ReasonForOurHope

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Gospel According to (Elton) John

So Elton John gave an interview with Sky News where he said regarding "gay marriage" and the Church:

"If Jesus Christ was alive today, I cannot see him... saying this could not happen," 

Now I always get nervous when news sources have an ellipses in a quote.  There is too much room to distort.  But let us assume that this accurately reflects his view.

Do you not see the glaring ignorance of this statement?  It completely misunderstands all of Christianity and shows the ignorance of the modern world.

"If Jesus Christ was alive today…"

Jesus IS alive today.

We worship the Risen Christ, the Living God.

This is the fundamental mental division between ourselves and the secular culture.

We are not the Jesus fan club.  We are not simply a group of fallible people guessing at the meanings and applications regarding the esoteric teachings of some dead moral philosopher.

We are the Body of Christ.  Jesus is alive.  He lives in His Church.  The Scriptures are His Living Word.  The Magesterium is guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

To people like Elton John, Christianity is a dead thing like a log that can be chopped up and shaped into whatever he desires.

But the reality is that Christianity is a living thing.  Christ is the vine and we are His branches.  And if we cut ourselves off from the Living Vine, we wither and die.

Elton John has every right to speak his ignorance.

But so much more is our responsibility to point out that it is ignorance.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Best: Top 10 Transformers (Besides Optimus Prime)

In honor of Transformers Age of Extinction, I thought I'd put up the top 10 Transformers.

More-so than mosts of the lists on this blog, this will be overly subjective.  I've found that when it comes to choosing the best Transformers, it tends to fall upon the ones that people have an emotional attachment of some kind.

Also, Optimus Prime is clearly going to be #1 on any list, so we shall leave him out of this one.

I'm not including pictures, since most of the ones I've found are copyrighted, but I am linking each name to a wiki page that you can visit to see what they look like.


10.  Unicron

The Galactus of the Transformers universe, Unicron was the greatest threat ever faced by the Robots in Disguise.  I remember being terrified by his massive size and capacity for destruction.

9.  Devastator

The first of the Transformers that was the result of combining other robots together, it was always exciting to watch any episode with the Constructicons because you knew that Devastator was coming.

8.  Alpha Trion

One of the first Transformers, Alpha Trion was the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Optimus Prime's Luke Skywalker.  Wise and self-sacrificing, Alpha Trion was everything that a mentor should be.

7.    Hot Rod
The perpetual screw-up eventually stepped up and lit the darkest hour of the Transformers.

6.  Skyfire
I loved the idea of someone who was friends with the Decepticons but was conflicted by their evil.  And he was the coolest of the jets to transform half way and pretend he was a Robotech ship

5.  Mirage
His illusion power was one of the most underutilized in the entire series.  I loved where he set up an illusion to make the Autobots look like Menasor.

4.  Tracks
A corvette that could also fly.  How cool is that?

3.  Grimlock
As slow-witted as he was brutal, Grimlock nevertheless tried as much as he could to lead his Dinobots to fight for the right.

2.  Brawn
On the back of all Transformer packages, it gives you their stats on a scale of one to ten.  The tiny Brawn had a strength of nine.  Like the DC Golden Age Atom, Brawn had a chip on his shoulder and was always out to prove his strength, often in some of the most entertaining ways.  He is the only Transformer that I have on my desk as I blog.

1.  Soundwave
The best of the Decepticons because not only did he have at his command some of the coolest minions like Laserbeak, Ravage, Rumble, and Frenzy, but he actually had a code.  He was loyal to Megatron and was not always seeking to usurp him like Starscream.  In fact, when Megatron is mortally wounded, it was Soundwave who rescued him.  Soundwave could have been the leader but chose instead to remain loyal to his own code.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Film Flash: Transformers - Age of Extinction


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Don't believe the negative reviews.  This is the greatest Transformers movie yet (though too long).

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Are We Any Smarter?

I am passionately in love with Ancient Greek and Medieval Philosophy.  I always get a kick out of introducing students to the thought of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas, etc.

But I have found a resistance to learning among my students about learning from those who lived centuries ago.  It comes from what CS Lewis termed "chronological snobbery."  He defines it thus:

"'[C]hronological snobbery,' the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them."  -Surprised by Joy, Chapter 13


In other words, there is a general assumption that we are smarter than people in the ancient world because we have things that they don't like running water, TIVO, The Department of Transportation, and Sham-wows.  Sometimes when I quote Plato at my students they imagine some old savage with bad hygiene using human teeth for currency.

This is where the study of history is paramount.

I am often fascinated at how smart some people in the ancient world were.  Eratosthenes was an ancient Greek in Egypt who discovered that the earth was round in 3rd-2nd Century BC.  He found out that at noon the shadow in one city and another were at different angles.  My measuring the angles he not only conclude that the earth was a sphere, but the was able to fairly accurately figure out its circumference.

Socrates and Plato proved through logic that good is always better than bad.  The reason why is that no one ever wants the bad for itself.  In other words, if you want something, you want it for a perceived good.  But even if you want something bad, you don't want it because it is bad, they want it because of the good.  No one ever cheats on their spouse because they want to ruin their lives and destroy their families.  Those things might happen, but no one is motivated to act because of those things.  Socrates and Plato didn't just intuit this as most of us do.  They proved it.

Ambrose of Milan did something that amazed everyone else in his day because they had never seen anyone do it before: he read silently.  I know that it is hard to imagine, but before Ambrose, everyone had to say the printed words out loud and hear them before they knew what they said.  Think of it this way: someone puts some sheet music in front of you.  You can read music, but you can't hear the music in your head until sit down at a piano or some other instrument and bang out the notes.  Now some people can just look at sheet music and immediately translate the notes into a mental melody.  When I meet people like that it blows me away.  That is the feeling that geniuses like Augustine had when they saw Ambrose reading silently.

And now this amazing power is something that most grade school children can do.

That, I think, is part of the problem.  Because of the innovation and genius of people like Ambrose, we have been able to train people in our modern age to ingrain these skills in us.  We have more knowledge about the world because of people like Eratosthenes.  We stand on the shoulders of giants.  But are giants ourselves?

Perhaps it is unfair of me to only focus on the great people of the past.  Just as there was a great wisdom, there was also some horrible ignorance.  Superstition and brutality were more the rule in the old world rather than the exception.  But you could say the same thing about our world.

