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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

A Little Just for Fun

Though their humor is weird, I guess I like anything that shows that we are all fools (cf. King Lear). Anything from Seinfeld to Much Ado About Nothing to The Office–and I mean anything that smartly pokes fun at the human condition and shows that we take ourselves too seriously, I enjoy. See below.

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Make it 147

When I was in training in order to be an intelligence analyst, I made a list of 145 films that are “must sees” in addition to 145 works of literature that are “must reads.” Add two more to the film list…

I think it’s safe to have a maxim that for every good film, there are at least twenty bad ones that are produced. In fact, I find it rare that I’m remotely interested in seeing anything today. Cowboys vs. Aliens, really? I thought I got over He-Man, Smurfs, and a crush on the skating star Katarina Witt when I was in third grade (Yes, I’ll admit that in third grade I used to pretend that I was on a cosmic basketball court with the world watching and if I made the three-pointer, the German figure skater and I would be married as I disappointingly doinked another one off the rim).

Two films of late have caught my heart. The Coen brothers’ True Grit blends the tragicomic adventure of a young girl avenging her father’s death. The subtleties, tongue-in-cheek narration, and moxie of the characters against a backdrop of rogues, ruffians, and outlaws is enough to make you think you’ve fallen into a Flannery O’Connor meets bluegrass meets the harsh world of death vignette under the starlit western sky. The scene at the end with Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) holding Mattie Ross (played wonderfully by Hailee Steinfeld) under the starlit skies sketches indelibly on the mind with its gorgeous cinematography. The diction of the characters seems elevated with an almost sermonizing formalism, which adds layers to this old spinner’s tale.

The other film is Of Gods and Men. Under threat by fundamentalist terrorists, a group of Trappist monks stationed with an impoverished Algerian community must decide whether to leave or stay. The whispered prayers, human struggles, and singing of these monks is so richly poetic that I find myself wanting to get my hands upon the screenplay to just read and savor it. Definitely worth the watch.

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I forget which writer was being described by a critic, but s/he used the term “the perfect fit of metaphor,” which I like quite a bit. My suspicion is that the object of the compliment was G.K. Chesterton or C.S. Lewis, but today I thought I’d share one from I.K. Taylor– that’s my daughter. Now, I’m not one of those annoying parents who thinks that everything that my daughter writes is wonderful, and I’m already guilty of posting a violin piece being played on the blog this week. So here’s my rule…I won’t become like the parents who brought their 5 and 7 year-old kids to my Long Island college’s rendition of Brecht’s Antigone and then left thinking the kids were somehow three times smarter. (Kids looked bored and I still think I heard one whisper, I’m a little dumber for that experience). So, before gushing about my kid’s interesting metaphor, I’ll publicly put her down for every subsequent compliment in a 3:1 ratio. Well, not really, but at any rate…

Last night the clock had struck 10:36 (yes, that’s a healthy and normal bedtime as we prefer being on California time here in Sioux City, thank you very much). It was after my son had just informed me that he did not need to flush because “it hadn’t changed colors and he had only gone a few inches,” which leads me to believe the bottle of Powerade before bedtime’s probably not a good idea. And then my seven-year-old daughter looks up from the bed and says, “You know that Satan’s blanket is hard?” I looked sideways with the creeped-out stare that wonders a) how my daughter knows this and b) if I’m trapped in the never-produced sequel of The Shining.

And then she explains: I think his blanket would be full of jewels and so it would look really nice and beautiful but be really hard, but Jesus’ blanket would be really plain but soft and really cozy, like made out of grass and wool.

Sigh. Why is it sometimes that amidst all of our language and learning, our children can humble us by saying it best? Here it is. The deceitful allure of something shiny, bedazzling, disguised as the wonder blanket which leads to pain and discomfort. And then there’s the plain, ol’ dirt and cream colored thing left like the forgotten play bear of yesteryear’s nursery, the reality of something warm, familiar, and of true comfort. And that’s what she was getting at, the life provided by one of two fathers, described in a perfect fit of metaphor.

