Thursday, January 31, 2013

Q & A: New Picture

Hey Nick, what's with the new picture on the top of your blog?

I thought the site could use a bit more visual flavor.

That's for sure. Seeing all that red made me feel like a bull facing a matador. What's this a picture of?

This is a stained glass window from St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church in Austin, Texas. The man depicted is the aforementioned St. Ignatius.

First: why do you have a picture from that parish?

Back in my seminary days, I spent a month at that parish, and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Plus, it's a real perdy picture.

Fair enough. But why a picture of this guy on your blog?

Here at the DSPT, I'm concentrating on historical theology; I'd like to focus on the patristic period, the time of the Church Fathers. St. Ignatius of Antioch is one of the earliest and, in many ways, one of the most important of the Church Fathers. He's one of a few who are referred to as the "Apostolic Fathers," because of his connection with the apostles.

Why? What's his deal?

St. Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch around the end of the first century AD. He was the second successor of St. Peter the Apostle as head of the church in Antioch; one source even says that St. Peter himself appointed St. Ignatius as bishop of Antioch. And it's thought that St. Ignatius may have been a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. So... pretty good credentials there.

Wait, I thought Peter was head of the church in Rome.

He was. Antioch was his first gig.

I see. Go on.

St. Ignatius was arrested by the Romans and brought to Rome for execution around the year 100 AD. On his way, he wrote several letters to the churches in Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy, places like Philadelphia, Smyrna (addressed to his friend St. Polycarp, the bishop there), Ephesus, Magnesia, Trallia, and Rome.

What do we care about his letters? "Dear People of Magnesia, please send me some of that milk your so famous for." Big deal.

Think more like St. Paul's letters to the churches at Ephesus, Thessolonica, Philippi, etc. These letters were full of exhortations and teachings about the faith and about church life.

What makes them so important?

The fact that they're from such an early time in the Church's history, and that they affirm so clearly so many things that Catholics affirm: the divinity of Christ; the Real Presence in the Eucharist; the three-fold hierarchical structure of bishop, priest, and deacon; they even contain the first reference to the "Catholic Church," when he writes: "Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." And in his letter to the church at Rome, he refers to the Roman church as "she who presides in love," which would seem to be a very strong and very early indicator of Roman primacy in the universal church. He also writes beautifully on his impending martyrdom, calling himself a grain of wheat that is to be ground up for Christ to serve as bread for others, the sort of sentiment that would later be echoed by Tertullian: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

Not only for his witness to catholic and orthodox teaching, but for devotion to Christ and His Church, St. Ignatius of Antioch is a fine exemplar, not only for a theology student, but for all Christians. Seems like a good idea to have his picture on my virtual wall.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Spring Semester Classes

After a lengthy layoff, the spring semester begins on Monday. Here are the classes I'll be taking:

History of Philosophy: Medieval -- The riveting sequel to "History of Philosophy: Ancient," which I took last semester. This one's taught by Fr. Augustine Thompson, OP, who taught me in Aristotelian Logic. This course will cover the movement in the Western philosophical tradition from the classical and late antique world to Christendom and the "scholastic" system of philosophy which dominated in the 12th through 14th centuries. We'll also talk about parallel movements in Jewish and Muslim philosophy, especially those which impacted scholasticism. (After all, Western Europe recovered the texts of Plato and Aristotle largely thanks to the Muslim scholars who had preserved, studied, and commented on them. Just as St. Thomas shows his respect by referring to Aristotle simply as "The Philosopher" and St. Paul as "The Apostle," the Muslim philosopher Averroes is referred to by Aquinas as "The Commentator.") I've always appreciated medieval philosophy for its sound methodology, particularly its insistence on considering all sides of a question when answering it. I look forward to sharing more about this class with y'all.

