I left that last entry up for a while because I knew no one would read it. It’s just too long and boring. But I thought if I left it on there long enough, someone might read it just because it’s been there for so freaking long. Alas, everyone things it’s boring, except Dave.
The thing is, I find it incredibly interesting. I myself read it over at least 5 times. I mean, it’s interesting because 1) it’s my life, and 2) I feel like having thought it over for 10 years, I’ve gained little insights into what happened, and that to me is just interesting. I guess I’m just sad that most people don’t find what I think is interesting as interesting.
But come on, that’s pretty dope, right? We were the best junior high jazz band in the country! How many people can say something like that? It was special.
I joined an Out of the Grey (still my favorite band) mailing list / e-mail discussion group, and it’s been kind of a cool thing. If you ever get into the rec.music.christian newsgroup, it invariably gets depressing, because it’s dominated by a bunch of cynical snobby jerks. It’s just a very unChristlike atmosphere. This mailing list is totally different, everyone is just so encouraging of each other, and just so nice, and we all share a common passion. I like it.
Anyway, this one person is copying these articles Christine Dente wrote for some magazine for me, and our e-mail exchanges have been so pleasant. Just so very nice and thoughtful, to a complete stranger. It’s just great to me.
So if you’re into Christian music, don’t read the depressing newsgroup. Join some fan e-mail lists. It’s a lot less intellectual, and maybe a little too fawning, but it’s a heckuva lot more encouraging.
Dude, these FiCS Valentine’s activities are getting dirtier and dirtier every year. Wow. It’s almost becoming a contest of oneupmanship, the way birthday gifts were frosh year, for everyone except me (yes, I’m still bitter about Charlie’s Rollerblades, which took place after my birthday. But I digress). But whatever.
So here’s a life influence that’s relatively recent.
As you may or may not know, Pleasantville is one of my favorite movies. I’d say that shocks a lot of people, just because it seems so random. And a lot of Christians think it has anti-Christian overtones, as well.
The great thing about movies, though, is that the value you get from it is how you interpret it, the meaning you find in it, and that’s what matters more than anything else. In our YAG Bible study this Sunday we learned how the purpose of interpretations of the Bible is to try to figure out the author’s intent. I think with movies it’s different – it doesn’t matter what the intention was, I mean, it does somewhat, but really, the meaning you derive from it is paramount. More crucially, I think the meaning you derive from it is valid; even if it wasn’t the creator’s intention, it’s valid to talk about what the movie means to you, because that’s the whole point.
There was this great article in Salon.com (one of my favorite sites for good journalism, although it leans on the liberal side, besides Horowitz) where this woman interviewed Orson Scott Card. She absolutely loved Ender’s Game, but found Card to be a total jerk (in her opinion, but it was clear from the article that she was a pretty strong-headed opinionated individual). Even worse, the messages she believed to be in the novel that made her love the book so much, he didn’t seem to espouse. So she went through this mini-crisis wondering whether what she thought this book that was so dear to her represented may have been all wrong, and not the intention of the author.
In the end, she decides, the book is great, the author sucks. It really was a fascinating article. But I think it’s true; even if the author didn’t intend the work to have a particular meaning, if it has that for us, it can be valid.
Anyway, that was a digression, but yeah, I can’t deny that Pleasantville has some anti-Christian overtones, but that’s not what appeals to me. And to be honest, the things of Christianity that it attacks are worth attacking, I think, although it’s somewhat misguided.
So you don’t need to watch the movie, because you’ll be disappointed. Without fail, no one has understood why I like this film. So I’ll just sum up the message. I love at the end when Tobey Macguire is talking to his mom and he’s like, “there is no perfect life, there’s just life.” That’s pretty much the message of the entire movie.
Let me explain what the movie attacks and why I jive with it. What it attacks is the attitude that we need to keep the world from changing, however that may be. The town is just a metaphor for like a supposedly “ideal” life, where everything is pleasant. The villains in this movie would like that Pleasantville stay exactly the same, in perpetuity. And this is fine enough, except real life isn’t like that, and so you live in like this world of denial, and try to force things that don’t reconcile with that reality into it, or force it out. The point is, things can’t stay the same sometimes, and trying to force it to be the same has perilous consequences.
