Saturday, November 26, 2011

Praying to the Gods of Black Friday

Over the past few years the inane stupidity surrounding “Black Friday” sales has become increasing violent. Just today, I noticed the following headlines: “Man dies shopping on Black Friday;” “Woman pepper sprays other Black Friday shoppers 'to gain upper hand;'” “Grandfather smashed to ground as he tried to protect grandson from crowd...” These bizarre scenes are taking on a more ritualistic aspect every year. They immediately remind me of the frenzied ceremonies surrounding the Phyrgian Earth Goddess Cybele. Her cult was imported to Rome during the chaos of the Punic Wars. Her devotees were initiated into a mystery religion that promised pleasures here on Earth. You can see this same type of possessed spirit in the cooky-eyed behavior of Black Friday shoppers. Grab on to that sweater and achieve happiness. It's a faith for a faith-less age.
What is also incredibly alarming are the deaths that are taking place at these discount store orgies. They likewise have a strange ritualistic tone, but not one of self-gratification, but of human sacrifice. Praying to the Black Friday Gods often requires blood. And people are willing to hurt others, even kill for their fix. Leading up to the sacrifice, shoppers often reenact ritual purification ceremonies: including all night vigils outside of stores, rites of physical endurance which often include withstanding exposure to the elements. When the high-priests open the doors, the blood-letting can begin. These sort of ritual killings are often signs of a decaying culture; I’m reminded of the satanic slaying of Sharon Tate and her friends at the end of the hedonistic 1960s.
The other feature of Black Friday I find interesting is the cult-ish aspect. The “pepper spray incident” brings to mind the Sarin gas attack in Tokyo by the Aum Shinrikyo cult back in 1995. But just the pushing and shoving seems to go beyond a lapse of common etiquette and manners into the realm of idolatry; think of the manic teenage fans of rock-stars; trying to reach out and tear a piece of clothing from their god. The same cult mentality that infects fans, circulates through the masses of shoppers who obey a mob instinct for instant delight through the power of the purchase. But with all cult fads the satisfaction is instantaneous, but fleeting. Further ventures into the same realm is always required. The only thing you are left with is emptiness.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Holy Father Strikes the Perfect Cord in Africa

The Holy Father struck the perfect cord at a beautiful Mass in the African country of Benin. The Sacred Liturgy exhibited a harmonious blending of reverence and exuberance. It was simply glorious. The Proper of the Mass was read in the native languages while the Canon was prayed in Latin by the Pope. Hearing the blending of the different languages (with the Latin) truly emphasized the great historicity and universality of the Catholic Faith. The music at the Mass was also awe-inspiring. Again, as in the Liturgy, the music shifted from the ancient Latin to the native traditions. The African Bishops should surely be commemorated for such a flawless celebration.
The other thing that struck me was the decorum and respect of the faithful; including countless priests and women religious. Especially the beauty of the religious sisters; their dark skin contrasting with the white and pastel colors of their habits. Many of the lay faithful wore skillfully hand-crafted cloths made from a specially designed fabric commemorating the Pope’s visit. Once, again, the people were incredibly high-spirited, but always composed. The people also kneeled during the consecration, a feat that is somewhat unusual at large Papal Masses as there are rarely any allowances made for kneelers. But they kneeled in their ornate gowns on the stadium's race track and on the green grass. Awesome.
Here, in the West, I think we can learn from our brothers in Africa. The Liturgy does not have to be lifeless and static, as at times is the case in some Traditional Latin Masses. Nor does it have to be a frenzied rock concert, as in some modern liturgies. There can be a well-balanced joining together of the sacred and the modern. The Holy Father has certainly given us great direction with the Masses he has presided over and in his new liturgical directives. Let us all pray for the Holy Father’s continued health and that he may guide the Church for many years to come.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Russell Crowe: The Last Action Hero