Our modern world has some true idiocy, but also some fantastic wisdom.  John Paul II's theology of the body is one of the most enlightening and uplifting things I have ever study.  Steve Wozniak with the help of Steve Jobs pushed the world to think differently about our relationship to technology.  Jobs was particularly a man of vision.  I heard a story about how he fired a bunch of people at Apple because they were doing what most companies do: try to produce a product to meet consumer demand.  Jobs instead said that Apple should create new technologies that would create demand.  We live in a world where a new disease like AIDS comes into existence with a 100% fatality rate and within a few years people we have therapies that allow men and women like Magic Johnson to live on for decades after infection.

So, no, maybe we aren't necessarily stupider than the people of the ancient world.  We have wise and intelligent men and women too, people of vision and insight.  And we have idiots and ignoramuses among us (maybe even including us) today who only care about their happy meals and youtubes instead of ancient bread and circuses.

But even though we may not be, as a a whole, any stupider, I don't believe we are any smarter.  To say that we are smarter than the ancients diminishes their wisdom and contributions.  Why is it so important to keep this in mind.

Because Lewis was right about chronological snobbery.  The truths about life and nature and faith and humanity that the ancients discovered are still true.  Truth doesn't change.  But if you can't refute truth, the only other way to avoid its power over you is to ignore it.  And the best way to avoid the insights of Socrates, Plato, Augustine, Thomas, and even more modern people like Chesterton and Lewis is to marginalize them.  Create an impression that we are more evolved than them.  Say that they are simply a product of their ignorant times and that we who are more evolved are smarter and thus we are justified in not listening to them.

But we are wrong.  They are just as wise and just as smart as we are.

We aren't any smarter.

Trailer Time: Mockingjay Teaser

I really dig this, for some reason.  Those who have read the book will be struck by the visual.  But I love the the sense of tangibility with this teaser.  Snow talks like a politician.  His propaganda feels like real propaganda and that sense of reality is so important to overcome the suspension of disbelief in sci-fi.


Thoughts?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

New Evangelizers Post: Lessons of the Sower pt 4 - The Good Soil

I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com

The final part of our series reflection on the Parable of the Sower is the happy ending.  Now, I am a firm believer in happy endings.  Every Christian should be because the story of our faith is one with a happy ending.  Some of us get stuck at Calvary and forget that though we live in this vale of tears, we are a Resurrection people.

One of the great lessons of the Parable of the Sower is that God’s Word is constantly surrounding us.  Often I hear my students ask why God no longer speaks to us the way He used to.  I respond that God is constantly talking to us.  The question is whether or not we are listening.

We have a choice on how to respond to the Lord’s call.  We can ignore it (the path), we can make it purely emotional (the rocks), we can let worldly desire overwhelm us (the thorns), or there is the final option: we can let it grow in us (the good soil).

The key mark of the good soil, according to Christ, is that it bears fruit thirty-, sixty-, and a hundred-fold.  What is this fruit?  

Converts.

You can read the entire article here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Logic Lessons pt 10: Definitions

I know that it has been nearly 2 years since we had our last foray into logic lessons.  To recap you can hit the "logic" tag at the end of this post to see all of the previous posts.

When last we left off, we went over all of the material fallacies.  But having finished that, we move on to definitions.

As I've written before on this blog, defining terms is one of the most crucial and most overlooked aspects of argumentation.  How can I properly refute my opponent's argument if I don't understand what he is talking about?  Or how can I properly defend my own beliefs if I cannot even explain what they are?

Both Democrats and Republicans say that they want to "help" the poor.  But what does "help" mean for them.  If a Republican wants to cut off public assistance, a Democrat would accuse him of not wanting to help the poor because for him "help" means using our governmental resources to give financial aid to the underprivileged.  But if a Democrat wants to expand welfare programs, the Republican will say that the Democrat is not helping the poor because by "help" the Republican means self-sufficiency that can come only when not depending on the government.

In both of the above cases, they wanted to "help."  But they had radically different definitions.  If they could agree on terms, the conflict would be less.

Of course there are those like Mao and Stalin who believed that words were not means to knowledge, understanding, and truth, but weapons to manipulate others.  If we do not want believe that, then we must dedicate ourselves to using them as tools of wisdom.

Definitions are key to helping us talk with each other.  Agreeing on terms help us to occupy the same mental space with another so that we can be more sure that we are talking about the same subject.

NATURE OF A DEFINITION

A definition, very simply, tells us what a thing is.  This is necessary for the 1st act of the mind: understanding.  This is what our minds do as they develop as children.  We point to things and we want people to tell us what they are.  A child points to a basketball and we say "ball."  The child points to a soccer ball and says "Ball?"  and we say "Yes."  The child then points to a dog and says "Ball?"  And we point and say "No. 'dog.'"

Slowly, we learn that some things are different than other things and other things are the same.  That is the same process we go through as adults, just more in depth.

Definitions clear up ambiguity.  Ideally we want an  “essential definition” which is an ideal definition that tells a thing’s essence by giving its genus and specific difference. It is clear and distinct.

At the very least, a definition must distinguish the object from other things.

I remember at one of our philosophy club debates, we were trying to figure out "What is art?"  One student smiled and declared triumphantly, "Art is… a WORD!"

And while that is true, it doesn't tell us anything.  I still am no closer to having the thing object in my mind.

If you said that "Red is… a COLOR!"  it would help, but I still don't yet have the object in mind.  If you said it was the color of the Flash's costume or Darth Vader's lightsaber or Jessica Rabbit's dress, then I am much closer.

At our next session, we will discuss the rules for definitions.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday Best: Sitcoms of All Time #20 - Family Ties



7 SEASONS (1982-1989)

What happens when two ex-hippies raise a conservative Republican, a ditzy fashionista, a tomboy, (and later clone of the the oldest son)?  You get Family Ties.

Family Ties was a very interesting show for a number of reasons.  The thing that I find most fascinating about it is that the center of the show shifted from its original intention.

If you look at the original opening credits sequences, it is clear that the show was supposed to focus on the parents Steven and Elyse Keaton (Michael Gross and Meridith Baxter Birney).

The central idea of the show was "how do children of the '60's raise a family in the '80's?"  The concept was about how they would try to live their hippie ideology in a practical family setting.  Particularly, their eldest son Alex (Michael J. Fox) was set up as a foil to everything they stood for.  As a young Ronald Reagan, Alex was supposed to be the "villain" of the show.  By "villain" I simply mean that he was the one who was always supposed to be wrong and the parents were to show him the right way to live.

