Friday, March 29, 2013

An Antitheist at Easter: A Reprise

Before I begin, I want to ask you all a question:  Should I keep this blog the mish-mash it is of health issues, personal issues, parenting issues and the occasional comics/pop culture commentary?  Or should I start a second blog for all that stuff someplace else and save "Citizen of Oa" just for the comics and pop culture stuff?  Please feel free to leave something in the comments section!  Now on to the latest:

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of being the lay liturgist for the Easter services at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg.  Which may seem strange, considering that I am pretty much the most dedicated atheist -- some might even say antitheist -- person you could ever hope to meet. For those who heard it and asked for the text, and for those who might like to read it again, here it is:

Good morning!  Happy Easter!  I have to tell you -- as an atheist in a pulpit on Easter, you can feel a little bit like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  No matter what direction you take, you need to be very, very careful.  Even before I got to where I am now on my spiritual journey, Easter was not my favorite holiday.  I’m allergic to chocolate, and I think those little marshmallow chickens are creepy.  And everybody knows that Santa can lick the Easter Bunny with both of his mittens tied behind his back.  But I digress.  And I am not here to disrespect Easter.  Quite the contrary.  One criticism of atheism which I see frequently on the Internet says that, because you don’t believe in anything, no day is any more special than any other day.  I assume this refers to Sundays and religious holidays, but...this is ridiculous.  I certainly don’t go through life steadily measuring my progress one day at a time until my inevitable demise.  OF COURSE some days are more special than others.  The day my daughter was born.  The day I married my beautiful wife.  The day I heard my first Unitarian sermon.  And if I can appreciate a birthday or an anniversary or even a total eclipse of the sun as “special” then I can certainly appreciate an annual celebration of rebirth and renewal like Easter.  I can’t speak to the “miracle” of Jesus coming back to life.  But I can surely appreciate the new, green life that springs forth from the tomb of a seed’s dark shell.  That’s a miracle.  In the spring, a simple flower can be its own death and resurrection.

I try to live a life that notices the wonder of these miracles.  Another one that comes to my mind, especially on Easter:  when I look up at the night sky, light from other stars comes across an unimaginable distance and interacts with my eyes, with my brain.  With me.  That star may not even exist any more, but its light still lives in my sight.  When I was a boy I used to dream of going into space and maybe someday walking in the light of another sun on another world.  This was something that, once I became an adult, I thought I could never do.  Now I realize that to walk in the light of other suns, I only have to step outside on a clear night.  It’s miraculous.

And while I can’t speak to the resurrection that we spell with a capital “R,” I can speak to the fact, the pure fact, that everyone here this morning is made of resurrected stars.  Carl Sagan used to say, “We are all made of star stuff” because all of the more complex elements of which we are made were formed in the hearts of exploding stars.  Think about that.  Stars died so that we can be.  We all stepped out of a supernova.  How’s that for sacrifice and rebirth?

Those are the miracles that I celebrate this and every Easter.  Because of these every-day miracles, I have come to believe that morality is not something that I need to get from outside.  I believe that the drive to a moral life is inside me, and is inside all of us as human beings.  It grows all on its own, like a seed or a star.  It is why, and how, we love one another.  It is why the ideals of the Golden Rule, of humility, of charity, of honoring your family, are so important to me.  I don’t need the Eternal Reward of Heaven to live a good life.  I try to do good things simply because they are good things to do.  Besides, like Garrison Keillor said, Heaven is not for Unitarians.  We don’t like gated communities.

