Bweinh! Goes to the Movies — Doubt

01/31/2009, 6:00 pm -- by | No Comments

It is 1964, and inside the most packed Catholic church I have ever seen, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is delivering a homily on the virtues of doubt. In the faces of the unrealistically attentive parishioners, we see just how relevant the topic is. Here a lonely man, there a sick woman, all around a community of people who remember all too well that earthshaking day, less than a year before, when they witnessed the murder of their beloved president. “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty,” the priest tells them. “When you are lost, you are not alone.”

A peculiar conclusion to a sermon, I thought — and so did Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the rock-ribbed battleship of a school principal, who views ballpoint pens as tools of Satan, casts aside cough drops (“candy by another name”), and unironically refers to Frosty the Snowman as “disturbing and heretical.” She views herself as a guardian who foresees and prevents evil, and soon the unease she felt at Flynn’s sermon of doubt is fanned into a flame of full-blown suspicion. “Every easy choice today comes with a consequence tomorrow,” she tells the innocent, young Sister James (Amy Adams), whose observations quickened the fire. Aloysius, we can see, is not afraid of the hard choice.

A cinematic adaptation of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning parable of a play, Doubt is at its most powerful in the adroitly written interplay between its major characters; all four performers have been justly nominated for Academy Awards. Between those scenes of brisk dialogue, the symbolism is laid on a trifle thick — wind, okay, we get it — and the juxtaposition of the sisters’ timid, sedate dinners with the rollicking, smoke-filled bacchanalia of the priest and monsignor is comically blunt. But once the movie gets down to what it’s really about, it is spellbinding.

What do we believe, and why? What evidence do we demand of ourselves to support the conclusions at the heart of our unspoken philosophies? Aloysius is a woman of unshakable conviction, a fevered faith in, above all, the certainty of her own stern judgment. “I know. I am right,” she tells Flynn. “And nothing I can say will change that,” he not-quite-asks. She ponders, frowns. “That’s right.”

But this faith, blind or otherwise, does not make her wrong, not necessarily — and therein is the genius of the script. Like a liberal arts education, this film is about questions, not answers, about how we arrive at a conclusion. I left with an opinion about the movie’s pivotal issue, but the answer is ultimately unknowable, left undefined even by the powerful scene where Flynn and Aloysius engage in anguished, high-stakes psychological combat. Why did I conclude as I did; how could I conclude at all? Is it ever possible to make peace with discomfiting uncertainty, or will we choose to believe certain things just because it’s easier that way?

“You just want things resolved so you can have simplicity back,” Aloysius tells James early on. By the time the film ends, we discover that she was speaking to herself as well. Thank God that He calls us all beyond the mere simplistic — and gives us strength to stand.

I give this film a “Bweinh” out of “Bweinh!” (6 out of 7).

Big Lots (Part Three)

01/31/2009, 1:57 pm -- by | 3 Comments

More fun at Big Lots (see part one and part two).

Have you ever seen a lion look so bereft? This guy isn’t scaring anybody, unless you take into account the large chunks of paint he sheds. Come no farther — or I shall tempt your children with tasty flakes of lead!

On the plus side, it’s incredibly heavy, discouraging thieves who are really into that “unfinished modeling clay” look.

This is not a game
But a secret Chinese test:
Just how dumb are we?

I find it important to note — this is not a singing horse, as the packaging claims.

No. This is a singing, dancing decapitated head of a horse. And as such, what exactly does he have to dance about? They cut off his head and didn’t even remove the reins!

Oh, you were looking for drunken, cross-eyed gnomes, were you? Right this way!

Super Bowl Haiku Prediction 5

01/30/2009, 11:52 pm -- by | No Comments

A Cardinal rule
1947’s luck
Has more than run out

Super Bowl Haiku Prediction 4

01/30/2009, 4:36 pm -- by | No Comments

Big Ben strikes the hour
A loud and terrible sound
Kurt pockets the ring!

Super Bowl Haiku Prediction 3

01/30/2009, 2:22 pm -- by | No Comments

If the Jets beat you
by scoring eight (8!) touchdowns,
you stink: Pitt blowout.

