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Bad Taste PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Tuesday, January 18 2011 08:54

As the Academy Awards come near, the film The Black Swan reportedly stands a good chance of winning Best Picture. Or, at least, its star, Natalie Portman, may be in the running for best actress.

 Lured, in part by these reports I recently went to see the film. Much in it I found easy to admire. The beauty and grace of the ballet sequences in particular gratified my desire for aesthetic pleasure. So did some of the interplay among those actors who had leading roles.

 However, I found several scenes in the film odious. They struck me as prime examples of bad taste, materials that should not have been included in the final print. Some of these involved the star’s forays into sexual gratification; others portrayed wild scenes that supposedly came from the star’s imagination and heated emotions. 

Yes, I can accept the main action of the film, namely the struggle between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, technique and emotion, intellect and spirit. But I cannot stomach the gross depiction of this young woman’s sexual discoveries.

 Incidentally, I inquired of a ticket seller on my way into the theater what he thought of the film. He indicated that he found it displeasing. Similarly, on my way out, I asked another ticket seller his opinion. He, too, expressed disappointment with it. I regard these two fellows, several decades younger than I, as knowledgeable judges who see many more films than I do.

Theological Encounter PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Saturday, December 18 2010 11:14

Kristen Mulvihill and David Rohde had been married for only two months when David, a New York Times reporter on location in Afghanistan, was kidnapped by the Taliban. During the seven months of his captivity, Kristen, an active Catholic, prayed every day for her husband’s safe return.


David, though not himself especially religious, also prayed daily. He did so, not because of a deep belief in God, but rather to pass the oppressive time of being held prisoner.


When David escaped and became reunited with Kristen, one of the first things he said to her was: “Your God saved me!” In response, Kristen told him: “Your God? I thought he was our God.”


This exchange is not fully reported, nor in these exact words, in the couple’s newly published book “A Rope and A Prayer” but this is what Kristen told me when I talked with her about the experience. My conversation with her took place after the couple  spoke at a recent brownbag lunch at the Shorenstein Center.

MEMOIR PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, November 10 2010 09:56

Writing a memoir, as I have recently done, offers the chance not only to reflect on your life but to give expression in words to its meaning. Rather, one should say, to its meanings.

 Probably, you will recognize and perhaps develop themes that run through the times of your being alive. They will serve as markers in weeks, months, and years that otherwise can seem chaotic.

 You can bring to mind the decisions that brought you closer to your goals. You can also think about the actions that went wrong, along with the mistakes in judgment you made.  

 You get to put into some order the myriad events that have taken place over many years. And you can recall at least some of the many people who have had an impact on your life.

 Places, too, come back to memory and play a part in your recollection. If you have saved letters connected with those places, so much the better. Long after my return from a two-year stay in Europe, my mother handed me a packet of my many letters to her. They have proven valuable sources of information about my thoughts and activities during that sojourn, recollection of which would have been long lost.

 Writing a memoir proves especially appropriate for later life, as I have discovered through doing it.


Prize Winner PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, October 27 2010 09:32

This month’s winner of the Nobel Prize for literature was a man I remember first encountering in the fall of 1992. My wife Susan and I were standing in the senior common room in Harvard’s Quincy House when one other person came into the room. He walked over to Susan, stuck out his hand, and said “Vargas Llosa.”


Not everyone would have known, but Susan immediately recognized the name of a Latin American literary lion. Mario Vargas Llosa went on the give a talk to common room members that fall. Unfortunately, on that occasion he did not talk about writing, a subject I would like to have heard him discuss. Instead he told us about running for president of Peru, and failing to get elected. 

Anger, Not Love PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, September 29 2010 09:11

A few feet away from the doors of my parish church, I was attempting to park my car in a tight space. Suddenly I heard shouts from behind the vehicle, followed by angry beatings of fists on my car’s trunk. Clearly, some guy was irate at me.

When I got out of the car and looked back, I saw the fellow still flushed with anger. He accused me of being a blind driver who did not know what he was doing.

In response to my plea of not guilty of assaulting his van, he proceeded to point to the front fender and claimed that I had hit it. My brief examination of the site showed no damage but he continued to rant about my having done some.

Not anxious to get into a shouting match or, worse, to get shot, I quickly walked away. Not without reflection on the incident, however.

It struck me as an irony that this fellow’s verbal assault on me took place just outside a Christian church where he seemed to be waiting for a family member or friend.

And it seemed clear that my antagonist loved his van a whole lot more than he loved me.

