Tag Archives: Christianity

A Poem for Robert Hubert

Great_Fire_London

The Great Fire of London (artist unknown)

 

No one carved you an epitaph,

For a grave you will never have,

Just a pale pillar raised to the sky,

Until 1830 a bone trophy for a lie.

 

Fair Eden’s breeze did not reach Rouen, 

Where the Maid of Orleans met her end,

For you were a Huguenot, and dare not

Honor her or dream of you her Lancelot.

 

For the watchmaker had a watch for a son.

Slow ticking and from nature’s bag of tricks

Two arms, a big one and a little one,

One moving, the other stuck at six.

 

Your uneven legs were no better,

Left straight and thick, the right a stick.

A watchmaker, a clockmaker?  Never

would Robert be more than ever sick.

 

Nor could you play or run with the other boys

In the lanes. Your mind imbued in a grace

That lay in the sublime ticking of papa’s toys

And the plain charm of your mother’s face.

 

And she died when you were young,

The shield against the city’s scorn and din

of insults that you bore your parent’s sin.

She the patient one that loved so strong.

 

What do we do with a simpleton?

The family mused on their child like son.

Our lame boy is easy prey for a city’s hate,

Do we pay and pray he meets a better fate?

 

Thus sent away to his future dungeon

The target, the joke, and the Huguenot.

Robert Hubert, the unlikely Argonaut,

Seeking a fleece in the City of London.

 

It was said that there you were laborer,

More likely you were just a neighbor.

Our Robert, slow of mind with body tremor,

You never worked, but always labored.

 

They were not seven, your daily needs,

But what a struggle, these mighty deeds,

To dress, eat and pray with only one arm,

To hide ears and tears from worldly harm.

 

In 1666, you changed your fortune,

seeking treasure, you sailed for Sweden.

What you hoped to gain we do not know,

No fleece or gold in this land of snow.

 

A good soul took pity there on your woe,

And paid your passage to Rouen your home.

You called her “Skipper”, the Maid of Sweden,

A name too long for you long to know.

 

A happy reunion was not to be,

For your passage was blocked by war,

You encountered there upon the sea,

A dreaded English Man-Of-War.

 

The Maid was forced to London,

to stay at port a while. For trade

with hostile France and Holland

was by royal order stayed.

 

And standing there on wooden deck

You saw flames begin and spread.

The fire soared and sky turned red,

A glowing oven for the dead.

 

It was the strangest thing you had seen,

This curling, crackling pyre.

But did no one share that children

Should stay far away from fire?

 

Your body fluttered toward the flame,

To those who sought someone to blame,

The mob took you there upon the wharf,

A Frenchman, a fool, a limping dwarf.

 

Good Captain Petersen later swore,

That then and there he washed his hands.

Your keeper no more with you ashore,

The Maid of Sweden left for France.

 

Into the darkness you were cast,

With no friends but fleas and rats.

In filth and slime a month you stayed,

And to our blessed Lord you prayed.

 

The only miracle that did occur,

Your confession to an act of war,

“I, Robert”, set the flames you swore.

(Please do not hit me any more)

 

From France you came with ill intent,

One of twenty three confederates,

No, on further thought it was a trio,

And you of course the lead commando.

 

For but a single coin of gold,

You would set the town aflame,

A plot of cunning by one so bold,

So true to those with no shame.

 

I must admit that most did doubt

the tale of this sad and lonely youth,

But what prevailed were those who spout,

That old line, “What is truth?”

 

Though the great flame had died,

A cloud of hate had spread,

It was best that some had lied,

For a king might lose his head.

 

It was October twenty seven,

Climb the cart, does your stomach churn?

Who knows? (Today you will be in Heaven).

So off you roll to Tyburn.

 

The mob blew you stony kisses,

Some flew true, some were misses.

The red ran down onto the rope,

Coiled round one without a hope.

 

They saluted you with jeers and cheers,

That stung your ears and fed your fears.

For the final ride you were all alone,

You knew at last you would not see home.

 

The wagon reached the triple tree,

At Tyburn where the gallows rise.

The seats are filled though none were free,

All pay when a doomed man dies.

