Tag Archives: Creation

Movie Review: 'Noah'

This past Monday, a couple of friends and I had the privilege of seeing the esteemed and much and anticipated ‘NOAH’!

Honestly, I was not quite sure what to think of this film going in. In the evangelical community it seems as though the three big films to look for at the moment are Noah, Son of God, and God’s Not Dead. Son Of God seems to simply be yet another dry rendition of what ought to be called “the lie and times of white Jesus”; God’s Not Dead (as evident in the gag-worthy trailer) simply affirms the mistaken narrative of the innocent young, white, ,cheery-eyed Christian pitted against the angry, atheist  professor. So, striking these two off of my list, the only one I was even remotely interested in seeing was Noah.

With any movie even loosely based on the bible, there is going to be some degree of artistic liberty taken. One of the biggest places this is evident(almost distractingly so) is in the ‘nephilim’ passages:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

And what does this translate to:

That’s right, the image you see above is the movie’s depiction of the elusive ‘nephilim’ or, as they’re referred to in the film, the watchers. They’re essentially these rock golems who are described in the film as being angels who were sent from heaven to protect and guide humanity , but the watchers you see above are the result of those angels that have gotten too entangled with the things of the earth(sin) and quite literally the lava and solid portion of creation and so God encased their more beautiful former forms in rock as punishment. It’s an interesting concept and in the end I guess I appreciate the risk with such an artistic rendering, but it was also a bit distracting, especially if one didn’t have a passing familiarity with where the idea even came from..

The rest of my ideas about this film are essentially spot on with an article that fellow-blogger, blerd, and liberation theologian Rod had shared with me. It was an article from Greenleft Weekly, entitled  “Noah story not for conservatives“. In it, the author,Karl Hand, makes several great points that run perfectly in line with the vibes and ideas that I got from the film,

“Conservative scholars like to breeze over these unedifying details, and give a Disneyfied, PG version of Noah. But Aronofsky’s warts-and-all reading of Noah, with its “green agenda”, gets something of both the Noah myth, and the ancient Semitic mythical world-view, that the traditional, Christianized re-telling miss”

– This is a powerful, powerful statement that I agree with whole-heartedly. On the car-ride back with my friends, I remember turning to them and asking “It was subtle, but I got a bit of an ecological/environmental apocalyptic vibe from that film” and they nodded hesitantly ( so as to appease the resident rabid environmentalist- myself). Or WAS it so subtle? As Hand alludes to in his review of the film, ( and in the quote above) much of our own perceptions of ‘Noah’ has to do with the way American Christian culture has presented the story. The way it’s been presented , traditionally, was so as to emphasize and harmonize the strict , self-righteous moral code within the evangelical Church and , thereby externalize/dismiss any other part of the story that are “irrelevant” to reinforcing this moral code. This story is often taught in tandem with the Sodom of Gomorrah – need I say more?

“Creationist Ken Ham’s recent public debate with Bill Nye (“the science guy”) at the Creation Museum included a lengthy and totally perplexing section on the science of building arks, and the feasibility of one being built 4000 years ago by a 600-year-old man named Noah.

This debate fizzled about the time Nye asked Ham if there was a kangaroo on the ark, and why haven’t we found any remains of it on its journey to Australia.

As bad, if not worse, than Ham’s appalling science was his appalling anthropology and total insensitivity to the function of a good myth. Any attempt to take mythology as a record of literal events will result in this kind of absurdity.”

There was a scene in the film where Noah was reading the beginnings of Genesis to his family on the Ark as the torrential downpour had just began. As he was reading, there’s an incredible illustration of the world being formed from the beginning – however, the way it’s illustrated is awfully similar to the proto-planetary hypothesis in its display of the big bang and the formation of Earth from resultant rock bits and collisions from asteroids and the later appearance of the ocean and tectonic processes. This scene was so immensely potent because it essentially resolved (IMO) the idea that Genesis and the scientific account can coexist and achieve syncretism – but on a deeper level, for me at least, it revealed the divinity intrinsic in even the most exacting scientific account of the world’s formation. Scientific laws, theorems and properties often have very poetic rings to them – “Energy is neither created nor destroyed” , we call this science- but that’s ART!

“The power of mythology is its ability to describe the meaning of human life and resolve deep dialectical tensions (such as, in this case, the tensions between chaos and order, justice and kindness, ecological priorities and the value of human life).”

