December 23, 2005

Our Culture and a Wardrobe

Well, I saw the Narnia movie for the second time tonight. And, since I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts since the first time I saw it—on opening night—I thought tonight would be a great place to share.

First, in order to direct you to some links that I found interesting and that were somewhat representative of my thoughts, I’ll point you to Ocular Fusion.

The first time I saw the film, I was entranced. I was in Narnia. I came to the movie with the mindset of a child—and I was drawn into the wardrobe hook, line, and sinker. I loved it! I was transported into my imagination, dreaming of a land beyond the wardrobe, and my imagination and love for the stories bringing me into Narnia in almost as real a way as my imagination and the books themselves. I think it was the first time a movie had actually inspired my imagination to see beyond the movie screen.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the children. They didn’t look like Hollywood stars. (I could actually imagine meeting them in the house next door!) And Lucy thrilled my imagination with her sense of awe and wonder and child-like innocence through the movie.

Thankfully, the Lord of the Rings movies had prepared me to know that there would be a distinctly “modern” feel to the movies (Mr. Tumnus, for instance, would never have smiled like he did in a movie made, say, 50 years ago. It made sense to us—but I suspect that it would have been seen as a slightly unfriendly smirk in the not-to-distant past.), so I was not unfortunately surprised when I saw them. In fact, I was surprised about how appropriately I felt much of the modern-ness was done. It actually seemed to almost add to the movie, rather than take away from it, as I’d felt in the Lord of the Rings.

After seeing it again tonight, however, I’ve realized a few more things and solidified some conclusions from the first viewing. (Too be fair, I really need to sit down and read the books again—I’m making comparisons only from my memories of the books, which tend to be rather fallible.)

I think my ultimate conclusion is that the movie is really a reflection of the people who made it. They took Lewis’s story and re-told it as accurately as they knew how, trying hard to not leave out important details. I’m sad, however, because I think this re-telling ended up missing a lot of the depth and impact of Lewis’s original. I’m not faulting the director, for I’m quite sure that he did the best job he possibly could. However, I suspect that he is both not a Christian and (like many of us) rather a product of our culture.

There were many, many parts of the book that I really missed in the movie. Two came to mind tonight: Father Christmas telling Lucy, “Wars are ugly affairs—particularly if women are fighting.” and Aslan telling her, after she had just finished administering her healing ointment to Edmund, “How many more must die because of his treachery?” (I know I’m not quoting exactly—I don’t have the books nearby.) I highly suspect that audiences would not have understood these elements properly if they were in the movie.

Obviously, to say that a war is particularly ugly if women are forced to fight is certainly a product of our politically correct culture. This, perhaps, was an understandable omission. To completely omit, however, Aslan admonishing Lucy in her love for her brother is a telling sign of the state of our culture. Love (taking all the time in the world on her brother, Edmund) over duty (bringing healing to all the others hurt in battle), intricsic good (Lucy coming up with the idea herself) rather than holy correction (Aslan admonishing her), I’m-a-good-person rather than I’m-do-wrong-too. Yes, I might be coming down a bit hard—I certainly think it is right to take care of one’s own family—at least to look after their needs—before taking care of others, though Christians can never forget to do either. I think, however, that the filmmakers likely didn’t even understand the change in worldview that this slight difference in storyline represents.

Not only change in worldview, but change in depth. Lewis’s books are well worth reading time and time and time again. One plumbs new depths in the storyline each time one reads them. The movie, however, seems to shed a lot of that meat—sometimes, it seems, in favor of pretty graphics.

Some, I’ve heard, have expressed concern at the cartoony-ness of some of the animals. Personally, I agree—but I think it is rather a moot point. It’s an artifact from having computer-generated characters. Our skills at computer-generation simply don’t seem to be able to create consistently realistic movements of characters without making them look like video games. Rather than a criticism of Narnia, I think it is a criticism of most of the computer effects I’ve seen. It was especially noticable to me in the first Lord of the Rings movie, for instance, when the fellowship was in the mines of Moria. The large creature swinging his club around somehow seemed much more like a video game than a real creature. Perhaps it is just because I’ve never seen anything its size in real life…

Despite my concerns with the lack of depth in the movie, however, I have a serious question. I’d noticed it the first time I was the movie, too. At the time, I decided that it was a good and necessary thing, to some degree. It was an attempt to translate the movie into terms that our culture understands. To some degree, I still think that is the case. I don’t begrudge the filmmakers for trying to change the story for that reason, especially since I think much of the stated purpose of the movie is to get kids to read the books. Fair enough. Unfortunately, I also think that it could have been better. It would have taken a storyteller on par with Lewis himself, and I think very few would really be up to that task.

I was also really surprised with some things that the movie never did, that I was very surprised at. Given that the movie started with a bombing raid of London, and the kids missing their father so much, it would have been one of the most obvious things in the world to explain all of Narnia away as dreams induced by their trauma. The movie doesn’t do that—it doesn’t treat them as children simply dreaming up imaginary worlds because they miss their father. I’m thankful for that.

It also never fell prey to many movies habits of making fun at everything—even the truly beautiful. Mr. Tumnus could have been an easy target to make fun of—with his penchant for inviting over little girls—but he is always held in high esteem. The relationships between siblings could have been marginalized—but they were shown, all of them, having fun with each other and affection for each other. Even the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Yes, they were often good for a laugh. But it wasn’t ever at the expense of their marriage or their worth as “people.” What was good and right and beautiful was upheld as such—and that is a quality missing in most of today’s entertainment.

Well, that about covers it. I’m glad for the movie. I’m so glad for how good it is. I’m sad, because I think it could have also that much better, a classic to own for all time. Nonetheless, it is an excellent movie, and one well worth watching.

