Saturday, August 11, 2007

Moving to a new blog!

After much reflection, the Author has decided that a change in the direction of his wonderblogging efforts is necessary. The first change would be a greater focus of content on issues relating to the intersections on faith and politics, parallelling the Authors academic and personal interests.

The change in content would also be reflected in a repackaging of the wonderblog to a name that reflects the rebellious nature of faith against the secular status quo, a divine wedgie if you will. So for future posts, tune in to The Divine Wedgie

Find this new improved wonderblog at

Thanks to all faithful MJP Tan readers that have followed the dark pathways of this author's imagination, but now a new one awaits you...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Good and Faithful Servant: a Tribute to Fr. Louis Fossion

On 26th July 2007, on the Feast of Saints Anne and Joachim, just one week shy of celebrating his diamond Jubilee of his ordination, the Lord called home one of Singapore's clerical veterans, Belgian priest Fr. Louis Fossion.

Fr. Fossion's standing as one of the titans of the Church in Singapore is demonstrated by the flood of blog and online forum entries mourning his passing. As a further demonstration, one teengage blogger gave Fr. Fossion the honorary title of "Singapore's Dumbledore".

Like the wise old wizard of the Harry Potter series, Fr. Fossion has been a source of wisdom and encouragement to hundreds of people, not just in his native Belgium, but in Scheut mission territories of China, Inner Mongolia and Singapore. Even the Singaporean Government's mouthpiece, the Straits Times, had to take note in a lengthy newspaper article, the number of parishoners whose lives were touched by the zeal of Fr. Fossion.

Indeed, Fr. Fossion's love for Christ is not just illustrated by his love of the people residing in the territories he visited, in particular Mongolia. It is also graphically illustrated in his parish Church of the Holy Spirit (pictured above), the interior of which was famously painted by him singlehandedly (he would have been in his 60s), and which bear two copper symbols of the Holy Spirit, hanging on either side of the central alter, both of which were handbeaten by the man himself.

The Author's family have also come into personal contact with Fr. Fossion's dedication. He has baptised all member of the Author's family (save strangely, the Author himself). In one instance, Fr. Fossion was noted to have stayed in a newly-moved-into house from 8pm until 3am (the time when all the furniture was transported to the house), so that the new domicile could be blessed.

Ever the stalwart of the Catholic Church, Fr. Fossion was never one to countenance the shallowness and irreverance that has dominated much of the Church in the West today. In one noted example, Fr. Fossion quite audibly berated a couple who took offense at his refusal to baptise their daughter "Fifi". After remarking that he would not even demean his dog by giving it such a name, he told them to go back and return only when they have decided upon a proper name.

Few, if any, priests in this day and age could demonstrate the love and dedication that Fr. Fossion has shown. A great day would dawn if the likes of this cigar chomping Belgian would see the light of day. Truly, if the words "Well done, good and faithful servant" should apply to anyone, it would be Fr. Louis Fossion.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Habemus I-Papam

A series of blog entries and conversations among friends from Church alerted the author to a story regarding Pope Benedict XVI's new technological acquisition: a 2-gigabyte ipod nano.

Staff at Vatican Radio presented the gift to the Pontiff to celebrate the radio's 70th Anniversary, upon the receipt of which the Pope was noted to have remarked that computor technology was now the future. The pontifical approval of Apple merchandise has stimulated the production of hilarious spoof commercials promoting the the concept of the "Ipope", like this:


And to top it all off, a video commercial produced by Jay Leno, and featured on NBC television. To view it, copy and paste the link below, and be sure to turn up the audio for the complete i-papal experience. It is well worth the effort.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Eaten the Burger? How About Meeting the Cow?

The Author had in the previous week returned from a conference organised by the Australian Catholic Students Association, running under the theme "Towards 2028", indicating some consideration on what to do in the 20 years that follow World Youth Day 2008. Whilst there was some projection into the future, courtesy of the highly eloquent and humourous Bishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, the conference focussed very much on what to do in the present. This included important topics facing the Church including the Liturgy, life issues, and giving the faith a political face. The only mar to this otherwise wonderful congress was a disgraceful performance by the current Industrial Relations Minister, Tony Abbott, who was invited to speak on his experiences as Health Minister and the defence of life issues in the public square, but ended up giving an opportunistic sales pitch to the Government's WorkChoices legislation, and even questioning the right of clerics to frame economic issues in moral terms.

