Tuesday, 26 February 2013

It being the season of Lent,  now is a good time to reflect on the state and habits of our lives. My mind was struck by the account of our Lord's parents searching for him and finally finding him in the Temple. There is a moral symbolism to the story,  and I hope that my explanation of it will make sense.
You are familiar with the story:  When he was twelve,  Christ's parents bring him to the temple in Jerusalem,  and then return home,  each thinking he is somewhere in the caravan.  Upon discovering their mistake, they spend three days searching for him in and around Jerusalem before finally discovering that he has been at the Temple the whole time, conversing with scholars and teachers.  The story has a direct symbolism with our spiritual life;  each character and event in the story can be interpreted as factors in our search for happiness.
Mary and Joseph represent us, the human race.  Far be it from me to accuse Mary of St. Joseph of making a mistake,  but they journey for a time without making sure of Jesus' whereabouts.  How often do we travel on life's journey without keeping close contact with Christ? Of course, the couple realize their mistake and act on it.  Beautifully, we do the same thing.  We search for that which will make us happy once the realization sets in that we are not fully satisfied.
The friends and relatives among whom Mary and Joseph search are the good things in which we hope to find satisfaction.  I have often tried to define my life my whatever job I currently have.  Or I have hoped that taking up a new hobby or pastime will bring me the fulfillment which my heart desires.  My imagination has even put happiness down to things I buy.  (Although if any of you are in the market for cowboy boots,  Ariat does make some good products.)  Don't be pulled to an erroneous extreme here;  things in this life are good,  and much satisfaction can be had from a good job,  a healthy hobby,  or a comfortable pair of shoes.   But none of them gives lasting happiness.  This is even true of our relationships.  As good as our families, friends, or lovers are,  we will not find what we are seeking among them.  We must make the return to Jerusalem.
Why did Jesus put Mary and Joseph through so much anguish?  Being God,  he knew exactly what his mother and foster-father were doing and chose not to help them for a minute. Though he could have easily walked out of the Temple and found them any moment he wished, he chose to remain.  There is a divine coyness to Christ which is mystifying and I'm sure aggravating to Mary and Joseph.  In our own lives too Christ maintains a high standard.  He will not be found among the things of this world.  Again, these things are good, and their goodness emanates from God, but we are talking here of finding our total satisfaction.  Christ will only let his parents find him on his terms;  they move around, he stays put.  In our lives the dynamic is the same.  We can only have Christ when we surrender the other things in life and go alone to the Temple.
When Mary and Joseph finally find Christ, Mary asks him why he would cause them so much anxiety.  Depending on the translation,  Christ responds that he must be in his Father's house or about his Father's business.  Both possible responses offer some insight.  By using the word, "must" Christ may be implying an obligation, but he may also be implying a logical conclusion.  If he is not to be found among the things of this earth,  then he must be only found in the presence of God the Father,  here represented by the Temple.  Alternately,  Christ saying that he must be about his Father's work reveals his true intentions.  He wants to be our happiness, but this is only possible when we seek him alone.  His work is to make us totally his so he can be totally ours. Either way,  Christ maintains his high standard: he will not be found anywhere, he is working that we might depend on him alone.  Our anxiety at not being fulfilled is necessary if we are to find our total happiness in him.

But Christ returns all the good things to us. Before the story ends, we learn that he returns with his parents to their home.  In other words, he comes and dwells among the friends and relatives.  I am reminded of what C.S. Lewis wrote and the end of Mere Christianity.  Frankly, I think he puts it the best:  "Look for Christ and you will find Him, and with him everything else thrown in."

