Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Counting Our Blessings

I work for a company where they announced today who the next CEO was going to be, and everyone cheered. Sincerely. We knew he was a guy who knows everybody's name, keeps everyone clued in, and actually does something about what the lower echelons think and want. He used to be the president of our division. He's worked in just about every division, and he's done great things for all of them. He's also wonderful on selling outsiders on our company and getting accounts from them.

And it took all of four minutes after the announcement for one of the old hands to inform the new that, "He's hot, too." Heh. Yes, we are a company of over 75% women...can you tell? But it was probably just as well; we wouldn't want the newbies to be totally unprepared, since today or tomorrow will no doubt see one of his sudden excursions through the aisles to chat with people and see how things are going. (Also, to be honest, I ditched most of the other company pictures of people playing volleyball at a company outing, but his picture was one I kept -- mostly so I could send it to female friends and get their amusing reactions....)

But there's something fun with all our senior staff that we joke about, and if the guy was an idiot or a jerk his looks would be something to mock. It's his smarts and attention to our company's old school values that we really appreciate, both women and men. We're blessed to have the kind of leadership that most working people can only dream of, and we look forward to the future with justified pride.

(Btw, the current president of our division is female and also strikingly good-looking. Just so you don't think it's discrimination, the women in our company are also known to comment about this. Though they're more likely to focus on "I want hair/makeup/an outfit/height like hers", obviously....)

Anyway, why are good, smart bosses so rare? Maybe not everybody can have business acumen, but you'd think most people could figure out you catch more flies with honey, or that good people work best with very little prodding. Instead, some folks like to work out their problems on other people, or indulge their yen for dominance.

Of course, I'm also someone who just can't see the point in being an Evil Overlord. Well, maybe over the publishing industry, the record companies and Hollywood. But even then I don't think I'd be too interested in the petty details. As long as they produced artistic tribute of satisfactory quality, I'd just lounge around Fortress Evil Overlord and let people fend for themselves. I guess I'd be more of a Laissez-Faire Overlord.

You Aren't a Priest Forever: Nightcrawler vs. the Writer, Part 3

(Well, geez. Just when Bill Cork had kindly linked to my blog, and I'd gotten up a good head of steam and everything. Darn those inconvenient facts.)

Bamfette explains it all. No, Kurt Wagner was never a priest. It was all just delusions planted in his head by mind control. For at least fifty issues or more. *bangs head against desk*

And people ask me why I gave up on X-Men, or used to be so glad that Excalibur took place in England, far from the Mutant Shenanigans of the Month. It sounds as if the distortions of Catholic practice and the lack of clue on how to use Kurt's priesthood in the storyline were already so great that many readers are just glad to get shed of the plotline by any means, however idiotic.

(In case you were wondering about Bamfette's issue references, there is a comic book every week in the month which chronicles the X-Men's adventures. Uncanny X-Men is the original book and has been running since the late seventies. X-Men only started in the early nineties. The other books are The New X-Men, which is apparently Chris Claremont's return, and Ultimate X-Men, which doesn't take place in the normal Marvel universe and can be ignored for this purpose. Also bear in mind that each issue costs four or five bucks. Gee, I wonder why kids and teenagers aren't picking up the comics hobby....)

I'm glad that most of the apparent anti-Catholicism is not the result of malice, but stupidity. See, the plot only gets stupider. Mr. Austen has the schismatic Church of Humanity planting nanodevices in the communion wafers, wine and holy water in every church in America, Catholic or no, to get rid of "the religious right". (Now I start to believe that he was raised Catholic, because he apparently thinks that every Christian church uses these things.) The sheer logistics is laughable. Communion wafers and wine do not all come from one centralized factory. Holy water is made on the premises of a church. There would have to be huge numbers of Church of Humanity agents or members, something I don't think likely. And where did the nanotech come from, and how much did it cost? Even assuming help from mind control, the scope of the thing is just ridiculous -- and that's if it's just being done in the US.

But anybody who crucifies Jean Gray and Jubilee on the front lawn of Xavier's mansion (yes, that was what Austen wrote into Uncanny X-Men #243), in a 25 cent issue intended to attract kids and new readers, has obviously got an awful lot of malice and stupidity in him. Unless Marvel's comics division wants to go back to the Land of No Profit, he should go.

