Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Things We Learned on the Metro

I've been in Boston for a few days now, getting ready to start my graduate program in film production at Boston University.  Somehow, I hadn't expected everything to be different... somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I expected to find UNC's campus transplanted into the Boston infrastructure, and all I'd have to deal with was new people and their accents.  After the initial overwhelming feeling of being in a new place, knowing I'll be living here for at least two years, I've settled in pretty quickly so far.  This past summer I've been living just outside of DC, and I'd like to take a minute to discuss some of the differences between the cities based on observations I've made while riding the T. (Boston's subway system is called the T, instead of the Metro.)

Accents are almost directly correlated with class.  The more blue-collar, working class a person is (or seems), the thicker that Southie-sounding accent.  You know, the one from Good Will Hunting and The Town and The Departed.  It's honestly not different in that way than the South, where you tend to find the heavier twangs in more rural, less buit-up areas, or in people who have not (for whatever reason) risen to a position in the more affluent business world.

There are far fewer earbuds on the T than on the Metro.  People are more social.  In DC, you're not really supposed to look at anyone on the metro.  You keep your head down, read your newspaper, don't talk too loudly.  Here in Boston I've witnessed total strangers spark up a conversation - given, it's small talk usually - "Oh, is that so-and-so book?  I've heard it's good." "Yeah it is, you should check it out," and so on.  But still, they talk to each other.  They apologize when they're in your way - in DC, you are expected to apologize to someone who is in your way instead...especially if that person in your way is wearing a suit, meaning they are surely very important to national security.

A man reached over my dad's and my heads to grab a rail, and apologized for basically putting his armpit in our faces.  In DC, you would receive a glare for having dared to allow your face to be in the way of this stranger's musk.  (Fortunately, neither of these systems is like the Paris metro, where musk is commonplace and pungent, sometimes curry, sometimes with a smack of ham.)

But there are somethings which are annoying no matter what train system you are riding.  I am simply calling it how I see it.

- If you bring a stroller onto the subway, and you do not have a baby in that stroller, you make life harder for other people.  You are wasting space with your stupid contraption.

- If you bring a stroller onto the subway, and you keep your child in it, well, you're wasting less space, but you're still taking up a lot, so don't expect people to be very pleased about it.

- If you bring four giant stuffed Bed, Bath, and Beyond shopping bags onto the subway, you will be that person that everyone hates.  Just be aware - keep your head down, and have a look of contrition on your face, and perhaps we'll forgive you.

- If you are medically obese on the subway, whether or not you can help it, you will be in other people's way.  We'll forgive you out of sympathy, but you'll still be in our way.

- If you need to brace yourself, please, dear God, please do not do it by leaning back against a pole, allowing that pole to find its way between your buttocks, and then clenching.  It is as disturbing as it is, I suspect, unsanitary.  And rest assured, we will notice it and swap knowing glances with the other riders, asking with our eyes, "What is this guy doing?!"

So that sums up some of what I have witnessed in my first few days in Boston.  There's more, of course, and maybe I'll get to that later.  Maybe not.

Stay tuned, though, for my next piece on Jesus in film, where I'll be looking at a movie I did not like, 1953's The Robe.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A few long-winded thoughts on this whole deal.

(For the background on this post, check out this article: 

Okay, someone asked me for my thoughts on this Psalm-100-kicked-out-a-gay-member situation.  And even though none of the rest of you asked, I’m putting my two cents in anyway.  Magnanimously and with great self-aggrandizement, I cannot help but feel that I am in a particularly good position to comment.  I am a straight Christian who does not believe homosexuality necessarily conflicts with Christianity.  And as a former Achordant, I have 3 years experience in the UNC a cappella community (whatever that means), and have some insight into what it looks like to take people into - and cast people out of - your singing group.  Yet as a recent graduate, I also feel fairly objective.  I have no personal investment in these groups institutionally, only an interest in my friends and a hope that they are doing well and doing good.

First off, let me be clear that I cannot speak for Psalm 100, its members, or Will (who in the years I’ve known him, has never needed anyone to speak up for him).  I can say that Will is one of the most outgoing and loving people I’ve ever met, and he has an intense respect for other people’s feelings, opinions, and basic human dignity - I have always admired him for that, even if I did not express it.  For an organization whose primary goal is to bless its campus with the love of Christ through music to expel someone like Will, who I’ve seen act out that love on a daily basis, it is truly their loss.  

Second, I want to say that the responses to Psalm 100 and its members that I’ve seen on the DTH article page, as well as on facebook and twitter have been unnecessarily vicious and mean-spirited.  If you believe that other people should be more tolerant, and you won’t tolerate them if they’re not, then you become the very hypocrite you’re decrying.  I believe that Psalm was misguided in their decision, but I do not believe they were acting out of malice or hatred, and the same cannot be said of all of you who are currently insulting them, comparing them to Westboro Baptist Church, and questioning their sexuality in open forum.  When you act like that, you forfeit the moral high ground, and shame on you for lowering yourself to that level.

