Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The pipe dream

As I'm typing this I am up in the mountains north of Revelstoke, B.C. It's a hot day with a lot of white fluffy clouds rolling in; a hazy view of the mountains provides a backdrop for a peaceful lake view and an abundance of trees. We're staying with family for a week, which provides us with a much needed get-away from the stresses of every day life. We had a similar get-away last month in Jasper, where we stayed in one of Parks Canada's cabin-tents (a shelter with wood floors, frame, windows and door with canvas walls and roof). We find that nature provides us with a tranquillity that's hard to come by in the city, where you live simply and slow down. There's that joke where camping is when you spend lots of money to live like a poor person, but it's the only holiday we can afford (and it's not much of a step downward on the poverty scale for us).

Getting away from the city and communing with nature does something else for me other than recharging my batteries, it also fuels my imagination. You see, I have this silly little fantasy, a pipe dream, where I have a cabin and live off the land. I guess I've had this notion stuck in my head ever since I was a little boy. I've always been fascinated with tales like Swiss Family Robinson, or Robinson Crusoe, tales of survival using whatever provisions you've been left with. Growing up on a wooded acreage, with trails and a tree house, did nothing to feed into this fantasy of course. And neither did tenting in the back yard during the summer, nor hitching up the family trailer and heading to the mountains for that matter. We'd stop at all these outdoor museums and take in all the history of the homesteaders who pioneered the west. They were always a gold mine of ideas for how to carve out a living on the frontier.

What the scenario looks like in my head has different variations. Sometimes it's just little old me, sometimes it's with the family, and sometimes there's a group of us homesteading together. You'd farm, fish and hunt to fill your belly and keep busy with chores, but there's always leisure time for things like books, music, games or exploring your surroundings. It's a place where you can focus on feeding your body and your soul in an environment that can be just as unforgiving as it is beautiful. I guess it's the challenge of getting back to basics, stretching yourself, doing without and maybe realizing what's truly important that appeals to me. And although it runs counter to the living by myself scenario (for the times when I crave some solitude) it also appeals to my need for connection and community. Plus I'm really not cut out for stuff like hunting, so I would need to live with someone who has the bravado to bag and skin the odd moose now and then. I even brought this very point up in a couple of sermons I preached on living in community, where I used my pipe dream as an example of how we need to live relationally with others who have different skill sets in order to make it through life.

So while my fantasy may have some real world value it is, in the end, just a pipe dream. The closest I could probably come to realizing it is by coming into a large sum of money, buy or lease some land and build a summer holiday cabin. Nothing fancy like the place that only exists in my mind, just a roof, four walls and maybe a table, chairs and a couple of beds. But if I get enough land then we could invite the family there for our annual camp-out that we've been doing for the past few years. And maybe during one of those camp outs a solar flare knocks out the power for good and we'd all be stuck at the cabin. And we'd have to plant a garden and catch rabbits and at night we'd tell stories and sing songs, do family devotions and... OK, I'm getting silly here, but you can see how it doesn't take much for my imagination to tilt towards a certain direction. But it also doesn't help when my own daughter asks me, after seeing the cabin-tent for the first time, if we can buy some land and build one of our own.

 Maybe pipe dreams run in the family. One can only hope.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The original disaster story

A few weeks ago my wife & I went to see Darren Aronofsky's rendition of Noah, which has generated a lot of money and talk at the same time. Apparently 2014 is Hollywood's year to mine the Bible for big screen entertainment, with big name actors taking on roles of biblical proportion. Russell Crowe is back on top of his game after staring in duds like Robin Hood and The Man with the Iron Fists. Brad Pitt is purportedly set to star as Pontius Pilate in an as yet to begin film, and Christian Bale will appear as Moses in Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings in December. Other films are in the works or have already been released that feature Bible characters like Mary (the mother of Jesus), Cain & Abel and, of course, the Son of God Himself. It was thought that Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ, which hit theatres 10 years ago, forever killed off the Bible-genre movie. But apparently Hollywood has discovered, after mining comic books to death, that there are stories to be found and money to be made in the good book. And since apocalyptic tales are so popular on TV and theatre these days, the deluge is the arguably the original disaster story.

