Wednesday, January 30, 2008

George Stroup and The Incoherence Of Our Photo Albums

For the past few weeks I’ve been wrestling with a narrative theology lecture. It has been dragged out for too long. My constant returns for short periods of time have produced some fine insights and new directions for thought.

For some time I have been wondering about the truthfulness of our photography. The digital age has allowed us to greatly manipulate, down to the pixel, our appearance and surroundings. While this has always been part of the photographic process in the darkroom, it has become common place to whiten ones teeth or remove unsightly blemishes. And I wonder, how true are these photographs?

Furthermore, how true are our photo albums? Are they a collection of truths? Half-truths? Lies? What about those images which seem to disappear over time from those pages? Moments, places, people vanish as if into a black hole. What happens to the photos of family black sheep? the divorced? the ex-girl/boyfriend? the friends which betrayed us? Have they disappeared from our memory as well as our photo albums? I really think that our photo albums portray a sanitized version of our history. Indiscretions removed. Faces torn out. Images burned in ritual sacrifices.

Tonight, as I was reading through George Stroup’s The Promise of Narrative Theology: Recovering the Gospel in the Church I ran across a section where he discusses self-deception. He states, “Self-deception is not so much an event or deed as it is a description of the incoherent way a person lives in relations to the past and in anticipation of the future. it is not a momentary indiscretion, a lapse of memory, or a mental error, but a…self covering policy, which generates a more or less elaborate cover story. Self-deception is a discrepancy between the past and what a person says about the past, and in incoherence between how a person actually lives in the world and the account that person offers to other” (127).

Our photo albums become another way for us to tell our stories…to recount our past. And yet, if we are manipulating moments digitally or by the sheer removal of certain places, events, and people, we begin to tell a different story about us. In culling our photographs of the embarrassing or unglamorous images we are cultivating a discrepancy between the ideal (as shown) and reality (that which has been censored). We cultivate an incoherent story of ourselves.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Iron Giant: A Cold War Christ Figure

This weekend we were treated with a viewing of The Iron Giant. It is a wonderful animated film about an imaginative boy in the latter 1950’s who finds a 50 foot iron giant that becomes his friend. But given the time, fears and rumors swirl about aliens and Russian spy satellites (frequent references to Sputnik). The military is called in to search out this “thing” and destroy it. But through the help of the boy, his mother, and a local junk artist his whereabouts are kept hidden. The local town is afraid and it is only heightened by the fear the government agents further instill through lies and deception. In the end, the government agent calls in a nuclear attack to destroy the giant. The giant realizes that if he stays, the missile will destroy both himself and the town.

The giant becomes a Christ figure in his efforts to save the town. He, though innocent and undeserving of such a death, flies into space to intercept the missile thus saving the town from nuclear destruction.
The film, while set in the 50’s and builds on the Cold War fears, would seem to convey a pacifist position as well. The Iron Giant was capable of great destruction when provoked, but he chose to cover his eyes in one scene so as not to be aroused to fight. It is interesting for both children and adults to have the power to respond with violence and yet to have the restraint to avoid it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Priests in Film

Recently, well, within the last year, I have seen several great films where a priest plays a central role…and a positive one at that. I’ve begun to wonder when portrayals of priests changed in film. Now I admit that I only have a small reference point of films that depict priests in a positive light but it is so pervasive today to cast the priest as a shady person that it has become almost trite.

One of my favorite portrayals of a priest in film is the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. A wealthy white San Franciscan family of a progressive persuasion are forced to test their actual beliefs when their daughter comes home with a black man. Through the doctor is perfect in every way, the families balk. But the priest, an old friend of the family plays a comical but loving care giving role to his friends.

Another of my favorites is On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando from 1954. Brando, arguably one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, works with the Fr. Barry (Karl Malden). Fr. Barry is out of the church working among the dockworkers helping them in their cause against the dock racketeers.

Most recently I watched Angels With Dirty Faces from 1938 starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart with Pat O’Brien as the priest Jerry Connolly. Cagney and O’Brien’s characters were boyhood friends and hoodlums. Cagney went to prison multiple times whereas O’Brien became a priest and returned to the neighborhood. Cagney helps O’Brien’s connection with a new generation of hoodlums in the neighborhood but ultimately Cagney cannot leave his past too far behind. The film is powerful today still about ones choices and their lifelong effects. The ending leaves the viewer with a stunned question of was that real or Fr. Connolly’s wishes?

