Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Beast Within (The Lizard)

The Lizard:

Smart. Cunning. Out-Of-Control.

He will be in the Spider-Man movie July 3, 2012.

"The Lizard" wasn't always a villain. He was once Dr. Curt Connors. He helped to stitch up GI's and amputees. As his medical expertise broadened, he became obsessed with the idea of regeneration. Connors knew the lizard to be one of the only animals able to consistently regenerate its lost limbs. This led him to use the lizard's blood in order to create a serum meant to pass on the regenerative trait to human-beings. His formula was too dangerous to test in a lab.

He tested on himself.

What he had intended for good became ill.

As his symptoms worsened, Connors became more lizard than man. The cold-blooded DNA filled his bloodstream. It changed his skin to scales. It made his eyes red. And it gave him a truly dichotomistic mind.

Through many intense story-lines Connors became even worse. He lost all hope of regaining the well-intentioned man he once was. After one of his most recent appearances in a mini-series called SHED. The primal part of his brain which had been infected by the lizard DNA rose up to challenge his humanity. His mind began to think like a beast, and craved only animalistic things.

At the end of the day, Connors only managed to hurt those who attempted to help him.

He kill the few he truly loved.

Then, he ran away, scared, into the sewers, alone.

I must warn you not to do this.

Temptation is strong. Sin is poison. It only takes a bite to get started.

What Connors had wanted to do was pure of intent, but became his biggest nightmare. Our sin is like that. What might have appeared as small and innocent like a white lie turns into a horribly disgusting mess.

The Doctor took a few injections and tested a few times to he become a beast. Although sin is ever-present and always a "delight to the eyes," it is also always damnable. The one small step that is taken leads to an even greater leap to the gates of Hell. Like Connors, after taking a test or biting the fruit, we become something worse than we ever could have dreamed. Even though our skin might not become scales or our teeth rigid, our souls change. Once we give in to things like gossip, jealousy, deception, or hate (or whatever other sins you may think of), it is almost impossible to stop. We become entirely different, succumbing to the sin instead of finding a real cure to the disease. The cure is Christ.

Luther said in the explanation of the First Commandment, everyone has a god. Because, a god is what or whom you set your heart and trust upon. This can be money. It can be sex. It may be romance, penance, or independence. Whatever you trust the most, whatever your faith is in, is your god.

Here, we are blessed. Although we fall and we take the poison, idolizing other things and continuously making them our gods, God forgives us. More than that, he redeems us. Even though we have already become beasts in our own way, scaled and covered in our own ugly and soul-corrupting sins he sees us as he had originally meant us to be: Perfect.

We did things to ourselves, we've done things for ourselves, and we continue to harm ourselves in ways that God has directly commanded us not to. We are worthless animalistic beings feeding off of the ways of the world instead of the ways of God. But, because God is loving and merciful he sent his Son who died for us. His Son took upon himself to face the corrupt beast that we had become. He beat it. Because Jesus Christ has done this and the Holy Spirit has given us faith, we are now given worth. We are known to God as his flawless Son.

It is easy to fall away, one small step at a time, but it is not worth becoming an unrecognizable animal. Remember that God will always take you back. And pray for those who, like the Lizard, continue to run away, scared, into the darkness. I charge you to let the Holy Spirit work through you to "open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness [monsters] to [the man] light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may [also] receive forgiveness of sins [from Christ who is the cure]."

This has been part of the Spider-Man Series

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grandpa Roy (July 1, 1931 - June 13, 2012)

As read in the Chicago Tribune:

"Roy David McCall, age 80, passed away Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Born July 1, 1931 in Detroit, MI; cherished husband of Peggy McCall; beloved father of Jennifer (Travis) Schmidt, and Susan (John) Cravatta; loving grandpa of Joshua, Amber, and Caleb Schmidt and Rebecca and Samuel Cravatta; fond brother of Shirley Ann Bedard. His passion was acting on Chicago stages."

Grandpa was a character. He always told jokes and lived life until his last breath. We will always love him and will be glad to one day see him again.

