Category Archives: literature

More Sexy Goodness from My Lover is Mine

Thought I’d share some of Ramon’s latest illustrations for My Lover is Mine, our poetry/art adaptation of Song of Songs. These are not the final design layouts, they’re just paired with their poems so you can read what the illustration is, um…illustrating. (Click thumbnails for larger images.)

MLM final cover

MLM wandering

MLM lily thorns

MLM warrior

MLM maps legends

MLM pear tree

The Nacirema and Ethnocentrism

As I mentioned a while back, I’m back in school. I’m taking a couple online courses this summer, Sociology and Physical Anthropology. I had my orientation thingy for Sociology on Friday evening, and (since I’ve decided to be an over-achiever this time around, in contrast to my first college experience) I’m finishing up this week’s assignments tonight. (I’m also terrified that the Physical Anthropology class will kick my ass, so I’m getting a jump on the “easy subject” before my orientation class for PA on Monday night. I’m just not a hard sciences kind of girl. Facts? Statistics? Phooey…give me social theory any day of the week. My humanities B.S. will knock your socks right off. Well, maybe not Phil’s.)

Anyway, one of the assignments for Chapter 2: Culture was to read “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema,” published by the American Anthropological Association (not to be confused with AAA) and write a short essay about its implications for ethnocentrism. This is SO awesome, people. I didn’t get the joke until I had read nearly to the end.

The best part is, I was entertained and I learned something. (I also felt a bit stupid at how easily I was taken in, but my inflated self-concept probably needed to be taken down a peg or two.) Where was this kind of fun when I was in college the first time?

Yup, It’s a Turd

So, it’s bad.

I bet you dollars to pesos that ten years from now we might catch a rerun of this movie on TBS or TBN or something and find ourselves scratching our heads and thinking… “What exactly was the big deal?”  With a $77 million opening weekend, the joke’s on us, present company included.  In time, I sincerely believe the joke will be at the expense of the creative forces behind this project.  I am sure they will sooth the stinging pain of our laughter by curling up in a warm bath next to a fireplace where they are burning stacks of hundred dollar bills. 

The biggest problem with the book is that it is essentially an overglorified airport novel.  You know… one of those novels with names like, “The Shadow Matrix,” or, you know… ”Tribulation Force.”  Airport novels are about 400-500 pages long, long enough for you to look at it at the newsstand and think that it will sustain you to your trip to Honolulu / Des Moines / Federal Prison.  

You are incorrect. 

You will finish it as you’re waiting for your connecting flight in Houston which is for the best, because Sgt. Azzkicker doens’t allow new inmates to have outside reading material.   

Airport novels have characters with names like Rock Blackwell, or Black Rocksoff, or Rayford Steele.  Rock Blackwell will not be able to form a coherent sentence, but chances are that he will have some pretty hot sex and most likely save the government / universe / hot chick.

When I first heard about “The DaVinci Code,” people were talking about it as if it were a serious, historical novel.  I was underthe impression that it was something like a Michener piece.

The DaVinci Code makes Tom Clancy’s latest technothriller read like Tolstoy.  Dave Barry writes more believable characters.  If you think about it, there’s not really a story in DVC.  There is zero character development, in fact, the characters are there only to serve one purpose, which is the Big Reveal. 

No one changes, or really makes a serious choice.  The only character who undergoes any sort of shift is the character of Sophie Neveu, and, frankly, what passes for character development with her is essentially the big reveal of her true family of origin.  She’s completely passive in the whole process.

Robert Langdon?  Leigh Teabing?  Bishop Arreggllaggalaraggah?  Nothin’.  They believe the same things at the end of the story that they do at the beginning, except that they’re either now dead, in jail, or still sporting silly hair. 

Ironically, the one character who experiences anything resembling an actual story arc is Silas, the murderous nekkid uber-honkey monk with a whip fetish.

Now, the screenplay adaptation for The DaVinci code was written by one Akiva Goldsman.  He won an Oscar for his adaptation of A Beautiful Mind.  Good for him.  A Beautiful Mind, if you remember, was a very well written, twisty, delicate piece of work.  It set up the big “gotcha” twist in a way that I found compelling. 

Unfortunately, most people do not realize that Mr. Goldsman also wrote the screenplay for a small, independant art house film named Batman and Robin.  I cannot miss this opportunity to type the following phrase for the second time since I started blogging here. 

