June 28, 2008





 "WALL=E" (Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-Class) is the name of a darling little trash-compacting robot of the future, and Disney/Pixar's latest computer-animated treasure. The humans have evacuated Earth to a spaceship while robots clean up the mountains of trash left behind. There doesn't seem to be any other functioning robots around (we see a robot graveyard of sorts). His only friend is an almost-cute roach. After a hard day's work, WALL=E goes home to his neatly-categorized  human artifacts (everything from cigarette lighters to garden gnomes) strung about with Christmas lights, and plays an old video of the 1969 musical, "Hello, Dolly." His favorite part is when the man and woman hold hands. He keeps looking at and clasping his own claw-like appendages. Enter "EVE." EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is a "probe" robot sent from the spaceship. She's pristine white and blue with expressive eyes. WALL=E is smitten. There's only one problem—EVE is a bit of a femme fatale. She shoots first and asks questions later. And when she shoots, it's more of an incinerating atomic firestorm. (The roach, of course, is immune.)

As EVE collects data, she finds the holy grail among all the synthetic debris: a living, breathing, plant seedling, which means that Earth can once again support life and the humans can return home. However, certain robots aboard the spaceship have taken over, and don't want Earth re-colonized. A fierce and amusing struggle ensues.

At first I was bothered, but later delighted by the paucity of dialogue. WALL=E and EVE hum, giggle and make electronic exclamations, but their words are very few. And this is as it should be. Movies are a visual medium. It's "Lights, camera, ACTION!" not "Lights, camera, TALK!" In film school, budding filmmakers are often required to make their first short film without dialogue. The words WALL=E and EVE use most are each other's names, over and over. And I do mean over and over. At a certain point, the little munchkins in my cinema were calling out their names as well. The lack of chatter also makes us focus on all the loving detail in each scene.

The soundtrack is a surprisingly fitting jukebox of warm jazz ballads from yesteryear--humanity's finest emotive music, the story seems to say. WALL=E is a romantic at heart (or shall we say "at solar battery pack"), and longs for companionship with one who is "bone of his bone," "flesh of his flesh," so to speak.

Although any story primarily about non-human, non-sentient characters can feel a little cold, the whole enterprise is ultimately for the humans. Humans are not demonized over against the environment. Rather we're seen as a bit ignorant, foolish and sheep-like for not choosing what is actually best for ourselves. It's good to see that even though we are gently chided and caricatured for a) creating so much waste b) behaving like unthinking (robotic?) consumers c) preferring virtual reality to reality--the message is one of hope. We can turn things around, we can make better choices, and—apologies to Thomas Wolfe—we can go home again.

Definitely take the kids to this one and have a good discussion afterwards!

The movie reminded me of other movies,
--"A.I." for its non-human, futuristic main characters (a robot boy an a teddy bear)
--"Blade Runner" for its consumeristic/advertising-everywhere vision of the future
--"Citizen Kane" for all the "stuff"
--"Veggie Tales--Madame Blueberry" for all the "stuff" ("Stuff-Mart"!!!)
--"Star Trek" because the spaceship, "The Axiom," looks very much like, and may be a nod to, the U.S.S. Enterprise
--"2001--A Space Odyssey" for the HAL-like mutiny (and hilarious use of the theme song)
--"Bella" and "Juno" for their "here's a way back from where humanity is headed" stories

I got into the cinema late in the middle of, not "Coming Attractions," but an animated short! It was a magician and his rabbit--pure slapstick, almost vaudevillian. The rabbit never got his reward during practice (a carrot), and now refuses to cooperate with the magician during the performance. You had to hear the audience, especially the grown men, laughing uproariously at every gag. Some (good) things never change. The kids laughed hardest (during "Wall-E") at the bra joke and when an avalanche of shopping carts pin "Wall-E" up against a wall.