I just saw the new film “The Immortals” and it was a grotesque and beautiful mess. The female heroine, the costumes, the set designs were all beautiful, but the male lead was weak and Mickey Rourke as the villain was even worse. The actor who played Theseus (the male protagonist) was probably picked for his looks rather than his acting ability and Rourke looked completely modern as the ancient Greek king. I’m reminded of the woefully miscast Edward G. Robinson in “The Ten Commandments” and how he looked like a mobster in Egyptian costume. In addition, the violence was ugly and there were two unnecessary, but brief, nude scenes. The action copycatted the equally abominable movie “300.” In that film as well, the main actor, this time the hapless Gerard Butler (as King Leonidas,) could not carry the film. So as with most action films these days, the movie-makers bombard you with gallons of blood spatters, stabbings, and decapitations (to makes things even worse it’s also in 3-D.) With the CGI, they are trying to make up for a lack of personality from the living on-screen characters (usually the men.)
In my opinion, there is only one male actor working today who can make historical action pictures: Russell Crowe. In contrast, imagine Tom Cruise in a suit-of-armor; he would shrink. The only Cruise films to be successful are those (the “Mission Impossible” series) that shadow his fragile image with explosions, machines, and technology. He has to be propped up. On the hand, Crowe needs no computer wizardry to make himself look believable. The three best genre films of the last 20 years all starred Crowe: “Gladiator,” “Master and Commander,” and “Robin Hood.” In all of these films, he portrayed an ordinary man who was able to accomplish extraordinary feats against great adversity. These were the types of parts that Charlton Heston played so well; his best was “Ben-Hur.” To play these roles requires certain humility and an equal amount of bravado. A man who feels completely comfortable in his own skin. I think it is no accident that only a New Zealander, and not an American counterpart, can exhibit these qualities. New Zealand and Australia still preserved some of their early pioneering frontier spirit. For in America, it’s no longer acceptable to be a man of heroic and masculine virtue. The new epitome of manliness is the so-called metro-sexual symbolized by the ephebic Ryan Seacrest. (Australian-raised Mel Gibson could have continued to grow as an epic-filmmaker until he became a victim of his own excess.)
In the mean-time, the historical action film has been taken over by over-produced digitally saturated films with unconvincing actors. The world is ruled by incompetent politicians, auto-tuned music and fake epics. Men like Charlton Heston spoke loudly and took chances. Heston forcefully lead the NRA, but also fought for civil rights in the 60’s. Some of his contemporaries: Cornel Wilde was a Jewish émigré from Hungary, Guy Madison joined the Coast Guard during World War II, and Audie Murphy won the Congressional Medal of Honor. These guys lived robust lives and they could play them on-screen. Today’s “stars” are busy studying scientology and the mysteries of kabala. Right now, I am looking forward to Russell Crowe’s next film in which he plays a blacksmith, in feudal China, who makes weapons for a small town who is put in the position where he must defend himself and his fellow villagers. The working title is “The Man with the Iron Fists.” It is set to be released some time next year.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mitt Romney: The Return of Wholesomeness

