Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Duly Noted

I'm reading Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death for my Center for Faith and Culture research. His primary concern in the book is the way that medium profoundly impacts content; he focuses on public discourse and whether or not the television is the proper medium for that. My research will apply the same kind of considerations to church music-- whether or not the the form and style of the music appropriately matches its message. Here are some jewels from reading the first few chapters:

In every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself” (14).

“We do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities, but by what it claims as significant” (16). 

In chapter 3, Postman discusses the intellectual climate of early America. Here are some facts that amazed me:
"No literary aristocracy emerged in Colonial America. Reading was not regarded as an elitist activity, and printed matter was spread evenly among all kinds of people. . . By 1772, Jacob Duche could write: 'The poorest labourer upon the shore of the Delaware thinks himself entitled to deliver his sentiment in matters of religion or politics with as much freedom as the gentleman or scholar. . . . Such is the prevailing taste for books of every kind, that almost every man is a reader" (34). 

On the Lyceum Movement, in which lecture halls were set up for adult education, featuring leading intellectuals, writers and humorists: 
"Alfred Bunn, an Englishman on an extensive tour through America, reported in 1853 that 'practically every village had its lecture hall.' He added: 'it is a matter of wonderment. . . to witness the youthful workmen, the over-tired artisan, the worn-out factory girl. . . rushing. . . after the toil of the day is over, into the hot atmosphere of a crowded lecture hall' " (40). 

In chapter 4, he discusses the Lincoln/Douglas debates. The crowds willingly listened to 7 hours of debate at points! This statement by Douglas, responding to lengthy applause,  especially demonstrates the climate of the time:
"' My friends. . . silence will be more acceptable to me in the discussion of these questions than applause. I desire to address myself to your judgment, your understanding, and your consciences, and not to your passions or your enthusiasms.' " (45)

When you think about that kind of intellectual climate, a 'constitutional republic' of citizens voting responsibly and intelligently would make much more sense. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yes, I did read the Hunger Games

Sometime Last Week…

Jon and I are eagerly—well, that’s not strong enough—ravenously awaiting the package that should be arriving on Friday. It contains our hardcover set of the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Oh dear goodness. We both finished Catching Fire and subsequently, have been mentally living in Panem, constantly discussing whether we think Peeta or Gale is better for Katniss. And, of course, if you’ve read the books, you know that the second book is the worst book to have to wait 50+ library requests for the third. So, Jon broke down and bought them. I can’t say I was angry.

This is yet another series that I didn’t expect to like—not when junior highers (no offense) were the only ones I heard raving about them. Well, I should have known. I always find myself enjoying young adult and children’s books. There have been many points where I’ve almost declared that children/young adult books are my favorites. Then, I realize that would be hasty as the titles which wouldn’t fit that category start piling up in my mind like the cards when you win computer solitaire.

Regardless, Collins has given us a good story with the Hunger Games. You’ve got many great themes—courage, freedom, love, sacrifice, goodness—once again embodied in another setting that teaches us more about what it means to be human. And, if you get anything from the Hunger Games, you see yet again that being human is not about being fashionable and trendy, gluttonous in the face of hunger, needing entertainment to the point of watching other human beings being forced to kill each other, etc. Collins’s portrayal of the Capital heightens attributes of both ancient Rome and modern America, so that while their actions are despicable, they’re also disconcertingly familiar.  I mean, it’s not very subtle, but it gets the point across.

So, I think these are good fun books to have in our library and would recommend them—at least the first two. I can’t wait to read the last one!

5 Days (Or So) Later…

Surprisingly, the Wake Forest Library actually ended up getting Mockingjay before Amazon delivered. I finished the last book on Friday morning. I have to confess that it was not my favorite; in my opinion, some aspects of the ending were uncharacteristic and disappointing. Nonetheless, if you’re in the mood for a really fun read, then I still would recommend the trilogy to you.

Since I last wrote, in addition to the Hunger Games, I also read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Unlocking Romans by J.R. Daniel Kirk, and the Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. In other words, I’ve been indulging in over-reading and have been neglecting my writing diet. It’s time to get back on track. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts on "Of Gods and Men"

Saturday night, Jon and I watched the lauded French film, “Of Gods and Men.” It is based on the true story of Trappist monks dwelling in an impoverished Algerian community under the threat of Islamic Fundamentalists. 