Things to note:
--Hell hath no fury like a female robot.
--Wall-E's special reverence for living things--the plant.
--Wall-E not knowing what all his "stuff" was for until EVE looked through them and made them work (the lightbulb, the cigarette lighter).
--The bubblewrap. :]
--As futurists predict, there is only "one company": "Buy-n-Large." Which, by the way, makes people large.
--Google 5.0 on the spaceship. All voice-activated: "Define ____." "Define ____." Absolutely no need to retain anything in our brains.
--The poor reading skills of the captain of "The Axiom."
--Wall-E disrupts virtual reality and gets the humans more in touch with reality: talking to each other face to face instead of by screen, touching each other (holding hands, of course), splashing around in the pool. ("I Wanna Hold Your Hand" could've been "Wall-E's" theme song.)
--This is a film about the environment, but in its right order: The environment as the home of humans.
--"I don't want to survive--I want to live!" (The battle cry of the new human revolution? Cf. Chief Seattle)
--Were the human babies all conceived and gestated in a lab?
--The "rogue robots"--who's really crazy?
--The personification of the various robots and their personalities!
--"Wall-E" is an example of media critiquing itself.
--Check out the quick little history of art during closing credits: cave drawing, hieroglyphics, mosaic, Renaissance sketches, pastels, stippling, Impressionists, pixels.

--"Seeing" ourselves in the future: Obese, infantile, demanding, unable to walk in our Laz-Y Boy hovercrafts, eating/drinking everything out of a supersize cup/straw, living vicariously through a SCREEN PERPETUALLY IN FRONT OF OUR FACES (kind of like the one I'm at right now)....

--primordial relationship without which life doesn't make sense: male / female
--bodily contact absolutely essential
--when Wall-E first SEES EVE
--hands "go together"
--the kiss and "dance" in outer space

The sound effects are a whole world in themselves, and include a distorting of "real sounds" from the "real world"--everything from Niagara Falls to raccoons. All one can wonder is--how do the creators THINK of these things (and execute them)? I'm just glad they do.



The Gene Siskel Theater in Chicago's Loop has been showing "The Singing Revolution," a documentary about Estonia. The people of Estonia--a former USSR country--would take to the streets in the thousands and sing to both protest what was being done to their national identity and to preserve it. The documentary, "Young @ Heart," about a rock n' roll chorus of septuagenarians, octogenarians and one nonagenarian, is a different kind of "singing revolution."


What are these utterly inspiring senior citizens "revolting" against? Stagnation, hopelessness, and, ultimately, death. The "Young @ Heart" chorus is from Northampton, Massachusetts, and tours all over the world. Their demanding director, Bob Cilman, 53, is not graced with patience, and becomes exasperated at their memory lapses during rehearsals.* He doesn't baby them at all, and they love him for it. The live band also sports some venerable musicians. Are they any good? There is obvious talent among the multi-ethnic group, including an Italian tenor, a resonant bass, a bluesy female singer, but others are just average. Aside from some touching solos, the bunch tends to generally oversing and blast every syllable out at top-volume, but who cares? If you've got the lungs and singing chops in your sunset years--be my guest.


So, why rock n' roll? Why not show tunes? Cilman actually began in 1982 having seniors sing vaudeville, but when a rock song was once covered, it brought the house down, so he switched. Cilman chooses all the eclectic rock songs, and for some reason, the group seems to excel at punk rock. (Check out their rendition of Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia.") He picks ironic songs also, like David Bowie's "Golden Years," and the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated." Do these folks even like rock n' roll? No. They are classical and opera aficionados, but they want to open themselves to new forms of expression. It's fascinating to watch these elders--with so much life-experience--interpreting lyrics written by artists fifty years younger than they. Many of the songs, like Coldplay's already-rich "Fix You," are given added layers of profundity by those who have lived these universal human sentiments over and over, for years and years. You can literally watch them meditate on the lyrics, their eyes far away.


Music is the universal language. Arthur Fiedler caused a stir when he began covering Beatles' songs with the Boston Pops. Now it's just commonplace that Metallica would record with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, or that Northwestern University's student musicians would cover Radiohead at the Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park.


