Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Lenten Poetry

March 7, 2022

It may at first seem counterintuitive, that in the midst of Lent we could find and enjoy beauty. But contrition and repentance are not the same thing at all as boringness or repetition or monotony or ugliness. If anything, our Lenten contemplations should drive us in part by comparison – the aching awareness of our sinfulness against the panoramic beauty of creation. Our unfaithfulness in comparison to God the Father’s endless and bounteous and undeserved fidelity. We do not deserve anything, and we are given so much. So much that is good and beautiful.

And these days when beauty and good seem even more elusive, when war and rumors of war rattle our consciences and make our creaturely comforts somehow condemning in the face of others’ utter ruin, these days we need the beauty. Amidst the ashes of war. Amidst the ashes of Lent.

So read this. It’s short, but it will take some time to both understand all of it and resonate with it. I’ve mentioned Wendell Berry before, but this is a good reminder to me I need to find more of him. I need his beauty, that does not seek to cover over or temporarily displace the evil and hardness of the world and our lives, but points us to the greatest beauty yet to come, and which already spreads – if only palely – its glow on all beauty here and now as well as all ugliness.

Breaking Silence

December 8, 2021

Perhaps the best way to break the long silence here is not with my words but someone else’s. Thanks to The Mockingbird for sharing this beautiful poem.

The Mercy of God

A poem by Jessica Powers, a Carmelite nun (1905-88):

I am copying down in a book from my heart’s archive
the day that I ceased to fear God with a shadowy fear.
Would you name it the day that I measured my column of virtue
and sighted through windows of merit a crown that was near?
Ah, no, it was rather the day I began to see truly
that I came forth from nothing and ever toward nothingness tend,
that the works of my hands are a foolishness wrought in the presence
of the worthiest king in a kingdom that never shall end.
I rose up from the acres of self that I tended with passion
and defended with flurries of pride:
I walked out of myself and went into the woods of God’s mercy,
and here I abide.
There is greenness and calmness and coolness,
a soft leafy covering
from judgment of sun overhead, and the hush of His peace,
and the moss of His mercy to tread.
I have nought but my will seeking God;
even love burning in me is a fragment of infinite loving
and never my own.
And I fear God no more; I go forward to wander forever
in a wilderness of His infinite mercy alone.

Book Review – Murder on the Orient Express

November 9, 2021

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

I went through a brief stage in early adolescence of reading classic mysteries. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie were both tutors in this brief foray. It didn’t last long because I tired of the genius of the detective becoming evident only at the end of the story by the introduction of additional facts, clues, and background information I as the reader could not possibly know. I was frustrated because I wanted to solve the mysteries myself, and the authors weren’t giving me what I needed to do so.

But when I found a copy of this book at the tiny library near where we’re sojourning along with a British television adaptation of the book, I knew we had to read it as a family and then watch the film. I’m glad to say that my particular irritations of many years ago notwithstanding, we all roundly enjoyed the book as well as the movie, and had a delightful interchange comparing the two and the interpretative license the director of the film version engaged in, both for good and bad effect.

The story finds Christie’s protagonist, Belgian master detective Hercule Poirot trying to unravel a particularly complicated murder on board the said Orient Express. The ending is truly a masterful stroke of genius. The characters are wildly diverse and curious in their own right. The book is well-written, engaging without pandering. It keeps the readers involved as clues are unveiled and alibis examined.

The television version of it, a 2010 British production, does an admirable job with some interesting twists. It adds scenes and skips over others. But as a whole, the director picks up on religious themes both expressed by Christie in the book and others not in the book but created to better flesh out the character of Poirot. Performances are solid though, as is typical in most adaptations, the characters can’t possibly be given their full due in 90 minutes of film as they can in 200+ pages of text. Still, if you can find this version I’d encourage you to watch it (ideally after just having read the book!) and sit and ponder the meanings of rosaries and prayers and God that find such a central place in this adaptation.

Then drop me a line and let’s talk about it more together!

Still Watching Netflix

October 21, 2021

On the heels of my post last week regarding the controversy between Dave Chappelle and the transgender/LGBGQ+ community I took the opportunity to watch his special at the center of the storm entitled The Closer.

This is not for the faint of heart. Ever since my one – and only – live stand-up comic viewing nearly 30 years ago I’ve never understood the need to resort to the basest language and the exploitation of all manner of sex. Chappelle, while clearly far more intelligent and insightful than the average comic trying to win cheap laughs from an intoxicated audience (thanks to the drink minimums comedy clubs at least used to require in addition to cover charges), is not above snagging some easy laughs from simple crudeness. Likewise, if you’re averse to race-related language and criticisms you’ll likely not enjoy this either. Although I knew this all going into it and considered it more a research exercise than the sort of entertainment I would naturally gravitate towards, I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. The man clearly knows his art.

