Thursday, July 24, 2008

In Praise of Reality Television

In Neil Postman's book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, he believes that a medium's message should be appropriate to the medium.  One of his points about television is that the context of the medium means that it can only propogate trite messages.  Hence, the best television is bad television.

I'm beginning to see how right this is.  We don't have TV at home, but while we're away in the summer we watch quite a bit of it (which makes us more grateful that we don't have it at home).  I have a natural inclination towards TLC's A Baby Story or What Not To Wear; I assumed it's just because I'm a woman who's had babies and wears clothes.  Still, I notice that the shows that I get the biggest kick out of are the dumbest.  My husband and I saw advertised something called "I Survived a Japanese Game Show."  It looked absolutely ridiculous--and I laughed out loud every time the ad for it came on!  It showed something about people jumping off these giant platforms into a lake that had huge, blow-up structures in it.  The people kept falling flat on their face.  Every time they hit I busted up like an idiot (maybe I just don't get out much)!

I also find that I love shows like American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance for the same reason.  I love it when ordinary people who have no stage presence end up on national television.  They always have really sweaty armpits, or spit when they talk, or turn around in front of the camera.  Maybe I'm a dweeb, but I live for those moments!

I saw an example of the opposite problem just yesterday when my boys were watching cartoons.  I remember cartoons as mindless entertainment--Coyote falling off the cliff for the umpteenth time--but every kids' cartoon that they watch starts out with a message for parents on what educational or social skills the cartoon helps preschoolers develop.  I also grew up with Sesame Street and Square One and loved them, so there are some aspects of educational television that I liked as a kid, but I think it's gotten totally out of control.  The worst example I saw--and my total apologies out there to any of my friends who love this show, please forgive me--was something called "Lou & Lou's Safety Patrol."  The story consisted of two kids (who always walked around carrying water bottles and wore bike helmets) who were helping their mom make an emergency preparedness kit.  I couldn't handle it anymore!  I jumped to the remote and found Tom & Jerry on Cartoon Network.  Aahhhh....mindless television....(and the boys thought it was hilarious).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Only Children are Alive and Kicking

I like science.  I was raised in a family that liked science.  I studied science in college and got a degree in science.  I taught science.  But everything is not scientific.

Science studies things that are observable and reproduceable.  Science does a great job of studying the rotation of earth, or the structure of crystals, or the systems of the body, and can be used to do marvelous things when they are applied correctly, but not everything falls into this category.

I begin to whince when I see a scientific mode of thought applied to things that are utterly unscientific--such as history, or theology.  These are wonderful things to study, but they are most certainly not scientific.  When scientific thinking is applied to history you get such monstrosities as paleo-lithic man or prehistoric studies.  Call these things what they are--stories, art, inventions--but, please don't call them scientific.  There is nothing reasonable about the story of mankind.  If men's behavior made sense, then they would no longer be men!

When scientific thinking is applied to theology you get a glorification of rationalization and proof-texting.  Let religion be anything, but please don't let it be reasonable!  Religion would cease to be if it was transformed into something reasonable!  Why should I sing songs?  Why should I bow the knee when I pray?  Why should I sit still for 45 minutes and listen to a man talk early on a Sunday morning?  Why should I give to those less fortunate?  Why should I hope for something that I've never seen?  None of these questions has a rational answer, yet all of them are central to religion!  If God bowed the knee to our reason and gave up His will to conform to our standards He would no longer be God.  Thankfully, we serve an super-rational God, one that forgives sinners, one that has mercy on the wicked, one that pardons the very real transgressions that we commit.

Inevitably, our theology comes out our fingertips.  What we believe about God will influence the way that we act toward others.  If we believe in an ivory-towered God, one far above us, who enjoys sitting and rationalizing, those are the standards that we will impose upon others.  You may not ascend the high tower until you too can discriminate the intracacies of pre-lapserianism!  (Did I even spell that write)?  We will disdain those who popularize religious traditions and make them accessible to the masses--by the way, who invited them anyhow?  

If we believe in a kind God, who loves the humans that He has created, we will also love humans--every single kind.  How do children fall in love with religion; by reading the Book of Romans (as well as Calvin's commentary on it), or by re-enacting David slaying Goliath?