 

And from the hills the shades looked down,

With them the Maid and Thomas More,

Martyrs, scapegoats and many more,

Who drain this drink for strange renown.

 

They stand you up and set the noose,

You have no words to spare them,

The whip is cracked and horse is loose,

It flees the sin and mayhem.

 

You are too light to break your twig,

So you swing your legs about,

The children prance and do a jig,

The adults sneer and shout.

 

When at last your dance is done,

Your face is black and still,

It is a race we all must run,

May our end be not so ill.

 

Jack Ketch laid you out upon the ground,

And stripped your body bare,

Your noose and clothes worth half a pound,

To those who know no prayer.

 

The surgeons came to take you then,

But the final sale was broken.

The mob surged forward in revenge,

To claim a meager token.

 

Hands and knives went to work,

And tore your form asunder.

Your heard came free with a jerk,

Your heart was someone’s plunder.

 

This reddened patch of ugly ground,

With bloody bits spread all around,

Was Robert Hubert’s only grave,

Made by those whom sin make brave.

 

And far away a dream is broken

By knocking hands, a father woken,

Hears the words that drowns his joy:

“The English hanged your boy.”

 


Robert Hubert (those are silent “t”s in French) was a French Protestant who was made the scapegoat for the Great Fire of London in 1666.  Little is known of him, or why spent much of his adult life in England and Sweden.  He most likely was not a watchmaker, despite what Wikipedia might say, though his family included many.

Late 17th century France was a place of rising tension between French Protestants and Catholics.  Many French Protestants emigrated to England, Scandinavia and North America.  My theory is that Robert was sent away by his wealthy family to live among those communities.  A number of French Protestant witnesses participated in his trial, and tried to save him, suggesting he was known to them. One of the many ironies of this scandal was that, though a Protestant, he was accused of being a Catholic spy and received his final absolution at his hanging by a Catholic priest, the Queen’s own confessor.

Based on the recorded descriptions of his appearance and behavior, it seems he was born with cerebral palsy, and had severe motor (hemiplegia) and cognitive deficits. All those in power knew he was innocent, but post-fire, wartime London was boiling cauldron of violence and unrest. Somebody needed to be held accountable for what scholars generally believe was just a tragic accident.

What happened to Hubert was a textbook illustration of the scapegoat concept that French philosopher Rene Girard explored  in his study of mythology, religion and literature.  During a time of an intense cultural or political crisis, some individual becomes the focus of hate and anxiety of the crowd. After his death, the cloud of anxiety dissipates, and society returns to a measure of equilibrium (until the next crisis and scapegoat).  Girard, a believer, wrote that Christ was the ultimate scapegoat since he was completely without blame, and his death was in part intended to point the way for breaking this cycle, which Girard implied was a system of control by the Prince of this World.

Hubert’s family was quite good at watchmaking, and you can find images on the internet of what are either his father or uncle’s watches still present in various museum collections.

I am in a bit of a rut, so say a prayer for me if you have the time.  There may not be any posts for a while.

 

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Knowing God

For a man
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every woman
That lived and died.

For a woman
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every child
That died young.

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Eyelids

Ford_Madox_Brown_-_Parisina's_Sleep_-_Study_for_Head_of_Parisina_-_Google_Art_Project

Ford Madox Brown, Parisina’s SleepStudy of a Head for Parisina’s Sleep (Public Domain)

 

Will our eyes grow weary,
Of staring at your glory?
I think not, but if I did,
I’d wonder on the humble lid.
When you rose and played the host,
Your friends saw you and not a ghost.
They did not cry, and run or hide,
In fear of man with no lid of eye.
In this dream I find some comfort,
That in our mansions we may slumber.
For it is fine to feast, and play and pray,
But I think I’d miss the end of day,
To feel some weakness in my bones,
And sigh, and stretch and head for home.
I would climb up to my royal room,
Where awaits our friend the groom,
Who speaks the name that no one knows,
The stone a rose our hearts disclose,
And drift away as eyelids close,
To blessed darkness, sweet repose.

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Putting on Christ

 

I got this outfit,

It was a gift,

Charity.

The coat sleeves are long,

Like they were stretched.

