ReasonForOurHope

Thursday, September 3, 2015

New Evangelizers Post: Will All Men Be Saved?

I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com.  

I recently was in a discussion with a dear friend regarding whether I believed all men could go to Heaven. My short answer to his inquiry was “Yes.” But I think this is something that requires a great deal of clarification.

One of the concerns here is the difference between what is said and what is heard.  I remember once I had a student who asked if beasts go to Heaven.  My answer was that Christ never told us.  But what she heard was that her recently departed beloved pet was gone forever.

When I gave my friend the above short answer, he expressed great concern over the implication of that answer.  As a teacher, imagine if I told my students that it was possible that a student could never study and still pass a test.  It would be a true statement because I can that it is possible, however unlikely, that someone could guess their way into a passing grade.  However, what a student might hear is “I don’t have to study to pass.”

The reason why I believe that it is possible that all men could go to Heaven is because God never told us who is in Hell.  Pope St. John Paul the Great wrote in Crossing the Threshold of Hope:

[Christ] speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Mt 25:46).  Who will these be?  THe  church has never made any pronouncement in this regard.  This is a mystery truly inscrutable, which embraces the holiness of God and the conscience of man.  The silence of the church is, therefore, the only appropriate position of the Christian faith.  Even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, “It would be better for that man if he had never been born,” (Mt 26:24), His words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation.

Did the pope say that Judas was in Heaven?  No.  Did he say that it was likely that Judas was in Heaven?  No.

He said that while Hell is real, we are ignorant of who is there.  We know with certainty that there are certain people in Heaven: the saints.  But we do not know with certainty who is in Hell.  So with this idea in mind, it leaves open the possibility that all men could go to Heaven.

Does this mean that we know that Hell is empty?  No.  Is it likely Hell is empty?  Nothing about the pope’s statement indicates this.  John Paul was simply acknowledging that Christ withheld this bit of information from revelation.

What is the potential harm of saying all men could go to Heaven?  There are two likely misinterpretations:


You can read the entire article here.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Why Did American Ultra Fail?





Over at One Perfect Shot, Allan Mott wrote a fascinating article about why the new movie, American Ultra, failed at the box office.  It is a good read, but I warn that he uses some vulgar language.  If you are interested, click this link.

Trying to predict what will and will not be a hit.  Studios spend millions trying to crack the formula for success, but there is none.  No one can predict what will be a hit or a bomb with any incredible accuracy.

The movie received great reviews, but despite that, I had no desire to see it.

None.

The plot revolves around a stoner guy and his stoner girlfriend.  It turns out that the stoner guy is really a sleeper agent and doesn't even know it until he gets activated.  Action and hilarity are supposed to ensue.

Mott lays the failure squarely on the two leads: Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.  For some reason, they both come off as extremely unlikeable.  Mott blames Eisenberg's lack of appeal to his perceived arrogance.  He says Stewart is unfairly maligned for the Twilight films and her aloof attitude.

I think that Mott is right on the money.  Both of them are talented actors.  But there is nothing about them in their public life or their body of acting work that has engendered any affection.  I can tell you that Eisenberg is my biggest source of skepticism about Batman v. Superman.

But I don't think that was event he full extent of the problem.

Now, I cannot say why the vast majority of people did not see this movie.  I can only speak from my own perspective here.  I propose that maybe some of what I feel was a part of the feeling of the general populace, but I will leave that for you to decide.

For me it came down to drugs.

Drugs have always been an issue, but they have never been as mainstream as they are right now in our society.  Before it was fringe and counter-cultural.  Now it almost seems like you are strange if you lived like me and have never partaken.

The problem with marijuana particularly is that you cannot point to it an categorically call it a life ruiner.  As a teacher I have seen the horrible effect it has had on students by robbing them of any desire for higher pleasures and joys that come through fulfillment of maturity, satisfaction through accomplishment, and letting God fill your life with grace.  But, that isn't always the case.  For every kid who has all of his potential sucked away by this drug, there is someone else who partakes but still finds success.  As a result, many indulge freely thinking that they also could easily be a success and enjoy the intoxication.

