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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Oh, those wacky Presbyterians...

When referring to the Trinity, most Christians are likely to say "Father, Son and the Holy Spirit."

But leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are suggesting some additional designations:

"Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-giving Womb," or perhaps "Overflowing Font, Living Water, Flowing River."

Then there's "Rock, Cornerstone and Temple" and "Rainbow of Promise, Ark of Salvation and Dove of Peace."

The phrases are among 12 suggested but not mandatory wordings essentially endorsed this month by delegates to the church's policy-making body to describe a "triune God," the Christian doctrine of God in three persons.

The Rev. Mark Brewer, senior pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, is among those in the 2.3- million-member denomination unhappy with the additions.

"You might as well put in Huey, Dewey and Louie," he said.

(The whole story...)

----

Pastor Stewart Pollock of the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum notes:

That wacky Mark Brewer has a real sense of humor. He may call himself the "senior pastor" of Bel Air Presbyterian Church. But he should not infer from the fact that the Presbyterian General Assembly (or 2.3 million fellow Presbyterians) did not write him a harsh correcting letter that it is actually his title.

The General Assembly did not "essentially endorse" the report he dislikes so much.

----

Related items on the web...

"I believe in Larry, Moe and Curly Joe"

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Quote of the day

Women send signals, but men speak English.-Steve Aylett

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Friday, June 30, 2006

Truth and justice are fine, but where's his green card?

In Superman Returns, Daily Planet editor Perry White directs his reporters to determine if the Man of Steel still stands for "truth, justice and all that stuff."

The remainder of "that stuff," of course, is "the American way," and its omission from the film is drawing fire from the expected quarters.

Screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris told The Hollywood Reporter:

"The world has changed. The world is a different place," Pennsylvania native Harris says. "The truth is he's an alien. He was sent from another planet. He has landed on the planet Earth, and he is here for everybody. He's an international superhero."

In fact, Dougherty and Harris never even considered including "the American way" in their screenplay. After the wunderkind writing duo ("X2: X-Men United") conceived "Superman's" story with director Bryan Singer during a Hawaiian vacation, they penned their first draft together and intentionally omitted what they considered to be a loaded and antiquated expression. That decision stood throughout the 140-day shoot in Australia, where the pair remained on-set to provide revisions and tweaks.

"We were always hesitant to include the term 'American way' because the meaning of that today is somewhat uncertain," Ohio native Dougherty explains. "The ideal hasn't changed. I think when people say 'American way,' they're actually talking about what the 'American way' meant back in the '40s and '50s, which was something more noble and idealistic."

The truth is that while Superman's noble and idealistic mission hasn't changed, the America of 2006 isn't the place it was when he first appeared just prior to World War II.

An argument can be made that the phrase borders on being a non-sequitur. In the United States of the 21st century, truth and justice and the American way are, sadly, two increasingly divergent concepts.

Superman better be careful. He didn't go through a TSA security checkpoint when he returned to Earth. Worse, it's the second time he entered the country illegally, and he conceals his true identity by pretending to be an real American. An alien like that is obviously up to no good.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Superman's a... Methodist?

Gee, I always thought of him as Presbyterian; his origin story always had predestinational overtones. But then I attended a Presbyterian church when I was younger, and he sure behaved the way my Sunday School teacher said I should, so it was an honest mistake.

All the speculation about the Christic imagery in Superman Returns rekindled my interest in comparative theology, and some Googling produced a startling revelation: many superheroes appear to have mainstream faiths, even though they apparently don't attend services on a regular basis.

Elliot S! Maggin, who was the head writer for Superman and other DC comics characters in the 70s and 80s, said "I give all my characters religions. I think I always have. It's part of the backstory. It's part of the process of getting to know a character well enough to write about him or her. Jimmy Olson is Lutheran. Lois is Catholic. Perry is Baptist. Luthor is Jewish (though non-observant, thank heaven). Bruce and Batman are both Episcopalian and I said so in the text though it was edited out erroneously.

"Clark- like the Kents- is Methodist. Superman is something else, but I never did buy all that Kryptonian "Great Rao" nonsense. I do think Superman essentially adheres to a kind of interplanetary-oriented Kryptonian-based belief system centered on monotheistic philosophy, and I've got some ideas about it that I haven't yet articulated other than as backstory. I think Superman is too humble to ask for things in prayer, but I think he prays by rote, and constantly, the way some of us talk to ourselves in the shower."

Batman's an Episcopalian? Hmm. That explains a great deal.

Here's a discussion of Superman's involvement with religion in the comics, and here's a site that provides a handy grouping. "The Legion of Presbyterian Superheroes." Wow. That's a title I never thought I'd see in print.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Why America hates Superman

When someone asks why Superman Returns isn't more realistic what they're really saying, whether they know it or not, is "why can't he be more like me" or "why does he have to be so much better than I am?"

