My article on eating disorders and the Eucharist is now available in the fall issue of Word and World, with the theme of Bread. I'm grateful they gave me the opporutnity to take another look at research I did twenty years ago on this subject for my M.Div. project, and to consider how much the conversation around food and theology has changed in recent years.
Our kids have been out of town this week, and so I’ve found
myself in movie theaters more often than in the last eight years. I love movies
– not just popping in a video but going to a theater, gathering with a crowd of
people --alone or with a friend,sitting
in that darkness and letting a story overtake me. My to-do list falls away and
there is nothing but the story, maybe some popcorn, and a visual feast. And
when it’s over, if it’s good people might even applaud.
I’m always astounded, too, by how many people will pay a
fair amount of money for the experience, not just once a year (like me) but
seemingly all the time. And then, when the daylight hits and I’m back to my own
daily existence, I think, my goodness – how can the church possibly compete
Of course there are churches that are trying to compete with
that. Some are creating their own Hollywood
feature length films.Others are trying
to import the big screen and the theater seating to their churches. But I’ve
never seen a church that can hold a candle to the real movie experience – if
we’re judging the experience by Motion Picture Academy standards.Yes, maybe they get a few good pictures in, or pull at your heartstrings with some 3rd world children, but they're not telling a story as well as the big screen.
We are a visual people, whose desires are highly shaped by
what we see.
"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and
pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took
some and ate it."
We see it. We want it. We gotta have it. And
if “it” is redemption by violence, as most action pictures give us, is it any
wonder we are at war? And if “it” is romantic love at first sight, is it any
wonder our culture settles for serial monogamy instead of lifelong faithfulness?If “it” is comedy that invites us to laugh at
the expense of the weak, or the fat, or the old, is it any wonder that our
sense of respect for the other is eroded?
Before I start to sound like a culture-bashing “Hollywood liberals are the problem” conservative, let me
point out that I’m not. I like movies (some of them). I’m not opposed to
stories that show the breadth of our human experience. But I despair at the
idea that the church can beat our media culture at its own desire-inducing
We think we need to see something in order to want it. We
love something, therefore we treasure it. But Jesus reverses that order. “Where
your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”First we treasure it, then our heart follows.
First we treasure it. We treat it with dignity. We put it in
a place of honor. We pay attention to it. We protect it. And then, we discover
that our hearts have followed. That it is our treasure.
Bill Talen, aka Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, will be in town in the flesh on Black Friday and Saturday. I have to guess he might attempt some street theater at the Mall of America, but if you want to see him outside that particular temple, he'll be at the Riverview Theater on Saturday morning in conjunction with a showing of What Would Jesus Buy? (which I saw and blogged about a couple years ago).
If you need a little reinforcement against the "shopping must save us" gospel being preached by the pundits this year, maybe we'll see you there. And really, he's pretty fun.
Somewhere in the former DDR's files there's a note about an American student whose passport was stolen in Jena about 6 months before the wall came down, and probably my picture, taken by a disgruntled photographer working late on a Saturday afternoon so I could get a new ID and go back across the border with my fellow exchange students. The inside of the East German police station in Erfurt was as dismal a place as I have ever been.
That was June 1989, and you would never have known what was coming. I completely believe that November 9 was like that scene in The Lives of Others, when one guy listening to the radio turns to the others and says, "The wall is open," and they all simply stop steaming envelopes and walk away from their Stasi jobs.
So, if you're wondering how to celebrate 20 years of the Berlin wall coming down, here are three great movies (all German):
1. The Lives of Others, for a heat-wrenching, all too real version of the oppression that was endured
2. Good-bye Lenin, for a funny and also quite poignant view of the generation gap produced by how fast the changes came
3. And, though I don't believe it was ever released in the U. S., an East German film from the late 80's entitled Einer Trage des Anderen Last -- Bear One Anothers' Burdens -- about a devout Communist and a young Lutheran pastor whose lives intersect in a tuberculosis sanitorium. It was simply a beautiful film.
We're kidless for another day or so before the little ones return from Camp Grandma, so we're watching movies and eating out like newlyweds again. Great fun!
Last night, because we could get it instantly instead of ordering ahead: A Few Good Men. We had both forgotten that Aaron Sorkin wrote it, and OMG, the writing is unmistakable -- just like our old standby West Wing, only in a military courtroom. And the cast! Whoa! Noah Wyle, Cuba Gooding, even Joshua Malina -- all before they were really famous.
And the fact that the whole thing starts with bad behavior in Gitmo seems oddly prescient, just as many of the early episodes of West Wing were. Who knew that and 80's movie would seem so contemporary.
There was a great op-ed in the Times Sunday on why Juno is a fairy tale. I really resonated with this point:
The final scene of the movie shows Juno and her boyfriend returned to
their carefree adolescence, the baby — safely in the hands of his
rapturous and responsible new mother — all but forgotten. Because I’m
old enough now that teenage movie characters evoke a primarily maternal
response in me (my question during the film wasn’t “What would I do in
that situation?” but “What would I do if my daughter were in that
situation?”), the last scene brought tears to my eyes. To see a young
daughter, faced with the terrible fact of a pregnancy, unscathed by it
and completely her old self again was magical.
