Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Movie Review: The Grace Card - PG13

Coming to theaters 2-25-11

Mac McDonald is a miserable person.  17 years ago,  his young son was hit and killed by a car.   Today, his anger is still impacting both his family life and his job as a cop.  His surviving son Blake is hanging out with a bad crowd and flunking out of school.  His wife is seeking counseling to cope with their unhappy life.  His  supervisor at the police dept. is also concerned about his attitude and assigns him a partner, which Mac is not happy about.

His new partner is Sam Wright, who is a part-time pastor who would like it to be full time.  He is a cop in order to provide for his family.

It was actually disturbing to see how Mac impacts those around him:  his wife, his son and his partner.   Both Mac and Sam are missing something in their life;  Mac has shut God out of his life for a long time, and Sam begins to doubt his calling as a pastor.

Sam relies on his faith, and guidance from his grandfather George (Louis Gossett Jr.), but it takes a tragic incident to provide the impetus for change that Mac needs in his life.

I've reviewed quite a few movies that emphasize forgiveness, but The Grace Card brought it to a whole new level.   The ending is especially emotional, and unexpected.

A very good movie worth seeing.

Monica and David: HBO looks at a young wedded couple with Down Syndrome

Isn’t it sweet? In one of its newest documentaries, HBO looks at a young couple in love during their wedding preparations and the early stages of their marriage. The bride and groom just happen to have Down Syndrome. The footage is taken by a cousin of the bride, so one would hope it would have a positive take on the situation.

Monica and David were each born to 20-year-old mothers who were left by their husbands within a year of the birth of the children; they remarried supportive husbands. Monica appears to be very high functioning, with a high level of understanding. David is also high functioning but does not have the depth of cognitive understanding that Monica does. They met in a seven-year-long life skills course.

David never had a girlfriend before Monica, and when they met he was jealous of her then-boyfriend. She has had several boyfriends, which he is not happy with. Eventually he won her over, and the two families worked together to allow the two to court and have a beautiful wedding.

The bride’s family took the couple into their home while refurbishing another home, where the couple would have their own wing. The couple hopes to eventually be able to live on their own, but their parents say this is an impossibility. Although they are able to work on the outside, the parents are very protective and do not let them go anywhere without supervision. The parents worry what will happen to Monica and David when they (the parents) are no longer able to care for them.

Early in the marriage, David is diagnosed with diabetes, causing him to be even more dependent on his in-laws. The couple expresses the desire to have children, and they are shown helping to care for a relative’s baby. This is the one piece I have a problem with.

Monica’s mother, who earlier on describes her daughter as “the light of my life”, comments that one of her responsibilities is making sure the young couple uses birth control (she does not say what kind). She says that, since they are just like kids themselves, they will never be able to bear the responsibility of a child.

Now, the first reaction I had to this statement was: how can you put two people in a situation where they can understand the meaning of love, and be fully intimate, and desire children, and forbid them from having children? I know the responsibility the parents of Monica and David is incredible and taking on the responsibility of grandchildren on top of that must be a consideration, but bear with me as I explore the meaning of this.

To treat people like they are capable of having sex without having babies is to treat them as less than soul-less animals. Even animals with little intellect have the intuition to know how to care for their young. To say these young people can love each other and marry but not bear children is demeaning to their humanity.

If indeed Monica’s mother believes her daughter is incapable of the responsibility of bearing children, another path she could have chosen was to steer her in the direction of lifelong virginity…preserving her innocence and protecting her from the heartache that comes with continual dating and breakups. A life without romantic love is not an unfulfilling one.

Other than this one digression, I thought it was a very nice documentary showing how adults with Down syndrome can lead a productive and happy life.

The topic of their childless marriage has been explored in Inside Catholic by Jason Negri – in a controversial post “Down Syndrome Couples” which brought on many comments.

Why not sterilize the inconvenient? by blogger Simcha Fischer is a commentary opposing the view taken by Negri.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Review: "Pursuit of Justice" by DiAnn Mills

FBI Agent Bella Jordan is sent to a small town in West Texas, where she grew up, to investigate a series of murders related to the search for the long lost Spider Rock Treasure.  It has been a while since she's been back, and that's because she would like to forget much of her past.  Her primary concern is her career.

The prime suspect is Carr Sullivan, a man with a disreputable past, who now appears to be a devout Christian.  But...is he for real?    There are also a couple of other suspects who are more closely  related to her past, which she must eventually face.

As the investigation proceeds, Bella finds herself,  and people close to her, to be targets, and she questions who she can trust.  Although she hasn't prayed in years, she again turns to God and asks His help.  In the process of regaining her faith, she learns how to forgive.

I really related to the character of Bella, because I was once very career focused and self-concerned, and when I had some serious health issues, I realized it is God and my family that I can rely on.

I really enjoyed Pursuit of Justice because it combines a good, suspenseful murder mystery and characters who are not afraid to be Christians in a secular world.

Movie Review: The Social Network - PG13

Based on a true story.

Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook, is a Harvard student and after his girlfriend dumps him, he spitefully creates a site called Facematch on the Harvard network, where users can rate Harvard girls.  When the site is so popular it crashes the network, the Winklevoss brothers hire Mark to create Harvard Connection, a social network for the Harvard network.   As Mark works on it with his friend Eduardo Saverin, it expands to other universities and the internet in general, and becomes 'The Facebook',  and eventually 'Facebook'.

Since the story is told in the context of two lawsuits, I couldn't help considering "who is right?", and "who is wrong?" while watching.   Initially, Mark is working with Eduardo, who provides start-up funding.  After Mark moves the operation to California, he works with Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the founder of Napster, who handles the business side and helps him expand Facebook even more.  Eduardo gradually becomes less involved.

Although the Winklevoss brothers hired Mark for the Harvard Connection, Mark built on the concept and added features and networking content they hadn't conceived of.

Mark Zuckerberg  is portrayed in a pretty negative light.  He is portrayed as geeky, vindictive, obnoxious and combative;  Jess Eisenberg does an excellent job in the role.  I have become a real fan of Justin Timberlake as an actor, more so than as a singer.

Content warning: There are a couple of very brief scenes of sexual situations,  and a few instances of bad language.

A very engaging movie.  The more you're into Facebook, the more you'll like it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Movie Review: Rust - PG

Corbin Bernsen is James (Jimmy) Moore, a  former minister who loses his faith and returns to his home town after a family is killed when their house burns down.  Jimmy's childhood friend Travis is in a mental institution, accused of setting the fire. Jimmy is convinced that Travis is innocent, and sets out to prove it.

Jimmy is mad at God because God hasn't provided the answers he has been seeking.   Jimmy's father is mad at Jimmy for leaving them, and for never finishing anything.   Jimmy's friend Duane is mad because he believes Travis is guilty.  While investigating the fire, Jimmy meets a lot of resistance, but by finding the truth, he also finds his lost faith.

There is plenty of anger in Rust.   Everyone was mad at something.   The reward is that there is also much healing, forgiveness  and redemption.  A worthwhile film with positive lessons.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reviewing The Reapers Are the Angels: Zombies Are the Least of Her Worries

God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe.

Like  those fish all disco-lit in the shallows. That was something, a marvel  with no compare that she's been witness to. It was deep night when she  saw it, but the moon was so bright it cast hard shadows everywhere on  the island. So bright it was almost brighter than daytime because she  could see things clearer, as if the sun were criminal to the truth, as  if her eyes were eyes of night. She left the lighthouse and went down to  the beach to look at the moon pure and straight, and she stood in the  shallows and let her feet sink into the sand as the patter-waves  tickled her ankles. And that's when she saw it, a school of tiny fish,  all darting around like marbles in a chalk circle, and they were lit up  electric, mostly silver but some gold and pink too. They came and danced  around her ankles, and she could feel their little electric fish  bodies, and it was like she was standing under the moon and in  the moon at the same time. And that was something she hadn't seen  before. A decade and a half, thereabouts, roaming the planet earth, and  she's never seen that before.

And you could say the world has  gone to black damnation, and you could say the children of Cain are  holding sway over the good and the righteous—but here's what Temple  knows: She knows that whatever hell the world went to, and whatever evil  she's perpetrated her own self, and whatever series of cursed  misfortunes brought her down here to this island to be harbored away  from the order of mankind, well, all those things are what put her there  that night to stand amid the Daylight Moon and the Miracle of the  Fish—which she wouldn't of got to see otherwise.

See, God is a slick god. He makes it so you don't miss out on nothing you're supposed to witness firsthand.

I actually asked to review this book because I'd seen it described as a "twist on the southern gothic: like Flannery O'Connor with zombies." As someone who has just begun to appreciate Flannery O'Connor's writing this hit me like a challenge. However, as I listened to the first chapter, I was struck by the unexpected beauty of the writing and themes that many people wouldn't attempt, especially in a zombie book. This unexpected beginning was merely the first of the many surprises that Alden Bell had for me in The Reapers are the Angels.

Temple is a fifteen year old girl who was born ten years after the zombie apocalypse happened. No attempt is made to understand or solve the zombie problem. No government has been formed from the survivors. It is a world with pockets of survivors who set up such systems as seem good to them individually. Chaos rules. Temple has never known a world where zombies were not part of the landscape and this gives us a unique perspective into the apocalyptic novel. It is the world of the survivors where the zombies are a danger but not a shock.

Temple is a fearless drifter, moving from place to place to see wonders or carry out such tasks as she feels she has been given to perform. One such task is when she comes across a severely retarded man in a poignant scene where he is running from zombies with his dead grandmother in his arms. She takes on the task of getting the man, who she calls "Dummy" until she learns his name (Maury), to a safe place where he will be looked after. A wealth of information is conveyed in that name, "Dummy." This is a world where being politically correct doesn't matter, where truth can sound hard but be kind. Temple is matter-of-fact because that is the only coin that counts in a world of zombies roaming wild.

