The Greatest Showman Points to Heaven
I was hesitant to see “The Greatest Showman” as were a lot of people. I don’t really know why. I have always had this negative subjective experience with the Circus. I remember enjoying it as a kid, but I think somewhere along the line when the show “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” came out in the 90’s I inherited this disdain for the odd and disfigured. I don’t mean to say that a woman with facial hair made me view the human person as less, but I questioned whether it was right to put it on display. I guess that is the point of Ripley’s. Believe it or not! It felt more of a hoax rather than something real I wanted to connect with.  Somehow I had passed this emotion on to the Circus in general. Freaks, oddities, and the unimaginable. So when I saw the trailer for the “Greatest Showman” this urge of not wanting to be duped came up. However, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the film despite my past experiences, bad critic reviews, and inaccurate portrayal of P.T. Barnum. 

This is a review on the film, not on Barnum’s life. There are many things that Barnum did that I do not agree with, and some statements he made that I see eye to eye with. The film is loosely based on his life, but portrays something of the spiritual that I want to point out. It is worth exploring as the entire film brings to life the biblical story of the Prodigal Son in an entertaining and beautiful way through musically intense joy.

Faith, Hope, and Love
The film displays faith, hope, and love through the eyes of Phineas Taylor Barnum, who was a poor son of a decorator. He grew up desperate to rise above his status, a fault that would lead him astray on the journey of the prodigal son, but also virtue that created in him an ethic of hard work and showmanship. 

The song “A Million Dreams” sets the scene for the faith he has in himself, the hope for a better future, and the deep love for his wife and children, his greatest success. This was not enough for him as he continued to find fulfillment elsewhere in the world. After being dismissed from his job he convinced a bank to loan him money to purchase a museum. He filled it with things that people had never seen before, fake things, but no one came. He ventured out into reality, looking for people who he could bring out of the dark and put on display for entertainment as visualized through the song “Come Alive”. 

This is when “The Greatest Show on Earth” was born. 

Barnum put so much of himself into his show; his passion for theatrics, love for the crowd, and his belief in the human person. The show became a sensation with attractions like the Irish Giant, the Bearded Lady, multi-racial acrobatics, exotic animals, and the small general Tom Thumb. From the perspective of the show, Barnum exaggerated the facts to keep the crowds coming in, but what he built was a home for people who were seen as outcasts. All of this he built on mere faith, hope, and love...and charisma. 

Prodigal Son 
The well-know prodigal son story is about a son who squander’s his entire inheritance after abandoning his family. Barnum does the same thing when he puts all of his money into a nationwide tour of European opera singer Jenny Lind. He leaves behind his “hoodwinked” circus to give the world something real, Lind’s melodious voice and charm. He abandons his wife, daughters, partner, and circus family after taking out an extensive loan to make Lind’s tour happen. This was the prodigal son separation; believing that there was more to life waiting for him out there in the world then what was actually in front him. Lind’s haunting pop ballad “Never Enough” is the perfect anthem for Barnum’s inner searching. 

Then it all comes crashing down. Lind leaves the tour due to Barnum’s refusal to sleep with her, orchestrating a public kiss that goes viral. His wife takes the kids and goes back to her father, someone who Barnum personally loathes because of his high social status. The entire circus is set on fire by protesters losing the museum and all of the animals. This is the lowest point Barnum. The prodigal son is sleeping in the pig stables realizing how much better he had it back home. The song “From Now On” replaces “Never Enough”, a new anthem in Barnum’s heart. It echos the prodigal son’s confession. 

The Prodigal Son’s Confession
How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.

Barnum’s Confession
A man learns who is there for him when the glitter fades and the walls won’t hold. Cause from that rubble what remains can only be what’s true. If all was lost there’s more I gained because it led me back to you. I drank champagne with king’s and queens and politicians praised my name, but those were someone else’s dreams, the pitfalls of the man I became. For years and years, I chased their cheers a crazy speed of always needing more, but when I stop and see you here I remember who all this was for. 

From now on, these eyes will not be blinded by the light. From now on, what’s waited till tomorrow starts tonight. Let this promise in me start, like an anthem in my heart...from now on. 
And we will come back home again! (Repeated until you want stand up yourself and join in)

Barnum doesn’t walk home, he runs now. Desperate to fix his mistakes he no longer hesitates in his failing self-confidence, but springs into the fountain of humility seeking forgiveness for his reckless behavior. He is welcomed back by his wife who reminds him that he doesn’t need to be loved by the world, but by a few good people. 

A Celebration of Humanity 
Some call heaven a wedding feast, but it’s also the greatest show. A show that is not put on for someone to watch, but to gather people from all of humanity to join in because that’s what joy is called to do. 

The music in this film seeks to promote joy. It is fast, intense, upbeat... it keeps moving. Life keeps moving. Life is fun, energetic, and engaging. It awakens the soul even when we are in our darkest moments. God calls us out of the dark and wants to put us on display as a reminder of who we are as human beings. We are beautiful. Made in His image and likeness, meaning our very bodies speak of who God is, no matter what distinctive qualities differentiate us.

At the end of the film, a critic tells Barnum that he never liked his show, but the people always did. He said that the accomplishment of putting people of difference on stage as though they were equals is what he would call a celebration of humanity, something that points to heaven. In the end, we will realize that we were never mere viewers, but each have our own part in the greatest show. 

"A human soul, ‘that God has created and Christ died for,’ is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab, or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal spirit". P.T. Barnum

Wonder Woman and the Church

Does the church leave out women in positions of authority?

