Category Archives: Media

Should Christians Listen to Ghost?

antiquiet.com

opuseponymous_2

ghost-official.com

Ghost (formerly Ghost BC in the U.S.) is a hard rock/metal band from Sweden. I started listening to them when I discovered their debut album, Opus Eponymous, on iTunes; it was rated best metal album of 2010. Back then my Catholic faith wasn’t very strong, so I looked past the whole anti-Catholic/Christian/religion image of the band.

Their music wasn’t run-of-the-mill rock/metal; it was good: a retro 70s vibe, and the mood and lyrics were haunting, like my Halloween trick-or-treating experiences from my youth.

However, the more my mental illness was taking me to those dark places (as mentioned elsewhere on this blog), the more I realized that, tongue-in-cheek stage gimmick or not, Ghost’s lyrics and inverted crosses just weren’t conducive for my walk with God.

Now, before you brand me a “typical Christian right-wing-nutjob-prude,” consider this: I have been a metalhead since the 80s. My first concert was KISS, and Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil was the first cassette (an early version of a CD for you young’uns out there) that I ever owned. One of my favorite live shows in the past couple of years was Kvelertak at a hole-in-the-wall booze hall in Dallas. My latest CD purchase was Cattle Decapitation’s The Anthropocene Extinction.

And I own all of Ghost’s CDs. I even have tickets to see them live in October.

And you still call yourself a Catholic, Topaz?

Yes, I do. And that’s why I finally came to the realization that I had to write this blog post and (reluctantly) cut off ties with this band once and for all.

Since their debut album, I have used every excuse to listen to and jam out to Ghost’s CDs.

Oh, fans say, the Satanic Pope imagery, ghoul robes, masks, and Satanic lyrics are all part of the fun. It’s no different than watching a horror movie.

Maybe. Maybe not.

But my conscience is finally taking the bull by the horns… since my intellect sure as hell isn’t.

Lucifer

We have come

For your praise

Evil one

These are the opening lyrics from “Con Clavi Con Dio,” the first track off their debut album. Oh, it gets worse than that.

I’m not here to rail against Ghost or to tell you not to listen to them. Believe me, up until today, I have found every excuse to listen to their songs. Hell, I even had two different Ghost t-shirts up until last year when my wife finally made me get rid of them.

I could quote all kinds of Bible verses about reasons not to listen to this sort of band. But I like the simple mathematic formula-style argument that my college students are so fond of:

Blatantly Satanic lyrics + anti-Catholic/Christian imagery = not a good idea for Christians to be involved with

I keep telling myself: Just go to the show. You’ve already bought the ticket. It’s on the mezzanine level! Take some Christian tracts and go under the guise of “meeting sinners where they are.”

But that’s just a bunch of BS. I would be going for my own selfish reasons whether I wanted to admit it or not.

Plus, with my fragile state of mental health, anything dark or negative sends me over the cliff. (Actually, I was just there this afternoon, contemplating suicide again.) As I said, I could quote all sorts of verses; however, there is one quote by Alice Cooper, the classic shock-rocker, that states it better than any verse I can think of:

Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s rebellion.

~t


Just Before I Go: A Must-See for All of You Who Are Like Me

  

  
I was at Target recently with my sons to look for a Lego Batmobile set (which, my youngest learned in horror, had since been discontinued). While the kids were playing games on iPad demos in the store (How they quickly forgot about Batman), I took a look at the newest DVDs on a nearby shelf.

Not surprisingly, none of the titles rang a bell since I practically live under a rock. However, one title caught my eye: Just Before I Go. The actor’s melancholy expression and the tag line, Ending It All Was Only The Beginning, led me to believe that it dealt with suicide. Sure enough, I flipped the DVD over and read the synopsis. Sounded intriguing.

There was only one problem: Seann William Scott. Really?! He plays a total idiot in all his movies. Nevertheless, I jotted down the title in my iNotes (or whatever it’s called) to watch it at some point.

