Quadrivium

Friday, May 12, 2006

Ready or not…

…I’ve decided to ditch blogger. But no worries. I’ve found a new home here. Stop by—you’ll at least get a cursory explanation as to where I’ve been for the last two weeks.

Quadrivium’s new home:
http://quadrivium.wordpress.com

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Anticipating "Superman Returns"

“They are a great people, Kal-El; they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason, above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.” —Superman: The Movie (1978)

Around the lunch table in grade school as we named our favorite superheroes, I remember naming Superman, and drawing a few stares. I did not then, or now, hold any inhibitions about this—I had the costume for Halloween, watched the movies constantly, and went through four action figures before my mom finally had enough and quit buying them for me.

With June 30th approaching and Superman perched on the doorstep of pop culture once more, my geeky cranium has found it fit to ponder some cultural relevancy issues regarding the Man of Steel.

I know that during my middle school years, choosing Superman as one’s favorite anything seemed decidedly uncool. Spider-Man and the X-Men drew the biggest readership then, and as a young teen, I easily gravitated toward those stories about individuals struggling to find their place in a fearful and threatening world. Superman, meanwhile, endured laborious TV efforts before scoring a modest hit on ABC, which probably did more to contribute to his cultural obscurity than help it (thus was the consensus at the lunch table, that is). However, he still retained his iconic status as America’s superhero.

Around 2001, some interesting things began to take place. In the wake of 9/11, the perception of hero encountered a slight shift, and heroes became ordinary men in dirty coats emblazoned not with an S, but FDNY. Also, the WB released “Smallville” that fall, a take on Superman’s younger years which began to exploit the fallibilities of fitting in and finding one’s place. Incidentally, the first real post 9/11 blockbuster was “Spider-Man,” which explored similar themes to the tune of a $90 million opening. I remember an article then that, in other words, claimed that the webslinger had replaced the Man of Steel as the portrait of heroic Americana.

Now, five years later, Supes sits on the most anticipated film of the summer. Director Bryan Singer, I think, has wisely crafted a storyline that closely resembles Superman’s relevant standing in the eyes of our culture. After a prolonged absence, he returns to a world that has learned to live without him.

I am curious as to how audiences will respond to his return. We commonly find “super” heroes difficult to relate to as they light a much narrower path and follow a higher calling. Such a sentiment is even echoed in “Spider-Man”—with great power comes great responsibility, and so forth. And if we were to listen to the chatter going on at the lunch table these days, we’d likely find those words dipped in various flavors of sarcasm.

Subjecting a thing to humor helps us deal with its implications, especially when we feel we cannot measure up or walk the same path. Thus, the implication of grace takes on even greater importance, knowing that there is one who has walked the path, and that through Him, so can we.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Harry Potter and the School Library

A small battle, merely another iteration of one long-fought war, wages in Georgia over the banning of a certain boy wizard from the school library whose books, it is claimed, encourage others to pursue witchcraft.

Harry Potter has a new foe -- a Gwinnett County parent who wants the popular boy wizard books banned from Gwinnett County school libraries.

On Thursday afternoon, parents and students spoke at a hearing that will ultimately decide whether the books will stay or go.

People who love the books say they are happy that kids are reading the books as much as they are. They say that the books are ultimately about good versus evil. But opponents say that the books with their magic wands and spells are all about evil.

“I’m a true example of how Harry Potter books can open your life to witchcraft,” said Jordan Susch.

Susch says she read the first Harry Potter novel when she was in the fourth grade. Two years later, she says, she and her friends were practicing witchcraft.

“We wanted to know if spells, potions and curses worked. By the seventh grade, I was so depressed, I set a date to kill myself,” Susch said.

Susch has joined Laura Mallory’s fight to get the novels removed from the Gwinnett County Schools’ shelves.

“I want to protect my kids, children and others from evil,” Mallory said. “Not fill their minds with it.”

It’s easy to look at this from one side and declare with absolute conviction that the novels written by J.K. Rowling are subversive, immoral, and ultimately evil.

Equally easy is to peer across from the opposite side and declare ad infinitum that the novels offer striking examples of courage, honor and virtue in the face of immorality and evil.

Or, we could look at this and shrink stubbornly into callous pretension by asking, “what sixth grader doesn’t have some kind of imbalance at that age anyway?”