Philosophical Anthropology -- The exciting follow-up to "Philosophy of Nature," also taught by Fr. Michael Dodds, OP. Where Philosophy of Nature gave us the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of change in the natural world, this course will give us the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of the human person. What's a person made of? What makes a human being a human being? We'll be using a lot of the same categories of form and matter, substance and accident, act and potency, that we did in the last class, I'm sure.

Metaphysics -- The very name of this class often sends chills down the spine. It can seem so intimidating: "the philosophy of being." What is the nature of being? What is the relationship between essence and existence? Not a few people would respond to these questions with a blank stare and a "Huh?" not even sure what the questions asks, let alone what the answer is. I'm hopeful that Dr. Marga Vega will help sort some of these things out.

Patristic Spirituality -- This class is being taught over at the Jesuit School of Theology, another school within the GTU. As much as we might like to poke fun at "The J" (as I'm sure they do us), I've heard nothing but good things about this professor, Dr. Thomas Cattoi. (You may perhaps remember his name: he was one of the presenters for the panel the school held last December on Pope Benedict's new book.) This class will focus on the spiritual theology of some of the Eastern church fathers (that is, important and influential clerics and theologians who lived in the first several centuries of the Church). In particular, we'll investigate the concept of "apotheosis," Greek for (very, VERY roughly) "becoming God-like." The goal, or end, or telos, or final cause of the Christian life is for the Christian to grow in relationship with God so that the Christian participates more and more fully in God's own life. The old patristic saying goes: "God became man so that man might become God"--not in a pantheistic, "raindrop absorbed in the ocean" kind of way, but in a participatory way. I sure hope I'll be able to explain it better as the semester goes on.

I am, as the kids say, totally stoked for these classes! Can't wait!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Right Tool for the Right Job

Picture a scene: a wooded glade on a warm spring day. Birds are chirping. Bunny rabbits are darting into the thicket. A family is there, having a picnic, Pop and his son playing a good ol' game of catch. The mood is cheerful, contented, and happy. And overlaid is this sound:

That doesn't quite fit, does it? Hearing that, you'd expect the Luftwaffe to fly over and starting bombing the place, or something equally unpleasant to happen. If it didn't, the scene wouldn't make sense.


Picture another scene: a dungeon, dark and dank. Prisoners in rags, unwashed, unshaved. A storm rages outside, complete with thunder and lightning. The mood is depressed, hopeless, and despairing. And overlaid is this sound:

That doesn't quite fit, does it? Hearing that, you'd expect the storm to break, and the sunlight to penetrate the barred window of the prison, and the jailer to enter and announce that all the prisoners have been pardoned. If it didn't, something would seem... wrong.


I use these examples to illustrate a truth of which we're all aware: certain types of music fit certain moods and situations. I don't know enough about musicology, psychology, or physiology to explain why this is, but I trust you all can recognize it as a bare fact and can accept it as such. We can recognize pieces as "sad," "happy," even "sassy" or "demented." TV and movie producers make use of this to accentuate their visual products with the appropriate sounds. A romantic scene will have music in a major key, slower, sweeping; if it's supposed to be a bittersweet love scene, it might move into a minor key, but still light in tone. A death scene will probably be in a minor key, perhaps moving a little faster, a little heavier in tone. In the two examples given at the top, the scenes described would be much better illustrated by swapping pieces. As they are now, the music doesn't fit the situation.

George Harrison once wrote that music adds another dimension to the words of a song. It's important, then, that it adds the right sort of dimension so that we don't lose the initial shape or texture of what we had at first. If it adds the wrong dimension, it's like trying to taking a two-dimensional square and add a third dimension to turn it into a sphere--you lose the original "squareness."


Picture one more scene: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is taking place. The priest is leading the faithful to the Throne of Mercy and presenting the Father with the Sacrifice of Our Lord, that we may receive forgiveness for our sins, and that we may be renewed in our spiritual life by being fed with the true nourishment of the Body and Blood of Christ. Time and space are compressed, and we are brought to Calvary 2,000 years ago, and to the Heavenly Jerusalem at the end of days, all at the same time. This is an event of glory, splendor, solemnity, and reverence. So, I ask you, does this sound match?