Excellent quote. I could not have said this better myself, honestly. The tension between chaos and order is certainly well-illustrated in this film and further fleshed out in cinematic finesse. I especially felt this film expertly illustrated the ecological priorities and the value of human life – the fact that the account of Noah’s story describes God as destroying a perverse humanity yet preserving the animals- the very foundations and cornerstones of our global ecology, is far more radical than most mainline evangelicals care to acknowledge. The Noah account displays the result of human wickedness- with the state our natural, physical planet being an indicator or reflection of our collective sin.

Adam and Eve’s first child Cain kills his brother Abel in a fit of jealousy, and this seems to damage the cosmic order of things as the ground cries out to God for justice (4:10). Aronofsky represents this in Noah’s dreams. On two occasions, he steps onto the earth, looks at the sole of his shoe and sees in horror that it has blood on it, which is oozing from the ground.

This is a representation of how violence and injustice affects the cosmic order — the ground itself is bleeding. Violence is not a purely individual phenomenon, it is systemic, it makes the order of things sick.

In one of the most brilliant scenes in the movie, the silhouette of this first primeval murder by Cain morphs into killings and murders from all ages in human history. It features various military clothing styles from different eras and also period weaponry.”

This quote is essentially the main punch for me. This quote sums up why, though trippy at parts, I ended up enjoying the film and its message overall. The notion that our very planet bears witness to our wickedness is certainly an idea that Christians today must understand and is not hard to believe (i.e. to what extent is the  abrupt shifting of our climate, rapid deforestation, loss of biodiversity, etc. telling of our problematic relationship to one another as a collective humanity- whether it be greed, racism, xenophobia, etc.?) The most brilliant scene in this film, that actually enhanced my understanding of the passage, was , in fact, what Hard described, as “the silhouette of this first primeval murder by Cain morphs into killings and murders from all ages in human history. It features various military clothing styles from different eras and also period weaponry” – all this so as to say we as a humanity, like Cain, are quite guilty for killing our brothers and sisters.

 

All these great things having been said – I did NOT appreciate the pale British-accented casting; let us remember that people who were essentially desert nomads would not have looked nor talked as European as they were depicted- but of course this is of no surprise to anyone with even a passing familiarity with Hollywood’s race problem. And with a film geared towards white evangelicals (along with Son of God and God’s not Dead), it can really be of no surprise that this is was the result.

If I had to rate this film, anything, I’d give it  a 7/10 – it was a solid film and one I think anyone who even thinks they might enjoy, in fact, would. While this film was probably more for the Emma Watson fanboys if anyone (lolz) and often displayed trippy/distracting cinematography and character traits ( Methuselah is a stoner- for lack of better words) along with (chronic whitening of biblical characters, the ideas this film confronts its mostly evangelical audience with are sure to reinvigorate a conversation that must take place within the Church today regarding the connection between environmental, social, economic ( and ultimately, spiritual) problems.

P.S. By the way, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this film was so trippy – the director, Darren Aronofsky, also directed perhaps the most mind-numbing portryal of drug addicts in film history: Requiem for a Dream:

 

 

 

The Power Of Love part 1: James Cone's Relational Theology

LIBERATING OPEN THEOLOGIES

white heart

For better or worse, Liberation Theology has endured having a reputation as an out-dated theological system written by subjective, angry Persons of Color and Women. It’s taught in seminaries as either a heretical abomination for pastors to avoid or as a needed corrective to years of corrupted systematic theologies that served its purpose in the 1970’s and ’80’s. In contrast, the spectrum of theologies referred to as Relational Theologies (and they range from Missional to Emergent to Post-Conservative to Wesleyan to Open and Process-Relational) are presented as systems of thought that are objective, balanced, and as the natural next wave forward for Christianity. Unlike Liberation Theology, Works on Relational Theologies / Theologies of Love are written for both laypersons and academics.

Liberation Theologies in the U.S.A inhabited privileged academic spaces and served as push back against what religious thinkers were being taught. In particular, the writings of James Hal Cone have functioned as sort of a revolutionary break from traditional Christian reflections on tradition. What makes Cone indispensable to the field of theology is that his project was the first systematized intellectual experiment to re-orient Christian Theology as a protest versus White Supremacy. Throughout his work, while Cone admits that he is writing theology for black people, the ground of relationality that Cone works from makes his theology an address to everyone. Towards this end, this series will serve as a thought experiment in re-evaluating and re-presenting Liberation Theology as a Relational Theology.