So, now the good stuff.

To all my non-Christian friends who might be confused about the difference between discrimination based on sexual orientation, and disagreeing on the scripture in question, well there is a difference.  One says, “You can’t be here because you’re gay.”  The other says, “You can’t be here because you disagree with us on a fundamental issue to our faith and the faith we’re trying to spread.”  Psalm is claiming the latter as their cause for voting out a member.  Which would be fine.... except for a few things:

  • By this logic, straight allies must also be expelled from Christian communities.  By this logic, I should have been expelled from the leadership team of InterVarsity during my junior year.  I was not.  This is the problem - straight people who affirm homosexuality in Christian communities are seldom if ever targeted in these situations.  It’s only the gay people who are okay with gay people that ever get voted out... So the claim that this is the result of a theological disagreement does not seem totally valid or objective.  I know one of Psalm 100’s former presidents (and several past members) have in fact been allies, yet they were never voted out for their position.
  • This argument presumes that the issue of homosexuality is a fundamental and necessary focal point of the Christian faith.  I personally do not believe it is.  Many Christians I know do not believe it is.  They’re more inclined to cite the teachings of Jesus and the Gospel narrative as fundamental beliefs.  One’s opinion on homosexuality is secondary (or even...thirdary?).  In fact, this is why Psalm 100’s constitution, to the best of my knowledge, is fairly broad and interdenominational when it comes to doctrinal issues... so broad, in fact, that it says nothing specific about sex or sexual orientation at all.  (If I’m right about that, and there’s a chance I am not, it would completely invalidate Psalm 100’s claim that Will was voted out due to disagreements with the organization’s constitution.)  To quote Rupertus Meldenius, “Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and charity in both.”  Funnily enough, I think that same principle is a part of Psalm’s constitution, so I think they got their essentials mixed up.
  • This is not consistent with Psalm 100’s history.  A few years ago, a very talented (gay) male auditioned for several groups at UNC, and all of them were prepared to offer him a spot, including Psalm 100.  Members of Psalm 100 at the time told me they suspected he was probably gay, but were prepared to overlook that because he had such a good voice.  I wonder if Will was a better soloist, he’d still be in the group?  


Perhaps there is flat-out homophobia in the group - I suppose it’s possible that the men are uncomfortable with the idea of gay men other than worship leaders in such close contact with them, and the women are disappointed by having one fewer option to fill in the blank man-shaped hole in their dream weddings... but that seems unlikely.  After all, if the idea of flirting or attraction is such a threat, then having a co-ed group where everyone has to be straight seems kind of a bad idea.  From my memory, I’m pretty sure Psalm has spurred at least as many in-group relationships as the Clef Hangers.  


No, I think what’s happened is an ideological shift.  Over the past 4 years, I witnessed Psalm 100 transition from a more moderate-liberal group (several members even voted for Obama - gasp!), to a more moderate-conservative group.  At least a few (I think more) are affiliated with Cornerstone, which I believe to be UNC’s most conservative Christian ministry.  It’s chapter leader, Miles O’Neill, has taught in the past on the incompatibility of homosexuality and Christianity - yet by his own admission to me, he has never actually read any scholarship or opinions supporting their compatibility.  Not Mel White, not Jack Rogers, not even Andrew Marin.  If I had to guess, I would say this same limited-worldview, limited-scholarship mindset has led Psalm 100 to its current predicament.

It appears to me that what has happened here is that there is a majority opinion amongst Psalm members about homosexuality and that as a result of that majority, alternative interpretations of scripture became unacceptable.  The members of Psalm 100 have made a few unfortunate mistakes here, though perhaps not realizing it.  

  • Despite being a non-denominational group, they have collectively spoken for all Christians everywhere.  This small group of college students has essentially claimed that they know better about the Bible than all the Christians in the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Metropolitan Community Church, several congregations of the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Episcopal Church, the Disciples of Christ, the Quakers, and to an extent even the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the National Baptist Convention, the Pentecostal Church and the American Baptist Church.  And that is quite a claim to make.  Alas, if only those massive congregations of Christian men and women had the wisdom apparently possessed by the members of Psalm 100. (INSERT RETROSPECTIVE SNARK ALERT HERE)
  • The decision to vote out a gay member unfortunately does not speak only to the image and reputation of Psalm 100.  It has a direct effect on the way people on UNC’s campus perceive all the Christian ministries on campus, making it more difficult for those ministries to go about their outreach without tacking on this additional barrier to people’s willingness to hear a Gospel they are growing more and more convinced is intolerant and discriminatory.  I’m sure the members of Psalm that are still left are happy to quote scripture to themselves, the stuff about taking joy in persecution for Christ etc.  The funny thing is, I suspect Will is in a position to do the same...