The tone of the documentary, by British filmmaker/narrator, Stephen Walker, is low-key (no pun intended), and at first rather airy and humorous, and we wonder if we're ever going to really get to know these performers. The answer is yes, gradually. "Young @ Heart" skillfully avoids nostalgia and dwelling on the past. We get to know the singers in the now. Their aches and pains, spouses and children, medical prognoses. Much is made of their exact physical conditions, which become all-consuming for some (three members of the chorus pass away before the documentary is finished). Suddenly, we are looking in a time-mirror. We are looking at ourselves. We're all dying. That's what makes "Young @ Heart" so poignant. As we watch Fred--oxygen tubes up his nose, body filling with fluid from congestive heart failure, only able to sing while sitting--we ask ourselves: Will I be that enthusiastic, caring, brave in my old age? (There's also a hilarious rehearsal where Stan stiffly belts out James Brown's "I Feel Good." He's suffering from a painful spinal problem and feels anything but good.)


Are they afraid to die? No more than the rest of us. Many calmly refer to the Lord knowing when their time is up. There's a feeling of right order, that everything is as it should be somehow, and they're grateful. Starry-eyed, 92-year-old Eileen speaks blissfully of the rainbow she'll be sitting on in the next life. Their "revolution" is not so much against the "dying of the light," but dying before you're dead. And it's wonderful to see how this cohort, more or less my mother's age, widows and widowers, who lived through the Depression and World War II, have such solicitude for each other. The solicitude expands to their audiences. One of the most moving scenes in the film is a concert at a prison. The chorus sings seemingly incongruous songs of joy, hope and good wishes that seemed to say to the prisoners: Hey, you made a mistake, so what? Life is still beautiful.

There is something healing about being in the presence of thoughtful older people. When I was very sick several years ago, I made it a point to hang out only with our older sisters because they were softer around the edges, had learned to let a lot go, didn't need to understand everything, had no great and busy projects and plans, and lived simply in the present moment.

For many, the chorus has become central to their immediate purpose in life. Some are literally living for the next rehearsal, pushing themselves beyond doctor's orders. They feel a commitment to each other, the audiences, Bob Cilman. Rock n' roll is full of life, and so are the aged.

I vote for "Young @ Heart" as the "feel good" movie of the year.
*So get them a teleprompter for Pete's sake!

June 11, 2008


Notes from page 177 to chapter 2.

Father saw "Sex and the City" movie. As the characters began to live TOB, they became happier. (Even though they didn't know it was TOB.)

This dense TOB text is immediately applicable. It is looking at old things (principles, Scriptures, Creation, the Church, God's relationship with us) anew. John Paul II wanted to go through these age-old principles thoroughly so that there is nothing left to be said. Our conclusion is irrefutable. The text is like the melody, and Father is going to add harmony!

Who are we as persons, gendered persons?

FTNOTE 23, P 178: We need an "adequate anthropology." The key is: "What is human"? What is different about us from the animals? (Not just scientifically: "What is a living organism?")

GIFT—one of JPII's favorite words. What does he mean by it? Everything God does is GIFT. In Creation, only man can give a GIFT. Man is the one whom it is for. Only man can understand the meaning of GIFT: the call from nothing to existence. One can also say that the world has received man as a gift. The nature of GIFT is that it is freely given and freely received. We need to go through life with open hands: giving and receiving.

GIFT is the language of liturgy.

If Father could say anything to us, he would say: return to the sacramental world view. If we return to this, it's the key to happiness, especially in our relationship with others…. We need to live FOR others.

"It is not good for the man to be alone," means man is not complete alone, he needs to exist in relationship.  The way to have our legitimate needs met (emphasis on legitimate), is to live the spirituality of gift—to move out toward the others. Personal fulfillment is reflexive, reciprocal. We only are fulfilled by reaching out to others. We need to be aware that WE are gift and that others are GIFT to us. This is why contraception is so wrong. It is living in the opposite direction of reciprocity. It is holding back, not going in the direction of the other. And our bodies tell us so. A celibate priest lives FOR the Church.

Q: Is a married priest like a double symbol?
A: Yes. Celibacy also subsists in marriage. The married priest is living two mysteries: the ESCHATALOGICAL marriage and the SACRAMENTAL marriage. The priest relates to his parishioners as spouse, father, brother—like we all have various levels of relationships.