Theologies Of Love After Christopher Columbus

The “discovery” of the New World by Christopher Columbus as a number of theologians such as Willie Jennings was a major shift in Christianity. Here we have whole societies wiped out by slavery, genocide, disease and war, with those who would propagate the religion of the Prince of Peace justifying these atrocities with their sacred texts. The prominent epistemology for studying religion in the centuries that followed involved the enlightened, rational Western male subject. In order to determine who is deemed rational, one must first through pseudo-scientific scientific means determine who is uncivilized and irrational; in other words, whose bodies are worthy of destruction? Our line-up of all the great Western philosophers from David Hume, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, and even Karl Marx had rather “insightful” things to say about dark bodies. In short, Persons of Color and women were deemed as things to be colonized and assimilated, tailored into the image of the European male elite.

As violent and grotesque as these histories are, the Triune God of love never leaves humanity without witnesses. By God’s grace, we have the testimony of Trinitarian theologians such as 19th century Wesleyan evangelist Julia J.A. Foote and Arminian pastors such as Lemuel Haynes. Howard Thurman’s and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s theologies were theologies of love. MLK Jr., as has been noted through years of research, was heavily influenced by the Boston Personalists. While Foote and Haynes suffered through the era of African enslavement on these shores, King Jr. and Thurman lived through legal racial segregation (a regime enforced through lynching+ political & economic oppression). With these theologies of the Cross, notions of suffering (theodicy) are never separated from the theologies of love written by persons of the African diaspora. I am contending that these various relational theologies proposed were responses to White Supremacy.

Creation and Our Interrelatedness

Enter James Hal Cone. Straight outta Governor Orval Faubus’ Arkansas, a man who got his PhD from the Northwestern University / Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary seminary where he did his dissertation on Karl Barth’s theological anthropology. In the midst of riots and chaos after the assassination of MLK Jr., what did the Church have to say to the Black Power movement? U.S. Christianity is supposed to be a religion populated by joyful and extremely nice middle-class people. Did the hope for the wretched of the Earth lay in the Christianized politics of respectability? Distressed by the white supremacy he experienced in society in general as well as the religious academy, Cone decided to write what many deemed a manifesto, Black Theology and Black Power. Considered by many to be a “reverse racist” pamphlet of hate, when taking an even closer look at this piece, one can see that BTBP is a forcefully written, persuasive case for relational theology as an anti-racist practice. Cone states his purpose on the very first page of the book, that “Black Power is about Black people taking the dominant role in determining the black-white relationship” (page 1, Intro).

To be black is not to have dark shades of melanin in your epidermis; “To be black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are. We all know that a racist structure will reject a black man in white skin as quickly as a black man in black skin” (151, Chapter 6). Cone recognizes that race and racism are social constructs, and not biologically proven realities. Cone’s invention for Christian theology is to invert blackness and whiteness as symbols. In the West, in movies novels, the good guys wear white, the bad guys always wear black. Cone flips these narrative tropes on their heads to counter institutional racism. Black Power, according to Cone, is Blacks using their self-determination and agency to emancipate themselves from the violence of white supremacy, even if their choices meant death (p 6). Black Power sought to remove Whites’ status as Master while recognizing Whites’ humanity; Cone contends, “Men were not created for separation, and color is not the essence of man’s humanity” (14). In other words, Anti-Black racisms, White Supremacy, and Colonialisms are in direct violation of God’s creative intent.

Humanity “was created to share in God’s creative (revolutionary) activity in the world (Gen.1:27-28). But through sin man rejects his proper activity and destiny. He wants to be God, the creator of his destiny. […] But in his passion to become super-human, man becomes subhuman, estranged from the source of his being, threatening and threatened by his neighbor, transforming a situation destined for intimate human fellowship into a spider web of conspiracy and violence” (page 63). God reigns throughout creation and shares the divine power to create with humanity. The sin of Empire and White Supremacy dehumanizes both the oppressed and the oppressors. This loving God chooses not work unilaterally, and works with human persons who respond to God’s love for the sake of creating community. Cone’s re-telling of the Creation and Fall stories in Genesis are what set up the relational thrust of James Cone’s liberation theology.

Election and God’s Love For The Oppressed

The relational, loving God of Liberation theology has direct intimate knowledge of the suffering of the oppressed. To know is to be responsible; It is far less painful to be uninvolved in someone else’s life, their pain, their poverty, their marginalization (page 25). It is the choice of the latter that makes libertarian politics and laizze-faire economics both such easy and heretical choices. A proper acknowledgement of the suffering of marginated persons as well as the ownership of a vast array of privileges requires that one does the hard work of examining power within sets of given relationships. Referring to Anders Nygren’s significant work on biblical notions of love, Agape And Eros, Cone builds on this particular theology of love to enjoin divine love to divine justice, ” The activity of agape-love cannot be easily separated from God’s righteousness. Indeed they must be tightly held together. Love prevents righteousness from being legalistic, and righteousness keeps love from being sentimental” (p 51). Cone continues, “Love without power to guarantee justice in human relations is meaningless (p 53). In A Black Theology Of Liberation, Cone remains consistent, “The wrath of God is the love of God in regard to the forces opposed to the liberation of the oppressed. Love without righteousness is unacceptable to blacks: this view of God is a product of the minds of enslavers” (p 71).