I remember seeing the trailer for American Ultra and recognizing that it was playing out this particular stoner fantasy.  The movie War of the Worlds played into the fantasy of a dead beat dad who, when the chips are down, saves his family.  American Ultra is plays into the fantasy of someone who is lost to drugs but still has within them the ability to do superhuman things.

At least that is the impression I received from the trailer.  Again I haven't seen the film.  And it might be just as good as the critics are saying, but I'm turned off by the subject matter.

One of the reason I love the move Ted, is that even though there is a good deal of drug humor, it shows how it retards the soul and can lead to great unhappiness (Sadly this message is completely overturned by the sequel).

I have always had a distaste for drug culture, but it has become so mainstream to the point of embarrassment. If any of you watched the MTV VMA's last night (I did all that I could to avoid it), I'm sure you saw a constant push for "drugs are cool."  I heard an audio clip of the crowd going wild when Kayne West mentioned being high.

But I am tired of it.  It isn't even that I am horribly offended.  I'm just find it so worn out.

Yes, we get it, you want to lose yourself in mindless, intense pleasure.  And you've gotten society to the point where you can do it legally in many places.

But please don't expect me to pay money to watch you do it.

I submit that most Americans, even if they are libertarian on this, are tired of Hollywood trying to push the virtues of intoxication.

Am I wrong?

Please let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #20 - Sherlock


3 SEASONS
(2010-present)

There is a reason that the character of Sherlock Holmes has endured.  He is both a powerful and pitiable person.  We all long to be as smart as he is and yet we see the burden of that genius on his heart or lack thereof.  The great detective has had many incarnations in movies and TV.  But this show added the slightest of innovations that added an additional hook:

What if Sherlock was alive today.

Rather than have him be a relic of a Victorian era gone by, this Sherlock is a man who is more knowledgeable and is more disconnected from his fellow man.  This makes him a wonderful commentary on our internet age where knowledge is abundant but human intimacy wanes.  The show fully embraced a bold visual style to bring the character into the 21st century and play around with the old Arthur Conan Doyle stories.

Another wonderful innovation that sets this show apart is the formatting.  Most dramas are 42-50 minutes in run time.  Sherlock about doubles that, making each episode its own full-length feature.  This allows for a slower and richer unfolding of plot and mystery.  It also allows for more twists and turns and complications than you could get in your regular detective show.

Great credit should be given to creator Steven Moffat for breathing such life into Holmes and Watson.  Simply transporting them in time is not enough.  He had to make them and their adventures feel relevant to today's audience.

But the most credit should be given to lead actors: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

There are many in this generation who now see Cumberbatch as THE defininitive Sherlock, and it is hard to argue.  This role has made him a star.  His Sherlock is terse, flippant, boarding on psychopathic.  He is, as he says of himself, "I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant, and all-around obnoxious [person] that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet. I am dismissive of the virtuous, unaware of the beautiful, and uncomprehending in the face of the happy."

If this was all there was to the performance, I do not think that the show would have lasted.  But underneath all of that is a vulnerability, almost a childlike vulnerability.  Cumberbatch shows us that at the heart of Sherlock's frustration is that he can see so much of what others cannot, but he cannot see what everyone else can.  He tries to understand the human heart from the outside-in and in galls him.

And Martin Freeman is just as much a reason for the shows success.  He is our window into Sherlock and he is truly the heart of the show.  His Watson is not simply a sidekick.  Freeman shows us a man of great contradictions, like Sherlock.  He is a healer and a soldier who now does not know where he fits in the world.  It would be to simple to call him an everyman, because Freeman's Watson is extrodinarily brave, kind, and clever.  You understand immediately why he, and almost no one else, was able to break through Sherlock's steely exterior.  And you understand why Watson puts up with Sherlock's prickliness.  Freeman is incredibly moving when he says, "I was so alone, and I owe you so much."  Such a plainspoken statement of affection could fall horribly flat, but Freeman gives it the perfect delivery to cut to the heart.

