All that religious stuff you've been hearing about, made even more complicated by Rachel's giant mind...
Much ire has been raised on the internet this past weekend, when it came to light that Merida, the tomboyish Celtic heroine of Pixar's Brave would be inducted into the official order of Disney Princesses. However, before her "coronation" could take place this weekend, Merida was forced to undergo something of a make-over. Scores of commentators, mothers of young girls, and even Merida's original creator are in uproar over the fact that the feisty teenager who scorned fancy gowns and the thought of marriage has been made-over in the image of her cinematic forebears like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. She is undoubtedly now slimmer, with a far more glamourous dress (seductively hanging off her shoulders) and lacking her signature bow and arrow:
The online outcry against Merida's transformation seems perfectly justified to me. I've always been a bit disturbed by the insidiousness of Disney princess culture over very young girls. And it doesn't help that even Mulan, the previously hailed "feminist" princess who dressed as a man and took on an invading Mongul army, is forced into the dress she despised at the beginning of her film for her "official" image in the Disney princess line-up.
It seems like our prevailing culture is willing to support and even embrace the idea of the "strong female character" ... up to a point. When it comes to the "official" images of feminine ideals (and what's more representative of the ideal to which young girls are pressured to conform than a Disney princess) we suddenly lose respect for quirky idiosyncrasies. At the end of the day, women need to be conventionally attractive and ideally hanging around waiting for a man. (I haven't seen it, but apparently in her straight-to-DVD sequel even Mulan realized that her only role in life should be that of wife. Can't have any of those pesky lady soldiers running around, now can we?)
The controversy surrounding Merida's transformation--the idea that popular culture is willing to embrace a strong female character...up to a point--doesn't seem that far away from the treatment of Pepper Potts in the latest instalment of the Iron Man franchise. Now, I LOVE the Iron Man movies. Ok, it is more accurate to say that I love Robert Downey, Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark ... but I digress. Much as I've enjoyed the series, Tony's loyal assistant/love interest has not exactly been the most inspiring of leading ladies. She's competent, sure, but she's also pretty useless when it comes to getting herself out of tricky situations. It would seem that the filmmakers went out of their way in this third instalment to give Pepper a bit more agency. Indeed, Pepper saves Tony not one, but twice, in the film. Warning: here be spoilers:
When his Malibu home is attacked by the Mandarin, Tony summons his Iron Man suit to encase Pepper, thus saving her life. Pepper in turn uses her new invulnerability to protect Tony. In the film's trilling climax, Pepper takes down the super-villain by virtue of some truly impressive drugs she'd had forced into her system. Seems impressive, no? The one-time love interest becomes the action hero! But, if we think about it, it's really problematic. In *both* instances, Pepper was only able to achieve her heroic moment because she was the passive recipient of something that a man did to her--Tony summoning the suit or the bad guy injecting her with drugs. And, in both cases, she is horrified by what has happened and saves the day almost by accident rather than intent. Lets also not forget, that, at the end of the day, she *still* has to get saved by Tony, who uses all his super genius skills to counter the effects of the drug on her system before it proves fatal. So, once again, we get the image of a tough woman who gets the rug pulled out from under her at the last minute. Hollywood giveth. Hollywood taketh away.
So where am I going with all of this? I guess I just want to make the point that we can make a lot of progress in making a more equitable world on an issue like depictions of gender in media. Hey, Iron Man 3 even passes the infamous Bechdell Test! And yet we can remain a long way from fully breaking away from the pressure to conform to pre-existing norms. Merida will be an appropriate "princess" whether she likes it or not. Pepper Potts will be the damsel who needs saving, even as she is lighting the bad guy on fire. (And I haven't even touched on the issue of racism in Iron Man). Our work is never done because we continue to live in a broken world. We just have to try bit by bit to make the world a better, fairer, more honest society, striving to perfect God's image in all of us, not the image held out to us by Hollywood or giant corporations.