But what the producers did not realize was that not only that a large percentage of their audience agreed with Alex's politics (this was the same audience that elected Reagan in the largest electoral landslide in history), but that Fox had so much talent and charisma that the show began to revolve around him.  Granted, the writers still did their best to show the error of Alex's ways each week.  But they couldn't overcome the stardom of Fox.

That is not to take anything away from the rest of the cast.  Gross and Baxter Birney do an outstanding job of juggling the comedic and the dramatic, as parents must do.  Justine Bateman takes her one-dimensional Mallory and gives her as many layers as possible while still making her funny in her simplicity.  Tina Yothers has a difficult transition from the young tomboy into a young lady, but led with her sarcastic best.  There was also a great supporting cast with Scott Valentine as the amiable tough guy Nick and Marc Price as dim-witted Skippy.

Even though Family Ties was a product of its time, it transcends its era.  To this day, I still remember some absolutely funny sequences that, upon recollection, simply crack me up.

I particularly love the episode where Steven becomes obsessed with Scrabble.  He starts making up words to win, like "zoquo" which he insists is an ancient Greek word which means to do water sports.  He gets so crazy he insists that the family start using the word one every day conversation.  Later in the episode, after Alex hordes the "u" tiles uses them to make the word "usnuu," which he says Greek for "to towel off."  Steven becomes upset and demands that word be used in a sentence.  Alex says, "After I zoquo I like to usnuu."

I don't know why, but that line always makes me giggle.




TV THRESHOLD
"Ready or Not" (2x16)
It actually took a while for me to warm up to the show.  But this episode not only does a good job of mapping out a lot of the relationship dynamics, it also has one of the funniest moments.  Mallory's boyfriend asks her for sex.  She is confused and asks for some advice on what to do.  The best part is where Steven hides a tape recorder (he is trying to document real family life) and Mallory asks Alex about how important sex is for a guy.  Realizing what is being recorded, Alex wordlessly takes the tape out and smashes it.

Mallory does bring up the double standard regarding sex and men and women.  In society men are lionized and women demonized for sexual experience.  In fact, Alex lost his virginity in the 4th episode of the series.  But the producers were wise enough to understand the unfairness of the standard, they did not let Mallory make the same mistake Alex made.

(Let me digress, I believe that this double standard is still in place today.  I see it in high school life.  But I always found it strange that for many the solution was to stop demonizing promiscuous sex among girls and make it "empowering."  I always thought that the solution was to hold men to a higher standard and not celebrate their piggish behavior.)


JUMP THE SHARK
"Be True to Your Preschool" (5x01)
This is actually a very good episode.  But the nature of jumping the shark is not that the episode is bad or that there are no good episodes after.  Instead shark jumping means that there is a fundamental shift in the tone, story, dynamic or some other fundamental aspect of the show that alters it forever and the quality begins to trend downward.

The reason why this episode jumps the shark is because it introduces the pre-school age younger brother Andrew Keaton (Brian Bonsell).  Adding him as a character shifted the entire family dynamic and the increased "cutsie kid" humor I believe took a lot away from the series.

To be sure, there were some great episodes after, but the overall trend was downward.

BEST EPISODE
"A, My Name is Alex" (5x22)
I believe most fans of the show would point to this episode.

It is easily the most dramatic and heartbreaking.  Alex's selfishly doesn't help his friend move and his friend dies in a car accident.  Alex deals with the guilt as best he can until he has a breakdown.

The second part of the episode was run commercial free (a big deal back in the day).  And it was done on a minimalist set ala Our Town where Alex talks to a psychiatrist (but really the audience) about his life.

I remember being a kid and seeing this and it effected me deeply.  There was something so daring about taking away most of the sets and props and focusing just on the actors.  I was fascinated as Fox played Alex at different stages of his life from young child to young man.  It was amazing to me how much the actors were able to transform themselves with simple changes in posture and voice.

But I think some people also forget that not only is this the most dramatic episode, it is also at the same time incredibly funny.  This is Family Ties at its best: using humor and tragedy, laughter and tears, to create a strong emotional impact on you.

OVERALL

Family Ties is a show that still holds up after decades of being off the air.  I believe that is a testament to not only the skill of those involved, but their willingness to evolve beyond their own pre-conceived ideas.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Casting Call: Indiana Jones


While all of the attention has been focused on the new Star Wars movie, Disney has been quietly developing a new Indiana Jones.  Now, the rumor going around is that they have been thinking about rebooting recasting the character rather than bring in Harrison Ford.

Now I am not as opposed to this idea as you might think.  Don't get me wrong, Ford's Indiana Jones is an icon.  But remember that Indiana Jones was originally thought of as an American James Bond.  And Bond has been played by many different actors over the years to varying degrees of success.  THe same could be done with Indiana Jones.

So far, the rumor is that Disney has approached Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen of Twilight) for the role.  I have nothing against him, He is a fine actor.  But I don't see him as a good fit for the part.  First of all, he seems a bit young for the part.  He is only 28 and Ford was 39 when he donned the fedora.

Indiana Jones is part is a character that requires both drama, action, and comedy.  Think about all that Ford was able to do with the character in the first sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  He was strong and dangerous the first time you see his face.  He was was a man of action in the temple.  And he made us laugh as he ran for his life.  He was all of those things because Indiana Jones is all of those things.  He also has to be able to show the maturity and intelligence of a college professor.

Whoever succeeds Ford needs to have those qualities.

I have listed below some choices.  Some lean towards the more actiony, some towards the dramatic, and some go towards the comedic.  I admit that there a number of choices outside the box, so be sure to vote for your favorite.



Greg Kinnear
photo by Angel Schatz

After watching Heaven is for Real, I am reminded what a good actor Kinnear is.  He also demonstrated a strong, world-weary grace in the role.  He can also match the comedic needs of the part.  The one thing that is a question mark is the action element.  Would he believable as the ultimate adventurer?


Joel McHale
photo by Gage Skidmore

This is a dark horse candidate.  McHale definitely has the comedic chops and he has proven over again that he can work believably as an action man on episodes of Community.  But he has never really tackled the deep dramatic nature that would be essential to the part.  But I think he is definitely capable if given the right director.