He wanted his tombstone to be inscribed, "Act III- Curtain Going Up" because he knew that two acts of his life were over (before and after he married my Grandma Peggy) and would be ready to finally take on his biggest crowd in Heaven.

He was someone I look up to in acknowledging their vocation. Although he had always loved to act, he became a great salesman in order to support his wife and daughters (one of which is my mother). He knew that family had to come first. They were his immediate call. Even though he never really got to start professional acting again until the kids left the nest, he lived a life full of joy and faithfulness. This faithfulness wasn't only to his family, but also to God as he continued to lead Bible Studies up until the end and always remembered the stone-cold truth: John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." This was his favorite Bible verse.

The five of us Grandkids will never cease to adore him.

We aren't the only ones. Chris White recently sent this message to my Grandma:

"Last Wednesday, I finally finished my new feature film called GET BETTER ( The main character, a man who is suffering from chronic Lyme disease and passes away during the course of the film, was named for Roy. I was so excited to send him a copy of it, and hear his response to that little surprise.

Just two weeks ago, I watched UNCLE BUCK with my daughter Harriet. I pointed our Roy (bowling in a yellow shirt) to her: "That man was the first guy I ever hired...ever. He was my George Washington, my favorite founding father."

Roy McCall meant so much to me then...he means so much to me now, too. I'd never known a father figure who wasn't a blood relative or a teacher. Roy was the first man I loved and wanted to be like who I wasn't required to adore or emulate.

I've missed him for years now, and will miss him for many more. I won't forget him. Or you.

I am glad to know that you and Roy built the kind of family who is, no doubt, caring for you during this time. Know that I love you, too. And am so sorry for the loss you are experiencing right now.

I will send you a copy of the film in the next few days. I hope that you enjoy it. But mostly I hope you get a kick out of the character (played by Robert Linder) who bears your husband's name."

We'll see you again Grandpa.

Full Obituaries:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New Spider-Man Clip (Two Types of Savior)

Whether it be because of some sort of natural humility, the need to protect of their secret identity, or the want to cover their grotesque unshaven face, (I'm sure that all of you know that) many superheroes wear masks.

Spider-Man is one of those heroes:

(Sorry if this clip is a spoiler.
It's worth it.)

To reemphasize something that I stated last week:

"God is at work within us (Vocation!). We can see each other as we really are."
"We can witness that we are masks of God (as he works through us, both believer and non-believer)"

But, it doesn't end their. Even though Christ puts his mask on our face, allowing us to feel and appear strong, he is really still the one who is in action.

We, like the little boy, are found afraid and alone, spooked out of our minds at this being who seems to want to protect us and looks kind of human but, not really. This being, in a way, shows us his true self. Like when Spider-Man takes off his mask, God became man so that we could become able to trust and recognize him.

Now, even with this trust and new-found faith we struggle to push ourselves up. We know that there is no way that we could ever be strong enough to make it up to him. In the sense of vocation, God gives us his mask. We are able to see ourselves as powerful and strong while it is still merely God's work through us. With this powerful knowledge, we attempt to make our way up (like the child climbing out of the car).

BUT, STILL, THERE IS NO WAY. We cannot do this. Although it would be easy for Spider-Man to climb out of the vehicle and Christ to live a perfectly righteous life, we cannot.

We fall.

Spider-Man jumps off the side of the bridge onto the car, God becomes man and enters the world.

Spider-Man gives the kid his mask so that he knows that he can be safe, Christ reminds us that we are remade as sons of God in his image.

The kid still can't make it, we struggle.

Spider-Man shoots his web to make sure he can hold on to the child and pull him to safety out of the falling car. God releases the Holy Spirit to hold onto his child with faith in the Gospel (that Christ really came to save us) so that he can once again pull us to safety out of the falling world.

In the end, we are secure.
We have been brought back to our Savior's trustworthy embrace.

And we are ready to be brought to safety (to our Father and Heaven).

This has been part of the Spider-Man Series

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Amazing Adjectives (Powerless or Powerful?)

