Wednesday, March 30, 2022

318. Office of the Keys Hymn

I didn't notice that I had failed to write a properly catechetical hymn about the Office of the Keys, or absolution, until somebody on a hymn-writers' Facebook group put out a call for that kind of hymn. So, here is something I've been brooding on since then, and I hope it does the trick. There are several existing tunes that (I think) would pair well with it, but here's the first one that flies off the top of my head: HELA VÄRLDEN FRÖJDES HERRAN, from Sweden, 1676. I'd probably transpose it down a step, though.
Little children, sore convicted
With the consciousness of crime,
Trust in Jesus, once afflicted
For all men, all sin, all time.
What He gives to comfort you
Grasp, for He is always true.

Lest with stricken conscience doubt you
Of an inward pardon's ease,
Christ establishes without you
An external means: the Keys,
Whereby sins are loosed and bound
And a sure relief is found.

Thus an office Christ has founded,
Filled by men called, set apart;
Thus salvation is expounded
To the world and every heart.
Jesus, speaking through their word,
Heals and saves where it is heard.

You who would be thus persuaded
Need but in the Scriptures delve,
Where this burden Jesus laded
First on Peter, then the twelve:
"What on earth you loose and bind,
Shall above be sealed and signed."

Likewise, when their risen Master
Blew on them His holy breath,
He appointed every pastor
To speak words of life and death:
Both to pardon and retain
Sins until He comes again.

Now, beloved, consolation
Comes through Christ's appointed means;
Your assurance of salvation
On this office safely leans.
When guilt lays you in the dust,
In His absolution trust.

For, thank God, though men may falter,
Jesus' promises are sure;
Individuals may alter,
Yet His office will endure.
He will hear what you confess
And through it breathe righteousness.

Therefore, little ones, repenting,
Hasten to receive this grace:
No more new device inventing,
Meet the Savior of our race
Where He promises to be,
Speaking truth that sets you free.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

317. Prodigal Hymn

Today's readings from the LSB three-year lectionary revealed another of the many glaring omissions from my body of work as a hymn-writer. My attempt to write a hymn for every Sunday of the Church Year was, of course, oriented toward the historic one-year series. But despite having a passing mention in an omnibus "Parables Hymn," the parable of the prodigal son isn't really covered in my first 316 original hymns;* the closest I could get, in an ongoing project to sing one of my hymns as a solo every week, was that old "Finding the Lost" hymn about the widow's coin and the lost sheep. So, today's hymnwriting project is the first of a bunch of corrections of this type that I see being made for the work-in-progress, Bountiful Hymns. The tune I have in mind is ES GEH, WIES WOLL by Michael Praetorius, 1610.
When Jesus' kind regard was shown
To those in need of mercy,
Some who stood righteous in their own
Raised up a controversy.
That all may see as in God's eyes,
Three parables did He devise,
Their wisdom plain and earthy.

What man of you, our Shepherd said,
One in a hundred losing,
Would not leave all behind, instead
That one's salvation choosing;
And having found what had been lost,
His neighbors joyfully accost,
With hearty joy effusing?

Likewise, what woman with ten coins,
The moment one was wanting,
Would not take light and gird her loins,
Each nook and cranny hunting?
How must she, finding it, rejoice!
The angels even so give voice
O'er one lost soul repenting.

And when a rich man's younger son
Spent all in wasteful living,
He came to feeding swine, yet none
To him a bite was giving.
Home to his father's house he crawled,
Content a mere slave to be called,
His heart so deeply grieving.

The father saw, ran, kissed, embraced
The prodigal returning;
Slew fatted calf and called a feast,
All blame and censure spurning:
"My son is living who was dead;
Is found who had been lost," he said,
His love thus brightly burning.

The elder son began to chide:
"I've served without transgressing.
Why was I such a feast denied?"
"My son, grudge not this blessing.
For all this time, not by your deeds,
But by my care for all your needs,
My goods you were possessing."

Lord, plant this sermon in our heart,
Whichever son we follow.
At times we take the wastrel's part,
In selfish pleasures wallow.
But when the bitterness sets in,
We come to hate the taste of sin;
Its revels leave us hollow.

Convince us that, when we repent,
You'll like that father greet us:
What time and goods we have misspent
Forgiving as You meet us.
A worthy sacrifice prepared,
No sliver of your mercy spared,
Into Your banquet lead us.

And often though the elder son
Be whom You find us aping,
Let scribes and Pharisees have done,
No more our judgment shaping!
For if we are Your holy race,
We have all things alone by grace,
Eternal treasure reaping.

* Actually 317 previous hymns; I keep forgetting that there's a "Hymn number zero" back there somewhere.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Intelligent Pain

May life bring you intelligent pain:
The kind that you can use to grow,
To learn to make different mistakes,
Better mistakes, another time.

Gather the tears you shed on seeing
A world round you where you don't belong;
Sweat borne of efforts wasted on trying
To make it better; Spit off a tongue
Oft bitten when you dared not speak;
Wax from ears set to ringing
By the roaring clamor of the age; And blood
Felt in a heart that longs for a better place.

Gather them in fingers that itch to do
A new thing, and draw a door upon the wall,
And go through it, knowing not where it will lead,
And pull it shut behind you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Alien Next Door

The Alien Next Door (8-book series)
by A.I. Newton
illustrated by Anjan Sarkar
Recommended Ages: 6+

This is actually not one book, but eight books that I picked up as a boxed set at Costco last weekend. (The set also included a children's activity book, with pictures to color, writing prompts, etc.) Their titles are The New Kid; Aliens for Dinner?!; Alien Scout; Trick or Cheat?; Baseball Blues; The Mystery Valentine; Up, Up, and Away; and A New Planet.

