Monday, June 30, 2014

“Ficciones” by Jorge Luis Borges (Part 1)

“Ficciones” is a combination of two previously released collections of stories from Jorge Luis Borges. The first half was published originally in 1941. Most of his stories here are not your typical plot driven story, but more like fictional essays. They are exercises in speculation. The ideas considered here have become a bit more common in speculative fiction, but they likely have their origins here.

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius 

The discussion of an imaginary country, invented and developed by intellectuals that led to an even more audacious project—the creation of an entirely imaginary world, down to the details of culture and even languages. As fanciful as this idea was at the time, this idea has become a reality many times over, with fans of several fictional worlds collaborating to develop entire languages and cultures.

Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote 

A review of an imaginary author’s attempt to write a work that already exists. Not to translate it, nor even to copy it word for word, but to recreate the creative event. It borders on the absurd when Borges contrasts a paragraph from Cervantes, with the same paragraph from Menard (a word for word duplication); and then proceeds to praise the nuances Menard managed to insert in the work. Beyond the absurdism, there is thought given to the way cultural and historical context influences art.

Las ruinas circulares 

The story of a man who dreams another man into existence, without that creation knowing that he is the product of a dream. That man is in turn sent out into the world to carry out a similar task, raising questions about the original man. Was he too just the product of another’s dreams?

La lotería en Babilonia 

This “story” (more of a description, really) relates the development of a lottery that comes to control an entire culture. Beginning with the normal awarding of a prize, it devolves into a system that controls everything from who will have a successful life down to who will be allowed to live. In the extreme, the drawing is no longer even certain to be occurring, and people simply have to trust the decisions of the company that runs the lottery to be honest and right. It is a study, really, of religious systems and the institutions that drive culture.

Examen de la obra de Herbert Quain 

The review of a deceased writer’s works, all very strange and almost interesting. Ultimately, this story leaves me asking why bother.

La biblioteca de Babel 

A metaphor for reality where the universe is a giant library where all the possible random books of a certain length exist. The search for meaning and order drive its occupants to madness, and without a designer or at least any communication from one it is a bleak perspective on the world indeed.

El Jardín de los senderos que se birfucan 

This story is incidental and unimportant, however, a concept introduced in it has had huge repercussions. Is this the first suggestion of a multiverse in fiction, where every decision by every character occurs and generates infinite alternate versions of reality?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Leitmotiv

(Poetry Scales 13)
for CLD

People constitute our soundtracks
Relationships our wall of sound
Father, mother, siblings, friends, children,
The man selling candy out of a box at school
They come they go; they swell and fade
Dictating mood; cueing emotion
Our stories are full of music

But one melody rises above the others
She is my through line, my driving beat
She keeps me focused; drives heroic aspirations
Turns grey-toned mundane documentary into Panavision
More than just a soul-mate
Or a “better-half” cliché
In my story she is the leitmotiv

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Testing (Mark 12:13-34)

After the parable against the religious leaders, the remainder of chapter 12 is dedicated to those leaders testing Jesus, and Jesus teaching on topics related to them. The testing of Jesus is not an attempt to evaluate or approve Jesus, but rather to trap Him in some way.

The first test is intended to get Jesus in trouble with the political powers of the day. They ask Him for His view of the Roman Empire and its validity. If Jesus speaks out in favor of the empire, it would likely alienate the people, many of whom see Him as the Messiah sent to overthrow the oppressor. On the other hand, if He were to speak against Rome He would likely be rendered powerless to influence the people anymore due to imprisonment or worse.

Jesus’ answer is similar to His response when they questioned His authority. Seeing their motivations, He skilfully dodges the trap. It must be said, however, that in dodging the trap, He does NOT dodge the question. Much like today’s cultural Christians, the religious Jews of Jesus day saw politics (and power) as a serious, worthwhile preoccupation. Jesus’ answer reveals the real distinction between the things of God, and politics. Politics are not something Jesus gets excited about. Today’s Christian ought to take note of this.

The second test was a theological trap. Could Jesus be made to look silly for believing in something like the resurrection? Resurrection opponents presented Him with something they saw as illogical. How could the resurrection exist if people are allowed to remarry once a spouse is dead? Who would be married to whom in the afterlife?

Here, Jesus exposes the flaw in their theological arguments: they have a limited understanding of spiritual matters, and demand that their limited perspective match up to their imperfect measure of human logic. We still struggle with this issue today as well. How many theological arguments have arisen due to our insistence that we can completely understand and issue, all the while refusing to embrace the paradoxical nature of God’s revelation? There are few arrogances as haughty as theological ones.