In the early days of the Church, women could serve as deacons, taking great responsibility over liturgy and sacraments. While the Catholic Church has ruled out priestly ordination for women, it has not definitively spoken about the diaconate. I was reminded of this after watching Wonder Woman, which may seem odd at first, but allow me to preach a little.

Catholics refer to the Church as the bride and Jesus the bridegroom. The Church takes on a feminine identity even though it encompasses both genders. Jesus’ infamous line from Matthew’s Gospel speaks to the theme of Wonder Woman when he says, “From the time of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent are taking it by force” (MT 11:12). Jesus goes through his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension leaving behind his bride to wait for his return within this realm of violence. Therefore, there is an immensely unique strategy planned out by God in regards to the feminine role in subsiding the wars of men.

The StoryCap
There are these Wonder Women, known as the Amazons, who were created by Zeus to influence men’s hearts with love and restore peace to the earth. Zeus’ daughter is hidden among the Amazons after the fall of Ares, the God of War, to be trained by the best warriors in preparation for his inevitable return.

The Amazons live on a beautiful island called Themyscira, a paradise resembling the Garden of Eden, that is enchanted from being visible to the eyes of men inside of a physical bubble, just like Wakanda in Black Panther. The Amazon women train everyday equipping themselves with he skills they need to fight a God, but are too far from the modern world to know what has been going on in terms of modernity. The world is corrupted and war enters their domain by chance.

The Nazi’s chase an American pilot into this invisible Themyscira wreaking havoc on all the Amazons. When the great warrior Antiope (Robyn Wright) is slain it forces Diana Prince (Wonder Woman played by the stellar Gal Gadot) to step out of the garden and into the world of men. Led by Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pines) Diana enters the war to end all wars believing that Ares is behind it all.

The Protoevangelium
When the serpent brings death into the garden of Eden, it is a woman who is promised to deliver a savior. “I will bring enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers” (GEN 3:15). Catholics see that woman as the Virgin Mary, the Church. In Wonder Woman she is embodied by Diana Prince. Her name alone describes both the masculine and feminine role in salvation. She is a woman who is also a Prince. She is a bridge to a greater understanding for all mankind. Within her is the raw power, anger, and frustration of the world of men and also a breathtaking compassion for love.

Justice, Truth, and Love
The Church seeks out justice, truth, and love, the three things that define Wonder Woman. Justice is no longer seen as an eye for an eye, but as someone who gives their coat to one who asks for the shirt off your back. We see Diana display this kind of justice, a defying of the norms, when she goes to the front of the lines, providing hope to the fearful infantry stuck in the bunkers. The church fights, especially when called to nurse and shield the broken.

The church seeks truth! It doesn’t come as a surprise that one of Wonder Woman’s weapons is a lasso of truth. Women have a natural gift of bringing the truth out of men, which inspired the slogan “behind every great man is a great woman.” 

The Church is love. When Jesus poured out his blood on the cross for the sake of love, he was not the only one suffering. There in front of him was his mother, the embodiment of the Church, having her “heart pierced with a sword” in emotional trauma for the love of her spiritual offspring, humanity. In the film, Wonder Woman is given a choice to bring back peace the way it was before mankind’s destructive nature, but her love for them inspires her to fight Ares in an epic battle.

The symbol of self-sacrifice in the film is when Steve takes down a carrier plane with weapons on it to end the spread of violence brought by the war. Before he gets on the plane he hands Diana his watch, the gift of time. He knows his sacrifice will not end the war, but be a definitive turning point. He relies on his bride to continue fighting until the end revealing that only when love is sacrificed does it fulfill it’s identity.

We see this in Christ on the cross as he hands his mother over to John, a symbol that the Church has been gifted to humanity and open to everyone if they’ll have her. Christ’s sacrifice didn’t end violence in the world, but it was a definitive turning point in the battle for reintegration with God.
Wonder Woman says something about the male and female role in salvation. The man sacrifices his life, the female fights the battles in preparation for their union. The sacrifice paved the way, opened the door to the impossible, while the church fights against injustice and for the human experience.

I don’t think this was the film’s intention, connecting Wonder Woman to Mother Church, but it reminds me of these roles and how complementary men and women have been made, how one sided we make Church authority, and how amazing women really are in this battle.
The Church needs women, especially in places of authority. While absolute power corrupts absolutely, there needs a feminine balance that pushes men back into love and peace.
I, Tonya - A Life Destroyed by the Company you Keep
I grew up knowing the names of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, but never knew the full story of what actually happened. Like most, I believed that Tonya Harding bashed Nancy’s leg in with a bat and was able to still go to the Olympics. I never questioned anything because that’s how the media painted the picture for me as a child. I was very excited when I saw the trailer for I, Tonya because I knew it would finally shed some light on an old story locked in my memory. How many grew up thinking Tonya Harding was a vindictive skater? How much of her identity had been stained by negative press? Most importantly, how many truly knew that her story was one of class discrimination and domestic violence?
The film pieces Tonya’s story through the use of real interviews post-scandal. Whether the audience is convinced that Tonya didn’t know about the assault on Nancy is irrelevant. Her biggest fault was the company she kept close to her, namely her husband Jeff and his crony. Her real competition wasn’t her fellow skaters who she could out skate on a technical level, but against the stereotypes of uneducated white America. She wasn’t poor, but still battled the prejudice of social class.
You begin to root for Tonya early on in this film when you see her mother’s tyrannical parenting style. Her father literally drives out of her life leaving her begging on the street to go with him. Tonya sacrifices her education for training. While all of her other teammates could afford expensive uniforms, skates, and trainers, Tonya had to work harder to stay in the ice skating world. She was the first woman to ever attempt and pull of a triple-axle because she was technically superior. What Tonya lacked in her performances, something she could never understand, was grace. Grace comes from belief and love. Tonya believed in herself, but she had a difficult time loving herself.
She allowed her boyfriend and then husband Jeff Gillooly to physically abuse
her because that relationship filled the void of her missing father. She didn’t love herself and that translated onto the ice. There came a point though where the abuse took it’s toll and she separated from her husband. She started focusing on her talent, but suffered a setback when a judge told her that she needed a family to be able to get into the Olympics. He basically told her that America needed a representative who little girls could aspire to be rather than someone they see themselves in. This advice screwed with Tonya’s head and caused her to fall back into her abusive relationship.
This choice is the one that destroyed Tonya’s life. The choice to surround yourself with poisonous snakes is one where the risk is not just against you, but anyone who gets close to you. From this decision came the entire Nancy Kerrigan fiasco.
Who we surround ourselves with defines who we are, whether it’s true or not. It makes us a part of that crowd. The longer you hang around people the more you are associated with them. The more you talk like them, act like them, synchronize your sense of humor… you become defined by them. Tonya may not have actually known the truth about Nancy Kerrigan, but she surrounded herself around the people who set it up. She is a victim of a life destroyed by the company you keep.
The movie is raw, honest, and worth watching for Margot Robbie and Allison Janney’s performances. This is The People Vs. O.J. Simpson on ice skates.
mother! Film Review - Satan’s try at Creation