Can I make it fit?

Or do I grow into it?

The shoes have holes

in their soles.

Don’t ask about the shirt.

No wonder it was free.

 

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The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer

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Father Louis Bouyer

This is a review of The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth to Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After.  Father Bouyer was a French Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism in 1939, and then became respected priest and scholar who served as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council. He prepared these memoirs during his retirement in the 1990s, and died in 2004.   They were not published until 2014.

I have read the ebook version. The work is meticulously endnoted, with hypertext links that allow one to jump back and forth from notes and text with ease.

This book will be most enjoyed by those already familiar with his body of work, who are familiar with the history of Vatican II, and have an interest in the history and reform of Catholic liturgy. I do not fall into any of those categories, but I will share my thoughts for those who may be interested in reading it.

About half of Father Bouyer’s non-fiction bibliography is available in English, though you might have to buy used copies.  He also wrote four novels under pseudonyms. Those books have never been translated into English, and may even be out of print. He developed friendships with a number of other writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien.

Father Bouyer reminds me of another Catholic priest, writer and scholar:  Father Andrew Greeley. Both were scholars who wrote novels, though Greeley much more so. Bouyer’s career was more consumed by teaching duties than Greeley’s was.  Both men seemed to have a lot of energy, were inquisitive, and had a certain cheerfulness (at least in their writing), and had a tendency to speak their minds and thus get into scrapes with their peers in the Church.

The most charming part of the book is the first few chapters, regarding his family, youth and early crushes.  He had a great eye for detail and characterization. and I would have liked to read one of his novels. His mother died when he was 11.

The weakest part (though not bad) of the book is the middle part, covering his career during the 1940s and 1950s. Its a whirlwind of all the characters he knew and met, and the various places he worked and studied. Friends and historians will probably find this more useful.

The last part involves his role at Vatican II, and for a period of time in implementing it. Its good basis for a belief that the fewer the big conferences there are in Rome, probably the better.  He also covers some friendships and favorite places.

Two friends he singled out are a testimony to his generosity of spirit. One was Julian Green, an American, Catholic convert. He was a diarist, novelist and translator who lived most of his life in France. He also struggled with a homosexual orientation, and Bouyer seems to have been a good friend and confidante.  The other was an English writer, Elizabeth Boudge. Though she was not a Catholic, they struck up a deep and persistent correspondence that lasted many years.

Now, the themes:

The Mediocrity of the Church’s Institutions and its Leaders

It is suggested in the introduction that the long delay between the writing of the memoirs and their publication was deliberate, to perhaps protect Father Bouyer in his retirement, and to spare many of the targets of his criticism while they were still alive or holding high positions.

It is difficult, as with Greeley’s memoirs, to read about priests criticizing others under Holy Orders. However, Paul rebuked Peter once, so as long as it is done in Charity, it must be done when there is error or failure.  The Church, in its institutions and members, comes across in these memoirs as a sprawling university system. We meet “tenured” priests (e.g. isn’t Holy Orders the ultimate tenure?) who loaf and don’t do much work, administrators who have been promoted beyond their competence, or aging leaders who should have been retired and can’t keep up anymore. There is envy for other’s accomplishments, an unwillingness to consider new ideas, hiring decisions based on personal favoritism over merit, etc.

Bouyer sometimes names names, sometimes he doesn’t. He is not nasty about it, he offers his assessment, and moves on. I am reminded of an anecdote from Father Benedict Groeschel, where he relates a conversation he had with Mother Teresa. She asked him why God chose him to be a priest, and he replied with a joke. She answered “You were called by the humility of God.” He chooses very frail instruments to work with, so we should not be surprised when they fail.  Fortunately, we have great servants like Groeschel, Greeley or Bouyer to make up for the masses of mediocre Catholics (myself included among them).

Pre-Vatican II Church Dynamics

These memoirs confirm what I have read elsewhere about the pre-Vatican II dynamic.  The controversy and confusion that followed Vatican II didn’t just fall from the sky. It had been building for a few decades among silently warring camps.

