Category Archives: Commentary

5 things I didn’t like about Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-the-force-awakens

1. Lack of originality

The script is more interested in successfully re-launching a film franchise than it is in offering an enduring original story. Instead it is unabashed in how it borrows from the original trilogy, careless in its dramatic build up and uneven in its character development.

2. Character development

My biggest worry going in The Force Awakens was whether or not JJ Abraham would be able to create a real threat for the next trilogy…although this worry is slightly premature given that the first installment centers in establishing the core characters of the franchise against what basically can be call a stage set (insert your generic threat), it was disappointing the character exposition of Kilo Ren, the main villain. The idea of conflicted and complex Kylo Ren, like many other characters in the Force Awakens is absolutely brilliant but its execution was poor. We only get a poorly constructed scene exposing his conflicted state of mind and nothing that would engender a catharsis towards the character. The same can be said for Finn, one of the new heroes. There was nothing in the script that made me empathized for his hero’s journey. One cannot help but to think of the many ways this could have been easily address but the reality is that it wasn’t, leaving an emotional gap between the audience and the characters.

3. Predictability

The lack of originality sadly translated into a highly predictable plot. This robs its audience of those unexpected moments that thrills you and makes you wonder.

4. No singular moment that made you love the film.

Instead we get a bunch of minor moments that entice you but don’t quite make you think: WOW I LOVE THIS MOVIE. For all their faults all the prequels have such moments. Phantom Menace had the Duel of the Fate, Attack of the Clones had Yoda’s duel against Count Dooku and the Revenge of the Sith had Anakin’s dual against Obi-wan…of course these movies are deeply flaw but at least they have that one moment that made you stand at the edge of your seat.

5. Lack of internal consistency

A few plot devices used in this film are lacking in explanation.  This is a huge distraction since it not only detracted from the characters but the action of the film.  The hope is that they will be explain in future installments otherwise they will  continue to detract from what was a thrilling and fun Star Wars movie.

Cheers,

Caleb

Tragedy, politicians and the media

Men are ruled, at this minute by the clock, by liars who refuse them news, and by fools who cannot govern.”

GK Chesterton
The New Name, Utopia of Usurers and Other Essays, 1917

The reaction to the yesterday tragic shooting was as perplexing as it was worrisome. The political class couldn’t wait to exploit the tragic events to advance their political agenda about gun control. Reckless speculation based on a preconceived notion dominated most of the commentary from our political leaders. The fact that real people lost their lives and that real people lost a loved one was relegated to a back seat in favor of the ever-important political ideology.

Is time that as a society we re-learn proper civil discourse. One thing is to have a civil and reason debate about gun control another is to exploit a tragic event without allowing the facts to emerge or get in the way of their political narrative. It is disconcerting that the immediate reaction from some on the left as well, some of the right is to view such events with ideological filters instead from the heart. Frustration and anger are honest and human responses to any tragedy, but when we look at our political leaders we don’t expect knee-jerk reactions full of overt political rhetoric instead we look at them for reassurance and leadership that invokes the best qualities in us.

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The media was not far behind from the political left. The Daily News led the way by declaring in its front page:

“God Isn’t Fixing This. Pray They Wake Up: GOP prez hopefuls offer prayers, not solutions on gun control”.

The headline displays contempt for religious faith by ridiculing the offering of prayers for the victims. It’s as if the headline was saying: go pray to your imaginary man in the sky while we adults look for real solutions for gun control. The problem with this headline is that it not only misdiagnosed the problem, but also that it betrays an utter misunderstanding of Christian faith.

The problem was not lack of gun control, California already has so-called tough gun control laws the problem was Islamic terrorism. Gun control laws will not solve the problem with Islamic terrorism, it will enable it. It didn’t matter that Islamists caused the shooting. What mattered was that it was a “mass shooting” and therefore gun control laws must be enforced.

The selective ridicule of GOP candidates’ faith is astonishing and a condescending shot at people of faith. It ignores that for Christian God is the source of strength, courage and wisdom that is required to deal with such tragedy. That Christianity does not look at prayer as a magic dispensing machine of goods, but rather as an instrument for grace. Christians recognize that out of evil good always emerges. Christ on the Cross exemplifies this belief… to use political candidate’s faith as a slight against religious people is a sign of the sad state of our political discourse.


My prayers and thoughts are for those who lost their lives and their families and friends who they left behind.

The Son (Updated version)

Last week I read an article about the transition from sonship to manhood entitled, In Defense of Gentlemanly Things, published in Those Catholic Men website. There were two lines that really resonated with me:

“We need traditions, because they are the glue between generations.  A boy’s first cigar does not make him a man, but the man that handed it to him might”.

-Jason Craig

I thought it was brilliantly true. As men we like to do things. That is how learned from our fathers and grow in friendship with other men. In every hiking trip, beach outing, skateboarding road-trips there are a myriad of opportunities to impart life long lessons about the virtues without even saying a word about them. We mostly learn through observation. The misattributed quote to St. Francis of Assisi somewhat illustrated this point:

“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary”.

