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Within a week, the screen adaptation of C. S. Lewis' book, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," will make its way to the big screen. Articles and movie trailers abound (it is a bit odd hearing Al Michaels on ABC's Monday Night Football talk about Narnia and Aslan!), and a recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that the Disney and Walden Media joint venture has pulled out all the stops in marketing the film, not only to Christians, but also through school systems and retail venues throughout America.
The film is the first in a planned series of seven, and is reported to have cost $150 million to make, with profits expected to exceed $800 million including DVD sales - and they thought Tolkien's trilogy was a cottage industry! Meanwhile, HarperCollins, the publishing house of the C.S. Lewis Company in London, is publishing 170 books by or about Lewis in 60 countries. Peter Ross, writing in a November issue of the Sunday Herald in England, suggests that if we were to knock on that window of the Kilns in 1950 (Lewis' residence in Oxford) and inform the author of his widespread fame, he would think us "liars or lunatics!" Those familiar with Lewis' writings will pick up on his allusion. The latest hubbub even has it that a letter was recently recovered, supposedly written by Lewis to a producer following a 1959 BBC radio adaptation of one of the Chronicles books, in which he expressed great disdain toward any movie adaptation of the books. The plot thickens...
But returning to the Chronicles of Narnia books, all seven of the books were written over a six-year period between 1948 and 1954, and today they have sold almost 100 million copies. Clearly, Narnia today has become a byword for fantasy and the imagination. Lucy and the other Pevensie children making their way through the magical wardrobe into the land of talking animals has become one of the most famous stories in all literature.
Much has been written about the companionship between Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings, and a fellow member of the Inkings literary group in Oxford. While Lewis would find "success" for his books a rather difficult and humbling thing to accept, Tolkien never felt at ease with celebrity. One could make a good argument that one of the reasons for their friendship cooling over the latter part of their lives was due to the overseas success in America of Lewis' Chronicles. What is more, Tolkien would labor over his trilogy some twelve years, while Lewis wrote the entire Chronicles series of seven books in less than half the time. Both men would, of course, achieve great literary (and cinematic) success, but mostly after their lifetimes. In many ways, Tolkien viewed the Chronicles as a rather simplistic, "preachy" fairy tale series that was too overtly Christian in its message. And while those familiar with the Christian story will see the clear connections between the Christian faith and the magical world of Narnia (Lewis did not consider the books as allegory, but used the idea of "supposal," Aslan the lion as Christ, the children as disciples, etc.), enjoying the books does not require one to read them through a Christian lens.
But what could a children's book-turned-film about fairy tales and magic have to do with finding hope and purpose in life? What message could possibly help us along our way as adults? Why is it that children and adults alike have found these books, irrespectful of religious background, so comforting and moving through the decades since they were first published? The answer lies - and I mention one of the primary "vehicles" that Lewis employed - in the Wardrobe. It is through the Wardrobe that the Pevensie children sometimes (but not always) enter the magical world of Narnia. It was Lewis' belief that with the Wardrobe, the "inside is bigger than the outside," for it opens up into a whole New Country, a whole New World, beyond our own world. What was he saying? I think he was suggesting to us several things. First, genuine faith has a mystery and transcendence to it. We don't ever get it "figured out," for God Himself is bigger, larger, even than what we may come to believe about Him. Secondly, Lewis wants to remind us that we all need fantasy, mystery, hope, and our imaginations to understand that this present world is not all that there is. That somehow, someway, Another World awaits us, a world where there is no longer pain, frustration, disappointments and hurts, but a world where all things are eventually, "made right."
In many ways, he was telling us something that we all need to hear. For you see, deep down inside of us we all have an understanding that life is more than simply our net worth, our achievements, accomplishments. Deep down we know that life is more than "bread and circuses." Deep down, we all believe, or want to believe, or need to believe, that this present temporal life is but a preparation before another world dawns.
In the November 21 issue of The New Yorker magazine, Adam Gopnik gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the formative influences in Lewis' life. He concludes his article, "Prisoner of Narnia: How C. S. Lewis Escaped," with an insightful observation, reflecting on the magical world of Narnia, one that I am sure Lewis would agree:
"It is here that the atheist and the believer meet, exactly in the realm of made-up magic. Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences, living fairies and thriving Lilliputians, just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less our hopes."
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
"Happy New Year!" We've probably already used that greeting many times as the year winds down, and we look forward to what 2006 will bring. And if we think about this simple greeting, we might ask ourselves, but doesn't every American want to be happy? And happy ALL the time? An article in the Op-Ed section of today's New York Times by Darrin McMahon entitled, "In Pursuit of Unhappiness," gave me reason to reflect on the phrase, especially during this festive season of glad tidings and good cheer. The article, taken from McMahon's forthcoming book, Happiness: A History, not only gives us a historical perspective on the pursuit of happiness in America, but also gives us insight about ourselves, what is important to us.
While our emphasis on mirth might seem like a timeless wish, as though seeking happiness is synonymous with being human, McMahon points out that this preoccupation with endless bliss is a relatively recent phenomenon. He quotes Thomas Carlyle, who observed in 1843, "'Happiness our being's end and aim' is at bottom, if we will count well, not yet two centuries old in the world." Carlyle was pretty accurate, as history suggests that it was not until the 17th century that "happiness," in the form of pleasure or good feeling, became not only morally acceptable, but commendable in and of itself.
This shift in the cultural landscape was profound, and its implications far reaching. While in an earlier day happiness was perceived as belonging to the Next World, as people saw signs of God's blessings in earthly satisfactions, the heavenly vision was dimmed, so that suffering was no longer understood to be our natural state. "Happy" was now the way we were meant to be, not in the life to come, but in this temporal life. Among the implications of this new perspective, the holiday season was transformed from a time of pious worship into one of unadulterated bliss.
According to McMahon, Carlyle's major insight, that the new doctrine of happiness tended to raise expectations that could never possibly be fulfilled, is without question as relevant today as it was in 1843. Despite having more time-saving devices, far better living standards, and more avenues for pleasure than ever before, we are arguably no happier than our ancestors. And yet, come January, as in years gone by, the self-help gurus through their books and seminars will promise to make us happier. Interestingly enough, the very fact that there is such a demand for these products would lead one to believe that they aren't really working. And if we are honest with ourselves, we might even admit that all the talk about holiday cheer (with those TV commercials with perfect families where everyone gets along great) creates more depression, blues, and sadness, than cheer.
Thomas Carlyle's long-time rival, and sometime friend, the philosopher John Stuart Mill, came to a similar conclusion about the false promises of holiday cheer. Yet, rather than resign himself to gloom, Mill committed to look for happiness in another way: "Those only are happy," he concluded, "who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way."
McMahon, a professor of history at Florida State University, ends his fine article with a wise word for us all: "For our own culture, steeped as it is in the relentless pursuit of personal pleasure and endless cheer, (Mill's) message is worth heeding...So in these last days of 2005 I say to you, 'Don't have a happy new year!' Have dinner with your family or walk in the park with friends. If you're so inclined, put in some good hours at the office or at your favorite charity, temple or church. Work on your jump shot or your child's model trains. With luck, you'll find happiness by the by. If not, your time won't be wasted. You may even bring a little joy to the world."
Pretty good advice for living in a narcissist, pleasure-seeking culture.
For Finishing Well,
"In Pursuit Of Unhappiness," by Darrin McMahon, The New York Times Op-Ed Page
Robert Hutchins once observed, 'When I feel like exercising I just lie down until the feeling goes away." We may chuckle at his remark, but all too often our lives resemble his sentiment. Like it or not, Mark Twain was not far off the mark when he declared: "The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not do." Calvin Trillin remarked, "Health food makes me sick!" Well, maintaining our health may not be that bad, but few would question that a key to finishing well in our lives is to do all we can to maintain our health for the coming years.
We've all seen the many articles at the start of the new year stressing the need to make course corrections in our lives. An article that I recently came across made some significant observations about the extent of heart disease, and how to fight it. In the U.S. alone, heart disease accounts for a whopping $400 billion annual cost of heart treatment and lost productivity; 900,000 heart attacks and strokes; 1.2 million angioplasties; and 500,000 bypass operations. According to this study conducted by Salim Yusuf, a heart disease specialist at McMaster University in Toronto, nine risk factors account for 90% of the heart disease in every population in the world. While the risk factors are not new (we have heard them before: smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, stress, a deskbound job and a diet that is rich in processed foods, etc.), what is new is the powerful evidence of the toll they take. The evidence comes from Yusuf's Interheart Study, a worldwide examination of heart disease risk factors involving more than 26,000 volunteers in 52 countries. Based on the study, Yusuf says, "we know virtually all of the risk factors in every population."
Clogged arteries are a "societal disease," Yusuf says, "brought on by cities built for automobiles and ease, fearturing urban sprawl, high pressure sedentary work, passive entertainment and lots of cheap, tasty processed food." Surprisingly, family history - believed by many to be the biggest heart risk of all - accounts for just a fraction of the 10% of remaining risk, the study shows. The Interheart Study, observes Richard Milani, director of preventive cardiology at the Ochsner Institute in New Orleans, "focuses on things we can do something about. We're all dying from a disease that's primarily a disease of choice, of lifestyle."
To that end, here is a brief description of the 9 factors that affect our heart's health:
1. Bad Cholesterol - Good Cholesterol - High cholesterol roughly quadruples heart attack risk. Bad cholesterol (LDL) carries fats into the artery wall, while good cholesterol (HDL) carries it away. A sedentary lifestyle and fatty diet increase LDL, while exercise and a healthy diet switch the ratio and keep the arteries clear.
2. Diabetes - Diabetes doubles a man's risk of having a heart attack. Diabetes, liking smoking, causes platelets to stick together, resulting in scores of tiny clots. These clots clog the smaller blood vessels that feed nerves and arteries, which is a key reason diabetes destroys circulation.
3. Psychosocial Stress - Stressfrul life events, behavioral disorders, and depression nearly triple the risk of heart attack. Depressed people with heart disease are four times more likely to have a heart attack or die.
4. Abdominal Obesity - Abdominal obesity more than doubles the risk of heart attack in men. Milani observes, "It's not a big rear that will get you in trouble; it's a big belly." Abdominal fat is hormonally active, "begetting diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol."
5. Smoking - Smokers are two to three times more likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers. Cigarette smoke damages the artery wall, paving the way for inflammation and cholesterol build-up. It also narrows arteries, and activates platelets, sticky cells that cling together and promote clotting.
6. High Blood Pressure - High blood pressure nearly triples a man's risk of having a heart attack. Narrowed blood vessels force the heart to work harder, slowly wearing it out.
7. Alcohol - While modest amounts of alcohol reduce a man's heart attack risk by 12% (and a woman's by 60%!), too much (more than a drink a day) can promote heart disease, cancer, and alcoholism.
8. Eating Fruits & Vegetables - Want to cut your risk of heart attack by 30-40%? Eat fresh fruits and vegetables. They lower bad cholesterol, improve blood sugar, and replace foods that are not as healthy.
9. Yeah, You Knew the Last One...EXERCISE - Believe it or not, moderate exercise reduces a man's heart risk by 23% and a woman's by twice that amount. "We're not talking about marathons," Milani says. "Even just a nice walk in the park." Exercise improves cholesterol, staves off diabetes by improving blood sugar, and promotes blood vessel growth.
So how are we doing? Why not spend some time thinking about how you can implement better eating habits, handle stress more effectively in your life, and make exercise (even moderate) a part of your daily regimen.
Actress Natalie Wood once observed, "The only time a woman really succeeds in changing a man is when he is a baby." We may find the remark amusing, and yet, deep down, we realize that she may be on to something. I'm not suggesting that we never change things in our lives, but there is something deeply embedded in us that makes us resist change at all costs, especially when it is encouraged by our wives (often those who love us the most). But let me make it clear that I'm not blindly defending the American male. For I believe a lot of the challenges and spiritual struggles we face as men are rooted in our stubborn, prideful refusal to change. We want to maintain the status quo, to simply be left alone. Many of us are so consumed with our work and other diversions so that only in retrospect do we see, with clarity, what we have sacrificed in years gone by.
And yet, I am reminded of how challenging it is being a man, a father, a husband, in today's culture. Not only are there tremendous expectations placed upon men from every direction (running a business, financial pressures, spending quality time with our wives and children), but there also seems to be a strong sentiment against men in general. Truly, male-bashing is in vogue! And one can only wonder how previous generations of men ever survived without the abundance of personal & religious self-help books to "improve" them - make them better men, better husbands, better fathers.
As I meet with men who are working hard "juggling the balls in the air" of their lives, I'm reminded of our need for companionship with other men along the journey. And while our wives can do much to encourage us in our lives, they really don't know what it is like to be a man. A number of years ago, Garrison Keillor wrote an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times that expresses well what it is like to be a man today in America:
"This was not a great year for guys...Guys are in trouble. Manhood, once an opportunity for achievement, now seems like a problem to be overcome. Plato, St. Francis, Leonardo da Vinci, Vince Lombardi - you don't find guys of that caliber today. What you find is terrible gender anxiety, guys trying to be Mr. Right, the man who can bake a cherry pie, go shoot skeet, come back, toss a salad, converse easily about intimate matters, cry if need be, laugh, hug, be vulnerable, perform passionately that night and the next day go off and lift them bales onto that barge and tote it. Being perfect is a terrible way to spend your life, and guys are not equipped for it anyway. It is like a bear riding a bicycle: He can be trained to do it for short intervals, but he would rather be in the woods doing what bears do there."
If you sometimes feel like the bear riding the bicycle, we hope to provide some encouragement along the way, and perhaps, even a map back to the woods.
