Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight. Just the name itself is ridiculously cool, even if you've never read the Frank Miller graphic novel. It is fitting (and thankfully not ironically tragic) that the movie bearing the same name does not suck, but is in fact one of the best movie's I've seen in a long time.

I'm a pretty big movie fan, and when it comes to the comic-book hero genre of films my standards are pretty low and easily pleased. Perhaps that is why more often than not I am "pleasantly surprised" when at the comic book movies. But the Dark Knight, like it's predecessor Batman Begins, takes the genre to a whole new level. A few thoughts on this impressive film. By the by, the NYT's review is actually pretty good, although it is filled with art-house fancy-shmacy words that I really don't know the meaning of (which is saying something).

First, if you are my age, you will remember the hullabaloo surrounding Tim Burton's 1989 take on the franchise, which probably should have more appropriately been titled "Joker", since the film was really more about Jack Nicholson and his dermatologically bleached character. Batman was really an after-thought. But, while Heath Ledger's performance is undoubtedly riveting and repulsively engrossing, Batman/Bruce Wayne still weighs in heavily. And what really makes the film is how it wrestles with the questions surrounding human nature. Bruce Wayne's inner battle to actually no longer have to be the dark knight (i.e. the anti-hero) is fantastic. His hopes are in Harvey Dent, an ordinary citizen who will fight for justice. In a world with people like Harvey, maybe we won't need a Batman after all.

I can't help but think of Nietzsche at this point. In a world of 'good' people, who needs a savior. Who needs God, except to relegate him to 'a god' for our own petty self-gratifying needs. Thus the danger of Wayne's struggle. When good people stand up for justice he will no longer need to walk the precarious line as dark hero to save the city. After the Joker's little 'social experiment' with the ferry boats doesn't work, Batman claims that people aren't all evil and can tap into good (thus they didn't destroy the other boats). But the tables turn again because Harvey Dent goes nuts and Bruce has to take the fall as the dark hero and remain Batman. Ironically, Harvey was the one on whom all his hopes were placed. So much for that anthropology.

On the other hand, the Joker says of ordinary, 'good' people, "When the chips are on the table, normal people will eat each other." How true. The diagnosis of the monster within, which only has a very thin veneer of civility indeed, is given by the film's true monster. The only thing that breaks the cycle is sacrifice (a very Christian idea). And that is, amazingly, what we see in the film. The huge prisoner (played by "tiny" lester) tells the warden that he will take the blame for blowing up innocent civilians. You want to kill, but you've never seen someone die. I'll do it, he says. And when he gets the detonator, he throws it out the window, sits down, and bows his head with a few other inmates who gather, with bowed heads, around him. Now, while this character does not offer his own life in a sacrificial manner, in a real sense he does become the scapegoat, taking the iniquity of all the 'good' people (who are vehemently eager to blow up other people, incidentally) upon himself. Hands down favorite scene.

One last thought for you all to respond to. Check out this article published last week in The Wall Street Journal. It's created quite a stir in the blogosphere, and understandably so. Let me just say that the author's point is so valid it's hard to dispute, but his interpretation of fantasy as the means of the conservative branch of Hollywood is based on allegory (Batman = George Bush), which is actually the wrong way to interpret fantasy as a genre, including comic book based films. Discuss...

The Fruit of Grace

Here's a video of a newscast from Tennessee. An elderly Christian woman gets carjacked, but she shares her faith with the perp and he starts to cry. After talking with him in her car for a few minutes she gives him all her money anyway and he tearfully gives her a kiss on the cheek and leaves.

What an amazing picture of grace. We speak of the fruit of the spirit working in this way: that grace produces what the law requires. The response of a sinner to grace in this news clip is a tender expression of affection. Grace produces love - love does not elicit grace. That is to say, our love of God does not prompt him to be gracious to sinners. If it did, then it wouldn't be grace and Christ died for nothing (Gal 2:21).