After a conversation with a friend, I have been rethinking the my opinion of Mitt Romney. My first impression of him was as a typical stuffed-shirt Republican wind-bag. I think that is why Herman Cain seemed so appealing. Cain was outspoken, spontaneous and even sometimes refreshingly ill-mannered. But as the spotlight glared on Cain he has melted in the heat. On the other hand, Romney always seems to stay in the background; all the time looking cool. To learn more about Romney, I dove feet first into the internet. I was not so much interested in details of public policy and foreign affairs; but in the personal Man. What I read was fascinating.
Romney has been married to his wife, Ann, for 42 years. He is a wealthy and handsome businessman who I am sure certainly had the opportunity to stray. Also, Ann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998. This immediately brought to mind the late Elizabeth Edwards; the ex-wife of Senator John Edwards. She eventually died from breast cancer (and while his wife was home) John Edwards wasted no time in finding a girlfriend. The Romney picture could have easily turned out as ugly. But it didn’t. As a side, Ann Romney was very good friends with Elizabeth Edwards up until her death. Even though Edwards was on the opposite side of the political spectrum, Ann still reached out to a fellow suffering human being.
In addition: in a world of corporate back stabbing and climbing the preverbal ladder, Romney stayed with the same business consulting firm (Bain & Company) for most of his professional career, even returning to the firm (for a token salary of $1.00) after it began to flounder. With all that, plus his solid marriage and the fact that the Romney children seem to be unusually trouble-free, I was then surprised to see a number of Republicans and conservatives attacking Romney's beliefs. The most interesting: this hit-piece from
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a man devoid of any principles other than getting himself elected. As much as the American public does not like Barack Obama, they loath a man so fueled with ambition that he will say or do anything to get himself elected. Mitt Romney is that man…He is neither liberal nor conservative. He is simply unprincipled. The man has no core beliefs other than in himself. You want him to be tough? He’ll be tough. You want him to be sensitive? He’ll be sensitive. You want him to be for killing the unborn? He’ll go all in on abortion rights until he wants to run for an office where it is not in his advantage.
I think the Romney marriage has certainly proved the man's convictions. I believe that men who can not control their personal lives, can certainly not lead a country. Some conservatives also like to make swipes at his “stiffness” or “square-jawed” personae. At a time when we have had to endure as a country a series of Presidents (I am thinking of Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, George W. Bush’s forced Texas drawl and painful dubba-ism, and the Obama arrogance and strut) America needs the solid stable character that Mitt Romney personifies. He is a sort of retro throw-back to a more generous and civil age. I remember as a young Art History student loathing the American artist Norman Rockwell. I saw him as the epitome of 'blah:' sentimental and banal. At the time, I loved Abstract Expressionism with it's lurid colors and artiface of complexity. Now, I see Rockwell as an artist who perfected an incredible technique and was willing to embrace the possibly of America’s greatness: of beauty, courtesy and wholesomeness. Just as most Modern art movements, Obama is  boastful and pretentious. Romney is composed and steady. Like the paintings of Rockwell, Romney embodies the America that was and can be again. But in a country that is becoming increasingly immoral, Romney’s squeaky clean image looks almost unreal to the jaded eye. Has America slipped too far? Can we still recognize the good?

I also want to include this quote from Romney that helped me to understand his change of position on abortion:
“I was always personally opposed to abortion, as I think almost everyone in this nation is. And the question for me was, what is the role of government? And it was quite theoretical and philosophical to consider what the role of government should be in this regard, and I felt that the Supreme Court had spoken and that government shouldn’t be involved and let people make their own decision. That all made a lot of sense to me. Then I became governor and the theoretical became reality. A bill came to my desk which related to the preservation of life. I recognized that I simply could not be part of an effort that would cause the destruction of human lift. And I didn’t hide from that change of heart. I recognize it’s a change. Every piece of legislation which came to my desk in the coming years as the governor, I came down on the side of preserving the sanctity of life.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Blind Faith: Jim Jones and Barack Obama

