Monday, June 25, 2012

Groundhog Day (1993)

In August 2003, Stephen Sondheim responded to a question about his next project that he was interested in something like a theme and variations—possibly a musical adaptation of Groundhog Day; however, in a 2008 live chat said that "to make a musical of Groundhog Day would be to gild the lily. It cannot be improved"
"Roundabout Live Chat". Roundabout Theatre. May 6, 2009

Wise decision!
Groundhog Day is a 1993 American comedy film directed by Harold Ramis, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. It was written by Ramis and Danny Rubin, based on a story by Rubin.

Murray plays Phil Connors, an egocentric Pittsburgh TV weatherman who, during a hated assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, finds himself repeating the same day over and over again. After indulging in hedonism and numerous suicide attempts, he begins to re-examine his life and priorities.

In 2006, the film was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

Repeating the same day for ten years

Every morning the same boring day - Almost!
Weatherman Phil Connors wakes up every morning at six o'clock to the exact same tune from the radio to the exact same day, February 2 again and again! No matter what he does, its the same day all over again, even suicide does not help him out of the loop. During such repeats you have time to learn to know the town's people better and even to play the piano quite well

"Groundhog Day (Deutsch: Murmeltiertag) is a day celebrated on February 2. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early. If it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will continue for six more weeks." (wikipedia)

Good comedy is very serious

Good comedy - the writer and director of this film Harold Ramis obviously is a great comedian - has deep and serious roots and is therefore so hilarious and rewarding to the viewers who understand the reality behind the laughing. (Humour has been essential for the survival of the Jewish people throughout their difficult history.)

Harold Ramis (1944) has excelled in the writing and direction of Caddyschack 1980 - with a gopher! - and the unique Analyze This 1999 telling about a mafioso boss in a way no other movie has ever done.

Danny Rubin (1957) wrote the original story of Groundhog Day and larger public knows him mostly from this masterpiece.

Groundhog Day is very funny - not least because of Bill Murray's Buster Keaton type serious face as Phil, the natural charm of Andie MacDowell as Rita and the ever-so-genuine 25 cents man Chriss Elliot as Larry.

The movie is a comedy that really makes us all laugh but at the same time it also is a truly spiritual movie with a powerful message to humanity.

It is been told that Groundhog Day is popular among Buddhists.

Phil Connors' unusual life situation gives him - once he gets the point - the chance to improve his behaviour with people. This resembles the basic Buddhist idea of cyclic life where reincarnations give human soul chance to improve until it finally reaches Nirvana. A chance, though, that is not always taken by the individual not correctly illuminated.

Hindu laws of Karma reflect similar idea but the teaching has stronger emphasis on the life form in next life being a reward or punishment for the things done in this life. After all, who wants to be a dung fly in the coming life?

Some Catholic Christians have seen Groundhog Day movie as resembling the teaching of Purgatory, an afterlife place where there is still chance to fix what has gone wrong.

Police officer Sam Tyler in the TV series Life in Mars?faces a situation that also has an air of Purgatory trying to change things in past life after his fatal car accident.

Anything resembling the purifying terrible fire involved in the Catholic doctrine is, however, not present in these programs intended for the entire family.

Christianity and Groundhog Day movie
For Christians this lovely classic gives much to think and always relevant call for self-examination and repentance.

However, it is what in this movie is NOT real that is of such importance:

We do NOT get another chance for this day.

Oh if we could learn Phil's lesson and realize that every moment today is a challenge to our own attitudes and behaviour - we can make even a most boring repeating Groundhog day watching peace in Afghanistan special, or yet another repeating boring day.

Maybe that soldier standing there beside us has a story that nobody has asked him or her to tell? Maybe in this line for lunch I could do something different to make the hard working army chef happier about his job? Maybe I could today memorize those lyrics or that poem or Psalm instead of just letting my brain hum empty under that helmet protecting my head against that enemy bullet?

There is more!

In Groundhog Day Phil gets a change to fix his mistakes and reach better results next time in the same situation.

In Christian life we do not get such a fairytale change to fix what we did wrong - but we get forgiveness from God because of the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ. This has no purpose, and does not function in reality, if we also do not forget others the bad things they do to us today when they ask for it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bones of John the Baptist in Bulgaria?

The Sveti Ivan bones
Photo University of Oxford 15.6.2012
World media has in recent days told about the freshly published scientific results concerning a discovery of relics made in 2010. The facts do not prove but they do also not exclude the possibility that the bones and molar really belong to John the Baptist.

(IMHO they could also belong to apostle John who lived to old age in Ephesus)

The discovery was made in July 2010 in Bulgaria on an island near Sozopol. A marble sarcophagus was found in the ruins of a medieval monastery. In it were a fragment of a human skull, molar, knuckle bone and some other surviving small bone fragments and a small box. The name of the island, Sveti Ivan means Saint John.