Many Marvel comic books start with adjectives. There is "the Amazing Spider-Man" series;  "the Mighty Thor" series; "the Incredible Hulk" series; the "Fantastic Four" series; and a lot more. These titles seem to be used to draw the reader in. If "Spider-Man" isn't enough for you, you know he is also "Amazing." If "Thor" just doesn't cut it, you should be intrigued by knowing that he is also "Mighty." The "Hulk" is not only a hulk, he is "Incredible." And, a comic book would seem pretty weird if it was only called "Four," it may be better to realize that these four are also "Fantastic."

But in real life, we don't have adjectives.

In fact, Adriane Dorr, one of the main speakers at my college graduation ceremony (like many other graduate speakers this year),stressed that we can aim to be average. We do not need to rush out of college hoping to achieve the latest, greatest thing. Instead, we can follow through in our lives as completely normal and dull people. Her speech would proclaim that it is not only appropriate to live a life full of monotonous repetition that appears meaningless in the grand scheme of the world, but what we should actually attempt to do so.

This reminds me of the Powerless series.

The reader becomes familiar in a world without super powers. Instead of Matt Murdock, Peter Parker and Logan dressing up in funny costumes to save people with their specialized super-human abilities, they live regularly complicated lives just like the rest of us. Murdock has problems with his clients, Parker is threatened by his career, and Logan is haunted by his past experiences. These comics would go perfect under the title: "What If?"

The thread that holds the story line together is the fact that all three of these "normal" men go to the same psychologist. He hears them. He helps them. He would give his life for them. In the end, this psychologist realizes that these guys, these average Americans, do great things. They would never really need any super-suit or surreal power to be heroes. The name of the series becomes ironic. Even though Matt, Pete, and Logan seem "Powerless" they are actually some of the most powerful people that their psychologist has ever known.

Scattered throughout the Powerless comics, the psychologist starts to believe that he is going mad. He has dreams and visions of heroes in costume. He occasionally sees Murdock as Daredevil, Pete as Spider-Man, and Logan as Wolverine the way that they truly are in the Marvel Universe. He sees that with superhuman powers, these "average" men could do even more.

By the final page, the reader realizes that the psychologist is, in the Marvel universe, the Watcher. Although he is able to witness many things, he can only really watch. While those around him become "Amazing," he remains the same.

He thinks: "Through it all, the one thing I have been unable to reconcile is the visions. Are they figments of my imagination... I cannot answer that question and may never know for sure. But I do know this: they activated me from the stupor in which I had chosen to live my life. And, for a moment... they helped me discover great joy."

"But now? Now, all I feel is pain. Is this what it feels like to be human? Is that the world I choose? Or is it better to feel nothing at all? To sit back and try and live vicariously? It's a choice I suppose we all must make. Often, when we dream, or imagination takes us into the world of the fantastic [Four], the uncanny [X-Men], and the spectacular [Spider-Man]."

"We dream of flying, of having the strength of a thousand men, or even of saving the world. In these amazing fantasies, good conquers evil... and no one ever really dies."

"But that is not life. To be human... truly human is to accept that sometimes we are heroes, sometimes we are victors... and sometimes we are powerless."

While the others around him grow to be powerful, the Watcher knows himself to be powerless. Forgetting that his life has any sort of meaning, he uses a razor blade to rid himself of it.

In the world of Dorr's speech, we would be just like the Watcher. We know that great things are done every day. Monumental ideas are enacted upon, world records are broken, and lives are saved. But, we would not see ourselves as having the potential to really do anything. Even though great things happen, we are the one left standing there witnessing them instead of being the one there to actually achieve them.

She was wrong.

Not only did the Watcher (like us)  have the power to influence and help other people in their lives (his role of psychologist really assisted these powerless heroes), he would have been able to do even more if he hadn't given up his life.

The problem here is that he knew that he could never really do anything great on his own.

Is this a good reason to give up? Was he right to call it quits? By knowing that he is a human being and that really doesn't seem to do much for him on a grander scale is the Watcher right to commit suicide? No. He should have looked for help. But, where should he have looked?

