SPOILER ALERT!! If you have not seen the movie Life Is Beautiful, for Pete's sake, stop reading now!
Life is Beautiful is a powerful film, wholly original, hilarious, confounding, heartbreaking and life-affirming. One of our family's favorites.
A fellow Chesterton Academy faculty member hosts informal faculty/student movie nights at his house during the summer, grilling burgers and showing great movies on the side of his garage as it gets dark. Really fun, in spite of the mosquitos. Life is Beautiful was one of the films featured a few weeks ago.
It's the kind of movie that sparks conversation, and afterward there was some discussion. There was some sadness and disappointment at the death of the hero, some effort to wrap the brain around a holocaust-themed comedy, and there was the observation (from a noted and frank young skeptic) that the movie asks us to *applaud* the fact that a boy is lied to, deceived by the hero (his father) throughout the whole tale. This deception is presented in the movie as not just excusable but admirable.
It took seeing the movie a second time (I'm thick that way) to understand that the title really is key to the whole thing. Life IS beautiful. But the experiences depicted through much of the movie are not beautiful, they are brutal and deeply saddening. The principle characters - the father, Guido (an Italian Jew), mother (Dora) and son (Joshua) - are wrenched from their beautiful life, loaded on a boxcar and taken to a Nazi concentration camp. "Life is beautiful"? How can one work up the cajones to say that out loud in Auschwitz or Birkenau?
From the moment the family is loaded on the train, Guido convinces Joshua (perhaps aged 5 or 6) that the entire scenario is a game, a kind of contest. Everyone is there voluntarily (they were lucky to get tickets!) and whoever ends up with the most points wins a Real Tank. Through sheer comic inventiveness - driven by desperation - Guido successfully hides the Brutal Truth from his son... or does he? The question turns on one's notion of truth. Is truth more than mere fact-hood? For Guido, the answer is obviously "yes".
"Life is Beautiful" is the lesson, the point, the one truth that Guido lives, and ultimately dies, to vouchsafe to Joshua. He believes it. He knows it is the Truth, and that the Nazis, the Third Reich, the concentration camp itself is The Lie. It is a black lie, a blasphemy and an affront to the truth of the beauty of life, and Guido will not let it win, will not let it claim his son's innocence. In the end, he saves Joshua not only from physical death, but from the spiritual death of despair. He shields him from this colossal lie by weaving an elaborate myth, an alternative reality - almost a fairy tale - that gives the events a different meaning.
I doubt that the Church could officially condone such a shading of the facts, but I can't begin to imagine Guido being condemned, either. The Truth is on his side, even if the facts are not. In the long view, the Nazis are playing a game, a vain, pointless game wherein the most important things are devalued, and petty, temporal things like guns and tanks and barbed wire are given false importance, like game tokens. The concentration camp is the elaborate lie. Guido's fairy tale narrative is the Truth breaking through the only way it can.
I haven't said much about the beautiful mother, Dora, but she is clearly the North Star for both Joshua and Guido. She is their great hope and their goal.
Guido (very near the end, carrying Joshua) "You are such a good boy. You sleep now. Dream sweet dreams. Maybe we are both dreaming. Maybe this is all a dream, and in the morning, Mommy will wake us up with milk and cookies. Then, after we eat, I will make love to her two or three times. If I can."
Guido is finally vindicated when the concentration camp is liberated, Joshua reunited with his mother, and the entire episode is seen as an interruption, a fever dream, that temporarily disrupted the beauty of life, even as it left a scar. But Guido's sacrifice makes his death also beautiful.
The principle argument against the movie's point of view is predicated on the belief that life is not beautiful, that it is in fact "brutish and short", and that when Guido shields his son from the horror of the concentration camp, he shields him from the reality of life and does him no favors. Life is not black on white, but white on black. Better that Joshua should be disillusioned early on, and not put his trust in life.
But Guido has it right, and Life is Beautiful.
Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.
- G. K. Chesterton
Since September 4th of this year, I've had the privilege of being the art instructor for the stupendously amazing 9th-12th grade students of the Chesterton Academy, in Edina, Minnesota (the West Minneapolis area).
This delightful private Catholic high school was started as a grass-roots movement of parents. The school opened its doors in the fall of 2008 with just ten students; the following year it had twenty. In its third year, it had forty-two students. This year, over eighty students are enrolled, and the school is drawing national and even international attention. Chesterton Academy was just named one of the Top 50 Catholic High Schools in the United States by the Cardinal Newman Society.
