Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shaking the Foundations

I'm preaching on 1 Corinthians 13 tomorrow (lectionary) particularly 9-13 and so read a bit of Paul Tillich's The Shaking of the Foundations in order to do some study. I cam across the following paragraph in Ch. 13 that reminded me of the following clip from Being John Malkovich. I think it may be too weird for the church people tomorrow, so I wanted to share it somewhere.

Tillich, then Kaufman

Mankind has always tried to decipher the puzzling fragments of life. That attempt is not just a matter for the philosophers or priests or prophets or wise men in all periods of history. It is a matter for everyone. For every man is a fragment himself. He is a riddle to himself; and the individual life of everyone else is an enigma to him, dark, puzzling, embarrassing, exciting, and very being is a continuous asking for themeaning of our being, a continuous attempt to decipher the enigma of our world and our heart. Before children are adjusted to the conventional reactions of adults and have grown out of their creative individuality, they show the continuous asking, the urgent desire to decipher the riddles they see in the primitive mirror of their experience. The creative man, in all realms of life, is like a child, who dares to inquire beyond the limits of conventional answers. He discovers the fragmentary character of all these answers, a character darkly and subconsciously felt by all men. He may destroy, by means of one fundamental question, a whole, well-organized system of life and society, of ethics and religion. He may show that what people believed to be a whole is nothing but a fragment of a fragment. He may shake the certainty on which centuries lived, by unearthing a riddle or an enigma in its very foundation. The misery of man lies in the fragmentary character of his life and knowledge; the greatness of man lies in his ability to know that his being is fragmentary and enigmatic. For man is able to be puzzled and to ask, to go beyond the fragments, seeking the perfect. Yet, in being able to do so, he feels at the same time the tragedy implicit in his being, the tragedy of the riddle and the fragment. Man is subject, with all beings, to the law of vanity. But man alone is conscious of that law. He is therefore infinitely more miserable than all other beings in the servitude to that law; on the other hand, he is infinitely superior, because he alone knows that there is something beyond vanity and decay, beyond riddles and enigmas. This is felt by Paul, when he says that the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of decay into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

Man is a fragment and a riddle to himself. The more he experiences and knows that fact, the more he is really man. Paul experienced the breakdown of a system of life and thought which he believed to be a whole, a perfect truth without riddle or gaps. He then found himself buried under the pieces of his knowledge and his morals. But Paul never tried again to build up a new, comfortable house out of the pieces. He dwelt with the pieces. He realized always that fragments remain fragments. even if one attempts to reorganize them. The unity to which they belong lies beyond them; it s grasped through hope, but not face to face.

This part of the film is where John Makovich goes through the portal into his own mind (which has been being exploited for profit by John Cusack and Cameron Diaz, and runs into the reality of the vanity about which Tillich speaks. I was surprised that HOllywoodJesus didn't even have a review of the film. Well, maybe I'll find the time to write one (laugh). If you haven't seen the film--find it and remedy that ASAP. The first from Charlie Kaufman, (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and directed by Spike Jonze.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

bulletin art

I'm preaching on Psalm 46 and Luke 13: 1-9 to address the crisis in Haiti and Pat Robertson's drivel.The gist will be how Pat Robertson makes a grave error in pointing to some concocted myth to explain the "evil" that God must be punishing (Haiti made a deal with the devil to get rid of the French.) for with the earthquake. On one hand, I don't think this is even worth responding to, on the other hand, when I preached on something else that fit that description (refuting 2012 end time hysteria) it seemed that the people were really "met by" the sermon. If I can help the churchpeople see one more reason Pat Robertson and his ilk don't speak for them, and what a more authentically Christian response to the people in Haiti might be (hmm, I wonder what it could be?), I think I'll have given the message I'm supposed to give.

We're saving money by not buying bulletins anymore--so I was inspired by some friends on the Facebook Textweek page to draw a little thing for the bulletin. I'm not saying I think it is great (it is a stick figure, and my handwriting isn't great)--but I'm posting it here so that you can use it or use the idea and improve upon the art if you're doing the same kind of thing I'm doing (or if you plan to use the scripture later on in Lent.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Novelty and Nostalgia

What is it about us that takes comfort and pleasure in nostalgia? Everyone nods their head in church when I bring up something like learning to drive a stick shift. We connect with one another through shared recollection. Our recollections are both novel and shared. My story is somewhat unique in its components, but it is essentially common. You can imagine what that experience must have been like for me because you too had a similar experience. I can really drone on about some concept or some idea or principle in church in a sermon, but if I can authenticate for the listeners that concept in a concrete example that they have experienced, they can tie the concept to things about that recollection.
This is in the ether for me because I recently ran a few errands and decided to keep the radio on the pop station that Lara listens to on her commute rather than immediately switching to NPR (aren't I a bore?) because she'd been singing a song to herself about 10 mill
ion fireflies--could the radio really be playing a song about getting 10,000 hugs from 10 million lightning bugs? If it isn't on SiriusXM 40's on 4 or on my Pandora Dub station, I probably don't hear it.
It turns out the radio is playing some such song, and it was a sweet sounding song with lyrics that are simple and strange, and hinting at some deeper rumblings. (I read something about the artist being primarily inspired and driven to make music by a persistent insomnia. "Please take me away from here.") I pictured my son Wesley liking it, and I liked it too (though when I sang it to him later that day, he said flatly--"I don't like that song." He highly prefers Johnny Cash's Orange Blossom Special or Bob Dylan's Santa Fe--which until Wesley's train obsession
((why he likes the song)) I had always assumed was about the town, not the train).