The issue is what is that art? I’d argue Chappelle’s art is cultural analysis and critique. One may agree or disagree with his conclusions and assertions but that’s what he’s doing under a thin, and I mean very thin veneer of comedy. Much of his material is designed to elicit not just a laugh but the follow-up internal examination why did I laugh at that? Should I have? Is there something wrong with me? Am I part of the problem?

Everything about the show should clue the viewer in that Chappelle is up to more than simple entertainment.

This is the last of his contracted Netflix specials. He’s very clear that he feels not only the freedom but the obligation as such to say some things people aren’t going to like. He’s choosing specifically to be controversial in this special. And the entire special is bracketed within the somewhat comedic narrative arc of issues related to a black rapper named DaBaby.

Chappelle begins with commenting on the curious fact that DaBaby was involved in a Walmart shooting that left a man dead. He slapped a female fan who he claimed took a cell phone photo too close to his face with the flash on. He has an arrest warrant in Texas for a charger of battery. And he and his associates allegedly jumped a concert promoter they believed paid only 2/3 of the money agreed upon for a performance in Miami. In this altercation they stole a credit card, $80,000 in cash (almost 3 times what was originally agreed upon and far more than the $10,000 they were allegedly shortchanged) in addition to beating the promoter.

None of these events slowed down DaBaby’s career in any regard. The Walmart altercation where a man was killed eventually saw DaBaby pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon. The other situations all saw DaBaby posting bail and walking free within a matter of hours.

However DaBaby made a series of homophobic comments at the start of one of his concerts in July 2021 and at the demands of the LGBTQ+ community he was dropped from several concerts, a fashion collaboration, and his contributions on a popular song were edited out of the song, resulting in his removal of credits for the song. Effectively, as Chappelle notes, his career has been destroyed.

Destroyed not because of his violence and even killing a person, but because he hurt the feelings of the LGBTQ+ community.

This provides the crux for most of the material that follows. In this material Chappelle calls out the LGBTQ+ community for their power, and for their hypocrisy. He has garnered little love and much animosity from that community over the course of his career because of his insistence on mocking some of their ideological tenets (biological gender is a social construct rather than a biological fact, etc.). They’ve accused him of punching down on their community – a term that implies a level of superior social standing or other advantages inherent by Chappelle personally.

His counterargument – provided rather powerfully if often offensively – is that the LGBTQ+ community has achieved far more, far more quickly in their march towards equal rights than racial minorities in America. In the span of a few short decades it has become possible for this community to destroy the careers of multiple people opposing their demands not just for legal equality but for preferred treatment and depiction. Meanwhile Chappelle argues, minorities in America continue to deal with racism and discrimination.

The show closes with where it began, with his appealing to the LGBTQ+ community to lay off of DaBaby – and by extension Chappelle and anyone else who happens to simply disagree with them.

He defends his relationship to actual LGBTQ+ individuals while maintaining his stance in opposition to many of their ideas. He affirms his support for the biological reality of gender. And he observes that things have reached an unhealthy place when no dialogue is possible on these issues anymore. That any resistance to the increasingly wild assertions of the LGBTQ+ community simply results in financial ruin for the opposition. In such a toxic environment Chappelle maintains, there is no dialogue and therefore things are dangerously unhealthy. As such, he vows to make no more transgender or LGBTQ+ jokes in his shows until some sort of healthy dialogue is restored. It is not a cease fire so much as a refusal to engage with an enemy who insists he has no right to his opinion (or scientific fact) while he must not only agree but endorse every opinion offered by literally anyone within the LGBTQ+ community. Until this is rectified and acknowledged he will not pretend there is healthy dialogue when there clearly is not.

That’s a lot for a comedy special!

Unsurprisingly, the very situation he criticizes in this special – the inability to speak on the issue at all except in complete and total support and enthusiasm for LGBTQ+ assertions – is demonstrated through demands from LGBTQ+ employees of Netflix to not only remove Chappelle’s program from Netflix’s lineup but for Netflix to actively invest in more content that agrees with and furthers the ideas and demands of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ironically, the LGBTQ+ community claims this is not an example of cancel culture. They argue, hilariously, that this isn’t an example of cancel culture because they invited Chappelle to rupudiate his statements and embrace their ideals and demands and he refused. Therefore they’re justified in attempting to not just figuratively but literally cancel him.

Uh, somebody should explain the definition of cancel culture to these folks!