Professor Tom Higham Oxford
With today's advanced techniques it is possible to date the minuscule amounts of carbon extracted from ancient bones for radioactive dating. The team studying the samples taken from the knuckle bone was led by Professor of Archaeological Sciences, Tom Higham in Oxford's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit.

C-14 datings have, of course, high plus minus staistical values, but the measurements suggested a date on the first century AD.

Dr Hannes Schroeder
is a specialist in Bioarchaeology
Copenhagen University gene researchers Hannes Schroeder ja Eske Willerslev reported, that the DNA samples from the bones from the sarcophagus all belong to a single person, who was male and of Near Eastern origins.

Can we trust on the information given by Copenhagen?

Personally, I have not nearly enough knowledge of this branch of science to evaluate such data. But the Danish experts look to me pretty convincing, and they really have no reason to falsify results. On the contrary, being involved with holy relics can invite some chuckles from learned colleagues. But I doubt that not many who understand this stuff smiles at what Hannes and Eske are saying.

Professor Eske Willerslev
Photo Mikal Schlosser wikimedia
Eske Willerslev is a Danish evolutionary biologist notable for his pioneering work on Ancient DNA. He is currently a full professor at Copenhagen University and leader of the Ancient DNA and Evolution Group. He has received the Genius Award (Geniusprisen) of Danish Science journalists for his combination of groundbreaking research with an aggressive media strategy. Before becoming a scientist he lived for several years as a trapper in Siberia with his twin brother, anthropologist Rane Willerslev.

His group is interested in understanding what caused the decreases in diversity of Megafauna after the last ice age and also tries to develop techniques to recover DNA mostly from ice preserved specimens, such as DNA from sediments in ice cores and fossil bones found in permafrost. In 2010, a team led by Prof. Willerslev sequenced the genome of a 4.000 year old man from the Saqqaq culture of Greenland from his hair.

George Kazan is a doctoral student in the University of Oxford specializing on the study of relics under the guidance of Professor Marlia Mango.

George Kazan (St. John’s College)
Thesis title: Cults and Relics at Constantinople: Their Origins and Development, A.D. 300–843
Supervisor: Dr. Marlia Mango
B.A. Lit Hum (University of Oxford); M.St., Classical Archeology (University of Oxford) 
Late Antique and Byzantine graduate students Oxford

Kazan told Reuters, that the small box in the sarcophagus is made of volcanic tuff originating from Cappadocia. It has incised text, the name John in antique Greek letters, his feast day [and prayer "God help Thomas"].

The emperors and nobility of the Byzantine Empire eagerly collected relics that were imported from the Holy Land by boats but also by land. One land route went from Jerusalem through Syria to Cappadocy in Eastern Anatolia and from there to Constantinople. Some of the relics got their own church or chapel, some altars, some were buried with the owner and some given as valued gifts to monasteries or people.

Reminder of the real John the Baptist
Regardless of the identity of these bones discovered in Bulgaria John the Baptist is a historical figure. New Testament (and Josephus) describe a sharp preacher proclaiming the arrival of Messiah. He was not afraid to preach to the king about his marital status, a message that eventually cost him his life.

The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Mark 6:26-29 NIV

Sunday, June 10, 2012

From Clergy to Atheist

What to do when you have studied Theology, ordained as a priest, found job in a congregation - and then loose your faith?

It is not a theoretical question.

Even in the very Lutheran Finland Dr. Timo Eskola wrote a rather thick book on "Atheists on Altar" describing Finnish priests and theologians who have lost their faith. The book gathered much attention and raised heated discussions about the current situation in many congregations.
[T. Eskola Ateistit Alttarilla. Perussanoma Oy. 2005. 225 p.]

About the Clergy project
The purpose of The Clergy Project is to provide a safe haven for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs.

The purpose of this “Public Page” is to announce our existence and to reach out to current and former clergy who want to be a part of the group.

The Clergy Project launched a private, invitation only, website on March 21, 2011 with 52 members. Currently it has more than 280 members.

It originated from a growing awareness of the presence of these clergy and a concern about their dilemma as they moved beyond faith. There were three sources of this awareness and concern:

Stories of the life experiences of former clergy that Dan Barker of the Freedom from Religion Foundation has been collecting over the years;

A preliminary study of “Preachers Who Are Not Believers,” by philosopher Daniel Dennett and researcher Linda LaScola, published in March, 2010 in Evolutionary Psychology and The Washington Post;

Ongoing discussions between Dan Barker and Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion” about the need to help clergy who want to leave the ministry.

