Vampires vs. the Blood of Christ

James R. Rogers, a Texas A&M professor and board member of the LCSM Texas District, has an intriguing post at First Things about how the vampire craze can become an occasion to help people understand about the Blood of Christ:

Here’s a report [link at the site] about Danish teens using modern Vampire stories as platforms to think of spiritual matters. Given their immense popularity in the U.S., I also think that these stories can be drawn on to consider theological concepts with teens (and teens at heart) such as the Real Presence in the Supper, the relationship between the New and Old Testaments, and the work of Jesus Christ.

Both Vampire stories and the Christ story center on the identification of life with blood. This starts with Noah in the Old Testament. God tells Noah that he can eat animal flesh, but not animal blood, “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gn 9.4). Still, even in the OT, fallen humanity desperately needs the life that is in the blood. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev 17.11, cf., Lev 11.14, Dt 12.23).

While the Old Testament flatly prohibits the eating of blood with the flesh, with the coming of Jesus Christ, the New Testament commands the practice, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6.53-54).

Vampire stories invert this picture. Rather than the resurrected Lord who willingly offers his own sacrificed body and blood to give humans eternal life, Vampires are resurrected lords who sacrifice unwilling humans to take their blood for eternal life for themselves. The pivot around which both stories turn is the affirmation that the life of the flesh is in the blood.

via Vampire Stories and the Real Presence » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

He goes on.  (Also, see comment #2 by Mary.)

Aristotle and me on “The Avengers”

We saw The Avengers, the movie that’s setting box office records.  We went whole hog, springing for the version in 3-D AND Imax.

Like other comic book movies, it was mostly what Aristotle in his Poetics called “spectacle.”   Movies today go all out with high-tech special effects.  They can be fun to watch.  (Though frankly I have not yet seen a new generation 3-D flick that made satisfying use of that technology, including this one.  A trailer for the new Spider Man movie was more promising, showing a deeper field of vision than the usual flatness with a few things jumping out at you.  I didn’t think the Imax version of “The Avengers” added that much either.)  Anyway, the overall spectacle of “The Avengers” was fun.  But as Aristotle goes on to say, spectacle is the lowest level of dramatic art.

In addition to spectacle, though, unlike many comic book movies, “The Avengers” also had interesting characters, well-rendered and, in what is often considered optional for the genre, well-acted.  “The Avengers” put serious actors like Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johannsen in silly superhero costumes.  But it paid off!  The computer-enhanced Ruffalo–who was sensitive and angst-ridden as Bruce Banner– made a great Incredible Hulk.  One of my favorite parts of the movie was when Scarlett Johannsen, as the Black Widow, took a call on her cell while she was on the verge of being tortured and complained to the caller, “I’m working!”, going on to thrash the Russian interrogator while she was still tied up in her chair.

There were other good moments.  Captain America, being of the Greatest Generation (waking up in our day after being frozen), dismissing Loki’s claim to be a god by saying that “There’s only one God.  And I don’t think he dresses like you do” [something like that].  And did anyone catch what the Hulk said, in one of his few actual lines, when he was flailing Loki about?  Some comment about his alleged divinity.  (In the Marvel universe, the residents of Asgard like Thor and Loki are not so much deities as they were to the Norse and Germanic pagans; rather, they are denizens of another planet.)

Still, though, there was not enough of what Aristotle considered the most important part of a drama.  Namely, the story.  I prefer plots with twists and turns, a narrative that goes somewhere, with maybe surprises along the way.  There wasn’t a lot of that in this movie, basically just good guys and bad guys fighting each other.  Internal conflict is far more interesting, as in, to cite another comic book movie, The Dark Knight, which is also being reprised this summer.  Aristotle’s heroes are not just “good guys”; rather, they are noble figures who have a tragic flaw–a hamartia, which is the New Testament word for “sin”–that gives them complexity and doom.

 

The defining element in Christian art

Let me propose this thesis, drawing on the recent post about what Bruce Springsteen said about Hank Williams:  All distinctly Christian art must be, in some sense, about the agonizing struggle between sin and grace.

Mere moral lessons, while perhaps commendable, are  not enough to be distinctly Christian, since Mormons, Muslims, and ethical humanists could agree with them.  And mere optimistic positive messages are not enough and may even be harmful, since they can create the illusion that we can achieve righteousness by our own efforts.  Works of meaning and beauty have their own value.  But to be explicitly “Christian,” a work needs to be, directly or indirectly, about sin and grace and what Christ has to do with them.

