inside my brain

Wanna know how I got these scars?

Wednesday night I saw The Dark Knight again (mild spoiler alert), and it was ten times better the second time around. I’m not quite sure if it was the fact that I didn’t have a headache and I wasn’t so close that I had to look up for two and a half hours, or if it was because I already knew the overall plot so I had a chance to pay closer attention to how things unfolded and pick up a lot more about the details, plot intricacies, cinematography…

Mainly, though, I came away with a greater understanding of the philosophical themes presented in the movie (as an aside, the political themes are worth an essay in themselves) and was blown away by the unabashedly honest portrayal of human nature.

As I watched the film the second time, I was thinking about the Joker’s character and why he’s so simultaneously likable and hateable. The mannerisms and nuances of Ledger’s acting makes every appearance by the Joker charmingly enjoyable, and he delivers several of the film’s funniest lines (although Fox’s “Blackmail?” taunt is my favorite), yet his diabolically cruel plans mixed with the casualness of their deployment makes you want to hate him for his evilness.

I also noticed – and I don’t know how I missed this the first time – that the Joker’s fight is not against Batman, but against the idea that people are inherently good. Batman has lent courage to the town of Gotham to flush out the mob and turn itself around, and that doesn’t sit well with the Joker’s paradigm that people are inherently cruel, selfish, and heartless, so he tries to use Batman to bring out the worst in people. He tells Batman that the laws and morals of the citizens is all just a bad joke. “I’ll show you, that when the chips are down, these uh… civilized people, they’ll eat each other.”

Thus the Joker proceeds to concoct “social experiments” to strip away the moral fiber of Gotham’s inhabitants. He tells everyone that if a certain character isn’t dead in an hour, he’ll blow up a hospital – instantly turning relatives of the sick and injured into would-be assassins of an innocent man. And his detonation scheme involving two ferries is downright ingenious.

I then realized the brilliance of making the Joker’s character so likeable – he doesn’t represent the typical magnificent but distant force of a Hitler or even a Sauron, such an extreme of stereotyped evil that no one can identify with or use to make philosophical comparisons. No, the Joker represents the simple potential impulse for evil inside of us – the bare, sinful nature of our own hearts, just as you can love yourself but hate what you find yourself doing.

The Joker corrupts the most honorable man in Gotham to prove his point, which Batman views as a defeat for the forces of good. With an epiphany, I viewed it as a vindication of the beginning of the most beautiful victory, because, in a sense, the Joker’s paradigm is correct – but only as the opening frame of a much more complete and fulfilling paradigm. The Joker’s corrupting of Gotham’s “white knight” represents the fact that all of us are sinners, acting for our own selfish desires, fulfillment, and feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment. But that’s not the end of the story!

I’m reminded of a song by Shane & Shane called “Embracing Accusations,” where the duo sings about the devil accusing people of being horrible and selfish and tries to bring them down with dismay and despair. With a twist, the Shanes say the devil is actually telling the gospel story; he’s just stuck on the first part and has “forgotten the refrain,” where Jesus says, “Yes, you have sinned, you have done things only for yourself at the expense of others, but I have paid the price for that, and I’m offering you forgiveness. Follow me and I will teach you to love.”

It is Love that covers the Joker’s paradigm that people are cruel, and takes them and molds them into something better. It is this brilliant portrayal of the realities of human nature that thrusts The Dark Knight from greatness to a legendary film.

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inside my brain

Modesty Schmodesty

This post has moved to my non-music site. Read my review for Shalit’s A Return to Modesty here.

Excerpt:

She notes how the pressure has turned to women being expected to have sex with their men even if they don’t yet want to. When comparing advice offered in magazines of different ages, she reveals, “In 1905, a man who was too presuming wasn’t ‘fit to be welcomed’ in society, while in 1997 the problem is the woman’s. Now it is up to her to invent various arbitrary maneuvers to alleviate her discomfort, whereas before it was the man’s job to demonstrate he was worthy of her.”