Another recent television portrayal was a surprise for me. The Grey’s Anatomy spin off Private Practice recently aired an episode that seemed to be a formulaic sexually active priest sleeping with the nuns. As a commercial neared it pointed toward the priest having contracted typhus/typhoid (not sure which) but with no ill effects for himself had passed it on to one of the nuns which implied some sordid affair. After the commercial the priest was confronted about the appearance of things and his response was that they were in love though they held their vows higher. They had never touched, only escaped to the kitchen to cook and spend time together. Well, I was surprised anyway because during the commercial break I was swearing about how poorly priests are portrayed. Perhaps he was still compromising his vows for fellowship, but was only really guilty of not washing his hands after going to the bathroom (which ultimate was the cause for spreading the disease).

Any positive viewing suggestions for preists in film?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

who we are...where we came from

The past two weeks Fr. Tim has been using an army chant to direct his sermons. Everywhere we go - People want to know - Who we are.

This past week we looked at who we are via where we have come from. Fr. Tim focused on a) all different walks of life, b) the waters of baptism and c) we come from Christ, who sends us into the world. Our identity comes from our history and in particular a story that has been passed down through generations and traditions. But this is not just historical or present reality. Who we are suggests telos as well. Who we are tells us also, as Fr. Tim pointed, what we are to do along the way.

All of this came marvelously alive as we returned to the liturgy in preparation for the Eucharist. During Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, our congregation is using a liturgy borrowed from the Anglican Church of Kenya. Before the sanctus is sung, the celebrant recounts the story of Israel and the church by saying,

“From a wondering nomad you created your family; for a burdened people you raised up a leader; for a confused nation you chose a king; for a rebellious crowd you sent your prophets. In these last days you have sentus your Son, your perfect image, bringing your kingdom, revealing your will, dying, rising, reigning remaking your people for yourself. Through him you have poured out the Holy Spirit, filling us with light and life….”

Fr. Tim’s sermon prepared me once again to claim this story as my own history. This is my family’s story. Through faith we are incorporated into this powerful narrative that when we say who we are, we are telling the story and history of our faith.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hiller Lectureship - Dr. Glen Stassen

Ethics will be the focus of the 2008 Hiller Lectureship. Sioux Falls Seminary is pleased to announce that Dr. Glen Stassen will be the featured speaker. Stassen will discuss the ethical implications of the Sermon on the Mount. The lectureship is tentatively scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. and conclude around 3:30 p.m. on April 15. Cost to attend the event is $30 per person and includes a complimentary lunch.

Stassen is the Lewis Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary. A few of his publications include Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace, Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, and Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture.

The lectures will be held on April 15th from 8-4pm. For more info contact Sioux Falls Seminary at 800.440.6227.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Helpful Sacred Space Terminology

Throughout this recent survey, several terms have become very helpful in understanding place. Topoanalysis is Gaston Bachelard’s systematic psychological study of the sites of our intimate lives.[1] Rather than focusing on time, we need also look to the places of our memory to understand them. He suggests that we cannot relive duration, but we can return to place where memories become fixed.[2] Topoalanysis is the hermeneutics of place.

Topocosm brings together ideas of “place” and “cosmos” thereby suggesting the constitution of a cosmos as a well ordered world, place has a significant role to play.[3] Casey also uses the combination of cosmogenesis (ordered making or creation) and topogenesis (place making or creation) to describe cosmogony (world making). Casey would like to see creation story’s interpreted cosmologically and not chronological.[4] It is a matter of elemental matter not just time. Cosmogenesis is the creation of the world, but also a world or perhaps world view. Topogenesis is the creation of places in that world, it is a constituent of order within cosmogenesis. Topogenesis, apart from its original creation context, can be used to describe those things such as memory, rituals, virtues, people that provide orienting places for our lives. Without topogenesis and the creation of place, the loss is ontological and epistemological.

[1] Bachelard, 8-9.
[2] Ibid., 9.
[3] Casey, 5.
[4] Ibid.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Minding Place Symposium

I am excited to share that I have been invited to present at Northwestern College's Day of Learning in Community, which is part of their Minding Place Symposium. Kathleen Norris will be the keynote speaker for the symposium. It was Norris' work, Dakota, that introduced me to the conversation of place and its significance in our daily life.

I will be sharing the work I've previously presented at CTS & AAR but with some foundational updates and new questions.

Below is the release for the DLC.
The Day of Learning in Community is an annual event (starting in 2008). The day’s theme will vary, as will the particular day. Nevertheless, the point of the day is to set aside the normal confines of classes in particular disciplines or majors in order to allow for intentional interdisciplinary learning in Christ around the chosen theme. All regularly scheduled classes are set aside for the specified day. A special guest will address aspects of the theme in two or more plenary sessions and possibly in other smaller venues. Further, in the afternoon and at other appropriate times during the day, faculty, staff, and students will present workshops, performances, exhibitions, etc. that tie to the theme.

