The Taser's Edge

Tuesday Reading Roundup

City of God by Augustine of Hippo
Augustine continues tearing it up.  For me, it’s good timing, as I’ll be putting together a homily for Ash Wednesday in the next couple weeks, and he’s helping me to begin to understand what it means.  It’s not the most sunny picture of this life.  From Book XIII, Ch. 10:

In fact, from the moment a man begins to exist in this body which is destined to die, he is involved all the time in a process whose end is death.  For this is the end to which the life of continual change is all the time directed, if indeed we can give the name of life to this passage towards death.  There is no one, it goes without saying, who is not nearer to death this year than he was last year, nearer tomorrow than today, today than yesterday, who will not by and by be nearer than he is at this moment, or is not nearer at the present time than he was a little while ago.  Any space of time that we live through leaves us with so much less time to live, and the remainder decreases with every passing day; so that the whole of our lifetime is nothing but a race towards death, in which no one is allowed the slightest pause or any slackening of the pace.  All are driven on at the same speed, and hurried along the same road to the same goal…

Now if each man begins to die, that is to be ‘in death,’ from the moment when death – that is, the taking away of life – begins to happen in him…then everyone is in death from the moment that he begins his bodily existence.  For what else is going on, every day, every hour, every minute, but this process of death?

Culture Making by Andy Crouch
Crouch continues to hold my attention, although I have this sense that I’m not entirely tracking with him, so we’ll see if that firms up into something nameable.  Until then, a great thought from the guy…

As we’ve seen, Genesis 1-11 lays out culture as, on the whole, a downward trajectory from the Garden to the city: from God’s original good intention to a wholesale human rebellion against the world’s maker.  Suppose you knew nothing of the middle of the story – suppose your only Bible lacked everything between Genesis 12 and Revelation 20…”Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; and the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:1).  Ah! you’d think.  God is starting over again, just as he was tempted to do at the time of the flood…

But then you’d read Revelation 21:2: “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

The what?  The holy city?

Revelation 21:2 is the last thing a careful reader of Genesis 1-11 would expect: in the remade world, the center of God’s creative delight is not a garden but a city…Somehow the city, the embodiment of concentrated human culture, has been transformed from the site of sin and judgment to the ultimate expression of grace, a gift coming “down out of heaven from God”…

…when God walks among redeemed humanity at the end of the Bible’s story, he walks not just on garden paths but on city streets.

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson
The title remains as lame as last week, except that now I’ve read that chapter, and, er, hmm, it’s apt.  Johnson is moving through this set of conversations, all in the service of helping couples develop healthy attachment relationships through being honest and open about their emotions.  Now, being me (and I don’t mean that as a bad thing), I’m beginning to think through not only what all this means for my own marriage, not only what it means for my own ministry of pastoral care and counseling, but also what attachment theory has to offer for how we understand our relationships with God.  All the same basic questions apply: Does God really love me?  Really care?  Am I really safe in God?  Will I be rejected?  Will I be accepted?  Do I really know who this God person is anyway?

In conclusion, as much as I’m liking what I’m reading, I need to read a good novel.  I’ve made a tiny start on Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, but I’m not yet sure that it’s got me hooked.

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.

Tales of Interest!!! (BBC Edition)

1. “Pious ‘fight death the hardest'”: People with strong religious beliefs appear to want doctors to do everything they can to keep them alive as death approaches, a US study suggests…

2. “Finn creates USB ‘finger drive'”: A Finnish computer programmer who lost one of his fingers in a motorcycle accident has made himself a prosthetic replacement with a USB drive attached…

3. “Audio slide show: Dalai Lama’s flight into exile”: On 17 March 1959, as Chinese troops crushed a Tibetan rebellion, a young Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled into India…