Here We Go…

The echoes of the screamed “NOOOO!!!” I shouted when I heard the news that Disney is making the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, are still reverberating. At least my fears of them severely butchering the books is. Here is a clip showing some of the work that Weta is putting into the project. While it is wonderful news that Weta is on board and the clip is a very small piece of a much larger whole, one hopes that they will do equally well with the good creatures of Narnia as with the baddies, which this clip primarily features.
It is much harder to portray goodness and innocence than it is to portray evil. Attempts at portraying piercing, awe-ful goodness or joyful holiness or interesting innocence often do not work. Case in point: the glorified Ewok village which attempted to be Lothlorien in the film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring. To Peter Jackson’s credit, the Shire was beautifully realized and Rivendell also.
Sadly, this all is a symptom of our fallness. It is a malady hardwired into us, into the world, since the Fall. Our very basic concept of story is rooted centrally in conflict. Can you picture a story without conflict and resolution. If one trys to imagine such a story, I think it seems simply boring. Of course there is a glory, perhaps a greater glory even, in stories which run through the arc of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation to arrive at forgiveness and resolution. God is about just such a story with the world.
Do our stories get to that point, either the ones we write or the ones we live? I hope so. Many in our day do not, or perhaps cannot, even see Goodness and a potential return to it as anything other than an abstract imaginary concept. Our serious cinema is often excellent at truly portraying the fallenness of the world. And that can be a form of speaking truth, which may be a worthy goal. If that is all that is ever produced, though, either by an individual or an industry, then that is not the entire truth that God has spoken about the world. Images of forgiveness and redemption do sometimes occur in cinema. Rare is the attempt, and rarer still the successful attempt, to take on a topic such as goodness or justice and to a commendable job. I am not an encyclopedic film buff by any means, so my sample size is very small, but films like Chariots of Fire, The Mission, some of the Jane Austen films, stand out in my mind for having some nice portrayals of goodness.
Finally, I am not, though I once was, an advocate of producing and viewing only Pollyanna-ish movies. I do want to cheer, though, when someone, either a Christian or someone who is not, portrays the themes of forgiveness and goodness well, even amidst the struggle of fallen life…especially amidst the struggle life. More importantly, I want those themes to be visible parts of my own life and the lives of my fellow believers.

Music and Spirit

I am not sure how music works, how it affects me, how much those effects are or should be mediated by lyrics. I have, in recent years, allowed music itself to affect me more and more, to appreciate the “message” that it brings. The very fact that I call its effects a “message,” that I am writing this post at all, is indicative that my giving over to music has not been complete. If you are word-centered and have been rather rigidly fundamentalistic, even a little undermining of the hegemony of the “word,” though, is something of an accomplishment. It has been for me. And so, my musical palette has become more varied over the past several years.
Now I cannot provide chapter and verse, but music is supposed to be more than just a wrapper for words. It can and does, for good or ill, accomplish much, much more. It works by bypassing our cognitive centers and affects us at more visceral, emotional levels. Are these levels more spiritual or emotional? Once I figure out the delineations between the two, I will get back with you. Of course, music itself, even if it is instrumental, does have a text, with structure and syntax, which can be dissected with pleasure by the more analytical amongst us. But to really appreciate the music, to know it, I think one has to “feel it” at some level beneath/above, I don’t know which, of the cognitive.
This somewhat unconscious mode of action of music is why many are often so cautious and fearful of it. And, in some ways, there is good cause to be cautious. The problem arises, though, if one is so cautious, that one constantly must run a piece through a cognitive grid or dissect it like a frog in biology class. More often than not, these processes will kill the music itself.
A corollary to this fear of music, or perhaps the fear of music is a corollary to it, is the fear of the moving of the Spirit, specifically in a charismatic sort of ways. I will not here enter the cessationist/continuist debate regarding spiritual gifts, except to say that I am a very qualifying continuist and have never experienced any of the more ecstatic gifts myself. In fact, I fear them or any way in which the Spirit might move me which does not pass through my cognitive centers or, more presciently, any way, even if I do understand it, which I cannot control, and this includes life circumstances. I think this fear is definitely in the mix of the factors which lead many to take a cessationist position, perhaps especially in my denomination, the largely cerebral PCA (stereotype alert!).
At any rate, I think music works in a similar way. And so, to continue the linkage I made with its modus operandi with that of the Spirit, it is perhaps appropriate to “test the spirits.” I do not know exactly what such testing might entail. It does not mean, however, to kill by dissection, and so to not experience the life and vitality of the thing itself.

“Float Like a Butterfly”

