Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Quick "Defense" of the Disney LucasFilms Buyout

From Disney
I have a big midterm tomorrow, so this is going to have to be quick. For those of you who don't know, Disney has bought out LucasFilms and made plans to release a new Star Wars film in 2015.

Many fanboys and girls have dutifully announced the end of the world.

It's an understandable reaction. Afterall, Star Wars has already been trampled on so horribly by Lucas, imagine what the Mouse might do. Nevertheless, I, for one, am cautiously optimistic.

To begin with, let's face the fact that Star Wars will never be what the originals were. Even a film that matches their quality will never match their magic. Let's also admit that, as I said before, Lucas himself has trampled on Star Wars. The prequels are horrible. Moreover, Star Wars stuff is being made. There's already the Clone Wars TV show, plans for a live action show, and that peculiar Seth Green comedy being made.

Disney has also shown they can do Star Wars. Star Tours is a brilliant expression of the Star Wars universe (at least the original is, I'm not really acquainted with the new one).

Not too long ago, Disney bought out Marvel, to similar fan distress. Now, that wasn't as big of a deal as this, but let's look at what's happened. Despite jokes to the contrary, Mickey Mouse has not waltzed into a Marvel film. Moreover, there's that little thing called Avengers. It hasn't all been perfect, of course - witness Disney's cancellation of the near perfect Spectacular Spider-man to replace it with an utter failure, but neither has it been disastrous.

Star Wars has needed to be emancipated from Lucas for a long time. A cultural myth that big shouldn't be in the hands of one man whose vision for it is so utterly divorced from that of his fans. I suspect a new Star Wars film under the direction of Disney will be good. Not, as I said, as good as the originals (but we still have those, and who knows, maybe Disney will let us get our hands on the original originals again), but possibly at least as good as Avengers, which is considerably better than the disaster of the prequels.

Here's to hope.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Holy Virginity

Virgin Mary Annunciate by Fra Angelico
from WikiPaintings 
Sex is good. Or so I've been told, loudly and often, by churches eager to set themselves apart from a past perceived as anti-sex. We are not those old Greek Fathers who hated sex. We now see that the Jews perceived sex as unambiguously good, and so, therefore, should we. Nevermind, of course, that the culture which surrounded the Greek Fathers also saw sex as good, and engaged in it, apparently, in ways wild enough to make the sexual revolution look like a Victorian luncheon. Nevermind that when Socrates, in Phaedrus, contrasted love and sex, he was doing so in a society in which pederasty was the norm. Nevermind that Christianity, in making virginity a virtue for all people actually created great liberty for women.

And certainly let's not ask how we got from the (admittedly extreme) place of St. Gregory of Nyssa insisting that the Song of Songs could only be allegory and not about sex at all, to a place where Mark Driscoll can claim it's not at all allegory, but just a sex manual.

No, nevermind all that, the Greek Fathers were prudes, and we most certainly are not.

Of course, we are quickly reminded, this is sex in its proper context, which is marriage. Till we can have this proper sex, we should wait. Virginity, then is virtuous.

Yet what if the Greek Fathers had a point? Yes, sexuality is a good thing, when it is, and we should never cease to give glory to God for His gift to us of it. Yet in a world in which sin is a reality, it is hardly unambiguously good. Its not just promiscuous sex that's the problem either, married relations have their fair share of problems.

I vehemently affirm the proposition that sex is good, and that we should not forget this fact. Yet, it's a fact that would be hard for us to forget in the world we live in. Our culture frequently tells us that sex is good. We tell ourselves sex is good. And let's not forget the huge problems that single men and women in the pastorate have in finding jobs, or the marginal place which single people are assigned in our churches. Nor is it unproblematic that, in my experience, the Christian desire for companionship looks almost identical to that of the contemporary non-Christian world, and radically different from that of the past. The pendulum has swung too far.

Let us continue to affirm the goodness of sex, but let us recover virginity. Let us affirm the positive goodness of virginity as a virtue, and not just its negative goodness. In other words, let us not just see virginity as avoiding a sin of commission, but as a positive commission of virtue. Let us also not fall into the trap of thinking that spiritual virginity is asexual. To engage virginity as a Christian virtue is very much to engage ones sexuality. One cannot be a virgin without being a sexual being.

We should also not let the religious virgins and sacramental marriages be two different worlds. Both expressions of Christian virtue ought to speak into and inform each other.

Many of the great Saints of the Church, from St. Paul to St. Thomas Aquinas, and above all, of course, the Virgin Mary, have been such virgins.

 I will close by saying that it is not impossible to transverse from one world into another. For those, like me, who are single, but do not feel a call to lifetime celibacy, there is still a place for positively engaging our virginity as a special gift by which can be identified with the great Saints of the Church, and be shaped more into the image and likeness of Christ. We can, and ought to, engage our virginity as a prayer unto God, and not merely as a waiting room for the glorious future of marital bliss. Let us be present to where we are, that, in the sacrament of the present moment, we, with all the Saints, might be transformed by God's love so that our lives might be a good for the sake of others.

The Martyrs Testify: Christian Catholicity Against the Victim Mentality

The Martyrdom of St. Stephen
by Annibale Carracci from WikiPaintings
A few weekends ago, Regent College had a conference on faith and politics. During this conference, Peter Leithart spoke on the role of martyrs in the transformation of society. He emphasized the powerful witness of the Christian martyrs against the system of power in the old roman world, and how this witness stood as a prophecy of the coming destruction of pagan Rome, and as a prayer to the God who would surely not let the seed of the martyr blood lie fallow. Leithart then emphasized that we ought to identify ourselves with the martyr witness.

In response to this, Iwan Russel-Jones worried that to focus on the martyrs would simply encourage the harmful victim mentality of modern evangelical Christians.

And he's right - it might. Indeed, I think it will if we continue to forget the catholicity of the Church. If we forget that we are one body with the martyrs past, present and future, then we may indeed exaggerated our own sense of cultural alienation into melodramatic martyr language.

However, I believe that the prescription of Peter Leithart is precisely what we need to cure the victim mentality. For Leithart is not advocating a localized view of martyrdom and the church, but a global one. When we are truly catholic, remembering that many Christians today are true martyrs, and that they are our brothers and sisters, along with the saints in Heaven who's prayers continually go up before the throne of God, then we can be under no illusion that our present trials are martyrdom. Our witness will become the prayers, fasting and acts of service we do in honour of those whose lives have become true sacrifices.

Let us remember the martyr-saints who have gone before us, and those who stand beside us in the Church militant.