While each book stands somewhat on its own on the scale of an elementary-level chapter book, the whole series also works together as a continuous story with each individual book as a kind of chapter in it. My father, who got to it before me, read all eight books in one sitting, and was the first to complain that the last one ends abruptly without really resolving the storyline. Actually, his exact words were, "It just goes pbpbpbpbt." I myself managed it in two settings, but they went quickly in terms of total time. I'm glad to report that according to Fantastic Fiction, a ninth book titled The Marvelous Museum is supposed to come out in October 2022. So, I guess this series isn't over yet.

As for the eight books so far, most of them came out in quick succession in 2018 and 2019 and have charming illustrations, featuring an apparently American (or maybe Canadian?) boy named Harris who begins to suspect that the awkward, lonely new kid next door may actually be an alien from outer space. The more sure of this he becomes, the more his family and his best friend, Roxy, think he's just being mean because Zeke is different. But Harris is right; and after the first couple of books, he and Zeke become friends and Harris begins to share in his secret. Harris and Roxy help Zeke learn about such strange human customs as scouting campouts, trick-or-treating, baseball and Valentines.

Then Zeke finds out his parents, Xad and Quar, have finished their research on Earth and they have to move back to the planet Tragas. At first, Harris and Zeke look for a way to delay their departure. In the last book (so far), Harris reveals Zeke's secret to Roxy, and the two of them stow away on the ship and get to experience the "new kid" phenomenon from the other side, disguised as aliens on a strange new world.

Written at an elementary level, the books are simple and light but they also carry themes, such as being kind to people who are different from you, not cheating or taking shortcuts. They look at American(?) cultural customs in a humorous light, with charm, goofy humor and an occasional flash of wit. The weirdness of Tragas and its cultural customs comes in for some imaginative treatment, too, modeling Harris and Roxy's openness to having new experiences and, of course, their loyal friendship with Zeke. I feel even better recommending these books knowing that there's more to come.

A.I. Newton is also the author of the "Little Olympians" series, also illustrated by Sarkar, in which kid-sized Greek gods go to camp to learn how to use their powers and get along together. Their titles, up to the most recent release, are Zeus, God of Thunder; Athena, Goddess of Wisdom; Hermes, the Fastest God; and Artemis, the Archer Goddess. I can't actually find any information online about A.I. Newton as a human being. For all I know, he may be a fictitious pen-name, maybe with a whole list of author credits under another name.

About illustrator Anjan Sarkar, I've learned that he's a British illustrator of Indian heritage who has contributed art to such books as Rum Pum Pum by David L. Harrison and Jane Yolen, Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas by Pamela Ehrenberg, and Level Up! Last One Standing by Tom Nicoll, among 20-some books.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Living Dead in Dallas

Living Dead in Dallas
by Charlaine Harris
Recommended Ages: 15+

This is the second of about 13 Sookie Stackhouse novels, a.k.a. Southern Vampire Mysteries and the basis for the TV series True Blood. The previous installment was Dead Until Dark; coming next is Club Dead. I forgot to mention last time that an Adult Content Advisory applies, as does an Occult Content Advisory; although it's more Adult than Occult, with explicit love scenes and a particularly unerotic (if not anti-erotic) orgy. On the woo-woo side, for what it's worth, it has telepathy, legalized vampires, illicit werewolves and other shapeshifters, and a creature of the departed Greek god Dionysus known as a maenad. So, we're not talking about Satan worship or witchcraft; but then it also depicts a religion devoted to destroying vampires and that may be the most disturbing part of its environment. Readers with delicate sensibilities have been warned. Most everyone else will likely enjoy the sexy humor, mystery and dark fantasy that collide in Sookie's down-to-earth, low-paid working class, southern country point of view.

The book is structured as a mystery nested within a mystery. The framing mystery has to do with the murder of (another) one of Sookie's coworkers at Sam Merlotte's bar in the small, northern Louisiana town of Bon Temps. Lafayette was not only black but flamboyantly gay, a combination that might not sit well with the up-tight folks of Bon Temps, but what really has people stirred up is the hint that his death was connected with some kind of sex club right there in town. And the fact that he turns up dead in the backseat of a sheriff's detective's car only adds zest to the mystery. Sookie cares because Lafayette was her friend, but her efforts to catch his killer (or killers) and clear Andy Bellefleur's name are put on hold when she and undead boyfriend Bill are summoned by the head of the Shreveport area vampires to loan their investigative talents to the vampires of Dallas.

The trouble in Texas is that one of the vampires in the local leader's nest has vanished, right out of the nightclub the deadies run. Sookie's part in the case starts out as simply reading the minds of the humans who were in the bar that night to find out what they may have witnessed. What she uncovers leads to the murder of a cocktail waitress and a terrifying encounter with anti-vampire cultists, which also leads to Sookie becoming acquainted with some new (to her) aspects of the supernatural world co-existing uneasily with humankind. For example, one of the creatures she encounters is a Renouncer: a vampire who repents of all the evil he has done and takes a vow to "give himself to the sun," i.e. commit suicide. Perhaps surprisingly, this doesn't make him any less dangerous. And then there's those werewolves, of whose existence Sookie first becomes aware right here, as well as a secretive organization of the "two-natured" that even her shapechanger friend Sam didn't know about. And of course, there's that maenad – a being that makes even vampires blanch, not only because of her venomous claws but also because she can "send madness," as she does in a scene from which you'll probably thank Charlaine Harris for letting you look away.