Early in Temple's travels she encounters the man who becomes her nemesis. Interestingly enough, they understand each other better than any other people on earth, although they are at odds. Both are "God-haunted," both recognize the truth and resolve it takes to "stay right." He wants to kill Temple and she understands why, but nevertheless is not going to let him succeed. She is also afraid of something evil within herself which keeps her on the move. In the process of evading her relentless pursuer and caring for her protoge, Temple roams across the South, encountering a wide variety of wanderers and societies. Some are clinging to hopes of returning to normalcy, some accept the new way of the world but refuse to understand it for what it is. Many people encountered are kind and a surprising number of them are also traveling despite the uncertain times. All are shown through Temple's honest gaze which even can understand and accept the zombies as long as she isn't being attacked.

This doesn't mean that Temple is only pragmatic, however. She is weighed down with grief from past actions, which we gradually discover in the course of the novel. She feels joy and wonderment at events such as the fish in the excerpt above and her overriding desire is to see Niagara Falls some day. As she chatters to the largely speechless Maury we see the natural personality of a 15-year-old girl emerge every so often.

I have never read a book with this perspective. I love a good apocalypse story, watching the survivors get over the shock or succumb depending on their natures, watching the alternative governments set up, watching the various ways that everyone attempts to restore the most important aspects of the status quo. This book has no such moments. The world already has "gone to black damnation" but even so there are moments of beauty, meditation on what is right, suspense over what Temple will find in each town, whether she can get Maury to safety, how she will finally elude the determined killer on her trail, and what the evil is that she feels is deep within her. I rarely have listened to a book with such intensity or found myself surprised as often by the lyrical, fluid writing.

Tai Sammons narrates this book with restrained clarity. She has the ability to seamlessly shift into accents from upper class to hardscrabble Southerner while taking on the characters so that the listener tends to forget that there is just one person reading. She does this without altering her voice much either which is a rare skill and one that enhanced the book greatly. In fact, after I found out that the print version does not have quotation marks used for dialogue, I realized that in listening to Sammons' narration I was enjoying this book in probably the best format for easy understanding. (This experience made me reconsider reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy who is known for both excellent stories and also for the difficulty of reading his prose. I will be seeking out the audio version.)

As with the best science fiction or fantasy, ultimately this story is about much larger issues than hordes of wandering zombies, who have the least presence of any monsters I've ever read about. There is blood aplenty, make no mistake, but zombies are far less dangerous that what lies within Temple and her pursuer. The book is not perfect. Some of the plot details are immediately obvious although they take Temple a long time to figure out, which can be a bit frustrating to the reader. However, overall the book packs its equal share of surprises in plot which more than compensate for the failures.

The Reapers Are the Angels looks at the pursuit of beauty, the pursuit of God, the flight from inner demons, and the fact that none of us can ever see the whole truth at any time. We are too small and truth is woven too large. It isn't Flannery O'Connor but it doesn't need to be to accomplish the same thing that O'Connor always wrote about. The Reapers Are the Angels is a book about being human with all the questions and struggles that humans have had throughout time. Highest recommendation.

Reader's Note: I would rate this "R" for zombie and human violence, some sex though it is not graphically described, and occasional apocalyptic despair.

This review is cross-posted at SFFaudio, who provided the review copy of this audiobook from Blackstone Audio and at Happy Catholic.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book Review: Take Five - Meditations with John Henry Newman

Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman
by Mike Aquilina & Fr. Juan R. Velez
Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2010

I approached "Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman" knowing very little about this recently beatified Cardinal. I finished it wanting to know much more. Cardinal Newman was a "teacher, editor, administrator, and clergyman - and he still found time enough to write books that have been profoundly influential in the fields of theology, philosophy, history, and fiction." "Take Five" begins with a short biography of Newman's life, from his education and life as an Anglican to the reasons for his very public conversion to Catholicism. It then offers 76 short reflections. Each one features a short excerpt from Newman's work that focuses on a given theme. A few key points are highlighted in "Think About It" which is followed by a quote or two from scripture and a take-away statement to remember.

Newman's wisdom focuses on how to incorporate faith into everyday life. His words ring true and are very relevant over a hundred years after his death. This little book provides much food for reflection and offers a wonderful introduction to Newman's thought.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Take Five - Meditations with John Henry Newman.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Book Review: "Rachel's Contrition"

Rachel's Contrition

by Michelle Buckman
Sophia Institute Press, 2010

Every now and then, a novel comes along that is so powerful and so well-written that it will stay with you forever. “Rachel’s Contrition” by Michelle Buckman is that kind of novel. Part of the Chisel and Cross imprint from Sophia Institute Press, it is Catholic fiction at its finest. If you are looking for light-hearted escapism, this is not the story for you. Rather, this is a story that delves into the deepest and darkest parts of humanity. Throughout the course of this book, the reader must face the evils of jealousy, murder, rape, and the inner workings of a mentally ill mind.

Rachel is a mother whose small daughter has died tragically. She is buried in her grief, unable to see any light at all. She has lost everything. Her husband has sent her away and her surviving son, whom she sees only sporadically, seems to hate her. She lives in a drug-induced haze where memories from both past and present come to haunt her. Into that haze walks Lilly, a young teen suffering from her own secrets and pain. With Lilly’s help and some divine intervention in the form of St. Therese’s autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” Rachel begins the long road back.

One interesting feature of this novel is that Buckman focuses on the dark side of St. Therese. Her little way is there and Rachel does learn from that and attempts to put it into practice. But that is not what comforts her. Rather, in St. Therese, she finds someone who understands the darkness. St. Therese wrote, “But it was night, the dark night of the soul. Like Jesus during his agony in the garden, I felt myself abandoned and there was no help for me on earth or in heaven. God had abandoned me. . . I wish I could express what I feel, but it is beyond me. One must have passed through this dark tunnel to understand its blackness.”

Buckman writes of that darkness with such realism. One can only presume that she herself has walked through it. “Rachel’s Contrition” is a novel for all who have been deeply wounded by life. It is a painful story with no easy answers, but it offers the promise of healing. It is a glimmer of light in the midst of the dark. It is a novel that will twist your heart and leave you breathless. You will not want to put it down until you reach the final word at which point you will once again be able to exhale.

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Movie Review: Secretariat - PG

When her mother dies and her father begins to become confused and unaware of his surroundings,  Penny Chenery Tweedy and her brother take over his horse farm.   Her brother Hollis is responsible for the farm, and Penny is responsible for the horses.  Due to an agreement made years prior by her father, Penny 'wins' a coin toss for Secretariat.  Actually it is over two colts sired by Bold Ruler, and Ogden Phillips wins, but he chooses the other.  There are several people who try to discourage Penny from becoming involved in racing, including her husband and brother, but Penny is determined.   Racing is really a man's sport at the time, so Penny uses her maiden name Chenery.   One fact I had forgotten is that Secretariat's original name was Big Red, but due to naming requirements, he was registered as Secretariat.  His owner, trainer and handler stll refer to him as 'Red though.

I an certainly no expert on horse racing, but it seems that that all the ingredients are  present for Secretariat's success:  an owner who cares  about him and won't listen to skeptics, the best trainer available, an excellent handler who cares about him, and Secretariat's own heart and will to win. 

Diane  Lane was very good as Penny, but the best acting was John Malkovich as Lucien Lauren, Secretariat's trainer.

Aside from his victories, the two moments  that stood out for me were one at the starting gate where Secretariat and his main opponent were actually staring each other down, and the second when his handler was washing and brushing him and had some gospel music playing; it looked like Secretariat was actually dancing.

An excellent movie that is both thrilling and moving.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reviewing "Roots of the Faith": Tracing Our Family Tree

One thing Catholics seem to be able to count on these days is criticism that our faith is a watered-down version of that practiced by early Christians. Protestants question the need for confession, the priesthood, and praying to the saints. Religious and secular alike protest Church teachings on abortion, marriage, and celibacy. We ourselves get caught up in questions about the authenticity of the Mass or the liturgy, as well as any or all of the above issues.

In "Roots of the Faith," Mike Aquilina comes forward with answers to these questions and more. He shows concrete evidence that our faith has vital roots in the 1st century Church. The long-ago seeds of current teachings and Traditions are traced into their current place in the modern Church. What makes this book especially useful is that Aquilina addresses eleven issues that are commonly encountered today, among them hot-button topics like abortion, celibacy, and the priesthood.

Aquilina has long been known for his books about the early Church Fathers*. This is his most relevant book to everyday faith. It is an invaluable source for anyone who wants assurance that, "Nothing essential has been added, and nothing essential has been lost." Not content to merely answer questions that we may encounter daily, he ranges much further to make sure there is adequate context to fully understand each topic. The end result often is surprising new information, such as this tidbit about the Bible.
From the beginning Christians held certain documents as authoritative. Yet even these did not circulate as a book. Local churches possessed whatever document they had the cash and the opportunity to pull together. A bishop might own one or two of the Gospels and some of the letter of St. Paul. Only the most fortunate churches could possess most of the books we now know as the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Not only does a passage like this help to get the historic context of the development of the Bible, but it encourages us to travel in imagination to a time when the only Mass readings might be from Mark and 1st Corinthians, because those were the only books their church could afford. Thus the similarities and differences between that ancient time and our own are deftly revealed. More importantly, Aquilina makes sure the reader understands all the implications of the ancient pagan beliefs at the beginning of the Church and the impact they had on Christians. Quite often, this provides valuable background for any conversations readers may have on current issues, such as we see with the excerpt below about abortion.
Pagan philosophers would have been inclined to agree with today's abortion protesters: Abortion is baby-killing. The difference is that that pagan philosophers didn't see anything wrong with killing babies. Infanticide was a common and well-accepted practice in the pagan world. Romans didn't always kill their babies directly; more often they "exposed" them, meaning that they threw them out on the trash heap to die of starvation and exposure. Girl babies, of course, were especially disposable. Many a Christian woman grew from one of those exposed babies whom some passing Christian discovered and rescued.
Most impressive of all is when Aquilina clarifies points about the Church Fathers' writings which are typically used by detractors as proof against current Church teachings. For example, St. John Chrysostom's writings about marriage allow one to view him as either stereotypically prudish or surprisingly modern. Aquilina plainly takes us through Chrysostom's personal growth demonstrating how experience as a parish priest brought a more realistic view of marriage that was unique for the time. This can be difficult to do but Aquilina does it with ease.