Christians must allow themselves the room to disagree on how to interpret the Bible, which is shockingly unclear on many issues, and this issue in particular.  We have different ideas about what is fundamental to the Gospel, and different ideas about how to interpret even those, and different ideas further about how to apply those ideas to a modern culture so different from the one in which the books of the Bible were originally written.  I wonder, if most of the members of Psalm 100 adhered to reformed Calvinist theology, and firmly believed in predestination as a fundamental tenant of Christian theology, would they have cast out an Arminian?  If most of the members of Psalm 100 felt the historical existence of a real Adam and Eve was necessary to the Gospel narrative, would they cast out someone who believed the evidence for evolution was too overwhelming to accept that Adam and Eve existed, even if that person still believed in the teachings, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  I doubt it very much.  

However, I have not yet gotten to Psalm 100’s biggest misstep.  They have opened themselves to a complete retraction of their student organization status.  They claim they are discriminating based on ideology and not sexuality, but I suspect few people buy that and if pressure mounts enough, the university might not buy it either.  And according to the Supreme Court’s decision in CLS vs. Martinez last summer, UNC would be constitutionally justified in casting Psalm 100 out from its groups.  (The irony of that sentence is pretty thick.)  The SCOTUS decided that the effect of discrimination against gay individuals outweighed the intellectual argument for freedom of religion in this case.  While they respect the right of religious groups to discriminate against gay people, they do not respect the right of them to do it while receiving federal and state money and while utilizing federal and state facilities.  So I just hope the current members Psalm 100 are prepared for what would be a completely justified and legally acceptable sanction from UNC, and I hope they have a good answer for what I’m sure would be their very disappointed alumni and founders as to how they let it happen. 

That’s where I stand, that’s what I think, at least right now.  Don’t mean to offend, but I’m not surprised if I did.  Feel free to disagree.  I’m not one of the Christians that minds if you do.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Ben-Hur" - A Tale of the Christ?

When Ben-Hur was released in 1959, it was receieved with almost universal critical acclaim, won a record-setting 11 Academy Awards, and was a box-office smash, grossing more than any other film that year.  Film historians and critics frequently regard Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) as the original "blockbuster," so imagine my surprise to read New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther refer to this film as a "blockbuster spectacle" sixteen years earlier, and on top of that, a "remarkably intelligent and engrossing human drama."

(NOTE: I have more thoughts and insights that I've written here, but in an effort to give these things some structure, I have limited the content.  If I could write a full essay or research paper on each film I see, I would, but it would be exhausting, and these are meant to be recreational.  Perhaps I'll get better as we go along, but for now if you'd like to hear more about the movie, quotes I thought were interesting, more ideas about the representations of Jesus or other characters, or anything else I do not elaborate on enough for you, let me know and I'll try to accomodate.)


Today it seems there are two schools of thought on this Ben-Hur: those who feel it is a stirring epic that puts strong human emotion on display, and those who feel it is bloated, poorly written, overlong, and terribly acted.  It is almost universally recognized, though, that the chariot race near the end of the film is one of the most exciting and technically impressive action sequences ever filmed.  

After watching Ben-Hur for the second time (about six years since the first viewing), I put myself squarely in the first camp.  The subgenre of filmmaking generally known as "biblical epics" flourished in the 1950s and 60s, and they can be campy, sometimes hitting or sometimes missing the mark, but I truly believe this is a great movie, and you should go and watch it soon if you haven't already.  It is long, yes, but it works hard for that length, it earns it.  The film as a whole is a technical masterpiece, and director William Wyler works wonders in keeping the whole thing from falling apart.  It was interesting to think of just how many movies owe a debt to this one - Gladiator, certainly, but also Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace (the pod-racing scene), and I noticed one shot in particular of hands reaching out of a grate on a sinking boat that I am sure is the reference point for a few images in Pearl Harbor.  

There are, of course, some problems with the film now which were not problems at the time of its production.  For instance, a horse-loving Arab sheik is played by Hugh Griffith (white and British), in what might as well have been blackface makeup.  His performance was widely praised and he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  This obviously would have not been the case today.  And yet in the world of this film it is acceptable and we must manage to see past it.  There is also the question of a gay subtext in the relationship of Ben-Hur and Messala, which I will generally ignore, as I find it distracting and unsubstantial in the larger themes of the story.  