Josh Holloway
photo by Kristin Dos Santos

I've recently been rewatching Lost and Holloway did an amazing job as Sawyer.  He captured Indy's devil-may-care attitude along with a manly swagger.  He did a lot of very unlikeable things in that first season and yet he used his strong charisma to draw the audience in.


Chris Hemsworth
photo by Melinda Seckington

The youngest choice, Hemsworth showed a maturity beyond his age in Snow White and the Huntsman, as an action man beaten down by life.  He balances good dramatic and humorous elements as Thor as well.

Aaron Eckhart

photo by Gage Skidmore
He is the one who is closest to Ford in look and personality.  He is a fantastic actor who has enough gravitas to command the attention Indy does as an adventurer and as a professor.



Nate Fillion
photo by Gage Skidmore

Fillion has a strong background in action, comedy, and drama.  He displayed all of the classic Indiana Jones traits as Malcolm Reynolds on Firefly.  This is especially true in the movie Serenity, where like Indy, he fought hard while mostly getting his butt kicked.  He also comes off as the lovable rogue.

Thoughts?

Be sure to vote on the poll in the right column.  If you vote for "Other," be sure to put your choice in the comments section below.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lust: A Philosophical Analysis

Dr. Peter Kreeft once wrote that if we got rid of the 6th commandment then we would have a lot more Christians.

Sadly, I think he's correct.

This is also an incredibly uncomfortable topic for a whole host of reasons.

So do not worry, gentle reader.  This will not be a salacious expose on sensual pleasures or a confession of personal transgressions.  It will also not be a finger-wagging lecture on chastity.  Instead, I want to take a philosophical look at the current problem.

And I don't think that we can argue that there is a problem with our society.  Even secular sex doctors like Dr. Drew point out how we are not using sex for its proper end.  Our desires as a society seem strangely out of balance.

It is true that the sexual desire is natural to us, as is the desire for food.  But CS Lewis once presented this thought exercise:  imagine a group of people were gathered in a theater and someone came out with a covered pan.  That person then slowly revealed the roast chicken underneath.  As they did, the crowd hooted and hollered and shouted for more.  Lewis said that we would conclude that there was something disordered about this society's natural appetite for food.  And yet, this is how many treat sex.

If we had people who sat in front of computers and watched videos of people eating barbecued, fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs while the sat in front of the screen eating rice cakes pretending that they were ribs... wouldn't we also conclude that this society has a disordered relationship to food?  And yet, this is how many treat sex.

As I said, this is a difficult topic to bring up.  First, there is the level of embarrassment.  All humans have sexual thoughts and desires.  I would venture to say that most decent people are private about them and should become embarrassed if they became public.  I think bringing up sex also brings up the danger of possible shame and embarrassment.

Second, the sexual appetite feeds on sharing.  Because our sexual desires tend to be so private, we hold onto them like secrets.  Sharing them can be a relief, but it also stimulates more desire.  This is one of the reasons that even though pornography is more rampant than ever, the porn industry is losing money.  People are freely sharing their illicit media over the Internet because the sharing stimulates.

That is why you have to be very cautious even raising the topic.  Getting to specific with someone about their struggles may actually make their struggles stronger.  CS Lewis had a best friend named Arthur Greeves, and they remained best friends until Lewis died in 1963.  But the biggest regret they had in their friendship was that they too freely shared their sexual desires with one another (Lewis tended toward the slightly sado-masochistic and Greeves was gay).  Looking back, they saw that talking too candidly about what they lusted after only made the appetite stronger and more difficult to control.

These two reasons, I think, are why it is so difficult for people struggling with lust to get help: the nature of the problem is secretive and sharing the problem can sometimes make it worse.

Why is that?

Why does lust feel so overwhelming for so many?  It destroys marriages, families, carriers, and lives.  President Bill Clinton was the most powerful man in the world who nearly lost his job over his inability to check his libido.  Tiger Woods was married to a Swedish swimsuit model and it still wasn't enough for him.  Even Biblical heroes like King David destroyed their lives by not being able to control their desires.

I think that it is interesting that we tend not to experience lust until later in life.  Most of our other natural desires are present from birth: hunger, thirst, sleepiness, etc.  But it is only as we grow older and our bodies begin to mature that the sexual desire enters.  So we already have a jump start by several years on controlling all of our other desires when this new one creeps up on us.

Perhaps this is providential.  Maybe learning self control in other areas for so many years gives us a stronger foundation for resisting lust.  Of course that only works if our parents and educators have taught us self-control.  Are we doing properly in our society or are we teaching ourselves immediate gratification?

Another thing makes sexual desire so different is the object.  Hunger wants food.  Thirst wants drink.  But sexual desire doesn't want a thing; it wants a person.  This is, perhaps, why lust is so corrosive to the soul.  All human beings are made in the image and likeness of God.  And yet lust turns amazing gift of God into a thing.  Lust no longer sees a person but an object that can give satisfaction to a desire.

An important distinction should be made here between lust and sexual desire per se.  We all have sexual attractions and thoughts.  We were designed by God to be sexual beings.  It is through sex that we become most God-like in our bodies, because the end of the act is the creation of a new human life.  But this desire can devolve into lust.  What is the difference?

Lust ceases to see the person that is being desired as a person and only as an object of pleasure.  This does not mean that attraction, arousal, and pleasure regarding sexuality is always illicit.  In fact, in marriage it is celebrated.  But even in marriage, if the spouse only sees the other as a means to gratification, then the person is objectified.

Now some might say that any sex as long the participants are "in love" should be licit.  But that is obviously not the case.  Real love is about looking only for the good of the other.  If I had a fatal disease like AIDS, I would not engage in the marital act with my wife even if she was okay with it. Why not?  Because I love her and I do not want to harm her only for my selfish pleasure.  When we exercise our sexuality outside of the Natural Law, it harms us and brings us further away from happiness.

Sexual desire only meets its fullest potential when true love is present.  How can we distinguish between lust and love?

Lust can't wait to get.

Love can't wait to give.

(on a final note, I am not someone qualified to give advice on how to deal with struggles in lust, pornography, sex addiction, etc.  But there is a great program at settingcaptivesfree.com that comes highly recommended).

Monday, June 16, 2014

DC Movie Schedule and Aquaman Casting



NikkeFinke.com broke the story about DC's plan for unrolling their movie franchise to compete with Marvel's.  Here is the alleged schedule:

May 2016 – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
July 2016 – Shazam
Xmas 2016 – Sandman
May 2017 – Justice League
July 2017 – Wonder Woman
Xmas 2017 – Flash and Green Lantern team-up
May 2018 – Man Of Steel 2

Originally Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was supposed to come out a year from now.  Pushing it back was apparently because they needed more time to lock up their Justice League cast for multi-picture deals.  

Here are my thoughts:

-I thought that Batman v Superman was supposed to be Man of Steel 2.  But Superman is getting his own sequel in 2018.  What that tells me is that Batman v Superman is a litteral prequel to Justice League in the same way that The Hobbit is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings (the books, not the movies).  Batman v. Superman will exist primarily to set up the characters and their relationships so that it is all out of the way for the Justice League movie.  I am okay with this, but my only concern is that B v S will feel incomplete on its own.

-I think Shazam is a great choice for a stand alone movie.  It is the ultimate superhero/kid fantasy.  What child wouldn't want to be able to say the magic words and become the World's Mightiest Mortal.  I think that if they base this off of the recent Geoff Johns origin story, it could be a heck of a lot of fun.  I am shocked, though that there has been no buzz regarding story, directors, or casting from Warner Bros.

-I am curious about Sandman, but I don't think it fits within the regular DCU.  I know that Joseph Gordon-Leavitt is attached to this in some capacity, maybe as a producer.  But I don't know how well this character will translate onto the big screen.

-The Wonder Woman movie is coming out 2 months after Justice League.  This is quite a gamble.  If JL doesn't work, then neither will WW.  Of course WB's may be figuring that WW alone will not be a box office draw unless they get a lot of people to notice her first in JL.  This is actually not a bad plan.   I am  convinced that the original Green Lantern movie was DC's attempt to start a cinematic universe ala Iron Man.  When GL underperformed, plans were scrapped.  I think they are taking the reverse method.  They have Man of Steel.  They are taking their most bankable movie character, Batman, and using him to draw attention to JL.  And then from JL spawn the other movies.  But it hangs on how well JL performs.  If it works, it could pay off big time.

-The Flash Green Lantern Team Up could be good, but the previous movies need to come up with a compelling reason to put these two together.

-Ryan Reynolds is officially out as GL.  I am sad about this, because I actually enjoyed his Hal Jordan.  My prediction is that the GL in the JL movie will either be John Stewart or Simon Baz.

-With the Flash being in cinematic universe, DC should address the relationship between the movie universe and the TV universe.  It is okay to keep them separated, but they could also overlap them like Marvel's Agents of SHIELD.  That overlap paid off big time in the later half of the season.  But the difference here would be that none of the people Agents of SHIELD headline their own movie.  The Flash does.

-I don't know how much involvement Christopher Nolan will have in any of these.  He produced Man of Steel, but I think he might be out of the creative loop after that.  But I trust Zack Snyder with JL.  I am very curious who they will get for the other heroes.  I would suggest Brad Bird for SHAZAM! and Francis Lawrence (Catching Fire) for Wonder Woman.


AQUAMAN CASTING

Also, they have apparently cast Aquaman as well.  He will be played by...
photo by Lee Snowdon


Jason Momoa.  Or as he is more popularly known: Khal Drogo from Game of the Thrones.

I would never had thought to cast him in this part.  But I think I understand why.

Aquaman has always been the punchline of the Justice League.  You have the Man of Steel, an Amazon goddess, the world's greatest detective, the Fastest Man Alive, someone weilding the most powerful weapon in the universe, and... a guy who can talk to fish.

For anyone who is a fan of Aquaman, you know that he is so much more, but it is hard to overcome that image.

Hiring Momoa gives Aquaman a lot more heft both physically and substantially.  It gives him an edge and a danger that makes him feel like he has a more natural seat at the JL table.  I hope they go with my favorite version of Aquaman: the bearded hook-handed version.

This Justice League has been full of unexpected casting, some exciting (Ben Affleck), some infuriating (Jessie Eisenberg).  But Zack Snyder is really keeping us on our toes.

Thoughts?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday Best: Sitcoms of All Time #21 - The Middle



5 Seasons (2009-present)

I remember that I had been lukewarm on this show for many years.  It wasn't until its third season that I realized that I had actually liked every single episode that I had seen.

The Middle is a typical family comedy.  The conceit is that this show is supposed to show us what real life is like in Middle America, not how typical TV sitcoms show it.  And what makes this show so great is that it actually does what it sets out to do in its own hyper-comedic way.

Patricia Heaton is lead and mom Frankie Heck.  Her character here is so different from the more composed, sophisticated part she played on her star-making run on Everybody Loves Raymond.  Frankie is always yearning for her messy life to be better.  She constantly wishes that her husband Mike (a fantastic Neil Flynn) was less stoic.  She wishes that her eldest son Axl (Charlie McDermott) was less of a jerk.  She wishes her daughter Sue (Eden Sher) was more popular and successful at school.  And she wishes her youngest Brick (Atticus Shaffer) was less weird.  She constantly compares herself to her neighbors and to the people she sees on TV.  Her life, her home, her finances, and her job are constantly a mess.  And in that, the show taps into the great truth about ordinary life:  it's messy.

I love the Heck house for its messiness.  It seems very real to me.  I can remember growing up with a house filled with clutter everywhere, only cleaning when company was coming (and that usually consisted of hiding the trash).  It captures the messiness of sibling dynamics, how they both foil and mirror each other at the same time.

And that mess is reflective of daily life.  When Axl finds out that his grandparents set aside a few thousand dollars for him for college, he becomes enraged when he finds out his parents already spent it.  Mike says, "We made a resolution that we would only touch that money in case of an emergency.  Little did we know that everything would be an emergency."

What makes Frankie's frustration so frustrating to watch is that most of these problems are her own.  She wants to have a perfect life, but she doesn't want to work for it and cuts every corner.  In that, I think Heaton captures the essential American dilemma.  We want happiness, but we want it easy.  The show isn't a satire of Middle America, though it does poke fun at it.  Underneath all of the mess there is some real heart.

