One Faith, Many Paths: Diana Rhodes Cook

11949475_10206672653671679_7990233186176364282_nThis month, I interview Diana Rhodes Cook, a relative of mine who lives in New York. I see her pretty often at reunions and I enjoy spending time with her daughters.

  1. Tell me about your childhood.

My childhood was blessed – amazing memories.

 

My dad was in the Air Force, so from the time I was born throughout my childhood, our family lived in a variety of different places. That reality made my childhood a rollercoaster of adventure and emotion – my mom always said I wore my heart on my sleeve. I never wanted to move – and often cried my heart out when we did move – but we learned to make friends quickly. It was always so difficult to move because I always loved the people and experiences along the way.

 

In my memory of family fun…. There were camping trips, and overnight family visits with aunts, uncles and cousins in upstate New York where my parents met.  We’d visit my dad’s hometown of Salamanca, New York, where we also lived when he was stationed in Saudi Arabia and Vietnam – each time for a year.

 

When I was very young, a baby, we lived in Texas, which I don’t remember. We lived near Washington DC after that and I do remember being taken to the Air Force base after John F. Kennedy was shot – to meet the First Lady coming back on the plane – her dress covered in blood and all the adults crying as she appeared from the plane.

 

The brightest memory of young childhood was living in England for three years in a small English village called Woodbridge. This is where I found my first connection with faith and spiritual support.

 

At age seven I was walking by myself for a few blocks to the Catholic church every morning. I felt so connected to my heart, soul, God, and insight towards people and the world in that chapel, I believe I found ‘grace’ at an early age. Recognizing my interest, the priest ‘broke the rules’ for 1967 and allowed me to prepare the church altar, and act as ‘altar boy’ at the early morning service, ringing the bells, bringing the chalice and helping to serve communion. He also swore all the little old ladies attending mass to secrecy.

 

I attended a private school in the village called St. Anne’s and was the only girl in a class with 9 boys. The local theater company came looking for me too – an American little girl – to play the part of Dagmar in an American play, “I Remember Mama”. Because I had developed an English accent at the private school, I had to learn to ‘speak with an American accent’ to be in the show.

 

When we returned to the States and my dad went to Vietnam, I had lots of friends who loved my English accent and walked me home from school every day. As my accent disappeared, so did they – except for my first real best friend, Jody. I loved to read and write. She loved to draw. We began writing stories together – which also jumpstarted my life-long love of writing.

 

  1. How did you meet your husband Steve?

I actually FIRST met my husband Steve when I was living in Virginia Beach, working and taking college classes, when he and some friends came to pick up me and some friends to go to the movies. We met again a short time later when my apartment building was sold and I had to quickly find a place to live. One of my high school friends, also in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area, rented a house with two other guys. Bill and Steve were stationed with a Naval submarine, the USS Flying Fish, and they invited me to move in. When I did move in, Steve moved out of the second bedroom and into the attic, which had very little flooring, so I didn’t have to navigate and sleep up there. It made sense since he and Bill were in and out of port for days, weeks, months at a time…. But it was also kind of chivalrous. Over the next year we became good friends and eventually more than that.

 

  1. What evidence can you give for God’s existence?

While I truly WANT to believe in the Science of evidence or tangible proof, I also truly feel that people interpret evidence or proof differently. Some people want to ‘see a physical form of God’ and others recognize that this ‘physical form’ is all around us, in the nature of plants, weather, geology and people and animals, and really exists as the soul, or an energy – and something difficult to tangibly measure. Some people prefer to focus on ‘evolution’ as a scientific process, occurring on its own, and as the only element in play for how the plants, people, lands, seas, world, solar system, universe developed. I can’t look at all those elements and NOT see their development and intricately amazing integration as evidence of God’s existence – not believing that this could have all happened without divine intervention and direction. I don’t disbelieve ‘evolution’, for example, but just feel the story is much more complex – that we, as humans, don’t have the ability to understand, nor any way to ‘prove’ it all one way or another at the same time. Some things do come down to faith. One of my favorite personal philosophies – related to people’s belief systems about God, his existence, nature, evolution and religion – is “What if it’s all true?” Beyond that, personal evidence includes answer to prayer, hindsight related to God’s perfect timing and protection, a real sense of God’s spiritual presence and love all around me, and faith affirmed in moments when God’s intervention was truly needed. 