Furthermore, I'd like to address the criticism of the performances, particularly those that might claim that Charlton Heston's acting is weak, while Stephen Boyd's is over the top.  Firstly, this time period and genre demanded a certain style of acting which is seldom utilized today.  Heston is a limited actor (just as Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, or Nicholas Cage are limited actors who turn out remarkable work with the right role), but this role suits him very well.  Ben-Hur is a strong man with strong emotions, and Heston feels them exactly as much as he should.  Russell Crowe won an Academy Award for his work in Gladiator for what is a similarly stylized performance.  Crowe has shown greater depth and nuance elsewhere (particularly in The Insider) and yet the broader strokes of emotion suit the swords-and-sandals genre of Gladiator, just as a simpler, more intense performance from Heston suits the grandiose style of Ben-Hur.  Boyd as Messala, on the other hand, brings a mild obsession with Rome, and a peculiar mischievousness that makes me seriously wonder about his motivations in his friendship with Ben-Hur - he also performs strong, bold emotions, but makes one wonder if Messala himself is the one performing, while Boyd maintains some ulterior motives beneath the surface of the character.


Based on the novel by Civil War General Lew Wallace, the movie centers on Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) a Jewish prince who is falsely imprisoned along with his mother and sister by his best friend, the Roman Messala (Stephen Boyd).  After serving three years rowing in the galleys, he gains the attention of a Roman consul who adopts him and makes him a Roman citizen.  With this new wealth and respect, Judah returns to Jerusalem to find his family, and seek vengeance on Messala. (Cue: chariot race.) He defeats Messala, finds his mother and sister and discovers they contracted leprosy while in prison, and is at a loss for what to do.  

But I'm leaving something out.  The film is subtitled "A Tale of the Christ."  Indeed, the opening sequence is the Nativity story.  The second scene features Joseph explaining that his adoptive son is doing "his Father's work."  When Judah Ben-Hur is enslaved, in chains on the way to the galleys, he falls down thirsty.  Although the guard demands that no one give him water, a man (who we in the audience understand to be Jesus) gives him water regardless, and when the guard challenges him, the guard is silenced simply by looking into Jesus' face.  When Judah returns to his home he finds his former slave Esther (with whom he has always been in love), and discovers she is enamored by the words of a new teacher - she quotes the beatitudes to him.  And at the end of the story, when Judah does not know what to do about his leprous family, he learns there is a trial taking place in the center of Jerusalem, and discovers an innocent man being punished, much like he once was.  He recognizes the man as the same one who gave him water, and he kneels to return the favor.  And yet Judah remains a skeptic.  He does not understand this persecuted man or the power he possesses. Upon Jesus' crucifixion, though, Judah's mother and sister are miraculously healed and Judah has learned to get past his contempt and bitterness for his old enemy Messala.

Depiction of Jesus

So what, then, is Jesus' role in this movie?  He's hardly even a supporting character, yet all of Judah Ben-Hur's story hinges on the story of Jesus.  By opening the film with the Nativity, the stage is set for a narrative that depends on the story of Christ - they are linked, paralleled, dependent.  Wyler uses great tact in never actually showing us Jesus' face - perhaps an attempt to avoid iconography, or maybe to remind us that this is not Jesus' story, I'm not sure.  But as one reviewer put it, "The Ascent of Calvary and The Crucifixion are pictured, without breathless reverence, in a matter-of-fact manner, as contemporary political events." What this accomplishes, then, is a focus on the other characters, the normal everyday Romans or Hebrews who encounter Jesus.  Instead of seeing Jesus' face, we see other peoples' faces, their reactions to him.  

I realized that the power of Jesus' presence in this film is shown in the transformations of those who encounter him.  More impressive is that this is accomplished without Jesus ever having to perform a miracle or a healing (until the final minutes, that is).  When Ben-Hur is given water by a stranger, I suspect he is changed slightly - after having his family falsely accused by his best friend of murdering a Roman official, this encounter reminds him that people can be good instead of selfish.  (I wonder if he would have saved the Roman consul from the sinking slave ship three years later if not for this inciting act of kindness.)  And when the guard tries to tell Jesus to stop giving Ben-Hur water, the look on his face also tells us that there is power in this stranger, and that what is right will be accomplished in spite of the supposed power of the Roman authority.  (Do not forget that in this culture, Emperor Augustus Caesar is the only acknowledged god.)  

What Ben-Hur might tell us modern day viewers about Jesus is this: that his story is deeply intertwined with our own, that he has a power greater than those with earthly command, and that even the simplest meeting with him can transform people into something better than they had imagined they would ever be.  I suspect a possible consequence of not knowing Jesus is shown on Messala's deathbed.  (He was critically injured after being trampled by horses during the chariot race.)  I can't recall seeing a character die with more contempt and malice still in him than I saw in Messala - he tells Ben-Hur that his family are not dead as he though, but that they have leprosy and are now exiled to a leper colony.  Messala concludes with the challenge, "The race is not over," essentially revealing that he will die with a heart filled with hate for Ben-Hur.  It seems to me that the movie wants us to know this is the consequence of injustice, hate, and vengeance.  I felt sad for Messala during that moment; villainous though he is, I pitied him.

