Saturday, September 19, 2009

Film, Religion and Dogma

When considering whether film is truly a religion, it seems appropriate to begin by defining religion itself. If one simply consults a standard dictionary, religion can be defined as “the service and worship of God or the supernatural.”[1] While workable, this explanation is rather limited. In Religion as Faith, John C. Lyden discusses the historical attempts to define religion including Friedrich Schleiermacher’s that religion is “’the feeling of absolute dependence’ on that which the Christian calls God so that ‘to feel oneself absolutely dependent and to be conscious of being in relationship with God are one and the same thing.’”[2] Lyden goes on to detail Rudolph Otto’s assertion that “religion is the feeling that arises when we encounter the ‘holy’ or ‘numinous,’ that which transcends us so totally that it inspires a mixture of fascination and fear.”[3]

These definitions which stem from nineteenth and twentieth century theology influenced scholars such as Mircea Eliade who “defined religion by its relation to ‘the sacred’ in distinction from ‘the profane’.” Perhaps the most influential modern definition came from Paul Tillich who “defined religion as ‘ultimate concern,’ meaning that each of us has something that receives our highest devotion and from which we expect fulfillment. It demands the total surrender of all other concerns to it as the primary concern of our being.”[4] Furthermore, Tillich felt that when we give our devotion to that which is nonultimate, finite or nontranscendent, we will become disappointed.

In considering film as a religion, Lyden seems unconcerned with the numinous or sacred as a part of his definition. Although I understand the merit of approaching the discussion of film and faith as an interreligious dialog, I find Lyden’s definition to be lacking some of the strength of Schleiermacher and Tillich. The idea that we are drawn to devote ourselves to that which is of ultimate concern resonates very deeply in me. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."[5] In my experience, when we yoke ourselves to the nonultimate we are sorely disappointed. If one accepts the notion of film as religion, I am convinced that this particular religion will not give us the peace and joy that comes from faith in Jesus Christ.

In contrast to Lyden’s proposition of film as religion, in her book, Seeing is Believing, Margaret Miles states that “what films do best… is to articulate the anxieties of a changing society. In films, the competing issues of society intersect and can be formulated for consideration, for understanding, and for negotiation of meaning.” [6] I find her notion that films “help Americans consider the ancient and perennial question of human life. How should we live?” much more palatable than Lyden’s idea of “film as religion”.

When considering whether I am a greater fan of Miles or Lyden, I felt much more in tune with Miles. As a proof text for this, I offer Kevin Smith’s film “Dogma”. For those who couldn’t tolerate the language or graphic violence, “Dogma” is the story of what happens when two fallen angels are clued into a loophole which will allow them to reenter heaven. Charged with stopping Loki and Bartleby from inadvertently destroying all of creation is Bethany, the last Scion, Jesus’ great-great-great…. grand niece.
When it was released, “Dogma” attracted a lot of negative attention, particularly from the Roman Catholic Church and conservative Christians. I, on the other hand, found it to be incredibly insightful. (And terribly funny!) Writer Kevin Smith, who also plays one of the “prophets” Silent Bob, wrote a screenplay that demonstrates a keen insight into many of the frustrations and confusions that Christians experience. This is not the stuff that one can base a system of faith upon, but it does give us food for thought when considering, how should we live
+ + + +
LIZ: That kills me. You and church. We work in a field that specializes in pissing off the cloth and you add insult to injury by breaking bread with them every week.
BETHANY: I sit there every Sunday and I feel nothing. I can remember sitting in
church when I was a kid and being moved - like everything meant something, like I was important. And the stories of all these holy people were so inspiring. Now I sit there and think about my checking account, and what I'm going to wear to work the next day.[7]
+ + + +
SERENDIPITY: I have issues with anyone who treats faith as a burden instead of a blessing. You people don't celebrate your faith; you mourn it.[8]
+ + + +
SERENDIPITY: When are you people going to learn? It's not about who's right or wrong. No denominations nailed it yet, and they never will because they're all too self-righteous to realize that it doesn't matter what you have faith in, just that you have faith. Your hearts are in the right place, but your brains need to wake up.[9]
+ + + +
BETHANY: You're saying that having beliefs is a bad thing?
RUFUS: I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier.[10]