Bat nipples.

Which Mr. Goldsman showed up for this gig?  The latter, I’m afraid.  The screenplay does nothing other then reveal the inherent flaws of the source material.  Dan Brown should send Akiva Goldsman a giftbag filled with poisonous scorpions.  

After the first 25 minutes, which are actually pretty good, The Explaining starts happens.  The Explaining will continue to happen until Tom Hanks’ Big Speech at the end of the film.  Oh sure, The Explaining will be paused for a moment or two for more whipping, or diabolical priests, or corrupt Catholic police officers, but don’t worry, it will return soon.  Your new worldview will be explained in just a few more minutes.  Ok, maybe a few more.  Just a few more.  Good grief… how long is this thing?!?!

Audrey Tautou’s Sophie is the person on the business end of the vast majority of The Explaining.  The one upside to all this is that Audrey Tautou makes confusion look sexy, which is good, since her main job is to ask leading questions in comically French-accented English.  Her delivery is so stilted, that after about the first hour, she started reminding me of the sidekick on infomercials:

“You mean…  zee ginzuu weel cut zee carrots AND zee celery with only one stroke… and I am zee offspring of zee Messiah?  Sacre Bloo!”

Author’s note: I neither know the correct spelling or actual meaning of the expression “Sacre Bloo!”  But it’s damn funny.

Hanks does his best with what is a terribly thankless, lackluster hero.  I honestly don’t have much to say about his performance.  I think it could have been much worse had he not been there.  His character displays, for a brief instant, a little spunk when he is arguing with Teabing in one scene, but it’s all show.  He’s back to Explaining in no time. 

Then there’s Ian McKellen.  Sir Ian is not exactly sympathetic to Christianity.  I would guess he relished the thought of taking it down a few pegs.  His delight is his undoing.  He has been given the most amount of Explaining to do, and he is so painfully obvious in his disdain for Christianity, that it undermines his performance.  Anytime he utters the word, “The Church,” it is in a manner that should be followed immediately with a tight zoom on his face and scary music.  I am a fan, Sir Ian.  I am.  You can act your ass off, and I give you props.  Don’t let your idealism interfere with your art; it’s beneath you, sir.  

Opie’s direction is pretty good, with one exception.  This movie is flashback happy.  We get flashbacks of young Silas, young Robert, young Sophie, Knights Templar, burning of witches, ancient pagan rituals, and so on and so forth.

I’m going to take a wild guess here.  I bet these shots were among the last to be completed, and I bet by that point the budget was mostly blown on Hanks’ hairdresser.  The flashbacks look like heaping piles of dog vomit.  The flashbacks on America’s Most Wanted are more believable.  Dear Imagine Entertainment, using After Effects to add the ”Grainy” look in post is not going to change the fact that it looks like you shot ancient Rome in ancient Burbank. 

I’m not just being nit-picky here.  These scenes are supposed to help us get the big picture of The Church’s History of Horror.  Instead, it kind of looks like band dorks going to the Reinassance Faire.   

Look, The DaVinci Code is a book with an agenda.  So is Left Behind Part 45 : Still Here, Still Tribulating.  Stories that favor agenda over character will fail, every single time.  I don’t care if Billy Graham or Satan himself is producing. 

Aly and Ash joined us for a Mother’s Day lunch, and she said something that I think is really true, so I’m going to reprint it here without her permission.  I think she was elaborating on an idea Brian MacLaren has been discussing publically, but I don’t know that for sure.  Aly has, in the past, had an original idea or fifty, so I have no doubt that she may have come up with this one on her own.  I’m sure she’ll articulate further.

She said something to the effect that the only really interesting thing about the DaVinci phenomenon is not the question, “Is it true,” but “Why do people want to believe it’s true?” 

I totally agree.  The historicity of the book is a total farce.  I didn’t want to believe it at first, but the more I look into it, the more I am convinced Brown was just gleefully messing with us.  Erica wondered if there was some sort of intentional irony in the statement at the beginning of his book regarding accuracy.  Perhaps it’s some sort of statement or… symbol… in and of itself.

No friends, the debate about accuracy is quickly over.  The History Channel spent the entire weekend running debunking specials. 

