all my friends are heathens

The song, “Heathens”, by twenty one pilots, is nearly ubiquitous on the radio at the moment. The opening of the song makes me laugh a little inside each time.

All my friends are heathens, take it slow…

Just about all of my friends are heathens. It just worked out that way. Most of them know that I’m Catholic, but it’s not something that we ever talk about.

I was interested to see, when I looked up the above link, that the lead singer and songwriter of the band is Christian, and that this layer of the song is intentional.

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11:15, restate my assumptions

All creativity reflects the Creator.
All art points to the divine.
Pop culture is successful in proportion to how well it sates human longings.

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The Faith of Fury Road

These religious symbols and rituals are essential: the plot of Fury Road could not proceed without them, and they also make these wasteland religions feel real.

The Faith of Fury Road

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The Most Pro-Life “Doctor Who” Ever—10 Points You Missed This Weekend |

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Maleficent? Magnificent!

I approached “Maleficent” with some trepidation. It would be, it seemed to me, so easy to go wrong attempting to re-tell a story from the villain’s point of view. Maleficent could have been an anti-hero. The film could have tried to excuse evil.

Thankfully, it did not. Instead, it gave us a story of betrayal, anger, revenge, and then turning away from those things and finding forgiveness and love. It is a redemption story in Maleficent, and a cautionary tale in King Stefan. It offered some powerful, moral lessons.

Even as I watched it, though, in the back of my mind I was dreading the sort of accusations which some “conservative” cultural defenders were sure to level against it. They have, sadly, come through.

That review betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of much of the movie, if not a malicious intent to misinterpret it. I will address only two of its points very briefly and let them stand for the whole.

Contrary to the review’s claims, I found King Stefan to be complex. He is pulled in two directions by his love for Maleficent and his ambition to move up in the world and never again be the orphan sleeping in a barn. He agonizes over his plan to kill Maleficent, and when he instead cuts off her wings it is clear that the betrayal has affected him deeply. In his pride, he is unable to bring himself to think about what he has done, much less seek Maleficent’s forgiveness, and this refusal to confess (or even acknowledge) his sin poisons the rest of his life and drives him first to madness and then eventual death. This, in itself, presents a powerful moral lesson IMHO.

Secondly, as with “Frozen” we are told that by having “true love” be represented by, in this case, Maleficent’s motherly love for Aurora (and in that case Anna’s sisterly love for Elsa), the movie is promoting homosexuality. This is not just wrong, it is actively contrary to the position that such culture warriors should be promoting!

They seem to forget that there is more to love than eros. Not all love is romantic love. Not all love between members of the same sex is homosexual. I find it bitterly ironic that the same people who are telling homosexuals that their love is disordered are, if anything, promoting it by insisting that all feelings of love toward a member of the same sex must be homosexual.

Clearly, we have forgotten the Four Loves. As it happens, “Maleficent” illustrates all four: Diaval, the transformed raven, represents storge, with his fondness for Aurora. The three good fairies represent philia, in their friendly banter with each other. Stefan and Maleficent’s youthful relationship is eros, and I LOVE that it is made explicitly clear that Stefan’s kiss was not “true love”. And, finally, Maleficent’s motherly love for Aurora is agape.

I am thrilled that it is not eros that is portrayed as “true love”, but the unconditional love of agape! And I would have expected these cultural commentators to be cheering this as well rather than casting stones.

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Les Miserables

I saw the latest film a few nights ago. I am ashamed to say that, while I had previously understood the story on a narrative level, I had never grokked the moral story underpinning the proceedings. (I had only seen the non-musical Neeson-Rush version and some PBS version.)

This is a story, at bottom, about mercy. It is about second chances – from God, and from others—and the human capacity for reinvention. Jean Valjean becomes a new man, but it is only through the tender mercies of another—the bishop who (to paraphrase) “bought his soul for God.” Valjean seeks to extend that grace to others, and therein lies the rest of the story and the driving force of his life.