I also have to say that this might be my favorite depiction of Moriarty.  The idea behind it blew my mind in a way that created a villain that was in every way Sherlock's equal and yet was unlike anything I had seen before.

And above all, Sherlock is a good mystery show.  You want to follow the clues to try and figure out the impossible problems, of which Holmes and Watson have no shortage.

TV THRESHOLD
"A Study in Pink"
(1x01)

The pilot was fantastic and has all of the elements in itself that make the show great.  Not only is that innovative visual style present from the first moments, but the mystery is intriguing.  3 people are found who have apparently been forced to commit suicide.  How do you get someone to do that?  What could possibly drive someone to that?  And why?  Not only was the mystery horribly interesting, but the draw of the characters was completely amazing.

JUMP THE SHARK

N/A

WORST EPISODE
"The Hound of the Baskervilles"
(2x02)

There are only 3 episodes per season of Sherlock.  This episode solidified that the idea that the middle episode of each season is the worst.  And this episode lacks a strong tie to the overall continuity, but the mystery is not that interesting and the answer to the problem is less-so.

BEST EPISODE

"The Reichenbach Fall"
(2x03)

This was the height of the show's strength.  The mental chess match of Sherlock and Moriarty came to a head and Sherlock was faced with an impossible problem.  One of the great things about the episode is that Sherlock is smart enough to see that he may not be able to come out victorious and that melancholy permeates the whole episode.  Not only that, but it is very exciting to see someone we come to think of as almost superhuman face off against a challenge that is believably scary.  I will not spoil how the episode ends, but it is tense, exciting, dramatic, and emotional.


OVERALL

Sherlock is something special.  And part of what makes it special is how rare it feels.  Each episode feels like an event.  There are still more episodes to come and I cannot wait to see where it goes.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lack of Updates (part IV)

I am sorry for the recent lack of updates.  I usually like to get 3-4 posts a week, but I have been falling behind.

I began my school year on Monday and I have been going non-stop ever since.  My schedule includes, but is not limited to, 4 classes in a row, which means I am talking for 3 and a half hours straight every day.

In addition to this I have just returned to graduate school and it is kicking my butt.  I am trying to stay about a week ahead of my work because I am going to start falling behind very, very soon.

So as a result, I have not been able to spend as much time composing my thoughts on this blog as much.  I like to take time and collect my thoughts into something cogent before I write them down (though I do not know how successful I am in getting that across).

I am going to try to keep up better, but the next few weeks may be a little sparse.

Let me say, again, how grateful I am to all of you who take time out of your day to read this blog.  I always have you in mind and I strive to write something for you that will be worth your time.

Any prayers you can send my way would be appreciated.

-CatholicSkywalker

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #21 - Star Trek

3 SEASONS
(1966-1969)




It is truly amazing how a show which has become such  cultural touchstone was only on the air for a quarter of the length of dreck like 2 and Half Men.

And if this list were about the most IMPORTANT shows of all time, Star Trek would rank much, much higher.  Very few shows in the history of television have influenced so many people's lives.

There have been a lot of science fiction space shows.  Some are well known like Lost in Space or Battlestar Galactica.  And others have fallen into obscurity like Space 1999.

But Star Trek set itself apart from all of those for the following reasons:

1.  Iconic Characters.
The show not only created distinct, well-defined characters, but they each occupied such a unique space on the enterprise.  Their personalities and points of view were such that they were not interchangeable.  Notice the arguably bland first crew of the original pilot under Christopher Pike.  Only the standout Spock remained into the series.  Each character brought a fresh, unique voice to each situation.  You could not take Spock's lines and have Kirk say them believably.  That is because the characters embodied these complimentary personalities.