To test the thesis:  Let’s consider classic Christian works of literature.  The Divine Comedy.  check.  Paradise Lost.  check.  The poems of John Donne and George Herbert.  check.  The Chronicles of Narnia.  check.  Flannery O’Connor.  check.  Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory.  check.

The Art of Words

This is a topic that Lori Lewis asked me to address at her webzine Everyday Opera, trying to help people appreciate all the different literary styles:

“I can’t stand all of those flowery descriptions in classic literature. Why don’t the authors just get to the action?” “I don’t like opera with all of that over-the-top emotion.” “Those old writers are just not realistic!” Those are common complaints, but they deserve an answer.

First of all, literature is an art form that consists of language. Whereas a painter uses daubs of paint, an author uses daubs of words. Whereas a musical composer works with individual musical notes, working them together into complex harmonies, rhythms, and melodies, an author creates the effects of a novel or a poem with individual words.

This is to say, an author can’t just “get to the action” because a story is not just a matter of action. It’s words. Plays, including the dramatic production that is a movie, do consist of action. But even a visualized story generally depends on the language of dialogue, which actors use to create their characters. Purists who want only action might restrict themselves to silent movies. But even silent movies—as with all dramatic scripts—have to be written.

Words are multi-dimensional and can create an infinite number of effects–including the illusion that the words are doing nothing. Those who are impatient with “style” often don’t realize that “realism” is also a style.

continue reading.

I’m speaking at an online apologetics conference

Do you like to go to conferences–say, a big conference on apologetics–but don’t have the time or the money to take off and fly somewhere for several days?  But why should anyone have to travel for a conference, what with online technology?

I’m going to be giving a lecture on Christianity & Comedy at an online apologetics conference to be held April 19-21.  The overall topic will focus on “Literary Apologetics,” the use of stories (including literature, films, music, and other expressions) to convey the truth of the Christian faith.  The conference is being put on by Athanatos Christian Ministries, an apologetics organization led by Anthony Horvath (a Lutheran teacher and a former student of mine!).

You can sign up for the conference here.   The following are the speakers and the topics.  Go here for a schedule of the actual times.  (Mine will be at 9:00 a.m. Central on Friday, April 20.)  Notice that most of the conference is for paid registrants (a mere $30) but that the sessions on the 19th are free.

Athanatos Christian Ministry’s Third Annual

Online Apologetics Conference

2012 Theme:

Using Story to Defend, Promote, Explain, and Transmit the Faith

Keynote:

Dale Ahlquist

President of the American Chesterton Society

 Other Speakers:

Dr. Gene Edward Veith | Dave Sterrett | Paul Hughes | Dr. Holly Ordway | Anthony Horvath | Brian Auten  | Stephen Bedard | Glenn Jones | James D. Agresti | Mikel Del Rosario | Mark Riser | Tom Gilson | Joseph Keysor | Bruce Hennigan, M.D. | Dr. Ryan MacPherson | Paul Nowak

An apologetics conference held… entirely online! (Click here to see what a session is like)

April 19th,  20th, and 21st, 2012.

Access on April 19th is FREE!

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ALL SESSIONS RECORDED – Make up sessions you missed at your convenience. All conference registrants receive free access to these archives. Information on purchasing archive access coming soon!

2012 Conference Goals:

  • Build off of visions of ACM’s previous conferences, encouraging Christians to defend the faith through the arts.
  • Call attention to the power of Story and Narrative in the formation of world views.
  • Argue that the Gospel Story is superior to all of them, if only because it is the Truth.
  • Encourage Christians to use video, movies, literature, and music to mount a defense of Christianity in general and the Biblical model for the family in particular.
  • Connect Christian artists with each other and with those who can help propel them to success.
  • Remind Christians that they each have a responsibility to be ready to give a defense in their own lives.
  • Raise awareness of the fact that competing ‘stories’ are promoting beliefs and values that must be critically analyzed, not just mindlessly absorbed.

Conference Framework

ACM’s 2012 conference will be a little different than previous years.  The main part of the conference (being held on the 20th and 21st), the plenaries, will present a number of short stories that have some bearing on the Christian worldview.  Each presenter will take one of those stories, digest it, and apply it to contemporary issues in apologetics.   The stories and presenters will be announced in due time.

On the 19th, credible apologists will be invited to present on the topic of their choice (subject to ACM approval).   Up to 20 presenters are expected, and the topics will vary.  Note:  all presentations on the 19th will be open to the public!  Only the sessions on the 20th and 21st require paid registration.