In fact, one of the biggest selling points for me regarding this show is that it is a true family show.  While I love sitcoms like The Office and The Big Bang Theory, I would be very uncomfortable if a small child were watching, because of the adult humor.  The Middle is a show that I would be very comfortable sharing with the whole family.  It is also a show that treats religion with respect as well as humor.  The recurring character Reverend TimTom is both a dig at "cool" youth ministers, but his sincerity comes through and his words are actually very wise.  And that this show is still full of wit is a testament to the cast and crew.  Most "family" shows fail to find the funny and so overdose on the wholesome.  The Middle doesn't do that.

And I love Mike Heck.  He is one of the best TV dads I've seen.  He isn't very affectionate or sympathetic, but he understands the job of a father, as illustrated in the scene below.



TV THRESHOLD

"The Block Party" (Episode 1x05)

Here is where I think I really started to understand the show.  First of all, Brick's quirkiness really got to me.  Mike wants him to socialize more and so he asks Brick if he likes basketball.  Brick says yes and so Mike signs him up for peewee basketball, which Brick messes up horribly.  When Mike confronts him about it and says, "I thought you said you liked basketball!"  Brick responds "Oh sure, I like all words with 3-syllables."  It's then that I understood Brick.

It also shows Frankie at her insane best.  The members of the high school football team all give their jerseys to their moms.  Axl, however doesn't.  Frankie becomes jealous and frustrated, which illustrates not only here messy relationship with Axl, but her obsession with being like everyone else.

And the show also really hits home about parenthood.  Mike sacrifices his chance to win a lawnmower race in order to keep a weird promise to his weird son Brick.  When Axl shows genuine affection to Sue by giving her his jersey to cheer her up, Frankie has more joy than if she got it herself.  Here is where I saw the plan in the chaos.

JUMP THE SHARK

N/A

The show is still going strong, I don't quite see it losing steam yet.  In fact, this season had its best episode…

BEST EPISODE

"The Wonderful World of Hecks." (5x24)

This vacation episode had me laughing the entire time.  Sue wins a trip to Disney, so the Hecks drive down to Orlando.  It's only when they arrive that they realize that their tickets are for Disneyland in California, not Disneyworld in Orlando.  What happens next captures the strange experience of going to a place like Disney.  I don't want to give away any of the jokes, but it centers around the pressure to have fun and how that pressure squeezes so much fun out of the experience.  You feel all of the absolute frustration that comes from a big family Disney vacation that also at the same time creates life-long memories.

OVERALL

There something inherently honest in this strange little show.  And that honesty is why this humor should strike a universal chord for anyone who grew up in the Middle.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Film Review: How To Train Your Dragon 2



I put off seeing the original How To Train Your Dragon for a long time because the tittle was incredibly stupid.  When I finally gave in to watching it, my expectations were incredibly low.  As a result, the experience of watching that wonderful film were exhilarating.  So going into the sequel, my hopes were high.

And the movie met my expectations.

(SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE FIRST MOVIE)

How To Train Your Dragon 2 picks up 5 years after the end of the first film.  Dragons have been successfully been integrated into life in the Viking village of Berk.  Our main characters have grown into young adults and our hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) feels the pressure to become an adult.  But he sees this as living a life a boring responsibility and foregoing his adventures and explorations with his best friend/pet dragon Toothless.

But then Hiccup comes across a band of dragon trappers that work for the mysterious Drago (Djimon Honsou) who is building a dragon army.  When Hiccup tells his father Chief Stoick (Gerard Butler), the order is given to lock down and prepare for war.  However Hiccup decides that he can talk to Drago and change his mind as he did the people of Berk in the first film.  Along the way he encounters a mysterious dragon rider who knows more about dragons that he does.  I do not want to spoil the rest of the story, but there are some nice twists (though many of them spoiled in the trailers).

The main struggle is between idealism and cynicism, between optimism and pessimism, between diplomacy and war.  One of the best things about this movie is that it does not over simplify the issue.  Too often, especially in children's movies, things are too one-sided.  Hiccup's idealism comes off as both admirable and naive.  Stoick's overprotectivenss comes off as both reactionary and understandable.  The movie gives enough nuance to show that the answer is not always that simple.  If Hiccup didn't try to turn people away from violence, then his father and the rest of Berk would never have grown into better people.  But does that mean that everyone will change if given the chance?

Another important thing that the movie addresses is the importance of marriage and family.  While there is a burgeoning romance between Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera), it is downplayed.  But Hiccup understands that as he gets older there is a seriousness that comes with adulthood that includes marriage.  There are some great laughs too as Snotlout (Jonah Hill) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) fight over the rough-around-the-edges Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig).  But one of the other relationships carries with it a gravity and an affection that is very moving.  When you watch it, you can see that things like marriage and family are truly special.

(I want to take a small digression here regarding the character Gobber (Craig Ferguson) being gay.  The producers and the actor have all confirmed Gobber's orientation.  I don't want to comment here about what this means in the overall culture wars, but I think it should be addressed, especially for parents who are concerned about the content of the movies that Hollywood puts out.  The extent to which Gobber's orientation is discussed is one line.  Gobber sees a married couple and says, "That's why I never got married.  That and one other reason."  There is no other mention or reference to it again.  In fact, if the makers of the movie had not said that Gobber was gay, I wouldn't have noticed this at all.  I would have assumed it was because of something like his shyness or his mutilation (he is missing limbs).  But even knowing, I see nothing conflicting with Catholic morality here.  In fact, Gobber seems to embrace voluntary celibacy, which is perfectly in line with Church teaching.)

The visuals in the movie are fantastic.  Director Dean DeBlois captures the thrill of flying in a way few movies have.  He gives the movie visual textures that are tangible and the action is fluid and dynamic.  And the score by John Powell soars.  DeBlois shows real skill in terms of plot and pacing as well.  He knows just when to go for the laughs, but he keeps the danger real.  In fact, (MILD SPOILER) there are people who die in this movie, which parents should be aware of before bringing small children.  I am not saying this is a detraction.  On the contrary, it gave he movie even more emotional weight.  It made the choices the characters made more poignant and the stakes more real.  I was almost moved to tears and I found myself on the edge of my seat in a way that I wasn't expecting for a children's movie.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is fantastic film and a worthy successor to the first.  I cannot wait to see what comes next.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Copernican Shift of the Soul

The older I get, the more I find myself thinking about life.  As you can see from previous essays, I muse on the shortness and purpose of our time on this bright blue planet.

We have only a certain number of grains in our hourglass.  And once they go, there is no getting them back.