This insinuation that only the strong should lead gets me thinking that we're falling back to paganism.  Let me end with, yes, one more quote from Chesterton: "And all aversions to ordinary humanity have this general character.  They are not aversions to its feebleness (as is pretended), but to its energy.  The misanthropes pretend that they despise humanity for its weakness.  As a matter of fact, they hate it for its strength." (from Heretics).  Popular religion is a child-like faith, it is alive, growing, and moving.

Why I Love Chesterton: Part 2

"But if we do revive and pursue the pagan ideal of a simple and rational self-completion we shall end--where Paganism ended.  I do not mean that we shall end in destruction.  I mean that we shall end in Christianity."
--Heretics by G.K. Chesterton

Why I Love Chesterton: Part 1

"There is only one thing in the modern world that has been face to face with Paganism; there is only one thing in the modern world which in that sense knows anything about Paganism: and that is Christianity.  That fact is really the weak point in the whole of that hedonistic neo-Paganism of which I have spoken.  All that genuinely remains of the ancient hymns of the ancient dances of Europe, all that has honestly come to us from the festivals of Phoebus or Pan, is to be found in the festivals of the Christian Church.  If anyone wants to hold the end of a chain which really goes back to the heathen mysteries, he had better take hold of a festoon of flowers at Easter or a string of sausages at Christmas.  Everything else in the modern world is of Christian origin, even everything that seems most anti-Christian.  The French Revolution is of Christian origin.  The newspaper is of Christian origin.  The anarchists are of Christian origin.  Physical science is of Christian origin.  The attack on Christianity is of Christian origin.  There is one thing, and one thing only, in existence at the present day which can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin, and that is Christianity."
--Heretics by G.K. Chesterton 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Because I Would Love to See Chesterton Try to Fit Through a Metal Detector

I love airports. Or, maybe I should say, I'm learning to love airports. So this is our epic struggle to return to the Left Coast of America:

We showed up at the airport in New York City just to have the power go out while we were waiting in line to check in. All of modern society ground to a halt while we stood around, picking our noses, waiting for the grand masters of electricity to rise the slumbering energy giant back onto his feet. By the time the power went back on all of those poor souls whose planes were about to pull away from the gate needed to be rushed to the front of the line, so still we waited, and played the alphabet game. Meanwhile, the lights kept flickering on and off, causing the entire populous to shriek and moan in terror each time it did so.

By the time we made it to the front of the line we were told that our plane had been delayed so much that we had already missed our connection in Chicago, and that they were going to try some way to get us to California--at least somewhere in California because everything's pretty close together, right?--by tonight, or really early tomorrow. So the best chance we had was to fly to Washington D.C. and then fly into LA, landing just after midnight. We had actually started our journey at Orange County airport, so this would be a slight detour. But everything's pretty close together, right?

So we proceeded to strip search through security, then spend $15 on a salad to share for a family of four for dinner--we had to pay 59 cents extra for the salad dressing. We caught our plane with no trouble, and thankfully arrived in Washington D.C. at the same gate we would be leaving on, and within easy walking distance to beer.

Our connecting flight went smoothly and we landed at LAX just after midnight. We got our bags by 12:30 or so and waited for our ride. Then we quickly discovered that our ride assumed that we were still flying into Orange County, and was at the wrong airport. Once that problem had been remedied we were picked up around 1:30 am (remember we're travelling with a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old), and cozied up in bed by 2:00 am. We had gotten up that morning at 7:00 am New York time which meant that we had been up for 22 hours straight.

Now, in case you can't tell, this is why I love airports. I strongly recommend to anyone getting ready to fly that they read large portions of G.K. Chesterton before they do so. There is no one who can get you laughing and loving human nature like he does. I love the computer-automated check-ins, I love the fancy television screens with rotating advertising, I love that they strip-search my 3-year-old for terrorist weapons, I love that with all the fancy show and expensive technology nobody can change human nature. When the power goes out people still scream. When people have to wait in line they whine and moan, and try to cut. When people are told to form a straight line, they push and shove.

I love airports. And I'm not being sarcastic. Well, not completely sarcastic.

The Right Coast

Our family recently returned from a trip to the East Coast and New England, and it was absolutely beautiful! One of the highlights was staying at an inn in Vermont with the oldest working brewery in the country--and that was some good beer!

On this trip we visited parts of New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. However, seeing the beauty of these regions is coupled with a grief of knowing how poor the church is doing in these places. My mother-in-law lives in Hudson, NY, which was once known as the "city of steeples" because of so many beautiful church steeples in the town. Now nearly all of those churches are abandoned, empty, and for sale; that is, if they haven't already been turned into dance halls or luxury homes for wealthy weekenders.

