Friday, March 29, 2024

507. A Passion Prayer

Far be it from me to make common cause with the Jesuits, let alone the founder of their order, but a friend of mine posted Ignatius of Loyola's Anima Christi prayer on Facebook today (Good Friday) and it really struck me as a good prayer. It definitely shines amid the rough of the more recent work product of Jesuit liturgical poets. So, for what it's worth, here's a Good Friday meditation that expands on Ig's prayer, if he'll pardon the familiarity. As usual, at this writing I have no particular tune in mind.

O human Soul of God the Son,
Forever the Immortal One,
You deeply suffered here below
That I the bliss above may know;
As man for all man's sake were born;
By death from out Your flesh were torn.
As You are pure, so suffer me,
And likewise sanctified, to be.

O offered Body, made a curse
The rout of Adam to reverse,
Men looked on You whom they had pierced
And numbered You among the worst.
But now, O dearest frame and best,
So work all things that, ever blest,
I may dwell safely, fed and whole,
And all Your excellence extol.

O Blood shed by the Crucified
That all my debt has satisfied,
Now fill me, yea, beyond my need;
My heart inebriate indeed!
For sorrow, I that joy would share
Which overcomes all loss and care,
Freed from the poison of my sin,
Made for such wine a worthy skin.

O Water, flowing from Christ's heart,
Bathe me, that as one set apart
I may from death to life arise,
Unblemished in the Father's eyes.
Now I have died; I share His tomb;
With Him to life again I bloom;
I live in Him, and He in me,
Abiding to eternity.

O Passion of my Lord, give strength
Through all this valley's depth and length.
Good Jesus, hear my heartfelt groan,
Nor leave me helpless and alone.
Let me within Your nailprints hide
That, never sundered from Your side,
I'll lack no armor from the foe
But through all things unscathed will go.

O Lamb once slain who ever lives,
Who crown and life and Spirit gives,
At last disarm the grave's grim power;
Call me to You in my death's hour.
Bid me in Your assembly stand
To praise You in the promised land
Where, every cross left far behind,
Boundless refreshment I shall find.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Dead Guy Next Door

The Dead Guy Next Door
by Lucy Score
Recommended Ages: 16+

Explaining the genre of this novel could take a paragraph. But allowing for the use of nouns as modifiers, let's call it a hot romantic comedy paranormal mystery. Its leading romantic characters are a reluctant clairvoyant named Riley Thorn – from a long line of psychically gifted people who, unlike her, embrace their abilities – and an ex-cop turned private detective named Nick Santiago. She just wants to be normal, and settles for a stiflingly dull job in an abusive environment and a one-room apartment in a mansion full of elderly crackpots. He just wants to be a lad, allergic to rules and regulations and, above all, commitment. When she catches him snooping into the business of the gross guy across the hall, sparks instantly fly between them. Actually, she has a prophetic hallucination of the two of them having sex. Nick talks Riley into pretending he's her boyfriend, and later fiancé, so he can continue snooping – especially after her next-most-recent prophetic hallucination, depicting icky Dickie's murder, comes 100 percent true.

So, we've established the paranormal part – like Riley not being able to control the voices of the dead asking her to deliver messages for them – and the hot romance – because the smolder between these two characters will keep you turning pages way past your bedtime. And the mystery, too, because there are legit murders to be solved here, and all the detective story trappings from a client that makes Nick feel like a pimply brat to a police detective, his former partner, with whom he shares a bitter feud. And corruption that goes all the way to the top of the great city of (wait for it; I'll bet you'd never guess) Harrisburg, Pa. What! Where? I dunno, but apparently there's a state capitol in it. That much is apparent from the fact that the climax happens on the Capitol grounds. Well, the climax in one sense. But before I over-share about the other climax, I'd better get to where this paragraph was going when I started it, and that's to mention the comedy part, which runs through everything and is perhaps the best evidence that Lucy Score is a capable writer.