[1] Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Http:// Accessed September 17, 2009.
[2] John C. Lyden, Film as Religion, (New York: New York University Press, 2003). p.37
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid, p. 38
[5] Matthew 11:28-30
[6] Margaret R. Miles, Seeing is Believing, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996) p. 193
[7] Dogma, Director and Writer: Kevin Smith, Performers: Linda Fiorentino, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Jason Lee. View Askew Productions, 1999.
[8] Ibid
[9] Ibid
[10] Ibid

Monday, May 25, 2009

Remembering Grandpa Olsen

I received this as an email from my uncle, Rev. Will Olsen. (He's the young man in the suit. My mother is the eldest girl.) It is a reflection on my grandfather and his family. A wonderful gift of memories on this Memorial Day.

As I drove into Rapid City on an errand today, PBS was on the car radio. They were reading a large quantity of e-mail messages for Memorial Day. Most of them began with something like, “I want to honor [or remember] my Father, Brother, Uncle, etc., etc. for his service during ________ [fill in the war].
I began to think about a man who would not make that program. He never served a day in any of the Armed Forces or fought in any of our wars. Not that he did not try. Before WW2 began, Stan Olsen had tried to get into a couple of the Depression created government programs and was turned down. As the war clouds loomed every closer and every adult male was required to register for the draft, he complied with the order. The US Government, in the person of his local Draft Board, declared Stan Olsen to be deferred from the draft because of his critical job. Telegraphers were in short supply. There weren’t enough to go around and they were badly needed on the home front to keep the trains moving.

After we moved to Watertown, he helped insure that the grain products and meat products moved smoothly from processor to user. There was an Army Air Corps station at the airport. Food and fuel, supplies and men all came to town by rail and he helped insure their safe and timely delivery to that important installation.

I remember how impressed I was with his importance when Dad was told by the Depot Agent and the Division’s Dispatcher [or Roadmaster or someone] that he had to get a phone installed at home so he could be called to work at any hour of the day. When Mom or Dad applied to Bell [the only game in town at that time], they were almost laughed at. “There’s a war on, you know,” was the response their request received. Dad reported his lack of success to the Huron office. Apparently they made the call to the phone company. Within the week, a man was at the house, asking Mom where she wanted the phone put. Dad wanted a wall phone so none of us could talk and sit at the same time. He reminded us that the phone was for emergencies, not for our pleasure. Oh, yes, on top of it all, we had a one-party line. No one would rubber-neck on railroad business or learn about the time of troop trains off that phone.

So, Dad did not go to war, but we saved scrap iron, bacon grease and who knows what all. Dad could have had a business allowance for gas at one time. He elected to pass it up as he felt with careful use of the car we could get by with just an “A” sticker in the windshield. The whole family was enlisted to be faithful citizens in all we did, including the huge garden that he convinced his wife that she should preserve.

So, I believe it is fair to honor and remember a loyal citizen who was told to stay home and do his job well. It would be the best way he could serve and win the war. This does not mean that he did not recognize the value and honor of military service. Both of his sons enlisted in time to serve in the Korean War. Two sons-in-law have worn uniforms. By my count, half his grandsons [Dennis and Per] have served honorably. In the next generation, Dennis and Adam are the only two I know have answered the call to service. It’s a bit interesting that with all the girls in the family, I don’t know of any that have “joined up” [as they used to say].

So, as you reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day, I hope you can look back with renewed appreciation for those that did not earn medals and battle stars, but made it possible for those that did to win. As a final word, I would invite you to save and/or share this with your kids and grandkids. Print it and save it somewhere for their scrap books about this ancestor who advance the cause of freedom by staying out of the fight, but giving all he could.

Peace be with you!

Memorial day memories

When I was growing up, my parents decided that we should all wear POW-MIA bracelets in support of those who were captured during the Viet Nam War. My two sisters and I were in grade school. I must have been about ten when I received my bracelet. I wore it every day and night. The metal plating wore off the inside of the bracelet after a few years. I remember coating the inside of it with maroon fingernail polish so that it wouldn't turn my wrist green.