Years ago actor Steve Martin's character in the film, Grand Canyon, observed, "All of life's riddles are solved in the movies." While the films of Woody Allen hardly attempt to solve the riddles of life, his latest film, Match Point, raises significant, albeit serious questions, about the kind of universe we live in. Is life all chance or is it a dance? Because Allen's early films are some of the funniest ever made, it is often assumed that he is a comic at heart, which has often led to misunderstandings about his films. But now and then, Allen attempts to remove the confusion by producing films which, sometimes elegantly and sometimes brashly, present his view of the world that is essentially nihilistic (without meaning and purpose). In film after film, he has announced an absolute lack of faith in any moral ordering of the universe - and still, people think he is joking.
In Match Point, arguably his most satisfying and best movie since his critically-acclaimed Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), the director again brings us the bad news, with the setting in London instead of Manhattan, Brit actors instead of Americans, and with a dark humor that rivals any of his previous films. As a review in The New York Times put it, "this is a Champagne cocktail laced with strychnine."
The film stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Chris Wilton, a poor boy from Ireland turned social climber, who is a former tennis pro who left the tour and now works as a club pro at a posh country club in London. As he helps the rich members polish their ground strokes, he meets rich young Tom (Matthew Goode), an amiable yet unserious heir to a business fortune, who invites Chris to attend the opera with his family. Tom has a pretty sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), eager to become romantically involved with Chris. Presiding over this upper-crust London family is a corporate giant of a father, Alec (Brian Cox), who would be quite happy to find room at the top of the family business for this book-loving future son-in-law (Chris is seen reading Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment early on in the film). The snake in this Eden is Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), an American actress whose difficult challenge to make it big on the London stage is softened by enjoying the privileges that come with being Tom's plaything of a fiancee. Tom likes Nola, but one wonders to what degree? And do his parents approve? And these two outsiders, Chris and Nola, who are attempting to make inroads into the London high-society scene, as fate would have it, become more attracted to each other than to the wealthy family siblings. Suffice it to say that all is decided in the fullness of time, and I'll stay mum on the details in order not to spoil the film's twists and turns, which are clever, but hard to anticipate.
Instead, let's consider briefly the underlying philosophical issues embraced by Allen in this film. As Roger Ebert has observed in his review of Match Point, "One reason for the fascination of Woody Allen's Match Point is that each and every character is rotten. This is a thriller not about good versus evil, but about various species of evil engaged in a struggle for survival of the fittest - or, as the movie makes clear, the luckiest." Ebert is right when is observes that, "the movie is more about plot and moral vacancy than about characters."
While in Allen's earlier film, Crimes and Misdemeanors, he raises the age-old question of whether a man can commit a heinous crime and live with himself, without genuine guilt and remorse, in Match Point he seems to have moved further away from any kind of worldview that embraces a moral Right and Wrong. In a December documentary titled, Woody Allen: A Life in Film, conducted by the celebrated Time Magazine reporter Richard Schickel, Allen brazenly notes that he does not even believe in God. To Allen, Fate, Chance, or Blind Luck has become his god. "I'd rather be lucky than good," Chris tells us as the movie opens, and we see a tennis ball striking the tape at the top of the net -sometimes luck has it that it goes over the net and you win the point, and other times it falls on your side and you lose the point. If you think you know where this mind teaser of a movie is going, think again. Allen's Match Point in some ways serves as a "meditation" on a world where Luck plays a greater role than an absent God. By the film's end, if you are like me, you may find it morally repugnant that your expectation for justice is not realized in the shocker of an ending.
You may be wondering, though, what in the world does Allen's Match Point have to do with finishing well in life? Let me suggest that it makes all the difference in the world. For if we do not live in a moral universe, where there are Rights and Wrongs, where we at least have the hope that our labors and aspirations will be rewarded, if not in this life, then in a life to come, then this life is nothing but a futile existence, signifying nothing. If all is determined by a Blind Fate, it further suggests that our hopes and desires to find meaning and purpose in life, to work with excellence and integrity, to raise our children with the hopes that they will be godly, law-abiding contributors for the good of society, is but an empty shibboleth. Allen would do well to remind himself of Dostoevsky's most famous maxim: "If there is no God, then all things are permitted." I'm not convinced that he truly lives his life in such a way.
"What difference does Heaven make to earth, to now, to our lives? Only the difference between hope and despair in the end, between two totally different visions of life, between 'chance' or 'the dance.' At death we find out which vision is true: does it all go down the drain in the end, or are all the loose threads finally tied together into a gloriously perfect tapestry? Do the tangled paths through the forest of life lead to the golden castle or over the cliff and into the abyss? Is death a door or a hole?" -Peter Kreeft
One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.
On their return, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?"
"It was great, Dad."
"Did you see how poor people live?" the father asked.
"Oh, yeah," said the son.
"So tell me, what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father.
The son answered, "I saw that we have one dog, and they have four."
"We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end."
"We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have the stars at night."
"Our patio reaches to the front yard, but they have the whole horizon."
"We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight."
" We have servants who serve us, but they serve others."
"We buy our food, but they grow theirs."
"We have walls around our property to protect us, yet they have friends to protect them."
The boy's father was speechless...
Then his son added, "Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are."
Rarely have I been forwarded an article by so many of you men as the article that follows about a courageous friendship between a father and a son, Dick and Rick Hoyt. You may have seen the video of this moving story in recent months (see the link at the end). Rick Reilly, one of the best sports writers in America, wrote this piece in tribute to this father and son. Who says that sports and competition cannot be a fitting venue for bravery and courage, and the bonding of a father and son? Here is Reilly's article in full, which appeared in the June 20th, 2005 issue of Sports Illustrated:
"I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay for their text messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots. But compared to Dick Hoyt, I suck.
Eighty-five times he's pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars - all in the same day.
Dick's also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. on a bike. Makes taking your son bowling look a little lame, right? And what has Rick done for his father? Not much - except save his life.
This love story began in Winchester, Mass., 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs. "He'll be a vegetable the rest of his life," Dick says doctors told him and his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. "Put him in an institution." But the Hoyts weren't buying it. They noticed the way Rick's eyes followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. "No way," Dick says he was told. "There's nothing going on in his brain."
"Tell him a joke," Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was going on in his brain. Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? "Go Bruins!" And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, "Dad, I want to do that."
Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described "porker" who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. "Then it was me who was handicapped," Dick says. "I was sore for two weeks." That day changed Rick's life. "Dad," he typed, "when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!" And that sentence changed Dick's life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard belly shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.
"No way," Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren't quite a single runner, and they weren't quite a wheelchair competitor. For a few years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway, then they found a way to get into the race officially: In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the qualifying time for Boston the following year.
Then somebody said, "Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?" Here's a guy who never learned to swim and hadn't ridden a bike since he was six going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick tried. Now they've done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii. It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don't you think?
Hey, Dick, why not see how you'd do on your own? "No way," he says. Dick does it purely for "the awesome feeling" he gets seeing Rick with a cantaloupe smile as they run, swim and ride together. This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best time? Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992 - only 25 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don't keep track of these things, happens to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at the time.
"No question about it," Rick types. "My dad is the Father of the Century." And Dick got something else out of all this too. Two years ago he had a mild heart attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries waw 95% clogged. "If you hadn't been in such great shape," one doctor told him, " you probably would've died 15 years ago."
So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other's life.
Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass., always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend.
That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy. "The thing I'd most like," Rick types, "is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once."
-Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated, June 20, 2005
For a video of this story, please go to:
In Pleasantville, a 1998 fantasy-comedy written and directed by Gary Ross, a brother and sister from the 1990's, David and Jennifer (played by Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) find themselves literally sucked into their television set, and suddenly find themselves in Pleasantville, a quaint little town complete with new (pleasant) parents, old fashioned values, and loads of innocence and naivete. David and Jennifer have landed in a "Leave It To Beaver" world, popularized years ago by the TV series of the same name. Interestingly, this new town of Pleasantville is literally a black-and-white world, but as the two teens attempt to become a part of this "backwards" town, strange things begin to happen. Suddenly, color begins to creep into this black-and-white world, and curiously, the more the "rules" of society are broken, the more colorful life gets in Plesantville, USA.
I'll leave it to you to weigh-in on the significance of the "coloring" of Pleasantville, but it reminds me that we no longer live in such a simple and innocent world. I came across an excerpt from an actual 1950's Home Economics textbook, that was intended to teach high school girls how to prepare for married life. The ten guidelines are as follows:
1. Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal-on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him, and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home, and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.
2. Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.
3. Clear away clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gather up school books, toys, paper,etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too.
4. Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children's hands and faces if they are small, comb their hair, and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.
5. Minimize the noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, dryer or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad to see him.
6. Some DON'TS: Don't greet him with problems or complaints; Don't complain if he's late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day.
7. Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lay down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.
8. Listen to him. You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.
9. Make the evening his. Never complain if he doesn't take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his need to be home and relax.
10. The goal. Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can relax.
I'm serious, This is not made up! Could this truly be the mindset of the 1950's and 60's? Whether this was the way things really were (or perceived that they should be), I am not sure. My purpose here is not to even remotely suggest that women today are no longer committed to their husbands and families, etc., but only to observe how strange such words sound to us today. Truly, times have changed! Truly, it was good to be king!
How do you weigh-in on this? What societal influences have caused this shift in the way we look at life? How has the blur in the distinction between the roles of men and women in society impacted our perspective? Do you think a lot of the differences can really be attributed to busyness? If I hear from enough of you, I'll post the "updated" version for today's modern woman!
In spite of the increasing power on the national stage, along with packed megachurches across America, evangelical Christian leaders are giving warnings that our teenagers are abandoning the Christian faith in droves.
In spite of the increasing political clout on the national stage, along with packed megachurches across America, evangelical Christian leaders are giving warnings that our teenagers are abandoning the Christian faith in droves. As reported in a recent article in The New York Times, in a series of unusual leadership meetings in forty-four cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing some dire forecasts from some of the more luminary representatives of the conservative, evangelical movement in America.
One of the more alarming trends noted by some of these leaders is that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be "Bible-believing Christians" as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with the 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and the 65 percent of the World War II generation. While some youth leaders believe the statistics are greatly exaggerated (one evangelical magazine for youth pastors has dubbed the findings as "the 4 percent panic attack"), there is little doubt among most evangelical leaders that teens of today do not share "their father's world." They look at life, including their faith, through a different set of glasses.
Ron Luce, who founded the youth ministry outreach called Teen Mania, observes that: "I'm looking at the data, and we've become post-Christian America, like post-Christian Europe. We've been working as hard as we know how to work - everyone in youth ministry is working hard - but we're losing." And many Christian teenagers and youth pastors are sounding a similar genuine alarm, admitting that they find it difficult to compete against a pervasive culture of cynicism about their Christian faith, as well as the casual "hooking up" approach to sex, and a culture that glamorizes alcohol and drugs. Oftentimes, evangelical teens feel like a tiny, beleaguered minority in a sea of relativism.
Yet, the phenomenon may not be that young evangelicals are abandoning their faith, but that they are abandoning the institutional church. So says Lauren Sandler, author of Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, who writes that she has found the movement "frighteningly robust," in spite of the fact that she sees herself as a secular liberal. Ms. Sandler, an editor at Salon.com, suggests that "this generation is not about church. They always say, 'We take our faith outside the four walls.' For a lot of young evangelicals, church is a rock festival, or a skate park or hanging out in someone's basement."
According to Christian Smith, evangelicals are the envy of Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Jews, when it comes to organizing youth. Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, specializes in the study of American evangelicals, and conducted extensive surveys of teens for his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford Press, 2005).
Smith says he was skeptical about the 4 percent statistic cited earlier, and observed that the figure was from a footnote in a book which was inconsistent with research he had conducted and reviewed, which found that evangelical teens are more likely to remain involved with their faith than are mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews and teens from almost every other religion. "A lot of the goals I'm very supportive of," Smith said of the new evangelical youth campaign, "but it just kills me that it's framed in such apocalyptic terms that couldn't possibly hold up under half a second of scutiny. It's just self-defeating."
While the statistics can be debated ad infinitum, there is little doubt that our secularized culture has a profound impact upon all of us, and especially our teenagers. We would do well to see that they have the opportunity, whether in a church or parachurch setting, to have quality biblical instruction, authentic community, and youth leaders who serve as significant role models.
"I was born to be a point guard, but not a very good one." So reads the memorable first line of My Losing Season, best-selling novelist Pat Conroy's 2002 memoir of his 1966-67 basketball season at The Citadel, where the team finished with a miserable 8-16 record. This Friday, Conroy and his Citadel teammates of 40 years ago will gather for a reunion, as one writer has observed, "in defiance of natural law." Muses Conroy, "It is the winners who have reunions...the losing teams of the world disband without fanfare or any sense of regret." Yet Conroy has good reason for celebration and inviting his old friends to the season opener, as his first cousin, Ed Conroy, himself a celebrated basketball player at The Citadel, is the Bulldogs' new coach.
In many ways, this is the story of a score-settling novelist and the father and his alma mater which he simulaneously loved, hated, and exposed, all mind you, through his literary genius. In Conroy's, The Great Santini, he presented his father as an ex-Marine who was overbearing to his wife and children, to put it mildly. His best-selling, The Lords of Discipline, revealed The Citadel as a military "spit-and-polish" school where first-year knobs were often abused to mold them into Citadel men. Conroy would again take his father to task in his non-fiction work, My Losing Season, but offered up on the sacrificial altar Coach Mel Thompson as a surrogate, who was fired after the 1966-67 season.