Screenshot of mother! (2017)
I love the idea of this movie. It is spiritually thought-provoking, maybe the best I’ve seen since Gravity. It is deliciously confusing most of the time making you question if the story unfolding could ever be plausible. You are taken beyond the surface narrative and challenged to see the religious symbolism in every detail. A Christian fundamentalist might go berserk over the film’s attempt at this story because it is violent, grotesque, risqué, and most importantly an interpretation. Kind of like the book of Genesis. The way that Aronofsky brings the biblical themes to life using only a house as Mother Nature is genius.
(Spoiler Alert)
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play an unnamed married couple. Bardem is an artists trying to write his next masterpiece and Lawrence is his muse. She single handedly rebuilt their home after it was burned down in a fire, a scene that opens the movie. We don’t know until the last 20 minutes, but Lawrence’s character is Mother Nature and Bardem’s character is supposed to be God. His sacred writing room is the Garden of Eden and an octagonal crystal displayed in the heart of the room is a symbol for the tree of life. Religious imagery builds from there with the first half of the movie focused on creation, Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, and possibly Song of Songs. The second half consists of a biblical flood, the birth and death of Christ, and Eucharistic communion. There are many interpretations out there as to what this all means and it surely carries some weight when you compare Lawrence to an abused Mother Earth. I would like to offer one more rendition.
There is something unsettling about Bardem. While certain things portray him as God-like, such as, his love for creation, I didn’t think he was like God. He was more interested in himself than anything else. A god that is self-absorbed goes against the very nature of who the Christian God is, namely Love. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son…”, yet Bardem didn’t show this self-sacrificial side. Rather he was concerned about his role in creation. The Christian God is an eternal exchange of love who expands himself because of that identity. As St. Paul says, “Love is not proud. It is not self-seeking…” Bardem’s God allowed others to step all over his wife; her needs, desires, emotions…
During the night a man shows up at their door seeking refuge and Bardem lets him in dismissing his wife’s fear. Several scenes later he allows the man’s wife inside and eventually their children who get into a domestic dispute where one son kills the other in front of Lawrence.
The film concludes with a disturbing sequence, Bardem and Lawrence’s new born baby is eaten by a fanatical cult and Lawrence is beaten to a bloody pulp for trying to stop them. Bardem holds his wife in his arms and sides with the cult saying, “We have to forgive them.” When I saw this, I knew that this was not God at all. So on the defensive, Lawrence sets the entire house on fire killing everyone, except Bardem. She offers one last gift which is her pure heart, an octagonal stone (the tree of life) and the movie starts from where it began, a raging fire that slowly dissipates returning to a pristine house once again. This time a new woman is there to take on her role as Mother Nature.
The very reason why there is something rather than nothing is because love broke through, expanded from that which was invisible to become visible. We are participating in God’s bountiful love because God does not need us: people, nature, or the cosmos. Therefore, a God who is self-interested would not make sense to the existence of the world. God shares in his love, for the definition of love is to will the good of the other as other. Yet, this version of God presented in Aronofsky’s film seems deeply interested in getting the story right, his story in particular.
That’s when it hit me. This is not God, this is Satan, who is famed as the “fallen angel”. The one who fought Michael in a battle over the very idea of servitude. The belief is that in the beginning God wanted to share his love with the world, yet Satan did not want to be a servant. He wanted to be like God, a creator. So the battle ensued and Satan was cast down.
Cast down to where? This is where mother! takes place. Satan, fascinated with creation, is doomed to live out his days away from God. My theory is that God in his infinite mercy gives Satan the ability to act as creator in his own environment. There he tries to be like God. He follows the footprints creating Mother Nature, Adam & Eve, Noah and the Flood, leading up to his own version of Christ. Yet, Satan who will forever be tangled in his own pride cannot give up his vanity. By focusing on himself, he brings his “creation” to the point of a raging fire in a perpetual cycle, doomed to failure due to his inability to understand the eternal exchange of love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I recommend watching this movie simply for the questions you get to ask yourself afterwards. It is a very good way to think about creation and our role in this universe. Just be prepared to be uncomfortable, disgusted, and angry.