In an earlier age, it was the man who had to prove himself worthy of a woman’s love and attention; now women have to worry about satisfying their men, many of whom who will without a second thought move on to someone else who’s more fun or who doesn’t start talking about marriage and commitment once she finds that she has an emotional attachment to this man she’s been sleeping with – an emotional attachment that cannot seem to be gotten rid of no matter how hard our society tries to promote casual sex. Perhaps there’s a reason for that, Shalit offers.

devotionals

Love. Joy. Apples.

Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

(Psalm 37:5)

Much of my work at the Apple Store consists of unboxing packages and shelving inventory. One of my secondary duties is to answer the phones when others are occupied, and last Tuesday I was answering them just a little more than usual. One man called around one in the afternoon. He had a technical support appointment at 6:00 and wanted to know if he could make it earlier. There was a spot available at 4:00, so I clicked the name of a man with a 6:00 appointment and rescheduled it.

But both 6:00 appointment slots had been filled with a name, and with an inexplicably inexcusable haste, I did not clarify the name of the man who wished to change his appointment time, and unbeknownst to me, changed the wrong one.

At 3:46, the phone rang. I happened to answer it. It was the same man. He called to say that he wasn’t going to be able to make it at 4:00 and to see if he could just change his appointment back to 6:00. “Wait… what was your name?” With a muffled shock, I realized I had changed the wrong man’s appointment. By the grace of God, the other 6:00 slot was still open, and I changed the other man back to 6:00 and informed the original man that his appointment was now (or, just as correctly, still) for 6:00.

This may seem like a trivial coincidence, but let’s review the possibilities.

If the other 6:00 slot had since been filled, which is not uncommon with two hours remaining, I would not have been able to fit both men into the time, and would probably have had to move the calling man to the nearest available time to move the clueless man back to his intended time slot. My mistake would have inconvenienced the calling man at best, as well as probably angering him and/or making him wait longer than necessary to have his machine checked. The calling man would have suffered because of my failure.

Secondly, if someone else had answered the latter call (and I never answer close to half of the phone calls), he or she would not have known about my mix-up and would have told the man he was already scheduled for 6. He might have been surprised and suspicious, but at least he would still get serviced when expected. However, the other man who had been unknowingly “rescheduled” to 4, would have been crossed off the list as a “no-show” by the time he came in at 6, and he would have to wait a couple hours to get serviced, if there was any time available at all, and at least the clueless man would have suffered because of my failure.

Finally, if the man had not called back but come in at 4:00, he would have learned that he was still scheduled for 6 with few if any earlier slots remaining, and would have been extremely upset at Apple’s customer service that led him to expect he could be serviced at 4. In this case, both customers would have suffered because of my failure.

It was improbable that neither man would feel the effects of my mistake, but nothing occurred except for my learning an important lesson to be more careful about rescheduling appointments. I thanked God for his grace that prevented my mistake from causing grief to others.

Later in the week, God used that event to remind me how he’s been faithful through my entire life, even to the point of sometimes saving me from my own mistakes that should have caused greater consequences. I was overcome with the joy of the assurance that his grace will continue to be faithful through the future.

It’s hardly uncommon for a single guy to wish to be otherwise, but lately that desire has been more distracting than usual. I’m perfectly content, in theory, to wait for God’s timing, but I had been starting to wonder if I’m supposed to be, shall we say, looking or trying harder, or if I’m doing something wrong. God reassured me that his grace will continue to cover my life, and that I’ll know when to pursue. He’s never failed to come through in the past; it’s literally impossible for him to not continue to do so!

When this revelation becomes real, the dutiful, unverified “faith in the unseen” becomes an excited, confident faith rooted in the simple fact of God’s overwhleming and consistent love. Only then can one truly understand how “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” And this assurance is a double blessing. Not only do you realize while you are showered in God’s grace that he is going to come through ~ a certainty that is powerful enough ~ but you realize that because you are loved by and favored by ~ indeed, you are with ~ God, it doesn’t even matter in a particular situation whether or not he comes through, because you are with God, and nothing could make that more complete.