Chesterton Academy "strives to offer a classical curriculum, one that draws on the great Western traditions of faith and reason wielded in concert" as part of "a meaningful education in an authentically Catholic environment". This includes a classical approach to art, where every student - in all four years - learns traditional methods of painting and drawing, art appreciation and art history from the cave art of Lascaux, to Egypt, Greece and Rome on up to the present day.
Our classical approach to studio art involves drawing and painting
from real life, using a variety of objects and "casts" as visual
references. As our program has grown, our need for casts and other art
supplies has expanded as well.
A simple plaster sculpture cast.
One miraculous hallmark of the Chesterton Academy has been their continual ability to accomplish so much with so little. Their frugality is a virtue, because one fundamental goal of CA has been to make the classical education they offer as reasonably priced as possible, so as to keep it within reach of as many families as possible.
So there is a great opportunity, for those interested in encouraging young artists, to contribute in a substantial way that will be of immediate and direct help to these art students. Contributions of art supplies - like the plaster cast above, or drawing and painting materials - are tax deductible, and the Chesterton Academy (501c3) will provide a letter acknowledging your donation for that purpose.
But mostly, it's a great chance to be a part of this joyful and growing revolution in education.
Thank you!! Please e-mail me (link in left-hand column) or post a comment and I will be in touch with more information. Meanwhile, here are some useful links for your perusal (but we will be very grateful for any kind of assistance you can offer!).
or, you can very simply donate directly to the Chesterton Academy;
Some of you may be aware of this already, but many may not; in a few weeks, I'll be joining the faculty of the Chesterton Academy in Minneapolis as their teacher of art. Huzzahs all around!!
We have been (quietly) making preparations large and small for months and will be moving from the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas to semi-temporary digs in Andover, MN on August 1st. This will be just about at the middle point between the Chesterton Academy and my wife's new job (hurray!!), about a half-hour commute for both of us.
This is all tangentially related to my (still somewhat painful and awkward) withdrawal from the Catholic Blogosphere and what I know must seem my inexplicable abandonment of The League of Bearded Catholics project.
Oy. Please suffice to say that even as an active blogger, I was pretty guarded about my personal life, and some of my reasons for leaving TLBC and Old World Swine in mothballs (for now) are personal and would be difficult to articulate fully. It came down to weighing my various duties before God and having to make hard choices. I simply bit off more than I could chew all at once. Something had to go, at least for a time. I'm truly sorry to all those I may have confused and disappointed in that process.
After some years of fitful career struggles, God simply dropped the positon at the Chesterton Academy into my lap. Okay, maybe it wasn't as out-of-the-blue as all that, but it was rather sudden.
I had been working at making a transition from commercial art to fine art (painting), and after losing my last full-time job (a pretty decent gig), had made a semi-conscious decision not to commit myself deeply to graphic art so that I would be able to walk away more easily when I needed to. This meant taking on a high volume of simple local freelance jobs for pretty low pay, which kept me very busy and very stressed, seeing as how we were nearly always broke. I don't think I could have taken on another corporate position and kept my sanity (such as it is). One has to pretend to care deeply about too many trivial things, and I'm just approaching that age where I can't pretend to care.
You just never know what may happen at a Chesterton conference! At the 2011 Chesterton Conference in St. Louis, I brought some prints of my artwork to hawk between presentations. One thing, as they say, led to another, and next thing I knew, I was sitting at Dale Ahlquist's kitchen table, talking about art and Chesterton and life and stuff through a lovely haze of pipe smoke. Once you see Chesterton's walking stick in person, there's no turning back.
Oddly, events have turned out so that I will have to miss the 2012 Chesterton Conference in Reno in a couple of weeks. We'll be unpacking right then.
We covet your prayers. See you around Minneapolis!
Dear Planned Barrenhood,
It's not that I don't appreciate the time we've spent together, but I've grown and matured and I am moving on with my life. It's not you, it's me... even though, yeah, to be honest, I was beginning to hear things about you that creeped me out a bit.
I have my sisters to care for (cancer) and I thought you would understand that I have to focus on them, now. Your constant demands for attention seem very selfish. We had some good times. Let's leave it at that.
