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Stirring the Imagination

by Roberto Rivera 07-01-2002
"The Human Right Painting Project," sponsored by Amnesty International U.S.A.

My son hates social studies. No matter how much I drill him on the subject, he could care less about James Madison, the Bill of Rights, the abolitionist movement, or even more-contemporary figures like Arthur Ashe. This is more than unfortunate; it's a problem.

That's because he's a fourth grader attending public school in the Commonwealth of Virginia. And at the end of the school year, he and every other fourth grader in Virginia is going to be tested on the subject, with an emphasis on the history of the Old Dominion.

The problem isn't the subject matter; it's the way that it's presented. There's little or no attempt to engage his imagination. Facts alone don't begin to tell the story of why these figures are important and why we should know who they are, much less admire them. I also know that this disconnect between history and the imagination is far from universal. His cousins, who are the same age, don't have this problem. They live in Mexico City, a place where art and history seem inseparable. Because they can see and even touch the history of the place they call home, they are more apt to want to read about it.

It's also true for me. I remember when I first saw a reproduction of Diego Rivera's (no relation) painting of Emiliano Zapata, the leader of peasant and indigenous forces during the Mexican Revolution. Rivera's painting, which conveys both Zapata's peasant origins and his nobility, made me want to learn more about the revolutionary leader and the times that produced him. It grabbed my imagination and the rest of me soon followed, so much so that a reproduction of the work hangs in my home.

What the Church Can Learn From Hobbits

by Roberto Rivera 03-01-2002
The theology of the Rings

"Praise the Lord!" read the headline in the Dec. 21, 2001 Washington Post. No, the Post hadn't gotten religion. The headline was summing up reviewer Desson Howe's response to Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

Howe wasn't alone in his enthusiasm. Jackson's opus received virtually unanimous praise. Many reviewers had Rings near or at the top of their "Best of the Year" lists, and the film is being mentioned as a serious Oscar contender.

Financially, the film is also an unqualified success. It grossed $74 million in its first five days, and it's possible that New Line Cinema, which spent nearly $300 million making the three films, will recoup its investment with the first film alone. It appears that Rings may join the book in achieving the status of cultural phenomenon. The question is: What can the church learn from hobbits?

The question is pertinent because, unlike nearly every other mass culture icon, Lord of the Rings is the product of an unmistakably Christian set of sensibilities. Its defining characteristics—the ideals that shaped the narrative, even the author's sense of what he was doing as he wrote—come straight out of Christianity.