The Taser's Edge

A Proper Sabbath Video

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No Radiohead on Wall Street for Me (Sad Face)

But thanks to @BenjySarlin, I can still experience a little of the same, from 2004’s RATM show on Wall Street:

Thinking now of the sweeping economic reform that show brought about brings tears to my eyes…or maybe protest music really requires something beyond itself to change anything.

Update: I guess lots of sad faces out there. Still…my cynical take on protest music stands (despite its awesomeness).

Hooray for Amazon!

Or at least for new books (now with enhanced clickability)…

Happy (Late) Birthday, OK Computer!

(via Paste Magazine)

What Does God Sound Like?

Today is Transfiguration Sunday (a fact I admit I didn’t realize until seeing the bulletin at church this morning).  From Matthew 17:

[Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.

I like this image of the Transfiguration, because despite the pasty-whiteness, it really captures some terror on the part of the disciples:

In the scheme of things, it doesn’t seem as important how the sound waves created by God’s voice are heard by human ears in comparison to the information conveyed by the language used by God.  Google “What does God’s voice sound like?” and you will find a lot about discerning God’s will but nothing about pitch or timbre.

However, it does matter for our imaginations of God what God’s voice sounds like, and the Church could help its members’ imaginations by talking about the question.  Does God sound like Charlton Heston?  James Earl Jones?  Some other rumbling male voice?  Alanis Morissette?

Many waters (Revelation)?

Okay, this book is not about Revelation.

Thunder (Baptism of Jesus)?

Sheer silence (NRSV’s thought-provoking take on the classic “still, small voice” to Elijah)?

The point being that the voices we think of as God (from famous movies or from church productions or skits which have an offstage speaker into a microphone) almost always belong to faces with at least some stubble and possibly a full beard.  So what do we do to challenge that?  Use a female voice, and you may get people to think or to question (which would be great), but you may end up replacing a male God with a female God, which repeats the same problem.

The response to this which I often hear from theologians is that God is without gender or sex.  I hate that answer, abhor it.  If there is no connection between the image of God and the sexes, then sex is meaningless.  And sex is far from meaningless.  There must be a connection between us and God, not in every single thing (lest we get into, What does the inside of my elbow reveal about God’s character?) perhaps, but you can bet that if something is as important to us as sex is, it indeed is part of the image of God in us.

What does it say about how limited our imaginations are that there are only about five different ways that we can imagine God’s voice sounding–clearly male, clearly female, purposely androgynous, and maybe electronic or some kind of animal?  Start imagining bigger, because you can bet that a voice that brings out the type of terror that God’s voice on the Mount of Transfiguration did in the disciples, and which is described in so many different ways in Scripture (as the above only scratched the surface) just might be slightly more interesting than our current imaginations allow.

This makes me think of a couple folks I have known who do claim to have heard the voice of God audibly.  I wonder what that was like.  One of them was driving at the time, and is still alive, so I don’t think the voice inspired pure terror for him.

W. (dir. Oliver Stone; 2008)
March 5, 2011, 5:24 pm
Filed under: Art, Film, History, In the News, Life, Music, Politics, Prayer, Religion, Video | Tags: , , , ,

For some reason, since last Friday, I’ve seen three Oliver Stone films–Wall Street, Platoon, and W. I think some American collective consciousness prompted me to watch the former two, as they both star Charlie Sheen.  Then W. was the Netflix DVD which had been sitting at our house for four weeks or so (as we almost always watch streaming–hence the first two films–or else online TV instead).

W. was easily the weakest of the three.

Josh Brolin does a good job of being the title character.  Accent, physical bearing, etc.  The guy playing Rove (Toby Jones) is the guy who played Capote in the lesser-watched Capote film, Infamous, from a couple years ago (as well as the voice of Dobby the House Elf!), so he was clearly good.  But the rest of the acting?  Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney is okay, except that he tends to sit in literal shadows and scowl with his voice all the time.  Ellen Burstyn’s talent is wasted as Barbara Bush.  Elizabeth Banks is hard to believe as the less-than-hot Laura Bush (although for me, the problem may be that Elizabeth Banks is Avery Jessup, fictional wife of Jack Donaghy, not of GW Bush).  Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice is the worst, however, basically a movie-length SNL-quality impersonation of Rice’s speech patterns.