The insightful thing about the movie is that it pointed out how much intolerance in the past has been caused by this attitude. Some critics have contended that it sticks it too many ideas, but to me that was the whole point, that they have a common underlying motive – trying to keep things the way they are. Like racism in America, in particular segregation. Or responses to challenging music (jazz, rock and roll in the movie, if you listen to the diner), or challening literature (Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, both commonly banned books), or challenging art (the first painting they show is apparently considered the first work of the Renaissance, and it depicts Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden, I think. I don’t know where I got this, it’s just coming off the top of my head, so it may be wrong). The common attitude is, this is change, this is scary, let’s react in such a way as to get rid of it.
I’m sorry, but you just can’t do that sometimes. I think, personally, this is just a bad attitude, the appropriate thing to do is recognize that it exists, and deal with it that way, rather than trying to make it not so. I’ve mentioned this before, but Eli talked to me about this Christian speaker who basically had this idea. He talked about all the scary changes in the world, mostly technological, be it the influence of computers, loss of privacy, or genetic manipulation, or what have you. His message was, yeah it is scary, but we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, we need to recognize that, and learn to deal with it from there.
Anyway, the movie rightfully criticizes Christians because honestly, us Christians have a tendency to do this perhaps more than other groups. Like with slavery, or even segregation, there were many Christians who supported these things; the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., the Southern Baptist Convention, was formed because they split with the larger Baptist denomination over their support of slavery in the Civil War. I think. And Christians are often involved in like book bannings and music bannings, and such.
And in recent history, many Christians have been against musical trends in society and in the church. I’m not sure how much people remember of this but especially this guy Bill Gothard I think his name was was totally against these trends, like having amplified instruments, drums (his contentions – drums originate from the tribal beats of Africa and the Indies and are associated with Satanic influence. I’m not kidding), and the like.
Anyway, at times I think it’s noble, and with the right intentions, but often misguided. This one book I read in junior high pointed out the hypocrisy in that under many guidelines for banning books, the Bible would be banned. There’s some gruesome stories in there. Beheadings, lots of violence, men wanting to rape men, incest, a woman raped and then torn into pieces, each of which is sent across the land, sick stuff like that. I mean, it’s real, it’s there.
Just off the topic. Two of my favorite Bible stories because they’re so weird is how Jacob’s sons convince another group that if they all get circumcised, they’ll let them marry their sisters. And then while they’re all still sore, the sons go off and kill them all. The other story is of this really fat king. This other guy kills the king with a sword, and the guy is so fat the sword goes in and he can’t get it back out. He runs off, and meanwhile, the king’s assistant is waiting and waiting, he thinks he’s in the toilet or something, and he waits, “to the point of embarrassment” I think the passage says, I don’t know I’m too lazy to look it up. It’s just humorous, if it wasn’t violent. But anyway.
With music, I think nowadays people would acknowledge that those older views were pretty absurd. Not everyone, but most people, I would say.
Anyway, it’s obviously not all Christians who do this, I mean, get scared of change and react in poor ways, it’s just I think those that do are very visible about it. And again, there are often right intentions, but in retrospect I think we see how in many cases (e.g. slavery) it was misguided. It just often (not always) is.
So in my opinion, the movie Pleasantville is justified in criticizing Christianity, because Christians often have that attitude of sticking their heads in the sand, prentending the world isn’t like it is. Of course, I think it goes to far. It’s assertion is that not only is that pretend, ideal life that people want to keep not real, it’s not even ideal. Real life is complicated, messy, but real. Not only that, it’s more exciting, more fun. And I’m kind of with the movie there – I think the pleasant life people try to keep isn’t really pleasant, and most importantly, it’s not real. There is no perfect life on this earth.
Where it goes too far is making the bold claim that the best thing that happened to us was the Fall; that before we were mindless automatons, and that now, even though there’s sin, it’s more fun than the Garden of Eden ever was. Umm, my quick response to that answer is no. Actually it’s more like, what a whack idea. Because it’s not that we were automatons, we obviously had the capacity to sin, it’s just that we hadn’t yet, and thus had the benefits of will and consciousness, without the consequences of sin. I’d say that’s pretty ideal. At least, I’d like it.
At any rate, I’m very with the main message – there is no ideal life. There is no perfect life. There is no pleasant life. There’s just life. So live that life, whatever it is. There’s just a lot of freedom and I would say joy in this recognition.
OK, that was the life influence part. Here’s the part that annoys me, that I said was on my mind last time. It’s kind of related.
