Thursday, May 15, 2008

On Images

Last night I went to watch yet another romantic comedy (Made of Honor). It made me upset, but it wasn't until I discussed this with my wife that I actually understood why it had upset me.

It turns out that two things upset me about that movie.

First, this movie was exactly the same as any Hollywood-made romantic comedy: girl loves boy, girl gives up, finds another boy, decides to marry him and then the old boy realizes he loves the girl after all and crashes her wedding. How many times can Hollywood make the same movie (rhetorical question, thanks...)

Second, the guy who was going to get married to the girl was the nice guy; her long-time buddy was a pathetic, self-serving, cold and promiscuous fella. And he gets to live happily ever after. That shows exactly what it is that our society accepts as normal behaviour, and what we - "consumers" - are called to accept in our own lives.

And then, this morning, I read an article by Fr. Stephen, called Images in the Modern World. It clarified for me what made me so angry and uncomfortable in the movie I saw last night. This article did that by talking about images (and movies are also images) and the place and significance they have in our own lives.

I share with you the parts that spoke to me:

1. What is the relationship of the image to reality?

2. What is the relationship of the image to propaganda?

3. What is the role of images in Christianity?

4. What images should play the dominant role in my life?

First - what is the relationship of image to reality? This is a significant question, particularly in our digital age. A picture may be an accurate depiction of reality or indiscernibly altered to fit someone else’s agenda. This is increasingly complex and will only become moreso. We are likely in the future to relate more and more to digital reality and less and less to things as they are. In this we must be wise as serpents and meek as doves.

Second - we should assume that images in our modern context have much to do with propaganda. American’s who assume that their news in unfiltered and largely accurate would do well to watch news from elsewhere in the world. Our news has a slant and a bias as does the news from everywhere. We should not be so foolish as to assume that a picture necessarily gives us reality.

Third - the role of images in Christianity. This is by far the most important point, it seems to me. A modern Christianity which denies the role of images in the Christian faith is an unarmed and uninformed Christianity. Images are not optional and may not be doctrinally dismissed. They are everywhere present in our world. The question is what are we to make of them? In the Eastern Church, there is a defined role of what images are and how they should act in our lives. Their content is controlled by conciliar doctrine (though there are many exceptions to this) and the honor which we give them is carefully defined so that we know the difference between honoring something and rendering worship (this, by the way, is not so clear in our image driven culture - what does a young man mean when he places a poster of a nearly unclad woman on the wall of his bedroom?).

In essence, the Orthodox Church declared in its dogmatic pronouncements on holy images: “Images do with color, what Scripture does with words.” A properly executed icon should do for us precisely what Scripture does. It should point us beyond itself and towards the heavenly reality which it means to convey. Scripture, as compared to the cacophony of words is easily the more edifying. By the same token, properly rendered images of saints, angels, Christ and His mother, have a salutary effect on the soul, lifting it to God and the contemplation of heavenly things. Indeed, one of the functions of a proper relationship to icons is to teach us how to relate the everything around us - for everything, in some way, points beyond itself. The depth of creation takes us well below (and above) its surface.

The fourth question is easily answered: holy images should play the dominant role in my life. If my consciousness is filled with the images that are being sold by the media, then I should not be surprised at the anxiety and anger which fills my soul. The images of the mass media are geared towards your passions and mean to engage you on precisely that level.

In a contrary way, the images of the Church, particularly the Holy Icons, do not engage the passions, but the very heart of who we are, offering us images of salvation - windows to heaven.

We live in a world that is filled with images. Only the most reclusive family could protect children from the images that often sully their precious minds. How important it is, then, to give their minds the images which God has set forth for us - images that do with color what Scripture does with words.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Pascha 2008

After almost a year-long hiatus, I will be posting again soon.

For now, I'll leave you with these words by Patriarch Bartholomew:

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: Another Way of Living
26. April 2008

While many Christians have long celebrated Easter, this year Orthodox Easter takes place on Sunday, April 27 - much later than normally, as a result of ancient calendar calculations and regulations requiring the prior celebration of the Jewish Passover, in accordance with their traditional interpretation of scriptural record. Thus, at midnight on Saturday April 26, the night that is said to be brighter than any sunlit day, some 300 million Orthodox Christians will crowd churches to hear the words: “Come, receive the light!” Throughout the world, entire congregations, previously waiting in darkness and anticipation, will light up in splendor and people’s faces will shine with joy and hope. All of them will chant the familiar hymn of triumph: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and granting life to those in the tombs.” For Orthodox faithful, Easter is the feast of feasts.