The only interesting question left, the only one that really matters, is why it’s struck such a chord.  The Church can get all giddy about the lack of quality of this piece of pop art, but the truth is that we have a larger problem that must be dealt with. 

Fundie Christians like to say that the Gospel is inherently offensive, and that’s why the world doens’t like us.  They’re halfway right.  The Gospel is still marvelously offensive.  If we were to actually live it out, our entire social order could be upset, and we would again see Christian martyrs being executed in the public square as the government tried to restore it’s power.  I believe this with every fiber of my being. 

But that’s not the reason most of the world hates us.  I think a lot of the world hates us because a lot of us are insufferable assholes. 

Jesus was many things, but the only people who found him to be an insufferable asshole were people in power who had a lot to lose and they had to silence this guy who told their customers to sell everything they had and give the proceeds to the poor.  Or, they were religious leaders who were offended by Jesus’ claims of divinity and the threat to their own status in the religious order.  Or, they were the unwashed masses who were pissed off at Jesus for not leading a violent revolt against the oppressive, occupying foreign military force in their promised land. 

Most of the people who dislike us feel so because they feel oppressed by us.  They don’t even have a chance to be offended by The Gospel, because they don’t really have any idea what it really says, because we’re not really living it out.  What we tend to be, is afraid.  We feel like our “Christian” nation is being stolen from us, so we’re clamoring for power, relationally and politically.  Are there organizations and individuals who are determined to destroy our faith, and faith in general?  Sure.  Without a doubt.  But they consider themselves liberators, people. 

Please, pastors of the world, candidly ask yourselves and your congregations the question “why.”  Please, Christians of the world, ask yourselves if The Gospel is offensive, or you are.  Please, Dan Brown, pick on Islam next.  Their response will make us look like we have the righteous wrath of grammar school crossing guards.  I am sure that, “The Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi Code,” will be another big hit for you.   

Oh, by the way, if there are any Christians out there who are offended by my choice of the phrase, “Insufferable asshole,” you may be one; so, do try to relax. 

Shameless Self-Promotion: 1/8/2007

Remember this? Well, here’s the cover. (Ramon rulz.)

MLM cover

And here’s us:

Ash & Aly Ramon

And here’s the excerpt that will be on the back cover (I think):

Brand me over your heart
ink me on your skin
for love is strong as death
possessing long past the grave
burning in everlasting flame
beyond the boundary of the sky
vast oceans cannot quench it
wild rivers cannot wash it away
and it will not be bought

It must be kept safe—
walled up
until the lover

Book Review: The Secret Message of Jesus

If you’ve been tooling around the emerging church blogosphere for the last several months, I’m sure you’ve seen a review or two of Brian McLaren‘s new book, The Secret Message of Jesus. (If you haven’t, so much the better…this short review will not stand up to the exhaustive commentaries that have already been posted.) There is no one on the emerging church scene who is as polarizing as McLaren, and — as a parallel — no one who has the cojones to say what a bunch of us were thinking but were afraid to say aloud.

Many reviewers have called this new book “N.T. Wright for the everyman,” and for good reason. Where Wright is a theologian, McLaren is a pastor and practitioner. Wright has made himself a student of Jesus’ (and Paul’s) times, and McLaren has taken this cue, re-examining the messages of Jesus (both public speaking and private conversations recorded in the Gospels) with an aim to applying those messages to the current cultural milieu — which is pretty much what a pastor does, right?

McLaren — as any good English major would do — also approaches the message of Jesus with a respect for the medium of Jesus’ message…that is, parable and metaphor. He contends that the medium tells us much of Jesus’ intent for his potential followers: to deliberately obscure information in favor of cultivating relationship. If Jesus’ message was intended to transmit information, the hearer could walk away with the info in her pocket, feeling terrifically enlightened and superior; instead, story (“the kingdom of God is like…”) and metaphor (“you must be born again” and “I will give you living water”) invite the hearer to stick around and find out more…to stick around and be changed.

He also examines the “signs and wonders” surrounding the ministry of Jesus through the dual lenses of the ancient culture and Jesus’ message…i.e., if they’re “signs,” they must be signs that can help us understand what exactly the message is, and wonder at how frickin’ awesome the message really is, once we start to get it. (For those of you just tuning in, they’re signs of the kingdom of God drawing near.) McLaren’s musings on demonic possession and Jesus’ liberating power from them are especially wonderful, as he suggests such are signs of Jesus’ power to point out, name and banish spirits that overpower groups of people away from God’s kingdom…”isms” such as racism, sexism, Nazism, terrorism, capitalism, communism, etc.