The book is written in a conversational tone that makes for easy reading. Readers will particularly appreciate that Church Fathers' writings are in a modern translation and simple to understand. It is hard to imagine a better book to help understand and defend the teachings of the Catholic Church. Hopefully Mike Aquilina will be moved to write likewise on other contentious questions which are raised for modern Catholics. We could use the help.

Highly recommended.

*The Church Fathers were holy Christian theologians whose teachings and doctrine set precedents for the Church. They wrote during the first seven centuries.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reviewing "God Is Not One": Sloppy Writing and Muddled Logic

Should I Read It? 

Short Review
Sloppy writing and muddled logic are no match for a good fact-checker at your side, kid.

The Whole Story
I was so pleased to be offered a review copy of God is Not One from The Patheos Religion and Faith Book Club. (See more about them and the PBS show related to this book at the end of the review.) This is just the sort of book that intrigues me and, moreover, looks as if it helps us all understand each other better.

I completely agree with Stephen Prothero's premise that the world's major religions are not the same and that worshipers' different cultures provide a unique lens through which to seek God. In fact, this was one of the main concepts I took away from reading Huston Smith's The World's Religions some time ago. This is also the message that I got from the Catholic Catechism1 (839-848) when despite the Church's obvious insistence on the fact that Catholicism has the clearest view of God, we cannot know how God is reaching others in their various circumstances. Therefore, non-Catholics can find God in ways we cannot imagine.

I also share Prothero's opinion that there is a trend to claim that all religions are "one big happy family." So you can imagine how disappointed I was when I found Prothero's book did not, in fact, make it easy to reach those self-same conclusions, despite his stated purpose in the subhead: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter.

In the Beginning...
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. The subtitle itself began by talking about "rival religions" which to my mind didn't make sense at all, from the point of view of understanding different religions. My understanding of the word "rival" is largely borne out by the Merriam-Webster definition: a) of two or more striving to reach or obtain something that only one can possess (b) one striving for competitive advantage. One could have rival governments. Rival companies, even. But rival religions? Not really.

One could understand it if using a third definition of rival of "equal or peer" which is not what springs to mind. It also is not what Prothero promotes in the book.  Do these religions "run the world?" Again, this sounds as if we are talking about the Fortune 500, not ways to find and worship God.

Prothero's lack of focus, forced conclusions, and unscholarly generalizations continue the trend he sets in the subhead. Surprisingly, he does manage to have a relatively accurate overview of the different faiths while slanting and misstating many details. This in itself is an accomplishment of sorts which one does not see often. I suspect this is from taking a shallow look at each faith while picking and choosing sources out of context. At least, that is what I found in the areas that I knew the most about, as we shall see.

Facts Are Meaningless. You Could Use Facts to Prove Anything That's Even Remotely True!2
Prothero does not seem sure himself what he is trying to prove. Sometimes he mixes governments with religions, thus mixing apples and oranges. When he's tossing that fruit salad, he also doesn't worry too much about accuracy. Let us just examine this sample.
But today Christianity and Islam are the world's greatest religions. Together they account for roughly half of the world's population, and for more than half of the world's suicide bombers and drone attacks.
 I am really unaware of Christian suicide bombers or drone attacks, as were any of the sources I checked. I know of Muslim suicide bombers. I know of government run drone attacks. My book is marked with many an example of such blatant inaccuracies and muddled comparisons simply in the few areas that I know well (Catholicism and overall Christianity). Prothero does not provide any documentation for this claim. He just makes it and sails on to point out that Muslims and Christians have lived in peace in the past, such as in medieval Spain. Why, oh why, does my mind insist on reminding me that such peace was only after Muslim conquest and under Muslim rule? Fact checking is a real problem for Prothero's beautiful examples much of the time.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do.
This leads us to Prothero's second besetting sin. Despite his stated desire to show us why religions are different and have the right to be so, he cannot help trying to make them equal, especially when it comes to comparing Christianity with any other religion's bad qualities. Setting aside the above example, which certainly illustrates that tendency, let us examine this statement.
Widespread criticisms of jihad in Islam and the so-called sword verses in the Quran have unearthed for fair-minded Christians difficult questions about Christanity's own traditions of holy war and "texts of terror." ... It is not just the Old Testament that is flesh devouring and drunk on blood, however. "I came not to send peace but a sword," Jesus says (Matthew 10:34).
Christians are doing a disbelieving double-take right now as they know Jesus was not talking about a literal sword. He was giving a warning about how being a believer would cause dissension and separation from those they hold dear, as well as persecution for believers. To call  that statement "flesh devouring and drunk on blood" is to show how little regard the author has for accuracy and how desperately he grasps at straws to build his comparisons at times.