Finally, there is one more theme that pulses through the film: the shared struggles of the human family. In sum, we need one another. The movie reminds us of the transforming power of love – “to love another person is to see the face of God,” as the musical’s most famous lyric puts it – and how that love is shared, passed on, woven into our lives through acts of tenderness, courage, sacrifice and mercy. “Will you join in our crusade?,” the revolutionaries sing at the barricades. They aren’t just asking us to take up arms against injustice; they are crying out for a revolution of another kind, one that takes a stand against indifference and cruelty and hate. The show has a message that is not far removed from the gospel — a message of abiding love, sacrifice, redemption, even resurrection. (The show’s producer Cameron Macintosh was raised Catholic; whether he realizes it or not, I suspect the story’s message connected with him in a profound and visceral way.)

6 things that struck me about “Les Miserables”, The Deacon’s Bench

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Wisdom from the Hogwarts Professor

Human beings know things in four ways — sense, opinion, science (deduction), and wisdom — hence every text of value, especially works of intentional artistry or divine inspiration, has traditionally been read at four levels rather than cricized eclusively at the surface narrative or moral layers. Rowling and Meyer are dismissed by deconstructive-happy and nominalist critics that don’t know how to read the way people have understood scripture and fiction from Homer and the rabbinic culture through Dante, Aquinas, and Spencer, through John Ruskin and Northrup Frye. Potter-mania and the Twi-hards are responses to texts that works as spiritual allegories and anagogical translucencies.

The Seven Keys to — the Hogwarts Professor?

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and you thought I read a lot into Twilight!

This analysis is completely delicious!

If we stop looking for meaning when we acknowledge the superficial Mary Sue story contained in Twilight, we will miss the particular twist that Meyer gives her version: the deeper spiritual transformation and apotheosis aspects, the God-Man Everyman Drama. It is not enough for Bella to be transformed into a god-like vampire with superpowers that enable her to stop a vampire war before it starts. That was merely a pit stop on the way to Bella’s true moment of glory: when she achieves complete unity with her mate for the first time.

Earlier in the book we read of Bella enjoying the delights of sexual intimacy with her husband, but this was not the union that the books moved towards, either. The climactic unity is essentially cerebral rather than sexual, a blending of minds between wife and husband. Breaking Dawn is not only a Hero’s Journey to god-like Mormon-ish Vampire, but also an apotheosis to exemplary Mormon Wife. If we are to interpret Meyer’s novel as a Mary Sue composition, it must be recognized that Meyer’s heroine has found only partial fulfillment firstly as inaugural vampire mother and secondly as supreme vampire shield-protector; but she finds complete fulfillment as a wife who is fully united, of one mind, with her husband.

Sharon Slade Jackson: The Final Meadow Scene of ‘Breaking Dawn 2? Departs From and Resonates With Last Book’s Ending

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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2: Breaking the Book

“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2” is, unfortunately, the worst of the five films. Unfortunately primarily because its source material is the best of the four books. Overall, it suffers from the same faults as the previous four films, only more-so: namely that the filmmakers have, each time, taken a story onto which clear themes can be read, a story onto which a clear narrative structure can be imposed, entwined with that theme, and instead simply portrayed a series of events without any narrative or thematic arc.

I wish that the screenwriters and directors had taken a step back each time, decided what the theme of each story was, and built a movie around that. I think that you could make some really interesting — and meaningful — movies using the Twilight Saga as source material. Just off the top of my head: all-consuming love (“Twilight”), heartbreak and friendship and self-sacrifice in the context of both (“New Moon”), families of intent and intra-familial conflict (“Eclipse”), marriage and pregnancy (“Breaking Dawn: Part 1”), and self-sacrifice in the context of the family (“Breaking Dawn: Part 2”).

Adding to these failures, in TTS:BD:P2, is the fact that the filmmakers have changed nearly everything that I like about the source material, and only one of those changes was enjoyable, and even that one was ultimately a change for the worse. (Though it was completely surprising, so I will not spoil it beyond saying that the two young women sitting next to me spent the entire rest of the movie bawling loudly.)

