Encounters At the End of the World, dir. Werner Herzog (2007)
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
"You have to understand the situation, and you have to understand the heart of men. If you don't, you are not a filmmaker. And you know, as a filmmaker, where the epicenter of all fear is. So if you don't, don't make movies!"
Werner Herzog (Interview with Jonathan Demme at the Museum of the Moving Image June 5, 2008)
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Musician Jay Bennett died in his sleep over the weekend. My most vivid impression of Bennett is of him hunched over the Wurlitzer or Hammond organ in Sam Jones's documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart as he and his Wilco bandmates worked out what became their celebrated Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. There's also the unfortunate impression of someone who comes off looking like a pompous ass in that same film. Whatever his personal flaws Bennett had a hand in creating several albums of unique worn-around-the-edges poems of the American heartland. In my opinion you can hear his artistry the best on Summerteeth, still my favorite Wilco album. The NYT obit is below.
Jay Bennett, Former Member of Rock Band Wilco, Dies at 45
Sunday, May 24, 2009
"I think often that even the programs of a local church are too sectored and too busy. As if we're trying to program godliness. And so the family is actually never together because they're all in demographic groupings. Where do we have time where we are pursuing relationships with one another, living with one another, praying with one another, talking with one another...You can't fit God's dream (if I can use that language) for his church inside of the American dream and have it work. It's a radically different lifestyle. It just won't squeeze into the available spaces of the time and energy that's left over."
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Lightly edited and reposted from Feb. 23, 2008.
Called to duty.
Brothers and sons. Friends and neighbors.
63 years ago today an AP photographer named Joe Rosenthal captured (quite by accident) an image of six Marines raising an American flag. Little did he know that it would become known to history simply as The Photograph -- the most reproduced photo ever. To the politicians and folks back home The Photograph symbolized victory on Iwo Jima. In reality, some of the hardest fighting was yet to come and three of those six Marines never made it off the island alive.
On March 1 Sgt. Mike Strank was killed by friendly fire. Later that same day, Cpl. Harlon Block (the figure on the far right with his back to the camera) was eviscerated by a mortal shell. On March 21 PFC Franklin Sousley was killed by a Japanese sniper. Block's story is particularly poignant. Initially, the soldier in the far right was misidentified as another slain Marine, Hank Hansen, but Harlon's mother immediately recognized her boy in the photograph. In 1947 her belief was vindicated when the Marine Corps finally admitted their mistake.
All these stories and more are told in James Bradley's superb book Flags Of Our Fathers. Bradley's father John was the last surviving member of The Photograph -- dying in 1994. Throughout his life he brushed off any talk of being a hero and his silence made him something of an enigma to his family. The explanation probably lies in the fact that John "Doc" Bradley was a corpsman. He saw the worst of the worst.
For many of the veterans, their memories of combat receded; supplanted by happy peacetime experiences. But there were others for whom the memories did not die, but were somehow contained. And for a few, the memories were howling demons that ruled their nights. Among these last, a disproportionate number, I believe, are corpsmen. It was the corpsmen, after all, who saw the worst of the worst.
A Marine rifleman might see his buddy shot down beside him, and regret the loss for the rest of his life. But in the moment, he kept going. That was his training, his mission. But the corpsman saw only the results. His entire mission on Iwo was to hop from blown face to severed arm, doing what he could under heavy fire to minimize the damage, stanch the flow, ease the agony. The corpsmen remembered. And their memories ruled the night. (p. 346)
After his father's death, James Bradley learned from his mother that Doc wept in his sleep throughout the first four years of their marriage. Whenever John Bradley was asked about being a hero, his reply was invariably that "the heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn't come back." On this Memorial Day weekend it might be appropriate to shed a tear or two for all the men and women who didn't come back.
The Marines fought in World War II for forty-three months. Yet in one month on Iwo Jima, one third of their total deaths occurred. They left behind the Pacific's largest cemeteries: nearly 6,800 graves in all; mounds with their crosses and stars. Thousands of families would not have the solace of a body to bid farewell: just the abstract information that the Marine had "died in the performance of his duty" and was buried in a plot, aligned in a row with numbers on his grave. Mike lay in Plot 3, Row 5, Grave 694; Harlon in Plot 4, Row 6, Grave 912; Franklin in Plot 8, Row 7, Grave 2189.
