There’s No “We” in iWorld

Echoing Christine Rosen, Andrew Sullivan has a thoughtful article on the cult of the iPod. He wonders just how good for society is the isolation that comes with personal technology:

Walk through any airport in the United States these days and you will see person after person gliding through the social ether as if on autopilot. Get on a subway and you’re surrounded by a bunch of Stepford commuters staring into mid-space as if anaesthetised by technology. Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t overhear, don’t observe. Just tune in and tune out.

It wouldn’t be so worrying if it weren’t part of something even bigger. Americans are beginning to narrow their lives.

You get your news from your favourite blogs, the ones that won’t challenge your view of the world. You tune into a satellite radio service that also aims directly at a small market — for new age fanatics, liberal talk or Christian rock. Television is all cable. Culture is all subculture. Your cell phones can receive e-mail feeds of your favourite blogger’s latest thoughts — seconds after he has posted them — get sports scores for your team or stock quotes of your portfolio.

Good thoughts—especially the part about how “culture is all subculture.” Each of us tends to get comfortable in our own niche, and tuning out the rest of the world becomes as much a matter of propriety as it is a matter of protecting our own interests.

Technology should aid our interaction with the greater culture rather than define it. I like technology, personal and otherwise, as much as the next geek, but I must be evermore wary of allowing technology to take center stage. Jesus warned of the salt losing its saltiness, and as a follower of Christ I need to take care to avoid the desalinized realms of the iWorld.

DVD Roundup

For the sake of his damsel, every guy worth his salt must endure the “chick flick” (not to be confused with Chick tracts!) every once in a while. My most recent test of endurance involved the Nicholas Sparks tear jerker, The Notebook. Although my tears remained in their ducts, I found the film surprisingly enjoyable, considering the genre. James Garner’s easygoing way of speaking has always captivated me, and without his performance the movie would have languished in the realm of sub-mediocrity. A laid-back pace and a splendid Southern feel make The Notebook a very watchable chick flick. My rating: 5.5 out of 10.

It seems like every other film these days has to contain at least one sociopath. It just wouldn’t be realistic without the “heartless villian who kills without remorse” on the scene, now would it? Well, reality or not, Tom Cruise does an excellent job of playing a philosophic (and quite humorous at times) sociopathic assassin in Collateral. Interestingly, Jamie Foxx’s character undergoes a metamorphasis in the film due to what he learns from Cruise’s assassin. Moral of the story: the best teachers in life are often killers. My rating: 6 out of 10.

In the wasted time category is Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy. Two-and-a-half hours of my life I’ll never get back. I could have done my taxes, washed the car, or watched the paint continue to chip away from our ceiling. All would have been more engaging. While the film is visually stunning and features a number of capable actors, Troy suffers from the one factor that can ruin all others: poor dialogue. The characters in this movie speak to each other like cave men, and all the acting seems bathed in over-the-top artificiality. Completely devoid of comic relief, Troy’s Trojan-horse surprise is that you are robbed of valuable time. My rating: 3 out of 10.

Naked and Not Ashamed

The quote of the week, from a story about “clothing optional” dining:

“Wearing clothes and going to church does not protect you from moral evil,” Stafford said, lamenting what she saw as a tendency to demonize people just because they like to be naked.

Well, it doesn’t protect you from moral evil, but it offers strong protection against having to eat with a fat, hairy, naked man sitting in the next booth. Unless this is the newest craze in curbing one’s appetite, I don’t think we have to worry about “clothing optional” dining catching on.

Lenten Fish

As regular readers will note, I’m not Catholic, and neither do I observe Lent (although I know many Protestants who do). I grew up in heavily evangelicalized East Tennessee, where Lent was known as something that accumulated in one’s belly button.

Since I moved to heavily-Catholic Louisville, I’ve been confronted with the vast number of Lenten Friday fish fries that pepper the churches and restaurants. Even Arby’s has a fish sandwich that they’re pushing now. Question for the blogosphere: why is fish approved for Lent and not other forms of meat? Is there something special in Catholic doctrine that separates fish from red meat or poultry? Just curious.

