Tuesday, February 27, 2007

An Exclusive Interview with James Cameron

I'm withholding my full comments on this James-Cameron-produced "Last Tomb of Jesus" story until after the "documentary" comes out, but in the meantime, this is the best response I've seen so far:


Monday, February 26, 2007

Julius Caesar as Messiah and Dissonant Happy Endings

In 1724 , Handel wrote the opera Julius Caesar in Egypt. It's about as Baroque as an opera can be -- which means it doesn't make sense as an opera but is much more enjoyable if you think of it as a concert of songs where people stand around and sing about emotions, and some costumes, sets and movements are thrown in to brighten the mix. And it's Handel, so there's lots of pyrotechnic runs, and lots of harsichord (gotta love the harpsichord).

From the first act it's obvious who the hero is: Julius Caesar himself (or, rather, herself, since the part is sung by a contralto). Most of us, myself included, are somewhat ambiguous about the character of Julius Caesar. Handel was not. The happy ending for Julius Caesar in Egypt, which is happy for everyone except Ptolemy, includes everyone standing onstage in front of a sun and singing about the brightness of Caesar and the empire and the future ahead. So I listen to a composer who wrote "Worthy is the Lamb," the song from Messiah we're practicing in choir right now, and I hear this composer extolling the virtues of the Empire that killed most of my spiritual fathers. And I wonder why I got a headache?

I think of Robert Kaplan's Imperial Grunts, an optimistic view of the proficiency and role of the Special Ops forces embedded in places from Afghanistan to Mongolia. I liked that book, and I liked most of the soldiers in it. I think of Beslan -- more than anything else, that situation struck me as pure evil. What else to do but rescue the children, held hostage under explosive-laden basketball hoops? Some of the pictures of the victims of Beslan -- they could have been my older son, who was 2 or 3 at the time. I have a hard time forgiving that, or even figuring out what to do about it.

But then I turn to my study of 1 Corinthians, and am confronted by Paul. When he talks about Jesus' gospel, it stands in stark contrast to the gospel given at the birth of a new Roman emperor. When he calls Jesus Lord, that's not just a statement about God but it's a statement about politics: If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not. If it's not a political statement then most martyrs were killed over an unfortunate misunderstanding. Paul even includes a poem in Philippians that's a direct parody/adaptation of an ode to the Caesars, scratches out Caesar and puts in Jesus. Them's fighting words, and that's Scripture.

Sure, the Romans were particuarly brutal and pagan, we're so much better now, right -- but let's face it, the Roman government did work. Julius Caesar was a brilliant guy. Octavian was a brilliant guy. They probably could have gotten more children out alive from Beslan. Those Romans knew how to run an army, how to build roads, how to create order. I suspect some of that's behind the all-too-often-dropped-into-the-conversation Romans 13. There's a lot more hidden anti-imperialism in the New Testament, heck, just in Romans, than we know from our limited 21st-century context, and I'm struggling with how to put it all together. I will not froth at the mention of "our current administration"; on the contrary, I pray for them, when I remember. But I also will not play along with the powers and principalities that run this world if I can help it. Can I help it?

I hoped that my first topical post on this blog would have at least a tidy ending. Didn't have to be right, I thought, just tidy and pithy and memorable. This post, on the other hand, has no ending, no experiment and no science, just an acknowledgment of tension. A confession of my own unforgiveness, and my own limited imagination at the application of the cross.

It's Lent. Just like the first Sunday of Lent always seems to have multiple glitches in the morning services, the first posting of Lent will just drop off and end. I'll just promise to return to these ideas as we move along. For now, we'll close the confession box and leave the opera box and enjoy the music as well as the cognitive dissonance it provokes.

Friday, February 23, 2007

This is Not a Blog

As I think about my first post on my first blog, I realize that I don't have a clear idea yet of exactly what I want this blog to be. I'm more certain of what I don't want it to be. I don't want flame wars or spam, but I also don't want thoughtless posting, but on the other hand overly long, thoughtful posts can get annoying, too, as well as those with run-on sentences. We've got enough blogs in the world, why do we need another one? Then again, I have two kids in my family, the greatest currently tangible blessings I've received, and so I'm obviously not overly worried about multiplication. With every mouth comes two hands.

"As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create." (I won't say where that's from but let's just say that, somewhere, Ricardo Montalban is smiling.) So less Statler and Waldorf, more Kermit and Scooter; less self-criticism of the sort that stops writing before it happens, more actual, you know, writing; less killing, more creating. Starting this blog is opting for the latter, although with the caveat that Darwin would say there has to be killing for creation, and the biologist in me knows that's true. In fact, maybe the "flame war" commenters out there serve a useful techno-ecosystem function, although I personally think mosquitos are more useful. Pruning is a part of life, as editing is a part of writing. Perhaps I should feel some of that coming on right now?

My biggest concern about starting a blog is having the time to keep it up. So forgive me if I'm a little erratic in publishing, but I hope some of these posts will be collections of ideas. More of a public notebook than a blog. I'm interested in science, faith, history, writing, kids, movies, Lost, and I'm an INTP for you Myers-Briggs types. So I'll just type my random ideas down and see if they gel.

Ok, everyone after me: This is not a blog.

Until they start giving out salaries for blog-writing. Then ... we'll talk.