Shameless Papistry, Fantastical and Paleontological Musings, General Hilarity

Archive for May, 2012

Fully Realized Catholic Avatar

In case you are curious, yes, the title means exactly what you think it means. I am surely and truly about to use a show drenched in Eastern mysticism and legends to demonstrate an ideal way to behave as a solid member of the Roman Catholic Church.

If at any point you should find me mad or kooky (say, the moment you read the previous sentence), I suggest you gather an elite team of cheerful heroes complete with some dark and brooding types for balance, and come meet my friends and allies for battle in New York. Because the Avengers fought there in their new movie and it seems to be a place where people like to throw down, IN THA STREETZ. Our feud will be a bitter and destructive one, for I have powerful friends, and terrors yet unknown to you lurking in the depths of my own shadowy and sinister talent for unhindered destruction…

I could, for instance, take over an urban area with the moniker “Metrocity”.

Oddball tangent done. On to the Main Point.

I think that each Element in Avatar: The Last Airbender can embodify a certain method of behavior or philosophy present in Catholicism, and give an excellent model for us to work from so that we might better serve the Bride of Christ, and therefore the Bridegroom. So, onward and upward!

Earth

Many might say this is the only Element that can be detected in the confines of the Catholic Church, and for good reason. You don’t look at something that has been in existence for 2,000 years and say to yourself “Gee, that looks really short-lived and unstable”. Holy Mother Church, like the bedrock beneath your feet, has been around for a long time now, and I have it on good Authority that She will be around forever more. So, what as Catholics must make us Earthbenders?

Simple.

That ain’t goin’ nowheres.

It is tenacity.

The Rock of Ages is what we cling to, and it holds fast through any storm. We do not build our house on sand if we are wise, but on solid stones. Faith is our shield and our root, and if it is strong enough, through it we weather any obstacles or hardships placed before us. This is the unchanging Truth of our Religion, and in it we take refuge, and from it we have our armor and shield. We must be implacable and resolute, with faces like flint, to overcome the Adversary in the grand Eternal Revolution against Sin and Death. When all else falls, we must endure. As others bow, we must remain unbent. Steadfast in our Hope, we must be unyielding like the Earthbenders, unconquerable like the Earth itself.

Water

Yet even in our ironclad defense and firm footing lodged in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, we must also be adaptable, and able to change our stance and state in life, so that we are always doing the most good according to the Will of the Lord. This seems counter to what I have just urged you to do. It is not. Water, no matter what form it takes, is still H2O, be it steam, liquid, or ice. The very nature of water is its own Earth-like stability, despite its adaptability.

When we are placed in a situation where we seem powerless, much as humidity and condensation does little but rust and corrode, and is heavily subject to an outside influence (namely the movement of Air, which we will get to next), we must rely more directly on the Power of God. We must increase our prayer in magnitude equal to the degree of our powerlessness at that time in our lives. And, when moved properly by air currents, just as we are moved properly by the Sovereign Will of God, water droplets coalesce and form rain, which renews and replenishes the Earth, just as we are called to renew and replenish the world.

Drench the World with Holiness! Or something like that.

Liquid water is a beautiful thing in that it covers and fills any nook and cranny it is in contact with. It is also cohesive and adhesive, as we must be in our Evangelization of others. We are called to stick together as the Body of Christ, and we should cling to those who have yet to hear the Good News in its fullness like a refreshing morning dew. We must slide into their hearts and minds whenever and wherever we can, filling their empty void spaces with the Light of Christ, just as water permeates into the gaps of rock and soil. We must saturate our society with Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.

Then, like ice, when we have filled all those spaces and cracks, we must harden and become resolute, like water turns to ice during the bitter months. Ice, especially in glacier form, has immense erosive power. It plucks up rocks as it moves downhill, just as we must gather those we can as we move forward under the momentum our proselytizing has given us. In our rigidness after new gains, we keep what we have now baptized and prevent the retaking of those souls by the worldly means of the Adversary, like ice keeps small rock particles frozen within it from being washed or blown away.

In fact, I would even go so far to say that the essence of Evangelization is similar to the essence of Waterbending, for both are required to keep that same sort of rythmic balance. Waterbending is based on Tai Chi, which is all about guiding your enemy’s strikes to your own advantage. We must learn to even use our defeats in apologetics to guide our unredeemed brothers and sisters ever closer to God.

