Grace Church Blogs...
Our thoughts... big & small....
Congratulations to the writers of How I Met Your Mother on penning arguably the worst series finale on Network television (sorry, Lost, you had to pass the torch sometime). It takes rare skill to spend 9 years crafting a challenging, ground-breaking narrative about the perspective of maturity which realizes that the things we desire in our youth are maybe not what’s best for us in the long run … and then to undermine that whole narrative in one 40-minute episode.
Why am I so bothered by that, and—more importantly—why does it matter?
Though I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, I’m one of the only people I know who still cared about How I Met Your Mother at this late stage of the game. For whatever reason, this silly show about 20-something Ted Mosby battling New York’s dating scene in quest for his future wife has stuck with me through its 9-year run. Is it because I was so sick during my pregnancy that I would spend entire days lying on the couch unable to do anything but plough through seasons 6, 7, & 8 on Netflix despite their incredible drop off in quality? Quite possibly. It might also have something to do with the fact that show star Josh Radnor and I share an alma mater (love of which also inclines me to give him a pass on the self-indulgent Liberal Arts). Or it could be that Leeman and I share a certain affinity with the show’s beta couple Lilly and Marshall, who have also been together since their first day of university. Also…Canada jokes.
But on a deeper level, at its best How I Met Your Mother actually had some insightful comments to offer on life, friendship, and love—particularly in how they evolve as we grow older. The premiere episode sets up the narrative framework: older “Ted” sits down his teenage children to tell them the story of how he met their mother. Rather than a simple tale of “boy meets girl”, Ted’s increasingly skeptical offspring are treated to a now 9-year long series of anecdotes and reflections as Ted recounts not just how he literally met this titular “mother,” but all of the random misdirections—from being stranded at the altar in his first engagement to his inability to let go of his unrequited love for his ex-girlfriend/best buddy Robin—that were a part of making him the person he needed to be to meet the love of his life. It was a classic example of when the end of the story (who this mother actually is) isn’t all that important. It was about Ted’s journey. A “life doesn’t always work out the way you plan”—and that’s a good thing—message. Until the show undermined all that by taking Ted right back to where he was at the start of the series, rather than respecting his growth and making the bold, bittersweet statement that sometimes we do have to let go of youthful fantasies in exchange for the more realistic, but ultimately more satisfying, joys and sorrows of adulthood.
So, I’m frustrated that the show ultimately pulled its narrative punches because of how powerfully its reminiscent narrative resonated with me over the years. I’m only slightly younger than the show’s characters. I suppose now having a baby and having just registered for my 10 year undergraduate reunion in May, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic, realizing that I’m settling down into adult life after the meanderings of my 20s (which admittedly we slightly less exciting than Ted & Co’s). Indeed, the 10-year run of the show corresponds perfectly with the decade I’ve lived in Toronto. Even if I did marry my aforementioned college boyfriend, we are certainly not where we thought we’d be when we graduated in 2004. Still living in Cananda (crazy!), with a Canadian citizen baby (crazier!), and an Anglican priest (craziest of all!). I came to Toronto 10 years ago because I had a life-long dream of teaching medieval literature, and Toronto was the best place in the world to prepare for that career. Little did I know that I was exactly where I needed to be but for reasons wholly unknown to me at the time. Thanks to what the writers of How I Met Your Mother would call destiny but I would call the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, I found a vocation in the church which is far from what I always dreamed I would be doing, but ultimately makes me far happier than anything I would have imagined a decade ago. I am thankful for that even when we are stubbornly trying make our life go a certain direction, God has a way of quietly working behind the scenes to provide us with something far more than we could ask or imagine.
