Specials: Steve Martin’s Next Good Movie; Mark Helprin; Cowboy Junkies Sing U2; Steyn on Spielberg

Today’s specials:

THE REAL STEVE MARTIN … THE ONE WORTH SEEING… IS BACK
Steve Martin’s upcoming romantic comedy Shopgirl wasn’t very high on my must-see list. Until now.

BEHIND THE SCENES OF MARK HELPRIN’S STORYTELLING
Harvard Magazine investigates the house of Helprin, my favorite novelist.


“WE’RE JUNKIES, BUT WE’RE NOT THE SAME…”
Cowboy Junkies have a new covers album called Early 21st Century Blues, and it features a rendition of U2′s “One.” More information and streaming music here.

MORE…

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  • Brian Friesen

    I’m not “surprised” by the aggressive and dismissive and insulting tone of the above discussion so much as I am grieved by yet another example of how we expect such encounters to unfold – matching insult for insult rather than an attempt at peace-making.

    I happened to watch “The Mission” last night, an astonishing film that doesn’t offer any tidy answers about the choice to do violence versus the choice to stand as a loving witness in the midst of violence. Each of the two main characters in the film seem to be doing as their conscience dictates. I would like to think that the situation required both these men to do what they did, and that love made its way into the scene of slaughter at the end of the film as a result of *both* their choices. Jeremy Irons’ character refuses to fight, saying: “If might is right, then Love has no place in the world.” Deniro’s character comes to a much different decision. Capital-L-Love was present at the scene of slaughter, if only to grieve and long for better. But what if everyone had fought back? What if no one had fought back?

    At the same time, the film is only *based* on real events. It is a story rendered in a certain way. I would like to think that there are more options for us than the two that are often assumed: 1) going to war and 2) doing nothing (I guess there is also *negotiation*, but it is too often equated with doing nothing).

    I wonder also if we are quicker to speculate possible scenarios rather than looking at the habits of peace and aggression in our own lives. As the film states pretty directly at one point, one of the things we are armed with is conscience, which is much different than calculating all the right responses to all the hypothetical scenarios of coming to the rescue of those who are suffering. I don’t think I have any business applying my conscience to someone else’s real circumstances. I don’t know what I would do in certain circumstances. I’m going to be wrong and do the wrong things sometimes. I don’t think that faith requires me to argue for all the right responses to all the hypothetical scenarios my imagination can come up with, and all in the name of responsibility. Are there larger concerns and dangers than irresponsibility?

    I have to agree with C.S. Lewis’ defense of extraordinary circumstances that require violence, but only at a hypothetical, cerebral level – especially since my own life has not offered any situations where violence was somehow the only way forward. I find it interesting that in Lewis’ Perelandra, he illustrates his ideas by playing out a fantastical scenario in which the most loving thing to do is violence. The killing is justified since the victim is the embodiment of evil, a type of serpent in a type of garden of Eden.

    But how many of us find ourselves in the kind of situations where violence or even aggression is the only means to keep evil at bay? What does it say about the condition of our hearts if we are more ready to respond harshly to harsh words rather than responding with a gentle answer? Or if we are more ready to *be right* than to *be loving*?

    The likes of MLK Jr. and Gandhi have a greater portion of my respect than someone who keeps a gun at the ready just in case. Both King and Ghandi, and the many who follow in their footsteps, have the audacity to suggest that returning injustice with love can happen at a national level as effectively as at an individual level. King allowed his family to be in harms way for years on end. He seems to have had something larger in mind than safety. King’s writings reveal many doubts, and much wrestling, and the habit of listening to his conscience. Whether he is right or wrong seems to me to be beside the point.

    Thanks, Adam, for your thoughtful response in the most recent posting. I’m a bit late in the discussion, and figured I might just be talking to myself. Your perspective is a challenge to me that I appreciate. I have wrestled with thoughts and literature regarding pacifism for many years, and I believe I will continue to wrestle for many years to come, since answers do not come easily for all situations we find ourselves in, and what seems called for is not answers so much as a creative and watchful and humble spirit – A way of being that you nurture and cultivate rather than a position you “arrive” at or “things” you decide to do when and if the time ever comes to do them.