The final test comes from Scripture. A lawyer asks Jesus to name the most important law. How is a religious person supposed to single out on law over another? In favoring one over another could be argued that Jesus was weak in His moral stance on other issues. But Jesus is not tripped up here either. He does not approach the law as a legalist. It is the spirit of the law that matters. Jesus singles out the law to love God as most important, and a second—to love others—close behind it. All of the law is a description of how to live out these two maxims. Keep them in mind and you can steer your way through any situation—whether spelled out in a law or not.

So, in summary, Jesus avoids the traps set for Him while in effect teaching some important lessons for His followers: let politics take care of itself as you trust God, don’t ever become too sure of your own theological theories, and aim to understand and obey Scripture rather than thoughtlessly follow a list of rules.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

"Tren al Sur"

Sometimes a song hits you at the perfect point in your life and it goes from being a good song to a great one, a marker that serves as a landmark in your memories and reflections. Los Prisioneros had one in the early nineties right as I was graduating from High School and leaving EVERYTHING behind to go on to a new stage in life. It is a song about going back, recollecting, and about a land—or better a whole world—that I still love to this day.

As Chile has played a dark horse role in the World Cup so far this year, I find myself reminiscing a bit.

Here is the text, followed by a looser translation:

Siete y media en la mañana
Mi asiento toca la ventana
Estación central, segundo carro
Del ferrocarril que me llevará al sur
Ya estas fierros van andando
Y mi corazón esta saltando
Porque me llevan a las tierras
Donde al fin podré de nuevo
Respirar adentro y hondo,
Alegre hasta el corazón, A ha ha!

Y no me digas ¡pobre!
Por ir viajando así
No ves que estoy contento
No ves que voy feliz

Dos y media en la mañana
El olor se mete en la ventana
Son flores y mis animales, que me dicen:
Bienvenido al sur
Yo recuerdo a mi papito
Y no me importa estar solito
Porque me llevan a las tierras
Donde al fin podré de nuevo
Respirar adentro y hondo
Alegre hasta el corazón (x2)


Seven thirty in the morning
My seat is by the window
Central Station, second car
Of the train that will take me south
Now these rails are moving
And my heart is jumping
Because they carry me to the land
Where I will finally be able anew
To Breath in deep
Happy to the core

And don’t pity me
Traveling this way
Don’t you see my contentment?
Don’t you see that I am happy?

Two thirty in the morning
The smells come in the window
They are flowers and my animals that tell me:
“Welcome to the south.”
I remember my daddy
And I don’t mind being alone
Because they carry me to the land…


Friday, June 20, 2014

Star Trek DS9 (Season 6c)


Season 6b  Season 7a

Had I known how good the end of season six would be, I would have made more of an effort to get around to it before now. Deep Space Nine has been pretty consistently good since season three, and great since season five, but these last episodes of season six include some of the best of the series thus far:

Episode 18 “Inquisition” 

In today’s post 9-11 world, or even better the post-Snowden world, this episode seems especially pertinent. That it was written back in 1998 makes it even more impressive. This is a great example of the danger of unaccountability, especially in an atmosphere of warfare where a lot more seems justifiable. I expect to see more of this super-secret, off the books, spy organization in the future.

Episode 19 “In the Pale Moonlight” 

A further exploration of the way we use circumstances to justify going against our principles. In the future that Roddenberry envisioned, humanity had solved all its problems through their own efforts, ethics, and enlightenment. Here we see no matter how much we think we have evolved, we are all capable of doing evil and telling ourselves it is good.

Episode 20 “His Way” 

A lighter episode, but still interesting in the way that it uses a strangely insightful computer program to help people solve their relationship issues.

Episode 21 “The Reckoning” 

Along with exploring darker subjects like warfare and evil, DS9 continues its look into spiritual and religious themes. Here, we see that there are not only aspects of the Trek universe that can reasonably be called gods, there are evil spiritual beings as well. So, you can bet the war is going to incorporate the devil at some point. More interesting, is the way this story explores the way religious leaders can often be more about their own position and power than anything they claim to believe or teach.

Episode 22 “Valiant” 

Sometimes the way we train and distinguish the people we teach can lead to a lack of humility and a sense of destiny that is dangerously mistaken. The true best of the best are often those who can see and recognize their own weaknesses and limitations.