How sad I would be to go back and be given the life that 2004 Rachel wanted. Fortunately for me, God works on a grander scale than a couple of TV writers.Tags: Untagged Read More
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Fred Phelps this past week, as the news emerged first that he was critically ill and then that he had finally died. If you’re not familiar with the Phelps family…consider yourself fortunate. Phelps is the late patriarch of the Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for proclaiming God's hatred of homosexuals specifically and for picketing the funerals of anyone they deem reprobate in the eyes of God (spoiler alert: that pretty much means anyone not part of their clan). Needless to say, the Phelps have rightly been dubbed “the most hated family in America.”
I will confess that I’ve have gone through phases of morbid interest in Phelps and his ilk. I don’t really know why. As with all bullies, the WBC seem to feed off hate and giving attention probably just makes them stronger. But my interest in “Pastor” Phelps is theological more than political. Most people never get beyond the church’s offensive slogans long enough actually to engage with what they teach. The church is based on a strange form of Calvinism—asserting that God has predetermined who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. Though if one listens to the Phelps, you come away with the impression that everyone is bound for the fire and brimstone. What fascinates me is that for all of their public demonstrations, the church is decidedly NOT evangelical. When members of the church wave their allegedly prophetic placards, they don’t actually want anyone to repent. They are just proclaiming what they see as the inevitable annihilation of humanity by a wrathful God—and they rejoice in that!
In a nutshell, Phelps presents us with a strange image of a Christianity wholly devoid of Grace. And what a sad picture that Grace-less life is. As detestable as that “most hated family” might be, I often find myself watching them with pity and sorrow in my heart. One looks into Fred Phelps’ eyes in his video proclamations (be warned--Phelps uses deeply offensive language in that link) and sees utter emptiness. One cannot help but be struck by the constant stream of bitterness uttered by his daughter and heir-apparent Shirley and you think—what must her life have been like? There is no joy. There is no love. There is no GRACE—no image of a God known to us through acts of pure self-giving love. For all that the Phelps proclaim God’s immanent destruction of humanity, I can’t help but feel they themselves give us a palpable image of what damnation truly is. They are utterly lost to the love of God.
HOWEVER> As C.S. Lewis famously said, “the gates of Hell are locked from the inside.” Phelps and his church have condemned themselves to a Hell of their own making. In spite of the pain they have unquestionably caused others, I don’t believe God is the one who has condemned them to the darkness they inhabit. If we are to take seriously the reality of God’s grace that has so eluded members of Phelps’ church, we have to wrestle with the reality the reach of God’s love extends perhaps even to this broken, bitter man and his family who have caused so much pain to so many people. As one preacher said this weekend:
"The sadness of Fred Phelps—the tragedy—is that grace was ever before him and he could not recognize it. It is heartbreaking that you could live your entire life trapped in so much hate. And then subject others to the hate you carry. The brokenness of our world is that extreme. The brokenness of Fred Phelps is the magnification of our own brokenness. And that terrifies me. His need for grace is not unrelated to ours. His need for living water is a reflection of our own.
And God loves Fred Phelps. God loves Fred Phelps just as much as you and me. And that is really offensive. This is the offense of the gospel: The living water is not reserved for those who are most loving or repentant or even gracious. That isn’t the way grace works. We don’t earn it. It is always a gift."
This Lent, as we journey towards the cross on which God suffered and died for the sins of the whole world, it is worth pondering that OUTRAGE of God’s grace. It is very easy for us to proclaim the abundant love of God when that love is directed to the downtrodden and the marginalized. It is a lot more challenging when we have to admit God's love and grace is so boundless it extends to those we find contemptible. But if we take the promise of Grace seriously, that the reality. We should be offended that God’s love extends even to the likes of Fred Phelps, because the Gospel is offensive. It goes against everything our society teaches us about “fairness”—for which I am thankful. I am thankful that the hatred of Fred Phelps is powerless to overcome the love of God. Deo Gratias.Tags: Untagged Read More
You may have noticed that I talk a lot about so-called "speculative fiction" on this blog. Is that because I am a giant nerd? Absolutely. But I also think there is an inherent value in literature and other media that does not merely reflect the world that is, but the world that might be. While sci-fi and fantasy might have its share of fantastical settings and magical creatures, it also has an impressive history at pushing social boundaries. Science fiction has a laudable history, for example, of strong women in positions of leadership, whether it be the indomitable president Laura Roslin of Battlestar Galactica or the Mother of Dragons Danerys Targaryan. Let us not forget as well, that science fiction gave us TV's fist interracial kiss in the 1968 Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren."