I can't send my writing advice back in time, so of course it was futile for me to expect C.H. to temper the explicitness of her erotic scenes which I felt, both in Dead Until Dark and in this book, took away more than it added. No doubt, my views on this run directly contrary to those of the series' fans, considering the "guess who gets naked this week" tone of the Internet chatter surrounding the True Blood series. (I know the series is over, but the Internet giveth and never taketh away.) Outside Sookie and Bill's bedroom, however, the book continues to build an intriguing fantasy world within the roughly-present-day American South, with a growing community of local characters, increasingly complex supernatural politics and new layers of danger, spookiness and weird revealed on practically every page.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Death on the Nile

Last night, I continued my movie-going spree with another trip to DL for the latest Kenneth Branagh adaptation of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels. This time it was Death on the Nile, again (like the 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express) featuring Branagh himself as the fussy Belgian sleuth with the absurd mustache. This time the mustache gets its own superhero origin story, forged on a World War I battlefield and welded to Poirot's face by the heartbreak of a lifetime. Instead of murder and class warfare confined to a snowbound passenger train, this installment features murder and class warfare on a pleasure boat anchored in the I Bet You Can Guess Which River. The murder plot centers around a romantic triangle whose steaminess is somewhat lost in the sweltering Egyptian climate, although some hot blues music and dirty dancing does bring out the sex appeal somewhat.

I counted six crimes that Poirot solves in this story: three murders, one attempted murder, the theft of a priceless jewel necklace and some major embezzlement. The moneyed gentlefolk exhibit a certain capacity for violence and brutality. Death for love, death for money and death for desperation to elude capture all get mixed up together in the type of mystery where all the suspects are confined together for the duration of the great detective's investigation. Culminating, of course, in one of those classic scenes where the survivors are all together in one room and Poirot says (here I paraphrase), "The murderer is one of you." Then casts a couple red herrings before revealing the final truth.

What the movie does well, perhaps better than average for the formula it follows, is involve Poirot personally and bring out his deepest emotions. It presents a real puzzle but with all the pieces needed for alert viewers to put it together themselves, so that as the solution is finally revealed, you sense its rightness and yet, at the same time, experience amazement. It has terrific acting, a beautiful period look and a chilling atmosphere, despite the heat of the setting and the character dynamics. Its cast includes Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer and Sophie Okonedo, among other names and faces you may or may not know. First billing actually goes to Tom Bateman, whose character "Bouc" was also in Orient Express. Because of so-called controversies involving members of its cast, it has been targeted by cancel culture. Looking at the film on its own merits, therefore, it's a classic example of why, in my opinion, nobody whose evaluation of a piece of art or entertainment is based on cancel culture deserves anyone's respect.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me (trying not to spoil too much, but probably failing): (1) Poirot grills Bouc in a final interrogation that (almost) reveals the killer, an emotional high point that earns Bateman his top billing. (2) Bouc's mother (Bening) leans on the arm of the girlfriend she previously disapproved of (Letitia Wright of Black Panther). (3) The "Poirot reveals all" scene with its mindblowing, devastating revelations. Although I also loved the cabaret scene (with dirty dancing and blues singing) establishing the central love triangle – Gal Gadot has never looked sexier – and the atmospheric shore trip to Abu Simbel with a dust storm blowing in and a torchlit temple and already pretty general suspicion of everybody before much (except a little attempted murder) has actually happened.

One thing I could have done without is the mustache origin story and its related epilogue, which I think delves too deeply into the character of Poirot. I wish Branagh would respect the sleuth's privacy and let him be as Christie depicted him, something of an enigma but not so interesting in and of himself that he pulls focus off the mystery at hand. However, the bonus opportunity to hear Sophie Okonedo (or at least, her voice double?) sing the blues makes it almost forgivable.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Show but no dinner

On Sunday night, I did it again. I went out of town to look at a movie. This time, however, I ate dinner at home first, so I wouldn't be cast upon the tender mercies of an unknown restaurant. Also, I went to Hackensack, which is only about 30 miles east (and a little south) of where I live and yet, behold, I've never been there before. I have a vague impression that I might have been in the area once as a teenager, but I'm really not sure. I've just had no reason to go there until now, and boy, will I have a reason from now on. It's called the Bear Pause Theater (ha) and it's a big, luxurious, new-fangled movie house just outside a poky little town of 300. I live in a town of 4,000 that has a historic downtown cinema that closes in the winter. I don't get it. But now that I know it's there, I'll probably go back from time to time.

The movie I chose this time was Uncharted, though I knew (from an online review) that it's based on a Playstation video game. I also know (from the same review) that fanboys of the game are, let's say, divided about its faithfulness to the source material. But gawd, we're talking about a Playstation video game; why should I care? The movie features Tom Holland, a 20-something who's been pretending to be a high school-aged Spider-Man for three or four movies now, and whose "kid" mannerisms don't quite jive with his chiseled jaw and highly developed physique. Co-starring with him are Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas and I forget everybody else's name. Look them up, you're on the internet. Everybody in the cast was effective and the movie was totally fun in a way that would be ruined by thinking about it at all. You know, like a Playstation computer game.

Maybe you could say that it's derivative of blockbusters like Tomb Raider and National Treasure, but maybe you could also say that's becoming a legit genre and don't sweat its adherence to formula. The movie does somewhat lurch from one spectacular heist, stunt, chase, fight, or booby-trap-of-death scene to another with only the sketchiest of storylines connecting them; but again, formula. The script does land some laugh-worthy jokes without saying anything particularly clever or well, and without developing characters in whom you feel emotionally invested or who show signs of growth. But did you hear what I said about formula? Those things are all right but they're not why anyone choooses to see a movie like this. And it delivers what those people expect, in sometimes breathtaking fashion. It also delivers not one, but two teasers for a possible future franchise, one just before and the other midway through the closing credits. Without which, the formula says, the movie would seem incomplete.

Holland plays a "kid" (actually a 20-something, for once) who had a sad upbringing by nuns at an orphanage, which became even sadder when his older brother took off. He mixes cocktails for a living and picks pockets for spending money. Nate's only contact with brother Sam (did I remember the names right?), for many years, has been a series of postcards from exotic places, where Sam seems to be searching for a hidden fortune in Spanish gold. Then Wahlberg shows up, or rather a fellow treasure hunter named Sully who, long story short, manipulates Nate into joining his quest for the same treasure by hinting that if they find it, they might find Sam as well. Of course, Sully is lying, but a bunch of other folks who are hunting for the gold are even worse company – including an evil Spanish guy (Banderas) and his goon platoon, headlined by a woman whose favorite treasure-hunting tool is a throat-slitting knife. Yeah.