Icons of the Old and New Religion

Recently, I thought about a long ago but unforgettable conversation I had with fellow grad students back when I was working on my master's thesis. At the time, I was researching Jack London. On that track, we started talking about how the state of California often draws an odd lot of people; just a few days before a group of cult members belonging to Heaven's Gate killed themselves at their headquarters down in San Diego. I made a remark about Jim Jones and The People's Temple. All of a sudden, a normally quiet young woman spoke up and defended Jones. She said that she had been a part of the Temple and had family members in Guyana when the mass suicide took place. She said that Jones was a great man and that his followers died for a worthwhile cause.
Since then, I never witnessed such an insane and twisted blind faith in someone; until you listen to the followers of Barack Obama; namely those in the media. Just recently actor Martin Sheen said: “You're talking about a very special man. I adore him, and I think he's doing a great job. He hasn't gotten a lot of help, but I think he's done a great job;” why Raymond Arroyo invited him on to ETWN I will never know. Among Liberal Democrats, Obama still pulls in 85% and above approval ratings. This is amid a series of scandals that are equivalent, if not surpassing, the importance of the Iran-Contra Affair. These include the Solyndra scandal, Operation Fast and Furious, MF Global/Corzine scandal. All have been almost resoundingly ignored by the media. Now we add to this toxic mix, the following Gallup poll: a majority of Democrats -- 52 percent -- say they seldom or never go to church.
After spending a great deal of time around liberals at UC Berkeley, I have found that the liberal sees government as the instrument of faith. Sort of a Catholic version of the Holy Spirit. Through the government all good things will be brought to Man. For example: for the pro-abortion advocate-the abortion is the highest act or the sacrament. That is why they protect Row v. Wade so viciously, as to take away the right to have an abortion would take away their religion. Through the law (i.e. the government they have received their faith.) Hence the overwhelming number of liberals in the law profession and in politics. And it is through the legal and political system that they are able to push for a restructuring of morality through the law (i.e. abortion rights, bizarre educational programs, gay marriage laws.) Through the manipulation of the law they can see a dawning new age that will come from the state. Government has replaced the church and the politician stands in for the priest.

What does all this have to do with Barack Obama and Jim Jones. In many respects, Jim Jones was the perfect liberal advocate. A seemingly kindly preacher who only cared for the poor and disenfranchised. But behind it all, he was incredibly politically savvy and a master at manipulation. And at the time, many bought in. Leading up to the mass suicide of People's Temple members in Guyana, several local and national government leaders showered Jim Jones with political appointments, awards and accolades: Mayor George Moscone appointed Jones as the Chairman of the San Francisco Authority Commission, future SF Mayor Willie Brown served as master of ceremonies at a large testimonial dinner for Jones attended by Governor (then and now) Jerry Brown, First Lady Rosalynn Carter also personally met with Jones on multiple occasions. Like then, the Liberal elite ignored the scandals. For Jones represented that rare commodity:a hard-core Marxist who could pass as a benevolent religious leader; (think of the kindly icon-like images of Mao in China.) The Obama “Hope” poster is the modern equivalent. Obama shares that same quality with Jones: a leader with quasi-messianic qualities. And just as the case with Jim Jones, the followers of Obama are also turning violent (the Occupy Wall Street movement.) But how will it end? If Obama were to loose the next election will they go quietly or will they shed more blood?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI: A Man for Our Time.

In light of the new liturgical changes that will be implemented this Advent, I would like to post some older comments made a few years ago by the Holy Father's personal secretary Monsignor Georg Gänswein . I think they aim right at the heart of those who believe that the Church moves too slowly and to those who believe that the liturgy must remain static:
"Anyone who knows him [the Holy Father] replies Monsignor Gänswein, "knows him very much as someone who stands for continuity in the liturgy. It is a sort of dogma that the Second Vatican Council had brought ruptures...It is the Pope’s task to maintain the continuity of the Church and not to interrupt it. No, Pope Benedict has remained true to himself."
Monsignor Gänswein continues:
"That there have been wrong developments within and outside the liturgy, in sacred art is clear for anyone who has healthy senses. But Pope Benedict is not an iconoclast, by his very nature he is not. He does not act with a bulldozer. He looks at the things and acts gently, but decidedly."
As with the Lord, The Holy Father does not bow to the whims and desires of Man. God is the architect and the Holy Father is the builder. As any good builder or carpenter, the Holy Father builds on a solid foundation. He is precise and he is methodical. But the Pope is not only a theoretician, he is also an artist. He understands philosophy, theology, the liturgy etc...but also the emotion of faith, prayer, and love.
What I love about the above picture is how it shows the Holy Father as a man who is very much in the world, but also completely separate from it. He knows the world and Man and understands their failings and their possibilities. But he is also a man of intense reflection. Those around him also seem to share this quality. At one time, Monsignor Gänswein wanted to be a Cistercian monk. It's an extraordinary picture of and extraordinary man.