As one Orthodox Easter hymn says, the feast of the Resurrection proposes “another way of seeing” and “another way of living.” Yet, the secret of that new life is already foreshadowed in the previous day, when the Orthodox Church recalls the harsh reality of the Cross.

Faced with the seeming inevitability and impasse of global suffering, it is so easy to be cynical; it is tempting to dismiss issues like climate change or global conflict or world hunger, criticizing those who transform these into political flags or else who transmit messages of love. Yet, while people have become insensitive to sermons about the gloom and doom of our world, the reality of evil transcends any act of war or terrorism and every expression of violence or suffering. These are but symptoms of a deeper reality, which is overcome on the Cross on Good Friday [or Holy and Great Friday, as Orthodox Christians prefer to call it] through the radical power of forgiveness, tolerance, and compassion.

The truth is that the Gospel message is as simple as it is radical. We are called to stand for love where there is hatred, to preach compassion where there is injustice, and to insist on dialogue where there is division. This at least, as we have been assured, is how people should recognize that those who call themselves Christians. (John 13.35) In fact, however, as uncomplicated as this may sound, it is a much harder Gospel to live by. It is far easier to proclaim a Gospel of power and might. It seems far less challenging to be dismissive of efforts to sustain conversation among unlikely partners from radically different religious or cultural backgrounds (even among the great monotheistic traditions, such as Christians, Muslims, and Jews) and conservation of natural resources (whether fundamental to our survival as human beings, or responsive to developing nations that experience poverty or hunger, or else supportive of our lifestyles). It is certainly far less intrusive in our personal lives to resist changes to our habits. People have far too much at stake.

Hoping for change invites challenge in our worldview and lifestyle. But how willing are we to pay a price for our selfish consumption, our wasteful pollution, and our prideful discrimination, both racial and religious? When will we stop and be silent long enough to notice the direct impact of our way of life on the poor among us and on the poor of the world? Do we even recognize the wounds we have wrought upon the flesh of our brother and sister, as well as upon the body of the world? Is it that difficult to discern the arrogance of our behavior, conveniently and complacently overlooking the damage that results from our silence or ignorance?

When Orthodox Christians recall the Resurrection, they are not primarily concerned intellectually with how that miracle actually took place. In fact, they think less of an empty grave and more of an open tomb, which remains an open invitation to those who believe. The miracle of Resurrection calls for an openness to confess the reality of the darkness within us and around us, admitting our role and responsibility in refusing to eradicate the suffering in our world. Then, when we stand honestly before the reality of our evil - in earnest recognition and prayerful confession of the hurt we inflict upon our neighbor within society and within the global community, and the abuse with we treat the earth’s resources - at that very moment of realization are we also able to perceive the hope and light of the Resurrection. Only then are we able to apprehend the relationship between the Resurrection and the presence of war, racism, global warming and terrorism in our world. For then, we shall also be able to discern the light of the Resurrection in our hearts and in our world.

This is why for forty days after the bright night of that Easter vigil, Orthodox Christians will continue to greet one another with the words: “Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!”

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Il fait chaud au Liban

Le dernier assassinat politique qui a eu lieu à Beyrouth hier confirme que les problèmes continueront dans ce petit pays méditerrannéen.

Pour moi, ce conflit revêt un aspect personnel, car j'ai choisi de me marier à une Libanaise. Et souvent, c'est trop personnel. Comme lors de l'affaire des caricatures de Mahomet: une foule enragée s'est alors attaqué à plusieurs immeubles, dont celui de l'UE, avant d'essayer de pénétrer dans le quartier d'Achrafié, quartier 'chrétien' où habite ma belle-famille. Ou bien quand Israël bombardait un parking à une cinquantaine de mètres de leur immeuble en l'été 2006. Aussi, quand ce dernier chapitre d'une histoire sanglante a commencé, il y a un peu moins d'un mois, quand un attentat eut lieu près du centre commercial ABC, bordant une rue très fréquentée et que tous les habitants de ce quartier empruntent, souvent plusieurs fois par jour.

Hier donc, c'est devenu personnel encore une fois, quand une voiture piégée prit la vie d'un Walid Eido et de son entourage. Personnel, car c'est apparemment un ami de la famille - chose courante dans ce pays d'à peine 4 millions. Mais plus personnel encore car cet attentat a eu lieu à côté du Sporting Club, que j'ai visité à maintes reprises et où ma belle-famille aurait dû être à l'heure de l'attentat. Intervention divine? Coup de chance?

