I didn’t see the film Malcolm X in theaters. I waited to see it on video. Big mistake.
I watched it in my home, just off campus from University of Southern California, late at night when everyone else was sleeping. Another big mistake.
At the time I was living in a house with one other black person and a bunch of white and Asian friends. I was attending a mostly white school and a mostly white church and had attended a mostly white institute for urban transformation that was borne out of my church. Ironically, it was there that I was required to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. But I never read the whole thing, only sections.
So, I sat in the dark living room, lit only by the television screen, and watched Denzel Washington bring Malcolm X to life … by myself. And there, in the dark, Malcolm’s words about Jesus hit me to the core.
What do you want to pass on to your grandchildren? What will you give to future generations?
There’s a special spot on my shelf for books my grandparents handed down to me over the years. I cherish the collection of love poetry my grandfather gave my grandmother for a wedding anniversary decades ago. I treasure my grandfather’s old prayer book and hymnal. Depending on your family history, most of us will have at least a few old treasures from generations before.
Some things pass from one generation to another with special care—a family wedding ring, a chess set from the home country, old pictures. Other items, however, pass with less care and planning. My wife, for instance, has her grandmother’s old cookie jar. It’s made of cheap, simple glass and is completely unremarkable except for the memories of cookies eaten at grandma’s house it evokes.
Families aren’t the only ones thinking of passing things along. Politicians, skilled at tugging heartstrings, speak often of “future generations.”
Where does the violence end? And how did it begin?
In such a moment, we imagine ISIS as “different” from ourselves, a whole distinct category of the species homo sapiens. We did the same with Nazis back in the day, as if genocide’s engineers had not been the brothers and sisters of our own immigrant citizens, as if they were not the grandparents of the amiable Germans and Poles we befriend today. We forget, by the way, our own history of torturing — often burning alive — our own African American citizens, grandchildren of those this nation had enslaved. Our own president condemned ISIS and its grotesque ways, and he also reminded us that the potential for such violence dwells within every society. Naturally his opponents went nuts: they are nothing like weare, they cried.
But we are like they are, and they are like we are. Violence breaks us down.
A theology of labor involves Genesis 2:15 – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
Labor is fundamentally a good thing and a theology of labor includes responsible stewardship of the earth’s resources. The first chapter of Genesis is obsessed with telling us that the world is good. As such, God calls us to labor for it, to responsibly keep and care for it.
Of course, labor often involves hard, back breaking work that doesn’t always feel good. Genesis 3 puts forth an explanation that God cursed the earth because of human sin, making labor much more difficult. Whatever we think about that explanation, the Bible is much more interested in a different curse when it comes to labor — how we humans curse one another.
Like everything in this good world, the goodness of labor can be exploited. The prime biblical example of this comes from Exodus, which describes how the Hebrews were exploited as slaves in Egypt.
They were forced to labor.
St. Bonaventure (d. 1274) once said, “Whoever is not enlightened by the splendor of created things is blind; whoever is not aroused by the sound of their voice is deaf; whoever does not praise God for all these creatures is mute; whoever after so much evidence does not recognize the Maker of all things, is an idiot.”
If Bonaventure was right, then we’re all idiots.
The first time I travelled to Rome was an experience second to none. Never, in my young travels, had I ventured to a place so layered with history and significance around every corner that one literally couldn’t escape it. Even the Roman suburbs were historical. We were amped to see it all. Our approach was simple: we would incrementally make our way through the city over the course of 10 days with a plan that would make any explorer proud.
The sheer magnitude of historical and ecclesiastical sites to be seen in the city was overwhelming at best. Then it happened. I had a unique moment near the end of the trip. We’d been walking nonstop through museums, ruins, churches; we’d even heard the pope preach a sermon, when I started to lose my attention. Many travelers or art buffs will resonate with this — there came a point during our endless walk through Rome where I had seen so much beauty and splendor and history that I just started taking it all for granted. The last two days consisted of me walking around blindly and numbly, room-to-room, ruin-to-ruin, as though what I stood before was of little or no value.
I called it “beauty exhaustion.”
Biblical themes have been used throughout history to share the universal struggle of humanity; temptation, rebellion, coming of age, the degradation of the moral compass, courage in the face of humanity, and of course, faith.
William Shakespeare uses biblical elements in his plays. We witness in his writings themes highlighted in David's narrative, Adam and Eve's story, and Cain and Abel's tragedy. These stories are central to the Western canon. We cannot get away from these themes and stories, for they rest in the consciousness of our culture.
The film Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky, is a daring, powerful, and imaginative retelling of the Noah story. Aronofsky takes the central elements of the biblical narrative and expands the story, as artists are called to do, to allow the audience to witness, not a historical world, but a metaphorical universe where the choices of humanity disrupt the sacred divine rhythm of creation.