Super Bowl Haiku Prediction 2.1

01/30/2009, 2:11 pm -- by | No Comments

True win? Budweiser
Trumping Bud Light once again
It is destiny.

Super Bowl Haiku Prediction 2

01/30/2009, 2:09 pm -- by | No Comments

As Obama won
So too will his prediction
Steelers, not Card’nals

Super Bowl Haiku Prediction 1

01/30/2009, 2:07 pm -- by | No Comments

Mediocre game
Very good food, however
Chicken wings galore!

How Should We Then Live?

01/30/2009, 11:30 am -- by | No Comments

Several years ago there was a lot of buzz about a must-read book by Francis Schaeffer, entitled How Should We Then Live? People seemed captivated by the prospect of getting an answer on how a Christian should live and they used the book — or at least its title — as a springboard for their own thoughts and sermons on the subject. Charles Colson even followed up with a book, which I have not read, called How Should We Now Live?

After I finished the book, I had the distinct impression that someone — either them or me — had misunderstood the book. The Bible verse it referenced (Ezekiel 33:10) actually translates, “How can we hope to survive?,” after the Jews had turned their backs on God. It had nothing to do with the very important question, “How should a Christian live?,” but rather, “How can we hope to survive if we turn our backs on God?” The book seemed to pursue the textual question, as Schaeffer examines “the rise and decline of Western thought and culture,” so I imagine there were some disappointed purchasers who had expected some kind of Walking With God for Dummies.

It was a thick book, filled with a very long and intricate examination of Western culture; I remember it chiefly for two things. The first thing is the assertion that the Renaissance and the Reformation were two arms of the same movement, carried out by people who reacted differently to the repression of the Catholic Church in the realms of art, literature, music, and other fields. The men and women of the Reformation rejected the authority of the church and turned to the Bible instead. Those in the world did the same, but looked to classical learning for a replacement.

(The second was the art, including a drawing of Leonardo da Vinci\’s “David.” Our grandkids were visiting while I was reading it, and I heard my grandson yell from behind my back to his parents: “Grandpa\’s reading a book with naked men in it!”)

Then and now, there remains a tremendous hunger to have the Christian life simplified for us. We know we are Christians. We have learned the doctrines and idiosyncrasies of our religious traditions. We know where we\’re going when it\’s all over. But don\’t we all, at times, grope blindly in the dark, doubting not the facts of the Christian life, but whether our interpretations of those facts are valid? Life is filled with victories and defeats; we sometimes consider victories an affirmation of our path, and defeats as a sure sign of our error. In fact, neither one is necessarily true.

So the hunger remains. I think that is why The Purpose-Driven Life was so successful. People want to know the point: enough guessing! What is my life supposed to look like? What am I supposed to do? What is God\’s will?

But of course the only book that explains that has already been written. It’s funny how so many people will read a shelf full of books to figure out Christianity, while leaving untouched the one book given to us directly from heaven. This was quite a long introduction, but over the next two weeks, I want to share some things from Romans chapter 12, which I think answer the question “How should I live?” better than anything else I have ever found.

Big Lots (Part Two)

01/30/2009, 9:00 am -- by | No Comments

More fun at Big Lots (see part one).

How ’bout this clearance aisle, huh? These products were apparently priced to move chaotically, without warning, evading all attempts at organization!

Kind of takes all the fun out of having an Easter pet, doesn’t it? I mean, they know this isn’t a real animal, don’t they? It’s not going anywhere unless you move it there, so why put it in a cage?

Do we really want to raise a generation of children who keep their stuffed animals in cages, sitting on their shelves, while they sit at their computers?

Also, what’s with the ponytailed duck on the tag?? This is a rabbit, isn’t it? What’s going on in China anyway?

This picture’s for Josh. Oh, it’s available in stores, my friend.

I can’t wait until spring — the time when kings go out to battle — when these two mighty empires will finally meet in the ultimate conflict!

