December 22, 2012


The film adaptation of the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien classic, “The Hobbit,” has finally made it to the silver screen as a part one: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Running at two hours and forty-five minutes, it shouldn’t disappoint fans of the Middle-earth fantasy. “The Hobbit” is, of course, the prequel to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy of films: “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers,” and “The Return of the King.”

Gandalf the Grey (a wizard, played by the made-for-the-role Ian McKellen) invites the homebody hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (an impeccable, humble and nuanced performance by Martin Freeman), on an “adventure.” Baggins declines, but suddenly finds his hobbit hole filled with dwarves intent on a quest to win back their homeland which was taken over by the evil dragon Smaug (which the British actors pronounce very painfully: S-M-O-WWW-G). A hobbit is needed for the journey because the dragon (and assorted nefarious creatures they will meet along the way such as orcs and goblins and trolls, oh my!) isn’t used to the smell of hobbit, and being tiny, Bilbo will be able to slip around unnoticed. The “dwarf prince” doesn’t want Bilbo along, thinking he will be a burden because he is not a warrior. But Gandalf believes in Bilbo.

There are many, many action scenes and battles and one perilous predicament after another. However, the scenes are so carefully planned out, easy-to-follow, and truly interesting that our attention is held. This is not just generic swashbuckling and sword clashing. (There are many different kinds of swords in “The Hobbit.” Swords are a Big Deal.) The intense action scenes lead us from one stage of the journey to the next. We never know what our little band will encounter as they advance through diverse terrain.

At times, it almost seems that Tolkien has the mind of a child or an animator (where everything is alive, everything comes to life, even the mountains)! There is an amazing interplay of species, and animals/nature are either corralled for the service of evil or good.

There are two extremely long scenes that seemed to be smaller plot points than others: One where Bilbo tries to save the dwarves from being eaten by trolls, and the scene with Gollum and the ring in the cave. But the acting, dialogue and overall execution is so captivating, it didn’t really matter. The movie is long but never tedious.

Tolkien was a devout Catholic (and even helped translate the Jerusalem Bible), and his fantasies were really “the moral imagination” at play. Multitudes of readers have found deep purpose, hope and meaning for their lives in his yarns.

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament.… There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth….” –J.R.R. Tolkien 

(Apparently it's from a published collection of Tolkien's letters:


--Man, those orcs are ugly. But the goblins are uglier.

--OK, so I just have to describe the ugliness of the goblin king. He had a beard, but it wasn’t hair, it was flesh! Like a huge goiter hanging down. Groddy to the max!

--When Gandalf was uncertain, afraid, whom did he turn to? Galadriel! “A strong man of God appreciates the strength of a woman of God.” –Pastor Rick Warren

--I feel so relieved. I was beginning to think I was a moral flibbertigibbet* because after reading The Hobbit 5 times as a teen and the Trilogy about 3 times, I just DID NOT GET THE LOTR FILMS. Like the Star Wars movies, I couldn’t get past the first film. I think my problem—for LOTR—had something to do with Elijah Wood. I felt like I was drowning in his doe eyes for the whole film. I’m sorry. It’s just the way I feel. BUT I redeemed myself to myself by loving, embracing, enjoying and UNDERSTANDING “The Hobbit”! Yay! Maybe I could venture to watch LOTR?

--The whole process of Gandalf-inviting –Bilbo-on-an-adventure is really a wonderful depiction of the unfolding of any vocation/calling. I’m SURE it will be used in the future for that!

--Impromptu songs! Feasting! Dancing! Storytelling! Legends! THIS is true, organic culture.

--Dragons really like gold. They even sleep in it.

--Trolls smell real bad. Too bad my theater didn’t have 4-D. :D

--MOUNTAIN trolls are “slow and stupid.”

--The mountain trolls look exactly the same as the troll in “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

--Great costumes! Great dwarf HAIR! Great sets!

--Accurate American Robin’s song.