On the one hand, we had the confident, established Church. It was orthodox and resistant to any change, perhaps more out of fear of modernity than willful close-mindedness.  And on the other hand, there was a large camp that fully subscribed to the modernist project, and wanted to conform the Church to the world.

In the middle it seems, were perhaps the smallest, least powerful group. Some reformers who wanted moderate change to the liturgy, Church organization, teaching methods, etc. This includes men like the future Pope Benedict, Bouyer, Henri De Lubac, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar.   They thought they had some good ideas for how the Church could respond to the problems of modernity

These reformers were criticized as dangerous radicals before Vatican II, and then criticized as out-of-touch conservatives in the decades after Vatican II. In fact, they never changed their position on anything.

What happened is that there was a rupture, and the modernist camp largely won, and imposed a lot of change very quickly. One of the stranger things I learned reading this was that during the Vatican II conferences there was a strong consensus at one point to abolish Ash Wednesday. It would have been moved to the first Sunday of Lent.  It narrowly survived. And it is one of the few times a lot of Catholics see the inside of a Church other than on weekends.  Many will skip Holy Days of obligation, but will go to Ash Wednesday services. This is an example of the kind of mentality that was at work at Vatican II.

One of the villains in this drama was Annibale Bugnini (may he rest in peace). He was a Catholic priest and important administrator given a position of great authority at Vatican II, and a staunch modernist.  When he ran into obstacles, he would pull out his trump card, “The Pope Wills It!” Bouyer and others later found out he was making it all up, the Pope did not will it. He was later punished by being named the Vatican’s delegate to Iran, where he finished his career.

Bridges between Catholics and Protestants

Though a convert, Bouyer retained his strong belief that Protestants had often outdone Catholics in both their study of scripture and their emphasis on a personal relationship with the Lord. I tend to agree, though I think the Church has made great strides in recent decades, particularly with emphasis on new devotional practices (e.g. the Divine Mercy), and Pope Benedict XVI’s great example in his series on the Gospels.  Bouyer felt these two areas should be ones the Church should focus on in its pursuit, perhaps vain, of reconciliation with our Anglican and Lutheran brethren (which were the focus of his ecumenism).

Based on my reading of his memoirs, I do have an interest in trying at least one of his books.  I am more focused on poetry now, so it may be a while before I read one. I will post a review if I do.

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Holy of Holies (II)

 

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From “The Dance of Death” by Hans Holbein

 

Father, is this the hour of desolation?

The one you know and of which I warn.

In my holy place an abomination,

Will my Church be still-born?

Is this the day the world swore:

“Blessed be the barren women,

the womb that never bore,

And their breasts never nursing.”

I see two boys in the meadow playing,

A shadow falls and one is taken.

I see two girls in my temple spinning,

One is gone and the sanctum shaken.

The iron nails pierce my bride,

Her veil is torn from top to bottom.

The rusted lance rends my side,

Has my Mother’s “Yes” been forgotten?

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The Ballad of Doubting Thomas

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Martyrdom of St. Thomas, by Peter Paul Rubens (public domain)

There is a man of famous doubt,
And Thomas was his name.
You think you know the truth about,
This rascal and his shame.

You mockers joke about his sin,
So I will tell you true.
He was the Master’s living twin,
And far more brave than you.

Mother Mary was a wise one,
The flower of our race.
But even she would greet her Son,
When Thomas showed his face.

Our Lord was fond of nicknames,
As Adam’s son should be.
And so he called him “Didymus,”
That’s Greek to you and me.

The twin was not one to pander,
And always spoke his heart.
When others thought to flatter,
The doubter took no part.

By deeds not words, he might have said,
This man, the Nazarene.
And when he learned his friend had died,
He left for Bethany.

“You must not go!” the others cried,
Your foes will seek your end.
But doubting Thomas then replied,
“Let’s go and die with him.”

But when one day they struck the King,
As foretold they scattered.
Reluctantly, I have to sing,
All of them were shattered.

The Prince of Peace was put to death,
His heart pierced by a spear.
And when he spoke his final breath,
The twin was nowhere near.

Shame can drive a man to rages,
An anger for an end.
We want to be courageous,
For weakness we must mend.

And so the doubter walked about,
And with his life made free.
And to the Romans gave a shout,
“Please nail me to a tree.”

