Saturday, September 29, 2007

eastern promised

i went last weekend with a couple friends to see david cronenberg's latest film, eastern promises. i posted earlier that i was eagerly expecting this film as well as a few others. in the intermediate time between when i was first aware of the movie coming out and when i saw it i had developed a rather heady expectation of what the film would be like. in particular i was struck by the poster featuring a pair of heavily tattooed hands, which belong to viggo mortenson's character. the film was in short, one of the most, if not the most, heavily violent films i have ever seen. it is not that the entire movie is violent because it isn't, there are really only about three or four scenes of violence. but each scene is a puncture in the narrative flow of the film. the actual violence itself is arresting, and because it is so jarring, it forces you to be on edge during the remainder of the film. in the final battle mortenson's character, nikolai, faces a couple of chechen thugs in a steam room. cronenberg intensifies the sound of skin on skin, giving each punch, cut and slash of the knife greater aural and visual impact. the scene was so intense that instead of gasps in the audience, there were laughs. it was as if those watching the scene simply had no recourse to the emotional toll the scene took. to gasp, or otherwise recoil, would be to not give the scene its proper emotional due.
the performances were a bit of a mixed bag. i was particulary bothered by the fact that there were not, as far as i could tell, any native russian speakers. because i know russian, and spent some time in russia, i notice things like this. when they spoke in russian they spoke very slowly, and when they spoke in english the thick russian accents where spotty. this was especially the case for vincent cassell whose accent was inconsistent at best. mortenson's accent was at times a bit overdone, otherwise he turned in a remarkable performance. at times his character was servile, at other times steely and ruthless. he handled the nuances of his character with remarkable deftness. the finest performances were put on by armin meuhler-stahl as the godfather of the russian mob, the vory v vaskonye. he was at times gentle and fatherly, yet with a constant threat of menace behind his twinkling blue eyes. naomi watts turned in the other outstanding performance as a frightened midwife who discovers a dead girls diary.
i wanted to like this movie a lot more than i did. perhaps it was because i had such a heightened sense of expectation going into it. it is a good movie, and one of the better films to come out this year, but not a great movie by any stretch.
now my attention is turned to Wes Anderson's new film, The Darjeeling Limited. Here is an article from new york magazine on one of my favorite directors. enjoy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

embrace the f*** you

my counselor told me last week as i stood to go, "embrace the fuck you". funny, i know. we had been talking about my tendency to flip off the world, or as she said so delicately, "to say 'fuck you ' to everyone." i don't deny that i do that, or have that tendency. never before has that tendency been more obvious than this past summer in the week leading up to my firing from evolve24. i just couldn't shut myself down, it was bird city, all the time. the morning i came home after being escorted off the premises the first person i called was a friend of mine, david panell. he told me that i had an authority problem, that was the first time anyone had ever said that to me, and as i thought about it i realized it was true. but it's not just a simple i hate rules or the people that make them sort of thing, it's really a trust issue. my fundamental problem is that i don't trust that people love me or that they have my best interests in mind. i figure that everyone is out for number one, themselves, and if they are going to control me with their own well being in mind, than the only logical thing for me to do is say, fuck off. doesn't work so well in a corporate environment. or any environment for that matter.
i can, and will, continue to plumb the depths of that tendency. that is why i am in counseling after all. and i will continue to investigate how and why i have come to the place i am currently at. i am sure there are parental issues there, false christianity and false gospel issues. there are also guilt issues as well. lastly, and perhaps most appropriately for this blog, there are grace issues.