I wore the bracelet beyond the end of the war and the return of the prisoners. My bracelet bore the name of Commander James Griffin. He did not return from Viet Nam. His plane was shot down over Hanoi and he was taken prisoner. A few days later he died.

When the bracelet broke in half, I had to stop wearing it. But I remember.

The following comes from a web posting made by his wife.

Commander James Lloyd Griffin

Born in Gates, Tennessee, 27 December 1932,

He attended the University ofTennessee at Martin before entering the U.S. Naval Adacemy. Upon graduation from the academy in 1955 he entered flight training in Pensacola, FL and got his wings in 1956. He attended the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA and received a professional degree in aeronautical engineering from University of Michigan in 1963. He served in VA-83, deploying to the Mediterranean and flying missions in Lebanon in 1958 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex and in 1959-60 aboard USS Forrestal. He joined RVAH-13 in 1964, servinge in Vietnam on two cruises from 1965-1967. In April of 1967 Commander Griffin had completed 100 combat missions; his plane was shot down over Hanoi on May 19, 1967--HoChi Minh's birthday. Commander Griffin's awards included the Distinguished Flying Cross with gold star; the Air Medal with bronze Star (eight awards); the Naval Commendation Medal with gold star and combat distinguishing device; the Navy Achievement Medal; the Purple Heart; Navy Unit Commendation Medal with bronze star; Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross Medal Colorwith Palm); Vietnam Service Medal with three bronze stars; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

On the day of his "shoot-down" a radio broadcast from Hanoi announced that Commander Griffin and his navigator had been captured, and, although gravely injured, he read a statement which was broadcast. A photo of his military ID card was displayed in a museum in Hanoi. He was carried in a "missing inaction" status until January, 1973, when his death on May 21, 1967 was revealed by the North Vietnamese. On January 16, 1974 the Secretary of the Navy verified that Commander Griffin had died while a prisoner of war. A plaque marking the event of his "shoot down" stands on the corner of a building in downtown Hanoi. Survivors include his wife Dora, his son James, and his daughter Glyn Carol Griffin, his parents, two brothers and a sister.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Beginnings and endings

Yesterday was commencement at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. This year's MDiv graduates started their studies the same year I started working at LTSP. It was wonderful to see them complete their degrees, but I will miss them!

Every year at a seminary brings a new group of students. Young ones. Older ones. People with stories and dreams. Wishes and fears. When summer comes the campus gets quiet and I wait for them all to come back in the fall. It is starting to get quieter at school...

Seeing a class from start to finish has been a wonderful thing, but let me say one more time, I will miss them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Perimenopause - the things they didn't tell us in fourth grade

Okay I am now officially complaining! And yes, it's personal! They have all kinds of ads and info and comedy about menopause, but why isn't there more public info about perimenopause? I'll tell you why! It's because it's perhaps a bigger nuisance than when you first started getting your period. So, here's the rant and the 411. The signs of perimenopause include:

  • Hot flashes - they're just what they sound like. And when they happen at night- night sweats. Oh! And they're also a part of menopause. So the fun just continues. Nothing like wondering "What, oh what, should I wear to bed at night? I'm cold. It's winter, but come 3:00am it may feel like I'm sleeping in a sauna!"

  • Breast tenderness - Why does every life transition include this one? Puberty, pregnancy, pms, etc.

  • Worsening of premenstrual syndrome - like the other symptoms weren't enough to make you cranky. Cramps like you had when you were first starting out.

  • Decreased libido - Lots of women in this age group have teenagers... You know, those people who say, "Not my mom and dad!"'

  • Fatigue - see the note on breast tenderness.
  • Irregular periods - this does not necessarily mean less often. It may mean twice as often! How is that fair?

  • Urine leakage - If you didn't learn to cross your legs when you sneezed during pregnancy, now is the time to start!

  • Mood swings - No kidding!

  • Difficulty sleeping - You have cramps, you're cranky, you think you might pee in your pants and you can't regulate your body temperature- yeah, you're going to have trouble sleeping!

