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Greg Ruehlmann :
21 article(s)

Greg Ruehlmann writes on humorous, religious and cultural topics in publications including McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Morning News, Busted Halo, National Catholic Reporter and National Lampoon.
March 15th, 2011
on St. Patrick's Day

You have to hand it to the Irish. Every March 17th, they put on the party of the season. Celtic or not, everybody celebrates St. Patrick’s Day.
I am St. Patrick’s biggest fan. I love how popular piety, overpopulated parades and the free-flow of Guinness mix to form a rare and rowdy sense of universal goodwill. I know folks who can’t stand the commercial crush of the Christmas season, who loathe the anti-climactic hype of New Year’s and the synthetic amoré Hallmark cooks up every February 14th. But I’ve never met a soul who harbored any hostility toward the feast day of Patrick, patron saint of shamrock proliferation.
I have to admit though that St. Paddy’s popularity makes me a bit green with envy.…

December 31st, 2009
(1921-2009)

Eunice Kennedy Shriver poses with an athlete at the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games in North Carolina.It’s difficult now to grasp what a radical thing Eunice Kennedy Shriver was undertaking in the 1960s, when she founded the precursor of the Special Olypics, then fostered the later event’s success. We sit, after all, in a time — thank goodness — when we have largely lost the ability to flinch in the face of physical or mental hindrance in our brothers and sisters. We prefer to take people as they are, and our world is better for it.

This is due quite directly to Eunice Shriver, who began her work in a vastly different era when handicaps were something to be hushed up about, or hidden from view. After all, she caused a minor scandal in America in 1962 when she penned an article in the Saturday Evening Post acknowledging that her sister Rosemary, one of the nine Kennedy siblings, was developmentally disabled. This was considered a taboo for any family at the time, even one whose members included the President and Attorney General of the United States.

Shriver by all accounts was the sort of person who never blushed, and never backed down. As important as she considered it to force into the public conscience an awareness of Rosemary and others like her, she put a far greater priority on the work that caused much less instant fuss, but that has had much greater, lasting effect. In the same year she introduced the world to her sister, Shriver hosted a camp for the handicapped during summer days on the grounds of her farm. The idea for “Camp Shriver” was simple: allow those with disabilities the chance to enjoy each other’s company and take part in friendly competition — without judgment, without spectacle. It sounded so small, but the humanizing effect of sportsmanship was enormous.

May 20th, 2009
Uproar over this summer action flick is wasted breath

In the gospel according to Ron Howard, absolutely everything is ominous when it’s undertaken at the Vatican. Whether it’s a member of the curia strolling down a dark hallway of the Holy See, or somebody steeping tea in the papal breakfast nook, the director who has brought Dan Brown’s novels to the cineplex loads down the moment with portent and peril. It’s a world in which you can’t help but imagine that even the gift shops are flooded with gloomy light.
Howard’s first adaptation of a Brown bestseller, The DaVinci Code, was a purgatorial mess. His second stab, Angels and Demons, ratchets up the excitement, cuts back on some of DaVinci…‘s convoluted anti-Catholicism,

December 30th, 2008
(1922-2008)

During the nearly sixty years he graced stage and screen, Paul Scofield was a man who had little use for self-justification, and even less use for self-promotion. His press-shy ways created something of a vicious cycle. The less frequently the celebrated British actor consented to interviews, the more frequently such interviews tended to revolve around the question of why, say, he didn’t make himself more available to the media. Or, why he had chosen to appear in so few popular films. Or why, unlike so many of his peers, he had not been knighted.
It would be more correct, however, when we speak of peers, to say that Scofield had none. He was sui generis…—universally admired by the Burtons and Oliviers of the

October 14th, 2008
Bill Maher issues a “call to atheist arms” in his latest documentary

In May of 2002, the comic Bill Maher faced the studio audience of his long-running program Politically Incorrect for the first time since learning ABC was canceling the show. As he sometimes did, Maher began the episode of PI—an irreverent roundtable discussion on current affairs—with a short monologue.