The images of death and tragedy from 2016 alone are enough to haunt us for a lifetime. The two engraved in my memory the most are the body of the Syrian boy on the beach and the child rescued from the bombing in Aleppo.

Where was God in these moments of suffering? Why was He silent?

These are the same questions posed in Martin Scorsese's newest film "Silence". The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Japanese author Shusako Endo. Endo wrote his stories from the rare perspective of a Japanese Catholic. When you watch the film you understand the reason Catholicism is considered rare in Japan. 

Plot in a nutshell - SPOILER ALERT

The story follows two Jesuit priests who have to enter Japan after finding out their mentor, Fr. Ferreira, was captured, forced to apostocize, and had become a Buddhist philosopher. Upon entering into the country, the two Jesuits, Fr. Rodrigues and Fr. Garupe, discover a Christian community that had been living in secret from the Japanese government. Since Christianity was outlawed, anyone discovered practicing the religion had to apostocize meaning to abandon the faith and step on an icon of Jesus. We discover that this community was similar to the early Christian communities when it was outlawed by the Romans. The priests helped this Japanese community say mass in the catacombs, heard secret confessions, and even held Eucharistic adoration.

Once the government discovers this secret community of Christians they capture and martyr the ones who refuse to apostocize. Christianity, as the emperor points out, becomes a cut root in Japan. Fr. Rodrigues, in an unexpected turn of events, leaves the Catholic faith in order to save the other Christians from being tortured. 

Too Catholic

Coming off 2016's Best Picture winner, Spotlight, about the rape epidemic in Boston by Catholic priests, Silence seemed too Catholic to share the spotlight, no pun intended, with the other contenders. This is a film which portrays Catholics in a positive light, trying to spread Truth through humility, peace, and unity. It is a film which showcases the deepest human struggle with belief in God through immense suffering. It reveals the lowly converts who stand by their faith even unto death and the disciplined Jesuits who abandon their convictions under strategic persecution. While Spotlight uncovered the conspiracy of clergymen and lay persons who allowed the evil of sexual abuse to run rampant in Boston, "silence" explains why evil happens. It is the explanation of how evil can be rooted everywhere, especially within the Church. 

To believe in a Christian God is to believe in free will. A God who does not impede human freedom even if it's evil. Gods voice is no longer one of the Old Testament, but vocalized through humanity. Humanity has become smart enough to know the difference and preach the difference. We have passed as humans the age of reason. We now are Gods voice in the promotion of good and rejection of evil. That's why when humanitarian efforts are taking place we should find out how to support no matter where we are from. 

God suffers with us. That's His plan, to walk with us, not strike evil dead, as demonstrated by Jesus' "walk" to Calvary. God is silent, even when Jesus prayed to him in the garden of Gethsemane and while feeling the pain of Crucifixion, but we can only hear him within that silence. That's why prayer and reflection are so important. 

This movie shows real Catholicism with real human struggle. Torture, death, and sacraments. Humans must fight against evil and promote good or do we remain silent in the face of adversity?

Bishop Baron

This is a great conclusion to this post from Bishop Barron in regards to preaching the Gospel in face of obstacles, hence the entire mission of the Jesuits in Japan.

The resurrection is the clearest indication of the Lordship of Jesus. This is why the message of the resurrection is attacked, belittled, or explained away. The author of Acts speaks of “violent abuse” hurled at Paul. I have a small taste of this on my YouTube forums. We all should expect it, especially when our proclamation is bold.


This reveals a great mystery: we are called to announce the good news to everyone, but not everyone will listen. Once we’ve done our work, we should move on and not obsess about those who won’t listen. Why do some respond and some don’t? We don’t know, but that’s ultimately up to God

Dear Evan Hansen, Here are 13 Reasons Why...
*Spoiler Alert
Image result for dear evan hansen
Ben Platt as Evan Hansen, photo by Matthew Murphy
Like many, I instantly fell in love with the new musical "Dear Evan Hansen". I passively listened to the music for about a month just enjoying the melody, guitar riffs, and lyrics. I started to piece the story together, but I didn't really pay attention to the theme until I binged on the show "13 Reasons Why" on Netflix, a show that hit me hard as a father, as a male, and as an overall human being. I jumped back into the music of Evan Hansen and the pain took root. 

Both Evan Hansen and 13 Reasons tackle teenage suicide, a theme that is not new, but has struck a chord in me as of late. Suicide is lonely, a personified version of Zeno's paradox (the belief that two objects never really touch). The choice of suicide as presented in both of these shows is a result of invisible person-hood. Connor Murphy (Dear Evan Hansen) and Hannah Baker (13 Reasons Why) feel invisible for different reasons. While Hannah leaves behind tapes expressing "13 reasons" why she took her life, it was ultimately due to her traumatizing rape that isolated her identity. And with mystery surrounding Connor's death, we can infer from Evan's own failed suicide attempt that Connor isolated himself because he felt misunderstood and thought would be able to "disappear" without anyone truly noticing. 

My soul weeps for these characters because they resonate with so many real people. The popularity for Evan Hansen is not just due to the catchy beats or well rounded acting, but to the fact that people really do feel invisible. In a world of 8 billion? How can that be? 

The question that these shows ask is; "Do we matter?" With so many people in the world, it's easy to feel that your own uniqueness is drowned out. We look to imitate not the people with the best qualities, morals, or courage, but the ones who are most popular simply because they are not invisible to anyone. They are seen! Yet, even the most celebrated may still fall into this isolation (I.e. Robin Williams, Michael Jackson, Richard Simmons).  

