the review

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David Ansen ends his review of the Da Vinci Code with these words:

The only thing missing is actual human beings.

This is not celebrating the bad reviews. My plan is to ignore the movie and instead read the book I happen to be halfway through with right now, The Brothers Karamazov. However, this quote so perfectly captured what is ultimately the problem with both the book and the movie, and indeed gnosticism and many heresies. It’s not actually human.

There’s a quote from Douglas Adam’s book Dirk Gently I think fits. The title character responds to Sherlock Holmes’ famous dictum “once you have discounted the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” with these words: I reject that entirely. For the impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks. How often have you been presented with an apparently rational explanation of something that works in all respects other than one, which is just that it is hopelessly improbable? Your instinct is to say, ‘Yes, but he or she simply wouldn’t do that.’”

At the heart of things Christianity speaks of that which really is human, really does reflect the deepest things of life, psychology, love, beauty and truth. Not the forms. No, sometimes the forms get lost. But the heart of the Gospel, that which has provoked art of genius in words, and paint, and marble for centuries, may be impossible in its way but it rings so entirely human.

Maybe it is just the fact that Brown is not a good prose writer, but I think it’s more than that. To make his premise he not only has to pull history apart he has to do the same with people. His is not just a fictional work, it is an implausible world, one which really only comes clear when we begin to see it as a supposed world on film. Even a movie like Batman, which is entirely fictional, has an element of reality, in which the human reality stays secure even in improbable circumstances. But Brown is mucking about something a lot deeper than he knows, the depths of the human spirit around which even fiction must stay true in order to be lasting and deep and good.

A story like Brown’s may be rousing and interesting but it will never be lasting. Which is why we shouldn’t worry. Christianity is a religion for real people. Brown has to design a world with artificial people-like creatures who don’t quite resonate, even if they look like they should. Brown’s narrative has the air of plausibility but as David Ansen notes it is missing real human beings. Even as the story of the Gospel is absurd the resonance with real people makes it eminently believable. That is real life.

If something is true it lasts, if not it drifts away. This is the test of Gamaliel. And the reason why we should let DVC slide with nary more a worry or thought. Let us get back to our own source, the Creator Spirit, who has inspired countless works that resonate through the centuries and see if we can finally get past the point where our only words are complaint and whining. Maybe if we leave off the fear we can play the songs, write the poetry, paint the canvases, make the movies once more that need no lengthy defense because they so deeply resonate with that who Christ is. Truly human and truly God.

another wee taste

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This week I wrestled with creativity as a sign of the Spirit. Exodus 31 came up. Here’s a bit:

“So, Patrick, the first time the Spirit of the Lord comes down on a person and what happens? Healing? Prophecy? Flashes of lightning? Nope. Nothing like that. Nothing like anything my dad would say are acceptable spiritual gifts in the church. The Spirit came down and they started sewing, and sculpting, and carving. Doing all sorts of other works of art.”
“Creativity,” I say.
“Creativity,” she replies. “Very good. God is an artist. I mean look around. Well, not here, this is all people work. But go to a forest and look around. Take a hike. God is totally an artist. That’s why I always felt so alien. I’m an artist, and I wasn’t far away from God at all. My dad still doesn’t get that. I had to choose if he was my spirit or if the Holy Spirit is my Holy Spirit. The Spirit is a creative Spirit, and when the Spirit works, here the first time the Spirit comes down on a person and ever since, the Spirit provokes creativity. Insists upon it really. I mean some churches get so excited about tongues and the wild stuff. But the first time Patrick, it’s about art. Art for God. Art commissioned by God. He’s the great patron, the one who inspires and pays, all because he seems to like meaningful things. We think of God as totally pragmatic, like some executive businessman keeping his eye on the bottom line or whatever. God is this Lord. Sometimes practical, oftentimes lavish. He’s God, not a dumb CEO looking for salvation profits.”

So, there you go.

I need to borrow some money

personal 5 Comments »

I generally live a rather spartan lifestyle. I mostly stray away from the trappings of materialism and whatnot. However, I do have my weaknesses. And with this in mind I have an offer for you. Act now and join me in an exciting enterprise, one that will help change your life from one of tedious drivel to adventurous non-stop thrills.

With your help, we can band together and take this little boat off the hands of the boy scouts. It’s only a measely $75,000. What else could you possibly do with that money? Instead of buying that outrageously expensive new car you’ve been shopping for you can get something much more impressive. Owning an H2 just won’t make you stand out anymore. You can’t impress Jim at work with a plain old porsche. What you really need, for the sake of your soul, is something that has captivated humanity since ancient days. Sails. Waves. Trimming the flying jib as you beat into the wind.