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.3
The previous example points us to Prothero's third major problem. He continually takes information and quotations out of context, playing Twister to use them in making his points. In the introduction, I was jolted when he quoted Huston Smith and then went on to cast him as teaching that every religion was the same.
It is possible to climb life's mountain from any side, but when the top is reached the trails converge. At base, in the foothills of theology, ritual, and organizational structure, the religions are distinct. Differences in culture, history, geography and collective temperament all make for diverse starting points. ... But beyond these differences, the same goal beckons.
Even if one has not read Smith's book, the quote itself makes it obvious that what he is saying is that all believers seek Truth, however diverse their methods or beliefs. I only wish that I had a deeper knowledge of other major religious figures who Prothero dragged into his argument, such as Gandhi, Swami Sivananda, and the Dalai Lama. Once Prothero has been proven so unreliable with known sources, it is difficult to accept his word for similar snippets of text.

You're More Like a Game Show Host.4
Prothero's breezy style causes occasional faux pas which made me wince when reading such statements as:
Hinduism is an  over-the-top religion of big ideas, bright colors, soulful mantras, spicy foods, complex rituals, and wild stories. One of the wildest of these stories concerns how Ganesha got his head.
It's always so amusing hearing wacky stories about people's divinities, isn't it? What zany characters they worship!

Yes. It seemed a bit disrespectful to say the least. If only that were the only example.

More than that though, it leads into a frustration of  mine with the text. The descriptions of the different religions vary widely as to what to base a comparison of "different" from. Prothero criticizes Huston Smith for showing the ideal of each faith. However, those ideals are quite helpful in knowing where adherents vary within denominations. Certainly those ideals are helpful in comparing the different religions to each other. Prothero much prefers to dwell on differences, often discussing one specific point in-depth, a cultural confusion, or argument flash-points before ever getting down to describing what people actually believe. I often would skip ahead to get the overall context or resort to Wikipedia for a concise description before diving back into the dizzying array of information poured out, for example, about Ganesha's head, Hindus around the world (past and present), and the many points of disagreement among Hindus about whether their religion is even a religion.

In the End
As I mentioned, Stephen Prothero does have the big overall picture generally correct. I really enjoyed learning about Yoruba, which I had never heard of before, and also his overview of atheism. It is too bad that his concept is conveyed via a flawed, superficial approach. It would be better for those  interested in how religions are different to read The World's Religions by Huston Smith or World Religions by John Bowker instead. Those books will do much more to lead to an informed view than God is Not One.

For More Resources, Reviews, and Conversation About This Book
The Patheos Book Club has more reviews about God is Not One and interviews with author Stephen Prothero. The American Experience on PBS is running God In America this week which is related to this book. It looks like a fascinating view of the role of religious belief in our country. Check out both sites.

1: (848) Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.

2: The Simpsons

3. Princess Bride

4: Ghostbusters

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Movie Review: Life As We Know It - PG13

Warning: possible spoilers.

Holly and Eric Messer (he's referred to as Messer) had a dreadful first date when their friends Peter and Alison  set them up.

Now, Peter and Alison have a baby, Sophie, and although they are the godparents, Holly and Messer  are unprepared when tragedy strikes and  they find out that they are also her legal guardians.    They each have a life and they can't stand each other, but they must find a way to live together for Sophie's sake.  Naturally, that involves sacrifice from both of them and for a while, Messer really seems to resent it. 

On the whole, the movie balances between how tough parenting can be, and how rewarding a family is.

There are some comedic moments, but there is too much anger and arguing; that makes it harder to enjoy.

Content warnings include sexual situations, making marijuana brownies, some language, and a 'married' gay couple.

Movie Review: The Way Home

Based on a true story.

Christal and Randy(Dean Cain) Simpkins are married with 3 sons. They are about to take a vacation, mainly because Randy has been so busy with work he hasn't spent enough time with the family.  Just as they are about to leave,  they discover their youngest son, 2 yr-old Joe, is missing.   Randy blames himself, because he had run inside to check his email.  As you'd expect, they are distraught and begin to look for him.   Their pastor contacts their congregation and other churches.   The number of people praying for Joe and searching for him was truly amazing.  Both Randy and Christal take at least some comfort in praying with others.   I won't reveal the ending, but have your tissues ready!

A very good family movie.  My family loved it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Book Review: Paths to Prayer

Paths to Prayer: A Field Guide to Ten Catholic Traditions

by Pat Fosarelli
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

Have you ever heard someone speak of “Augustian spirituality” or “Ignatian Spirituality” or “Dominican spirituality” and not been sure exactly what he was talking about? What does it mean to speak about different schools of spiritual thought? If these are questions you would like to know the answer to, then “Paths to Prayer: A Field Guide to Ten Catholic Traditions” is the perfect book for you. Dr. Pat Fosarelli, a teacher at the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, has written a concise, informative guide to ten major Catholic spiritual traditions.