It's a relentlessly funny novel. The whole thing is a steady flow of wit, with never a dull page, whether the subject matter is sexy, spooky or related to crime and detection. The characters are a menagerie of goofballs, including an old lady with a fixation on men's butts; a paranormal life coach whose apparent, total perfection triggers Nick's jealousy and Riley's sense of the ridiculous; the outrageous wait staff of the seediest bar, probably, in the mid-Atlantic states; all the quirky people in the hero couple's personal and professional lives. Even the main characters' fights, even their low moods and setbacks, even the life-and-death chase with the killer(s) at the climax of the book, are laced with sarcasm and landmined with silliness. So, whether it's the woo-woo stuff, or the (insert wolf whistle) stuff, or the who-done-it that mostly interests you, the mortar that holds it all together and makes it completely entertaining is the comedic gift that makes this, in my books, a successful novel, and may draw me back into Lucy Score's world.

This is the first of (so far) four "Riley Thorn" novels, which also include The Corpse in the Closet, The Blast from the Past and, coming in July 2024, The Body in the Backyard; all of them a.k.a. "Riley Thorn and ..." Romance novelist Score is also the author of the "Benevolence" trilogy, two "Sinner and Saint" novels, eight "Blue Moon" novels, the "Knockemout" trilogy and about nine other novels, and co-author with Claire Kingsley of six "Bootleg Springs" novels.

Arthur the King

Last night, I chose this movie over Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire and Kung Fu Panda 4, because with certain carefully chosen exceptions I'm trying to do my part not to encourage the film industry's obnoxious devotion to remakes, reboots and endless strings of sequels. So yeah, I picked the non-franchise movie and actually liked it so much that I came out of the theater trying to think of a way to turn it into a franchise (e.g. cross-country running team and their dog mascot solve spooky mysteries on international endurance race circuit; kind of like Scooby-Doo but without the van).

But seriously, this touching movie stars a very fit for his age Mark Wahlberg as a professional endurance runner (and cyclist, climber, kayaker, whatever) who, after years of never winning a race despite being at the top of his profession, let his team down three years ago in a super-embarrasing way. But now he realizes that he can't let his career end that way, so he rounds up another team, kisses enough corporate tuchus to score a skimpy sponsorship, and jets off to the Dominican Republic to run around a whole country. Soon his four-person team is joined by a stray dog that miraculously keeps up with them, despite not being briefed on their route and having some doggy health issues to slow him down. Nevertheless, Arthur (as Wahlberg's character calls him) proves loyal and even saves the team's life at one point. And they save him right back in an act of mercy that [SPOILERS DELETED]. The heart-wrenching drama isn't over yet, though, because bringing Arthur home and getting him the medical help he needs proves to be another challenge for a true survivor and his network of friends and family.

The movie is decently acted and cast, and the Dominican Republic scenery is pretty awesome. And there's a scene that I'll get to in a moment (hint, it totally makes the movie for me) that had me squirming in my seat, covering my face with both hands (but peeking through my fingers) and holding my breath for way longer than is strictly advisable. Also on board are Paul Guilfoyle (the original CSI), Simu Liu (Shang-Chi of Ten Rings fame), Juliet Rylance (stepdaughter of Mark Rylance), Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones, the Maze Runner franchise, etc.), and Bear Grylls as himself. The hero dog is pretty cute. If you want to see an interesting country that doesn't show up in a lot of U.S. movies, or if you love dogs or tales of athletic heroism, definitely see this movie. You might warm to it slowly, as it takes a while for the dog and the racing team to come together, and Wahlberg's character isn't particularly sympathetic until he falls in love with the dog. But if you give it time, it'll grow on you.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) The terrifying, suspenseful zip-line scene. If they had put in more scenes like this, it would have been a completely different type of movie – but an awesome one. (2) Arthur makes the Wahlberg character (his name is Michael Light) sleep on a stoop in a Santo Domingo street because he's scared to go inside the hotel. (3) Their heartbreaking separation when Mike is forced to let the baggage crew wheel Arthur off in a cage before putting him on the plane. The dog's despair every time he thinks Light is leaving him is vividly acted. Is that dog a good actor, or what? Bonus scene: When Light saves Arthur from drowning, a moment that totally echoes Frodo pulling Sam out of the river at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. Bonus-bonus: A dialogue-free scene in which a prediction Light made while telling off his corporate sponsors comes true. Pay-off, big-time!