Your angry voice mail messages and thereatening e-mails make me believe you never really cared about me as you claimed to. I see you have even enlisted your friends to bully and harrass me (even a politician should know to behave better). But it's over. I hope you will now find the will and the decency to let me go and wish me well.
Susan G. Komen
P.S. I saw you parked outside my apartment last night, and if I see you again, I will call the police. Also, please stop sending me mix tapes.
It looks like Susan G. Komen has caved under pressure and has - sadly - returned to an abusive relationship with Planned Barrenhood and its thuggish pro-abortion friends.
A shame, too. I was about to send a donation. No pink ribbons, now, for me.
In view of well-publicised organ shortages, transplant surgeons are eager to increase the number of available organs.
[T]he dead donor rule is routinely violated in the contemporary practice of vital organ donation. Consistency with traditional medical ethics would entail that this kind of vital organ donation must cease immediately. This outcome would, however, be extremely harmful and unreasonable from an ethical point of view [because patients who could be saved will die]. Luckily, it is easily obviated by abandoning the norm against killing.
It's Jimmy Akin's fault I ever began blogging, or looking at blogs. That was - holy cow - back in 2005! I posted at JimmyAkin.Org for a while, and in 2007 I started Old World Swine and began posting very regularly.
I've racked up 650 posts, almost 2500 comments and 143,000 page views. Thanks, for that. I've enjoyed all of it. I enjoy it more than is good for me, truth be told.
Those of you who have followed my blogging arc know that my posting activity has dropped sharply over the last year or so, and there are some good reasons for that, though I have mixed feelings.
Over time I've come to the conviction that - though I love blogging and though it has helped me keep my sanity at times - it is a luxurious time-sink that I can no longer very well afford. See, though I really enjoy writing, it does not always come easily for me, so even a modest post might take me an hour or two to polish up so it would be presentable in public.
In addition, I have for a few years been working to make a shift in my career from graphic art to illustration and fine art. This would be an admirable task even for a better talent, but for a "bear of very little brain", it's even more tricky, because one thing I've discovered about myself is that I am not good at balancing a lot of different kinds of activities. Studio art requires a major time commitment and a certain kind of concentration, and it takes me a while to find The Zone. Once I'm there, it is a pain in the arse to be shaken out of it. It's like deep-sea diving; it takes a while to prepare and to arrive, and it takes a while to decompress.
All that is to say that I'm no renaissance man. No polymath. It appears to me that I have to choose between being an amateur writer and being a professional artist, and put in those terms, there simply is no choice to make. I am an artist, not a writer (dammit, Spock). I already gave up being a rock star. My guitar sits gathering dust (figuratively speaking. It's actually in a case).
Hopefully, those who know me now mainly through my blogging will know me in the future mainly through my artwork, which will be cropping up here and there, especially in Catholic circles. I'm really itchin' to paint some saints, God willing.
So, anyhow, though I may post here now and then, this pretty well marks the end of Old World Swine. I'll keep it open here, and I've archived it just in case. Many thanks and blessings to all of you who have dropped by, left comments and had conversations. It has meant more to me than you know.
I'll be posting from time to time at Jimmy Akin's blog, now, so I hope to see you around!
For Scott Walters.
This is the beginning of the only argument against homosexuality that I know of, Scott. It's about what used to be pretty commonly known as natural law, or simply "reason".
The exercise begins by imagining that someone has just given you a handful of nuts and bolts (as shown above) and asked you to please assemble them. What do you do? Why?
As you may have noticed, I've been in a very eccentric blogging orbit for some time, and so I fall behind on important news and events in the lives of a lot of people I admire.
Jeff Hendrix (also widely known on the interwebs as "Athos"), author, blogger and Bearded Catholic, has been one of those consistently engaging writers and commenters I've had the pleasure to run across. I have not lately done much blog surfing, and so I was not aware of some serious health issues that Jeff was having... or I was not aware they had become as serious as they have. I'm sorry to hear that Jeff is in a very bad way.
Jeff's fellow blogger from The Four Masketeers, Michael Baruzzini, reports via Mark Shea that Jeff "is in the last days of his battle with cancer. I would like to ask you, and your many readers, to keep him and his family in prayer."
Please join me in prayer for Jeff Hendrix, his family and his friends. May they all be granted the peace of Christ.
UPDATE: I just read at Mark Shea's blog that Jeff passed away this morning.