I remember seeing the movie Funny People (which was not very good), where Adam Sandler's character is dying.  In one scene he has a little breakdown because his television isn't working and he comes to the realization that with so little time left, he is wasting so much of it on something as unimportant as television.

And yet where do I spend my time?

I am not saying that television is bad or that we shouldn't do things to pass the time.  But to kill the time with meaninglessness seems wrong.  But no matter how I try to fix my will on seizing the day, I am often seized by sloth.

I think part of the problem is that I do not really understand life.

When I look at my worries, it amazes me how much of them are on temporary things.  I have spent countless hours working on extra curricular projects at school like dances or films.  And I can tell you that leading up to the main event, I get a giant knot in my stomach.  Yet in the long run, what does one dance or one film or one performance matter?

Well, that depends.

And it depends on the locus of my soul.

Too often I am at the center of my universe.  This is a common problem, but it is not end of the story.  In addition to this, the problem is that I have placed my center in the wrong place.  What do I mean by this?

I read a book a few years ago by Archbishop Chaput.  In it he told the story of a young woman named Mabel.  She was married with two sons when her husband died, leaving them destitute.  She had recently converted to the Catholic faith.  Her in-laws offered to take care of her in great wealth if she abandoned the Church.  She refused.  She could not support her sons, so she sent them to live with her parents.  She worked herself ragged and then got sick and died, leaving her children orphaned.

Is her life story sad?  To be sure there is great sadness there.  But her life is not a tragedy.  In the eyes of the world, she failed.  But that is because the world puts itself at the center.  The concerns of this life seem far too important.

Take the fictional character Jack Bauer from the show 24.  One of his hallmark traits is that he will willingly do great evil if he perceives it working out for an overall good end.  He will torture, murder, and do whatever else for "the greater good."  This "greater good" is always measured as lives saved.  And to be sure, human life is precious.  But he makes no regard for unmoving principles, unlike the real-life Mabel who worked herself to death.

She had no worldly success.  Few people know Mabel's story.  And so in terms of the world's ambitions, her life is a waste.

That is why we need a Copernican shift in the soul.

Copernicus was the Catholic priest who put forth the theory that contrary to popular belief, we are not the center of the cosmos.  Rather, we revolve around something greater: the sun.  Once this reality is put into place, we can more clearly see ourselves in the greater universe.

What Copernicus did for the world, we must do for the soul.  The center of my universe should not be this life, because it will come to an end all too quickly.  In fact, everything in this universe ends.  There is no painting, book, poem, building, nation, or technology that will not ultimately be destroyed.  The entire universe is mortal.  It is dying before our eyes.  Scientists tell us that either the universe will use up all of its energy and we will die in cold entropy or gravity will pull the remaining matter into a final crunch.  But all the things of this world will not last.  Jack Bauer saves lives that are already doomed and a country that will one day in the future be no more.  But Mabel?

Mabel did something extraordinary.  She gave faith to her sons.  And unlike everything else in this world, that faith will go on forever because the soul is immortal.  Particularly, her son John became very devoutly Catholic for his entire life.  That is very clear to anyone who read his book, you might have heard about it, The Lord of the Rings.

But an even greater legacy to that book, which will also one day turn to dust, is that he passed on the faith to his son Christopher who is a Catholic priest.  As a priest, he has experienced an ontological change, that is a change down to his very soul.  And unlike the things of this world that go away, he will be a priest forever.

John also help convert his friend Jack to Christ.  Jack went on to become one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century and brought countless people into the faith.  He also wrote children's books that made concrete the teachings of Jesus.  Of course, you might better know Jack by his given name: CS Lewis.

So Mabel's legacy lives on and will live on forever.

That is because she experience the Copernican shift in the soul.  She changed the center of her soul from this world to heaven.  When I keep my eternal home in mind, it changes how I look at this world.

The little worries of this life no longer affect me.  At my school, I am loved by some.  But I am also hated by others.  Some people go through life doing anything they can not to be hated.  But I will tell you that when I take Christ's words seriously "Blessed are you when they insult and hate you and utter every kind of slander against you all because of Me," then I am filled with a special kind of joy.  I almost understand how Peter and John rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer for the Gospels.

Does this mean that all the little things in life like dances and films are unimportant?  Certainly not.  In fact, when you shift your soul, these things take on an eternal significance.

The greatness of The Lord of the Rings is not its financial or critical success, but the affect it has on imparting wisdom and virtue and beauty to the soul.  A dance can be a place where friendship, that uniquely spiritual love, can be forged in the fires of celebration.  Working on a film can give those who participate a sense of confidence and accomplishment that they can carry with them as they discover their own self worth.

When I shift my soul I can see things in their proper light.  But when I think this earthly life as the center, all of that light is eclipsed.

If I can, I shall try to be like Copernicus and realize that life does not revolve around me but that I revolve around Life.

Let the revolution begin!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Forever Evil Finale




I blogged many months ago about the end of DC's Trinity War and the start of their major event: Forever Evil.  And when I say many months ago, I mean MANY!

The finale to the story has been long delayed and only came out onto the shelves a few weeks ago.  So was it worth the wait?

In short: yes!

I never doubt Geoff Johns, but the extended absence of the main series made me think that the last issue would have less momentum.  And to be sure if it had come out a month or two earlier, it would have had a much more immediate impact, especially regarding the fate of Dick Grayson.

For those unfamiliar, Forever Evil is the story of villains.  The Crime Syndicate, a mirror-universe version of the Justice League, has invaded from a parallel earth and taken out the League and taken over the world.  The only hope the world has are its "supervillains."  Our anti-heroes include Lex Luthor, Bizzaro, Black Manta, Captain Cold, Black Adam, and Sinestro.

Back in September, DC had a "Villains Month" where the regular books were hijacked by stories centering around each series' major villain.  While there were some good issues here and there, the overall experiment was a failure and here's why: we do not like villains.

I don't mean that we cannot enjoy the bad guy on some level.  But if they are persistently evil, we cannot root for them and their goals without also being evil on some level.  I may find the Joker fascinating.  But I cannot eagerly wish him success in blowing up an orphanage.  So many of the Villains Month stories left me a bit hollow.

Johns, however, understands this problem completely.  How do you get your audience to go along with the biggest collection of villains in the DC Universe?  By pitting them against villains even worse.

