Odds and ends

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During my travels around cyberspace I come across bits of news and information I for whatever reason find interesting. If I am busy about other tasks I bookmark it.

Much of the time I forget the bookmarks and don’t ever get around to taking note of these lost little gems. So, as I’m between tasks now I figure it’s a fine time to clear out the bookmarks.

Christianity Today posted an article not too long ago about embracing your inner Pentecostal. I found it interesting because of my own occasionally pentecostal background as well as the fact it takes note of continued resurgence of Spirit interest. I think there’s something to this, but as I’ve argued elsewhere I think it’s a great mistake to assume Holy Spirit stuff is necessarily exhibited in the particular activities of Pentecostals. That’s part of it, to be sure. But, I was surprised to read Dallas Willard say he was disappointed in a book about the spiritual lives of Christians partly because the author made it seem like this was due to particular filling of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Of course it was the Holy Spirit, only we’ve gotten into the trap of thinking tongues and healings when the Holy Spirit is aroused. There’s a lot more to it. And it’s not all flashy showy. The Holy Spirit, first and primarily, forms us into the image of Christ. Whatever that looks like is what the Holy Spirit does.

A new Fox unit is going to make Christian movies. Lovely. There’s certainly a market for it. My worry is that it will think Left Behind and Peretti novels would make the sorts of movies Christians would see. Sure there would be a limited market for that. Gibson’s Passion, however, was about a story all Christians from whatever tradition have in common. Or movies like Luther.

If I were exceedingly wealthy (So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune? Daidle deedle daidle Daidle daidle deedle daidle dum) I would take the great advice found in the comments below and make a movie about Francis of Assisi. Or any number of Christian heroes from time. I’d skip Peretti and LaHaye, and pick up the rights to all of Stephen Lawhead’s books, making his Arthur trilogy into a masterpiece and his Albion trilogy a treat for all ages as both could be. I’d especially make Byzantium, one of my favorite books of all time. Too often Christian movies veer into the vaguely astrological. It has a veneer of Christian words but is more about odd spirituality and showy evangelism. None of that for me.

The Chicago Tribune posted an interesting article they title “Christian middle seeking a turn at the bully pulpit”. The moment I saw that title I assumed within a few paragraphs the ‘middle’ would be represented by Jim Wallis, et al. I was not let down. However, the inclusion of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, along with the reverent words of former senator John Danforth did surprise me. Wallis is one thing. To call these other two the middle is like saying 10 1/2 inches is the middle of a ruler. The definition has no meaning if that’s how it’s used. Wallis, of course, became once again famous by saying Christians don’t have to be Republicans, as though Christians did not have the ability to choose for themselves. According to Wallis, they should be Democrats, which isn’t exactly a middle position. They, of course, adopt the title of moderates for rhetorical reasons. Which makes them sound like the voices of reason in the middle of chaos. I don’t buy it. Danforth is of the old school Episcopalian model of religion that loves it as an institution, good for society, but not worth making a big deal out of. Religion and baseball are in much the same categories for him, I suspect. Wallis is definitely more spiritual, only he has as many blindspots as the most committed Christian on the right. He thinks having different blindspots is a virtue. I disagree.

I say this from my position of a little bit right of middle, in my estimation, which is more of an average really as I’m rather very right on some things and rather very left on other things.

Alright, even though I’ve a few more bookmarks to note I’ve got to go now. I’m leaving the hill for a few days to be taught how to plant a church by a couple of Australians.

Hooroo.

wow

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Martin Scorcese is going to make Shusaku Endo’s Silence into a movie.

If he does it well, this is going to be a huge movie. Maybe not financially but definitely artistically. If done well it could be one of the more important Christian movies ever. Real Christian, not future wars, happy times Christian.

If you haven’t read the book. You really should.

Faith on Television

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I was thinking earlier today what the most Christian/religious show on television is these days. This is a tricky question really because I’m not asking which is the most religious themed. There are whole channels of men in sharp suits and women with big hair who dance and prance and preach while waving a heavy leather bound book around.

As there’s no suggestion Jesus ever did such a thing like this I don’t really call this Christian, even if it’s religious and culturally attached to a historic faith. Jesus when he had a crowd passed the basket, and everyone got some fish and some bread from the activity.

