August 3, 1964

A 22 year old Flannery O'Connor.

A 22 year old Flannery O’Connor.

Fifty years ago today, Flannery O’Connor died, after a 14 year battle with lupus. It is hard to say something about Ms. O’Connor that has not been said, so I will not say anything about her. Instead, I will speak about a friend of mine.

A few days ago this friend was diagnosed with lupus. She is slightly older than Flannery was when diagnosed; she also is a single mother. And, unless treatment is successful, she has 6 months to live.

The last year of her life resemble a Flannery O’Connor story: she was committed to a psychiatric hospital after staying awake for over a week. The first prognosis was sever bi-polar (with hallucinations). Multiple medicines were involved, her husband was addicted to prescription drugs, and she moved back in with her parents. She began to call friends to apologize for how she responded to what they may not have done in the past 10 years; many episodes were mild hallucinations. At first the drugs worked, then they stopped. There was a risk no cure would work. Then they determined the issue was with her myelin sheath and a whole new realm of solutions arose. Until the lupus prognosis. And we don’t know what will happen from here.

What can I say about all this? Not much. Prayer is the only answer and it is not the kind of answer we tend to like. Flannery O’Connor provided a glimpse into the mystery of life and death and the grotesque world it happens in. Her answer is the Catholic one, but it would take a lifetime (no matter how short) of experience to lay it out. So perhaps all I can say is pray and read some Flannery O’Connor.

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Frozen Mentors

So, this post is a little late, but I work in a mall where a particular song plays six million times a day, and six year old girls, and high school students of both sexes sing along at the top of their lungs. You know what I’m talking about. I guess I’m slow. But I’m still thinking about it.

After a frenzy of giddy, hyperbolic approval from critics and viewers, articles digging a little deeper into Frozen started appearing in my news feed. They tended to be a bit reactionary in tone; hyperbole still reigned. Many of them had good points, under the exaggeration. The discussion went back and forth: BEST MOVIE EVER! vs. DECEPTIVELY PROGRESSIVE DRIVEL! It has been very interesting to watch our culture digest this latest offering from our family entertainment giant. I’d like to add my own little observation about what Frozen means to our culture, and especially to my generation.

I was born in the late eighties, and I remember going to see The Little Mermaid for the first time (and several times after that, and then getting my parents to buy a VCR just so I could have the VHS and watch it whenever I wanted). My early childhood was studded with Disney movies that make up something of a second golden age for the studio. They are classics; unparalleled until Pixar. Many of them are fairy tales.

Much has been written on what a fairy tale is and its purpose in the development of our imaginations and our moral sense. See Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien, and pretty much any of my other favorite authors. These tales are full of archetypes and metaphors that form the way we see the world.

Frozen breaks some of these conventions in very important ways. There is lots of talk about whether or not Frozen is a convention breaker, and whether or not that’s a good thing. But I want to point out one convention that was broken as representative of a pattern that is relevant to people who grew up with the more classic fairy tales of the early nineties.

Arial has Sebastian, the crab composer who is initially a loyal servant of her father, but eventually makes the choice to support and guide Arial, instead of serving her bigoted father.
The Beast has Belle to guide and help him become the person he was meant to be.
Simba has Rafiki. Even Aladdin has the Genie telling him to be himself.

A mentor is a very important archetype. They might walk with the protagonist every step of the way and have their own moral dilemmas and conflicts (like Sebastian). Their visible struggle is a good example to the protagonist and strengthens them for their own battles. Or they might say a few words at a crucial moment that change the course of the story (like Rafiki). They are often older and wiser and we are cued to trust their wisdom. When a character ignores them, we are anxious; when they follow a mentor’s advice, we are at peace.

Frozen has two sets of mentor characters: the parents of Elsa and Anna, and the trolls. It is clear that their parents love the two girls, and we are given all the right cues to trust the mystic wisdom of the trolls. They represent both the Sebastian and the Rafiki types. They both fail utterly. Elsa’s life is set on a path to destruction by the advice of the trolls, and she is psychologically damaged by her parents constant “help” in following the trolls advice.

I am personally ticked off at both of them because if they hadn’t messed Elsa’s life up, she wouldn’t have had to sing that vapid song.