So their chase for the doubloons takes the (relatively) good guys and the bad guys halfway around the world and includes a slapstick heist at a New York auction house, a catacomb quest in Barcelona, aerial high jinks over the Philippines and ... huh. I've run out of storyline to synopsize. The only other thing to mention is that Tom Holland spends a night in a tropical bungalow with a beautiful girl and nothing happens between them, other than a little light betrayal between friends; so, clearly, ripped 20-something or not, he's still identifying with kids. Like, you know, the Playstation market.

Oh, well, here are Three Scenes That Made It For Me. (1) All the aerial hijinks involved in falling out of the back of a cargo plane. (2) All of the aerial hijinks involved in fighting hand-to-hand between two 16th century caravels sailing in mid-air, suspended below helicopters. (3) The weird treasure hunt through the nether regions of Barcelona, where places that haven't been seen in centuries are oddly juxtaposed with modern things like a dance club and a pizza place.

But this review would not be complete without adding Three Scenes That Unmade It For Me – things the movie could have done without, or done better. (1) Mlle. Throat Slitter performs her specialty on the character who's been built up as the villain of the piece. Not only is it one of the things you don't want to think about if you don't want to ruin the whole thing (like, what was the point of his whole character?) but it also isn't done well; the guy just keels over with amazingly little struggle or blood. It's a disturbingly undisturbing depiction of a brutal slaying, and the other characters are disturbingly undisturbed to see it. Which, I think, either suggests something disturbing about the audience this film was tailored to suit, or could have a dangerous influence on them. Maybe both. (2) The final shot of the movie, actually that mid-credits teaser scene, features the hero characters turning in shock and dismay to face ... who? You'll never know, probably. (3) The girl (not the throat-slitting one), after the friendly bit of mutual betrayal I mentioned ... never really figures in the story again. You see her realizing what's happened, but for all real dramatic purposes, she's out of the picture. I consider that a wasted opportunity on about the same level as the waste of the Spanish villain character – two instances, maybe enough to form a pattern, of the movie's writers dropping story threads that should have paid off. In a really decent story, like (say) Raiders of the Lost Ark, you would expect them to tie in, or tie up, in a satisfying way. I'm not asking for melting faces or a steamy love scene. OK, maybe I am. I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Dinner and a show

The local movie house in downtown Park Rapids, Minn. has been closed for the winter, which is regrettable. A certain sense that one has to get out in the evening builds and builds until it becomes intolerable, and for me, that means the movies. From here, I could drive between 30 and 50 miles each way to visit movie theaters in Hackensack, Wadena, Detroit Lakes, Perham, Cass Lake and Staples (that list is in ascending order of distance). For some odd reason, I've only gone the Wadena route until last night; maybe it's because I frequently head that way to visit my parents, who live one town over. I've never traveled from here to Hackensack, even though it's the closest; I can't say why, other than never having any business there. But work has taken me to Detroit Lakes several times, and traveling to visit family has taken me through it even more often, so it was that direction I decided to drive last night when I couldn't stand not going to the movies any longer.

I found the movie theater with no problem. It was in a mall that also had some restaurants in it, including a Chinese place that I decided to try for dinner. I hate to judge based on only one visit, and admittedly, I've been to worse Chinese restaurants. But dinner didn't at all upstage the movie, I'll tell you. Upon arriving at my booth, I thought I smelled a barnyard, which is not a really appetizing aroma. The menu was huge and covered in fine print, confronting me with more choices than I knew what to make of. Desperate for a signpost, I asked my waitress for a suggestion. She recommended something called Governor's Chicken that was supposed to be like General Tso's, but its flavor lacked anything interesting or memorable, and the fried rice that came with it had a horrid surprise buried in it for me to spit into my napkin. I was given a choice of rice soup or egg drop, and having never had rice soup before I gave it a try; funnily enough, it turned out to be a bowl of light broth with some rice in it, and about three slices of green onion, and only wanted a couple glugs of soy sauce to taste like anything in particular. The egg roll was above reproach. Maybe I'll give the place another chance, and next time I'll order a duck dish (which I had toyed with for a moment) or something especially spicy, and I'll give the fried rice a good stir before I start shoveling it in.

So much for dinner. The movie theater, directly across the mall corridor from the Chinese place, was called Washington Square Cinemagic and it was pretty nice, although again, I think it could be nicer. I was confused to see cash registers only at the concession stand and no box office; I actually had to ask an employee where I was supposed to buy tickets, because in all my years of going to the show, I don't recall ever seeing the box office and concessions combined into one-stop shopping. My next problem is that I didn't know what the showtimes were, and despite having plenty of wall space for the concessions menu and more, and even a flat-screen displaying promotional video, the management didn't see fit to put a screen with the showtimes inside the theater. I had to go back out into the mall to look at a screen on the wall outside the theater. It was such a confusing place that I dithered around and had to ask staff a couple more questions before I'd figured out where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do.

Once seated in the auditorium where my movie was going to be screened, I found the seats comfortable, but the pre-trailers video entertainment was repetitive and obnoxious. The theater wanted everybody to pull out their phones and download an app so they could interact with onscreen games and take movie trivia quizzes. It was a strange way to begin the cinema experience where, usually, you're encouraged to silence your phone and put it away. And then, after warning the audience in the sternest language to do just that, and to behave themselves, I found their threats to be ineffective because the row behind me was filled with rowdy schoolboys who talked among themselves all the way through the movie.

