Exodus is Excusable

Exodus

—SPOILER ALERT—

And by Exodus I mean the film by Ridley Scott (starring Christian Bale as Moses), not the inspired history account of divine intervention by YHWH.

So I was very eager to see this film, and heard both criticism and awe in early reviews. I knew this was another film I had to see for myself. Here’s what I got:

—–1) Eh. For a 140 million dollar budget, I would’ve expected a story at least as engaging as the special effects. By leaving so much out (since nobody can cover Exodus entirely on film), what was left wasn’t portrayed creatively enough. I could sense myself actually getting bored during the movie! Everything felt too rushed. My eyes were in for a treat, but my soul was not impressed.

—–2) The soundtrack is forgettable. I don’t remember a single moment where I went: I gotta hunt this score down and put it on repeat ASAP!

—–3) Things missing include: Moses’ real mother, the pillar of fire, the staff’s importance, how angry God and Moses get with the golden calf, and that’s only what I can remember…

—–4) But there are good things too about the film: Moses must be humbled before God. The ways humility is taught and represented is interesting. In Moses’ first encounter with God’s messenger, he is stuck in quicksand up to his face. Nothing else is visible but Moses’ eyes, nose, mouth and cheeks: he is literally dirt and mud. And that’s the root word of humble: humus (Latin for earth, soil, etc.).

Being humble means being grounded in reality, close to the soil, because we are dust and will become dust again. We must remember our mortality and finitude, and let God be God. Moses in this film had to learn this, and for good reason since he was a spoiled prince of the ancient superpower called Egypt.

—–5) God’s messenger (aka: angel) is portrayed as a boy. I don’t see anything wrong about this. In fact, probably a good way to teach Moses more humility! A grown warrior prince humbled to obedience to a child who represents the Almighty.

MosesZipporah—–6) Perhaps one of the few best parts of this film was the emphasis on marriage and family, especially fatherhood. Moses and his wife, Zipporah, share beautiful vows together, and the respect they show for one another is a good example of marriage. Fatherhood is shown through how Moses cares for his son, and even in how Ramses loves his own.

—–7) Another part well done are the plagues. I enjoyed seeing how the plagues were set up to be more naturalistic, including the parting of the Red Sea. As the audience, we could relate easier to the doubting Egyptians and Pharaoh who brushed aside the calamities and pushed on with their goals and lives. They saw everything as explainable by nature, and we moviegoers could too… until the coincidences got so stretched that it could NOT be mere coincidence anymore: oh… the sea level just happened to lower when the Hebrews needed an escape? Oh… the fact that only Egyptian first born children died during the first Passover? Hmmm… something tells me this was all guided by an intelligence. Wonder who that could be…

—–8) All in all, Exodus: Gods and Kings failed to insult me, and also failed to impress me. I wish it actually did one or the other, because I’m glad I don’t have to write more about this because there ain’t much here other than superficial visuals. Go ahead and watch it, but don’t be surprised if it’s underwhelming. If you’re in a mood for a more intense version, check out the original in the Bible or even the Prince of Egypt, and you’ll wish Hollywood would’ve been more creative. We were promised an epic, but got eh… Wasted opportunity, I think.

ExodusRedSea

For what I think are good reviews, see here:

1) ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’: Theological Reflections

2) An Interview with Scott, Bale and Edgerton

Help Holy Smack Make Holy Cards

HelpSmack

Dear Holy Smack Readers,

I never thought I would do this, but I need your help to get the word out, and to help lighten the tab. Let me explain:

If you didn’t notice, I love beautiful Catholic art. Too much out there is mediocre, and a lot more is not worth a glance (I personally believe one of the biggest factors in people losing their faith is because new Catholic art has been so ugly and banal in recent decades). One of Holy Smack’s missions is to help inspire others with Beauty, to help others discover the Church through Beauty — to wake up their senses and see that there is more! Beauty is a beast!

To do this, we have the Holy Card — something the Church culture has been sharing and creating before Hallmark was even around. But the Holy Card has been needing a transfiguration for a long time now. Just go into any Catholic bookstore or church (or search “Catholic holy cards” on Google) and you’ll see what I mean: uninspiring art with prayers in uninspiring fonts and underwhelming color. I wince every time I see a wimpy Saint Michael (thought of posting a sample of a wimp, but better not…).