En tout cas, il est difficile de comprendre l'esprit humain, obstiné à continuer de vivre chez soi face au danger imminent...

Monday, May 21, 2007

For those of you who are wondering, my in-laws in Beirut are doing relatively OK, after the car bomb that exploded Sunday night a couple of blocks away from their home in the Christian neighbourhood of Achrafieh...

Apparently, another bombing occurred a few hours ago in mostly Sunni Verdun, also in Beirut.

We've all been painfully aware that 2007 would be a rough year for this small Mediterranean country. This could just be a prelude to what's coming up.


Friday, May 18, 2007

If you're at all interested in France, and what Sarko's elections mean for France and the world, I strongly urge you to read this article by Princeton's Bernard Chazelle that was posted at Tony Karon's Rootless Cosmopolitan.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Le Canada aux Québécois

Quand j'ai déménagé au Canada en 1992 avec ma famille, nous avions d'abord atterri en Colombie-Britannique - je rêvais déjà du Québec. Lorsque, l'année suivante, nous sommes déménagés à Ottawa, je me suis retrouvé nez à nez avec lui. Chaque fois que je traversais la rivière des Outaouais, mon coeur palpitait: je me disais, un jour j'y vivrai. C'est que, pour un Franco-Brésilien comme moi, le Québec était le trait d'union qui manquait dans mon identité: je suis un Français fermement ancré en Amérique; je suis un Latino-Américain encerclé par d'autres Latino-Américains qui parlent une autre langue. Donc au Québec, jadis bout de France en Amérique, aujourd'hui société distincte dans une mer anglophone, je suis chez moi.

Moi même, je ne suis pas un souverainiste. Non. Ceci dit, je ne suis pas un fédéraliste non plus. Si, pour paraphraser ces slogans fédéralistes d'il y a douze ans, pour certains Canadiens, leur "Canada inclut le Québec", pour moi, le Québec inclut le Canada. C'est bien au Québec qu'est né le Canada, non?

On se moque beaucoup cette semaine de la décision de M. Gilles Duceppe de se présenter candidat à la tête du Parti Québécois et le retrait de sa candidature le lendemain. M. Gilles Duceppe est le chef du Bloc Québécois - parti souverainiste dans le Parlement canadien. Pour le Canada anglais, c'est un peu (svp ne m'en voulez pas pour la comparaison que je ferai maintentant) comme si le Hamas formait l'opposition officielle dans la Knesset. Un peu paradoxal. Paradoxal, aussi, le refus de disparaître de ce mouvement, quand on sent que l'indépendance n'a jamais été aussi loin depuis la Révolution tranquille.

Mais le mouvement souverainiste ne peut pas disparaître: il rend service à son pays, le Canada. Car, si laissé à lui-même, ce Canada des Anglais se contenterait de rester en orbite autour de son puissant éléphant de voisin, courant le risque d'être englouti. D'ailleurs, ce risque est d'autant plus réel qu'il semble devenir plus concret avec chaque jour qui passe, chaque camion qui traverse la frontière, avec chaque traité de coopération, d'harmonisation des normes (vers le bas, qui plus est), chaque mise en commun des compétences entre deux partenaires inégaux.

Un Québec indépendant, à moins de joindre l'Union européenne, aurait moins de résistance à la force gravitationnelle américaine. Et le Canada, ou ce qu'il en resterait, y succomberait sans dout, en plusieurs morceaux probablement. Le Québec est la raison d'être de ce pays. Il en est le garde-fou.

D'un autre côté, comme j'ai dit plus haut, je ne suis pas fédéraliste non plus. Ce modèle est en panne, selon moi. On ne peut pas avoir un tout dont les parties rouspètent de devoir partager leurs richesses - je pense au pétrole albertain. On ne peut pas avoir un pays où il est plus compliqué de faire du commerce entre les provinces qu'entre ces provinces et les États américains qui en sont voisins. C'est ça aussi l'ironie du sort: la géographie veut que Halifax et Vancouver soient plus proches, l'un de Miami et l'autre de Los Angeles.

Dans un pays de contradictions, il me semble digne et juste que les souverainistes soient à Ottawa...

