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In basically chronological order (spoiler alert):

1.  Wow, Robin Williams looks like a real dork with that haircut and outfit.

2. Why is he walking his bride down the aisle?

3. And here we go with the old gnostic tropes about the body being a prison-house, you are what you think, etc., etc., etc.

4.  This cinematography is really pretty stunning.  The whole business of making it look like he's in a painting is done really well, especially for 1998.

5.  Strong overtones of C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce with this idea of heaven as a sort of hyper-real place.

5. I really just don't like Cuba Gooding Jr. much as an actor.  He reminds me of Lamar Burton-- not in a good way.

6. I really like this actress that plays Annie.  What's her name again?

7. Maybe my "gnosticism" concern is overblown.  Maybe that's not the point.  The mind-control of surroundings seems to be more of a plot device than anything.

8. Oh wow, this was already heavy, but the suicide really introduces a new seriousness to the film.  And it's interesting that it is being taken so seriously by the characters.  No easy universalism here.

9. Wow a journey into hell.  Strong evocation of the Orpheus and Eurydice legend.  I'm really appreciating the nods to classic literature.

10. And now he's walking through a field of people buried up to their necks.  Dante would be proud.  This is really smart film.

11. Got me all three times.  After I realized the Asian woman was his daughter I was on the lookout.  Then Cuba Gooding Jr. as his son (which made me almost not mind Cuba Gooding Jr.) really put me on the lookout.  But I confess I hadn't even thought of the old German tracker as Albert Lewis.  Clever.  And not just for cleverness sake.  There were good reasons for each person being who they were; both for Chris' sake and for their own sakes.

12. The scene in the house is brilliantly done.  The flashbacks are really important.  I find the emotions expressed and interactions between grieving spouses/parents very compelling.  The point about "being strong" as a way of hiding is well taken.  Sometimes when you win you lose.  I thought these two quotes especially poignant:

"That's when I (Chris) realized I was part of the problem.  Not because I remind you, but because I couldn't join you.  So I left you alone..."

"He (Chris) was a coward.  Not giving up; that was just his place to hide.  He pushed away the pain so hard, he disconnected himself from the person he loved the most.  Sometimes when you win you lose."

13. Man this woman playing Annie is really good.

14. What a beautiful picture of marriage, and hence of Christ and the Church.  The only way he was able to save her was to become like her, and to ultimately lay his life down for her.  He came down from heaven and was 'incarnate.'  He resigned himself to the death she had brought upon herself, and in so doing brought about resurrection not only for himself but for his bride, and indeed for their world.  The film ends with a new heavens and a new earth full of innocence, life beauty and glory.

15. Getting hung up on the "gnostic" and/or re-incarnation elements is a good way to miss the fundamentally Christian shape of this film.  Imagining afterlife requires a certain amount of creativity and artistic license.  It would be like getting hung up on the fact that in Lewis' classic you have folks traveling from purgatory/hell to heaven.  One could easily object on theological grounds that such does not happen or, for that matter, on ecological grounds that even if it didn't it almost certainly wouldn't happen via bus.  But that would be to miss the point.  Likewise here.  The point is about love, and about someone who spends himself for the sake of another and brings about new life in so doing.  That's the right story to tell.

 
 
Posted by Alicia at The Old Mill

"Naturalistic science will usually retort that examination of present materials and processes enables us to extrapolate backwards so as to determine what must have occurred. But here again, forsaking his own basic methods, the scientist is speculating (not observing) on the course of historical development; he assumes (but cannot show experimentally) that not only is nature uniform now but always has been, that processes seen today have always worked as they do now. (The 'theistic evolutionist' likewise assumes that today's processes must be basically similar to God's creative activities. This, in effect, is to say that creation was 'immature,' that God did not finish his creative work at a point in the past.) To pretend to answer questions about origins by extrapolating the observable present into the unobservable past is to reason in a circle; it is to forsake the proper descriptive role of science and to make it an arbitrary determiner of the past instead."

Greg Bahnsen, "Revelation, Speculation, and Science"

 
 
“Any service of Christian worship that is given to a more dualistic or gnostic conception of the body (e.g., tending to see the body as a “prison” and the material world as an evil distraction) will actually be a performative contradiction, since any service of Christian worship will be inescapably material and embodied, even if it might not be considered liturgical or sacramental.  Indeed, there is a sense in which human worship is inescapably sacramental insofar as it will always and only be an event of material meaning-making.  Even the most didactic, minimalist “talking-head” kind of worship will require tongues and ears.  Our essential embodiment will keep interrupting our Platonic desire to do away with the body, will keep insinuating itself into our dualistic discourses to remind us that the triune God of creation traffics in ashes and dust, blood and bodies, fish and bread.  And he pronounces all of it “very good” (Gen. 1:31).”