"I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth."
Psalm 121:1-2

Instead of merely looking in or out, he should have looked up. By knowing God as our refuge and strength, even when we are at our most powerless state, we can realize that he is the one who empowers us.

"The weakness of God is stronger than men." 1 Corinthians 1:25.

Even in this weakness, we are strong in Christ. Alone we are nothing, but since God has created us, loved us, redeemed us, and renewed us we are something. God is not proclaimed to make useless and worthless things, he doesn't even just make average or mediocre things, God does awesome and wonderful things. This includes us individually as amazing beings, not by anything that we have done, but because it is God who has made us.

In this way, we too can see the world (as the Watcher did). Knowing that God is at work within us (Vocation!). We can see each other as we really are. Instead of spandex and utility belts, we can witness that we are masks of God (as he works through us, both believer and non-believer) and Christians have even been given the Holy Spirit along with his fruits and the armor of God.

As the curtain is pulled away and we can begin to see the real world, the spiritual world, we finally realize why those adjectives stated at the beginning never found their way into our world.

They would have been too redundant.

Everything is "Amazing!!" It is all "Mighty" and "Incredible." "Fantastic" becomes an understatement. There are so many glorious things that have been made and continue to be made. And, we are each one of them. Every job from the plumber to the grocer to the doctor and president are all great because they are each used by God to tend for the world.

With all of these awe-inspiring creations, people, and events around us we often lose focus and appraise the creation instead of praising God or forget that we are each astounding and even loved in the sight of God. But, if we continue to keep the focus on what he has done instead of how we fail to live, our lives will be worth living.

Just think, no matter how glorious some thing may appear to be in itself, it is still nothing without God or even compared to the infinite glory of God.

Yet, he still chose to love us.

He died for us.

He rose for us.

And, his Spirit daily lives with us.

That is powerful.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Playing Games (Slice)

Triangulation occurs when one king can move between three adjoining squares (in the shape of a triangle) and maintain the position, while the opponent only has two squares on which to move. It is a strategic maneuver that forces one's opponent to move.

Outside of the game of chess, triangulation still manages to be a maneuver meant to force a desired result. In social or family systems, the tactic is associated with people rather than pawns. In situations where two people are in conflict with one another, one or both often triangulate with a third person (or thing) in an attempt to curtail anxiety and garner support. So in the case of a feuding brother and sister, the sister might run to a sympathetic third sibling, while the brother might preoccupy his frustration with work. In each case, both triangles create a situation where two are on the inside and one is on the outside. But also in each case, while the anxiety may be reduced momentarily, the source of that anxiety is left unresolved.

Life is certainly more complicated than a game of chess, and yet tactical maneuvers are often learned as if rules to the game of life and relationships. Savvy ways of handling conflict seem to come both instinctively (as in the case of avoidance or resentment) and with disturbing calculation (as in the case of talking behind someone's back to gain support for your side). When someone has offended me, often the first thing I think to do is to go to a third party. In fact, I am probably more apt to talk to anyone except the person who has hurt me. The move is a strategic one. Feeling like an insider is far more comforting than facing the one who has made you the outsider. A triangle always seems more comforting than a straight line.

But triangulation is no more a comfort in life than it is in chess. It is not a move meant to console oneself, but to defeatan opponent. Speaking with his disciples, Jesus offered a rule more fitting with life and neighbors than opponents and a game. "If your brother sins against you," he said, "go and show him his fault, just between the two of you."(1) Jesus gave a rule suited for relationship. In line with his command for loving neighbors and praying for enemies, his anti-triangulation tactic for conflict is one that considers the weight of life and relationships. (Not to mention, it is a tactic counselors duplicate today.)