So I plan to use today to think about the miracles that I see all around me.  I will try to treasure the new life that I find both around us and within us.  Celebrating miraculous possibilities is what gives Easter meaning to me.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Wrath of the First Lantern--A Review

Some years ago, the Justice League of America found an alternate Earth where Evil always triumphed over Good ("Earth-3.")  Benedict Arnold was on the dollar bill; people had their hearts on the right side of their bodies ... it was a real mess.  There they discovered dark versions of themselves in the Crime Syndicate of Amerika -- Ultraman was the evil Superman, Superwoman was the evil Wonder Woman (although she was actually evil Lois Lane -- don't ask) and Power Ring was the evil Green Lantern.  Power Ring's magic ring was powered by an evil wizard named Volthoom.  They never got deep into the details, but it seemed that Power Ring's ring was cursed in some way; he mentions being tricked into putting it on and implies that he can't remove it.  He also mentions that Volthoom constantly whispers to him through the ring and is never quiet.  All this happened back in the 1960's, when comics cost twelve cents (now they cost four dollars) and the guy who's now writing Green Lantern had yet to be born.

[Green Lantern takes on Power Ring while Batman fights Owlman and the Flash takes on Johnny Quick in Justice League of America #30 from September, 1964.]

Geoff Johns, that writer I just mentioned, is the one behind the recent revival of DC's Green Lantern books. Geoff is leaving GL to write Justice League, but before he goes, he's tying up all the loose ends from the GL mythos with a neat little story called "Wrath of the First Lantern."  That First Lantern is named...Volthoom.  It's a nice little Easter Egg for long-time fans like myself.  In the new story, Volthoom was imprisoned by the masters of the Green Lantern Corps, the Guardians of the Universe.  He was then used to power the Green Light of the "emotional spectrum" (green is the color of Willpower and the power of the Green Lantern Corps, just as blue is the color of Hope which powers the Blue Lanterns, and so forth.)  Well, Volthoom has finally broken loose from Guardian Prison, and folks, he is angry.  He may have been evil on Earth-3, but he's E-V-I-L here on Earth-1.  (And so far, for all we know, he may even be the same Volthoom.)

[Volthoom as he first appeared to the Guardians.  Yeah, he looks trustworthy.]

The story has been interesting so far, to say the least.  Volthoom has been busy sucking up all the emotional energy that he can in an attempt to essentially rewrite the history of the Universe.  Which means a lot of us are going to die if Volthoom has his way.  So it's up to the Green Lantern Corps to try and stop him.  Only they don't have the help of the Guardians, or anybody else for that matter, even the more sympathetic members of the other Corps of Light.  (The other Corps wield the powers of Rage, Fear, Avarice, Hope, Love and Compassion.)  Right now Volthoom is going after Earth's Green Lanterns one by one and forcing them to relive all of the regretted decisions of their lives as a preface to his gaining the power to rewrite everyone's lives...and destroy them.  Time in Guardian Prison has changed Volthoom's appearance somewhat:

--but he still seems to be a jerk of the first order.  My one complaint so far has been that recent issues of Red Lanterns, Green Lantern Corps, and Green Lantern: New Guardians have been a little repetitive as Volthoom puts the same whammy on the protagonists of each book, but I trust writer Geoff Johns to get things moving.  The story line is scheduled to run through this May, and the first issues, including the flagship title, Green Lantern itself, are still on newsstands, so it's not too late to jump on board.  Enjoy -- I am!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sometimes It Works

A couple of posts ago ("Champion of the Oppressed!"), I berated DC Comics for choosing writer Orson Scott Card for their new digital Adventures of Superman comic series.  I objected to Mr. Card because of his very outspoken stances against marriage equality and homosexuality.  I believe that, of all the characters in the DC stable, Superman is the last character that should be explored by such an opinionated individual.  Superman is the Big Blue Boy Scout, the champion of, yes, the oppressed.  He is the epitome of every fight against injustice and for equality, and it is therefore inappropriate at best for someone like Card to take the reins of one of his books.

It appears that the fan backlash against this choice has had some pleasantly unforeseen consequences.  Artist Chris Sprouse has left the project because of the controversy.  You can read about it here at the New York Times site:

Good for you, Mr. Sprouse.  Here's hoping that the other artists DC uses will stand with you.

