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Quote of the Day: September 1st September 1, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Heaven, Love, Quote of the Day.
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Love, which absolves no beloved one from loving,
seized me so strongly with his charm
that, as thou seest, it does not leave me yet.

Dante Alighieri

Quote of the Day: August 31st August 31, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Compassion, Love, Quote of the Day.
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“And if there’s bad behaviour,” Mma Potokwane went on. “If there’s bad behaviour, the quickest way of stopping it is to give more love. That always works, you know. People say we must punish when there is wrongdoing, but if you punish you’re only punishing yourself. And what’s the point of that?”

Alexander McCall Smith (The Good Husband of Zebra Drive)

Quote of the Day: August 23rd August 23, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Death, Heaven, Quote of the Day.
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All mankind is of one author, and is one volume;
when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out
of the book, but translated into a better language.

John Donne

Lessons from the Silver Screen: Inception (Mit Spoilers) July 28, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Death, Lies, Lifescripts, Loss, Movies, Truth.
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Inception is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year (the very best being Toy Story 3). It is original in plot with superb story-telling, impressive acting and scripting, and stunning visual effects. Not to mention it’s quite a mind-bender. But it made me think about more than just where the story was headed or the implications of the final scene. As I have mentioned, I love to explore spiritual themes in movies and this movie had several that caught my attention. A discussion, rife with spoilers after the jump.

Please note, I am assuming that anyone reading this has seen the movie, so I am not going to provide a super-detailed synopsis. That would be an insult to Mr. Nolan’s creation, and, frankly, exhausting. I will just outline the basic plot elements relevant to what I’m talking about.


A Word About Movies July 27, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Grace, Movies, Parable, Personal, Stories, Truth.
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I love movies. And I love most kinds of movies: action, drama, comedy, documentary, musicals, even the (very) occasional chick-flick. And I have never been one of those Christians who says, “I don’t watch R-rated movies, period” or “I don’t watch anything with nudity”. Sorry, I just don’t care that much. My standard for movies is much more flexible, but often more elusive.

Because my standard for a movie is what I got out of it. If I cannot find any redeeming spiritual theme in a movie whatsoever, I probably will never watch it again. No matter how clean or otherwise innocuous it is, because it does nothing for my heart. If the level of crap I have to deal with to get to the redeeming message is too high, if it causes me spiritual damage or to sin in my heart or actions then it is likewise not going to get repeat viewing.

The problem with this standard is that I cannot apply it to anyone else. I cannot tell you whether a movie is good for you to watch because I am not you. I don’t have the same sensitivities or experiences or struggles you have. I find the Dark Knight to be a powerful story of good overcoming evil. My mom finds it deeply disturbing and it hurts her heart. I can only say whether or not my experience of the movie helped me grow personally, or brought me closer to God, or reminded me of a great truth. I can also tell you how many curse words or heads exploding or instances of drug use there were, but I won’t. There are other websites for that, and that doesn’t really interest me.

What interests me are stories. Jesus taught in parables because humans relate to stories more deeply than to any other way of presenting information. And what are movies but really expensive parables? They speak to us about how we relate to the world, to each other, and to God. If they aren’t telling me anything that is helpful for to me, or if they are actively causing me emotional or spiritual harm, then they are worse than worthless to me. But when I can watch a movie and see something I’ve read in the Bible or something I know about the nature of God or of life illustrated on screen, it helps me to hold on to it to remember it and apply it in my life. Because stories are so infinitely captivating and memorable, they touch our hearts and stick in our minds in ways few other things do.

I want to be clear about two things, however. Firstly, when I say I saw God in a movie or that it had a spiritual theme, I am not saying that it is a Christian movie or that the writers or directors were Christians. I am not saying everything in that movie is good, or even that everything about it fits with the Gospel. The ultimate resolution of the movie may not even be relevant or positive. I am saying that I saw a glimpse of truth, a glimpse of Jesus’ story and our story, in that movie. Maybe I saw Christ in a character’s role or a shadow of the Fall in an interaction. But don’t bend over backwards to make the entire plot fit in to this, because it probably won’t – it’s just a moment, a reminder of the ultimate truths in our lives. Some movies have lots of these moments, or are practically sermons in themselves. Some just have one or two moment, maybe just a line or a conversation that makes me say, “Wow, I see God in that.” But I’m not trying to make it basis for an entire theology or claim that the whole thing is perfect and godly.

The second thing is that just because I loved a movie or was able to tease out a spiritual lesson from it, I am not telling you to go see that movie*. I am using it to illustrate something I learned, because that is one of the ways God tends to speak to me. I may tell you that I find Fight Club to be an incredibly redemptive story that reminds me of the wildness of God and the consequences of focusing on the wrong things, of clinging to safety, and of letting your heart go dead. This does not mean that I think you should show it to your 3rd grade Sunday School class. It does not mean I think that looking at Helena Bonham Carter’s breasts is a pastime we should all take up. It just means that the story taught me something and I want to share it with you. You have to decide for yourself whether that movie is something that is good for you or bad for your spiritual walk. That is why God gives us discernment.