While it is easy to write these elements of speculative media as mere entertainment, but I believe they are far more powerful than that. We can never expect the reality of our culture to change--to become more equitable or just--unless we are able to imagine what such a world might look like. Sometimes simply seeing someone challenge our preconceptions can be enough to push us toward more substantive change.
And this brings me to Morgan Baskin, the 18-year-old woman running for Mayor of Toronto. It turns out Ms. Baskin is connected to a couple of my clerical colleagues, so I have been reading much about her on Facebook these days (with great interest). As I follow along some of the articles they share about her, I've been saddened to read some of the deeply cynical comments some people feel compelled to make (I know, I know ... never read the comment. Sometimes I just can't help myself).
People have accused Ms. Baskin of being an entitled millennial with the hubris to think she can run City Hall with no real experience. Others dismiss her as a "novelty candidate" who will steal votes from Olivia Chow, arguably the candidate with the greatest hope of unseating Rob Ford. Now, I certainly think it's worth asking whether ANY teenager is capable of running Canada's largest city, regardless of her comparative maturity level. And it's certainly understandable that some would see the ousting of Rob Ford as the highest political priority of the moment.
But I can't help but feel that if we write Ms. Baskin off too quickly we miss something quite important that her candidacy brings to the table. Unburdened by political pragmatism which inevitably comes with age, she is able to give blunt voice to the concerns of many of her peers--the economic uncertainty young people face today--as well as certain frustrations felt by many Torontonians, particularly around transit issues. Most importantly, she allows other young people to see themselves engaged in the broader issues of society in a real, tangible way. By seeing Ms. Baskin step so far out of the role deemed "acceptable" for someone of her generation, maybe more young people will be inspired to take on responsibility within their own communities. Maybe it will help them see themselves as the leaders of today, not just the "leaders of tomorrow."
Whether she wins or loses the election, I think Ms. Baskin's campaign will be an catalyst for change. Certainly a catalyst for change among her peer group. But I would not discount the impact she might have on people of all ages who are forced to stop and consider what this young woman has to say to us and how she challenges to think beyond what we, in our grown-up cynicism, deem "possible" or "acceptable." While some might condemn Ms. Baskin's hubris, I find myself commending her chutzpah. I wish her all the best!Tags: Untagged Read More
I have a confession to make. For all of my TV obsessions, I cannot bring myself to watch some of the most popular shows currently on offer. No Breaking Bad or House of Cards for me. I fully believe everyone (including my husband) who tells me they are brilliant examinations of the banality of evil within human nature. But they just seem a little too grim … a little too nihilistic for me to fully commit to them. That said, I have for some bizarre reason found myself utterly captivated by Hannibal, an exploration of pre-Silence of the Lambs arch-villain Hannibal Lecter. (Side note ... apparently this makes me a "fannibal"? Oh, internet, you can be so weird sometimes) Surely such a series would fall into the category of “pessimistic depictions of humanity”…right? But I don’t believe it does.
In some ways, I feel almost uncomfortable talking about Hannibal. It takes the procedural crime genre to its most gruesome extremes, depicting serial killers who flay their victims to make them look like angels or perhaps render them into a cello (warning: some graphic imagery if you click on those links, but don't worry, NBC has protected us from any mild nudity). This is all, of course, in addition to the central conceit of Hannibal the titular cannibal himself who is seen not only consuming magnificently prepared meals of human flesh but also feeding them to his unknowing dinner guests.