Friends of Chappelle struggle to not abandon him while not incurring the wrath of the LGBTQ+ community and facing very real financial and professional challenges as a result. Jon Stewart is reduced to simply asserting his love for Chappelle and his necessary belief that this is all just somehow a miscommunication. This is hilarious and pathetic all at the same time. The problem is not miscommunication, the problem is that Chappelle has dared to communicate too clearly and directly. And Stewart – who’s no slouch when it comes to mocking those he disagrees with – is reduced to simpering on the sidelines instead of calling this what it is, a hostage situation.

For whatever reasons (and there are plenty that should be examined) the LGBTQ+ community is in a position to financially and professionally and personally smear and destroy anyone they decide to if that person disagrees with them or fails to meet their expectations. Despite being a tiny percentage of the overall population, they are in a position to dictate to Hollywood to portray LGBTQ+ characters in huge disproportion to the general population. Judging by commercials and movies and other forms of entertainment, you’d likely come to the conclusion that LGBTQ+ folks comprise close to half of the general population, instead of under 5% (although recent studies indicate an uptick of reported LGBTQ+ affiliations by young people – hardly a surprise when this is actively taught in schools to developing minds and personalities).

Chappelle has indicated a willingness to talk with the disgruntled Netflix employees. He has also promised to launch a 10-stop American tour if his show is removed by Netflix. Chappelle appears more than willing to go toe-to-toe with the LGBTQ+ community on this issue. A man who has been vocal about the racism he perceives in our culture is equally willing to stand against and speak out against other forms of abuse. Whether you agree with his perspective on racism or not, he has a lot to say and is very capable and willing to say it, though in language some of us find distasteful and offensive. I’d be fascinated to sit down over a drink with Chappelle and just talk with him.

Netflix in the meantime seems to be wavering, with the CEO apologizing for mishandling the situation. So far they haven’t removed the special, and the disgruntled employee group has dropped that demand from their list of demands. Chappelle is one of the few people willing to speak out actively against these tactics though, and perhaps one of the few voices able to be heard by a large cross-section of people. It’s a shame it has turned out this way, but apparently everyone else has too much to lose, or is too afraid of losing what little they have.

That’s definitely an unhealthy situation, no matter how you feel about LGBTQ+ ideals.

What About Judas?

July 15, 2021

If you want to probe someone’s concepts of grace, ask them about Judas Iscariot. Is it possible the grace of God the Father in Jesus Christ is extended even to the betrayer of Christ? It’s a fascinating question that has occupied theologians for roughly 2000 years. I don’t expect people to have the final answer on the question, but I like to see if they’re willing to conceded of the possibility. Some don’t, as they feel Scripture (Matthew 26:24; Mark 14:21)speaks pretty clearly to Judas’ eternal as well as temporal punishment. The Apostle John in particular has nothing good to say of Judas. However such passages don’t have to be interpreted in terms of Judas’ eternal condition.

Here’s a good little read, with a beautiful introduction regarding Greek Orthodox depictions of Judas and what might have been. You might also be interested in Googling images of Orthodox iconography and Judas. He routinely is depicted at the Last Supper without a halo, in contrast to the other eleven apostles.

I know I won’t have the answer to this question prior to Jesus’ return or my own death but I continue to hold out the possibility that even Judas repented before taking his own life.

What say you?

A Bit of Joy

July 13, 2020

In the midst of a constant barrage of bad news, if you’re looking for an online escape, you might want to check out https://window-swap.com/

You can get a glimpse of what people in other parts of the world see out their window at the moment. Sometimes it’s a pretty urban landscape, and sometimes it’s a stunning landscape. Not a bad way to while away a few of those lockdown moments!

Covering the Bases

July 2, 2020

As I continue to work slowly through a book on improving my preaching, the next chapter deals with different ways a speaker/preacher connects with the people they are speaking to.

Ethos listeners prioritize the relationship between the speaker and the hearer. If there is a strong connection with the speaker the message will be heard better. Likewise (though not explicitly stated in the book) if the relationship is strained or not good between the speaker and the listener, the listener is going to have a harder time connecting with what is being said. Sometimes this is referred to as an issue of integrity or character on the part of the speaker or the hearer’s perception of their integrity or character. Reaching people who react well based on ethos involves reminding them of this shared relationship. Speaking about we and us as opposed to them or you. Referencing personal stories or the impact of the sermon topic or verses on you personally.

Logos listeners focus on the cerebral or intellectual content of a sermon. They want to be presented with ideas to chew on and mull over or be challenged by. They’re most engaged when learning something new, and sermons that include a focus on information sit well with this group.

