Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Annunciation


Today is the feast of the Annunciation, commemorating Gabriel's announcement to Mary in Luke 1. You'll notice what happens nine months from today...
For Annunciation this year I thought I'd share with everyone a poem by John Donne, "Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day. 1608."
Since Good Friday falls on a different day every year, it happened that in 1608 it landed on March 25th. Donne's reflections on the occasion are wonderful: every one knows his poetry, but this piece reminds you that he was also dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. The poem acknowledges this day, but it also anticipates Good Friday and Easter, so I thought it'd be appropriate for this season of Lent.

Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day. 1608

Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who's all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she's seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she's in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgment of Christ's story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angels' Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God's court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or 'twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood's extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though one blood drop, which thence did fall,
Accepted, would have served, He yet shed all;
So though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

what are people going to think

A pastor in a small town in New Hampshire has just taken in a ex-convict who's served his time and had no where to go. The pastor met with the man--a 60 year-old, who served 35 years, and converted 15 years ago--discussed it and cleared it with his wife and daughters, and has taken the man in for no more than two months. This is mainly to help the man get on his feet, reintegrate into society... if you've seen The Shawshank Redemption, you know what I'm talking about.

And the town is not pleased.
The neighbors are enraged, there have been protests at the pastor's house, and apparently one protestor threatened to burn the house down.

What are people going to think of our Christian charity when it is offered to those who most need it?
Apparently not much.

Understandably there are reservations about the man's presence in the small town, but this reaction comes as a bit of a shock to me. Some people are simply unloving (one person interviewed called the ex-con "trash"... I sincerely doubt they've ever met, or that the interviewee knew this man existed until recently), most are afraid, and none seem to believe in the prison system's ability to rehabilitate in any sense or, apparently, in the punishment that's-on-the-books' capacity for preventing such acts.

I personally take joy in what I hear this pastor doing. I don't expect everyone outside of the Church to understand, but I'm still glad it's in the news. But what are your thoughts?

Thanks, Dan, for the link.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

reflecting on Watchmen

I know that a few folks were looking for my review of the new Watchmen film that's out this weekend. I did arrive with hundreds of others at the theater Thursday night at midnight to catch the movie... unfortunately I'm still not qualified to really review the film.
Watchmen is the first movie that I've ever walked out of.

Before moving on, a little background.
The movie's based on a critically-acclaimed graphic novel by Alan Moore--the same writer responsible for V for Vendetta and several other titles that are well known, at least in the comic book (or, excuse me, graphic novel, sequential story-telling, whatever) world. Watchmen gives us a picture of a very real and very gritty world and the sorts of 'super-heroes' you could expect to find in such a place. Only one of these actually has what we would call superpowers. The rest are more like Batman: just men and women willing to train, put on the suits, and run risks. Yet the heroes of Moore's world aren't the 'boy scout' heroes of popular comics, like Superman or Wonder Woman. Instead they're fraught with personal demons or sociopathic tendencies, and their justice is brutal.
The comic's ultimately--among other things--a commentary on the concept of the super-hero, showing us how frightening this sort of person can really be in their pursuit of... whatever they see as right.
The comic's also definitely for the 'mature readers'; it's full of graphic violence, sex, language, and just disturbing ideas.

I went into the theater with one concern: will this adaptation do the comic, which is arguably a fine piece of literature, justice?

I was convinced within a few minutes that the film adaptation was a bad decision. Visual subtleties in a comic book are blaring on a film screen: it's the difference between frames on a page which each have to say so much and the extended shots and varying angles on a film screen (more on this later). Also, I think the graphic novel was simply too long, and well-developed over that length, to really be captured in a movie, albeit a longer one. (An HBO miniseries or something to that effect would have served better.) So much information hits the viewers in the first few minutes of the film... it's a bit overwhelming.

However, when I left in the middle of the film, I had very different concerns in my head.
If a comic artist's subtleties are wasted in the amplification of a medium like film, imagine what can happen to the intentionally-disturbing violence which the artist depicts? It's extended, slowed-down, more detailed. Sitting in the theater I felt like I was watching a Saw film. The violence was not simply disturbing, it was disgusting.
The same can be said for the sex scenes. At one point I had no word to describe what we were all watching except "pornography."

What is perhaps worst in all of this is the audience reaction. Many of them didn't get that this is designed to be repulsive. I heard cheers after one of the most gruesome 'hero violence' scenes (a gruesome scene that isn't even in the comic, but was added). Rather than understand and fear the disjunct between the ideals of the real world and those of these heroes, the audience sat back and cheered this on as if it were actually heroic.
Most viewers are apparently not fit for a work like Watchmen--the film or the graphic novel.

But why exactly did I leave?
One main reason was the sexual content. I knew that there was more to come, and I understand that the fewer beautiful, naked women I see having sex, the better for my life.
Another huge reason was the violence. I can stomach quite a bit, and I could have stomached more of this, but I simply didn't want to. The over-the-top violence of the comic is the over-bearing violence of the film, and I wanted no more of it.

But there was one more reason.
As I cringed in my seat at the theater, I couldn't get St. Paul's admonition to the Philippians out of my head: "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things."
I found nothing in this film that I want to have in my mind.

I consider myself very generous towards film. I let a great many things go in a movie that I will not accept in life. That's because they are stories and they are supposed to tell us something; and the evils in the stories reflect realities which I would not be ignorant of. I think art is important, and I'm convinced that the Church must recapture text and canvas and melodies and offer True, Good art to the world. I mean Tolkien art, Bach. Art is so powerful.
And I understand the role of the violence and other filth in Watchmen. If you don't, just pay more attention to Blake. It's all there.
But regardless of whatever utility, the content of this film crossed the line. I don't know where that line is, or whether it changes in different contexts--perhaps it does. Either way, it was crossed and left far behind in Watchmen.

As a reviewer, like I said, I'm unqualified to pass judgment on this film, though, of what I saw (most of the movie), there was nothing outstanding.
As a part of the Bride of Christ, I strongly urge you against seeing it. There is plenty of good art to encounter in this world, and there are plenty of better uses for $8.

Monday, March 02, 2009

the wisdom of God and human wisdom

Arius's appeal to what he considered the logic of monotheism illustrates a recurring tendency throughout Christian history to subject facts of divine revelation to current conceptions of "the reasonable." . . . the turning point in Christian history represented by the Nicene Creed was the church's critical choice for the wisdom of God in preference to human wisdom. Theologically considered, no decision could ever be more important.

Mark Noll, Turning Points