I’ll begin by cutting to the chase: Forget most of what you’ve read about Darren Aronofsky’s new film, Noah. It opens Friday. Go see it and decide for yourself.
Having said that, in my opinion Aronofksy’s Noah is a beautiful, powerful, difficult film worthy of the “epic” label. A vivid, visually spectacular reimagining of an ancient story held as sacred by all three Abrahamic religious traditions, it also is the most spiritually nuanced, exquisitely articulated exploration of the ideas of justice and mercy I’ve ever seen on a movie screen.
And despite what you may have heard elsewhere, Noah is deeply, passionately biblical.
Last Sunday in Los Angeles, Cathleen Falsani sat down with Ari Handel, a screenwriter and frequent collaborator with Noah director Darren Aronofsky, with whom he co-wrote the film and the graphic novel, Noah, upon which it was based, to discuss some of the extra-biblical elements of the $150 million movie.
Longtime friends Handel and Aronofsky were suitemates at Harvard University. Before becoming a screenwriter and film producer, Handel was a neuroscientist. He holds a PhD in neurobiology from New York University. He was a producer on Aronofsky’s films Black Swan, The Wrestler, and The Fountain (which he co-wrote with Aronofsky), and had a small role as a Kabbalah scholar in the director’s debut film, 1998’s Pi.
Editor’s Note: The following Q&A contains some spoilers about the film. It has been edited for length.
Last fall, on a Sunday afternoon, as I walked out of the church, a young man tugged on my Franciscan habit. It was Miguel, a member of our Latino choir.
“Father,” he said, “please, pray for the people of my home parish back in El Salvador, especially for one of the priests who has received death threats.”
Startled, I asked: “What is happening there?"
“These priests are organizing against the multinational companies,” he said. “The companies are looking for gold. What will be left for our people? Only poisoned water, a wasteland, and death.”
A few weeks later, I had another similar conversation with a group from Guatemala. Theirs was a similar tale of how indigenous communities were being threatened by mining projects.
As a Catholic and a member of the Franciscan Order, I believe that we are called to “read the signs of the times” and to listen to the cry of the poor and the “groaning” of God’s Creation.
Is Eve all about sex? Or might she want something else? Our popular imagination turns Eve into a receptacle for one set of our fantasies. Our fixation on Eve’s sexuality causes us to overlook the story’s major themes and what they might mean for our common life together. Indeed, biblical scholar Ken Stone shows that Genesis 2-3 has a lot more to say about food than it does about sex. Even if becoming “one flesh” is about sex, and maybe it’s not, there’s all kinds of references in the passage about what the first humans may or may not eat.
The story tells us directly what Eve wants. She doesn’t want to tempt Adam. And she doesn’t want a snake curling suggestively around her body. Eve wants wisdom.
And she gains wisdom.
Let’s review some of the overlooked details in this story.
Recently, I presented this piece at the Christianity 21 Conference in Denver, and then at South Broadway Christian Church later that same week, also in Denver. I’ve been asked by several in attendance to post what I offered, so here’s the text below. The talk was accompanied by a slide show that depicted a combination of Hubble telescope images, electron microscope images and artists/musicians. I considered making that into a video, with me narrating the text underneath, but it takes a lot of time. So let me know if this is something you have particular interest in and I’ll try to make it happen.
In the Beginning
Art Saves lives because art is at the source of all life.
It is the taproot to the dormant breath of God,
Dwelling within all of creation, waiting for invitation.
What we think of today as art is not art.
It has become another product to be consumed,
Rather than a phenomenon to be engaged,
And experience to we have to submit ourselves to,
Allow ourselves to be changed,
And in doing so, catch a fleeting glimpse of
The author, the wellspring,
The essence of what it means to be a soul draped in skin and bone.
[Poem continues after the jump.]
When you hear about stewardship in church, you probably think of your checkbook. Stewardship is the term we use to talk about financially supporting our churches and organizations. But another holy use of the word involves being stewards of creation.
When I hear the word stewardship, I feel the crunch of snow and branches under my feet. I see the trees and paths of the woods owned by my parents’ best friends, where I spent much of my childhood hiking, hunting, skiing, picking apples, and feeding chickadees out of the palm of my hand. It’s one of the places where I gradually heard my calling to work for the care of creation. And the word stewardship transports me to a specific day in my childhood, walking in the woods with my dad’s best friend, Leo, when he pointed to a tree and said he would have to take it down.
How could he kill a tree? I hassled him; I got indignant. I said that nature should be left alone to do her thing. But Leo explained that I was wrong — he managed the land. It wouldn’t be just fine on its own; rather, it needed his careful eye to manage the trails, cut down sick trees, and hunt deer.