Pathos listeners react on the emotional level. They love real-life stories or anecdotes, but they also are most attentive when they are part of the sermon, and can connect what is being preached to their lives.

Ideally every sermon should have some of each aspect in it to best reach as many of your hearers as possible. And that seems reasonable. I can certainly confirm that people who are not in a good relationship with me have a harder time hearing what I say in the sermon, and are more apt to take things the wrong way (or at least in a way I wasn’t intending). Likewise I believe a good preacher should be teaching in a sermon. Not like I would teach a Bible study class, but there should be elements where I’m sharing what I’ve learned rather than just rehashing what I’ve heard all my life from others. The familiar can be comforting but if that’s all I give, people get bored. Or at least I get bored! And I’ve seen firsthand how a good story can really draw people into the sermon.

I like to think my sermons involve all three of these ways of preaching, though certainly the balance will vary from week to week. I also find myself hearing St. Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth emphasizing how we should also be careful not to be too calculated in how we speak the Word of God. Ultimately the power in a sermon is God’s Word and the Holy Spirit at work in that Word. While I want to be a good and effective preacher I also realize I can only control this to a certain extent, and there are limitations to my abilities so that I shouldn’t rely on them.

At the end of the day (Sunday?) I hope people have heard the Word of God applied to their lives in a concrete way. I’m experienced enough to know this can happen when I personally think my sermon stunk. And it can not happen when I think my sermon was a home run. I resonate well with those masters of the preaching craft who insist that if the sermon stinks, it’s my fault. But if the sermon is really good, then God gets the praise and glory. That’s how it should be, not as an excuse for me to neglect my duties or be shoddy in my preparation, but as a means of keeping my humbled and my community focused on what is important – Christ crucified.

Filtering

June 22, 2020

Thanks to Ken for sharing an article with me from the Wall Street Journal about Amazon’s discriminatory advertising practices. The article highlights something everyone should know but is easily forgotten – Internet companies like Amazon and Facebook and Google are just that, companies. They are not required to provide equal access to everyone. They are not required to sell every possible product that is available. And each one answers to shareholders and is very responsive to market forces.

Which means if you publish something that might be considered politically incorrect, you may not find your product listed or highlighted or advertised on these sites. Which means of course you’ll have a harder time making people aware of your work.

This brief reminder also highlights another level of censorship from some of these same companies – which materials are made available in electronic format for e-readers, and whether titles available today will be available in the future.

Both of which are reasons I love me a good used bookstore, and I’m fortunate to have several not too far away that can help me get my hands on all sorts of things that may increasingly become difficult to find through Amazon. And it’s why I prefer actual books to e-readers (I’ve never owned an e-reader, even though I love the convenience factor they provide). You never know when your copy of something may end up being one of the last copies in existence because of censorship.

Filling in Gaps

June 18, 2020

Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?

Remember how she said that we would meet again

Some sunny day?

Vera, Vera, what has become of you?

Does anybody else in here feel the way I do?

Pink Floyd, “Vera” from The Wall

I remember being blown away by the power of Pink Floyd’s The Wall when I discovered it in high school. The disturbing power of that album, the bitter disappointment and rage at the society that arose in Britain from the ashes of World War II were all heady historical commentary set to music. And as often as I’ve listened to this album – or most any album or book or movie – there are references and allusions I miss or never bother to track down.

Vera Lynn is one of them. I assumed at some level she might be a cultural/historical figure from the British World War II era, maybe a film star. But now I know she was a singer. A singer who was never able (or allowed) to move beyond her cultural mooring of wartime Britain, and who has now died at a very respectable age of 103.

Another brick in the wall of understanding.

Staying Sane

April 1, 2020

As people deal with shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, here are some interesting options for staying sane both individually and as a family.

Here’s a list of movies suitable for watching among multiple generations of adults.  I can vouch for The Two Popes as a worthwhile watch.  Our family has also (previously) watched The Hundred Foot Journey, and were not as thrilled with the overall quality of the movie despite a few good moments.  The Shawshank Redemption is one I only recently watched and found to be deserving of the accolades it has collected over the years.  Likewise Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great family classic.  Romancing the Stone isn’t nearly as good in the adventure category, and goes for some more sexual humor than Raiders does (although sequels to Raiders up the sexual innuendo substantially).  While it might sound boring, The King’s Speech is a phenomenal movie from an acting perspective.  As I remember, A Fish Called Wanda also has some sexual innuendo but also some stellar performances.  The Usual Suspects is one of my all time favorite films.

Perhaps you’d rather do some explorations in the real world?  Maybe a virtual trip to Disneyland would be a fun diversion?  Or if you’d rather wander farther afield, here is a collection of walks through various places in the world.