The most affecting section of the book is the latter third — “Imagination: Exploring How Jesus’ Secret Message Could Change Everything” — in which McLaren explores the present implications of Jesus’ secret and radical message. (For those of you just tuning in, the secret message is “the kingdom of God is near.”) What does it look like to be a citizen of this kingdom? What are the priorities, values, and passions of its citizens? What do the citizens of the kingdom hope for and work toward? Who, exactly, is a citizen of the kingdom of God?

McLaren’s answers will surprise — and hopefully, inspire — you. Get the book. Now.

Pulitzer Prize 1995 “The Stone Diaries”

So I’ve been on a quest to read the Pulitzer Prize winning books. I had an ambition similar to this when, while teaching, I decided to read all of the Newbery Award Books. Each summer, I made my way down the list of 90+ award winning books. Now that my quest of children’s literature has been sated (save the new winners each year), I am moving into the great wealth of “adult” fiction (no, not the naughty kind, sicko).

The great thing about choosing award winning books is that they never suck. You don’t have to get through a third of a book, just to discover you’re not really that interested, but need to finish what you’ve begun (or is that just my dilemma?). The Pulitzer Prize is given to gifted writers, of great books. Win, win. And when finishing a book, I now have a new favorite author with which to discover their other writings.

So all that to say, I just finished 1995′s winner “The Stone Diaries” by Carol Shields. This is an incredible book. It is written as a narrative biography/autobiography by the main character Daisy Goodwill. She has an almost bird’s eye view of her life, and every once in a while breaks in on her own thoughts and writings to contemplate even further, or even question herself. The book is divided into chapters of life; birth, childhood, marriage, love, motherhood, work, sorrow, ease, illness and decline, death. Journeying through a person’s life is amazing. Especially when you consider what is told and what is kept secret or left out. I appreciate Carol Shield’s storytelling, but even more so, her creativity in telling said stories. She uses correspondance, newspaper clippings, journals, different character’s personal dialogues or point of view to tell the story, and by doing so, gives the reader the big picture, a few insights, but doesn’t get bogged down by introducing new characters or having to tell all of the details of an event.

I am truly enjoying this new quest of mine, although with a 10 month old, sitting down for some quiet reading time, doesn’t happen often enough. I know that we have avid readers of all kinds of literature among our authors and commentators, and I enjoy hearing about what literary adventures we all go on.

Give Me 3 Names

Give me three names

1. They must be artists (in any genre, any medium),
2. They must be dead,
3. They must have left a lasting change on their craft.

Here are my three – Mark Rothko, Arnold Schönberg, Augustine of Hippo

Ready, Go!

[Legal Disclaimer: by posting in this thread, you agree that Michael Lee has the right to use the product of your fertile mind for raw consumeristic exploitation. Even after he has used your hard work to make literally billions of dollars cash money, he will still refuse to give you any part of it, or even to give you decent gifts worthy of your great effort. By posting, you acknowledge all of this. So say we all.]

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The Kisses of His Mouth

I submit for your reading (and other) pleasure a draft of a passage inspired by Song of Songs, from the project I’m doing with Ash & Ramon. I am SO open to feedback and suggestion at this early stage…any constructive criticism is welcomed. This is my adaptation of SOS 1:2-8. Read it and weep–or read it and go find your spouse for some late-night two-become-one, which is actually the response I’m aiming for:

Let him kiss me with the kisses
of his mouth—

I drink them in,
honeyed wine…
the caresses of your lips and teeth and tongue
weaken, strengthen me.
I breathe in the scent of your skin,
breathe out the sound of your name.

I am willing…eager
Lead the way, my lover, my heart
Bring me to your bedchamber—
into the dark
into the light

With my body, I thee worship.