Ironically, it was Conroy's mercurial ex-fighter pilot and father, Don, who took his nephew Ed under his wing in the 1980's, encouraging The Citadel to recruit Ed. He then proceeded to watch 46 of Ed's college games (according to a family count), which was 45 more than he saw of his own son Pat's. "I think he was doing for Ed what he did not do for me--or could not do for me," Conroy offers. "Dad would have loved to see Ed become coach of The Citadel. He would have been out of his mind for it."
Don Conroy died in 1998, and while he was at first furious about "Colonel Bull Meecham," the character from The Great Santini based on his life, Pat believes that his father used his 1976 novel as a blueprint to reinvent himself. "Dad showed few human characteristics" until then, Pat says. "That's when he became a Santa Claus figure to his nieces and nephews...I think it was Ed's hero worship of my father that got him to come to The Citadel."
There is little question that writing for Conroy (and he is a tremendously gifted writer) has served as a healing, cathartic experience, to exorcise the "demons" from his past troubles with his father and his alma mater. But one doesn't have to read far to feel his pain. We all have been impacted by our own fathers, both for good and for not, have we not? What are the messages and life lessons we have received from them? Have we been able to separate the wheat from the chaff? And what are the messages and life lessons that we are effectively sending to our own children? Bertrand Russell once observed, "The fundamental defect of fathers is that they want their children to be a credit to them." Could he have been right?
"Sports books are always about winning because winning is far more pleasurable and exhilarating to read about than losing. Winning is wonderful in every aspect, but the darker music of loss resonates on deeper, richer planes. I think about all the games of that faraway year that played such a part in shaping me, and it is the losses that stand out because they still make their approach with all their capacities to wound intact. Winning makes you think you'll always get the girl, land the job, deposit the million-dollar check, win the promotion, and you grow accustomed to a life of answered prayers. Winning shapes the soul of bad movies and novels and lives. It is the subject of thousands of insufferably bad books and is often a sworn enemy of art."
-Pat Conroy, My Losing Season
"There is a remarkable breakdown of taste and intelligence at Christmastime. Mature, responsible grown men wear neckties made out of holly leaves and drink alcoholic beverages with raw egg yolks and cottage cheese in them." -P. J. O'Rourke
"Early in life I developed a distaste for the Cratchits that time has not sweetened. I do not think I was an embittered child, but the Cratchit's aggressive worthiness, their bravely borne poverty, their exultation over that wretched goose, disgusted me. I particularly disliked Tiny Tim (a part always played by a girl because girls had superior powers of looking moribund and worthy at the same time), and when he chirped, 'God bless us every one!", my mental response was akin to Sam Goldwyn's famous phrase, 'Include me out.'" -Robertson Davies
"A little girl said she like Santa Claus better than Jesus because 'you have to be good for Santa only at Christmas, but for Jesus you had to be good all the time.' Much of the Christmas observance at church is not far removed from that attitude." -Vance Havner
Dear Mary: Just a very hurried line-- (1). To condole with you on the loss of Fr. ________. (2). To tell a story which puts the contrast between our feast of the Nativity and, all this ghastly "Xmas" racket at its lowest. My brother heard a woman on a 'bus say, as the 'bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, "Oh, Lor'! They bring religion into everything. Look...they're dragging it even into Christmas now!" Love and sympathy from us both. Yours, Jack. -C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady
"What you do not understand, treat with reverence and be patient, and what you do understand, cherish and keep." -Augustine of Hippo, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany (4th century)
This Sunday when millions of viewers tune in to watch Super Bowl XLI from Miami, chances are good that they will witness similar, and instructive, leadership styles from the Colts' head coach, Tony Dungy, and the Bears' Lovie Smith. These two coaches have remained close friends over the years as Dungy, after securing his first NFL head-coaching job in 1996 with Tampa Bay, gave Lovie Smith his first job in the NFL as an assistant in charge of the Buccaneers' linebackers.
Both Dungy and Smith stand out in the National Football League's scream-and-holler culture, where they both believe that they can get their players to compete more fiercely and play more productively by calmly giving directions to players and treating them with respect. An article a few days ago in The Wall Street Journal pointed out that their laid-back leadership style doesn't mean that they aren't demanding or have high expectations for their players. Mr. Dungy has a grading system that counts players' "loafs" (not running at full speed, failing to hit an opponent when he could have, etc.), and it's hard to get through a game without getting at least one. Smith, when he became the Bears' head coach three years ago, implemented a similar system to Dungy, and told players he wanted them to lift more weights and eat better because he wanted a slimmer, faster team. And when Smith gets angry, he is known to give what his players call the "Lovie Look," which they admit is a warning, and more frightening than a littany of angry words!
While executive "screaming" is not as common as it was a few years ago, some of the recent leadership changes at a few of the nation's largest companies remind us that it is still an often used style to get one's way across. Frank Blake, Home Depot's new CEO, is far more mild-mannered than former CEO, Bob Nardelli, and Disney's Robert Iger is at least perceived as fair, compared with his mercurial predecessor, Michael Eisner.
When business executives ridicule and scream at employees, they don't realize how often it results in lost productivity, discouragement of innovation, and a talent drain at their companies, says James Clifton, CEO of the Gallup Organization. "There's a big difference between saying 'you made a stupid mistake' and screaming 'you're really stupid,'" says Gary Hayes, co-founder of New York consultant Hayes Brunswick. He worked with a New York law firm where a senior partner flung heavy law books across the room at an associate. "The associate told me it was all right since the partner intentionally threw to miss - not to hit him," says Mr Hayes. "But the associate soon moved to another firm."
For some executives and coaches, screaming is their means to show that they are in charge, and it may be the behavior that is expected from their bosses. The Colts' Mr. Dungy says he didn't get some jobs earlier in his career because he was considered too laid-back and polite, and didn't believe being a great coach "required him to sacrifice his family or his faith." In an interview years ago, one NFL owner asked him if he would make the team the most important thing in his life, and he said no. "I figured I probably wouldn't get that job, and I didn't," he said last week at a press conference. "I think your faith is more important that your job, family is more important than your job. We all know that's the way it should be, be we're kind of afraid to say that sometimes."
The Colts and Bears play "tough, disciplined football, even though there's not a lot of profanity from the coaches," says Dungy. "There's none of the win-at-all-costs atmosphere. I think for two guys to show you can win that way is important for the country."
So who said we couldn't find something encouraging and redemptive from the Super Bowl this weekend?
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Augusta National officials say they are often asked what trees line the club's famous driveway, Magolia Lane. They're magnolia trees, of course - 61 in all. In the light of the Masters Golf Tournament that begins tomorrow, The Wall Street Journal recently published their 18-hole "Augusta Challenge," so one could test their knowledge of this wonderful golf spectacle. See how you do on six of the most intriguing trivia questions:
Question 1- What is the lowest score in a round at the Masters?
1. 62 by Jack Nicklaus in 1962. He holds a record six titles but didn't win that year.
2. 64 by Craig Wood in the second Masters in 1935, tied by Sam Snead in 1953. Each won in those years.
1. Jack Nicklaus at age 46
2. Gary Player at aage 48
3. Arnold Palmer at age 44
4. The first Masters winner, Horton Smith, at age 43
Question 3 - Why is the Masters played in early April?
1. Bobby Jones, the Masters founder, liked the descriptions of the color of the azaleas in those first radio broadcasts.
2. Mr. Jones picked early April because sportswriters heading north from baseball's spring training in Florida would be willing to stop off to cover the Masters.
3. It wasn't at first, but when CBS signed up to broadcast the Masters, the network insisted that the tournament move to early April.
4. Mr. Jones liked having the year's first major golf event, making it similar to baseball's opening day.
Question 4 - Why are the holes at Augusta named after flowers?
1. Club co-founder Clifford Roberts was an amateur botanist.
2. The seller of the property to Messrs. Jones and Roberts insisted on it.
3. The property had been an indigo plantation, and then a nursery.
4. An early tournament winner, Walter Hagen, liked to stop and smell the flowers. After he mentioned this to officials one year, they named the holes after flowers in his honor.
Question 5 - During World War II, the Masters wasn't played in 1943-1945. What were the grounds used for?
1. Drill and marching groups from nearby Camp Gordon (now Fort Gordon) paraded up and down the fairways.
2. German POW's were camped there.
3. Cows and turkeys grazed the land in support of the war effort.
4. Much of the land was plowed under, and cotton was grown to be used for soldiers' uniforms.
Question 6 - The 13th hole is appropriately named Azalea. Approximately how many of these shrubs line this often-photographed 510-yard par-five hole?
1. About 700
2. About 1,100
3. About 1,600
4. It used to be about 1,800, but since the tee was moved back 25 yards a few years ago, it's now over 2,000
"Most of us don't really know how well we're doing, in real life, and imagine we're doing not so bad. The world conspires to flatter us; only golf trusts us with a cruelly honest report on our performance...The game and your swing provide a barrage of criticism that there is no evading..."
"Our bad golf testifies, we cannot help feeling, to our being bad people - bad to the core. Socrates or his mouthpiece Plato thought that to know the good was to do the good, automatically. But, like a character out of Dostoevsky, we perversely continue to play with wild and self-punishing imperfection..."
"Golf morality runs to paradoxes. He who hits down sees the ball soar. He who looks up tops the ball into the tall grass. He who tries to hit hardest loses yardage to the supple devil-may-care. He who strives to steer the ball into the hole winds up stubbing the putt. 'He who would save his life must lose it,' a rabbi once advised. 'Let the nothingness into yer shots,' the imaginary pro Shivas Irons instructed his disciple in Michael Murphy's lovely Golf in the Kingdom. Don't try too hard, we might more simply say..."
"Golf's ultimate moral instruction directs us to find within ourselves a pivotal center of enjoyment: relax into a rhythm that fits the hills and swales, and play the shot at hand - not the last one, or the next one, but the one at your feet, in the poison ivy, where you put it."
Little wonder that writer Scott Peck once likened golf to a spiritual exercise. Isn't it amazing that a game that can deliver so much joy and delight, can also excruciatingly reveal so much about ourselves?
Oh, yes. The answers:
Question #1 - 4
Question #2 - 1
Question #3 - 2
Question #4 - 3
Question #5 - 3
Question #6 - 3
N.B. - Email me if you wish to have the complete 18 - hole Wall Street Journal "Augusta Challenge" trivia quiz emailed to you in pdf.
The shooting massacre at Virginia Tech last week has left our society numb, searching for answers of how this sort of thing could ever have occurred. Peggy Noonan's column last week in The Wall Street Journal on this horrible tragedy provides insights that we don't generally hear from the media. Here are some of her thoughts from her column entitled, "Cold Standard."
"I saw an old friend on the Acela on the way to Washington, and he told me of the glum, grim faces at the station he'd left, all the commuters with newspapers in their hands and under their arms. This was the day after Virginia Tech. We talked about what was different this time, in this tragedy. I told him I felt people were stricken because they weren't stricken. When Columbine happened, it was weird and terrible, and now there have been some incidents since, and now it's not weird anymore. And that is what's so terrible. It's the difference between 'That doesn't happen!' and 'That happens.' "
"Actually I thought of Thoreau. He said he didn't have to read newspapers because if you're familiar with a principle you don't have to be familiar with its numerous applications. If you know lightning hits trees, you don't have to know every time a tree is struck by lightning. In terms of school schootings, we are now familiar with the principle."
"Dennis Miller the other night said something compassionate and sensible on TV. Invited to criticize some famous person's stupid response to a past tragedy, he said he sort of applied a 48 hour grace period after a tragedy and didn't hold anyone to the things they'd said. People get rattled and say things that are extreme. But more than 48 hours have passed. So: some impressions..."
"There seems to me a sort of broad national diminution of common sense in our country that we don't notice in the day-to-day but that become obvious after a story like this. Common sense says a person like Cho Seung-hui, who was obviously dangerous and unstable, should have been separated from the college population. Common sense says someone should have stepped in like an adult, like a person in authority, and taken him away. It is only common sense that if a person like Cho leaves a self-aggrandizing, self-celebrating, self-pitying video diary of himself to be played by the mass media, the mass media should not play it and not publicize it, not make it famous. Common sense says that won't help."
"And all those big cops, scores of them, hundreds, with the latest, heaviest, most sophisticated gear, all the weapons and helmets and safety vests and belts. It looked like the brute force of the state coming up against uncontrollable human will. But it also looked muscle bound. And the schools themselves more and more look muscle bound, weighed down with laws and legal assumptions and strange prohibitions."
"The school officials I saw, especially the head of the campus psychological services, seemed to me endearing losers. But endearing is too strong. I mean 'not obviously and vividly offensive.' The school officials who gave all the highly competent, almost smooth and practiced news conferences seemed to me like white, bearded people who were educated in softness. Cho was 'troubled'; he clearly had 'issues'; it would have been good if someone had 'reached out'; it's too bad America doesn't have better 'support services.' They don't use direct, clear words, because if they're blunt, they're implicated."
"I wondered about the emptiness of the phrases used by the media and by political figures, and how pro forma and lifeless and cold they are. The formalized language of loss hasn't kept up with the number of tragedies. 'A nation mourns.' 'Our prayers are with you.' the latter is both self-complimenting and of dubious believability. Did you really pray? Or is it just a phrase? And this as opposed to the honest things normal people say: 'Oh no.' 'I am so sorry.' 'I'm sad.' 'It's horrible.'"
"With all the therapy in our great therapized nation, with all our devotion to emotions and feelings, one senses we are becoming a colder culture, and a colder country. We purport to be compassionate - we must respect Mr. Cho's privacy rights and personal autonomy - but of course it is cold not to have protected others from him. It is cold not to have protected himself from himself."