One of the criticisms that Thomas Jay Oord had of Anders Nygren’s theology of agape love in Oord’s work, the nature of love: a theology, was that Nygren completely (and rather problematically) dismisses the witness of the Hebrew Bible when it comes to notions of love. James Cone does indeed make a departure from Nygren in this regard, and in fact, Cone prioritizes God’s love as it is revealed in the election of Israel central to his relational theological project. Through agape-love, God is the initiator of calling Abraham and then later, Moses, and God reveals God’s justice through God’s activity in history according to Scripture (page 44 of BTBP). Because God is love, God sets out to do what is right by putting a-rights those who have been wronged in human relationships. Divine relationality goes hand-in-hand with the preferential option for poor. If indeed “Black Power is the Spirit of Christ himself” that has interrupted the relationship between black persons who need liberation from self-hatred, and white persons who need to be freed from white supremacy (page 62), God is relational to the extent that God does what is just.

This God Who Risks is love. God is not sentimental. Jennifer Lopez is wrong when she says “love don’t cost a thing.” Love costs everything, God demands our entire being just as our neighbors’ suffering requires all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our bodies (53). A lot of Christians like to talk about being relational, and its just about centering everything around their emotions, and their experiences without risking having to listen to others. This is hardly a biblical (imo) understanding of relationality. James Cone notes that the real test for whites isn’t how they relate and communicate with acceptable blacks like MLK Jr. and Ralph Bunch, but “in how they respond to Rap Brown” (61). If I may have permission to wax this logic for 2014, the real test of whether whites can communicate with black as human beings is not what they reply to Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Oprah, but how they respond to Ratchet Culture.

In part two, I shall look at James Cone’s notions of relationality and how his gender & sexuality [black cishet male] possibly influences his writing.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Refusing to Reconcile Part 2: Spatiality, Fugitivity, and Blackness as Wild(er)ness by Amaryah Shaye

Recommended Reading:

The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie Jennings

The God Who Risks: a theology of divine providence by John Sanders

Black Theology and Black Power as well as A Black Theology of Liberation both by James Cone

Guerilla Gardening: A Lesson in the Beauty of Being Subversive

The video above is an inspirational TedX talk given by Ron Finley, an artist and designer who aspires to ameliorate the health disparities in South Central Los Angeles. The obesity rate in his neighborhood is much higher than in the incredibly affluent Beverly Hills, which is within walking distance. The difference? – his neighborhood is littered with fast food and convenience stores while those who live in the gated Beverly Hills have access to the fresh, typically more expensive healthier vegetables and fruits.  His resolve to undo this injustice and inequality? – plant a garden!  I won’t simply summarize his video for you, but I believe this presents a wonderful opportunity to outline the subversive imagination of God’s Kingdom that Christians really ought to have! All throughout the gospels, we get this imagery that compares Christ to/ calls him a “Lord” or “King”. But…he’s  not very kingly? He’s lowly, meek and mild…yet, he’s King! He has an army of followers who do not promote empire through military might or brain washing but neighborly love and discipleship through love, peace, and forgiveness. What kind of King/Kingdom is this!? It’s one unlike anything we’ve seen before! Instead of God’s Scepter being one of gold and adorned with the most precious gems, it’s a scepter of righteousness! It’s part of what makes calling Christ , “King” feel so good- because He’s not very kingly( by the world’s standards)at all. It’s like by calling Him King, we’re almost peaceably mocking and redifining what a true King/Kingdom ought to be like. In the video, Finley says that he is trading in the spraying can for the garden hoe – his gardening IS his graffiti! What kind of graffiti is this? It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before! In a land troubled with gang violence and constant police presence/aggression, Finley has resolved not to engage in guerilla warfare but guerilla gardening! No longer does a gangster meet in the streets with guns but in the garden with tools- he’s radically redefining what a gangster is!

I’m not sure what Ron Finley believes but regardless I applaud him and honor his subversive imagination that is totally in-line with what Christ has in mind! In a land of drive-thrus and drive-bys ( where the drive-thrus are actually killing more people), what Finley is doing kind of reminds me of the book of Ezekial with the Valley of the Dry Bones:

Ezekial 37 (NIV)

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

 

Imagine new ways to be subversive- undo the ills of this world!