Making the straight line to the one who harmed you is not a move without difficulty, but it is a move with possibility. Jesus instructed his followers to forgive enemies, to love neighbors, and to confront each other privately and directly. He placed before them far more than stoic commands intended for the sake of the other party, but grace and life itself for the one holding on to the consequences as well. While avoiding the source of an offense may seem a consolation, we merely learn to live inside a system filled with grudge or hate or disappointment. Going to friends to rally support for our sides or sympathy for our frustrations, we really only rally more frustration. In fact, we form triangles around it and keep it safe. On the contrary, the direct path to the one who harmed you offers the chance for resolution and the possibility of release. It is a move that chooses to see neighbors rather than opponents and relationships rather than winning, a move that remembers even enemies are made in God's image, a move that holds forgiveness as a possibility even when it isn't fully sought. It is precisely the same move Christ went all the way to the Cross to make for you.

--Jill Carattini

(1) Matthew 18:15. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Death of Ray Bradbury (6/6/12)

"Ray Bradbury, author of "Fahrenheit 451," "The Martian Chronicles" and other iconic science fiction novels, died Tuesday night at the age of 91, according to The Associated Press.

"His legacy lives on in his monumental body of books, film, television and theater, but more importantly, in the minds and hearts of anyone who read him, because to read him was to know him. He was the biggest kid I know," his grandson told the i09 science fiction blog.

Bradbury sold 8 million copies of his books in 36 languages, according to The New York Times' obit.

He attributed his success as a writer to never having gone to college—instead, he read and wrote voraciously. "When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week," he said in an interview with The Paris Review. "I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school."

"The universe is a little emptier right now," Texas A&M University-Commerce English professor Robin Anne Reid told Yahoo News. She wrote a book about Bradbury's works and sits on the board of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies. "There's less of that sense of joy and exultation that he was writing in his works all the way to the end."

Reid said Bradbury was the first writer to jump from pulp magazines to mainstream literary magazines, thus bringing science fiction writing into the mainstream. Bradbury also wrote fantasy and horror.

His best-known book, "Fahrenheit 451," was a dystopian tale set in the future about a society where books were banned and firefighters spent all day burning them. Bradbury's novel "anticipated iPods, interactive television, electronic surveillance and live, sensational media events, including televised police pursuits," the AP writes.

Bradbury suffered a stroke in 1999 and lost his wife in 2003, but he continued to write.

Bradbury biographer Jonathan Eller said in a statement that Bradbury "hated intolerance, and those who deny the existence of intolerance. He was not afraid to write about and condemn the evils of prejudice and racial inequality at a time when such stories were hard to publish in America." Eller also pointed to Bradbury's words to Caltech's graduating class of 2000, whom he urged "to witness, to celebrate, and to be part of this universe ... you're here one time, you're not coming back. And you owe, don't you? You owe back for the gift of life."

Bradbury recently wrote a short essay responding to his favorite Snoopy comic strip about how much rejection he faced when he first began writing. "Starting when I was fifteen I began to send short stories to magazines like Esquire, and they, very promptly, sent them back two days before they got them! I have several walls in several rooms of my house covered with the snowstorm of rejections, but they didn't realize what a strong person I was; I persevered and wrote a thousand more dreadful short stories, which were rejected in turn," he wrote.

But he said later in the Paris Review interview that he did not feel responsible for his own writing success, saying he felt that God helped him write. "The best description of my career as a writer is 'at play in the fields of the Lord.' It's been wonderful fun and I'll be damned where any of it came from. I've been fortunate. Very fortunate," he said.

In a recent issue of the New Yorker, Bradbury wrote about discovering science fiction stories as a child growing up in Waukegan, Ill., and his love for his grandfather. "I would go out to that lawn on summer nights and reach up to the red light of Mars and say, "Take me home!" I yearned to fly away and land there in the strange dusts that blew over dead-sea bottoms toward the ancient cities," he wrote."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ben Parker (Hope Beyond All Hope)

The annual issue of the Amazing Spider-Man came out a few weeks ago. It dealt with Spider-Man disappearing from the time-stream.

A lab accident at Horizon made it so that Peter Parker/Spider-Man seems to have never existed at all. Peter Parker is jumped to a seemingly better world where Mary Jane is a successful Hollywood actress, Norman Osborn found the cure for cancer, and Flash Thompson (though still crippled) is an Olympian athlete.