We're no longer interested in achievers. Our idols are flawed, and in many cases failures. Our baseball players take drugs, our basketball stars rape women. William Hung has made a fortune out of humiliating himself so others can laugh at him. We choose a president who cheats on his wife with unattractive women, and then another with an IQ of 89 and problem with word pronunciation. Superman stands above any of that. He's not Batman battling dark demons. He's not Spider-Man struggling to manage a hectic lifestyle. Superman has no flaws, and that makes us uncomfortable.

Superman Returns is a movie about a guy flying and shooting laser beams out of his eyes. If you show up to the movie expecting realism, maybe you should skip down a theater or two to the latest independent film about teenage drug use. When you complain that the movie isn't realistic, you're really complaining that Superman is better than you. We no longer struggle to bring ourselves up to Superman's level, instead we want to bring him down to ours. The flaw is not with Superman, but with ourselves.

Josh Taylor at CinemaBlend.com

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Quote of the day

When people ask why my wife divorced me, I tell them I accidentally backed over one of her flying monkeys.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Quote of the day

I think I was the right actor for the part at the time I played it, but I think the role is larger than any particular actor and should be reinterpreted from generation to generation.
-Christopher Reeve on the role of Superman, from his autobiography "Still Me."

The reviews of Superman Returns are mostly positive, although heavyweights like Roger Ebert have been critical of the film's length and lack of humor, at least when compared to the 1978 original. Pfft. Hey, it's Superman. He rescues the space shuttle and lands a 777 in a baseball field before cheering multitudes. He lifts cars and the Daily Planet globe. He snatches falling people out of mid-air. There are no wires, bulging flying harnesses, matte lines, color imbalances or front projection shadows. What more could a true believer require?

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See what happens when you coddle criminals?

/(CBS)/ /MIAMI/ Sources have confirmed to WFOR-TV in Miami that conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been detained at Palm Beach International Airport for the possible possession of illegal prescription drugs.

Limbaugh was returning on a flight from the Dominican Republic when they found the drugs, among them Viagra.

Limbaugh entered a plea deal back in April in a previous case where his charge of fraud to conceal information to obtain prescriptions was dropped under the condition he continue undergoing treatment for addiction.

Limbaugh had admitted to being addicted to pain killers on his radio program and had entered a rehabilitation program prior to that arrest.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

It's a bird; it's a plane; it's... an allegorical Jesus Christ?

(Superman wasn't originally conceived to be a modern, allegorical messiah. He was just a good guy who beat up bad guys.

But like any mythic figure, the Superman legend has undergone substantial embellishment in the past 70 years. It's not surprising that his writers have borrowed heavily from other sources. George Lucas' Star Wars was written after a thorough review of classic folklore; Narnia borrowed directly from the Christian New Testament, deftly substituting a lion for Jesus Christ.

Superman certainly reflects the Judeo-Christian beliefs of the America in which he was born. Like Moses, his parents sent him away to escape certain destruction, and he was found and raised by foreigners. Like Jesus, at the age of 30 he embraces his true heritage, reveals his existence to the world, and begins his honorable mission to save humankind from itself- and- in order to sell some comic books and motion pictures- the occasional megalomaniac and/or super-powered alien being intent on world domination.

It's interesting to note that the decline of Superman's popularity in the 1960s and 1970s coincided with the decline in church attendance, and his resurgence occurs at a time when people are searching for a truly admirable role model, a person in whom they can place their trust. Religion has become inextricably intertwined with politics and terrorism. It seems every religious group has a political agenda or plans to impose its beliefs upon the masses.

Superman represents righteousness without dogma, integrity with no strings attached. He doesn't do what he does in order to obtain celestial virgins or eternal life, or to avoid eternal damnation. There's no spiritual carrot/stick motivation here. Superman is good, because goodness is its own reward. It's that simple, unambiguous message that has made him the iconic figure he is and- hopefully- will continue to be.)

Super Jesus?
Some find gospel parallels in the new Man of Steel.
By Jacob Adelman
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

First there were the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Now, for many Christian moviegoers, comes another gospel.

As the hype machine shifts into high gear for the Wednesday release of "Superman Returns," some are reading deeply into the film whose hero returns from a deathlike absence to play savior to the world.

"It is so on the nose that anyone who has not caught on that Superman is a Christ figure, you think, 'Who else could it be referring to?' " said Steve Skelton, who wrote a book examining parallels between Superman and Christ.

As one of society's most enduring pop-culture icons, Superman has often been observed as more than just a man in tights.

