The Heidelberg Catechism begins in such a different way than Westminster, which is probably far more familiar to most. The Westminster Catechism opens with this question:
Q1: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.
It’s a grand question with a grand answer. It reminds me of high-vaulted cathedrals and fiery preachers. It’s a sweeping, cosmic thought. It starts with our ultimate goal and ties it to ultimate reality. I love it, I really do.
In Terry Pratchett’s excellent book Wyrd Sisters, Death (you know– robe, scythe, grins all the time) wanders onto the backstage of a theater during a performance. I found his reflections fascinating: Continue reading “Art and Longing”→
It seems that anyone wishing to write a piece urging people to consider what smart tech is doing to their heads is branded as a Luddite, or at least gets tagged as having Luddite sympathies. So before you grab your L-shaped stencil and your scarlet thread, let me clarify. I don’t think smart technology is evil; I do, however, think we need to consider carefully its effect on our lives, perhaps in a way that has not often been done. Continue reading “Your Smart Phone Is Evil, And So Are You”→
Elizabeth Malbon, in her book Hearing Mark, gives this insightful gem:
Perhaps Greek philosophers worried about the essence of God, but Jewish and Jewish-Christian storytellers focused on the activity of God and God in Christ. In the biblical tradition not only have the people of God imagined their relationship with God as a story, but also individual members continue to experience their own lives as stories. Perhaps this is why it is so easy for us to get caught up in the story Mark’s Gospel tells.
Let’s say that my parents, my siblings, and I are at an event where I am to be the speaker for the evening. After being introduced, I ascend to the podium and say, “Before I begin this evening, I’d like to thank my family for being here.” Unless I’m speaking at an event for families, this probably isn’t necessary, but it would be a kind gesture, wouldn’t it?
But let’s say I don’t do that. Instead, I walk up to the podium and say, “Before I begin this evening, I’d like to thank my siblings for being here,” or “Before I begin this evening, I’d like to thank my father and my sister Laura for being here,” without mentioning either my mother or other siblings. This would probably no longer be regarded as a kind gesture, at least not by those who know I have two parents and three siblings in the audience. Now the statement seems cruel, designed to hurt the family members left out. It would be better for me not to say anything at all about my family, or to generally thank them without naming them all, than it would be to name two and not the others.
This was my contention with the movie Wildflower, a low-budget Christian film about a girl struggling with mental illness who witnesses a crime. The movie was good in so many ways– good use of motif and imagery, good cast, great perspective on mental illness, good plot– nevertheless, the film failed in one respect. It was distinctly “Christian” and never mentioned the person or work of Jesus Christ.
There were two church event scenes in Wildflower, four overtly religious conversations, and one prayer. And Jesus was not mentioned in any of them, overtly or covertly. God was mentioned a lot. So were concepts like hope and faith. But not Jesus.
I’m not saying that Jesus has to be mentioned in order for a film to be Christian. I’m not saying that God has to be mentioned for a film to be Christian. But to quote Scripture, mention God, and show snippets of one sermon, one Bible study, one prayer, and a few “Christian” conversations without Christ? It seems that this is either a deliberate oversight on the part of the production team in an attempt to be more relatable to the non-Christian world or evidence that the writers and producers of the film themselves don’t know that Jesus is the very soul and center of our faith. In either case, this film showcases Christianity without Christ, a Christianity of which I want no part.
I’m not saying the movie was wholly bad. It challenged me on several levels. I recommend that you watch it. Watch it, and pray that God will raise up producers who are not ashamed of the explicit message of the cross.
I can’t prove it, but I believe the writers for Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl used apples as a strong motif throughout the movie. In the scene where Elizabeth Swann is eating with Captain Barbossa, he offers her an apple, tells her about the Aztec curse, and then offers her an apple again. Later on, when they’ve reached the gold chest, Barbossa says to Elizabeth, “You know the first thing I’m goin’ to do after the curse is lifted? Eat a whole bushel of apples.” The curse is not lifted, of course, and the story moves on. As the Black Pearl is set to fire upon the Interceptor, Jack picks up an apple and says to Barbossa, “I suppose I should be thanking you because, in fact, if you hadn’t betrayed me and left me to die, I would have an equal share in that curse, same as you.” He then bites into the apple. At the end of the scene, he offers the apple to Barbossa, who takes it, glares at it, and throws it into the ocean. At the conclusion of the film, as the pirate crew of the Black Pearl enters the cave with the Aztec gold for the last time, Barbossa is carrying an apple, and when the curse is lifted and he dies, an apple falls from his open hand.