"The most common-sensical thing I heard said came Thursday morning, in a hospital interview with a student who'd been shot and was recovering. Garrett Evans said of the man who'd shot him, 'An evil spirit was going through that boy, I could feel it.' It was one of the few things I heard the past few days that sounded completely true. Whatever else Cho was, he was also a walking infestation of evil. Too bad nobody stopped him. Too bad nobody moved."
-Excerpts from Peggy Noonan's Declarations column, "Cold Standard," in the Saturday/Sunday, April 21-22, 2007 issue of The Wall Street Journal, page P16.
Widely hailed as the greatest drama ever created for television, The Sopranos came to an abrupt end last Sunday evening after 8 years, 86 episodes, and 18 Emmy Awards. Praise for the highly acclaimed HBO series has come from unexpected places, like Peggy Noonan, a regular contributor forThe Wall Street Journal. In her piece on The Sopranos last weekend in the Journal, Noonan offered: "The Sopranos wasn't only a great show or even a classic. It was a masterpiece, and its end Sunday night is an epochal event....It was real, Old Jersey real (Satriale's butcher shop, not the mall) and primal. It was about big things, as all great drama is - the human hunger for dominance, for safety, for love; the desire to rise in the world; the need to belong to something,..Because it was primal, its dialogue was pared to the bone and entered the language. 'You disrespecting the Bing?' 'You wanna get whacked?' And other famous phrases, many of them obscene..."
But the abrupt finale, despite the high expectations, has been mercilessly bashed by fans and critics. Writing in The New York Times on the show's ending, Alessandra Stanley wrote: "There was no good ending, so 'The Sopranos' left off without one. The abrupt finale last night was almost like a prank, a mischievous dig at viewers who had agonized over how television's most addictive series would come to a close. The suspense of the final scene in the diner was almost cruel. And certainly that last bit of song, -'Don't Stop Believing,' by Journey - had to be a joke."
After so much frenzied anticipation of the finale, when the screen literally went black, with the music playing in the background as Tony and his family munched onion rings in a New Jersey diner, many of the 11 million plus fans were not amused. What to make of such an ambiguous ending? Theories abounded on the Net: Did the silent ending signal that Tony was killed, harking back to a conversation with now-dead brother-in-law Bobby Bacala, who said that when you die, "everything goes black"? Or maybe Tony was indicted, or his mobster life just went on, since his nemesis Phil Leotardo had been whacked.
For his part, Sopranos creator David Chase had nothing to say. He had fled the country, taking his wife out to dinner in France on the Sunday of the finale, to avoid "all the Monday morning quarterbacking" about the show's abrupt ending. In an exclusive interview (with The Star-Ledger of New Jersey) agreed to well before the season began, he suggested he had little to add to the controversial final scene he had conceived three years ago: "I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there."
Like it or not, The Sopranos was a lot like real life. T.S. Eliot once observed that "Humans cannot bear much reality." I think Eliot was suggesting that we don't like ambiguity and untidy endings, in real life or our television dramas. We want to know what happened to Tony. Did this New Jersey mobster with a family, a business, and a therapist finally get his "just rewards"? Perhaps part of our discomfort with the ending is our deeply rooted sense of justice and righteousness. Does justice win out in the end?
The great Southern writer Flannery O'Connor once remarked that she had an aunt who thought that nothing happened in a story unless somebody got married or shot in the end. Yet life seldom provides such definitive endings. Life itself, like The Sopranos, is chocked full of ambiguity, and it takes maturity and faith to handle the absurdity, the chaos, the untidiness of life. And if we refuse to live with ambiguity, we may be excluding something very essential and dear, like the hazards of faith, even the mysteries of God.
What was the Oscar Wilde statement, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." He may have been on to something...
"Within each man there is a dark castle with a fierce dragon to guard the gate. The castle contains a lonely self, a self most men have suppressed, a self they are afraid to show. Instead they present an armored knight - no one is invited inside the castle. The dragon symbolizes the fears and fantasies of masculinity, the leftover stuff of childhood."
In his book, The Friendless American Male, author David Smith tackles various men's issues, such as loneliness, isolation from others, our cherished privacy, and the individualism that perhaps exacts a greater toll than we men might realize. Smith observes, "Men find it hard to accept that they need the fellowship of other men. The simple request, 'Let's have lunch,' is likely to be met with the response, 'Sure, what's up?' The message is clear: the independent man doesn't need the company of another man...Even when men are frequently together their social interaction begins and remains at a superficial level. Just how long can conversations about politics and sports be nourishing to the human spirit?"
How did we get to this state of affairs? Many factors have influenced men's relational isolation. Early in life most little boys receive the cultural message that it is taboo for males to express feelings. "Don't be a sissy!" And men rarely ask for help. How often have our wives wanted us to stop and ask for directions when we were on a trip? There is an old saying that the reason Moses and the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years was because he never would ask for directions! Another factor that works to the detriment of a man's relationships is the inordinate competition. A boy learns at an early age that other boys, and later other men, are his competitors and therefore, potential enemies. As Vince Lombardi once remarked,"Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing!"
I came across a list that suggests how men perhaps subconsciously adhere to what might be called the "Commandments of Masculinity."
• He shall not cry.
• He shall not display weakness.
• He shall not need affection or gentleness or warmth.
• He shall never express his true feelings.
• He shall comfort but not desire comforting.
• He shall be needed but not need.
• He shall touch but not be touched.
• He shall be steel not flesh.
• He shall be inviolate in his manhood.
• He shall stand alone.
So how are we doing? Which of these "commandments" do we find ourselves following? How might our relationships be adversely affected by embracing this view of masculinity?
"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!...Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." --Ecclesiastes 4: 9, 10, 12
I welcome your comments...
When John Harvard in 1638 bequeathed part of his fortune and 400 books to "the new college" in Cambridge, Mass., the intention of American higher education was to prepare men for the clergy and the kingdom of Heaven. Little changed until after the Civil War, when certainties about God began to fade and colleges started to incorporate new subjects and new ideas and offer students "choices," with specialized departments with subjects like English, philosophy, and modern languages, replacing the old fixed curriculum and its classical texts. This movement away from a classical education, and its implications, is the subject of Anthony Kronman's recently published book, Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life.
Kronman, a professor at Yale and formerly the dean of its law school, argues passionately that without a strong religious idea at the center of higher education, educators and their schools in fact lack a core mission. They seek to teach, as Woodrow Wilson once put it, "not so much learning as the spirit of learning."
In Kronman's analysis, what followed was the century of "secular humanism," beginning with Charles Eliot's appointment as president of Harvard in 1869 to the campus revolts of 1968, with secular humanism attempting to find a middle ground between dogmatic belief in God and militant atheism. In many ways, this secular movement was illustrative of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's belief that the twentieth century world had "Come of Age," no longer considering belief in God as necessary to explain our world.
Kronman's comments on political correctness serve as a scathing indictment of what multiculturalism and misguided "diversity" have done to our universities' humanities departments: "The more a classroom resembles a gathering of delegates speaking on behalf of the groups they represent, the less congenial a place it becomes in which to explore questions of a personally meaningful kind including, above all, the questions of what ultimately matters in life and why. In such a classroom, students encounter each other not as individuals but as spokespersons instead. They accept or reject their teachers as role models more on account of the group to which they belong and less because of their individual qualities of character and intellect."
While Education's End might seem a bit despairing when we consider the present state of affairs of higher education, Kronman does see a revival of traditional humanism, as he observes that there has been a revival of conservative orthodoxy which has "put spirituality and its ultimate questions at the center of the cultural debate."
Many of us rarely think of the purpose or role of education, largely because we, as a society, have not been taught to consider the concept of the summum bonum in education, the "greatest good." Most of us have gotten an education, and send our children to schools to get an education so that they can find a career that pays well. What else is there to live for other than bread and circuses? To modern sensibilities, there is no summum bonum, no telos (purpose), only thanatos (death). The modern answer to purpose for living is simply that there is no answer. Like the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, life is a "vanity, literally a "chasing after the wind," a wild goose chase, yet there is no wild goose in the end. Or to put it another way, when ultimate ends disappear, only toys remain (So why is Ecclesiastes in our Bible anyway?)
According to the British historian Arnold Toynbee, ours, the modern West, is the first of the twenty-one great civilizations that does not have or teach its citizens any answer to the question of Why they exist. Which is another way of saying that as our society becomes more pluralistic, it leaves us free to choose or create our own ultimate values. We know more about every thing, and less about Everything.
To this subject, Kronman makes a remarkable statement on the centrality of a purpose for living: "One cannot live a meaningful life unless there is something one is prepared to give it up for. People's lives are therefore meaningful in proportion to their acknowledgment that there is something more important than the lives they are leading: something worth caring about in an ultimate way. The question, of course, is what that something is or ought to be."
This, I believe, is where the mere Christian has something to offer. To provoke others on the journey of life, and not simply to offer glib, packaged answers. When Christ commanded us to be "as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves," I think He was suggesting that He wants not only a child's heart, but a grown-up's head.
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It was only a matter of time before it hit the big screen. Perhaps you've already seen the trailers for The Golden Compass, the first installment of Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials, which debuts in theaters December 7th. Riding the wave of the record-breaking films of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, New Line Cinema has gone out of its way to link the new film to Tolkien's work, which the studio also adapted. The beautifully crafted official website of the upcoming release is sure to create interest and curiosity (www.goldencompassmovie.com).
I haven't read Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, but enough has been written to let the reader and filmgoer know that this work is no Narnia. Peter Chattaway, film critic for Christianity Today, wrote a recent article that gives us insight into Pullman's work, to which this article is indebted. His Dark Materials (the title taken from John Milton's epic, Paradise Lost) presents a vastly different kind of fantasy tale than those told by the Inklings companions, Lewis and Tolkien. Yes, the story begins with a girl hiding in a wardrobe, and continues with her adventures into other worlds, encountering witches, and ultimately, to an an end times battle between supernatural powers.
But there the similarities end, or more precisely, Pullman's trilogy represents the antithesis of Lewis's and Tolkien's vision. Writing in The Guardian on the occasion of Lewis's centenary in 1998, Pullman declared the Narnia books to be "one of the most ugly and poisonous things I have ever read...with no shortage of nauseating drivel." The brother of atheist Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, Peter Hitchens, writing in The Spectator in 2003, named Pullman "the Anti-Lewis."
While Tolkien and Lewis wrote their fantasies with embedded Christian imagery, Pullman's trilogy, which has sold millions of copies and won numerous awards (including the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Prize), describes gleefully the death of God and the creation of a "Republic of Heaven," which has no need for a King. And while Tolkien and Lewis's works were subtle in their presentation of Christian elements, there is little subtlety in Pullman's trilogy. A former nun in one important scene informs two children that she left the Christian faith because "it's a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all."
Some have suggested that the latter two Dark Materials books, "The Subtle Knife" and "The Amber Spyglass," are even more brazen in the Death-of-God theme. In these books, Lyra discovers that Lord Asriel is mounting a war against God, and she meets a boy from our own world who acquires a knife that can cut through anything, including the barrier between universes. By the end of the trilogy, God is dead, and Will and Lyra have reenacted the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Yet here's the twist Pullman has put on his story: in their reenactment of the Temptation narrative, they save the universe rather than bring about it's ruination, as orthodox Christianity would posit. Could there possibly be a better rendition of the Human Potential Movement than Pullman's fantasy?
In Pullman's world, truth is not an authoritative written revelation from the sovereign God of the universe, but is rather discovered by the "alethiometer" (from the Greek, aletheia, meaning "truth"), an extraordinarily intricate device invented by a 16th century metaphysical scientist. The needle on the alethiometer (also known as the Golden Compass) seeks out, not true north, but Truth Itself. To Pullman, humanity, not God, is the final arbiter and discoverer of Truth. Someone, or Something, in that ancient Garden, we are told in Genesis, once said as much, and it wasn't Eve or Adam.
While Pullman, like his fellow countrymen Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, despise the very notion of anything that hints of Christian orthodoxy, Tolkien and Lewis believed that only a Christian vision of life with a sovereign God at the very center of our existence gives meaning and significance to the way things really are. While Lewis is generally regarded as the most important defender of orthodox Christianity in the twentieth century, many forget that he also believed it to be fully rational for us to be responsive to the enchanting power of stories. He clearly penned the seven-book Chronicles of Narnia series with this intent.
On the purpose behind The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis wrote: "I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm...But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could."
In the dedication of his book, A Preface to Paradise Lost (coming full circle to Pullman...), Lewis noted that "when the old poets made some virtue their theme, they were not teaching but adoring, and that what we take for the didactic is often the enchanted." As many writers have observed, it is this fusion of the moral and the imaginative, the vision of virtue itself as adorable, that makes Lewis (and Tolkien) so distinctive, and attractive, amidst our post-Christian culture. With the imaginative, Pullman has perhaps done well, but concerning the moral, he simply doesn't have a clue.
"I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." -C.S. Lewis
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Mark Twain once quipped, "Golf is a good walk spoiled." The legendary Sam Snead once chided Hall of Famer Ted Williams, "In golf, you have to play your foul balls!"
As the media frenzy descends on Augusta National Golf Club for this year's 72nd Masters, the question on many people's mind is whether Tiger Woods, who is the even-money favorite to win, can begin the "Woods Grand Slam Express" in Augusta, where he has won 4 times in 13 appearances. While Woods has taken pains to point out that golfers lose far more often than they win (despite his well-documented belief that he can win every time he tees it up), Woods' 64 victories in 234 tournaments over 12-plus seasons on the PGA Tour (good for a winning percentage of 27%) is hard to argue with. As Larry Dorman writes in today's New York Times, at the same time in his career, Jack Nicklaus' total was 40 in 234, including two British Open victories the PGA Tour did not yet count as official wins.