--“Evil is always looking for a foothold in this world.” --Gandalf
--“The world is not in your books and maps. The world is out there.” --Gandalf
--“All good stories deserve embellishment.” –Gandalf
--Gandalf has all the good lines.

--The necromancer dude reminded me of “the culture of death.”

--“The dark reign has spread.”

--The birds start returning to the dwarves' mountain after the dwarves set out on the quest and have a few victories….

--This film is VERY WELL-LIT!!!!!!      I heart YOU, PETER JACKSON!!!!!!

--The Irish dwarf (actor James Nesbitt) was the Irish guy in “The Way.” I KNEW IT.

--The eagles at the end looked a lot like golden eagles, but they had white spots on their tails….

This is a photo of a  REAL golden eagle. All Instagram-ed or something.

--New Zeelind iz vewy pwitty.

--Holy flaming pinecones!!!

--Witchcraft makes animals sick.

--As a teen, I read everything I could get my hands on by Tolkien: “Farmer Giles of Ham,” “Smith of Wootton Major,” his Father Christmas letters. But when I got “The Silmarillion” for Christmas, I decided this was too much, it was going too far. I wanted to learn about REAL history/geography/personages before I delved into mythological history/geography/personages.

--I FIRST heard, yes, “heard” “The Hobbit” when I was about 9 years old and was being babysat by the teenage maids at HoJo’s Motor Lodge in Amherst, Massachusetts, where my father would attend summer classes at U Mass Amherst to be an Assessor, and we’d vacation at the Howard Johnson’s. (They had a great pool.) These teen maids were kind of bohemian and we’d sit on the floor of the laundry room, backs against the washing machines and they’d read to my brother and I. We LOVED the Sphinx-y riddle-contest between Gollum and Bilbo, and it was so thrilling to hear it in the movie again after all these years.

--Tolkien should have put more chicks in his stuff. Do not these dwarves have dwarf-wives--at least that they left behind on the homefront? No sightings. No mentions. (It's OK that there are no female orcs or goblins.) And yet, women really like LOTR, too. Maybe the women Tolkien DOES put in are so awesome and influential that we don't mind? Or maybe we didn't fully notice because we're so used to men's stories?

--I'm thinking of including "The Hobbit" in my canon of Important Theology of the Body films. Why? Because, like "Tree of Life" (THE primordial TOB film), "The Hobbit" links all of Creation/the Cosmos together. We ALL share in this drama. No one is unconnected.

*My friend, Deb Pavelek, even sat beside me for “The Fellowship of the Rings” and tried to explain all the deep metaphors, but it didn’t help.

December 20, 2012


In honor of the Winter Solstice, and back by popular demand, I am reposting...
"The Christmas Bat: A True Story!"
(OK, nobody really asked to see this blogpost again--BUT I have included an Afterword.
Enjoy. Cringe. Laugh. Weep.)

(this is NOT my hand)

Of all the gifts Jesus could give me for Christmas (out of His whole ex nihilo world), He knew I would really, really love a bat. I'm serious. I love all His little critters (except roaches). It was Sunday, December 21, 2008, the Winter Solstice, broad daylight, about zero degrees, and I was walking to Mass between Chicago's Daley Center and the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza, when a tiny little bat came flying straight at my midriff. At first I thought it was a little bird, but it was too thin—like a boomerang—and a super graceful double-jointed flyer. I realized immediately it was a bat. As I said, I have always loved bats, and this was a total GOD moment. Everything slowed down and it was as if he was flying in slow motion toward me. It was as if this little guy was CHOOSING me to help him and GOD was choosing me to help His little creature at the same time. It was like 3-D Cartesian coordinates.