The facts are these: Mallory is religious, and has read only portions of the books. We do not know what portions from what books, just that she considers some of what she read to be “demonic.” Susch, of whom we know almost nothing, became curious about casting spells after reading the first novel; two years later, she was involved in witchcraft, later felt depressed, and had suicidal thoughts. What we do not know is what occurred between her reading the book and feeling suicidal, what other materials she may have read, or other individuals she may have interacted with in that time.

Adolescence is a curious time of physical and emotional upheaval—kids become curious about who they are in relation to the world in which they live, and seek for ways to engage that world. Reading, therefore, requires a certain amount of responsibility, especially when the reader is young and in school, when parental involvement is crucial. Books inevitably influence young readers, sometimes subversively, sometimes virtuously. This calls for caution, and a healthy sense of accountability—again, something tempered by a responsible and present adult.

The religious fervor surrounding this particular incident, I believe, is spurned more from the ignorant outcries of protest that have come before more than it does an honest discerning evaluation of the material at hand. It gains attention because of its ignorance, and the publicity is ultimately hurtful for those of us called to engage the world. We do not discard a rose because of its thorns, nor do we simply pluck them away in favor of preserving the rose’s beauty. The thorns are part of the rose, just as humanity always struggles with aspects of its fallen nature, Christian or no. Were we to ban every book that gave some offense, our children would soon find themselves with nothing to read.

I admire that this woman wants to protect her children. And she’s right; there are probably better books for them to read. I’m not a kid lit critic and I’m unfamiliar with the genre. Critical and discerning readers find much in the Harry Potter novels to celebrate, and much in which to question. As the books progress, their intended audience grows up and matures as their subject matter grows increasingly complex. The conflict within takes many forms, and often, the books employ a curious balance between the conflict of good and evil, and conflict involving those abysmal gray areas which never sit well on a platter of absolutes. I have found that these aspects of the stories lend a kind of credibility to the narrative. Kids get into fights, they lie and they cheat. That they engage in this behavior doesn’t make it right. And when someone writes about kids and the conflicts they face, the least the author could do is give acknowledgement to this facet of growing up.

But witchcraft, itself a scourge and a forbidden practice in biblical text, strikes a mighty cord in this debate. What about…communication with the dead? Divination, perhaps? These too are forbidden in scripture. Still, J.R.R. Tolkien writes the character of Aragorn as obtaining the services of the army of the dead in The Lord of the Rings. C.S. Lewis writes of Lucy Pevensie as practicing divination in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And, perhaps most shockingly of all, each of these actions leads to victorious and virtuous ends. Yet no one tries to remove these tomes from the shelves of school libraries. (Maybe sometimes, someone tries, but they’re not making the evening news.)

I suppose, in some roundabout way, I’m trying to say that, if parents are concerned about what children are reading, then parents ought to read what their children are reading, ask them questions, and engage. Involve others in the discussion as well. Maybe school libraries could set age limits on certain books if necessary—that’s what they did in my school. There are better ways to communicate concern, ways that won’t call into question a person’s integrity, or the integrity of other religious people.

H/T: Sword of Gryffindor for the First Coast News link.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What I took away from Easter this year

I sat in church on Easter Sunday deeply hungry for some kind of new experience. I know, that sounds a little vague, so I’ll try and elaborate over the next few paragraphs or so. In order to provide some context, it’s important to describe my state of mind last Sunday as I sat in the pew.

The clock struck 10:30, the lights dimmed, and the choir began a rousing rendition of a song I cannot even remember now. We sang our songs, said our prayers, heard the sermon and left the building.

Why, I wondered, do I feel like I’ve seen this movie?

This is not to say the experience wasn’t beneficial or meaningful. Pastor’s sermon dealt a little with the evidence of Christ, and with the work of the cross and the resurrection. Appropriate, accessible—everything an Easter service should be. So what’s the problem?

I think part of it is leftover disappointment from our inability to produce the Easter play I’d written. I’m not overly upset that we could not do it—we simply did not have the volunteers. However, I was really looking forward to this play. Just seeing it. Having the satisfaction of watching it and knowing, hey, I wrote that. So, yeah, maybe some of it is a little vain. (We do it for Christ’s glory and not our own, after all.)