When I think of Mike, Harlon, and Franklin there, I think of the message someone had chiseled outside the cemetery:
When you go home
Tell them for us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today (pp. 246-247)
The flag raising was also captured on film by Sergeant Bill Genaust. On March 4 he became another of the heroes who didn't make it off that lava rock hell in the middle of the Pacific. Bradley describes his last day:
Rain and chilly winds buffeted the troops that day. Bill Genaust, who had recorded the replacement flagraising with color film and who had asked Rosenthal, "I'm not in your way, am I, Joe?" walked into a "secured" cave to dry off. The last thing he did was turn on his flashlight. He was thirty-eight and left behind a wife of seventeen years. His body was never recovered. (p. 235)
Here's the footage shot by Genaust.
Friday, May 22, 2009
My brother says that collecting Criterion DVDs is like collecting wine. I agree, but would add that discs from The Criterion Collection are better than bottles of wine because they get better with age and can be enjoyed more than once. I've been collecting them for a while now. You might even call it an obsession. I'm not alone, as you can see here. In the spirit of those top 10 lists here are my top ten Criterions.
10. a gorgeous and well-appointed presentation of an unforgettable film...includes an audio commentary from one of my favorite film scholars Annette Insdorf
9. the best DVD menus ever and one of the most handsomely outfitted titles in the catalog...even includes a companion book of the Raymond Carver short stories the film is based on
8. quite simply a must have for any self-respecting film buff...I appreciate it more and more as the years roll on
7. a milestone in my early film education...black and white has never looked better, and the human condition has never looked bleaker
6. adoration is not too strong a word for how I feel about this witty film and Criterion's presentation of it
5. everything I know about Robert Bresson I learned from Criterion...includes a moving commentary from historian Peter Cowie ("all is grace")
4. permanently expanded my perceptions of the emotional possibilities of cinema and the technical possibilities of home video...romantic and haunting
3. my introduction to Bergman and Peter Cowie...and if memory serves my first Criterion acquisition
2. Criterion and Wes Anderson are a match made in heaven...every detail precisely and lovingly rendered
1. a film and restoration without equal...the crown jewel
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Answer: the same way an Arminian would preach it. As a glorious statement of God's love for humanity and the free offer of the gospel to every man, woman, boy, and girl.
But the Calvinist doesn't ignore the rest of the book of John, and what it teaches about an even greater love than the love of John 3:16--an electing love that's often rendered as steadfast love in the Hebrew Scriptures. The kind of love that chose, or elected, Israel when she was the least of the nations, and that elects many to eternal life apart from any merit in the ones chosen.
The Calvinist recognizes that God's Son didn't come to a neutral world full of moral free agents in which some would decide for Jesus and some wouldn't. But he came to a world of people condemned already--lovers of darkness and haters of light--who would require nothing less than a supernatural new birth to believe in him. A birth over which we have no more control than we had over our natural birth. It's all there in John.
"In the rest of the Gospel of John here’s the surprising discovery for most American Christians. The relationship between being a sheep of Christ--and believing on Christ--is not that we believe in order to become a sheep, but that God makes us a sheep so that we can believe. That surprises people. Because thousands teach against it to the great detriment of the church." (John Piper)
Not convinced? Have you been listening to Piper's recent sermons on John 3:16? I dare you to listen.
God So Loved the World, Part 1
God So Loved the World, Part 2
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
As a counterpoint to my post having some fun at Augustine's expense here's something in the way of chastening from C.S. Lewis. It comes from Reflections on the Psalms which I plan to write more about in this space time permitting. Lately, "bloggable" subjects come faster than opportunities to put fingers to keyboard. As a lover of the Psalter and CSL I can't believe I'm only now getting around to reading this wonderful little book.
In the following passage Lewis cautions his fellow "moderns" (what would he have thought of us post-moderns?) about the narcissistic temptation to judge my age as more enlightened than all others--a temptation he termed elsewhere "chronological snobbery." He's writing here about allegorical ways of reading the Psalms, but I think the principal applies more generally to the way we approach any Scripture, or any text.
What we see when we think we are looking into the depths of Scripture may sometimes be only the reflection of our own silly faces. Many allegorical interpretations which were once popular seem to me, as perhaps to most moderns, to be strained, arbitrary and ridiculous. I think we may be sure that some of them really are; we ought to be much less sure that we know which. What seems strained—a mere triumph of perverse ingenuity—to our age, seems plain and obvious to another, so that our ancestors would often wonder how we could possibly miss what we wonder how they could have been silly-clever enough to find. And between different ages there is no impartial judge on earth, for no one stands outside the historical process; and of course no one is so completely enslaved to it as those who take our own age to be, not one more period, but a final and permanent platform from which we can see all other ages objectively. (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)
Monday, May 18, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
In Interpreting the Parables Craig Blomberg steers a middle course between the excessive allegorizing that characterized the first nineteen centuries of interpretation, and the overly realistic (de-allegorizing) approach advocated by most 20th century scholars. As an example of the first I had to chuckle at this bit of creative exegesis.