2.  Creativity
Star Trek really swung for the fences when it came to coming up with the wildest ideas.  True, not everything was a home run (sorry Tribbles), but they brought some of the most memorable shows to life.  All the while, they made sure not to go too psychedelic and weird so that their audience could not follow.

3.  Thematic Exploration.
While sometimes hitting the allegory a little too hard, Star Trek heavily emphasized the thematic side of their adventures.  It wasn't just about exploring strange new worlds out in the cosmos.  It was about exploring the universal condition of the human soul.  We saw in the Klingons man's warlike nature.  We saw in Kirk-Spock-McCoy the constant battle between, Eg-Super Ego-Id.  We saw the battle between eros and phileo when Spock went though Pon Farr.

4.  Acting.
People sometimes deride the acting on the show, particularly Shatner's unique cadence.  But I think they overlook the power of not only his performance but of many in the cast.  No one else could have played Kirk like Shatner.  Nimoy brought an amazing depth to the cool veneer of Spock.  DeForrest Kelley brought a down-home realism to the spectacular setting.

5.  Design.
To this day, the idea of phasers, shields, transporters, warp speed, and the like are part of our cultural consciousness.  Not only that, but the gorgeous set and costume design burned its way into your brain in ways that most shows do not.


TV THRESHOLD

"The Naked Time"
(1x04)

This classic episode involves the crew being overcome with an intoxicating effect.  It is always fun to watch people act strangely, but this episode is not only fun, but poignant.  It also highlights the science-minded approach to dealing with problems.  This is the first truly iconic episode of the show.

JUMP THE SHARK

N/A

Star Trek ended too early, and so never outgrew its welcome.  There were still so many stories to tell, as evidenced by the amazing film franchise.

WORST EPISODE

"The Way to Eden"
(3x20)
This is an episode that will have you overdosing on hippie.  Not only that, but this terrible episode about a cult leader who hijacks the enterprise to take them to a prospective paradise is eerily similar to the plot of the terrible Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

BEST EPISODE
"Amok Time"
(2x01)

There are so many great episodes from which to choose: "Space Seed," City on the Edge of Forever,"  "Mirror, Mirror," and "The Squire of Gothos," come to mind.

But for my money, "Amok Time" beats them all.

This is the best of the series for a number of reasons.  Notice the incredibly moody use of shadow and light in the direction.  Look at the sophisticated development of Vulcan sexual politics and primal insanity.  Enjoy the over-the-top fight score.  But most of all, revel in the tour-de-force performance of Nimoy.  He takes you on a journey of rage to resignation to joy.


OVERALL

Sadly, Star Trek never fully realized its TV potential.  It at times feels too much a creature of its age and is surpassed in quality by two of its subsequent series.

But Star Trek is the progenitor of them all.  While it so often noted how important and influential it is, it must not be forgotten that it is also a great deal of fun to watch.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Before and After: Movies from Fall/Winter 2014

Since I just posted about a week ago my thoughts about the upcoming movies for Fall/Winter 2015, I thought it would be fun to take a look back a year ago to what I thought about the upcoming movies and compare it to what I found.

I decided to start with a year ago, because there are a number of films from that time that I only recently got around to watching.

Below are my original anticipatory thoughts.  Following those are my Film Flash reviews if I saw it in the theater, or a quick summary of My Thoughts if I saw it at home.

I've also updated my ratings from some of my Film Flashes.  Looking back, I think I tend to give higher scores on many of my initial impressions.  But then over time, they slightly adjust downward.  This is not always the case, but I think I try as much as possible to see the good in a film.  But that good may not have as much staying power over time.

Scale of 1-5 stars my likelihood of seeing it in theaters (1 being “Not at all” 5 being “Cannot wait!”).

So here are some of the movies that are coming out along with my level of excitement.