What is particularly impressive to me is that Wyler manages to get this message across without ever preaching at us.  Wyler was Jewish, but I am unaware if he was a practicing Jew and I'm not under the impression that he ever converted to Christianity, so I feel fairly sure that he would not have been intentionally proselytizing here, though the original story by Gen. Wallace is almost certainly meant as a positive portrayal of the necessity of Christ.    Regardless of intent, the representation of Jesus in Ben-Hur is a reflection not on Jesus' life, but on what our lives might be when Jesus' is a part of them - not necessarily front and center 100% of the time, but always, undeniably, there.     

Jesus Always Wins the Oscar Pool

I've still not quite gotten the hang of this blogging thing back yet.  I'm not quite consistent in my theme or subjects, not yet regular in my posting schedule.  So I decided to try and give myself some direction, some constant to keep me posting on related topics.  I know I love writing and talking about movies, and I love writing and talking about religion (esp. Christianity).  And I seldom find organic ways to blend the two topics.  Until I realized there's a perfect way to blend them.

I'm going to do a series on representations of Jesus in movies.  I've selected about 16 movies on or related to the narrative of Jesus' life, in several different genres and styles, from classic biblical epics to musicals, from respectful Christian approaches to more artistic portraits from secular filmmakers, plus maybe something irreverent, a few foreign interpretations (including an Iranian film featuring a Muslim perspective on Christ's life - that is, if I can get a hold of a copy).  If anyone has additional suggestions or ideas, let me know.

I'll start writing on the first movie (Ben-Hur) very soon, and hopefully another (The Robe) by the end of the week.  Neither are typical Jesus narratives - rather, Jesus is a supporting or even tangential role.  I hope that by looking at films with main characters who are ordinary people who interact with Christ, these will allow for a good rubric to consider the effect of Jesus' presence on the other characters and viewers.

So, this is gonna be an adventure - I hope a bunch of you stick around and maybe get to expand your ideas about what it looks like and means to represent Jesus in film, fact, and fiction.  There might be The Greatest Story Ever Told, but that does not mean it is The Greatest Movie Ever Made.  And there might be The Passion of the Christ, but what happens when people get too passionate about the Passion?  These are important questions for us as Christians, as non-Christians, as agents in modern culture and subjects of an enormous media industry, and I'm excited about what possible answers there might be.

(I will, of course, try to keep up some regular posts on current events and whatever is bugging me on a given day.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

in da (comedy) club?

this morning when i was throwing out the coffee filter, some of the grounds spilled onto my wrist, and started dripping down my hand. i immediately started making stigmata jokes in my head....
  • "Since the Romans are doing this, does that mean it's an Italian roast?"
  • "I wish Pilate were around because I need to wash my hands of this..."
  • "I guess the mormons were wrong about coffee being the devil's drink?"
  • "Coffee really does get the blood pumping!"
okay i'm done now.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Existence of Injustice does not Justify Its Existence: A Lesson in Blog Commenting

I've done a bad thing.  I commented on a blog.  Actually, that's not true.  I replied to someone else's comment.  I confess, and I am ashamed.  And now I'm just gonna talk through a bunch of my somewhat unfiltered thoughts about the situation.  Deal with it.  If you have any questions or thoughts at the end, please bring them to light - this is all kinda messy, and I'm sure there's room both to call me out and shore me up.

As a general rule, I do not comment on blogs or articles.  If I agree with the post, well the author has made the point and does not necessarily need my support.  If I disagree, well, the author likely wouldn't have written the post if he/she wasn't somewhat convinced of the opinion, and my little comment will not make any difference.  The one exception I may make is when I find a post or argument (or sometimes even a particular phrase or sentence) actually offensive.  If a remark or argument rises above mere opinion and into something I feel is perpetuating some sort of offense, be it evidence of a systemic injustice or unfair stereotype, I might feel compelled to chime in.

That was not the case this time.  I was simply reading a post from a blog I find agreeable and thought-provoking, and very rarely contains content I find actually offensive.  But then I read some comments...

This post was on a Christian blog, and dealt with the issue of gender roles, and I saw a comment that I felt had rather missed the point.  But what's more, I recognized the commenter.  I've seen his comments before, almost always on posts dealing with gender, and almost always contrary to the author's point of view.  Being a fairly progressive Christian blog, the gender posts lean towards egalitarian ideas, and this commenter is fervently complementarian.  (Please bear in mind, while I am no strict complentarian, I also do not imagine myself some champion of the feminist or egalitarian cause.  I am what I am and that's all that I am, and I prefer not to box myself into movements or labeled ideologies.  Interpret my stance beyond that as you will.)