  • Adam Walter

    Brian wrote: How unpeaceful this discussion has been, which started out being about peace-making.

    I wouldn’t say the discussion started out “being about peace-making.” It began with a review critiquing Berry’s book, a book shown to have a very judgmental, blinkered view regarding the state of the contemporary Christian Church and the issue of war. Berry has been strident and downright offensive on this issue. Naturally, this is an issue that raises tempers and heats up the terms of discourse on both sides. And I don’t understand why this should come as any surprise. (Granted, it is true that you catch more flies with honey, but you catch a lot with caca too.)

    I take your words here seriously, and acknowledge that cool-headedness, humility and, yes, peaceableness are to be sought as often as possible. However, I also believe that taking an air of detachedness can, on some issues and at some times, be both deadly and irresponsible–this is, for instance, the stance often taken by leadership in the U.N., which often mires itself in a labyrinth of abstraction. As John Gardner once wrote: “There is nothing wrong with spending our time arguing about the left-turning hairs on an elephant’s trunk–unless the elephant is standing on a baby.”

    I find Berry’s novel “Jayber Crow” to be one of the most gracious, gentle and generous pieces of fiction I’ve ever encountered. There. You have, amongst other things, one of my positions.

    I agree. Jayber Crow is not only my favorite of Berry’s fiction, it’s one of the best novels I’ve ever read. However, I say this while maintaining that it is, to a significant degree, a work of the pastoral genre.

  • Brian Friesen

    How unpeaceful this discussion has been, which started out being about peace-making. How easy it is to diminish a person down to what positions they take. And how dismissive. And how easy it is to hide behind your positions and behind “correctness.” Do we remain any less “anonymous” behind our names or behind whatever abstractions of ourselves we project onto the internet? And is aggression the same thing as courage? The impulse to write off someone else and wash your hands of ever having to engage them or their ideas is very strong. How easy it is to write off the thoughts and experience of others when they threaten our own ideology. Is it always a sign of weakness when our minds change in light of what we encounter? And what about the shiftings of our hearts? The pull toward being right and defending all that is right is very strong. There is a better way.

    I find Berry’s novel “Jayber Crow” to be one of the most gracious, gentle and generous pieces of fiction I’ve ever encountered. There. You have, amongst other things, one of my positions.

  • Anonymous

    “I do stand by the intellectual substance of my comments, however.”
    BRITNEY SPEARS STANDS BY HER ARTISTIC INTEGRITY TOO, AND THE KOOL AID PEOPLE STAND BY THE NUTRITIONAL CONTENT OF THEIR PRODUCT.

    “I think if you looked objectively at Adam’s and my posts, you’d see his were significantly harsher in tone (unless his calling me ‘hon’ was meant affectionately!).”
    SHOCKING, JUST SHOCKING!

  • Anonymous

    With any luck, they’ll keep these lines in the movie.

    “Aslan is not a tame lion.” “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >> Jeffrey, it seems pretty apparent that your last paragraph is directed primarily towards me.

    Uh, not really. I was just noting something that always strikes me as contradictory when I come across it. Yes, Adam has used very harsh words here, and because it’s a heated debate, that didn’t phase me. I’m not saying anyone here acted inappropriately. I’m just noting that sometimes those who oppose violence don’t seem to see the dichotomy between their *convictions* about pacifism and *the way in which they communicate about* pacificism.

    >> Then again, since your own view on the current war has shifted from opposition to support…

    Whoah! That’s an interesting claim. I cannot simplify my response to this war by saying I’m “for” or “against” it. I agreed with some of the motivations, I disagreed with others. I’ve agreed with some maneuvers, disagreed with others. I do not, however, agree with the many Seattlites I see around town demanding that we bring the soldiers home now, because I believe that we would then see Iraq descend into a far worse kind of chaos in which many more innocents would likely be killed. I believe because we have taken so many controversial steps into this miss, we bear the responsibility of finishing what we’ve started without betraying what trust we have gained.

    >> …my heart breaks that there is such resistance to the notion of the way of peace among American believers, where violence is done to biblical language and ethics, to justify killing by Christians.