No, I’m wondering what show which doesn’t term itself as religious really has the most religious themes. Nowadays I ask this without really having a good grasp on the entertainment landscape. I’m afraid I haven’t seen a single episode of most of what makes it into the top ten.

But a guy can wonder, can’t he? And I do wonder. I wonder partly because in years past I may have said Angel was the most religious and had the most faith filled themes. It wasn’t Christian by any means, but there were times in which quite pointed Christian messages were just underneath the surface of the dialogue. It was a show about redemption after all.

Not too long ago, for far shorter than any manner of decent thinking should allow, Firefly would have made the list. It wasn’t a Christian show directly, but I dare say I don’t remember any other show that had a Christian pastor as a main character who actually wrestled with issues of morality and faith. I also don’t remember ever seeing a sci-fi show that had religion as a continuing way of life. Speaking of which Sci-Fi really needs to pick that show up again. For the sake of the children.

Now, I don’t know. My Name is Earl deals with karma, which is a religous concept of a certain kind, and it definitely has a rather strong morality to it that reminds me a lot less of any other recent sitcom and a lot more of what made the original Twilight Zone so captivating.

Well, I have a suggestion. Maybe it’s Dog the Bounty Hunter. Which is really a curious thing to me, as a quick glance at the show would suggest quite otherwise. A quick glance is what I got at first, popping over during commercial breaks of Dirty Jobs. Then the popping over lasted longer as I became intrigued not only by their work but by their personalities and by, yes, their rather deep faith in God.

Only what other show has a scene whether a whole family gathers in a circle, holds hands, and prays a lovely prayer in Jesus’ name? And it’s not just that. Their faith permeates the whole show, even if the permeating is expressed quite a bit differently than anything that happens in my life. I don’t live in Hawaii after all.

I was reminded of this in a quick trip around the channels this evening and happening to catch the wife of Dog the Bounty Hunter talking. She said, “We’re a little bit unusual family. Where else do you see a mother and a father and their children going out together to catch really bad guys… for the Lord?”

Indeed. Does this count for the “did you visit me in prison” clause? Seeing them interact with the folks they catch makes me think it quite does. Though, truth be told, their living faith is likely rather a scandal to the Baptists and foolishness to the Presbyterians.

A Song and a singer

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Among all my friends I’m likely the least musically active. It’s not that I don’t like music. I really do. I listen to musicmatch through most of the day, with quite a varied selection. Few things are as fun for me as getting out my sax and playing with quality musicians, something I haven’t done in a while and something I think I miss deep in my soul these days.

I think it has to do more with my lifestyle. I tend to buy a book more than a cd, and I’m not really in the loop of clubs or other places I would discover a new favorite. Plus, my interests tend not to drift into what would get a lot of radio play.

All this to say I don’t make a lot of comments on music, but that’s just one of those things.

So, when I do find something new it stands out.

Last night I was watching the television show Bones, which up to this point had been an interesting show, no highs or lows. I like to keep two or three shows during the week that I pay attention to, finding the shows I like tend to fall off schedules before too long. So, I got to watching this show and found it took a new step up in last nights episode. It was moving and insightful and quite, quite good. There are people who know people working for this show. But maybe that’s not it. Towards the end when there was a wrapping up of the various insights a song began to play, a song that in my mind perfected the episode.

I loved her voice. There is a deep, haunting quality, reminding of Dido, only more settled. But they didn’t credit the song, so I hunted it down today.

Susan Enan. No album out yet, surprisingly, but apparently one in the works.

I love New York in June, how about you…

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In my rambling netflix adventures I delved into a movie from the past, getting it almost for the sole reason that I remembered liking it a lot when it came out, even saw it a few times, but not remembering at all why.

Sometimes I get television shows, sometimes recently released blockbusters, sometimes art movies, or obscure movies, or movies that somehow I missed.

This time around I watched the Fisher King again.

It’s a good movie, to be sure. All the usual lofty movie language can be used describing the acting and directing and cinematography. But, there’s something under the surface for me, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

I am convinced there are events and influences in life that if they happen to strike you at just the right time can be enormously powerful, yet exceedingly subtle, forces of change. Neurons go on different paths. Different choices are made. Thoughts lie beneath the conscious self tickling just enough without revealing themselves beyond a mere nagging instinct that makes one say, “no” to certain explicable things, and “yes” to the inexplicable.

For whatever reason this thought popped into my head tonight while watching this movie. Only I’ve never thought of this movie since seeing it last. So, I don’t know if it is one of those influences or if it only has the texture of one.