Noah wasn't the first Bible movie to come out this year but it's the one that has caused the most reaction; it's mainly come from the audience that Bible movies are targeting, and it's been less than positive. Muslim nations have banned Noah because Islam forbids the depiction of any prophet. And many Christians haven't embraced it as it was seen as being untrue to the original narrative (or too true, as some have oddly objected to Noah shown drunk and naked, which is a part of the biblical account). Now Christians can be a particular fussy lot when it comes to movies that deal with their beloved scriptures. But who can blame them? After all we are dealing with how the heroes of our faith are portrayed. So when a self described atheist directs a film that portrays Noah as an environmentalist rather than a righteous man of God, I'd say at least a few believers were upset. I noticed a couple walked out of the theatre we were at, and I know of a few others who hated the film and also walked out on it too. To say that the director coloured outside the lines of the film would be an understatement. You have Lord of the Rings like rock giants (fallen angels called "The Guardians" who are mentioned in the Apocryphal book of Enoch) that help build and defend the ark, and the glowing magical skin of the serpent that tempted Adam & Eve passed down through the generations. Plus you have quirky cinematic stuff like ancient welder's masks worn by the blacksmiths. I can go on with other thoughts that puzzled me, but that would miss the point I want to make.

Personally I think that any movie that is based on the Bible, loosely or not, is a good thing. If the Bible gets any exposure and generates discussion then at least people's perspectives are broadened. Even Richard Dawkins is appalled at Bible illiteracy in secular culture. And I also think that in spite of the grand artistic license exercised I felt that the movie portrayed the heart of the Noaic flood account, that it is a story of judgement, mercy and new beginnings. The film portrayed the biblical foundation for the flood account; that God created man in His image, humanity shunned God and became evil, and God had to stem the rising flood of corruption with a flood of His own. It's a hard story to accept, regardless of whether it's a myth, legend, parable or historical account. The idea of a God (or "Creator" as the almighty is exclusively referred to as in Aronofsky's film) who creates and then destroys is, in many people's minds, a portrait of a fickle deity with anger issues. God is viewed, in the words of atheist Richard Dawkins, as the most vindictive character in all of fiction. And I'd be remiss to admit that out of all the Bible stories I've read, the flood is the one I have the most difficulty accepting at face value. And yet cultures on every continent have a flood myth, and many are strikingly similar to the biblical narrative.

But there's more to this story than a guy, a boat and a pair of every animal on the planet who all ride out a big rainstorm. The big picture that the Bible paints is one of diagnosis and cure, problem and solution, what we deserve and what we are offered. The Old Testament tells us that humanity is broken, and what we have coming to us is punishment. But the New Testament tells us that instead of judgement we can receive mercy from God. Jesus taught that everything in the Old Testament spoke of Him; and if this is true then we can view Jesus as, to borrow a phrase from Timothy Keller, the true and better Noah. In Noah the human race got to start over again, and in Jesus humanity gets a fresh start with God. If the ark floated humanity's survivors to safety, the cross floats forgiveness on the sea of humanity's sin. But the cross is better than the ark, because there was only enough room for Noah's family. But in the cross there's room enough for everyone to find mercy, if we are honest with ourselves about our need for God.

And as for the movie itself, I'm going against the grain of evangelical Christendom and recommending that people go see the film. In spite of the broad artistic license and that it was directed by an atheist, who bragged that it was the least biblical movie made, I found the heart of its message quite biblical. And even if you don't care about that stuff, go see it anyway. It's a movie after all, and like I said before in an age of apocalyptic tales Noah is, hands down, the original disaster story.

And don't forget the butter with your popcorn.