Sunday, December 7, 2014

I’ll Take Potpourri For $100, Alex

1. Repentance Sunday.

The second Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Repentance Sunday and celebrated with readings that illuminate Christ’s role as Redeemer: He who opened the doors of heaven to mortal man. Repentance is something we Twenty-First Century types tend to regard with unease-flavored dismissal: “I’m doing fine, Jack; what about you?” It’s part and parcel of the contemporary denigration of the concept of sin, possibly the most disfavored of all the legacies of the Christian tradition.

Unfortunately, the Church itself bears some responsibility for that. By exceeding its authority and defining one new sin after another, in accordance not with the spiritual interests of its flock, but the temporal interests of the Church hierarchy, it’s made cynics and disparagers out of a great many persons who would otherwise see the enormous value in the Christian message. Yet Jesus Himself demanded none of it:

    And behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
    And He said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none that is good but one, that is God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
    He saith unto Him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother, and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. [Matthew 19:16-19]

Moreover, the proclamation of “precursor” John the Baptist (no connection to contemporary Baptists is expressed or implied) was equally simple:

    And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
    He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
    Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
    And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
    And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. [Luke 3:10-14]

There you have it: the abjuration of violence, cupidity, and false witness, and an exhortation to simple charity toward the truly needy; nothing more. Add only “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “Thou shalt not covet,” and you have the Noachite Commandments that Jesus Himself prescribed to the “rich young man.”

Few indeed are the Americans who do violence to one another, or steal from one another, or condemn one another falsely. Yes, we have our adulterers. But it’s my conviction that our most pervasive sin is that of covetousness: the invidious will to evil restrained only by practical considerations.

Think no evil of others, coveting what they have earned for themselves, whether it be an attractive and loving spouse, material possessions, or the admiration of others. If you are prone to this sin, recognize it for what it is and repent of it. This is particularly important during the Advent season, for as Isaiah wrote:

    The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
    Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
    And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. [Isaiah 40:3-5]

For He whose coming two thousand years ago we celebrate later this month will come again, as He said.

2. The Finest Actor Of Our Time... only twenty-four years old.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I is an even greater triumph than its excellent predecessor chapters. The adaptation is superb. The special effects are exquisite. Best of all, the entire cast gives impeccable performances. It’s of course headlined by Jennifer Lawrence, whose range appears infinite and who can evince a passion that few other actors of any era ever matched.

(Besides, what other actor has ever brought down a bomber with a bow and arrow?)

The movie is dedicated to the memory of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who reprises his role from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as Plutarch Heavensbee. Also featured are Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Donald Sutherland as Panem’s unabashedly evil President Coriolanus Snow, Julianne Moore as District 13’s President Alva Coin, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, and the underappreciated Stanley Tucci as Capitol TV’s emcee Caesar Flickerman.

I can’t overpraise this extraordinary movie. See it. Period. No excuses.

(“Isn’t hyperbole just the greatest thing ever?” – Originator unknown)

3. The “Last Generation” Club

“Early adopters” – they who flock to the stores to be first on the block with a new [fill in the blank] – are the semi-benevolent angels who spare the rest of us the infant mortality and other “growing pains” of newly introduced products. They don’t really do it “for us;” that’s just one of the consequences. And I am thankful for it.

But it occurred to me recently that those of us who hang back, hoping to benefit by the early adopters’ experiences, should try to do some good for others, too...perhaps most suitably, for others like us.

These past few months I’ve been enjoying something I originally bought at my wife’s request: A Sony PlayStation3. The PlayStation 4 has been available for more than a year, but apparently that hasn’t been time enough to shake out the bugs in the first run thereof, nor to stimulate the production of first-rate games for the new console’s architecture. However, there are some superb games available for the PS3, and I’ve decided to provide brief evaluations of such games when I finish one.

Most recently I completed Tomb Raider: A Survivor Is Born, which relaunches one of the most successful video game franchises of the PS1 and PS2 days. It’s a terrific, highly cinematic adventure in which the young Lara Croft must survive the ungentle attentions of a storm-wracked island populated by vicious humans and nonhumans to escape and rescue some of her companions in calamity.

The gameplay itself is exciting (and only as challenging as you want it to be), but the greatest asset is the embedded story. A great deal of attention was paid to character definition, and to making the underlying tale emotionally evocative. It crescendoes in time with the challenges of the gameplay, which produces a fulfilling climax that left this player / viewer wanting more. Highly recommended.

I’m struggling to choose among “The Last of Us,” “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” and “Dead Space” for my next game. Recommendations from other, more widely traveled gamers would be welcome.


Tim Turner said...

I never presume to second-guess you, Fran, but because it's Sunday, December 7th, or maybe because I've been up for 36 hours, this time I will.

A little.

Repentance: In a nutshell, we don't (maybe can't) repent while we're doing that of which we should repent. Repentance, regret - reflection itself - require a pause to look back. The earlier we are blessed with that moment to get out of our present selves, maybe the better. I think we know at a VERY young age not to steal, cheat, lie, and all. Then we get caught up in "stuff." When we're in our teens and 20s (and older) the immediacy of so many things engages us (usually) more than the "philosophical sophistries" of "theoretical" right and wrong. . . that moral relevancy thing. But we KNEW it all along. Repentance is rememberance of what we knew was right but did wrong.

Finest actor of our time? I'm always amazed to find - usually well into the movie - that I'm watching Charlize Theron. Her depth and range are - to me - incredible. I'm not crazy about ANY film she's been in, but I'm very impressed by her talent to BE in any role she plays.

Recommendations: Beethoven's 7th, 5th or 9th. Any good Christmas album you grew up with that you can talk to your child or others about and relate memories of tradition, a "secular holiday" with a religious meaning, or just that special feeling of something that transcended "critical analysis."

Unknownsailor said...

Dead space is ultra-violent, just you vs the world with death around every corner. Don't know if that is your thing or not. COD is just your typical first person shooter, and is primarily an online multi player game. The single player experience is quite short.

No idea on the first one.

Elgin01 said...

Try XCOM: Enemy Unknown, if you want a great turn-based tactical strategy game.

Anonymous said...

brother, check out:
Grandpa knows very little of video games, but 25 yr old youngest son knows much. I looked at the preview and I admit to being quite intrigued. Please let me know what you think...