We live in a relatively youthful community surrounded by people close to our age. Because of this, I've realized more how much wisdom can be gleaned by spending time with older people. New England reminds me of an older person who is dying unhappy, but is ready to share the wisdom that a long life gives. I love the culture created by the Puritans, and in many ways it's what we would like to do--grow a self-consciously Christian culture. Clearly, what the Puritans left behind was long-lasting; much of the beauty remains 350 years after they started it! It's clear that their efforts were blessed, but the more difficult question remains, how do we guard the faithfulness of our children so that we know our culture is building for eternity, not just the next few hundred years?

It reminds me of a quote I once read, even though I don't remember the quote. It was from a liberal woman pastor endorsing her church's participation in Native American rituals. What I do remember was the there was a notation that she was the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Jonathan Edwards. Lord give me grace and have mercy on my children! (and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren...)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Better a Burger with God than a Great Feast Without

So my husband has two sides in his family. One side eats fast food, watches lots of TV, and drives gas guzzling cars miles and miles on the freeway. In case you can't tell, they also vote Republican and go to church.

The other side of the family only eats organic, free-range, biosustainable agriculture from small farm co-ops. They only watch low-budget foreign movies at the indie theaters, and although they have yet to buy a Prius, have only recently even bought a car. In case you can't tell, they also vote Democrat and never attend church. Believe it or not, these two sides were once married to one another.

We have the blessed position of spending time with both families. Our boys get to pick fresh blueberries from the home-grown, organic crop of one side of the family and get to be taken to McDonald's by the other side. When we begin to bristle at one more order of french fries Grandpa orders for the kids, we remember that they'll be spending eternity with Grandpa. When we start to enjoy too much the delicious wine and organic, gourmet fare on the other side, we remember that we are at Nebuchadnezzer's table. My husband showed me gratitude for the food on both tables, which has taught me discernment and helps me see where my true loyalties lie.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Girard has a Quarter Pounder with Cheese

A recent series that Doug Wilson has begun on his blog site has got me thinking. Sometimes I think about commenting on his site, but especially under this topic, the writing has gotten a bit fierce and keeps me at bay, doing my own thing. This would be his new "Creation and Food" theme, which so far I've really enjoyed. This most recent post, "Making the Spoon Taste Good" reminded me of something else I've noticed in modern (and postmodern) culture.

It's amazing to see the reaction among Christians when someone insists that all food is to be received with thanksgiving. This would seem to be an obvious statement, and one clearly supported by Scripture, but the argument has instantly gone to the question of "What is food?" Doug quotes I Timothy 4:1-3 and equates a refusal to be thankful for sex (and the resulting promiscuity) to a refusal to be thankful for food. Our culture is extremely schizophrenic when it comes to God's good gifts, and food is no exception.

Our culture is either emaciated or obese. It is temperance or drunkard. It is promiscuous or a prude. We worship our children or murder them. We have lost all sense of steering in the waters of discernment. Why does our culture look like this?

Rene Girard does a great job in his book, The Scapegoat showing how pagan cultures deified those that they persecuted. Some horrible plague would strike the city and the first to be blamed would be the outcast, the minority, the deformed, or the poor. That person's blood would be required to rid the city of the plague; transforming the outcast into the hero. One such example of this would be Romulus who founded the city of Rome. He was murdered by his own people, and then honored as a god for his unwilling sacrifice. "Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them" Luke 11:47.

This was paganism and this is what our culture embraces now. We don't thank God for His gifts, and therefore we don't know what to do with them. God gives us food and we shun it in our aestheticism. We then feel guilty, and in our sentimentalism we overindulge. This can be seen in each and every gift that we refuse to be thankful for. We hate the fruit of the womb and so we kill our babies, but then our guilt leads us to a sentimental attachment to everyone else's children. Conservative Christians shun most of these obvious sins, but we still see the need to capitulate to our culture, and so we do it with the less obvious--like food. God's gift becomes the Scapegoat and we become the persecutor.

This was the foundation for all pagan societies and our Lord came to overturn them. He came as the willing sacrifice who really had done no wrong. He was the archtypical Scapegoat, taking on the sins of many, but overturning the desires of His persecutors by triumphing over them.

Repentence and gratitude for all God's gifts--without exception--is the only rudder to steer us through discernment and away from destruction.