It should be high drama to witness how this golf spectacle unfolds in Augusta over the weekend. As the PGA Tour commercials say, "These guys are good!!" For the rest of us "amateurs" who play the game, it still holds an allure that is hard to put into words. Here are a few statistics about the game, compiled by Shelly Banjo of The Wall Street Journal, that you may find interesting:
In golf, as in other leisure pursuits, we learn a lot about ourselves, and who we really are. Novelist Walker Percy believed you could learn more about a man from playing a round of golf with him than could be learned from spending a year of sessions on a psychiatrist's couch. Jay Tolson, in his excellent biography of Percy, Pilgrim in the Ruins, Tolson observes: "The triumph of golf in the South is itself a curious fact of cultural history. It is, as anyone who has ever played it knows, a penitential game, as much a trial of character and bearing as of skill...Fittingly, golf was invented by a Scotsman, for only a Calvinist could have found pleasure in a pursuit that required so much restraint for so delayed a reward."
If golf teaches us anything, it mercilessly shows us our shortcomings in life. While we may try to fool ourselves into thinking we are doing quite well, golf is not nearly so kind and forgiving. Could anyone more accurately describe the brutal honesty of the game than the novelist John Updike?
"Most of us don't really know how well we're doing, in real life, and imagine we're doing not so bad. The world conspires to flatter us; only golf trusts us with a cruelly honest report on our performance. Only on the golf course is the feedback instantaneous and unrelenting...In the sound of the hit and the flight of the ball it tells us unflinchingly how we are doing, and we are rarely doing well." -From "Moral Exercise," in Golf Dreams
"Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor
Despite such oddities that govern his daily regimen, Allen has spent a career using various genres in film that explore the seeming randomness and arbitrariness of our existence, or as he offers, "to live is to suffer." Yabroff suggests that "if there were a persistence-of-vision award for life philosophy, Allen would be a shoo-in." And while some might believe that the 72-year-old has mellowed over his years in filmmaking, akin to his latest film, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," a breezy romance with Javier Bardem ("No Country For Old Men" fame) and Scarlett Johansson, he seems to have remained resolute in his nihilistic worldview. Yabroff writes:
"But go to meet the director in hopes of a 'Tuesdays With Woody'-style affirmation of late-life contentment, and you will be quickly disabused of that illusion. At 72, he says he still lies awake at night, terrified of the void. He cannot reconcile his strident atheism with his superstition about the banana, but he knows why he makes movies: not because he has any grand statement to offer, but simply to take his mind off the existential horror of being alive. Movies are a great diversion, he says, 'because it's much more pleasant to be obsessed over how the hero gets out of his predicament than it is over how I get out of mine.' "
While he was relaxed for the Newsweek interview at his production offices on Park Avenue, his polite and jovial demeanor should not be mistaken for his genuine take on life. Just as he explored the question of whether a man can get away with a heinous murder in his "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (reminiscent of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment"), so Allen takes it a step further in "Match Point," where the killer actually gets away with a brutal murder. So do we live in a moral universe or not? To Allen, this world is capricious, random, devoid of any true and lasting meaning. Allen admits that the indifference of the universe has obsessed him since he was a child. "My mother always said I was a very cheerful kid until I was 5 years old, and then I turned gloomy."
Death may be particularly on Allen's mind at the moment since Ingmar Bergman, to whom he credits so much of his own filmmaking, died while he was shooting "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," as did director Michelangelo Antonioni. Allen offers, "Your perception of time changes as you get older, because you see how brief everything is," he says. "You see how meaningless ... I don't want to depress you, but it's a meaningless little flicker." The great Christian apologist Blaise Pascal would agree with Allen, as he once observed that "anyone who does not see the vanity of life must be very vain indeed!"
I know some of you might wonder why I would devote time to someone like Woody Allen, who exemplifies such a depressing and nihilistic worldview. But I would submit that we cannot be too thankful for the great atheists, for they show us the shape of God by His absence more clearly and starkly than believers do by His presence. In many ways, these works, devoid of God, represent a silhouette, in that they show us the need for God in a seemingly Godforsaken world. We only witness the bright beauty of precious jewels when we have a black cloth behind them.
In many ways, Allen's work is reminiscent of Qoheleth, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, who instructs us that "all is vanity and a striving after wind." Or, as philosopher Peter Kreeft has observed, "life is like a wild goose chase, but in the end, there is no goose!" And if we should have a problem with Qoheleth's statement, or for that matter the entire book of Ecclesiastes, then perhaps we should ask ourselves, why is this book in the Bible in the first place?
So filmmakers like Allen, especially In our post-Christian culture, may very well serve a redemptive purpose in that they paint the need in our world for a just and moral universe, and where a life lived without facing its absurdities would be a life lived in denial. Thomas Merton would have applauded Allen's work. He once observed that:
"It is only when the apparent absurdity of life is faced in all truth that faith really becomes possible. Otherwise, faith tends to be a kind of diversion, a spiritual amusement, in which one gathers up accepted, conventional formulas and arranges them in the approved mental patterns, without bothering to investigate their meaning, or asking if they have any practical consequences in one's life."
Woody Allen once stated, perhaps to the religiously inclined, "To you I am the enemy, but to God, I am the loyal opposition."
Joe Torre looked up from the infield recently in Dodger Stadium, listening to the jubilation of the screaming fans, and closed his eyes to stop the tears. This was the joy that had been trapped deep in his soul in recent years, managing the Yankees, and he wondered if he could ever experience it again. "Managing the last two years in New York wasn't fun," Torre told USA Today reporter Bob Nightengale, "I could feel the effects it had on me and my family. I was relieved to get away. When you're at a place for 12 years, you wonder if it can be fun again. Now I don't have to wonder anymore."
As the Dodgers open the NLDS today when they play Chicago, its almost as though his time as the Yankee skipper is a faint memory. Torre spent 12 years as manager of the Yankees, leading them to four World Series titles and 12 consecutive playoff berths. The Yankees invited him back for another season, but only if he accepted a $2.5 million pay cut. He had to make it back to the World Series again to retain the same $7.5 million salary. He chose to leave.
Torre offers in the interview, "There were certain people there that felt that if they motivated me with money, it would make me manage better," with a hint of resentment in his voice and face. "I didn't understand that concept. That was an insult. In some circles, it was taken that $5 million isn't enough. That wasn't the case."
Yet he walked away, managing in a different league, with different players, and about as far from New York as he could get. He is back in the playoffs, with the Dodgers winning the NL West title, yet he feels no sense of glee that the Yankees didn't make it, who for the first time since 1993 did not make the playoffs under new manager Joe Girardi. Torre observes, "There is a special pride for what we've done, but not because we got in and the Yankees didn't. It's not, 'I told you so.' If I said that, I'd be saying I'm happy (Derek) Jeter is not going to the playoffs or I'm happy that Girardi is not going. That's not me."
Ironically, Torre's name was not even mentioned in the recent celebration of the last game at Yankee Stadium. He watched most of the ceremony, but turned it off during dinner. "To not acknowledge Joe was wrong," offers Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly, the former Yankees All-Star first baseman who was on Torre's staff the last four years in New York. "I don't care if you say it's an oversight or not. He was a pretty big part of the history of that franchise, and the fans know."
In LA, Torre inherited a team that was deeply troubled by rival factions, particularly between older players who were seeking the respect of the younger players, and the younger players who wanted more playing time. It was bad enough to send Grady Little into retirement after only two seasons as the Dodger manager. "I don't think people realize what a great job he did with this team," veteran reserve Mark Sweeney observes. "He's the greatest manager I've ever played for...He just knows what to do, what to say, at the right time."
The office is rather small. There are no personal pictures on the wall. No TV or radio. This used to be the office where half of the Dodger's coaches would reside, with the other half around the corner. The spacious manager's office, where Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and other Hollywood stars would visit Tom Lasorda, for the last 37 years, is now occupied by the Dodgers coaching staff. "I didn't need an office that big," Torre offers. "I wanted my coaches to be together. So I came here." And as Nightengale observes, "Look closely through the blue paint on the door, and you can see the lettering, Alston. If this office was good enough for Walter Alston, who managed here for 23 years, Torre figures, it's good enough for him."
"I don't believe in God, but I miss Him." So begins the poignant elegy of Julian Barnes, an atheist turned agnostic, who has decided at the ripe young age of 62 to address his Thanatophobia, his fear of death. His book, "Nothing To Be Frightened Of," was featured this past Sunday on the cover of The New York Times Review of Books. Curiously, the book was reviewed by Garrison Keillor, best known for his long running Prairie Home Companion radio broadcast over National Public Radio. Keillor notes wistfully, "Why should an agnostic fear death who has no faith in an afterlife? How can you be frightened of Nothing? On this simple question Barnes has hung an elegant memoir and meditation, a deep seismic tremor of a book that keeps rumbling and grumbling in the mind for weeks thereafter."
While death, he opines, is nothing to fear, the thought of it is never far from his consciousness. He thinks about it frequently, and is sometimes at night "roared awake" and "pitched from sleep into darkness, panic and a vicious awareness that this is a rented world...awake, alone, untterly alone, beating pillow with fist and shouting 'Oh no Oh No OH NO' in an endless wail."
With little to trust in amidst his fleeting life, Barnes turns to science as a stalwart of hope, but it offers little comfort indeed. Keillor observes of Barnes outlook on life: "We are all dying. Even the sun is dying. Homo sapiens is evolving toward some species that won't care about us whatsoever and our art and literature and scholarship will fall into utter oblivion. Every author will eventually become an unread author. And then humanity will die out and beetles will rule the world. A man can fear his own death but what is he anyway? Simply a mass of neurons. The brain is a lump of meat and the soul is merely something we've talked ourselves into. Individuality is an illusion. Scientists find no physical evidence of 'self' - it is something we've talked ourselves into. We do not produce thoughts, thoughts produce us...Stripped of the Christian narrative, we gaze out on a landscape that, while fascinating, offers nothing that one could call Hope (Barnes refers to 'American hopefulness' with particular disdain.)"
And just as science to Barnes provides little basis for long term human optimism, religious faith is clearly not an attractive option. "I have no faith to lose," he writes. "I was never baptized, never sent to Sunday school. I have never been to a normal church service in my life...I am constantly going into churches, but for architectural reasons; and, more widely, to get a sense of what Englishness once was." To Barnes, the Christian religion has lasted because it is a "beautiful lie, ...with a happy ending."
Yet, he misses the sense of purpose and belief that that he finds in the Mozart Requiem, the paintings of Donatello - "I miss the God that inspired Italian painting and French stained glass, German music and English chapter houses, and those tumbledown heaps of stone on Celtic headlands which were once symbolic beacons in the darkness and the storm." Nor is Barnes impressed, or comforted, by the contemporary religion that is often so "therapeutic": "The secular modern heaven of self-fulfillment: the development of the personality, the relationships which help define us, the status-giving job...the accumulation of sexual exploits, the visits to the gym, the consumption of culture. It all adds up to happiness, doesn't it - - doesn't it? This is our chosen myth."
Yet for all of Barnes' pessimism about life, and our eminent demise, he still writes winsomely. In Keillor's words, "what gives this book life and keeps the reader happily churning forward is his affection for the people who wander in and out. Barnes tells us he keeps in a drawer his parents' stuff, all of it, their scrapbooks, ration cards, cricket score cards, Christmas card lists, certificates of Perfect Attendance, a photo album of 1913 entitled "Scenes From Highways & Byways," old postcards ("we arrived here safely, and except for the ham sandwiches, we were satisfied with the journey"). Keillor observes, "We may only be units of genetic obedience, but we do love to look at each other...We don't deny the inevitability of our extinction, but we can't help being fond of that postcard."
At the end of Keillor's review, he makes a provocative statement: "I don't know how this book will do in our hopeful country, with the author's bleak face on the cover, but I will say a prayer for retail success. It is a beautiful and funny book, still booming in my head." While few people may be aware of it, Keillor himself comes from a Plymouth Brethren background, a very conservative Christian heritage. And one senses that, though Keillor appreciates the magisterial memoir from the hand of Barnes, that somehow, in stripping the world of its Christian narrative, he has missed the very core of our being, purpose, and existence.
Two Visions. The atheist or agnostic vision, where in the end death brings all things earthly, even the things we cherish most deeply, to utter ruin and annihilation, and the Christian vision, in which this world, in the words of Peter Berger, provide us "signals of transcendence." of Another World to come. Pascal would say to us, both visions can't be true, for life itself is the Ultimate Wager, and we cannot fold the hand we have been dealt. We must choose which vision we believe is true. Despite the brooding darkness that characterizes Barnes' book, he has a lot to teach us, not only about this life, but about the Christian's hope for the next.
Oh yes, one question for reflection. So why aren't many Christians reading books by authors like Julian Barnes, who challenge our thinking about what life is all about, and our hope for a life beyond this present existence?
"At the present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in." -C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
In light of yesterday's election, it seemed appropriate to reflect on some wise words of C.S. Lewis on what he calls the "Democratic Imperative." These words come from his essay entitled, "Membership," one of the remarkable essays from the book, "The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses." His words here seem so archaic and obsolete in our politically correct culture of the early 21st century. So out of step with the "here and now." But I am reminded, as he says elsewhere, that "all that is not eternal, is eternally out of date."
"I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows."