Underneath the invisibility cloak that the world throws on us, our inner selves still define our existence, expressing our identity through "spiritualized matter". We cannot see that which is invisible unless through that which is visible, namely our own bodies. Hanna's suicide is presented as a release of invisible pain, something that she quietly (almost peacefully even) drifts away from. It showcases life as a prison sentence and the body as the incarceration of the mind, but never discusses the spiritual. Even Evan Hansen avoids the the spiritual element of the human person. That's where my pain sat for several weeks. I understand that religion has become tainted for so many, but you don't have to be religious to know that there is something hidden deep inside of you that cannot really be explained. There is an energy source that, rather than isolating us, intimately connects us. Call it your soul, spirit, God, or authentic self, but something is there that sets us apart. 

"Dear Evan Hansen's" solution to suicide: a stable support network. Evan starts a campaign for Connor to remind people that "no one deserves to disappear", playing on invisible person-hood. The campaign goes viral and inspires thousands. "13 Reasons Why's" solution to suicide: standing up against the culture of rape. The transformative hero of the show, Clay, literally stands up to Hannah's rapist and secures a confession from him after taking a brutal beating. 

There comes a responsibility when watching these shows, to not allow suicide to appear glamorous (as in the show Heathers). 13 Reasons portrays suicide as a way to get revenge on your enemies and Evan Hansen showcases it as a way to capitalize on one's own anxiety. We must remember that even if we feel invisible, we are not. We should draw out the invisible spirit of our uniquely unrepeatable selves. It is through our physicality that our invisible identity is seen. The best parts of us are hidden, only to be revealed through our physical choices, voices, actions, expressions, ideas, etc. 

Suicide is lonely. You are not alone. You are loved, whether you feel it or not. Open up your invisible wounds to several people you trust, not just one person, that way you don't put the weight of your existence on the response of someone who may not understand how you feel. Build a support network and remind yourself that you matter. No one deserves to disappear. Life is a tragically beautiful play and you have your role in it. Ask what it is. You may not fulfill that role for many years from now, but you can never bask in the spotlight of your destiny if you skip rehearsal.  

Scientology and the Real Negan

The "Thud" Heard 'Round the World
BY SmrtPhonRtistCF
The Walking Dead premiered it's 7th Season with the most disturbing image ever aired on television. Our hearts were crushed when our favorite character got his head bashed in with a baseball bat by the villain we had awaited seasons for. We don’t know much about Negan’s back story, but we can piece some things together. He is charming, charismatic, good looking, funny… and scary as hell. 

Negan is a monster to say it lightly. We would hope that only someone as frightening as him would be tucked away in this fictitious world. However, if the Zombie Apocalypse ever did break out, there might be a real life Negan out there waiting to bring fiction to reality. And Leah Remini seems to have exposed him or rather we may have discovered Negan’s perfect backstory, the leader of a religious dictatorship. 

In her new show, "Scientology and the Aftermath", Remini interviews former parishioners of the Church of Scientology who have broken free from the confines of it's brainwashing livelihood. Through flashes of bravery, these individuals have begun to tell the real stories of what it's like to be a part of the science fiction-based belief system only to reveal that Scientology is not so much a religion as it is a cult.

The leader of this cult is shown to be Dave Miscavige, who calls himself the Pope of Scientology. As the episodes progress, more and more stories are revealed about Miscavige's violent behavior or his “Neganistic” personality.

I'm not making the claim that Miscavige is a vicious murderer like Negan as I don't have any information on him other than what is presented in the show. I would simply like to make an artistic comparison of two characters, one real and one made up, to showcase the stark similarities that bring about intrigue when it comes to use, authority, and power.

“This personalist norm, in its negative aspect, states that the person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as the means to an end. In its positive form the personalist norm says that the person is a good toward which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.” - Karol Wojtyla

Wojtyla echoes the philosophical words of Rene Descartes and adds the resolution of love in this ideology which has come to be known as the "Personalistic Norm". It is Wojtyla's message that the normal way of treating another human being is a deep refusal to ever desire to use them. Rather, each human life, whether saint or sinner, is deserving of love and should be treated that way.

Both Negan and Miscavige are users. They use people for selfish and malicious reasons. Negan will use people he finds in this new world as slaves to "collect" items for him. He uses women, men, and even “walkers” to do his bidding. Love does not exist in his world, only fear. Miscavige is the same. He uses members of “the Church” as a permanent source of income, forcing each parishioner to pay for "self-help" courses to move up a false ladder of spiritual enlightenment. The average parishioner of Scientology spends a quarter of a million dollars, the average cost of raising a child, on these courses which take up all of their time, studying twelve hours a day. Much like Negan's "parishioners" who spend all their time scavenging for him. Negan and Miscavige use fear to control their Church. Miscavige forces members to “disconnect” from their family and create dependency on the Church... even when these members are as young as age twelve, in some cases. Their ideology is not revolved around love, but rather improving oneself without the results. It is a true Utilitarianism. 

Authority is a powerful tool towards motivating human beings. Human life is fragile and it yearns for authority and order. Watch Tony Robbins’ film “Im Not Your Guru” and you will see how easy human beings give in to someone who acts as an authority figure over their life. We have to be careful who we give authority of our lives to, else we lose our identity. It is a huge responsibility for those who have authority over someone, namely a president, a boss, or religious leaders of a church. One must echo Wojtyla’s “Personalistic Norm” again and refuse the urge to use a person who has given you that authority. 