Take me as I am.
I offer scars, imperfections—
touch me and embrace my flaws
I am your beloved
You look at my failings and see
legends, maps of me before

I will tell the tales, my lover, only
whisper where I will find you
and I will come out of hiding.
Or we can play cat and mouse…
pursuing, escaping
one another until we
I’ll follow your trail and
you follow

Sex in the Bible

Ash & I and our friend Ramon (Morphea’s honey) are working on a book of poetry and art inspired by the Book of Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon). Ancient erotic poetry is wildly popular, and there are no treatments of SOS out there that compete in this market; the previous efforts just aren’t sexy…which is the whole point of erotic poetry, right? (More on that in a minute…) SOS is chock-full of some serious sex, but the word pictures (mountains of myrrh, towers of David, frolicking gazelles) just don’t resonate now the way they did 3,000 years ago. Our idea is to work verse-by-verse and update the poetry into images that convey the same passion, desire and…ahem…eroticism.

The publishing company I work for is taking a look at it, and I’m working with my friend Alex, who is one of the acquisitions editors, on polishing the proposal so they just can’t say no. Alex is incredibly cool–we have an informal book club for sharing stuff we’re reading, and he has terrific taste in literature. He loves this project. The writing samples we’ve submitted along with Ramon’s artwork have totally set him on fire.

As we’ve worked together on the proposal, Alex has suggested that the book will be an easier sell in our uber-Christian publishing company if we do one of two things (for the record, he’s not suggesting we actually do either of these things, just that it will be easier to convince the bigwigs it’s a good idea if we do):

1) Do a straight-up paraphrase, a la Eugene Peterson’s The Message. If you click the link and read a few verses, I think you’ll agree this isn’t sexy.

2) Use imagery that emphasizes the school of biblical interpretation which holds that SOS can be read as a love song between Christ and his Bride, the Church. While this may be doctrinally acceptable (see below), it’s difficult to make this interpretation sexy without some serious ew-factor. (And honestly, the word pictures in the text itself don’t really lend themselves to this interpretation…does Jesus really want to pillow his head on the Church’s breasts? You decide.)

[By the way, we're taking neither option, because we want to do great art and because someone with taste and good sense will buy this thing...just maybe not my company.]

Anyway, back to erotic poetry and the sexiness thereof. I really struggle with the Church’s obsession with explaining away the lush eroticism of Song of Songs. It’s so two-faced. On one hand, we flap our hands and run around in circles, insisting that “No, no…we’re totally not anti-sex,” that sex is good and God-created and natural and fun. On the other, we impose this idea that poetry included in our sacred Book, written by a guy crazy in love and want and need and maybe lust with his wife is not really about sex at all…it’s about Jesus.


So which is it, kids? Is sex really good…so good that God would want a few pages in His Book dedicated to celebrating it in all its kinky glory? Or are we really gnostic at heart, believing this flesh should be reviled, and any references in the Bible to pleasing it while naked with our beloved must have some other, holier explanation?

I realize I’ve set up an unfair either/or scenario here that can’t contain the mystery of divine and human authorship of scripture. But I just get so pissed at our hypocrisy about the goodness of sexual intimacy…it’s no wonder many of us raised in the church develop facial tics every time the subject of sex comes up! Isn’t it obvious that God is a big fan of good, clean sexual pleasure and it’s okay for us to be, too?

Copywriting, or Pulling My Own Teeth

I aspire to someday make my living by stringing words together into coherent sentences in order to communicate important ideas that I have either a) thought up on my own or b) cribbed from other, smarter people and then changed the words enough to not be legally culpable for plagiarism. To further this life’s ambition, I have begun to freelance edit and copywrite. The editing is not so very bad. In fact, I enjoy making mincemeat of other writers’ efforts, as well as the feelings of power and superiority that well up within me when I use a red pen. But the copywriting is another animal entirely.

For those of you who refuse to soil your hands with anything smacking of marketing or advertising, copywriters are the vile rabble who debase themselves by stringing words together into [sometimes] coherent sentences in order to communicate the idea that you cannot possibly continue living without the product they have been hired to peddle. These strung together words can be anything from a slogan (think “Just do it” or “Obey your thirst”) to the all words spoken by that deep, disembodied voice on the trailer for the newest Hollywood blockbuster (think “IN A WORLD with no limits…ONE MAN will find a limit to push…”). Also, copywriters string together words that appear on the packaging of products that inform the consumer about the contents of that which they are about to purchase, such as frozen burritos, cleaning solvents, pet food, diapers and…books.