Such one way love (grace) produces a reaction in its object: love! The carjacker, in that moment of grace, gave the old lady a kiss on the cheek. Spontaneously and probably quite to his own shock (although that would be conjecture, but I'm willing to bet on it). And in the end he got what he didn't deserve, the money he was trying to take by force in he first place.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's Fun To Do Bad Things...

Over the last few weeks I've been reading the Book of Romans in the Bible. It talks about human nature in a very stark and, quite frankly, offensive manner. It says that we are all dead in sin (Adam's sin) and rebellion. It says that all people, by their wickedness, suppress the truth. Only God's radical intervention of grace in Jesus Christ, who died for our wickedness, can change us.

Most Americans think we are "basically good." What we really need is encouragement and to be pointed in the right direction. Very often this sentiment is expressed by stating that what troubled people need is "education." And even if adults and society in general are bad, children certainly are not bad. They come into the world innocent; that is, untainted by Adam's sin. Well, here's a video on YouTube from a recent news broadcast in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, which blows this sentimental (and unrealistic) view out of the water. The fact that a kid would do something like this is not hard to imagine. His own view of his behavior, is plainly demonstrative of our fallen nature.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Devil You Don't Know

"A Romanian village re-elected Mayor Neculai Ivascu even though he died shortly before the election. Ivascu had been mayor for nearly 20 years. “I know he died, but I don’t want change,” said one voter."

Wow. how badly do we cling to the past. This little news snippet was in last week's issue of The Week, under their "Good Week/Bad Week For...the devil you know" section.

While certainly an extreme, this sentiment clearly demonstrates the bound nature of the human will. Despite a rational understanding of the candidate's status of 'dead', the voter's will was completely unable to follow reason. But instead the will turned in on itself out of fear, and elected a corpse to office. If humans are unable to get past their fallen, broken wills to elect a mayor, how much more completely unable are we to "vote" yes for God?!

Luther was right, the will is bound. We don't choose God, he loves and finds us curled in on ourselves, and by his grace brings forgiveness and light. Left to our own devices we will choose death again and again and again. Not life. Sorry Joshua. Makes you wonder who will be their next mayor.

How well do you know your country?

MSN just posted the latest citizenship test, which non-citizens must pass in order to be naturalized. Think back to your middle school civics & government class and click here to take the test. (FYI, yours truly scored 100%, thanks Mr. Stiffler).

Regardless of how you do on this test, it makes you also wonder about the process of citizenship. Some receive it by birth, warranted by the location of their mother a the time of their birth. Some receive it by working for it, by moving to this land and applying to the government and after achieving prescribed requirements, then earn citizenship. Now, while the rights of both born and naturalized citizens are identical, the way they become citizens is different. One works for it, the other does nothing, it's given.

If I may springboard from this idea, moving beyond the political and societal implications of naturalization, to the biblical idea of citizenship. Our default setting regarding salvation and God, is actually in terms of naturalization. All religions of the world prescribe how one may become a "citizen" of that religion. They are naturalized by their actions, of which faith may or may not be included. By achieving prescribed requirements, something is then conferred.

However, the Christian Gospel of Jesus tells us that none are naturalized by earning their citizenship, but rather we enter into His heavenly kingdom only by being born from above (i.e. born anew or to even use the phrase born again - see John 3:1-18). Just as some US citizens are such by no merit of their own, but have it by birth unearned, so the grace of God grants to sinners citizenship in his kingdom by being born again, not by their achievements but by his preordained grace. Jesus said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you." I am a US citizen not by my freewill choice, but by nature of my birth. Likewise eternal life is given me by God's grace bringing new birth of which I contribute nothing.

Please note, my point here is not to argue that naturalized citizens in this country are somehow "second class." That is not my point at all. Rather, my point is simply analogous: that one citizen earns their citizenship, one does not. Likewise one view of Christianity is that we earn our citizenship in heaven - either by our works or by our "choice" of Jesus - the other says it is only by God's grace are any born anew as heavenly citizens