Negan is not like this. He takes authority through force. If you do not follow his rules then you suffer greatly. Sometimes the suffering inflicted on the victim is through torture or through the death of their friends and family. He knows the surest way of keeping his authority over his people is to threaten the ones they love most (Hence, the opening death in Season 7). Look at the character of Dwight this season. He does Negan’s bidding because Negan has taken authority of his wife. Any misstep on Dwight’s part would cause Negan to rape or murder her, thus keeping him "loyal" to the cause.

Miscavige abuses his authority as well. Like Negan, he threatens the lives of loved ones to try and keep people in line. When someone questions the Church or leaves the Church he convinces the other members of their family who are still active to “disconnect” from them. In her series, Remini has showed us at least a dozen examplesof families being forced to disconnect. The emotional turmoil that ensues because of this is too much to bear. Some families try to become active in the Church again just so they can see their children or parents. Children have written heartbreaking rejection letters to their parents who have broken away from the Church. Miscavige knows how to control the masses of his Cult, by cutting their ties to the most fundamental human grounding: family life.  

When Negan takes Daryl hostage and brings him back to Alexandria, he prevents Rick from even looking at Daryl. He breaks the familial bond and won't allow Rick to ask questions. Rick becomes afraid to question his new lifestyle. A person who questions will always be a threat in the eyes of the user. As Remini points out, Scientology does not allow for questions. You are deemed an enemy of the Church if you start to question it’s motives, teachings, and beliefs. The veil of authority that Scientology holds over it’s parishioners begins to shed once questions begin festering in the hearts of the parishioners. That’s why Leah Remini broke away. She asked one simple question that was deemed “none of her business” and she knew. She had to reclaim her power of self. 

Power and Authority go hand in hand, but Power, which is forced upon someone, can be taken away whereas Authority is freely given. Negan is powerful because he is charming, charismatic, and humorous in his own way. He develops the guidelines by which his group must abide, therefore earning authority over his group. Miscavige, too, is charming and motivating. He is a self-esteem builder. He has been credited with building up and inspiring two of Hollywood's most reputable actors, Tom Cruise and John Travolta. He has the power to make new laws, create "new-found" courses, and ideologies within the Church that no one can question. 

What both of these characters choose to do with their power is to influence the masses by convincing them that their work has a deeper purpose and meaning. When Negan shows Carl his home base, he walks up to the rafter’s and looks down below at his followers. All of them slowly begin to kneel. Negan looks at Carl and says, “See, that’s power.” By naming his community "The Saviors", Negan  gets his  people to murder, steal, and bully other groups by telling them that the Saviors keep the world safe from the dead and the living, but as long as the other surviving humans play by his rules. The Saviors believe this because of Negan’s complete sense of confidence. His conviction that his evil choices are for a greater good makes others forget the hell that they are actually living in with the dead roaming the earth. The Saviors believe that the acts they are doing are nothing more than protection from the evil around them. So, when Negan asks them to use brainwashing torture techniques by confining Daryl to a cell, playing the same song every time he is fed, and giving him false hope in order to break his spirit, the Saviors go for it. Negan won’t stop until he clears, a term used in the show meaning to rid the world of walkers, and have everyone working for him. 

Miscavige uses the Sea Org, a naval based group started by L. Ron Hubbard, to act much like the Saviors. He convinces them that they are helping the planet. He puts on annual conferences with false statistics about how many people have been saved from poverty and drug addictions through their efforts. He has them confine members to cells if they feel someone is questioning the Church. He puts them through rigorous mental anguish for months in order to break their spirit through what they call the “auditing” process and even makes them pay for it. He has assaulted many of his leading staff, including Mike Rinder, by choking him with his tie and then convinced Mike to state that Miscavige did not assault him to reporter John Sweeney from BBC. As Remini puts it, “Scientology has you believe that not only are you fixing yourself, but you are helping mankind.” Miscavige won’t stop until he clears, a term used in Scientology meaning to rid the world of evil, and have all worshipping him. So much of this reeks of Negan.

As much as we would like to turn an eye to this documentary series, we have a human obligation to expose this and stir up conversations. Negan loses his power when everyone begins to think for themselves, question their own purpose, and face the rouse of fear. I believe now is the time to do the same for Scientology. Let’s support Leah Remini and stand behind her in solidarity shouting the words of Wojtyla that “No person can be used as an object and the only adequate response is love.” 

Oscar Showdown: Moonlight Vs. La La Land

Moonlight is a film. La La Land is a movie. 

I watched Moonlight and La La Land back to back right after the Golden Globes. The hype for Moonlight has been enormous. I have been hearing about it for months, especially from my wife who had a former schoolmate co-produce it. I haven't heard anything about La La Land and never even seen a trailer. I originally thought it was a film about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers because I saw a clip of tap dancing. So I dove blindly into both of these films believing that one of them would end up as Best Picture this year at the Oscars. Sure enough one of them will definitely win even with the pressure of Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and Scorsese’s Silence (both with Andrew Garfield as lead amazingly). I feel the political pull for the Academy to give it to Moonlight however, since last year's all-white nomination scandal. While Moonlight is definitely a must see, I don’t think it really beats out La La Land

Here's why La La Land should win and why the Best Picture should not be based on righting last year's wrong, but just on overall production value.

Moonlight is a film about lost identity and homosexuality. It's about the masks one is forced to wear to hide from their personhood. The underlying theme is the same as in The Imitation Game, a 2015 contender for Best Picture. In that film, Alan Turing uses his amazing mind to hide behind from his homosexual identity. In Moonlight, Chiron (or later called “Black”) uses his brute strength to make him “hard” and hide his true self. Both of the films showcase prejudice against gays from their social scene, but Moonlight shows us a different world. Chiron is Black where Turing is White. We haven’t seen a film explore the violence against homosexuals within the African-American community, but also showcase the compassion towards gays from those we would least expect.

