Fear in the U.S.A.

Photo by Darron Birgenheier

One glance at my Facebook feed right now tells me that a lot of people have a lot of opinions about the executive orders President Trump has signed in his first week on the job. We have people protesting at JFK airport. We have memes popping up left and right. It seems that our new president’s policies, while popular with a certain segment of the population, are deeply unpopular with another segment of the population.

What I personally find most concerning is not the particular policies that are being put in place by the Trump administration, though we could certainly debate all of them to death. What is most concerning is the thing that lies at the root of all of this: fear. Continue reading

The Worst Christmas Ever

"The Mystic Nativity" by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1500-01

“The Mystic Nativity” by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1500-01

Henry was having a terrible Christmas – possibly the worst Christmas ever.

One might almost say he was experiencing hell on earth, and not just because he was in the midst of producing a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, famous for its fanciful depictions of hell in all its ghoulish glory. He didn’t need Dante to tell him the meaning of suffering and despair. He was all too familiar with both.

Two years earlier, his beloved wife, Frances, accidentally set her dress on fire. He heard her cries from a nearby room and ran to her aid, throwing himself on top of her in an attempt to extinguish the flames. He sustained serious burns in the process, but none so bad as his wife’s. She died the following morning. Henry’s grief was absolute. He stated that he was “inwardly bleeding to death” and resorted to taking drugs in an attempt to dull the pain.

But that was only the beginning of Henry’s troubles. Indeed, his wife’s fate served as an apt metaphor for the world around him, which was in its own way going up in flames. Continue reading

Who is to Blame for the Rise of ISIS?

Territory controlled by ISIS as of this week (dark red), as well as the area they claim (light red). Wikipedia image by Spesh531

Territory controlled by ISIS as of this week (dark red), as well as the area they claim (light red). Wikipedia image by Spesh531

There are a lot of lessons that we can take from the alarming expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Surely it is a parable, but what is the lesson to be learned? Never end a war without leaving a substantial American footprint behind? Never funnel weapons to a rag-tag coalition of revolutionaries whose motivations may well be dubious? Never trust an Arab government to be able to handle things on its own? Never elect a pussy to be president of the United States?

I can think of nothing more fundamentally human than the desire to cast blame when something goes wrong, to reach for the simple explanation to a complex problem, or to ignore the long view in favor of the emotions of the moment. Beyond that, we prefer to direct our focus inward rather than outward; in other words, we are far more adept at analyzing something according to our understanding of the world than we are at comprehending how another person’s understanding might cause them to act. Because we live our lives at an increasingly rapid pace, we fail to appreciate how deeply rooted humanity remains, both from a historical and cultural standpoint. Continue reading

Captain Phillips is a Case of Greengrass Déjà Vu

Going to see the new movie Captain Phillips was a case of massive film déjà vu.  No, this is not because I was recently on a boat that was taken over by Somali pirates, or because I was once trapped on a lifeboat for several days.  Fortunately, there was nothing from my own life that bore a striking similarity to the events on screen.  Rather, it was a case in which one film reminded me of another film, and the similarities were no coincidence. Continue reading