FWUMP! He swooped up and landed on my chest, fluttered himself down to the ground, huddled on his stomach next to my boot, tucking his wings under his body, shivering for all he was worth. He was quite tiny, his body only three inches long. What could I do? I picked up this pitiful, but feisty little BLACK bat (with some silver fur on his back). I assumed that most bats around Chicago would be the common BROWN bat, so I thought: Hmmmm, he's probably a migrator. Obviously, he had not gotten the memo to migrate about, oh, two months ago.

A guard inside the closed Daley Center banged on the glass: "Is that a bat??" "Yes!" "Can I see him?" By now, baby bat had perked right up, getting warm in my cupped gloves. I put his little face against the window: pinpoint black eyes, pig snout, little bat teeth that he kept licking. He began nibbling on the leather inset of my glove. I thought: Hmmmm. I hope he doesn't have rabies. I tried to get the guard to take him inside, but she wasn't having any of that. "I'm taking him to church!" I declared. "What?" "Church! I'm taking him to church!" So off we went to St. Peter's in the Loop. If someone was going to ask me what I was holding, I was all ready to say "a bird," so they wouldn't freak out. I found an unused corner of the basement where I tried to get him to snuggle in my gloves until after Mass. But, being the bat that he was, he promptly jammed himself behind a podium (Ah! Like a crevice in a cave!) and began hibernating. OK, so what we have here is "bats in the basement" instead of "bats in the belfry." (It's amazing the number of bat puns you can come up with without even trying.)

After Mass, I grabbed Brother Gary (jazz pianist extraordinaire). "Hey, Brother, can I show you something?" "Sure." "You're Franciscan, you like animals, right?" "Um, yeah." "Like, you're not afraid of bats, right?" "Well…." I showed him his little houseguest. "I'll call some wildlife refuge if you can just leave him here for now." "Er, OK." (Brother Gary heroically kept the secret to himself until after the bat was well on his way to the "bat man," but I'm getting ahead of the story.)

On Monday, I looked online for "wildlife refuges" in the Chicago area. I found plenty, but they all said "no bats." They took "possums, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, mongoose, rats, snakes, Tasmanian devils, alligators, komodo dragons," etc. but "no bats." I couldn't figure out why bats were such pariahs. I love bats. Finally the Willowbrook Wildlife Refuge gave me a hot tip: Call the "bat man." After the WWR hung up they called me back immediately: "You're not touching this bat with your hands, are you?" "No, I have gloves." "Really thick gloves? You don't want to mess with rabies." [They were really thin gloves.] Me: "Ha ha! If I get rabies, I'll just get the tetanus shot." WWR: [Moment of silence.] "Um, no. Tetanus has nothing to do with rabies. [Somewhere along the line in my life I had gotten some very bad intel.] Rabies is basically fatal. You die. The only person to survive that we know of is a little girl in Wisconsin. They induced a coma. She was in a coma for a whole year." I was beginning to see the light regarding "No bats need apply."

Jim Rowles of Hinsdale, IL, DOES bats, aka "bat rehab." I called him forthwith. He sounded elderly. He had been out shoveling snow. At present, he had two bats hibernating in his garage that he was afraid he was "stuck with." When I inquired why he said he couldn't release them in the Spring he said: "Because one has a broken wing, and the other isn't playing with a full deck." He told me to call the "Bird Collision" people downtown. They could gather the bat and bring him to Hinsdale. He told me I had the right "battitude," and "thanks for looking out for the little guys." Turns out the "little guy" who befriended me is a Silver-haired Bat, Lasionycteris noctivagans, who likes to winter in Texas. "This species is migratory, at least in part. It spends the summer in northern latitudes and winters toward the south, even crossing several hundred kilometers of ocean to reach Bermuda. Surprisingly few winter records are available; thus, the mystery of just where these bats spend the winter is still not completely solved." Easy! Daley Plaza, the Franciscans, and the bat guy's!

A young woman from Bird Collision rode the train, woke our little guy up, placed him in a box, and took him on the first and last CTA ride of his life to the "bat guy."