Sojourners campaigns assistant Anna Hall posted a great piece last week de-bunking 5 myths about the minimum wage. One of these myths — that most minimum wage workers are suburban teenagers — was countered by the facts: nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are adult women.
Don’t think of a suburban teenager — think of a single mother working full time while trying to raise her children, care for her family, and make enough to pay rent, probably without any paid sick or personal days (not to mention maternity leave). Could you do that on $15,000 a year?
On Jan. 13, Maria Shriver – who, in addition to her many accomplishments, is the daughter of the statesman widely regarded as the architect of the “War on Poverty” — released a report focusing on the needs of women in the current economy.
What would the world be like if we were all more alike?
This isn’t just a philosophical question. In many ways, we live as though we wished others were more like us. We spend time with those who are similar to us and avoid those who seem to be different. We enjoy being around those who share our viewpoint and avoid those who challenge it. We accept the parts of others that make us comfortable and ignore or reject the rest.
But what about our diversity? Do we embrace it, or do we merely tolerate it?
Over time, I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of our differentness. I’ve gotten to the point where I think of this incredible diversity — within our universe, within our human family — as one of our greatest blessings.
It's odd that Christians — people who claim to believe that God created the earth, sustains it day by day, and intends to create a new earth — are often so mixed up about sex and food. How long would the earth's inhabitants last without coupling and eating?
And yet most Christian writers right up to the 16th century praised celibacy, sexless marriages, and arduous fasting. Bless Martin Luther for loving his wife (and the beer she brewed), but lots of us still seem to think that good sex and good food — if not actually sinful — are at least pretty low on the religious values hierarchy.
Has it escaped our attention that, according to our most sacred literature, God made a naked male and a naked female, put them in the midst of grain fields and orchards, and told them to multiply?
Two things are clear in both creation stories: 1) both men and women are created to exercise equal dominion, and 2) according to Genesis 1:31, this relationship between men and women was “very good.” This is what right relationship between men and women looks like. It is only after the fall of humanity — when we decided not to trust God’s ways, when we decided to grab at our own way to peace and gratification — that women were subjected to men. And I see nothing in the text that says this is the way God wanted it. Rather, I see this is the natural result of choosing to exercise a human kind of dominion rather than one that reflects the image of God. Humanity grabs at its own peace at the expense of the peace of all.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God …” (Romans 8:18-19)
And who are God’s children in the immediate context? Paul explains the “children of God” are those whose spirits cry “father” when referring to God. “For,” according to Paul, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14) If this is true, then why is creation longing for the children of God (those led by God’s Spirit) to be revealed?
In Genesis 1, the author writes, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” The Hebrew words for “very good” are mehode tobe. Mehode means “forcefully” and in the Hebrew context tobedoes not necessarily refer to the object itself. Rather it refers to the ties between things. So, when God looked around at the end of the sixth day and said, “This is very good,” God was saying the relationships between all parts of creation were “forcefully good.” The relationship between humanity and God, men and women, within families, between us and the systems that govern us, and the relationship between humanity and the rest of creation — the land, the sea, and sky and all the animals and vegetation God created to dwell in those domains—all of these relationships were forcefully good!
A wealthy Dutchman builds a replica of Noah’s Ark, following the measurements outlined in the book of Genesis.
Johan Huibers, who lives in the Dutch town Dordrecht recently opened a public “Bible museum,” inside his 300-cubit wooden vessel. The massive boat, known as “Johan’s Ark,” not only includes life-size plastic animals, but also a theater, restaurant, sleeping quarters, and conference facilities large enough to seat 1,500 guests.
He tells CNN that inspiration for the project came in 1992, after the low-lying Netherlands were flooded by the North Sea. "The next day I bought a book about Noah's Ark. That night while sitting on the couch with my kids, I looked at it and said: 'It's what we're going to do,'" reports CNN.
“I wore chains just like these for over six years, a burden too great to bear for many like me, who stood ready to do violence in the name of the American people and way of life. In Genesis, Cain was the first person to have killed another human being, and we’ve been doing it ever since. As punishment, Cain was sentenced to a life of wandering, a burden he claimed was too great to bear.
"After the towers fell a decade ago, I reenlisted and was deployed overseas with an infantry platoon for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. Wandering the Mesopotamian wilderness like Cain before me, I saw things nobody should ever have to see. My heart hardened in the desert heat like the mud bricks I watched cure in the Iraqi sun.
"After coming home, I found war had infected my mind. Images and memories from Iraq would haunt my dreams and invade my thoughts. Not too different from the suffering endured by American and Iraqi families who have lost someone to war, I too lost someone on the field of battle – myself. I had sacrificed more than I bargained for, a lifetime of mental health and well-being forever crushed by the heavy yolk I bore as a combat soldier."