This is not a post about the wonder of Monarchs or the beauties of Swallowtails. No, the title is the first part of a Muhammad Ali’s tag line, “Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee” (which occurs to to me would be a good example of a simile in class). It is also a confession of a minor fascination that I have with the brutal sport of boxing.
And it is brutal. Think about it. There is no other sport in which almost every successful move or action, i.e. every punch, though of course footwork is also vital, results in either muscle tissue damage or, more frighteningly, death of brain cells. It is no coincindence that Ali developed Parkinsons at such a young age.
Yet, still I am attracted to the sport. Not to the blood and gore it sometimes displays, and definitely not to the bloodthirst of an audience. I think it is the striving that is attractive. And, boxers have to be in fantastic shape. I have always thought that six months in a boxing gym would do me wonders. I would like to try and see what happens. And, then, watch out.
What I am more certain about is that my view of the sport is primarily constructed from movies. OK, I liked the Rocky movies back in the day. Particularly, Rocky IV which in many ways was the quinticessential Cold War movie, Red Dawn, World War III, The Hunt for Red October, and all the Bond movies of the time being examples of others. (One day I will post about my mixed feelings at the end of and nostalgia for the Cold War. Yeah, you read right. I will explain.)
No, as boxing movies come out, I continue to find myself attracted to them. I don’t watch everything to do with boxing. I have not seen the classic Raging Bull, for example, and I passed on that recent one with Meg Ryan being the manager for some boxer. I think I tend to pick out the ones that showcase gritty determination, and those that are rather bleak. The story around the boxing is just as important, which is why Rocky won the Oscar and all of its successors have become a running national joke.
Well, enough dancing around the ring. Here is my very brief list of boxing movies and links to a trailer of one that is coming out and looks very good and to Roger Ebert’s review of it.
The Boxer (1997) With Daniel Day-Lewis, who is fantastic, as he is in In the Name of the Father, and the intense and beautiful Emily Watson. Now unfortunately the movie really makes you pull for adultery, or rather divorce and remarriage, so that’s not good. But, there is a lot of aching longing in the movie and bleak Irishness, which I also kind of have a thing for.
Girlfight (2000) With Michelle Rodriguez, as a kick-butt, no nonsense girl boxer. Not as much of a favorite as the above, but still good. Replaces inter city grittiness for Irish bleakness.
The Power of One (1992) Not so much of a boxing movie and a bit melodramatic in bits, but a good film about overcoming adversity and a good film about Apartheid.
Here is the link for Million Dollar Baby, the up and comer or the contender if you will (with and directed by Clint Eastwood and with Morgan Freeman and Hillary Swank), and to Ebert’s review.

Getting Fitted for the Feast

Last night I laid down another $100 or so for the honor of standing up with a friend as he is wed. And it is, indeed, an honor. As for the $100 bucks and the rest of our extravagant American nuptial practice, that must wait for another post. Suffice it to say that between being a best man(this makes the fourth time, and what is that saying…4 times a best man, never a…oh, my mistake, that’s with the bridesmaids), and the third or fourth time as groomsman (I am too lazy to count), and also numerous times “ushing,” I have spent enough on rented formal wear and fake shoes to put a child through a semester of college (assuming its a state school and with compounding interest).
No, what I was reflecting on last night as I was being fitted was the politeness of the people who measure you and the wonder of a Tuxedo. Think about it. They see all shapes and sizes of folks, good looking and not, and yet, in my experience at least, they are always invariably polite, as they gently guide you through the ignominy of being measured. And I imagine it is ignominious for most men, at least at some level, unless you are Hugh Jackman or Ewan McGregor or Clive Owen or whoever is to be the next Bond and will wear Tuxedos for a living. These tuxedo measurers, though, never say, “Hey, bub, keep it up and next time you might need to bring your own tape measure. Yeah, the round one with the little metal dealy on it. Yeah, from the hardware store.”
Also, Tuxedo’s are pretty sharp and provide a pretty good sermon illustration. Leaving aside all the fuss and expense and bother (remember, that is for another post…maybe), they make anyone look good, look sharp even. Of course, there are those who can make them look really good, ala “Bond, James Bond,” but even for those of us whose wardrobe has been, at times, their entire room i.e. every invisible inch floor space, it makes us clean up pretty good. And, that is, indeed, their point, to make somewhat glorious, the not so glorious.
Scripture does not talk about what a bridegroom’s friends would wear, although I imagine it was several steps above daily wear, but it does talk about what the guests at a wedding wear. They wear a robe that is given to them by the host. And if they happen to neglect to put it on, they don’t get to come to the party. No, worse yet, they get thrown out into the darkness.
Now, that robe I imagine is like nothing you’ve ever seen. It would likely seem so simple, that the extravagantly dressed would grumble at having to put it on. Most of the poor, though, would gladly give up their rags and slip it on. All, would eventually find that it was the finest thing that they had ever worn. And, halfway through the feast, as the really good wine was being brought out, they would look up at their Glorious Host and realize they had on the very same thing. And, oh they all just looked so fine!
Now, for some truly good descriptions of clothes describing glory, go read some C. S. Lewis. Yeah, and my wedding? It’s either thrift store splendour or kilts (as if I could ever be so lucky and be permitted such). Or, maybe kilts from thrift stores. Nah, I never seen a man’s one in any thrift store, and believe me I have been looking.

A Few Thanksgivings Ago and a Quote for Today

The Sunday Before Thanksgiving

Today, twice I watched my sensitive nephew’s lower lip stick out ever so slightly and quiver, as he valiantly tried to fathom and control disappointment. First, as we sat down to dinner, his Veggie Tales plate was being given to a visiting cousin as there were only three and there were four children. I saw the lip and the frightened sadness in the big brown eyes. This time it lasted only a moment as the older of the cousins sweetly offered him her Veggie Tales plate, taking the ceramic “adult” plate for herself.
Later, the sadness was not so easily quelled. The visiting cousins were being given a sizeable chunk of his and his sister’s video collection to help them pass the time at Grandpa’s house. He went to his room and quietly began playing with his toys, but that lip and those eyes illuminated his soul, and when his Daddy came in and picked him up, the flood that the lip was trying to keep at bay overflowed in heaping sobs. His Daddy said that it was OK. OK to be disappointed and OK because the tapes would be back. Andrew clung to his Daddy in the full contact way that children do when the hurt is strong, burying his teary face into his Daddy’s shoulder. He stayed that way until we left, his Daddy softly assuring him.
So often I feel like Andrew, like a little boy with what I wanted taken from me. Will I ever get my plate back? Will I ever hear that it will be OK? I want my Father to hold me in my disappointment and whisper softly in my ear.
Quote today from Into the Wardrobe:

“He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created, and always gives back to them with His right hand what he has taken away with His left.” C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters.