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Archive for the ‘Evil’ Category

TrueDetectiveDVDCover

NOTE: This is the third in a series of commentaries on HBO’s True Detective, season one; for the other two, click here.

You may skip the first post if you wish.  I would, however, read the second (the one focused on Marty Hart), only because I am following a pattern set by the series itself: Marty (Woody Harrelson) is the initial primary focus, and next it will shift to his partner, Rustin “Rust” Cohle (Matthew McConaughey); this current post will function as a transition of sorts.

So here goes… (more…)

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handgunWell we’ve seen several more tragic and senseless shootings these last couple weeks, most notably those at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, CA.

And with the three-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting fast approaching, dealing with these tragedies casts an even greater pall over our holiday anticipations.

There is no way around it: We’re in the midst of an epidemic.  It has not yet reached the level of a Black Plague, but it’s not inconceivable that it will.

As always, to point to a single cause is surely simplistic and potentially irresponsible.  But there are a number of “currents” in our great cultural ocean that feed into this phenomenon (more…)

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Emanuel_African_Methodist_Episcopal_(AME)_ChurchIn the wake of the terrible tragedy that occurred recently at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, Bishop Robert Guglielmone is inviting people to pray a Novena (nine-day prayer) for the victims and their families.

Here is a suggested prayer for anyone interested in participating (say it once a day over the next nine days):

Lord, we pray for those who have been devastated by
recent tragedies. We remember those who have lost
their lives so suddenly. We hold in our hearts the
families forever changed by grief and loss. Bring them
consolation and comfort. Surround them with our
prayers for strength. Bless those who have survived and
heal their memories of trauma and devastation. May
they have the courage to face the days ahead. Help us
to respond with generosity in prayer, in assistance, and
in comfort to the best of our abilities. Keep our hearts
focused on the needs of all the community. We ask this
in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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Image from Wikipedia — full citation:

“Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church” by Cal Sr from Newport, NC, US – Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emanuel_African_Methodist_Episcopal_(AME)_Church.jpg#/media/File:Emanuel_African_Methodist_Episcopal_(AME)_Church.jpg

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For parts one and two, click here

RaisingofLazarus“RaisingofLazarusBloch” by Carl Heinrich Bloch – http://www.familyartusa.com/site/253614/page/917008. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RaisingofLazarusBloch.jpg#/media/File:RaisingofLazarusBloch.jpg

I’d like to segue into the next topic with an analogy to the raising of Lazarus from the tomb.

The tomb, for our purposes, can represent the “old geography” — beautiful in itself (indeed, part of God’s good creation), but unhallowed by the presence of death.

And then there is Lazarus, who (again, for our purposes) can represent us, to whom comes Christ bringing new life.

Now imagine laying in the musty darkness of the tomb, newly awakened as though reborn.  Christ, the Lord of life, stands above you with hands extended.  You take hold and begin to allow Him to help you up.  As you stand, and as your bones and joints creak, you realize just how hard this is, and how completely dependent you are on the grasp of your Savior.

This makes you grasp all the tighter, and yet you hesitate.  You’re afraid that if you grasp Jesus’ hands any more firmly, you will pull Him down into the darkness with you.

But here’s what you do not yet understand: He is already there.  Just as surely as He is there before you to pull you up, so also is He there behind you to push you forward.

Grief(“Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction” by Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev – Mikhail Evstafiev. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction.jpg#/media/File:Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction.jpg)

But why does it have to be this way in the first place?  It’s all well and good for God to be united to us in our suffering, but if He is all-powerful and all-loving, then why won’t He make our path to Him less agonizing?

There are numerous answers to this, but let me throw this out there for you: If the divine-human relationship involved all blessings and no crosses, that would give us less of a guarantee of God’s love, not more.

When we talk about a pattern of blessings for good works, gifts as tokens of love, etc., we find ourselves within the borders of commutative justice (this is a fancy way of saying fee-for-service, or quid-pro-quo); this is true even with tokens of love, in which case the Giver gives in order to get love from the receiver.

Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing wrong with commutative justice; it has its place.  But of itself it is impersonal, and does not necessitate the presence of love.  Co-suffering (which is the literal meaning of com-passion), on the other hand, does.

Prodigal Son“Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Return of the Prodigal Son – Google Art Project” by Rembrandt – 5QFIEhic3owZ-A at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Instead of a gumball-dispensing Santa Claus in the sky, what we have is a Divine Lover who so loves and values us that there is no kind of suffering — even death itself — that He will not (indeed, has not deigned to) fully enter into with us in order to give us life.

This does not mean that if we are faithful to Him, we will have to suffer forever.  As Scripture tells us, there will come a day when “He will wipe away every tear” (Rev. 21:4).  But until then, we fallen creatures have need of the tutelage of suffering.

With that in mind, I’d like to close by sharing the thoughts of Cardinal Francis George, who recently died after a long battle with cancer.  In this very brief clip of less than two minutes, he shares some very profound and moving thoughts on how suffering prepares us for eternity.  Take a listen before reading the next sentence.

So the “New Geography” is a work-in-progress — but the good news is that the work has already been finished from on high, by He who holds all time and space in His hands.