-Not St. Francis of Assisi

Properly understood this quote does not relegate preaching the gospel with words to a secondary plane, the words are often utterly necessary, rather what it says, is that actions give the weight to the words. This is especially true in the eyes of a young man. Thinking about my own childhood and all the time with my dad this rings true.

Inspired by this article last week I wrote The Son, a poem about growing up. I rushed it. I thought there was something missing. That line, “A boy’s first cigar does not make him a man, but the man that handed it to him might”, inspired me to write the poem in the first place and yet it wasn’t clear. So here is my second attempt:

The Son (updated)

Men leading their son
to the everlasting hills…

Christening in their hearts
an indelible mark

Of how to be a man!

Rocking oldfangled cigars
racing against time.

In a minute, it will be to late,

for the sun swiftly rises
in young man’s eyes.

In an instant, over time,

along all the miles hiked
models built and stories told

of a bygone time

when men were men
and sanity was sane,

it happen.

The heart met the man.

Hands on courage!

For it is not the cigar nor
whiskey drank,

miles hiked nor models built
that makes the man

but a virtuous life lived
in front of a son’s eyes!

Caleb
GTG

Islamic Persecution of Christians

JamesFoleyPicture of James Foley murdered by ISIS:  Man of Incredible Bravery and about his witness of faith: Slain journalist James Foley on praying the rosary in captivity.

The recent slaying of the freelancer journalist James Foley moved me deeply. In the mist of this tragic incident and the displacement and murder of thousands of people in Iraq the Bishop of Mosul, Iraq made a poignant statement:

“I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.”

Amel Shimoun Nona
Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Iraq

This is not radical Islam is taking over the region, but rather Islam reaffirms itself in the region against more moderate and progressive version of Islam. The West in its desperate down spiral identity crisis refuses to admit such a self-evident truth at its own existential peril. The archbishop continues by saying:

“Islam does not say that all men are equal,” and if Westerners “do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed into your home.”

The pity is that anyone in the west, making such statements will be immediately labeled an islamophobe, accused of bigotry, publicly chastised and marginalized by people that either are ignorant of history and Islamic teachings or by people with suspect agendas. The fundamental problem as Pope Benedict XVI identified in his now famous Regensburg address is Islam’s view of the nature of God:

…for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.”

In Muslim teaching, God is pure will and thereby God is not bound by reason. Making it possible for the shifting morality of war observed throughout the rapid Islamic expansion during the six, seven and eight centuries. These expansions were driven by military conquest and forced conversion of conquered populations that are no different from what we are observing in Iraq and other countries. The main difference is that a component of todays “Islamic radicals” grew up in western countries (i.e. England).

The interaction between faith and reason has been a staple of Christian theology since the early apostolic church and serves a stark contract to the Muslim view of God’s absolute transcendence; where such interaction is subjugated to the will of God. This excludes the fundamental logical principle of non-contradiction since the overriding factor is the will of God and not natural law. This is the point of discussion between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleogus and his Persian interlocutor referred by Pope Benedict in his address and at the crux of today’s barbaric persecution of non-Muslims in Islamic countries. As Pope Benedict XVI quoted the Emperor:

“Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.

The solution is complex, but it starts by confronting the truths about Islam both the good and the bad. On one hand history shows a time, albeit brief period,  where Hellenization of Islamic theology led to fruitful and peaceful interactions between Christians and Islamic intellectuals pointing to a possible peaceful way forward, but on the other hand, history also shows us what happen when Islam rejects such principles and adheres to a plain interpretation of the Qur’an. Given the absence of moral certitude in an age of moral relativism so dominant in the West it may be up to the moderate voices in Islam to put an end to such barbaric acts, as some have done in Iraq, at the cost of their own life. The problem is that you can hardly hear them in the West.

Reference:

Pope Benedict XVI Resenburg Address.

Catholic Archibishop of Mosul: “Islam Does Not Say That All Men are Equal”

ISIS “split her in two; she would not convert!”

Love and Salvation

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him”

1 John 4:16

This is the good news for humanity. God is Love! Love has always been at the heart of God’s plan. Indeed, the history of salvation is a history of God’s love for his creation. Love was the basis for the relationship between God and Israel:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”

Deuteronomy 6:5

…and it is at the heart of God’s plan for redemption:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”

John 3:16

It was at the Cross, that Love was poured into humanity in all its divine mercy and glory! In returned, we are called to love God and to love one another:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself”

Matthew 22:37-40, citing from Duet 6:5 and Lev 19:18

This love cannot be merely expressed by words but it has to be materialized by works as St. John says:

“Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth”

1 John 3:18

and as Jesus says in Matthew 25:41-45:

“Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.” Then they will answer and say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?” He will answer them, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”.