I’m going to start writing about movies that I love, that speak to me in this way. Not every movie I see, but the ones that really get me thinking about God and faith and relationships. I will probably start with Inception, since that is what I saw most recently and it really spoke to me on several levels. Just remember, I am not claiming that I am perfect, or that my interpretation of the story is perfect, or that the movie is perfect. Only that I got something out of it that I want to remember and to share. I leave off with the words of one of the great parable-tellers of the 20th Century:

“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”
Madeleine L’Engle

*Caveat: On a rare occasion I will actually tell you to go see a movie. It will usually be a childrens’ movie, probably by Pixar. If I ever meet anyone for whom Toy Story or Finding Nemo has caused them to sin, I will stop doing this.

Books I’m Coveting: July Edition July 21, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Emergent Church, Grace, Heaven, Nature of God, Pain, Poverty, Universalism.
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So many books, so little time! I probably will not get a chance to read the majority of these anytime soon, but I thought I would make a little list of what’s piqued my interest lately and why.

First up is “If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person” by Phillip Gulley and James Mullholland. I have long been kind of an informal, closet Universalist. I have never truly believed that the loving God I know would actually condemn anyone to eternal punishment. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in hell of any kind, but I’ve always felt everyone would be redeemed in the end. But I’ve never explored this private belief in a theological vein, and I’m very interested to see what evidence they come up with to support universalism, as well as what kind of universalism they are promoting.

“Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” by Kenda Creasy Dean argues that the faith that we are passing along to our young people is neither durable or sustainable. That we are teaching them a shallow, feel-good Christianity that does not hold up under the pressures and pain of the real worlds and does not provide a real hope for the future. I am interested in this both because I work with youth, and because I grew up in the church and my faith – just barely- held. I’ve love see what is the difference between those of us who stick with it and those who falter, and what we can do to change it.

“Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Right Questions” by Rachael Held Evans. A memoir of faith by a woman who grew up Dayton, TN, famous for the Scopes Monkey Trial regarding whether evolution can be taught in schools. Having a degree in Ecology and Evolution, I find anything to do with this fascinating (even if the trial itself was largely staged) and I’m interested to see what conclusions Evans comes to about faith in a “post-modern” world.

“Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. – How the Working Poor Became Big Business” by Gary Rivlin is a journey in to the world of the American poor and the industry that feeds on them. Pawnshops, payday loans, check cashers, and rental centers all cater to those living paycheck to paycheck, ostensibly there to help when they fall behind but in reality just driving them further into debt and poverty and making it impossible to ever escape the cycle. One of Christ’s greatest commandments is to help the poor, but its hard to help without an understanding of the obstacles they are facing in our modern economy.

“Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife” by Lisa Miller is a history of the changing beliefs about the Judeo-Christian concept of heaven, from the earliest days of Judaism to the New Testament to popular culture. I really want to read this because I struggle with imagining heaven and am totally unsatisfied with any of the modern interpretations I’ve been given, from “endless church service” (boring) to “snowboarding with Jesus” (shallow). I’m curious about how our vision of heaven has changed through the centuries and what things besides Scripture have influenced it.

“American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon” by Stephen Prothero addresses the way various groups have co-opted and remade the image of Jesus to suit their own purposes over the years. This is something that has always been done to Jesus, but I think America is particularly and uniquely adept at it. And I have always wondered how we managed to get from poor, Middle-Eastern itinerant rabbi with a definite communist streak to a white middle class Republican.

“A New Kind Of Christianity: Ten Questions that Are Transforming the Faith” by Brian McLaren, is the closest thing one is likely to get to a manifesto for the Emergent Church. Part of the problem is the beliefs of the Emergent Church are difficult to codify because that’s what makes them Emergent, and if they have a leader (or more like founding father) at all, it’s McLaren. I’ve long felt like I identified with the Emergent Church in many areas of the faith, but haven’t really spent much time investigating it. I want to read this book to try and understand the basic of what they are preaching and whether it has merit to it.

In the same vein, “Why We’re Not Emergent (by Two Guys Who Should Be)” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck attempt to deconstruct the Emergent movement, despite being its target demographic (generally young, hip, postmodern and engaged in social justice issues like poverty and descrimination). They argue that the Emergent movement is about more than it seems on the surface and is actual a dangerous form of heresy. While I do have reservations about some of the fundamentals of the Emergent church, I’m not sure I trust the guy who wrote this book to tell me them. Still, both sides of the issue deserve attention, so its worth a read.

“Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering” by Rob Bell, author of “Velvet Elvis” (and yes, another Emergent Church superstar). This book didn’t get as much positive attention as his previous ones, but I find the relationship between pain and art intriguing and would like to see how he handles it. I should probably have put “Velvet Elvis” or “Sex God” up instead, as I have not actually read either one, but the title of this one draws me more so I would prefer to start here if I can.

Sadly I am in no position to order nine books this afternoon and spend a week reading them all without stopping! Some of these I may never get to. But right now I can start with one off the list and see where that takes me. Which one of these titles would you choose?