The other part of it was simply the hunger for something new. And, for Easter Sunday, I enjoyed (endured?) the requisite paradigm of: choir special—songs—prayer—more songs—sermon.

What would it hurt, I wonder, if we shook that order up just a little, like say…sermon—prayer—songs—prayer—choir special—go home? The answer is: absolutely nothing.

However, I am convinced that, should my church ever try this or something similar, my pastor would find himself inundated with an unbearable deluge of silly complaints. We can’t do it that way, pastor; it’s just not how it’s done.

Yeah, I know, change is difficult. Have patience. Pray. You know the one word I never hear? DO.

Meanwhile, the rate of Christian divorce continues to match that of the secular realm. In the Nazarene church, insofar as ministry in the continental United States is concerned, membership grows not from new converts, but from membership transfers. Tell me there’s nothing wrong with this picture.

So what are you going to do, Trav? I don’t have an answer yet. But I’m working on it. I’m not sure if this is one of those passions God gives to influence change or what have you. I’m just sick and tired of hearing so many speeches about the need for evangelism, how evangelism flows from a life that earnestly seeks God, and never—never—given an example of what this is supposed to look like.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ozonated

I was sitting at my desk today, zoned out from writing, and vaguely scanning through the short testimonial printed on the side of my Sam’s Choice water bottle, when I noticed the following:

“Our Purified Drinking Water has been triple filtered and ozonated to offer you the consistent quality of the freshest, sodium free water.”

If you’re anything like me, the word “ozonated” jumps out at you rather horrifyingly. I know my MS Word grammar editor doesn’t like it. Neither does my little copy of Webster's. I take it to be of some association with the ozone, but fail to understand how something might come to be ozonated, or why it’s beneficial.

So, I naturally googled the word. (Quick aside, my MS Word grammar editor doesn’t particularly favor the word “googled” either.) Believe it or not, I actually scored 135,000 results, the top of which led me here, and provided the following statement.


Ozone is a form of oxygen—an unstable form. Stable oxygen that we breathe in very day is O2. Ozone is O3 so there is an extra electron looking to pair itself. This instability is what makes ozone a universal cleanser. Lightning creates ozone and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) in our atmosphere and in our waters to help cleanse our planet. O3 breaks down in water to H2O and O2.

Ozone is widely used in Europe for purifying drinking water and swimming pools. Ozone is also used to purify bottled waters. Ozone is used extensively in medicine in Germany and Cuba by either infusing it or injecting it directly into the blood stream. In medical applications: "It is the aim of ozone-oxygen therapy to stimulate or reactivate oxygen metabolism, without damage to the protecting oxidative enzymes…"

Not that I intend any of this to change the world, or even to deepen your understanding of the meaning of life (ahem—42). I just needed a break. Returning to real life now...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Interesting...

An email I received today states that, for the first and only time in the history of all humanity, this Wednesday at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00am, the time and date will read:

01:02:03 04/05/06

Unless, of course, you don’t read time like the military—in that case, you can potentially experience this event twice.

Expect this to make an appearance on this week’s episode of “Lost.”

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Language in Film

Any writer will tell you that, while actions determine a character’s character, their language has to fit the part as well. Apparently, this rule does not apply to filmmakers intent on winning a “more profitable” rating from the MPAA.

From Fox News:

I was just at the movie "Failure to Launch" and about midway through it I realized that they were using cuss words on purpose. The script dropped the "F-word" where it simply didn't fit into the context and it was so obvious that it just made you stop and take notice that it didn't work. I recall watching other movies that also would have been much better if they hadn't used swearing in it. A producer friend of mine says they deliberately put in certain things specifically to get a PG-13 rating instead of PG, which they think could hurt the movie's profitability.

For a medium that’s supposed to give the illusion of reality, its puppet masters certainly feel they have more at stake than the integrity of the illusion. What with their waning profit margin, I won’t argue the point.

There was a time, not too long ago, that I felt Hollywood’s slump was due to the quality of the movies. I’m more inclined now (thanks to posts like this one) to believe that, with the current rise in the quality of home video experiences, people are just more apt to stay home.

Therefore, in order for Hollywood to start making its money back, they need to start selling a better theater experience. Some filmmakers are already hip to this fact. It would seem, then, that the careful placement of the F-bomb to ensure a PG-13 rating does, at the end of the day, absolutely nothing. Except irritate me, that is.