Ever wonder whence came the heart-stopping words on the dust jacket of that John Grisham novel you almost bought at Costco last week? Copywriter, baby. Unfortunately, I have not been hired to write the copy for the newest Grisham novel. If I had, I might have a sunnier outlook on life. No, I have been hired to write the copy for a book on servant leadership.

Before you get all crazy with the John Maxwell up in my grill, let me say that I am, in fact, a fan of servant leadership. No arguments here. Servanthood: good. Leadership: also good. But do we really need yet another book about the combination of these two concepts? Is there really anything to add to the already vast library on this topic? Haven’t books by such notables as Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Robert Greenleaf, and James Hunter pretty much covered it? (The book for which I’m writing the copy is not authored by any of these luminaries.) I have to write 125 words (a paltry number, I know) that will convince the aspiring servant leader they should skip all those other books and buy this book instead. How the heck…?

So rather than doing that, I’ve just written in excess of 250 words about how much it sucks. I think my career is off to a promising start.

So, It Turns Out I’m Irish

So I recently found out that I’m Irish. This obviously comes as a bit of a shock to me, since my previous cultural affiliation was Norwegian. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the Norwegians – we are a proud lot. In fact, my father is descended from Viking royalty, and when you meet him, he will insist on being referred to as “The Viking King”. This is much less impressive when you discover that the Vikings changed kings every 20 minutes or so, the result being that almost everyone is descended from someone who once sat on the throne.

The problem isn’t that I was Norwegian, it’s that my particular people came from a part of Norway known as “Minnesota”. Think Prairie Home Companion. Think “Fargo”. Think two old men sitting across the table from each other in a diner, splitting a rhubarb pie, having an entire conversation that consists of monosyllabic interjections. “Well.” “Yup.” “Uh-huh.” They’re good people. There’s just not much of the “get pissed at your brother the King, take off with your friends in a boat, raid the English coast, discover Canada” kind of blood left running in their veins.

On the whole, I think I prefer being Irish. For one thing, I’ve never been an oppressed people before. I’ve taken to it rather well, I think – we Irish have a quick wit and a self-depricating charm that sees us through most hard times. Also, my penchant for whiskey and gambling are starting to make more sense. I’ve found myself walking with more of a swagger, and “pining” for things. Whatever that means.

Having only been Irish for a few weeks, I thought I’d better spend some time boning up on the culture and history of my people. Since I was already in possession of a bottle of Jameson, and a bootleg copy of “Rattle and Hum”, all I needed was a book of Irish history that could be easily digested while sitting in the bathtub.

So, I went on Amazon, and grabbed a book called “How the Irish Saved Civilization” by Thomas Cahill. I didn’t know much about the subject matter, or the author, but I doubt there has ever been a book title that so fully captures what it is to be one of my people. It’s all there – the swagger, the twinkle in the eye, the pure unadulterated hubris.

If you have recently become Irish, I highly recommned reading Cahill’s book. He writes about how, while Europe was descending into the darkness and ignorance of the middle ages, the Irish were busy copying over the great works of the Greeks and the Romans, and the Patristic Fathers. When that Apostle of Ireland, Patrick, brought the faith of his father to the land of his captors, he neglected to bring with him the Romanism that had infected the church so thoroughly. As a result, Ireland was the first place where the gospel proved itself capable of transcending any one culture. You could be a Christian without being a Roman. You could be Irish, full-blooded and gloriously Celtic, and still be a follower of Christ.

Because of this, Ireland was relatively free of the typical Medieval Roman Catholic disdain for secular literature. With equal fervor, these Irish monks copied the letters of Paul, and Homer’s Illiad. They translated and copied the letters from Polycarp to the church at Phillipi, warning them against materialism, but they also copied the works of Plotinus and Plato. For hundreds of years they copied over these works, while the Roman empire disintegrated into petty fiefdoms, and the church became a political machine. Into the ignorance of the Continent, these Irish monks swept, forming learning communities that later became monasteries, then Universities. They came armed with books, with Greek and Roman and Coptic, and yes even Celtic literature, and they planted the seeds of that glorious rediscovery of the human spirit, the Renaissance. That we know of the name “Plato” today has nearly everything to do with the fact that a nameless scribe sitting in the high tower of Cluain Mhic Nóis copied his works by candlelight.