So then the Lord came back to them,
The spirit was his breath.
While on the streets of Jerusalem,
Thomas sought after death.

And when at last he heard the news,
His pride would not give in.
His shame then fought to probe the wounds,
That truly lay within.

The Lord heard every word he said,
That reckless Didymus,
And then appeared with wounds still red,
Spoke, “Put me to the test.”

A weaker man just might have died,
When hearing such a sound.
But “My lord and my God” he cried,
And knelt upon the ground.

The Lord so quick forgave his twin,
All brothers he did bless.
And while Jesus soon ascended,
The saints began their quest.

For he left a great commandment,
To each and every one.
All of Adam’s descendants,
Must learn about God’s son.

Doubting Thomas took his mission,
Into Assyria.
And seeking for his own passion,
Took sail for India.

He preached the Word in that far land,
And many knew the Lord.
He prayed that all might understand,
No thought for his reward.

Thomas walked his Master’s path,
Until the kingdom come.
He soon did suffer the world’s wrath,
A bloody martyrdom.

I now end and seek your promise,
To give the man his due.
That you never slander Thomas,
This doubter died for you.

Note: This poem was inspired by Fabrice Hadjadj’s interesting interpretation of Thomas the Apostle in his book Resurrection: Experience Life in the Risen Christ, which I reviewed here.

Most of my poems are in free verse, and sound better to my ear, but I read a persuasive article that an aspiring poet should practice with formal modes to build their skills. So this is in the form of a ballad, which uses the traditional 8-6-8-6 syllables on each line of the quatrains. It  feels clunky, and is pretty much my first draft. I don’t have much appetite for polishing and revising yet, but maybe I will come back to it at a later date.

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Holy of Holies

 

Visitación_de_Rafael

The Visitation, by Raphael. 1517.

Every womb is holy.

I have made it so.

I am born anew with every soul.

My Father’s temple stood in Jerusalem long ago.

His presence dwelled in the inner room,

Shielded by the temple veil.

The temple fell, but lives again in the womb

Of every woman, a Holy Grail,

Veiled by their long gowns.

So be modest, and guard this font of birth,

This chamber of my daughters and sons.

My Church here on Earth.

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Logan: Meridian of Blood

logan

Wolverine at sunset

 

 

This post is about the latest X-Men film, Logan, directed by James Mangold. This is not a movie review in the traditional sense, and more in the nature of a commentary, a long one, and an appreciative one at that. There are spoilers throughout.

 

I.

The story begins along the U.S. – Mexican border in the vicinity of Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, which is Spanish for “the pass.”  The story ends at another pass on the U.S. – Canadian border. In between these two points the characters cut a red river that flows north through our broken world.

The plot is very simple.  An older and unhealthy Logan, one of the few remaining mutants in an America of 2029, learns that he has a daughter of sorts, Laura.  He attempts to take her and a seriously ill Professor Xavier to a place called Eden, which serves as a clandestine border crossing into Canada.  Canada is apparently beyond the reach of the corporation that wishes to exploit Laura’s powers, which are the same as Logan’s.

As Logan journeys north, it seems as if James Mangold is taking the viewer back in time, asking if the Biblical Eden can be rediscovered.   Or, alternatively, a northern journey may represent an ascent, from Hell to Heaven.  For the place where the movie starts is surely hell. The border is a world of ugliness, blight, crime, illness, drunkenness, and death.

The country empties out but grows pretty with horses as we enter America’s plains, but is still gaudy and dangerous: casinos in Oklahoma City and menacing robotic semis on the highways. The people are fewer, but better: we meet a kind country doctor and a welcoming farming family.

The final act takes place along the pristine border between the U.S. and Canada. It is very scenic, and almost devoid of man and his creations. Logan is successful, and his daughter and her friends make it across the border into a primeval Eden. Logan dies there, one of many casualties on both “sides” of the fight.

The cultural references are overtly Western, and clips from the movie Shane are viewed by the characters.  Laura quotes from Shane at the end, and we are apparently left to understand that Logan was Shane, Laura was Joey, etc. Logan was just too tainted by violence to enter the promised land, like Moses dying outside of Israel for his sins.

