Apr 30, 2008

A Response to “Anti-Eldredgeanism"

An initial response to Want a Better Lens? Let's complexify: John Eldredge pt.2. I do not wish to really critique my good friend Brett’s writing, I always appreciate his thoughts and sincere pursuit of truth—an example to us all. I simply wish to add some of my own thoughts to the conversation, which have been around for a while at least conceptually, and of which Brett’s thoughts have revived in part. I am not really a staunch supporter of John Eldredge, but I have found his work challenging and uplifting at the various times I have read them. My primary intent, then, is to respond to the strong controversy surrounding works like Wild at Heart that both I and Brett have come across. There will always be people who disagree, but these critiques stand out because they are generally so adamantly, almost blindly, opposed to Eldredge’s work.

As mentioned, I have come across a fair share of “anti-Eldredgeans” (good term, Brett), and unfortunately, I think they too commonly stop at the surface metaphors of Eldredge’s writings. I wish to note that I've also read Waking the Dead and Captivating, and I believe they supplement his previous writings like Wild at Heart, perhaps even offering a more complete idea (or maturation of ideas).

In response to a female commentator’s words, I would recommend that she read Captivating if she hasn’t, because Wild at Heart is written for men, about their hearts, not women's. Captivating was written by John and his wife Stasi about the woman's heart, which is uniquely different, yet complementary of a man's. The design of both a man and woman united (i.e. marriage), the Eldredge’s propose, are intended to complete the image of God (see also Mike Mason’s The Mystery of Marriage for a more theological perspective on men and women and this purposeful relationship; or for a from a more Christian sociological supplementary work on men and women, see Shaunti Feldhahn’s For Women Only and Shaunti & Jeff Feldhahn’s For Men Only).

It is always important for a reader to try to understand the real purpose or theme of a writer's work (this I learned from being a student of history), especially early on in the particularl writing. The Eldredge's purpose seems to focus on what aspects of God are reflected in both man and woman individually and united (each demonstrating a bit of who God is since He created them both in His image). I'm not sure if their writing is so much about what we should do, but how we need to begin understanding ourselves as men and women of God. It’s about beginning to find fulfillment in how God made us—in the case of Wild at Heart, it can be argued that God designed us to in fact have adventurous spirits, to be warriors, and to fight for others (these all can take different forms). Eden is important for the Eldredge's work because it is there that man and woman were created in God's image. The point of Eldredge, particularly in Wild at Heart is that American men (not necessarily the world, i.e. universal) have lost some of God's essential characteristics (a warrior or leader at heart, steadfast in Truth, standing for those He loves, and rescuing them when they have fallen or wandered away). Men have lost this, Eldredge writes, through a variety of means such as social or familial emasculation.

Christ, on the other hand, offers us another unique aspect of God (e.g. peacemaker, servant leader, relationship, etc.), and the purpose for which we are to strive (Christ-likeness or oneness with God—see Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest). Are we not to worship God as the whole, as the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and not just focus on one aspect of who He is (i.e. just the Son—this may sound heretical, but hopefully you understand what I’m trying to point out)?

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19b).

The New Testament (Christ’s Gospel) reaffirms the Old Testament—it completes it rather than necessarily replacing it. Some things are removed that were originally necessary in the OT (e.g. animal sacrifice), but the fundamental Truth is still exemplified by Jesus (i.e. the Law and the Prophets).

Again, perhaps the Eldredge’s are simply wishing to return our gaze to God the Father, especially in light of the Old Testament. I do not believe their writings are meant to be theology or a “stand-alone message”. I believe that instead in Wild at Heart, Eldredge writes in response to how people have almost emasculated the image of Christ, thus pressing that conception upon men (naturally, the other extreme occurs outside the Church, with interesting ideas of masculinity associated with sex, physical strength, etc.—also false). Does not Christ exemplify his Father as well as being a peacemaker in the examples of his righteous anger in the Temple, his stance against the Pharisees, even against Peter at times, and not to mention his confrontation of Paul on the road to Damascus?

In the case of Wild at Heart, Eldredge seems to wish our focus to be on the discussion of the heart of men (and the heart of women in Captivating). It’s a book about healing from past wounding from fathers, mothers, relationships, etc. I do think Eldredge is a bit overly "emotional" in his writing (i.e. trying to stir our emotions with inspiring words and images, though if that’s the case is his point not somewhat demonstrated?), but that does not negate some of the truths he has caught from the Gospel. No one is perfect but Christ alone, and like Brett has begun to do, all words and thoughts of authors, professors, preachers, peers, etc. need to be approached as best as possible through the eyes of Christ’s Gospel.

