Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sacred Beauty: A love letter to the catholic church and how their traditions rescued my faith.

When I was sixteen I went to my first catholic mass. I had stayed the night at my best friend Andrew's house on Saturday, and we went to mass the next day. I wasn't exactly in love with Jesus at the time; I was angry, depressed and self destructive; and wondered where He was in it all. However, we went to mass and I remember walking in and being amazed. The art on the windows, the traditions, the prayers and everyone was in it together. I felt that I had stumbled upon a sacred moment in time; where you could smell the incense that is the prayers of the saints, where liturgy was beautiful and new to me, but very old. In my shallow, angry and depressed state, I couldn't help but shed tears at the beauty of the moment. God had visited me in a religion I was told wasn't really "Christian." Now I don't think any religion owns Jesus. He is vast and beautiful and free and not confound to the constructs of organized religion.

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My devotional habits probably looks a lot different than your standard evangelicals; though I'm not even sure I consider myself evangelical anymore. Every morning I repeat these prayers that I've memorized.
Anima Christi

"Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
 Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Do not allow me to be separated from you.
From the malevolent enemy, defend me.
And when I die call me, and bid me come to you;
That with your saints I may praise you forever." 

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The  Prayer of St. Francis:

"Lord, make me an instrument of peace.
where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
Grant that I might not seek to be consoled, but to console;
To be understood, but to understand;
To be loved, but to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying the we are born into eternal life."

When I take time to just spend with God, I pray the aforementioned prayers. Then, I will read two chapters from the Old Testament and two from the New (one chapter always being a Gospel reading). Lastly, I'll read my St. Ignatius Spiritual Retreat guide, and meditate and pray over the prayers, thoughts and scriptures recorded in there. I was telling my dad this, who comes from a very Italian family; and therefore very Catholic; and he quipped: You connect with God like a Catholic!

I used to think these traditions were legalism. I used to think it was the Catholic churches way to force control over its parishioners. Oh how deep the ignorance runs in me. I thought these things until I was rescued by the catholic tradition. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

You see, a few months ago I was hit with a stark realization: my Christianity was impoverished and shallow. The way I had been going about the faith had left me dried up and empty. I was the bible guy who had an answer for every question. I had certainties about the perfection of scripture, hell, homosexuality, the necessity of war and the fact that the world was in fact created in a literal seven days. What about having all the answers is wrong? When those answers are no longer adequate. When you are presented with irrefutable arguments against your answers, and you realize that to stick to what you've always known is to stick to ignorance.

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With this confrontation to what I had always known came a crisis of faith. Not in the existence of God, but in the practice of Christianity. I didn't want to be a part of something that felt impoverished to me. That's when God's rescue mission was commissioned. I started reading Rachel Held Evans book, Searching For Sunday; with the chapters broken down according to the sacraments.

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I was hooked. From there I started studying St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius. I was already captivated by Henri Nouwen; his writing so rich, fresh and with an ancient mystery in them. I have been inspired by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement; as well as Thomas Merton and his nearly sacred writings. 

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The church has a very colorful history with plenty of violence and injustice; and it's not hard to see why many people would be so turned off from it; but there is also real love, beauty and sacred mystery within her legacy. Am I comfortable praying to the saints, even if I understand it's not deifying the saints but asking them to intercede? Not really; but I'm even less comfortable with the evangelical propensity to fear monger and fight for cultural control.

 I believe in the Holy catholic church though. 

I believe God has ordained Pope Francis for such a time as this. In a position that has been plagued with scandal, excess and abuse; we see a man who encourages solidarity with the poor by modeling poverty himself, a man who washes dirty feet and hugs lepers. The man will not be able to undo all the damage done, but with him is the start of something sacred and beautiful. Something that feels new, but is in fact very old.

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That is where I've arrived today. My impoverished and shallow Christianity has turned into something rich and deep. My obsession for certainty has given way to an obsession with the great mysteries of my faith. As Brian Zahnd put it for himself, my Christianity has transitioned from water to wine. I still have doubts, questions and fears; but I love Jesus more than I ever have and I have a stronger desire to follow Him than I've experienced in years; and I believe I owe a lot of that is thanks to the catholic traditions. 

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Top Ten of the Year So Far WITH PARENTS GUIDE

I know we are only six months into the year, but this year has delivered some excellent movies in it's first half. So here are the ten best movies I've seen this year!

10. Barbershop 3.

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Starring: Ice Cube, Common, Nikki Minaj and Cedric The Entertainer

Grade: A-

This is the biggest surprise of the year so far for me. Barbershop 3 is hilarious like its predecessors, but it also packs an emotional wallop. Placed right in the heart of Chicago, this movie confronts such issues as gang relations, arbitrary shootings and the racial caste system of our time. With staggering 92% Rotten Tomato rating, Barbershop 3 is a message movie without being preachy and it has something important to say.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE: This movie could be good way into an important conversation with your children about why lower class, black families are still fighting so much poverty and violence, and what a possible solution could be. Having said that, Barbershop 3 has PG:13 language throughout as well as several woman dressed in revealing clothes. NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CHILDREN UNDER 12.