Air

Air is the most elusive of elements. Most of us do not know what is even meant by the “spirit” that drives the essence of Airbending, though we can tell when someone possesses it. Intangible and lacking in definition, this Element is a perfect comparison for our own Un-Worldliness. We are, of course, meant to live in the World, and love it, but we are not of it anymore. We have one foot in Heaven, and our souls are held aloft by the Sovereign Will of God, expressed through the Holy Spirit. This “Catholic Spirit” is seen in the sort of unclear but easily recognizable joy and purity of one who shows this Blessed Light to the darkened world. You probably know one or two of them yourself, men and women who calm and heal others by their presence and Faith, or drive them wild and berserk, because Evil cannot stand the presence of uncorrupted Good.

“Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.”-G.K. Chesterton

The secret to this profound Joy is not detachment, as the Tibetan-style Airbending monks of the TV series might tell you, but attachment. Seek the goodness of everything, as Saint Francis did. Even Death he called Sister, and his love for even the deadliest of God’s creatures is well known. As Paul commands, seek what is True, seek what is Good, seek what is Beautiful. Attach yourself to it, lose yourself within, and become a white-hot candle of Holiness through the Power of the Holy Spirit. The heat of that flame shall keep you aloft and not of this world, and people will love you and hate you for it.

Fire

Speaking of bringing on the heat, what does Firebending have to do with the Catholic Church, aside from the Heretic Roasts, hosted by the Good Ole’ Inquisition?

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

What? I’m Catholic, I get to make fun of that, just like black people get to use the N-word. (Cricket…cricket…cricket…)

Well, actually, Firebending isn’t all about destroying the living snot out of your enemies with an unstoppable wall of iridescent flame and doom. As fun as I am sure that sounds to many of you (I have a particular young lady in mind, actually…she’s probably torching someone to fuel her oven right now.), Firebending is about drive, purpose, and energy. And to me, NOTHING seems more Catholic.

I bet he and Iroh would convert if they were real.

Why? Well, what more all-consuming purpose can you think of than to get yourself and everyone around you to Heaven? Following Christ is not a by-degrees thing, as our sinful nature forces our fiats to be. It IS all or nothing. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to bring as many people as close to God as possible, every moment of every day. What sort of madman, what sort of Herculean Will chooses this sort of life? Oh, I can think of a few people. All of them, and myself, fall horribly short of our goal, but though we are so terrible at being Good, as Prince Zuko complains, and though we fail repeatedly, as he warns us we will, surrender is not an option. Christ’s call to die to yourself, inch by bleeding inch, stands out a stark, blazing white against the background of swirling shades of grey (yes, all 50 of them…ick), and smolders ever brighter when placed against the Darkness rent free from its deceptive shrouds.

That’s a full-tilt run Home if I ever saw one.

The inextinguishable Will of the Catholic Church has painted billions of its men and women red with their own blood. Whether you exsanguinate yourself slowly as the average struggling soul, or all at once in a rush of pain and Glory as men like Saint Peter and women like Joan of Arc did, you are called to do the same.

Masters of Mastery

Aha! You thought I was done! Nay! There is more yet to come!

Chiefly, the fact that the Avatar is not merely a Master of all four Elements. The Avatar is a Master of Mastery. A mere Master of the Elements can take the styles one at a time and apply them to situations as needed, but a fully realized Avatar must actually be able to use the Elements cohesively. To be very good at each one individually carries a risk of unbalance and a resulting over-correction. Say, for example, you are in a situation that requires you to be quick and adaptable, say, Evangelizing an emotional, easily ticked-off friend. You also need to put drive and willpower into keeping that up for a long period of time, most likely months or years (Hint: conversations rarely happen on the spot.) If you lose sight of the end goal and forget your purpose, you lock yourself into a watery dance of not pushing things too far and never actually get anywhere with your friend. If you become to end-game oriented, you lose track of the now and become to intense for your friend to handle. Or, say you have to deal with a very angsty Anti-Catholic stranger. Fly too high and get too mystical and joyous, and they will write you off as a fruitcake and forget anything important you might have said. Or become to set in stone and intractable and they will also write you off, this time as a reactionary stick-in-the-mud, and likewise ignore anything pithy you have said in defense of the Church.