All throughout there was that inner tickling, as though there were thoughts it was provoking which don’t quite see the light of day but operate deep beneath. It’s interesting. I don’t know why. Do I identify with these particularly different characters in some way?

I also know that near the end my right eye got watery and my left eye let a few tears go.

Not many movies do that. I was seventeen or thereabouts when I last saw this movie. I don’t remember any tears then. Maybe the themes from this, and similar themes from other sources, took a long time sinking in. The purest tears are those which have been long distilled, especially when it comes to movies.

Interesting. I’ve intrigued myself, and that’s a fine basis for another go at self-analysis. What’s going on there under the surface?

And who is that red knight on the flaming horse that I saw earlier today?

Maybe when I get to 1 John tomorrow I’ll find a little more answers. I suspect I will, even if it’s still a wisdom I’m learning how to grasp.

good movie

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Watched The Dish last night.

It’s a good movie. The description that, for some reason comes to mind is it’s a gentle movie. It has a laid back quality to it which doesn’t push your emotions yet does tug at them, urging them in a certain direction up and down through the subdued plot.

I realize how much I am appreciating this kind of progression. So much contemporary filmmaking, whether it be the explosions of blockbusters or the agonizing excesses of execrable characters in artistic movies, hits a person over the head. Maybe this is needed in our society where so many are yelling, yelling, yelling to break through filmmakers think they need to yell even louder.

Over the past years I realize I appreciate movies which have an understated quality to them, in which real life is shown as real lives, not the so-called “real life” often given critical acclaim which has nothing to do with real living except as a caricature of our worst selves.

The Dish is set in Australia during the July 1969 moon landing. It’s about the big dish that received the television signals which were broadcast around the world showing Neil Armstrong’s first steps.

Along the way there are ups and there are downs but for me it was the sensation of really feeling the meaning of the moon landing for the first time, watching with anticipation that which I know is already almost forty years behind us.

Each of the usual plot points occur but they do so without grandeur and without ostentation. They come and they fill out the story, each of which expresses each character with psychological insight without hitting us over the head. We know these people, even if we are not given a lot of time to spend with them and they do not individually spend a lot of time in their particular issue.

It’s a gentle movie.

Indeed, while it doesn’t quite achieve the status of Finding Neverland or Rivers and Tides in my mind it does share with them that wonderful understated quality which is so refreshing and rare these days.

on imagination

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From CS Lewis’ discussion on Paradise Lost:

It remains, of course, true that Satan is the best drawn of Milton’s characters. The reason is not hard to find. Of the major characters whom MIlton attempted he is incomparably the easiest to draw. Set a hundred poets to tell the same story and in ninety of the resulting poems Satan will be the best character. In all but a few writers the ‘good’ characters are the least successful, and every one who has ever tried to make even the humblest story ought to know why. To make a character worse than oneself it is only necessary to release imaginatively from control some of the bad passions which, in real life, are always straining at the leash; the Satan, the Iago, the Becky Sharp, within each of us, is always there and only too ready, the moment the leash is slipped, to come out and have in our books that holiday we try to deny them in our lives. But if you try to draw a character better than yourself, all you can do is to take the best moments you have had and to imagine them prolonged and more consistently embodied in action.

But the real high virtues which we do not possess at all, we cannot depict except in a purely external fashion. We do not really know what it feels like to be a man much better than ourselves. His whole inner landscape is one we have never seen, and when we guess it we blunder. It is in their ‘good’ character tht novelists make, unawares, the most shocking self-revleations. Heaven understands Hell and Hell does not understand Heaven, and all of us, in our measure, share the Satanic, or at least the Napoleonic, blindness. To project ourselves into a wicked character, we have only to stop doing something, and something that we are already tired of doing; to project ourselves into a good one we have to do what we cannot and become what we are not.

Hence all that is said about Milton’s ‘sympathy’ with Satan, his expression in Satan of his own pride, malice , folly, misery, and lust, is true in a sense, but not in a sense peculiar to Milton. The Satan in Milton enables him to draw the character well just as the Satan in us enables us to receive it. Not as Milton, but as man, he has trodden the burning marl, pursued vain war with heaven, and turned aside with leer malign. A fallen man is very much like a fallen angel. This indeed is one of the things which prevents the Satanic predicament from becoming comic. It is too near us; and doubtless Milton expected all readers to perceive that in the long run either the Satanic predicament of else the delighted obedience of Mesiah, of Abdiel, of Adam, and of Eve, must be their own. It is therefore right to say that Milton has put much of himself into Satan; but it is unwarrantable to conclude that he was pleased with that part of himself or expected us to be pleased. Because he was, like the rest of us, damnable, it does not follow that he was, like Satan, damned.