    I certainly don’t endorse any kind of blanket statement that says “Christians should kill.” I do endorse the endeavors of brave Christians who put their lives on the line to defend the innocent, and if protection leaves us at a last-resort of shooting back at those who shoot first in order to protect the innocent and defend the good things that remain, well, that is a matter of turning deflecting evil back upon itself, not instigating evil.

  • Anonymous

    Andrew replies:

    Jeffrey, it seems pretty apparent that your last paragraph is directed primarily towards me. I find the ‘especially when defending pacifism’ bit to be interesting, since I think if you looked objectively at Adam’s and my posts, you’d see his were significantly harsher in tone (unless his calling me ‘hon’ was meant affectionately!). Then again, since your own view on the current war has shifted from opposition to support, I can understand how your personal bias would make this difficult to perceive.

    I do apologize for my use of the word ‘blowhard.’ I should have been more temperate in my language, in that regard. I do stand by the intellectual substance of my comments, however – my heart breaks that there is such resistance to the notion of the way of peace among American believers, where violence is done to biblical language and ethics, to justify killing by Christians.

    Personal experience is so significant in one’s view on these issues, by the way – I wasn’t just attempting a cheap shot when I asked Adam about this. I’m still amazed that in my own region, which is staunchly Republican, most combat veterans who spontaneously express political views to me are firmly against the current war. I also saw a survey of military personnel in Iraq which showed that only 50% of their number support the war, so this is much more than a regional phenomenon.

    I appreciate the kind words and concerns from a couple of post-ers here. I love the work I do – veterans are great and grateful people to work with.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    I’m ot a “fan” of war, and I’m certainly not inclined to support military action quickly. But personally, like Adam, I find that the First Corinthians 13 call of love to “protect” often involves an unfortunate but necessary employment of violence in order to protect the innocent from the wrongdoer. (I note that God, we’re told, is not “easily angered,” but he does, indeed, get angry, and find a place for anger in the behavior of his saints.) Indeed, we are to do just AND love mercy, according to Micah 6, and that in itself requires us to reconcile two behaviors between which there is extreme tension. Justice often requires forceful action. But if we love mercy, we will be quick to show mercy as well. This, I think, is part of what Christ meant when he said, “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” His coming has caused great division and strife, but he also says “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

    On another note: I’m often intrigued by the tendency of many who decry all forms of forceful, military, and violent action to embrace and demonstrate forceful, militant, and even violent forms of communication… especially when “defending” pacifism. “The tongue is a flame,” the scriptures say, hailing it as the most destructive of tools. We should be just as careful to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” in the nature of our speech (on and off the Web) as we are to be careful with OTHER forms of force and violence.

  • Wasp Jerky

    “Recall the use of military imagery in Paul’s letters, and don’t forget the entire military history of the Israelite nation.”

    The Israelites were also known to take captured virgin women from their military campaigns and essentially make them sex slaves. Do we get to do that, too? And maybe we can start the practice of polygamy back up? We can arrange marriages and make women our property. And while we’re at it we can legalize slavery again. And maybe start stoning rebellious children? Hey, the Isrealites used to do it, so it must be OK.

  • Lorelei

    The comments about voting for Kerry being sinful are out of line for any man of the cloth, but so are the “get out da’ Bushes” comments of other well known “reverend”s.

    As christian individuals we may live pacifisticly (sic) but as a nation we must agree with paul about the necesity of government’s “bearing the sword” for a purpose.

    Look up Jesus advise to the tax collector AND the soldier. Recall the use of military imagery in Paul’s letters, and don’t forget the entire military history of the Israelite nation.

    Paul, like Christ, spoke in vernacular terms often. I can’t help but think he had soldiers in mind when he spoke of the shield of faith and the word of God being akin to a sword. I think he honored them with using terms they understood, he did not discourage them from their calling as military men.

  • cavysong

    For the anonymous veterans’ councellor, my condolences. Is your daily exposure to the worst parts of our soldiers’ experiences darkening your vision of the human and christian experience as a whole?

    As the spouse of a military member in a similar specialty, I understand that the “operational tempo” will make getting away hard, but I would encourage you to take a break.