On the other hand, Hannibal might be the television offering most worthy of our time and attention at the moment. Unlike so many crime dramas (or the film genre which might rightly be dubbed “torture porn”), Hannibal never deal in gratuitous horror. While the show’s creators seem to revel in the macabre, they do so in a way that at once repulses us while making it impossible for us to look away. You see, this show is beautiful. The murders we witness are truly works of art, a fact highlighted by the refrain “this is my design” as FBI profiler Will Graham explores the mind of each killer. These are crimes not of passion but of design. It is in the juxtaposition of the gorgeous and the grotesque that the show challenges its viewers. It is in the beauty of these crimes that we are most aware of their horror. One gets the sense that the perpetrators are not simply evil in themselves but rather are corrupting concepts which are inherently good—concepts such as beauty and art.
Nowhere is this more true than with character of Hannibal himself. Mads Mikkelsen who plays Hannibal describes the character as the devil. But Hannibal is not a devil with horns and tail. He is a devil immaculately dressed. Who delights in the finer things of life. This devil revels in the beautiful. The cannibalistic meals Hannibal prepares are exquisite (just check out the blog run by the show's food stylist). It is through their artistry that we see the nature of Hannibal’s evil. The monster in Hannibal turns the goodness of food and fellowship into a perversion.
This is what I love about Hannibal, and what distinguishes it from other notoriously dark TV dramas. For all that it is potent, Hannibal’s evil does not exist as an entity unto itself. Good and evil are not opposing forces, nor does the show present some general idea of the banality of evil that exists within us all. Indeed, Hannibal eschews banality in any form. The world of Hannibal is a world in which goodness and beauty exist as positive entities. Evil exists only as a corruption of those ideals.
That underlying premise makes Hannibal, at least in my opinion, fascinating viewing. But perhaps it is also more theologically sound than dramas which revel in the inherent evil of their characters. God and the devil are not equally opposing forces. Just as darkness is merely the absence of light and cold is simply the absence of heat, evil might seem powerful but it is not real in itself. It is the absence—or perhaps the perversion—of the goodness which truly exists in the world. I find that an oddly optimistic thought. So, while Hannibal is intense (I confess, TV-marathoner that I am, I can only watch one episode at a time), it’s a world I find infinitely preferable to what we so often see depicted around us.
Also, dogs.Tags: Untagged Read More
Ever have one of those moments that, when you look back on it, makes you slap yourself in the face with a Homer Simpson-esque "Doh"?
This weekend I officiated the funeral for a long-time, well-loved parishioner. In the natural course of events, I chatted with various family members, including his (it must be said, very charismatic) grandson. Upon hearing that he was an actor, I mentioned that my husband was an actor too, and he politely smiled and nonchalantly mentioned that he was in TV. I took this to mean that he, you know, did commercials and maybe an occasional guest spot. It was only after the service that an offhand comment from a family friend made the connection in my brain that he was in fact the titular starring character from a fairly prominent network TV series (one that I admittedly don't watch regularly but, admitted geek that I am, had certainly seen a few times). And so, my fleeting brush with celebrity went unnoticed. Probably a good thing, in the end, seeing as we had more pressing matters at hand at his grandfather's funeral than my own fan-girlish tendencies.
I have often said that one of the greatest privileges of the priesthood is the honour of walking along side sometimes complete strangers in the most intimate moments of their lives. I am closer to a couple saying their wedding vows than are their friends or their family. Such a strange intimacy is only emphasized when one of the people involved is someone who lives an undoubtedly *public* life. This particular guy may have several hundred thousand followers on Twitter, but for all that they might know the details of his professional career, do they really think of him as an actual person with a family, with grief?