This explains our current creative context almost perfectly. The oft considered artistic movies are so often, these days, little more than Jerry Springer titillation for the wine sipping crowd. They delve into execrable characters with auteurs declaring them to be images of real life. Meanwhile stories of heroism or victory are maligned for being cheesy and naive. Yet, as the Lord of the Rings movies, for instance, reveal there is a depth to moral victory which the dashes of sin spattered realities can’t approach.

To speak of something more, to make a call this is not all there is can be a fanciful endeavor. It can be a Kinkade quality pining. At the same time to dwell in our present mud, to wallow in the sins of others because, well, at least “we’re not that bad” isn’t art either. It’s escapism of a different sort, a sort that says nothing beyond the obvious. “Humans are jerks.”
Thank you, I realized that when I woke up this morning… again.

How do we speak of more if we do not know more? That is imagination. That is the quest of the discovery of self, the sallying forth in our own personal crusades, to see freedom, to embrace the higher life, to wander in what may be difficult and disciplined directions, denying ourselves in part to find ourselves in full, and living to tell the story about it all. To taste of the possibilities of our lives and let our imaginations press us beyond our present capabilities, that is the task of the sanctified and living mind.

That is art.

mere Christianity

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I occasionally visit a couple of sites which have regular bashing of my ecclesial situation. It’s a healthy thing to do, not only because they also tend to have insightful religious commentary but because it’s quite eye opening to be on the other side of Christian religious judgment.

That being the case I am pleasantly surprised that one of these sites has a post today advertising the sorts of churches which I would find within my present ecclesial situation. Sure, they are in New York and not in Lake Arrowhead. Also, I most certainly would have my own opinions and judgments as I do about similar such congregations represented within the greater LA area (that’s Los Angeles, not Lake Arrowhead).

But still, this gives me a lot of respect for those who are willing to step out and see that Christianity released from the Law is not then to be beholden to newer and less Divinely mandated laws. There’s a reason why liturgy is not spelled out in the New Testament, and this reason is that we’ve been given many paths of response to the God who calls us and the Spirit who teaches us all things.

The other site I occasionally visit has among it’s recent considerations a long discussion on how gold goblets are the only kind suitable for the Eucharist. Which may be, and certainly is, important to a portion of society, but I think isn’t quite representative of the mere Christianity we are called to confess together.

First Things which makes no reservations about its Catholic leanings reveals itself to be quite open to the broader work of the Spirit, not without cautions but with a surprising willingness to discover and understanding the Spirit does in fact work in different contexts.

Too much of Church discussion has the character of crabby old men shaking their fist at the young ne’er-do-wells of the neighborhood, and promising not give them their ball back when they hit it into his yard. Such men often have a bit of justification, but also reflect an utter absence of joy and a complete loss of their own sense of discovery.

First Things reminds me now more of the kindly older man who throws the ball back, but later over ice cream happens to suggest to the kids they be more cautious about where they hit the ball, lest they sometime break a window or hit an old woman in the head.

On ignoring the huge gray animal with the long inquisitive nose that’s taking up a lot a lot of space around my desk

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You may have happened to notice there’s a bit of activity going on in the wider world, namely in the region whose initials sound like the award given to well appreciated television shows.

You may also have noticed I haven’t mentioned it, something that relegates me for the most part to contemporary commentary irrelevance. That’s not altogether bad, except for the fact the name of this blog is Present Matters, because we’re people of the future, and people of the past, but also living in the present and that matters. At least that’s about how a tagline from an earlier version of this page put it.

So, it’s a little silly to say the Present matters but not discuss what seems to matter in this present of ours. That’s right. This one. No, this one. Ah, this one. I could keep going I guess only that’s the tricky thing about the present, it’s only here for like a second and then it moves on.

But that ephemeral reality isn’t why I haven’t been talking about it. It’s something else.