Fireflies video The video is a phantasmagoria of nostalgic toys and light up items, and I can't decide if it is overly nostalgic or not, but perhaps you can put in your vote. The sheer volume and speed of which I was shown things from my own past in the video (such as a light up globe or a "Spell and Say" or a hot air balloon lamp, etc.) gave me a dip into my childhood by showing me images of many things with which I played. The effect is heightened in the video, because the singer remains unlit at a keyboard instead of getting any "face-time" whatsoever. It is like a music video for a child's toy-room. It got me thinking about nostalgia, and how we use it to "sell something." I use it to sell an idea. Artists use it to sell their ideas or their works, Commerce uses it to sell a product.
I don't think it is only my generation that has a special penchant for nostalgic "retro" stuff, but it certainly is prevalent in my generation. The video is one example. The "retro" Mustang, Camero, Challenger, and other new muscle cars is another, this kind of thing is another: There are hundreds of examples. We want to combine the old with the new. We familiarize ourselves with the new by linking it to something from the past. Or, perhaps we just like that feeling of "Oh yeah, I remember....!" How many facebook surveys have to do with our favorite toys or our favorite old cartoons or our favorite whatever it is. Is a certain extent of this connecting to products of our shared history due to the fact that my generation doesn't really have a galvanizing event that we all connect to in childhood or formative years? Instead we all remember products that shaped our play and our collective "identity?" (i.e. Lite Brites, Rainbow Brights, He-Man, etc.) I was telling Wesley about McGruff the Crime Dog and O.G. Readmore this evening. Why would I do such a thing? Is it just me, or does my whole generation (I was born in 1978) have an unusually soft spot for nostalgia?
Is it possible to be engaged by the completely novel? Perhaps that's what it's like to encounter God. The school of the Via Negativa found illumination in the notion that God is completely novel, and nothing in the world can ultimately describe God. Instead of holding up what God is in our prayer and discernment, we can only ultimately understand what God is not. A pitfall of nostalgia is that it can be hollow for some. While I may really get excited about football or dinosaurs, they could mean nothing to you. God is free from nostalgia. Nostalgia works because it is extremely personal. We get sucked into our past experience of life (not a bad thing) and it hits a soft spot with us. Though God, like the advertiser or the artist, has a desire to connect with each person through their sense of nostalgia, it is a carrot to pull us into a relationship that is completely novel. That's one way that I think of Process Theology. God is involved in our past and our identity and our nostalgia for the past, but God is drawing us toward a relationship with the rest of the world, with ourselves, and with God, that is completely novel. Process Theologians love this word, "novel." I think they like it because it speaks to the idea that God is fundamentally creative and fundamentally connected to creation. God takes the collective potential of the universe and instills a possible novel and creative outcome in our soul. If we follow this impulse toward the novel and creative, we follow God's "will." This relationship with God may involve nostalgia, but it may be completely novel. It involves "going out on a limb."
What do you think? It's not that our parents or grandparents or great great grandparents don't pine away for nostalgia (how many times have you heard it said "in the good ole' days."), but perhaps our generation is the first to have a product driven nostalgia (as showcased in the video.) Is nostalgia binding or freeing? Is the novel divorced from nostalgia, or shaped by it?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Little Boy's Dreams come true and why I like Streamlining

Wesley is really into everything trains these days. He loves model trains, and even got a special invitation via grand-daddy to ride an engine at the Little Rock Port Authority as they shunted cars full of things from the various plants by the river to the train yard. (We hauled a bunch of pipes that had been reclaimed from Canada by an Indian company and then sent to Arkansas to be refinished and then sent back to Canada for a oil pipeline to the U.S-((Wesley got an early taste of globalization)) as well as around 100 or so desert painted Hum-vees on flatcars.) We got to ride in two different engine models--a 45 ton switcher (the photo with the Little Rock port authority engine) and a Santa Fe engine that you're probably more accustomed to seeing pulling long trains . Of course, Wesley had a great time. It was one of those experiences that will surely last in my memory, and I am sure will live in Wesley's memory for a long time. How many 4 year old boys get to do that kind of thing? Thanks, Dad.

Wesley's whole fascination with trains has schooled me a bit on trains too (I never really was into them), and while he prefers the Diesel engines he can watch pull trains through Okmulgee, I like all the beautiful designs from the age of streamlining. The other day, I was listening to Studio Tulsa on our NPR station, and heard that the Tulsa Philbrook museum had been given a new collection of industrial design from the same era. Tulsa is a big hub of art-deco and streamlined architecture. I used to work at Boston Avenue UMC, which is a paragon of art-deco architecture.
We got to go up to the chapel on the top floor of the tower (right above the pastor's office--the pastor, by the way, is afraid of heights) the other day when we got our flu shots. It is interesting to me that art deco and streamlining really fits into the mystique of the era when those designs were popular. It really breathes optimism. Everything, including toasters and vacuum cleaners and camper trailers, deserve to look like they are poised to take off in flight. That suits me.