The trolls advice was bad. The parents were completely motivated by fear, and their arrogance blinded them to their perfect incompetence to help their children. They didn’t deal with their own fears, but transferred them to their elder daughter. This video made me feel much better about it. That was the mentor Elsa needed.

A further word about the trolls. They are jerks. The song where they completely ignore the agency of Anna, and all conventional wisdom on which they were supposed to be experts, destroys all the mystery that built up their claim, and cued us in to their status as mystic mentor characters. Kristoff says they taught him that you shouldn’t get engaged to someone you just met. And then they try to marry him to someone he just met without consent from either Anna or Kristoff. Clearly they have issues with the practical vs the theoretical. They are hypocrites and borderline evil. Their one redeeming character is that they weren’t completely lying about the cure to the curse being an act of true love. They merely led Anna to believe that true loves kiss is the only qualified candidate for that act. Good thing she tries something else (which is, in my opinion, the redeeming moment for the whole movie. It would have been terrible if true loves kiss was what broke the spell).

I think us millennials feel a little betrayed by our mentors. A lot of the advice we were given was bad (see this post from last week) and then we were blamed for following it. Our mentors seemed wise and loving, but they ended up being hypocrites, unwilling to solve their own problems so that they could help us properly. Now we have to figure out what to do with our lives in the mess that is left around us and inside us.

It turns out that Elsa and Anna have to figure out their lives for themselves. They end up knowing better then their mentors. So do lots of young protagonists in stories lately. Harry Potter easily has better moral judgement than Sirius Black, or even Dumbledore sometimes. Percy Jackson has to teach the gods how to be decent parents. This is undeniably a travesty in the story. It echos the voices of lots of people my age asking “Why weren’t we prepared to live in this world? Why were so many of the things we were taught about life lies? Why do we have to figure out so many things for ourselves, and teach them to our parents?”

Luckily for Anna, Elsa, and my generation, there is one mentor in this story who is true to his role. He follows the old tradition notable in Shakespeare: He is the fool. I am referring, of course, to Olaf the snowman. He is the comic character. I thought that I would be annoyed by him. He is cute, and kind of dumb, and quite charming, in a silly sort of way. But he saves the story. He has the definition of love that sets Anna and Elsa free. He is no hypocrite like the trolls. He lives that definition of love by melting to keep Anna warm while he gives her this crucial piece of advice that sets her life back on a safe course. The wisdom of the fool saves the story.

My generation needs to find Olaf. And those of us who have found him need to point him out to our friends. He is walking beside us. He is a fool that the world laughs at and hates (they find him annoying at best). He is carrying a cross and wearing a crown of thorns.

Karen Mannino can’t think of facts about herself that are both true and interesting. She needs to let it go.

To My Companion in Mystery

We have yet to pledge in certainty —

made certain by pledge and not by time —

yet the state we wish to gain does wait for us

unclaimed but not unimagined.

The world presumes it has unpacked it,

dismantled its secrecy and made it simple,

rules and guides to live it with ease,

but how could the cross be easy?

Our eyes are painted with stars

of eros and venus and romance;

if we blink fast enough we imagine

there is nothing else coming from our union.

When it comes I hope I can say

“I do not marry you because I love you;”

love you I shall, more and more,

but I marry you that you may see Christ.

The Bread of Life, true Bridegroom,

what we consume together even now,

unsure to each other, as close as ever,

one in Christ before we become one in flesh.

Before the altar, in the churches heart

we form a new cell of the church;

and promise not unspoiled eros

but to have and hold the house undivided.

Together we aspire to a noble task,

to oversee the foundation of life,

bound together in a life not our own,

to live, die, in freedom’s heart.

We have been washed in greatness

and fed with Life itself; we shall ask only

to be bound in passing this on,

water and blood and the Spirit.

I cannot see when or where we come

and cease to be two but are one,

yet clear is the call of Christ and bright

his promise to fill and fulfill

and lead us into the mystery

now and ever and forever.

Wonderful the Tree

How wonderful it would be if I could be a tree

Sending my roots through earth, crushing rock

Seeking out a river or a celestial sea

And having time to pensively take stock

How wonderful the bark of trees, the branches, and the trunk

The strength and simplicity we want and lack

Virtuous the gifts of shade and leaves from this wooden monk

And through its solemn prayer to God, we turn back

Ever rising to the light does go the dryad’s dance

Bridging earth and heaven with joyous glee

Silent movement fluid in stolid solid stance

How wonderful it is to watch a tree

 

Tree

 

 

Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian who likes poetry and trees and God. Not necessarily in that order. In fact, necessarily not in that order.