"Silver Bats! Silver Bats! It's Christmastime in Chicago!" Well, isn't it appropriate? This is the Dark Knight's REAL Gotham City after all….


The more I thought about rabies, the more nervous I got. I was reading up about symptoms and effects and it was truly horrific: people chained to beds screaming and dying and slowly going mad. I called the lady at the Willowbrook Wildlife Refuge again. " does one get rabies again?" "Bat spit. People think it's the bite, but it's really the spit." Flashbacks of my little friend nibbling on my gloves with his super-miniscule teeth, and then me removing my gloves with MY teeth--as I always do--flashed through my mind like a strobe light. Me: " does one get tested for rabies?" "Oh, you don't really. By the time you test positive for rabies, it's too late. You need to be treated right away if there's any doubt." The treatments were way costly (I don't have health insurance) and seemed like a real hassle. Wildlife lady: "The other way to find out if you were exposed to rabies is to test the bat if that's still possible." How do they test the bat? [WARNING TO BAT LOVERS AND SENSITIVE SOULS: COVER YOUR EYES FOR THIS NEXT PART.] They cut its little head off and examine its brain matter. It's the only way they can know for sure. 

Well, with heavy heart, I arranged with the Board of Health for the little guy to give up his life for me. There was a huge battle with various counties and jurisdictions, and at one point I thought the poor old bat man was going to jail because one county said he had to have more than just a wildlife license but a bat license (these little guys are really in their own category) and what he was doing was illegal. Turned out that that county did NOT have jurisdiction, and the county that DID was on very friendly terms with the bat man already, and the bat man DID have a bat license. However, all did not go smoothly as the bat man was LOATHE to hand over the doomed winged-one and put up quite a fight.

In conclusion, I waited on pins and needles and finally received the phone call that the bat did NOT have rabies. I was relieved, of course, but sorrowful. The lesson I truly felt God was telling me from this is: "Look. This little bat is gone now (because of you). His life is over. What are you doing with your life? Do you treasure every second and use it well?" Turns out the bat may have had a disease that is ravaging the bat population called "white nose syndrome," a kind of fungus that disorients the bat, wakes them up from hibernation (which is very dangerous because then they need to eat and there's no food and they die).

RIP, little guy.


A meaningful movie that might help in our grappling with evil in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, is M. Night Shamalyan's "The Village." The trailer below is actually very misleading (if you saw M. Night Shamalyan's "Sixth Sense," you know there's always a big twist). The movie is not a horror film, and is not even scary.

Horrific evil has been with us since Cain and Abel. There is no magic formula to insulate ourselves from it. But love is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Love is stronger than death. Love wins. Love always wins.

December 16, 2012


I am not a particular fan of James Bond movies (and not acquainted with anything more than their most superficial lore, although I have been doing some research). Neither am I a fan of Daniel (That’s Acting?) Craig (although he’s a fantastic runner). However, I found “Skyfall” mostly entertaining with an interesting back story/storyline, a theme of old-spy-world-and-technologies vs. new-spy-world-and-technologies, with one twisted-up psycho-villain.

The story was well-crafted because it incorporated the closest possible ties of family and home, making everything personal. Despite sleek, consistent set design; an organic, diverse and smooth soundtrack under sleek cinematography, the initial plot and dialogue (despite groovy action scenes: motorcycle chases on Istanbul rooftops and speeding-train-top-wrestling) were distastefully obvious, cheesy and just plain dumb. BUT everything changed when Bond has a sophisticated exchange with Severine (Berenice Marlohe) about fear, which serves as a foreboding, foreshadow-y introduction to very bad boy Silva (an exquisite Javier Bardem). Why is Silva such a “good” villain? Because he was a former operative of the British government and has a mother-fixation on “M” (Dame Judi Dench), his former boss and Bond’s present boss.

The insinuation of “Skyfall” is that Bond is getting too old for the job, too old for the field, at least (and so is “M”). Their outmoded ways of thinking/doing things are grossly inadequate for the new anonymous, ubiquitous, omnipotent cyberwarfare. Or are they?