You contribute the money, and I contribute the enthusiasm and novice sailing skills. We’ll be partners on the high seas. This is an offer you just can’t refuse.

Who knew?

nature 2 Comments »

What I’ve been saying about immigration. I’m a leftist.

Does that make me more Christian now, according to my Wallisian friends at least?

the reviews

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“‘Da Vinci’ never rises to the level of a guilty pleasure. Too much guilt. Not enough pleasure,” said Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter.

He called
Tom Hanks’s performance as symbologist Robert Langdon “remote, even wooden,” and found the long passages of religious and historical debate cumbersome.

Lee Marshall of Screen International agreed.

“I haven’t read the book, but I just thought there was a ridiculous amount of exposition,” he told Reuters.

“I thought it was plodding and there was a complete lack of chemistry between
Audrey Tautou and Tom Hanks.”

Hey, it turns out the movie is exactly like the book. Only you have to sit through two hours straight of the movie instead of reading five pages here and there.

I hear X-Men will be good.

God and the local church

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“A recent national poll found just 17% of adults view the local church as essential for developing faith.”

And thus opens an article in the LA Times about new ways of “doing church”.

I believe the poll. I rather disagree with the implied answer in the article. I doubt 83% of adults view the church as non-essential because there’s not enough technology.

“New media’s a great way to reposition ourselves.”

Quotes like these are likely more the reason.

Wisdom of Chambers

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When it comes to Christian literature I’m pretty well read. I’ve been through the centuries and plucked the wisdom from the words of many famous and obscure spiritual leaders, finding myself always more content in centuries past than centuries present. Recently this quest for spiritual depth has landed me in the Philokalia, four volumes of Eastern Orthodox monasticism, where I find a beauty and freedom and love and peace and light found few places else. They lived Christ, and from them I learn.

So it is with pleasant surprise I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that one of our more well-known Christian writers is also brilliant and immensely helpful. It’s not the bite sized Chambers, however that leads me to say this. Instead, I got a book of Oswald Chambers’ complete writings and find it extraordinary. It took me a bit of time to get to reading it, but I really think this is because only now, having wandered the centuries a bit longer, I can appreciate it for what it is.

He is a true Christian. He echoes those I read in the Philokalia, and has a delightful inclusion of the Holy Spirit which is, frankly, far too rare in Western literature. If you want to discover the depths, and aren’t patient to wander Eastwards, than this early 20th century pastor might just be the best out there.

It is pure. It is clean. It is deep.

I note this because I suspect Chambers’ quotes will be popping up more frequently around these parts. Such as this one:

God may be dealing with you on the line of considering the lilies, He is causing you to take deeper root and meanwhile you do not bear flowers. For a time your experience is–“What I tell you in darkness, that you speak in light.” The only ones who knew who Jesus was and what He came to do, were a handful of fishermen. After He had died and risen again, He distinctly told them to wait in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high. According to ordinary reason they would have said, “That is absurd, this is not the time to wait; we are the only ones who know these things, we ought to be proclaiming the truth.” Jesus said: “Tarry… until…”

Don’t get impatient with yourself; your dominating interest is taking deeper root. In all probability in your time of active service you were living from hand to mouth on spooned meat, you nourished your life by the interesting details of religious life, you had no nutritious root, and your work proved to be an elaborate way of evading concentration on God. There are far more people interested in consecration than concentration. It is easier to fuss around at work than to worship; easier to pay attention to details, to say our prayers or conduct a meeting, than to concentrate on God.

Has God put you on the shelf deliberately? Why cannot He be glorified by a man in the dust as well as in the sunshine? We are not here to tell God what to do with us, but to let Him use us as He chooses. Remember, God’s main concern is that we are more interested in Him than in work for Him. Once you are rooted and grounded in Christ the greatest thing you can do is to be. Don’t try and be useful; be yourself and God will use you to further His ends.

Brown’s Mary Magdalene

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Ah, yes, we all remember where we were on the day the OJ Simpson verdict was announced. It was a cultural phenomenon, back when celebrity trials were rare and interesting. Now, it’s commonplace, so we don’t care. But then things were different. More innocent. More corrupt.

We had watched the white bronco move slowly down the freeway. We knew the characters of the trial, Judge Ito being the chief actor in this company of players. It was televised. We watched bumbling prosecutors wrestle with brilliant defense attorneys. If the glove doesn’t fit… well, you know the rest.

Then the verdict came. We all knew he was guilty, the only question was whether the racial injustice of the past centuries would be a factor. So we watched this cultural moment play out in expectation. I was taking a class on Paul. She realized everyone was thinking about it, so instead of dodging the subject, in good Pauline fashion my professor engaged the culture. We heard the verdict, then got back into Corinthians.