Now, I’m not saying I know exactly what the Holy Spirit ordered, but I’ve been getting vibes that Holy Smack is on the right track with the cards being featured here. Catholic art here is getting noticed again, and I hear compliments from everyone who sees the art.

The goal is to produce and share art cards so catchy to the eye and soul that no one would feel fine throwing any away, but that everyone would want to share more with others!

But beautiful art takes lots of work and diligence and talent. It’s been a blessing working with the few [very generous] artists featured in the card collection so far, but the time has come for commissioning special art from special talents. Here’s where you can help, either by donating what you are willing to give, and/or by spreading the word. But whatever you do, please pray for us artists and bloggers. Feel free to reach me at EvanPham@HolySmack.com if you have any questions or requests.

Please join our work. It really is time to show the world again how beautiful our Faith is.

And of course, thank you gifts for your donations are part of our way of showing our gratitude!

Our fundraising campaign is on IndieGoGo. The deadline to make this goal happen is… at the end of the 12 Days of Christmas (January 6th)! If the amount is not met by then, well… we’ll have a very blue… blue, blue, blue Christmas…

Here are some pieces we’re seeking to feature soon in a new expression (the photos are not up to standard to produce cards out of them):

[Our Lady of Sorrows, a sculpture in Italy]

[Help Daniel Mitsui (artist of the Samurai Archangels) remake this into a Japanese version!]

Mary Crushes Serpent

[Help Gwyneth Holston remake this into a masterpiece on canvas!]

Always the Best and Nothing Less

[Daniel Mitsui’s “Wedding at Cana” in the Traditional Japanese style.]

The Wedding at Cana has been special to me ever since my silent retreat experience with Mary in 2011. Only, I didn’t realize how special it was to me until the past year. More and more it appeared in my life. More and more… but here are a few treats from the wedding feast, just in time as America feasts this Thanksgiving week:

—–1) After telling her Son there is no wine left, Mary turns to the servants of the wedding feast and tells them, “Do whatever He tells you.” These are Mary’s last words in the Gospels. No more of her words are recorded, and so these have a weight to them. But, while I prayed the Rosary and contemplated on this mystery, I heard Our Lady say to me: “Do whatever He tells you… when He tells you.”

I immediately realized that just as important as the “what He tells you” is the “when He tells you”!

So often we think we know what we need to do, so we rush, we hurry and end up doing not as well as we could have. I can think of many examples where if I had only slowed down, prepared, planned and waited to the Holy Spirit to send me, I would have succeeded. Learning to follow Divine Timing has been difficult, but I have seen things happen that are nothing short of miraculous. Coincidence just can’t explain away enough these experiences (one of which I may share in more depth later).

CremeBrulee—–2) For the longest time I wondered how strange it was for Jesus to make/serve the best wine after wedding guests were already too drunk to know the difference and appreciate anything. Like, why would anyone give a thousand dollars to an intoxicated person? Or why give a crème brûlée to someone who has a miserable cold and can’t even taste anything? Or why serve the finest sashimi to guests who don’t know their shoes from their sushi?

Well, I asked Jesus this point blank, in front of a group of friends (His beloveds), while He was in the Blessed Sacrament. And I stared Him down. And He sent the Holy Spirit gushing into me. Once I asked, the answer just swelled up from out of nowhere, effortlessly:

Jesus saves the best for us, makes the best for us… always the best and never less… because He is God and because He loves us. Even when we are too drunk to see the greatness of the gifts He has given us, too wasted to understand and use the talents He gave us, too stupid to care for the loved ones He brought us to, too sinful to love Him, even despite all our inadequacy… He still gives us all of Himself and everything good for us.

And if we don’t see the goodness, the greatness, the loveliness and treasure… it’s because we need to get sober. Otherwise, we will miss out on all that Heavenly glory (as Bruce Lee used to say):

“Mary, I have no wine. Please ask your Son to turn my blood into love. Mary, tell Him, ask Him.”

-Evan Pham, as inspired by St. Francis de Sales

Lisa Ling Visited and Made a Documentary

A few years ago, Lisa Ling visited the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan to help Oprah viewers get to know how Catholic religious sisters live, love and serve God.

The show was so successful that Oprah asked the sisters to visit her studio! Yep!

But that wasn’t the end of Ling’s fascination with the Church.

KoenigsknechPriests

[God bless you both, Fathers!]