On a somewhat related note, Leeman and I also finally saw Silver Linings Playbook this weekend. Jennifer Lawrence's character could so easily have fallen into the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she was allowed to have FLAWS and just maybe even be a complete human being. Are things possibly looking up? Except her character was also heavily (if not totally) defined by her sexuality. Darn! Maybe next time...Tags: Untagged Read More
Wow, over the last week, it's like the city has transformed from winter into summer. I'll admit, I'm a bit more excited about spring this year than usually, mostly Maybe because we had a major case of winter that just didn't want to go away making the sunshine and warm weather all the more longed-for.
We've certainly been embracing spring the best we can in the parish. Mostly through this new community gardening endeavor we have going on. I'm not exactly a gardener myself. By "not exactly" what I mean is that I have a tendency to kill any plantform that has the unfortunate destiny of coming into my general sphere of contact. Seriously, a friend once asked me to water her plants while she was on vacation. She never made that request again. But still, I'm happy to be outside in the sunshine, having a bit of that "back to nature" experience and generally hoping I don't too badly destroy our delicate operation for everyone else involved.
An intrepid band of gardeners on a lovely spring morning!
I've also been thinking about the natural season of spring in relation to our liturgical season of Easter. It a fairly common observation that the two seasons celebrate many of the same themes, particularly that idea of the world coming to life again after months of burial in the death of winter. Admittedly, there are times here in the True North Strong and Free when Easter comes a little too early for our liking, and the bounty of flowers inside the church does not precisely match the climate outside. I remember one year at my home parish when we went outside after the great vigil to bless our Easter garden, only to discovr that it was still covered with snow! That said, it's a fairly safe assumption that at least *sometime* during this Easter season we'll experience the world exploding into spring.
Of course, Easter is hardly the only liturgical season which corresponds to the yearly cycle of seasons in the world. In Christmas, we celebrate the coming of the light of Christ into the darkness of the world during the darkest time of whole year. The image of Christ as our light plays out through the season of Epiphany and those long, cold days of January and early February. As I've probably mentioned before, our name for the season of "Lent" comes from the Old English word for "lengthening", referring to the lengthening of days as the seasons begin to turn from the darkness of winter to the brightness of spring. Suitably enough, it is in this season of Lent that our spiritual orientation turns from looking back to Christmas and looking ahead towards Easter. Even the so-called "ordinary time" stretching from summer through the early fall is not without its seasonal appropriateness. Indeed, during these months we focus on the ordinary growth of the church, a theme evoked by the seasonal color green and reflected in many of the agricultural celebrations that happen during this time--harvest thanksgiving and rogation days.
I guess the question that leaves us with is, what do we make of the correspondance between the yearly cycle of the liturgy and the natural yearly cycle? Some might argue that the connection undermines the meaning of the liturgical year. It is just another sign that ancient and medieval Christians patterned their celebrations on pre-existing pagan rituals connected to the natural rhythms of the seasons. The implication clearly being that if early missionaries were inspired by, say, indigenous pagan rituals in the development of the liturgical calendar, that would undermined the spiritual "purity" of our Christian festivals?
But why must that be the case? Why is it necessarily problematic that early Christians might have seen something in winter solstice festivals which resonated with the themes of the incarnation--the presence of Christ bursting forth from this world? Why should springtime fertility celebrations not make us think of Christ rising again to new life from his death in the tomb?
It seems to me that we often try too hard too bracket off the "sacred" and "secular" aspects of our lives. But if there's one thing the liturgical year helps us realize it is that the natural world can be a powerful reflection to us of deeper spiritual truths. Indeed, rather than undermining the "purity" of our liturgical life, I can't help but feel the convergence of liturgy and nature speak deeply of a God who reveals himself to us in many and various ways.