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Last week  I went and saw the new Die Hard movie.  Now I will freely admit that I knew this was not going to be a "worthwhile film."  But neither are comics "worthwhile" literature.  Yet the comics are the first thing I read in the Sunday paper.  Sometimes, its enough for something to be merely entertaining.  Like a bad comic however, the new Die Hard fails to even entertain.
Bruce Willis reprises his role of tough New York cop John McClane,  who travels to Russia to attend the trial of his estranged son Jack, played by Jai Courtney.  Turns out that Jack is a CIA agent, and trying to prevent the theft of nuclear weapons by a powerful Russian politician.  After an explosion destroys the courtroom,  the two McClanes team up, not always amicably,  to shoot, punch, and drive their way to Chernobyl, where the weapons are being stolen.
The movie suffers from a number of technical mistakes:  The blaring action is matched by the blaring soundtrack, which only seems to have any energy when something on screen is being blown up.  Without the credits, the movie barely makes it to 90 minutes, director John Moore seems to have replaced the middle act with a few fight sequences and forgotten to include interesting dialogue or character development.   Most problematic is the plan of the villain (played by a stone-faced Sebastien Koch) which seems confusing until one realize its just unimaginative.  Part of the fun of previous Die Hard films were the campy-but-clever plots of its charismatic bad guys,  most notably Jeremy Irons.  Here the the movie seems to rely on its endless action scenes, which fail to form an entertaining story.
But what really makes this latest Die Hard movie so uninteresting is the loss of John McClane's charm.   Throughout the various movies, McClane has always been an anti-hero, a hard-bitten cop with a lot of problems.  He suffered from hangovers, his kids were exasperated by him, his wife left. Most of all, his fights hurt, like when he had to escape a gunfight by running over broken glass. And McClane complained about all of it, just before suiting up to shoot back at the bad guys.  In short, John McClane was a bit of an Everyman, and audiences could relate to his issues and then root for him to win.  That everyman quality is lost in this film.  The New York cop crashes cars, gets shot at, and jumps through glass windows with hardly more than a scratch. And his son's distance has no poignancy;  it doesn't seem to bother John.   McClane calls Jack the "007 of Plainsfield, New Jersey."   His words are more a description of himself in this film:  a man who is impervious to physical harm or human feeling.  This missing element makes the movie distant from its audience.
One could argue that those audiences are only seeing a fifth Die Hard movie for the action, and since the movie delivers lots of that,  what am I fussing about?  I would hate to take light entertainment too seriously, but I think that this movie cannot even claim to be entertaining.  The action has no soul.  Like a bad comic, this film is not worth the time.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


Its been an interesting summer for me.   My normal practice is to find a job with a schedule and take the "clock in, clock out"  approach.  This summer was different.  This time I merely hired myself out to people to complete certain projects and worked on these jobs at my own pace.  Granted, many of those who hired me were employers from previous summers, but I was my own man.
When you are your own man you find out how little you actually know.
An owner of a large barn wanted some help repairing the century-old building.  Snow had knocked the roof down and damaged the floor beneath.   The floor also had some rotten boards in need of replacement. The owner,  Reed von Gal,  had experience as a carpenter, electrician, plumber,  and welder.   He was a man who recognized a good worker.  So there I was,  trying to patch holes and replace rotten boards by myself.  My saw buzzed, my hammer hammered,  and my neck got sunburnt.  My accomplishments were about equal to those of an old basset hound on a sultry summer afternoon.  Help was needed.  So I called my friend Marcel.  "When do you need me?" Marcel asked.  "When can you get here?"  I said.  I ignored the project for two weeks waiting for Marcel.  Fortunately,  Reed took a business trip and did not watch his floor continue to molder away.  When Marcel arrived,  we went to the job as early as possible.  He strapped on his tool belt and went right to work.  Since it would allow me to at least look the part of a carpenter,  I  borrowed a tool belt and strapped it on as well.  It was on the loose side,  So while Marcel started repairing a floor,  my main task was trying to keep my tool belt around my waist.  Eventually,  Marcel realized that I was more useful as dead weight than anything else.  "Stand here," he said,  "and hold this board down."   That's when Reed decided to reappear.  He saw Marcel working while I stood still with my hands on my hips.  My daily wage no doubt ran through his head.  He told me to get back to work.  I pulled my tool belt back up and said that I would.   At the end of the day  Marcel appeared to me to have repaired five hundred square feet of floor.  I had nailed down a few sorry planks.  My ego was down on the floor, along with my tool belt, which had managed to slip off again. 
After a few days, Marcel had to return home, and I was left to continue to as best I could.  Well, Reed needed to come on up and help,  but when the dust settled,  there was a new floor in the old barn.  The completion came with quite a sense of relief.  Long days in the middle of July have a certain intensity anyway,  and my lack of experience had been just about as showcased as possible.  My main accomplishment was keeping my toolbelt around my waist,  by hanging it on gloves tucked into my belt and employing a walking gait normally reserved for runway models.  Fortunately, Reed had his head down most of the time.  He also hosted a barn dance a couple of weeks later.  No one fell through the floor, so  my assumption is that my work is no threat to humanity.
Later Marcel called me.  "What are you doing for a job this fall?" he asked.  I told him that I had no idea.  "Why don't you come work with the me?" he continued.  "I don't know,"  I said.  "Will I have to wear a toolbelt?"

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Hey everybody,

 I enjoyed the comment on my vampire piece by fellow blogger Calliope.  Enjoy.

[Regarding vampires' teeth, see below ] That is a very likely solution to this quandary. However, you should also consider the possibility that blood is a very base fluid that would not counter act the acidity of saliva, (which I think vampires would produce because as humans they would have produced it, though I doubt that the need any help digesting)and therefore the acid in the saliva would rot their teeth, so any teeth that we would see would be dentures, and of course those can come in any shape and length.