Before I start, let me state that I hope no one takes this the wrong way. I don’t think less of people I disagree with, usually at least, I just disagree with ideas. I think people misunderstand me when I slam people. It’s not people, it’s ideas. Like, me Dave and Henry slam each other all the time, and you know, we just disagree with ideas sometimes, that’s all. That says nothing about how much I love them or what I think about them at all. I hope people understand that. I love all my friends.
So it annoys me when people say that such and such a life isn’t “real.” The comment that actually bothered me was something like, Christianity as it’s expressed in college is the most artificial thing in the world. Someone mentioned this to a friend of mine. This bothers me for several reasons. One, it’s just an extremely belittling comment, I think. Second, it’s totally inaccurate. Third, it seems to be enlightened, as if this view has some sense of perspective, but it’s actually lacking in greater perspective, and is thus ignorant, the whole 2nd tier syndrome I talk about. I know this sounds harsh, but I tend to be harsh on ideas I think are unrightly belittling.
Anyway, let me explain why, and state that I’m willing to be wrong on this, just tell me why.
I joke around with Dave because when he came back from Korea, he was pretty much saying that everything he did, everyone else should do, because it was good for him. Like, yeah, everyone should spend a year overseas. Everyone should take a break before grad school. Everyone should go back to their roots. Stuff like that. And you can’t blame him, I mean, he had a great experience, he just wants other people to have a great experience also.
OK, so sometimes people have experiences different from other people and they start saying that their old life wasn’t as “real” as what they experienced. For example, working people have a new perspective, and they realize that university life isn’t “real.” And you know, I did this when I came back from East Asia. It’s like, people there are going through life and death issues, and how lame is this life I was living? I may have even wrote that before, that life over there just seemed so much more “real.”
I guess I shouldn’t be so harsh about that attitude, but I mean, I recognized even in myself how it’s just a little arrogant. Basically saying, I know the “real” life, everyone else doesn’t; they are naive and living in an artificial little world, whereas I’m not.
Maybe I’m just assuming things in others that are only true of myself, but I mean with me, when I said that this life wasn’t “real,” I was being arrogant about it, thinking that other people aren’t living real lives. Even without the arrogant attitude, I mean, that’s still the logical implication – other peoples’ lives aren’t “real,” and they are naive.
So that’s the first reason why that idea of whatever not being “real” bothers me, it just seems a little belittling of those people.
But I think that idea is totally wrong and lacking in perspective. I mean, first of all, people who say it are generally implying that their lives are more “real” than that life that is allegedly not “real.” But I mean, how real is that? Let’s say you’re working in the Bay Area, so you have some perspective on how college life wasn’t “real.” Chances are, though, you’re caught up in the start-up, IPO, stock option, housing crunch atmosphere of the Bay Area. At the very least, involved with the housing prices. And really, in light of the entire country, how “real” is this atmosphere? Not very.
And life in the U.S., in light of how people live in the world, how real is that life? The point is, no matter what perspective you might have with your experience, there’s always (my claim) a life that’s more “real” than that. So since we’re not even living a “real” life, who are we to say what’s real or not?
But more than that, like Pleasantville says, there is no ideal life. Or there is no “real” life. How can there be if there’s always something more “real?” To me, the reason why it’s bad to say this or this experience is more or less real is because living well means living the life that is appropriate to your circumstance. That’s my view, at least. If you start trying to live a life that’s more supposedly “real,” that’s not in tune with your actual circumstance, it’s jacked up.
For example, let’s say there’s a Christian living in the poorest section of Bangladesh. She needs to earnestly pray for even basic needs, needs to pray over rampant sickness around her, stuff like that. I’d say these are very real needs, a very real life. Now translate that Christian life exactly to a working person in Silicon Valley. Does that work? I mean, should we be praying earnestly for basic needs all the time, living in total poverty, and all that? My claim is no. Should we all, every one of us, go to Bangladesh since this is where life is most real? Again, no. It’s just logically impossible to do that, nor is it advantageous.
It’s not right to live that life, as real as it may be, here, because it’s not appropriate to our circumstances. I think the same thing works in general – you shouldn’t try to be living a “real” life if it’s not appropriate to your circumstances, and that’s why saying something is more or less “real” is bad, because the implication is people should do this.
Being more specific, I don’t think the working life is more “real” than college life, they’re just different. And my claim is that it’s just as inappropriate to try to live the working Christian life while in college as it is to try to live a college Christian life while working. Both are inappropriate to their circumstances.