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December 22, 2005

Christmastime Materialism

It seems that I’ve heard a lot said this year about the horrid materialism of Christmas. “Christmas is about Christ, not about presents.” “Christmas should be a time to reflect and meditate.” “How can we worship the Christ-child when there is so much noise?” And on and on and on. I don’t suppose that it is really more this year than most years, but I’ve had a new realization this year.

I think Christmastime is not the time to meditate nor to be somber nor for quiet contemplation. It is a time to celebrate! The Christ-child is born, and God has revealed to us His salvation. What better cause to pull out all the stops and celebrate with all of our gusto?

The Old Testament Israelites did this in Nehemiah’s day, as Jerusalem was being rebuilt. (See Nehemiah 8:13-18.) King David knew how to party with all His might before the Lord. (See 2 Samuel 6:16-23.) And Christ Himself says that there is a time for celebration for the Advent of the Bridegroom. (See Matthew 9:14-17. Admittedly, the verse seems to say that the time for celebrating was during Christ’s time on earth. But, I think it isn’t an illogical extension to say that we ought to truly celebrate Christmas once a year.)

Now, I do have to give a disclaimer. I also think that our culture at large (at least, for those of us in Western cultures like the United States, as I am) tends to not spend enough time in contemplation and meditation and quiet. We are constantly surrounded by noise and materialism. (For, it seems, the two often go hand in hand.) Many college students that I’ve known could hardly stand being away from their stereos (or iPods) for more than a fifteen minutes. We need to take more time to think, to examine ourselves, to see if we are following Christ with all we are. (See 2 Corinthians 13:5.) But, I dare say, Christmas is not the time to do it.

I also know that far too many associate Christmas with simply the receiving of presents—and it is true that a celebration is somewhat foolish if folks don’t know what they are celebrating. Even then, however, “(it is a proof of His lordship that practically the whole world sets aside a day to be happy and giving in His name.)[]”

My conclusion? Yes, let’s live more thoughtful lives, all year round. Examine your lives every day—and even perhaps especially on New Year’s. But Christmas is a time to celebrate.

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December 18, 2005

Evangelical Economics

I ran across an interesting weblog post the other day that eventually pointed me to an essay entitled Let There Be Markets: The Evangelical Roots of Economics.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone complain that modern economic theories were too Christian. Too secular, too rational, too unloving, too selfish—but never too Christian. Yet, that’s precisely what this author does.

He also makes some interesting assertions along the way. For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that the historical examples that he cites are true. (Does anyone with more knowledge in this area than I care to comment on them?) Interestingly, however, despite using the apparently “Christian” roots of economic theory as his primary justification for his ideas, his primary argument seems to boil down to this:

What is entirely missing from the economic view of modern life is an understanding of the social world.

I’m trying to unravel what entirely he means by this statement.

He first explains his assertion by saying that “in reality even our purely ‘economic’ choices are not made on the basis of pure autonomous selfhood; all of our choices are born out of layers of experience in contact with other people.” That’s an argument for an economist, not for me. That doesn’t really seem to be his point, however. He goes on to dig into businessmen, evangelical Christians, and even mathematics—blaming them for grasping economic theory in a stranglehold that has caused the biggest socio-economic problem this world has: the poor.

They are interesting arguments. I’m not schooled enough in either economics or history to know how much merit they really hold. I certainly think that his scoffing at Christian caricatures is shallow at best—although probably a good time for Christians to see how much we, individually and as the Church Herself, resemble what he describes.

Any other thoughts?

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December 11, 2005

The Differences Between Humans and Animals

Funny things happen if you starting searching around the Internet for the difference between humans and animals. First, I find someone claiming that “…the discipline of anthropology is blatantly anthropocentric” (similar to how theology is too deo-centric, perhaps?), and then I run into one of the best satires I’ve seen in quite some time. He had me hook, line, and sinker all the way until the fourth paragraph—and the rest of the piece reeled the line all the way in. It was certainly not the kind of piece I was expecting from Answers in Genesis.

That was a lot of fun. I should try it again sometime.

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December 06, 2005

Call 911 in Case of Emergent

I found a useful definition of the emergent church today. I won’t be offering any thoughts or critique here, since they’ve been posted elsewhere. But, I thought you’d appreciate the link. Enjoy!

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December 05, 2005

An Exciting Find…

I ran across a new blog today, written by Mustafa Akyol. I’ve only started reading—but I’ve been thoroughly impressed. I’m always impressed by well-written cogent thoughts—particularly in this day and age where a simple name-calling session seems to elicit more power than any measure of reasoned discussion.

(Hmmm…side note…I think that is probably why I enjoyed 12 Angry Men so much when Rita and I watched it this weekend…)

Nonetheless, I have (so far) been very impressed with Mr. Akyol. He seems to have the communicative and reasoning ability that I yearn for. And, to top it all of, he’s Muslim. It is interesting to hear some of the viewpoints of someone who has a rather different (particularly in some vital points)—yet still very similar—worldview.

So much to learn to understand this world that God has put us in…

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December 04, 2005

What is Truth?

It’s a question that’s lasted from the first century (and earlier, I’m sure) to today. Many folks claim to have answers. Some do. Many deceive even themselves.

Remember the telephone game from growing up? Sometimes truth tends to take a turn of that sort. Other days, it can take a spin like I’ve written previously. Some days, however, it seems we don’t even care.

A pair of posts at the Contratimes blog reinforces that point precisely. And, in the process, I myself may have even fell prey to this trick: I didn’t bother looking up the examples he cites myself.

We’d all like to believe everything we read, see, and hear—especially that which reinforces our ideas. The times, however, call for a much deeper, much harder, much more challenging but fruitful work: finding the real Truth, as much as we are able.

Will you join me?

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