THEOLOGY OF THE BODY AND WOMEN: Nudity, sex scenes (gratuitous or otherwise) are minimal, maybe because the tone of this Bond movie is so very grim (think “The Hunger Games,” “The Walking Dead,” and other extremely bleak purviews of   entertainment du jour). Bond beds some nameless woman during an exotic island getaway. Bond hops in the shower with Severine. That’s it. A few seconds each.

The women may be smart (“M,” Agent Eve, Severine),
but they are either quasi-men (“M,” Agent Eve)
or total and complete objects (Severine).
Where are the real women in Bond films? There’s a reason they’re called Bond GIRLS not women.

Evidently, violence done TO women (with very little chivalry to prevent/protect on Bond’s part) is par for the course in Bond movies. I took note of this in “Skyfall,” and then in my research found out it was standard fare. Ian Fleming—writer of the novels—was an unabashed misogynist. In a conversation with a friend, he once compared women to pets or dogs. In the 1953 “Casino Royale” novel, Fleming has Bond think to himself (when he is assigned to work with a woman): “Women are for recreation. On a job, they get in the way and fog things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carry around. One has to look out for them and take care of them.”

One extremely disturbing and unaddressed fact of “Skyfall” is something truly heinous that “M” did to Silva which made him the monster he is. Is it all part of “the game”? Which humans are precious and which humans are bargaining chips? What about loyalty and honor? Isn’t that what serving one’s country is all about? “Skyfall” makes MI6 seem very similar to the Mafia, and/or people working out their own dysfunctions on their own friends, their own tribe. This one action of “M” seems to dismantle and undermine everything “M,” Bond and England stand for, and the whole basis of why one sides with the “good guys” at all.


--If you think “Skyfall” refers to Bond’s tremendous fall to his “death” at the beginning of the film, you are mistaken.

--Lots of British expressions: “Yes, Mum.” “Appaling.” “Carry on.” “Vexing.” “Keen.” “Put your back into it.”

--Several long, slow scenes with general mugging, posing and mis-en-scene-ing and very little else  happening.

--Is Bond supposed to be APPEALING to women? Cuz DC is not. Just sayin’.

--Is Bond supposed to be SUAVE and rock the formalwear? Cuz DC is/does not. DC looks soooooooo uncomfortable in a suit and anywhere near a cocktail party. Just sayin’.

--Watch “Tough Guise” media literacy documentary about the changing male image (more and more violent) in films through the years.

--PG-13 is pretty accurate if your kids are used to the “usual” TV/movie violence.

--Appropriate and amusing introduction of “Q,” a young, comic-relief, upstart geek on 007’s team.

--All through “Skyfall,” the new challenges the old, but eventually learns to overlap, blend, harmonize (and vice versa). The old and new need each other.

--Those rumors  you heard about a “priest hole” (hiding places where Catholic families would put priests persecuted under Elizabeth I) in the Bond family manor are true, and one of the final scenes is in the Bond family chapel. The Catholic priests of the Anglican Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham were all a-Twitter over this: “007’s family heritage is Catholic!”

--FROM Adele’s gorgeous, sui generis, husky and plaintive vocal stylings for the impressive mixed-media opening credits sequence TO Ralph Fiennes TO British bulldogs TO reciting Lord Tennyson, this is a celebration of many things British.


--Why didn’t 007 have the shrapnel in his shoulder tested immediately?

--Could have done with less DC shirtlessness.

--What do cybercrimes effect? EVERYTHING: bank accounts, identities, stock markets, corporations, governments, elections, multi-nationals….

--Watched “Skyfall” with Ma. Ma was very into it, exclaiming as needed: “Disgusting!” “What a terrible driver!” “Darn!” “Ooops!” “Watch out!”

--Dame Judi Dench: the ultimate Bond girl? Why? Because she is more ruthless than anyone? “Why Can’t Women Be More Like Men?”

