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One of my classes in the Women's Spirituality Master's Program that I'm taking is called "Art as Sacred Practice." It's a curious oddity of most Western religious traditions that the creation of art has lost its sacral nature. Instead we seem to consider the created object as sacred, most often based on its perceived perfection. This is particularly peculiar when you stop to think that many of these objects were created under duress, or for purely commercial reasons, or simply to impress. Michelangelo, for example, despised the Pope who hired him to paint the Sistine Chapel; while Leonardo da Vinci was distractingly hounded by the prior who'd hired him to paint the Last Supper. I would think such unpleasant circumstances, and the anger or frustration or desperation which accompanied them, would be reflected to some degree in the art — however technically perfect it might be.

I admit, considering the creation of art as the sacred process was a new idea to me when I stumbled across it several years ago in an anthropological study of Balinese religious practices. I was initially quite dubious — how could ugly things be religiously inspiring? Upon reflection, however, it started to make more sense to me. The art wasn't supposed to inspire onlookers of future generations to become more devout — that never really works anyway when the creator feels no love of the deities. This art was simply a worldly, physical result of already-existing religious inspiration. In that respect, it was potentially far more inspiring to me than admiration for material technical precision.

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Advertising & Emotional Manipulation

An interesting sidenote: studies have shown people look at advertising for only seconds at most, unless the ad somehow catches their interest. If the ad can do that, you look at it longer, and are more likely to remember the brand name.

This means advertisers must pack a great deal of information into a very small, compelling space. The easiest way to do this is to tap into the culture's societal expectations, which are sometimes referred to as 'gut feelings.'

Everyone knows an ad which really 'clicked' for them. A good example of this not working well was the Mentos ads several years ago. They left both myself and most of the folks I knew utterly puzzled — what were they trying to say?

It did not surprise me at all to discover the ads were apparently made in Germany. Doubtless the ads were perfect for a German audience, and tapped into their cultural expectations. However, they weren't just bewildering to American audiences — for many they were an active turn-off.

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Women and War in History

Historically speaking, this is nonsense. Women have been warriors throughout the ages, both in cultures which honored them, and in those which tried to suppress them. If the subject interests you (and I always encourage research), please read through the Women Warriors section on the fascinating web site GenderGap.

There's a Bibliography at the end of the "Women Warriors" page. I find it both telling and very sad most of the factual books on historical women and war are out of print, despite their being mostly no more than about 20 years old.

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Originally posted March 2004

Credits:
Thanks to Bob and George for thoughtful reasoning and feedback.

Please be warned there are spoilers in this review.

I noticed in the paper today how many Oscars were won by Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, which were based on J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy. I've also seen Return of the King, the last of the movies. While watching, I found myself idly speculating on whether life is imitating art, or art life. By the end of the movie, I'd have to say I very much do not want life to imitate Jackson's vision.

Life, Art, Life…

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I've finished one of my required readings for class: Rita Gross's fascinating Feminism & Religion. I wish I'd read this book years ago.

One of the most critical points the book makes, which was a sort of "aHA!" moment for me when I read it, was that a religion which purports to welcome and offer salvation for all can't really be believed, when it offers hierarchical control and rewards only to half (or less) of its constituents. As she notes, this is much like writing history: if you chose to ignore the accomplishments of everyone except white upper class males, you're going to end up with wildly incorrect and incomplete hypotheses on human behavior.

She gave a fascinating example in the current work being done to more correctly rewrite our evolutionary history so it included the accomplishments of women again. The (formerly all male) evolutionary historians found just adding in the women historians' thoughts wasn't enough — they all ended up having to effectively re-write everything to incorporate the differing perceptions and accomplishments of women as well. This occasioned the intellectual shift from regarding our ancestors as simple "Man the Hunter," to more deeply understanding the true realities of gatherer/hunters: a far more complete, complex, and fascinating understanding of our evolutionary history.

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News flash: Masters programs are expensive! ;)

I'm cutting every corner I can spot, of course, to lower costs as much as possible. Fortunately my only new expenses are currently tuition, books, and occasional other things required for a class… and I'm finding, to my pleased surprise, that I'm good at this — whew.

Books
Fortunately the San Jose University and the San Jose Public Library system have an agreement: patrons of either can check books out of both. This means I've found several of the more obscure textbooks in the university's library. I'm trying to write a review of each book after reading, so once I've had to return them I still have a good 'feel' for their content.

I've also discovered half.com, which has excellent prices on used books. The amount they charge for shipping is less than that charged by every other on-line used book store I've found (i.e. amazon, abe.com, & alibris.com), so overall they're the cheapest. Further, I don't mind purchasing used books, so I've been buying the "Very Good" or "Good" versions rather than the "Brand New" or "Like New" — which is another small bit of savings.

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It's always entertaining to re-read old college papers, especially when you've learned more since then. In the case of Feminism & the Bible: Examining the Christian Myth of Creation, the handful of later realizations or learnings I had were interesting enough to me that I thought I'd relate them here.

For example, most people know a little bit about the myth of Eve and Adam, but fewer are aware that, according to modern biblical scholars, it is an embellishing "gloss" added later. The original creation of humanity is delineated in Genesis 1:26-28 (Revised Standard Version):

[26]Then God said, "let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." [27]So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. [28]And God blessed them….

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"The Corpse Bride" by Tim Burton

20 Sep 2008 In: LIBRARY, Movie review

Originally posted February 2006

Please be warned there are spoilers in this review.

I went to The Corpse Bride expecting something fantastical and whimsical, much like Burton's earlier The Nightmare Before Christmas (TNBC). In a way it's a shame this movie did not come before TNBC, as it isn't exactly bad… it just isn't very good — especially when we know what Burton is actually capable of.

Simple sums

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What is love? (part IV)

13 Sep 2008 In: FIRESTARTER

So, after all that rambling, what do I think Love is? It's oddly, unexpectedly simple — almost startlingly so. I could puff it up with more verbiage… but if that's what we want, we can turn to media for that.

"But there is such a thing as genuine love, which is always considerate. Its distinguishing characteristic is, in fact, regard for personal dignity. Its effect is to stimulate self-respect in the other person. Its concern is to help the loved one become their true self. In a mysterious way such love finds its truest realization in its power to stimulate the other to attain their highest self-realization."
— Romano Guardini

It's when you're having an argument with a beloved, and it suddenly hits you how unimportant the argument is, compared to your relationship with your sweetie — and you don't care if there's a 'winner' in the argument any more, because there's someone else besides you at the center of your personal universe.

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What is love? (part III)

12 Sep 2008 In: FIRESTARTER

Helping Love

"Because where there is no courage, there is no love: Love demands honesty, which is frightening, or it is only pretense. It demands vulnerability, or it is hollow. It engages our deepest power, or it lacks force. It brings us to confront sorrow, loss, and death."
— Starhawk, The Spiral Dance

Be honest! This is quite possibly the most important basis of Love I know of. If you don't tell the truth, how can your beloved know what you want, who you are, whether or not you're trustworthy? Would you like it if your sweetheart lied to you? Here's a big one I've unwittingly done myself, which has caused all kinds of unnecessary stress and pain: hinting about what you want instead of being forthright.

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Bestiaries depict mythical, moralizing animals, but are also potential allegorical sparks that can bloom into brilliant mental bonfires. My bestiary is this mythologizing animal's fascinated exploration of beauty & meaning in the wonder of existence -- in the hopes of inspiring yet more joyous flares of intellectual passion.

Enjoy!

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