Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Noah's Art

Noah comes out this weekend. You've probably seen the trailer a few times by now, with Russell Crowe looking pretty studly as he prepares to save humanity once again, this time as a muscle-bound version of an agonized prophet preparing for a flood of biblical proportions.

I think I'll go see it. It looks like it could be a blockbuster, and I could use a night at the movies after 150 days of lousy weather.

I don't know how Noah will be received. It wasn't made by a Christian. It was made by a talented and reportedly atheistic filmmaker named Darren Aronofsky. It seems that Christians as a general audience have one of two responses to any movie which is based on the Bible or a biblical theme. If we feel the filmmaker has taken too many liberties with the story, we'll put on our sentinel faces and sternly warn the masses to stay away because this "isn't what the Bible says." If we like it and deem it "true to the text," we'll buy a block of 300 seats and make it a big church event, followed by a 4-week Bible study using a devotional published by Zondervan (free t-shirt, too!) and an invitation to all our non-believing friends to join us for awkward discussion groups in our living rooms.

I think I know why we do this. For a long time, evangelicals abandoned the arts because they didn't serve our purpose, which is to "get people into heaven." Once we realized that our lack of artistic involvement had made us irrelevant to the people we were trying to reach, we started making "Christian" art to get back in the game, so to speak. This explains things such as Left Behind movies and this music video which defies description: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VPcPCwK_G0.

Anyway, over the years I've developed a theology of art. (I wrote a paper on it in seminary. Yes, I got an A.) I believe that art for art's sake glorifies God. I believe that, as creatures made in the image of our Creator, we were made to create. It's an expression of the imago dei in each of us. Whenever and whatever we create--whether we acknowledge our Creator as we create or just create because we are creative--we are glorifying the Creator who created us. (That, my friends, is one heck of a sentence I just created.) So we glorify God when we spin a pot on the wheel, draw cartoons of talking animals, carve a wooden box to hold our jewelry, write a poem about Kansas in July, or edit a video of our children dancing in puddles. We don't have to write a verse on it or put a cross on it to make it "Christian." The art itself is enough. Theologian Philip Ryken says, "The doctrine of Creation teaches that by God's common grace, the gift of art inevitably declares the praise of its Giver." This is beautiful. This is what it means to be human. This is a gift from God. I can't think of anything on earth which points to God more than people making beautiful things.

So I don't know if Noah will be any good or not. It might be boring, boorish, or even blasphemous. I do know for certain that it's not completely true to the biblical narrative, because that story involved a hundred years of waiting, bark-stripping and beard growing, which sounds about as entertaining as watching Out of Africa, backwards, in French, on my phone. But this time, instead of judging its value based on whether it's "Christian" enough, let's determine if it's well-acted and well-shot, has believable characters and a good score, and gives us something to talk about over dinner. (At least it has Russell Crowe!) And good or bad, let's not start up the Christian bandwagon with an 8-week series' called "Drowning?" or flood the culture with cries of protest. Let's just grab our $5 Milk Duds and $8 Coke, then sit back, enjoy the movie, and remember that we create because he first created us.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Wave

I just walked my dog. It's one of my favorite moments of the day. I've been out of town a lot lately, but Treble has not forgotten me. She came pouncing into my room at 6:45, a happy, expectant grin on her face. By the time I got my shoes on, she could barely contain her delight.

There are lots of things I enjoy about walking my dog. I like being outside early in the morning. I like the exercise. I like the sound of the birds chirping. I like the conversation I have with myself, my dog, and my God.

But my favorite part of the trip around the block is the Poop Wave.

Treble has her favorite drop location -- halfway on the journey -- at the most conspicuous place possible, where three roads meet. I guess she likes to be make a show. You might say she's a party pooper. Anyway, she stops, hunkers down like a football center before the handoff, and with neck out and tongue wagging, leaves her deposit. It only takes a few seconds before I dootifully pick it up with my plastic bags (two for better support). Mission accomplished, we continue on our way with a word of affirmation from me and a grateful grin from her. I hold the leash in one hand, and a bag full of poop in the other.

But it's not over. In fact, next comes my favorite part, probably because I have a strange sense of humor, having spent a lot of time taking middle school boys to camp. One of my neighbors will drive by. Being friendly, he waves. Being friendly, I wave back. Not the leash hand, either. The other hand goes up, from the elbow only, plastic bag steaming in the breeze like a fresh sacrifice offered at the temple. It's a greeting unlike any other, a canine blessing, a celebratory toast. "Carpe Diem, my friend. Today is a gift. Let's squeeze it for all it's worth. May things go smoothly for you. Go! Be warm and well-filled!" I suppose my neighbor was just being nice, but the Poop Wave brings me no small amount of joy.

Well, that's all for today. The bags are in the garbage and Treble is asleep on the floor. I hope you'll excuse me now. I have to go.