Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Commentary on The Lorax's Social Commentary

Men in suits...bad.

At least that's the zombie that the producers (directors, writers, whatever...) seemed to want me to be when I left the theatre.

Desired zombification temporarily aside, I did think The Lorax was an enjoyable movie but there definitely were times where I felt that the preaching and near-pantheism were distracting me from just enjoying a good story.

The town is plastic everything, people are dumb enough to buy air, "if you put it in a small plastic bottle people will buy it". Alright, I'm cool with those comments. They were handled wittily. Even the "We should build intentionally polluting bottled air factories so that people buy more bottled air." bad-guy part was obvious but not too bad.

However, the "Am I Really so bad?" song by the Once-ler where over the course of the song he becomes literally (literally!) a 50ft tall menacing, capitalist giant was just too much. Was it necessary for him to be that ginormous and in-your-face scary? It was like they totally abandoned clever story-telling and chose to just smash the viewer over the head with a big "CAPITALISM IS BAD" 2x4.

More interesting than the obvious things were the more subtle commentaries on modern culture, the things where I couldn't tell if they were supposed to be self-deprecation or if they were just an accident. I couldn't tell if the hyper-idealism of some of the characters was meant to be somewhat ironic or if the creators really meant them to be that over-the-top.

It's the scenes where the obvious preaching is happening that most make me think of this. There were parts where I was sure they were trying to play up there stereotypical kind of comments that the general public negatively associated with tree-huggin' hippies. I couldn't tell if that was a reference to the stereotype or if the creators were huggin' those trees so hard they didn't notice the stereotype they illustrated.

The main characters were fighting against an evil guy, tyrannical business guy. He was thoroughly vilified. My thought though is that, yes, it's good to promote environmental protection and to not destroy the planet and it's resources purely for the sake of shallow material gain but (but!) be careful that you don't become a tyrant your self. Just like capitalism can be hollow and empty when it becomes too self-consumed, so can environmentalism. (-isms tend to have that problem) I agree with what they're saying: Trees are good. I totally with you...but they're not everything.

Taking care of the planet that God gave us is important but it's not the totality of the human experience. Appreciating nature doesn't give us everything.

So, yeah, let's plant some trees but let's also learn to be humble and charitable and to love our neighbors as ourselves. True concern for the well-being of others does a lot more than some extra photosynthesis.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is an odd time. The sorrow and suffering of Good Friday is over but we're not yet to the joy of Easter. Obviously, for the first disciples it was much worse. They had just experienced their leader and friend be arrested and brutally murdered by the religious leaders and state. They were maybe beginning to piece together what had happened but it was no doubt a time of great confusion. We, of course, have the advantage of knowing that Jesus does indeed rise from the dead.

We've been through this before, last year. But it was the same then. We're past Lent and Good Friday so intentional fasting seems odd but we know it's too soon to celebrate as if it were Sunday. So, Holy Saturday is an awkward day. (going to Easter vigil mass eliminates this but that's only because liturgically it is Sunday then.)

What to do do with the Rosary then? Praying the Sorrowful Mysteries on Good Friday makes sense and so does praying the Glorious Mysteries on Easter Sunday. But what about Saturday? The traditional schedule calls for the Joyful Mysteries and while this may seem like a good default in light of the awkwardness I talked about above I think that it actually makes sense as something intentional and purposeful not just a default.

The Joyful Mysteries (Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation in the Temple, Finding in the Temple) are, among other things, about expectation. All the events described in this set of mysteries are certainly good things in and of themselves but they also are all, in a sense, introductory and preparatory.

After the crucifixion we are left with a tragic feeling, perhaps with a feeling of desolation wondering where this all began. We need something to re-establish contact. Who was this man who died on the cross? Where did he come from? Oh, right! He was the miraculous son of a young girl, born in Bethlehem. Early in his life there were great things but we didn't know what they were leading up to but now we do. We know that all those earlier things happened so that these last things could happen. He had to be announced by the angel and be born of Mary so that he could die for our sins. Remembering this helps us look forward to the awesomeness of Easter. It reminds us that miracles have happened before and they will happen again!

Mary was there with Jesus on Good Friday, through his suffering death and burial and she finds out on Sunday that he has risen. She was with Jesus through all his life and as our mother, through Christ, she will be with us, through his passion and through the uncertain day of Holy Saturday to his resurrection.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

In the End It's Good for Us.

The Church or one of it's ministers says "no" to something. They tell us what we can't do or that we ought to do things differently. Our immediate reaction is to get defensive, to decry them for denying equality or for being mean.

But, how often though do we take time, I mean really take time to use all that squishy stuff between our ears, to honestly look at the situation, both at the Church and at ourselves and see where both sides are really coming from. Instead, I think we are way too quick to give our heart all the authority, to immediately reject and react negatively to things that put us out of our comfort zone.

The Catholic Church has a long history. I'm not a historian and I'm not going to pretend to be. However, I think it is fair to say that throughout Christian/Catholic history there has been a back and forth swing. On the one side is people living their faith with true devotion and understanding. But, as happens with anything, by generations the pendulum swings. That intentionality gives way to practice without a passion. People in the Church still do good and holy things but not because they consciously think of them as good and holy things. Eventually they might even forget some of the good and holy things but no one really misses them.

The stress comes when someone notices that the pendulum has swung and tries to call people back. This happened to the Israelites in the Old Testament many times. They would be all holy and awesome but would slip and slide over time, no one really noticing. Eventually God would send them a prophet to call them back to being awesome. But how did this process unfold every single time? The people hate the prophet and accuse him of all sorts of terror but eventually see that he's right. They are restored and enjoy the goodness that comes from being in God's grace.

Or think of it like a sports team. They're playing well at first but things start to change. Discipline slips and they aren't able to perform as well. One day the coach (or perhaps a new one) realizes what's happened. He calls the team back to basic fundamentals and physical fitness. The players at first resent what the coach is putting them through. They complain and consider quitting the team. But ask any highly successful team or coach and you'll find, without variance, that if they hadn't been willing to endure the fundamentals, if they hadn't been willing to set aside their pride and listen to the coach they couldn't have won. (UK may have ridiculously good players but if you ask them, even though they know their own high skill, they'll tell you that it wouldn't have been possible without teamwork and discipline. They did the hard things at first and it allowed them to experience something great.)

So, where I think we are is somewhere swinging back away from forgetting/going through the motions and towards true devotion and understanding. This is a good thing. My point in writing is to point out that while things may seems difficult and unnecessary right now , if we really think about it we can see that it will be better for us in the long run.

The Church, in the authority of the Bishops, is reminding us that there is a moral standard. We don't like hearing that. We don't like it at all...but in the end it's good for us.

Or more locally, a pastor calls us back to the true meaning of the mass, sacraments, things of the Church etc and calls us to be more intentional in our Catholic faith. At first we resist because it's difficult and makes us feel uncomfortable but in the end it's good for us.


As the Easter Triduum approaches let us remember what the passion, death and resurrection of Christ really mean. Let us take seriously the true call to conversion that Lent has offered so that we can share more fully in the joy that Easter brings!