Worse than this is the screenplay.  The title character’s dialogue is based around famous Bush-isms, which I find hard to believe that Bush used when talking to his wife or discussing plans for the Iraq invasion with senior advisers.  The basic 0utline of the script is a moving back and forth between two timelines, the first of Bush moving from being a Yale frat boy to finally getting his act together (but with no clear reason why), the second of the plans for the invasion of Iraq.  It’s not clear at all that this was the best way to tell this story.

All this adds up to the director’s fault.  My biggest problem may be an odd one, but here it is.  This does not feel at all like an Oliver Stone movie.  For someone who hated Bush as much as Stone vocally did, this is just boring.  If you remember JFK, Stone just made an argument for a particular conspiracy theory, and he made his argument well in movie form, whether he was totally nuts or not (and he wasn’t totally nuts).

Here, however there is nothing new, nothing particularly controversial (as hot as it gets: What if Cheney strongly shaped Bush’s presidency?  What if Rove had a place in shaping the decision to enter Iraq?  What if Bush’s understanding of Iraq was shaped by his father’s experience with the first Gulf War?), somehow nothing interesting.  A possibly interesting story, written and told with mediocrity, directed with little passion.  Feel free to skip it.  Watch Platoon or Wall Street instead.

With all that said…this still should be on all lists for the best movie trailers in history:

The Sermon on the Mount

Since late January, the Sunday lectionary has been taking us through the Sermon on the Mount.  Now, this week, the Daily Office is taking us back to the Sermon’s beginning.  It might be the case that I need to listen.  Not to this Sermon and not to this Sermon:

To this Sermon (text follows the video):

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peace makers,
for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you,
and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad,
for great is your reward in heaven,
for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.


The Fountain (2006, dir. Darren Aronofsky)

You might be an intense director if all your soundtracks feature the Kronos Quartet and/or Mogwai and if your least intense film to date is about a scientist desperately trying to find a cure for his wife’s illness as a way of grieving for her before her death.  Yes, in case you thought it might be a different Darren Aronofsky, this is the director of Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan. [Note: Once the next X-Men Wolverine movie comes out, The Fountain will likely no longer be Aronofsky’s least intense film.]

When The Fountain came out, I didn’t really seek it out.  Sci-fi is not Holly’s thing, so then I never rented it either.  Then, finally, it came to Netflix streaming.

As I recall, it had mixed reviews upon hitting theaters (51% says Metacritic), but I cannot understand why.  Life, death, immortality, medicine, science, ethics, spirituality, friendship, love, marriage, romance, drama, history, myth, adventure, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Darren Aronofsky, Hugh Jackman (who in his conquistador costume convinced me he could have been a good Aragorn).  Can you name one of these things which can’t make a great movie?  No, you can’t (although I know the conquistador costume tests you).

If you have followed this blog for long, you know that I sometimes like movies for their ambition alone, and this one excels in that category, but not in that category alone.  Hugh Jackman plays three incarnations of the same character, and Rachel Weisz plays two, before basically being played by a giant tree in a third role.  And the last half of that last sentence tells you why this movie lost so much money.  At least according to IMDB, it cost $35 million to make and only recouped $10 million at the box office.

So what is so great about this movie?  For me, having done a lot of reading, thinking, and dealing with questions of life, death, grieving, and loss through the lens of spirituality (as a chaplain resident, if you’re a new reader), The Fountain is a beautiful piece of art–well-written, well-scored, well-acted, well-directed, beautifully visualized–about very important topics (although topics is a terribly weak word for what I’m talking about).  It’s not only visually and emotionally compelling, but it also manages to be meditative.

It had me thinking about my church, which has been talking about doing something with theology and the arts for a long time, to perhaps think toward a film series around death and dying.  Or, as a couple of my own clinical pastoral supervisors modeled for me, I might just keep it in mind for teaching in the future.

Netflix has a five-star rating system, and it won’t let you do half-stars, so I always round up.  To me, The Fountain is a 4.5-5 star movie (because, yes, the ending could have been less muddled).

See. It.  And then buy me the graphic novel version.


The Journey of the Magi

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

T.S. Eliot

File:Magi (1).jpg

Happy New Year!
January 1, 2011, 1:00 am
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