Robots! Monsters! The six-sided ring of fire! Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

Quote of the Day, 1/30/09

01/30/2009, 7:00 am -- by | No Comments

“When a person has a poor ear for music he will flat and sharp right along without knowing it. He keeps near the tune, but is not the tune. When a person has a poor ear for words, the result is a literary flatting and sharping; you perceive what he is intending to say, but you also perceive that he does not say it.” — M. Twain (S. Clemens)

Big Lots (Part One)

01/29/2009, 7:51 pm -- by | No Comments

Ever been to Big Lots? It’s the Aldi (“like a rummage sale for food”) of department stores: messily stacked aisles filled to the brim with whatever Chinese imports haven’t exactly been flying off the shelves at Walmart.

I went there recently. For you.

Well, at least they’ve got the truth in advertising thing down — although is it just me, or does the picture on the outside not accurately reflect the doll on the inside? All they have in common is that vacant, bovine stare, like someone’s been spiking the formula with Valium.

And what does this ‘babbling kid’ (why not alliterate to ‘babbling baby’??) say anyway? I imagine some harsh words for whoever plucked his eyebrows and dressed him in white-collared overalls.

Because no sentiment goes better with “I love you” like “Now with trout and bass!”

Honey, happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s a two-dollar chocolate fish, to let you know that I won’t throw you back until your painful asphyxiation is complete!

Wait, where are you going?

Right… The problem with Barbies has always been difficulty.

I just like how this says “A game for 2-3 players with fun.” They must not have liked how the focus group responded to the funless version.

Let’s spice up this fishing game, McIntosh! What do you say, we add a little…fun?

Can you spot the fun in the picture though? I think it’s represented by the blurred action chomp shot.

Quote of the Day, 1/28/09

01/28/2009, 7:00 am -- by | No Comments

“The snow itself is lonely or, if you prefer, self-sufficient. There is no other time when the whole world seems composed of one thing and one thing only.” — J. W. Krutch

Best of Job: Snow on Snow

01/27/2009, 1:00 pm -- by | No Comments

Originally published January 2008.

SnowflakePerhaps you’ve heard of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, a Vermont farmer, turned amateur photographer, turned amateur scientist, turned mild sensation. In the early 1900s, Bentley used his 5,000+ collection of snowflake photographs to prove in a series of articles in National Geographic that no two snowflakes are exactly the same.

This sparked a romantic intrigue in readers and scientists alike, and his assertion was later proven true — that no matter how hard storms may precipitate, blanketing the vast acres of land in Siberia, Alaska, Tibet or Vermont, no snowflake will ever have an exact duplicate.

This is a compelling idea to consider as we step on, shovel through and wipe from our windshield the relentless number of snowflakes that visit us each year. I was recently indulging in this mind-expanding exercise while I watched it snow steadily, in weather warm enough that it was also melting and dripping off the roof in a reflection-inducing rhythm. Once perfectly unique crystals, now joined with others in a similar globular fate, speeding their melted way to form a drop falling off an eave. Never documented, never looked at, and never to be seen again.

The intricacy of a snowflake’s formation is too intense to ever truly comprehend, but its fragility pounded home to a level this human could master. I thought of a fetus — how at its very conception, it is immediately distinct, unique, exclusive and unrepeatable. Fetus But unlike a snowflake, it is not made by the chance encounter of high and low pressure systems, but rather the massive chemistry of human biology, emotion and decision.

And unlike a snowflake a fetus is not meant to quickly melt but rather grow, breathe, emote, possess fingerprints, and wrinkle. Despite its small size, a fetus — like a seed — carries the complexity to burst out, to mature into something astonishingly more. In fact, this is its very design, inexorable and compulsory.

But perhaps a fetus is most unlike a snowflake because one snowflake doesn’t require others to see it through to maturation.

And perhaps they are most similar in that all snowflakes — and all fetuses — have the same end together, in the ground.

Joke of the Day, 1/27/09

01/27/2009, 7:00 am -- by | No Comments

Why do ducks have webbed feet?
To stamp out fires.

Why do elephants have flat feet?
To stamp out burning ducks.

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