I do respect, however, that these observations might not be quite as profound in, say, Australia.Tags: Untagged Read More
In my copious free time at the moment, I’m reading The Night Circus, the first novel by a Erin Morgenstern. I can’t really explain the book, except to say it’s likeThe Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and the Prestige has a strange love-child, then set it against a backdrop designed by Vincent Minelli.
As one might assume from the title, the book centers around a travelling circus which only appears at night. The circus is shrouded in mystery--no one knows when it will appear or why it comes and goes. Attractions appear in numerous tents, some boasting typical circus acts such as fortune tellers and lion tamers, while others are of a distinctly more fantastical quality, such as a maze constructed from clouds. (As it happens, the circus is indeed the backdrop for two young magicians to demonstrate their skills in a vaguely-defined but clearly high-stakes competition, but that's not really relevant to my point at the moment).
Everywhere the circus appears, it develops a particular kind of cult following. Despite there being no published schedule for the circus appearances, these individuals make it their business to discover exactly where the circus might be at any given time, some travelling thousands of miles never to miss an opportunity to partake of the wonders it has to offer. When they attend, they dress to match the black and white aesthetic of the circus itself; however, they offset their monocrome outfits with some bright red article of clothing (such as a scarf, or hat) to remind themselves that they are not truly *of* the circus. This "costume" nevertheless allows them to recognize one another. And these individuals form something of a community dedicated to the circus, united in their awareness that they have shared in something truly extraordinary.
It's amazing to me how common that theme is in fantasy literature (or TV and movies). Individuals have an amazing experience which shatters the parameters of their "normal" life, and suddenly they realize they "can't go home again", for lack of a better phrase. They feel compelled to spend time with those who have shared their remarkable experiences and can relate to this new world they have discovered. The companions who travel with the infamous "Dr. Who" are a wonderful example of this phenomenon. Those who have experienced the whole expanse of time and space in their travels with the Doctor have a special connection they can only truly share with one another.
Perhaps this phenomenon is best summed up in the words of the professor fromThe Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, who assures the Pevensie children that they will certainly meet others who have shared their experiences in Narnia:
"Yes, of course you'll get back to Narnia again some day. Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia. But don't go trying to use the same route twice ... And don't mention it to anyone else unless you find that they've had adventures of the same sort themselves. How will you know? Oh, you'll know all right. Odd things they say--even their looks--will let their secret out."
For C.S. Lewis, obviously the wondrous experience the children share in Narnia is meant to represent our own experience of faith, and the reference to others who have been to Narnia would indicate others who can relate to the experience of God's presence in their lives.
So, I suppose the question for us is simply, do we have these dramatic experiences of faith that compel us to seek God's presence more and more in our lives? What do such experiences look like for us? And, perhaps most importantly, do we actually understand that compulsion to seek out others who can share such experiences with us and with others? After all, is that not what our shared life in the church is called to be about?Tags: Untagged Read More
I usually refrain from making any comment when tragic events take place. What really can I say that others have not said more eloquently all over the internet? So, as you may recall, I declined to mention the Boston marathon bombing in my blog post last week.
That said, while I don't feel particularly compelled to comment on the bombing itself or specular as to the motivation of the alleged bombers, I can't help but feel there is something worth discussing in the media response to last Monday's bombing. There are always the usual observations to make--the unhealthy nature of the 24-hour news cycle as it obsessed over an event for a few brief days, until our collective attention span reaches its saturation point and we move on to the next item to capture public attention (who is James Holmes again?). But there something that seems to me even more insidious and troubling in the coverage of this most recent bombing. In the wake of the tragedy, news sources did not merely inundate their audiences with information or ignore other important world events in the quest for ratings from the latest "hot topic" in current events. There was also an obsessive push for information and details about the suspects, far before any official details became available. Never sparing in satirical take-downs, The Daily Show notoriously skewered CNN's failure to get the exclusive "breaking news" on the story:
Whether one is a fan of John Stewart's brand of political humour or not, he does make the insightful point that CNN's objective seems to be simply to have the FIRST information, and the LATEST information, whether or not it was the RIGHT information. In that effort, CNN did a disservice to its viewers and abdicated its responsibility for journalistic integrity. One recent article takes CNN's response to make the point that "Breaking News is Broken":
"We get stories much faster than we can make sense of them, informed by cellphone pictures and eyewitnesses found on social networks and dubious official sources like police scanner streams. Real life moves much slower than these technologies. There’s a gap between facts and comprehension, between finding some pictures online and making sense of how they fit into a story. What ends up filling that gap is speculation. On both Twitter and cable, people are mostly just collecting little factoids and thinking aloud about various possibilities."