Gee, doing all of that sounds hard. Probably because it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do: be worthy of Heaven in your perfection. Did I mention that unbalance leads to corrupting your Faith with Sin? Burning others needlessly or crushing them underboot when you are feeling all high and righteous is the most lethal kind of Pride there is, for it is what caused Satan to challenge God. Being lukewarm in the Faith for the sake of not driving everyone off is an insidious kind of Sloth. I could go on and on ad nauseum.

Fear not. You have the redeeming Blood of Christ, the whole of the Church and her Sacraments, and a legion of Martyrs and Angels at your back. It will end well if you choose to end it well. So go out there, and fully realize your Avatar potential!

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Bender Identification

Ahhh it feels good to be done with exams for the Summer. In the interest of doing something completely unrelated to anything that might be considered serious in any way, shape, or form, I have dedicated my first post to something completely frivolous: Avatar.

No. Not the blue Native Americans that re-enacted Pocahantas mashed together with Dances With Wolves on a visually pleasing planet. Avatar: The Last Airbender. From what I have seen, it was the last best chance at children’s/teen television getting something well written and beautifully crafted on air, and I can only say it passed with flying colors. I still have my reservations about the sequel series, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, but those are primarily due to my personal aesthetics and nothing more. While like anything well-written, Avatar has spawned a great deal of musings in my mind, I will stave off those more pithy things to make room for some light-hearted fun. Primarily, a description of each Bending Element that will allow you and your friends to discern which sort of Bender you would be if such fun and powerful magicks were real.

I first had the idea when I wound up waiting to meet with a compatriot and happened to be sailing the Internet. I had been taking online bending quizzes to pass the time, and was amused by the lack of anything really comprehensive. For example, my results were so mixed that there was not an element I was not classified as, and once or twice, I was selected as an Avatar. However, the more complete ones tended to classify me as Earth or Fire, and the most exhaustive actually used percentages, giving me, if I recall correctly, an 86% Firebending aptitude and a 66% Earthbending aptititude, with everything else in the low 40’s or 30’s. Many of the questions related more to what nation you would fit best in, as opposed to what element best suited your personality. For example, just because I like komodo dragons and actual dragons more than I do flying bison or ostrich-horses, it does not mean that I have the personality and attributes most commonly found among Firebenders.

The thing is, part of what makes deciding what style of Bending someone is so difficult is that it doesn’t always quite link up with their personality, or it may do so in a hidden way. For example, Uncle Iroh is very reserved, aloof, and humorous for a Firebender. King Bumi appears to be extremely unstable and not nearly serious enough to be your typical Earthbender. Master Pakku on the other hand, seems more rigid than his Element would suggest. The key to figuring out the correct Element is looking at the whole spectrum of what an Element is, and applying that to the uniqueness of the individual.To that end, I am going to provide a summary of each Element and its relation to its Benders for your enjoyment and use, along with examples of the Benders seen in the TV show, and examples taken from real life.

Overview

I classify the elements into two sets of brackets that halve the set according to each classification. Tangible Elements include Earth and Water, while Intangibles include Wind and Fire. Intensity Elements include Earth and Fire, Passivity Elements include Wind and Water. The combination of classifications, along with some unique attributes of each Element and some help from the fictional Masters of the Avatar Universe, will make up what I am basing my summaries on. It is important to remember that all Elements at their extremes seem a great deal like another Element in the scheme of things.

Water

Water is both Tangible and Passive. It is something you can readily feel, and in some cases, hold onto, while being able to go with the flow of things and adapt to its spatial environment. The movement of Water is governed by the push and pull of the tides, a balance of negative and positive energy. While all mortal persons have this sort of make-up (even sinners can do God’s Will, and even Saints sin) at their core, the nature of this duality in relation to Bending and Benders is more along the lines of a mutability in their personality. Waterbenders may hang back and take measure of the environment if they feel new to a situation, and become energetic and unreserved when they feel it wise to do so. They may be pushed and pulled in opposing directions if they do not watch themselves, and are, oddly enough, like their opposite Element, Fire, easily thrown out of wack when things get too dicey or hectic. This is due to their high level of adaptability, for like water itself, it can flow around any obstacle, or solidify into ice and push things out of the way or hold them in place almost the same way Earth can. Waterbenders may seem highly mercurial, and that is to be expected, as rivers, depending on the seasonal rainfall, or seas, depending on atmospheric conditions, can go from placidity to raging fury in a matter of moments. Water is a deep and complex thing, and so are Waterbenders. There usually is something more beneath the surface. Water can be hard to nail down accurately, as it covers such a wide range of things in a person. A Waterbender could be extremely easy-going and relaxed, like a stream, or as unmoving as a glacier. However, they also have to have a portion of themselves that is the opposite of what they usually are. The glacier is solid through most of its volume, but its bottom is highly plastic and nearly liquid, which is what allows it to move. Master Pakku in particular is this type of Water Bender. The highly adaptable flowing brook would be most like Avatar Kuruk, the hands-off Avatar who wound up fighting Koh the Facestealer. Note that like ice under pressure, Pakku’s stone-face melts if you try hard enough, and when sufficiently given reason, Kuruk will come down like a raging tsunami on an enemy. The final common thread that Waterbenders share is a strong sense of community. Every drop adds to the ocean. Water droplets do not do much individually, but together they can cut straight through rock, or slow down a speeding bullet. Fire can start up an inferno from just one spark, a single pebble retains the same sort of toughness when broken from a mountain, and air is almost indivisible from itself, but water works in numbers. Waterbenders will do best when secure among people they trust and feel like they are a part of. Examples of real Waterbending personalities are master tactician Sun Tzu and politician Mitt Romney.

