Visceral…

Jinny and I had a nice little date night tonight. A pleasant walk, some ice-cream from the local shop (a wonderful woman who sells right out of her house) and a movie. The movie was Alfonso Cuaron‘s Children of Men, a near-future drama/action film (generally called sci-fi, but the label doesn’t fit here in my opinion). The premise of the film is that in the year 2027 no children have been born on the whole planet for about 18 years. In Cuaron’s vision of the future the political and social strife present today in much of the developed and developing world has been drastically exacerbated by the progressive realization that this is the last generation of humans the world will ever see.

The film has received mixed reviews and I know people who have loved it and hated it. I don’t know that I loved it, but I do think it was very good and occasionally brilliant. What this film provides better than anything is an immediate and visceral experience of political and cultural conflict. All of this comes to a head in the climactic confrontation between government and rebel forces. That sentence may sound cliche, and certainly a plot line like this in the hands of a lesser director could have been badly botched, but in this case I really felt that this moment allowed us as viewers to experience what it might mean to be on either side of a violent ideological conflict. There’s also a fantastic moment where we glimpse the great wonder and the great absurdity bound up in being human, but I won’t spoil that bit (it was my favorite part of the film). This one is definitely worth a try.

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Walking…

Two days ago, in the early evening, I walked to the bank. This may not seem like a very interesting event. Honestly in and of itself this isn’t an interesting event, but it meant something to me. A realization that I suspect has been brewing for a while now finally popped to the surface of my consciousness, kind of like the little toy boat that you used to hold under the water in your bathtub as a child just so that you could watch it jump through the surface when you released it. The S.S. Insight in this little story was this: there is no better way to connect with the place you live than walking. Our society doesn’t walk well. We work too far away, we shop too far away, our friends and our family and all of our entertaining little distractions are too far away. Consequently we end up driving a lot. Unfortunately driving removes our ability to experience the sights and sounds and smells of the cities and towns in which we live.

Walking to the bank was a way for me to connect to my town. One of the reasons that Jinny and I bought the house we live in is its proximity to downtown and to the river. I run by the river all the time, but that’s not the same as walking downtown to the bank. Running reconnects me to God, his creation, my body, the fact that I’m terribly out of shape and the current selection of music on my Ipod. Walking reconnects me to my community. It makes me love the place where I am, and that seems important to me.

I also learned the other night that a statistically disproportionate number of late-model Sunfires and Cavaliers are owned by twenty-year-old girls.

Via…

Been busy, so no big blogging likely to happen this week. I do, however, have a quote via Slacktivist for you to mull over. Try this one on for size (and don’t forget to read the whole post here):

[The] shared motto of preachers and journalists: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

A New Venture…

I’ve added yet another new blog to my sidebar. Called “White Bulls and Wild Goats” it is a second blog that I’ve started for posting concerned specifically with my academic interests. It will include reflections concerning my own thesis work in particular and the discipline of biblical studies in general. It is, I suppose, a “biblioblog” of sorts. For those of you unfamiliar with the terminology “biblioblog” has become the generally accepted name for blogs devoted to the Bible and biblical studies (I didn’t coin the term, but for better or worse that ship seems to have sailed). I will still be posting here, probably far more regularly than at the new site. If you’re interested in the academic study of the Bible than you might enjoy the new site, if not…well you’re always welcome here.

Without a Trace…

One of my favorite weekly reads, which you’ll fine on the links sidebar, is Fred Clarke over at Slacktivist. Most of Fred’s posts deal with politics and social justice, all delivered with a post-liberal Christian twist. The real gems on Slacktivist, however, are his weekly(ish) posts deconstructing the bestselling pseudo-novel Left Behind.

For those of you unfamiliar with Left Behind and its authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, this novel and its many sequels are fictional stories about a future in which the rapture has occurred and the Great Tribulation is in full swing. For those of you to whom that last sentence didn’t make any sense at all, don’t worry, just wander around Wikipedia for a little bit (starting here). Anyways, one of the major premises of Left Behind in particular and premillennial dispensationalism in general is the belief in an instantaneous and bodily disappearance of every faithful Christian on Earth seven years before the physical return of Christ (called the Rapture). This is one of the points in Left Behind that Fred rips on the most. Though he certainly takes theological issue with the Rapture, a lot of his complaints about Jenkins and LaHaye’s books are stylistic, especially when it comes to this miraculous vanishing. Let me give you a quick taste from his latest LB post:

Left Behind, pp. 259-261

This section of the book reads like a flashback, as though it were set years ago. Apart from the absence of Rayford Steele’s wife and son, nothing in this section seems like it could possibly have occurred after the Event. But it’s not a flashback:

Rayford pulled into his driveway with a sack of groceries on the seat beside him. …

Nothing unusual about any of that. And that, of course, is the problem — there’s nothing unusual about any of that.