Does this sound say "glory and splendor"?

Does this sound say "solemnity and reverence"?

The songs may or may not be aesthetically pleasing considered in themselves-- a debatable point, but not the one at hand. The words may (or may not) be loosely based on Scripture--also not the point at the moment. Just consider the event they are supposed to illustrate. Consider the moment they are to adorn. They don't match. The music doesn't fit the mood. Playing a song that sounds like it's from a Broadway musical during the Mass is like decorating your house with Christmas lights for the 4th of July.

The people who composed this music, and the people who play it at parishes, may very well be devout and holy servants who are simply trying to praise God with their musical abilities. I don't question their motives or their intentions. I do think their sensibilities are off. If this is what they think would properly illustrate the Mass, I have to wonder if they have a proper conception of what the Mass really is all about. If that's the case, I attribute no malice to them; most likely they've simply been ill-formed.

Music of this sort affects the Mass such that it makes it harder to perceive the Mass for what it is. Music that sounds like pop music makes the Mass feel like a form of entertainment instead of worship. Music that sounds banal makes the Mass seem commonplace, yawn-inducing. Music that's saccharine is giving our ears cotton candy instead of the real sonic sustenance that will nourish them.

I think a lot of people agree with these sentiments, consciously or unconsciously, and are voting with their voices, or rather protesting with their silence: they don't sing.

Attention music directors: there are loads and loads of hymns out there with uplifting words and beautiful music befitting the Sacred Liturgy. Please use them. Please play them. You might just find folks will sing along.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Week in Review: Henry Fonda Teaches Shakespeare about Love

I hesitate to populate this blog with too many of the mundane details of my life down here for fear of this turning into a LiveJournal/"Dear Diary" endeavor. I mean, do y'all really care to hear about the movies I watched or the random conversations I have with people I hang out with? Certainly if said movies or conversations provoke thoughts I deem worth sharing, I'll share them, but I don't wish to subject you to things like, "I watched The Odd Couple, it was pretty funny," "My friend and I debated the merits of Star Trek: Voyager," or "My roommate and I discussed the various possible explanations in the Manti Te'o hoax." Though if you want to hear such things, say so, and I'll gladly recount them to you.

That aside, there were at least a few events from this last week amusing enough to share.

While driving home from work, my "check engine" light came on. Since the vehicle wasn't otherwise misbehaving, I continued on toward home, but stopped at the local Big O Tires and asked them to look at it. The guy came back to me about 10 minutes later and informed me that there was no oil in my car. I responded with an incredulous, "What!?" and explained that the oil gasket had been leaking but was replaced three months ago by another Big O facility. He said: "Well, if it were burning oil, there should be at least a quart or two of oil left in there if you've only driven 3,000 miles since then. Maybe you've got another leak, but I think they may have forgotten to put oil back in your car when they replaced that gasket." Really? Really!? It seems unlikely that if I were driving around for three months with no oil in my car, the "check engine" light would have only come on now. So, I have to bring the car back in today so they can put 'er up on the rack and check for another leak. Great. Let's hope there's nothing too terribly wrong with it. If they determine there is no leak, and that the only reasonable explanation is that the other joint neglected to re-oil me, rest assured I will return to the other place and politely ask for my blasted money back.

On Friday evening a few friends and I went to Chipotle for dinner, and found ourselves in a discussion as to whether angelic sin is in any way comparable to human sin due to the difference in the natures of angels and humans. I think I can safely say this was the first time such a conversation took place at a Chipotle.