LisaLing2 LISA LING: THIS IS LIFE

This year she visited Michigan’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit (I remember her and the CNN crew walking around in the Fall) and filmed a documentary about two twin brothers who just finished formation here last spring and were ordained priests over the summer. This is the episode — Called to the Collar — for your evangelization enjoyment. Find out why Michigan was special enough to beckon Lisa Ling all the way over here!

Interpreting Interstellar

InterstellarA dozen of us from the seminary just experienced in IMAX Christopher Nolan’s latest film: Interstellar. There was so much nourishment in the film to milk, that I’m going to have to return for seconds during Thanksgiving break, but for now, here is what left me most satisfied (and no, it’s not just the Buddy’s Pizza we just inhaled):




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) About halfway through the film, the astronauts come to a fork in their journey and have to decide definitively which planet to visit. They appear to have two solid options, but Anne Hathaway’s character – Amelia Brand – chooses illogically and with great bias. The other two crew ask her why, since their choice is more reasonable and has better chances. Her answer made the audience laugh, me included. But then Ameila explained, and I caught myself falling in love with her answer. It resonated with me. I myself thought about it for a long time: Why does love exist? What is the reason for love?

Answer: there is no reason for love, because Love IS the reason.

Here’s what Amelia said, roughly paraphrasing: I choose this planet, and not the one you have decided on, because somewhere on this planet is the man I love. I cannot explain why, but I know my heart, and I’m trying to follow it. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s because love transcends what we can sense, what we can measure and quantify and experiment on. Love cuts through time and space, because even though I haven’t seen Edmund (her lover) for years, I still love him and am drawn to him. Even though I have every reason to think he is dead, I need to be with him, to know for sure. There’s no reason any of us should keep loving people who are gone, who are far off, who we may never see again, but we still love, because love is the only thing the universe cannot explain.

And the reason why the audience laughed was because we thought she was going to be all mushy and sentimental about her choice: Oh, here we go again… all this follow-your-heart and lovey-dovey stuff… bah humbug!

BUT that’s where Philosophy and Theology kick in: it is true that love transcends the world, the universe. It is completely beyond what is necessary for the universe to keep going, and also completely unnecessary. Love, in short, is supernatural; it’s above nature, not found in nature, and does not naturally occur. Animals, plants, and atoms do fine without it. Love can even put us at risk of danger. Nature would be fine (maybe even better) if love didn’t exist, except that it does exist. And if this supernatural thing we call love actually exists, that means there’s a whole bunch of stuff out there that is beyond our science (“stuff” like God, the Divinity, the Creator). The film even lays it out: “Science is about admitting that we know so little.”

CainAbel

[Cain murders his brother, Abel. This screenshot is from Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”.]


—–2) When the remaining crew land on a planet and revive Mann, a huge twist in the story comes up and reminds us of Cain and Abel. The parallels are unmistakable: Mann is Cain, and both are the elder character (Mann was on the planet first and for a longer time). Cooper is Abel, both were the younger character (Cooper arrived later on the planet). Mann tells Cooper (Cain tells Abel) to go out into the field (the wilderness) with him, and that’s when the elder rises up against his brother out of selfishness and seeks to murder him (see how similar it all is to Genesis 3).

Right away, goosebumps filled my epidermis: here they were, in a new world, ready to begin another civilization, and here was the original sin, back with vengeance. Our fallen nature as sinners goes with us wherever we go, even to Saturn, even through a wormhole into another galaxy, even to the edge of a gargantuan blackhole. We cannot rise above without help from outside the human race. Our world/s will be tainted, like the cursed Midas Touch.

Coincidentally (but probably not), the film’s mighty organ music pipes up during this scene (track “Day One Dark“). Given that the organ is rarely featured in film scores, and the prominence the organ has in this very Biblical scene, one has to wonder what Mr. Hans Zimmer was implying by using this instrument that was designed specifically for the Traditional Latin Mass of the Catholic Church.
—–3) Jessica Chastain’s character – Murph – goes behind her big brother’s back and undermines him and his [insane] will for his family’s future. The tension builds as he returns to discover his sister’s cunning, and just when we think he is going to do something terrible to everyone, Murph runs out to him, smiling, gushing with hope and love, and she embraces him. Immediately, I knew the phenomenon. I experienced is many times and have dubbed it “Severe Tenderness”. It goes something like this: A few years ago, I was at work one day at the sushi restaurant. My shift on Friday evening was the forbidden hour. I was regularly alone at the front during the dinner rush (4-6pm), taking orders, running orders, preparing dishes, washing dishes, cleaning tables, etc. I learned how to work without thinking, to grow four extra arms, and to lose my temper. But always at 6pm, backup would arrive and pitch in. This woman only worked for two hours (6-8pm), but when she would arrive, I was ready to dump all my frustration out on her. Except, when she came up to me, said hello, asked how I was, and so ready to help me… my anger, stress, and tantrum melted away.