But when the credits roll, there is an unsettling turn. The viewer is treated to Johnny Cash singing the apocalyptic “When the Man Comes Around,” with its references to the Alpha and Omega, the Kingdom Come and the Beasts of Revelation.   What exactly was the message?

 

II.

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They rode out on the north road as would parties bound for El Paso but before they were even quite out of sight of the city they had turned their tragic mounts to the west and they rode infatuate and half fond toward the red demise of that day, toward the evening lands and the distant pandemonium of the sun.

From Blood Meridian, Or The Evening Redness in the West. By Cormac McCarthy

I will propose an interpretation entirely different, provocative, but I think more in accord with what was actually shown. I would suggest that Mr. Mangold’s work is not to be taken at face value, and in a way, he gives his game away in a recent interview:

What I mean by “forced into cinema” is that I am a big believer that we have gotten way into dialogue as the delivery mechanism of meaning in movies. If anything, I tend to find that my results are much more pleasing – at least to myself – when I view dialogue as the delivery system of lies in a movie. What we see is the truth, and what we hear is misdirection.

(emphasis added)

Myth vs. Man: James Mangold and Scott Frank on Logan

Creativescreenwriting.com March, 3, 2017

There is a monster lurking behind Logan, under the Shane exterior, and it is Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Or The Evening Redness in the West. McCarthy’s brutal epic is a revisionist Western, and devoid of any  nostalgia for America’s frontier.  The novel was loosely based on the actions of the Glanton Gang, a group of mercenaries who were paid by the Mexican government to bring “order” to the frontier by terrorizing the Indian tribes along the U.S.-Mexican border in the 1850s.  How? They scalped them. They eventually came to a bad end, killed at a border crossing by the same tribes that they had preyed on.

Mangold and his collaborators are too subtle (or careful)  to overtly reference Blood Meridian, a movie that many have been trying to make for years, and has been deemed un-filmable. I think too strong a linkage would have invited criticism for the presumption of borrowing from what some critics consider to be one of the finest American novels of the 20th century. And in a superhero movie of all things too! It is ironic that some have compared Logan to a Cormac McCarthy book, when there was one seemingly hiding in plain sight all along.

It is particularly interesting that the only other well-known mutant used from the comics, aside from Wolverine and Xavier, is Caliban, an albino, hairless creature. Mangold also made an interesting casting choice by having Stephen Merchant, an unusually tall actor (at 6’7), to play the role. Caliban was of ordinary height through most of his tenure in the X-Men comic book series.

caliban

Caliban the cowboy, as portrayed by Stephen Merchant in Logan.

 

I would suggest Caliban is an allusion to the similarly tall (nearly 7 feet), hairless, albino character of Judge Holden from Blood Meridian, who critic Harold Bloom described in Shakespearean terms as an Iago-like villain. Caliban is not intended to be Holden,  this visual is just a bread crumb Mangold has tossed out to the careful observer.  Under this theory, Pierce and his mercenaries are the Glanton gang.  Instead of bringing order to the border, they are delivering order to America by bringing mutants under control. Pierce and his Reavers, like the Glanton Gang, meet a bloody end at a border crossing at the hands of those they victimized.

This theory explains why so much of the action in Logan is set in Mexico or along its border with the U.S. And why there is almost no similarity between the film and its supposed inspiration, the 2008 Marvel comic series Old Man Logan.  That comic involved a west to east journey across America, had no Mexican element, and was a typical superhero slugfest. In the end, Logan survives and plans to rebuild the X-Men and take on the villains who have conquered America. The only point in common is that both feature an older Wolverine.

Who is Judge Holden then?  Its our friend Logan, the unkillable, immortal, killing machine. Like the Judge, everyone that comes into Logan’s orbit eventually seems to die. Logan was the last of the X-Men, like the Judge was the sole survivor of the Glanton Gang.  In particular, Judge Holden appears as the younger cloned version of Logan, the X-24.