The theme for the 2008 Day of Learning in Community is minding place. “Place” is about humans in relation to various locales, from the small—e.g., the body or a dorm—to the large—e.g., a region or a galaxy—and from the corporeal—e.g., a building or a community—to the incorporeal—e.g., an intellectual tradition or virtual space. We make places, and places in turn help make us. We dwell in some places more than others, and we also cherish some places more than others. At times we alter, conquer, or destroy places, and at times different places repel, overwhelm, or divide us. Being somewhere is a fundamental aspect of being human; “To be is to be in place,” notes philosopher Edward S. Casey.

All creation was initially placed by God, according to Genesis. Since creation, however, life has included the dynamics of displacement as well as placement. Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, and they and their descendents have sought to make a home ever since. God’s people have been paradoxically placed and displaced; they have been called to abide with God, yet be on the move, to be in but not of the world. And the God who has made this call modeled being in but not of the world. In the Incarnation, God took place, and in the cross and the resurrection, God redeemed us and all creation, including all our places. Rooted in Christ, we hope for transformed places in a New Creation.

Place in this open-ended sense is something to be mindful of—to remember, to critically think about, to be attentive to—especially when we acknowledge, as we do in 2007-2008, that Northwestern College has been in place for 125 years. The events of the 2008 Day of Learning in Community are meant to be mindful of the theme of place.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Babel: Listen

New Years Eve, Karina and I watched the 2006 film Babel. It was an utterly fascinating story which weaves four seemingly very different groups and stories of people together into one story but stretched around the globe in Morocco, Japan, Mexico and the United States. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and two nominations for Best Supporting Actress and won one for Best Original Score, it also won a Golden Globe.

Without giving away too much of the hyperlink plot lines, there are a few things which quite intrigue me. Quite obviously the title emanates from the tower of Babel story in Genesis 11.

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." 5 The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6 And the Lord said, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech." 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Much of the film centers in the resulting tension and conflict between cultures and individuals who can no longer communicate. The marriage between Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) has become difficult after the loss of a child to SIDS. This experience and their inability to communicate draw them into the crosshairs of the other story lines. Their illegal housekeeper fluent in only Spanish, takes Richard and Susan’s children across the border to a wedding celebration. Upon their attempt to re-enter the U.S. is when the language and cultural curse enters into this story line. Another of the fascinating characters is Chieko Wataya (Rinko Kikuchi), a deaf and rebellious daughter of a Japanese businessman. Her disability exaggerates the inability to communicate except to those who are most like us (this is telling in itself). In this case it is her deaf friends, but even then, there is still tension over certain events. I think we also get a glimpse into the tensions between class and race as well. Overall, it portrays a very broken humanity.

Perhaps because it was early morning or I was just so into the film, I cannot recall exactly how it ends. I am left wondering at this point, in a film that highlights the inevitability of conflict among people who do not, or cannot communicate well, where is the hope? Were there scenes that pointed toward a good humanity that desires reconciliation? Or is this just the way things are?

I highly recommend the film if you are looking for a sobering film (especially if you are coming off an overdose of syrupy Christmas films…which I love too).

Monday, January 7, 2008

Only Say the Word

Only Say the Word by Erica Grimm-Vance

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Jesus said, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Places where...

One of the surprising encounters with place has beeb in N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian which our small group had been working through.[1] Wright, in discussing heaven and earth develops a 3 part typology of how people consider God’s space relating to ours, which he returns to repeatedly in the book. Option one is pantheism and panentheism where God’s space and ours are virtually the same thing. Option two is a deistic and Gnostic model where God is far removed from ours space. Option three, which Wright favors, is where heaven and earth overlap and interlock in different ways. Space in general bears these potentials of overlap, and some places in particular are places of contact. These place of overlap and connection are made by the Holy Spirit, “joining heaven and earth”[2] including the Old Testament of meeting and temple, individuals and the church community, the bible, the sacraments, and the coming Kingdom all entail physical space and places in particular. Through this physicality of place the coming Kingdom received its witness in the world. In Wright’s third version, “heaven and earth, also future and present, overlap and interlock.”[3] Wright discusses the common conception of heaven as going to this far removed ethereal place favoring that at the reappearing of Jesus, the veil will be lifted between heaven and earth. While the veil will not be removed until Christ’s reappearing, it has varying degrees of thickness. But until then, the resurrection of Jesus allows us opportunities to glimpse into God’s new creation here and now. As the Spirit empowered church seeks, in anticipation, to help bring about this new creation among a fallen and groaning world.