(But no, they'd rather lose Mark Waid.) *bang head against wall* Well, bah. I think I'll just go catch up on Ruse and try to forget what they've done to my poor Kurt.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Watch Out, True Believers: More on a Bad Month for X-Man Comics

George Grattan explained that we Catholics don't believe in the Rapture and wrote in part:

So that's probably where Mr. Austen got tripped up-- he swallowed the association of the Catholic Church with all the bad parts of the Rapture story (fundamentalist Christians have always been *profoundly* anti-Catholic), but got confused about the fact that the Evil Catholics are Evil precisely because they *don't* believe in the Rapture (and all it portends), and hence won't be in any position-- for long-- to benefit from it.

My, it's delicious when they give idiots pencils. Anyone got the appropriate editor's address at Marvel? I feel a letter of complaint coming on. If they're going to let their writers be bargain-basement bigots, they should at least require them to get the plots and players straight. Next thing you know, we'll have Magneto as a Holocaust-denier....

Then Jeremy Henderson pointed out:

The problem with this...the only people disappearing would be Catholics (since they'd be eating the... sigh... disintegrating wafers). So what's that going to say to all the Rapture believers when the only people being beamed up to Heaven are the very people belonging to the Church led by a devil? No matter how you cut this, this is an evil plot that just makes no freaking sense whatsoever.

Then George Grattan sighed:

Not that the Church-- my Church--doesn't deserve it, to an extent. But it's pretty damn hard these days to walk that line between criticism and what's been wisely identified as the last publicly acceptable prejudice in America: anti-Catholicism. I have no idea what motivates the writers and editors at Marvel these days in such matters-- and Catholics certainly aren't the first group they've given cause to take offense, nor even the most aggrieved, by a long shot (paging Luke Cage, paging Luke Cage....)--but perhaps they have tapped into an overall mood in the culture which says such things are fair game right now.

Entertainingly, one Bonehammer commented:

Nice shot in the balls, Chuck. Thanks for making us anticlericals look like bigoted morons now. Cardinal Ratzinger will surely 'preciate that.

Meanwhile, Saxon Brenton noted from over in Australia:

My goodness. Literal 'Death Cookies'. Between this story and the Wolverine arc that had the Shadow Pope planning to mind-control New York into becoming Catholic, it sounds to me like Jack Chick might have infiltrated Marvel Comics. Do the villains laugh by going "HAWHAWHAW!"?

To which Terrafamilia replied simply:

Well, they have already gotten us used to bad artwork.

While the X-Men newsgroups discussed the issue fairly thoroughly, most of the review sites on the Web did not. Jason Cornwell detected plot stupidity, at least. But Franklin Harris' Pulp Culture column goes into detail about Mr. Austen's writing problems.

Here are the covers of some recent issues, including #424. The art looks pretty nice, actually. Maybe we ought to let the artists control the content again....

The really mindboggling thing is that the editors would allow a storyline this nasty to come out right after the latest movie. The people who've just gotten on board the X-Men comics are likely to get right off it again. It's a far cry from the days when Stan Lee's friendly summaries made everything sound exciting and called everyone a "true believer". There's not much here worth believing in.

"Mr. Austen, there's a blue priest with a saber here to see you..."

"...And he says he doesn't need an appointment...."


Thanks to Bill Cork for drawing my attention to this. Unfortunately, the Catholic League commentary doesn't actually tell people what's wrong with the X-Men issue in question. However, Usenet, the font of all human knowledge, is ready to pick up the slack.

From The X-Axis, 1 June 2003, by Paul O'Brien (no relation), a monthly review posted in rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks and rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe:

Readers may recall that last year, Wolverine #177-178 featured the title character locked in battle against evil Catholics who planned to use mind-control to convert New York. It is undoubtedly the stupidest religion-themed story in the history of the X-books.

Or at least, it was undoubted until this week, when UNCANNY X-MEN #424 made a brave bid for the title. While Wolverine secured its position with a mixture of awful art, inept plotting and total failure to include any thematic elements pertaining to Catholicism, Chuck Austen goes for the high ground. His story at least makes a certain degree of sense, and has competent enough illustration from Ron Garney. Never one to run from an issue, Austen grapples head-on with the issues of Catholicism.

The result is predictably terrible.

The last couple of issues have already shown that Austen has a certain antipathy towards the Catholic Church, including his desperate attempt to retcon Nightcrawler out of being a priest - always a slightly odd
plot but hardly one which needed a massive retcon to remove it. Austen, however, seemed to feel the need to explain the whole thing away as a mind-control storyline involving the Church of Humanity....