Looking at our culture, men do seem commonly passive and generally weak of heart, thus perhaps stirring women to rise up in response to that social or familial void. Men have not demonstrated adequately God calling toward leadership in life (however small the domain, i.e. even if it just pertains to family). It’s not that there isn't a place for women in leadership, there surely is. Men united with women in the effort of acting as a leadership team is perhaps a primary desire of God for marriage and for a variety of roles. Think of the idea of a pastor and his wife—the two are essential for the leadership of a church, one cannot succeed without the other—they both have their unique gifts and roles that complete the leadership. This is how God designed us, to need not only Him but community and people. This is discussed by Paul on many occasions.

I wonder, then, whether those who resist the ideas of Eldredge are not in fact doing so because they in fact see truth in them, that their own lives are exemplifying the problems American culture has brought about? Is not resentment often rooted in jealously, in seeing in others what one wishes he or she in fact had (often character traits or qualities)?

In response to Brett; are the Eldredge’s really approaching their writings from the lens of positivism? It would seem the opposite—a focus (perhaps a bit too strong at times) on experience and feeling God in those experiences. Isn’t that about the work of the Spirit stirring in each of us (our hearts, souls, and minds) a passion for the LORD? In their works, the Eldredge’s seem to be focusing primarily on the heart aspect, thus leaving the soul and mind aspects to other writers (we have plenty of them). I have only scratched the surface here; I’m trying to bring out some of the main ideas.

Overall, Eldredge’s organization is called “Ransomed Heart Ministries”, and with books like The Sacred Romance (about our relationship with God), Wild at Heart (man’s being in the image of God), Captivating (woman’s being in the image of God), and Waking the Dead (people’s God-given callings based on the passions He has instilled upon their hearts), etc. I do not think the Eldredge’s would want people (and I’m sure some do) to take their writings alone as Truth, but rather as a small piece of the greater whole. There is much to learn from their books, and to be encouraged by. Regarding the "anti-Eldredgeans" I have met, none have given me adequate proof that they have even really read the book with careful thought and reflection. Our culture is too often inclined to stop at the surface, the metaphors, therefore failing to discover what is beneath and apply those discoveries to the greater context—we have become a fast-paced “now” culture, and thus such a pursuit is said to take too much time and effort.

Let us as Believers “seek first to understand then to be understood” (Stephen Covey, Seven Healthy Habits for Daily Living), and really try to understand who, in this case, the writers are, what some of their background is, and thus why they are writing (i.e. their purpose and intent). Thus, after we have begun to understand their works in their entirety, can we respectfully and more thoroughly point out their flaws, which every work contains (e.g. this blog I have written).

Apr 24, 2008

“All that is gold does not glitter . . .”—J.R.R. Tolkien

Below is personal account from the blog of Seth Barnes about a meeting with Dr. Peter Lord. Again, it offers some significant thoughts that should lead one to reflect on his or her perspective and values.

“We asked Dr. Lord what he thought about the church in America, and he said, "It's better than nothing." We all laughed, our spirits tweaked about what he meant. He told us that he thought it could be a lot better and that he wouldn't recommend having a church of more than twelve people. Once you get larger than that, the weak people don't speak up, and church, he said, was particularly for the weak.

“If he could have done it over again, he wouldn't have preached so much. "No one remembers what you say, anyway," he told us with a sigh. He lamented wasting so many words and so much time instead of choosing to disciple like Jesus did by taking a few key players aside and building into their lives. Despite the fact the he is long since retired, he still meets regularly with a handful of people each week and helps them with the fundamentals of Christian discipleship. It seems that towards the end of his life, Dr. Lord has attained a wonderful focus.

“Dr. Lord told us the story of driving past a billboard advertisement for a $60 million lottery jackpot. He sincerely prayed to God, "Lord, give me the numbers, and I'll give every penny to missions." He admitted that he really believed God would give him the numbers. He received this answer from the Lord:"If I thought gold could change the world, I would have sent gold instead of my Son."

“Our hearts leaped at this statement; I was immediately convicted. Wow, I thought. How many of us in ministry grieve the fact that if we only had more funding that we'd quite naturally have more opportunities? Dr. Lord confirmed a truth that I'd been learning for a few years now: God's principle means for accomplishing his will on earth is man. There is no Plan B. We are the answer. It's not an issue of money, but of willingness.”

"The best leader in the world is probably relatively obscure" - Patrick Lencioni

Below is an article by leadership author Patrick Lencioni posted by Mark Oestreicher, a member of "Youth Specialties" and writer of a blog called "ysmarko." I think it makes some poignant statements that should cause one to pause and think, especially in our culture where success does seem to be primarily promoted and/or recognized based on money and numbers.