The Maze Runner -
THEN - I find the trailer incredibly intriguing and I think I'm going to see this one in the theater if I can (****)
FILM FLASH - Cube meets Hunger Games.  Better than average teen dystopian future film.  ( 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)


Hector and the Search For Happiness
THEN- I like the look of this film and it reminds me of the previews I saw for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  I just hope its better than the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (***)
MY THOUGHTS - A movie with unnecessarily dark turns that doesn't go deep enough.
(2 out of 5 stars)


The Equalizer 
THEN- It looks like Denzel is trying to encroach on Liam territory.  And the trailers look like he pulled it off (****)
FILM FLASH: Denzel goes full Liam Nesson in Taken and maybe even outdoes him.  Graphically violent fun. (3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)




Gone Girl 
THEN- I'm not sure why, but the trailers have me so intrigued.  And Affleck is currently in the full bloom of his Ben-aissance.  I'm there opening night (*****)
FILM FLASH - Expertly filmed movie with great performances about ugly people doing disturbing things.
(2  out of 5 stars)


Whipplash
THEN- I'm sure he's a lovely person, but I really don't like Miles Teller.  And I don't care for Jazz, so there isn't a big draw for me here in this story about a struggling Jazz drumming student.  (*)
 comeback (**)
MY THOUGHTS - Ambiguous themes and message don't dull the power of this film. (4 out of 5 stars)


Kingsman: The Secret Service
THEN- This feels like Kick Ass but in England.  Not a big selling point (**)
MY THOUGHTS - A little too violent for me and too much emphasis on uncharismatic lead. (2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)


St. Vincent
THEN- I like Bill Murray, but this looks like nothing special (**)
FILM FLASH Like a vulgar version of Up.  One of Bill Murray's best performances in years.
(3 out of 5 stars)


Nightcrawler
THEN- Unfortunately this is not a movie about one of my favorite X-Men, but it is a movie about a creepy news reporter starring a creepy Jake Gyllenhal (*)
MY THOUGHTS - A mesmerizing dark satire with an amazing performance (4 out of 5 stars)


Interstellar
THEN- Christopher Nolan has not made a bad movie and I found the trailers enthralling. (*****)
FILM FLASH - Like 2001, but good.  Epic scope and emotional depth.  (Beware the chunky 3rd act) (4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.)

Big Hero 6
THEN- Disney's digital studios have grown up a lot in the last few years and this is brought to us by Marvel who has a great cinematic track record (****)
FILM FLASH - A fun superhero cartoon, though not as nostalgic as Wreck-It-Ralph or as magical as Frozen. (3  out of 5 stars)

The Theory of Everything
THEN- This is pure Oscar-bait and I can't wait to see it (****)
FILM FLASH - Like A Beautiful Mind?  Then you'll hate this movie with a completely opposite theme. (1 out of 5 stars.)



Foxcatcher
THEN- I love Steve Carrel, but I can't get my head around this one (***)
MY THOUGHTS - Hated this film.  It wasn't that it was morally offensive or anything.  But it was completely dark, pretentious, and ultimately pointless.  Nothing in this movie made any sense. (1/2 out of 5 stars)




The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
THEN- I thought the last 2 movies were very good, so I will be there opening night (*****)
FILM FLASH - Best Hunger Games movie yet.  Refreshingly different, but incomplete.  Can't wait for part 2! (4  out of 5 stars)

The Imitation Game
THEN- I know the history behind this story and it is very sad.  I might wait for Netflix (**)
FILM FLASH - Fascinating story about secrets on top of secrets and lies on top of lies.  (3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)




Exodus: Gods and Kings
THEN- If Ridley Scott can bring the same intesity that he brought to Gladiator, then this could be all kinds of awesome (****)
FILM FLASH - Come for the Biblical inaccuracy.  Stay for the not-so-bad sword and sandal epic.
(2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)

December 19


The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies
THEN- I am so excited to see this.  I can't wait to see all of the heartbreakingly powerful parts of the book come to life (*****)
FILM FLASH - A fond, fitting farewell to Jackson's Tolkienverse (WARNING: the character Alfred = Jar Jar) (4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Friday, August 21, 2015

TARDIS Travels: Exploring Doctor Who Part 5 - Better Than Imagined



Here is the next part of my continued exploration of the rebooted Doctor Who.  I've already written about my impressions of Season 1 and how I believe the TV Threshold can be found in the fourth episode of season 2, "The Girl in the Fireplace." 