I had to use this picture of Sun Tzu…it came up randomly on Google Search.

Here is Mitt Romney demonstrating his “flip-flopping cold fish” Bending technique.

Earth

Earth is Tangible and Intense. It is firm beneath your feet, and is still used as a highly durable building material today, despite the advances in metalworking, which, by the way, is simply refining rock (ore) into an even more durable substance. Its chief quality is stability, for even when shaken, it usually just vibrates, and it takes a great deal of force to shatter it completely. It is hard to ignore and hard to move aside. Earthbenders are resolute, indomitable, and often unforgiving. Their manner of living is rigid, stern, and tough. They prefer the unrefined things and unrefined approaches to life, and have a rich connection to their roots. They are usually not the center of attention, despite their strong presence, due to their often reserved nature. They can be rigid to the point of unfeeling stoicism, and out of touch with their emotions. When they do finally crack under pressure, it is only after an unbelievable amount of stress, and one of two things happens. Either they completely fragment and collapse into rubble like Tyro after his capture, or they lash out with all the rage and condemnation of an earthquake’s tremors. Earthbenders are often like oxen or mules, or any hardworking, solidly built animal. They often prefer here and now values as opposed to high ideals of futures yet to come, or intangibles, and if they focus on anything it is the past, where they draw their roots from. They accept change with a lowered head and a steady and complete resistance to it. Adaptation comes slowly to them, and they are not renowned for their flexibility. This is especially true for Long Feng and the Dai Li, who have become so unbending, they force those around them to comply with their own agenda by overt and covert means. One could almost say that a solid stereotype for an Earthbender would be any comparison to the common hardworking farmer. Tough to break down, reliable, and extremely dangerous when provoked. That is what being an Earthbender is all about. Real examples of Earthbending personalities, both positive and negative, are Pope Benedict XVI, the current Pope, and Emperor Hirohito, WWII Emperor of Japan.

The Holy Father demonstrating how to throw boulders. HU-AH!!

Air

Air is Intangible and Passive. You can feel it there against your skin, but never really hold any of it. While it moves, it appears to exist, but confine it and it does little but sit in the jar you trapped it with. Air is about spirit and soul, and it has surprising depth despite its lack of being tied down to anything. The most notable quality of an Airbender is that they are zephyrous. Airbenders, like Waterbenders, have a sense of community, but it is different in practice. Air touches all things and moves around it, but never really mingles that much with anything. Airbenders will have a somewhat universal sense of community, and like the wind itself, mold seamlessly into the like company of other Airbenders. This universality comes at a price, though: Airbenders are not quite fully accepted into the company of differing personalities than their own, though they are tolerated and in many cases celebrated by all. They have an aloof quality about them, something that is often coupled with a sort of reserve or holding back, or on the opposite end of the Element, an airy and exuberant lightheartedness and highly developed sense of the humorous that singles them out in a crowd. Like the atmosphere in an enclosed room, Airbenders who take themselves too seriously can be stuffy and oppressive, and like the breeze in a sunny field, the more exuberant members of this style can be uplifting and freeing. They also tend to be a very spiritual people, whatever their religious beliefs, and hold fairly staunch codes of ethics despite the easily yielding nature of their Element. When it comes to conflict and confrontation, they can be even more evasive than Waterbenders, and almost never come at a situation directly, harsh words and raised tempers are nearly anathema to them. The most ideal position for one of their ilk is simply that of distant observation if friendly mingling becomes impossible. Only when extremely pressed and pushed to the limit will an Airbender ever start to lash out at anyone, and after the sudden storm, there is a good chance that they will be gone with the same suddenness that they came. Airbending personality examples would include Pope John Paul II and Professor Carl Sagan.