I was explaining some of this to a friend last night who has also seen God working in her life, and she said she felt like she was talking to herself. To top it off, we discovered that we had both independently been led to the same encouraging psalm (did I mention that someone at church this morning also quoted from it?). These “coincidental” confirmations only increase the amazement of God’s blessing and the powerful joy of the confidence that he will continue to guide our lives. It is only within that joy that you can wonder with self-amusement how you could ever doubt, and not feel shamed, because that same Love is there to forgive, and then be overcome all over again by that great and mighty Love.

If anyone feels inclined to caution against putting too much stock in the emotional experiences of the religious life, he must also caution the lover against feeling too happy after a long, beautiful walk with his beloved. The emotional outpourings of a well-founded relationship are not an artificial danger, but the most fulfilling expression of its reailty. God is REAL. And he loves YOU. Let that warm your heart.

The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand…
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
And his tongue speaks justice.
The law of his God is in his heart;
His steps do not slip…
Mark the blameless man, and behold the upright
For the man of peace will have a posterity.
But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
He is their strength in time of trouble.
The LORD helps them and delivers them;
He delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
Because they take refuge in Him.

(Ps 37:23-40)

inside my brain

Vegetarians, Sex, and Jesus

“Helps prevent heart disease?” exclaimed the mother behind me in Aisle 4 at Schnucks, reading from a bag of off-brand Cheerios.

“My child is two! He doesn’t need to prevent heart disease; he needs sugar! I had sugar when I was his age…”

I smiled, amused. In a culture marked by a growing obsession with healthy, organic, low-fat, low-sodium, low-carb, reduced sugar diets, this woman was bluntly determined to raise her child in the good old-fashioned American way. Sure, obesity’s a growing (sorry) problem, but that’s because people don’t have self-control. It’s not like you have to be a health nut to make it in this society; as long as you don’t go overboard and eat a variety of stuff, a fair amount of sugar and fat isn’t going to kill you ~ so why deprive yourself?

On the other hand, there are people like Jonathan, one of my new co-workers at Apple. Jonathan is a vegeterian. Vegetarians tend to invite a restrained aura of respect, partially because most of us simply can’t imagine giving up thickburgers, and partially because we admire their voluntarily strict adherence to their beliefs ~ there are few forced vegeterians. Whether it’s for animal treatment or just a desire to eat healthily, a typical vegeterian has personally chosen to forsake something that most of us admit we have not the fortitude to give up.

However, it has occurred to me that, just as we do for the mouth, we can identify people by what they consume with their eyes and ears. Most of us don’t concern ourselves too greatly with the quality of our intake; we don’t pig out excessively on the vulgar stuff, but limiting our diet to the noblest and purest ingredients is too bland and unnecessary and super-spiritual. We take in a variety of what comes our way and what we feel like at the time.

The fat couch potatoes are the ones who just fill up on junk food and never watch or listen to anything healthy. The reduced-everything health nuts are the paranoid mothers trying to protect their children from every potential bad influence. And, of course, the ultimate vegans are the monks who completely reject the meaty, fleshy, corrupted world.

There is nothing more pure we should be filling ourselves with than the immeasurable and mighty Love that presses us to continually draw nearer and to reflect it in everything we do. The world constantly tries to express love, and may succeed in some small part or shadow. But all too often it steals the name to make of it a mockery, wallowing in selfish pleasure and satisfaction that knows nothing of pure, beautiful, self-denying Love. Yet our diets tend to be full of this fake-love that is shoved at us from all sides.

Perhaps we feel that since we recognize it as fake-love, it will not corrupt our ability to take in the real Love. Strict cultural vegetarianism is not a requirement for a healthy spiritual life. Jesus said that it is not “what goes into a man’s mouth” that makes him unclean, “but what comes out.” How well we express Love is more important than how much Love or fake-love we take in. And yet how can we express that Love if we consistently allow ourselves to consume its selfish and corrupted impostor?

