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Schwarzenegger_LentCourtesy of Matt Swaim

A brief and thoughtful video on a great — and much misunderstood — spiritual writer of the twentieth-century.

Wish You Could Read More?

Lavery_Maiss_AurasReading can open up a whole new world of adventure, knowledge, and inspiration.  But who has the time, right?

I recently came across blogger Brandon Vogt’s “Read More Books Now” video series.  Vogt, an avid bibliophile, shares the secrets of a “big reader” and shows us how to find time for reading in the midst of a busy schedule.

If you are a bookworm like myself, I highly recommend you check it out.  The series is totally free, but is being offered on a limited-time basis…in fact, only three more days.

Here’s the link: http://www.readmorebooksnow.com.

Image from Wikipedia

Among the many instances in which we find, in popular media, a beautiful female either falling in love with or giving her affection to a comparatively unattractive and/or awkward male are the following:

Theory of EverythingWe have the graceful and lovely Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) and the nerdy, awkward Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) in the 2014 film “The Theory of Everything.”

Bill HaverchuckVicki ApplebyGoing back about 15-16 years to the short-lived but subsequently quite popular television series “Freaks and Geeks,” we find cute cheerleader Vicki Appleby (JoAnne Garcia Swisher) in the closet with lanky geek Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) after a game of spin-the-bottle.  At first she is perfectly beastly toward him, but she gradually warms up to him and, before their time is up, gives him a kiss.

Beauty and the BeastAnd then of course there is the archetypal “Beauty and the Beast.”  Need I say more?

We tend to see and hear about situations like these, in which a man not blessed with physical attractiveness or grace is nonetheless blessed with the affection of a beautiful woman, and think to ourselves: “Wow — good for him.”

But let’s reverse the situation a minute.  Imagine a strapping, musclebound, suave, and extremely handsome young man lovingly courting a woman who is grossly overweight, wears glasses, has a retainer, and has nothing of what anyone would consider conventional attractiveness. We see something like that and we think: “Wow — good for him.”

See where I’m going with this?  When a woman looks beyond mere appearances and finds the goodness inside, we think very little in her favor.  We expect it of her.  But when a man does so, we seem to think he is “going the extra mile,” and to be heartily congratulated for it.

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2Granted, part of this may be due to a certain intuition about the nature of man and woman.  We read in Genesis 2 that Adam was created before Eve, surveyed all of creation in its manifold richness (rocks, trees, sea, animals, etc.), and could not find a companion suitable for himself; God then makes Eve, the first woman.

Don’t panic. Whether or not this is literally how events transpired is irrelevant.  What the Sacred Text gives us is a psychology of man and woman.  Through the person of Adam, we see that man’s initial purview includes merely things.  Granted, some of these are living things; but even these are not en-souled persons like himself.  The arrival of the woman completes his purview.

On the other hand, through Eve we see that woman’s purview from the very beginning includes persons.  This is perhaps fitting, since she is meant to bear life within herself for nine months.  It may be, therefore, that a certain nurturing spirit, awareness of beauty within, and gift of oneself in kindness comes more naturally to women than to men.

So it is quite possible that a similar insight explains why media portrayals of beautiful-woman-falls-for-not-so-beautiful-man are more frequent than the opposite.  Still, while it is true that our intuitions influence art and media, the reverse is also true.

Let me be clear: Recognizing that beauty is not only skin deep is good. To recognize a woman’s ability to see this is likewise good. But as a man, I am concerned that we do not hold ourselves to the same standard.  Discernment in romantic matters is no easy thing, and no one of either sex should have to bear this burden alone.

Image of Adam and Eve from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

Everyone catch the halftime performance at the Super Bowl last night?  If so, you’ll understand why I timed this post as I did.

Christopher West is a Catholic apologist and, most likely, the foremost American commentator on Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.  In this short video, which he made in 2008, West takes a very balanced and heartfelt look at the songs of one of our culture’s most beloved current pop icons.

Fair warning: West’s style may seem like a lot to handle at first.  Not that he is “preachy” in any way, but he is…well, rather colorful at times.

