Sunday’s Best: Pokemon Go Does the Foxtrot

Today’s FoxTrot by Bill Amend is all about the current events.

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When the Town Doesn’t Hit Back (My Brave Face)

Some time ago, one of my favorite musicians “kickstarted” a multi-ep project.  If the campaign went beyond budget expectations, Andrew Osenga promised an ep of covers voted on by his supporters.  That ep “dropped” this week and included a song that has always kind of been on the periphery for me (as has most of Paul McCartney’s music post-Beatles).  He did a great cover of this song:

Russ Ramsey recently interview Osenga about his take on the song, which is based on a rough cut by McCartney and Elvis Costello.  It’s a nice interview punctuated with links to that rough cut along with the Osenga’s version embedded at article’s end.  You can read and listen here.

It’s the Second Sentence That Gets You

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Praying, Sleeping, and Dreaming

alarm clockThomas Merton begins No Man is an Island with the intent of helping the reader understand how best we can love ourselves, one another, and God well.  Then, from such a straightforward beginning, he takes a more circuitous route, tracing through hard truths about friendship and asceticism and hope.  In the third chapter of the book, Merton tackles the practice of prayer, asserting from the beginning that

As a man is, so he prays.  We make ourselves what we are by the way we address God.  The man who never prays is one who has tried to run away from himself because he has run away from God.  But unreal though he be, he is more real than the man who prays to God with a false and lying heart.

And so while the route seems circuitous, there is also a strong sense of the route being most fortuitous, as Merton reframes some of the simple truths of the Christian life in a way that builds a better argument.

All true prayer somehow confesses our absolute dependence on the Lord of life and death.  It is, therefore, a deep and vital contact with Him Whom we know not only as Lord but as Father.  It is when we pray truly that we really are.  Our being is brought to a high perfection by this, which is one of its most perfect activities.  When we cease to pray, we tend to fall back into nothingness.  True, we continue to exist.  But since the main reason for our existence is the knowledge and love of God, when our conscious contact with Him is severed, we sleep or we die.  Of course, we cannot always, or even often, remain clearly conscious of Him.  Spiritual wakefulness demands only the habitual awareness of Him which surrounds all our actions in a spiritual atmosphere without formally striking our attention except at certain moments of keener perception.  But if God leaves us so completely that we are no longer disposed to think of Him with love, then we are spiritually dead.

One of the most significant things I have read from Eugene Peterson was the simple assertion that his first and most important task as a pastor was to teach people how to pray.  That really is at the center of the “abiding reality” Jesus spoke of in John’s Gospel.  Note the idea of “spiritual wakefulness” demanding “habitual awareness,” which means such an approach can be learned.  The picture of spiritual death is a pivot to a powerful paragraph.

Most of the world is either asleep or dead.  The religious people are, for the most part, asleep.  The irreligious are dead.  Those who are asleep are divided into two classes, like the Virgins in the parable, waiting for the Bridegroom’s coming.  The wise have oil in their lamps.  That is to say they are detached from themselves and from the cares of the world, and they are full of charity.  They are indeed waiting for the Bridegroom, and they desire nothing else but His coming, even though they fall asleep while waiting for Him to appear.  But the others are not only asleep: they are full of other dreams and other desires.  Their lamps are empty because they have burned themselves out in the wisdom of the flesh and in their own vanity.  When He comes, it is too late for them to buy oil.  They light their lamps only after He is gone.  So they fall asleep again, with useless lamps, and when they wake up they trim to investigate, once again, the matters of a dying world.

It is not enough that we are asleep, Merton suggests.  As sleepers, we “are full of dreams and other desires.”  On a deep level we are distracted and distant.  Help us, Lord, to wake up.

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Curiosity and Commitment

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Asceticism and Hope

andy and redOne of the many great moments in Shawshank Redemption that sticks with you long after that wonderful final shot closes is Andy’s take on hope:

Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

Andy Dufresne has a particular hope, of course, one that involves freedom and rest.  And his hope is what helps him survive in a situation that was on many levels beyond his control.

