at finding meaning in them.

As with The Pianist there is no attempt in Downfall to find a meaning in the terrible Third Reich. The movie is still gazing in horror at the events themselves. Part of the inability to judge the events of WW2, imho, comes down to the fact that we moderns are still clinging to a lot of the doctrines that made the Nazis. For example, we can't really nail the idea of "The Master Race" unless we are willing to nail the pure-materialism of Darwinism. On another level, it's really kind of damned hard to condemn the Nazi doctors with a straight face, when our own doctors are breeding baby humans for research, starving to death the chronically ill, and trying to convince us all that "death with dignity" is a good "final solution." For me, part of the fascination of Downfall is wrapped up in all of these things. How is it that every generation looks behind it cursing and judging, and fails to see itself repeating the same patterns it condemns?

On a craft level, Downfall is beautifuly executed project. The acting is great - and there is something really extra jarring in watching the characters of the Third Reich actually played by German actors. We've seen so many treatments of WW2 made by Hollywood actors with no real stake in the drama. This film features a cast and crew whose grandparents were complicit in the horrors being related. It distracted me from the diegetic illusion, but made the experience of the film that much more intense - which has got to be an ultimate nod in favor of creative control. Because the people here are playing their grandparents, there is a humanity in the German people here, even in the notorious villains of the Third Reich, that makes this movie unique. It makes the movie more sad than horrific.

The cinematography, effects, costuming and production design all heighten the movie's fundamental tone. Which is creepy sadness.

There isn't a conventional three-act story in Downfall, but mainly because the movie doesn't need it. (As I noted above, I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt to the filmmakers here, and not say the film is missing a conventional story because the Europeans are incapable of telling one...) There are errors in POV, in that the excuse for the telling finds some structure in the character of Hitler's young female secretary. But the movie swings in and out of her witnessing the events, such that she is really just a fixation in what is more an omniscient point of view. Another problem in the film might be that there really isn't any thing new in its revelations about the historical details. We know everything we are going to see from the first moment of the movie. But even this doesn't take away from the ultimate fascination of the movie. So, in the end, what works wins. And Downfall works.

The movie is very disturbing because of all the death in it. It isn't anywhere as graphic as most war movies, although there are several starkly matter-of-fact shots of people without arms and legs and with brains splattered around. Most of the deaths we see are suicides, of course, as Hitler and his followers make the final choices of demi-gods. The most disturbing sequence is the clinical, weirdly loving sequence of Magda Goebbels, drugging and poisoning her five children. Her actions are so, so dark, that they are the only ones the film really tries to offer some kind of "why?" The film suggests that she was an ideological fanatic. But this reasoning feels unsatisfying, mainly because the actress playing Magda brings another quality to the fore. The quality is a commitment to evil, of course.

The morning after the movie, I can't stop thinking about power: What makes someone powerful among his or her fellow human beings? Why do some people have such a strong sense of history, and others spend their whole lives living for Friday night? Why is it so strong in us to worship someone, that if we do not embrace the Good God, we will make ourselves a bad one? What qualities in a leader incite others to turn over their responsibility for their own lives and choices? Why is it that the gifts that make someone charismatic, also ruin their ability to effectively use their power?

I'm also thinking of the sufering of the German people, which is a main focus of the film. The movie notes several times that they brought it on themselves, but then challenges us to judge them, because they are just peopple too caught up in the wave of history. The film features a lot of children fighting for Hitler. What did they know? But then, the film subverts this question by placing what is arguably an over-the-top docuemtary interview with Hitler's secretary in her elderly years. She ends with the question, "Was youth any excuse for not knowing?"

All good questions, and I honor the project that makes me brood over them. Such an interesting film.

Two thumbs up for Downfall.

Friday, March 04, 2005


Catholic Exchange is running the third and last part in my series on beauty, the liturgy and priestly formation. Click here to read the whole piece. Here's a snip...

A commitment to beauty [in the Church] is meaningless without a requisite commitment to the things that beauty demands. If we are ever going to have beautiful things in the Church again, we have to change a number of things in the way we operate. The Church will not be the patron of the arts again without a bit of elitism and sacrifice.

Beauty is rare and exclusive. And the next conclusion is unavoidable: The people who can produce beautiful art are also rare. Artistic talent has nothing to do with the qualities of a person’s heart, or the level of his devotion. For most pastors the most difficult aspect of leading the movement to restore beauty in the Church won’t be writing checks, but it will be in confronting those very nice people who should never be allowed anywhere within one hundred miles of an open microphone.

I once lived in a parish that for years was tortured weekly by two of the nicest Catholic folks you might ever meet. “Tone deaf Charlie” and “Tempo-free Doris” had been cheerfully strumming their guitars, banging their tambourines and trilling dreadfully at the Sunday morning liturgy for as long as anyone could remember. In my nightmares, I still hear Doris chiding all of us wide-eyed sufferers, “Come on now, you all know this song: ‘Awaaaaaaaaaake from your slumber! Ariiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiise from your sleeeeeeeeeeep!’” They were quite awful. Finally, a group of us parishioners recruited a sponsor and a few music grad students from the local university to stop the insanity, and bring some beauty to our Sunday Mass. But when we brought the fully-funded proposal to our pastor, he killed it. “I would never want to offend Charlie and Doris. Maybe their voices aren’t that good, but their hearts are pleasing to God.” This was nothing but cowardice wearing a mask of charity. It isn’t charity to spare the feelings of two people, while flaying the sensibilities and pastoral needs of hundreds of others.

And I'm already getting mail about the piece...

Bravo, once again. How perfectly said. I wish I could email your article to the entire Archdiocese of ____________.

I am presently temporarily helping out at the Basilica in directing the choir and leading the liturgy from the organ. I dearly miss my calling to compose and celebrate the old and especially the new music of the church. The last few places I went to be employed as a music director wasn't interested to keep me - stained glass blue grass was what they had in mind.... Indeed, for most of my life I have been fighting this uphill battle. I just turned 50 and am hoping Springtime for the beauty of art and music in the church is about to be sprung.

Please continue to pray for me and those of us who do believe that quality in music and art is worth every penny.

Sincerely Yours in JMJ,

Composer of Sacred Music

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Sorry I've been so bad about blogging lately. When I got off the plane from CT last Monday, I could already feel the beginnings of flu. Since then, it's been nine straight days of stuffy head, draggy brain and stiff neck. (Yeah, I don't get the stiff neck part either, but this is my flu, okay?!) Anyway, all the brain cells I've got have been going into the half a day at work before I slither home to lay around stuffy, draggy and stiff, but not really sleeping. Dreadful flu.

The good news is I've actually been able to breathe without drugs the last two days, so maybe I'm getting better. You all will be the first to know...