Friday, November 30, 2007

Some things never change

It was 202-years (and two days) ago that Lewis & Clark paddled across the Columbia River from Washington to Oregon in search of a drier campsite.

This makes them the first tourists to the Oregon Coast ever to be disappointed by the weather. Even a stoic like William Clark was moved to write in his journal on November 28, 1805:
Rained all the last night . . . we are all wet our bedding and Store are also wet, we haveing nothing which is Sufficient to keep ourselves bedding or Stores dry . . . O! how disagreeable is our Situation dureing this dreadful weather.
The forecast for this weekend, by the way, calls for hurricane-force winds and driving rains, with a good chance of flooding and landslides.

Oh well -- at least it keeps our property taxes low.

Postscript: I love winter storms, and this one was great -- 45-foot seas, wind-gusts up to 125 mph, and no power for 39-hours. Highway 18 is still closed, and Highway 101 is closed north of Tillamook . . . but the road is open through Hebo, so those Safeway trucks should be rolling in by tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Golden Compass

Just in time for the Christmas season is Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (TGC). And if the book is any guide, TGC should be a wonderful movie -- a kind of Paradise Lost set on an alternate earth, where the bears wear armor and your soul shows up as a animal-companion that is visible to one and all.

So far, so good . . . in fact, I loved TGC (though I wasn't able to finish the two sequels -- more on that later).

But Philip Pullman is an atheist -- a very outspoken atheist whose TGC is essentially Paradise Lost retold by Satan (and channeled by Jean-Jacque Rosseau), i.e. God is a senile pretender who DESERVES our defiance. In that sense, TGC is best understand as an anti-Narnia (and yes, Pullman has made no secret of his dislike for Lewis and his books).

So . . .
  • here you have a potential blockbuster . . .
  • whose author's views on God are somewhat "problematic" to most Americans . . .
  • and you're hoping that parents will rush out and buy tickets for their children to his movie?
Hmmmm . . . as the Atlantic Monthly notes in its December 2007 issue, this may present something of a problem in marketing.

And that (says Atlantic) is why the movie's makers are trying to spin TGC into a children's adventure that just happens to deal (however tangentially) with the abuse of religion . And when Newsweek spoke with Pullman over the "hysteria" that surrounds his book, there's no mistaking just who it thought was on the side of the angels.
In person, Pullman is tall and inviting, with ruddy features and thatchy gray hair, and when he gets going about the attacks on the film, it's a reminder of how enjoyable it is to observe a polite English gentleman properly outraged. Pullman does, in fact, describe himself as an atheist, but his vocation is storytelling, and his only agenda, he said during an interview with NEWSWEEK, is "to get you to turn the page." "To regard it as this Donohue man has said—that I'm a militant atheist, and my intention is to convert people—how the hell does he know that? Why don't we trust readers? Why don't we trust filmgoers?" Pullman sighed. "Oh, it causes me to shake my head with sorrow that such nitwits could be loose in the world."
You know -- nitwits like C. S. Lewis.

That said, I'm no too worried about TGC. If the Atlantic Monthly is right, New Line Studio has made an extraordinary effort to make sure the movie doesn't offend any parents. Expect more bears, in other words, and less religion.

Then too, not every believer is bothered by Pullman's work. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for instance, has praised a stage-adaptation of TGC -- and Newsweek interviewed a theologian who argued it is actually pro-Christian (albeit in a feminist, eco-minded, liberation-theology sort of way).

What's more (and here my schadenfreude shines through), there's always a chance the whole thing will sink without a trace. Newsweek has a knack for waxing eloquent about movies that turn out to be real stinkers. (Remember how much it liked The Matrix: Reloaded? And even [if memory serves]Van Helsing?) And when it comes to Pullman's book . . .

Okay, I loved The Golden Compass -- I really did. It was creepy, exciting, imaginative, and wonderful. But when it came to the sequels, I just could not get through them. Oh yes, I tried; goodness knows I tried. But every time I did so, I kept getting bogged down in the fact that the sequels were just plain no fun to read.

And no, I'm not sure why. The closest I can come to explaining is to quote Justin (i.e. the youth pastor who runs the movie review site, Mutant Reviewers from Hell). Speaking of Joss Whedon -- another great writer (who just happens to be an atheist) -- Justin wrote:
[The good news is that] Joss writes great stories, plays against clichés, has created fully fleshed-out characters that are easy to grow attached to, and often whips up cliffhangers that were among the best in the biz.

[The bad news is that] Joss hates his imaginary TV folk. Honest and true. It may be a strong blend of love and hate, but after watching so much of his stuff, it’s apparent that he loathes having his characters be happy — despondant people in crisis are more interesting to watch, I suppose.

It’s part of Whedon’s worldview that I often come into conflict with, as I see him unable to create a happy situation that he can’t resist tearing apart with hopelessness and anguish. He’s lauded for his emphasis on strength of friendships, but ultimately he’s feels the need to show betrayals, failures, and separation… and where does that leave us?

In short, I can forgive the fact that Pullman doesn't like God.

But I'm not entirely sure he likes his characters -- and that, I can't forgive.