Anyway, this guy comments frequently, almost any chance he can get to assert his complementarian ideas (and I've got no beef with the views per se).  This particular commenter's tone, though, is particularly condescending.  Particularly holier-than-thou.  Particularly arrogant in the way it comes across.  This is maybe not the way he intends it, but the tone is there nevertheless.  Eventually, the frequency and smug nature of his posts finally reached my limit.  

He seemed to believe that certain institutions have been in place for several millennia, and that this is not to be questioned, for their persistence itself is enough evidence that they are right, so we should accept them.  He wrote, "For centuries, male leadership both in the church and house have never been criticized or questioned until woman's suffrage and the rise of feminism in the 19th and 20th centuries."  Well damn that women's suffrage.  According to this logic, the very existence of injustice justifies its very existence.  And I could not hold my tongue.  Needless to say, he read my reply, but I doubt he actually heard me.  I fought the urge to reply to his reply and failed again.  I thought, "If only I can clarify, maybe he'll see my point this time!"  I should have known better.  No one is really commenting on blogs because they want to be persuaded of anything other than their already entrenched position.  Myself included - I knew that I was right, or I wouldn't have bothered.  

At one point he also wrote about hermeneutics:

"Honest and objective interpretation of Scripture should remain void of personal bias, notion, belief, socio-political stand, and culture. In fact, it should be read and understood within the context of the time and culture at which the author wrote the respective book. Then, rather than dismissing the context it should instead be applied universally to our time and culture as much as feasibly possible."

Is it just me, or is he not basically saying, "We must read the Bible ignoring cultural influences.  Except we must know the cultural influences of the time in which the Bible was written.  Then, we must read the Bible taking into account its original context, and then apply it as though we live in the same context, ignoring any changes that have taken place in the last 2,000 years."  Seriously.  That's a terrible way to do hermeneutics.  

Well, this all happened, and I can't take it back.  Neither of us walks away with any different opinion than we had going in.  I'll still see his smug attitude toward any blog post suggesting that maybe women actually do have something worthwhile to teach us, and should not be prohibited from teaching us simply because their boobs are screwed on a bit too tight.  It is not enough to have a heart and mind devoted to Christ and his ways - one must have the balls and masculine jawline of Christ as well.   

At some point I realized I needed to just stop, look at this blog and these comments, and ask what I've learned from this whole situation.  I've learned that we, as a Church, as the Body of Christ, do a terrible job at teaching any coherent ideas about what hermeneutics are and how we should discuss them.  I think we also do not teach history well - church history, or the history of the world surrounding the church - as many people seem to have awfully diverse ideas about what was going on 2,000 years ago.  (Recent hullabaloo concerning the existence of Adam and Eve offers further evidence of this chasm.)  

We must be able to have respectful, yet frank discussion.  I think one of the most insulting things Christians can do at the end of a debate is to offer their prayers for the other party.  It's like one more shot across the bow saying, "I'm right, and I'll pray blessings upon you so that one day you might be right like me."  I rarely believe that these offerings are sincere.  I sure know I wouldn't mean it.  We should also not assume that other people are stupid just because we disagree with them.  At one point, while noting some key differences between Paul's culture and our own, I suggested that the concept of homosexuality did not exist when Paul was writing.  I was told that the Bible talks about homosexuality several times, and was then told, "Read your Bible :)"  Apparently, after a lengthy discussion about history, hermeneutics, and the Bible, my Bible literacy itself was still in question.  How did all this happen?  And why do I keep going back to check for updates?

Ever since my last post, a little over a week ago, I've found myself very opinionated.  I'll comment on facebook statuses, I'll write my own facebook statuses about articles that I read, I'll reply to tweets about this or that or the other thing.  Maybe it's the recent surge of news coverage of the Republican primary campaigns and I'm all riled up.  Plus, I'm home for the summer and not involved in a very active Christian fellowship to allow for the discussion of these sorts of issues.  And I'm away from the good old UNC campus where I always had both liberal and conservative groups of friends where I could bring up whatever was happening in politics or social issues at the time. Am I just antsy to get back around more people where ideas can flow more freely? 

Whatever the case, I have to also admit that the whole ordeal was still great fun.  Perhaps I should just stay out of it next time.  Isn't that why I have this thing?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Addendum to the last post.

I saw this in an article for Relevant Magazine, and I thought it contributed to my last post about our call to creativity.