The monks live harmoniously, working to cultivate love. They nurture the ground, care for the ill, discuss life with the local Muslim leaders and give advice to the youth, who all clearly trust them. All this is interspersed and structured by their worship habits—their beautiful chants and prayers to God.

Very early in the film, we learn the threat of Islamic fundamentalists who violently murder Croatian aid-workers; authorities urge the monks to leave their monastery. The majority of the film, thereafter, records the monks’ agonizing struggle to know what it looks like to love their village with the love of Christ. Everything in the film is understated. It is slow and silent. It leaves room for the viewer to insert their own weaknesses and questions into this tumult of fear and struggle, peace and love. It is profoundly heroic, because it is profoundly human and painful.

I loved how the film shifted between expansive, exalted landscapes scenes; the small, plain chapel, in which the monks unite to sing and pray to God; and each monk’s quiet and measured service in his daily duties. Each scene compels with variegated beauty. The monks love the sparse glory of the world around them; they love Algerian people who depend on them; they love each other with honesty and understanding; they love life and good wine and beautiful music; but more than anything, they love the Prince of Peace who would give up his life for the love of others.

So that was the context for hearing our pastor preach from 1 Corinthians 13 on Sunday morning. It was so good to have the film re-playing in my mind as he reminded us that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” I loved that the film depicted all levels of this—it wasn’t only a matter of physically dying, but the daily dying to self-interest out of love for each other. I need these sorts of examples. I need to see how my brothers and sisters have shaped their lives according to the Gospel—the shape of Jesus’ life and death, hoping in the resurrection.  I need to see how the powerful love of Christ cascades through those who have gone before me, making them fall down in worship, love, and sacrifice, in the hope of being set once more on their feet in new life, in the hope of “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” 

Friday, September 09, 2011

"Excuses, Excuses," but also, Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Yes, I have been caught in that noncommittal middling period, that to-and-fro indifference of “Do I actually want to have a blog?” “Is it really worth it for me to add my two cents into the internet void?” It all comes down to the fundamental question, “Do I really want to lose valuable reading time by writing?”

This is all mental, just like a commitment to working out. I guess my frustration is that I’m not actually sure why I’m writing these things down. When I work out, I do it because I don’t want to feel or be fat. When I write, well, I suppose I do it to exercise and strengthen my ability to say what I actually mean to say. And, that’s a good thing. But, is a blog the best way to do that anyhow?

I’m not sure. We shall see.

In other news, I have been busy filling in my literary gaps-- those books where I’ve felt somewhat ashamed to own up, “Well, I’ve always meant to read that, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.” So, in the past few weeks, I’ve read Catcher in the Rye, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Oh, and don’t worry, I did indeed finish War and Peace a while ago). Nonetheless, while it would be most proper to write about each of those classics in turn, I’m most interested in discussing the Tess since I just finished it today.

I actually didn’t expect to like it so much.  All my reading life, for no apparent reason, I assumed I wouldn’t care for Thomas Hardy. Of course, I’ve always meant to fill in the Tess gap, but entered into it with the expectation of drudgery and despair. All I knew was that it was sad.

And the book certainly is very sad. I told Jon that my heart felt it was being perptually butterflied, raw-chicken-breast-style, the entire time (this rather nasty simile makes me wonder if I spend too much time in the kitchen). Nonetheless, that Thomas Hardy-- he certainly knew how to create some characters.  Tess is captivating; her vitality and trueness exhibit those deep down things that we feel about being human. This morning, as I was praying, I almost started praying for Tess in her horrible plight. Then I had to remind myself that she’s not really, well, real. You could infer several things from this slightly embarrassing confession (i.e. that Amanda is crazy because she prays for literary characters; but honest, it’s the first time; I’m almost sure!) but the main thing to conclude is that Hardy, in creating Tess Durbeyfield, brought to life someone who so breathes of reality that the impressionable reader will find himself or herself wanting to pray for her. And that’s the end of that!