When Christians visit

Rev. William Weedon offers a great quote from C. F. W. Walther, the father of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (the reference being to an excellent devotional book drawn from Walther’s writings translated by Gerhard Grabenhofer, one of my former students!)

Each rejoices when another rejoices, and each regards himself as a greater sinner than another. He is therefore honored to receive a visit from even the humblest Christian, for he knows this individual carries within himself the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as Mary carried Jesus bodily in her womb. He also knows that, in his fellow Christian, Christ is making a visit. – *God Grant It!* p. 907

Notice the theology of Christ’s presence in ordinary people, which is basic to the doctrine of vocation.

Shakespeare’s bad poetry

A new edition of Shakespeare’s complete works leaves out a poem historically attributed to him. For the ensuing controversy, see Did Shakespeare really write “A Lover’s Complaint”? – By Ron Rosenbaum.

The poem depicts a young woman mourning because she was seduced and abandoned, a poignant subject that shows its author’s moral sensitivity. But the metaphors are over-the-top and the poem is, arguably, ludicrously bad. Here are two stanzas, and you can see for yourself:

Oft did she heave her napkin to her eyne,
Which on it had conceited characters,
Laundering the silken figures in the brine
That season’d woe had pelleted in tears,
And often reading what contents it bears;
As often shrieking undistinguish’d woe,
In clamours of all size, both high and low.

Sometimes her levell’d eyes their carriage ride,
As they did battery to the spheres intend;
Sometime diverted their poor balls are tied
To the orbed earth; sometimes they do extend
Their view right on; anon their gazes lend
To every place at once, and, nowhere fix’d,
The mind and sight distractedly commix’d.

That is to say, she is crying so hard, her tears, with their brine, are laundering her handkerchief. The part about the balls tied to the orbed earth means that her eyes (eyeballs) are looking down.

My take: Historical evidence points to Shakespeare as the author. It appeared in the edition of his sonnets that appeared during his lifetime.

Just because a poem is bad does not mean it was not written by a good writer. Shakespeare, like all good writers, wrote some terrible lines in his day. “Lover’s Complaint” is no worse than “Titus Andronicus.” Writing is a craft, and craftsmen try things that work and things that don’t work, and they learn by doing. There is a lesson here for all vocations.

The military lawyers at Gitmo

One of the reason the detainees at Guantanamo are not getting convicted and punished en masse (as would be the case if the current administration is as bad as its critics say it is), is that the accused terrorists are getting such excellent military defense attorneys who are staunchly defending their rights.

The New York Times has an article on the subject, focusing on a young JAG officer named Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler.

He is no natural agitator. At 37, he is in some ways deeply conventional. Married to the first girl he ever dated in high school, he is a self-described born-again Christian and conservative who has “never voted for a Democrat.” Tom Fleener, a former Guantánamo military defense lawyer, described Commander Kuebler, saying, “Take the average conservative guy in the street and multiply that by a million.” . . .

“It is a powerful way to be a witness for Christ,” he said, “by demonstrating your capacity to not judge the way everybody else is judging and to serve unconditionally.”

Commander Kuebler has been pulling out all the stops in defending his Guantanamo client, to the point of infuriating the prosecutors with his delaying tactics and his playing the media. Though now evidence has arisen that maybe his client is innocent after all.

I appreciate the way the NY Times, no less, brought out both his conservatism (protection of individual rights, after all, is a conservative ideal) and, especially, his Christianity. Since the proper work of a defense attorney is to be an advocate for the accused, isn’t this a good example of Christian vocation?

HT: Frank Sonnek

A movie review to study

Our discussion of movie reviewing has generated both light and heat, with lately Mark Moring, the movie review editor of Christianity Today Online joining the fray, challenging Ted Slater of Focus on the Family, the two principals of the controversy. (Gentlemen, go ahead and thrash it out if you wish, but this blog has high standards of discourse that you must adhere to.) You can follow the argument in the post “The Vocation of the Movie Critic,” below.