Her smile and sweetness was tender enough to soothe me, yet severe and powerful enough to cut through all the mess that was attacking me. It was instantaneous, and instead of blowing up in her face, I smiled back and worked even harder to help her have an easier evening at work. She became someone for me to serve, and I loved it.

Severe tenderness is a gift, a strength not everyone has, and even in my life there are only a handful of people who have that effect on me, consistently. But don’t go and try to see if you’re one of them, okay?

—–4) At the epic’s end, we find Cooper being sent on a mission: somewhere out there in the new world (new planet) is a new Eve (Amelia). It is not good for her to be alone. Go find her. She’s waiting for you. Be her new Adam. (Yes, strongly echoing Genesis again!) [This also strongly hints how Mary (the true New Eve) comes first and awaits the coming of Jesus Christ (the True New Adam!).]

And when Murph tells Cooper of this, reminds him about Amelia, his love for Amelia is roused. This reminds me strongly of the love story found in the Book of Tobit: the love of Tobias and Sarah. You’ll have to find it in the Bible yourself, read it and watch Interstellar to understand what I am saying. But trust me. It looks pretty parallel to me.

CryoEmbryo—–5) Lastly, Interstellar mentions cryogenic-embryos as part of the backup plan to ensure mankind’s survival. I’d like to point out that the film eventually determines this option to be inadequate, because it means giving up on saving those who are alive. This is not the only reason why cryostorage (super freezing) of human embryos is morally evil, mainly because human persons deserve better than to be left vulnerable in canisters and left there as a resource to tap, manipulate and own. I won’t go any deeper on this point for now, because my philosophy thesis is on this issue, and when it is finished, I’ll be sharing it then. This review is already lengthy enough.

—–BONUS) The biggest plot hole in Interstellar is actually a powerful sign of a something more. Philosophy labels this “plot hole” in reality the Infinite Regress. This is a bit difficult to follow, but hear me out:

      At the film’s end, we discover that:
a) Cooper goes back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper2) about the secret NASA coordinates.
b) Cooper2 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
c) Cooper2’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper3) about the secret NASA coordinates.
d) Cooper3 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
e) Cooper3’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper4) about the secret NASA coordinates.
f) Cooper4 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
g) Cooper4’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper5) about the secret NASA coordinates…
ETC. ETC. ETC. for infinity…

But, who told the first Cooper [about NASA] in this infinite chain that goes nowhere and leads nowhere? Was it another Cooper? In that case, who told that other Cooper? And who told that Cooper? And that Cooper? And that Cooper? Etc. How do we even know that this chain of events can change?

This unsatisfying answer/explanation is actually a way to dodge the question, because it gives you no knowledge of anything. This is the INFINITE REGRESS, and it shows that we have to find the first person who started off everything, aka: the first causer, the one who is outside of the chain, outside of our universe, outside of Creation, outside of our reality, outside of the Big Bang, the one who started it off and set things in motion. Philosophy (and St. Thomas Aquinas) calls this first cause by the name God. Theology calls Him Father.

For those of you who want to give Philosophy a go, here’s an excerpt from page 217 of the text (The One and the Many) we’ve been studying in class at seminary (to further flesh out this concept):

[from W. Norris Clarke's "The One and the Many"]

[from W. Norris Clarke’s “The One and the Many“]

All in all, despite some shortcomings in the film, the good points far outweigh the bad. I was very impressed, and was left breathless at all the science, philosophy, subtle theology, love and sacrifice blended together in harmony. I loved being tested on how much I knew and if I could follow along, instead of being spoonfed (like how most of Hollywood does). Thank you, Lord, for storytellers like Christopher Nolan and Co., and thank you for creating us with the wits to enjoy such stories. Amen!

BlackHole

Just viewed Interstellar again (Nov. 29th, 2014) and had a few more sweets to share with y’all!