St. Augustine provided the classic example of ancient allegorizing with his interpretation of the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37): the wounded man stands for Adam; Jerusalem, the heavenly city from which he has fallen; the thieves, the devil who deprives Adam of his immortality; the priest and Levite, the Old Testament Law which could save no one; the Samaritan who binds the man's wounds, Christ who forgives sin; the inn, the church; and the inkeeper, the apostle Paul!
Friday, May 15, 2009
Last Sunday our pastor opened his sermon by telling the story of his conversion. One of the signposts on the spiritual journey that culminated in his becoming a Christian in college was reading -- and writing an essay on -- Flannery O'Connor's novel Wise Blood for a high school English class. This week John Huston's 1979 movie adaptation of Wise Blood was released on DVD for the first time ever in a pristine digital transfer from the folks at Criterion. To go along with the release criterion.com posted a terrific essay by Francine Prose (great name for a writer btw) on the strange marriage between two great American artists of the 20th century.
John Huston (1906 - 1987) had a knack for successfully adapting supposedly unadaptable novels -- Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and James Joyce's The Dead being two prominent examples that bookend his long and varied list of credits. Huston was thus a natural choice when producer/screenwriter Michael Fitzgerald went looking for a director to translate O'Connor's unique Roman Catholic meets Southern Gothic sensibility to the big screen. Though Huston didn't share O'Connor's Christian worldview, to say the least, he managed to make a film that conveyed her clear-eyed unsentimental brand of faith in spite of himself. Prose surmises that this brilliant lady of American letters, who died all too soon at age 39, would have been pleased.
The Fitzgeralds [the film's producers] had believed all along that they were making a film about redemption and salvation, but Huston had been under the impression that he was shooting a picture about the semi-ridiculous religious manias prevalent throughout the South. According to Huston biographer Lawrence Grobel, a hasty script conference about Hazel’s fate persuaded Huston that at “the end of the film, Jesus wins.”
How Flannery O’Connor would have loved that. And though she was the most unsentimental Christian, you can’t help thinking that she would have seen it as a sign—a sign of the truth (or, in her view, the Truth) asserting itself and making itself known. Perhaps she would have thought that the progress of the production had, in some mysterious way, paralleled the plot of her novel. In spite of himself, the director had made a film about a Christian in spite of himself, groping his way toward redemption. Huston captured not only the humor but (in the most literal as well as the metaphorical sense) the spirit of O’Connor’s work—the high comedy and the pathos, the wildly strange and the recognizably human, the earthy and the celestial. Like so few writers, but like the grateful audience for John Huston’s remarkable Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor would, I believe, have been purely thrilled by the film that was made from her novel.
Read the whole thing
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Alan Wisdom writes:
Our liberal friends are convinced that history is on a steady leftward course: towards greater individual moral autonomy, greater freedom in entering and exiting sexual relationships, and reduced relevance of traditions or authorities that might restrain individual autonomy and freedom. (If they are religious, our friends hail these trends as the will of an “inclusive” God.)
Progressives see themselves as “prophetic.” History will vindicate them, they are sure, and they will become the majority and sweep us conservatives into the dustbin. If they don’t win a vote today, they will win it tomorrow. And if society goes their way, then the Church must surely follow.
This “progressive” myth has many obvious problems. The Church does not always follow the culture. Sometimes it resists the culture. Sometimes it changes the culture. Christians in past generations have taken stands against dueling, abandonment of unwanted infants, and polygamy—all common in their day, and all rare today.
Nor is it true that today’s leftist cause is always destined to become tomorrow’s mainstream reality. Think of all the past liberal enthusiasms—communes, “God is dead” theology, Freudian psychotherapy, divorce as a wonderful growth experience, open classrooms with no grades, Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong as great liberators—that have largely faded away. Sometimes the left is right about the future, and sometimes it’s terribly wrong.
The tragedy is when orthodox Christians—who should know better—buy into the leftist myth of inevitability...A biblical worldview recognizes that the course of history is in the hands of a sovereign God who is working out his purposes in his time. No human political agenda is inevitable. There is much that both liberals and conservatives fail to understand.