    A dear friend had to give up her career as a counsellor of sexually abused children. She got to the point that she believed most, if not all, parents were sexually involved with their children in some way, and even avoided marriage and starting a family of her own for fear that she or her future spouse would some how damage their children, too.

    In time she came to see that intensity of the work was having a toll on her perspective. Perhaps counselling these “heroes” is coloring your view of the necessity of military action in certain circumstances.

  • Adam Walter

    Anonymous writes: I wonder, by comparison, where you spend your workdays, and if you have any actual military experience – or if you just root for war from the sidelines?

    You continue to mischaracterize me. Please demonstrate where I “root for war” in the Wendell Berry review. Also, I will decline your invitation to reveal extensive personal details about myself to a hostile, anonymous internet person whose first act toward me was to call names.

    Jesus left the apostles behind, as sheep among wolves, so that all but one of them died a violent death. He left them with the Holy Spirit, not kevlar vests and rocket launchers. Jesus, who stated he was quite capable of summoning a legion of angels to defend himself, seems quite willing to make ‘sacrifices of others,’ for an apparent purpose and justice that is higher than ours.

    You stubbornly refuse to address the issue that I’ve raised again and again. Yes, Christ has called individual Christians to lives of personal sacrifice (really, we’ve been over and over this!). Please provide any example where He has told them to stand by and do nothing when an innocent person (maybe a Christian, maybe an unbeliever) is being violently victimized.

    By the way, nowhere in the Gospel accounts does it say that Jesus used the whip on any ‘flesh.’ For someone who rode Berry so hard for allegedly stretching the words of the Gospel, I thought this was an interesting addition on your part.

    Glad you liked it, but the Bible makes it quite clear Jesus used the whip to “drive out” both the animals being sold for sacrifice and the money changers. If you want to believe he just waved the whip in the air (or maybe he tickled them all into flight?), that’s up to you.

  • mark

    anonymous,

    As a dyed in the wool from the point of birth conservative and a member of a three generation Naval family, no I am a dyed in the wool black sheep who only served his country in a civilian capacity albeit in a war zone or two, I was extremely impressed with your post defending pacifism. While disagreeing with everything you said you didn’t become disagreable until your last weak paragraph. I would rethink that as a debating point if I were you. It through away an otherwise strong argument. And thank you for your day job.

  • Anonymous

    Andrew responds:

    ::The “anonymous” poster continues to show his/her woeful ignorance regarding human nature…

    Hmm, I spend my workdays wallowing in ‘human nature,’ as a counselor working with combat veterans, many of whom have killed (or done worse). I routinely hear narratives of civilians killed in so-called ‘free fire zones,’ gruesome death, and much more of which I’ll spare you the details. I help those who have often spent decades suffering emotionally with the burden of such awful memories and the resulting moral fallout.

    I wonder, by comparison, where you spend your workdays, and if you have any actual military experience – or if you just root for war from the sidelines?

    ::…we don’t know how Christ would react if He were to encounter a person being violently victimized.

    I would contend that we do. Jesus left the apostles behind, as sheep among wolves, so that all but one of them died a violent death. He left them with the Holy Spirit, not kevlar vests and rocket launchers. Jesus, who stated he was quite capable of summoning a legion of angels to defend himself, seems quite willing to make ‘sacrifices of others,’ for an apparent purpose and justice that is higher than ours.

    ::You ignore my example of Jesus taking the time to personally make a set of whips and then taking those whips to the temple and using them on the flesh of the money changers.

    You’re right, I did fail to account for this example. Then again, I would question whether we should use the exception to make the rule.

    By the way, nowhere in the Gospel accounts does it say that Jesus used the whip on any ‘flesh.’ For someone who rode Berry so hard for allegedly stretching the words of the Gospel, I thought this was an interesting addition on your part.

  • Brian

    If Berry is right, and I don’t believe he is, he will have to engage the history of Christian thought about pacifism. Those men supporting just war include Augustine, Aquinas, Clement of Alexandria, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Ambrose. If these and all others were not “true” followers of Christ you’ll have to do a stellar job of undermining Christian history in order to make your point. Berry isn’t just saying this is his perspective and arguing for it, he’s saying his opposition are disobedient, dishonest apostates.

