Monday, November 21, 2005

American Idle

Words come slow
to an idle man
with nothing to hold
in his remote control hand.

He wouldn't dare go
too far from his house,
too far from the show,
too far from his mouse.

Fearing to miss
what's constantly hurled
through space to this man
who'll never know the world,

never know people,
never have not,
never need Christ,
and never know God.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Our Problem, In Eight Lines

Israel's burden
The Gentile's curse
Faith's marker the law
Only made us the worse

In comes the Saviour
To relieve and to bless
But we call him "God-awful"
And blame him for our mess

Movies I Can't Stop Thinking About

Having become a father not once but twice in the last 3 years, my time for movie watching has gone way down of late. Infants and then toddlers tend to require some sacrifices, and going to movies has been one of mine. However, I can't say I feel like I've missed much in the theatres. Every trailer I see feels like a remake of a movie I've already seen.

Since I've been staying in a lot more I've been doing a lot more movie renting, and since the selection is so horrendous when you are looking for good writing, good acting and good characters, I've had to expand my horizons. Thankfully, a brother and a friend have combined to open my eyes to the wonders of foreign film. I can't say I'm an aficionado of any sort by now, but I would like to take a moment to recommend three movies that I've seen in the past couple years which are still making appearances in my head-space.

While the whole E-Talk world seems to be oohing and aahing over the same old special effects and TV adaptations I feel like I've been enlightened, and seen what movies can be. Not just movies, but films: Moving pictures that leave a mark, that tell a story in a compelling, artful, and intelligent way. Its still entertaining, but not for the same reasons. It feels like it is improving your life, not dumbing it down. Don't get me wrong, I like vegging out in front of the tube once in awhile, but if you ask me that's what sitcoms and sports are for.

I just don't feel like I need to see the A-Team on the big screen. I'm sure its just a matter of time, and to be honest it is something I would have liked to have seen as a kid, but I don't know, I've moved on. It would be mere novelty, and if I want that I'll buy a whoopee cushion.

And how many times do we need to see the White House obliterated by a tsunami or a tornado before we look around the theatre and ask ourselves: "Why are we here?" Not "why are we here" like existentially, but why are we wasting 2 hours of our lives in this theatre watching the glamourization of mass destruction when we could have actually saved a life or two overseas or in New Orleans by saving the money we sent on popcorn alone and giving it to Red Cross?

I know not everyone agrees with me. That's okay. I know I'm looking for something different in a movie than most people. I knew that the day I saw Armageddon. I went with four guys and we got the last four seats, but not together. We could hear each other guffawing in the darkness from all over the theatre. I was marveling at the record high cheese-factor in that movie while all around me people were clapping. Yes. Clapping. In a theatre. Since then I've known I was going a different route than the whole Ben Mulroney crowd.

So, if you've read this far, and are with me even to some degree, allow me to recommend the following three movies to you:

Tokyo Story by Yasujiro Ozu
Winter Light by Ingmar Bergman
Elephant by Gus Van Sant (Yes I know this isn't a foreign film)

Each of these movies in their own way touches the soul. Tokyo Story and Winter Light are both subtitled and in black and white, but I'm not sure I've ever laid my eyes on better movies. Stick with them. Soak the characters in. Enjoy how they are filmed. Watch how the simple yet profound stories unfold. Notice Ozu's framing and the subtle build to the climactic familial statement. Watch for Bergman's long close up monologue from which you cannot remove your eyes, and the fascinating discussion of Christ's passion. It puts Mel Gibson's attempt in a fuller perspective. And watch Elephant with this warning: it is disturbing. It is disturbing, but it is real. Not glorified. Just real. And for some reason it just made me love teenagers.

Quite frankly, real is the way I like it. Chesterton said that "truth is stranger than fiction, because we have made fiction to suit ourselves," and with pop fiction becoming so repetitive and blatantly formulaic in its sense-bombardment the last couple decades it seems the truth is stranger than ever. Stories can speak truth in ways that you just can't shake, and those are the movies I love. I find them profoundly entertaining. If you see any of these, or others like them, let me know what you think.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Remembrance Day

To be honest I think I've always had trouble with Remembrance Day. I'm not totally sure what I'm supposed to do with it. As the day approaches I always find myself thinking about war, and when I think of war it makes me quite sincerely want to puke.

Part of my problem with November 11 is that I am not always sure whether we're honouring veterans or honouring war. Sometimes I fell like the ceremonies are skirting the issue and romanticizing the ugly realities. Maybe I should get off my moral high horse and just appreciate what the veterans have done for me instead of thinking so much. Maybe I'm too far removed from the wars of old to have the right to say anything at all. Maybe I'm just a jerk. I don't know. The day just bothers me.

No doubt it is an unsettling, and disturbing holiday. More like Good Friday than Labour Day that's for sure. We generally have a moment (not even a minute) of silence on Remembrance Day, but it feels to me like the most appropriate way to spend the morning might actually be doubled over a toilet wretching. My suspicion is that many veterans feel the same way. In fact, I suspect I don't know the half of it.