I think his vision here is helpful for thinking of place and in particular sacred space. What struck me was its simplicity as points of overlap or connection between the heaven and earth. While it is certainly not a formal study of sacred space, it does point to certain identifiable places of contact where the evocative image of the veil is slid aside to show what awaits. Wrights vision affirms our humanity and creation, rooting our newly re-createdness in the resurrection, we are allowed to see and experience thinness of the veil. It also focuses on the coming Kingdom and not on the spiritual experience. My fear is that our experiences with sacred space, while profoundly emotional, often end up as self-serving consumeristic events rather than pointing beyond their immediacy. Perhaps this is the strength of the sacramental vision that its meaning rests ultimately in God’s action.

[1] N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (San Francisco: Harper, 2006).
[2] Ibid., 127.
[3] Ibid., 222. I would add to his conception of the present the past too. I am sure that it was left off for simplicity sake considering the nature of the text.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Photos from my Canadian Christmas

This first is a shot of the ditch near Karina's home in Saskatchewan which is lined with poplar trees. Here the sun which is so low this time of year, casts long shadows over everything. I love the blue and white of this image and how the shadow bends over the contours of the snow and ditch.

This second photo is just up the road a bit from the first. Here a fence post pokes out from a summer time swamp area. Animal tracks and and a tuft of grass add texture to the stark shadows of the wire and post.

This third image is from our drive home across Saskatchewan on Sunday. Everything for about 3 hours heading east from Springside was covered in heavy hoar frost. This area, where we paused to switch drivers was especially heavy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2007: The Year of the Film

2007 proved to be a wonderful year for film viewing. Karina and I began last year tired of many of the new releases and television in general, so we began a journey toward watching all of AFI's 100 greatest films. Well, we did not make it through the whole list but we did see a great deal of films we had never seen before. Our list (below) is a mixture of new and old films on and off the list with the average year of 1972 of the 102 films. Among my favorites are On the Waterfront, The Best Years of Our Lives, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, and To Catch a Thief.

Date Movie Title
1.06 Casablanca
1.07 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
1.09 The Great Escape
1.11 Psycho
1.13 The Philadephia Story
1.14 How To Marry a Millionaire
1.15 Citizen Kane
1.17 Sabrina
1.19 Maltese Falcon
1.20 Annie Hall
1.20 Devil Wears Prada
1.21 On the Waterfront
1.22 An Affair to Remember
1.23 Click
2.11 All the Kings Men
2.18 Singin' in the Rain
2.24 The Bridge Over the River Kwai
2.25 The Best Years of Our Lives
3.01 An American in Paris
3.02 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
3.03 The Odd Couple
3.03 Casino Royale
3.04 The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!
3.04 It Happened One Night
3.04 Mutiny On the Bounty
3.06 The Manchurian Candidate
3.08 A Place in the Sun
3.11 Breakfast at Tiffany's
3.16 Paris When it Sizzles
3.17 Gone With the Wind
3.29 Wuthering Heights
4.1 Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
4.3 Chinatown
4.5 From Here to Eternity
4.7 All Quiet On the Western Front
4.8 It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
4.11 The African Queen
4.21 Yankee Doodle Dandy
4.22 Blood Diamond
4.22 My Fair Lady
4.3 Shane
5.2 Treasure of the Sierra Madre
5.7 Lawrence of Arabia
5.9 Stranger Than Fiction
5.16 A Night in the Museum
5.19 Music and Lyrics
6.06 The Holiday
6.11 Oceans 13
6.12 King Kong
6.13 Bringing Up Baby
6.19 Joy Luck Club
6.2o Easy Rider
6.26 Taxi Driver
6.28 Rear Window
6.3 American Graffiti
7.1 Raging Bull
7.18 House of Flying Daggers
7.23 High Sierra
7.24 Memoirs of a Geisha
7.26 Night of the Living Dead
7.27 Close Enounters of the Third Kind
7.28 The Apartment
7.29 My Dog Skip
7.3 Bull Durham
7.31 March of the Penguins
8.5 Because I Said So
8.8 Step Up
8.9 To Catch a Thief
8.9 Ella Enchanted
8.11 Just Cause
8.12 United 93
8.14 Birdman of Alcatraz
8.18 Mr. & Mrs Smith
8.23 TheDavinci Code
8.25 Emperors Club
8.26 Sin City
8.28 Dream Girls
9.4 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
9.12 Goldfinger
9.13 Thunderball
9.14 Blades of Glory
9.25 Moonraker
10.18 Transformers
10.27 Meet The Robinsons
10.29 Jesus of Montreal
11.2 Spiderman III
11.5 Color of the Cross
11.6 Superman Returns
11.7 Pursuit of Happyness
11.11 Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
11.12 Wizard of Oz
11.23 Baptists at our Barbeque
11.24 The Searchers
11.25 The Last Kiss
12.1 Take the Money and Run
12.8 ET
12.9 Blazing Saddles
12.11 La Dolce Vita
12.12 Little Miss Sunshine
12.18 Superman
12.22 Babette's Feast
12.29 The Simpsons