But I would like to propose an exercise: Consider this review of the “Sex and the City” film in The New Yorker.

It is a strongly negative review of that film. It too invokes moral reasons, though it says nothing about sex and nudity.

How is it different from BOTH the positive and the negative reviews from Christian critics? Do the latter exhibit similarities, for all their being at each other’s throats, that set them apart from this secularist reviewer? Are there things that Christian critics can learn from this secularist reviewer about critiquing movies and how to write a negative review?

The vocation of the critic

Some thoughts about the controversy over movie reviews that we discussed yesterday, occasioned by the Christianity Today critic giving “Sex & the City” three stars. . .(This blog seems to have become THE place to talk about this, with even one of the parties to the controversy, Ted Slater of Focus on the Family weighing in, as well as other movie critics. I really appreciate that, Mr. Slater and the rest of you, for your stimulating discussion.) But here are some of my principles for reviewing:

(1) A review is not an advertisement or an endorsement but an analysis. Just condemning or just praising a movie or other work of art is not enough. A good review should yield understanding, not just of the work but of what the work is about.

(2) The word “good” has different senses. It can be used in a moral sense (“helping the flood victims was a good deed”) or an aesthetic sense (“that movie had good acting”). A movie can be good aesthetically and bad morally. Or, to bring the other absolutes into the discussion, a work of art that is true and good may not be beautiful; or one that is beautiful and good may not be true; or any of the other possible combinations. Part of the critic’s job is to sort all of that out.

(3) Not everyone should watch every movie, and thanks to the vocation of the movie critic, they don’t have to. Recall the principle that what is lawful for one vocation may not be lawful for someone without that vocation (e.g., soldiers, police officers, and executioners are called to do what civilians may not). Just as physicians must deal with repulsive diseases, critics may sometimes have to deal with repulsive movies. Not that even critics may fall into sin. If watching a movie is an occasion for sin, the critic should stay away, but experienced professionals usually get pretty detached, like a physician operating on a naked body. But if you can’t be detached, this may not be your calling.

(4) In the case at issue, Mr. Slater reviewed the review in a way that was overly inflammatory. Even if the critic is going to condemn something, there is a right and an effective way to go about it. The purpose of every vocation, as we have discussed, is to love and service to the neighbor, so a sense of compassion can make negative criticism sink in more. And, again, the goal of a review should be to increase understanding, both of truth (as the Focus review does, rightly, in condemning sin) and the work being discussed. While still attacking the review for minimizing the movie’s sexual immorality, the Focus on the Family critic could have zeroed in on what the review both discusses and exemplifies: the plight of single Christians–such as the reviewer herself who raises these issues–who get so little support from the church and are thrown back to the resources of the world, such as “Sex & the City.”

(5) The original review could also have given us more analysis, which might have defused some of the controversy. We are told that the movie has the characters wrestling with relationships. Tell us more about the content of those struggles. What, I think, emerges (based on snippets of the TV series that I have seen) is that what these young women really want is MARRIAGE, and yet their promiscuity undermines that quest. They treat men like they treat their shoes, as consumer accessories for their own gratification, and yet they want much more. What they yearn for is, in fact, God’s design. With that kind of specific analysis, the reviewer could fully engage the movie–praising its artistic qualities, taking it seriously by arguing with it, and leaving the reader with understanding, not just of the movie, but of issues of truth, goodness, and beauty.

Pro-life pharmacies

This article, ‘Pro-Life’ Drugstores Market Beliefs, tells about new pharmacies that are opening that refuse to stock morning after pills. Mostly a Catholic phenomenon, these shops also refuse to carry contraceptives, as well as tobacco and racy magazines. Some observers are outraged, but I salute them.

Notice that this is not a “two kingdoms” issue. The moral law DOES apply in God’s secular kingdom. God’s spiritual kingdom, though, contrary to popular assumption, is NOT the realm of law but rather the Gospel.