Hey, but Logan is a good guy! And he is. In a way he is “the Kid” of Blood Meridian, the least worst, most self-aware of the cutthroats, who has aged into a wiser form by the end of that book. But in his potential for death and destruction, and his method of violence, Logan is a god of war, like the Judge. And it is Logan’s clone, X-24, that kills Professor Xavier and many others in the film. Because Logan, and superheroes generally, are not the saviors we make them out to be. Mangold has Logan deliver the indictment himself, as he verbally shreds the mythologized exploits of the X-Men as portrayed in the films meta-version of the X-Men comic books.

Mangold was upfront in his interviews about wanting to de-mythologize the superhero genre, as has already been done for Western in movies like Unforgiven or his own version of 3:10 to Yuma. In more recent Western, cowboys are not Knights of the Plain. They are survivors, opportunists, and flawed all the way around. And because they rely on violence, often indiscriminate killers as a result.

And this is why the Shane references are a misdirection on Mangold’s part. Because unlike Shane, Logan brings death to those he means to help. This is demonstrated with the fate of the Munson family, who are a stand in for the Starret family of Shane. Laura is not Joey, Joey is the doomed son Nate Munson. Logan draws the Reavers to their home, and is powerless to stop his clone from killing this version of the Starrets.  He even gets a bunch of local bullies killed, as he provoked them with an earlier display of violence, and they show up in time for the X-24 to off them too.

Many reviewers, while praising Logan, expressed discomfort with the level of violence. You are supposed to feel this way. The violence in Logan is the most extreme of all the X-Men movies, and nearly all superhero movies.  It deliberately mimics the level of violence in Blood Meridian.  You are not supposed to revel in it, and I have to say I am a bit disappointed in some who hold up the young Laura as some sort of female empowerment figure. If  superheroes really existed, they would leave a trail of death and destruction in their wake that dwarfs anything done by ISIS.

 

III.

Logan is not the first effort to de-mythologize the super-hero genre. Alan Moore did this with Watchmen, which was later adapted into a film. Moore’s caped crusaders are very human and fail to achieve anything.  The ending offers only an illusion of hope, which is better described as “progress.”

Logan differs from Watchmen in that there is a real message of hope at the end. I am not the first to note the religious sensibilities of the film.  As I watched, I found myself counting how many times Logan fell down or laid down and lost consciousness in the last act. Three, I believe.  And the choice of death was quite interesting: impalement on a tree, with a final stab in the side from the X-24.

In his review, Mr. Vishnevestky notes that Logan is certainly no Christ figure. I agree, he is far more a Peter, futilely hacking away with his sword at an endless stream of enemies, or a good thief, worried about money and material things. But whether thief or Peter, in the end he embraces love and submits to death.

 

Atheists sometimes complain that Christians wind up seeing religious symbols where they do not exist. And its true to an extent, but also not true.  If you want us to stop seeing them, then stop using them. Even Palpatine can’t stop himself when talking about his mentor in Revenge of the Sith, who used his powers to save those he loved from death: “He saved others, he could not save himself.” Actually that’s Matthew 27:42.

What Palpatine said was: He could save others from death, but not himself.”  Big difference, right?   Perhaps George Lucas is a closet Christian, and wanted to sneak in an allusion to Lazarus and Jesus. I do not know.  And I don’t presume to know Mr. Mangold and his fellow screenwriters’ religious views, but as  I discussed in a prior review, it would not be the first time non-Christian Hollywood directors explored Christianity in an indirect way.

So I go to these movies, and watch the hero sacrificing himself and/or dying and coming back to life, and having a happy ending. You cannot get away from it, whether its Harry Potter in the Deathly Hallows or Flynn Rider in Tangled.  I could make a very long list.  And our stories were not always this way. Before the Incarnation, the choice for Drama in the West was either Tragedy or Comedy, death or absurdity.  And it was believed these forms were god given, from the muses Melpomene (tragedy) and Thalia (comedy).

But now things have changed. Just like the Roman roads were put to use to spread the Word, so are all mediums curved towards His purpose, whether you want it or not. So it’s not really Hollywood’s fault that they keep inviting an inconvenient guest into their movies.  While we live on our surface, Jesus is living rent free in that space inside your heart. Like a good general, he is the master of your interior lines, and can meet you on whatever ground you choose: the workplace, films, books, etc. All your bases belong to Him.