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If you read below about the “wanderlust” of escaping into the forest and how it’s healthy to laugh at one’s past foibles, consider the following from Justin Taylor’s “The Gospel Coalition” blog. My wiser brother gave another take and that is the substitution of fulfillment with something other than God. From my ruminations to Justin’s blog citing Ray Ortlund, quoting C.S. Lewis, we have struck the heart of the matter–there is a God-shaped vacuum which can be filled only by God alone (see Pascal’s Pensees). Watching Chariots of Fire the other night was an excellent reminder of this searching, especially when Harold Abrahams takes the ultimate prize he so fought for through training and many years. After winning, his teammates seem to imply that life will be lesser now and almost commiserate about his plight. Sure enough, the next scene shows an emptying bar with Abrahams and his trainer reminiscing in front a few people who already seem not to know what’s happened, the pathetic cliche of the high school quarterback at 50 years old who nobody wants to hear recite the glory game yet again.

Caveat: let’s not fall into the other ditch of NOT seeking goodness in nature, food, art, and music lest we think ourselves the derision of that scallywag journalist H.L. Mencken who claimed Puritanism is the “haunting fear that someone somewhere is having fun.” No, rather we glorify God in recognizing that all our earthly joys are from him and to him! Here’s the quote about attempting to find another goodness or excitement apart from God:

I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion—which raises its head in every temptation—that there is something else than God, some other country into which he forbids us to trespass, some kind of delight which he ‘doesn’t appreciate’ or just chooses to forbid, but which would be real delight if only we were allowed to get it.

The thing just isn’t there. Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as he can, or else a false picture of what he is trying to give us, a false picture which would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing. . . . He knows what we want, even in our vilest acts. He is longing to give it to us. . . .

The truth is that evil is not a real thing at all, like God. It is simply good spoiled. . . . You know what the biologists mean by a parasite—an animal that lives on another animal. Evil is a parasite. It is there only because good is there for it to spoil and confuse.

—C. S. Lewis, They Stand Together: The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963), ed. Walter Hooper (New York, 1979), p. 465. Italics original.

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Soli Deo Gloria!

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thank you for teaching this good lesson today, Isabella!

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I read the Odyssey in college and taught parts of it in high school. My dream? Teach at a boys’ prep school with uniforms, crests, blazers, and oak floors. I imagine myself smoking a pipe and lecturing Dead-Poets-Society-style. I recite the lines of Virgil’s Aeneid as students hang on each word (one, two, three–wake up!). First, we read these lines and then have them do so in the Latin:

Do you believe the enemy have sailed away?
Or think that any Grecian gifts are free
of craft? Is this the way Ulysses acts?
Either Achaeans hide, shut in this wood,
or else this is an engine built against
our walls…I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts.”
– Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 2, lines 60-70

“just as the bees in early summer, busy
beneath the sunlight through the flowered meadows.”
– Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 1, lines 611-12

Speaking of history, if you ever have a chance, go to the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan. Along with the cloisters, this is nearly a spiritual experience in itself. I remember spending a day or two at different moments during my college years there. The sense of history is something else. While we dare not let edifice take over the heart, to the extent that excellence in architecture, building, and materials glorifies God, soli deo Gloria! Dorothy Sayers had a wonderful play about a builder whose pride precipitates a great fall and Melville wrote a novella along the same line but the names escape me both.

Upcoming…I’m going to blog next about the four chaplains who willingly gave their lives in WWII and about some life lessons from Peter that I have been working on of late.

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Christmas Drama

 

On December 24, Morningside Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa tried drama as a way to “sing to the Lord a new song.” None of us are “natural” actors, but we performed in a way that hopefully brought glory to God. While I have some theater experience, I had to coax a few first-timers–they were fabulous grace be to God and put in much hard work. In addition to reading T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” and doing another reading interspersing verses from the Old and New Testaments, we tried the following four monologues. I wrote this to try to tie the thread woven through each life’s story of a longing anticipation and expectation for the long-awaited one, Jesus Christ. Each character had a single prop and sat looking at the audience from the stage.

SIMEON

Who has known how many hours he will live? I do. I know I am about to die. Only one other man has been given this. I read in the Holy words Elijah was told that he would be taken by the LORD. And I am to be taken. How do I know?

I have lived 87 years. For the length of my years, I have petitioned one thing for my people. That I would witness the Deliverer. We are foreigners in our own land. We were once a light to the other nations but we smothered the light and ran after their darkness. I pray the light be restored and Zion be restored, your holy hill.

A vision came to me but it was if I was dreaming awake. It came to me in the night so I covered myself with the animal skins afraid, but I still heard the voice clearly. You will not die until after the appointed day. On that day you are to tell no one but quiet yourself, enter into the Temple courts, and be shown.