Three identities emerge in the film separated by chapters. Little is the shy boy who opens the movie. Without saying more than a few words, we understand his internal struggle when it collides with his external circumstances. He is bullied by kids at school for being gay, something he doesn't understand within himself yet. His mother is a crack addict and his father figure is the drug dealer who feeds her addiction. Chiron is the pubescent teenager who has his first sexual encounter with his male best friend. His social awkwardness is cause for violence as other classmates force his best friend, Kevin, to physically abuse him in front of the school. Black is the buff drug dealer with the kindest eyes you’ve ever seen. He is only looking for his purpose and meaning in life. With three versions of himself, Chiron remains confused until the end when he finds solace from his childhood friend, Kevin. 

Moonlight is worth seeing and would probably take home best picture if La La Land was not a contender this year. The problem is the film’s pacing. We are taken on these three journey’s that eventually lead to an unsatisfied anticlimactic conclusion. It would have been more interesting to see it as three short films and have to piece the clues together of who this person is. The identity crises would have been more prevalent. The great thing about this film though is that we hear a voice that has never been heard, but unfortunately that voice is drowned out this year by the dying sound of jazz. 

La La Land
The plot in La La Land is not as deep and dark as Moonlight. It’s not meant to be. Its purpose is not to flood the audience with tears or create a cult classic. La La Land serves to remind us of how entertaining the movie experience can be. It brings us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, but in the 21st Century.  

The film follows two lovers who cross paths on several chance encounters. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a passionate jazz pianist and Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress who dreams of one day being one of those celebrities who regularly walk into her coffee shop on an L.A. studio lot. Together they find inspiration in each other while singing and dancing their way into he audience’s hearts. They’re dreams however cannot be sustained while they’re together and it becomes apparent that in order to fulfill their callings it would have to be done a part from one another.   

The genius of this film is not found in the romantic story, but in the belly of it’s theme: movies can still inspire. Throughout the film Sebastian refers to his sadness of the eventual loss of jazz music. He claims that jazz is dying and there is nothing that can be done because the newer generation won’t even listen to jazz. As I was watching it I suddenly had a revelation. Like Jazz, movies are slowly dying. More actors are crossing over to television. Shows are more talked about nowadays. With the ability to binge watch comes the opportunity for writers to create characters that evolve in real time. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are great examples of how character development has changed. Every season you root for someone you once hated or hate someone you once loved. Your are bound to their deep humanity as they reveal their good and bad habits.  Shows are creating the most memorable characters of our generation, when it used to be movies that did that. 

La La Land’s soul intention seems to be to remind us of how we can have fun at the movies once again. With it’s upbeat original songs, it’s captivating dance numbers, and lovable cast, entertaining movies can beat out serious films. In a year where movie theaters have become stained with the mark of isolated mass shooters and online streaming is the safer and more preferred choice of experiencing the visual story, La La Land so effortlessly sings to us that our escape haven is still intact. We can still go to our own La La Land when reality breaks us in. We can still dance in the heavens when the weight of our lives pushes us to the ground. We can still achieve our dreams when the world’s eye rolls at our passionate attempts. La La Land has not reinvented the way we watch movies, but has reminded us of the way we used to. Hence, we wouldn’t be able to see a film like Moonlight without having the ability to escape into the uplifting world that is La La Land

What Batman and Superman need to learn about Civil War

Marvel and DC released the same film last summer. Sure, they had different characters, a different tone, and a different title, but they had the same theme: Civil War, one superhero against the other, Batman against Superman and Captain America against Iron Man. Yet, only one of these plots actually worked, can you guess which one? 

That's right! Marvel prevails over DC again, but did we ever doubt that? Marvel has spent so much time methodically writing their storylines to tie in multiple heroes and villains into one universe. They committed to this over a long 10 year period. DC took a shortcut, trying to cram in emotional relevance towards a new Batman whose storyline diverges from the Dark Knight trilogy completely. 

While I enjoyed parts of Batman Vs. Superman, it felt like a whole franchise stuffed into one film.   The most interesting character of the film, Wonder Woman, only appeared in the last thirty minutes. Batman’s new obsession with guns, the weird FLASH forward scene warning Bruce Wayne about somebody that doesn’t even tie into this storyline, and the introduction of a poor CGI version of Doomsday were all things the film could have done without. This movie was supposed to be focused on Batman versus Superman, but derailed into a sappy dual “Momma Martha” brotherly bonding film. 

Captain America lived up to the expectation and masterfully introduced new characters without overshadowing the veterans in screen time. It gave us what was promised, a true Civil War of heroes wh
ere you had one foot on either side of the battles. Since you understood the characters and their developmental process over the course of 10 films, you could reasonably see each of their points of view. 

Civil War
What I like about both of these films was that they addressed the big elephant in the room, the massive deaths of civilians. When I first saw Man of Steel, I was flabbergasted with how many innocent victims were killed in the process of this alien war. It seemed as if that was never going to be discussed, but luckily it was the main topic of Batman Vs. Superman. The same goes for The Avengers: Age of Ultron. So many victims, innocent bystanders were murdered for our enjoyment. It got to the point where with these films you forget people are people. So this is the main focal point of Captain America: Civil War. Superheroes need to be controlled or else they become a threat to humanity rather than an ally. Tony Stark and Superman agree with this, but Captain America and Batman do not. This is where the war begins. 