For now, the Author would like to draw one's attention to the recently aired movie, The Island, starring Eran MacGregor and Scarlett Johannson. The film, depicting the adventures of MacGregor and Johannson who act as clones who find out that they are artificially manufactured for the purposes of extraction of their organs, captures in the space of a few hours, the stakes of the current cloning "debate" that has gone on for the last month or so. The film graphically depicts the subjects of this debate in flesh and blood, and the fact that the producers of the film seek to frame such procedures in a negative light, including the instrumentalising of MacGregor, Johannson, and other clones by labelling them as "products", would indicate that the market consists of folk who would be horrified by this spectre.

Also, interestingly, the arguments that are put forward to nullify moral outrage (for instance, the head of the project, Dr. Merrick, denies the clones humanity by their inability to feel emotion, or express desire) or justify the project that produces said outrage (this Dr. Merrick at one point asks another character for the number of people who can cure Leukemia like him), bear a striking resemblance to arguments of supporters of voluntary euthanasia (Peter Singer adopts a schema that resembles the first set of arguments in the film), and therapeutic cloning (with respect to the second set of arguments). Again, such arguments are framed in a negative light by the producers of the film, indicating a similar resonance amongst the target market.

This raises an interesting question, why would the same target audience that would express horror at this atrocity in a film, not express the same outrage at the same atrocity occurring, or about to occur, in the real world? Indeed, one may not be surprised to find an Island fan actually using the same justifications used by Merrick to assuage any guilt that this real life Island scenario would generate. What can explain this discrepancy?

Two possible explanations exist. The first is that that they are not made cognisant of the humanity of the subjects of these procedures. The Second is that the culture of postmodernity (not to be confused with the academic paradigm of postmodernism), has produced a fluidity of moral planes that allow one to switch allegiances from one moral framework to another depending on what suits the situation (which in reality makes postmodernity a hyperextension of Modern strategic rationalism).

How should the Christian respond. Dealing with the first would necessitate a persistence in the activity of the pro-life campaigns, with a concerted effort in bringing to light the humanity of these "products", with a particular emphasis on graphic demonstrations that would make the audience meet the cow that produces the burgers. The reason that this graphic strategem may win out over resort to argument is the changing frames of reference that plague this debate currently. Dealing with this issue would require a firming of the cognitive planes, an outcome that can only come about through a process of Foucauldian discipline.

James K A Smith has observed in Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? that for the Church, such a discipline can be found in Her liturgy. If we recognise, as William Cavanaugh does, that more than remembering and hoping, the liturgy also rearranges bodies to fit a distinctly Christian social order, the training the bodies that liturgy brings should, in true Foucouldian form, firm up the cognitive order in such a way so that Christians at least would not fall victim to the quicksand foundations that arguments justifying the murder of embryos, foetuses and patients.

With this in mind, the recent release of Sacramentum Caritatis, and the Motu Propio by Pope Benedict XVI on the normalisation of the liturgy are indeed welcome developments. But more on that in future wonderposts.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

All of a Sudden, Celibacy is Sexy Again...

The Author mentioned in an earlier Wonderpost that showbusiness is such a fickle creature. It would seem that the unpredictability of the Beautiful people has been demonstrated yet again this week.

The National Catholic Reporter this week ran an article on Hollywood screenwriter Karen Hall. People may not know the name, but they may be familiar with some of her work, which include the scripts of M*A*S*H and more recently, Judging Amy. After the success of Amy, Ms. Hall has returned with a script for a new series due out in the fall - about priests. Before the discerning Catholic rolls one's eyes in an expression of "Not Again", it is noteworthy that there is one slight twist.

According to the Reporter, the TV series market is out for something wierd, exotic and completely way out, and apparently with Vows, Ms. Hall has delivered the most audacious overarching plot known to contemporary showbusiness: these priests actually love the Church and are faithful to its teachings.

It would seem that deviant priests in all their various flavours do not tickle the showbiz palette like they once did. The relatively disappointing reviews given to the recent Da Vinci Code movie is but one demonstration of that. And whilst the American clerical sex scandals have been a great source of embarrassment for Catholics everywhere, they also have yielded a strange dividend: public scrutiny and curiosity about the priesthood is becoming a showbiz phenomenon.

Said Hall, a devout Catholic, about the acceptance of Vows:

"The orthodox priest-protagonist is a novelty...Everything else has been done: the cool liberal priest, the gay priest, the drug-addicted pastor, priests who are pedophiles or who have lost faith. Networks are interested now in what is real, which seems weird enough to them to be compelling”.