I don’t know, maybe I’m alone on this one, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that parachurch and college specific ministries dominate American campuses. The campus experience is a unique one, and ministry for it, Christianity as it’s expressed on it, needs to be in tune with that experience. I think it’s Christianity as it’s expressed in college is a wonderful thing. It takes into account how campus life really is, and exploits its advantages.
Like, what is bad about Christianity in college? That Christians are with each other all the time? So would it be preferable to be like it is in the working world, where you see Christians only like once a week? The thing is, in college, you’re with people freaking all the time. It’s never like that again. In light of that, that you’re always around people, if you purposely sought to see other Christians only once a week, I think it would be bad for most people. That the constant interaction (unique to college, I mean social interaction, hanging out, not just working together) with only non-Christians would have a bad effect. Again, my claim is, it’s appropriate because of the circumstance.
Does this make any sense? So I’m totally not with that statement, that Christianity as it’s expressed in college is totally artificial. What the heck does that mean. I think Christianity as it’s expressed in college is (for the most part) the most appropriate way for the campus life, and the one that is best for evangelism. I think many people come to be saved by campus ministries in a way that would not have worked in high school or after school. It’s a unique opportunity, and good things happen. Not that it’s perfect, of course.
But my claim is that it can’t be another way. Like I don’t think Christianity, as it’s expressed on campuses, should be fundamentally different, more in tune with “real” life. I mean, there are always specific ways in which specific groups could do things better, but fundamentally, I don’t think it should change. Rather, I don’t think it could change. I mean, Christian campus groups are pretty much the same wherever you go, and I think it’s because this way has proven to be the most effective, and that’s why it is.
What the heck does artificial mean? It’s bad to live that way? I don’t think so. I think it’s appropriate. For college. And not for anytime else. But definitely for college.
I think saying it’s artificial is really saying 2 things – working life is more real than college life, or that Christianity as it is in college is bad because it doesn’t adequately prepare you for life after school. That is, I don’t think you can directly attack Christianity in college, because, I mean, I’m sorry, that’s just incredibly naive. College life is a certain way, so Christianity there needs to be a certain way. It’s no different than how Christianity is expressed around the world; it’s gotta be a certain way for a certain environment and that’s good. That’s why there are campus fellowships across the nation, and why they really are so similar. It’s the appropriate way.
So really, that statement can mean either that campus life is bad (it’s not real) or say that the bad thing about it is that it doesn’t adequately prepare you to live the Christian life outside of college. The first one, I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t think there is a real life. Yeah, college life is definitely unique, but I mean, every situation is unique. I don’t think anything is more or less real, it’s just different, and to me I think that’s OK.
The heart of that criticism is that college life in general doesn’t adequately prepare people for life after college, and I think that’s valid. Like college life is so inwardly focused and so inherently social, that it’s difficult for anyone, Christian or not, to adjust after college. I don’t think it’s unique to Christians. Actually, I think the problems Christians have dealing with life after college isn’t about Christianity as it’s expressed in college, but just dealing with not being in college at all, the stuff everyone else goes through also. At least that’s what I think right now. So it’s not fair to criticize how ministries work on campus, because in my mind, that’s not the root of the problem. And in my mind, if you were to change it (make them more in line with a perceived notion of “real life”) it would be worse; less in tune with how campus life is, and less evangelistically effective. But that’s just my opinion.
I don’t know, though, the more I think about it, the more unsure I am. But still, I don’t think any life is more real than any other. And because of this, I just think it’s a little unfair, maybe naive to be critical of how campus groups work.
Anyway, don’t get me wrong. There are obviously bad aspects of how people live on campus, the lack of perspective and stuff like that, I mean, there are bad aspects of every type of life, that shouldn’t be accepted as being valid, just because there’s no “ideal” or “real” life. I mean, we should change things. I just think that calling something fundamentally less real isn’t quite right.
Anyway, my take is, don’t belittle college people of their experience just because that’s not where you are now. Like Dave got down on freshman for celebrating their first midterm. And you know, from his perspective, it is kind of lame. But I mean, I say why not? Let them have their fun, their freshman experience, nothing wrong with that.
In terms of Christianity, I mean, just recognize what’s appropriate for where people are and don’t get down on that.
I actually wrote this entry in two sessions, and in the second session, I realized how incredibly boring it must be. Oh well.