The Clergy Project is an on-line meeting place where former and active clergy can talk freely among themselves. “Adam”, still in ministry, “Chris” and Teresa, both former clergy, are the moderators; Dan Barker, former evangelical preacher, is the facilitator.

The Clergy Project was made possible through a donation from The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. The Clergy Project seeks ongoing donations as it expands to meet the needs of this rapidly growing community.
Clergy Project

Faith in God of Israel is a gift from God
Faith in the God of the Bible is not something that we squeeze from ourselves like toothpaste. It is a gift from God Himself. He gladly gives it and can also take it away.

Therefore we who do believe in the only real God there is should never mock those whose faith is weak. For it may come a day when I wish to have at least a tiny mustard seed of the weak faith they still have left in their hearts.

Therefore, seeing we also are compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction from sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
Hebrews 12:1-3 KJ21

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Notebook (2004)

"They make movies like this?" I asked myself.

No shooting, no crime, no torture and sadism, no fornication, no spooky supernatural beings waiting to be blown up by that very US shotgun - just a magnificent celebration of life, nature of South Carolina and in-depth description of true love.

Surely this movie could not make it in the box office, the sceptic in me said.

The film opened June 25, 2004 in Canada and the United States and grossed $13.5 million in 2,303 theaters its opening weekend, ranking #4 at the box office. The film grossed a total of $115.6 million worldwide, $81 million in Canada and the United States and $34.6 million in other countries.

Well, not bad, not bad at all for a film without a single gunshot or car chase.

Gena Rowlands as older Allie Calhoun 
- talk about ageing with dignity! (link)

James Garner as older Noah Calhoun 
- what depth of emotions shown with minimalist acting! (link)

Rachel McAdams as young Allie Hamilton 
- how was it possible to capture those amazing sparks of intelligence and life 
in her beautiful eyes using just a camera? (poster)

Ryan Gosling as young Noah Calhoun 
- absolutely believable also with minimalist acting! (poster)

What is going on here?
While holding back my tears I got really curious - what is going on here with this Notebook film? This is something quite unusual. Life as it should be - Altzheimer as a terrible fact that nevertheless cannot crush the human spirit or break the bonds of love. True love and the temptations of easy life and money and other deep subjects.

This is good stuff...

Nicholas Sparks
Nicholas Sparks was born on December 31, 1965, in Omaha, Nebraska, to Patrick Michael Sparks, a professor, and Jill Emma Marie (née Thoene) Sparks, a homemaker and an optometrist's assistant. He was the middle of three children, with an older brother Michael Earl "Micah" Sparks (1964–) and a younger sister, Danielle "Dana" Sparks (1966–2000), who died at the age of 33. Sparks has said that she is the inspiration for the main character in his novel A Walk to Remember.

Sparks was raised Roman Catholic and is of German, Czech, English and Irish ancestry. He and his wife are devout Catholics, and are raising their children in the Catholic faith.

"I was raised Catholic, baptized, confirmed, Sunday School, went to Notre Dame, go to confession, go to church weekly," the author says. "My oldest son is an altar boy. All my children go to the Catholic school. My wife Catherine was raised Catholic. We were married in the Catholic Church. God is the most important thing in our lives. I suppose that's true of everybody's lives, whether or not they want to believe it."

In 1992, Sparks began selling pharmaceuticals and in 1993 was transferred to Greenville, SC. It was there that he wrote another novel in his spare time, The Notebook. Two years later, he was discovered by literary agent Theresa Park, who picked The Notebook out of her agency's slush pile, liked it, and offered to represent him.

In October 1995, Park secured a $1 million advance for The Notebook from Time Warner Book Group. The novel was published in October 1996 and made the New York Times best-seller list in its first week of release.

Nine of his books have been adapted to films, including Message in a Bottle, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John , A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, The Last Song , and most recently The Lucky One.

Nicholas Sparks says that his breakthrough novel The Notebook was inspired by the grandparents of his wife Catherine.


Now I think I understand why this movie is so special.

Praise the Lord!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Thus spoke Epicurus

A Roman marble bust of Epicurus British Museum

Except for the part on the Bible this post is largely a reworking of the excellent wikipedia article on Epicuros (341– 270 BC). Please, read the entire text there which includes references and links. 

Instead of trying to rephrase the sentences in wikipedia I copy here some of the text. The idea is to emphasize certain aspects in Epicuros life and thinking that are of particular interest in the theological framework that I have in mind.

Epicuros in the Bible
Apostle Paul met Greek philosophers in Athens and they were rather amused with his talk about eternal life.