If we want to further the question, why do many so-called vegetarians eat fish? It is surely not a vegetable…

The Content of the Gospel

David Wayne has an excellent post on just what is the Gospel. For our soundbite-laden culture, we’re often tempted to reduce the Gospel to elements that can easily be handled or transferred:

When someone asks what the gospel is, they are asking a question that is a bit more dfficult than we may think. Typically, when the question is asked today, our thoughts immediately go to a formula or a presentation. We immediately start thinking in terms of “Four Spiritual Laws,” “The Romans Road,” “Steps to Peace with God,” or any of a number of things.

What I want to submit for your consideration is the notion that, properly speaking, none of those things should be considered the gospel at all. Rather, they are pedogogical devices that can be used as pointers to the gospel. Allow me to e’splain…

A problem that many Christians (including myself) often fall into is that they see such pedogogical tools as the Gospel in its entirety. If someone has heard the “droplet squeezed” version, then they’ve heard the Gospel. Chalk it up and move on.

The concept we musn’t lose is that though the Gospel may be easily explained on the surface, it enters our minds and hearts and begins to affect every aspect of our lives in a deep way. The good news about the “good news” is that there’s always more to the story. Read the rest of Wayne’s post now.

Shameless. Simply Shameless.

I swore to myself I would never stoop to such a level, but stooped I have. I’m now in the running for a free Mac Mini computer. I saw that another was in need, so I helped out. It also helped that I was going to sign up for Blockbuster Online anyway (how else could I see Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Decalogue without buying the whole package?).

Here’s the deal, if you want to help me out: Go to the website and register (use a spam-proof email). Then—here’s the catch—complete an offer among those listed, like Blockbuster Online, and then you’ll be in the running for a free Mac Mini as well. Don’t you just love freedom and all things free? I’m holding my breath until 10 people sign up for an offer under my referral number. My oxygen won’t last long…

Around the ‘Sphere

A few places I’ve been surfing in the blogosphere:

J. Mark Bertrand has a thoughtful post on wisdom. He notes:

In the book of Proverbs, wisdom and folly are compared to archetypes of the feminine: the good girl and the bad. Folly is easy. She makes herself available. She throws herself at you and tells you the things you want to hear. And in the end, she’s worth the effort it took to get her. Wisdom is different. She must be courted. When you see wisdom as “the principal thing,” your own shortcomings come into focus. Like a lover longing for his beloved, you sense your inadequacy and yearn to become a better man than you are. You come to value the thing that can only be had through discipline and pursuit, the thing that must be earned.

Well put. Like any woman worth her salt, wisdom cannot be bought, stolen, or taken for granted—she must be wooed.

Discoshaman revives an old post entitled “Art and the Christian Ghetto,” where he aptly takes on sacred cows in the evangelical art world like Thomas Kinkade and Family Christian stores. For more on this see this old post of mine along with my paper, “Christian Kitsch and the Trivialization of God.” (PDF)

Nick Troester points to a new holiday, “International Eat an Animal for PETA Day.” I’m already planning my menu for the Ides of March…

Offbeat DVDs

It’s always a treat to watch films that are far from the Hollywood norm of formula films where the protagonist is: (1) faced with a problem, (2) sets out to solve it, (3) along the way falls in love with a girl who helps him with the problem, (4) in the case of a comedy–lies to the girl, causing a relationship crisis, (5) in the end, solves both the problem and the girl, and they all live happily ever after. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this formula in various incarnations, but I’d be willing to bet that it covers at least 50% of the movies I’ve seen.

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of viewing two DVDs that do not fit “the formula.” The first is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which I’m guessing most people have seen by now. It is a mainstream film, but it is well-acted and has a quirky enough story to keep the viewer’s attention on the storyline. This is one strange movie—anything that focuses on the innerworkings of the human mind would have to be—but it comes to an end that fits well with the rest of the storyline. My rating: 7 out of 10.

A much deeper offbeat film is Andrei Zvyagintsev’s The Return. This Russian film about two brothers whose father mysteriously returns home after 12 years is one of the better-acted films I’ve seen in a long time. The cinematography is also stunning, but it’s the screen presence of the father and the youngest son that really makes this film. The Russian portrayal of fathers in literature and film has always been intriguing to me, and I can’t seem to put a finger on what is unique about it (that’s something to ponder for a while…). The Return is a thinking movie, and it’s worth watching even if you don’t have it all figured out by film’s end. My rating: 8 out of 10.