Saturday, October 27, 2007

Four Movies

In the last month, Judee and I have seen four movies:

1. In the Valley of Elah-- Tommy Lee Jones is the father of
a soldier back from Iraq who appears to have been killed
mysteriously. Jones, a small-town law officer, spends the movie figuring out what happened to his son. A father's desire to uncover his son's death keeps Jones walking through a puzzling scenario. A gift the son had sent his Dad from Iraq plays a large role in making a statement about the state of our nation.

2. Michael Clayton --George Clooney is a corporate "fix it" man who takes care of problems that beset large corporations.

3. Gone Baby Gone-- Morgan Freeman, Casey Affleck, Ann Ryan. A baby is kidnapped and the story revolves around efforts to recover her.

4. Rendition --Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Alan Arkin, Meryl Streep. An international traveler from Chicago, suspected of being a terrorist, is taken into custody and sent to a secret location to be tortured.

****Best of the Lot: ****

Rendition **** Excellent story, good screenplay, good acting, suspense, good subplots, well cast. Meryl Streep always stands out.
Gyllenhaal was very good. Allen Arkin convinced me he was a US Senator. This movie held my attention from beginning to end. A whole new understanding of "the United States does not use terror to gain intelligence" emerges. The 'host country" for interro-gations is not identified for security reasons.

Valley of Elah ***.5 --I admit I really enjoy Tommy Lee Jones (native of San Antonio, I might add). This movie is a good murder mystery, and a commentary along the way on the Iraqi war. The ending really grabbed me.

Gone Baby--** Ben Affleck has some things to learn yet as a director. His brother Casey A did a good job. I may have slept through part of this one.

Michael Clayton-- I saw this movie only two weeks ago, yet I cannot remember anything significant about it. Thus, my impression is not too high; however, after hearing from some friends who rate this show high, and watching several trailers, I must admit I was asleep, or some worse neurological event took place. I am sure that if I had plugged into the story (featuring the behavior of a manic-dperessive) I would have been intrigued. I have decided not to rate this movie at all. It seems I must be careful not to go to the movies during naptime.

Hope A'Waiting: Two movies coming in November that look interesting:

Lions for Lambs--A Robert Redford movie which focuses on the
Iraqi war. Tom Cruise is a senator who appears to be pro-war; Redford is a college professor; and Meryl Streep is a writer.

No Country for Old Men--A Tommy Lee Jones movie (need I say more?). Set in modern day West Texas. Don't know much more except Jones is a lawman.

Friday, October 26, 2007


I found my book for which I have been looking ever since our last move. In June of 06 we moved to San Antonio and ever since I have been looking for my copy of The Five Gospels, the Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, 1993, the product of the Jesus Seminar. Today, while rearranging our garage I found it!

That discovery was especially keen to me because I am currently teaching a class at church called "Saving Jesus from the Radical Right (and the Extreme Secular Left)" and this book will be helpful to share with the class.

JESUS' WORDS. In case you don't know, this book is the product of a group of bibical scholars (some 65 of them; they are known as the "Jesus Seminar") who have analysed the words purportedly said by Jesus in the more popular translations and made determinations as to the probability that the historical Jesus said those words.

It is the contention of most of the scholars of this project that the traditional gospels contain layers of material, some of it is historical, more of it is an expression of the perspectives of the early Christian community.

Marcus Borg says it this way: the Bible is the product of two historical communities, ancient Israel and the early Christian movement.. As such it is a human product, not a divine product. It tells us of the experiences and understandings of those communities. It is not the "Word of God" but is the early communities' words about their response to God--the laws they developed, thier eithical teachings, their prayers, their hopes and dreams. [To read more of Marcus Borg's work, go to the Blog Archive 2007, May --- "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time".]

What we have then, in all the gospels, are some words which probably are the actual words of Jesus, and actual events. But we also have understandings of who Jesus was, influenced by the years of veneration and worship---and the experiences the community had with the risen Christ (or Christ's Spirit, or Spirit).

The Jesus Seminar scholars have developed a unique way of grading the purported "words of Jesus" to determine if the words are authentically Jesus', or if they have come from the traditional community. In the book one finds four distinctions: (1) Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it. (2) Jesus probably said something like this. (3) Jesus did not say this, but the idea is close to his thinking. (4) Jesus did not say this. It represents the perspective of a later tradition.

The book is a weighty tome, giving the SV translation for the gospels (including Thomas) as well as detailed commentary supporting their decision re the authenticity of the traditional words.

SCHOLAR'S VERSION (SV). One of the reasons this translation began was due to the discovery of the Gospel of Thomas. Earlier translations were considered to be "wooden" and "tentative". This translation attempts to render into contemprary English the colloquialisms and aphorisms of the Greek texts. Here is an example of the contrast in the translations of one passage:

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrits! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves and when others are going in, you stop them.

This translation is from the New Revised Standard Version, Matthew 23.13. Compare it to the Scholar's Version:

You scholars and Pharisees, you imposters! Damn you! You slam the door of Heaven's domain in people's faces. You yourselves don't enter, and you block the way of those trying to enter.

"Woe" is not a part of the average American's working vocabulary. If a person wants to curse someone, they don't say "Woe unto you!" but are more likely to say "Damn you!".

The New Revised Standard Translation, like many other modern translations, retains the "style" of speech of the King James Version; or, attempts to put Engish words in the same order as the Greek source. This practice leads to a style not compatible with contemporary usage.

