Thursday, March 29, 2007

What's Up?

So in answer to the questions I get from people who I had no idea read my blog, and also in answer to my friends who are curious:

It turns out I need another part-year of pre-MA studies. It's extremely disappointing and discouraging, but there's nothing I can do about it.

I'm trying to look on the bright side, so here it is:
* This means another year in Winnipeg. We are so involved at St. Margaret's, and so happy with our involvement, that I'm in no hurry to leave the city.
* I don't need to be full time next year, so I might take advantage of this opportunity to take a few courses that always looked interesting but that I didn't have time for. Like etymology, and Chaucer.
* After a year at U of M I don't know very many profs, and those I do know I don't know all that well. One more year gives me more chance to make an informed decision about a faculty advisor.

In other news, Jan and I are hosting a Seder Supper in our home on Friday. If I have any Jewish readers they will no doubt wish to point out that Passover isn't until Tuesday. I know. But try inviting people to a dinner starting at 8pm on Tuesday night that includes four glasses of wine. So we're having it on Friday, demonstrating again that Christians may talk the talk of ritual, but when the rubber meets the road we don't walk the walk.

Okay seriously, it is one of the tenents of Christianity that mercy triumphs over judgement and grace superceeds the law. That means that while we follow the law, we aren't bound to it.

It is a big feast, with as many people (or slightly more) as our apartment can hold. I wish we could have invited more people, but we really are pushing it already. We haven't heard back from everybody yet, but if every invited person comes, it will make 13--the same number as Jesus' last supper.

But I hope ours goes better for us than his did for him.

A sedar supper, for those who don't know, is the ritual meal of passover. It is the meal Jesus was eating in the upper room with his disciples. It is both a feast and a service, and every part of the meal has ritual significance. We've been running ourselves like mad trying to get everything ready--buying groceries (including Kosher Wine), cleaning the house, checking with our invided guests. Now it's Thursday and all Jan and I need to do is finish cleaning, buy some more wine, buy ground almonds (no flour is used during passover), buy more matzah bread, buy the lamb (bone out, but keep the bone), prepare all the food we can ahead of time, run through the liturgy together to make sure we know it, and to get a sense of the timing, figure out seating, find two white candles, clear our home of leaven, and we'll be good to go.

Unless I've forgotten something.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Problem of Pain in the DC Universe

I've been thinking lately about Superman and the Problem of Pain in the DC Universe.

Since Superman's inception he has gotten progressively more powerful. In his very first incarnation, Superman was able to lift a car over his head, run at great speeds, leap 1/8 of a mile, and had skin so tough it could not be pierced by anything short of an exploding artillery shell.

As time passed, he got stronger, tougher, faster, gained the ability to fly, x-ray vision, heat vision, super hearing, super breath, etc.

Superman's powers expanded as his enemies became more viscious, as his stories became more epic, and as writers got, frankly, a little carried away. But as Superman became more powerful, it forced the DC Universe to cope more and more with the theological problem of pain.

If Superman has super speed and super hearing, then how--within the fictional DC Universe of which Superman is the preeminant hero--can the ordinary citizens explain any suffering? How can Superman justify going on a date with Lois? How, within the DC Universe, does any crime or any natural disaster, or any accident ever hurt anyone? How does anyone die of any cause other than old age?

As Superman becomes more powerful, it becomes more and more difficult for the writers to avoid the problem of pain.

Apparently, writer Kurt Busiek has been thinking along the same lines. Busiek, who made a name for himself with Astro City, is quite simply one of the best writers of superhero stories out there today. He writes superheros as legends, uses their iconic status to tell fables that are often disarmingly moving. In the February issue of Superman he tells a simple story whose predictable ending, does not make it any less powerful. As Gabriel Mckee at sfgospel says "we can pretty much see where the story is headed from the beginning, but this foreknowledge simply fills it with the power of fable and parable. This story does everything that a Superman story should do, using the character's iconic status to tell a moving story about power and faith." An old woman in Metropolis becomes convinced that Superman is an angel, God's agent who comes when she prays. Superman's super hearing means that he can hear her prayers, and can respond. It's a story that needed to be told, and that deals surprisingly well with the theology of suffering. Again, I'll quote Gabriel Mckee: "If you buy only one Superman comic this year, make sure it's this one. "

Thanks to Elliot for pointing it out to me.

Friday, March 02, 2007

America is getting stupider

Remember when "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" debuted, and there was a general cry of dismay that the questions were too easy? No? Maybe that was just me.

Anyway, the newest of the stupid game shows spawned by the abhomination that is Deal or No Deal (I hate Howie Mandel) is Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

As one might expect from the title, the questions are (ostensibly) drawn from grade 1-5 textbooks in various subjects. And the contestants are apparently drawn from the bottom of a lake, where they have been held for just long enough to suffer perminant brain damage.

The biggest problem with it, really, is not even the relative easiness of the questions. The biggest problem is that in a half hour episode, the contestants answer about four questions. The rest of the time is filled with stalling, and transparently manipulative attempts to raise the level of tension.

Bah. Give me Jeopardy!