Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Movie Review of The Help: A Story of Feminine Genius

A Movie Review of The Help
A Story of Feminine Genius

Only once or twice a year does a movie come out that I get excitedly giddy about because the message it has is so in your face without really being in your face.  The Help, starring Emma Stone, is just such a movie.  It is set in the early 60’s in Jackson, Mississippi, a thriving town of just over 100,000 people where all the “dignified” ladies had “colored” maids, as the movie identifies them. 
This movie is about women finding their true dignity as women.  Skeeter, played by Emma Stone, is the main character.  She has just returned from college with a degree in journalism and wants to be a writer.  She jumps right back into her old group of friends who all have nice homes, husbands and babies and maids to take care of it all so they can volunteer in the Jr. League and look good.  Skeeter, however, sees a story in the lives of the women around her. She wants to reveal the lives of the help from their perspective.  Her research reveals much about the dignity of the women of Jackson.
Aibileen is the most prominent of the maids in the movie.  She has raised many white girls that have become the bosses of the maids.  In the beginning of the movie, Aibileen tells the adorable little girl she is raising, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”  She shares with this little girl the message of her “girl genius”, a teaching of Blessed John Paul II.  She never tells her she is beautiful, or lovely, something her mother is embarrassed about because of her pudgy toddler belly. Aibileen recognizes the dignity of all the women around her except her own.  She learns to find strength in her own “feminine genius” and finds the courage to do what she needs to do.
Minny is another wonderful maid who finds her own dignity when her new boss befriends her.  She sees her own strengths and uses them to help her new boss, Aibileen, Skeeter, and eventually her own children and herself. 
Celia, whom Minny works for, is an outsider in Jackson and not well received.  She is ostracized just as the working ladies are, and Minny realizes her pain.  Celia, who is represented as the Marilyn Monroe of her time, pouts when she is rejected by the Jr League ladies.  Minny tells her, “Quit feeling sorry for yourself.  That’s ugly.”  Her message to Celia is that her behavior is beneath her dignity and she needs to stand up and be the woman she was created to be.
The antagonist of the movie is Hilly Holbrook.  She is the leader of the jr. leaguers and rules the roost.  She is seen as a “dignified” lady by society when truthfully she, like all the young women were raised by the help with no interaction, acceptance, and love of their biological mothers. Imagine the pain in the hearts of these young ladies to have never been approved of by their own mothers.  She attempts to rise above the pain in her heart by becoming a haughty, selfish, calloused women; all adverse characteristics of our femininity.    
Skeeter’s mother, Charlotte, is all about getting her daughter married off.  She is strong, fighting cancer while continuing to live a happy life by not giving up on life.  However, she ignores the feelings, relationship and dignity of her own maid at the insistence of another “dignified” lady.  She too returns to  her own dignity after her daughter writes her book about the lives of the maids, divulging stories of great scandal. She tells Skeeter, “Courage sometimes skips a generation.  Thank you for bringing it back to our family.”
Skeeter  is definitely the star of the show, maintaining her feminine dignity throughout the movie. She desires, as all the young ladies in the movie do, to get married and have a family.  But she is in no hurry.  She has just graduated from college, something not common for the young ladies of Jackson in the 60’s, and is ready to begin a career as a journalist.  As she conducts her research her female heart reaches out to those in need of love and acceptance.  She is the woman Blessed John Paul II thanked in his Letter to Women when he wrote, “…I cannot fail to express my admiration for those women of good will who have devoted their lives to defending the dignity of womanhood by fighting for their basic social, economic and political rights, demonstrating courageous initiative at a time when this was considered extremely inappropriate, the sign of a lack of femininity, a manifestation of exhibitionism, and even a sin!”  Her defense was against those women who thought they were the dignified women of Jackson. 
The Help is an invigorating, inspiring, encouraging and enlightening movie of the feminine heart.  The message is that at the foundation of a woman’s heart is love, love that recognizes another human as a person of dignity, not just efficiency and productivity.  The Help reveals our “feminine genius”.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beauty is in the Eye of The Creator: Part 3