Austen jettisons Casey's origin story for the Church of Humanity's Supreme Pontiff - which was about the only interesting thing in the original story - and replaces him with a disillusioned Catholic nun who's been, you guessed it, the victim of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. So she sets out to bring down the Church by - brace yourself, this is the good bit - creating an evil plan to install Nightcrawler as the Pope under an image inducer, and then revealing him as the supposed Antichrist at the same time that she simulates the Rapture. Then Catholics the world over will turn on the Church and the Church of Humanity will step in to take over!

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Wow. That's an incredibly stupid storyline." And do you know what? It's even worse on the page.

(Someone in the ensuing thread no doubt pointed out that Catholics don't do the Rapture...but I really doubt the comics writer was interested in actual Catholic theology. Anyway, back to The X-Axis.)

You may also be wondering how the Church of Humanity plans to simulate the Rapture. After all, that involves good Catholics being taken up to Heaven. Well, they're going to disintegrate people using evil doctored communion wafers.

I'll just repeat that. The villains are going to usurp command of Catholicism by installing Nightcrawler as the Pope and using murderous disintegrating communion wafers. No, this is not meant to be a comedy story.

This story is so bad that it deserves to be immortalised in derision for years to come. Even as a hardcore atheist, I have little sympathy for Austen's bizarrely twisted idea of the Catholic Church, which seems to revolve exclusively around the twin concepts of sexual abuse and bigotry. Granted that those may be the Church's most prominent flaws, in Austen's stories they seem to be the Church's only features.

The idea of a plan to instal Nightcrawler as Pope - never previously mentioned prior to this issue - is comically over the top...

(Too bad it's just an evil plot. Kurt minus his weird movie-only ideas is a strong orthodox guy who'd make a darned good Servant of the Servants of God. He can teleport, which would cut down on travel costs and security problems for Papal visits, and he's a swashbuckler at heart, which would get men excited about the Church. Every Pope should know how to fight saber!

...The idea that the world's Catholics are going to react to a simulated Rapture in anything like the manner described is little short of ludicrous and suggests that Austen still thinks ordinary Catholics are little more than dogmatic slaves of their church. I rather suspect the average Catholic in the street would continue their existing policy of generally acting much like everyone else.

Ooh, now there's a criticism of us. Ouch.

Oh, and let's not forget the disrespect shown to previous writers of the Church of Humanity and Nightcrawler's priest (also a pre-existing character). The original stories may not have been great, but they were better than this.

Why the hell would anyone want to wrest control of the Catholic Church, anyway? It's not like it's a significant political power any more. I suppose it's all very well if you have an evil scheme which entails
interfering with the distribution of condoms in Angola, but otherwise they might as well be fighting for control of the West Godalming Yoga Centre.

Paul, alanna, you are never going to take over the world with that kind of lack of vision! Political power is the least of it! Control a major world religion and people will do the politics for you! In theory, anyway.... *sigh*

I wonder if the comics writer, Mr. Austen, realizes that the eventual failure of his plot in the comics (because, dude, the bad guys always lose in the end, even if it takes years of comics stories) will just mean that, even in the Marvel Universe, the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church?

More to the point, even if Nightcrawler gets defrocked, he'll still be a priest -- and some comics writer down the road will undoubtedly use this. If he's killed, he'll still be a priest. Whatever Mr. Austen does, for the rest of time in the Marvel Universe, Kurt Wagner will be Father Kurt Wagner.

So phbbbbbt, liebchen.


Bad, Bad Celtic Music Fan!

I'd somehow failed to notice certain new hymns in the hymnal until last week when I was looking for wedding songs. The one that made me laugh was allegedly to a tune called "Marie's Wedding", which was "Irish traditional". That's Mairi, ya ignorant Sassenachs! And it's a Scottish tune!

Anyway, I swear I remember running across a hymn allegedly to the tune of "Whisky in the Jar". (I have serious doubts as to whether any church organist I know could actually play that tune and make it sound right.) Whether or not I remember this correctly, I had to write one myself. I'm only sorry I didn't manage to make Jesus sound more like a highwayman. (Ooh, wait, that'd be St. Dismas or maybe Barabbas, wouldn't it? That gives me another idea....)

Uisge Beatha in the Jar


Allelu, allelu, allelu!
For God so loved the world,
For God so loved the world,
He sent His only Son.

He didn't wear silk and he hadn't a cradle,
The Lord of all worlds was born in a smelly stable.
The poor shepherds heard all the angels in chorus,
And that's how our God came to live and die here for us.

He walked down the road and his feet they got blisters.
He knew people's hearts, and the hypocrites, they whispered.
The humble were healed while the proud sat there hatin'
And all the time, Death was down in the city waitin'.