I guess on some level, I should say something trite and obvious about how this might serve as a reminder despite status or prestige, we are all mortal and all equal in the sight of God. True enough. And that is not a bad meditation on this week in which we enter the season of Lent, receiving Ashes on our foreheads with those chilling words: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
But there's something more interesting to me in that dichotomy I witnessed between public and private life. The fact is, though it might not be as obvious for us as it was for this TV star I met, we are all prone to that split between our "real" selves--known perhaps to our families and our closest friends--and the version of ourselves we tend to present publicly. That's not necessarily a bad thing. We all know those people who over-share deeply personal thoughts and feelings on Facebook, for example. Rather than seeming "authentic," it just seems out of place to share such personal sentiments in such a public context. But it can be a problem if we begin to prefer the public version of ourself more than the private. If we treat all our relationships as if they belong to one of our 500+ friends on facebook and we never have any outlets when we allow people to see our faults, our weaknesses, and our vulnerabilities. That is particularly problematic when we hide those less desirable traits from ourselves and--more importantly--from God.
This season of Lent which we enter this week is not merely a dour time in which the Church in her authority calls us to remember our sinfulness and our mortality. It is a time when we are invited to reexamine who we truly are, not the desired image we might project. We fast not because self-denial is a good per se, but because fasting allows us to peal away distractions and make room for prayer, for self-examination, and, ultimately, restoration. The key word is, perhaps, simplicity. As we enter into this season of fasting, it is worth considering what aspect of ourselves and our lives we are hiding from God's presence. Where are we afraid of being "real"? Hopefully, that will allow us to see Lent, not as a burden, but as a gift which will prepare us for the joy and promise of Easter.Tags: Untagged Read More
As I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, I recently discovered Call the Midwife on Netflix. A drama surrounding the precarious situations around childbirth and infancy of impoverished 1950s London was probably not the best thing for me to be watching as I held by tiny daughter. But I couldn’t stop myself! The show is oddly compelling, enriched as it is not just with human drama but also a delightful cast of characters and judicious use of Anglican liturgical music (the main character is a young nurse midwife who works among an order of Anglican nuns). I highly recommend checking it out.
Inspired by the TV series, I also looked up the memoir on which it was based. It was an absolutely fascinating read. As a practicing midwife in the 1950s, Jennifer Worth paints a picture of pre-20th century obstetric practice which more or less condemned women to dangerous, painful labours under the care of dubiously trained, unregulated lay midwives. During Worth’s career as a nurse, she witnessed the, for lack of a better word, “medicalization” of care for both women in childbirth and their young babies. The TV series plays this up in one amusing storyline about the first uses of “gas and air” as pain relief in labour. Women are so ecstatic at being released from the inevitable agony of childbirth that the poor local doctor finds himself run ragged, called to practically every birth in the community:
Worth’s memoirs were fascinating to me as someone who has just gone through the whole experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Particularly as someone who always felt a little discomfort with the language around the natural childbirth community. “Natural childbirth” is certainly making a comeback these days, at least in my social circle. I know more people who have given birth at home than in the hospital. So, I suppose it goes without saying much of my pregnancy reading material involved people such as the infamous Ina May Gaskin, godmother of modern midwifery. The thesis of works such as Gaskin’s “Guide to Childbirth” is that childbirth used to be a wonderful, empowering experience for women until it was co-opted by a (patriarchal) medical profession. In other words, men stole childbirth and women need to take it back. And I was always kind of annoyed by it.
Don’t get me wrong. I experienced an amazing natural childbirth—almost a homebirth, but that’s a longer story. If I had another kid, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was the most insane, most empowering thing I’ve ever done. But I only attempted a homebirth because I had some pretty awesome midwives who used lots of great medical tools to ensure my safety and the safety of my baby. At the end of the day, I didn’t end up needing the resources of the hospital, but I am certainly glad they were there when we thought I might. As wonderful as my birth experience was, though, we don’t do anybody any favours by overly romanticizing the notion of childbirth in the pre-industrial era. Women and babies died at alarming rates. And it’s nice to have my experience of childbirth be something that I imposed on myself, rather than something I was forced to endure just for being a woman.