Episode 23 “Profit and Lace” 

Another comedic Ferengi episode, not quite as funny as previous ones of this type. However, the opening scene with Quark being shockingly (even for him) sexist and creepy is a good one for a story that will force the female perspective upon him.

Episode 24 “Time’s Orphan” 

This may be one of my least favorite episodes of the series. Not only is it a “time travel” story with all of the cheating that the audience sees coming a mile away, in the brief part of the episode before we see how they are going to “cheat” the story away, it is cruelly heartbreaking.

Episode 25 “The Sound of Her Voice” 

Similar to the earlier episode “His Way” this story demonstrates how helpful an outside perspective is in our daily lives and relationships.

Episode 26 “Tears of the Prophets” 

The “Empire Strikes Back” moment of DS9 and an appropriately dark cliff hanger. The war is taking on apocalyptic overtones, and that devil we saw in “The Reckoning” is indeed back. I can’t wait for season seven!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Kerfuffle

(Poetry Scales 12)

Do you recall a hubbub
A colossal brouhaha
Such a strange cacophonous
Scary squall, a real hoo-ha?
Such incredible racket
And repercussive bluster
With weird tizzynatious
Terrible helter-skelter?

Sorry for the commotion
I don’t intend to blather
It’s my fault there’s an uproar
I didn’t mean a bother.
Before we see a turmoil
I’ll fend off any ruckus
And avoid any furor
By explaining such rumpus

The unintended turmoil
Came from my new invention
All that noise, that ballyhoo
Was not my real intention.
My gift to humanity
With atomic powered flush
The Super-Powered Potty II
Didn’t really work so much.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Baptizing "A Shot in the Dark"

One of my absolute favorite films of all time turns 50 this week. Blake Edwards’s “A Shot in the Dark” is the sort of intelligent and yet silly fun comedy that they just don’t make anymore. If asked to create a list of the funniest films of all time, this one would seriously contend for the top spot. And, by comedy standards, that is near enough to make it a great film.

The bonus factor that definitely puts this on my list of greatest films of all time is the message that the film delivers. At least in my view the message comes across rather clearly. I have written elsewhere about how the character of Clouseau is a great picture of an innocent, good man in a broken fallen world. It is here in “A Shot in the Dark” where theat aspect comes across most clearly. Here, however, there is another aspect to his character that merits mention.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Uncomfortable Parable (Mark 12:1-12)

The parable of the vineyard is clear, especially coming on the heels of the temple cleansing. Jesus declares that God is done working through the Jewish religious system. What is perhaps most astounding here is the response of the religious professionals. They want to seize (and likely imprison or kill) Him for telling a story about them wanting to kill the Son of God!

The sad parallel is the way that this continues to be a problem for a lot of religious people, specifically Christians, today. Admittedly, the context is different. Today it is usually a cynical culture making sport of the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of Christians. However, the true follower of Jesus need not be offended by such commentaries. Indeed, we can often look to Jesus’ example and join in in condemning those religious attitudes. If we cry out in protest it just makes us look like we are a part of the problem; Pharisees. Perhaps we are.

There is no need to cover our offense by claiming we are defending the name of Christ. It is not the world that has besmirched it, but supposed followers misusing it and taking it in vain that have ruined the term “Christian.” We don’t want to throw our lot in with those types and become a part of a system the likes of which Jesus condemned.

Friday, June 13, 2014

"X Men: Days of Future Past" (2014)

There is a real challenge for viewers of the latest X Men film: maintaining a sense of urgency as the action progresses. Perhaps the very first readers of time travel stories managed to worry about their protagonists, only to sigh in realization at the end that the whole time-travel plotline is essentially a cheat when it comes to storytelling. However, as today’s time-travel-weary audience, we wryly and perhaps even wearily grin as our heroes are killed—not once but twice—because we know it will all be worked out in the end. Scratch that. We all know it will not have happened in the end.

Despite that big frustration, there is fun to be had here. Action sequences and set pieces are well choreographed and orchestrated, and the seventies context and art direction are very well done. However, the worthwhile aspect of “Days of Future Past” is the way it addresses classic ideas. For example, the classic Hitler time travel speculation. Here, instead of going back to kill a man’s evil before it can happen, the hope of the future lies in preventing a killing. Or, an even more satisfying idea is the struggle that Xavier has in trying to change Mystique’s mind. His “power” is that he can read and manipulate minds, but here he has to learn to trust someone to do what is right. It is that very act of trust that triggers Mystique’s better nature and saves the day.