Suddenly, earth-quakes start happening all over Manhattan. Parker has to go to the center of each quake to relive a memory. After he does this, the memory remains within the world. And piece-by-piece, memory-by-memory the world returns to its normal Spider-Man-inclusive self. Part of the main theme shares that even though the world might have appeared better without Spider-Man in it, the people that he had influenced would have never been as well-off without him. (This reminds me of what I touched on in this devotion.)

In the first memories recalled, Pete has an influence on which ones are chosen to be relived. As he walks up to his High School, he relives being bullied on the High School bus. Heightening his hopes for the next memory relived, Parker visits his all-too-familiar childhood home.

He walks up to the door almost as with his fingers crossed. The deepest question on his mind might have been "What If?" What if my non-existence had brought some of my loved-ones back? What if I was not the one liable for my uncles death? What if Uncle Ben is now still alive?!?

His faith was rewarded.

When he knocks on the door, it’s answered.

Uncle Ben is there!!

Pete can't believe it. After all of this time without Ben, Parker is relieved to know that Uncle Ben is there!!

It is the same way in our universe. Many people may fall away and stop believing, but those who cling to the faith through the Holy Spirit, taking hold of God's hand will one day see Him face-to-face. We will be able to have not only the door opened to us, but the metaphorical gates of Heaven. The glory of God will be even more astonishing and breath-taking then seeing Uncle Ben again.

We know that we don't deserve to see God again. Like Parker, we were the cause of His death due to what we had left undone. We continuously fail to fulfill the Law as Spider-Man failed to stop the murderer of Uncle Ben.

Yet, in the end, we do see Him again. God is more than a man. Although He had died because of us, as Ben had in the normal time-stream, He beat death. We can see him as perfectly as Parker saw Ben again. And, unlike the Uncle Ben in this comic book, God will never disappear from us again.

Another big difference between Ben and God is that at first Ben doesn't know Pete. God has always known us. He knows the number of hairs on our heads, he knows our innermost beings, he knows both our hearts and our minds. In spite of all of this, He still loves us. Like Ben after more memories are unlocked sees Pete as family, God now knows not only as nephews but as his own children. It is not a distant unrecognizing face who greets us at the door, it is the one who had been waiting there for us our entire lives. Not only that, God has also been the one leading us along the entire way.

Like Uncle Ben, we can also hope that God's words will be something like,

"I just wanted to tell you
that I am so happy
I got to see you again today.
And I could not be more proud of you."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Vocation of Monastic Cooking

"Could it be that Brother Lawrence was able to fulfill his potential by washing dishes? 'Having accustomed himself to doing everything there for the love of God, and asking His grace to do his work, he found he had become quite proficient in the ... years he had worked in the kitchen.' (1)

He found purpose in the very midst of the most mundane and ordinary tasks of life. He fulfilled his potential by focusing on faithfulness. This is not faithfulness that triumphs over the desire to fulfill one's potential. Indeed, ... "faithfulness rarely feels heroic; it feels much more like showing up and hanging in. It is a matter of going to our cell, whatever form that might take, and letting it teach us what it will."(2) Availing himself to consistent faithfulness yielded the blessing of both proficiency and presence.

Fulfilling one's potential has little to do with greatness. And yet, the heroism of the ordinary does not preempt "greatness" that our world confers to those who have reached their potential with staggering and dramatic achievement; for even those who achieve greatness have faced the drama of routine and the tidal wave of tedium. But to assign the fulfillment of one's potential solely to great acts and recognition is to miss the blessing that comes from faithful acts of devotion," and the constant loving acts of God toward us.

--Margaret Manning

"So, whether you eat or drink,
or whatever you do,
do all to the glory of God."
1 Corinthians 10:31.

(1) Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, The Practice of the Presence of God, ed. John J. Delaney (New York: Image, 1977), 41.
(2) Margaret Guenther, The Practice of Prayer (Boston: Cowley Press, 1998), 112.