"The first person to be filled with the Holy Spirit for a task in the Bible was not commissioned to lead a battle or to prophesy over Israel. Bezalel (ever heard of him?) was filled with the Spirit to build stuff. To make art. To carve, mold and weave. He was the guy God commissioned to build the tabernacle and its accoutrements (Exodus 31.1-5)."

Just wanted to add it on.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

God the Creator

I’ve had several things on my mind lately, all of which are kind of connected.  I tried to write them out in some sort of essay form, making one coherent argument, and I just couldn’t find a flow.  So I’m doing this post good ole John Piper style, where I’ll just list a bunch of points, and let you put them together.  

1. I’ve been watching the BBC’s Planet Earth this week, and it is blowing my mind.  Literally, it’s actively rejuvenating my faith in God the Creator.  Seeing the beauty of nature untouched by man (aided by some of the more spectacular documentary cinematography I’ve seen) is surprisingly moving.  From sweeping over mountains, to see herds of African animals on the move, to BABY POLAR BEARS.  Even seeing predators go in for a kill is a tremendous reminder of the balance that has been struck in nature, emphasizing (at least in my mind) the idea that there simply must have been a Designer at some point in its development.

2. A video I saw recently showcased several scientist-types giving their thoughts on God and the divine, including David Attenborough who narrates many of the BBC nature shows.  He explained that the reason they do not credit God or any divine creative force in their shows is that he feels if you credit God for those things, we would also have to credit God for the state of children in in third world countries suffering ailments like worms burrowing through their eyeballs, etc.  My initial response is that the scenes displayed in Planet Earth are of the type of nature that has not been interfered with by humankind.  It seems to me that there would be some way to trace back the situation of those suffering children through skewed globalization efforts, colonialization, or other injustices helped along by the influence of Man.  Not to say those situations aren’t awful and heartbreaking and deserving of our attention, but rather perhaps they were deserving of our attention a long time ago.  I think Attenborough is simply wrong to say that if we credit God for nature, we must credit him for all of our suffering as well.

3. This led me to think of a larger imbalance in the way we relate creation to God.  We are grateful for all the beautiful things in nature that God has created.  However, when we look at global warming, deforestation, and other devastating effects on the environment, we can frequently following the cause back to humans.  On the other hand, whenever Man builds something newer and bigger, or invents something shinier and smaller, we congratulate ourselves shamelessly, crediting only our intellect and ambition, paying no heed to a God who created us in the first place.  Yet, when technology fails us, or warfare destroys us, we rip our clothes and wail, “God, why would you do this to us?”  It seems to me that Attenborough’s way of thinking, that it must be all God or all Man, is rampant and problematic.  Apparently the story of the Tower of Babel is not only lost in translation, but falling on deaf ears altogether.

4. Returning to a faith in God the Creator, I prefer this title for God over any other.  More than Lord, more than Father.  Oh sure, I know there’s plenty of scriptural precedent for calling God “Father.”  I don’t think it’s wrong or anything - I say Father when I feel it’s appropriate, I do refer to God as “him” simply because its easier, and I think there are many wonderful fatherly attributes of God that really should be acknowledged. But it’s just not complete, I don’t think.  I don’t quite understand how we conceptualize God as genderless yet insist that we must refer to God in exclusively male terminology and that any reference to “Goddess” is suddenly blasphemy even though it’s just as anatomically incorrect as “God,” but whatever.  Here’s the thing though - if we’re talking about scriptural precedent, let’s look at Genesis and God’s very first act - Creation.  This was God’s primary (and for a while there, only) role.  And if our goal as followers of God is to be more like him, then shouldn’t one of our highest priorities then be creation?  Biologically speaking, procreation is our most basic form of creation, and that requires both Father and Mother (at least as far as the DNA is concerned).  It seems to me that in creating a balance of sexed humans, God divided his creative capacity evenly.  So to call God only “Father” is basically to ignore a full half of humankind’s creative process, unless we are willing to also call God “Mother” on occasion.

Men, imagine telling your wives, “Well, you did a great job carrying my seed and all, but now that you’ve popped this sucker out, make sure you never tell him that you had anything to do with his birth - I’d really like to take credit for this one because really, the Father is the only part of this whole nurturing parent thing that matters to kids.”  Women, do you want to have children only to have them ignore your part in their creation, birth, protection, and nurturing?  Imagine telling your mother that’s what you think of her, and that really, just haven’t a relationship with your dad from here on out is all you need.  (I’m suddenly remembering Mark Driscoll explaining that there can be no innovation in the Church without young men...because I suppose women are incapable of having innovative ideas or something.)  That all sounds horrifying to me, yet this is exactly what we do to God every day by calling him Father and never Mother.  That’s part of why I generally like to stick with the more holistic “Creator.”  

5. Of course, I believe that our call to create is not limited to making babies, but speaks to creativity itself. I was watching a fairly remarkable TED conference video from Ted Robinson, who spoke about our natural human creativity, particularly in children, and how our education system stifles that creativity.  He explains that by the time the current generation of young students retires, it will be around 2065.  But we have no idea what 2015 will even look like, so how can we possibly prepare children for their future unless we can allow them to know and express themselves?  We’re taught to conform, to take tests, to regurgitate, and rarely to actually emote or express our personalities or uniqueness.  My own take on this is that we have developed both education and Christianity into culture of competition, which leads to goals of winning (paired with another’s defeat), and is essentially just small scale destruction of something else.  In so doing, we are actively teaching ourselves and our children to do the opposite of what God designed us to do.  And everyone’s okay with this?  Why do we emphasize sports and not dance?  Or reading and writing, but not drama?  School is a sort of citizen-factory, instead of a system to healthily develop self-actualized human beings.  (I cannot tell you how disturbed I was to see that Rick Perry’s education ideas involve treating students like “customers,” which I suppose means that knowledge is some sort of commodity to be purchased.  That type of attitude is venomous, insulting to students and children, and frankly showing a profound lack of respect for all of knowledge itself.  And this is likely to be the great evangelical Christian candidate for president?  Oh, please.)  This is not what God created us to be, I’m convinced of it.

6.  So in what I guess is the closest thing I've got to conclusion, I say this.  C.S. Lewis once said, “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects--with their Christianity latent.”  We are called to creativity not because we are Christians, but because we are humans, created by a Creator. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Famous for Nothing; or, I really hope Daniel Frankel and Jennifer Sizemore google themselves a lot and find this.

I made the mistake of reading an article the other day on, one of the most frustrating news sources imaginable, in my opinion.  (For unknown reasons I haven’t been able to make myself switch to something different.)  Apparently, Clark Gable’s 22-year-old grandson is an aspiring actor, and he was arrested for messing around with a laser-pointer.  Then his sister arranged for his bail and got his release covered by media as a publicity stunt.  

(Disclaimer: MSNBC is not the original source of this article, it's just where I read it.  Its copyright is listed as Reuters, and I believe the writer Daniel Frankel works for The Wrap, so it's a bit confusing and when I target, it's just just because they're the news source I first saw that allowed this article to be relayed.)

I don’t know where to begin with this.  

No wait, yes I do.
  1. This is not newsworthy information, and should never have been written or published.  Maybe that sounds harsh, but it’s just the truth.  I cannot imagine anyone actually being curious about this news, but the simple act of publishing it turns a stupid story about a nobody who is 2 generations removed from greatness into something that we think we’re supposed to care about.  Shame on Daniel Frankel for writing this crap, and shame on editor-in-chief Jennifer Sizemore for allowing it to go ahead.
  2. But what am I doing, blaming MSNBC for this article, when the original source of the information is the referenced-4-times CNN?  Well in that case, I still say shame on you MSNBC for thinking that you should report a stupid story just because someone else did. 
  3. Frankel fails to even remain objective in this piece, noting that while Gable did not authorize the stunt to have him released in front of cameras, he “was -- understandably -- OK with the outcome.”  Why is it understandable?  Would Mr. Frankel care to elaborate on that editorialization?  No, apparently not.  And wait, what is the “outcome” of it anyway?  Is the outcome having his little story reported across the country by journalists who really should know better?  Because if that’s the case, then Mr. Frankel, you’re just part of the problem.
  4. What stuck out most to me, though, was the description of Gable’s sister Kayley, “herself an aspiring celebrity.”  An aspiring celebrity.  What the hell does that even mean?  She wants to be famous for nothing?  A celebrity is by definition someone who is widely known, though it is usually used to be accompanied by some sort of skill, action, or otherwise reasonable claim to fame.  All that Daniel Frankel, MSNBC, and CNN have done with this little puff piece is actively contribute to the advancement of Kayley’s career as a no-talent, no-skill, attention whore with a famous grandpa.
I’m sad that even by clicking the link and reading the article, I contributed to the rampant problem of celebrity without cause, more commonly perpetuated by reality television.  I’m just a little bit ashamed of my own curiosity that made me read the piece.  Not as ashamed as Mr. Frankel should feel for writing it, but nonetheless.

What happened to us?  Why do we reward nothing with everything?  The nature of the news media’s relationship with its audience is that we take for granted that the people giving us the news have some sort of authority.  I fear that time is growing close when we will have to stop giving them that credit, when we’ll have to open up the newspaper (or news website) and close it right away for its being so thoroughly un-enriching to our lives.  Someday soon, we’re gonna have to look the news providers in the eye, tell them, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” and walk out the door.  Otherwise we let the terrorists celebrities win.