What's significant is that this article does not merely condemn the 24-hour news sources such as CNN who are compelled to fill so much air time and keep their commentary up-to-the-minute that they do not allow themselves the time to process the information they are disseminating. They article also calls into question the average, everyday individuals on social media sites such as Twitter and Reddit who sent official investigators after the wrong suspect.
Have we reached a point, as the author of the article suggests, where our quest for information (and our means of accessing that information) moves faster than life itself? Have we lost the ability to reflect calmly and competently on significant events without giving in to that impulse to launch forth on our own speculations? Where is the virtue of patience, let alone humility?
This attitude of "pontificate first, ask questions later" is bad enough in the realm of news media, but I find it particularly troubling when it infects the life of the Church. When it comes to contentious ecclesial issues, how many of us really take the time to listen to one another--to reflect on what others are saying--before planting ourselves firmly in our own pre-established positions? Do we actually take the time to engage with voices that we might find disagreeable, or do we conveniently positions ourselves only to hear those views that support our pre-established positions?
Surely, if John Stewart can hold CNN to a higher standard of integrity and sophistication than that, we can hold the Church and our shared life in it to an even higher standard as well.Tags: Untagged Read More
Last week, in whatever odd corners of the internet he frequents, Leeman came across this strange article about a man who has found a way around that pesky requirement for food we humans have. Basically, he mixes up the necessary nutrients (a combination of carbohydrates, fats, protein and essential minerals) into a lovely beige paste, which he has dubbed "Soylent." The name is fitting, I suppose:
In light of last week's post, however, all I can think about is John Green's attempt to eat a hamburger broken down into its constituent parts. It is not an appetizing proposition.
The gentleman behind "soylent" argues that his innovation seeks to address the appalling inefficiency in the way we eat, in an otherwise highly efficient, modernized world:
"I started wondering why something as simple and important as food was still so inefficient, given how streamlined and optimised other modern things are. I also had an incentive to live as cheaply as possible, and I yearned for the productivity benefit of being healthy. I'd been reading a lot of books on biology and I started to think that it's probably all the same to our cells whether it gets nutrients from a powder or a carrot."
As I reflect on the prospect of "soylent", it is not just the pale yellow color and the mixture of powders that makes me uncomfortable. It is that very concept of mixing food and "efficiency." More and more we find ourselves relying on cheap, easy, processed food products to get us by day to day. As much as I rage against them, I am guilty of eating a frozen dinner from time to time myself. But should convenience be our primary drive when it comes to eating. At its most basic, eating is an opportunity to share in the fruits of God's creation, receiving a kind of communion with God and with one another as we break bread together. In other words, there is a sacramental character to eating which goes beyond the mere mechanical extraction of nutrients. As expressed by the great Russian Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann:
"Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian. Food is still treated with reverence ... To eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions. People may not understand what that 'something more' is, but they nonetheless desire to celebrate it. They are still hungry and thirsty for sacramental life."
It is time for me to get lunch. Hopefully, efficiency won't be the only think on my mind when I do so.Tags: Untagged Read More
As I'm sure you have gleaned by now if you've been reading my blog over the last 18 months ... I am something of a fangirl. A bit of a geek, if you will.