More later,

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

I woke up the other day wondering why vampires in movies sometimes have longer teeth, sometimes shorter.    Consider, the Cullen clan from the Twilight saga have fangs that are barely longer than normal human teeth,  whereas the blood-suckers from the Underworld movies have really long canines.  Other movies continue the trend. The original Dracula?  Long fangs.  Dark Shadows?  Medium fangs. There seems to be no standard length for vampires.  Even within the movies there is variation.  In Underworld,  the lead character's rival has significantly longer teeth than she does.  There must be some explanation.  Now all these vampires share the same diet, and, considering the whiteness of the teeth, all attend to oral hygiene.  So what is the difference?  Genetics doesn't seem to offer much of a lead;  how do vampire genes even get passed along?  By bites?  Then I thought maybe there was some sort of baby-teeth/ adult-teeth thing going on,  but we never see them trying to wriggle out a loose tooth, hoping the tooth fairy will visit their coffin.  The answer did not occur to me until I saw a friend's pet gerbil.  These pets, along with many other mammals, constantly gnaw to keep their continuously-growing teeth from getting too long.  This must be the explanation for vampires.  Those canines of theirs must be constantly getting longer, and different movies catch them in various stages of growth.  Having an all-liquid diet, the vampires must be chewing on wood when humans aren't around.  This explains why so many vampires live in the forest.  It also makes sense that humans are always killing vampires with wooden stakes: there must be dozens of sharpened sticks lying about.  And perhaps that's why vampires leaves their coffins; they've chewed a hole right through it and need to find a new one.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Day 4

The continuing, and now ending, account of the Ruta de Maya race.

I lost a bet on the above sentence.  After we got back from the Ruta de Maya, I was sitting at my desk arguing about it with my teammate, Lucia.    "Jonathan," she said,  "You acted as if you had a lot more canoeing experience than you did before the start of the race, and I just think you should admit that. "
This was an accurate charge,  but I decided a counter-allegation would be better than admitting the truth.
"Well, Miss Lucia,"  I shot back,  "someone had to steer the canoe while you were busy rolling up your sleeves."  Lucia had incurred my wrath during the trip by stopping paddling to ensure that her arms tanned evenly.  "Someone had to make sure we finished the Ruta la Maya,"  I continued.
This small slip in my novice Spanish was not missed by Lucia:  "Its not Ruta la Maya, Jonathan,"  she said,  "Its Ruta de Maya."
Here I should have just admitted my mistake to her; she knows more Spanish than I do.  But sometimes I just have to be right, even when I'm wrong.
"No," I said, "Its Ruta la Maya."  The argument immediately started going back and forth, because if Lucia and I agree on one thing,  its that we like to disagree.  The debate culminated in a bet that whoever was wrong had to buy the other yogurt, which is a real treat for a volunteer on a stipend.  A quick Google search revealed my error.  "There, you see?" Lucia said, pointing at the screen,  "Now you owe me yogurt."  Although there is no arguing with Google, I continued my grousing.  But defeat was inevitable, as my opponent did not fail to point out.
It was several weeks before I had any money to make good.  Again we were sitting at our desks, and I grouchingly drew the money from my wallet and tossed it to her.  "What's this for?" she said.  "For the yogurt," I grumbled.
"No, you can't just give me money, you have to go buy it yourself and give it to me."
"Lucia, just take the money!"
This was something new to argue about.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

day 3

The continuing account of the Ruta Maya race:  day three.

Day three was unquestionably the hardest day for me.  After 20+ hours in a canoe together,  little things that normally don't annoy you suddenly take on a level of aggravation normally associated with clouds of black flies or colic-afflicted infants.  Its like being that infamous fourth day that guests are still at your house.  The novelty is starting to wear off, and you've noticed that they take the last cup of coffee without making more.  Anyway, the same thing happens in a canoe, but a lot sooner because you share a physical space approximately the size of an oven.  Of course, the biggest offense in such a situation is any action that prevents you from paddling.  Snack breaks,  refilling a water bottle, or quickly adjusting one's seat is tolerated, but viewed with distaste.  Anything else is grounds for being thrown overboard. Luckily for me, I was sitting in the back of the boat, so no one noticed when I took my hat off to tan my head evenly (who wants a huge tan line across their forehead?) or when I snuck an extra snack.  Fortunately,  Christian charity prevailed and we made to the end of the paddling day without ever repurposing our paddles as clubs.   But that was where the trip got tough.  Previously,  the crews had been camping on open fields, where we had plenty of room.  Now, we were ensconced on about two and half acres between the river and the access road to a nearby village.  The scene was a zoo.  Total strangers pitched their tents, and their laundry, right on top of each other.  We had to clear several people off the truck so we could get our equipment inside.  The smell of marijuana drifted across the whole campsite, but no one, certainly not the detail of law enforcement on hand, seemed to take notice.  As I may have mentioned,  the Ruta Maya is not only a river challenge, but a four day national party.  So the music was blasted, along with a few of the people.  In all this, we had to try make a camp and get dried out before turning in.   The Rutat Maya was three-quarters done, but it was far from over.