In his early 1930s comic-book incarnation, he was a hero of the New Deal, aiding the destitute and cleaning up America's slums, said Tom De Haven, author of a book about Superman's status as an American icon and a novel about the hero's high-school days.

By the 1950s, fears of postwar urban lawlessness had turned him into a tireless crime fighter, while his early television persona envisioned him as an idealized father figure, De Haven said.

More recently, Quentin Tarantino had the villain of "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" wax philosophical about the Man of Steel: "Clark Kent is how Superman views us... Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."

Some have also seen the hero as a gay icon, forced to live a double life with his super-self in the closet. A recent edition of the gay magazine, The Advocate, even asked on its cover, "How gay is Superman?"

But the comparison to Jesus is one that's been made almost since the character's origin in 1938, said Skelton, author of The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero.

Many simply see the story of a hero sent to Earth by his father to serve mankind as having clear enough New Testament overtones. Others have taken the comparison even further, reading the "El" in Superman's original name "Kal-El" and that of his father "Jor-El" as the Hebrew word for "God," among other theological interpretations.

"Superman Returns" has been drawing its own comparisons to biblical accounts, especially after the appearance of its trailer earlier this year.

The preview shows the hero with his eyes closed as the voice of his father- Marlon Brando's, courtesy of 1978's "Superman"- tells him he was sent to Earth because humans "lack the light to show the way."

"For this reason," continues the voice, "I have sent them you, my only son."

Online message boards and blogs quickly latched onto the biblical resonance of those lines.

"The allusion to Jesus Christ could hardly be accidental," wrote Christian blogger Tom Gilson.

"Is this a new Superman for the new Evangelist red state America? Superman as Jesus?" asked one contributor to the Portland-based blog site Urban Honking.

The premise of the new Superman movie alone has fueled speculation that it's wearing its biblical comparisons on its long, tight sleeve. Superman, in the film, returns to Earth after a long absence, a narrative that's been likened to Jesus' death and resurrection.

Meanwhile, news reports that "Passion of the Christ" star James Caviezel originally was in the running for the lead role in "Superman Returns," which eventually went to Brandon Routh, convinced others that the film's makers were playing up the New Testament comparisons.

Moviegoers who enter the theater looking for Christian imagery are unlikely to be disappointed. At one point, Superman sustains a stab wound reminiscent of the spear jabbed in Christ's side by a Roman soldier. In another scene, Routh poses with his arms outstretched as though crucified.

Not everybody welcomes the Superman-Jesus comparisons.

"It's a misrecognition," said Amy Pedersen, who is writing her doctoral thesis in art history at UCLA on superhero comic books.

Pedersen said Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who introduced Superman in 1938 in a comic book, were Jews who were inspired by the Old Testament story of Moses and the supernatural golem character from Jewish folklore.

The Christian allusions are recent innovations that compromise the integrity of the Superman myth, she said.

"This does not need to be a consistent cultural form from its beginning to its present, but something has to be maintained," Pedersen said.

"Superman Returns" director Bryan Singer said the notion of Superman as a messianic figure is simply another case of contemporary storytelling borrowing from ancient motifs.

Singer, who is Jewish, said his neighbors' Christianity played a powerful role in the community where he grew up.

"These allegories are part of how you're raised. They find their way into your work," he said. "They become ingrained in your storytelling, in the same way that the origin story of Superman is very much the story of Moses."

It's unlikely that studio executives, conscious of the size of the Christian audiences that were coaxed into theaters by the biblical echoes in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," would discourage religious associations.

"The way in which the Christian population can get behind a movie that they can agree with is a huge push financially," said Skelton, who also distributes Bible-study kits that draw scriptural lessons from classic television episodes. "It's a smart move in terms of attracting an audience."

At the same time, Superman is fixed firmly enough in popular secular culture so that the religious accents are unlikely to alienate a mainstream audience, said Craig Detweiler, who directs the film-studies program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

"Just like Jesus, in some ways (Superman) transcends parties and politics and can not be co-opted to serve the narrow interests of others," he said. "That could be one reason why studios aren't afraid to let Superman go that way, toward the religious."

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Quote of the day

Thomas Jefferson once said, "Of course the people don't want war. But the people can be brought to the bidding of their leader. All you have to do is tell them they're being attacked and denounce the pacifists for somehow [having] a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." I think that was Jefferson. Oh wait. That was Hermann Goering. Shoot.
-Jon Stewart, (hosting the Peabody Awards)

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

But I'm allergic to chalk...

I have multiple layers of spam filtering that keep most junk out of my inbox, and it's about 99.9% effective. Only one or two miscreants manage to sneak through each day. Today's "winner" stopped me dead in my tracks... the subject line, "You've always wanted to use your penis as a billiard cue."

Wow. How did they know?

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