What DC can learn from Marvel

1) Don't push a civil war on us with new characters. This was a new Batman. Christopher Nolan's Batman never would have played with guns. The introduction of Wonder Woman is great, but don't get her involved in a Civil War storyline yet. We barely know her and want to like her. Yes, Marvel introduced Black Panther, but gave us a badass motorcycle chase before we got to the Civil War battle to make us like him, which we did from the moment he came onscreen. 

2) Don't have the war end by the characters mother having the same name. Okay I get it, their mothers have the same name. How does that make them relatable? They disagree on something much deeper than their mother's. If you want to make a strong connection between them then either make them have the same mother or focus the connection on loss of parents. Simply hearing the common name of Martha should not make Batman question his existence and stop beating up Superman. Captain America played out this brotherly connection well where we discover that the Winter Soldier murdered Tony Stark's parents and the Captain knew about it. That's a way to start a war, but still ends on respectable terms with a beautiful letter written to Tony from the Cap.

3) Pick your war audience.  If you are a rated R movie then live up to it! Batman was a rated R film shredded of its character to make it PG-13. Apparently, Suicide Squad had the same problem. Pick your audience DC. You are not Marvel, so if you want to make a darker series for adults then do it. Don't limit your ideas just because you want tweens in the theaters. As a tween I still made my way into the theater to see Scream when it first came out. They always find a way! 

At the end of the day, DC is light years away from doing what Marvel has done. At least they are trying, but my word of advice is to try harder!

Moana: Family, Nature, and Trump
©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Disney has made some bold statements in 2016 in terms of prejudice (Zootopia), disabilities (Finding Dory), and the destruction of Nature (Moana).

As Moana takes the hero’s journey, the story unfolding around her is much deeper than saving the day. The security of the entire ecosystem falls on her shoulders. A thousand years after the demigod, Maui, steals the heart of the Goddess Te Fiti, the world begins to decay. The fish disappear, the plants die, coconuts rot, and islands are blackened.

Moana is the chosen one called to bring balance to the earth and return the heart to the Goddess of Nature.

This is a beautiful story with a powerful theme. Yet, it's another film about the human destruction of nature. Moana portrays boldly and beautifully what M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening” (or what I’ve renamed as “The Crappening”) could not. It makes the case that, when in danger, Nature has the freedom and the creative right to fight back; however, not in an angry or irrational way, but simply in a naturalistic way like an animal defending its life.

The main theme in the movie is missed though, at least from all the reviews I have been reading. In the beginning of the film Maui goes to reclaim the heart of Te Fiti because he wants to bring to mankind the ability to create anything, a power that is not deserved of man. For this kind of creation would mean that man would be able to control the earth, when the earth is not an object to be used. The earth is living, breathing, and life giving. The Earth calls to a deep relationship with man where there is altruistic reciprocity rather than dominance.  A healthy relationship does not work out that way or at least don't work out well. We can't have the power to dominate nature, rather we must work with nature in a partnership. For both man and nature are working for the same thing, the same being… the same creator. God called Adam to till and guard the garden. He probably never thought he would have to defend it against his own humanity.

To abuse nature is like allowing your child to draw on a Dali painting, using it for scrap paper rather than allowing it's natural beauty to be absorbed by all for generations.

Maui doesn't understand this because he has been blinded by the effects of his own human history, so he takes the heart and causes Te Fiti to transform into a vicious monster. She does so, not because she wants to, but because nature robbed of it's naturalistic creation is the very description of chaos, a void blackened landfill that the Greeks spoke about. The most trifling thing is not that Maui actually stole the heart of Nature, but rather why he stole it.

Maui was a human once and was abandoned by his family. An orphan who was alone in search of belonging was found by the Gods and raised as one of them, given power as a demigod. With his unquenchable desire to please humanity due to its own rejection, he stole the heart as a gift. He did it to simply feel loved.

How simplistic his reasoning, yet how devastating the consequences. When it comes to the most fundamental aspects of creation, human life and nature, we have become so willing to rob them of their life-giving attributes for personal gain, glory, or simple applause. The irony in Maui’s plot is that he believed that humanity did not have the power to create to begin with when in reality humanity was blessed with the greatest gift, the power to create and cultivate human life in peaceful coherence with nature.

Which brings me to the Trump Administration. While there is a plethora of topics for Trump to tackle, Moana brings up two that are so intrinsically connected, to separate them would be a travesty: family and climate change. They go hand in hand. For the destruction of the family is destruction of nature itself. As John Paul II said, “The family is the nucleus of society.” If we want a better nation than we have to develop our families, from those in our impoverished cities without clean drinking water or school materials to our middle class and even the 1%. If we want a strong national change on our climate crisis, then we need a leader who is going to help us put back the heart we humans have stolen.

We have not seen this sense of leadership from Trump so far. No passionate father of a daughter speaks about women with a gravitas of indecency the way he does. So I’m afraid the role model of our country's family-life is in jeopardy. And we know that he believes that climate change is a hoax developed by the Chinese despite the fact that 2016 has been the hottest year on earth in recorded history followed by 2015 and 2014. So we find ourselves at risk to these cataclysmic effects on the nature of our humanity. But just as Moana proved to be the one who could put back the heart without the help of the demigod, so too can our nation take the hero’s journey for our families and our environment.

I think we all pray that Moana speaks to Trump’s heart when she sings at the end “This is not who you are” shattering his Twitter-obsessed facade and revealing a man who places the care of 350 million people above his 350 million dollar ego.
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