June 6th, 2008
Prince Caspian struggles to recapture the magic of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

It’s not easy being a villain in Narnia. Twice now, in the two movies based on C.S. Lewis’ beloved series, the bad guys begin with the whole world in their hands, only to be thwarted—like some mythic, British take on Scooby Doo—by a band of meddling kids.
Narnia can be a pretty brutal place for filmmakers as well. Lewis’ books have spawned millions of passionate, highly defensive devotees across three generations. Meaning that anybody who dares to put their beloved tales on screen does so at their own peril. They also risks the scorn of movie critics, who are as notoriously finicky as any Narnia fans, and perhaps even less rational.
No surprise, then, that director Andrew Adamson has come out of Prince Caspian…

May 29th, 2008
The Obama campaign in the South is working overtime to correct the rumor that their candidate is a Muslim

A recent telephone call illustrates the problem.
Deb Geissler of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is working the phone bank for Barack Obama headquarters in her home state, when she reaches a man who bristles at the mention of her candidate’s name.
“Obama?” he asks, sounding offended. “Isn’t he the Muslim one?”
“No, sir” answers Geissler. “He’s a Christian.”
“Well, I heard he’s Muslim.”
Faith in Barack…
 
Geissler recounts this story to me on an unseasonably cold, gloomy Friday in Aiken, South Carolina. It’s the day before the South Carolina Democratic primary, and Geissler—a middle-aged nurse with piercing blue-grey

May 21st, 2008
Expelled manages to lose Ben Stein’s funny

Since his first, monotone date with cinematic history in 1986’s Ferris Bueller, Ben Stein has carved a public career out of slight, but reliably charming variations on a single character: himself. Stein has been a supporting player in TV series and movies, a commercial pitchman (remember those Clear Eyes ads?), the host of the late, great Comedy Central quiz show Win Ben Stein’s Money…, and, more earnestly, a news pundit on CBS. His wardrobe—always a drab-colored suit, always a pair of canvas sneakers laced up with immaculately white shoestrings—seems the perfect extension of his persona. Bookish, phlegmatic and self-deprecatingly funny, he looks at once like the smartest and

May 14th, 2008
...or, How in the world did the creator of Roger Rabbit and the Archbishop of Newark end up collaborating on a sci-fi novel together?

The book is called Space Vulture, and it’s a far-out, one-of-a-kind project, even by science fiction standards. The cover features a throwback, Flash-Gordon-style photo of a caped villain with a ray gun. And next to the picture are the names of the two writers: the first is Gary K. Wolf, a sci-fi veteran and the creator of Roger Rabbit; the second—God’s honest truth—is the Most Reverend Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, New Jersey.
It might sound like an improbable partnership. But the truth is that these lifelong friends have been looking for a way to work together since their boyhood in rural Illinois. The result is Space Vulture…, published this spring (TOR Books, $20.95). In an interview

May 1st, 2008
A twenty-six year old reflects on Bruce Springsteen's continued magic

A memory: I am three years old, watching MTV. A man on a stage wearing tight jeans and a white button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up dances and sings into a microphone with his band in the background. He sways his shoulders and spins as the camera follows him, and toward the end of the song he pulls a young woman onto the stage to dance with him. I remember loving the music, and even the video, in a three-year-old sort of way.
The man is Bruce Springsteen; the song is “Dancing in the Dark.” The year is 1984.
I saw the video again recently for the first time since childhood; it has not aged well. I wonder if, even in the Eighties, it ever really impressed anyone who was old enough to dress himself. Springsteen,…

March 30th, 2008
Controversial Catholic youth minister Justin Fatica is tough and bruised, but soft-hearted, and few dispute he has a knack for reaching troubled kids

The children who show up for Kids ALIVE in Burlington’s Old North End number between 40 and 50, and most range in age from about 8 to 16. Many live nearby, in poverty. On a grey, snowy Saturday morning in February, they trudge in from the cold, filling a small, blue-and-white room in an old building on Elmwood Avenue, and shed their coats, hats and snow boots. The younger kids are shepherded to an adjacent playroom; the rest linger and chatter until a pastor, who oversees the weekly, nondenominational outreach program, leads them in some opening music. They sing: “Jesus loves me, this I know…”
The crowd is larger than usual today, and the reason for this is a young man named Justin Fatica, who…

March 25th, 2008
A pilgrimage to Flannery O’Connor's Georgia home

You’ll find her along the fence line of Memory Hill Cemetery, to the left. The grave sits in a family plot. There are Treanors and Clines—relations of her mother’s—and then, finally at the edge, O’Connors. A low, flat, plain marble gravestone, next to two just like it belonging to her parents. The etching, too, is plain: a cross, trimmed with “IHS,” and beneath it her full Christian name, Mary Flannery O’Connor, the day she died (August 3, 1964), and the day, only 39 years earlier, when she was born: March 25, 1925.
It was tempting, when I was a pilgrim in Flannery O’Connor’s hometown, to think of what might have been for her. And it is tempting now,…

March 21st, 2008
Dark, noisy and nearly forgotten, a 20-something makes a case for reviving Tenebrae