I saw Shakespeare in Love for the first time this week. Two thoughts occur to me. One, Saving Private Ryan should have beat it for Best Picture that year. Two, the movie is improperly titled. In the story, William Shakespeare becomes involved with a nobleman's daughter who disguises herself as a man to act in his plays. The two characters are shown many times in acts of physical intimacy, and professing their and feeling for each other. But perhaps Bill Shakespeare ought to ask himself the question immortalized by the band Whitesnake: "Is this love that I'm feeling?" It looks a lot more like lust or infatuation pure emotionalism. The relationship between them seems so shallow. You don't get the sense that either of the characters really has that deep care and concern and self-sacrificing motivation that characterizes love of another. It's emotionalism charged by physical attraction. That ain't love; that might be how a relationship that leads to love could begin, but it's not there yet.

The distinction between the two is portrayed well in the original version of Yours, Mine, and Ours. Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball play two middle-aged widowed people, each with a few children of their own. They meet, and over a period of time (covered in a montage) they talk about their lives: their past marriages, their children, their difficulties and hopes and fears. They get to really know each other, and to really love each other. This sort of deep relationship is contrasted in the film by the "puppy love" of Lucy's teenage daughter, who wants to run with her beau, whom she thinks she "loves." As the daughter is telling this to her parents, right as Lucy is going into labor with her and Henry's baby, Henry tells the daughter,
You want to know what love really is, take a look around you. Take a look at your mother. It's giving life that counts. Until you're ready for that, all the rest is just a big fraud.... Life isn't a "love-in": it's the dishes, and the orthodontist, and the shoe repairman; ground round instead of roast beef. And I'll tell you something else: it isn't going to bed with a man that proves you're in love with him; it's getting up in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful, everyday world with him that counts.
Amen, Henry. Amen. I wish that more movies would give this sort of picture of love, instead of the typical "Let's exchange witty pick-up lines until we spend the night together." How pedestrian.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Politician's Fallacy

When tragic events capture the nation's attention, the people, horrified at what has occurred, rightly ask what can be done to prevent such things from ever happening again. In turn, our elected representatives in Washington are often stirred to do one of the following (based on your level of cynicism toward politicians):

1) Act swiftly and smartly to address the situation
2) Immediately release a public statement before having found out what actually happened
3) Cancel their afternoon tee time and return to Capitol Hill so they can nap through emergency committee hearings

And in the midst of all this swift acting, public speaking, and committee napping, the politician, in trying to decide what course of action to take, usually goes through the following erroneous thought process, explained well in the British TV series Yes, Prime Minister:

Something must be done.
This is something.
Therefore, this must be done.

We shouldn't attribute this logical fallacy solely to politicians, even though I have done so in the title of this post. After all, it's usually the clamoring of the people to "Do something!" that provides the major premise (i.e. the first line) to this syllogism. Still, it is the politician who is able to act on it, so the buck stops there.

It's understandable. Something happens that shakes us and scares us, like a terrorist attack, or a mass public shooting, or a nuclear meltdown caused by a combined earthquake and tsunami. We don't want it to happen again. We don't feel we can wait one second longer to address the issue. Look at the death/destruction/horror/sadness that this caused. We can't let it happen again! We've got to do something NOW!

While this emotional reaction is to be expected, we ought not necessarily concede to its demands. Our heads need to temper our hearts if the desires of our hearts are to be truly satisfied; for the heart knows what it wants, but the head usually knows better how to get it.

Let's look at an example to illustrate the differences between emotionally charged perceptions and fact-based realities. A mass shooting happens, or a string of publicized mass shootings happen. People feel like there is an epidemic. But actually mass shootings are at their lowest levels in decades. People may point to the assault weapons ban passed in the 1990s and say, "Look, shootings went down after the weapons ban was passed! It must have worked!" But look at the broader picture: during that time, all violent crimes went downincluding homicides as a percentage of violent crime. Did the ban on assault weapons also lower incidences of poisoning, strangulation, drowning, stabbing, and other acts of violence? Unlikely. It would seem multiple societal factors were at work. This seems to be further supported by the fact that overall homicide rates have tracked closely with firearm homicide rates over the last 40 years.