—–6) We find out about the MONSTROUS LIE, the temptation Mr. Doctor Brand (Michael Caine) used to bait Amelia and Cooper on the mission. This scene became clearly alluding to the Original Temptation in Eden, when the serpent lies a monstrous lie to Eve, and Eve’s fall brings down Adam (arguably because Adam did not rise up and smash the deceiver instead!). In this film, we see the same thing play out, and the lie, no matter how good it sounds (because nobody wants something evil, but we all want things we may think are good), is always deeply hurtful to the relationships involved.

—–7) Plan-A, or Plan-B? One of the main objections to Plan-B in the film (and rightly so) is because it gives up on those on Earth. It condemns the living to death, labels them hopeless, and then dismisses them. This reminds me of the Pro-Abortion mentality: a woman becomes pregnant, and since she cannot raise a child because of poverty,diseases, etc., she and others are pressured to abort the baby. The baby is condemned to death and the mother is condemned to murder. The child is labeled hopeless and the mother is hopeless if she does not kill her child. The child is dismembered and dismissed as medical refuse, and the mother is dismissed, left to her own again, so that if she was in poverty then she remains so, or if she was abused and raped then she is vulnerable to being harmed again, or if she experiences post-abortive trauma then she is left to struggle with that alone. Plan-B is the first failure. And Plan-A is amazingly open to the genius of man and the providence of God.

—–8) St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body more than mentions the FEMININE GENIUS, and Interstellar is supersaturated with it. Throughout the film, we see a very strong showing of girls and women who know truths beyond science, beyond logic and beyond explanation. We understand this supersense that is peculiarly feminine as intuition, and we see this when Amelia schools us all about love and its transcendental nature, and we see this when Murph calls the ghost in her bookshelf a person, and we see this in how the love of father and daughter knows no bounds, and how Murph arrests her furious brother’s heart and wins him over (as discussed in #3 above). Just view the film with this Feminine Genius in mind, and you’ll see what beauty I mean.

AP CLIMATE FLICKS A ENT FILE—–9) And the New Adam/New Eve typology (symbolism of Jesus and Mary) goes further still! When Cooper detaches from Amelia and the rest of the Endurance Space Station, he plummets into the black hole, sacrificing himself in order to let Amelia rise to safety and continue on to the new world.

Compare this with the Gospel: Jesus Christ surrenders Himself to the Crucifixion, sacrifices Himself and plummets into the place of the dead (aka: Hades). He is buried in the tomb, which is a black hole in the cave, in the ground. His sacrifice allows, actually it propels Mary (as New Eve and as the beginning and perfection of His Church) to rise and continue into a new world, a new redeemed Creation.

Lastly, recall that Amelia also believes Cooper to have perished in the black hole. She thinks herself alone now in the new world. But… Cooper is on his way to her, seemingly rising from the dead, out of the black hole and back to be with her. Now if this don’t sound like the Resurrection

—–And that’s all I got. For now… let’s see what a third viewing brings…

Justin Bieber, Beethoven, and their Mommies

Crescendo

At first I wanted to write more about this (hint: it has something to do with Pattie Mallette (Justin Bieber’s mother) and Beethoven and his mother, too… you know you wanna know!), but I’m not going to spoil it anymore for you. Just see for yourself (well worth your 15 minutes!):

And now read this article from Legatus Magazine to find out more.

My First Love Notes

Around this time, seven years ago, Theology of the Body [TOB] became real. It wasn’t just something intellectual and textbook smart anymore. It showed me why God made me the way I was; why I have a mind, heart, soul and body; why I was not some poor soul trapped in flesh; and even why angels are kind of jealous of us human beings (jealous in a good way for the unfallen angels, and jealous in an evil way for the fallen).

Most importantly, this Theology of the Body from Saint John Paul II tore off a leech that had begun ravaging me since I was a little fifth grader. For ten years, I lived with this worm of sin, constantly tempted, perverted, and lustful. My adolescence was spent struggling for freedom, for life that was better, more beautiful and true.

And that’s when a dear friend of mine (many thanks, Mr. Dang) randomly handed me this CD that showed me exactly how I had always wanted to live — even though I didn’t know it back then. In fact, after I listened to it, I hit replay right away! I started taking notes! And it wasn’t even a class! I just had to get this down! On replay for days…

So now, attached for your pleasure and for the glory of God, made public for the first time ever: My First Love Notes (because with TOB I was finally starting to learn how to love)…

Click here for more of my TOB posts.