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For part one, click here Christ's Wounds“Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Original uploader was Dante Alighieri at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Tm using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg

We spoke in part one of how Jesus Christ, through His death and Resurrection, takes up the wounded “geography” of our fallen world and makes even the scars of our existence capable of leading us to the Divine.  It is indeed a new Flood, more momentous than the one braved by Noah, crashing upon the world with new life, immeasurable power, and life-giving mercy:

Send forth your spirit (…) and you renew the face of the earth. – Ps. 104:30

Beowulf But before we get into that, it might be helpful to flesh out the “old geography” a bit more with a concrete example.  One particularly fascinating manifestation of the old geography is the worldview of the pagan Anglo-Saxons, which J.R.R. Tolkien touched on in an essay on “Beowulf”:

(…) [H]e who wrote (…) ‘heroes under heaven’, or ‘mighty men upon earth’, (…) [was] thinking of eormengrund, the great earth, ringed with garsecg, the shoreless sea, beneath the sky’s inaccessible roof; whereon, as in a little circle of light about their halls, men with courage as their stay went forward to that battle with the hostile world and the offspring of the dark which ends for all, even the kings and champions, in defeat. – “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”

This is just one example, but you get the idea.  Some variation of this ambiguous outlook on life has been present throughout all ages, and survives in more “modern” forms today. Until Christ returns to restore all things, there continues to be hardship, turmoil, suffering, darkness, and even death in the world.  But the whole of creation has in a sense been “baptized” by Christ’s saving work, so that the darkness of a world “ringed with the shoreless sea” and haunted by “the offspring of the dark” — in short, the mystery of evil (both moral and physical) — becomes taken up into and transformed by the mystery of the Cross. Christ Crucified by Velazquez“Cristo crucificado” by Diego Velázquez – [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cristo_crucificado.jpg#/media/File:Cristo_crucificado.jpg

The Cross is very important to the understanding of Christianity — not because it is a gloomy or sadomasochistic religion…far from it; rather, because neither does it lean towards the opposite extreme of “Pollyanna-ism.”  The Christian teaching on heaven, redemption, and the victory of good over evil no more minimizes or negates the very real sufferings of the world than the Resurrection of Christ negates the horror of the suffering inflicted on Him.  But Our Lord has joined Himself to our suffering, and has thus given it a whole new meaning. He has done this as a sign of His infinite love for us, and in invitation to fellowship with Him.  This is how He will ultimately heal us, rather than by orchestrating our deliverance at a safe distance. Pieta

“Michelangelo’s Pieta 5450 cut out black” by Stanislav Traykov, Niabot (cut out) – Image:Michelangelo’s Pieta 5450.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black.jpg#/media/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black.jpg

What we have now is what I would call Pietá spirituality.  Instead of seeing darkness, we can look at the world and see the scourged body of Christ in the arms of His mother, blood and water pouring out of His sacred side as a “fountain of mercy for the whole world” (to quote a Divine Mercy prayer).  As one person, I cannot solve all the evils of the world.  But if in my immediate situation I can minister to my Lord even a little bit, tending to those of His Wounds that I can see in my fellow human beings (or elsewhere), then perhaps I am not doing too badly. One more post — stay tuned.

Images from Wikipedia

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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

“Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne” by Philippe de Champaigne – [2]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne.jpg#/media/File:Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne.jpg

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

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MelisandreLet’s recap briefly: In part one, we explored part of Melisandre’s (Carice Van Houten) conversation with Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram), on which occasion she tells the young princess that there are only two gods — the Lord of Light and the Lord of Darkness — rather than seven; it was also demonstrated that this dualistic theism resembles Manichaeism rather than the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Melisandre_ShireenBut the next thing Melisandre says is even more telling.  Shireen goes on to ask if, since there are not seven gods, there are also not seven heavens and seven hells.

Melisandre replies: “There is only one hell, princess: The one we live in.”

GnosticismThis is a defining characteristic of Gnosticism, the wider (and much older) school of thought to which Manichaeism belongs.  Adherents of Gnosticism proposed that the material world (including our physical bodies) was evil and illusory.  In fact, they believed that it was created and governed by a demon, which many of the early Gnostics called the demiurge.  The true, good God and the spiritual life were accessible only to a chosen few.  Ultimately, the salvation of a spiritual elite was a matter of his/her soul escaping from the cage of the body at the moment of death.

melisandre-2If Melisandre’s religion is of the Gnostic variety, her readiness to do evil despite claiming to be a servant of good makes perfect sense.  First of all, her worldview does not define evil in terms of dishonoring Divinity, humanity, or creation.  Instead, it holds that the material world is evil simply by virtue of of being material.  Many of the early Gnostics, in fact, believed that actions almost all of us would agree are flat-out wrong were not wrong or sinful for them, because they were “spiritual men.”

Secondly, if the body is not part of who a person is but a prison from which to escape, then it really doesn’t matter what one does in and with the body (perverse living was well noted among the ancient Gnostics).

In my opinion, the broader Gnostic nature of the “Red Woman’s” religion goes miles further than its specifically Manichean aspect in explaining its (at best) ambiguous character.

I’ll delve a little bit more into this in the next post.  Hope I’ve gotten you sufficiently interested to continue reading 🙂

All “Game of Thrones” images obtained through a Google image search; other image from Wikipedia

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