So, who knows how true this all is. Being Irish, of course, I believe it with every randy bone in my body. Cahill has done some good research, but more importantly to me, at least, he wrote a great book, a book that makes me proud to have unexpectedly become Irish so late in life.

Augustine’s Hymn of Longing

I was reminded today of this quote from St. Augustine’s “Confessions”.

You have made us for yourself, O Lord,
and our hearts are restless
until they rest in You

You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.

Thomas Cahill, among others, counts “Confessions” as the first real autobiography. He thinks Augustine was the first person to write the word “I”, and mean what we mean today. If you read his confessions, you can’t help but be swept up into the emotional turbulence of his world. He was the first author to so complete divulge himself to the reader, and even 2,000 years later, it’s a thrilling book to read – especially in those places where Augustine recounts his final capitulation to Christ’s call.

Augustine wrote during a period when much of what we would call Christian Orthodoxy was being worked out. His own contributions included meditations on the nature of Sin, and God’s eternality, and the Kingdom of God. His work would later become a foundational influence in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and C.S. Lewis (if you read Lewis’ autobiographical works in one hand, with Confessions in the other, it’s hard to ignore the presence of the latter in the former).

Too often, we read the dry rhetoric of the theologians and forget, perhaps, that they were people drawn into God’s presence with compelling grace, and slain by the wonder of his holiness, just as we are. The works of High Orthodoxy were written by the hands of those deeply in love with God.

The Bible Podcast: 500

Picture 1-15

Something very cool happened yesterday. The Bible Podcast added it’s 500th subscriber. That’s enough full-time subscribers to make it the #1 podcast listed when you search for “bible” in the iTunes podcast directory.

Picture 2-7

If any of you are interested in being a part of the podcast, I’d still love to add more readers. Just drop me an email.

The Narnian: The Life & Imagination of C.S. Lewis

I am an unapologetic Clive-O-Phile, and (thanks to Michael) an adoring fan of Alan Jacobs. I just finished The Narnian, and it was almost too much for my delicate, excitable nature. Jacobs approaches this biography with a view toward understanding not just Lewis’s brilliant mind, but also his passion for story, myth and romance (which I ardently share), and how that passion was a driving force in Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, his fiction and non-fiction writing, and his public and private lives. It’s written in Jacobs’s usual wry, clean prose (very reminiscent of Lewis, actually), and with a tenderness that never tips over into sycophancy. It’s a lovely, langourous ramble through an imagination dusty with “old books and legends.”

Narnia heartbreak

I went to BN over my lunch break because I had a gift card and I really, really wanted to buy a box set of The Chronicles of Narnia. (I had a set when I was a kid, but God knows where it is – I can narrow it down to somewhere between Oklahoma and Kenya, going east.)

Mission accomplished, except I’m freaking out a little bit. The set I had back in the day numbered the books according to the order in which Lewis wrote and published them. All the sets available now (and there are many), however, are numbered according to Narnian chronology. Ummm…can you do that? It’s not as if it’s one continuous story, a la The Lord of the Rings. I’m feeling all off-kilter.

Selling the Untame Lion

There’s an interesting article over at the Out of Ur Blog expressing concern about the church centered marketing machine that is gearing up for the release of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. It should be noted that this is the same blog that brought us the ever so thoughtful, “Why I am not emerging,” article that has led to so much joy around here.

This article, fortunately, has a bit more perspective to it, and I just wanted to add a few thoughts and then open it up for discussion. Here we go, in no particular order.

1) I think people are a little resistant to a Church / Hollywood alliance because they felt burned by The Passion of The Christ. I think we need to realize that we set ourselves up for this disappointment. Mel Gibson made a film that was a highly personal, and, yes, very Catholic version of the story. Let’s realize that our disappointments (should we have them) were self inflicted. We all so badly wanted a film version of Jesus’ life that we could really celebrate and we treated Easter 2004 like it was the second coming. Let’s not blame Mel or the marketing machine for all those banners and posters we put up and left up in our churches. I believe Mel was trying to get as many people as possible to see his movie becasue he was heartfelt. The marketing teams were just doing their job. Movies do not spark spiritual revival, and it’s silly to expect them to.