Christianity and Mythology

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Thursday,  April 10

“The content of myth is always concrete; in myth it is a question not of God in general and humankind in general but of a definite form or instance of a definite divine revelation…For this reason, myth is or rather must be the negation of any subjectivism or psychologism…” –Sergius Bulgakov, Unfading Light: Contemplations and Speculations, p. 65

Ark-Gustave Dore

The Great Flood by Gustave Dore

It goes without saying that the film “Noah” has stirred up a significant amount of controversy due to views of the film’s politics, theology, and accuracy to the narrative. This is not one of those critiques. To be honest, the film was rather disappointing for me, and I would much rather go beyond critique for the sake of this article. What will be focused on is what has been brewing within and around events such as the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate: the validity of myth. For many, myths are merely viewed as being synonymous with lying; others treat myths as being literal history based on a misunderstanding of the reality portrayed in myth. Myths are fundamentally a real presentation or unfolding of values cemented within a society. According to Joseph Campbell, myths find meaning and continuation through metaphor and religion (Campbell, 8). From assessing this definition, not only can “Noah” be properly explicated, but myth itself can be properly understood by a society that seemingly has lost its mythic mentality.

Mythological stories arose from a time in history in which the polis or communitas was the fundamental way of life for the various tribes and kingdoms around the world. The more individualistic and self-autonomous society we live in today is the byproduct of the Enlightenment which in itself has a basis in the end of the communal space during the Renaissance. Since even modern myths such as the Lord of the Rings find a firm foundation in the myths derived from the old Anglo-Saxon polis, there is a connection between myths and a communal way of life. Aeneas, even if he does not create the city, is the great mythological figure of the Roman people. He is the great paterfamilias (father) that both exemplifies the values and instills the value in his people. What Virgil is not doing is creating simple propaganda, but, rather, is embarking on the creative journey that one day assumes him in the myths of Dante.

For Dante, Virgil is the objective presentation of pagan virtue who finds his meaning throughout the whole of the pagan (or at best Roman) communitas. In much the same way, Aeneas is made to reflect the values that the entire community holds to. Their objectivity is grounded within a communal way of living, and, as such, they do not reflect the subjective psychological views of the individual (Bulgakov, 65). The same can be said of Noah, Abraham, and the other mythic figures of the Old Testament. It is Kierkegaard who has to ponder the psychology of Abraham in his Fear and Trembling for the myth does not. Abraham can be a titanic figure of faith that does not question God’s word for he is the father of his people and objectively reflects them. The same goes for Noah of which there is no account of his subjective views in the narrative itself. When Babylon conquered Assyria and brought an end to their polis, they presented a mythological account of their god Marduk making the cosmos from the corpse of the Assyrian god Tiamat; when they brought down the Assyrian community, they ended their world and replaced it with their own. But with this comes a serious question: is the myth of the people or imposed on the people?

The answer to the question is placed within the context of the myths themselves. When Aeneas travels from the ruins of Troy to Italy, he is always under the pressuring auspices of Fate. When he seeks his own individual pursuits, Fate is always present through the god Jupiter who takes away friends, family, and the aspirations of Aeneas. In Roman society, the rule of Fate through the gods exemplified their emphasis on right and wrong (verum and falsum) (Zuckert, 58). From it, the great legalists and ethicist such as Cicero emerge to expound upon morality and the rule of law. Within the Greek polis, truth claims were bound up within the word aletheia which means the disclosure of being (Zuckert, 38). From this, the mythological stories of the Greeks present a means of disclosing being (Zuckert, 58). Aristotle and Plato mention Homer and critique him, but they are indebted to Homer and wish to expound upon what he has set in motion. The God of the Biblical myths provides an intriguing impasse for He offers both commands, but there is also a mystery interwoven throughout the narratives.

