The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Happy Thanksgiving
I'll be back on Monday or thereabouts.

Movie Thoughts
It the time of year again when (amongst other things) I think about how the life of Squanto would make a terrific movie. I know that a movie was made several years ago on him which I have not seen. (Sounds pretty mediocre.) The details of Squanto's life are a bit sketchy and some of it may be apocryphal. But considering that it involved kidnapping, life in a Portugese monestery, life in England, the loss of his family and village, and, eventually, helping the Pilgrims, such a movie could be pretty rich in its various emotions and textures. It is also an amazing story of providence, healing and Christian charity.

I also think that life of John Knox whould make a great movie.

Monday, November 24, 2003
More on the Commercialization of Literature
From an interview with Dubravka Ugresic in the Boston Globe:

"So why do I grumble? Because the book has become a product like any other -- that is the price of the marketization of culture. Unwilling or unable to put time and effort into educating ourselves about the options, we end up buying what everybody else buys. Worse, we start enjoying the books we are manipulated into buying -- even defending them against pretentious jerks who dare criticize them. In exactly the same way that we slowly become Ikea-people, we also become Booker Prize-people, Harry Potter-people, Stephen King-people."

So what kind of person are you?

Thursday, November 20, 2003
Bias at Google?
It just couldn't be. Or could it?

Literary Egalitarianism
From a New York Times piece on Stephen King's speech at the Nation Book Award ceremony:

He [King] also spoke in defense of other popular writers and of connections that should be made between them and the rest of the literary world.

"Bridges can be built between the so-called popular fiction and the so-called literary fiction,'' he said.

King said he had no patience ``for those who make a point of pride in saying they have never read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark or any other popular writer.''

``What do you think?'' King asked. ``You get social academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?''

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Monday, November 17, 2003
Is Popularity Dangerous?
Here is an article from the Boston Globe which addresses the possibility of Tolkien's LOTR being cheapened by emense popularity of the films. Will JRR masterful work be sucked up by engines of popular culture?

Perhaps the real measure of art is its ability to make it through pop-culture gauntlet and have its lasting literary power win the day. This is what happened to Dickens, who was dreadfully popular in his day.

Lets hope, though, that we don't see any Beowulf, Dante or Rodya Raskolnikov action dolls anytime soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2003
Christian Culture = Born-Again Culture
Matt in a response to my "Trick Culture" post from Oct. 22, responds:

"Is there such thing as "Christian" music? Can music be Christian? Can music have a conversion experience? Be "saved"?"

Maybe music (and other cultural products) can't have a conversion experience or be "saved", but is can be reborn. See Doug Wilson's recent sermons (1, 2) which develop the idea that all of creation is being born-again (renewed/ressurected). This includes more than just individuals. It means the entire cosmos including culture.

Monday, November 10, 2003
Piper's Pessimism
The most recent New Horizons (the OPC rag) has a reprint of an article by John Piper, "Taking the Swagger Out of Christian Cultural Influence".

The entire article is predicated on the notion that we are aliens here on earth (based on 1 Peter 2:11). For Piper this is what typifies the Christian. Such a view is typical of dispensationalism (which Piper I suspect holds to) and to many "pessimistic" amillenialist reformed folk.

Here is a taste of Piper's article:

"And our joy is a brokenhearted joy because human culture –- in every society –- dishonors Christ, glories in its shame, and is bent on self-destruction.

This includes America. American culture does not belong to Christians, neither in reality nor in Biblical theology. It never has. The present tailspin toward Sodom is not a fall from Christian ownership. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). It has since the fall, and it will till Christ comes in open triumph."

Has every culture in the history of the world dishonored Christ? Seventeenth Century Holland? The English Puritans? Byzantium before the takeover of the Ottomans? Charlemagne's Aachen?

Someone needs to tell Dr. Piper that there is a whole crowd of people in "the world" who are not under "the power of Satan" -- the Church! The innuaguration of the redemption of culture began with ressurection of Christi and continues now. This doesn't mean there isn't plenty to weep about. But there is reason for hope - hope that we can lay hold of now.

What on earth was the editor of the New Horizons thinking when he published this article?

Thursday, November 06, 2003
Is 'Sensualism' the Way to Go?
I just came across this provocative article from an e-zine called Next-Wave by a fellow from New Zeeland via theOoze blog. He seems to be asking some key questions, but I'm not too sure of his answers:

"So, where does your church position itself on the “sensuality” scale? How multi-sensory, multi-layered and ‘multi-connectional’ is your church experience? What does your church (in both the sense of church as “building” and church as “people”) look like? What does it feel like? What does it sound like? What kind of ‘taste’ does it leave in your mouth? What does it ‘smell’ like? Are beauty, life, and vitality present? "

Worship should certainly not be drab or even a negative aesthetic experience. But do we (ought we?) need to go in the direction of 'high' liturgy in order to really take into account our bodily existence (i.e. be i'incarnational')?

Appealing to the senses has lead the church in some interesting directions:

Church as shopping mall

Church as Oscar Awards Night

Church as rock concert (or mosh pit)

Church as town meeting

Church as Gesamtkunstwerk (a night at the opera!)

I find myself rejecting such an approach and going in the direction of Abraham Kuyper (in the Stone Lectures) who argued that sensualism is immature and pagan, and that New Covenant worship will be centered on the word (an approach to worship that had reached maturity):

"The objection that such a symbolic service had a place in Israel does not weaken my argument, it rather supports it. For does not the New Testament teach us that the ministry of shadows, naturally flourishing under the old dispensation, under the dispensation of fulfilled prophecy is “old and waxeth aged and is nigh unto vanishing away? ”In Israel we find a state-religion, which is one and the same for the entire people. That religion is under sacerdotal leadership. And finally it makes its appearance in symbols, and is consequently embodied in the splendid temple of Solomon. But when this ministry of shadows has served the purposes of the Lord, Christ comes to prophesy the hour when God shall no longer be worshipped in the monumental temple at Jerusalem, but shall rather be worshipped in spirit and in truth. And in keeping with this prophecy you find no trace or shadow of art for worship in all the apostolic literature. Aaron's visible priesthood on earth gives place to the invisible High-priesthood after the order of Melchizedek in Heaven. The purely spiritual breaks through the nebula of the symbolical."

What are we left with in Reformed Worship? Some (many?) would want to argue that we are left with a liturgy which has all the excitement of a bowl of cold oatmeal (without the milk and brown sugar). But is this really the case? It certainly can be, especially when faith is not present.

But take a second look. There is really is a richness to reformed liturgical tradition which takes some effort to understand and savour. It has what poet Donald Davie calls the aesthetics of "simplicity, sobriety and measure." it is a liturgical approach for the long haul; not caught up in present -- whatever the culture-at-large is dishing up at the moment.

Check the opening pages of this delightful essay by Nicholas Wolterstorff. He understands the quiet beauty and sober richness of traditional reformed worship. Such a worship was powerful enough to engergize a whole society.

It still is.

Monday, November 03, 2003
Assorted Links
Here are few links I have found rummaging on the 'net:

An interview with Ken Myers on culture found at the Reformed Seminary site.

An article on how the Bible's civilizing influence on culture by Peter Moore, president of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.

A brief essay on Paul's impact on Rembrandt.

A short talk by Al Wolters on how ideas shape our cultural actions.