Matthew 25:41-45

So it is very clear that works of mercy are necessary for salvation, but can they earn our salvation?
The answer is simply NOT A CHANCE. We cannot earn our way to heaven because salvation is a free and unmerited gift from God. Paragraph 1996 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states it very succinctly:

“Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life”.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1996

God through his Grace freely gives us love and in return we are moved to love one another in works of mercy. As Pope Benedict XVI beautifully wrote in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est:

“since God has first loved us (1 John 4:10) love is now no longer a mere “command”, it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us”.

This illuminates the relationship between faith, works and salvation. Works play a role in our salvation because God loved us first (1 John 4:10). This Christian love (Caritas) is fulfilled through works of charity and obedience to God’s commandments. It is a necessary response to God’s love.

Works are an indelible consequence of love, without love there is no works, without works there cannot be love and without love, faith is dead. As St. James wrote:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?

So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead”.

James 2:14-17

It is because we were first loved by God that we can love one another. Thus, the merits of our works belong to God, as Saint Augustine puts it:“When God rewards our merits, he rewards his own gifts to us“, because it is through Christ, in Christ, and with Christ that we love one another:

“Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:4-5

So what are we going to do about it?

Hunger, war and diseases predominate most parts of the third-world countries, but also an utter lack of respect to human dignity predominates in the developed world.

We are called to be the Salt and light of the Earth:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.

Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.

Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

Matthew 5:13-16

What about the poor who goes hungry every night in India or the dying in Africa?

What about 4,000 babies that are aborted each day in the US alone?

As followers of Christ are we supposed to ignore this? Or are we called to be the Salt of the Earth, the light of the World?

To be silent on such issues is to be complicit! Let us be the salt and light and do something about it. We can donate our time in a soup kitchen, nursing homes or even at a local hospital through their volunteer program. Let us pray to end abortion. Let us be kind with our neighbors…it all starts with opening our hearts to his Love the rest will take care of itself.

God Bless!

A brief thought about happiness

This week I have come across this beautiful prayer from St. Nicholas of Flue:

“My Lord and My God, take from me everything that distance me from you. My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to you. My Lord and my God, detach me from myself to give my all to you”.

St. Nicholas of Flue

It helped me to put things into perspective. What is it that we really want and why is it that even if we feel content by our material possessions, achievement our hearts remain restless?

I believe that deep inside any sane person wants happiness. Many people have different definitions of what happiness is and many different ways to find it. The problem is that we often confuse what happiness is and look for it in all the wrong places. I rather have a very simple definition of what happiness is. Happiness is a state of fulfillment. The question is what is fulfillment? I think that St. Augustine of Hippo, in the fourth century, had the answer when he wrote in the Confessions:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.

We are truly happy when all our desires and actions rest upon the Lord. Think about it… as Fr. Vincent Serpa, chaplain of the Catholic Answers apostolate, says: “He loves you with such a love that keeps your heart beating and with such a love that cause his heart to stop”. He loves you with such a Love that he only wants what is best for you. Period.

So when I found St. Nicholas of Flue prayer it all made sense. Why want anything that will keep me away from such Love? Why not seek anything that will bring me closer to such Love? Why not give myself completely to His love? Even if we keep falling and hitting our heads against the wall every time we sin, it is totally worth it!

God Bless.

Atlas: A Masterpiece

From time to time I get into a band so intently that I hardly listen to anything else. Has that ever happen to you? The fact that I keep coming back to listen to it over and over tells me that it is not just disposable melodies, whose enjoyment and novelty burst open just after a few listens, but a real musical effort that has substance, whose full beauty demands time to unpack and discover all its subtleties.

Atlas by Sleeping at Last is one of such albums. Ever since my best friend introduced me to it, I have been captivated by this amazing musical marvel. Atlas is a yearlong project by Ryan O’Neal, a singer and songwriter behind the band Sleeping at Last.

O’Neal describes, Atlas, as an “overarching story of how our universe came to be, and how we were woven together inside it*. It is a storybook about us looking at the heavens and marveling at the wonders of creation while navigating the vast oceans of human existence. The lyrics give witness to such epic task when he sings:

 You say it one more time,
That the universe was made
Just to be seen by my eyes.

 With shortness of breath, I’ll explain the infinite
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist.

Atlas might be the best Christian album that I have ever listened to. The lyrics are grounded on a firm admiration of creation and the uniqueness and preciousness of life while its melodies constantly remind you of the beauty and elegance of creation. It is like O’Neal songwriting agrees with the psalmist in every song:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

Psalm 19:1

I am not even sure if Sleeping at Last considered themselves as a Christian band or even if they agree with such category, but they sing about hope, forgiveness, frailty, desire, love, hope and wonder, all essential ingredients of the great drama that is life.

God Bless.

If I have peaked your interest go and visit their at website: http://sleepingatlast.com