 

  1. What ways do you feel God has helped you?

God began guiding my life right away when I was born, by uniting me with the family that adopted me – which set a path for my life. Being a part of that family lead to an amazing extended family and friends of all nationalities and colors, abilities, genders, religions and spiritual experiences which solidified my faith – the foundation of what allows God to help me.

 

I don’t really believe in coincidence. God has helped me many many many times in carrying my burdens, be they physical, emotional, financial or spiritual. This often means relinquishing control, putting a situation in God’s hands, and keeping faith that everything to happen will happen in God’s perfect will and timing. For example, after my first daughter was born and had hydrocephalus, which required complex dosing of medication at changing intervals through the day and night with no guarantee that it would resolve the problem, it was overwhelming. It wasn’t until I went into meditative prayer and visualized actually putting her in God’s arms that I was able to let go of the anxiety. And I knew at my core that I would know when she was healed. It was after the doctors released her from checkups and care, two years later, that I had a dream in which Jesus appeared and handed her back to me. Or take the very simple miracle that when my husband was driving to work in an ice storm, and a tree came crashing down and landed on his car, it hit the hood and bounced over the roof, leaving him untouched and alive. I can’t even begin to list the ways I know of when God intervened in helping me, much less the many ways he may have helped, and I never had any idea those loving powers were at work in my life.

 

God has also put me in places, and situations, with various people in which I’ve felt strong purpose. Most of those circumstances allow me to use my talents, personality, passions and experiences to help and grow with others, providing insight, hope and connections essential to the path we share, as we all progress on our personal spiritual paths. I am very mission-driven and I believe God helps me and guides those large and small missions each and every day. 

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My Favorite Saints: St. Thomas Aquinas

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When I went to college at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, there was a Catholic church on campus named after St. Thomas Aquinas. I wanted to know just why this particular saint was chosen. I decided to read up on him and I found that this man was an eloquent writer. It’s fitting that a college campus would name a church after him, as his most well-known writing, the Summa Theologica, has a scholarly feel to it.
St. Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 to a wealthy family. Yet like many saints born from a wealthy family, he would eventually disparage his station and gave it all up for God. He wanted to learn as much about God as possible, after having learned about the philosophy of Aristotle in Naples. His studies led him to become a monk and later to his writings.

St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica was written in a question/answer format and dealt with many topics that are still explored today. My personal favorite is the Five Proofs for God’s Existence, which I will illustrate below.

  1. The Argument from Motion

Every movement cannot occur on its own. It needs a force to act upon it. However, in order for all movement to occur, a force that does not require movement must exist. That force is what Aquinas dubbed the “prime mover”, which is God.

2. The Argument from Efficient Causes

Nothing exists prior to itself. In other words, an effect cannot exist without a cause. Every cause has an effect, and that effect becomes a cause for the next effect in sequence, like a chain reaction. For the theory of cause and effect to be feasible, there must be a cause that existed without a cause. God is that “uncaused cause.”

3. The Argument from Possibility and Necessity

This argument ties directly into the second argument. Every finite being can only exist within a specific time and place. However, a finite being implies that there are beings that are infinite. That infinite being is God, who exists outside of time.

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Memory Lane: Holy 50th Anniversary!

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On January 12, 1966, Batman got his first TV series. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the titular caped crusaders, this show became well known for its campy storytelling. For many years it never got a proper home video release (that changed about 2 years ag0), but it was syndicated for quite a long time, which was how I got into it as a child. Thanks to this show and Hanna-Barbera’s Superfriends, I became a big fan of Batman. This year marks the 50th anniversary. I decided to make a countdown of why this show is still great so many years later.