Despite the commandments, the Biblical myths have continued to maintain a tradition of commentaries that further pass on the narrative even if they are not myths themselves. The commentaries are referred to as the Midrashim of which Father Robert Baron considers the Noah film a part of. Additional texts include the Babylonian Talmud, the Dead Seas Scrolls, and possibly the Medieval Jewish philosophers. Now, I would, as a Christian, say that this tendency has continued within the Christian community. Whether it is the stories of saints, medieval theological dramas, or even the works of writers such as Dante, the faith has not found itself within a static horizon  as seen among fundamentalists. The culmination of Biblical myths is grounded within Jesus Christ who has brought forth a new community in the Kingdom of Heaven. Christianity does not annihilate the polis, but perfects it; the Christian may find himself as a lonely individual in the world, but he is of a divine community. The Christian is one oriented towards being immersed in myth, not contrary to it.

Works Cited:

Bulgakov, Sergius. Unfading Light: Contemplations and Speculations. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2012. Print

Campbell, Joseph. Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor.  Novato, California: New World Library. 2001. Print

Zuckert, Catherine H. Postmodern Platos. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. 1996. Print.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College. He studied  for a double major in History and Theology with a minor in Catholic Studies. In 2010, during his freshman year, he converted to Catholicism. After what the responses were to Noah, he is worried that Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” will bring the controversy scale up to a whole new level. 

The Path of God (Indy Series part 3)

Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth – The Last Crusade

Aslan!

And the adventurous and desperate archaeologist comes to a chasm. It is too far to jump to the other side, and upon looking down there is nothing but the depths of darkness awaiting. Then Indy closes his eyes and takes a step, a leap of faith, and a bridge catches him. A bridge camouflaged, blending in with the chasm, appearing perfectly invisible from the top down. I have come to such a test a few times in my life where it feels like there is no way forward, and only on the occasion that I love God enough to obey Him have I moved forward.

This is the most difficult of the tests and the most important. The first test was to show us that we understand God deserves our respect. The second test to show us that He can be known. The third test shows us how much we love. The first two tests were eminently reasonable, if you do not respect God or do not know God you approach your self-destruction. But there is no danger here, and paradoxically we are most afraid. God invites us to come and assures us of our safety and we cannot sense this. We come to a choice, an act, we either obey and are saved or stand there paralyzed by a fear of death. Death which we know has been overcome by God and which cannot harm us.

We can have faith so as to move mountains and knowledge to understand the tongue of angels, but if we do not have love it is for naught.  And this bears out in the end, when both the Jones are saved and those who did not pass the test (and would not have reached the grail had Indy not helped) both perish for their lack of the Fear of God, Knowledge of God, and Love of God.

 

 

Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian who has been saved by the blood of Christ.

The Word of God – Indy Series (part 2)

“Only in the footsteps of God will he proceed.” – The Last Crusade

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1

Our second test for the holy grail, (the spoiler alert is still in effect from last article) is the Word of God, and only in the footsteps of God will he proceed. After escaping decapitation and bisection our intrepid (love that word) hero comes across a giant word puzzle. Because before there were iPhones they built games out of huge stone pieces that could kill you if you chose the wrong one. Which our archaeologist then proceeds to do. Our favorite archaeologist is very lucky and has excellent reaction speed.

This test is good one to follow the previous one. The previous one tested whether we’d be willing to submit to God, to give Him due respect in our prayer and our life. This one tests how much we know the God we’d be serving. For a husband to know nothing of his wife, not even her name, even if he should down his life for her, it would ring hollow. Because we failed to understand, to know God (and because we disobeyed Him), He came down to us as one of us so that we could know Him. By knowing God, we become no longer slaves but friends. Our service, instead of just a duty, becomes a joy. And a Christian is drawn to know God more, through prayer and service and study. In prayer we communicate with God, more importantly we listen to Him. In service we show our understanding and love for Him. In study we seek Him out in everything. We seek His holy name.

Not that it is easy, many of the heresies that the Church has dealt with have been over Who God Is. In our personal journey we often stumble over our imperfect knowledge of God, and most of us have been given a bad start (like Indy with his first letter choice) toward knowing Him. Ultimately as finite creatures we could never truly know the infinite God, unless we had direct communion with Him (this, to my understanding, is the Church’s teaching of what heaven is). Both reverence and knowledge are necessary to proceed in holiness, but behold there comes another test, which will be discussed next time.

 

Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian who enjoys popular culture so much he gave it up for Lent (Easter, please come quickly)