We just received a Christmas letter this year from a friend who, now in her 40's and the mother of a young girl, just met her adult son, whom she gave up for adoption over twenty years ago. The way she described this meeting, and the loss and wondering all the intervening years have meant for her, was profound. For me, as someone who knows her not that well, it was as if a piece of the puzzle clicked into place, and all the things I've known about her as a parent made sense. Caitlin Flanagan's op-ed asks the deepest questions about teenage pregnancy, going well beyond the pro-life/pro-choice debate.
The Christian Century has a cover article about The Golden Compass (the book -- they don't really cover the film) titled "The Enemy Church." The first book of the trilogy doesn't fully play out Pullman's theological challenge, so it's no surprise that any protest about the film was short-lived. I agree with Chris' comments below that Pullman's primary problem seems to be with original sin. It's a disagreement shared by a lot of people I know, even though many Christians would agree with GK Chesterton that sin is the one doctrine of Christianity for which there is empirical evidence. Pullman's characterization of the church as authoritarian and oppressive is no surprise either to most of us. We're accustomed to seeing the church as a pure caricature in the movies. And, quite honestly, we can agree with most atheists that historically the church has done a lot of Bad Things. Add to that the fact that Pullman's world is purportedly a fantasy world, a parallel universe of sorts in which the pope is John Calvin and people's souls walk about with them in animal form. If Pullman wants to criticize the historical church, have at it. Christians can at least agree that the church has often betrayed its own mission. If he wants to argue that we'd all be better people if we didn't believe in sin, well, there you have a matter to talk about, and I'm not sure the straw man of the Evil Church that he raises in His Dark Materials series helps advance that argument.
My in-laws came to visit for Johannes' 3rd birthday this weekend, and my mother-in-law was eager to see Juno, so the two of us and about 800 people younger than we wedged into the Uptown Theater last night. What all the critics are saying about the acting is true. The dialog is so hip that I missed many of the gags, but I didn't care because the people were emotionally more real than the way they talk. (My mother-in-law, the classics scholar, was quick to point out that drama frequently involves dialog that isn't how we really talk.) This story of a teenage pregnancy is full of lovely people you want to hang out with.
I particularly appreciated the movie's portrayal of Juno's parents, who are warm, down-to-earth and funnier than parents of teenagers are ever allowed to be in the movies. Even I've seen 140 episodes of West Wing three times each, I found Allison Janney's portrayal of the Good Stepmother believable.
A friend of mine noticed that I'm reading Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass and asked if I had an opinion about the call for a boycott of the upcoming movie. I don't yet, but I was motivated to finally read the book because: a) it's a genre I usually enjoy b) I know a lot of kids at my church are reading it c) a lot of people will see the movie d) New Line Cinema is promoting it by transfiguring the ring from LOTR to a compass in its previews e) I heard years ago about Pullman's atheist agenda, and decided I'd better investigate for myself
I'm not done with the book, and suspect that the full agenda of Pullman's anti-Paradise Lost tale will become more evident only in books two and three. So I don't have much to say yet, except that Alan Jacobs, who I respect enormously for defending Harry Potter among the evangelical set years ago, has voiced serious concerns about Pullman. OK, Jacobs is a C.S. Lewis fan, and Pullman decidedly is not, so they are already in different camps. But Jacobs is not a knee-jerk "It's not explicitly Christian, therefore it's bad" kind of critic. You can hear his thought on Mars Hill Audio, here.
Mars Hill Audio, by the way, is sort of public radio (Ken Myers formerly worked for NPR) for conservative Christians. It's very intellectual and thoughtful, and I subscribed to it for a while back when it was in CD format, but stopped when they started doing apology for the war. They did some wonderful programs on Tolkien when LOTR was emerging in film.
I saw What would Jesus buy? today, and it has,
appropriately, stirred me up. I can’t say I learned anything new about American
consumerism, or corporate (non-)citizenship or sweat shops. Rev. Billy did not irritate me as much as I
expected. But I was moved simply by the story of these individuals – Bill Talen and
his choir and band members – who toured the country for a month in ancient buses
(retrofitted for biodiesel) in order to
spread their message. Most of them seem
like the people with whom I lived for a year in Lutheran Volunteer Corps –
young, committed, hopeful, and fun-loving.
I generally avoid the places Rev. Billy targets – megamalls and Wal-Mart – precisely because they make me feel demoralized and numbed
out. I’m no better than any other average mortal at getting out of Target
without spending $50 more than I intended to, so I try to just avoid the whole
scene (except when I have to, say, pick up party favors for a six-year-old's birthday). I thought
sitting through 90 minutes of footage in
these places would depress me. But, in fact, Rev. Billy’s witness makes me hopeful.
The members of the Church of Stop Shopping
are witnesses, in the best sense – they point to another way – in a totally
silly, outrageous manner. The folks in the film also seem, in some odd ways, to be a genuine
church, in that they care for one another, reach out to others, and even
confess their own shortcomings.
This is not great film, but I’m glad Morgan Spurlock has
documented TCOSS in this way.
favorite line, after Billy has been detained in Disneyland (I think from one of the choir members):
“They [the Disney folk] completely
control this place. It’s not like U.S public land where you can, like. . .