The RevGalBlogPals Friday Five this week is about cultural expression and spirituality. Warning...I left the Friday Five behind and got carried away towards the end.The challenge was to name one of each of these--book, movie, art, etc.--and why or how it affected your spiritual journey.
This one is really difficult for me—there have been several. I won’t include the Bible, since that’s pretty basic. But there have been three that have had a powerful influence. Coming Out Spiritually, by Christian de la Huerta. Should I just say that we can take this one for granted? I can’t overstate the significance this book had on me—in coming out, in being able to recognize on a psychological and spiritual level (rather than simply rational level) that I am and always will be a beloved child of God, and that there are many ways of being spiritual that respect the God I follow. The God of Israel and Christian Theology, by R. Kendall Soulen, pushed me to think about the real-world negative results of our theology. Soulen looks at the roots of anti-Semitism in Christian exegesis and theology—and I felt convicted. Amazing book, amazing writer and teacher. Yes, he was my Systematics professor at seminary! Finally, Embodiment by James Nelson, on the innate goodness of the human body, arguing against the false dualism of the Augustinian view that the spirit is good, the body is evil, and instead for an integration of the two.
Piece of music
John Rutter’s Requiem. It’s a beautiful piece of music all on its own, but the process of learning to sing my part in it over the course of several months taught me a great deal about discipline, practice and patience. The choir I was a member of was preparing it soon after the birth of my son. I would play a tape of it while I walked—my daily fifteen minutes of me-time—to learn my part. Those walks became very important tome—for the exercise, private time, and music--so I also learned the value of taking time for myself in the midst of busy times!
Work of art
Michelangelo Buanarotti’s "Pieta." I always loved it, but until I had my son, I didn’t experience the full impact of this work of genius. From a technical standpoint, the figures are out of proportion. But the piece as a whole expresses so much sorrow and grief—a very human grief, at the brutal death of one’s beloved child—that it moves me every time. It brought home to me the human side of the Human One and made Jesus the Christ real to me.
I took a great course in seminary one summer—Hebrew Bible Goes to the Movies—that examined how film has used the stories of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Ten Commandments, Prince of Egypt Richard Gere as King David, etc. We saw probably 20 films, or clips of them, over the course of those two weeks. So I’m not sure I can pin one down, so many of them affected me—positively and negatively. There have been movies that made me think about spirituality and that of others—how it might affect people—but I can’t say that there was one in particular that changed me. I think the entire genre of science fiction movies has a great deal to say to spirituality, though.
Well, here’s a coincidence. Brit Boy and I had a discussion just a couple days ago that is germane. We were talking about the instant gratification culture, the desire for getting things now in most of Western culture, with the rise of easy credit and Internet accessibility, among other things. Books, movies, a date, CDs, shoes, clothes, wallpaper, a cellphone—any of these can be obtained over the Internet at any hour of the day or night. We don’t have to wait and work and save for things, because we all have credit cards.
More than instant gratification, there’s an alienation from reality. It was the movie The Matrix that brought this home for me. I only saw the first one, so I can’t speak for how the story unfolded in the rest of the trilogy. But the concept of being in state of illusion and thinking it was reality—this is how much of Western culture is these days. There’s all kinds of reality being denied out there—from the fact that some people are more intelligent than others to where our meat comes from to the need for hard work in order to acheive something worthwhile.
The spiritual connection here is with discipleship—a word I dislike but don’t have an alternative for. It’s that process of working, of realizing that faith is a verb, a journey, and hard work, not over in a day or week. It takes work and practice, and is ongoing. There is no instant gratification, not with any substance, in the church. Yes, there are wonderful transcendent moments—I treasure mine. But they are soon over and we have to do the work of the church in this difficult world that requires hard work. I don’t know if you’ve had people tell you they weren’t being “spiritually fed” in this or that tradition or church. And I wonder if these people were sitting there with their mouths open, expecting to have the spiritual food spooned into their mouths, waiting for that instant gratification, instead of recognizing that some effort is required, and sometimes lots of effort.
Well that’s a lot more than the Friday Five really need…but I’ve said it, so there it is. Look what you started, Brit Boy!
Bonus: Is engagement essential to your Christian faith, how and why?
Well I think it’s pretty obvious from the above that yes, it is! It’s how I test what I believe—how I push the limits of my theology and creed outward. If I don’t grow and stretch in my belief, I stagnate and die.