Many marital problems that have occurred through the past come about because couples find out that they have 'nothing in common', no goal that they are striving for together. While the first and foremost goal that they should be striving for is to get their husband or wife to heaven, one of the issues is that they have no hobbies or anything to share. For example, my wife and I have very different interests. While our faith and our children are the most common and best thing that we love and have in common, our physical and mental hobbies differ. She enjoys making rosaries or small crafts of some kind, while I enjoy reading. She loves to bake while I love to grill. She enjoys chick-flicks while I enjoy 'cine'MAN'togrophy'. Many couples struggle to find the similarities between their individual, material interests. One thing that my wife and I have always had in common is our love of exercise. I have noticed alot of benefits a couple can experience that exercise can offer.

First, when both the man and woman exercise they both have something they want to achieve. Whether it be to lose a couple pounds or to gain strength the couple has something that they can help the other complete. Not only is there a common goal but there is someone right next to you cheering you on to be the best that you can be. It also creates a fun pursuit that each of you can challenge the other in. For example, my wife has always been able to run for long distances at a very good pace. I am more of a weightlifter and have never been one to run for miles on end. So, between the two of us we challenge one another to reach out and try the other's interest. Now both my wife and I run and lift weights. We rarely have the opportunity to work out or run together, but the overall goal is to help each other be in the best health possible, and what better way than to grow in health together. We men are meant to 'tend and keep the garden' given to us by God and our wives are meant to help us be the best spiritual and physical heads of our households, aside from a prayerful and sacramental marriage, exercise is one of the best things to help each other reach their God-given roles.

Secondly, our vows require us to look after our spouse's health. "In sickness and in health" was not suggesting that whether you want to be lazy or active or whether you want to eat pork rinds or salads is fine by your spouse. Being a child of God hands on the responsibility of taking care of our own health and when you said 'I do' you promised to keep your spouse in his or her best health as well. There is always a balance to be had when it comes to our diets and our activity levels, within right reason a person can stay in shape and keep their spouse in shape, decently easy. With a little help from the theological virtues you can both grow together in mind, body and soul. Fortitude will help when you want to be lazy. Temperance will help when you want to eat fast food every day. Justice will help a couple give each other the love and respect due to a creature of God. Prudence will help a couple find the right plan to achieve each other's goals.

Third, I don't think any man or woman wants their partner to lose the physical attraction that originally brought them together. Men want their wives to feel safe when they are together and want them to know that no other person could harm her as long as she has her man. "His arms are rods of gold...His legs are pillars of alabaster..." - Song of Songs 5:14-15. Women want to feel attractive, they want their husbands eyes to light up when he sees her and to feel that he can always brag about his beautiful wife. "Oh Noble Daughter, your curving thighs like jewels, the product of skilled hands." - Song of Songs 7:2. The poetry of the Song of Songs is the poetry of the theology of the body, the beauty that we all contain should be something we are proud of and therefore should be kept and cared for as the prize that it is. Physical attraction is part of our human nature, we are called to look beautiful and handsome, but we are not called to put it out on display for all to see. A marriage is meant to allow a man and a woman to give all that they have to each other, especially their bodies, wouldn't you want to look the best for your spouse?

I hate what the world offers as the 'ultimate goal' for a man and woman to achieve. Stick figure women and muscle-bound freaks are shown as what a real man and woman are supposed to look like, but those are not what God originally intended at all. The different sizes and shapes of our bodies were given to us by a loving Creator and therefore should be treated as such. But, a woman should want to look feminine and a man masculine, these are our God-given roles. One of my favorite things to do as a family is to wrestle or play hide-and-go-seek with my sons. My wife and I can spend hours wrestling and play boxing with my boys and this truly brings us closer as a family, not to mention burns a decent amount of calories. There are all sorts of ways to get leaner or gain endurance, whether it be that after dinner walk together (an excellent opportunity to pray a rosary) or keeping each other's cravings under control (my wife and I found it very helpful that if one person has a right-before-bed-snack craving the other will say 'I won't if you won't', funny, but it works!) growing together physically is a great way to grow together spiritually. 'My Lover belongs to me and I to him' - Song of Songs 2:16

