The Dalia Lama in Vancouver

We watched the Dalai Lama on webcast on Sunday morning when he addressed the crowd in the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.

I guess I am an armchair, agnostic buddhist, trying to absorb the philosophy and integrate what makes sense into my athiestic world. However, being a bit of an idealist still, I believe that if I work hard, I can help to bring betterment to my part of it. And, by extension, if others do the same, eventually, we do have a better world, no?

I take the Dalai Lama at his word that he wishes to be considered as "just a monk". He maintains a down-to-earth, approachable and humble quality, which seems to me to be in keeping with personal growth and human compassion. That, to me, is a reminder of our finite lives and a fundamental and personal committment towards peace.

When Dad Met Svend Robinson...

The last sketch I did of my Dad, from a photograph...

Once when I was visiting my Dad in his care home, back in 1987 or 1988, he told me that some local politician had been by for a visit. Dad had never been particularly political, and didn't like or trust politicians very much.

I asked him what had happened. He told me that it was Svend Robinson who had come to visit.

"Did you talk to him?" I asked.

"Sure. He was talking to everyone. He came over to me and introduced himself. 'Hello. I'm Svend Robinson' he said. So I looked at him and said 'You're that queer fella, aren't ya?'"

Dad was smirking, proud of his little jab at Canada's first openly-gay politician.

I put my hand to my forehead in disbelief. "Jeez Dad! You didn't say that to him did you? What did he say?"

"He said he preferred to be called gay."


"We talked for a few minutes. He seemed like a good guy."

Dad looked off into the distance for a moment, thinking about the encounter with Svend Robinson, and I watched his smirk fade away, as his face became serious.

"You know," Dad said slowly, "he was the only one who came to see us." Dad meant that Svend had been the only politician who had taken the time to stop by and visit the residents at Carlton Lodge.

"Maybe I'll write him a postcard and say thanks."

Jesus, that's too much blood!

The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson

Holy Cow... I mean, yikes... what a bloodbath of a movie!! Why did Mel do this?

After weeks of prepping and some anticipation, I finally say "The Passion of the Christ" today.

I'm quite shocked and very disappointed in this movie in a number of ways. Mostly, I feel that it was excessively graphically violent. I will say that this is by far, the most brutally violent film I have watched. I suppose that this is really the point of the movie: to stun an audience who exists in a society steeped in violence from the real world, the media, games and other sources.

Is it assumed that we are so desensitized to violence that this level must be used to make an impact on us?

Maybe I am just a wimp, or too soft. Maybe I don't realize just how vicious people were back then, and are today. No. I'm just saying that - paying lip service to those views, so that they will have been said.

The fact is that I am mostly a pacifist, who hates violence. The truth is that I know that violence exists, and intolerance and cruelty exist, and I know that ideological differences are still the cause of violent conflicts all over the world. In our world today, horrible violence exists, as much as it ever did in the past. Living in one small corner of our world, inside the bubble of my urban life, I cannot say with absolute certainty that life is so much more advanced and peaceful today than it was 2000 years ago. I want to believe that it is, and I want to believe that people are not persecuted today as Jesus (apparently) was.

So, why so bloody and gory, Mr. Bush, er, I mean, Mr. Gibson? Why so sadistic a portrayal? This is a movie, so it was consciously created. Scores of people collaborated to create the story, decide on how it should be composed and shot, and overall it probably represents countless hours of research, design, and execution (pardon the pun) by people who do this kind of work professionally every day.

This wasn't a haphazard effort. Someone decided that we must see chunks of flesh flying, rivers of blood and layers of flayed skin spread across the screen. I will say that the depictions of violence were so graphic as to lessen the impact of the story for me. I did not feel that the movie adequately built up my empathy for Jesus as a person. He was represented as a healer and trusted individual, but I did not feel as though his special nature, ablities or leadership were adequately demonstrated. In this movie, I did not feel that Jesus was built up high enough as a character before his bloody descent into capture and torture. While he was being tortured, I certainly felt that I was watching someone suffer, but I did not feel as emotionally affected by it as I thought I would (or should) be.

Really, if anything, the movie presented so much graphic violence, that I felt as though I was somewhat desensitized to it.

I believe that, particularly with all the violence going on in the Middle East, this movie could have offerred more depictions of hope, compassion and love. The moments in the movie where compassion is shown (Pilate's wife bringing Mary the cloths, the man carrying the cross with Jesus, or the emotional/philosophical dillemma felt by Pilate) were few, and greatly overshadowed by shades of red.

I think the decision to portray this level of violence had to have been influenced by a fear that if it wasn't shocking, nobody would pay attention. It had to be spectacular, or we wouldn't even notice it. I think it was sensationalized in order to grab glory in the media and at the box office. Perhaps this is religion trying to compete with mass media on it's own terms? Look at "Kill Bill" by Tarantino, or any number of mobster flicks that depict gun play and blood and guts.

Is this what is necessary to make a strong impression on people? I don't think it is the only way to go. Look at "Kundun", the movie about the life of the Dalai Lama. Certainly he lived through the bloodlest time in recent history for Tibet, and there certainly was sufferring and anguish depicted, but there was also a sense of beauty and some hope that a future would grow out of the violent conflict.

Passion of the Christ is like a snapshot taken out of context - a violent scene, as if watched through a keyhole. This was a violent movie which, taken by itself, does a disservice to people who might otherwise consider the Christian faith as their belief system.

Perhaps this is just the modern equivalent of some fanfare to get people's attention... Like that joke that goes "SEX!!! Now that I have your attention..." and then goes on about real estate or some other unrelated topic. I mean, maybe that's what this movie is good for: a bloody, sensationalistic and graphic story that packs people into the theatres and reminds them about Jesus Christ. Then, once they have recovered from the shock of seeing the movie, they want to talk about it and talk about him, and maybe even open up a Bible or go to church.

However, still wearing my pessimist's hat, I think this is a rather desperate way for a religion or a film maker to draw attention to themselves.

Here are a few select web sites featuring, discussing or otherwise promoting this movie:

April 05, 2004

The Book and the Bottle... "ne'er the twain shall meet"

A co-worker recently returned from a vacation back home in Mexico. During her stay, she had asked me if I wanted her to bring me anything back. I light-heartedly said "A bottle of Tequila!"

When I was 18 and thought I was invulnerable, I helped another friend finish a bottle of Mescal right down to the worm at the bottom of the bottle, chasing with beer all the way. I thought I was such a he-man as I giggled and wobbled my way home, walking from False Creek across the Granville Street bridge.

Twenty years later, and I'm proud to say that I have a low tolerance for alcohol, and could not (and wouldn't want to) tackle a bottle of Tequila the way I did when I was a stupid, cocky young lad :)

Having said all that, the woman who bought me the bottle as a souveinir is a total sweetheart, with the best intentions. She took me at my word, presenting me with almost a full litre of Tequila this morning at my desk. I thanked her profusely for such an extravagant gift, which would have cost me an arm and a leg if bought here at a Government Liquor Store. I believe it's much less expensive in Mexico, but nonethess, a very considerate and nice thing for her to do.

Here's the punchline:

I grab this huge square one-litre bottle and jam it in my shoulder bag for the trip home, but it won't fit - something is blocking the way. I reach into my bag and pull out the offending item - the large Bible I have been studying in preparation for going to see "The Passion of the Christ".

A Bible and a litre of Tequila. Boy - talk about your clash of ideologies. Talk about your cognitive dissonance. That's some kind of bag o' conflict right there...