(Hat tip to William Briggs for the statistics.)

If we don't take all of these facts into account, we risk committing the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, or "After this, therefore because of this." One might think that because overall crime went down after the ban of assault weapons, it was the ban that caused the decrease in crime. This is not necessarily the case; you would need more information to demonstrate this, and the information provided above suggests it's unlikely.

You might say, "But surely if we ban assault weapons, it will be much harder to commit crimes with assault weapons?" Yes, but if your goal is not strictly to reduce assault weapon crime, but violent crime, an assault weapon ban won't do the trick. Cities like Washington, D.C. and Chicago, which have some of the nation's strictest handgun laws, also have the highest rates of murder and handgun violence. Violent crime is a larger problem than the weapons available with which to perpetrate it. We can't lull ourselves into a false sense of security by doing something and saying, "All right, we've done something. Crisis averted." We might feel like things are worse than ever, but that doesn't mean they are. We might feel like banning certain types of weapons will prevent violent crimes, but that isn't necessarily the case.

You might say, "But why does your average citizen need automatic weapons and clips with dozens of rounds?" A good question, one involving the proper intent and interpretation of the Second Amendment and the rights of citizens to defend themselves. But it's a separate question from whether banning automatic weapons will reduce violent crime. Let's not confuse our terms. Let's stay focused on the task at hand.

Don't get me wrong. Don't interpret me to be saying something I'm not. Don't make me out to be saying more than I am. There may be good reasons to ban or limit the sale of certain types of weapons. Whether people should have access to certain types of weapons is a different issue from whether the availability of those weapons leads to more crime. But that's not the point at issue, and it doesn't help to meld two distinct questions together.

This is just one of the most recent examples to come up, but it's a common theme in our political discourse. To take an example dear to the other side of the aisle: our nation was attacked by terrorists in 2001, and since then our defense spending has grown increasingly, largely due to the extended prosecution of two wars. For some, the level of our defense spending has become a totem for how seriously we take our national security: if you want to cut defense spending, you're acquiescing somehow; if you want to increase defense spending, you're addressing the threats to our country. You might ask whether we could do more with less money, whether more advanced fighter jets are what's needed to combat terrorists, or whether we need to build more aircraft carriers when we have 10, while no one else has more than two, including China and Russia with one each. But to some, they are less interested in how effective our spending is than how much it is.

The point is: if we want to address a particular societal problem, let's take the time to examine the relevant facts (and sift out the irrelevant facts) and not let our emotional reaction, justified as the feelings themselves might be, overwhelm our thinking resulting in our doing something simply for the sake of doing something.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Week in Review: Masses and Movies

Last week my friend Tony and I attended Mass at the church of St. Dominic in San Francisco. It looks a little out of place in the middle of San Francisco with its neo-Gothic architecture, but it is so beautiful compared to its surroundings that it might be better to say that St. Dominic's makes the other buildings look out of place--"What are you even doing here, O pedestrian product of 1970's fashions?" The inside is filled with the stained glass, statues, and other ornate intricacies one would expect of a church of this sort. As an added bonus, the music for that Mass (Epiphany Sunday) was from the Ceremony of Carols by the 20th century British composer Benjamin Britten. (The choir director at the church is himself a Brit.) A very English feel to the compositions, which is a good thing in my book, as I love the English choral tradition. The sights and sounds lent a serenity and a solemnity to the Mass, just as the aesthetic dimensions of the liturgy ought.

Mass was followed by lunch at an Italian sandwich shop in the City called Giordano's. The place is famed for its "all in one" sandwiches: for example, we each got a kielbasa and capacola sandwich with coleslaw, french fries, and a fried egg all between the two slices of bread. It was massive and delicious and will probably cut three months off of my lifespan.