But now, despite having every reason to give the finger to the entire experience, here's a review of the movie I saw. It was The Batman, a fresh reboot of the DC Comics movie franchise previously headlined by Michael Keaton, then Val Kilmer, then (ugh) George Clooney, then Christian Bale, then Ben Affleck, and a partridge in a pear tree. And that's just since I was the age of the brats in the row behind me last night. Now, after all those films, they've given the role to Cedric Diggory, I mean Edward Cullen – I mean, of course, Robert Pattinson. Before I go any further, let me lay on you One Line That Made It For Me, and it's part of the No. 1 Scene That Ditto, below. The Batman and the Riddler are face to face – well, face to mask; the Batman is there in his professional capacity, but the Riddler has been captured and identified. Otherwise, there's only a sheet of wire-mesh-reinforced glass between them when the Riddler says (and here I paraphrase), "You know, the people who want to unmask us are missing the point. I'm most truly myself when I wear the mask. I'm sure you get that. In fact, I think I'm looking at the true you right now." This quote is literally the saving of this movie, and of Robert Pattinson's portrayal of Bruce Wayne. I'll say more on that later.

But now I come prematurely to Three Scenes That Made It For Me, because I don't think I can say what I mean about this movie without first discussing those.

(1) They've caught the Riddler, a masked lunatic who has been committing a series of heinous murders of high-profile public figures, leaving cryptic messages to "the Batman" (although the guy in the bat suit actually calls himself Vengeance) and posting videos on the internet, claiming to be exposing the lies behind city leaders' promises of renewal. He'd even tried (unsuccessfully) to blow up Bruce Wayne, under the rubric "the sins of the father are visited upon the son." Under the killer's scary mask, he turns out to be a wimpy, bespectacled accountant, played by Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood, Ruby Sparks). Vengeance and the cops are searching the wacko's apartment, trying to understand who his next target was going to be. Venge, a.k.a. the Batman, spots a collage of photos and newspaper clippings, and thanks to a graffito about revealing the truth being right next to a photo of Bruce Wayne, he apparently begins to think the Riddler is onto his secret identity. Then the cops get a text saying that the Riddler wants to see the Batman at Arkham Asylum. So, Venge goes to the interview, all bat-suited out, and after the Riddler does the expected "I knew you would come" thing, he begins to mouth the name "Bruce Wayne," very meaningfully, then say it aloud. He spits it out, like it's burning his tongue. He begins a harangue about how Bruce Wayne was the orphan everybody in Gotham was thinking about, when his parents were killed, even though his standard of living was way above the kids in the orphanage where the Riddler grew up. You see the Bat's eyes darting around the room, observing video cameras recording their interview. You can tell, despite the mask concealing half of his face, that he's bracing himself for his true identity to be outed. Then the Riddler sighs and says something about Bruce Wayne being the one who got away, and then turns the subject toward what he and the Batman have (in his diseased mind) done together. This leads to Pattinson displaying, a second time in the same scene, an amazing feat of acting considering how much of him was covered by the bat suit – a look of relief that passes over the lower half of his face, and his eyes, when he realizes that the Riddler hasn't actually riddled out who he truly is. The Batman's relief is short-lived as he then realizes his "Vengeance" persona actually inspired the Riddler (and others) to don masks and sow chaos, even considering him to be working with them. And then the Batman issues a cruel putdown that shakes the Riddler out of his maniacal gloating and turns him into the whining lunatic that he remains for the remainder of the movie – except for a flash of malice as he realizes that the Bat hasn't solved his last riddle yet.

(2) Police Lt. Jim Gordon (played by Jeffrey Wright, a.k.a. Felix Lighter in the last few James Bond films) is caught between an interrogation roomful of cops and the Batman and has to figure out how to separate them before they tear each other to pieces. After narrowly managing to de-escalate the situation and getting the Batman alone (to a degree), he basically says, "You're gonna have to punch my lights out, steal my key to this room, let yourself out and run up this stairwell to the roof." Pow! It happens, and the next time they meet, Gordon rubs his jaw and says, "You could have pulled your punch," to which the Batman says, "I did."

(3) A tie, because honorable mentions are for sissies: (a) Whenever Selena Kyle/Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) and the Batman are face to face and close enough to kiss, which they do at least a couple times; these moments always heat up the screen. Also, she always tells him interesting things in these scenes, like when she responds to one of his antisocial comments with an offhand remark about how he must have grown up rich to be able to say stuff like that. But the best instance is at the end of the movie, when Selena urges the Bat to run away with her because if he keeps doing what he's doing in Gotham City, it's going to get him killed. And you sense that she's right. (b) A scene in which the Batman, holding a blazing red flare about his head, leads a group of survivors through a pitch dark, flooded disaster area, which is not only a turning point for his character in relation to the people of Gotham City but also just an awesome image. (c) Any scene featuring the Penguin, because I could never quite recognize the actor under the makeup but I knew it was somebody I should know. I had to watch the end credits to find out who it was, and it blew my mind to see that Colin Farrell played the role. Though I knew it had to be someone big, because despite a ton of prosthetics, he still had a vivid character and an expressive face.

So, now that that's out of the way, let me tell you what I thought about the movie. It's different from all the other Batman films. So, so different. For starters, Gotham City looks lived-in, like a real-world city that has lots of history – unlike the cartoon-Gothic urban hellscape designed by Tim Burton et al. Batman's suit, gadgets and vehicles don't look impractical to the point of campiness; he just comes across as incredibly well-equipped. And with all respect toward Adam West and George Clooney, Robert Pattinson's Batman is about as funny as a landmine. When he stomps out of the shadows with his heavy-soled boots and his impressive bat suit (a bit less constricting of head movement than the Keaton/Kilmer/Clooney versions), particularly to the accompanying theme by Michael Giacchino played in an ominous, low register on the piano, he's terrifying. When he revs up the turbocharged Batmobile and races after you in a death defying chase scene, with the same theme played by a full, screaming orchestra, the terror dials itself up to gut-deep horror. He has a freakish lack of qualms about wading into a fight against superior numbers, and he takes a serious beating and keeps going (though not without feeling the effects, or wearing scars to show for it).