Tonight was the night. Friday after work. Wife and kids gone. Amazon rental. A nice bowl of Lucky Charms for dinner. I was set. I can always turn it off when the flick gets juvenile, I thought.

But… It didn’t.

Not an Oscar contender by any means, but it was GOOD. All the poignancy that I was hoping for.

**SPOILER ALERT**

I even started blubbering like a baby when Scott’s character met his deceased father on the lake during a near-death experience. 

**SPOILER OVER**

The movie is about a man who, before committing suicide, goes back to his hometown to confront some painful childhood memories “just before he goes.” I don’t want to reveal too much, except that this is not a screwball comedy. It tackles several thorny issues effectively I think.

Bottom line: If you are feeling depressed or even suicidal, do yourself a favor and watch this movie. Do it for me even. Screw what the film critics say about the film. They get paid to tear things apart. 

I loved the Emerson quote at the end:

When it’s dark, that’s when you can see the stars.

Just look up and they will always be there.

~t


How Silver Linings Playbook Affected a Blogger with Mental Illness Who Didn’t Quite Know What He Was About to View

The Weinstein Company

And if you say to me tomorrow, oh what fun it all would be.
Then what’s to stop us, pretty baby. But what is and what should never be.
–Led Zeppelin

 

Lately I don’t want to write unless there’s something totally pressing on my mind.

Like now.

I started watching the first 30 minutes or so of Silver Lining Playbook. I haven’t looked into it, but it seems like it’s billed as a nice romantic comedy. Well, the first 30 minutes was enough to trigger all sorts of feelings in me. (The movie was released in 2012, so that shows how “hip” I am regarding pop culture.)

The main character, Pat (played by Bradley Cooper), is bipolar, and his father (played by Robert DeNiro, a nice surprise since I only knew Cooper was in the movie) has issues to a certain extent such as OCD and anger.

I had to stop watching after the scene where Pat was having flashbacks of assaulting his wife’s lover while the soundtrack played “What Is and What Should Never Be” by Led Zeppelin. Ironically,  Zeppelin happens to be my favorite band of all-time, and their songs and mystique have weaved themselves throughout my life since I was in middle school.

I’m not criticizing this movie (I’ve only seen the first 30 minutes); on the contrary, this post is just a half-hearted rant about wanting to see a basic romantic comedy between two people who suffer from various mental issues — and instead being subjected to scenes from my own darkest days in a theater from hell.

I’ll probably continue watching the movie now that I know what to expect — and deal with the triggers as they come. How wise is that, though? I don’t know.

Wow, I started watching during my lunch break, then I had class, and now I’m back at the desk, and it’s still with me — or maybe it’s because I’m still writing this post. However, this movie definitely hits home because Pat is so much like me — heck, the story is so much like mine.

(By the way, at the beginning of the movie, Pat is at the psychiatric hospital wearing a hooded sweatshirt with strings. Those strings would be the first things to come off when one is admitted to such a facility, along with shoe laces.)

I don’t like to write reviews. I don’t consider myself qualified to inform people about such things as movies. Books, maybe.

So consider this an anti-review.

Whatever that means.

~t

 


Laughter is the Best Medicine

alien-hands-far-side

I recently read this article about a type of OCD called scrupulosity. It’s basically the fear of sin or punishment from God. The article is definitely worth the read.

Of course, I’m not saying that it’s suddenly okay to throw caution to the wind and start sinning. Far from it. However, the article got me thinking about how uptight I may be; I tend to be a living example of the ironic process theory: If someone tells you not to think of a pink elephant, you are automatically going to (like you did just now).

While I continue to deal with habitual sin, I’m learning to make an effort to enjoy life and trust God as I go. For instance, my two young sons and I have been playing soccer in the backyard after dinner each night, and it’s so much fun! I have also come across some comics and memes on the Internet that make me smile.

Laughter and fun times are a welcome reprieve from the daily spiritual battles that we face.

Nuns at Six Flags

Last night, my sons and I were trying to steal the ball from each other in our scrimmage. As we battled against each other, my kids were giggling like crazy. Afterwards, my oldest, who is quite serious and emotional, suddenly asked me, “Daddy, why is laughing good for us?”