We also stopped by the shrine of St. Francis in the city that bears his name. The shrine includes an exact replica of the Portiuncula church which Francis restored in the town of Assisi 900 years ago. The replica is even constructed of stones brought back from Assisi!

Alas, the next day was a sad day as my beloved Fighting Irish had the tar knocked out of them by the dynastic Crimson Tide of Alabama. Next year, Irish... next year. Good season, boys.

Apart from working, seeing as how there were few folks around since it's still early in the winter break (classes don't start again until February 4), I took the opportunity to see a few movies I'd wanted to see for a while, including:

Gone with the Wind - One of the greatest movies ever made and the all-time box office champ when numbers are adjusted for inflation. Every major element of a movie is done exceedingly well in this one. Good story? Check. Good acting? Check. Good scenery and cinematography? Check. Good character development? Check. Good dialogue? Check. Featuring a total dish like Vivien Leigh? Check. I can see what all the hubbub is about.

The Searchers - Widely regarded as the best western ever made, it tells the story of a man (John Wayne) who spends years searching for his niece who has been kidnapped by Comanches. It's simultaneously gritty and funny and has a romantic subplot that works well where similar attempts in other movies feel forced or flat.

Lincoln - Yes, I do see new movies on occasion, too. I'd been waiting for this one for a while, and it didn't disappoint. It addresses the greatest crisis in our nation's history and does it justice, historically and dramatically. Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock to win Best Actor for capturing our greatest president so well: Lincoln the lawyer, Lincoln the story-teller, Lincoln the devoted father, Lincoln the crusader, Lincoln the compromiser. If you haven't seen it, DO SO.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Church Chat II

The first edition of "Church Chat," in which I explained the meanings and etymologies of a number of Church-related words, was by far the most read post I've made on this site. Given its popularity, I thought it worthwhile to bring you another round of ecclesiastical vocabulary.

Confirmation -- from Latin confirmare, "to strengthen." In the Sacrament of Confirmation, we are strengthened in the gift of the Holy Spirit which we received at our Baptism. In the ancient world, oil was used to aid in healing injuries (as we still use ointments today for the same purpose); that is, it was used to make a sick person stronger. Sin is a sickness of the soul, and the anointing of this sacrament (as well as the Anointing of the Sick) acts as a sort of booster shot to fortify our our spiritual immune system. (This is not an exhaustive explanation of this sacrament, but it does describe an aspect of it.)

Grace -- from the Latin gratia, which, apart from itself meaning grace, means "favor, thanks, goodwill." The grace of God is not something I can adequately explain in a paragraph, but suffice it to say: it is God's sharing of His own life with us. It is His free gift to us, unearned and undeserved, a demonstration of His favor and goodwill. Here would need to follow a whole treatise on the distinction between earning and meriting, on how God's gracious action in us does not take away our freedom but rather grants freedom to us, and a host of other issues, but you might be better served by reading the section in the Catechism on grace. Say, that's a good one...

Catechism -- from the Greek katechesis, meaning "oral instruction," more literally "to sound down (into the ears)." Perhaps it's something of an oddity to use a word meaning "oral instruction" for a written text, but remember that the purpose of a catechetical text is use in teaching. This is much more evident in the format of past versions such as the Baltimore Catechism with its question-and-answer format. Catechisms are used in catechesis to hand on the faith. Say, that reminds me....

Tradition -- from the Latin tradere, "to hand over." Tradition, then, is that which is handed on, often used in a generational context: one generation bequeaths something to another. This word is used to describe the way in which the Christian faith is transmitted to succeeding generations, through teaching, example, and religious practice (especially the liturgy), and written works such as Scripture. (It seems to me that instead of drawing this divide between Scripture and Tradition, it would be more accurate to describe Scripture as part of and a product of the Tradition.) Note: The Latin word's flexibility allows it to mean both handing something on, like an heirloom, or handing someone over, as in betrayal. (If you look at the Latin text of the Mass, you'll see in the Eucharistic Prayers that when it says "on the night [Jesus] was betrayed" the Latin word is tradebatur, "he was handed over/betrayed.")