To return to the purpose of this site, these changes were all for the worse because they undermined meaningful character developments and themes. Specifically:

  • Bella “wakes up” with only Edward in the room, rather than all of the Cullens. You would think that the Cullens would all be waiting to see if she woke up and wanting to immediately see her when she did; instead, they are all sitting around, playing with her baby, and while happy to see her do not seem all that relieved or excited. This undermines the familial love that the Cullens show for Bella in the book.
  • In the book, Carlisle had doped Bella up in hopes of preventing her from experiencing the excruciating pain of the transformation. It does not work, but Bella keeps this fact from Edward in order to keep him from feeling guilty for turning her. This is not present in the movie, which undermines Bella’s self-sactifice.
  • The Cullens do not seem particularly nervous the first time Bella holds her daughter. In the book they are scared that newborn Bella will not be able to resist feeding on her. Some lip-service is paid to this, but on the whole the Cullens do not look remotely on edge.
  • Edward does not calm their fears by telling them that Bella stopped herself from hunting the hiker (who, in the movie, is a climber — an excuse for Bella to rapidly climb a mountain by punching her finger-tips into the rock face, which does look cool, and with which I am fine). This undermines the theme, throughout all the books, of self-control and turning away from our innate, animalistic desires.
  • As a result of the above two changes, Jasper does not descend into a funk of self-doubt and depression. In the book, Jasper is shocked at Bella’s self-control and wonders if newborns are not, in fact, ravenous creatures lacking self-control, leading him to wonder if his own blood-thirsty rampages as a newborn were avoidable, and therefore if he is more culpable than he realized for his actions at the time. This undermines the theme of self-control and robs Jasper of some humanizing self-doubt.
  • We don’t really get a good idea of who each of the new vampires are. I mean, I know there are 20 of them, but they could have at least given us a little more character development for Lee Pace’s character, or the guy who lurks in the attic, or any of the nomads.
  • Rather than Bella hatching the plan to keep Renesme and Jacob safe with J. Jenkins’ help, Alice and Jasper have come up with the plan and left Bella simply to pick up the documents. While I like that this causes Bella even more self-doubt, because now she thinks that Alice has foreseen that neither she nor Edward will survive the coming confrontation, this is ultimately a net loss because it robs Bella of her agency. In the book, Bella took an assertive role, deciding to save her daughter. She kept her plan secret from everyone, sneaking about, and used Jasper’s criminal contact to create fake documents for her daughter and Jacob. Bella shows her motherly love by accepting that she and Edward may have to die in order to buy time to keep her daughter safe.
  • Edward expresses doubt, wondering if the cost is too high. On the eve of the battle, Edward wonders aloud if it is all worth it, if it is right that everyone may die simply because he fell in love with a human. This addition, not present in the book, could have been handled well, I think, but it was not. Instead it was short and perfunctory, and undermined the theme that family is worth fighting and dying for.
  • The battle. I have to be careful about discussing this one, because there are some major spoilers. I liked the way it deviates from the book; I do not like all of the things from the book that were left out. In the book, the final battle is the most exciting scene in the whole series. Bella comes into her own, using her power to protect her adopted family and to vex the Volturi. Bella has some delicious exchanges with Jane and others as they slowly realize that she has rendered the Volturi’s usual advantage moot. In the movie, Bella manages to protect people for a few seconds here and there, but is largely ineffective. She does not verbally smack Jane. Edward has no dawning awareness of how powerful she has become (because, in the movie, she has not). This severaly diminishes the character of Bella in that it robs her of her outward power.

There were probably other changes for the worse, but those are the ones that stick out for me, nine hours later.

Oh, and the CGI baby (and, later, CGI face on the daughter) was really creepy and unnecessary.

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apropos of my rap post the other day

Both sets of artists showed lower activity in part of their frontal lobes called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during improvisation, and increased activity in another area, called the medial prefrontal cortex. The areas that were found to be ‘deactivated’ are associated with regulating other brain functions.

“We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity,” says Braun.

Brain Scans of Rappers Shed Light on Creativity

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