More than anything, one gets the impression that this film is all about closure for where the franchise has been, and opening up a myriad of directions for Fox to take it next. Brace yourself for a lot more Marvel Cinema.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Juggernaut

(Poetry Scales 11)

Om
Just breathe
Here the chant
Meditation
It starts as a sound
The just audible noise
Growing in intensity
Droning pattern of a whisper
Amplified potentially
With the resonance of authority
Controlling religious reverberation

Dull eyes glazed as
Thought is surrend-
Erred faith without
Question, any
Understanding
No attempt, no
Effort, no es-
Cape towards purpose
The wheels role on
Real devotion
Is proven by
Concussing and crushing reverberations

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"The Wolverine" (2013)

While “The Wolverine” is a better example of the super hero genre, and a more than passable action film, I was initially let down by it. I think it was a case of elevated expectations. I look to James Mangold for films that have a lot to say, and “The Wolverine” is a little light in that area. Not that it is message-less. There is a lot about life-weariness, and how immortality can be a curse rather than a gift. Logan has to overcome his regret and loss and find new reasons to live his elongated life. This is something that can speak to even the mortal likes of us normal humans. However, we usually want a little more form our dour, loner, heroes. Batman, for example, is always about righting some wrong or, even better, defeating an outright evil. Logan is a loner who reluctantly reacts to things that upset him. He is not the quest sort.

And that is the one real problem with this otherwise very entertaining flick. Our main character, The Wolverine, is—if not completely passive—at best reactive. Everyone else in this movie controls the action and the plot, and push Wolverine around like a puppet, albeit a strong, hard-to-push-around one.

As far a Super Hero films, and more specifically X Men ones, this is about as good as you get, but don’t go looking for anything too deep to fit in your run-of-the-mill action piece.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Questioning Motivations (Mark 11:27-33)

When Jesus is confronted by the religious authority for His actions in the temple, they were not after real answers. They only asked Him a question to trap Him. If He answered that His authority came from God, He would be attacked for blaspheme; if from some religious source, they would find a way to play that system against Him. Jesus, knowing this, turned the tables upon them with the same sort of inquiry. Jesus didn’t have the time nor the inclination to play at politics.

Perhaps this little “throw away” account is thrown into the Passion Week by Mark to remind us readers to follow Jesus’ example. Rather than play at power politics, theoretical theology, arguments and debates, we need to keep our eyes fixed on the things that matter.

Friday, June 6, 2014

"American Hustle" (2013) A Mini Review of a Waste of My TIme


“I want to show you something. This Rembrandt here, people come from all over the world to see this.”
“Yeah, it's good. Yeah.”
“It's a fake.”
“Alright, what are you talking about? That's impossible.”
“People believe what they want to believe. Cause the guy who made this was so good that it's real, to everybody. Now who's the master? The painter or the forger?”
“That's a fake?”
“That's the way the world works.”

“American Hustle” is an exercise in cynicism. It presents a stylized version of America that is at its ugliest, crooked-est and most uninspiring. Everyone is playing everyone else. It is a story about people trying to pick the best of all the terrible options presented to them. But mostly it is just ugly.

Ostensibly based on a true event in recent American history, it is a fake just like the painting Irving and Richie observe in the movie. And just like that fake, it sucked a lot of people into its con. It is as if the filmmakers tried to convince people that ugly is beauty, scatter-brained is cohesive, and disjointed, mundane, slice-of-life is great drama.

The opening scene is an extended bit where the main character, Irving Rosenfeld, arranges his elaborate but totally unconvincing comb-over. It is an appropriate opening to an elaborate but totally uninspiring story.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Iridescence

(Poetry Scales 10)

Beautiful perhaps, though untrustworthy
In reflecting inconsistent aspects
Bent on microscopic levels, surely
Presenting unreliable facets
If light is truth and color mere fraction
Iridescence feels like hypocrisy
And liars distort truth as distraction
When scrutiny yields to democracy

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Saved!" (2004)


The only thing I can imagine as being more dramatic and “soap opera-y” than High School would be private, Christian High School. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not really against such things; I just imagine the atmosphere has to have a lot of the sort of drama with which I would have a hard time dealing. This based on friends and friends’ kids I know who attend such schools, friends I know who work at and run such, and the fact that one of my own kids attends something very similar to one.