Monday, September 17, 2007

nonbelief is hot!*

some of you might be familiar with books like Richard Dawkin's the god delusion, or perhaps Sam Harris' book the end of faith. Both of these writers, along with Christopher Hitchens, have come to represent a new form of virulent anti-theism**. atheism would just be simple denial of god, where as in my coinage, anti-theism is a type of hyperbolic religious warfare against christian believers. there has been a renewal of late of this type of bully pulpit philosophizing. the essential thrust of these of arguments is that religious belief is by its very nature, logically incoherent, empirically unverifiable and psychologically aberrant and consequently dangerous to the public good. accordingly their respective positions ride a heady wave of sound reason, empirical fortitude and common sense. it seems to me that most christians have one of several responses to this sort of argument, it is either to descend into similar hyperbole and condemn the rhetoric of harris, et al or it is to treat it with a kind of smug self righteousness shown here by Ralph Reed, the third option is to simply retreat from the debate in total. a fourth possible option is laid out here by martin marty in an interesting article in the christian century.
i remember saying to some of my friends in the immediate months following 9-11 that we should watch out for a new kind of attack against christianity in which islamic extremism and christian fundamentalism would be lumped together. harris in his book, The End of Faith, essentially does this very thing. However, he takes it a step further by widening his argument to include christian evangelicals among the community of the dangerous.
The very conflation of Islamic terrorism and Christian political movements (I am uncomfortable with many, if not all, Christian political movements by the way – perhaps another post is due on this subject) shows the disingenuity, not to mention the overall sloppiness, of Harris’ project. He continually lumps things together and condemns them in total without bothering to dissect each piece. The problem is that he ends up with this all- encompassing, anti-religious, anti-theistic stance that confuses and obfuscates the very thing which he proposes to illuminate. He seemingly has no understanding of the historical role in which Christianity has helped shape western culture, nor does he seem to have any ability to distinguish the various threads of Christian practice and fundamentalist Islamic extremism. Anyone who wished could clearly see the difference between these two, yet somehow he fails. No other conclusion can be drawn but that he does not wish to see the difference because it would not allow him to promote his agenda.
I think it would be easy for Christians to look at the arguments put forth by Harris, et al. as merely specious misrepresentations of what we believe and move on. But the fact of the matter is that he has raised the stakes in the debate. And perhaps now, more than ever, a true believer should realize the very consequence of what we believe. Namely, that our belief is not morally or spiritually neutral and there are those who are bent on the destruction of our faith and practice. It is not enough to turn our heads, or to bury them in the sand, and laugh off the mischaracterization an answer to everyone who asks you to of our faith. At the very least we ought to be challenged to understand our faith more, and be ready, at any moment, as Peter commanded us “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have...”

*a quote from jacques berlinerblau
**i thought that perhaps i was the using anti-theism for the first time, but it turns out that this very term is used by the individuals listed above. so much for originality.

why peanuts is the best

so, i'm watching peanuts this morning with eva and charlie brown makes a reference to albert schweitzer. how can you not love a kids cartoon that references an esoteric german theologian from the turn of the twentieth century. also, found this. gotta love this too.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

three films i can't wait to see

i am excited about this. in this article viggo mortenson mentions investigationg russian prison tatoos. in 2000 and 2001 i spent nine months in russia. one of my good friends had a small tattoo at the back of his hand just beneath his thumb; three little dots in a triangular pattern. if you look at the picture of mortenson's hands in the poster you will see the same tattoo. i tried over and over again to get my friend to tell me what the tatoo meant. it was a mysterious tattoo to me at the time and he refused to tell me what it meant. much later i found out...
i am also excited about the two films by my favorite directors named anderson: the darjeeling limited and also there will be blood (can there be a more forboding title?)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

ironing out the wrinkles

madeleine l'engle died. death is hard. it's not as if her death has affected me profoundly or anything. but i think she was a pretty neat woman. it strikes me in thinking about her that she is the prototype of what a christian artist should be. she was a tremendous artist. she was faithful to what she believed, and yet it did not translate into hackneyed artistic products.

the problem with contemporary christian art is just that, it is christian art. it is art created specifically for a subculture community. it does not aspire to greatness outside of that community. and i believe that because it does not aspire to that kind of greatness it does not glorify god in the way that true Christian art should. i realize that much of what i am saying depends on vast generalizations, and obviously it does not apply to all christians who do art. however, if we think of the greatest christian artists over the past century they were not artisits who created art striclty for the christian comunity but rather artistis who did work in the public eye.

it seems to me that the christian's first responsibility is to the glory of God. this is a profound responsibility and ought to translate into first rate work. many people have written about this, and much more profoundly than i could ever. dorothy sayers comes to mind in particular. one can find a challenging depiction of the responsibility of the christian artist in her book of essays, Letters to a Post Christian World. another work that i have not read, but that that i have read snippets from is Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time. In it he says, "Art must transcend as well as observe; its role is tor bring spiritual vision to bear on reality."