What would Jesus think?

Christ, Easily Understood PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Monday, September 20 2010 09:32

"Corrigan told me once that Christ was quite easy to understand. He went where He was supposed to go. He stayed where He was needed. He took little or nothing along, a pair of sandals, a bit of a shirt, a few odds and ends to stave off loneliness. He never rejected the world. If he had rejected it, He would have been rejecting mystery. And if He rejected mystery, He would have been rejecting faith."


Quotation from Let the Great World Spin, a novel written by Colum McCann 

Dogmatic Atheists PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, September 01 2010 08:33

When your God-damn atheists become as dogmatic as some religionists, you know we're in trouble.

Thank you, Dawkins, Hitchens and your fellow evangelists of atheism.

Daniel Schorr Departs PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Saturday, July 24 2010 08:11

In March 2007, I interviewed the celebrated journalist Daniel Schorr. Then 90 years old, he displayed some of the

personal dynamism that marked his whole career. News of his death yesterday sends me back to what he 

felt most proud of.

From the highlights of our exchange, I excerpt his account of triumphing over a president:

"I won, he lost," boasts Daniel Schorr, summarizing the outcome of his collision with President Richard Nixon in 1974 over his covering of Watergate and its aftermath. "I had survived an attempt by the president of the United States to do God knows what to me." 

That happened after Nixon put the then CBS reporter on his now-infamous "Enemies List." Placing number 17th of 20 names, Schorr parlayed his notoriety into riches. 

As he now describes his victory, "It typified my whole career: I tried to investigate; people who were investigated got mad at me, and they never did anything to me. In the end, as it turned out, I got a lot of fame in being an enemy of Nixon; it netted me hundreds of thousands of dollars in lecture fees." 

Death of a Mentor PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, July 14 2010 10:06

The death of Dr. Robert Butler has stirred both my emotions and my thoughts. When word came that he had died on July fourth, it struck me as unlikely, even impossible. After all, I had spent the first full week of June with him as I took part in the Age Boom Academy for journalists conducted by his International Longevity Center in Manhattan.


Bob Butler seemed to be enjoying excellent health, as his active participation in the academy suggested. On the day we finished, I saw him emerging from the converted townhouse on East 86th Street and walking briskly westward. There, I said to myself, is a 83-year-old who knows how to live and will surely live much longer.


Dr. Butler seemed too eminent to die. No one in the field of aging had as impressive a record as had he. Though not widely known to the general public, he was a household name among gerontologists. After all, he had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for his book “Why Survive?: Being Old in America” that launched the age movement in this country.He went on from there to found the National Institute On Aging and became its first director. And in 2008 he had published  “The Longevity Revolution,” a book that celebrated the extension of life for so many Americans.


In dying, Bob exemplified a by now well-established ideal in the field of aging. It’s called “the compression of morbidity” and suggests that the best model for dying is to live as long as possible without major disease and then to die suddenly, or after only a few days of being ill. Even more than most people, Bob, as a physician, would not have wanted to go through a long-drawn-out dying process.


A colleague recently asked me to explain the fact that people die. In particular he wondered how our friend Bob Butler could have encountered death so suddenly and surprisingly. In response, I told my colleague that I consider death the great mystery, a phenomenon that no human being will ever understand. We live and we die, both realities that lie outside our comprehension.


Because of Bob Butler’s death I now feel closer to my own. Mine will probably be quite different from his but we were near in age and shared some friends and many interests. I would hope to share Bob’s immunity from dementia, a disease currently afflicting more than five million Americans and in time likely to touch many more.


I feel thankful for having known this benefactor of the community. He was a person whom I considered a mentor. Besides that, he lived and worked to make life better for others, and thus offered a fine example that I will continue to value highly.







Marvelous Migration PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Monday, May 31 2010 15:22

My spirits were buoyed up last week by reading about bar-tailed godwits. These small birds are based in southern Alaska in the warmer months there. When it turns cold, they take flight to New Zealand but not before they stuff themselves with food for the trip.


Then, almost incredibly, they fly 7,100 miles nonstop at 40 miles an hour and arrive at their destination in nine days. What a feat of navigation and endurance comes naturally to them!


These facts we know thanks to biologists who have been studying these birds for decades. The data about their migration comes thanks to the scientists surgically implanting satellite transmitters in their bodies. 

Engraved PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Monday, April 12 2010 07:56


An inscription engraved on a stone bench outside the entrance to the Reginald F. Lewis International Law Center at Harvard Law School.

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