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Manhood and Barbarism

The recent incidences in London have sparked quite a bit of attention to the teenage angst problem within the United Kingdom. While many people do not know how to explain the happenings others are not surprised and have almost expected these occurrences for years. There is a lesson to be learned within these riots that I think most have overlooked. I believe that it was Fr. Philip Chavez that said, 'if men do not teach their sons how to be constructive they will automatically become destructive'. By our masculine nature we know that we are supposed to make a difference in this world. We instinctively know that we are meant to put our mark on this world before we are called to our heavenly reward or possible damnation. Barbarism and chaos is the ultimate prize when children are taught at a very young age that everything is relative and there is no reason to let that pesky conscience of yours have any say in your actions, he's only Jiminy Cricket after all. Only about 50 years back there was a major rebellion against all things moral because the people began asking 'Why all the morals?' and were not fed the truth, they were fed the lies of the world, but this generation doesn't care and doesn't even want to know the 'Why', they don't even know that they don't know.

Throughout history men have decided to go the route of a barbarian. Genghis Khan, King Xerxes, Billy the Kid, and many of our more recent dictators were all men that decided barbarism is a better route than gentlemanly debate. Many men back in the wild west days of this great nation would terrorize towns and take over farmland just for fun. Many Mafiosos would take advantage of or harm their own people all in the name of power or money. There is no purpose or reason behind the indecent behavior of men. These boys and young men that are terrorizing the streets of London have been given a choice, the same choice that every man is given, we can either decide to live by objective truth and therefore submit to a moral code, or we can deny that truth exists and allow our own skewed emotions or feelings guide our lives. Unfortunately, these young men play the blame game and do not hold themselves responsible for their own decisions, something that is much easier to accomplish than holding your actions to a higher code.

Going back to the stories of the wild west of our great nation there were men who decided that it would be better to join a gang then to work hard and raise a family. (The old saying, 'The more things change, the more things stay the same' is very relevant here.) Typically the decision was based off of what the person was taught by their own fathers. The men that decided to join the gangs were either ignored by or wanted to rebel against their fathers. All boys and men have a need to receive validation from their fathers, if they do not receive it from them they will search elsewhere, and typically that will lead them down a wrong path. While these young men are all a product of their heavily sin-laden society, in the end they are their own men. These boys are the image of the post-Christian society, they are the end result if we do not start reversing the course of our atheistic ideologies forced down our nation's throat by those that want to destroy the good within all of us. If we do not start teaching our boys and young men what it means to be a true, Catholic, man of God, barbarism is their only other choice.

Boys today are told that the video-game villains are the real heroes and that Truth and goodness are nonsense. Movies and stories today are filled with the young men that break the rules in order to achieve anything, rebellion is considered the ultimate good rather than ever listen to authority. The more a secular young man rebels, takes advantage of women, or drinks the more he is cheered on by his so-called friends, and while most men never were given the honor or validation from their fathers, this is the validation they crave and are receiving. Belief that the barbarian lifestyle is more manly than the life of a saint has permeated our young men and has shed darkness over the light of sainthood. But if these young men are shown what true honor, courage, and manliness is the world will see a change that has never been reached. Men are the heads of their families and therefore society as well, and with the men that are coming from the current young generation we might face a society that acts like the post-apocolyptic men in the movie 'Book of Eli'. If we want to see a world where life is sacred and morals are held above all else, we must teach our sons to be constructive.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Dignity of Cinderella, Snow White & Sleeping Beauty

Twenty years ago my husband and I found ourselves in the office of a marriage counselor. It was our fifth year of marriage. The only reason we were there is because we couldn't afford to sit in a lawyer's office. We look back on that now and call it the grace of God.

This counselor did help save our marriage, but I look back now on some of the ideas of the times and question. One idea in particular regarded fairy tales. Our counselor said fairy tales were an abomination to women. They taught young girls that there was a knight in shining armor out there, a prince charming. He went on to tell me I should forget about all that, it was only in the fairy tales, not going to happen in real life. I needed to take the bull by the horns and make life happen for myself. (Very feminine thing to do, right?) And yet, at the same time he told me if I wanted my husband to be the head of the household, get out of the way and let him. Somewhat of a mixed message, don't you think.