And I love being a geek. Really, being a geek just means that I inhabit a bizarre subculture of people who are unapologetically open about the things we love. Quite the contrast to the predominant hipster culture ironic, detached interest in popular culture. My fellow Kenyon College alumn John Green sums this up in delightfully geeky manner by explaining why, in fact, Harry Potter nerds win at life:
It should come as no surprise that the rise of social media have allowed individuals of geeky inclinations to share their particular obsessions in creative ways. This has led to numerous fan communities springing up across the internet. The aforementioned John Green is a perfect example of this phenomenon. John Green and his brother Hank host the "vlogbrothers" channel on YouTube, where they discuss everything from pop culture to world politics. They have developed a fearsome following of self-proclaimed "Nerdfighters." Now, John Green is a tradition producer of media content--he is a bestselling author of young adult novels. Hank Green as well is behind such projects as the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which I have discussed before. But what I find fascinating about these online fan communities is the breakdown they create between the "producers" and the "consumers" of media. Yes, "nerdfighters" are "fans" of the vlogbrothers' work, but fandom today is far more participatory than it once was. They create fan art, exchange their own videos, and in general do far more than just sit back and consume videos from the Greens twice a week. A great example of this is the "Project for Awesome", an annual event in which members of "Nerdfighteria" make their own videos promoting different charities in order to raise both donations and awareness. Not only does this show members of a fan community coming together for a good cause, it is yet another example of fans being encouraged to produce and engage with their own media content, not just passively receiving it from "the man."
Such a notion of a participatory, not passive, fan community is not limited to the vlogbrothers. As we see more breakdown of traditional media and a greater increase in creative use of technology, it is becoming not only a possibility but also a responsibility for the fans/consumers of such content to take a degree of ownership of it. Leeman and I, for example, both enjoy the various comedy podcasts which come to us from the Maximum Fun network. They provide us fantastic, quality content multiple times a week at no cost. They rely solely on the voluntary donations of their fan base. If we want to keep listening, we need to keep contributing.
Leeman as well offers an interesting example of that growing breakdown of the consumers/producers of media these days. He himself is a fan of 1920s/30s horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Because Leeman is also a very strange person, this inspired him to start his own YouTube series, "Ask Lovecraft." Now Leeman, though a fan himself, finds that *he* has his own fans as well, many of whom are also producing *their* own content. It can be quite confusing.
I have just one simple and fairly obvious point to make from all of this, as relates to the church. Just as the traditional models of media are dying, so are many of the traditional ways of being the church. It is no longer enough for the church to be a gathering of passive consumers of liturgy and music. The clergy don't "produce" the content. And the laity don't merely "receive" it. By virtue of our baptism, we are *all* called to bear responsibility for vitality of the Christian message. How we do that might differ based on our skills and inclinations. But it first required us to kindle that spark of passion and excitement about our faith within ourselves. To engage with God in a deeply personal way. In fact, maybe on some level, we all just have to become Jesus Geeks.Tags: Untagged Read More
As you may know, I spent a fair bit of last week feeling...unpleasant, shall we say. It was not a pretty time in the Kessler household. And what does a priest do when laid low by a nasty stomach bug in the days leading up to Holy Week? Clearly (if you're me), watch a post-modern Zombie slasher flick by Geek guru Joss Whedon.
Being a huge fan of Whedon, I'd been wanting to watch this Cabin in the Woods for some time now. Being a giant wimp, however, I wanted to wait until I could watch it in the daylight. Thus we get Rachel's perfect sick-day movie.
Much like 2004's comedy/horror flick Shaun of the Dead, Cabin in the Woods is both a satirical send-up of the teenage slasher genre, while also being in its own right a perfect example of the genre being parodied. So, on one level, the movie is just the stereotypical story of five teenagers (including archetypes such as the party girl/slut, the stoner, and the "virgin") who head off to a remote "cabin in the woods" for a party weekend. Instead, they awaken bloodthirsty zombies bent on dismembering them one by one. Without going into spoiler territory, lets just say that this familiar story is undercut and commented upon by a parallel story of another group of characters watching this "horror movie" unfold.