Taken aback, I replied, “Well, because it makes us feel good. Plus, we forget our problems while we’re laughing.” It was one of those moments where I inadvertently taught myself something.

So, in the spirit of all this, I have posted some comics and things that I’ve run across in the past few weeks. They are entertaining to me, but, after all, my sense of humor is a bit twisted. 😉

 

 

25-motivational-posters-part-II-exercise

 

If you’re a fan of this series, I apologize!

 

 

Since I’m an English teacher, I particularly like this one:

 

 

This one isn’t a comic, but it has really spoken to me during the past week. My dear sister in Christ, Jet, recently posted it on her blog:

 

 

Have a great week, and remember to laugh periodically.

 

~t

 


11 Things I Learned From the Ordination and Installation Mass for the New Bishop of Fort Worth

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the ordination and installation of Bishop Michael Olson over in Fort Worth. I didn’t merely attend: I volunteered with other Knights of Columbus members as security personnel. FWPD made their presence known on the outside of the convention center. However, the diocese didn’t want any demonstrators to interrupt the proceedings or to desecrate the Eucharist, so some of us volunteered inside.

As an “insider” during this historic event — a new bishop isn’t ordained and installed in one’s region very often — I wanted to share 11 things that I learned from working behind-the-scenes at this event.

1. Priests are not always serious

Maybe it’s because I’m a fairly recent convert, but I’ve never seen priests joke around with and make goofy faces at each other. Just before the procession into the arena began, a priest came up to me at the entrance and said comically, “Run away! This is your last chance!” Scared the heck outta me, actually.

2. Seminarians are just regular college guys…

As I “guarded” the seminarians (young men who are studying to become priests) before the procession, they were a bunch of giggling chatterboxes. A priest had to yell at them to settle down, and the young men’s faces displayed the same embarrassed satisfaction that I often see on my six-year-old’s. Boys will be boys.

3. …who love their Starbucks as much as the rest of us

I mean, man, do those guys slug down the lattes. It wasn’t a question of how many were seen with the white cups and the green logo; rather, I had to ask myself how many didn’t have one. But, hey, as long as it’s consumed one hour before communion, right?

4. We are not alone

By this, I mean the Knights of Columbus. One of my security duties was to guard the vesting rooms that contained the personal belongings of the clergy and choir. I saw the vesting room for the Order of Malta which was pretty cool. Even more cool was to see the room for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Granted, the Knights of Columbus outnumbered these other group 10 to 1, but I hadn’t realized that there were other Catholic fraternal orders out there and that we were all unified with one common purpose.

5. Catholic schools are definitely not dying out

Since teaching in Japan, I had never seen so many young people in school uniforms! It seemed like most of them had volunteered to give directions to people: Everywhere I went, about two students were assigned to every single door in the convention center… and the place was HUGE.

6. Standing for eight straight hours isn’t always a bad thing

I think the secret is to keep busy. I was surprised to know that, while stuffing my hungry face with cheese and crackers during the reception, it was nearly 6:00 pm. Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

7. 15,000 Catholics in one place does not always result in alcohol

I have to admit, I was ready for an ice-cold beer by the end of my duties. Making a quick dash to the reception hall before anyone else (Transporting gifts for the bishop was my excuse!), I quickly scanned the gigantic hall for any sign of beer or wine. Nothing! (The lemonade did hit the spot, though.)

8. If a behind-the-scenes meeting is scheduled for 1:00, it really means 12:30

I was supposed to help guard the priests as they offered communion to the masses. The meeting was at 1:00. I arrived at 12:51. On a tight schedule, I suppose I was considered late. Everything happens for a reason is what they say. I was able to greet members of the procession as they made their way to the arena entrance, though. So, the awesome photo below wouldn’t exist had I been earlier to the meeting.

Lots of bishops!