Friday-Saturday (Apr. 20-21st, paid registrants only)

Keynote:

Others:

  • Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Author, “Christianity and Comedy”
  • Dave Sterrett, Author and Apologist, Spokesperson for “I am Second“, “Using Story for Christ:  Reflections on ‘I am Second.’”
  • Paul Hughes, Author and Apologist, “Tim Gautreaux and the Apologetics of Real Life” and “5 by Flannery [O'Connor].”
  • Dr. Holly Ordway, “Finding God in Fairy Tales” (Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel) and “The Importance of Excellence in Christian Fiction: A Lesson from CS Lewis”
  • Jason Jones, MovietoMovement, producer of movie Bella, “Topic TBA”
  • Anthony Horvath, Athanatos Christian Ministries, “An Analysis of ‘The Birthmark’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne” and “How 3 Stories Got Under the Skin of PZ Myers and the New Atheists.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author. “Speculative Fiction and Apologetics.”
  • Paul Nowak, author.  “It’s the Fight that Matters” [based on Chuck Palahniuk's original short story "Fight Club" (later a novel and movie by the same title)].

Guest Lectures (Thursday, Apr. 19th – Free Access)

  • Brian Auten, Apologetics315, “Avoiding Apologetics Pitfalls”
  • Glenn Jones, apologist. “Reading Genesis as History: Implications for Science and the Age of the Universe.”
  • James D. Agresti, author of Rational Conclusions.  “Cosmology, the science of the origin and development of the universe.”
  • Stephen Bedard, author and apologist, “Reading the New Testament in Context.”
  • Mikel Del Rosario, apologist, “Defending the Resurrection in Everyday Conversations.”
  • Mark Riser, apologist.  “Why I Am An Old-Earth Creationist: A Personal Journey”
  • Tom Gilson, apologist.  “How Arrogant Are We, Anyway?’
  • Joseph Keysor, author. “Hitler, the Bible, and the Holocaust.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author.  ” CSI: Golgotha”
  • Dr. Ryan MacPherson, author.  “The Culture of Life: The Redemptive Power of Conversion Narratives”

E-books are increasing reading

E-books and e-readers are increasing the amount of reading that is going on.  People who get a Kindle are reading more than they used to, including reading books that aren’t electronic.

A fifth of American adults have read an electronic version of a book in the last year, a trend that is fueling a renewed love of reading, according to a new survey.

The portion of e-book readers among all American adults has increased to 21 percent from 17 percent between December and February, due in large part to a boom in tablet and e-reader sales this past holiday season.

All those devices are turning some consumers into super readers, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. E-book readers plowed through an average of 24 titles in the past year, compared with an average of 15 for readers of physical books.

“Those who have taken the plunge into reading e-books stand out in almost every way from other kinds of readers . . . They are avid readers of books in all formats,” said Lee Rainie, director of research at Pew.

Curiously, e-reading somehow sparks a love of books in any format. Even as e-readers are downloading books on computers, tablets and smartphones, they are also checking out more books at libraries and buying more at bookstores and online. About nine in 10 e-book readers said they have also read printed books in the past year, Pew reported in its survey of about 3,000 people 16 and older.

via Survey finds e-readers are spurring consumers of books in all formats – The Washington Post.

I find that happening with me.  I read a lot, of course, as a literature teacher and someone who wants to keep up with things.  But ever since my wife gave me a Kindle–which as an old-school print guy I was skeptical of at first– I find myself reading much more for fun (bringing back pleasures that got me into the literature profession in the first place).  I can crank up the type-size so that I can read on the treadmill (which re-enforces that good habit I’m trying to cultivate) and instead of aimless surfing on the computer or watching television, I am now reading novels. Also books don’t cost as much when you download them, further liberating my reading impulses.

What I’m enjoying is not novels of ambitious literary merit–that’s more like work–but books that give me an interesting imaginative experience.  They have to be well-written with a certain measure of complexity, otherwise they can’t hold my attention, so genre fiction and bestseller fare doesn’t always do it for me.  But I’ve found some gems that I think I’ll be blogging about.

By the way, with my Kindle I’ve signed up for Amazon Prime, giving me the ability to “check out” books from Amazon’s virtual library for free.  Unfortunately, the pickings seem pretty slim.  I did find a couple of excellent reads:  Moneyball and Hunger Games.   (More on the latter later.)  If anyone has found other good books in that library–ones that meet my criteria–I’d be glad to learn about them.

Anyway, if you have broken down and bought an e-reader, has this “kindled” your reading?


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