Okay, I feel better now. I think I'll go have some chocolate, even though "they" say that I shouldn't!

Monday, April 27, 2009


She took
She found
She entered
She did
She wondered

She bowed
She remembered
She came back
She told
She-Word exercise as described at
Mary Magdalene in Luke's account of the Resurrection.
Artwork from Mozambique.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Soda Chicky is 16!

At about 8:35am this morning, my girl officially turned 16! She is very excited. Not about driving, but about the milepost in her life. Also, very excited to know what her parents got her for a present. And then there's the party on Friday. It's a little different. A 1970 theme party being held in the church hall. (It's a lot bigger than our living room.) We're having fondue, listening to old music, tie dying. It should be very interesting.

Tonight the BugMan is bowling for the opportunity to be the first place team in his league. As a result, he is unable to go out to dinner tonight. The Chick insisted we go out TONIGHT! So we are going along with Pseudo Baby and his mom. Ack! Bug Man is home. Gotta go watch her unwrap the present.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

To grieve or not to grieve

This week the longtime Phillies' announcer Harry Kalas passed away. In part because I've only lived in Philly for 4 years and in part because I haven't been a big fan of the Phillies, I found myself on the outside looking in. I get it, but I don't get it.

It's that way with a lot of things. An event becomes important because you care about the people involved. If you don't know the people, if they haven't been a part of your life, the event becomes less newsworthy in your estimation. I'm not trying to be coldhearted about this whole matter, but it's interesting how I find myself clicking away from the coverage of this whole issue.

My mother threatened to move to Canada if Obama lost the election. I think she was less than serious, but her passion about the issue on election night was electric. Is there something wrong with me that I didn't think about packing up my own bags?

When Princess Diana was killed, I watched the developing news coverage that early morning mostly because I had an awful headache and insomnia. Maybe I am cold hearted. Or maybe it's something else. I suspect it is something else.

And you?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Five: What's Cooking?

This week's Friday Five on the RevGalBlogPals relates to the kitchen. I love kitchens!

1. What is the one appliance you simply couldn't be without? It would have to be the frig. When I was fifteen our family moved cross country and beat the furniture to the new house by a week. We had no frig. So a cooler with ice sat where the frig would one day be plugged in. I missed the frig even then. After all, where else can you keep the ice cream?

2. What if anything would you happily give up? Not much! Love the dishwasher. Love the garbage disposal. The rice cooker is a fave! And although I remember the days before microwaves, it sure makes life easier.

3. What is the most strange household appliance you own? Most strange might be the little electric sauce pot that stirred itself. It was strange but you could make great chili con queso in it. There was some mourning when it died.

4. What is the most luxurious household appliance you own? There are not a lot of luxurious appliances at our house. My dad however has an electric potato peeler. Does a good job on the veggies and you can't cut yourself with it.

5. Tell us about your dream kitchen- the sky is the limit here.... Well, it's in a house we own, not rent. And it's big! It has a gas stove that self cleans. It does not allow the smell of fried onions to permeate into the rest of the house. You can sit down and hang out in the dream kitchen. It has two dishwashers, a huge freezer, and a maid to clean up when I'm done cooking!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What's happening now?

Once again, it has been a long while since my last blog entry. I think Facebook is responsible for much this state of affairs. Another reason is that life has been complicated. For four years I served as the Manager of the Augsburg Fortress store in Philadelphia. It has been a wonderful calling. Almost hard to describe. In November, AF announced that it would be closing its stores. For several weeks I was unsure of where I would be going next. I wasn't ready to leave the seminary community that I have come to love, but what did God have planned? I am glad to say that the Lutheran Theological Seminary has invited me to stay on as the manager of their new campus bookstore. The process has often brought up the question, "How hard to I want to work for the next year?"

This week my friend Wil Gafney, Hebrew and OT prof at LTSP is off to the RevGalBlogPals' BE 2.0. I had so hoped to be along for the ride, but the changes at work have kept me here. I do hope she is enjoying her adventure. In the meantime, I have to settle for looking at pictures and getting greetings via Wil's Iphone.