--How does Hollywood get REAL news personalities (like Wolf Blitzer) to do “fake news” for movies? Do they get permission to use already-aired clips of them speaking where it just fits? Does not this cheapen “real” news? Or is “real” news also entertainment? (Rhetorical questions all….)

--Drop-dead picturesque, rugged English moor in Act 3!

--Big story, but little at the same time. Poignant, universal symbols everywhere. Good storytelling.

--“Sometimes the old ways are the best.”

--“To hell with dignity. I’ll leave when the job is done.”

--“Skyfall” is a bit of a cyberthriller, BUT in a THEOLOGY OF THE BODY way also illustrates that “bodies are not optional.” Technology can never dispense with bodies, or rather bodies using/programming technology will always be the bottom line.

--James Bond movies are more than twice as violent as they used to be, according to a study in New Zealand. Researchers fear that exposure to such violence can contribute to aggressive behavior among children. Violent acts in Bond films were more than twice as common in 2008 film “Quantum of Solace” than in the first 1962 movie “Dr. No,” according to research from University of Otago.

December 8, 2012


Are you among the very, very few who have NOT seen one of the most recent Christmas CLASSIC movies, “Elf” (2003)? If not, and you have been nice and not naughty this year, then you need to go ahead and treat yourself! Even if you do not like actor/comedian Will Ferrell who plays the Elf in question, you are guaranteed to like this goodtime flick.

A baby human inadvertently crawls into Santa’s sack while Santa (Ed Asner) is visiting an orphanage run by NUNS and winds up in the North Pole. “Buddy” (Will Ferrell) is adopted by elves (Papa Elf is none other than the wonderfully deadpan Bob Newhart) and, of course, doesn’t fit in. He’s a giant living in a Lilliputian world, and he’s lousy at making toys. Buddy reaches adulthood and Papa Elf finally tells him he’s a human. Buddy leaves the North Pole for New York in search of his human father (James Caan). Let the fun begin. Buddy--still dressed like an elf--is a babe in the woods, a true unjaded innocent wandering the streets of New York City. Everything is new to him: everyday things like crossing the street, taxi cabs, revolving doors and escalators. He brings all the wonder of a child to every encounter (including a romance with department store employee Zooey Deschanel).

Buddy does find his father, but his father is less than thrilled at being found. Buddy’s dad has a family of his own (wife=Mary Steenburgen) and is, well, not a nice man. Buddy keeps showing up at his father’s place of work and because of his naivete, manages to wreak havoc without even trying.

The true spirit of Christmas is what animates Buddy, and those who are childlike enough to appreciate the simple joys in life also appreciate Buddy. Unlike other movies today that try to be sweet and carefree (the latest Muppet movie, for example) but don't succeed because of seemingly unavoidable tinges of irony and cynicism, "Elf" more than succeeds. There is a purity that permeates the film.

What makes “Elf” such a great film and a new Christmas classic? First of all, it references the Christmas specials we used to watch as kids, especially “Rudolph.” The magical world of the North Pole is juxtaposed with the grittiness of New York City, to hilarious effect. The soundtrack is utterly delightful, and each scene is funnier than the next. In fact, fans of the film have MANY favorite scenes. The sign of a great movie is if you can keep watching it again and again, especially because you’re waiting for all your favorite scenes which actually span the entire movie, linked together one after another. “Elf” is also imminently quotable.

The three Elf Rules are: 1.) Treat every day like it’s Christmas. 2.) The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear. 3.) There’s room for everyone on the “Nice” list. Not a bad philosophy, that.

December 5, 2012


For the uninitiated, seminarians pray the 4-volume Divine Office of the Church (aka The Breviary, the Liturgy of the Hours, Christian Prayer, etc.), just like priests. Advent is the beginning of the Church's Liturgical Year and necessitates a change of volumes to...the blue breviary.