I will confess myself to be something of an antiquarian—a lover of old books, old music, and it has to be said old liturgy. Even I am forced to admit, however, that the past is not always as rosy as we would make it. We in the church are often particularly guilty, I find, of looking at the past through an idealized lens. We lament how great it was when the pews were fuller. Or when we didn’t have to always wrestle with our contemporary cultural setting to find new, meaningful ways to express the Gospel.
But, traditionalist that I am, even I have to ask … were the good old days necessarily all that good? Was it better that people came to church because it was simply the thing to do in predominantly Protestant Toronto? Or can we see it as a gift that those who come to our churches or engage with our faith are doing so not out of a sense of complacency but out of a genuine desire to engage with the presence of God? Is it not perhaps a blessing in disguise that the changing cultural landscape is challenging to revisit the core message of the Gospel? As much as I sometimes long for an idealized past (which, it has to be said, probably never existed), when I’m honest with myself I have today that now is probably the BEST time to be in ministry. Not just because a generation ago there would have been no place for me in the priesthood. But because we are living in a time where new challenges bring new opportunities, new passion, and new encounters with the living God.Tags: Untagged Read More
Good afternoon fair people of the web! It's good to be chatting with you once again, as I have just returned from my maternity leave. Leeman and I welcomed our daughter Amanda Tarpley Kessler to the world back in October, and life has dissolved into a blur of crying, eating, and, well, what comes as a result of eating. If we're luck, sleep happened somewhere in there. Hopefully, I can regain the ability to communicate with other human beings in a reasonably coherent fashion (though I make no promises, mommy brain being what it is).
As much as having a kid has inevitably turned my brain into proverbial mush in many ways, I suppose it also goes without saying that joining the ranks of parenthood has broadened my appreciation for certain other aspects of the human experience. Mostly just by helping me understand the musings of others on the complexities of child-rearing. Take, for example, John Green, one of my favourite internet personalities (and fellow Kenyon College alumn). Back when Mr. Green has his first, he posted some delightfully introspective videos on his parenting experience:
At the time, I mostly thought--Awww...adorable baby is adorable! But now, I find I can relate rather disturbingly with these musings on parenthood and this notion of our "ultimate concern." I have spent the last 4 months engaged almost exclusively with the immediate needs of my newborn baby. I have no idea much of what's going on in the outside world. I have seen nothing of the Olympics, much less am I up to speed on the more significant political concerns of the moment (except for that crazy law they tried to pass in Kansas. Really Kansas? What was up with that?). I don't know much of what's going on in my friends' lives, and even the poor dog is getting a bit tubby from a lack of walking. Although I could also blame that last one on our icy winter weather.
Now, I don't think this insularity on my part these past few months is necessarily a bad thing. I've had a pretty major shift happen in my life and its only natural that it overwhelm my time and attention for a while. But fellow new parent (at least at the time of that video) John Green is right to question whether our true "ultimate concern"--that thing which we value above everything else--can or should stop with something as noble, but also as self-serving, as our own family. Shouldn't we also be concerned with our larger community, with the larger context of the world? As natural as my single-minded focus on my child has been these past few months, there would be something I think, deeply wrong if I maintain my current level of blindness to the broader affairs of the world. Certainly Jesus in the Gospels lays out some deeply challenging words about those who prize family connection over deeper service to the building of God's Kingdom.
And as I muse on the challenge one must face between our personal "ultimate concern" and a more communal or global "ultimate concern", I cannot help but consider as well the position of our local parish community in the context of our universal church. We have over the past few months been promoting the message that "Grace Matters." This church and this community matters to us for so many different reasons--the people of this community have supported us in times of personal tragedy, or this has been a place where we find a place of sanctuary from the pressure of our daily grind--that place where we are able to connect with God's presence. It is right and good that we consider the meaning this community has for us in its diverse ways. And that we consider how we can honour God by giving of ourselves back to this community through stewardship of our time, talents and treasure.