This world is a big place, which seems particularly small what with television, and the internet, and email, and spam, and the United Nations, and supersonic travel, and cell phones, and satellite radio, and the World Cup, and Hollywood, and such forth. The only problem is the human soul and psyche isn’t any bigger. It has the same capacity only now there’s so much more input. Unlike Johnny 5 the reality is a human can only absorb so much input (five points and 10% off all merchandise in the Dualravens.com supermart for those who get that aged reference).

We get more input than our capacity and things get left out, or dismissed, or washed over, or otherwise unattended. We feel emotions and worry about that which we have no capacity to control, and that which, for the most part, we have no connection with besides our addicted need to be utterly informed.

There are a lot of real and substantive problems in this world, too many for one soul, too much for even those who have no other choice but to be absorbed by particular problems. Life is an all you can eat problem buffet. Our plates are only so large but we can in fact fill them up with a hearty selection, a little of this, some of that.

I’m paying attention only I find that when I get to the point of paying so much attention that I feel a need to leave my judgment on the matter on this page I am driving out some other important consideration which is a lot more relevant to my actual life. That I’m already feeling the increased web hopping tendencies is the case, and I don’t need to encourage it by feeding into my tendency to get quite interested in things which seem incredibly important but for the fact they don’t actually affect my life.

Yes, an argument can be made it all does in some abstract way. Of course, as I do believe everything is in fact related to everything else in a certain way this would mean I need to worry about significantly more than I even know about.

But, I need to not worry about those things at the expense of the things I can and should worry about in my present existence, things which I can get up right now and do something about. I can think about Lebanon, or I can wonder why in the last few days I’ve been both listless and irritable, a reality which in no way measures to the severity of the Middle East, except for the fact that I only have the ability to change my own soul. If each person took that to heart and worked on their own soul instead of blaming others for the state of their discontent then we might in fact have peace in this world.

So, I can seek peace, not in the Middle East where I would guess not a single person cares a whit about my opinion, but in my own life, where those I interact with feel my peace or lack of peace and that resonates into them, which resonates into those who they interact with.

Indeed, getting so caught up in politics or war or all the stupid things stupid people do stupidly at every moment can rob me of that which I would otherwise hold onto, giving me false emotions that have little to do with anything in my life but are instead a sort of emotional pornography that sparks my needing constant information titillation.

With this I begin to always dwell where I don’t matter and completely lose touch with where I do matter. I gain opinions and strategies for events I do not influence while ignoring the sphere I do influence. No, my problems are not as bad as those in the wider world. But the wider world is not the problem I am called to contend with.

I have no soul to control other than my own. Nothing has control over my soul except for me. And so when I wander away from it, I lose precious time. I lose precious moments of personal progress, which may or may not someday put me into a position where I would have wisdom in things which do practically matter to the wider world.

I can only do what I can do, and I should invest my worries and emotions and thoughts and judgments in those areas I am called to invest into.

So, that’s why I haven’t been bringing it up, and likely won’t bring up the various politics or events or opinions that relate. In this world of overwhelming input and information it becomes incredibly difficult to stay aware of the limits of my emotions and concerns, keeping them to that which matters, rather than that which is merely a fact of our global present.

As far as what I think on the whole matter, well… I think Wyatt Earp was in fact a good guy, despite his personal foibles.

good watching

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Every once in a while I’m surprised by a movie. This has a chance of happening more since I became a member of netflix, but still not all that often. I joined because I realized last year I think I saw two movies the whole year. That’s simply unAmerican, and even more than this, it’s unpostmodern. I was letting down my generation and if a pulpit should ever open up for me again I would be entirely unsuited to culturalizing the verses being preached about by having no idea how they relate to the most recent moneymaker.

But, it happened last night. The movie was The World’s Fastest Indian.

Why did I like it so much? To be honest I don’t know. It is the sign of something to have a movie plot be about something entirely uninteresting to me, but by the end having me excited about what’s going on.

Maybe it was the characters. They were unique and understated. This is rare. Most character driven movies slap you in the face with the oddities of the characters and their peculiar deficiencies. Or maybe it was the hopefulness. Most artsy movies drown themselves in negativity. Interesting people, it is thought in movie writing, must be people I would hate to spend time with. This movie opened up people, not to mock in sad appreciation but to find a friend.

I honestly don’t know why I liked it so much. When I was done, however, all of life seemed that much more bright. That to me makes for two hours well spent.