Rayford buys gasoline and groceries and it’s all perfectly routine. The supermarket and the gas station are fully stocked and supplied and everything seems normally priced. No gas lines, no run on canned goods and bottled water. Not even the kinds of temporary shortages you might expect when snow is forecast. One might think that hundreds of rail and plane crashes one week ago might still be affecting supply lines. That the sudden disappearance of tens of thousands of workers from every step along the way — from field to shelf, from refinery to pump — might cause at least a hiccup in prices. That every worker at every stage is suddenly and inexplicably dealing with the loss of their children might also have some affect on the economy and the availability of goods. But no. Rayford is able to purchase everything he wants, at normal prices, and without delay (his errands, we are told, took only half an hour).

Fred is right of course, this represents some of the most mind-numbingly atrocious writing that the planet has ever seen (these guys make Dan Brown look Nobel worthy). But here’s my question about J+L’s rapture scenario. In any number of cases it would appear that nobody left on earth really seems to notice that all the Christians everywhere are gone. What does this say about J+L’s vision of the Church and its role in the world? For that matter what does it say about their general knowledge about the way the world really is?

I don’t know a whole lot about charity work, but I do know that if you took every single Christian out of the world in an instant a whole hell of a lot of people would go hungry, unsheltered and uneducated. You can rag on the Church all you like, but the fact remains that Christians represent a massive percentage of all the charitable work that goes on in the world today. We serve, we organize and we give. I don’t know if we do it more or less than any other community or group in the world, but I’ve gotta believe that we at least make up a noticeable percentage of what goes on in the world.

Which brings me to my point. Left Behind isn’t just a crappy book, it is dangerous and insidious. It’s authors don’t believe that the Church does anything to help the world because they don’t believe that the Church should do anything to help the world beyond pure proselytization. This is just one more example of the “saved from” theology I mentioned below.

Am I the only person who thinks its sad that Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry Jenkins’ Church is able to vanish from the world without a trace?

5 More Reasons…

As of today I have just a few more reasons to love Kurt Vonnegut. I listened to A Man Without a Country today, which is a peculiar little book that Vonnegut wrote only two years ago. Though Vonnegut is generally known for his fiction (Slaughterhouse 5 in particular) Country is a short work of non-fiction in which the author basically tells us his views on life. In a meandering and roundabout way he talks about art, politics, love, kindness, death and how to piss of your parents. It’s a lot like listening to a very wise and very articulate grandfather give you advice for a morning, except in this case your grandfather is one of the greatest novelists of the modern era. As I was listening I decided that there are now a few more reasons for me to love Vonnegut. Here they are:

1. He’s funny…really funny. And not in a stupid way like an Adam Sandler movie, but in a dark, witty, and even hopeful way. I laughed an awful lot this morning.

2. He has no use for modern life or technology. Okay, I know that this sounds a little hypocritical coming from a guy who’s blogging on a laptop while watching a TV show on DVD and not looking forward to going to work at his Oil and Gas Industry job tomorrow. I’m not quite the Luddite that Vonnegut is, but I also seriously question the need and importance of the society we’ve designed in North America in particular. Vonnegut rags pretty hard on our current dependence on fossil-fuels and he’s right about a lot of it. The fact of the matter is that most people do indeed need their cars, but that’s because we’ve designed cities and towns and a society in general that is completely unconscious about how unnecessarily large the distances involved in our everyday lives really are. Don’t think so? Check out the general nature of life in more densely populated industrialized nations where people walk and take transit more than anything else.

3. Like me Vonnegut sees music as the only necessary proof for the existence of God.

4. Even though he’s a secular humanist with no belief in heaven or hell or judgment of any kind, Vonnegut still believes that it is important to be good to each other. I’ve never understood how somebody with that particular metaphysical outlook can come to that particular ethical conclusion, but I’m sure glad he did. The world is full enough of people who don’t care about anything other than themselves. One more person who believes in the importance of acts of self-sacrifice, grace, peace and love is just fine with me. To be honest it strikes me that Vonnegut has grasped the Gospel more firmly than a lot of Christians I’ve known and read (and been some days too, I’m ashamed to say).

5. Finally the great Mr. Vonnegut knows how to write. Every sentence and word is chosen and arranged with care and attention. Whether I agreed with everything that he wrote or not, reading this book was a pleasure from start to finish. A great many writers in the world today would do well to take a lesson from this master of the written word (you’re damn right I’m looking at you Dan Brown!).

All of this to say that you should go read A Man Without a Country for yourself. And anything else that Vonnegut has ever written for that matter.

Update: Though I did not know it at the time of this post, the great Kurt Vonnegut passed away yesterday, apparently due to complications from a head injury. May his name be for a blessing.