Reconciliation -- (I've mentioned this one in a previous post, but it's good enough to include again.) from Latin re-, "again," con-, "with," and cilia, "eyelash." To be reconciled, then, is to literally be eyelash to eyelash with someone once again. It is regaining a closeness you once had. And you can't be much closer to someone than having your eyelashes entangled. Think of a parent and child with their foreheads pressed together, or a couple kissing. That kind of intimate closeness. That's what reconciliation is about.

Saint -- from Latin sanctus, "holy." Like many Latin adjectives, sanctus is a verb form, the perfect passive participle. That fancy term means it's a word expressing an action that happened to a subject in the past, the effect of which continues into the present; in this case, sanctus is "one who has been made holy (and is still holy)." The saints are those who have received God's sanctifying grace and have cooperated with it and been made holy.

Liturgy -- from the Greek laos, "people," and ergon, "work." Liturgy is "the work of the people," or "a public service." Public services are done to satisfy obligations either owed to the people or required to be done by the people. We are obliged to worship God. But the obligation to worship God is not arbitrary or external, but necessary or internal. We need to worship God like we need to eat, or breath, or be with our loved ones. Too often, though, we substitute the good food of God for the junk food of lesser goods or goods twisted into evils (whether it be sleeping in rather than getting up and going to Mass, or seeking God's love through others via lust instead of self-giving love). We choose what might taste good for a moment, but will make us less healthy spiritually in the long run. This does give us what we need. The Mass, the Sacred Liturgy, is the pre-eminent place in which we get what we most need, for there we receive the true food, the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation, the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have no life within us.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Playing Catch-Up

I hope my readership was not too disheartened during my hiatus, but after a few weeks off, I am back to blogging. Allow me to catch you up.

After the semester ended, I spent the next week here in the Bay Area. I worked at the deli a bit more than usual, as the demand for sliced meats and cheeses and Italian delicacies was at its zenith in the week before Christmas. The owner bought Santa hats for us to wear, we played Christmas music, and the store took on a rather festive atmosphere. 

In my spare time, I read Jacques Maritain's An Introduction to Philosophy, which proved to be a good re-cap of many things I'd learned last semester and a preview of some things I'll encounter in this upcoming semester. As a friend noted recently, introductory texts are best read after you've already been introduced to the material; that way you have some context for these concepts, or in other words (as I put it), you have a skeleton to hang the flesh on.

I then spent a little over a week back home in Verboort. It was a rejuvenating time: I got to see my family, including extended family, including my cousins' newborn baby daughter; I got to catch up with a few friends; and I got to stuff myself with holiday goodies. What more could a fella ask for on a trip home?

During that time I saw The Hobbit, which I found visually stunning and quite entertaining. Yes, it departs from the original novel somewhat. That's bound to happen when converting a book to a movie. But, judged on its own merits, I thought it was a very good film. Yeah, I thought Radagast's portrayal was unnecessarily goofy, and at times the movie felt like one long chase scene. But you can't have everything. I especially enjoyed the performances by Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. The music accompanied and expressed the action of the film quite well. And Cate Blanchett always does good work when she's on screen, even if it's only for a few minutes. Do see it.

I returned to the Bay on New Year's Day. I've worked a few days this week, and done a little socializing, too: drinks with a buddy on evening; dinner with a classmate's family followed by Les Miserables. Anne Hathaway should win the Oscar just for that one-take performance of "I Dreamed a Dream," and if Hugh Jackman isn't at least nominated for playing Jean Valjean, I'll consider it a crime. I had no idea Russell Crowe could sing, but he did a serviceable job of it, and overall fit the bill quite well for Javert. It's a moving story of conversion and redemption, and it was very well executed by this group. Do see it.

Oh, and lest I forget: Go Irish! Beat Bama!