Betrayed and condemned, not a friend to stand by him,
Except for his mother and the women all there sighin'
He could've called angels to smite every sinner.
Instead he met death -- and ol' Death was not the winner!

He swore he'd return when we heard of earth a-quakin',
And big storms and wars -- but those things are always breakin'!
So we keep good watch so he won't find us sleepin'
When he comes to end all our sorrow and our weepin'.

You may thank God that you were spared my attempt to versify "In the beginning was the Word" to this tune....

Composing for Sean: Second Draft!

I Will Make a Covenant with You
Lyrics and Music: Maureen S. O'Brien, 7/1/03


I will make a covenant with you.
Come and take Me as your own, and you will be Mine, too.
We will be one forever -- I am faithful, I am true.
I will make a covenant with you.

If you will only trust Me, I will give you all you need.
I will lead you to a land that I will make your own.
I will give you children like the stars up in the sky.
I'll live with you and love you, never leave you here alone.

And though you've spent your days in pain and shame and misery,
I will not abandon you to lie among the dead.
I will not forget you; I will come and set you free.
I'll live and die and rise for you, and make Myself your bread.

My father waits to welcome you; they've opened wide the gates --
Wine a-plenty -- Your room's ready -- won't you come and see?
Let me lead you homeward, for the feast is on the plates,
And I want you to stay with me through all eternity.

Cheese? Whine? Theological problems? Please, point 'em out!

More Weird Blogger Stuff

Like Adrian Monk, I have no problem with change but would rather not be there when it happens. This is weird. And where the heck are my permalinks and my archives?

Composing for Sean: Attempt #1!

I'm not sure exactly where this would fit in... preparation hymn, maybe? Well, there's always the unimportant bits before Mass....


Lyrics and Music: Maureen S. O'Brien, 7/1/03


I will make a covenant with you.

Come and take me as your own,

And you will be mine, too.

We will be one forever --

I am faithful, I am true.

I will make a covenant with you.

If you will trust Me,

I will give you all you need.

I'll lead you to a land

I'll make your own.

I will give you children

Like the stars up in the sky.

I will never leave you

Here alone.


When your days are full of pain

And shame and misery,

I will not abandon you

To lie among the dead.

I will not forget you;

I will come and set you free.

I'll live and die and rise for you,

And make Myself your bread.


You may turn your back on Me,

But I will love you still.

I made you and I know

Just how much better you could be.

But if you come back, I'll take you back --

You know I always will,

For I want you to walk with me

Throughout all eternity.


My brother's lactose-intolerant, so please tell me if you spot any cheese!

(And yes, there's definitely a slight scansion problem with the verses. I'll see what I can do after I've pondered it for a bit.)

Stuff I should've blogged before: Feast of St. Peter and Paul

We had a really good lector today for the first reading! Yes, someone who actually understood that the story of Peter and the angel is a story! Both kids and adults were uncommonly quiet and attentive, and no wonder. (The other reader was also good, but that first reading was the best I've heard in years.)

I was a little disappointed with the psalm. We sang the psalm for the day, but only a standard version with the standard verses and refrain. My book said the refrain was going to be something about the angel of the Lord rescues the just man, which would've really sounded great after that reading! But alas, no. Also, it took unusually long for the cantor to get up to the lectern, which allowed the interest stirred up in the congregation to dissipate. *sigh*

One of the visiting priests (we've got a ton this summer, since the rectory's right up the hill from UD) celebrated the 9:30. He's originally from Ireland but is stationed somewhere here on the East Coast. Anyway, his homily was really moving. He talked about his sister's miscarriages and how the Holy Father sent her a rosary through a guy he knew while she was doing bedrest for the first baby she'd managed to carry close to term. But the boy had to be delivered early and he died after a few days. But then she had three more kids with no trouble at all. I can't remember how all this tied into St. Peter and Paul, though it did -- something about how we don't know what God has planned for us, so we just have to keep going and doing what God tells us to do. Also, he told us the Holy Father's been asking people to pray for him now and after his death, because he's got a feeling he's going to die soon.

(It really was a good homily. I just have a really bad memory when I'm tired.)