At the same time, we much also remember that our community--as wonderful as it is--remains just one part of a much larger Christian reality. Part of why "Grace Matters" (I would argue a significant part of why Grace Matters) is because Grace is the local manifestation of God's Kingdom here on earth. God has entrusted this parish too our care so that through our ministry we can take part in God's larger mission, so that we can be a beacon of God's love in the community around us and to the ends of the earth.
Over the weekend, this video started making the rounds on my Facebook page, sparking no shortage of discussion from my clerical colleagues:
If one makes the dubious decision to read the comments which follows on YouTube (and we all know that we should never read the comments...especially not on YouTube), it's clear that the mainstream response to the video was fairly mixed--most blasting the minister for "ruining" the couple's wedding. As you might imagine, however, most of the priests I saw commenting had quite a different impression of the content. The general consensus seemed to be that everyone had at some point or another encountered photographers with problematic attitudes towards respecting the solemnity of a religious ceremony.
Rather than going down the road of what is or is not appropriate in terms of wedding photography--and indeed it seems every priest and parish has a different policy on the subject--there's a deeper issue that the video sparked in my mind. It has to do with how absolutely fixated we are as a society on documenting our experiences as opposed to, well, experiencing them. I remember being at a concert once and being annoyed by the sea of people in front of me watching the concert through their cameras/phones/mobile devices ... settling for a grainy, pixilated version of what they could have been watching live. Sure, they had a memento of that moment to hang on to (and probably never watch again) but the moment itself was gone.
This is what gets me about obsessive photography at weddings and other special events. Not just from the "professionals" (most of whom are wonderful and want to make everyone happy), but from family members and friends intent on capturing all the "big" moments of the ceremony. Part of the question is obviously--what level of photography is appropriate in a worship setting. But perhaps an even deeper question is how much we cheapen special moments--whether they are sacred moments of prayer or simply enjoyable personal moments--by our worry over sufficiently preserving them. If these moments are so special that we feel compelled to crystallize them in perpetuity, surely they are special enough for us to be truly present when they are taking place.
So, what does this have to do with faith? For that, I turn to comedian Louis C.K. Ok, so, he's not exactly a religious figure himself. But he did recently share some valuable insights into the problems of smart phone culture, and what he is wary of allowing his children access to the addicting devices:
In short, looking at life through a phone--whether because we're texting, checking facebook, or even taking photos--fundamentally isolates us. Cuts us off from one another. That's a problem. The two great commandments which we repeat week after week in the Book of Common Prayer are to love God and to love our neighbours. How can we fulfill that calling when we constantly put plastic barriers between ourselves and and the people in our lives and the moments we share with one another?
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Inspired by last week's reflections on the drama Hannibal, I decided that I needed to go back and re-explore some of the lighter TV offerings from showrunner Bryan Fuller. Not all of Fuller's previous endeavours revolve around cannibalistic serial killers (though it has to be said he can be slightly fixated on both food and death). Indeed, his earlier shows are some of my all-time favourites--what with their whimsy, witty dialogue, and did I mention the pie?
Anyway, the other night this led me to re-watching a couple episodes of the delightful, if short-lived, series Wonderfalls. I believe Wonderfalls lasted about 4 episodes back in 2004, before Fox abruptly cancelled it. Perhaps it was just a little too strange for its own good. I mean, a show about Jaye Tyler, a disillusioned 24-year old Ivy League graduate who lives in a trailer park while working at a tourist shop in Niagra Falls is weird enough. Add in a whole element about how the figurines she sells give her cryptic messages which she feels compelled to act on (usually with profound if unforeseeable ramifications for those around her), and you do not exactly have mainstream television.
Watching the show the other night, however, I was reminded that, for all of its oddities, it might actually have some relevance to the ongoing questions we all wrestle with when it comes to faith ... how we listen to the voice of God and how we take those ultimate "leaps" and act on what God's voice seems to be calling us to do. Jaye has no reason to listen to the voice of a small wax lion from her store's vending machine, telling her to do strange things like not giving a customer her correct change. Yet, despite the fact that she's sure she is slowing going insane, Jaye finds herself following through on these cryptic instructions. Jaye's relationship with these surprisingly animate objects ultimately transforms her from a isolated, sarcastic individualist to a warmer, caring person enjoying much stronger relationships with her friends and family.