In No Man is an Island, Merton speaks of hope and a different kind of situation for those trying to understand his place in a particularly Christian culture (which we should, of course, call church).  The situation is asceticism, which is a word you don’t often hear in Christian circles.  We often have a strange relationship with “the things of this world,” whether they are things created or manufactured.  Mix in an awkward theology of “blessing,” and you almost end up with no need to rethink “the things of this world.”

Hope is the living heart of asceticism.  It teaches us to deny our ourselves and leave the world not because either we or the world are evil, but because unless a supernatural hope raises us above the things of time we are in no condition to make a perfect use either of our own or of the world’s true goodness.  But we possess ourselves and all things in hope, for in hope we have them not as they are in themselves but as they are in Christ: full of promise.  All things are at once good and imperfect.  The goodness bears witness to the goodness of God.  But the imperfection of all things reminds us to leave them in order to live in hope.  They are themselves insufficient.  We must go beyond them to Him in Whom they have their true being.

We cannot often hope because we are too busy reshaping the world around us as a form of induced forgetfulness about the bigger and broader picture.  To chose a path of asceticism, much like both Jesus and Paul, requires some of “engine” for living.  That engine is hope.

We leave the good things of this world not because they are not good, but because they are only good for us insofar as they form part of a promise.  They, in turn, depend on our hope and on our detachment for their fulfillment of their own destiny.  If we misuse them, we ruin ourselves together with them.  If we use them as children of God’s promises, we bring them, together with ourselves, to God.

Leaving good things is no easy task.  And yet leaving them behind is a way of putting things in their place, too.  Like Michael Card once sang, ” we can’t imagine the freedom we find in the things we leave behind.”

Upon our hope, therefore, depends the liberty of the whole universe.  Because our hope is the pledge of a new heaven and a new earth, in which all things will be what they were mean to be.  They will rise, together with us, in Christ.  The beasts and the trees will one day share with us a new creation and we will see them as God sees them and know that they are very good.

Meanwhile, if we embrace them for themselves, we discover both them and ourselves as evil.  This is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—disgust with the things we have misused and hatred for ourselves for misusing them.

But the goodness of creation enters into the framework of holy hope.  All created things proclaim God’s fidelity to His promises, and urge us, for our sake and for their own, to deny ourselves and to live in hope and to look for the judgment and the general resurrection.

An asceticism that is not entirely suspended from this divine promise is something less than Christian.

The question all of this begs in light of Merton’s subject in No Man is an Island is how this relates to people.  Is there a way of practicing an asceticism of relationships?  That doesn’t sound very appealing.  And yet if there is one category of “thing” that we treat like objects, that category is people.

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Time Strikes Back

We’re just over a month away from the return of The Flash on the CW.  The kind folks in charge have released a quick trailer for the season premiere.  We’re smack-dab in the middle of a major time paradox.  Check it out.

For These Days

Spectacle and Arrival

A recent article at The Ringer pointed out that one of the reasons movies like the recent Ben-Hur remake has failed is because movies that once had the upper hand on spectacle of epic (biblical) proportions no longer have a corner on the market.  That and such movies often seem to try and NOT be big image movies.  While I’m not totally convinced, it is an interesting thing to reflect on.  Others might cite the failure of Independence Day: Resurgence as a reminder that bigger no longer means better.

Which brings me to the recent trailer for Arrival, an upcoming science fiction story starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner.  It is a visually stunning trailer, mostly because of its sparse approach to spectacle.  I love what they do with the “ships.”  Simple and yet stark against the beautiful landscape.

It will be interesting to see if the movie can transcend our lowered expectations of alien arrival movies.  It’s a story we see retold every few months, it seems.  Based on this trailer, though, I think we can be at least a tad bit hopeful.

Arrival hits theaters November 11th.

Sunday’s Best: The Back-to-School Haircut

This week’s FoxTrot by Bill Amend is a nice twist on something most everyone understands.

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