I have also completed my Season 2 review and my Season 3 review.

So now here are my impressions of the 4th Season (SPOILERS BELOW).



1.  I was wrong about Donna Noble
When I saw Catherine Tate in season 3, I thought she would be horrible, cloying companion.  I was relieved when Martha Jones took that spot.  When Tate returned as Donna Noble, I was dubious to say the least.  But boy was I wrong.  The dynamic between her and the Doctor was so refreshing and fantastic.  He says to her in the first episode, "I just want a mate," tired of all the complications from romantic feelings between him and his companions.  This lack of romance makes Donna a great companion.  Together, they are two friends having adventures.  And she is much more adult than Rose or Martha and is not shy about speaking to the Doctor like an equal, which is also a breath of fresh air.  But I was most surprised by her dramatic acting range.  In "The Fires of Pompeii" I was bowled over by her performance and I forgot all about her as my least favorite character from The Office.  She may actually be my favorite of his companions.

2.  Great Single Episodes
I made this point in my last post, but there are also some great single (or 2-part) episodes. 
a.  The Fires of Pompeii - I loved the way that Donna brought a whole new perspective and inquisitiveness to the Doctor's travels.  And the emotional intesity of this first travel together was not what I was expecting.  It had me hanging on, unsure of what the Doctor would do.  

b.  The Doctor's Daughter - a weirdly compelling story that attempts to pry a little more of the Doctor's closely guarded history.

c.  The Silence of the Library and The Forrest of the Dead - I have rewatched these episodes a few times.  This is one of the few times we get to feel confusion with the Doctor and that horrible heartache at realize that there is so much more that is going on that we don't know.  The introduction of River Song (Alex Kingston) blew open the doors to the Doctor's future in a way that was exciting and tragic.  And I love how the end has such an amazing emotional shift that I did not see coming.  Not to mention I love how the Vashta Nerada tap into our universal experience of fear of the dark.

d. Midnight - This was actually the first episode of Doctor Who I ever saw.  It was recommended by a friend years ago.  Seeing it again, I can feel the different layers of context that make the episode even better.

e.  The End of Time - Heartbreaking.  But more on this later.


3.  Closure
I am so glad that they took their time to close out the story of the 10th Doctor.  I loved the fact that his story takes time to say goodbye to everyone.    The Doctor gives everyone around him the happiest endings he can, especially Rose Tyler.  I think it so interesting how she can have the Doctor, but he can't have her.  And it broke my heart that the last person he wanted to see was her before the end.  But sad as it was, I'm glad the show gave you a chance to say a proper goodbye.

4.  Christ-like Sacrifice
I've always found the essense of heroism in self-sacrifice.  The Doctor isn't just a Time Lord, he is a hero.  Ultimately, he is in many ways a tragic figure.  He reminds me of the line from The Lord of the Rings "I give hope to men.  I leave none for myself."  Even though he has the power to regenerate, they do a good job of explaining that "it feels like dying."  So any sacrifice is real.  And I love the fact, that when it came down to it, the Doctor was called to choose not lay down his life for "the world," but for one man.  It reminded me of how St. Augustine said that Christ died not for mankind but for each man.  Wilfred tries to explain how his life is nothing compared to the value of the Doctor's life.  But the Doctor would not hear it.  I love how un-stoic he is about it and is angry and sad, but ultimately noble.

5.  David Tennant is my Doctor Who
I am sorry to put down any previous Doctor or to pre-judge any Doctor to come, but David Tennant is my Doctor.  His performance is so embedded in my mind that I will have a hard time accepting anyone else in that role.  He won me over so quickly and carried in himself all of the wonderful contradictions that make his character so fascinating.  His final words echo my feelings too:


Stay tuned for my reflections of Season 5.