Friday, November 20, 2009

Rhythm of Life

I've been fairly busy these past five or six weeks and therefore haven't been regaling the world with updates on my day to day, nor with my occasional theological reflections. I did, of course, take time out yesterday to write that Wild Things review, mostly because I enjoy reviewing movies so much. I guess I am going to start integrating movies into this blog; I still want to see The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Lovely Bones, Avatar and maaaybe The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Maybe. It might be worth it just to see a Gilliam film in the theater.

Where to start? Obviously this has been the thick of the semester, though things promise to get thicker, like an old-fashioned milkshake. I'm mostly keeping up with schoolwork, and I'm figuring out more and more what my rhythm of life will be for the next several years. I had the strange experience on Wednesday of walking into a professor's office, reading the Greek words "eipev autoi de Iesous eimi ho anastasis kai he zoe"* on a wall poster and saying, "Oh, 'I am the resurrection and the life,' I can read that."

Last week I made the big decision to cut back on the amount of classes I am taking because I want to take the extra time to be spiritually formed and discern where I fit into the Anglican church professionally and also because a I was called to interview for a good job opportunity. The credit union barely three blocks from my house unexpectedly called me back about the resume I submitted in August about a part time position. The interview was short but positive, although she told me I might not hear back for several weeks because the individual who plans to leave has not yet given her two weeks notice. Ideally, I would be able to start right around the same time as the beginning of the spring semester so that I can both go home for Christmas for a few weeks as well as take a January intensive class. A job that I can walk to and work around my school schedule will do wonders both for my bank account and my manly sense of financial responsibility (it just feels better to work, however little...). That's not to say women aren't financially responsible! But I'll move on before I dig that ditch any further...

Understanding this new rhythm of life has helped me to accept the day to day, enjoy it, embrace it, and let go of any striving towards making a future happen for myself. I was praying before the monthly Trinity healing service last night and felt directed to consider and pray Psalm 23:1, "YHWH is my shepherd, I shall not want." It helps to remember that every good and perfect gift comes from above, and he will deliver my future and my calling--and one day a marriage? Hint, hint, God--on his calendar and according to his purposes.

I won't be going home for Thanksgiving, but I will be dog-sitting for the Thompson's this next week. At least I will have someone to keep me company. Just kidding. There are enough people sticking around that I won't have to spend the whole holiday alone.

*I have no idea whether this was the actual word order or whether I got the gender of resurrection right. The full text I quoted reads, And Jesus said to him, 'I am the resurrection and the life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are, reviewed.

Like Fantasia set to an indie-rock soundtrack, Where the Wild Things Are strings along a series of dazzling and incoherent images complemented by musical compositions which reinforce and/or augment meaning and mood. Spike Jonze—director of music videos, the one-two meta punch of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, and actor who played Three Kings’s hilarious hick—serves up Maurice Sendak’s children’s book as a music video where the best scenes are extended sequences of motion, color, sound and mood. And so moody! Jonze and hipster novelist Dave Eggers have plumbed the book’s inherent darkness and come up with a world of lonely people (I suppose a denouement-set montage scored with Eleanor Rigby would have been too on-the-nose) whose only consolation is acting out like—wait for it—a wild thing.

Young Max, like so many child protagonists, is fatherless and lacking in friends. His ripe imagination, showcased in the “real world” scenes where he composes freudian-slip stories for his mom and barks orders at a fence, provides the excuse for the film’s extended digression on loneliness, fantasy and escape. After biting his mom and shouting Sendak’s brilliant child-angst exclamation “I’LL EAT YOU UP!” at her, he runs out of the house into dark suburbia and ends up in a fantasy-wilderness of heaving, anthropomorphized beasts who share Max’s confusion, loneliness and anger. Like the fatherless Max, they are kingless and pine for someone to bring authoritative order to their lives. One of the film’s central tensions is the problem of authority; not that these beings despise it, but rather they long for it and find it elusive. Glum concessions like “There’s no such thing as a king” suggest the intractable chaos left in the wake of absent fathers and, ultimately, an absent god.

Jonze shot the film in Australia, its images painted like some beautiful desolation, wide open spaces that are all rustic earth tones and blue skies. Those music video sequences show Max and the wild things at play, running, having a dirt fight and—most spectacularly—building the greatest child’s fort ever conceived. Max orders the wild things to construct it, and they rip trees straight out of the ground in order to thatch a hulking home for themselves. The film’s other great tension is that between self and other, individual and community; if Max learns any lesson, it is that he must consider the needs and feelings of others in his words and actions. This comes to a head when the others realize that Max had only himself and his imagination in mind when he designed the fort. The wild things’ friendship provides him with support, but also exposes his selfishness.

All the poetry of themes and images granted, I still found the film contrived. Maybe were I a couple of years younger, or perhaps less in touch with the roots of my own loneliness and angst (and what I take, as a Christian, to be some plausible solutions), then I might have emotionally resonated with its thematic structure. Jonze and Eggers succeed at describing and illustrating the isolation and loneliness of growing up fatherless and friendless with a moody, great-looking and mildly frightening film. This is no small accomplishment. Yet that darkness remains a little too intractable, too unresolved. Not that the conclusion needed to wrap up all of Max’s issues, but making the changes he went through more explicit would have helped.

Where the Wild Things Are evokes another Disney classic, Alice in Wonderland. Any narrative framework that moves from the real to the fantastic/absurdist and back to the real involving wide-eyed children does. I like the film better than Disney’s Alice, but not better than another recent film which evoked it, Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. I think the difference might be that while Max seemed coddled when he returned home, Chihiro was so transformed by her wild ride that she didn’t need to be coddled. I like my coming of age movies to convey the dynamics of the central character, however subtle and token. If Wild Things wasn’t intended as a coming of age movie, but perhaps rather a child’s rebellious night out of the house, then I find its one hundred angsty and childish minutes as self-indulgent as the chocalate cake Max enjoys at its end.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cranmer & Hope

"Cranmer's sainthood cannot be established on the grounds of sinlessness or denial of weakness, which is an adolescent expectation. He loved life and retained a real measure of the fear of death. The Church, quite early, learned a danger of martyrdom as escape, when some were tempted to give their lives, not so much as witness, but as release from the ambiguities of life and to gain the joys of heaven prematurely.

The Christian paradox, that God uses the weak to confound the strong, can be seen in the life of Cranmer, where strength is above weakness. However, the paradox can be read the other way. There is strength beneath weakness which is obscure to a secular age (cf. II Corinthians 11:30ff.)

There is something everlastingly encouraging about Cranmer's faithful death. All who suffer injustice, betrayal, and defeat of what seems fair and good and according to the purpose of God himself can consider the mind of Cranmer as he died. The burning, dying Cranmer saw nothing with his natural eyes but a bleak Friday with the complete and utter failure and destruction of all he believed in. The unseen Easter reality was Queen Elizabeth's restoration of all his accomplishments and their abiding nurture over subsequent centuries. They were things hoped for but unseen by Cranmer, perceived only by the eye of faith and a heart of hope, faith and trust in the providence of God that gave Cranmer his courage in those last hours."

~C. FitzSimmons Allison in C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), xvii.