Monday, May 28, 2012

Who Should Speak

The suggestion from Derek Webb: "What changes people's minds and changes people's language is relationships. I personally don't think that any Christian who doesn't have a friend -- not just a token friend, but someone they love and care about -- who is gay should speak out about the gay issue. I think that should almost be a requirement to publicly voice your opinion, because I can't tell you how it changes your posture and your language when you're not just talking about a "behavior" or a "faithless" group of people, but a family member or loved one -- someone who, when you're done saying what you're going to say, you'll have to deal with.

"I'm not saying that we should change our positions on things we think are absolutely true, but it should bear some weight on what we say and how we say it. Everything would change if we actually knew each other. That's really what it's going to take."

I don't think Webb means we shouldn't discuss issues we don't have a personal connection with; I think he just means we shouldn't wave our ignorance around for all to see in the public sphere.  We shouldn't go making ultimatums and declamations and speeches when we know not what we do, when we don't really understand the consequences of the stances we are taking.

(Of course, a problem is that it's a short slope from "don't talk about it in public if you're ignorant" to "you can believe whatever you want to believe in private as long as you never tell people in public because that would infringe on their right to believe what they want without being challenged by others who believe differently.") 

"Don't talk about this in public unless you know what you're talking about" might be a good strategy in general for people in our culture.  Our culture encourages us to speak out and let our voices be heard.  It encourages us to say what we feel, to speak before we think.  Sometimes I get headaches that we live in a culture where we're told in many ways that an uninformed and ignorant opinion has just as much weight as a thoughtful, well-supported one.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Blue Like Jazz

I've been seeing some movie adaptations lately and have concluded I enjoy the movie better if I haven't ever read the book.  Part of what led me to this conclusion was seeing Blue Like Jazz.  I went to the movie knowing it was not going to really be what most people traditionally think of when they think of a movie adaptation of a book.  Not only did I have the hints and trailer from Donald Miller's blog, I had his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which tells the story of the creation of the story for the movie that eventually became BLJ (and is generally pretty great), and anyone who reads about how they wrestled with the nonfiction story to craft a fictional story with a more traditional plot had to know the movie would not be the book made into a film.  I would hazard to say that anyone who read the book would know that it wasn't really suitable to be made into a movie as is.

I read reviews that varied really wildly (the kind that make you wonder if they saw the same movie).  They were not bad reviews because they identified exactly what they liked/disliked clearly enough that potential viewers might be able to tell if this movie was something they should see.  I went in really not knowing what to expect.

It wasn't a bad movie.  It was well-produced/filmed.  The music was fitting.  The acting was sometimes uneven, but the cringe-worthy moments were pretty rare.

The big problem for me was not the overall story/character arc in the details of the plot.  I irked myself by being irritated with the plot.  They worked so hard on the thing, and I read about it in A Million Miles, and I guess I expected there wouldn't be any smoking guns/loose ends.  They had to re-make it from scratch, basically, so it wasn't like they had to make agonizing decisions about which plot threads to leave in and which to excise, as is often the case with books adapted into movies.  So why were there still these things included that were not vitally necessary? 

Example: the best friend thread served no real purpose.  There was a great setup, and I kept waiting for the resolution, and they just abandoned it, leaving the gun sitting there, feeling sheepish.  You don't keep stuff like this in your movie if you want it to be really excellent.  Was it Flannery O'Connor who talked about killing the darlings during editing?  Best friend, you had a couple of funny moments in the beginning, but they were not actually vital/related to the real story.  Being crude and funny was not enough to justify your existence.  When you came back later, you were used to show us things the movie had already clearly shown us about the main character, and then you set up something that never panned out.  I hate to say it, but you were redundant and useless.  Best friend, you should have been on the cutting room floor, not because of your acting but because of your lack of relevance to the overall story.  Don and the guys should have known this!

It is, of course, easy to point fingers.  They were not my darlings.  It's a movie that is still worth seeing for reasons similar to reasons why the book is worth reading: these stories start conversations people should be having.  Do I maybe wish for something more like a dramatized documentary based on the book?  Well, yes.  But that's not what they were trying to do, so my expectations on that score are irrelevant.

Does this adaptation succeed in the end?  Well, maybe.  If it managed to somehow rope in a wider audience who had not read the book and made them go out and read the book or have conversations, then it did.  I just don't know if that's what happened.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kind of the last straw . . .

I was helping with a project at my church to make finger puppets for orphans in Eastern Europe.  The group members going told us they'd recently found out that the orphanages they would be visiting will actually have kids up to age 15.  After that they get kicked out into the street to join gangs, end up in prostitution, or maybe get low paying work and live in poverty for the rest of their lives.

(From bits and pieces of other things the trip participants said, it sounds like the churches our group will visit don't actually interact with the orphanages unless American short-term missions trip people are coming.  They know the Americans like this visiting orphans thing, so they do it because we're their guests.  There is no mentorship program, not financial help, no ongoing relationship between the church and the orphanages.) 

The craft was planned before the group knew their audience would be broader than the under 10-ish set.  We made lion finger puppets out of felt because the orphans will be told the story of Daniel in the lion's den.  The storyteller will end the story by saying, "Whenever you're in trouble, you can call out to God, and He will rescue you!"

I was stunned.  I was not sure whether I wanted to weep or leave.  The audacity of relatively rich foreigners traveling to another country to wave their ignorance around while telling that untrue platitude to kids--especially girls who will likely grow up to be raped or sell themselves to strangers or gang members to survive--makes me rage.  These kids have it hard enough.  Why lie about this?  Maybe the kids old enough to know what their futures likely hold won't care; maybe they're already too cynical to buy this falseness; maybe the little ones will forget by the time reality smacks them hard.  (How sad that I'm actually praying for that.)

What we should be saying to these kids is the real, true good news of the gospel, things like "you are never alone (God is with you)" and "you are loved (God suffered and died for you)" and "this broken world is not all there is for you (God offers hope and redemption and grace)."  The church should be working with them on an ongoing basis, showing them the truth and love of God.

I have decided to go visit a church that I've heard is good at being a family and serving others even if it's a bit mushy on doctrine.  If they're living out the faith in service to Christ and others, I can probably stomach some mushy doctrine.  This last episode at my church makes my stomach hurt bitterly enough that mush sounds almost tasty.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I guess it's more like this

I wanted to teach college since high school.  It was a sort of public dream.  I also had a dream to study abroad at Oxford, but I didn't even know it until the opportunity presented itself.  So maybe I should be out looking for opportunities in case there are other hidden dreams I won't know about until I go out and find them.