It was a marvelous class and I dare say it pushed me into adding a Biblical and Theological Studies major on top of my history major. The convergence of these two events hits me now. I was pre-law at the time, doing all I could do as a sophomore to prepare myself for a career in law. Only I went to seminary instead.

Paul beat out the trial I suppose. The then Dr. Calvert-(blank) beat out Johnnie Cochran. Interesting.

This is completely a random bit of my own history, the only purpose being an introduction to a very good article about Dan Brown’s Mary Magdalene written by Nancy Calvert-Koyzis.

my post on politics

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Well, I’ll admit right off. I may not be too bright. Or at the very least I may be forgetful and not quite catch everything. When I am an old man I will not be able to blame anything on my age because the fact is I waited an hour for my dinner in the oven to be done only to find out I didn’t actually turn the oven on.

Or it could be I’m a genius and just the absent minded sort. I bet Einstein forgot to turn the oven on sometimes. Sherlock Holmes didn’t know the earth traveled around the sun. It wasn’t germane to his more pragmatic interests, you see.

So, one of the two. Which has nothing to do with nothing except for the fact I have now another hour to wait to eat. I could have taken it out and microwaved something instead, but there’s a principle involved. I’m not sure which one but I know it’s there, lurking behind the stove, laughing at my tendency to be distracted into not completing a very basic recipe task.

This hour to wait means I can now chat about that favorite subject of political pundits, namely politics.

I’ve noted below, and noted that I’ve noted below at least four times now, the fact politics is becoming less interesting to me. One reason is this a boring time for politics. The political leadership is in a sort of stagnate stalemate. Not just the good side, the side we cheer for, also the other side, the one with the villainous, immoral, lying, goons who can’t be trusted to do anything right and should be kicked out of their office and replaced by the people who stand for the way of the Founders and suchlikes.

As I delve more deeply into spiritual writings and drift farther away from political musings, I find myself responding to politics much in the same way I respond to violent video games. What amused me when I was 18 just doesn’t do it for me anymore. Why is this?

Well, because from what I can tell from what I’m reading the height of Christian spirituality is about minding one’s own self, and minding it well, and thoroughly, and with a good deal of zeal. Other people we mind with flexibility, for as we know ourselves better we become less willing to condemn others. Sure we can have an opinion about a topic, and think there right ways to go about getting things done, and wrong ways about how to use money or time or resources. But that’s not politics. That’s good citizenship. Politics, in my estimation, is a zero sum game in which we choose our heroes and dragons, choosing to give our handkerchiefs to one, and our derision to the other. We play a game of hate. A game in which we speak of these politicians in terms we would never apply to anyone we actually know.

In doing this we may be right. We may be supporting a good cause, or a good choice, or some noble effort to stop something we disagree with. But in doing this we also lose ourselves, becoming pawns of the salivating cannibals who thrive in political discourse. We align ourselves with men and women who do not know or respect Christ, who do not live to bring light to this world, who mock in public and private that which we would die for. We align ourselves for causes, denying the men and women of peace and joy and love and light we are supposed to be, so that we can salivate upon the news of trouble and demise. We say we speak for the poor but the poor don’t matter. Crucify him. He bothers us. The poor can wait.

That’s my growing opinion on politics, the Christian sort at least. I can debate an issue, but never the person. I can choose a position, and as a citizen I should, but I must respect those who choose otherwise. I can think one path better than another, but I have to honor those who think my path silly and another path wise. For even in politics I cannot give up being that who Christ has called me to be. I cannot relinquish the call Christ has on my life, my attitudes, my presentation, or my love simply because I think one politician ghoulish and the other magnificent.

If I do lose that respect for God in how I present my politics, even for a cause as noble as life or peace, I show myself to reject life and peace and love. My politics then are worthless, no matter how worthy they may seem.

It is all about who we are. For me, my chief concern is me. I am the only one I am called to judge, and the only one God gives me ultimate responsibility over. That’s my view on politics these days. I have to be true to Christ. I have to watch myself. That is spirituality. And only with these things coming first and entire can I begin to determine a wise choice in my voting.

This means avoiding the rhetorical dance of smear and shame. This means the only words I should express about any political leader are prayers for their guidance by the Spirit. I can disagree or agree, but I cannot attack or worship.

Politics is too much like war. And we are called to be people of peace, whether it be guns or words we wield.

There is only Christ, even in politics.

an occasional visitor

Scripture, theology 2 Comments »

It’s Spring, which means I’m seeing some visitors who spend much of their time in other parts of this world. Among my rare visitors is this fine fellow, a black-headed grosbeak.

black-headed grosbeak