29 December 2007

Alienseseseses vs. Predatorseses

(See, it's the 6th Alien movie and the 4th Predator movie. Get it? Heh.)

Yep, as I predicted, AvP:R sucked. Not too much worth saying about it. As I suspected, the filmmakers thought that "achieving the atmosphere of the classic films" meant "lots of rain". On the other hand - and thank God for this - they did discover and include the one thing these movies have sorely lacked all along: stupid horny teenagers. Not. (Well, the stupid horny teens were certainly there, but naturally all they did was make it seem even more like a run-of-the-mill B horror flick.)

They threw in some vaguely plausible never-before-seen Alien evolution as a plot device to ensure that there would be lots and lots of Alienses around, and the movie contained exactly one (1) Predator, who was utterly irrelevant to the plot, and not even particularly badass. The very final moments of the film did throw one nice bone to fans of the Alien franchise, though, so they get points for that.

I hope they let the franchises lay fallow for a while, now, until somebody comes up with an actual good idea for another movie. Alas, Tina and I were part of the problem by adding to the opening-weekend box office. But Alienseses make Tina happy, so we went. :-)

27 December 2007

Book Review: Only Begotten, by Gary Glass

Only Begotten is a novel by my friend Gary Glass, which he's publishing online, a chapter a day, on onlybegotten.com. It's a retelling of the final years of the life of Jesus - roughly the same period of time that's recounted in the canonical Gospels. So you could call it the Gospel According to Gary.

I usually start any long post with disclaimers, so - here we go. First, I do believe this is my first attempt at a book review, so apologies if it sucks. (The review, that is - not the book.) Second, regarding the suckiness (or lack thereof) of the book - I have to say I was quite surprised. Not surprised that I enjoyed reading it - I expected that. Gary's one of the smartest guys I know, and has a way with words. I wasn't sure if he'd turn out to be gifted at storytelling and characterization, but I wasn't surprised to find out that he was. So, just to be clear, it was a great read. Hard to put down, a real page-turner, and, for you Da Vinci Code fans, short chapters! :-)

What did surprise me, though, was that overall, I was happy with the picture of Jesus that Gary paints. Quite frankly, I expected to be put off by it. I hesitate to characterize Gary's worldview based on our conversations, but suffice it to say that it's definitely not what most people would think of as "Christian". Gary can correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression of his outlook on life is this:
  1. Start by accepting the world as it is, life as it is, and people as they are.
  2. Trust reason and something like common sense as your guides to doing the right thing in this clearly-seen world with these OK-just-as-they-are people.
  3. Faith and religious practice might possibly be helpful if they operate within this framework, but chances are that they'll only distract or mislead you. Buddhist philosophy and meditation practices are probably the most helpful / least harmful.
So I expected that a point of view like that would shine through in Gary's portrayal of Jesus. (It did.) What I didn't expect was that I'd like it! (Mostly.)

Jesus the Tathagata

Gary's Jesus at the beginning of the story is a grieving recent widower. Not just grieving - wrecked. The loss of his beloved Anna has drained Jesus of almost everything he had or was. Almost - but not quite everything. He still has his sense of loss, and it still consumes him. After a short sojourn with his cousin John the Baptist and his disciples, Jesus enters the wilderness. Reduced to nothing but basic need - food when starving, water when dying of thirst, sleep when too exhausted to remain awake - Jesus has an experience of awakening, not while sitting under a tree like that other well-known awakened one, but while wading in the Dead Sea. He returns to civilization a changed man, begins (quite against his will) to accumulate disciples, has many adventures with them, and, in the end...well, I won't give it away, but he doesn't sail away with a pregnant Magdalene to found the Merovingian line of French kings.

So is this a story of Jesus the Buddha? Not quite, and this is where I was surprised. Like the Buddha, this Jesus has been utterly transformed by an experience of awakening - but this is still recognizably the Jesus of the canonical Gospels. This Jesus is a healer and an exorcist. This Jesus is a fearless practitioner of radical hospitality, friend and lover of tax collectors and prostitutes. He's a teacher in parables and a sayer of hard sayings that seem to glorify himself. He's a people person who would often give anything to escape the crowds (if he had anything to give). This Jesus sends his followers out to heal and teach and exorcise. This Jesus is a forgiver of sins.