Augustinian, Benedictine, Cistercian, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan, Ignatian, Salesian, Lay, and Mystical spirituality are all explored. Fosarelli offers a historical background to each movement and the saints that inspired it. She then goes on to explain its key features. Lastly, she offers well-known examples of persons who have made this spirituality their own, and references for learning more. Her section on “Lay Spirituality” is particularly interesting. Rooted in the teachings of Vatican II, it emphasizes the role lay persons are called to play in the spiritual life of the Church.

While certainly not meant to be an exhaustive study of any of these traditions, “Paths to Prayer” does provide a wealth of information. As Fosarelli states, “This is a book that is meant to get readers started, so that, having a better understanding of some of the major Catholic spiritual traditions, readers can then move on to traditions they might like to explore.” She has succeeded admirably in that aim.

“Paths to Prayer” is for anyone seeking a general overview of different traditions of Catholic spiritual thought. It would also be incredibly useful in a college course on spirituality or for use by a Catholic book club.

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Movie Review: Legendary - PG13

Yep...I'm a WWE fan, and Cena is my favorite :)

The story is really about Cal Chetley, a thin (he's in the 135 lb. class) high school student who is more smart and clever than he is athletic. He takes care of the family fishing pond business and helps out his mother (he lives with her).   Cal does have a problem with a couple of classmates who are antagonistic toward him.   His father Mac and his brother Mike (Cena) were both high school wrestling champs.  Mac is deceased, and Mike is estranged from his mother, so Cal hasn't seen him for years.  Their estrangement is related to the car accident  that killed Mac (Mike survived it).  Sharon is upset that Cal wants to wrestle, and she doesn't want him contacting Mike. 
Cal seeks out Mike to train him to wrestle, but it is clear he is also trying to reunite the family.  At first, Mike says no, but eventually Cal persuades him.  I liked that Cal was able to help Mike with a couple of things as well.  I really enjoyed watching their relationship grow. 

  Legendary reminded me of the original Karate Kid...a wrestling tournament instead of a karate tournament, and Mike teaches Cal his special inescapable move (remember the crane technique?)  Danny Glover's character, Red, doesn't play a major role in the story other than to encourage Cal... we find out in the end who he is.

There were several positive messages such as forgiveness and reconciliation.  I really enjoyed the movie but honestly, I did not care for the ending.  It wasn't what I expected, which is fine, but I found it to be anti-climactic.

One minor content warning.  In one scene you see a butt for a couple of seconds.

Legendary was in  limited theaters , and the DVD is available at Walmart.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Book Review: "The Rook" by Steven James

FBI Agent Pat Bowers is back.  This time he is called to San Diego to investigate a series of fires that appear to be arson.  He is again working with Lien hua and Ralph, and his teenage stepdaughter Tessa is also with him.

As Pat investigates the arsons, the trail leads to a more widespread plot involving a top secret devestating weapon.  It turns out to also be related to a series of kidnappings.  By the time they solve the case, Pat must save a couple of people close to him.

I really enjoy the combination of character development and plot sophistication.  Mr. James is  is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.   Although Pat is very dedicated to his job,  we see a little more of his personal side in this story.  He has to deal with Tessa's attitude, his responsibility as a dad,  and his own feelings for one of his co-workers.

A well-written, suspenseful story. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Movie Review: Trusting in the Shepherd

There are two stories on this DVD.  The first is about Gracie's Ewe Scout Camp out at grandma's.  Gracie's brother Jacob convinces her that the night is scary and sure enough, she and her friends are nervous, but grandma tells them they need not fear because Jesus the Shepherd is looking out for them.  They sing songs about psalm 23 (the Lord is my Shepherd...)

The second is about Jacob's New Friend Drake, the new kid in school.  Jacob accidentally hits Drake while they are playing.  Thereafter, Jacob is afraid of Drake, because he thinks Drake wants to hurt him.  That is not the case, because Drake is actually grateful that Jacob has made him feel welcome.

The two lessons from these stories are to trust Jesus, and to treat others as you would like others to treat you.  Also, a lesson about forgiveness.

These stories are both both educational and entertaining for small children.   Very well done.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Movie Review: Upside - On DVD 10/5/10

Solomon White (Soli) is a high school senior who excels at lacrosse and has an on-again/off-again relationship with his girlfriend Cindee.  When Soli is injured in a lacrosse game, his vision is affected and he sees everything upside down.  A doctor gives him special glasses to see right side-up, but they give him severe headaches, so he rarely wears them.   At a support group for the visually-impaired, Soli meets Wren Woods, a Christian girl who was born blind and has adapted well to a seeing world. 

In addition to his vision problem, Soli is coping with: his poor relationship with his mother, who is pressuring him to go to Cornell (he has a choice of several colleges), he is trying to write a long essay assignment, and he  appears to be tiring of his superficial relationship with Cindee.   He begins to spend more time with Wren; they help each other, as he gives her the experience of an aquarium which she had never had,  and she brings him to church, which he hasn't been to in a while.   It is rewarding to actually watch Soli grow and mature from a high-school senior to a college student.  He also grows in his faith, thanks to Wren and Mrs. Buck, one of his teachers.