(L'image: le Parlement canadien vu du côté québécois de la rivière des Outaouais; tirée de

Friday, May 4, 2007

SimCity Dreams Come True

If, like me, you ever played SimCity games, you know the adrenaline rush that comes from building an entire city from scratch. Well, architect Alejandro Gutierrez got to play SimCity lifesize style! The name of the city? Dongtan, a green metropolis built from scratch on the outskirsts of bustling Shanghai.

The aim of the developpers, Arup, is to make this city with a capacity of 50,000 people completely self-sustainable and carbon neutral - focusing on zero energy building, recycling, alternative energy and mass transportation systems, to name but a few of the innovative methods it incorporates. And this is only the first out of a total of 4 such eco-cities Arup has planned to build in China. It carries a price tag of US$ 1.3 billion.

It's good news but no surprise that China has chosen to go down this path, because as its economy shows no signs of slowing down in the near future, the environment will inevitably be the first victim of this unprecedented boom. Of course, a project of this magnitude is also only possible in a highly controlled environment where the government can impose its vision where it wishes (the SimMayor's dream).

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Unbiased News

I couldn't believe it when I found this online... This, in my opinion, is what's wrong with America... And with friends like these, Israel does not need enemies, really...
To all the two people who will read me, I just wanted you to know, this is NOT Christianity, no matter what this guy might claim...

Oh, and if you can't stand to watch the whole thing... I can't say I blame you!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


J'ai trouvé ce joyau sur un autre site, il fallait que je partage, même s'il est un peu vieux...
I found this gem on another site, I had to share, though I know it's a month old...

Très simple, très discret, très au point et sarcastique...

I haven't weighed in about the Iranian hostage crisis, but it's about time that I did. I'm shocked, shocked, to say the least, that a country would dare to unilaterally detain citizens of another sovereign country without trial, and subject them to questioning. Why, I'm sure it's only the massive media attention that kept them from dressing them up in orange jumpsuits, keeping them in humiliating conditions, and torturing them.

Iran has released them, but we cannot soon forgive this unpardonable violation of sovereignty and rights. Especially given that the British may have been in Iraqi waters. No foreign country has any right to enter those waters without Iraq's permission.

And on it goes.

par/by dru - The Dominion

Friday, April 27, 2007

Who Cares About Global Warming?

Much noise has been made over the last few years about the dangers we face, as fast-paced global warming threatens to dramatically change the environment. Many people claim that global warming is somehow related to human activity, while others deny the clear, scientifically-proven existence of such a link.

While the movement supporting some kind of action has gained momentum within activist circles (à la Al Gore) and the international public opinion, I for one am not hopeful of any significant change over the near future.

In the international relations arena, the divide between those that favour action to curb climate change and those who deny the pertinence of such action is a very clear one: on one side, you have the Bush administration, Australia and Canada (whose previous administration failed to implement the Kyoto Protocol and whose current one has no intention of upholding it); on the other the "rest of the world", including world leaders, NGOs, international bodies, public opinion, etc... Kyoto, without the participation of the United States (25% of world emissions) and of China and India (who ratified but are exempt from emission cuts for the time being) is truly dead.

No change can come from the top on climate change: those who can enforce change will not betray the industries that pollute the most, because they are direct or indirect beneficiaries of industry. Most declarations of politicians concerning curbing emissions is mere lip service, as what really drives the world is the bottom line: profit, re-election, consumerism, comfort, all of which can be neatly tucked into that most American (indeed, Western or globalized) of ideals - the pursuit of happiness, which means that not enough consumers care enough to demand a change in attitude from their elites, or from themselves.

What I am getting at is that the whole discussion on whether or not climate change is man-made is deeply flawed. Rather, it sidesteps the issue. If you deny human activity as a catalyst for climate change, then clearly there is no issue. If, on the other hand, you agree that the current fast-paced climate change is related to human activity, then you wallow in self-pity, blaming the lack of will of those who are in the position of actually bringing the mass scale change that is necessary to revert the trend.

But, as I said, both sides have missed the real issue: human misuse of the world. Whether or not our activity is causing global warming does not matter. What matters is that it is NOT sustainable. Changing from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy makes us feel warm and fuzzy. Recycling is a great thing, although very little of it is done on a global scale. Organic food? Great, if you can afford it.

Clearly, though, those solutions (including carbon emission reduction) are but band-aids, typical of the Western-turned-global mindset: we treat the symptoms without addressing the disease. Have a problem? Pop a pill and keep moving! What we need is a paradigm shift. We need to change as a society, as individuals even. I could go first, but what's the point - are you gonna follow???