9. Nice Guys.

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Starring: Russel Crowe, Ryan Gosling and Kim Basinger

Grade: A-

Shane Black. the writer and director of Iron Man 3 brings us a very different, and very clever movie. Gosling and Crowe bring impeccable chemistry and tons of heart to their characters. The plot isn't entirely original but the writing is some of the best around, the performances are pitch-perfect and the movie is a lot of fun.

PARENTAL GUIDE: Due to the violence, sexual material and language this is not a movie to take anyone under 16 to.

8. Deadpool.

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Starring: Ryan Reynolds

Grade: A-

Every bit as crass as it's reputation insists, Deadpool has plenty of action, fast story telling and a brilliant performance by Ryan Reynolds. This is a hilarious and ridiculously self aware twist on the superhero genre.

PARENTAL GUIDE: This is a very R rated movie full of crude humor and graphic violence. Not recommended for anyone under 17.

7. Civil war.

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Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlet Johnson, Tom Hollund, Chadwick Bossman, Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Renner and Paul Rudd

Grade: A

A more traditional super hero movie than Deadpool, but that isn't a bad thing at all. Nobody directs stunning action scenes like the Russo brothers. This movie dives deep into tough questions and takes the courageous move to not offer easy answers. This is master-class film making.

PARENTAL GUIDE: There is some intense fight scenes that might be too intense for anyone under 10.

6. Eye In The Sky

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Starring: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman

Grade: A

I haven't seen the true colors of war so brutally exposed in years. I've never seen a movie tackle a controversial issue and so evenly present every possible argument. No matter where you stand with the choices that are made, this movie presents your case fairly. Add to it powerful performances by Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman (in his final role) and you have the first great movie of 2016.

PARENTAL GUIDE: This movie has some R rated language and disturbing images. However, it opens a very healthy and well informed dialogue about the nature of war and the ones responsible that would be very beneficial for children over 13.

5. Hush

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Starring: Katey Segal and John Gallager Jr.

Grade: A

Though a very familiar premise for a suspense thriller, Hush is evidence that expert directing with crystal clear vision is more than enough to compensate for a lack of originality. The story of a deaf girl living alone in the woods who fights an insane killer is every bit as thrilling and suspenseful as it should be.

PARENTAL GUIDE: This is a extremely suspenseful movie, as well as containing some scenes of disturbing violence. Not recommended for anyone with a heightened sensitivity to scary movies.

4. The Conjuring 2.

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Starring: Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson

Grade: A

The first Conjuring is easily in my top 20 favorite movies of all time; so to say I was nervous about this sequel would be a massive understatement. So you can only imagine my delight when I watched a movie with the same caliber of expert film making. I love this movie not just because Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson have never been better, not just because it is arguably scarrier than the first; but because in spite of it being a horror movie, it is also the most faith affirming movie experience I've had in years. 

PARENTAL GUIDE: This movie is full of jump scares and scenes with extreme tension; as well as a few disturbing images. Not recommended for anyone with a heightened sensitivity to scary movies.

3. Zootopia

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Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman and Idris Elba

Grade: A+

No movie in the last several years has tackled themes of homophobia, xenophobia and the all around fear of the "different" than Zootopia. Of course, it being a family film, the heavy themes are presented to us in what could be considered a modern parable. Not only does this tackle extremely complex and difficult subjects; but it never stops feeling like a fun and consistently entertaining family film. This film reminds us that great art preaches without making the audience feel patronized.

PARENTAL GUIDE: Take your whole family to this movie! Use this as a tool to discuss the relevant topics of fearing people who are different than us and how followers of Jesus could respond.

2. The Jungle Book

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Starring: Niel Setthi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Scarlet Johanson, Lupita Nyongo, Idris Elba and Christopher Walken

Grade: A+

This is one of the most visually appealing movies I have ever seen. Period. The CGI is so convincing that when I got home interacting with my pets revealed how real these animals look. What is even more spectacular about this movie, is the integrity of the story remains completely intact. This movie is full of heart and humor; and it features a phenomenal debut for Niel Setthi. 

PARENTAL GUIDE: Some of the content might be too intense for viewers under 7.

1. Sing Street.

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Ferdia Welsh-Peelo and Jack Reynor.

Grade: A+

There is no way for me to overstate how much I love this movie. Every aspect of this simple story is exemplary. The script, the performances and the music are all threads woven together to present to us a beautiful tapestry. One of the few movies that allows the audience to escape whatever is going on in their world, and sit in this compelling piece of art; all happening with no special effects of famous faces, just great story telling and great music. Though it is early, and my favorite movies of the year are traditionally released between October and December, this is one of those movies I think will stay on my top ten for the rest of the year.

PARENTAL GUIDE: The movie contains some language and teens in emotional circumstances. Not recommended for children under 10.