I asked my friend Terry the other day if he thought it was commendable, or even possible, to be anti-war and pro-veteran at the same time. I asked him that because the impression I get from folks south of the border is that such a thing just isn't allowed. If you speak out against war you are interpreted as dishonouring veterans. Terry figured there are worse positions a person could hold. It would be far worse to be pro-war and anti-veteran.

I'm serious though. Can't I object strongly to war and honour the veteran at the same time? My Grandpa served in World War II but I can't remember him ever talking to his grandkids about it. Sometimes I'm not sure which of those things I respect him for more. My wife's Great-Grandpa died jumping on a grenade to save his fellow troops. He recieved the first posthumous Victoria Cross for it too. We should honour these men, and the others too.

But even as I think of them, a different type of soldier comes to mind as well. I've seen footage of contemporary soldiers who seem to almost be revelling in the "glories" of war. Writing the names of their adversaries on bomb casings with felt marker the same way we label our lunches for our kids. Its almost like they think its a video game. Admittedly I haven't seen a lot of that kind of footage, but it does stick in one's brain doesn't it? Images like that make me wonder what side I'm on. That's when I get a sick feeling in my gut again. I never have had a strong stomach.

I suppose I should be more gracious with soldiers of today. After all, I can only imagine that it would take a great deal of psyching up to go into battle. You'd probably really need to find a way to want to go. You'd probably need to be utterly convinced that you were off to face the enemy. You'd probably have to let yourself get really mad. I don't know because I've thankfully never had to do it. I can only imagine.

Actually, let's be honest. I can't imagine. The thought of holding a gun, let alone firing it at another person, is quite plainly beyond the scope of my comprehension. I'm not trying to sound morally superior, I just really can't imagine it. If I was called to war I'd probably want to call myself a "conscientous objector", but more accurately I'd probably have to say I was a wimp.

With what I know of history, it does seem that at times war is a necessary evil. By calling it that it makes it sound like I'm saying that veterans did evil, but I'm not. I merely think that one of the best ways I can honour what the veterans went through for us is to name war for what it is. After all, isn't it honouring to our veterans to let the nightmares they faced serve as a reminder to not let it happen again? Isn't the best sort of remembrance to do everything in our power to keep the peace for which they fought? Are not the cross-strewn cemetaries and the survivor's fever dreams crying out to us to make the most of the freedom they bought?

Good Friday is always followed quite quickly by Easter Monday, but Remembrance Day is followed by what? Wishful thinking. Santa is everywhere. Certainly I think we should give pause on this day to honour the sacrifices of those who have gone before. But this day also needs to be a compelling catalyst for us to work as valiantly for peace and hope in the years between as they did in the years of war.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Reading The Mind Of The Maker

I used to think that God sort of had to create us because He is love. It never occurred to me that this could be heretical, although I did wonder from time to time why I hadn't heard anyone say it before.

The idea was that the love and fellowship of the Triune God was so perfect and powerful that it inevitably sparked the flames of humanity. And as the story played out the Fire-starter was indeed warmed by what He'd made, but got burned by it as well, and ended up throwing His body on the fire to save it from ravaging the forest and ultimately consuming itself.

This is all fairly biblical and actually quite poetic if you think about it, but there's one problem:
And that is that a perfect three-in-one God of love would have been just fine on His own.

Just because God thought of us did not mean he had to create us. By definition, God does not have to do anything. At least not for us.

So I gave up on my idea of the inevitability of our creation for awhile, but was reminded of it again when I read Dorothy Sayers' The Mind of the Maker, where she writes:
"To say that God depends on his creation as a poet depends on his written poem is an abuse of metaphor: the poet does nothing of the sort. To write the poem (or, of course, to give it material form in speech or song), is an act of love towards the poet's own imaginative act and towards his fellow beings."

That got me thinking. I mean, I really do think the Maker could have said, "Let's not make humans in our image, male and female, because many of them will only destroy themselves by their own free will. Even though we mean for them to use that will to love, let's not do it, because they are bound to hurt themselves, and, if we let them, they are bound to hurt us."

Seriously, I still think God never owed us anything. Not even existence. God had love around without us, and could have left it at that. He didn't have to make us. He didn't have to do that for us.

But maybe He loved the idea of making us so much that whenever that idea came to Him on the timeline of timelessness the Triune God simply had to do it. Not so much for us, but for Himself. Maybe God just decided it was worth it to Him. Maybe God was willing to get hurt in order that He might know us, and give us the opportunity to know Him. And as far as we're concerned, maybe love didn't force His creative hand (after all, true love never does that), but that doesn't mean it didn't compel Him.

And so this whole train of thought has left me with the sense that God's love is a powerful thing, and God is a beautiful poet. As a matter of fact, as I think about it, it occurs to me that not a single sonnet would ever have been written or enjoyed if not for that first and most beautiful of poems, when the Maker said:
"Let there be."