When set against the Crime Syndicate, we can root for Luthor and his gang.  We even begin to enjoy their ruthlessness against them because it is not directed at the good and the innocent, but at the guilty.  This is why characters like Marvel's Punisher can sustain a series: he is a psycho killing psychos.

When Johns sets the main DC villains loose upon this even worse threat, there is a good deal of fun and excitement.  And Johns has a lot of experience writing Cold, Sinestro, Adam, Manta, and Luthor.  He is smart enough to give them each a unique voice and some personality trait that makes them sympathetic.

This is also one of the best and most intriguing moments with Batman that I've seen in the new 52.  One of the things that always impresses me about Johns is his ability to take the story to a place that is unexpected and yet obvious.  Something is revealed about Batman that I didn't see coming but seems so obvious now.  I don't want to spoil it and Johns doesn't dwell on it, but it has far reaching consequences for the relationships of some important people in the DCU.

The finale, with art by David Lynch is very good and appropriately dark.  It matches not only the mood of the issue but the threat level of the story.

Johns does the classic move of setting up the his next big story in the finale of his last.  The climax of the story occurs earlier in the issue than you would expect.  He then uses the remaining time to set up the new threats that are coming.

The follow up in Justice League #30 is also top notch.   As all the dust begins to settle, the fault lines of good and evil are shaken up.  Since DC started the New 52, there were some bold re-imaginings, but many of the stories have simply retread old paths with an updated twist.

But Johns is now taking big chances and shaking things up the way Marvel used to do in the Ultimate Universe.  Unlike most events, it feels like something things have really changed.  This issue puts Luthor front and center in a way that I have never seen. Like all of the heroes, I don't trust him, but I don't see how he could be deceiving.  I love that Johns puts that conflict in me, the reader, that parallels the other heroes.

I cannot wait for the continuing Justice League adventures with the new status quo.  And I know there is a something great on the horizon.

New Evangelizers Post: Lessons of the Sower pt 3 - The Thorns

I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com


Now we are looking at the seed that falls among the thorns.  As a young child, I didn’t see much of a difference between these seeds and the ones that fell on rocks.  They both failed to produce fruit, so what was the point of talking about rocks and thorns?

It wasn’t until I was older that I understood what Jesus was getting at.  With the rocks, the seed doesn’t take root and so dies.  These are people who at first are on fire, but then their faith dies and they leave the Church.  That is a challenge, mostly, for the young.
But the lesson of the thorns challenges those who are older.  Here the seed does grow and mature.  But the thorns choke it so it produces no fruit.  

Christ said that the thorns represent the worries of this life and worldliness.  They grow up around the faith but constrain it.  As a result, it can never be life-giving. 

Unlike the ones that fall on rocks, these Christians remain in the Church but are lifeless.  They are “faith zombies,” the truly walking dead. 

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday Best: Sitcoms of All Time #22 - The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air



6 Seasons (1990-1996)

The show was simply to be an urban update of the Beverly Hillbilies.  In fact, early promos featured Buddy Epson and Will Smith.

Up until this point, Smith was best known for his short-lived rap career and his fall into pop culture obscurity.

The show's premise is summed up nicely in the opening theme:

Will is sent to live with the Banks family in Bel Air.  He brings a cool, urban vibe that shakes up this uptight family.  Shows like this are a dime a dozen.  And there are a lot of over-simplified TV tropes in that first season: the spoiled rich girl, the British butler, the overbearing father figure, etc.

But the show is saved from obscurity first by James Avery as Philip Banks.  With all of the broad humor in the show, even from Uncle Phil himself, he was a wonderful center of gravitas.  Instead of making him a sell-out caricature, Phil was a 3-dimensional figure.  You saw in him a man who worked hard to achieve the success he has and tries to instill that ethic in his children (and Will).  The pilot wisely let us see this side of him with his final speech.


It was also on this show that Will Smith learned to be an actor.  It actually quite incredible to watch him learn as he goes.  He reaches great comedic and emotional depths.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air also was famous for its "very special episodes."  And while this can sometimes get tedious, the showcase of dramatic acting was riveting.



TV THRESHOLD
"Mistaken Identity"  (1x06)
This episode stuck with me a long time after I watched it.  First of all, it is hilarious.  Will and Carlton are driving a neighbors car to Palm Springs for him and are pulled over.  The jokes fly fast and furious. Particularly, the singing inmate still gets me.

The jokes keep going through to the last scene with Carlton insisting that this would never happen again if he had a road map.  But Uncle Phil brings the gravitas as he gets the boys out of jail.


This was the show working on all cylinders.  It also fleshed out the characters and the tensions between them.  Will is a cynic about the world and Carlton is an optimist.  The big difference is that Carlton has been surrounded by kind and supportive people of all races that he can't comprehend real bigotry when he encounters it.  You can hear the sadness in Phil's voice at the end when Carlton asks him if he would pull over a car going to slow.  Phil responds, "I asked myself the same question the first time I was pulled over."  Phil wants his son to think the best of people and be innocent.  But he has experienced the ugliness of the world first hand.  This is also the episode where Carlton stops being a rich, snob stereotype.  Alfonso Ribiero is finally given something more to do with his character than be the butt of Will's jokes.

What makes this episode so great is not that it is preachy.  But that it so effectively delivers the drama because it brings your guard down with some incredibly funny writing.  When you're laughing, you aren't prepared for the power of the drama.

BEST EPISODE
"Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse" (4x24)
Will's father returns.  At first he is reluctant to reconnect to the father that abandoned him.  But as the two get closer, Phil can see the bad influence that he is having.  This is where Phil is torn because he is NOT Will's father and he has to let him go.  And Will is also torn between his real father and the man who has been his father.

It all comes to a head with the best moment of the entire series.  It sums up so much of Will and Phil and their relationship.



JUMP THE SHARK
"Where There's a Will There's a Way pt 1" (4x01)

Once Will and Carlton go off to college, the show lost a lot of its magic.  Granted, its best episode takes place at the end of this season, much of the show's greatness had been lost.  This episode replaced the main actress to play aunt Viv.  It also had a horrible story involving the death of Hillary's fiancĂ©.  And it took the leads out of high school and tried to make the stories at college more interesting, which they were not.  The show continued on for 3 full seasons, but it ended strong with a decent finale.


OVERALL

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was another show that started with modest goals, but then it transcended its beginnings.  It was never able to shake its completely broad comedy.  But if it had, it would have let this already great show soar higher.