Sequel: Christianity Today recently ran a two-handed review of the movie -- one in which it said that:
  • on the one hand, Philip Pullman is probably not going to start writing a guest-column for Christianity Today at any time in the near future . . .
  • but on the other hand, TGC is certainly less hostile to God than its sequels . . . and the movie itself could possibly have some Spiritually Redeeming Value (SRV) -- maybe.
As you'd expect, even this oh-so-qualified approval this has stirred up a lot of discussion on the CT blog.

As for the movie itself . . . well, it's beginning to look as though Newsweek has fallen in love with yet another turkey. The Times gave it two stars out of five, calling it "a spectacular shambles," a "haystack of derivative film twists," and a "pudding" that lacks genuine magic and drama. Then again, its reviewer also thought the movie focused way too much on the bears -- so what does he know?

But wait -- there's more! MoreIntelligentLife.com recently did an interview with Pullman -- one of those "more in sorrow than in anger" pieces that he does so well. Here's the money-quote:
I dislike his [i.e. Lewis's] Narnia books because of the solution he offers to the great questions of human life: is there a God, what is the purpose, all that stuff, which he really does engage with pretty deeply, unlike Tolkien who doesn't touch it at all. ‘The Lord of the Rings' is essentially trivial. Narnia is essentially serious, though I don't like the answer Lewis comes up with. If I was doing it at all, I was arguing with Narnia. Tolkien is not worth arguing with.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Perhaps HBO could do a mini-series?

I don't know if this is proof we live in a post-Christian society, or a commentary on the sad state of education in this country, or a reminder not to take anything for granted in our sermons.

Anyway, I'm sure you'll think of something.

But the Oregonian recently ran an article about a lawsuit -- one that alleges a local boss kept sending an employee out of town on business trips so that she (the boss) could spend some quality time with the employee's boyfriend. As the paper notes,
What the suit next describes reads a bit like the Old Testament story of King David dispatching one of his army commanders on a suicide mission so that the king could claim the commander's beautiful wife, Bathsheba.
True enough -- but then the paper goes on to say that "neither of the Portland employment lawyers [who are handling the case] said they knew the biblical story of David and Bathsheba."

(Click on the title for a link to the article.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Seventh-day Cosmopolitans

I've been mulling over Christianity Today's interview with D. Michael Lindsay -- the author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite.

Linday believes Evangelicals have developed two subcultures: populist and cosmopolitan.
  • Populist Evangelicals are middle-class and middle-brow; they love Focus on the Family, adore Thomas Kinkade's "paintings," and look to their local church for guidance and support. When you think "evangelical," in other words, this is the group that comes to mind.
  • Cosmopolitan Evangelicals are well-educated, well-connected, and financially well-off. They read The New York Times, disdain Kinkade as "Christian kitsch," and don't really connect with their local church. (It's just not professional enough.) Instead, they get their nurture from peer networks and parachurches such as CEO Forum (not to mention those donors-only weekend events that have become so popular with some ministries).
Now stop and think how this plays out in the Adventist Church. I'd argue that much of the difference between "conservative" and "liberal" Adventists, for instance, isn't one of theology so much as culture -- the same cultural divide Lindsay describes in his book.

In short, those "liberals" who've been giving you such a hard time as a pastor may be just as loyal as the "conservatives." It's just that they're loyal to a different group -- to ASI and AAF rather than your local church. And if they don't seem to be "your kind of people" . . . well, maybe you're not their kind of pastor?

(Click on the title for a link to the interview.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

And did you notice the name of that megachurch in Walla Walla?

Randy Stapilus has long been *the* go-to guy for politics in the Pacific Northwest; his blog is one of the few I read daily. That's why I find it interesting that he's just added a blog on megachurches in the region. As he says:
Political viewpoints are shaped by many things, and we keep greater or lesser watch on many of this at this site. One of those, which we intend to explore more over time, is the world-view which churches and their ministries help create. . . . These churches are major contributors of ideas in our society, developers of world views that in turn come to influence voting patterns and political activity, even if only very indirectly.
(Click on the title of this post for the link.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Either that or just standing around, waiting for something to happen

Pastoral ministry is like Elijah's experience on Mt. Carmel: you live for those moments when the fire falls -- but most of the time, you're just hauling rocks.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Faith vs. Reason, Round 562,890

Check out the Times Literary Supplement review of two more books that discuss religion and science -- one of them written by the guardian angel of Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins! (That's what the author says, anyway.)

Click on the title of this post for the link.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

His grace is sufficient for thee -- but not me?

Nice article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about "the imposter syndrome," i.e. the persistent feeling that you are a fraud who will soon be found out and sent packing.
Self-doubt and negative feedback weigh heavily on the mind, but praise barely registers. You attribute your failures to a stable, inner core of ineptness. Meanwhile, you discount your successes as accidental or, worse, as just so many confidence jobs. Every positive is a false positive.
While the article focuses on this syndrome in academia, I see a lot of it in the ministry -- not least every time I look in the mirror! Why?
  • The unrealistic belief that pastors should be experts in a wide variety of fields -- everything from finance to archeology to marriage counseling. ("What? You've not read the latest book on the post-emergent church? What kind of a pastor are you?")
  • A perfectionism that is reinforced by poor role models. ("His church grew from a membership of 25 to 25,000 in just three weeks -- so what's wrong with you?")
  • Loneliness and a lack of friends who know what we're really like on the inside . . . but love us anyway. (And the older we get, the harder it is to maintain a facade.)
(Click on the title of this post for a link to the article.)