Saturday, July 28, 2012

Symbolism and Typology and the Ancient Art of Storytelling

As a high school senior and later a college literature major, I loved writing about symbolism in stories. My first symbolism essay was on The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. In it, I discussed the character Simon as a Christ figure. I still have the essay, of which I was extremely proud, though now I see it was poorly written. It earned an A, so it must have been decent for a high school senior. This was when discussing Christianity in school was allowed. I believe the teacher suggested the topic.

As an adult, returning to the Catholic faith, I grew excited to learn about Biblical typology. A "type" is an element of the Old Testament: a person, thing, or event, which foreshadows something in the New Testament. The Fisheaters website has a nice article on it.

The element can be seen as having literally existed but also be symbolic. It's not either/or.

I think of God as the supreme author of the universe. After all, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (Jn1:1)*

For instance, circumcision foreshadows Christian baptism. The Passover lamb signifies the sacrifice of Jesus. The Ark of the Covenant symbolize foreshadows Mary who carried Jesus in her womb. (More on these and others at this article at Catholic Answers.

Today I listened to Grammar Girl's podcast. (No, I'm not veering off course). She talked about Lisa Cron's book Wired for Story. Ms. Cron says our brains are wired to respond to story. She's right.  People have always told stories--first orally, then written. God, being the first storyteller, creating the material universe with the Word, of course we respond to story. It's built in the very fiber of our being.

Ms. Cron outlines what she sees as the seven rules of story. Check out Grammar Girl's site to listen or read about them. I'm not sure I agree with every point. For instance, many of the oldest examples of written stories are not emotion based nor are they concerned with the protagonists inner journey. However, her list is thought provoking and useful for the writer (or reader) of fiction. It would make for a fun springboard when writing college essays. I'm eager to read Cron's book, Wired for Story. It sounds like a valuable and interesting book.

*"New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rainbow Lily a Beautiful Symbol

What does a rainbow symbolize? When I was growing up, it symbolized God's promise to never flood the world again. Remember Genesis? The world was so full of sin, God wanted to wash away everyone. He spared Noah and his family and taught him how to build a huge ark, so they'd be safe until the floods went down, and also so that little children would one day have toy boats with pairs of animals to play with.

Noah's Ark

Where was I? Oh yes, the rainbow. It symbolizes a promise. I've no idea why it became a symbol of homosexual pride. Anyway, Nissa Annakindt (writer, blogger, expert on Korean soap operas) has created a new symbol. It celebrates people with same sex attraction (aka, gay people) who commit to living a chaste, pure, celibate life. It's a beautiful rainbow lily! Rainbow for the same sex attraction thing and a God's promise thing and a lily for purity. Brilliant!

Check out Nissa's blog The Lina Lamont Fan Club. She blogs about Doctor Who, the Catholic Church, same sex attraction, writing, and werewolves, among other things.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sacramental Wine During Prohibition

Did you ever wonder where priests got wine for Mass during prohibition?

Mission San Antonio in California

Prohibition in the United States was in place from 1920 to 1933. Basically, prohibition made the manufacture, sale, import or export of intoxicating liquors illegal.  Wikipedia has a page that gives more details.

Dumping illegal booze during prohibition

What did the Catholic Church do about Communion wine during prohibition? What happened to the wineries that had been flourishing in California? Both of these stories are intertwined.
Sadly, during prohibition, many wineries went out of business. However, the lucky ones who got contracts with the Catholic Church to make sacramental wines survived or even flourished. You see, alcoholic beverages for medicinal and sacramental use were exempt from the ban.

Wine press

That's the story in a nutshell. To learn more go to this article in the American Catholic and this one at the Straight Dope.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Coyote Fires" by Karina Fabian: donate to a good cause while enjoying a fantasy story

Enjoy some fantasy and help victims of the Colorado fires. Author Karina Fabian is putting up a story called "Coyote Fires" chapter by chapter. Here's the link to the site.  On the side bar you'll find a donation button. All of the money goes to the Colorado Springs chapter of the American Red Cross.

Why not go over and donate. It's simple and painless. In fact, it's fun because you get to read a fantasy story! :) You get to feel good about helping people while sitting back, sipping a cup of tea, and reading.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

C.S. Lewis, Kids' Book Clubs, and Christ

I run a children's homeschooling book club and have recently had the honor or leading the discussion of C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew. Some members of our club are not Christian, so I felt I must keep away from Christian themes and symbolism. Easier said than done.

The more I struggled to see past the Christian themes, the more they stood out for me. You have the struggle of good vs. evil, a man seeking power for power's sake who can't recognize God when he's standing in front of him, a Genesis creation story, temptation in the garden, a forbidden apple, and the promise of a savior. I'll tell you how I skirted these topics in a moment.

I know neo-pagans, new agers, atheists, and even anti-Christian atheists who love the Narnia books. Why would they be drawn to them when the books so obviously deal with Christian themes? Sure, they are good stories. But they're only great stories if you see the deeper meaning that is hidden (or at times, not so well hidden) within them. A child unaware of the Christian elements might enjoy them, but a grownup who's not only non-Christian, but anti-Christian?