The pivotal moment of the show occurs when Jaye, in an act of desperation at the apparent havoc these taking heads have made of her life, demands: "Why do you talk to me!" The simply answer--"Because you listen."
There's a very simple message for us in that exchange. As hard as it might be for us sometimes to understand why God is talking to us or what God's purpose is in talking to us ... the fact remains that God can only talk to us if we are indeed willing to listen. Now, from my own experience, I can certainly say that God has some fairly dramatic tricks up his sleeve in order to get us to pay attention. He is, you know, God after all. But that doesn't change the reality that so much of our life of faith is indeed plunging ourselves into uncertainty ... opening ourselves up to whatever it is God might be trying to tell us or show us, even when we don't completely understand why. But, then, those are usually the moments when God surprises us by doing more in our lives than we could ask or imagine.Tags: Untagged Read More
Good day blogosphere! It's been a while since we've spoken. How have you been?
I hope you all had a wonderful summer. I'd like to say that I spent my summer down time travelling to some exotic location, but, alas, my ever-expanding condition kept me relatively close to home. So, I gave in to my default stay-at-home mode and indulged in some media overload. Leeman and I caught as many of the summer blockbusters as we could manage, I caught up on my reading, and I tried to find some new TV shows. While I certainly enjoyed topping up a bit of my sci-fi geek credibility by finally watching the whole of Babylon 5 some 15 years after it went off the air, the great discovery for me this summer was the far more current show Hannibal.
There's much I could say about this show, which goes to some astounding dark places. But then, what would you expect from a show that's half police procedural and half character study on the infamous Hannibal Lecter? Unlike so many morbid TV crime shows the violence of Hannibal is beautifully realized on screen, which makes it all the more disturbing, rather than tantalizing, to watch. But what I really want to talk about is the show's use of food.
Mads Mikkelsen, who plays the titular cannibal, has described his character as essentially Satan, a corrupting influence on everyone and everything he touches. For me, Hannibal's relationship with food explores this in a particular way. Hannibal is a gourmand, which the show delightfully exploits. Every episode is centred around food, which is always gloriously, appetizingly presented (you can check out the food stylist's blog here). Characters meet and bond over the meals Hannibal prepares for them. Therein lies the corruption. Hannibal's monstrosity manifests itself in his bending and twisting to evil something that should be an unqualified good. The beauty of Hannibal's culinary accomplishments serve to intensify the horror that lies within. What's more, it is not just grotesque that Hannibal feeds his unwitting guests human flesh. But that, in so doing, he is subverting the (we might say sacred) ritual of table fellowship--the communion of breaking bread together. Perhaps it is my own love of food which makes me both fascinated and horrified by the world of Hannibal. By seeing a man so distort the act of eating (and that of sharing a meal with one another), the show challenges us to contemplate why eating should be such an unqualified good.
Consequently, meditating on Hannibal got me thinking recently about the person who particularly sparked my theological love of food--Father Robert Farrar Capon. If you've never read it, you owe it to check out Fr. Capon's The Supper of the Lamb. You'll never look at margarine the same way again. The book uses food as a meditation on God's creation as a whole, reminding us that as we eat we are together partaker's of God's glorious bounty. We should take delight in our food, because delighting in our food is, in a sense, delighting in God's presence among us. It is a simple observation with profound ramifications for how and what we eat, particularly how our eating habits exploit God's creation or leave some of us with abundance and others with nothing. Tragically, Fr. Capon died just last week. So, in his memory, I leave you with a prayer he wrote, one which is particularly timely to the fat-phobic, calorie-counting world in which we live:
“O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron's beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men - to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve Thee as Thou hast blessed us - with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.”Tags: Untagged Read More