It is the great peculiarity of the Church of Rome, that it presents to its worshipers an extraordinary variety of services, each of which has a special significance and fitness for the period of the year in which it is celebrated. Among the most beautiful of these offices are those which are celebrated during Holy Week, and which are called Tenebrae.
The notice above entitled “Tenebrae Services in the Roman Catholic Church” and published in the New York Times…, on March 27th, 1872, sounds a little antiquated (when was the last time anybody said “Church of Rome?”), but it none the less rings true for me. Though it might be an odd choice, Tenebrae has long been my favorite service of the liturgical

January 25th, 2008
Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood stuns and confounds

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood… literally starts off with a thud. Only a few minutes into the film, set in late 19th and early 20th century California, the protagonist Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) loses his grip on a ladder and plunges down a shaft where he’s been excavating for silver.
When Plainview emerges, small chunk of silver ore in hand, Anderson shows us his changing fortunes with a few, quick brushstrokes. We see Plainview lying on the floor of an office, stretching the leg he shattered in the plummet, while surveyors certify his valuable discovery. From there he’s onto oil. He strikes crude with a small crew, and before long he’s making successful,

January 7th, 2008
Young and restless

Justin Brandon has been weighing his options. The 25-year-old San Francisco resident recently applied to Stanford’s highly competitive MBA program, but even if admitted, he isn’t sure he wants to leave his job at Better World Books, the promising dot-com where he has coordinated online marketing since June.
Brandon isn’t used to feeling so content about a job. In the three years since he graduated from the University of Notre Dame, he has done extended volunteer work in Puerto Rico, served as a video production assistant at Notre Dame, shot documentary films in Ghana and Haiti, and worked as a search quality technician for Google in Silicon Valley.
“Every year,” he said, “part…

December 12th, 2007
The true meaning of A Charlie Brown Christmas

Most people respond to the approach of Christmas with a happy blizzard of activity. They lick stamps and fix them to final flurries of Christmas cards. They bake. They bounce between the malls until their cars are caked white with salt.
Me—I gripe. I raise holy hell about 24/7 Christmas programming on the radio, or holiday sales unfurled before teenagers have time to vandalize my Halloween decorations. In December, folks like me become Scrooges in reverse. We jab “bah humbugs” at anyone who profanes our precious yuletide with a wintry mix of commercial excesses. We grumble to no one in particular about an imagined “war on Christmas.”
But every year, I’m narrowly rescued…

November 16th, 2007
Redford's Lions for Lambs paints 20-somethings with broad strokes

“Rome is burning, son!”
So says Professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) to a disaffected student named Todd in Redford’s new film, Lions for Lambs…. It’s an alarming message, in a movie full of messages: civil rights are in peril, soldiers are dying, and American morale is low. To each of which, Redford asks: what are we going to do about it?
If only the Redford’s plot were as easy to follow as his pontificating. Redford isn’t able to successfully weave together his stories in ninety minutes, so a concise and comprehensible plot summary is nearly impossible. While Malley exhorts the increasingly jaded Todd to get involved, a veteran reporter (Meryl Streep) in distant

October 11th, 2007
Sean Penn's Into the Wild stuns and disappoints

How much of your life do you owe to the ones who love you? What are your obligations to the imperfect people who raise and care for you, as you set out to forge an individual sense of self?
In 1995, the author John Krakauer (Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven) wrote Into the Wild…, the true story of Christopher McCandless, a young Emory graduate from an affluent Washington DC suburb. Inspired by Tolstoy, Thoreau and Jack London, McCandless gave all his savings to Oxfam, drove to Arizona, left his car, and wandered the western U.S. for two years in an austere search for authenticity and spiritual wisdom. He communed with graying flower-children in California, kayaked through Colorado River rapids, and worked a

September 25th, 2007
Mother Teresa's life in full

Saints are most commonly seen in two dimensions, as they appear in devotional artwork. Frozen in stained glass or canvas, they serenely eye the heavens as their hands bless and pray, or register the sweet pain of martyrdom. The figures’ piety, untroubled by human temptations, lends them a sort of beatific flatness. They frequently look like caricatures, not real people of flesh and blood.
Consider the recent case of Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu, better known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. While her Missionaries of Charity served among the world’s desperately poor, Teresa’s careworn smile became an icon of sanctity for the television age. As the praise mounted, she took great pains to emphasize…

February 21st, 2006

Robert Ellsberg had some explaining to do.
When his book All Saints appeared in 1997, readers celebrated its fresh take on the lives of “365 saints, prophets and witnesses for our time.” But many wanted to know: “Where are all the women?” It was a fair question, given the book’s lopsided male-to-female ratio of four-to-one.
With Blessed Among All Women, Ellsberg returns to address the question head on. In the introduction, he acknowledges the imbalance of All Saints, but is quick to portray it as a symptom of a larger problem. “Among the wide company of official saints,” Ellsberg laments, “women are vastly underrepresented.” Blessed Among All Women…

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