Wednesday, April 25, 2012

About Lauren F. Winner's book, "Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis"

In some ways, I don’t relate very well at all with Lauren Winner. The book is about her struggles with her faith being riddled with doubt (or, more positively, she says, her doubt riddled with faith.) I haven’t had those deep struggles in my Christian walk. A key contributing factor to her spiritual struggles was her recent divorce. I certainly don’t relate well to her there, because my wife is wonderful and , in general, my marriage has been and continues to be easy. ....................................................................................... But I still hope that some of the things I learned from this book will help be to help others with doubt and spiritual alienation. And she makes many points and asides that I find very helpful now to my life and ministry. Here are a few of the bits and pieces I most appreciated:..................................................... She quotes a friend who says, “Busy is the new sloth”. I love that! So many of us don’t think of ourselves as lazy because are days are so full. But that busyness keeps us from attending to the really important things just as surely as laziness. (Full disclosure – I have been accused of slothfulness.)................................... She quotes a friend who uses the term, “dislocated exegesis”. It’s the practice of reading Scripture in places that bring unexpected insights. She gives the example of reading the teachings of Jesus about money at a bank. I’ve done this type of thing before. When a youth pastor at Concord Bible Church, we did the life of Christ in San Francisco (reading about Satan tempting Jesus as Coit Tower, calling the disciples at Fisherman’s Wharf, feeding the 5000 while handing out sandwiches to the homeless, etc.) and this inspired me to do this more............................................... She writes about how the literary scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks finds no reference to the word “bored” before the 19th century, arguing that boredom is a modern creation. This insight speaks volumes about our (my) self-centeredness. I liked a reference to ethicist Samuel Wells who notes the distinction between stories about heroes and stories about saints. In a story about a hero, if the hero fails, all is lost. If a saint fails, all may still be well because the story is really about God................................................................................. And there is a beautiful image as she watches others take communion. She sees a husband and wife together. Because of dietary issues, there is a man who can’t take the bread and wine. So the wife takes communion for herself, and then again for her husband. A marvelous picture....................................................................... Winner has praising quotes on the cover from writers I admire. I was glad I could agree with them wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fishing...Faith...Same Thing

The best thing about the film, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”, is the imagery found in the title. The audacious idea of bringing a fishing industry to the desert evokes glorious ideas of rebirth and resurrection. But unfortunately, the soaring nature of this central theme is dragged down by dull, loathsome Hollywood clichés. Certainly, the film has an interesting pedigree. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (who made one of the greatest of all coming of age films, “My Life as a Dog”) and screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (who brings the work of a novelist to the screen as he did with “Slumdog Millionaire”) gave reason for hope. Ewan McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones. (Sidenote – I kept being distracted when people called him Dr. Jones which made me think of another famous movie scientist. Between this and playing Obi-Wan in the prequels, is he trying to redo all of George Lucas’ classic characters? Howard the Duck can’t be far behind. End sidenote.) Dr. Jones is an ichthyologist / British government drone challenged to help a sheik bring salmon to Yemen. Emily Blunt plays Harriet, a western representative for the sheik who must persuade Jones that the project is not a boondoggle or a joke but a viable possibility. Pressure is also supplied by Kristen Scott Thomas who plays the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary desperately seeking a positive story from the Middle East. Thomas as the foul mouthed, devious political schemer provides some of the film’s funniest moments, especially in her texting conversations with the Prime Minister, but at times her moments come across as “In the Loop” lite. Another fine moment in the film comes when Jones meets with the sheik who ask if Jones is religious. Jones insists he just believes in facts and figures…He’s a scientist! But the sheik counters that Jones is a fisherman and by definition that means he is a man of faith. Why else would he spend hundreds of hours waist deep in water with no assured outcome. There are several interesting conversations about religion. Alfred and Harriet both admit they don’t know anyone who goes to church, Alfred saying he uses Sundays to go to Target. (This is a little puzzling as before we saw Alfred with his wife practicing in a musical quartet in a church. Whatever.) But as I mentioned before, tiresome clichés emerge and to discuss them I must stoop to spoilers. Though is it a spoiler to say that even though Jones is a married man and Harriet is in an affair with a soldier in Afghanistan, that the two will fall and love? For a while I thought that the message of the importance of patience and faith and fishing would be applied to the marriage of Dr. Jones. But no, because I more important rule is that in a Hollywood film the two names at the top of the bill, the pretty people, must come together. “Casablanca” is still fresh because lead characters doing what is right rather than what feels good is a rarity in films. There also is lazy characterization in the film. When Blunt’s boyfriend becomes inconvenient to the plot, he is shown to be a raciest, as all soldiers seem to be in Hollywood. And the sheik, we are assured, is different, a visionary who believes in peace, romance and fishing. There is talk of the cliché of “the magic negro”, an African American figure who is there to supple wisdom to the white hero. Amr Waked seems to be playing the Arab version of this role (as he did in “Syriana”). All the other Arabs seem shady and are probably all terrorists. And the final annoying cliché, was the talk of “faith”. In films, it is important to have faith, it doesn’t matter what you put your faith in. So it’s good for Alfred to put faith in something new and different like a fish hatchery in the desert and a romantic fling, but nothing so drab as an established marriage. But it does, of course, matter what you put your faith in. The film has people who engage in terrorism and they certainly have faith, placed in a wrong and evil place. Paul in I Corinthians 15 argues that if Christians put their faith in the resurrection and it proves untrue, then Christians are fools. So faith in fishing in the Yemen, in peace and prosperity in the Middle East needs to be more than just a pretty thought one believes in, it must be possible. I wish those ideas would have been even more central in the film than another tired boy meets girl story. (The film is rated PG-13 for brief violence and strong language.)