"I have been asked on a number of occasions, by journalists and curious clients, whom I believe to be the greatest leader in the America. And I usually respond with my own question. "Are you asking for the name of a famous leader?" This usually leads to a fair amount of confusion, until I explain that the best leader in the world is probably relatively obscure.

"You see, I believe that the best leader out there is probably running a small or medium-sized company in a small or medium-sized town. Or maybe they're running an elementary school or a church. Moreover, that leader's obscurity is not a function of mediocrity, but rather a disdain for unnecessary attention and adulation. He or she would certainly prefer to have a stable home life, motivated employees, and happy customers—in that order—over public recognition.

"A skeptic might well respond, "But if this person really were the greatest leader, wouldn't his or her company eventually grow in size and stature, and become known for being great?" And the answer to that fine question would be, "Not necessarily."

"A great company should achieve its potential and grow to the size and scale that suits its founders' and owners' and employees' desires, not to mention the potential of its market. It may very well wildly exceed customer expectations and earn a healthy profit by doing so, but not necessarily grow for the sake of growing.

"Unfortunately, we live in a world where bigger is often equated with better and where fame and infamy are all too often considered to be one and the same. And so we mistakenly come to believe that if we haven't seen a person's picture on the cover of BusinessWeek or in a dot-matrixed image in The Wall Street Journal, then they can't possibly be the best.

"Consider for a moment those high profile leaders we do read about in the newspaper and see on television. Most, but not all, of them share an overwhelming desire and need for attention. You'll find them in all kinds of industries, but most prevalently in politics, media, and big business. Look hard enough at them, and there is a decent chance you'll discover people who have long aspired to be known as great leaders. These are the same people who also value public recognition over real impact. And based on my experience, you might also find that they'll be more highly regarded by strangers and mere acquaintances than by the people who work and live with them most closely.

"The truth is, our greatest leaders usually don't aspire to positions of great fame or public awareness. They choose instead to lead in places where they can make a tangible, meaningful difference in the lives of the people they are called to serve. The challenges and consequences of their decisions are no less difficult or important than those of higher profile leaders, even if they don't quite qualify for a cover story in TIME Magazine."

“Commerce is taking over art.”--Ridley Scott

(originally written 23 April, 2008)

I was perusing through imdb.com, specifically some trivia on the film director who I respect the most as an artist: Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and Kingdom of Heaven are three of my top ten favorite films, Alien is close, I really like Matchstick Men, and I can see the brilliance in some of his other works that I simply enjoy less because of personal taste, such as Legend, Thelma & Louise, Blade Runner, and A Good Year—I am sad to say that I still have not seen American Gangster, which I understand is also powerful).

What specifically caught my attention are some thoughts he is quoted to have said:

"I'm not criticizing Hollywood because I work there, I partly live there. But I'm saying this is the way it is, commerce is taking over art. Commerce has become the most important thing in the film industry. Hollywood is an industry, it's not an art form, therefore they have to address the bottom line."

"I think movies are getting dumber, actually. Where it used to be 50/50, now it's 3% good, 97% stupid."

"We're suffering from saturation, overkill. The marketplace is flooded by demand, and there are too many films, so everything gets watered down. Demand is the boss and everything bends to that will. Bigger and not necessarily better shows seem to be the order of the day."
So overall, not that Scott is the one I look to for artistic truth—though I do greatly respect his work (I don't use the adjective "brilliance" lightly), I feel his words reveal some important insights into the current Western, namely American, artistic culture that is in part perceived through the "film industry."

I can attest to feeling numbed by all the poor work out there masquerading as art, especially in the film genre—it seems rare that a true "gem" is created. I actually find myself looking back more and more lately for the "masterpieces" or renowned "classics" of our western film history (and in some cases Eastern in the case of the arguably greatest Japanese film of all time, Shichinin no samurai "Seven Samurai"). When I find a film that I think holds some level of creative and unique brilliance, I desire to own it somewhat like the parable of the farmer who sells his possessions to purchase the field containing a rare pearl. In other words, I will not only purchase the film, but wish for others to share with me the qualities that comprise it and the discussion that it may promote.

So, ultimately, I suppose I encourage anyone to not settle for just any film—I tell this to my high school film studies group—and while there is a time and place for simply "entertaining" films (e.g. personal favorites are the Ocean's Eleven, Jason Bourne, and Pirates of the Caribbean trilogies), we must be cautious in labeling one as "great". The amount of money it makes is not necessarily an indication of its worth, nor how much money goes into the film as Scott would attest to, though it would seem natural that people would pay to see the better films. Even Academy Awards, which I often agree with or at least understand their reasoning, are not the best indicators, though I believe perhaps better than the aforementioned money-based facets. Many of the "masterpieces" either seemed to have had an element of controversy to them, more clear with some historical context as to when they were made, or presented a reality (sometimes harsh) of the world. Now, I speak greatly of film/story content, but there is a great deal to discuss, which I will not venture as one less informed here, concerning the actual art forms of directing, producing, casting, editing, music, cinematography, etc.