And so the film does something very clever. As we watch characters watching the same horrific events *we* are watching (and enjoying?), we as the viewers are forced to ask ourselves--Why do we get "entertainment" out of such gruesome movies? What purpose do they serve? What rationale possibly exists for the genre some have critically dubbed "torture porn."
The film plays quite intentionally with themes of guilt. Part of this is just one of the tropes of the horror genre--the "slut" must always die first as punishment for her sexual transgression. However, this film goes even beyond that. It is established that teens in the cabin must seal their own unfortunate fates by invoking the horrors that will terrorize them: "If they do not transgress, they cannot be punished." But, as the film unfolds, it becomes clearer and clearer that no one in its reality is "innocent." Those observing the teenagers are implicated in their callousness and insensitivity (though thy have good reasons for their behaviours). As I mentioned before, we as the audience are caught up in a similar implication of guilt and shame because we, after all, are taking voyeuristic delight in the suffering of others. Indeed, the film ultimately asks the disturbing question: do we ALL deserve to die?
As I've pondered over this movie for the past few days, it seems like some of the moral questions it posses are quite relevant to us as we move into the final days of Holy Week. As we read the dramatic passion Gospel on both Palm Sunday and Good Friday, there are moments when the whole congregation is called to shout out together "Crucify him!" when Pilate asks what is to be done about this man Jesus. The death of Jesus is a guilt that we ALL share. No one individual or ethnic group can be called to take responsibility for the death of Christ (despite how hard certain Christians across the centuries tried to lay that guilt upon the Jews alone).
As we have journeyed to Holy Week through Lent, we have been spending time reflecting on our brokenness--those areas of our lives which fail to measure up to the standard of perfect love and charity which God has given us. As we now move into the final days of this holy week, we are brought face to face with the reality that it is on account of our brokenness and imperfections that Jesus died. We are all guilty and we all bear the responsibility for what happened to that innocent victim. The story of the passion is perhaps the very first post-modern meta-narrative. It is a text that reads us, the audience, as we read it. A story that reminds us of our place within it and the guilt we all bear.
Fortunately, the story does not end with Holy Week. The true focus of the Gospel is not the death of Christ, but the victory of Christ over the power of death. Easter trumps Good Friday and Christ's triumph washes away the sting of our guilt. We have the promise that we can be made holy and perfect through God's love for us.
Redemption might not be a part of Whedon's Cabin in the Woods. Fortunately, such is not the case for the Gospel of Christ. We may bear the collective weight of guilt, but we also bear the collective grace of pardon.Tags: Untagged Read More
It's been close to a week now since Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis in a surprising short papal election by the Cardinals of the Catholic church. I don't really know that much about the new Pope (I have a hard enough job trying to keep track of what's happening in our Anglican circles...I can't even begin to imagine following Roman politics!). But I have already been impressed with how much he seems to be reaching out to all people. At his papal announcement, Pope Francis reached out not only to those before him in St Peter's Square, but to all people watching across the world. When he humbly asked for the prayers of the people before offering his Apostolic blessing, I joined with millions across the world praying for this new spiritual leader. I found it a profound moment, non-Catholic that I am. Also, as a church history geek, I'll confess the election of a Jesuit pope just has to mean things are about to get interesting in the Vatican!
Now, there are many who have already begun to raise concerns over the new pope. Conservatives fear that Pope Francis's simpler liturgical style will undo Benedict's significant liturgical reforms. Progressives have been quick to point out Francis's questionable actions during the Argentinian "dirty war of the 1970s" and his inflammatory comments regarding marriage equality. (Though a somewhat more nuanced perspective on that later point has been offered by Bergoglio's official biographer, suggesting a surprisingly moderate position for a Catholic leader.)