In other words, pretty much like the Jesus of the Gospels. The difference is that, in Gary's story, all of this stems from Jesus' emptying of himself, and his awakening to a worldview much like the one I outline above: accept life as it is, accept people as they are, use common sense and reason from there. This Jesus isn't so much a theist (he does talk of God's kingdom, but never calls God "Father") as a pantheist, or perhaps a panentheist. Or perhaps he's just comfortable with mystery when it comes to these questions - quite a bit more comfortable, in fact, than I've previously thought my friend Gary to be! A late conversation with his brother, James, is priceless:

— But there is something about you, my brother. Something that makes you a stranger to me. Something — I don’t know what — I don’t know how to say it.

— Maybe there’s nothing.

— No! It’s there. Something very good.

— What do you think it is, James?

— Is it God?

— Not the God you’re looking for.

— There is only one God.

— How do you know?

— I’m a Jew!

— Is God?

— Are you?

— Before there were Jews, there is God. You’re looking for the God of your fathers, the God of the book, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Moses. You’re looking for other men’s Gods! Isn’t that idolatry? Isn’t that whoring after false Gods? The one God is the God of the living. Therefore look for God among the living. But when you look out at the world you don’t find that God here. What do you find? You find the living world, the living God. The real God in the real world. Right here and now. Right here!

Jesus tapped James on the chest.

James shook his head —

— I don’t understand how you can call this God.

— Do you think you can understand God? Beware the God of your understanding, brother! Beware the God that suits you. Isn’t a God as small as your understanding too small to make the whole world? Isn’t that also idolatry? Isn’t that also whoring after false Gods?

— How do you know this, brother? Didn’t we both grow up in Nazareth sons of Joseph and Mary? How can you sit here now and tell me with such authority that all that we learned at our father’s knee was idolatry?

— It wasn’t idolatry then. It became idolatry when I began to see.

— See what?

— See God.

— You see God?

— I’m looking at God now.

James was transfixed by his brother’s eyes. Jesus looked at him completely without fear — with no reservations — nothing held back. His eyes were full of sorrow and full of innocence at once. His gaze was absolutely accepting and utterly uncompromising. Tears came into James’s eyes. He didn’t even know why. He never had seen such fearlessness in any man. It was astonishing and wonderful.

I quite like this Jesus, overall - and I like Gary even more now after having read his story.

Jesus the Accepting Transformer

If I have a quibble with this Jesus, it's that his philosophy - so clear to him as to be invisible (he constantly denies that he has anything to teach) - doesn't quite make complete sense to me. The key, for this Jesus, seems to be to accept both the world, and each person in it, as they are. Yet, Jesus himself has changed utterly in the course of his life. I think Jesus would say that he didn't actually change - he just became who he really was - but how does one tell the difference? Jesus heals Jonas the demoniac and Caleb, a man with an unclean skin disease - among others. He gives brutal tongue-lashings to those who act out of unthinking prejudice or selfishness. Why didn't he accept all of these people as they were? I don't disagree with Jesus' actions - like I said, I like this Jesus - but I'm not sure I buy that the universe is quite as simple as he and Gary make it out to be. It didn't seem to me that Jesus, in this story, was faced with any really interesting ethical dilemmas. Consider this exchange between Jesus and his disciples James and John, the sons of Zebedee:

James said —

— Teacher, if this is how it is, then what is prayer? If God is in me and I in God, who is praying to who?

— That is a subtle question, James, my friend! Now look if God is in you and you are in God, and God is in me and I am in God, then when you and I speak to each other, who is speaking to who?

— I don’t know.

— Don’t you see that this too is just the way the world is made to be? Whether we question or accept, pray or keep silent, contend or embrace, deny or affirm — we are in all things expressing God’s creation. We are always in the will of God. It is impossible to deviate from the way things are.

John objected —

— Then why shouldn’t I turn to thieving and whoring and drinking and gambling?

— Wouldn’t you miss your wife and sons and daughters?

— Why don’t you?

— That life does not appeal to me. I am living the life that is given to me.

— Does it appeal to you?

Jesus laughed —

— Not always!

OK, but what if a live of thieving did appeal to Jesus? Would that then be acceptable? As long as that was who he truly was? Somehow I find this unlikely, in light of the compassionate, just Jesus portrayed elsewhere in the story. I think, in the end, that this Jesus would agree with the Jesus of the Gospels and the Buddha of the Sutras - not everything about us ought to be accepted. Some aspects of us - those that cause us in our greed or selfishness or anger to ignore the well-being of our fellow creatures - ought to be named sin or poison, and transformed.