The big thing for me was that Glenn from our choir is moving away, and this was the last time he ever cantored. He sang "Panis Angelicus" at Communion and a very nice Gregory Norbet setting of Ruth's comment to Naomi about "wherever you go I will go" before Mass. I could've done without the voiceover in the middle, especially since it mentioned 'the fabric of our lives'. (Is there anyone in the US who doesn't instantly think, "The look, the feel of cotton" when someone uses that phrase? And yes, I have the same problem with "We Come to Your Feast"; that one has an even funnier placement of the phrase.) But apparently Norbet wrote the voiceover for his farewell to his abbey when he went off to do missions work, so it was appropriate to Glenn's situation. He is a great guy as well as a good singer, and we will miss him. So if you see a guy with a great voice tooling around the US with his wife in his RV, say hi!

(Sans voiceover, I think the Norbet piece would be very nice for my brother Sean's wedding.)

Wedding Music

Speaking of wedding music, if anybody has suggestions for good, non-cheesy stuff I can sing with a straight face, let me know. I'm cantoring Sean's wedding, as you might guess. I'm pretty sure my mom wants "Ave Maria" before Mass, and I somehow have a feeling I'd better compose something myself while I'm at it. (I'm a songwriter. I have to justify my existence here. Especially since I've previously figured something out for the wedding of a mere friend.) But the music during Mass is obviously more important.

The suggestions in the Worship hymnal didn't thrill me much, really. I'm actually thinking that "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" might be nice, especially since my dad's a Methodist and that's a Charles Wesley song. Surely somebody's written a hymn from the Song of Songs or about all the different kinds of covenants or something? I mean, I like Ruth and Naomi too, but you can only do one of those, and that's really a quote about friendship and filial love.

Oh, well. I still haven't looked up the readings for the Nuptial Mass. Maybe they'll give me an idea.

Stuff I should've blogged before: Corpus Christi

I almost got to read today. Alas, the readers showed up right on time (ie, right before the priest and servers headed out of the sacristy), so no luck there. I used to do lectoring when I was in school and really enjoyed it. I still remember the first one I did -- it was the bit where 'the lame will leap like a stag'.

The reason I almost got to lector was that I was cantoring. (Well, actually I went up the hill at something closer to a trot....) I think I did all right, except for the parts when I totally lost it. Ugh! Church fright again.

I never used to have this problem when I was a kid. Put a song in, the song would come out. I'd get caught up in what I was singing and never even notice the congregation. It was just me and God.

But the problem is that cantoring is not supposed to be private vocal meditation. If you cut everybody else out, that discourages other people from participating. During the parts of the Mass when only the cantor sings, the cantor is representing the congregation, not just singing instead of them. You don't just lead the singing when everybody else is singing along, but also when they're not.

(I hope that made sense.)

The other thing that makes me nervous is that, when you're cantoring by yourself instead of with the choir, you sing down front and to the left of the altar area. Right next to the Tabernacle for the Blood. I'm standing diagonally cattywampus to Jesus under one species, with my back to Him, on the Feast of Corpus Christi! My SCA training on behavior in court with 'royalty' was shrieking right along with my Catholic instincts! I know, it's not really disrespectful to be standing cattycorner and my back isn't really turned; but I'd feel so much better if I'd just get to stand about ten inches farther along the wall and closer to the statue of Mary.

My major consolation was that my voice was doing okay, despite the sinus/allergy that's been bugging me for a while. I did run out of breath once, but that was nothing but stupid nervousness. I do wish the higher parts of my voice didn't sound quite so tentative. But since I didn't have that tone or a few of those notes until this year, and since I usually have only used them in choir where I can't hear myself, it's so weird to hear them coming back at me through the speakers that I lose my concentration. Of course, I am perfectly capable of doing that anyway. (I even screwed up in the Gloria. I never screw up the Gloria!)

On the gripping hand, I got to learn a good song I'd never heard before. "Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All" by Frederick W. Faber. Nice tune, nice words. Totally new to me (I was born in 1970), but apparently a standard back in the day. We have a lot of older folks at my parish, and they liked it. I do wish we'd had a male, non-tenor cantor singing with me, though. I think it's hard for some guys to go down an octave without someone demonstrating where that octave is; or at least they're more willing to sing along with another guy.

The next day we had a blood drive at work. I would probably have something deep to say about this, except that it's so easy to give blood that there is basically no comparison to Jesus' painful and humiliating sacrifice of His Blood. For us it's enlightened self-interest;
for Him it was pure love. The pain and fear of needles is nothing to the pain and fear caused by whips, nails and thorns. We were just doing our duty; God was a hero. And somehow I doubt they gave Jesus orange juice and cookies as well as sour wine, or a sticker that said 'Hug me -- I saved the world from its sins today'....

Ack! New Blogger stuff!

Well, I'd better go see what the damage is. Meanwhile, I'll post some posts I should've posted before.