For part one, click here

Bradley Cooper American SniperIt is important to note that at no point in ‘American Sniper’ do we see our protagonist salivating at the opportunity to gun people down or gleefully exulting in the elimination of his targets.  On the contrary, it appears as if something in him dies with every shot.  Even when he takes out the infamous “Mustafa” (Sammy Sheik), we can see sadness in his eyes…perhaps even a sort of regret; not necessarily regret for having done the deed as such, but rather as if to say: “I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”

the butcherAs far as we can tell, the people against whom Chris and his comrades in uniform fight are quite definitely “wolves” (again, read part one if you haven’t already).  We even see some of them performing outrageous, heartless acts that have the strange effect of both chilling and boiling our blood.  So while part of us might ask how a Christian could bring himself to go to war, another part of us is more apt to ask, “How on earth could anyone feel any kind of sadness over taking the lives of such scum as these?”

Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne

I think we can find something approximating an answer in the words of St. Augustine of Hippo:

Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear “man” – this is what God has made; when you hear “sinner” – this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made

(Quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1458)

Sin is something that separates us not only from God, but also (and for that reason) from our true selves, uniquely conceived and held in existence by our Creator.  Yet somewhere deep beneath the “false self” that every sinner — no matter how foul — manages to forge is this precious creation, this jewel in the muck that God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to save.

I think we can safely assume that Chris Kyle has a sense of this, and that in the aforementioned scene, this intuition finds an outlet in his eyes.

americansniperbattleLet us think of this as yet another challenge facing our men and women in uniform — in addition to putting their lives on the line, and likewise for the sake of our freedom.  The former challenge demands no less bravery than the latter, and we must assume that those facing it are anything but “cowards,” contrary to what Michael Moore recently alleged.

And I think that’s a good place to stop.  Thanks for reading.

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; remaining image from Wikipedia

If you are going to accuse me of anything on the basis of this post’s title, let it be lack of originality (a charge I would gladly accept, as I think originality is overrated): I have chosen to construct my title out of those of not one, but two previously existing works — namely, Clint Eastwood’s recent blockbuster film “American Sniper” and popular Christian apologist C.S. Lewis’ 1940 essay “Why I am not a Pacifist.”

First, the movie.  I won’t go into great detail, other than to say that it is based on the true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) — hailed as the deadliest shooter in American military history — his experiences in the Iraq War, and his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder upon his return home.

Ben ReedAt the beginning of the film, me meet a young Chris Kyle (Cole Konis), who fights a group of bullies in defense of his younger brother.  Chris’ father, Wayne (Ben Reed), tells his young sons that there are three kinds of people in the world.  Most people, he says, are sheep — that is, people who “prefer to think that evil doesn’t exist in the world.”  And then there are the wolves, who prey on the weak and thrive on violence.  Finally, there are the sheepdogs, the strong who defend the vulnerable against the wolves.

Wayne, a Christian father raising a Christian family, intends for his sons to be the latter.  His goal in this instance is to make sure that Chris was acting as a sheepdog rather than as a wolf.

C.s.lewis3

It is with that in mind that I cite the following passage from Lewis’ essay (which is published along with a number of others in “The Weight of Glory“):

The relevant intuition [used in support of pacifism] seems to be that (…) helping is good and harming bad.  (…) [T]hat intuition can lead to no action unless it is limited in some way or other.  You cannot do simply good to simply Man; you must do this or that good to this or that man.  (…) [W]hen B is up to mischief against A, you must either do nothing (which disobeys intuition) or you must help one against the other.

Between these two citations — the scene from “American Sniper” and the snippet from “Why I am not a Pacifist” — we can gain a pretty decent understanding of how a Christian can choose to go to war, or use force in any instance.

americansniperposterIt is not my intention to get into a discussion of whether the Iraq War meets Just War criteria, nor whether sniping, as a practice, constitutes a form of just warfare.  But a lot of people tend to make this automatic, knee-jerk assumption that to fight in a war or use any kind of force is ipso facto incompatible with being a faithful Christian.

But, as Lewis and the elder Kyle suggest, part of one’s Christian duty is to defend the weak.  And sometimes, this requires force — on individual, communal, and sometimes even national and international levels.  To be sure, such force should always be as minimal as possible, restraint must be preferred to killing, and the death of a “wolf” should be avoided whenever reasonably possible.  But if we want to issue a wholesale condemnation of all warfare, it should give us pause that the weight of reason, history, and even Christian tradition itself is against us.

Needless to say, I am only scratching the surface of Lewis’ essay.  But since my main intention is a treatment of Eastwood’s film, I think I’ll just encourage you to read it yourself and leave it at that.

As for the movie, more to come.

Photo of C.S. Lewis from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

 

 

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