When I thought in my heart, how shall I know? The voice knew my thoughts and said, “Blessed are you, Simeon, for you shall be shown the long awaited one before the hour of your passing.”

My children claim I have the forgetfulness. So all the physics say. My eldest brought me to the teachers of the law. They listened and observed, looked thoughtfully at me. But I know that they do not believe me.

On that day, the Temple, though a forlorn remembrance of the glorious Solomonic reign of yesteryear will be restored, not just the Shekinah glory, but in its fullness. Lord, I will see. I will see. I will see. I will see…

BLIND MAN

I cannot see. I never have. If you put perhaps your poorest of coins, you can help. What’s that? Hmm. I know. The corners of the field are left for the poor, not the corners of the garments and the pockets. So I have heard. It was funnier the first time.

There are no real jokes. There is a serious matter, some secret sin have I done though to figure out what it is, aye, that’s the rub, the crux. I sit as my parents have had me do for years. Do I blame them? How could I? I came to understand what I could not see, that they worked hard in the fields for me. What is a child to do when he has functions that work. You see I can eat, and I could do something with my hands. I could weave, even pick grain but it’s work to explain to me how and where and what size. I lack discernment, but I eat. So my parents asked me to beg and I have been begging for thirty one years. But I am not alone. The competition is endless. Who is paralyzed, destitute, lazy, possessed, with the bleeding disease, these all are needs and they are never-ending.

But we all share one thing in common. We have sinned, I know not how one person’s sin equates to this punishment, another’s does not—it is mystery. Some say my parents did it, so some scribe surmises. They are so good to me, I do not believe that. Why does God punish a child from birth? Why does God punish the child for the sins of his father and yet keep hidden the sin?

Sometimes I bathe in the waters that they lead me to and I take some clay and place it on my eyes and pretend that all of my life I have been seeing. That I know what purple means, and sun, and constellation, and that it’s only the clay that separates me. I wash it and pretend that afterwards I will see. I never do.

ELIZABETH

I never do understand why God made me barren. I would have named my son Zechariah after his father. But I am disgraced among my people. Some people find the irony. My husband is of the priestly division of Abijah, and I a descendant of Aaron. We observe all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. I would have consecrated the child to you, Lord. I have repeated Hannah’s prayer. But my womb remains closed. I have accepted that I am far beyond my childbearing years

I used to take it to heart when Abigail at the well with her four boys and four fat boys they were, she liked to whisper, “What has she done?” And then to my face, “Have you tried eating aged mutton?” Yes, Abigail. “Have you tried praying?” Yes, Abigail. Have you boiled mandrakes and placed them on your stomach after being with your husband? I had enough. I wanted to ask Lord, is it not enough for me to be the disgrace in whispers without providing salt in the wound.

God gave Sarah, Isaac. And Hannah, Samuel. So I used to say. Now, I pray for a different grace. My cousin Mary is betrothed which means a child for her in due time. My prayers now are different. God bless Mary. Give my heart understanding that you give and you take and your name is blessed. Amidst painful reminders of another joy, another new mother, a mother your goodness in its mystery has caused me not to be. I wait on you. I pray to you. I hope in you. I hope.

PETER

I hope you’re happy. Stupid thing. Another leak. It isn’t enough that I mend the nets for you, but I’m in business with my brother to actually take you out and drop the nets. And no, it’s not as if you actually talk. We just see the bubble from the tiny spacing and then its me rowing while my brothers scoop out water. It’s become routine with you.

What is this life? Every day it’s the same. There is no grand picture. I fish. We eat. If there is money left over, we sell. I take the money, I repair the nets, caulk the ship, wait, and fish again. Life is not a line, it’s a circle. I wake up in the morning and repeat. The sun rises and falls on the Lake of Gennesaret, James and John get in the other boats, we fish, we wash our nets, we sleep, we wake, the sun rises and falls on the Lake of Gennesaret, do you see?

Sometimes when the waves roll this stinking boat up and down, I dream of being a great man. Of doing something great.

What’s that? Oh what am I doing? I am pondering greatness. Yeah I got it. Do you know what he thinks would be great? Caulking the sides of this stinking ship.

SIMEON

Lord, I am waiting to see.

BLIND MAN

Lord, I am waiting to see.

ELIZABETH

I wait on you, Lord.

PETER

(sighing and nodding) I am waiting. What have you made me to be?

(Lights down.)

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