Whatever our perspective, I believe we do well neither to canonize or demonize Pope Francis until he's held his position for a least a full week. That said, this new Pope has already begun to offer some insightful challenges to how we view the mission and ministry of the Church--whether or not we are Roman Catholic.
At his first mass, Pope Francis gave a simple, unscripted sermon calling the Church to remember who her true leader is--not the Pope but the crucified and risen Christ. If we lose the image of Christ at the head of the church, we become little more than a "compassionate NGO", not the body of Christ. Now, as one of my favorite comedy podcasts asked, what exactly is wrong with being a compassionate NGO? Well, the answer is--nothing. However, it is not the same thing as being the Church. Obviously, the church should exemplify the virtues of compassion (surely, these are virtues we can already see Pope Francis embracing). But we also believe we have something far more profound to offer the world in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we move into Holy Week, let us remember that we worship a God of total self-giving and self-sacrificial love. It is a radical message and calls us to a similar life of humble self-offering to one another as we strive to make the kingdom of heaven a reality here on earth.
I think the even deeper challenge Pope Francis offers us (particularly those of us in the affluent west) is the relationship between the church and the poor. We can so easily fall into the trap of feeling it is our duty as the church to "serve the poor." Surely, that is not a bad thing. Those of us with means should surely share those resources with those who have less. But Pope Francis goes beyond this by stating that the church should not only serve the poor but BE POOR. To say that the church simply "serves the poor" sets up an "us vs. them" dichotomy harshly condemned in the New Testament (take a look at the epistle of James, for example).
We will spend this liturgical year reading through the Gospel of Luke in our Sunday cycle of readings. It is important for us to remember how many times Luke in particular speaks out on behalf of the poor and marginalized, while condemning the rich and powerful. Let us not forget Mary's beautiful song when she celebrates the coming of the Messiah: "He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." It is a challenging message for those of us who cannot by any definition call ourselves "poor." How can we become a church of the poor, for the poor, not merely a church that "serves" the poor. It is a difficult question, and not one for which I have a ready answer. Maybe in the weeks and years to come, Pope Francis will continue to provide an example to all of us--not just those in his own flock--of what it means to live the life of simplicity and humility in the name of Christ.
May all our prayers be with him as he begins this new ministry.Tags: Untagged Read More
It should come as no surprise when I admit that I have some pretty geeky interests. I can sing all the songs from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical, and one of my earliest memories is watching the trench run from Star Wars over and over again. However, I've never really been all that into Star Trek.
Nevertheless, a good friend was in town for the weekend and dragged me (somewhat willingly) to the Toronto Comicon to see the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation live & in person. There are, I suppose worse ways to spend a Saturday. I did not hyperventilate at the prospect of standing in the same room with Sir Patrick Stewart (cool though it was). But I'll admit I had my overflow of childhood nostalgia joy when LeVar Burton led us in a group sing of the theme song from Reading Rainbow.
In preparation for last weekend, Leeman had been taking me through some of the highlights of Next Generation on Netflix. Yes, some of the episodes reflect great science fiction. And, of course, Patrick Stewart is, well, Patrick Stewart--therefore awesome. I've also been reminded of why I've never been that into Star Trek as a francise. Everyone is just a little too ... noble and perfect. The Federation is always good and there is rarely any interpersonal conflict.
The Q&A panel on Saturday ended with Patrick Stewart talking about Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's vision for the 24th Century. Roddenberry clearly saw the human race progressing towards a future where war and poverty are totally eradicated. He saw women and minorities in positions of power (though his 20th-century writers did not always reflect such progressive views). There is, on a superficial level, a narrative problem with Roddenberry's vision (at least if you're me). Such a utopia does not exactly allow for interesting interpersonal drama or dynamic character growth. When I do feel inclined towards some Star Trek in my life, I much prefer the latter 90s spin-off Deep Space-9. Set on the fringe of the Federation, DS-9 occasionally gave us morally ambiguous characters, or situations which caused conflicting loyalties, even if the Starfleet officers remained the unqualified "good guys."