    I like C.S. Lewis’s quote “If war is ever lawful, then peace is sometimes sinful” and Francis Schaeffer’s summation: “The Bible is clear here: I am to love my neighbor as myself, in the manner needed, in a practical way, in the midst of the fallen world, at my particular point of history. This is why I am not a pacifist. Pacifism in this poor world in which we live — this lost world — means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.”

  • Adam Walter

    The “anonymous” poster continues to show his/her woeful ignorance regarding human nature, lack of intellectual honesty, and a determination to read with blinders on.

    Regarding the comment: In a section that Jeffrey didn’t quote, Adam (in an effort to justify the political and individual use of violence)states, “Unfortunately, we do not have examples from Christ for dealing with some of the worst situations that life can throw at us.” Hmm, I don’t know about y’all, but I think a bogus arrest, torture, and prolonged execution are pretty rough. And how did Jesus respond to this? By non-violence, of course.

    Here anonymous ignores the real issue at hand. Yes, individual Christians are called to a life of sacrifice in the face of personal attacks. However, as stated in the words just beyond the point at which anonymous pointedly cuts of his/her quotation, I make it clear that we don’t know how Christ would react if He were to encounter a person being violently victimized. How would Christ react if He came upon a woman being gang-raped or a group of thugs murdering a family? Do we have the right to stand by and not defend, with force, the weak? Sure, we are supposed to make sacrifices of ourselves–but how does that translate into making sacrifices of others? How do you turn someone else’s cheek?

    Nowhere in the New Testament is violence on the part of Christians countenanced…

    Wrong. You ignore my example of Jesus taking the time to personally make a set of whips and then taking those whips to the temple and using them on the flesh of the money changers.

    …the holy wrath depicted in the later parts of Revelation is divine judgment effected by God and His armies, not a secular military.

    So you would support the military of a religious state?

    As far as Berry’s comments about Bush, I would say they’re hyperbolic, but not uncalled for.

    Ah, so you support blowhardism after all. I thought so, what with your own talent for it–as evidenced by the immature outlook of the remainder of your post.

  • Anonymous

    Andrew writes:

    The Scripture you refer to, Peter, is an interesting and somewhat puzzling one. Luke does indicate that the presence of the swords was necessary for the fulfillment of the OT scripture, “He was numbered with the transgressors” — so I think it’s pretty clear that Jesus is not a member of the pro-sword lobby.

    I may be technically challenged (I was the earlier anonymous poster), but Adam shows a sad theological shallowness in his commentary. In a section that Jeffrey didn’t quote, Adam (in an effort to justify the political and individual use of violence)states, “Unfortunately, we do not have examples from Christ for dealing with some of the worst situations that life can throw at us.” Hmm, I don’t know about y’all, but I think a bogus arrest, torture, and prolonged execution are pretty rough. And how did Jesus respond to this? By non-violence, of course.

    Paul, too, continues this theme of non-violence as exemplified by his post-conversion behavior (in going from killing in the name of religious orthodoxy, to preaching and writing instead) as well as his exhortation to the Romans not to avenge oneself, leaving room for God’s vengeance. Nowhere in the New Testament is violence on the part of Christians countenanced – the holy wrath depicted in the later parts of Revelation is divine judgment effected by God and His armies, not a secular military.

    As far as Berry’s comments about Bush, I would say they’re hyperbolic, but not uncalled for. Voting for Bush as a sin? Well, let’s see. Voting for a shallow, immature world leader, who invokes piety to support an idolatrous nationalism and who sent soldiers off to an unnecessary war, while favoring the rich and screwing the poor, as well as damaging our environment and alienating other countries – I suppose one could call that a sin.

    Comparing Bush to a Southern slave master? Well, again, there’s the whole economic injustice bit, not only hurting the American poor, but also continuing our 20th Century tradition of economic and political empire-building that ends up hurting and killing the world’s poor. That sounds pretty bad to me, too (and I think the OT prophets had some pretty harsh things to say about comparable behavior in the past).