10) Adam West saved Batman. Batman’s comics were on the verge of being cancelled before the show began. Yet, when the show became a hit, DC realized their mistake. Julius Schwartz, who was head of DC at the time, insisted that the comics take on a tone similar to the show.

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9)They actually made their own villains. Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, and even Mr. Freeze were regular villains. But they took things a step further and even made up villains of their own, including Egghead, played by Vincent Price and pictured above.

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8) The Batmobile. Just look at that car! It still looks awesome!

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7) Batgirl. Although Batgirl did exist before the show, she wasn’t like we know her today. The show influenced the comic to make her Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, and I like her this way.

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6) Adam West voiced in Batman the Animated Series. As a way of passing the torch to Kevin Conroy, Adam West appeared in the episode “Beware the Gray Ghost” as an aging actor who is disparaging his role as the Gray Ghost, a TV superhero who influenced Batman. It’s one of the best episodes of the show.

Continue reading “Memory Lane: Holy 50th Anniversary!”

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Special Part 1: Star Trek: the Motion Picture

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Throughout 2016, I will revisit all six of the original Star Trek movies on all the 0dd-numbered months. I will also be counting down my favorite Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Animated Series episodes (and the worst ones too). I won’t be looking at the “Next Generation” revivals of the 80’s and 90’s, as I feel that should be a separate entity. I also won’t be looking at the JJ Abrahms reboot, because while I do like it, I think they don’t have the magic of Roddenberry’s vision, and they’re too recent. Let’s star with The Motion Picture.

After the series was cancelled in 1969, Roddenberry didn’t give up on the series. He wanted to make a movie and he’d also considered a revival. Filmation got the rights to make an animated series that only lasted 22 episodes, even reuniting most of the original cast. Then Paramount decided they wanted to launch their own network, and a new version of Star Trek, called Star Trek: Phase II, would be the flagship program. (Keep in mind this was the 70’s, a good twenty years or so before the United Paramount Network was launched) Paramount did back out on the network, but they went ahead with the movie anyway. Three movies helped influence the idea that a Star Trek movie should be made: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and of course Star Wars. All had done well at the box office.

In this first movie, the Enterprise investigates a black hole, as it is the only spaceship near its vicinity. (get used to this loophole if you’re a starting Trek fan, folks) Kirk assumes command of the Enterprise, hoping to relive his glory days, and even invites Spock, Scotty, and the rest. Deep within the black hole is a sentient being without form, and its presence has even been felt by Spock while he was performing a ceremony to help suppress his humanity. He realizes his friends are in danger, so he beams to the Enterprise as well. The entity takes over a crewwoman, calling her V’ger. It wants to contact its creators. It’s not a bad plot, even if it’s similar to the Original Series episode “The Changeling”.

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Film Freak: Heavy Metal 35th Anniversary Celebration

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In 1981, a cult classic hit the theaters. The very first animated movie to be rated R, Heavy Metal. Today, the idea of a cartoon catering strictly to an adult audience doesn’t seem that unusual. This cartoon was not a big hit at the box office but became a cult classic on cable and through bootlegs (due to copyright issues with the music, it took a pretty long time to get a proper, legal home video release.) This cartoon paved the way for a new way to look at animation. I guarantee you anime would never have made it into the US were it not for the cult status of this movie.

So, what was it? It was an anthology movie based on the British magazine of the same name.  Each story adapted a specific story or comic that appeared in the magazine. To celebrate the 35th anniversary, I decided to review each short individually. Before I begin, I must warn you–this movie earned its R rating. Almost every short has nudity and/0r excessive violence. So if you’re squeamish about either of those, I don’t recommend it.