What should we make of this? Perhaps I’m seeing an apple motif where there is none; after all, wine, meat, and bread are also present in the dinner scene, and I’m only picking up on apples. I think there is reason to suspect some degree of intentionality, however. First, apples are only mentioned or seen in scenes revolving around the Aztec curse. Second, they’re mentioned at odd times, almost artificially inserted into the storyline. And possibly most compelling, the apple that falls from Barbossa’s hand wasn’t in his hand in the shot directly before (I checked). Taken together, this points to a deliberate theme.
Motifs don’t just exist for the fun of it, however. What does the apple symbolize? Given the conversation surrounding the “apple scenes,” I think the apple symbolizes the fullness of life denied to the pirates because of their curse. This is why there is such a hunger in Barbossa’s eyes when he offers Elizabeth the apple. Voyeurism has become a substitute for first-hand experience. It’s also why he makes the comment he does at the cave: “You know the first thing I’m goin’ to do after the curse is lifted? Eat a whole bushel of apples.” The way the pirates laugh makes his seemingly innocent remark sound dirty, and it so the apple takes on a euphemistic quality. This explains why Jack can eat an apple and Barbossa can’t. It also explains why as Barbossa dies, an apple falls from his hand. Life has been denied him at the last.
Motifs don’t tell us anything new, but they can help us form an interpretive grid. The presence of a motif can give some insight into a situation we don’t yet understand. For example, after the credits play in Curse of the Black Pearl, we see a close up shot of an apple bobbing in the water, panning up to a shot of Barbossa’s body. Might this suggest that life isn’t done with Barbossa yet, that there may be another chance for him to eat the apple? The next time we see him, at the end of the second movie, he’s alive and finally eating his apple.
I’ve run out of room, but I think that reflecting on well-done motifs in good stories can give us room for rich reflection on the symbols and themes that Scripture uses to communicate itself.
This post is part of an ongoing series. The series is introduced here.
Leviticus 12:1-8 gives instructions for purification after childbirth. It’s been cited as further evidence of the Bible’s horrible terrible no good very bad misogynistic worldview. Reading the passage, it isn’t hard to see how someone could come to that conclusion. If a woman gives birth to a boy, she is unclean for seven days, the boy is circumcised, and then she is to continue in “the blood of her purifying” for thirty-three days. But if a woman gives birth to a girl, she is unclean for two weeks, and must continue in the blood of her purifying to sixty-six days. Why is it that the mother is unclean at all, first, and why is it that she is unclean for twice as long after the birth of a girl?
It seems that in the Levitical law, everything that proceeded out from a person made them unclean. In Leviticus 13-14, skin diseases were leprous and made the diseased unclean if they went deeper than the skin, revealing the inner parts. In chapter 15, any bodily discharges which issued from the inner parts made the person having them unclean. Keep in mind that these laws for Israel were given to show them (and us) to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Cleanness was not principally a moral category. It was a ritual category which was then analogically used to talk about holiness and sin (Leviticus 18:24-25).
The impact of these laws from chapters 12-15 was to communicate that everything which proceeds from within us makes us unclean. That’s what we are. We’re unclean from the inside out. When Christ came into the world, however, he said “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38, NASB). When Jesus comes, everything changes. No longer are we unclean from the inside out; now we’re made clean, and rivers of living water flow, cleansing everything around us. It’s an example of the way Jesus reverses the flow of the holiness continuum. In the New Covenant, clean things make unclean things clean, rather than the other way around.
For a woman to be unclean after giving birth was not a statement about her worth or about the innate rightness/wrongness of a woman’s sexual organs; it’s a statement about sin. Being sinners from birth, doesn’t it make sense that we would taint the world around us?
But if that is the prime consideration here, why is a woman unclean for twice as long after giving birth to a girl? Commentators on Leviticus have put forward a number of possibilities, ranging from medical complications to ancient near eastern fertility myths. I believe the answer has to do with the sign of circumcision. Circumcision is the covenant sign, and the uncircumcised nations were unclean (Isaiah 52:1). Symbolically, then, if a male is circumcised, he (and by extension, his mother) is no longer unclean. There is no corresponding ritual to circumcision for females in the Old Testament, and so they are unclean for two weeks.
This passage in Leviticus is not an example of sexism. Israel is yet again playing out a typological drama of sin and redemption before the world, much like the prophets did at times. There are roots in this passage stretching back to the curse and the first promise of redemption in Genesis 3:15, and tendrils stretching forward to the new that comes in Christ and makes all things clean.