And he is there to welcome us, but first you must become like a little child to receive him.  So we are left with a message of hope, as Laura and her fellow children return to Eden, or Heaven. If the studios have any decency, we won’t see any sequels with a grown-up Laura dealing death and destruction. You aren’t supposed to return from the Undiscovered Country.

So, goodbye Laura, and don’t ever come back.

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Eve, the Eternal Housewife

 

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By artist Edward Burne-Jones for William Morris’ A Dream of John Ball. Illustrating the couplet “When Adam delved and Eve span/ Who was then the gentleman?” (Public Domain)

The translation of Ève continues.  To recap, I am translating Charles Péguy’s poem, Ève, from French to English. In the poem, Jesus delivers a long monologue to our ultimate mother, and humanity generally, about Paradise, the Fall and the Redemption.

Below is my first draft of the section of the poem where Jesus compares Eve to a housewife whose work is never done, partly because she can never be content with leaving anything alone.  This part led me to an insight about some of the people in my life, and might cause me to be more compassionate about the things they do that get on my nerves. The word Péguy uses in various forms in this section is “arrange” or “tidy up.” According to Péguy, we are plagued by an insatiable urge to bring order to chaos of the world, even though it is futile

Péguy humorously asks us to imagine Eve as the hard-charging homemaker who would ask God to wipe the mud of his shoes and then wash his hands if he ever popped in for a visit:

Woman, I tell you, you would arrange God himself

If he came to visit your house in the season.

You would arrange the shame, and the blasphemy,

If he came to visit and flatter your reason.

 

You would have tidied up the wrath of God divine.

You would have washed away the great iniquity.

The time has long since passed. You cannot take your leave,

When you are stuck in the bottom of the ravine.

 

Women, you would clean up after the explosion

If God threw a bolt down at your lowly dwelling.

You would arrange for grace, and the absolution

If God visited you in this lonely lodging.

 

You would have tidied up the first anathema,

When it came upon you in your bleak loneliness.

You would have soon placed it within your formula

Of benign government and deceptive meekness.

 

Women, you would arrange for a renewed baptism,

If John the Baptist came and entered the Jordan.

You would tidy up the host, oil, and the chrism

If the men of the world returned to the garden.

 

Women, you would sweep up like crumbs from your kitchen

The bread from My body, of the Resurrection.

Instead you have stored up from your false religion,

The dry crumbled leaves from the tree of rejection.

 

You would sweep up the leaves from the red Tree of Life

Even after I sprang into the deepest womb.

You would demand to be the attending midwife

Even after I stepped from the mouth of the tomb

I know one woman I will call the Narrator. The day’s schedule is narrated to everyone several times a day. “First we are doing this, and at 4 o’clock we have to go to dinner, and then … ” If we are at a restaurant, the menu selections are read aloud and recommendations given to the other members of the dining party.

Another one I will call the Arranger.  If you leave a half-empty glass of water, tea or coffee by itself for five minutes, it will magically disappear, and reappear, emptied, in a kitchen sink.  Half-read magazines will be put away if left unattended too long.

There is another I would call the Director.  As you can guess, she likes to give directions to everyone about just about everything, no matter how small.

There is a certain lack of self-awareness in these behaviors. And they persist despite objection. And I can see now that it’s not really their fault, as it’s a consequence of original sin. Eve was not content in the garden, she felt she had to arrange for man’s destiny through knowledge of good and evil. Her daughters are cursed, on an almost unconscious level,  to try to put Humpty Dumpty back together for the rest of human history, and it shows up at the micro level in the most mundane things.

I don’t intend to leave men off the hook. Men have tried to “arrange” the world and humanity throughout history, though our errors are more apparent on the macro level: the misuse of political power, the abuse and exploitation of natural resources, or unethical scientific research and discovery, to name a few.

If we are listening to Jesus and his Mother, the best attitude includes letting things be. Yes, we must fulfill our daily obligations and take care of what has been entrusted to us, but you will never achieve perfection.  Whatever leisure or “free time” you have been gifted by God can always be consumed by an inordinate desire for order, if you let it.

 

 

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