This brings me to the theological reaction I have to Star Trek's very optimistic view of humanity in the future. I think sometimes we can get caught up in the idea that human history is on an unwavering course of self-improvement. After all, we certainly show considerable improvement in gender and racial equality over previous centuries. We no longer think it is morally acceptable to *own* other human beings. Surely, this indicates that we are on an upward trajectory as a species?
At the same time we have made these improvements, though, recent history shows that we are on a path back toward rampant wealth inequality. Our reprehensible farming practices are ravaging the environment, and our rampant consumerism mercilessly exploits workers in the third world. That's just the tip of the iceberg on social injustice in the world. Lets just say, humanity isn't headed for a utopia any time soon.
That's an important point for us to remember from a spiritual perspective. As people striving to follow the example of Christ, we should absolutely be fighting for economic, racial, and social equality. We should make ourselves aware of the implications of the products we consume. We should, in other words, be striving to make the Kingdom of Heaven a reality here on earth. So, in that sense, I do applaud the hopeful vision of Star Trek. But at the same time, I think the story of the Gospel challenges to have the spiritual humility to recognize that we humans are not going to achieve that vision through our own inherent awesomeness. We are not constantly "progressing" in our collective moral development. We might improve in some areas, while regressing in others. It is God alone who will ultimately renew and restore creation to perfection. Our challenge as individual members of the human race is not to make that vision a reality ourselves but to allow God to work through us to make it happen.Tags: Untagged Read More
I was listening to a podcast the other day, as is my habit when dog-walking. And the hosts got to asking eachother what one movie everyone *needed* to see. Citizen Kane came up, of course, as did the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (this was a geeky podcast, after all). Naturally, this got me pondering what movie I would put in my top "must-see" spot. The answer might have to be Casablanca. It's just a classic!
Great dialogue! Triumph of the human spirit! Love...patriotism...sacrifice!
The funny thing is, as much as I love Casablanca, there is absolutely no way that film could have been made today. Mostly, that's a good thing. Casablanca was not exactly on the cutting edge of what we would call the feminist movement. Ingrid Bergman might have turned in an elegant performance as Ilsa, woman torn between her passionate love affair with cafe owner Rick and duty to her Nazi-resisting husband who needs her support to complete his life's work. Ilsa's thoughts an desires aren't much taken into consideration by the men in her life. It's *Rick*, not Ilsa who finally decides that she much go and support her husband's work. Because, you know, we can't let *women* make important decisions like that, can we?
Leeman made the observation that a modern-day remake of Casablanca might have Ilsa as a revolutionary in her own right, who decides she must let go of Rick in pursuit of a more noble cause. I could be down with that.
Still, inevitable 1940s misogyny aside, there are other aspects of the worldview represented in the film that it might rightly challenge our 21st-century assumptions. I can't think of a recent film where the fact that the lovers do not end up together is presented as a good and noble thing. Yet this is the story of Casablanca. The protagonists are forced to realize that "the troubles of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this world." Humphry Bogart's Rick finds a love that is deeper and more life-giving than his love for Ilsa. It is a love and a purpose which gives him the courage to sacrifice his personal happiness for the good of others (again, we're just going to ignore for a minute that Ilsa has no agency). Romantic love is only one expression of human love, and not necessarily the highest.
We talk a lot about "love" in our culture and especially in our church. After all, "God is love, and everyone who loves is of God." But I sometimes wonder if we focus too much on the soft, sentimental side of love. We assume love should make us happy all the time. Perhaps we forget that all too often we forget that love is often not easy or sentimental at all. Love can and does demand that we deny ourselves and our own desires for the good of others. After all--"Greater love as no one than this--to lay down one's life for one's friends."
We are almost halfway through Lent, and we are moving ever closer to the solemn liturgies of Holy Week. We might do well to remember what perfect love lived out in the example of Christ actually looks like.Tags: Untagged Read More