Now, there is a place for personal taste, of which I have already mentioned in brief, but such topics are beyond the point right now.

In his Star Wars adaptations/expansion trilogy, Timothy Zahn develops an intriguing villain called Admiral Thrawn who studies the art of other races in order to understand their culture, particularly the nature of their war strategies. This is an interesting thought, I believe essentially true, in the sense that art can and does represent a culture's values, etc.

Regarding films, then, what are we condoning as true works of art? In observing the films that are most popular in American, what will the world conclude? An example of our cultural film differences is exemplified in part by comparing the top box office film results between the “USA” and the “World” (which is probably referring to Europe)—there are some interesting differences.

I have no specific answers, but rather more questions and thoughts for discussion.

The most important truth perhaps to take away from all these thoughts is to reflect on how we personally use our time to be "educated" in the arts (I believe film viewing, for example, is a form of art education), and how we understand and thus categorize or set values on each of them. Film viewing is not simply about entertainment, though that should be an element, but about much more—the questions, examples, challenges, etc. offered should be approached as one should or must approach any piece of literature (whether it be the writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky or Donald Miller) or musical composition (whether it be Bach, The Beatles, U2, or Coldplay), or visual art (whether it be Rembrandt, Monet, Ansel Adams, Pollock, or Warhol).

It’s about the responsibility to take time to look beyond the surface. Let us not succumb to or settle with mere commercialism, superficial clich├ęs or perhaps give-and-take formulas, but instead let us seek Truth in order to build a richly united tapestry of relationship, communication, and creativity, in order that they may all ideally come together to offer such Truth to our culture and world.


"Art is the grandchild of God" - Dante, Inferno, Canto XI

(originally written 26 March, 2008)

I just read chapter VII of Ian Morgan Cron’s Chasing Francis. The chapter was shown to me after a discussion of my hope and vision to use my art as a channel for God to plant seeds of truth in people’s lives. I think of Pablo Picasso’s quote that I read in Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev (a brilliant book) which roughly quoted says, "Art is a lie that reveals truth." Having read this chapter from Morgan Cron’s writing, I now want to read the whole book, which explores, through the framework of a fictional story, the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

Below is "The Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists" quoted within Morgan Cron’s chapter. I’ll let his words speak for themselves. . .

"In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery. . . . In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to Saint Paul, ’awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God’ is redeemed. . . . This is your task. Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and destiny. . . . Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. . . . Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy." (115)

Violence, War, and Human Nature in light of the Rwandan genocide

(originally written 25 March, 2008)

Below is an excerpt from Jean Hatzfeld’s Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (translated from French, 2005, Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

As I have been reading books on the Rwandan genocide of 1994, especially this book on Hatzfeld’s interviews with a number of the killers from the town of Nyamata, I have often felt so emotionally sobered to the point of feeling sick to my stomach. Such topics are brushed aside too easily--I reflect upon the quote by Jennifer Connoley’s character in "Blood Diamond" about certain human tragedies aired in the news being lost in a few minutes between sports and the weather.

The quotes below offer thoughts regarding violence, war, and essentially human nature perhaps. Though a student of history, people, whether they like history or not, should and must take the time to reflect occasionally on these matters. It is our responsibility as we are the leaders and people of future societies, cultures, faiths, and nations.

First a quote within the book, as a preface to a chapter, by Primo Levi, a Jewish scientist and Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz (specifically, his book The Drowned and the Saved quoted by Hatzfeld on page 52).

"Thinking back, with the wisdom of hindsight, to those years that devastated Europe and in the end, Germany itself, we feel torn between two judgments: did we witness the rational development of an inhuman plan, or a manifestation (so far unique, and still poorly explained) of collective madness? A logic bent on evil, or the absence of logic? As often happens in human affairs, both possibilities of this alternative coexisted."

The second quote is from Hatzfeld himself, and at the end he quotes one of the Rwandan killers he’d been interviewing. Read the book, it’s remarkable how normal the killers were, how new to killing (the most sobering chapter being "The First Time" i.e. kill), and how casually they did their "work.":

"All genocides in modern history have occurred in the midst of war — not because they were its cause or consequence but because war suspends the rule of law: it systematizes death, normalizes savagery, fosters fear and delusions, reawakens old demons, and unsettles morality and human values. It undermines the last psychological defense of the future perpetrators of the genocide. The farmer Alphonse Hitiyaremye summed it up in his own way: ’War is a dreadful disorder in which the culprits of genocide can plot incognito.’" (54)

Thank you for taking the time to read and reflect.