Another very important factor in the production of the Scholar's Version is that it is "free of ecclesiastical and religious control, unlike other major translations into English, including the King James Version and its descendants (Protestant), the Douay-Rheims Version and its progeny (Catholic) , and the New International Version (Evangelical)." The SV is not bound by the dictates of church councils (it has not denominational axes to grind, nor "orthodox" doctrines to defend). Its contents and organization vary from the more traditional versions.

ET CETERA. The book (553 pp) is full of essays on topics like: (1) The Seven Pillars of Scholastic Wisdom, (2) The Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith, (3) The Gospels in Greek, (4) A Map of Gospel Relationships, (5) Rules of Written Evidence, (6) Who Wrote the Gospels, (7) The Rules of Oral Evidence, (8) The Jesus Seminar at Work (analytical methods).

Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. THE FIVE GOSPELS, The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1993.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Peaceful Melancholy

My young athletic doctor was an All-State basketball player for the Boerne Greyhounds some thirty years ago. He gets up at 5:00 am three times a week to play basketball in our high school gymnasium. It is not a good thing to have a former all-state athlete for your physician. His parameters of possibility expand far beyond the normal boundaries of hope.

"Follow my advice and you will die a quick, easy death. Keep going as you are and your death will be slow and painful."

What he wants me to do is slow and painful: run, walk, ride a bicycle, grab the flirtatious hand of the vixen of health. As opposed to sinking into the fraternal order of sofa spuds ("couch potatos" to you not so hip) and enjoying another round of decadent goo and fizz.

So the option is (1) slow and relaxed interminables as a presage to slow and painful death. Or (2) a quick, easy death preceded by pain and deprivation.

It's just a major league quandry framed in a trick question. When I was five years old, my mother presented a minor league dilemma with its own deceiving choice: "Do you want to wear this red shirt, or the blue shirt?" The question offers no permanent choice at all, except to settle mother's anxiety (I might miss the school bus if she doesn't get a shirt on me.) So I chose the red shirt, but tomorrow the blue one was still there.

All through our lives we struggle with the red/blue issue, ignoring the suppressed desire to not wear a shirt at all.

Not to die at all.

We ignore death to the point that it always comes as an unexpected guest. It is the enemy, the darkness against which even the most valiant light dims. The poet laureate of our youth schooled us:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I think not. Rage just doesn't fit the end of the living of these days. Sometime in the next year, ten years, twenty or even thirty, I will die. The thought does not scare me. I have given up control many times in times when the force was undefeatable. ("Just close your eyes and count backwards from 100": "100, 99, 98, 97 . . .") Rage, no.

Give me gentle submission when I bow. Give me a completeful release of the last energy flow. Concern is small for whatever lies beyond that last revival attempt by the caregivers. Let me go gentle into that good night.

And, I sleep best with no night shirt.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Random Expulsions

A drive has taken me here, pushed me here, forced me to sit at the keyboard. Yet, I know not why, nor what to say.

I do not think George W is an evil person, but I may be wrong. What compulsion could be driving the man into a position of attacking another country (Iran) at a time when we can barely sustain our forces in Iraq? There is no way we can sustain an extensive ground war in Afganistan, Iraq and Iran at the same time. No way short of a military draft. Yet he talks as if that is his focus. Evil, no, but possibly tragically possessed with some obsession of manifest destiny.

My early favorite Democrat, Obama, seems to lack the spine to get mean enough to defeat Hillary. Hillary has too many loose ends and too many tight stretches to hold it together. This tragic couple (Hillary & Bill) will be unable to avoid a major melt-down before the election (Nov 08). Watch her start to fade by mid-January.

Edwards will fade, as his money dries up. Richardson can't stop talking about his experiences (and we are tired of listening). So that leaves Joe Biden, another early favorite of mine. The most articulate candidate in the field, he may have learned to measure his words.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Interesting to me, at least, but not the reason I sat here this day.

I am headed to retirement next June (08). The change looks very intriguing to me. Mostly, I hope to have time to research and write: stuff about theology, mental illness, to re-read all of Kurt Vonnegutt's books. To teach some progressive theology classes. To work 20 hours a week in some church, probably in a visiting pastor role. To be able to find a small circle of friends with whom I'll need not maintain a "pastoral" role. To get my blood sugar under control. To help my grandson, grand daughter grow up. To develop a web site that will have lasting value. To get my appetites under control: financial and food.

Well, maybe one of two of those things, before I peek into eternity.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Erik Erikson's Eighth Stage of Man involves the struggle between despair and intergrity. I know that will be a major field of turmoil for me. Despair could mean falling into the easy chair with the latest book of Sudoku puzzles and refusing to come out. Or, it could be a fanatical dive into some messianic effort to set the world right. May I be saved from any resolution; saved for a wholeness that comes from equal parts of ying and yang.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Where does the passion of life surface? Have I really developed gills so that the passion for fresh air has been squashed? Little by little, unnoticeably, have I pushed my own thoughts and feelings back into the folds of a dark blanket, for the sake of promoting the growth of parishioner's spiritual weeds? Have I listened with an ear concerned for their tranquility rather than growth? Have I worried more about being controversial, than instructive?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Somehow this diatribe has not brought satisfaction, for there is an incompleteness to it all these days. Standing on the precipice, looking down, then up, I feel certain that the allure of what's-happening-tomorrow will keep me in the race. Hardball, Countdown, Jon Stewart, even Bill Maher will keep me looking around the corner; hoping that George W hasn't blown up the world, or provoked some else into doing it. Pity the man; fear what he might do.