Often the married priest marries a daughter of priest. She is like a spiritual mother of the community also. Being a married priest is not about a priest who happens to be married to a woman. It's about a woman helping in the ministry. All of this can be summed up: we all have to live spousally, which means GIFT. Our bodies are made FOR the other sex. Male for female. It doesn't matter what you feel/think, the body doesn't lie. It is very insensitive to call someone a "homosexual"—we define people in TOB as "gift," as "person." You may have SSA (same-sex attraction), but that's a whole 'nother issue that you have to deal with.

When we're unhappy, it's always because we're not living the spousal gift of ourselves/our bodies adequately.

You first have to be able to possess yourself to be able to give yourself away. You can't give what you don't have. You have to have a self to give. Our culture hates discipline! (Or thinks it does.) If you play an instrument, you have to be disciplined and practice, and you have the FREEDOM to play music and make a gift of that.

What does it mean to be gendered? Someone from Mars would say—Oh! They're meant to give themselves to each other.

Q: What about hermaphrodites (intersex)?
A: It is out of the order of things. A disorder. This is not a bad word or thing, or insensitive, it's just what it is. The exception doesn't change the norm. Hermaphrodites are usually more male or female, however. But no matter what you are,

Gender means: FOR the other, and they for me. Everybody has to be "married," to be happy. Even celibates. Life won't make sense without marriage. Our society isn't sexual enough!!
[VIVE LE DIFFERENCE!] Be more genuinely human! Be more and more in the image of God!

Q: How does the single person live spousally?
A: The Church doesn't say that singleness is a vocation! There isn't permanency about it. They will be married one day to God! But even now, they have to live by making a gift of themselves. A person doesn't really live singly for any "good reason."

Q: Can't you stay single in the world to serve God?
A: You may be called to do work for God/world AS a single person, but your VOCATION is to "marriage." The single state can always be changed. It's not permanent. Once you're a consecrated layperson, you're not "single," you're in a covenant relationship, it's explicit, it's permanent.

We must be FRUITFUL.

We need to be disciplined fully, in our totality as persons, not just mind, for example. Our desires should not CONTROL us. We need to be able to look at each other, male and female, with the "peace of the interior gaze." Like Adam and Eve did.

Father was an art student, and because he was an artist, he was free to look at the human body properly, as beautiful. If you can master the human body as an artist, you can do anything, because it's the most beautiful thing in creation. It's a difficult discipline. Without that discipline, you'll be overcome with lust. If you are looking with lust, you're not free. JPII doesn't say: "custody of the eyes, look away," because that is imperfect.

Non-TOB, non-sacramental worldview sends us into individualism, narcissism, relativism. The Catholic worldview sends us into community. Laypeople for centuries lived in a more monastic style: a rhythm, prayer, sacraments, nearby church, God as the reference.

Catholic is not a religion, institution—it means to be human. The truth about being human. [Reality. Living in accord with reality.] What is being human about? The invisible being made visible through the physical. We humans have a fundamental desire to make the invisible visible also! Birthday cakes, flags, fireworks!

Everyone is called to marriage. Everyone is called to celibacy. Heaven is perpetual virginity: that is, total openness to God, total union with God. That's why we say: "Till death do us part," because we belong to God ultimately. To be Catholic is to keep these two things together: marriage and celibacy. We think: celibacy/virginity—loneliness, gross, don't want that. We think: marriage—love, intimacy, sex, yes! we want that. But that's wrong to think that way.

The Eastern Church says: "Till you are united forever." (But meaning in Christ in heaven, and not exclusively any more.)

The best celibates make the best married people and vice versa!!! Don't separate them! Catholic is integrated, Catholic is good, Catholic is the best!

We find our IDENTITY only in relation to the other sex. The only way something comes back to us is if it first moves out of us.

[Check out top of p. 202! Woman is not an object!]

If we keep pushing towards each other (two hands pushing against each other) everything stands. If one pulls back and only receives and doesn't give, then it all collapses.

Biologically, intercourse makes people bond to each other (bond to one person). There are actual specific male and female hormones secreted. One of the causes of teenage suicide is sleeping around. It's just so biologically painful to keep breaking up.

Scientists study animals to learn about humans. JPII says study humans to learn about humans. ("Adequate anthropology.")

Assignment over the summer: up to page 364. Next meeting: 2nd Wednesday of September.