While chic may not be the best reason to celebrate expressions of one's orthodoxy, this episode really demonstrates the importance of demonstrating Christianity to be not merely a set of beliefs (any religion can do that), but also as a true Counter-Culture that defies all forms of Modernity. Calls for a dumbing down of the faith to make it more "in touch", or to make it less "controlling", produces the kind of Modern dribble that people in postmodern culture are finding so bland. Indeed, according to James KA Smith, so long as Christianity seeks to bow before the altar of autonomy, it replicates rather than overcomes Modernity. To be truly postmodern, says Smith, is actually to boldly express the entirety of the Christian narrative. And what is more, it would appear people actually want it that way, not so much for entertainment, but because it strikes a deep longing repressed by several centuries of Modernity.

For now, let us content ourselves with the fact that for Hollywood, the cloth is now the new black.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Interesting View from the Catholic Register

When Catholics think of the state of their faith, too often they think doom and gloom, which provides a less than optimal outward sign when it comes to spreading the faith. Below is an excerpt from the Canandian Catholic Register's Joseph Sinasac that does not sidestep the seriousness of the state of the Faith, but at the same provides an interesting angle on these "signs of the times"...
Signs of consolation
By Joseph Sinasac 6/19/2007
The Catholic Register (

We are often urged to read the “signs of the times” to discern what God is calling us to do in our lives and in our church. How we read those signs will determine not only our outlook on the future, but also influence our sense of energy and purpose.

The Ignatian method of prayer calls for us to consider both the signs of “consolation” and “desolation.” Too often, we focus on the latter; the news media in particular are predisposed to dwell on the bad news to the detriment of all those signs of hope in the world.

In fact, in recent weeks it has been all too easy to wallow in the bad news involving religion. We hear of Pope Benedict XVI under attack, of violence done in the name of religion, of priest shortages and discord within our religious house. Adding insult to injury, a spate of new books have been aggressively painting religion as the source of all evil in the world. British writer Richard Dawkins, in his bestseller, The God Delusion, argues that parents who teach their children religion are guilty of child abuse. His crusade is joined by others such as Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great) and Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation). All display a dogmatic zeal that is easily the atheist equivalent of the most zealous Bible-punching fundamentalists.

Yet the very passion of the attacks smacks of a desperation born in a dawning realization that the religious world is not so dark after all. These writers see that religion is being taken seriously by far more than the fringes and that it continues to make a major impact on public life in the world, for both good and ill. It is not for nothing that the pronouncements of Pope Benedict continue to receive such critical scrutiny. That fact is, they matter.

In Canada, a new spate of episcopal appointments brings to office a set of capable, energetic and talented men to office in several dioceses in Canada. Archbishop Thomas Collins is capably filling the large shoes left by Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic in Toronto, Archbishop Richard Smith in Edmonton has made a first good impression and, now, three other archdioceses – Ottawa, Vancouver and Kingston – are receiving younger shepherds who have considerable pastoral and administrative experience and are proven disciples of our Lord. Vancouver, with Archbishop Michael Miller, Ottawa with Archbishop Terrence Prendergast and Kingston with Archbishop Brendan O’Brien are filling key leadership positions in the Canadian church. We pray their replacements in their former dioceses will be of an equally high caliber.

At the grassroots Catholics are taking seriously their own call to be “leaven in the dough” in the world. Whether it be the growth of new youth movements or the growing popularity of Catholic media efforts involving youth, such as Salt+Light TV and The Catholic Register Youth Speak News program, Catholics are refusing to let the world’s secular opinion makers set their agendas.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Faith, Fiction and the Need for Both

The Author very recently took out Stranger than Fiction from the local video store. Having been told by friends that it ranked among the cleverest comedies ever made, the Author developed a curiosity that could only be satisfied by expending the necessary funds to hire the movie out. He was not disappointed...

Stranger than Fiction follows the story of Harold Crick (played by Will Ferrell), an IRS agent who very consciously orders his life around numbers (For instance, Harold must always brush his teeth 72 times, he must always tie his tie in a single windsor knot to save 48 seconds, he must count the number of steps he makes to catch the bus). Life for Harold is one of precision, but at the same time, it is also a very repetitious life...and a seemingly meaningless one. Harold hates his job, and apart from only one friend, Harold spends almost every minute of his existence alone.