The master Theologian shows off his Airbending skills.

Billions and Billions of Bending techniques….

Fire

Fire is Intangible and Intense. Like its Intense counterpart, Earth, Fire is not subtle, but like its Intangible counterpart Air, it flows wherever there is space for it to do so. Firebending is power in its most raw, unconstrained form. Earth is also about strength, but is far easier to contain by nature of its solidity. Fire is explosive and easily spread beyond the will of the Bender, whereas the problem with Air is calling it up at all due to a similar lack of containability. Firebenders are passionate, strong-willed, and determined. They have so much drive and spirit that it is easy for them to burn themselves out quickly. Firebenders are often the center of attention or in a leadership role in life, because, like the sparks of their Element, their drive and will is easily spread among those around them. However, they can be so goal oriented that they begin to spurn or even sacrifice the well-being of the people around them for the sake of achieving whatever it is they desire. Like Waterbenders, they are easy to unbalance, though their problem stems from their inability to change direction easily, whereas their counterpart Element changes direction far too well. Fire tends to be a one trick-pony, as there is little it can do besides burn. Firebenders are often very emotional, and this unbalance can lead to the embracing of something that is initially confusing for those who see run of the mill Firebenders like Admiral Zhao or Prince Zuko in his early stages of the series. If a Firebender is either quick on the uptake, or has the misfortune to cause himself or someone he cares about great harm because of the dangerous and poorly tameable nature of the Element, they often learn to use a countermeasure to control themselves. They become stern and retain their intensity like Jeong Jeong, living a life of harsh ascetic discipline in an effort to control their unmatched power and ferocity, or they rely on their sense of humor and general lightheartedness, coupled with a more relaxed sort of discipline, like Uncle Iroh, to take the edge off of their drive and convert it into a general zest for life and living. Some, though, lose their sense of purpose, and when that happens, they go out like a snuffed flame. It is rare that they will pull a Prince Zuko and regain their drive rapidly, for like pilot lights, Firebenders are hard to start up again once they are put out. Real Firebending personalities would include Martin Luther King Junior and Adolf Hitler.

That finger just held lightning, I swear.

Here’s Hitler with his trademark technique.

Now, to do some sample analysis, using myself as the guinea pig.

I might strike people as an Earthbender due to my size and build, as well as my deeper voice and quiet intensity. I agreed with their assessments at first, because I do very much like the tradition and cultural roots I have been given by my parents, and have a strong root in my Faith and my friends. I am a very intense person, and inclined to brood and think over things silently for long periods of time. I do prefer to meet things head on, and do not enjoy backing down from difficult situations. When I thought about myself more, though, I came to the conclusion that Firebending made the most sense. See, I started out extremely aggressive and passionate, and while I am still very intense and passionate, my aggression has been curbed with discipline and time, coupled with sound religious practice. I am still easily sidetracked and have difficulty not going full-steam ahead on issues that catch my attention. If I am not careful, I snap at people easily, and when angered, I go off like a volcano. My energy is clearly present in any group, I am usually one of the loudest and most physically active people there. When I do get tired, though, I collapse and sprawl over the nearest available comfortable surface. Depending on my mood, what passes for a comfortable surface could easily be a patch of pavement. I burn out.

The problem present in classifying myself is a common thing, many people are hard to define. I am like magma, Fire so close to Earth that it’s almost solid. Waterbenders can be so cold and icy that they seem rock-like, and so flowing that they are nearly Air. Fire can be so brief and explosive that it might behave like a gust of wind, in fact, fires can cause powerful winds, like backdrafts in a burning building, for example. Fire also has the potential to be cheery and friendly, like a hearth or a candle at Midnight Mass. Water can be explosive like fire under pressure, and Earth, when eroded enough, is soft and yielding like water as sand. The important thing is the attempt to get a whole picture of the person, and work from that.

So, that all said and done, classify away, my friends! Feel free to use this guide anywhere you please, as long as you give me the proper credit for its creation.