Jesus Our Brother

In the end, I found Only Begotten to be a touching portrayal of a very human Jesus. A Jesus who, through suffering and awakening, became a man whose fearlessness and clarity and fullness of life were nearly impossible to resist. It's a portrait of a Jesus who is just like each of us, yet unlike any of us. A Jesus who is our brother, our healer, our teacher despite himself. Thanks, Gary, for this portrait.

Now, tell me how I misinterpreted it. :-)


P.S., While you're discovering Gary's brilliance, you must check out his photography on ShutterGlass.com. ZOMG, it's awesome stuff!

16 December 2007

My church is famous

Alright, since Stav blogged about it, I guess that means we're not trying to be so humble as to not acknowledge the attention. ;-) A national news magazine, U.S.News and World Report, published a nice little sidebar about our church along with a larger article on "A Return to Tradition" in various faith contexts (Jewish, Catholic, Protestant). The main article is interesting and rather balanced, and the sidebar on Common Table is pretty good, I think. The reporter, Jay Tolson, took the time to talk to folks and get to know us a bit.

(The photo of my friend Julie lighting a candle in our participatory Advent wreath is by USN&WR's Jim Lo Scalzo. Jim, let me know if you mind me using it; it's a great photo.)

OK. 15 minutes begins...now. :-)

15 December 2007

Authority in the Church

This week, Kingdom Grace (the artist formerly known as "Emerging") did an insightful commentary (entitled The Gender Issue) on an Allelon article by Sally Morgenthaler (entitled After the Show is Over: The Rise of the Feminine in the Postmodern Turn). The two articles, plus the discussion in the comments on Grace's post, make for a fascinating and thought-provoking meditation on "authority" in the church. Did Jesus intend for some of his followers to have "authority" over others? Are authority structures, roles, concepts of prestige, etc. a product of culture?

Many folks in groups who have been denied authority and prestige in the Church (women, minorities, gay folks, etc.) are quite rightly hurt and angered by the very real injustice of that denial. (They are also, quite rightly, hurt by the very real history of the church's lack of respect for them and valuing of their gifts. Let me state up-front: I don't think there's any room to question that the church needs to respect, value, and nurture the gifts of all God's people. But I'm drawing a distinction between respecting and valuing someone, and putting that person in a position of authority. Bear with me.)

The question that I think is being raised here (or, at any rate, the one that I'm raising), is this: Is there another way to resolve this injustice, apart from seeking to put those who have been disenfranchised into positions of authority and prestige? I think that there is, and it gives me a lot of hope.

The other option would be the creation of church communities (and organizations and networks) that aren't built around the concept of some followers having authority over others. Ones that are instead built around mutual servanthood and mutual submission. As Grace says,
The ultimate issue is whether we are ready and willing to embody mutual submission in all of our relationships with one another to the degree that we are even willing to address the structural systems of church and the use of power and position within those structures.

This raises all kinds of questions. What about folks (like many dear friends of mine) whose love of God's Church is inexorably bound up with their love of existing church structures (such as denominations, megachurches, publishing houses, mission organizations, etc.) which have dynamics of authority and prestige built into their very marrow? They may have no choice but to seek authority and prestige if they feel called to change those systems, as opposed to leaving them and seeking their own way. But I have to admit that I do share Sally's fear:
Whether male or female, our questions must ultimately move beyond power and equality to those of ecclesiastical integrity. As important as mutuality is in the kingdom of God, it is quite conceivable to be mutually and equally participating in a failing and misguided enterprise.

This is hard stuff. Another question: could this whole train of thought simply be a ruse on the part of straight, male WASPs like myself (and others who currently have "the upper hand") to pacify the oppressed and keep them under our heel while we hold tight to the reins of authority and prestige? Hellz, yeah! I have no doubt that this line of reasoning has been and will be used in that fashion. Maybe that's what I'm doing right now. Be vigilant.

Here's another question: Does an end to authority and prestige mean an end to leadership? I don't think so, but the question is begged: what would leadership look like in a world like this? Good question.

This leads to another important question: what consequences would this have for the shape and organization of communities and churches? Would they necessarily be small? Would the joining together of Christians communities necessarily be done through peer networks, not hierarchies?

Would this mean giving up some of the benefits that come with the existing authority-and-prestige-based systems? Salaries? Pensions? Book contracts? Would it be possible to opt out of the quest for power and fame, and still make (at least part of) a living from church-related work? (I think so, but these are hard questions.)