Read the rest
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I turned on the TV last night, which happens infrequently these days, and began to flip thru the channels. On one network was a three-hour(!) "reality" show about overweight people trying to lose weight. On another was a competition featuring good-looking dancers wearing costumes that are only slightly tamer versions of what you might find on the girls at the local strip club. An entertaining competition I suppose, but also unavoidable hi-def titillation for any male viewer with a pulse (and an HDTV). I switched the channel quickly enough to one with serious looking men playing poker. Then to a channel showing guys with hip hop style nicknames playing each other at X-box. You gotta be kidding!
The cable news channels weren't much better with their usual lineup of fearmongers on the right and the left, and those claiming to be fair and balanced. Now there are times when one simply wants -- even needs -- to shift the cerebrum into neutral and enjoy some mindless entertainment. But who can reckon the effect on a person and a nation of a steady diet of this? Let alone on a follower of Christ? Neil Postman gave it a shot in Amusing Ourselves To Death:
When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainment, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk: culture-death is a clear possibility.
I wonder if we're there yet?
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I number it among my blessings that my father had no car, while yet most of my friends had, and sometimes took me for a drive. This meant that all these distant objects could be visited just enough to clothe them with memories and not impossible desires, while yet they remained ordinarily as inaccessible as the Moon. The deadly power of rushing about wherever I pleased had not been given me. I measured distances by the standard of man, man walking on his two feet, not by the standard of the internal combustion engine. I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance; in return I possessed "infinite riches" in what would have been to motorists "a little room." The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it "annihilates space." It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten. Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter. Why not creep into his coffin at once? There is little enough space there.
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
Saturday, May 9, 2009
I stood a mendicant of God before His royal throne
And begged Him for a priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
I cried, "But Lord, this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange, a hurtful gift that Thou hast given me."
He said, "My child, I give good gifts and give my best to thee."
I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore;
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace.
He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.
Dedicated to my mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, and the mother I'm married to.
Bill Hobbs is one of my heroes. He's one of those guys that just being around inspires me to do more to be the hands of Jesus to my neighbors. Bill is a living example of that old saying -- "Only one life, 'twill soon be past, Only what's done for Christ will last." I just finished reading My Longest Drive, the story of how God led Hobbs from a self-centered career-driven life as a successful golf pro to the founder of Urban Youth Impact, a model of holistic urban ministry. I've heard parts of Bill's testimony before, but it was still amazing to read about his journey from the country club circuit to pouring his life out in neighborhoods that most people avoid. Bill is still driven, but he's now driven to share the love of Jesus with the widows and fatherless of West Palm Beach. One of the things I've heard him say, and which he repeats in the book, is a truth that seems so elementary yet's so easy to forget. A truth that enabled this white guy from the suburbs to win the trust of folks not normally disposed to trust someone like him.
Even though our skin had less pigment than the majority of kids to whom we ministered, we quickly learned that we could still be agents of God's healing and reconciliation. We learned that people didn't care how much we knew until they knew how much we cared. [emphasis mine] Once they knew we cared, we could bring what we knew about the love of Christ into their battered young lives. What's more, we found that this love had the capacity and ability to overflow into the families and neighbors of each young person. (p. 35)
There it is. It might take years of sowing the seeds of caring, as it did in Bill's case (you can read about it in the book), but unless we show we care our message is going to fall on deaf ears. Can't we say this is rule number one in apologetics and evangelism too? If the person I'm trying to convince isn't able to sense that I care for him/her -- or worse yet, he senses I don't even like him -- he's not going to listen to what I have to say no matter how firmly the truth is on my side. This is true whether I'm engaging with an angry kid in the hood, the neopagan in a liberal college town, or that demonstrator carrying a sign for a cause I find morally repugnant. Can I find it in my heart to genuinely care for that person despite our differences? Or better yet for those of us who claim to be followers of the one who died to turn enemies into friends -- have our hearts been transformed by the gospel to such an extent that we're able to genuinely care for that person? Can we envision them as fellow worshipers dining with us around the table of Jesus? If not, I'm afraid our message and mission will fail.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
This morning I found myself stuck behind a Palm Tran bus making it's fitful journey down Broadway. On the rear was an advertisement for a new house of worship called the J.I.T.A. Cathedral. The meaning of the acronym was explained in bold letters below. JESUS IS THE ANSWER. On one level I believe this to be true. Hallelujah, Jesus is the answer! But wait, he's the answer to what? I wonder if the implication behind the ad isn't something like, "come to our church and find out how Jesus is the answer to all of your questions and problems." A cosmic Dr. Phil. Who is Jesus? A life coach. Who is Jesus? A ticket to prosperity and happiness...a daily double! Who is Jesus?
