I am incredibly grateful to my favorite seminary professor, Reggie Kidd for incorporating art into his lectures at Reformed Theological Seminary. He was particularly fond of Renault and Rembrandt. Growing up in Tampa, I always loved going to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. The one painting of Dali’s that is not in St. Pete that I would love to see again (I saw it in D.C. when I was 8) is The Sacrament of the Last Supper. The painting is beautiful and if you would like to read an excellent analysis of the painting by Michael Novak, a student from Marquette.
One of the awesome/terrible things about most music is the lyrics are often vague and subject to interpretation. As someone who tries to discern authors intents in ancient writings for a living this can be incredibly frustrating. However, as someone who loves the beauty of the ambiguity much modern music provides, it can be very beautiful.
It is like my right and left brain are at war with one another. Part of me says, “What does it mean? It must mean something!” The other part of me says, “Who cares what it means, it’s provacative and it gets the people going”.
No artist evokes this sense of wonder more than Bon Iver. These indie darlings write beautiful music that communicates a sense of trnascendance in a way that is normally isolated to clasical composers like Bach and Handel. And yet, these songs complete with biblical imagery and references to sermons and seminaries communicate some elusive meaning that I can’t quite crack.
Watch this video for the banks song, Towers.
Gorgeous song. Gorgeous video. It seems to communicate something so profound about the way we desire to create and control and yet when it falls apart, so do we.
I know this is how my idolatry works. I work so hard to only to have things fall apart. This leads to anger and despair, which often pushes me deeper into the arms of my idols that don’t fulfill. Thank heaven there is the Spirit which reverses the tower of Babel and tames my desire to rebuild it. Again and Again.
So I saw Tron:Legacy for the second time this afternoon.
Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed it. Really enjoyed it. Lock in your suspension of unbelief and enjoy the ride.
For those of you who don’t know, it is the sequel to the 1982 movie Tron and takes place in the present day. The movie is loosely based on the idea that Jeff Bridges character, Kevin Flynn, has created a digital world called “The Grid”. He also creates computer programs to inhabit this world. Soon, the most powerful computer program, made in his own likeness, stages a coop and takes over the world. Flynn is trapped and the outside world moves on.
Eventually Flynn’s son makes his way into the Grid and they seek to get out together. Action and adventure ensue.
The one other twist is that somehow, a group of programs were created by spontaneous generation. They weren’t written and were somehow half human (users) and half programs.
The movie had killer computer shots and beautiful landscapes. (on a side note I have seen it in 3-D and regular-D and it doesn’t make a big difference) At times, the dialogue could use some help and the acting was par.
There were a couple of themes that I found striking. First, the movie has some very interesting parallels to the story of creation and the fall. Flynn creates Clu in his own image and Clu ends up overthrowing Flynn’s rule. For this the other programs hail Clu as a liberator. The deep irony apparent to the viewer is the Clu has actually enslaved the programs. Though the story conflates Adam and Satan, the themes are still unmistakable. In fact, at one point Clu reflects on his creation while looking at an apple.
There is also the story of the redemption of Rinzler/Tron. Though the story doesn’t get a ton of screen time, it does play a significant part in the narrative.
So what do we learn from this? What has this part of Athens to do with Jerusalem?
Our sin is actually enslavement. Our pursuit of what we think we are designed for, not what we are actually designed for will always lead to our enslavement. In our culture, we often use our self-perception to dictate our actions. We do x because a person like us should do x, and in doing so we become slaves to these things. (On a completely related note; Chuck Klosterman’s article on Kurt Cobain and David Koresh explores this well…)
Second, the film has an odd fixation on Perfection. Ben Witherington III points this out on his blog. Where I think more should be explored is in the area of why. Why are the writers of Tron so entranced by perfection? It seems to be a longing for something that we know exist and yet know that we can’t attain. There is a great scene (on the solar sailor) that demonstrates the tension between the transcendence (and unknowable-ness) of Perfction/God and the imminence of Perfection/God. The writers of Tron are just writing from what they know and somehow the creator has endowed us all with a sense of his Holiness and how far away it is.
The church has debated the relationship it should have with the world since the earliest times. Just over a century after the death of the Apostle’s, Tertullian mused, “What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?” The heart of Tertullian’s question was, what relationship does Christianity have with culture. The church has debated this topic ever since.