This mundane existence gets interrupted when Harold, brushing his teeth, begins to hear a woman's voice narrating his every move. The only problem is that he is the only one that can hear this voice. Through a series of consultations, Harold discovers that he is a character of a novel being written by a famous reclusive author, Karen Eiffel (played by Emma Thompson). More ominously, in a highly humourous scene at his usual bus stop to catch the bus home, Harold hears Karen mention his imending death. The only thing that is keeping Harold alive, however, is the fact that Karen is suffering from a bout of writer's block and does not know exactly how to "kill" Harold, a condition that her assistant Penny (played by Queen Latifah) tries to undo. Eventually, Karen finds a way to "kill Harold off" in the novel, and the race for Harold to save himself begins.

Harold successfully locates Karen, and he tries to persuade Karen not to kill him. While genuinely distraught by the discovery of her being in such control of Harold's destiny, Karen protests that she would be unable to complete what is her most brilliant work without Harold's dying. She gives a copy of the manuscript to Harold, who in turn passes it onto a literature professor Jules Hibbert (played by Dustin Hoffman), whom Harold consults throughout the film. Prof. Hibbert reads the manuscript and declares it to be so masterfully written that he tells Harold that he has to die. He then hands the manuscript to Harold, who takes a long bus trip around the city so that he could read the story from start to finish. Harold too is captivated by the story, so much so that he accepts his impending death.

The acceptance of his death transforms his life, he stops counting, breaks his routine, engages in acts of altruism (which includes fulfilling his friend's childhood desire to go to Space Camp) and also deepens his awkward relationship with a baker, Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). On the day he is destined to die, Harold goes through his day calmly and purposefully. When he arrives at his bus stop (3 minutes early, rather than on the dot), Harold sees a boy ride his bike into the path of his bus. He pushes the boy away and is hit by said bus.

However, just when we all think that at this point Harold dies (there is a scene where, almost immediately after Harold is hit by the bus, the viewer is taken to Karen Eiffel's office, where she weeps after having typed the sentence "Harold Crick was de--"), we find him waking up in a hospital bed. The viewer soon finds out that Karen had, at the last moment, changed her script entirely, so that, for the first time in her writing career, she writes a story where the protagonist does not die. The result however, is professional suicide, as she ends up writing what amounts to a mediocre tale. She is happy to live with that, however, rather than with the responsibility of sending a man to his death.

Stranger than Fiction may not be funniest comedy ever written, but it is more than made up for by its originality and intelligence, and comes highly recommended. While a great source of entertainment, Stranger than Fiction is also a great cultural resource. The movie should also bring to mind the importance of narrative to meaningfully locate the events of one's life, and indeed find meaning and purpose to life itself. Part of the widespread dissatisfaction with Modern life stems from this complete antipathy to narrative, the emptiness of which as Catherine Pickstock hints at in Liturgy, Art and Politics, can only be filled by mindless, and purposeless, mechanistic repetition. The only antidote to such mindlessness and purposelessness, would be the insertion of the events of one's life into a template of a story. More importantly, it has to be a story whose ending is known. This is an element that current manifestations of postmodern culture are loathe to concede, lest they admit into their congnitive maps the spectre of the Totalising Project, which are argued to be nothing more than instruments of cynical power projection and domination.

What current manifestations of postmodernity seem to fail to grasp is that, in the absence of an ending to the story, what actually occurs is actually a replication of the Modern process of repetition that postmodernity seeks to transcend. In the same way that Harold could only find meaning and purpose to his existence by reading the entirety of his story, the meaningful location of one's life is dependent on knowing the end to the tale. Once the end is known, the fear that makes the Harolds of this world hide in mindless repetition disappears.

Christianity has an important role to play here culturally. More than a set of ideas, the recognition of Christianity as a powerful (and Kairotically complete) story of redemption, and the discovery of one's location in that story and the direction that one's story takes, imparts to the believer a powerful and liberating potential. For when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune arrive, the fear that would make us retreat into the Modern culture of accumulation and safeguards (manifested in things like commercialism, contraception) ought to disappear in the face of a confidence in a God who throughout the course of salvation history, proved his faithfulness in transforming the many tragedies of Israel. We, the Church, the spiritual descendents of Israel, are privy not just to the fulfilment of God's promises in the past, but also to the consummation of those promises in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb that awaits those who bear those trajedies trusting in God's promises (read the Book of Revelations).

Such a realisation ought to make us as Christians more than confident in, to paraphrase Thomas Merton, staring despair in the face. At the very least, the Christian need not count the number of strokes when brushing one's teeth.