"That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world. I believe the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned over simple to have been as much a part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast. I believe that if we had not fallen, ... patriarchal monarchy would be the sole lawful government. But since we have learned sin, we have found, as Lord Acton says, that 'all power corrrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'"
"The only remedy has been to take away the powers and substitute a legal fiction of equality. The authority of father and husband has been rightly abolished on the legal plane, not because this authority is in itself bad (on the contrary, it is, I hold, divine in origin), but because fathers and husbands are bad. Theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that learned priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us. Even the authority of man over beast has had to be interfered with because it is constantly abused."
"Equality is for me the same position as clothes. It is a result of the Fall and the remedy for it...Do not misunderstand me. I am not in the least belittling the value of this egalitarian fiction which is our only defense against one another's cruelty...But the function of equality is purely protective. it is medicine, not food. By treating human persons as if they were all the same kind of thing, we avoid innumerable evils. But is is not on this that we were made to live."
How do Lewis' words provoke your thinking in this regard?
As we approach the upcoming holiday season, the unprecedented economic tsunami that has engulfed the world sits front and center, right beside the Thanksgiving turkeys and the cardboard Santas, as retailers even now are trying to stave off a terrible season. Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, and a Pulitzer Prize winner, has written what i consider to be one of the best articles on how to account for this economic meltdown, it's origin, and this amidst an increasingly secular culture.
Henninger writes: "This year we celebrate the desacralized 'holidays' amid what is for many unprecedented economic ruin -- fortunes halved, jobs lost, homes foreclosed. People wonder, What happened? One man's theory: A nation whose people can't say 'Merry Christmas' is a nation capable of ruining its own economy. One had better explain that."
As he suggests, clearly the way the financial markets fell so fast, along with 50% wealth reductions, and the demise of Wall Street, was paved with good intentions, no doubt, as he observes: "notably the notion that all should own a home, even if that required giving away the house to untutored borrowers with low-to-no-interest loans." This good intention, Henninger observes, set off history's largest chain of moral hazard, which began sometime between 2005 an 2007, when borrowers, lenders, and securitizer shamans all found themselves operating in what he calls a "zero-gravity" environment, aloft a moral hazard.
Henninger mentions how the technical details have been been recounted with frightening precision by Robert Stowe England in "Anatomy of a Meltdown," for Mortgage Banker magazine. As England recounts, "The underwater earthquake that first rattled the foundations of the mortgage industry came in the form of sharply higher deliquencies and defaults from a book of poorly underwritten subprime loans from the fourth quarter of 2005 through the first quarter of 2007. This narrative runs through borrowers making misrepresentations on loan applications (fraud), the collapse of Bear Stearn's hedge funds, and revised ratings-agency methodologies that led to "unprecedented" mass downgrades.
Henninger also alludes to a widely emailed article for Portfolio.com by Michael Lewis of "Liar's Poker" fame, who describes a skeptical hedge-fund manager and his associates walking through the wild world of mortgage-backed securities like stunned characters in "Mad Max," asking bankers, borrowers, and ratings-agency executives one question: Why? Why do you think all of you can get rich, all at the same time, forever?
While Henninger argues that nothing really occurred through this crisis to discredit the system of free-market capitalism, "what really went missing through the subprime mortgage years were the three Rs: responsibility, restraint and remorse. They are the ballast that stabilizes two better known Rs from the world of free markets: risk and reward. Responsibility and restraint are moral sentiments. Remorse is a product of conscience. None of these grow on trees. Each must be learned, taught, passed down. And so we come back to the disappearance of "Merry Christmas."
While secular naysayers have constantly expressed their disdain for religion in the public square (and this is where Mr. Henninger's article is so to the point) he observes a direct correlation between this economic crisis, and the failure of society to allow for the appropriate expression of religious faith and moral values. He writes, brilliantly, that:
"It has been my view that the steady secularizing, and insistent effort at dereligioning America has been dangerous. That danger flashed red in the fall into subprime personal behavior by borrowers and bankers, who after all are just people. Northerners and atheists who vilify Southern evangelicals are throwing out nurturers of useful virtue with the bathwater of obnoxious political opinions. The point for a healthy society of commerce and politics is not that religion saves, but that it keeps most of the players inside the chalk lines. We are erasing the chalk lines....Feel free to Banish Merry Christmas. Get Ready for Mad Max...."
Maybe Dostoevsky was right, "If there is no God, then all things are permitted."
Actor Steve Martin's character in the early 1990's movie, Grand Canyon, observes that "all of life's problems have already been solved in the movies." In many ways, good cinema images life, and facilitates genuine reflection and musings on this thing we call "life." One of the most remarkable films I have seen (repeatedly, I might add), is the film, There Will Be Blood, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and written, directed, and produced by the incomparable Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson's work often displays cinematic brilliance, and frequently portrays themes of redemption, revenge, and forgiveness, like the movie Magnolia, with Tom Cruise. But his films are not for the timid of heart.
This is certainly the case with There Will Be Blood, which is loosely based upon the Upton Sinclair novel, Oil! (1927), the story of a silver-miner-turned-oil-man on a ruthless quest for wealth during Southern California's oil boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But as Jean Bethke Elshtain observes in her powerful review of Anderson's movie in the periodical, Books & Culture (May, 2008), this is no ordinary movie. Elshtain, a brilliant woman in her own right (whom I heard give a fascinating lecture at Oxford University a few years ago at a C.S. Lewis conference), has served as a political philosopher at the University of Chicago for the past fifteen years, and is a contributing editor for The New Republic. But one can hardly improve on her analysis of the film, and my observations here are taken almost exclusively from her critique (email me if you would like a copy of the review).
Elshtain suggests, and I believe correctly, that in Plainview's story we see illustrated what Alexis de Tocqueville identified as the "dark side of the coin of American freedom and equality," namely, isolation. We are apart from one another, and all the insinuating strands that once linked us having unraveled. And it seems that the tragedy of Plainview that is vividly portrayed throughout the film is that he needs other people only the way an addict needs a fix. As Elshtain observes, "to triumph over, to kick in the balls (sorry, crude but necessary), to bury, all too literally at one turning point. 'I look at people and I see nothing worth liking,' Plainview opines. Even the mere existence of others in the oil business tears him up. He would be an Emperor who reigns over a desert denuded of life, for he must drive out all others in order to be assured of his own triumph."
It is a dark and brooding film, There Will Be Blood, not the typical movie-fare that we digest, but definitely worth viewing. Perhaps we are not like Daniel Plainview, in his unbridled hubris, but it may show us more about ourselves than we care to admit. In the light of the worldwide economic meltdown that we have witnessed in recent months, and disclosures of Madoffian-like greed that boggles the mind, perhaps the Steve Martin character's observation that "all of life's problems are solved in the movies," is truer than we could ever have imagined. There Will Be Blood brilliantly portrays the human dilemma, and our need for redemption, something we cannot do on our own.
"There Will Be Blood is an epic morality play that exalts the craft of filmmaking and honors not only its director but all those who contributed to every aspect of the film. Above all, filmgoers are offered the gift of Daniel Day-Lewis' acting genius at its zenith. His portrayal of Plainview terrifies us as a bitter commentary on a distinctive and identifiable strand of American culture. One does not react with "Ah, yes, we are all like that," as Plainview storms across the screen, with Day-Lewis in nearly every scene. The overwhelming majority of Americans are not Plainviews. Yet we cannot help but recognize in Plainview's excesses and successes something over-the-top, something tumultuous, something desperately and sadly human, something very American."
-Jean Bethke Elshtain, "There Will Be Brilliance," Books & Culture, May 1, 2008, http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2008/mayjun/2.22.html
For more on the background of the movie from Paramount, including trailers, media, and photos, go to: http://www.paramountvantage.com/blood/
Sayings abound about Christianity and the organized church. H. L. Mencken once said that a clergyman was "a ticket speculator outside the gates of heaven," while Voltaire opined that "the first clergyman was the first rascal who met the first fool." Whatever views we may embrace about the Church and its ministers, few would argue that the the day of rest, Sunday, has exercised a peculiar hold on countless human beings over the past two millennia.
In his review of Stephen Miller's recently released Harvard Press Publication, The Peculiar Life of Sundays, Jay Tolson writes elegantly of how this day of restlessness has challenged both churchgoers and those outside organized Christendom over the years. Tolson begins: "Who, raised in or around the Christian tradition, has not experienced the ambivalent dolors of a Sunday?...One might think that, for the devout, this hold would be especially firm. For them, after all, the day is unquestionably holy, unquestionably the Lord's: an Easter in miniature marking their savior's resurrection. But even the faithful can feel uneasy..."
If we think the modern dilemma that believers face between their faith embraced and publicly displayed is a recent phenomena, then we are surely mistaken. Tolson mentions Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century essayist, conversationalist and one-man dictionary compiler, who although he was a committed Anglican and defender of the faith, neverthless found it difficult, indeed, almost impossible, to haul himself into church on Sundays.
Tolson writes of Johnson: "Uncomfortable with 'publick Worship,' bored by most sermons and inclined toward late-rising, Johnson was forever recording his resolution to attend church more conscientiously. But that vow 'was little better kept than the others,' as the editor of his diaries noted. Without saying so explicitly, Mr. Miller uses Johnson to show how even a deeply religious person can find the outward institutional form of his religion at odds with what he finds most sacred." Johnson's internal struggle, it seems Mr. Miller implies, was part of a much larger culture war within the world that was once, until its 16th-century fragmentation, called Christendom. At the center of that struggle have been conflicting efforts to define the doctrines and practices of a religion based on the life, death and reputed resurrection of a first-century Palestinian Jew, proclaimed by many of his followers as the unique son of the Hebrew God. Inevitably the struggle has involved -- and, yes, to this day still involves -- politics, powerful personalities, sectarian rivalries and other human, all too human, factors."
There have certainly been seismic shifts in the way the Church has been viewed since it's early first century inception. Perhaps the most significant development early on was when the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity as the "official religion" of the western half of the Roman Empire that he ruled in 313 AD. And then, eight years later, in 321 AD, he would declare Sunday (dies Solis) a public holiday so that Christians could rest on what they called the Lord's Day (dies Domini). Constantine thus strengthened a distinction that many early Christians had started to make between the Jewish Sabbath and their own holiest day of the week, the day after the Jewish Sabbath and, according to the New Testament, the day of Jesus' resurrection. In the interests of institution-building, early Christian bishops may very well have also promoted the idea of a Christian "Sabbath" to separate Christianity even more sharply from its Jewish origins.
Miller's book provides insightful examples of other sectarian movements by Christians throughout the last two thousand years. Sunday would become an important symbolic feature of Protestant and Catholic struggles in the 16th- and 17th-century England. Church and government officials with low-church, evangelical convictions pushed for restrictive laws on Sunday (no tavern-going, no fun or games), while those of a high-church inclination lobbied for a laissez-faire tolerance of such pursuits. Their thinking was that good Christians could Christians enjoy their holy day (holiday) as well as observe it's biblical intent. In 1618, King James I would issue a three-page pamphlet, "The Book of Sports," that listed various Sunday recreations that were lawful "after the end of divine service," which included mixed-dancing, archery, and ale-drinking. Interestingly, the pamphlet ended up provoking the Puritans, much more zealous in their convictions, after William Laud, the archbishop of Canterbury, ordered that the pamphlet be read out loud in all churches.
During the Enlightenment, as Christianity would continue to fragment, and Christian churches would lose their place of privilege and credibility among the western nations, free-thinkers would grow more brazen in their attacks against such supposed religious "superstition." In the vein of Thomas Jefferson, they would call for a more rationalistic faith, no longer tethered to the Biblical authority, or even no religion at all.
While Sunday in our increasingly multicultural America will probably continue to lose more of its strict "sabbatarian" character (as churches seek to multiply service options for the religious consumer), Miller suggests that its specialness will probably never be entirely lost, and i believe he is correct. Tolson, who reviewed Miller's book for The Wall Street Journal, and is a former senior writer for U. S. News & World Report, ends his review with some provocative words for reflection about the place of Sunday mornings in our everchanging culture:
"The day is now one on which great numbers of Americans explore our great spiritual bazaar, looking for what suits them best. Some young Christians, for example, uncomfortable with the older denominations, now partake in the so-called emergent-community movement, designing worship services that are intended to blend traditional elements (including sacraments) with an atmosphere and setting of everyday casualness and spontaneity. A leaderless, sermon-free Sunday morning Eucharist in a coffee shop with bits of bagels offered as the sacramental host: Now that is a service that might have lured even Samuel Johnson from his nice, warm bed."
One of the most formidable challenges we face as Christians is speaking to the world in a language that is clear, and not the stereotypical "Christianese" that is so prevalent in the religious culture of our day. One of the writers I have most admired is Rick Reilly, who for years wrote his Back Page article with a style and panache without rival in Sports Illustrated. Almost ten years ago, he penned an article titled, "What Would Jesus Do?" that chronicled what it might be like if the Cincinnati Reds had signed Jesus Christ to a one-day contract. While it is clearly a whimsical account, to say the least, it does do an excellent job of shattering the idolatrous images, I believe, that reigns in the religious ocmmunity about Jesus Christ. More than anything, perhaps, it punctures our erroneous perception, that Jesus somewhow was all serious, without a sense of humor. Without further adieu, enjoy Reilly's article on Jesus. So what would Jesus Do? Your comments are welcome.
We really didn't believe it was Jesus Christ, not at first. True, the Cincinnati Reds said they'd just signed Him to a one-day contract, but who would believe that? We just figured Marge Schott had snuck back into the office and was hitting the vodka a little hard. But then a rusty 1976 Chrysler pulled into a pay lot a few blocks from the stadium, and we saw a man giving off a glow as he walked. He was mobbed, first by tens, then by hundreds, until, of course, he absentmindedly walked right across the Ohio River.