Meanwhile, unlike the Keaton, Kilmer, Bale and Affleck iterations, Pattinson's Bruce Wayne is entirely lacking in social graces. He couldn't pass for a philanthropic billionaire, even though he has the billionaire part down cold. This Bruce Wayne is so tight-lipped, so surly, so socially non-functional that it tempts you to speculate about where on the autism spectrum he is. Alfred (played by Andy Serkis of "Gollum" fame) has a lot to put up with, though he also halfway admits to being partly to blame for it. The guy's in danger of not being a billionaire for much longer, he's that bad at keeping up appearances even with the company that he (barely) controls. He's got "always been a moody brat and stayed that way even when he should have aged out of it" written all over him, in every scene in which he doesn't wear the bat suit. And yet, when said suit is on, without changing any mannerisms or becoming anything like a sparkling conversationalist, that attitude suddenly works for him and he becomes impressive to the point of instilling awe. It's just like the Riddler said, way back in that approximate quote I dropped at the top of this review: he isn't himself as Bruce Wayne. And though he introduces himself as Vengance in an early scene, stuff happens that ... well, let's just say that he's most who he is when he's the Batman. And you see him working on exactly who that is as this movie goes along.

It's a thinking movie. It's a nerve-rattling movie. It's a psychological movie. It's kind of a hardboiled mystery, with loads of noir and plenty of space (by which I mean, time) to develop a mood without any dialogue intruding on it. It's a movie in which Gotham City doesn't seem like an exaggerated version of the real world; not exaggerated at all. It's a world that goes to your heart because it could be your world, and it needs a hero, and the Batman is the best it's gonna get, and that ain't necessarily good news – and finding out whether it's gonna be good news or not is part of what this movie is about. It risks things that risk-averse studio executives usually wouldn't stand for. It pulls them off, not in spectacular style, but in a dark, brooding, dangerous style that makes you uncomfortable in exactly the way it intends to. It has action – fights, chases, escapes, rescues – and it builds to a terrific climax despite faking you into thinking it's gone to anticlimax hell. It has a visual design that brings Gotham into the 21st century, and a memorable musical score that, unfortunately, is going to ruin Schubert's Ave Maria for the next generation, and maybe the In Paradisum from Faure's Requiem into the bargain (cf. the scene where Alfred opens a letter bomb meant for Bruce). I'll also say of Giacchino's score that it does musically what this film's art design does, stripping away every whimsical vestige of Danny Elfman's gothic cartoon world.

The movie also has a great, if British-centric cast, including John Turturro as a crime boss, Peter Sarsgaard (who played the villainous Walter Duranty in Mr. Jones) as a corrupt D.A., and British soap villain Alex Ferns as a corrupt police commissioner. It has a reboot of the Bat-franchise that doesn't weary us with an unnecessary, onscreen rehash of the whole death-of-Thomas-and-Martha-Wayne thing, although Bruce's bat-quest to find out who was responsible for their deaths is woven into the storyline. Thanks in part to that one line, that made a virtue of Pattinson's morose performance as Bruce Wayne, I admired everything about it except the ignorance and disrespect displayed by the people in the row behind me. I'd watch it again.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Bountiful Hymns: First Line Index

My third, book of hymns is, you guessed it, Bountiful Hymns. Starting early in the process of writing its contents and adding to itas I went along, I linked it to the Book Trolley page of this blog, where you can also find links to all the indices for Useful Hymns and Edifying Hymns. Naturally, this list is similar to the ones I maintained for those previous books. So, this may be of more interest to me than anyone at present, but it'll hopefully be more useful later.
A Pharisee, a ruler ... Series A/Lent 2
All things that were gain to me ... Series A/Proper 22
Alleluia! Christ is living ... Series C/Easter Day
Although the doors were closed ... Series A/Easter 2
As through one man's fall, sin entered ... Series A/Lent 1
"Ask!" said the Lord ... Series B/Christmas 2
At Cana's wedding, Christ the Lord ... Series B/Epiphany 2
At sunset, crowding at the door ... Series B/Epiphany 5

Be not surprised, beloved ... Series A/Easter 7
Be strong, you fearful-hearted ... Series B/Proper 18
"Because I live," said Jesus ... Series A/Easter 6
Behold, the Day will come with power ... Series C/Proper 28
Beware, little ones, of false teachers ... Series A/Proper 8
Beware, while it is called "today" ... Series B/Proper 23
Blest be the God and Father ... Series A/Christmas 2
Blest is the mother mild ... Series C/Advent 4
Breathe, you saints, the Spirit blowing ... Feast/Week of Pentecost
Brethren, for advantage striving ... Series B/Easter 7
Brethren, shore up hands from sinking ... Series A/Advent 3
Brethren, stand firm, though dark the time ... Series C/Proper 27
Brethren, we are not indebted ... Series A/Proper 10
By faith, the substance of our hope ... Series C/Propers 14-15
By grace through faith we have been saved ... Series B/Lent 4

Christ is the living bread come down ... Series B/Proper 14
Christ, our Shepherd, daily guiding ... Series A/Proper 29
Christ, to You we here commend ... Confirmation
Christ, Treasure dearer far than gold ... Epiphany
Christ, upon us gird Your armor ... Series B/Proper 17
Christ, who is Highest, Loveliest, Best ... Series B/Lent 5
Christ, who would see me loving ... Series C/Proper 10
Christ, Your transfigured glory ... Series C/Transfiguration
Christians, for its vessels earthen ... Series B/Proper 4
Christians, in your faithful labor ... Series A/Epiphany 7
Come, if you are yearning ... Series A/Proper 13
Come, let us turn back to the Lord ... Series A/Proper 5
Come, righteous Branch of David ... Series C/Advent 1
Come, Rod from Jesse's vinestock ... Series A/Advent 2
Crucify Him, crucify Him ... Series C/Sunday of the Passion