[An example of Chris Sprouse's artwork for the character of Superman.]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


No, not the Talking Mule, although chances are he would make a better Pope for the Roman Catholic church than the one that was just elected by the conclave of cardinals in Rome.  (And he'd probably be less of an ass.  Sorry, I couldn't resist.)  Just about every Catholic I know has prayed for a papacy that would be more accepting of gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual people -- you know, in accordance with the teachings of that Christ guy -- and for a church more willing to be progressive concerning the roles of women and celibacy for the priesthood.  Instead they are getting an archbishop from Argentina but with an Italian name -- shades of Ratzinger's Hitler Youth past, only with Mussolini -- who is openly, proudly and fiercely opposed to same-sex marriage.  Cardinal Bergoglio has chosen the papal name Francis.  He will be the first of that name.

The low whirring sound you hear is Francis of Assisi spinning in his grave.

Addendum, the morning after -- so far the news media is being extraordinarily kind, describing the new pope as kind, humble, prayerful, willing to walk with the poor and disenfranchised, etc., ad nauseam.  Lovely, really.  As long as the poor and disenfranchised are straight, Catholic, and willing to forego any and all use of birth control, why, they have a special place in the new pope's heart.  The rest of us can go to Hell -- and in his book, we will.  I've heard almost no mention of his long and bitter fight -- a fight which he lost, for which I am thankful -- against gay marriage and gay adoption in his home nation of Argentina.  This partitioning and dismissal of a significant portion of the population does not speak to me of inclusion or humility.  I stand by my original assessment:  Francis of Assisi must be spinning in his grave.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet

OK, how sad is it that I can still recite the opening words from TV's The Adventures of Superman!?  To wit, "Faster than a speeding bullet!  More powerful than a locomotive!  Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!  Look!  Up in the sky!  It's a bird!  It's a plane!  It's SUPERMAN!  Yes, it's Superman -- strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men!  Superman -- who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way!"

I grew up watching The Adventures of Superman just about every day on WPIX-TV Channel 11 out of New York City.  As a kid in New Jersey in those fabled pre-cable days, we got our TV from New York City.  Channel 2 was CBS, channel 4 was NBC, channel 7 was ABC and there were two independent stations that gave us stuff like the Three Stooges, the Little Rascals and Superman.  Those channels were channel 9 WOR and channel 11, WPIX-TV, home of Million Dollar Movie and The Adventures of Superman.  And occasionally, when the wind was right, we could get another independent channel out of Philadelphia, channel 4.  If you didn't mind the snow, you could catch Mike Douglas and his talk show.  Sometimes.

Channel 11 was, by far, my favorite channel and for a while there, Superman was my favorite show.  Now I don't normally like to shill products here, but ... Warner Brothers is doing something pretty great this coming May of 2013:  releasing a DVD box set of the best of Superman on television.  30 lovely discs of Super Goodness, including episodes of Smallville, the old movie serials from the 1940's, a season of Lois and Clark, Superman the Animated Series, The New Adventures of Superman (another animated series), the recent DCU animated feature Superman vs. Doomsday, the incredible Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from the 1930's, the somewhat less amazing Ruby Spears animated Superman cartoons from the 1960's and 1970's, AND THE ENTIRE FIRST SEASON OF THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN!

George Reeves.  Noel Neill.  Jack Larson.  Phyllis Coates. John Hamilton.  Those great black-and-white episodes.  There's a reason why that grey Superman suit is hanging in the Smithsonian, and those first season episodes are that reason.  No word on price, but the box set is scheduled to hit the shelves on May 7, 2013 -- the Tuesday after Free Comic Book Day ("always the first Saturday in May!")  I can't wait.  Then again, I'm one of those guys that can hum every different Superman theme song ... and who loves them all.  Great Caesar's Ghost.

For more details on the DVD set, look here:
(l to r: John Hamilton as Perry White, George Reeves as Superman, Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen and Noel Neill as Lois Lane)