So for about the next ten years we struggled trying to properly discern our roles as husband and wife and live in harmony. It really wasn't until just around five years ago that we found the understanding of just how to do that. It was when we began studying Blessed John Paul II's Theology of the Body. There we learned just how God had created our masculine and feminine hearts and how when we embraced our own design we could live as a complementary couple.

I found in this amazing philosopher's writings that we should believe in fairy tales. There are knights in shining armor and prince charmings out there. They are the men who understand their own masculine hearts. They are the men who understand the teaching in Genesis that they are to "tend and keep" the garden. To tend the garden is to care for it, cultivate and nourish it so that it can bear fruit. The Hebrew translation for "to keep" is shamar. The literal translation for this Hebrew word is "to guard." So Adam was called to care for and guard the garden. Where else is a fertile place that when seeds are planted, it is cared for, nourished and guarded that new life will come forth? The womb of a woman, right? This is man's created design, his masculinity, his living out the knight and prince.

So it turns out that Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White actually understood their own feminine hearts and their dignity as women because of those feminine hearts. They waited for the knight and the prince rather than making do with whatever bozo came around, told them they were hot and wanted to disappear into the woods with them. Sure we women are strong, we are called to be. So was Cinderella. Look at the hard labor she did every day. We're planners and organizers so that the tasks of caring for others are completed, much like Snow White with all those little men. And we're beautiful, simply because we are women, made so by God not by anything we have done or will do. Like Sleeping Beauty, we need to recognize our feminine beauty and expect to have that feminine beauty recognized by a knight in shining armor or a prince charming.

You, like me, may have been married for many years and are asking yourself, why didn't I wait for my knight or my prince. My bet is, that you did. He might not realize he is that knight or prince. I once heard a lady say, "If you want to be treated like a queen, you better be treating your husband like a king." This certainly doesn't mean you treat your earthly king as a servant would. You are his wife, not his servant. By your very dignity you have what Blessed John Paul II called your "feminine genius." This is your own personal feminine way of sharing God's love, appreciation, approval and acceptance with the caretaker and guard of your heart. When we remember our number one goal in marriage is to get our spouse to heaven (number two is to be open to all the children God wants to give you), we realize we have to be that "helpmate" for our husbands that Eve was created to be. There is a huge difference in helpmate and nag. As a helpmate we desire what is best for our husbands from our heart. A nag desires our husbands to do what we want him to do when we want him to do it out of our own selfishness. I know, I have been there and done that and got the heartache.

Each of our heroines in these fairy tales understood they had a job to do all the while awaiting, dreaming about, and hoping for that knight in shining armor or prince charming. He came, for each one, he came. Cinderella's prince came and rescued her from a life of utilitarianism by her stepmother. Snow White's prince came and rescued her from all the little men in her life, those who couldn't love her as she deserved to be loved. Sleeping Beauty's prince came and woke her from her lifeless slumber to a life of joy, excitement and love.

Yes, these fairy tales have a story that is somewhat make-believe, but, really? Isn't there some reality in them as well? Is it really an abomination for a woman to believe there is a prince charming that understands his own masculinity and will come to take her away on the white stallion and do his best to "tend and keep the garden"?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Beauty is in the Eye of The Creator: Part 2

In the last post of 'Beauty is in the Eye of The Creator' we discussed the over-all need for physical health as well as the divine calling to keep our bodies from being destroyed. In this post I would like to discuss several of the latest fads of the fitness world that are not only dangerous but also very illogical. When a young man or woman picks up a copy of the latest muscle or health magazine, most if not all, will have big, bold letters with sayings such as, 'Lose 20 lbs in 2 weeks', 'Gain muscle like the Pros' or 'Better Buns by Brunch', these sayings are meant to and are very effective at drawing the attention of a person wanting to believe in the dreams that are promised. These magazines and articles are mostly filled with rock-star dreams and the unhealthy lifestyles of rock stars to match. The amount of science, or should i say lack thereof, is horrendous. To a person that only wishes to stay in good health or maybe to even have some fitness goals they would like to attain by the end of the year, the fitness culture is offering mostly garbage. The nonsense that is fed to us continuously is supposed to be backed by 'scientific research' from people with the entire alphabet following their names indicating that they know what they are talking about. But I think Arthur Jones, founder of Nautilus training systems and grandfather of 'High Intensity Training', said it best over 30 years ago, "With the physical-training media having been dominated by commercial interests for the last thirty years, we have eventually reached a point where even self-evident truth is ignored, and where outright lies are published as scientific fact." -Iron Man Magazine Article November 1971.

