Kung Fu Panda eats, shoots, and leaves: A stream of consciousness

Hi everyone, I’m back. I’ve done many things during my regrettably long blogging hiatus, including looking at some pandas. Last week I was in San Diego for the International Writing Centers Association conference with two of my colleagues, and we went to the famed San Diego Zoo, which has a new baby panda who’s still too young to be on exhibit. So we watched the baby on the zoo’s webcam (you can too: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/pandacam/), and we saw his grown-up friend (not his mother; she’s with the baby) live and in person. The employee working at the panda exhibit told us an interesting fact: Pandas can be very aggressive if provoked. (I know; they’re bears, duh. But they look so genial.)

This fact made me think of Kung Fu Panda, a great movie and the source of my favorite example of the importance of articles (I mean a, an, and the).  During the climactic battle scene, the evil snow leopard says, “You’re just a big fat panda.”  In response to which, Po, the title character, says, “No.  I’m the big fat panda.”  Really, that’s a brilliant piece of dialogue.  A lot of breath and trees have been wasted in discussing the best way to teach the rules of articles to English language learners whose native languages don’t have articles.  And actually, I learned at the conference last week a theory that incorrect article usage may be one of several “untreatable errors” that simply can’t be addressed with rules.  But I have the solution for everyone: Just watch Kung Fu Panda.

From my favorite example of article importance, I move to my favorite use of a punctuation metaphor in a song lyric.  Earlier tonight I was trying to read Hans Robert Jauss’s Toward an Aesthetic of Reception while listening to my iPod on shuffle.  Up came the Coldplay song “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall.”  Which do you think I was paying attention to, the song or the book?  I’ll be honest; I was dancing in my bed.  The punctuation metaphor occurs in (I think) the second verse of the song: “I’d rather be a comma than a full stop.”  Besides the fact that the British term full stop, like ginger and roundabout and a lot of other words, is inherently fabulous, the metaphor is quite apt and well-put.

At this point I was going to embark on a rant about how people should give another listen to the much-maligned Coldplay album Mylo Xyloto.  No, it doesn’t follow a neat story arc about the French Revolution like Viva La Vida does, but it still has some great songs.  Further ranting will have to wait for another time, however, because I need to go to bed.  I’ll leave you with the assurance that my next post will be more coherent, if not profound, and with this holiday wish, which I’m borrowing from a cute tin sign I bought at an antique store recently: “A merry Hallowe’en.  Scare up some fun, and have a spooktacular night.”

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Getting our loves in order

I’ve promised before that this won’t turn into a Harry Potter blog, and I intend to keep that promise.  (“I made a promise, Mr. Frodo.  Don’t you lose him, Samwise Gamgee.  And I don’t mean to.”  See?  Not a Harry Potter blog.)  But before I move on to other topics, I want to qualify the main point of my last post, in which I wrote about how one’s family is more important than one’s job.  This is true.  But are there things more important than one’s family?  As difficult as it is to say so, yes.  And tonight I grasped this truth afresh with the help of Xenophilius Lovegood.

I haven’t read a lot of Augustine other than the quick and probably shallow reading of the Confessions that I was required to do in my freshman speech class (yes, speech), but from reading secondary authors I think I’ve picked up a fairly decent understanding of his concept of the ordering of loves.  To put it in simplistic terms, it’s not wrong to love your favorite food, your favorite song, your best friend, or your mom, but these loves must be put in the proper hierarchy, and all must be subsumed under your love for God, for the sake of which you love everything else.  I can assent to this principle when I encounter it in Augustine’s terms, but I tend to resist when I read Jesus’ more stark wording in Matthew 10:37: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Anyone who’s read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows knows that Xeno. Lovegood’s mistake was not loving his daughter Luna but allowing his love for her to be the driving force of all his decisions.  Family is important in the wizarding world as well as in our Muggle world, but it’s not the most important thing.  Because X. made an idol out of Luna, he endangered Harry Potter, the person to whom he loudly proclaimed loyalty in The Quibbler.  I don’t think Mr. Lovegood’s support for Harry was insincere, but it fell apart when put on trial.

Now, I want to be careful in my analogy.  As John Granger points out in The Deathly Hallows Lectures (read it; your mind will be blown), Harry Potter is not precisely or always a Christ figure, but sometimes he functions as one, and I think this is one of those times.  Lovegood loved his daughter more than Harry (or perhaps more correctly, what Harry stood for) and therefore was not worthy of Harry.  And by the way, I think Luna would have understood this if she had known what was going on.  From everything that we know of her character, it appears that Luna, much more than her father, knows how to love well (or love good, if you like puns more than correct grammar).

I don’t have a daughter or a son, but I do have a father and a mother, and Jesus talks about them too.  I also have siblings, whom Jesus mentions in similar passages in the gospels.  As weird as it may sound, we can sometimes make idols out of our brothers and sisters (I do this when I worry inordinately about my siblings), and I think Deathly Hallows has something to say about this too, when Harry and Hermione almost have to physically restrain Ron from vengefully chasing after Deatheaters, rather than following the predetermined plan, after Fred has been killed.

Just so we’re all clear (especially because I know my parents will be reading this): I love my family very much.  But I hope I love Jesus more.  I also hope that I never have to be placed in a situation like Xenophilius Lovegood’s, in which the ordering of my loves is tested.