Daughter of Zion, sing ... Series C/Advent 2
Dear brethren, are you fleshly ... Series A/Epiphany 6
Dear Christ, by Whose Amen ... Series B/Proper 16
Dear Christians, seek that greater gift ... Series C/Epiphany 4
Death has no dominion o'er You ... Series C/Proper 5
Do you know Whose blood is sprinkled ... Series A/Transfiguration

Erupt with song, You Christian throng ... Christmas
Except you hate your father, mother ... Series C/Proper 18

Faithful children, let us raise ... Series A/Christmas 1
Faithful witnesses, take heart ... Series B/Proper 10
For freedom you have been set free ... Series C/Proper 8
Freely give as you are given ... Series C/Proper 3
Fret not, heart, so anxiously ... Series A/Easter 5
Friends, balk not at the Lord's rebuke ... Series C/Lent 3
From David's sin concerning poor Uriah ... Series C/Proper 6
From the false apostle's tongue ... Series A/Proper 7

Gentle brethren, I beseech you ... Series A/Proper 16
God in Christ is glorified ... Series C/Easter 5
God, who once Abraham desired ... Series B/Lent 1
Good Shepherd, lo, You know Your own ... Series B/Easter 4

"Hail, favored one," the angel said ... Series A/Advent 4
Hallelujah! Hail His rising ... Feast/Week of Easter
Hark, isles! Pay heed, you distant folk ... Series A/Epiphany 2
Have mercy on me, the sinner, O God ... Series C/Proper 25
Hold fast the word of life ... Series A/Proper 21
Holy, holy, holy be ... Series B/Holy Trinity
Holy women, sorely grieving ... Series A/Easter Day
Hosanna! Blest be David's Son ... Series B/Advent 1
Hosanna! Blest is Christ the Lord ... Series A/Sunday of the Passion
How hard it is for those with wealth ... Series B/Proper 24
How long will I cry "Violence" ... Series C/Proper 22
Hypocrites our Lord were testing ... Series A/Proper 24

"I AM the Door," said Christ the Lord ... Series A/Easter 4
If anyone is thirsty ... Series A/Pentecost
In Your compassion, gracious Lord ... Series B/Proper 11
Is any rich? Let him consider ... Series C/Proper 21

Jerusalem, ah! can it be ... Series C/Lent 2
Jesus, alas! What evil days are nigh ... Series C/Proper 29
Jesus, bless Your household with a faithful scribe ... Dedication
Jesus, Captain of salvation ... Series B/Proper 22
Jesus, crucified and risen ... Series C/Easter 2
Jesus, Master, hear my prayer ... Series B/Proper 25
Jesus, Source of faith victorious ... Series B/Easter 6
Jesus, the Bread of life ... Series B/Proper 13
Jesus, though the crowd stood scorning ... Passion and judgment
Jesus, to You all laud is due ... Series C/Proper 17
Jesus, wearied from much walking ... Series A/Lent 3
Jesus wept in heartfelt sorrow ... Series A/Lent 5
John baptized indeed with water ... Series B/Epiphany 1
John came preaching at the Jordan ... Series C/Epiphany 1

Kingdom, what shall we compare ... Series B/Proper 6
Know, saints of God, with what love ... Series A/Proper 12

Let us make intercessions ... Series C/Proper 20
Listen, you baptized ... Series A/Baptism of Our Lord
Little children, sore convicted ... Office of the Keys
Look! The Victim resurrected ... Ascension
Lord, bear with my weak praying ... Series B/Proper 19
Lord, if you called, I could walk upon waves ... Series A/Proper 14
Lord Jesus, send Your word and heal ... Series C/Proper 4
Lord Jesus, who with fiery zeal ... Series B/Lent 3
Lord Jesus, who Your Father's will ... Series C/Christmas 2
Lord, to whom shall we go ... Series B/Proper 15
Lord, who bade Galilee repent ... Series B/Epiphany 3
Lord, who confused men's tongues ... Series C/Pentecost
Lord, who for mercy ever asked ... Series B/Epiphany 6
Lord, who made the sea a road ... Series C/Lent 5

Many were Jesus' signs ... Series B/Passion Sunday
Men set the Lord a quiz ... Series A/Proper 25
Men will come in these last days ... Series B/Advent 2
Most gracious Lord, You thrice restored ... Series C/Easter 3
My Lord, who knows me from afar ... Series B/Epiphany 2
"My realm," said Jesus, "is not of this world" ... Series B/Proper 29

Near is the great Day of the Lord ... Series A/Proper 28
No eye has seen, nor ear has heard ... Series A/Epiphany 5
Not all who call Christ "Lord" are well instructed ... Series C/Epiphany 8
Now behold! The day is nearing ... Series C/Advent 2
Now hear this, well-prospered preachers ... Series A/Proper 26

O child of God, in Jesus' grace be strengthened ... Series C/Proper 23
O Christ, at the appointed time ... Series A/Proper 6
O Christ, our Teacher and our Lord ... Maundy Thursday
O Christ, who in Your own place were rejected ... Series C/Epiphany 3
O disciples, hear the Savior ... Series C/Epiphany 7
O fishermen of Galilee ... Series C/Epiphany 5
O glory of God! O gospel of grace ... Series B/Transfiguration
O heavens, shout for joy ... Series A/Epiphany 8
O Holy Spirit, come ... Series B/Pentecost
O Israel, would that you joined yourself ... Series A/Proper 15
O living God, though oft dead idols' luster ... Series C/Proper 7
O mystery most rich and sweet ... Series B/Proper 26
O Spirit, who all the Scriptures inspired ... Series B/Easter 5
O you disciples, of one mind ... Series A/Lent 4
O Zebulon and Naphtali ... Series A/Epiphany 3
Oh! Know the time, dear children ... Series A/Advent 1
Oh, that day of jubilation ... Burial and Judgment
Oh, that the Lord would stir the waters ... Series C/Easter 6
On Jesus in the wilderness ... Series C/Lent 1
Once for all men, once for all crime ... Series B/Proper 28
Owe nothing, children of God's grace ... Series A/Proper 18