In the 1950’s, Richard Niebuhr’s book Christ and Culture set the agenda for all discussions on the topic that would follow. Neibuhr classified five approaches to culture. First, Christ Above Culture. This carries the idea that Christ is so transcendent that he is separate from culture. Culture deals with daily human issues, Christ deals with the weightier issues of the soul. Next, we see Christ and Culture in Paradox. This view pits Christ against culture, not in a hostile way, but more in an indifferent way. Christ is over here, culture there, never the two shall meet. As we approach the more common views we find Christ Against Culture. This view posits that culture (both pop and high) if not done explicitly for the glory of God by Christians is by its very nature hostile to God and Christianity. This is the prevailing view of popular, American evangelicalism. It is what has created the Christian ghetto, sub-genrizing anything it can. Since the turn of the millennium, the view of Christ of Culture has picked up steam. The Anglican revival coupled with the rise of the Emerging church has given new life to this view, previously buried by the other views. This view says that culture flows from Christ. It is often critiqued because of its failure to distinguish carefully from what is God’s Word and what are the mutters of the culture. The final category that Neibuhr presented was Christ Transforming Culture. This view (held mostly by Reformed Christians) carries the idea that Christ is very present in this world and “He is making the Kingdom of this world to be the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (to borrow from Isaiah/Handel).
As Christ kingdom grows in its expression we find the Gospel in seed form in places where Christianity is unknown. There are numerous examples of this, but one in particular comes to mind. In Japan there is a folk-legend called Hanasakajijii. This legend tells the story of two neighbors in dispute over a magical dog. After a bit of intrigue, the dog is murdered and transported to the floating world. As the family mourns, they are comforted by the “man who makes dead trees bloom”. This man restores the land from a drought. This is an extremely poor retelling of the story, but as early missionaries arrived in Japan, this story quickly helped the Christians explain their faith in an intelligible way. It was a cultural point of entry where adherents to Japanese folk religion could be engaged and taught of the gospel.
Here it may be helpful to distinguish between cultural relevance and cultural engagement. Many who find themselves in the Christ against Culture camp still use culture for a number of purposes. Often the idea is simply to illustrate a point or in other cases simply to show that the speaker is not “afraid” of culture. These uses are typically guarded and sparse. The idea here is to garner attention or to prove a point. This differs greatly from cultural engagement. In cultural engagement a speaker/minister/whatever may reference a number of pieces of pop or high culture. The idea is not to garner cool points or even to simply illustrate a point. Here the goal is a bit broader, by incorporating pop culture, the speaker is modeling a lifestyle that engages the world around the hearers and cultivates the beauty from the ashes. It finds the cultural touch points that have been buried in the culture and excavates them, showing where Christ has gone before us. We participate in His redemption of the world by sifting the beauty away from the ashes. We can see the messianic beauty of Children of Men, the redemptive significance of The Matrix, the nature of narrative in Stranger than Fiction. Here the goal is not illustration, but the cultivation of a life that engages the world with our beliefs and seeks to understand how and where Christ is working.
In closing it may be helpful to give the Biblical rationale for this view. When Paul came to Athens, he found a culture inundated with views, opinions, beliefs, and idolatry. When he was invited to speak at the Areopagus, Paul preached (Acts 17) one of his most eloquent sermons. In this sermon he quoted Epimenides of Crete in verse 28. This is the same Epimenides who was responsible for one of the most popular accounts of the origins of the Greek gods. These Theogonies (accounts of the where the gods came from) were often graphic and read more like a soap-opera than a history. Paul however engages Epimenides and shows how he was (inadvertently) speaking the truth. He then quotes the poem Phanomena by Aratus. This poem is a praise song used to worship Zeus. Nevertheless, Paul culls the truth that we have our being in YHWH, not in Zeus. Paul quotes other works in his epistles as well. He even quotes Epimenides a second time in Titus. Paul engaged his culture, and I believe this should be normative for us as well.
Oh, to fan the flames of overwrought controversy.
Here is the definitive list of the 5 best Rock Albums recorded in the 1990’s. If you don’t like it, comment and correct.
1. Weezer – Weezer (the Blue Album): Unbelievable hooks, catchy lyrics, and every song is amazing.
2. Counting Crows – August and Everything After: Beautiful from start to finish. The lyrics are cryptic and sometimes haunting.
3. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity: Though the album has a few songs that are not gems, the 14 song masterpiece is incredible. It also ends with a 14 minute tribute to A Prayer for Owen Meany (the greatest novel of the late 20th century)
4. Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind: Known mostly for the commercial success of Semi-Charmed life, this record is amazing from the word go. The album has the best final 5 songs of any album of the decade.
5. Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen: The lyrics and the music on this quirky, sometimes sad jam are unbelievable.
All Apologies List: Nirvana – Nevermind, The Juliana Theory – Understand this is a Dream, Radiohead – OK Computer, Clueless – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Blink 182 – Enema of the State.