A very entertaining family film.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Review: "Today I Found God" by Greg Long

Told in the first person, a young boy is having a bad day....he lost $5, he can't find his fishing pole, he spilled paint, etc., and he wants to know why God is doing this to him.  So bad, that he sets out to find God and give him a piece of his mind :)   He looks everywhere, all the while vowing to tell him off, but can't find him.  Naturally, he ends up in church and the pastor tells him he must look closer.  

Eventually, he realizes that  he has no reason to be mad at God because God loves him  :)

I really appreciate the main point of the story, because all of us have a tendency to blame God when things go wrong.   That is sometimes the only time we go looking for him.

A very cute childrens' story.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Review of "The Death Panels" by MIchelle Buckman

By Leticia Velasquez

Deep in the human heart is an innate sense of right and wrong. It guides our actions whether we were raised in the Amazon rainforest or in downtown Manhattan, whether we believe in God or not. It helps us tell right from wrong unless another influence supplants it.  This understanding of essential facts like the dignity of the human person and his right to live is so vitally important to society that it is inscribed in the Preamble of the Constitution. “All men are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We may not be aware of the presence of this Natural Law within our hearts; however, we do recognize when it has been violated, it causes a visceral sense of outrage, for example when a child is brutalized. Dictators and totalitarian regimes know this, which is why they invest so much time in re-shaping the consciences of their nation with propaganda.

In Michelle Buckman’s novel, that is precisely the kind of society America has become in 2042, when it has been absorbed into a worldwide government called the “Unified Order of the World”. The fundamental right to live is turned into a duty to kill “for the good of the nation, for the good of the world.” Decades of programming, dehumanizing the weak and deliberate obliteration of the family, and its primordial role in reproduction, has paid off for the leaders of the regime, which has gained absolute control of a populace that follows orders to kill the unfit and experiment on the ill. The leaders of the Unified Order, led by Axyl Houston, are about to implement their version of ‘The Final Solution,’ the extermination of the inhabitants of the Cloistered Dominion, the Christian ghetto, who pose the last threat to the complete takeover of the human heart.

The Death Panels, like its predecessor, Aldous Huxley’s prophetic Brave New World in the 1930’s, is a clarion call to those whose consciences have fallen asleep in a nation once considered the pinnacle of civilization and beacon of freedom to the world. GK Chesterton said that Brave New World was a revolt against Utopianism, rejecting materialism and loss of individuality, sexual promiscuity, and was written about America.
The Death Panels was written about the America towards which we are heading if good people do nothing to stop it. It’s our last warning.

The Death Panels is a compelling read, despite how fiercely the atrocities of this brave new America assault our sensibilities.  Although offended, we are tempted to proclaim that we are above such outrages in America, yet, in the absolute control the state has over health care, we are eerily reminded of certain legislation which was just rammed through Congress. Today’s politicians have decided what is “for the good of the nation, for the good of the world,” despite the will of the American public. The legislation has provisions for the same type of Death Panels we find in the Unified Order where those with genetic defects are eliminated as too expensive to receive care. Today, in 2010, it is accomplished by a voluntary 90% abortion rate; in 2042 it is accomplished by “dumping” whereby each birthing center has a drawer, where a defective newborn is strapped in, the drawer pushed in, and a button pressed, which gasses the newborn to death, and, in a coldly efficient manner, his corpse unceremoniously dumped into a waste bin.

This is too much for David Rudder, an outcast who, because of his refusal to abandon his Catholic faith, lives in the Dominion, a penal colony of Catholics carved out of the wasteland of Detroit’s inner cities. Even though he is a physician, his wife Elizabeth and newborn daughter Bethany languished and died for lack of updated medical equipment, which the government denied the Dominion in an attempt to slowly extinguish the remnants of the population resistant to indoctrination. David came to mainstream America seeking solace from his grief, determined to do some good and make contact with the Christian Underground when after assisting at a birth, a child with Down syndrome is born, and he encounters the horrific process of “dumping.” Rudder rebels, and along with obstetrician Markus Holmes, whose disgust at the outrage gives him a burst of courage, they run with newborn baby Frankie in a desperate quest to save his life. These reluctant heroes have no idea that their bold actions will bring about upheaval in a nation which seems to be sleeping. They inspire Jessica Main, who has been secretly yearning for a family of her own, and who contacts members of the Christian Underground who have been waiting to capitalize on such an opportunity to expose the heinous experiments conducted on sick children donated to the State in the Gift of Life foundation. In The Death Panels one small act of rebellion from a reluctant hero touches off a mass awakening which threatens the hold that the totalitarian regime has over its somnolent citizenry.

The tragedy is that in America in 2010, this downturn is already far advanced, and we as a nation are too blind to see how far down the slippery slope our apathy has allowed us to slide. The Death Panels may be our last chance to see the terrifying consequences of deeming one member of the human family ‘life unworthy of life,’ and thereby degrading the value of all life. This fast-paced, powerfully written novel may be the wake up call we have been seeking.