And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming?  For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
Acts 17:18-21 NASB

Also the quote in Paul's letter to the Corinthians possibly refers to Epicurus in the context of resurrection of the dead.
If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
1 Cor 15:33 NASB

Atomist theory - way ahead of his time
Like Democritus, he was an atomist, believing that the fundamental constituents of the world were indivisible little bits of matter (atoms, Greek atomos, indivisible) flying through empty space (kenos). Everything that occurs is the result of the atoms colliding, rebounding, and becoming entangled with one another, with no purpose or plan behind their motions. (Compare this with the modern study of particle physics.)

His theory differs from the earlier atomism of Democritus because he admits that atoms do not always follow straight lines but their direction of motion may occasionally exhibit a 'swerve' (clinamen). This allowed him to avoid the determinism implicit in the earlier atomism and to affirm free will.  (Compare this with the modern theory of quantum physics, which postulates a non-deterministic random motion of fundamental particles, which do not swerve absent an external force; randomness originates in interaction of particles in incompatible eigenstates.)

About his life
After the death of Alexander the Great, Perdiccas expelled the Athenian settlers on Samos to Colophon, on the coast of what is now Turkey. After the completion of his military service, Epicurus joined his family there. He studied under Nausiphanes, who followed the teachings of Democritus. In 311/310 BCE Epicurus taught in Mytilene but caused strife and was forced to leave. He then founded a school in Lampsacus before returning to Athens in 306 BCE. There he founded The Garden, a school named for the garden he owned that served as the school's meeting place, about halfway between the locations of two other schools of philosophy, the Stoa and the Academy.

Even though many of his teachings were heavily influenced by earlier thinkers, especially by Democritus, he differed in a significant way with Democritus on determinism. Epicurus would often deny this influence, denounce other philosophers as confused, and claim to be "self-taught".

The Garden
Location of the Garden.
Epicurus' school, which was based in the garden of his house and thus called "The Garden", had a small but devoted following in his lifetime. The primary members were Hermarchus, the financier Idomeneus, Leonteus and his wife Themista, the satirist Colotes, the mathematician Polyaenus of Lampsacus, Leontion, and Metrodorus of Lampsacus, the most famous popularizer of Epicureanism. His school was the first of the ancient Greek philosophical schools to admit women as a rule rather than an exception. The original school was based in Epicurus's home and garden.

An inscription on the gate to The Garden is recorded by Seneca in epistle XXI of Epistulae morales ad Lucilium:

Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure. 

Epicurus emphasized friendship as an important ingredient of happiness, and the school resembled in many ways a community of friends living together. However, he also instituted a hierarchical system of levels among his followers, and had them swear an oath on his core tenets.

A true scientist
Epicurus is a key figure in the development of science and the scientific method because of his insistence that nothing should be believed, except that which was tested through direct observation and logical deduction.

Views on the religion of the crowd
He regularly admitted women and slaves into his school and was one of the first Greeks to break from the god-fearing and god-worshipping tradition common at the time, even while affirming that religious activities are useful as a way to contemplate the gods and to use them as an example of the pleasant life.

Epicurus participated in the activities of traditional Greek religion, but taught that one should avoid holding false opinions about the gods. The gods are immortal and blessed and men who ascribe any additional qualities that are alien to immortality and blessedness are, according to Epicurus, impious.

The gods do not punish the bad and reward the good as the common man believes. The opinion of the crowd is, Epicurus claims, that the gods "send great evils to the wicked and great blessings to the righteous who model themselves after the gods," whereas Epicurus believes the gods, in reality, do not concern themselves at all with human beings.

It is not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, who is impious, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them. Epicurus

Epicurus didn’t deny the existence of gods. Instead, he stated that what gods there may be, do not concern themselves with us, and thus would not seek to punish us either in this or any other life.

Epicurus about death - NFFNSNC
He also believed (contra Aristotle) that death was not to be feared. When a man dies, he does not feel the pain of death because he no longer is and he therefore feels nothing.

Therefore, as Epicurus famously said, "death is nothing to us." When we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain.

The fear of death arises from the belief that in death there is awareness.

From this doctrine arose the Epicurean epitaph: Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo (I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care) – which is inscribed on the gravestones of his followers and seen on many ancient gravestones of the Roman Empire. This quote is often used today at humanist funerals.

Fundamental materialism
Epicurus took the teaching of the "laughing philosopher" Democritus in earnest. The views shown above in the quotes from wikipedia can all be understood from the fundamental materialism - everything is just the random movement and colliding of atoms. Nothing really matters.

A woman is as much atoms as a man and so is a slave.

So what to do?

Under these materialistic parameters of human existence in a random world let us try to make the best of it: minimize harm and maximize happiness.

There is pleasure and pain in life, let us try to be happy in the midst of it.

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing "neither to harm nor be harmed"), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.
Epicurus Principal Doctrines translated. by Robert Drew Hicks (1925)