Another bonus is the obligatory, because-it's-based-on-true-events slideshow of the Light family and their loyal dog. Fun fact, the real Michael Light, in his prime, was actually better looking than Mark Wahlberg. It blows the whole "who would you pick to play you in the movie based on your life" trope to kingdom come. Don't believe me? Stay past the closing scene of the movie and see for yourself.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Ordinary Angels

I actually saw this movie a couple weekends ago, but I dragged my feet blogging about it because, frankly, I spend so much time at work perched in front of a screen that I didn't feature spending more at home. But here I go.

Based on a true story, this movie stars Hilary Swank as an alcoholic hairdresser in Louisville, Ky. who decides, at the outset of her own healing journey, to fundraise for a family she doesn't even personally know. She kind of forces her help down their throats, despite the dad's (Alan Ritchson of TV's "Titans" and "Reacher") discomfort with having her in their business. Ritchson plays a roofing contractor who has just buried his wife and must now raise his daughters with the help of his mother, played by Nancy Travis. The younger of the two girls has a medical condition that will end the way her mother's illness did, unless she gets a liver transplant pronto. Swank swoops in, soliciting donations, arranging for transportation and finally, in the middle of a once-in-a-century blizzard, pulling together a crowd of volunteers to do the impossible, to make sure the little girl makes it to Omaha to collect her new liver.

There are a lot of sickbed scenes in this movie. What the little girl goes through makes it sometimes hard to watch. And you may be surprised to learn that there is neither a spark of romance between the two leads nor an overtly religious message. Ritchson & family darken the door of their church just twice in this movie, and when Swank does so as well, it's apparently a novelty for her and she clearly doesn't fit in. But hearts of gold can be found in amazing places, even in the boozy bosom of a hairdresser who dresses like a tart and has a toxic relationship with her own son. Her vulnerability and the unwise decisions she makes in her personal life add another layer of "boy, this is uncomfortable to watch" to a movie that finally builds up to a gripping climax as the tension over whether daughter No. 2 will make it becomes nearly unbearable.

The acting is pretty good. Nancy Travis isn't afraid to look like Grandma. Hilary Swank takes naturally to the kind of character who throws a lifeline to the hero family and, at the same time, probably shouldn't be around them. Even Ritchson transcends type (stoic stud) and delivers scenes of desperate, agonizing emotion. The obligatory closing titles, showing images of the real-life people in the story and information about what happened to them afterward, are worth staying for. It's a nice movie about a small, ordinary family dealt a tough hand, and a community pulling together to help. I wouldn't call it a great film, but I think it's one that families could watch together, with characters they can root for, without the over-the-top costumes, action and effects that Hollywood seems to be throwing all its money at these days. It's the kind of decent, small movie there used to be more of and, one hopes, there will be more of in the future.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Pick just about any scene where Swank's character uses her power of persistence, and her obliviousness to boundaries, to score donations, and even commitments of private aircraft and an open runway during a blizzard, for the hero family. (2) Pick just about any scene where Ritchson is about to say "no" and Travis takes over and says "yes." Like when Swank shows up with an envelope full of cash and Grandma invites her in for dinner, despite Ritchson's clear discomfort. (3) Swank's estranged son shows up with a shovel when everything depends on a bunch of last-minute volunteers clearing a landing zone for a helicopter.