We rush headlong through life, and consequently, miss many things of importance.
In a recent article in The New York Times, "At the Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay in Focus," writer Michael Kimmelman describes a recent idle morning he spent at the Louvre Museum in Paris, watching people looking at art. He poses the perennial question: What exactly are we looking for when we roam as tourists around museums? He recalls seeing two young women in flowered dresses meandering through the gallery, in the Pavillon des Sessions, taking time to pause and circle around several sculptures. They took their time, looking slowing at the objects. And he is amazed that they stopped to slowly take it in, since most visitors pass through the gallery oblivious.
Noticing that hardly any visitors paused before any object as long as a minute during his hour or two visit, Kimmelman makes the following observation:
"Visiting museums has always been about self-improvement. Partly we seem to go to them to find something we already recognize, something that gives us our bearings: think of the scrum of tourists invariably gathered around the Mona Lisa. At one time a highly educated Westerner read perhaps 100 books, all of them closely. Today we read hundreds of books, or maybe none, but rarely any with the same intensity. Travelers who took the Grand Tour across Europe during the 18th century spent months and years learning languages, meeting politicians, philosophers and artists and bore sketchbooks in which to draw and paint - to record their memories and help them see better."
Contrasting our own age with the earlier century, Kimmelman continues: "Cameras replaced sketching by the last century; convenience trumped engagement, the viewfinder afforded emotional distance and many people no longer felt the same urgency to look. It became possible to imagine that because a reproduction of an image was safely squirreled away in a camera or cell phone, or because it was eternally available on the Web, dawdling before an original was a waste of time, especially with so much ground to cover."
In a culture of convenience and immediacy, where millions of images and other forms of stimulation compete for our attention, Kimmelman appears to have put his finger on part of the root problem for the superficiality of our age. Almost apologetically, he admits:
"Recently, I bought a couple of sketchbooks to draw with my 10-year-old in St. Peter's and elsewhere around Rome, just for the fun of it, not because we're any good, but to help us look more slowly and carefully at what we found. Crowds occasionally gathered around us as if we were doing something totally strange and novel, as opposed to something normal, which sketching used to be. I almost hesitate to mention our sketching. It seems pretentious and old-fogeyish in a cultural moment when we can too easily feel uncomfortable and almost ashamed just to look hard."
On some levels, Kimmelman's article is reminiscent of T. S. Eliot's words from his "Choruses from 'The Rock'":
"The endless cycle of idea and action,
The link to The New York Times article is:
The hundreds of comments on Kimmelman's article on the NYTimes website are revealing, but then we probably don't have time to read them! -blm
Last week's publication of Dan Brown's, "The Lost Symbol," is arguably the biggest publishing story sinnce J. K. Rowling's final "Harry Potter" installment went public in July of 2007. And during the first week of publication, it has already sold over two million copies. With U. S. sales of hardcover books down 18% for the year, retailers such as Amazon.com Inc., Barnes & Noble Inc. and Borders Group Inc are heavily discounting the book, leaving a lot of money on the table in hopes of luring customers (Amazon has cut the 509-page novel's $29.95 price by 46% to $16.17). Few have more riding on Brown's new book than Bertelsmann, the closely held German media company. Its Random House division figures to earn $30-35 million, pretax, if the North American print run of five million copies sells out (by comparison, the world-wide Random House publishing group generated operating profit of just $29 million for the for six months of the fiscal year ended June 30).
No novel in recent times has outsold Brown's last work, "The Da Vinci Code," which has more than 81 million copies in print worldwide. And Sony Corporation's Columbia Pictures, which has the film rights to the new book, has already turned two of his books into movies, "The Da Vinci Code" (2006) and "Angels & Demons" (2009), has grossed over $1 billion in ticket sales worldwide.
The plots revolves around Langdon, the brainy Harvard protagonist first featured in "Angels & Demons" and then "The Da Vinci Code," who is summoned to Washington to deliver a lecture at the U.S. Capitol. When he arrives, he finds, instead of his lecture audience, the severed hand of his good friend Peter Solomon, the scion of a wealthy, Rothschild-like dynasty and a prominent Mason. The hand, found by Langdon in the Capitol Rotunda, is wearing Solomon's Masonic ring, pointing at the ceiling, and has Masonic symbols tattooed on its palm and fingers. As it turns out, Langdon has been lured to Washington to use his symbol-decoding skills to locate a mysterious "pyramid of the Ancient Mysteries" that is said to contain the Masonic secret to unlocking human potential. The CIA, as it happens, is looking for the pyramid, too, for its own reasons.
Brown in an interview published in The Wall Street Journal observes: "Washington has all the intrigue of Rome, Paris, or London, but we don't think of it that way. There are temples, crypts, cathedrals and underground tunnels. I wanted people to see the city differently."
Many people agree that Brown can spin a thriller of a novel, but the problem lies with his shaky assumptions and outright untruths about Christianity, and in particular, the Catholic Church. In "The Da Vinci Code," he smuggled in the assumption that early Church leaders were misogynists, and literally pulled a power play in formulating the canon of the Bible, especially the Gospels, over and above other worthy Gnostic sources (which even liberal scholars don't agree with Brown about). And in his latest offering he shows the same disdain for orthodox Christianity. While in "The Da Vinci Code" it was Holy Grail expert Leigh Teabing, here it is Langdon himself, along with Colin Galloway, an ultra-liberal priest at the Washington National Cathedral who has jettisoned orthodox Christian belief.
Here is the Reverend Galloway, musing on why he, along with his fellow clergy, no longer take their faith seriously: "From the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to American politics, the name Jesus had been hijacked as an ally in all kinds of power struggles...Now, after all these years, mankind had finally managed to utterly erode everything that had been so beautiful about Jesus." Reportedly, toward the end of the book, after Langdon has solved the mystery, the preachy discourse drones on about following the"Masonic lead" in moving beyond traditional religion so as to "harness our true power."
As I read these reviews, and hear of the contempt Brown has for Christianity, it confirms why so few evangelicals would consider purchasing one of his books. Yet, I am reminded that the books sales of "The Da Vinci Code," and probably "The Lost Symbol," are in some ways influencing our culture in terms of the way people think about faith and religion (Remember, over $1 billion dollars in ticket sales worldwide). I would submit that we should at least have a "working knowledge" of Brown's views on faith and Christianity, so that we can enter into dialogue with people about these significant issues.
The apostle Paul displays a similar attitude of "cultural bridge-building" in his speech at Mars Hill in cosmopolitan Greece, as recorded by Luke the physician in the New Testament (Acts 17). He shows himself adept and familiar with the times of his day, quoting pagan poets to build a bridge to his audience. In a similar light, he says in his first letter to the Corinthians, "I have become all things to all men, that by that I might win more" (chapter 9).
In his outstanding book, "Foolishness to the Greeks," scholar Leslie Newbigin employs the conversion and transformation of Saul of Tarsus into the apostle Paul as a case in point. His trial before King Agrippa, as recorded in Acts 26, illustrates this "cultural dialogue."
As Paul shares the story of his conversion with King Agrippa, he speaks the language of the Roman Empire, Koine Greek, and not his native Hebrew. Yet earlier, when he was blinded by "a light from heaven, brighter than the sun" and he heard a voice from heaven, it was not in the predominant Greek language. Paul tells Agrippa: "I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'" (Acts 26:14). Paul then asked who was speaking to him, and the voice answered, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting" (Acts 26:15). Newbigin suggests that this passage provides a means by which we can understand the opportunities for gospel "translation" from within our own culture. Just as Paul hears the as yet unnamed voice from heaven in his native tongue, the "voice" of the gospel must be offered in the language of the culture into which it is spoken. The gospel must be presented in such a way that in some capacity can be understood and experienced in a particular culture.
I don't know how that plays out precisely with the popular, though spurious works, of people like Dan Brown (you could also add Bart Ehrman to that list). But I do know that for the most part, Christians are just talking to ourselves....
"To be ignorant and simple now-not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground-would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered."
-C. S. Lewis, from "Learning in War-Time," in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses
"The culture at large is neither 'Christian' nor 'secular' but fantastically pluralistic, defying conventional categorizations. In each culture we will no doubt find evidences of trauma, like the ashes of Ground Zero...We can choose to disengage from such intractable reality...Or we can accept the splintered condition of culture as a kaleidoscope of common struggles, a reality that only the golden rays of God can restore and recreate via broken humanity. The latter is my starting promise in writing this book. As you journey with me in the refracted light, I pray the Spirit will indeed reveal God's presence in the undiscovered recesses of our creative journeys."
With these words, the internationally celebrated artist Makoto Fujimura introduces his winsome book, Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture (NavPress, 2009). Fujimura's works are represented by the Dillon Gallery in New York as well as Tokyo, and public collections including The Saint Louis Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, and the Time Warmer/AOL/CNN building in Hong Kong. He was also appointed to the National Council on the Arts, a presidential appointment, in 2003. He is also a thoughtful Christian who heads the International Arts Movement, a pioneering effort to integrate a discerning Christian faith alongside art and culture.
While his book provides a feast of various vignettes dealing with the intersection of faith and culture, the chapter titled, "Fallen Towers and the Art of Tea," caught my attention for its theological precision and his own experiences of living in New York City with his family. As he raised his ten-year-old son, C.J., he observes that it was the World Trade Center that used to shade them, and give them respite and a sense of security from the hot summers of Little League games in Murray Street nearby. But all that changed amidst a cloudless, azure sky, right over the schoolyard, as two airplanes "cast sinister shadows upon our modern presumption, our trust in the twin vision," that day of September 11, 2001.
Observes Fujimura, like the poet-prophet that he is of our own day: "It has been said that we worship what our tallest buildings symbolize. Church spires defined city skylines in previous centuries. But they have been replaced by those 'punch-card' towers, the pride of our progress." He then quotes from another literary prophet from an earlier day, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote his lamentation, "My Lost City," from the top of the Empire State Building on another dark autumn in 1931:
"From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the sphinx, rose the Empire State Building and, just as it had been a tradition of mine to climb the Plaza Roof to take leave of the beautiful city, extending as far as eyes could reach, so now I went to the roof of the last and most magnificent of towers. Then I understood--everything was explained: I had discovered the crowning error of the city, its Pandora's box. Full of vaunting pride the New Yorker had climbed here and seen with dismay what he had never suspected, that the city was not the endless succession of canyons that he had supposed, but that it had limitzations--from the tallest structure he saw for the first time that it faded out into the country on all sides, into an expanse of green and blue that alone was limitless. And with the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe, the whole shining edifice that he had reared in his imagination came crashing to the ground."
Fujimura observes: "The crowning error of the city, pride, is in all of us. For the artist, as for Fitzgerald, cities represent both the height of our success and the depth of our failures. Both success and failure expose the error within, showing us that even the greatest city has limits. But the earthly city is not limited because of her boundaries. No, the earthly city is limited because her foundation is selfish ambition, the desire to control...Fitzgerald imagined falling towers long before the World Trade Centers were built."
And the story of humanity, our story, is the story of selfish ambition, unchecked hubris, as the Greeks called it. It is perhaps best epitomized in the Old Testament book of Genesis, chapter 11, where ancient man seeks to "make for ourselves a name," by building a tower that reaches into the heavens, the Tower of Babel. Yet despite however high he builds it, God still has to "come down" to see what feeble man has constructed. Malcolm Muggeridge, in his wonderful little book, "The End of Christendom," observes that in the medieval cathedrals, where you had the steeples climbing up into the sky symbolizing all the wonderful spiritual aspirations of human beings, you also had, at the same time, set in that same roof, these little grinning gargoyles staring down at the earth. Muggeridge comments: "The juxtaposition of these two things might seem strange at first. But I contend that they are aspects of the same essential attitude of mind, an awareness that at the heart of our human existence there is this mystery. Interwoven with our affairs is this wonderful spirit of irony which prevents us from ever being utterly and irretrievably serious..."
So why is it that such an accomplished artist as Makoto Fujimura, who happens to be a Christian, is so rare in our own day? I want to know. Can anyone tell me?
As we celebrate the holiday season beginning with Thanksgiving this Thursday, I found this article in this past Monday's USA Today Opinion Column quite good. Michael Medved is a writer that I have long admired for his sane and reasonable approach to contemporary culture. I heartily commend this article to you. Pass it on if you find it helpful, and feel free to post your comment on the website at the end of the article. -BLM
Their trip to the New World wasn’t about tolerance or diversity. It was about purity. Yet the Revolutionary struggle united these diverse believers and set us on a path to the unprecedented religious harmony that this nation now celebrates.
As American families sit down to their traditional Thanksgiving feasts, they will naturally recall the familiar story of the Pilgrims and, in the process, distort the true character of the nation's religious heritage.
Most children learn that the Mayflower settlers came to the New World to escape persecution and to establish religious freedom. But the early colonists actually pursued purity, not tolerance, and sought to build fervent, faith-based utopias, not secular regimes that consigned religion to a secondary role. The distinctive circumstances that allowed these fiery believers of varied denominations to cooperate in the founding of a new nation help to explain America's contradictory religious traditions — as simultaneously the most devoutly Christian society in the Western world, and the country most accommodating to every shade of exotic belief and practice.
Concerning the Pilgrims who celebrated the First Thanksgiving in 1621, they didn't travel directly from their English homes to the "hideous and desolate wilderness" of Massachusetts. They sailed the Atlantic Ocean only after living for 12 years in flourishing communities in Holland, the most tolerant and religiously diverse nation of Europe. They left the Netherlands not because that nation imposed too many religious restrictions but because the Dutch honored too few.