--James Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 141

 
 
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Lately I’ve been thinking about the American TV show “The Office” as a kind of 21st century morality play.  Alicia and I have watched the show up through the beginning of the 3rd season and while I make no claims about authorial intent, and I think that some of this analysis will unravel as the show continues post-merger, I do think there are some interesting things going on there.  Alicia has written about the same idea here.

So here’s how I see it.  Jim and Pam are the protagonists.  They are essentially “Christians” within the scope of the show.  Michael and Dwight are their counterparts.  Jim and Pam exhibit, to greater and lesser degrees most, if not all of the classical virtues: humility, charity, kindness, patience, self-control, temperance and diligence.  They aren’t perfect characters of course.  Pam sleeps with her boyfriend, and in some ways is guilty of one of the “vices” that has been mostly forgotten, acedia, in her willingness to let Roy walk all over her.  And perhaps we can see a trace of cruelty in Jim's teasing of Dwight at times, but for the most part it is good-natured.

 
 
Listening to a great sermon the other day on Matthew 19.13-30 reminded me of how important it is to read the gospels with an eye to their context and not to insist on forcing them through a rigid systematic-theological grid.  How many times have we heard that what is happening in this story is that Jesus is confronting this man with his own desire to save himself through works righteousness (i.e. laying down the law in its second use)?  But does this really make sense?  Look at the story again.  
 
 
"Too often we try to define the essence of Christianity by a summary of doctrines.  We turn to texts and to theologians in order to discern the ideas and beliefs that are distinctive to Christianity.  That's akin to thinking one can understand Hamlet just by reading the script; but it is only properly a play when it is performed, and there is a kind of understanding of Hamlet that comes from its performance that cannot be found just in the script."

James Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 134
 
 
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"This is just what John Calvin meant to affirm in his notion of the sensus divinitatus, an "awareness of divinity"; "There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity."  (He later describes the same phenomenon, the same structure, as the "seed of religion.")  By this, Calvin does not mean to indicate that all human beings have a feeble, insufficient "knowledge" of God; he says that all human beings exhibit a "sense" of "divinity" (sensus divinitatis), not a "knowledge" of "God" (as if he spoke of a "natural" scientia Dei).  This is best understood not as a primarily intellectual disposition to form theistic beliefs but as a passional disposition to worship.  Sin and the Fall may eradicate true knowledcge of God because such requires a relationality that is lost by the Fall; but Sin and the Fall cannot eradicate this seed of religion, this impulsion to worship.  Thus for Calvin, even idolatry is a testament to humanity's essentially fallen nature..."

--James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 122-123

 
 
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It seems to have become fashionable these days to make passing reference to a supposedly obvious correspondence between American football and the ancient Roman gladiatorial games.  

I find this analogy rather silly.  Of course formal analogy can be drawn between aspects of the ancient games and modern sports, but what I find far more striking are the points of disanalogy: points which correspond instead to a culture that still retains some significant vestiges of having been Christianized.  Yes, football stadiums remind us of the ancient coliseum, and all kinds of points of correspondence begin to crop up if you look for them: vendors, public latrines, crowd enthusiasm and taunting, etc.

But what was the striking feature of the Roman games?  What is the feature that leaves us aghast?  The gladiators fought to the death!  They went out having pledged an oath to die in their grisly bloodsport.  Furthermore, the vast majority of them were slaves, or those who had sold themselves into a slave class in desperation.  In other words, they were some of them criminals, and in many cases innocents, forced to die for the pleasure of the crowd.  This is precisely what we do not find in a sport like modern football.  We have retained an enjoyment of physical prowess, teamwork, and competition, while at the same time we are taking pains to secure the safety and wellbeing of those who participate.  Think about the amount of time, energy, and money that has gone in to designing just the helmet of a modern football player.  When an actual injury is even suspected, play halts, and fans and players from both sides will look on in concern, often applauding in approval when the downed player walks off the field unharmed.  And look at what football players are payed.  We remunerate them in keeping with the enjoyment we get from watching them perform.  In other words, in this (post)-Christian society, we have retained what was worthwhile for entertainment and leisure while excising the evil bloodlust and honoring those who impress us with their hard work and skill.  This is as it should be.

Football is similar to the gladiatorial games in many ways, but they are superficial ways.  They are nothing more than formal correspondences that you would expect.  Any society will have public leisure events, competitions, gathering places where fans cheer for a team or an individual, etc.  But in our case the differences, not the similarities, are where the profundity is to be found.

 
 
"There is a notion that complete impartiality is the most fitting and indeed the normal disposition for true exegesis, because it guarantees complete absence of prejudice. For a short time, around 1910, this idea threatened to achieve almost a canonical status in Protestant theology. But now, we can quite calmly describe it as merely comical."

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1:2, 469