When trying to decide which routine and dietary habits to choose a person can always use the old saying of, 'If it's too good to be true, then it probably is'. If the article or book you are reading about one of the latest fitness miracles says that you can achieve the impossible, it is probably just that, impossible. Fitness and dietary goals are just like any other goal, they should be realistic and well within your own reach. Just like trying to learn a new language, your long-term goals should never be affected by short-term dreams. Daily habits should be formed so that each day you make a little more progress towards the light at the end of the tunnel. For example, did you know that if a person subtracted an extra 100 calories a day, that's two Oreo cookies, that within one year, everything else staying constant, that person would lose 10 pounds in one year. 10 pounds in one year does not sound like much but if you think of it in long-term goals within 5 years that person would lose 50 pounds, simply by not eating those two after dinner cookies. (The science behind this is based off of the simple and easy rule of thumb, 3500 calories = 1 pound of body fat.) Throw in a little extra exercise, burning say 100 calories, by the rule of thumb you could lose 20 lbs in one year! So, a lot of the unhealthy dietary habits that are pushed through the media and 'fitness tabloids' is nonsense. We have to be very careful about the programs we choose to adhere to. If health and fitness were as easy as they claim we would all be able to wash our clothes on our abdominal muscles.

This being said, there are plenty of reasonable and very logical workouts that a person can use and see the real, lasting results we all crave. There are small habitual practices that we can include in our daily lives in order to keep our calorie intake reasonable. One type of exercise that I enjoy and am a big fan of is called 'High Intensity Training' or HIT for short. This type of exercise includes very brief, infrequent, yet highly intense workouts that are very well proportioned for a father or mother with busy lives. (If you Google 'High Intensity Training', there are plenty of articles and information for those interested.) There is no need to spend hours and hours in the weight room or long bouts of exercise, in fact, there s a possibility it could reverse the progress desired. So, when trying to find the best diet and exercise plan, take reasonable measures in account and keep from feeding into the lies of the current exercise culture.

Lastly, I would like to discuss the spiritual dangers of practices like Yoga. Webster's Dictionary Library gives this definition:"Yoga is a system of Hindu philosophy, strict spiritual discipline, practiced to gain control over the forces of one's own being to gain OCCULT POWERS, but chiefly to attain union with the Deity or the Universal Spirit." Fr. Amorth, who is the Vatican exorcist, says "Yoga, Zen, and TM are unacceptable to Christians. Often these apparently innocent practices can bring about hallucinations and schizophrenic conditions." While there are many beautiful things to celebrate from the eastern cultures, yoga and new age practices are not consistent with Christian values and beliefs and therefore should be steered away from. Many people say that the yoga practiced by many Christians today does not include the spirituality aspect of eastern mysticism, but those aspects have been a part of yoga since it's creation and so to try and remove those aspects would be extremely difficult, or for the 'not-so-advanced' practitioner almost impossible. Being a Kinesiologist from the campus of the University of North Texas, I can safely say that yoga has entered the 'core' of the exercise world as a praised routine in order to gain flexibility, but, every person that spoke of it in our classes could not leave out the idea of 'centering yourself' or finding your inner 'being', which is way too pagan for the reasonable Christian with a logical outlook on exercise. Even putting the key into Pandora's box allows for the evil inside to prepare for domination. We should keep our head on our shoulders and see exercise for what it is, the tending of a Temple the Holy Spirit given to us by a loving Creator.

In the next post of 'Beauty is in the Eye of The Creator' I will discuss the role of exercise within a marriage and how a healthy lifestyle can bring a husband and wife closer together.