  • mark

    anonymous,

    The first is a great example. Brannon Howse certainly speaks for a lot of conservative Christians. I’ve crossed swords with him before when he says stupid unsupported things. (he did respond to my critique with a form e-mail thanking me for my input)
    Your second does fit my request for at least one incident so I got what I ask for, however I hope you mind if I still make the point that I think we are looking at limited crack pots and not a national trend.

  • Anonymous

    Here are two examples:

    Voting for Kerry a “Sin,” Says Christian Leader
    November 1, 2004 | 6:05 p.m.

    Brannon Howse, founder of the conservative Christian Worldview Weekend, sent an email to his supporters on Monday suggesting that voting for Sen. John Kerry is a “sin.”

    He wrote: “On Saturday, as I sat behind the President at a rally in Minneapolis, I heard his promise to use his Administration…to protect the life of the unborn and uphold the definition of marriage. I heard references to God…I heard an evangelical prayer…I heard the hatred of abortion and the respect for traditional marriage. My friends, I heard what you will never hear at the rally of the Democrats.”

    He added: “I believe anyone that does not vote on Tuesday is sinning and anyone that votes for Kerry is committing an even greater sin!”

    Pastor of Baptist church in North Carolina tells Kerry voters to leave the church or repent; nine are subsequently voted out: USA Today story

  • mark

    James,

    Thanks for the deep “so do you” critique of Adams very specific referral. Could per haps cite at least one incident.

  • Cpt Casual-T

    As for Matt 5:29, NKJV changes the translation from “resist not evil” to “Do not resist an evil person”.

    - Adam M.

  • James

    Whether or not “it blows harder than that” is an open question, but I wouldn’t consider Berry’s comments any further out of line than those of people who tried to force democratic voters out of their congregations, or who equate Christian practice with voting Republican.

    Either set of rhetoric is likely too harsh, but when Berry’s voice is in a much smaller minority, I find it difficult to hear criticism of his comments without the balance of hearing about the vitriolic attacks made by those on the ‘christian right’ on anyone that doesn’t agree with them.

    And I’m with Joel – surely Berry’s Christianity has been common knowledge for years?

  • Adam Walter

    Thanks for linking the story, Jeff.

    As for the comments of our courageous “anonymous”… Blowhard, huh? Last November I personally witnessed Berry calling a vote for George W. Bush “sin” and equating Bush voters with the slaveholders of the Old South.

    It don’t blow any harder than that, hon.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    FWIW, I have always been intrigued by the way Jesus tells his followers to carry swords with them on the night of the Last Supper, but then chastises Peter for actually using his.

    As for “Don’t resist evil” — it’s not that big a difference from what Christ says in Matthew 5:39, translated by the King James as, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

  • Anonymous

    If these are the high points, I don’t need to read any more of this blowhard’s critique. Christian pacifists like Yoder and Hauerwas have more of a clue than he does.

    The ‘sword’ that Jesus refers to may or may not be figurative? Yes, I remember well how the apostles swept through the Middle East, forcing conversions at the point of the sword. Oh, wait, that was Islam. And what a shame that the noble Crusades are only a cherished memory of our religion’s storied past…

  • Joel

    Berry has been writing about this stuff since the 80s — and surely he’s always been a Christian! I’m not sure what’s “new” about this book.

    Now Anne Rice becoming a Catholic )(again?)– maybe that’s a story… then again, I’ve certainly never read any of her books.

  • Alex

    I think Mr. Overstreet is in dangerous jeopardy of getting linked to from my blog should he continue to post such lovely links as the Cowboy Junkies singing George Harrison… wow.

  • zalm

    Thanks for the link to the Shopgirl trailer. Man… They had me with the opening notes to that Notwist song.

    For some reason, I can’t get the Cowboy Junkies’ track to stream, but I’ll keep trying.

    Have you heard Tresspassers William’s cover of “Love Is Blindness”? It’s on their Different Stars album, and it’s every bit as sultry as the Junkies can be.

  • Timothy Grant

    If only we could be sure the entire movie could be as good as the trailer! However, Steve Martin does look like he’s being the Steve Martin of old in that trailer.

    I hope it’s good.


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