If such is the case I beg to differ, since Jesus is the answer to a very specific set of problems -- sin, separation from God, wrath, a coming judgment -- which happen to be the sort of problems that modern man isn't prone to recognize as his most dire. Deciding to follow Jesus may create more problems, and questions, as he made clear to his disciples over and over again. He may not be the answer you're looking for. If I was doing the ad I would have called it the J.I.T.Q. Cathedral -- JESUS IS THE QUESTION. A very existential approach, yes, but one I think gets more to the point than the vague generalities that get thrown around. What's the question? It's the same one Christ asked of his disciples in Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9, and it's the same one that confronts each of us yet. "And he [Jesus] asked them, 'But who do you say that I am'?" What if the answer to the question posed by Jesus of Nazareth is of ultimate significance?
Who do you say that he is?
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Several weeks ago I noticed a shop of some kind going in where once had been only a hole in the wall. Then a sign...something about chocolate. Having driven by it almost every day, at last my curiosity got the best of me, and I stopped in this evening on the way home from work. It turns out that owners Reymond and Flor Nordine have opened a genuine chocolate shop right here in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach. ¡Oh My Chocolate! isn't quite as picturesque as the shop run by Juliette Binoche in the movie Chocolat, but it's just as tantalizing. They carry Abdallah chocolates (a 100-year-old chocolatier based in Minneapolis), as well as their own chocolate-y creations. Add to that a dizzying array of homemade organic gelato's, soups and sandwiches for the lunch crowd, and a bold cup of joe for $1 (no, that's not a misprint!) and you have a winning combination. I walked out with an assortment of dark's for me and milk's for Shannon, which we happily enjoyed after dinner. I'm thinking this wasn't the last time I'll be making an unscheduled stop!
¡Oh My Chocolate! is at 219 S. Olive Avenue (between Datura and Evernia).
Monday, May 4, 2009
Sunday, May 3, 2009
The gospel, precisely because it so powerfully confronts all the human ways we try to supplant God, from the tower of Babel to the cross, is always mysterious and even dangerous to cultures that want to maintain their uneasy bargains with sin—whether those bargains take the form of tribalism or individualism, collectivism or consumerism. No human society—not even Israel, as the prophets lamented and insisted—can fully "enculturate" the gospel. Christendom is always purchased at the price of a reduced gospel that all too often reduces the cross to a piece of jewelry.
Andy Crouch, Culture Making (p. 177)
Saturday, May 2, 2009
WTS professor Larry Sibley gives ten worship planning ideas from John Calvin.
1. Remember the necessary practices and always include them every week: the Word, prayer, the meal, and sharing.
2. Keep the traditional ordo: gathering, Word, sacraments, sending.
3. Let the Scriptures come through.
4. Connect the reading and preaching to prayer and the sacraments; balance the necessary practices as means of grace.
5. Provide a full diet of prayer.
6. Use the Lord’s Prayer as the backbone of praying.
7. Let the people pray: singing the prayers, Psalms, creed, Song of Simeon in the language of the people.
8. Focus on baptism to comfort the troubled consciences of believers.
9. Feed the poor from the Lord’s Table.
10. End by singing the Nunc Dimitis, the Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32).
Read the whole thing.
Friday, May 1, 2009
Last year I awarded this blog's sermon audio of the year title to Matt Chandler for "Preaching the Gospel from the Center of the Evangelical World". I've found the 2009 winner, and it's from right here in my own backyard. It's Tullian Tchividjian's second message as senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church succeeding the legendary D. James Kennedy. Pastor Tullian chose a most unlikely book to begin his preaching ministry at CRPC -- the Book of Jonah. I hope you'll listen.
Here's the link: 4/19/09 Introduction to Jonah
You can find it on iTunes too.
Monday marks the unofficial-official 50th anniversary of the birth of the French New Wave, for it was on 4 May 1959 that François Truffaut's first full-length feature The 400 Blows premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Truffaut's autobiographical tale of adolescent angst and rebellion was a sensation then, and of all the defining films of the New Wave has arguably held up the best in the intervening decades. If you want a good introduction to the movement/school/style this is a great place to start. Truffaut's films are more accessible, and tend to wear better, than those of his more provocative contemporaries such as Jean-Luc Godard. Among the many retrospectives marking the anniversary this one by Joe Queenan is the best I've read. He nails the significance and lasting legacy of this "unprecedented moment in the history of cinema...like the elusive, gigantic wave surfers spend their lives hunting for, the new wave was a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon that would have no sequel." Not all the films of the New Wave have stood the test of time, but many have, and with the advent of home video new generations of film buffs can appreciate them anew. An era defined by a diverse group of filmmakers united in their desire to make great art, not product, is something worth celebrating.