9. Volunteering makes you feel great

My mind was occupied and my schedule was packed. Somehow, though, I felt like a million bucks. I’ve never been one to show off or to draw attention to myself. But, somehow, being engaged in an activity (church; K of C) that I really enjoyed did wonders for my mind. It said, “I enjoy this and I’m having fun. You’re not gonna take that away from me, Mind.”

Try it! You don’t have to be “religious” to volunteer. Seek out a local food bank or homeless shelter. Opportunities to serve are all around us. By helping others, you help yourself feel good. It’s a win-win.

10. An ordinary convention center can be temporarily converted into a cathedral

11. Alternate versions of the trendy 13.1 and 26.2 car stickers do exist

I saw a car in the parking garage with this sticker on the back. I’m a serious fuddy-duddy who never smiles, but this made me LOL. A refreshing sight since every other car (seemingly) has the real versions.

~t

(photos by Topaz)


Keeping It Real: A Comic-Book Writer’s Response to a Fan with Suicidal Ideation

Marvel Comics

I’m not into the world of comics like I used to be. The extent of my collection consists of a few sets of manga that I bought in Japan that I use to hone my Japanese reading skills. (I’m not quite sure if the four-volume children’s set of Tonari no Totoro qualifies, but oh well.)

However, when a friend of mine shared a Tumblr post by Matt Fraction, a well-known writer of comics such as Hawkeye, The Invincible Iron Man, and Casanova, it gave me a whole new respect for Matt and his works.

A fan known as “whiskeyjack” asked the following question to Matt. I’ve edited some words to make it more family friendly, but everything else has been untouched. Here it is:

 

Sorry to put this on you but I have an honest question about depression an suicide. Isn’t it completely possible for it to be a alternative for someone. Can’t there be someone out there who genuinely is tired and doesn’t want to continue. I know there is beauty and wonderful things in this world. There are things to look forward to. There will be more pain but also more laughter. But what if I’m not interested?

 

How would a cool, famous comic-book writer respond to such a question? Or, rather, would he?

Matt’s response is rather lengthy but well worth the read:

 

well… well first off, i’d say, seek professional help immediately. because i am wildly unqualified to answer your question with anything but experience. and first off, my experience says, if you are in such a deep and dark place where you say things like this to total strangers on the internet, you need to be in contact with someone that can help you start to heal.second, i’d say… you’re wrong. i’d say the things any of us don’t know, especially about tomorrow, could blanket every grain of sand on every beach of the world with bull****. And to simply assume you are done tomorrow because you are done today is a mistake. a factual mistake, an error, a critical miscalculation.

i’d say, read Tad Friend’s piece JUMPERS in which he seeks and finds and talks to people that jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge — and lived. And they all say the same variations this: “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

And know that this piece has kept me in my seat on more than a couple dark nights.

And i’d say — i’d say i felt that way before too, and i was wrong.

And then i’d tell you something i don’t even think my wife knows. this happend years before we met — s***, more than a decade — and it’s not the first time i came close to suicide was on a thanksgiving night. i’d eaten well and then as the house shut down i went into the bathroom, drew a bath as hot as i could manage to stand, and climbed into the tub with a razor  blade.

As i started to cut, as the corner touched my skin and that jolt of pain fired into my head, i stopped and thought — y’know, last chance. Are you SURE?

And i was tired. I sounded like you, that i knew there’d be ups again and downs but i was just so f****** TIRED i couldn’t stand the thought of having to get there. I felt this… this never-ending crush of days that were grey and tepid but for some reason i was supposed to greet each one with a smile. the constant pressure of having to keep my s*** in all the time was just exhausting.

I wondered, then — well, is there anything you’re curious about. Anything you want to see play out. And i thought of a comic i was reading and i’d not figured out the end of the current storyline. And i realized I had curiosity. And that was the hook i’d hang my hat on. that by wanting to see how something played out I wasn’t really ready. That little sprout of a thing poking up through all that black earth kept me around a little longer.

I realized then that it had been so long since i’d laughed. I was numbed out and shut down and just… i missed laughing. maybe if i laughed a little i could get moving again. so i’d wait for my comic to conclude, try to find a few laughs, and then reevaluate.