The movie also stars Amy Acker (Alias, Angel), Drew Powell (Gotham) and Tamala Jones (Castle). Director Jon Gunn has written and/or directed a number of faith-centered films, including the upcoming feature The Unbreakable Boy as well as American Underdog, Jesus Revolution, The Case for Christ and I Still Believe, among other titles. One of its screenwriters is Oscar-nominated actress Meg Tilly, who also happens to be an author with some 10 novels to her name.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Profitable Hymns: First Line Index

I've decided the working title for my fourth book of hymns – at this writing, just starting to get underway – will be "Profitable Hymns for Meditation in the Lutheran Church, School and Home." I plan to add to this directory as the book grows, since experience with my past couple of volumes has taught me this is a (cough) profitable approach to keeping track of my progress and editing the material later. Eventually, it'll just sit here as, I hope, a helpful reference. It'll also be linked to the main Book Trolley page, where similar indices for the preceding books are already in place. And so, in ABC order:
Christ, who passed through a desert place ... Temptation

I am a beggar; this is true ... Luther's last words
I was not there when Jesus died ... Time & eternity

Lo, the dewy stem grows dry ... Word of the Lord stands
Lo, what love the Father shows us ... Trinitarian love

O holy Mind, that did not think ... Having the mind of Christ
O human Soul of God the Son ... Passion Prayer

Would you see the Love of God? ... Look to Jesus

Thursday, March 7, 2024

506. Of Time and Eternity

A sermon that I heard last night gave me a new perspective on (and maybe, appreciation of) the traditional American spiritual, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord." Here is a hymn that began to percolate in my skull during that message. I have no particular tune in mind at this time. Please excuse it's length; now and then you just have to say a thing completely. Oh, and here's Salvador Dali's depiction of Jesus on the cross. Interesting, isn't it? I grew up looking at a copy of this painting on my parents' wall and if a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps it justifies my prolixity.

I was not there when Jesus died
In earthly space and time,
But on one Cross is crucified
Each sinner's every crime.

Before the Lord's eternal throne
One perfect Victim bleeds.
One, guiltless, suffers to atone
And, in defeat, succeeds.

God's Mercy Seat pervades all time
And penetrates all space;
One death thus answers for all crime,
Each moment, every place.

If Christ before such throne has bled,
Then my sin, too, was there.
For me was struck that sacred Head;
His sprinkled blood I wear.

For me are pierced those healing hands,
Those seldom resting feet,
When nature dons her mourning bands
Before that Mercy Seat.

For me, the words "Behold your son,"
"Today, in Paradise";
For me the cry when all was done,
And fully paid, the price.

For me the daylight turns to night;
For me earth's pillars quake,
The sanctuary bared to sight,
Its screen torn for my sake.

For me the tombs are broken up,
The faithful dead arise.
To me is passed the blessing-cup;
Christ greets my lips and eyes.

Before creation's deepest pile
By living Word was laid,
That Lamb is slain, and all the while
God's choice is freely made.

Before His face have I been bathed,
His Spirit on me poured.
Across all ages, I am swathed
In my Anointed Lord.

God's Son, indeed, is one with God,
And none can Christ divide.
And so, complete with flesh and blood,
I live in Him who died.

Now, bodily, my Lord is near,
My faith to feed and grow,
To do my deeds, to hear my prayer,
Unstinting grace to show.

In Him I live and breathe and move,
And when at last I rest,
Before the throne of faithful love
I'll evermore be blest.

UPDATE: I eventually (as of March 24, 2024) settled on the tune PRESERVATION, a.k.a. MORNING SACRIFICE, dated 1710 by Johann Christian Georg Störl (1675-1730), which appears once each in the Ev. Lutheran Hymn-Book (in a triple-meter arrangement, set to "Lord of my life! O may Thy praise") and in American Lutheran Hymnal (in straight quarter notes, set to "Again Thy glorious sun doth rise"). Here is one of the two arrangements, transposed down a half-step from ELHB; I also plan on using the ALH setting, but in triple time.