I'll Come Speak

    I write and speak on all sorts of topics: ancient Christian spirituality and the Eastern Orthodox faith, the Jesus Prayer, marriage and family, the pro-life cause, cultural issues, and more. You can contact Cynthia Damaskos of the Orthodox Speakers Bureau if you’d like to bring me to an event. This Calendar will let you know when I’m in your neighborhood.

 

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Friday
Jun152018

The Incredibles 2

[June 15, 2018]

The latest installment of The Incredibles is incredibly good. To start with the film’s noisiest aspect, there are four major action sequences, and they’re terrific. I’m not a fan of action sequences; I usually just tune out till they’re over. But the scenes in The Incredibles 2 are so brilliantly executed that I was literally holding my breath. All the ways animation can be superior to live action were exploited brilliantly. The fourth such sequence begins with leaders from all the world’s nations meeting on an enormous ship to sign a treaty, already a promising situation. Then the host proudly announces, “This ship is the largest hydrofoil on the planet,” and you can only say “Oh goody.

The outer shape of the story is that Elastigirl / Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) must take the lead in crime-fighting, while Mr. Incredible / Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) stays home with the kids. It sounds like The Plot That Escaped From 1978. But Elastigirl is a working girl, not because she’s a better superhero than her hubby, but because she’s less destructive. As their advocate says, “Let’s not test the whole ‘insurance will cover everything’ on the first go round.”

For they have found an advocate: Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), head of a huge telecommunications company, and also their biggest fan. Win Deavor (don’t miss the nudge-nudge name: Endeavor) has brought in the Parrs to tell them that, though superheroes have been illegal for 15 years, he wants to return them to their rightful place. His plan begins with giving the Parrs tiny video cameras designed by his tech-wise sister, Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener). If the public sees what rescue work looks like from the superheroes perspective, they’ll be eager for them to return.

Elastigirl is on the job, thwarting bad guys, appearing on TV, and calling home from a swanky motel room to ask Bob how things are going. Bob doesn’t tell her about the chaos, that Violet (Sarah Vowell) has shouted “I hate superheroes and I renounce them!,” Dash (Huck Milner) is baffling his dad with “New Math,” and baby Jack-Jack has suddenly blossomed out with some chaotic powers. (You could count as a 5th action sequence Jack-Jack’s wonderful battle royale with a raccoon.)

But a mysterious bad guy has emerged, the “Screen Slaver.” By using hypnotic patterns on the screens that fill their world, Screen Slaver is able to control people and render them completely passive. “Screens are everywhere. We are controlled by screens,” he says, and later “It’s the brainless desire to replace true experience with simulation,” turning us into “ever passive, ever ravenous consumers.” “We don’t talk; we watch talk shows.” People want “Ease. They will trade quality for ease every time.”

These are some complicated ideas, and extremely verbal in nature, and they go by quickly. You barely have time to grasp what point is being made. (It’s close to the point made in another Pixar movie, Wall-E.) Likewise, in another sequence two characters debate what a “believer” and a “cynic” would say in a situation. Again, it goes by so quickly it’s hard to catch what the characters are meant to communicate.

The funny thing is, untold numbers of parents are going to put The Incredibles 2 on a screen and set their kids in front of it. Will this message self-destruct in five minutes? Not really; the movie is such terrific entertainment that we’ll be staring at the screen with vacant smiles for many years to come.

I don’t think all the Pixar movies have been this rich in detail, but it seems like there are a lot of potentially-significant things that flash by. The midcentury sets are stunning, whether it’s the Safari Court Motel or Win’s super-cool mountaintop home with pushbutton waterfall walls. On a Saturday morning, the kids watch cartoons on TV—that is, 3-D cartoon characters watch vintage-drawn cartoon characters. When Jack-Jack’s super ability to go through walls sends him everywhere inside the house, his giggle is heard moving from one speaker to another all over the movie theater.

Lines of dialogue shoot past that deserve to sink in; Dash says of his superhero power, “It defines who I am.” His mom says “What?” and Dash shrugs, “I heard it on TV.” Bob scrambles a catchphrase from Rocky, “I eat dinner and crap lightning!” Among a crop of new superheroes is an elderly, dumpy guy who calls himself “Reflux.” He tells Elastigirl: “’Medical condition or superpower? You decide.’ That’s a little rhyme I made up to put people at ease.” And gender stereotypes cut both ways, when a TV commercial playing in the background mocks husbands, “So simple, even he can do it.” A line that has a better chance of sinking in comes from the inimitable Edna Mode (Brad Bird): “Done properly, parenting is a heroic act.”

This is a movie so rich in detail and irony that it will bear re-watching; but don’t let the Screen Slaver get you. When it’s over, turn it off and take a walk outside.  

Thursday
Apr192018

"On the Crucifixion" by St Romanos the Melodist

In the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete (written about 725 AD) there’s a break after the 6th canticle, and then there’s something labeled “Kontakion.” It’s memorable to anyone who’s attended the Great Canon (Orthodox sing it during Lent), because this verse breaks in and seems so different, like it comes from a different source.

“O my soul, O my soul, arise; why are you sleeping?

The end is drawing near and you will be confounded.

Awake and watch that Christ God may spare you,

Who is everywhere present and fills all things.”