So I’m in the bathtub and i got this real sharp-a** razor, right? And i look down and there’s all my bits floating in the water like they do and i thought okay, let’s get funny and i got to work.

I shaved off exactly half my pubic hair vertically. The end result was a ‘fro of pubes that looked like a Chia Pet that only half-worked. I started to laugh as I did it. And every time i’d p***, looking down made me laugh.

Because J**** what a nightmare.

Shortly thereafter I got very heavily into Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. Way less chafing and way more funny.

j****. i was still in high school at the time. dig if you will a picture of the chubby weirdo that was always giggling at his d*** in the bathroom. that was me.

And then I guess I’d tell you about Dave, who did the same thing as me a few years later, only DIDN’T have my hilarious Chia D*** strategy in mind and got the razor in and up. And as he started to bleed out “Brown Eyed Girl” came on the radio and he realized he’d never get to hear that again so, in a bloody comedy of errors — I swear to g** this is true — he got out of the tub, tried to get dressed the best he could, went downstairs calling for help only to find his family gone, went out to his car, and drove to doug’s house only to find doug not home and so, then, finally, he blacked out from blood loss sitting there in his car, playing a van morrison CD on repeat, until, by luck, Doug’s mom came home and found him.

F****** Van Morrison, y’know?

A song, a comic, something dumb, something small. From that seed can come everything else, I swear to g**.

I guess last I’d say… I’d say that, look — if you reached out to me for an answer, than I have to reach back out to you and insist you hear it.  Because it means, what, you know me? My work? You read my stuff and thought, well, f***, if anyone would know why I shouldn’t end my life, if anyone alive is QUALIFIED TO SAVE ME it’s the guy that had britney spears punch a bear? okay — okay, then, so as THAT GUY I’m saying: Get help. Now, today, tonight, whenever — get to a phone and find a doctor that can try to help you heal, that can try to recolorize your world again, that can help you start caring again. All you need is that one tiny thing, that speck, that little grain of sand. the World Series, AVENGERS 2, Tina Fey’s new show, the first issue of PRETTY DEADLY, some slice of the world you’ve never seen, some drink you love, who the f*** will love your dog like you do if you’re gone, what if jabrams KILLS it on the new STAR WARS, the h*** are you doing for Halloween, you ever feed a dolphin with your bare hand? because i have and I am f****** telling you IT IS A THING TO EXPERIENCE and oh g** WHAT F****** FONT WILL STARBUCKS USE ON THE CHRISTMAS DRINK SLEEVES THIS YEAR — i don’t care what or how dumb but i promise you somewhere in your life is that one fleck of dust that can help start you on the road back. That’s all it takes. One f****** mote, drifting through your head.

And because you asked me I am answering you because i know, mother******, i know, i know, i know the hole you are f****** in because I was there myself and if you look hard you can still see my writing on those walls and if you stare long enough i swear to g** it’s pointing to up

 

As my friend said, this is one of the most genuinely connective responses to someone with suicidal ideation that I’ve ever seen on the Internet.

When times are bad and you feel hopeless, just read Matt’s response. It’ll put things in perspective for you.

~t

The original quotes can be found here.


Why Christians Need Flannery O’Connor

A snapshot of Flannery O’Connor beside her self-portrait

I recently came across this opinion piece on CNN’s website. The title caught my eye since I’m interested in all things Christianity and, being an English teacher, I can’t help but admire and love the works of O’Connor — not to mention the fact that she was Catholic.

Before reading anything in the Belief section of the website, I always scan the credentials of the writer to see from which angle the topic is being viewed. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked to find that this piece was written by a leader associated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Why would the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission be praising an odd, peacock-obsessed Catholic writer?

There was only one way to find out.

I do hope you take the time to read the following article. It is a sobering critique on American evangelical Christianity and how so much of it is feel-good, seeker-friendly entertainment to justify our sense of entitlement, all the while avoiding that dreaded “s” word: sin.