I'm certainly not saying that this is the only faithful path to pursue within God's Church. But I am saying that I think it's one faithful path, and it's one for which I have great hope in this postmodern, post-Christendom, post-authoritatian age that we might be entering.

Perhaps the issue is not that everyone can't be The Man. Perhaps it's that we don't need The Man in the first place. Maybe we should just wish him well and go follow Jesus.

13 December 2007

Wisdom on giving. Really.

UPDATE: In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably note that my Beloved Employer ran a prominent article last week about how "alternative gift giving" wrecks family harmony. But, IMHO, it's a lot more balanced than the MSN article that we savage below. :-)


OK, I should warn you that this article contains naughty language, and so does this blog post. But if you're man enough or woman enough, please read the article. It is wise and true.

Cussing aside, some would find the ideas espoused far more offensive than the words chosen. But I just wanted to say, I agree with every word of it. (Except calling the stupid bitch on MSN a fat cow. That's not nice.)

As a culture, we have so thoroughly perverted what "giving" is supposed to mean that I'm afraid we need a bit of a detox. Christmas is about giving - this is true. It's celebrating the birth of the one who gave everything to be present to us, and to save us from ourselves. It's about giving (as Jesus did) our presence, our love, our healing, our reconciliation, and our good news. "Giving" is about presence. Not presents.

Good stuff, P3T3.

09 December 2007


Tina and I have been re-watching some of the Alien movies. I thought I'd share some brief reviews for your edification.

Alien - Classic. Scary. Genre-defining.

Aliens - Possibly the most overrated sci-fi movie of all time; definitely the most overrated Alien movie. I can barely stand to watch this flick. Bill Paxton and Paul Reiser's characters annoy the living piss out of me. The thing looks ridiculously dated with its '80's fashion and big hair. The acting is abyssmal, and the tension is nill because you don't give a crap about any of the characters, with the exception of the little girl (cheap ploy), Ripley (whom you only care about because she was a badass in the previous flick), and the android, Bishop, who is this movie's one positive contribution to the franchise. OK - and I'll admit it's cool to see Ripley in the robotic exoskeleton taking on the alien queen.

Alien3 (aka Alienses) - The most underrated movie in the franchise. I like this one almost as much as the original. Tense writing, interesting characters, really impressive acting, and a willingness to buck Hollywood convention and expectations (in other words, it does things you don't expect - imagine that!)

Alien Resurrection (aka Alienseses) - Oh, Joss. Joss, Joss, Joss. It's hard to believe that this thing was written by my beloved Buffy creator. I'm pretty sure it was studio-ruined like the original BtVS movie, but still. It ends up being one of those guilty pleasure movies that's fun, but by no stretch of the imagination good.

Alien vs. Predator - This was a movie based on a comic book that looks like a video game. There've been a lot of movies like that in recent years. It's another guilty pleasure movie. It's fun. It's got some great moments. It's got Lance Henriksen. They're making a sequel. They seem to be really proud of the fact that there's a lot of rain in the sequel. I'm guessing it'll suck. But who knows?

There you have it. If you want to borrow the DVD's, let me know.

04 December 2007

Shopping is demonic

Tina and I went shopping on Sunday. Both of us were kind of wishing we'd scheduled some painful dental work, instead.

I was thinking, as we slogged somewhat desperately through several different stores - looking for a small list of items, among a reasonable-sized crowd of friendly fellow-shoppers and clerks; this could have been worse! Anyway, I was thinking:

Shopping is evil. It's demonic. Here's why: If you're someone who likes shopping, then you'll spend lots of money because you enjoy doing so. And if you're someone (like Tina and me) who puts it only slightly this side of waterboarding on a scale of fun activities? You'll buy whatever it takes to make the job go away. Either way, they getcha. It's insidious. You've made a deal with a devil the moment you walk through that automatic sliding glass door into that brightly-lit shrine of consumption.

I'm with Rev. Billy.

P.S., Grocery shopping is exempted, mostly, from this diatribe. I like food.

02 December 2007


Hey. It's Advent. I'm waiting. Waiting for some grace, and blessing, and glimpses of the kingdom. I'm waiting expectantly, and hopefully. I think some good stuff is coming soon.

Want to wait with me? I'll make some hot chocolate. With marshmallows.

Let's see what God has in store.