I’ve realized that I’m a bit of a cultural vegetarian. I was raised in a home with atypically stringent standards of visual diet, and I am still uncomfortable with shows and movies that encourage lust or display or joke freely about sex, a sacred act that has been reduced to an extremely pleasurable activity that happens to involve another human being, instead of the beautiful and anticipated culmination of the fantastic journey in which two become one. The crude expressions are something I do not need more encouragement to spend more time considering. I don’t disapprove of a friend with different dietary preferences; we are each abiding by our own standards. But in my pursuit of Love, I generally choose to avoid some of its coarser and baser counterfeits, whether in music or film or some other medium.

Do not mistake me for advocating an enclosed diet of strictly spiritual sustenance, although the monks doubtlessly lead healthier lives than we. Exposure to darkness can be integral to understanding, appreciating, and explaining the light. But there is a difference between exposure and acceptance, between tasting and consuming. Only you can decide how healthy you want to be. Paul tells us to set our sights on things above, and to think on what is true. Receive Love. Give Love. There is nothing more.

inside my brain

In Defense of Emotion

I vividly remember a high school chapel service in which Scary Mark read a verse about Christ’s power over death and was upset that a rousing cry did not ring out among the students. After a chastizing sermon about being passionate for Jesus, he read the verse again, receiving his shouts from a few students who hoped he would then leave us alone. I believed in Christ’s resurrection and thanked God for it, but I would not fake such emotion.

Emotion is a tricky thing when it comes to our faith, and it is often ridiculed because it is so easily mistaken, misled, and misused. Many times we look at those who break into tears at every special service or abandon themselves in worship and condescendingly think, “I just don’t worship God like that. I don’t feel all that emotion which will be gone tomorrow or the next week. My faith may be quieter, but it is not so superficial.”

Because it often receives so much focus (especially in my charistmatic-ish neck of the Christian woods), emotion is often feared and avoided when it comes to our God.

Yet I feel this is a terrible mistake.

Do lovers, resting quietly in a park on a sunny day, gaze at each other and proclaim, “No. We shall not touch. That is all emotion. It is not real.”

Of course not!

Yes, it can be dangerous. It is easy and convenient to focus only on those emotional satisfactions, and a relationship that relies on such experiences may falter without them. But when the relationship has been built on a solid foundation, those emotions are the pure expression of complete joy!

I do not always feel ravishing emotion towards my God. Some days I read the Word and feel like I’ve received nothing; sometimes I pray only crying out for help. Sometimes I believe all the truths about God but feel nothing stirring inside me.

But when God reveals some facet of his unfathomable mercy and grace and power, some direct answer to prayer or some direct speaking through a verse, some hidden insight into his glorious, unconditional love that covers us completely and eternally ~ O my soul, Rejoice! How can we not be overcome! When that lyric plays across my iPod or verse plays across my mind and that emotion fills my being,

I cannot hold it in and remain composed
Love’s taken over me
So I propose
The letting myself go, I am letting myself go

You are my joy
You are my joy
You are my joy
YOU ARE MY JOY!

In that moment, I don’t care whether I’m getting caught up in an emotion or stop to ponder the theological significance of my feelings ~ I just want to smile and laugh and sing and shout and dance because of the consuming joy!

Does this mean I believed any less in God’s love and power on that emotionless chapel day than I do on this day when the simplest lyric cannot keep a smile from my face? Of course not. Religious emotion is a curious thing, nearly as fleeting and unreliable as its romantic counterpart. Perhaps tomorrow, or next week, there will be no smile.

But that does not make today’s emotion, or the emotion of any genuine “mountain-top experience,” any less real than that of the lovers in each other’s arms. In fact, it is probably part of something infinitely more real than anything in this world.