I have a theory.  Though society tells us to love self, in our hearts, we want to love God and imitate Him by loving our fellow human beings in a selfless manner. We are made to love and know God. This is why Narnia is popular. It's why we admire self-sacrificing heroes in books and films. It's why we grow disgusted at villains using power to step on others as they strive to rule the world.  It may be why my non-Christian friends and family celebrate Christmas. I'd thought it was a cultural tradition thing; now I'm not so sure.

Still, the loving self thing pops up in a couple of ways in our society. One has a bad reputation--the over consumption of goods, such as expensive cars, jewelry, and other luxury items. The one that is gaining in popularity (at least in my sphere) is the more new-agey idea that you are your own god or goddess. An atheist relative of mine posted on Facebook, "Be your own savior."

Of course we should love and respect ourselves. God created each of us as unique human beings. We have an inherent dignity as his children. But when self-centeredness gets in the way of loving God and others, there's a problem.

But back to the topic. What did we discuss at book club? Good and evil (because everybody understand that dichotomy), the similarities between Uncle Andrew and the witch and what makes them villains, the nature of the Cabby (aka King Frank), the children, the horse, and we also touched on Aslan. We discussed the similarities between the Wood Between the World and the attic tunnel (both being in-between places, not really places where things happen), and the similarities of Charn and how the characters feel about London. Both were described as hard, cold places.

So, I thank the Lord for the works of C.S. Lewis. Their popularity fills me with hope for our society.

Plaque on the Unicorn Inn

BTW IMDb says the film The Magician's Nephew is in production and might not be out until 2014.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like the post I wrote on self-sacrificing mothers in books and film.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

When Does Human Life Begin?

When does human life begin? The Catholic Church says it begins at conception/fertilization, the moment the sperm and egg join. Does science agree?

Embryo at 6 weeks gestation

A sperm and an ovum have only 23 chromosomes each. When they join, they combine their chromosomes to make 46. Ta-da! She's now a one cell embryo. She's a human with her own unique DNA. She's alive (not dead- ie. she develops and grows), and she's human, not a kitten or a camel, because she has human DNA.

She's called a zygote at this point in her embryonic stage and doesn't look like she will when she's older, but she's growing and developing. (She'll continue to do so up until sometime in her teen years, when she will reach her full height.)

But back to our zygote-- About 40 hours after she's formed, her one cell begins to divide. It will go on dividing and when she has 32 cells, she's in her morula stage (on day 4). The next day (day 5) she's already in her blastocyst stage. She now has specialized cells that will become her placenta, umbilical chord, and amniotic sack. Plus she has her stem cells, which will eventually grow into all of her tissues and organs. (In embryonic stem cell research, this is the stage she'd be destroyed to get at her stem cells.) If she lives, she'll reach the uterus by day 7 and she'll snuggle down into the lining (implant).

By day 22 her heart beats.

At 8 weeks she's called a fetus.
At 16 weeks her eyes blink.
At 20 weeks she can suck her thumb and yawn.
At 40 weeks, she's "term" and ready for birth. However, she can survive outside of the womb as early as 24 weeks.

Actually there have have been preemies who survived as as early as 21 weeks. Preemie survival rates vary depending on factors such as gestational age, health, and the medical care available. Because of that last item, medical care available, I think using viability outside of the womb to determine personhood (vs. abortion target) cruel and unfair to children outside of developed countries. A 22 week fetus in the U.S. has a better chance of surviving outside of the womb than one in a poor country, but both children are equal in their worth. Okay, that's my opinion, and I know I said I was just going to look at science. Sorry.

I found this fetal development slide show at where you can see pictures of babies in the embryonic and fetal stages developing in utero.

So, if you have another idea about when human life begins, other than at fertilization, please tell me about it. Explain your thinking. :) 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Feed the Poor, Not the Lazy

As Christians, are we required to support freeloaders?

I've been having a discussion with two friends about food stamps and the welfare system in the U.S. They say everybody who wants food stamps should get them, regardless of lifestyle. May they be on drugs, deal drugs, get four different women pregnant without supporting any of the kids, and refuse to even enter a job center, my friends believe they should get food stamps, because, well, it's food.

I don't wish to see anybody starve, but there is a difference between using the safety net of welfare and food stamps, and considering them a career choice.

Money is limited. Yes, food stamps are money. I think the money should go to people who need it, not merely want it: folks out of work but actively job hunting, single parents struggling to raise kids on a low income, the sick or injured, and those struggling to make ends meet because of a special needs child, to name a few.

Am I heartless? Am I going against Christian value by putting people in separate categories, the needy and the greedy? Are we commanded "to feed the lazy, for they don't wish to work"?

Let's read about how the early Christian communities dealt with it.

In Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians he addresses the issue of freeloaders.

...follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat [k]anyone’s bread [l]without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would [m]follow our example. 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all...

 (2Thes. 3 NASB) *emphasis added

Elsewhere in the Bible, we are commanded to care for the poor, widows, orphans, and sick people. But this letter clarifies the fact that we need not feed the lazy--that is, those choosing not to work. Paul sees a difference and so do I. What do you think?

Do you distinguish between helping these people--

And these people---