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Apr192018

"Icon" by Georgia Briggs - Conversation with the Author

Frederica: Hi, Georgia! Let me introduce my granddaughter Hannah Parker, who is a senior in high school. She’s a consistent honor roll student, with a longtime interest in fiction, particularly YA [young adult] fiction, and she’s a real book collector. She must have all the YA fiction of the last few years in hardback. Hannah knows a little about publishing through me, and would like to be a book editor as an adult, editing in particular the YA fiction she loves. We hope to learn from you a bit about the process of writing, the decisions an author has to make when shaping a work of fiction, and if possible something about how an editor can help or hurt the process.

Georgia: Hello, Frederica and Hannah! It’s nice to meet another fan of YA fiction! I have lost touch with the genre in the past couple of years (I don’t like to read anything similar to what I’m currently writing because my voice starts sounding like someone else’s), but now that I have more time for reading, I’m going back to that section of my library to look for books.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Feb142018

Who'll Eat this Ice Cream? Let It Be Me

It’s that time of year again…

Cheesefare Week, when Orthodox Christians start to ease into the Lenten Fast, giving up meat but still eating eggs, milk, cheese, etc. Here’s my son David Mathewes’ tender farewell to all that is dairy and glorious, “Let It Be Me.”

 

Now that our time is waning
Only one day remaining
Who’ll eat this ice cream?
Let it be me.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan312018

The Accidental Beekeeper

I didn’t plan on being a beekeeper. It all started one afternoon when I was taking a walk around the block, and came upon a scene of chaos and frenzy. Some neighbors were having work done while they were out of town, and workmen had been taking down a big tree. One of the guys had been high on a ladder when his chainsaw bit directly into a honeycomb.

People harbor differing sentiments toward bees. The guy on the ladder began scooping handfuls of honey, laughing and telling his buddies how good it was, unfazed by the stings. His boss, on the ground, was gripped by a terror approaching apoplexy. By the time I got there the workmen had laid the trunk on the ground and were trying to drive the bees away from the tree by several methods; most recently, they had set it on fire.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Dec112017

The Danger of Anger

Anger is an emotion that can carry us away so easily. Back when I was in (Episc) seminary, in the 1970s, pastoral theology students were taught that it was important for people to express their anger. Don’t repress it! Let it out! When counseling parishioners, that’s what they were trained to say.

Then a few years later, some revised wisdom appeared. It was that this was actually very bad advice.

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Thursday
Nov092017

My Tattoo

I got a tattoo!

In general, I don’t think tattoos are attractive, and sure never expected that I would get one. I mean, I just turned 65, and I had never gotten a tattoo in all those years, so it seemed a safe bet. 

But I’ve always thought it was a beautiful witness, how the Coptic Egyptian Christians get a small cross tattooed on the right wrist, to claim the identity of a Christian. The tradition possibly began when the Muslims conquered Egypt 1500 years ago, and would brand or scar a cross on the Christians who refused to convert to Islam. For Coptic Christians, it is a way of claiming an identity that is somewhat despised by the powerful, and to “glory” in nothing but “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” as St. Paul said (Galatians 6:14).

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Monday
Oct302017

Talking about Rod in the WPost

I was disappointed by how Karen Heller’s profile of Rod Dreher turned out, in today’s Washington Post. Especially I felt bad that the quotes she has from me, which make Rod sound manipulative and self-centered. That’s the opposite of how I described him. That’s so frustrating. I wrote up some notes about what I’d said immediately after our conversation, which provides a better context. 

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Friday
Oct062017

Why Not Beauty?

Someone emailed me to ask: When did people start to expect worship to be something that would benefit them? Something that will inspire them, resonate with them, give them strength for the week ahead, etc? When did it stop being something we render to God for his own sake, to express our gratitude and awe? He notes that all the things he loves about high-church worship, the music, solemnity, the processions, even the architecture, though they move him deeply, the friends he brings to church just shrug them off.

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Tuesday
Jul112017

The Good Samaritan, by Patriarch Narses Snorhali

The Good Samaritan

Written by Armenian Patriarch Narses Snorhali (1102-1173).

From Jerusalem, our Paradise, guilty like Adam
I went down to vile Jericho,
And fell into the hands of the Brigand.

They stripped me of light;
They covered my soul with sores of sin;
They did not depart leaving me half dead;
But after death, the waged war on me again.

And Moses the Levite and Aaron the ancient Priest…
And the prophets of the Old Law
Saw the sores of my incurable sufferings,
And the terrible wounds.

They passed with medicine of words only
And could not heal them,
To You whom they called “Samaritan”
I will show the sufferings of my soul
To your divine eyes which sees them.

Have pity on me also as You had pity on Adam,
Put medicine on the deep wounds of my soul,
Re-cover it with the first robe
Of which the brigands stripped me.

Pour on oil and wine,
The medicine of life from the Spirit on high,
Giving again the Spirit of anointing
And the cup of the New Covenant.

Carry me, convey me on the mount of the Cross;
Lead me away to the Inn, to the Church;
Entrust me to the High Priest
Who in sacrifice offers your Body.

Give instead of two pennies
The Word of the Old and New Testament,
To heal my soul through it
As the body will live through bread.