For the record, I thought the first 45 minutes of The Passion were absolutely brilliant, but I was ultimately unsatisfied with the film as a whole. I don’t think that graphically depicting Jesus’ suffering is an inherently bad idea, I just remember thinking that the film should have been three hours long, intercutting the crucifixion narrative with a thoughtful and artfully depicted overview of Jesus’ ministry.

4) Christians need to vote with their wallets or shut up. I was really frustrated some years back when The Prince of Egypt tanked at the box office. Here was an animated film of very high quality that is, in my opinion, the best depiction we have thus far of the Exodus story, (with apologies to fans of Cecil B.) The Christian community largely ignored this film, and pursuaded Dreamworks to abandon their plans to do an ongoing animated Old Testament series. The sequel, Joseph, King of Ben Affleck, went straight to video and then that was it. If we’re not going to support films that are well made, thoughful, and filled with acceptable content, we have absolutely zero business criticizing Hollywood.

B) I can’t help but laugh when I think that the same hardcore fundies who have been slamming all things media for the last forty years are the same ones who are getting all pissy about Disney trying to partner with churches to sell their product. Which way do you want it, kids? Oh… you just want to be pissed off all the time? Ok, cool. Here’s your blankie and binkie, let’s watch some VeggieTales. You think Bob the Tomato is the devil’s imp? I give up.

Salty) Let’s all repeat this together: promoting a movie as a tool of evangelism is a really bad idea. It’s a movie. It’s entertainment. If it leads to discussion, which leads to interest in Jesus, great! If it doesn’t… well… perhaps it will at least be well done and won’t scare the kids into comas. Can we please get over the idea that anything other then the call of the Holy Spirit is going to lead people to salvation? We’re gonna get much further with our Pre-Christian friends and neighbors with a cup of coffee and good conversation and a lot of love then by tricking them into seeing a “Christian” movie. I can just hear the conversation afterwards… “You know Bob, the CGI feline is really representative of Jesus Christ, would you like to hear the four spiritual laws…?” Why should Disney, or Switchfoot, or Philip Yancey, or whomever, have to do our work for us?

I, for one, will go see Narnia becuase I am a movie buff, and a C.S. Lewis buff. If it’s a great movie, it deserves to make a lot of money. If it sucks, let it bomb. Being wise as serpents and harmless as doves just might include making our own decisions about where we’re going to drop our $10, and not letting a marketing team or (gulp) your pastor make that choice for you. I’m going to drop my $10 because I really want them to get to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, becuase I always thought that Reepicheep was the shizzle.

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Book Review: Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt (Anne Rice)

Like I said before, reading the 17-page Author’s Note at the end of Anne Rice’s new novel, it becomes clear that Anne and Jesus have had a head-on collision and she is still reeling. Reading the rest of the book, it becomes clear that she is reeling with love.

Not since Norman Mailer’s 1997 (bizarre yet oddly compelling) The Gospel According to the Son has a novelist of such stature attempted to write a work of fiction about Jesus, narrated by the Son himself. In Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt, a very young Jesus recounts the events Rice imagines might have taken place in his seventh year.

Over the course of that year, Jesus and his family make the journey out of Egypt and back to Nazareth. Jesus doesn’t live only with Mary and Joseph; in this account, he has a vast crowd of kin, including uncles, aunts, cousins, and his stepbrother, James. (Rice is Catholic, after all! — the perpetual virginity of The Holy Mother is a given.) The warmth and affection with which the boy narrator portrays his huge—and very Jewish—clan plants him firmly in his humanness. He is part of something extraordinarily human: a family…different personalities, old conflicts, everyday struggles, and fierce loyalty.

But Jesus is not solely human. There is something different about him, and he knows it. The mystery of Out of Egypt is one of identity…Jesus feels driven to answer the ancient question of all humanity: Who am I?

Though she can only guess at the events between Jesus’ birth and the start of his ministry, through extensive research — over three years studying a broad and deep cross-section of anthropologists, archeologists, and New Testament theologians and historians — Rice builds a convincing scenario of his early years that takes its cues from the character of Christ painted in the Gospels. While the writing style may feel choppy and overly-vulnerable at first, Rice’s raw, spare prose (a departure from her usual lush writing) creates a voice for the Son at seven years old that sounds very like the Man he will become. Highly recommended.

[Note: This is an extended version of a review that will appear in the Feb/March issue of Relevant Magazine.]