It has to be the classic “catch 22” scenario. You want to protect kids from negative influences all the while influencing them yourself in positive ways. The problem is, such a motivation can quickly devolve into the worst sort of legalistic religiosity that, if not managed correctly, simply convinces a generation that Christianity is: all about deeds and not motivations. And that our sorts of sins are acceptable compared to the “worse” sins in the non-Christian world.

If you are the sort of Christian that can handle valid critiques against other people who claim the name of Christ without feeling attacked yourself, then “Saved!” is a great piece of satire. Without a blanket dismissal of faith and spirituality, it manages to level some good satire against the worst forms of the religious side of Christianity. Examples abound: A confused product of this more fundamental sort of legalism actually thinks that premarital sex with her boyfriend to help him see he is not gay is a valid and Godly decision. Or prayer meetings in the film are thinly veiled gossip sessions. And the “right” expression of devotion and faith is just another tool used to express acceptability and coolness like brand names and cool clothes.

In the end, Hollywood tries to deliver a message about God’s love and forgiveness towards sinners that His followers usually fail to achieve. The critique is valid and point taken, but nuanced enough it is not.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Creation to Restoration 5

The Prodigal Son: A Message for Sinners and the Religious Alike

In the story of the lost son, we see a beautiful picture of the Gospel, especially how it pertains to the religious trying to please God in their own efforts. The story begins with a loving father (God) who gives His children the freedom to go their own way if they choose.

Recognition
The son who thought he could do better on his own than follow the Father’s way, soon squanders all he has and finds himself in a life of servitude. He could have been content in that life, convincing himself that everything was just fine. Many do. However, this son comes to the realization that he has erred. Living in servitude to his father would be a better state than the one he in which has landed.

Repentance
So the son decides to return to the father. He knows he has betrayed his father’s love and trust, but he will ask to be allowed back into the household as a servant and no longer a son. However, the father has been watching and waiting. Hoping that the son will remember the fathers love a return. When he sees the son he rejoices and restores the son as his son. The father has the willingness and the means to do so. All that is required is recognition, repentance and reliance on the son’s part.

Religion in the Face of Restoration
Jesus does not end the story there, though. There is another son. This one has stayed in the father’s house, even though it is clear that he too has lost his relationship with the father. Even though he never left home, he has been living the life of a servant, constantly trying to earn the fathers love through effort. He could have been freely enjoying the gift of his role as son in a joyous relationship with the father, but he had chosen to try to earn that love. It is a picture of religious pride. The religious man sees the sin problem, but does not repent and turn to God for help. He tries to fix the relationship in his own power. He is just as much a fool as the lost man. And the solution to his problem is the same as well: recognition, repentance and reliance.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The True Relational Nature of Faith (Mark 11:22-25)

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Have faith in God. Trust Him. Have faith in God, not your own faith. Have faith in God, not your own wisdom regarding a situation. Have faith in God, not the “power of prayer.” That power is God’s power, not the power of a spoken word like some abracadabra. And while we’re at it, have faith in God not the power-of-God like some sort of electric current or force that we simply tap into.

For me, the mountain illustration proves the biggest obstacle to understanding this teaching. To me it is what has turned this passage into the “magic potion” teaching that so many make it. The mountain here may very well be a symbolic illustration much like the fig tree. (I like to think it is about strongholds, but that is purely my own speculation based on nothing scriptural.) I don’t really know. What I do know is that our “faith” is not some magic power we can use to fulfill our deepest desires, our whims, or even what we think is best for a situation.

“Move that mountain!” *bling!*
“Give me that car over there, but make it fire engine red, not white!” *bling!*
“Make that girl fall in love with me!” *bling!*
“Make that person believe in You!” *bling?*

Prayer involves increasing our understanding of the Father’s desires. Even if my dad had been a millionaire, I don’t think he would have been the sort of dad who would have given me every single thing I wanted. He loves me too much for that. He has better desires for me than I have for myself. God is an even better father than that. Since prayer is a conversation with the Father, this teaching is not an example of Jesus instructing His followers in the art of incantation. He is speaking of a discussion that informs us about the Father’s desires so that our requests are adjusted by His will. We are changed before the world around us is.

Somehow, forgiveness is an important key in this faith/trust discussion. Otherwise this is a strange non-sequitur in this teaching moment. Notice the call to forgive, not primarily seek forgiveness. It makes sense when we think of prayer not as a power, but as a relationship. Our relationships need to be right as they reflect our relationship with the Father.
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