The like-minded Puritans who followed them (and whose much larger settlement of Massachusetts Bay annexed the Pilgrims' Plymouth in 1691) showed similar determination to build a model of single-minded religious rigor. The leaders of this idealistic venture were in no sense the victims of oppression back home, but rather counted as wealthy and influential gentleman who wielded considerable political influence. Even after their fellow Puritans won total power (and executed a king in 1649) the Massachusetts colonists chose to remain in their "city upon a hill" in the New World than to return to the compromises and complications associated with England's fractious politics.
Colonies set out on their own
Beyond the New England colonies (each of which displayed strong theocratic tendencies), other major settlements took shape according to the dreams and dictates of different denominations. William Penn and his fellow Quakers followed their "inner light" to establish Pennsylvania as a "holy experiment," while the aristocratic Calvert family set up Maryland as a refuge for devout British Catholics. Even the less explicitly religious colonies, where early settlers seemed to care more about finding gold than finding God, received royal charters that declared their underlying mission of spreading the faith. Virginia's charter described a mandate for "propagating of Christian Religion to such People as yet live in Darkness." At the first landing of the original Jamestown expedition (April 26, 1607), Captain Christopher Newport took it upon himself to erect the colony's first structure: a large cross at Cape Henry to mark their arrival.
How, then, did these enthusiastic true believers with their often-uncompromising standards ever manage to join together in a new nation in 1776 — a nation that has been characterized ever since by a religious diversity and interdenominational cooperation unprecedented in human history?
The Revolutionary struggle forced their hand, with soldiers from more than a dozen Christian traditions and sects (as well as a disproportionate representation of the colonies' tiny Jewish minority) fighting side by side in the Continental Army. When Gen. George Washington ordered "divine service" to build morale among his weary troops, he had to accommodate New England Congregationalists, Virginia Baptists, New Jersey Presbyterians and, for that matter, the random Catholic or Mennonite. Gen. Nathanael Greene, who had been raised a Quaker, effectively commanded some Massachusetts soldiers — even though their Puritan forebears ordered the occasional hanging of Quaker interlopers in the previous century.
Violent struggles had broken out from time to time in the past among various faith communities — with Puritans challenging Catholics for control of Maryland, for instance, and fighting the bloody Battle of the Severn in 1655. But, for the most part, the wide open spaces of the new continent allowed even impassioned theological enthusiasts to build their own spheres of influence without confronting or oppressing their potential rivals in neighboring settlements.
Establishment clause's intent
The First Amendment ratified this arrangement of uncontested local authority with its careful wording: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." The constitutional formulation limited only the power of the federal government to impose a single national faith, but did nothing in the eyes of the zealous founders to interfere with established churches (that received direct government funding and endorsement) on the state level. The esteemed liberal scholar Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School writes: "A growing body of evidence suggests that the Framers principally intended the Establishment of Religion Clause to perform two functions: to protect state religious establishments from national displacement, and to prevent the national government from aiding some, but not all, religions."
The Pilgrims and their spiritual descendants never had to retreat from religious fervor or biblical demands to join the new Republic, thanks to the continued existence of more or less autonomous refuges and enclaves. No one can suggest that our Founders embraced secularism or relativism, but they did come to accept the notion of separate faith communities following their own rules, while managing to cooperate where absolutely necessary.
Thanksgiving in that sense doesn't celebrate religious freedom, but rather coexistence. We remain a nation of impassioned, fiercely committed, openly competing believers who have nonetheless established a long tradition of letting other faith communities go their own way. We can be pious and uncompromising at our own Thanksgiving tables, without menacing, or even questioning, the very different proceedings in the home next door. The limitless boundaries and vast empty land of the fresh continent, plus the challenges of a long Revolutionary struggle, gave the faith-filled fanatics of the founding the chance for a freedom more profound than mere religious tolerance: the right, in their own communities, to be left alone.
Michael Medved, a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors, hosts a national radio talk show and is author of the forthcoming book The 5 Big Lies About American Business.
The title of this blog is indebted to Eric Metaxas, who perfectily captured the essence of a raging firestorm in the media when he journaled on his website concerning FoxNews analyst Brit Hume's remarks about Tiger Woods. What Hume stated, and what he later defended on Bill O'Reilly's program, "The O'Reilly Factor," was that Tiger should consider Christianity in lieu of his Buddhism, as only Christianity offers an individual grace and forgiveness. What Hume was suggesting was that despite our politically-charged culture, where everyone is encouraged to be tolerant, and accept others people's opinion, Christianity stands front and center, and says that it alone is the Truth, and that Jesus Himself said that He was the Only Way, and the Truth.
As Metaxas wrote in his whimsical writing style, "In what Brit said, he implied that Buddhism does not offer the sort of grace and forgiveness that Christianity does. this happens to be true. Doctrinally speaking, only Christianity has this concept of grace. Go ask any Buddhist. Only Christianity says that God will pay your debt. He will pull you out of the hole and dust you off and put his arms around you and say, "I love you." That's the whole point of Christianity, that we all need God's help, and God actually wants to help us--not to condemn us, but help us."
The words of G. K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis are ringing in my ears. Chesterton once observed that "Toleration is a virtue for people who don't believe in anything!" And Lewis opined in Mere Christianity that, "Christianity is a fighting religion. It says that it is right and the others are wrong." Christianity Today recently conducted an interview with Hume about all the controversy surrounding his remarks.That interview is shown below, as Hume's remarks are so insightful, not simply about his comments regarding Tiger, but about his own personal journey of faith. I think you will enjoy it....
Q & A: Brit Hume
To read Eric Metaxas' fine piece on Hume's remarks, go to: http://www.ericmetaxas.com/writing/essays/jesus-and-tiger-and-brit-oh-my-2/
Even as James Cameron's science-fiction epic "Avatar" continues to dazzle audiences with its visual wizardry, studios and filmmakers are scratching their heads, wondering when, if ever, viewers can again expect another such visual feast in cinema. With its combination of immersive 3-D images and a sophisticated performance-capture technology, the movie is approaching, if it hasn't already surpassed, $1.5 billion in worldwide ticket sales, much of it from 3-D screens.
Mr. Cameron and his producing partner, Jon Landau, have spoken of possible sequels to "Avatar," but 20th Century Fox, which distributed the movie and helped underwrite production and marketing costs of about $460 million, has yet to announce plans for a successor to a film that was at least 15 years in the making. And in a research report published by Barclays Capital, Anthony J. DiClemente and George L. Hawkey called "Avatar" an "Outlier": a unique event that leaves the business environment around it largely intact.
But as CNN's Jo Piazza reported in a recent article, "Audiences Experience 'Avatar' Blues," Cameron's immersive spectacle may have been a bit too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression, and even thoughts of suicide after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora.
To deal with such angst, website forums have cropped up aplenty. On the fan forum site "Avatar Forums," a topic thread entitled "Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible," has received more than 1,000 posts from people, attempting to help fans cope. The topic has become so popular last month forum administrator Philippe Baghdassarian created a second thread so people could continue to post their confused feelings about the movie.
"I wasn't depressed myself. In fact the movie made me happy ," Baghdassarian said. "But I can understand why it made people depressed. The movie was so beautiful and it showed something we don't have here on Earth. I think people saw we could be living in a completely different world and that caused them to be depressed."
A post by a user called Elequin expresses an almost obsessive relationship with the film: "That's all I have been doing as of late, searching the Internet for more info about 'Avatar.' I guess that helps. It's so hard I can't force myself to think that it's just a movie, and to get over it, that living like the Na'vi will never happen. I think I need a rebound movie," Elequin posted.
A user named Mike wrote on the fan Web site "Naviblue" that he contemplated suicide after seeing the movie: "Ever since I went to see 'Avatar' I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na'vi made me want to be one of them. I can't stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it," Mike posted. "I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and the everything is the same as in 'Avatar.' "
Notwithstanding the political agenda that the movie has been criticized about, as well as such bizarre comments above (can you say, get a life?), one still has to give credit to Cameron for tapping into a deeply embedded desire and wish for a better world. Fans might find actor Stephen Lang, who plays the villainous Col. Miles Quaritch in the film, an enemy of the Na'vi people and their sacred ground, an unlikely sympathizer. Yet Lang makes an insightful observation about understanding the connection people are feeling with the movie.
"Pandora is a pristine world and there is the synergy between all of the creatures of the planet and I think that strikes a deep chord within people that has a wishfulness and a wistfulness to it... James Cameron had the technical resources to go along with this incredibly fertile imagination of his and his dream is built out of the same things that other peoples' dreams are made of."
In many ways, great cinema like "Avatar" serves as a harbinger of things to come, enchanting us and pointing us toward a better world to come. I am reminded of the words of C. S. Lewis' in his poignant sermon given to students at Oxford University, titled, "The Weight of Glory, when he spoke of this this longing (he referred to it as Sehnsucht, "inconsolable longing") and desire for a better world, a better place, free of the miseries and fallenness of this present state of affairs on this blighted planet of ours:
"We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words--to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it....At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in."
Makes one yearn and long for Narnia, doesn't it?
Every summer for 25 years, Mark Vasu has gotten together for a weekend getaway with old friends from Duke University. The 15 men, who graduated in 1984, gather in the same cabin in Highlands, N.C. "It's a judgment-free, action-packed, adventure-based weekend," says Mr. Vasu. "We go hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, fly-fishing." What they don't do is sit around as a group, the way women do, sharing their deepest feelings.
So begins Jeffrey Zaslow's article last week in the April 7th issue of The Wall Street Journal, titled "Friendship for Guys (No Tears!)." There is no question that the way men and women perceive relationships and friendships is light years apart, and it is rather commonplace and convenient for men to see themselves, and to be perceived by the opposite sex, as well, inferior.
Yet many would argue that just because male friendships are vastly different than those of most women, we shouldn't assume that they're inferior to female friendships. "If we use a woman's paradigm for friendship, we're making a mistake," says Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland's School of Social Work, who has studied how 386 men made, kept and nurtured friendships. Men might not be physically or emotionally expressive, he says, but we derive great support from our friendships.
Guys, see if you can identify with this story Zaslow reported in his Wall Street Journal article: "A woman from Wisconsin wrote to me recently to say that she effortlessly shares intimate feelings with her friends. That's in great contrast to her husband. He recently went on a fishing trip to Canada with four longtime friends. And so she wondered: What did they talk about for a whole week? She knew one of the men had problems at work. Another's daughter was getting married. The third man has health problems. Her husband said none of those issues came up. She couldn't believe it. She told him: 'Two female strangers in a public restroom would share more personal information in five minutes than you guys talked about in a week!'."
We live in an interesting day, when the hectic pace of our lives, and the competitive drive in the workplace among men, often contribute to our mere "surface" friendships, and seeing other men as "competitors." And without question, the way we were raised has had a profound influence about how we relate to others in terms of transparency and authenticity. And while some of us may be better at "friendship" with our male peers and friends, it is clear that there is a wide chasm between the way men and women perceive friendships and relationships.
So are we simply that shallow? Your thoughts posted below would be appreciated. Simply click the button, "Add Your Comment."
The water's blue, the waves are lapping. Geez, it's hot. Do I have enough sunscreen on? Why did I wear this bathing suit? How long have we been here? I wonder what's happening at the office. Have they finished that project? Where is that cellphone? Wait, don't tell me there's no service! Can't slow down? Even on vacation? You've got plenty of company.
So begins an insightful article in a recent Wall Street Journal that covers a litany of the issues we face in our 24/7 work culture. Here are some of the highlights of the article, written by Melinda Beck, in the Health Journal of The Wall Street Journal.
As curious as it may seem, only 53% of working Americans say they come back feeling rested and rejuvenated after vacation, and 30% say they have trouble coping with work stress while they're away. These statistics come from a survey conducted by an Expedia.com survey of 1,530. Some try to cram in so much activity that they come back more exhausted than when they left. Others stay so plugged on BlackBerrys and cellphones that colleagues and clients don't even suspect they're away. Here are some other interesting statistics:
* 3%: Suffer from 'leisure sickness' on vacation. Signs include fatigue, muscle pain, nausea and flu-like symptoms.
* 19%: Have canceled or postponed vacation plans due to work.
* 56%: Say they are more in need of a vacation than in past years.
And according to Edward Creagan, a medical oncologist who writes the Mayo Clinic's stress blog, "It's been my experience that an 'out of office' response means nothing anymore. We're driving ourselves wacko with no time to power down." What's more, it seems that attempting to relax may even make some people sick. Some 3% of the population suffers from "leisure sickness" when they go on vacation. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain, nausea and flu-like symptoms, according to a 2002 study in the Netherlands.
For some people, the withdrawal of stress can be similar to withdrawing from steroids-including changes in glucose metabolism and dramatic mood swings, says Conor Liston, a psychiatry resident at Weill Medical College in New York City who was the lead investigator of a brain study on stress. Other people seem to get so addicted to the adrenaline rush from stress that they gravitate to high-pressure jobs and keep piling on new challenges; some subconsciously push deadlines and complicate projects, creating stress unnecessarily.
Get physical. Besides releasing endorphins, exercise also burns off excess adrenaline and cortisol. The "flight" can be on the treadmill, after all. If you haven't been exercising, a vacation can be a good time to start. Even a walk on the beach can be invigorating for a chaise potato. At the other extreme, some people relax by doing marathons or triathlons. "We really weren't meant to sit at a desk 12 hours a day," says Dr. Edlund, who recommends that vacationers alternate periods of "food, activity and rest."
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