"Peace, be still!" Christ Jesus said ... Series B/Proper 7
Praise the Father and the Son ... Series A/Holy Trinity
Preach, you messengers of Jesus ... Series B/Proper 9

Quickly, Bridegroom! Come with speed ... Series B/Epiphany 8

Rejoice at all times, all you living ... Series B/Advent 3
Rejoice, O holy nation ... Series C/Holy Trinity
Rejoice with Zion, all who love her ... Series C/Proper 9
Remember, man, that you are dust ... Ash Wednesday
Repentant, come and be saved ... Series B/Proper 3
Return to the Lord, you captives of hope ... Series A/Proper 9
Rise, beloved! Greet the day ... Series B/Easter Day

Saints of Christ, be not ashamed ... Series A/Proper 3
Saints, when sorrow you are feeling ... Series A/Proper 27
Salvation is of God alone ... Series C/Easter 4
See, holy ones, the time outpoured ... Series A/Advent 4
See what for our True Love is done ... Series C/Christmas 1
See, what love the Father shows us ... Series B/Easter 3
Seed of the woman, Lord of all ... Series B/Proper 5
Shepherd, gather us and lead us ... Series C/Proper 19
Since my Savior in the tomb has rested ... Holy Saturday
Spirit, Who breathed Holy Scripture for teaching ... Series C/Proper 24

Take up your cross and follow Me ... Series A/Proper 17
Tenderly, Lord, let it move You ... Series B/Proper 27
The hammer comes down ... Good Friday
The Lord's reproof do not despise ... Series C/Proper 16
The Word of life, who all things made ... Series B/Easter 2
This Jesus, who is He ... Series B/Lent 2
To God, in whom the saints are named ... Series B/Proper 12

Vanity of vanities ... Series C/Proper 13

Wait on the Lord! For every morn ... Series B/Proper 8
Walking to Emmaus, two disciples frowned ... Series A/Easter 3
We pray, dear Lord, that we be one ... Series C/Easter 7
What grace is yours, beloved church ... Series B/Proper 21
"What is this?" cried Capernaum ... Series A/Epiphany 4
When God's Law speaks, all mortal mouths ... Series A/Proper 4
When He saw the multitudes ... Sermon on the Mount
When Jesus' kind regard was shown ... Prodigal son
When my brother wrongs me, Lord ... Series A/Proper 19
When time had fully come ... Series B/Christmas 1
Where is the wisdom that comes from above ... Series B/Proper 20
Who are we, that would see Jesus ... Holy Week
Who is like God, the First and Last ... Series A/Proper 11
Why be jealous, vineyard workers ... Series A/Proper 20
Woe to the man who trusts in man ... Series C/Epiphany 6

You are too good, Lord ... Series C/Proper 11
You, Lord, even You are He ... Series B/Epiphany 7
You may have heard it said ... Blessedness/Series A/Epiphany 4
You who a stronger faith would know ... Growing as a theologian
Your name be hallowed, O heavenly Father ... Series C/Proper 12

Zacchaeus in the sycamore ... Series C/Proper 26
Zion, sing! Let echoes carry ... Series A/Proper 23

Poor world, ah! thou deceivest me ... Brahms motet

Arise, my soul, arise ... Charles Wesley, Reconciliation
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life ... George Herbert, The Call
Jesus, Servant of us all ... Robin Fish Sr., Lenten midweek series
Now hush your cries and shed no tear ... Nicolaus Herman, Burial
Rest of the weary! Thou ... Salomo Franck, Easter Vigil
The Light of Life in glory shines ... Andy Richard, Transfiguration

316. Easter Hymn

I had this hymn tune stuck in my head today and I decided to do something original with it. It's called BIRKDALE and it's by Henry Hiles, 1865, and for some reason my indexing work on Songs and Hymns of Zion got it embedded in my brain, even though it never appears in that book. (I think it comes of having scrolled past it numerous times while using my hymn tune research to identify tunes in SHZ.) I'd also been thinking that even after publishing two hefty books of hymns, I somehow still hadn't written the kind of Easter hymn that I'd actually want to sing on Easter Sunday. (There is this, but the 1 Corinthians 15 text it's based on comes up elsewhere in the lectionary series my church uses, so I recently sang it as a solo, and I don't want to repeat it again next month.) So, to rectify that omission and crush the earworm at the same time, here's a new Easter Hymn sung to BIRKDALE.

Holy women, sorely grieving,
Yet believing,
Came with spices to the tomb
And beheld at dawn's first rising,
Most surprising,
No clay resting in the gloom.

"Why," they found an angel speaking,
"Are you seeking
Him who lives among the dead?
See the place where He was lying:
No more dying,
He is risen as He said."

"Go," he said, "tell His disciples:
He has gone where you will go."
So they ran, afraid, rejoicing,
Praises voicing,
First the wondrous news to know.

Still today that word astounding
Is resounding,
Ever new despite the years:
Death, although its shroud enfold us,
Cannot hold us;
Christ will wipe away our tears.

Jesus bore all sin while dying,
By His holy death all flesh;
Now He lives, wherein is rooted
Faith imputed
Unto us as righteousness.

His baptismal vow is plighted:
We're united
In His death and its release.
Gathered into death, we meet Him,
Warmly greet Him,
Resting lightly and at peace.

Likewise, in communion melded,
We are welded
To His life, and live anew.
Let us then have done with doubting,
Gladly shouting
Every praise the Lamb is due.