  1. “Soft Landing”–The opening short is a rotoscoped car dropped from a spaceship in space. Rotoscoping was a classic animation style that wasn’t used often, but it was a predecessor to what we know today as motion-capture. Really there’s no story here, just some cool animation of a car landing on the planet Earth. Song: “Radar Rider”–Riggs
  2. “Grimaldi”–The framing device for the rest of the movie. An astronaut brings home a glowing talking orb called Loc-Nar. This orb is the “sum of all evil.” Anyone who comes in contact with the orb is either corrupted or melted into nothing. Which is precisely what happens to the astronaut. It then comes for his daughter. Rather than kill her, it decides to tell her stories of all the people it has corrupted or killed. Some really good detail of the poor girl in each scene. The framing device is kind of sketchy, but I don’t think it hurts the movie overall until the ending, which I won’t spoil. It’s really only the logic that hurts the ending, otherwise the ending is great.
  3. “Harry Canyon”–This short inspired the movie The Fifth Element. It’s a futuristic noir about a cab driver who picks up a woman after her father is murdered by gangsters who want the Loc-Nar. The story has an interesting atmosphere, and we get our first sex scene. Probably one of the best stories, if only for Harry’s method of dispatching threatening passengers: he has a foot pedal that melts them away before they can even kill him. It’s kind of funny, in a black humor kind of way, mostly because of how Harry doesn’t even flinch before pressing the button. Songs: “Veterans of the Psychic Wars”–Blue Oyster Cult, “True Companion”–Donald Fagan, “Heartbeat”–Riggs, “Blue Lamp”–Stevie Nicks, and “Open Arms”–Journey
  4. “Den”–This short features John Candy voicing its main character. A nerdy boy is transported to a parallel world where he becomes a muscular man clad only in a loin cloth (in fact, he’s one of the few clothed humans in the story.) and saves a woman from becoming a human sacrifice. It’s an OK story, and has great animation.
  5. “Captain Sternn”–My favorite story because it’s the funniest. A rather unsavory spaceship captain has to stand trial for numerous crimes, but he’s “got an angle”–a paid witness named Hanover Fiste (get it?). Unfortunately for Sternn, Hanover has Loc-Nar, and it’s corrupting him into telling the truth rather than lying. He then turns into an Incredible Hulk-like version of himself bent on killing Sternn. It’s actually the funniest short in the movie. Song: “Reach Out”–Cheap Trick
  6. “B-17” A B-17 bomber is overrun by zombies. The only story with no gore or nudity, unless you count the zombies. Also has one of the best songs in the movie. “Taking a Ride (On Heavy Metal)”–Don Felder
  7. “So Beautiful and So Dangerous”–A robot abducts a secretary and coerces her into having sex with her. It’s the second funniest story, just because it’s so bizarre and more light-hearted than the rest of the stories. Songs: “Queen Bee”–Grand Funk Railroad, “I Must Be Dreaming”–Cheap Trick, “Crazy (A Suitable Case For Treatment)“Crazy (A Suitable Case For Treatment)”–Nazareth, “All of You”–Don Felder, “Heavy Metal Noise”–Sammy Hagar, and “Prefabricated”–Trust
  8. “Taarna”–This is kind of the main attraction, as Taarna is the woman on the movie poster and DVD cover. Taarna is a barbarian who kills Loc-Nar on a barbarian planet. And then we discover the girl from Grimaldi has the same tattoo on her neck as Taarna. Some really good animation here, and the best part is throughout the whole story, Taarna has NO dialogue. This is why I enjoy the segment–It is the perfect example of “show, don’t tell”. We know just from her actions just how powerful Taarna is. It’s worth all the fame it’s given the movie. Granted, Taarna’s armor (if you can call it armor) leaves little to the imagination, but it’s great. Songs: “The Mob Rules”–Black Sabbath, “Through Being Cool”–Devo, and “Working in a Coal Mine”–Devo

As I said, this movie is a milestone. It paved the way for anime to become an acceptable medium. I’m certain that even Akira wouldn’t have been a cult classic were it not for Heavy Metal. If you are a fan of animation and you can handle sex and violence, I recommend this movie.