The following is the original column by Russell D. Moore in its entirety:

 

On my Christmas list of gifts to buy my evangelical friends, there’s a little book of prayers.

This is less predictable than it may seem, since the prayers aren’t from a celebrity evangelical preacher, but from a morbid, quirky Catholic who spent her short life with pet peacocks and wooden-leg-stealing Bible salesman stories.

But I think Flannery O’Connor’s newly published “Prayer Journal” is exactly what Christians need, maybe especially at Christmas.

The book, recently discovered in the writer’s papers in Georgia and now published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reproduces the handwritten notebook prayers scribbled down by O’Connor during her years as a student at the University of Iowa.

The prayers are jarring because they are so personal and raw, clearly not written to “edify the saints” in a published manuscript. They are, well, just prayers.

Part of the rawness and authenticity of the prayers come with the way O’Connor refuses to sentimentalize her personal relationship with Jesus (thought it’s clear she has one). She is here constantly aware of her own fallenness and of the seeming silence of the God to whom she pours out these little notes.

O’Connor notes that her attention is “fugitive” in prayer. She confesses that hell seems more “feasible” in her mind than heaven because, “I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God.”

She is constantly second-guessing whether her prayers for success as a writer are egocentric, or a genuine striving to use the gifts God has given her.

Moreover, O’Connor is constantly aware that she is a sinner, and she can’t get around that. Perhaps the most widely publicized sentence in the book is her confession that she “proved myself a glutton, for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There’s nothing left to say of me.”

Even when she’s confessing sin, she seems aware of her sinfulness in doing that. She says of sin, “You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited,” but, she immediately concludes, “perhaps that is too literary a statement; this mustn’t get insincere.”

O’Connor’s prayers are hardly “inspirational,” in the sense that many American Christians want: a model of the “victorious Christian life” where “prayer changes things” and we’ve got “joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts, to stay.” That’s why we need them.

American evangelicalism, my own tradition, rightly emphasizes the biblical truth that the gospel is good news, that our sins are forgiven in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We rightly emphasize that the believer now has a personal connection to God, accessible in prayer through the priesthood of Jesus himself.

But sometimes we forget how hard that is in this time between the times.

Some of our worship services are so clean and antiseptic, led by grinning preachers and praise bands, talking about how happy Jesus makes us, that we forget that the Spirit prompts us to “groan” at our sin and the suffering all around us (Romans 8:22-23). This is especially true at Christmas, with so many evangelicals forgoing the dark longing of Advent to go straight to the tinsel-decked rejoicing of Christmas.

Some Christians, then, can wonder if something’s wrong with them when they feel as though God seems distant, or when, despite all the smiles at church, they still feel guilty for the way their hearts don’t seem to match up with their hymns.

But the good news isn’t that we are all put together. The good news is that though we’re wrecked and fallen and freakish, Jesus loves us anyway and has made peace for us with God and with each other. That’s not something we always feel. We see it by faith.

O’Connor, elsewhere in her letters, writes of what it means to agonize over one’s sin, to wonder “if your confessions have been adequate and if you are compounding sin on sin.” She concludes that this agony “drives some folks nuts and some folks to the Baptists,” while noting, “I feel sure that it will drive me nuts and not to the Baptists.”

Those of us who were “driven to the Baptists” can benefit from a book of prayers that remind us that the Christian life is exactly what Jesus promised it would be – the carrying of a cross.

We can be reminded in prayers such as these to remind ourselves that between now and resurrection we will never be, in ourselves, anything other than sinners. That’s why we need a Christ.

It’s only when we grapple with the darkness of a fallen cosmos, only when we’re honest about the fact that all our efforts look more like Herod’s throne than Bethlehem’s stable, that we can sing “Joy to the World.” Flannery O’Connor wasn’t an evangelical Protestant, but we need her.

We need her, especially perhaps, as we pray for peace on earth, goodwill to men, for Christmas in a Christ-haunted world.

 

(Source: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/15/why-christians-need-flannery-oconnor/)

~t