Tuesday, January 31, 2006

January Viewing Log

Films or videos I screened in January, 2006:

1/2: I Confess (Hitchcock) (DVD)*
1/3: Kingdom of Heaven (Scott) (DVD)
1/4: Last Days of Pompeii (DVD)
1/4: Ushpizin (Theatrical)
1/7: Ordet (Dreyer)(DVD)
1/9: Serenity (Whedon)(DVD)
1/16: The Squid and the Whale (Theatrical)
1/17: The Last Laugh (Der Letzte Mann)(DVD)(Murnau) *
1/18: Dominion: The Prequel to the Exorcist (Commentary Track-DVD)(Schrader)
1/20: The Squid and the Whale (Theatrical)*
1/20: Pride & Prejudice (Theatrical)
1/21: A Man Escaped (Bresson) (DVD)
1/24: A Man Escaped (Bresson)(DVD) *
1/24: The Man Who Planted Trees (DVD)*
1/26: The Lady Vanishes (DVD)(Hitchcock)
1/27: The Constant Gardener (DVD)
1/28: The Black Cauldron (DVD) *
1/28: Dekalog V (DVD)
1/29: Spellbound (DVD) (Hitchcock) *
1/31: Citizen Kane (DVD)*

Best Viewing Experience: A Man Escaped
Least Liked: The Constant Gardener
*Indicates a rescreening of something previously seen.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Long Loneliness (67-83)

The two sections are entitled "The Masses" and "Jail." The latter is one of the more eloquent explanations of the spiritual effects of dehumanizing treatment.

In "The Masses," Day says of her friend Rayna:
She never met a Christian. This I am sure is
literally true. When we were at the university together, we never met anyone who had a vital faith, or, if he had one, was articulate or apostolic.
There were no doubt those whose souls glowed with
belief, whose hearts were warmed by the love of God, on all sides of us. But mingling as we did, in our life together, and in our life apart, with radical groups, we never met any whose personal morality was matched by a social morality or who tried to make life her for others a foretaste of the life to come. (70-1)

There is a lot here to think about: the use of the word "literally" to jar us out of the cliche to make the claim specific, the intersection of evangelism with personal relationships (ugh, passages like this make me hate the phrase "friendship evangelism" which seems to subsume the importance of personal connection to the use to which you put your relationship with the other person), the subtle but growing self recrimination of the social justice movement (or ideological socialism) as a thing separate from (though not necessarily incompatible with) faith in God.
It is this last point that makes Day's work so interesting to me. In this work we get an honest evaluation from within of a weakness of social justice divorced from a morality grounded in the recognition of a transcendent God. I recall Richard Foster writing in the Spiritual Formation Workbook about how various streams of the Christian tradition have had a tendency to be imbalanced by embracing fully only selected streams while neglecting others. This observation is sound. What makes Day's work interesting is that it is rare for people within a tradition or movement (as opposed to those who come after) to see and face those imbalances.
The jail section is very moving. I could quote the whole thing here.
I had no sense as I lay there of the efficacy of what I was doing. I had
instead a bitter awareness of the need of self-preservation, the need to escape, the need to endure somehow through the days of my imprisonment. I had an ugly sense of the futility of human effort, man's helpless misery, the triumph of might. Man's dignity was but a word and a lie. Evil triumphed. I was a petty creature, filled with self-deception, self-importance, unreal, false, and so, rightly scorned and punished. I was willing not only to say two and two were
five, but to think it. (79)
Earlier this month I screened the Robert Bresson film A Man Escaped, and I've been discussing it with some friends in another venue. Filmed in the 1950s, it uses prison, I think, as a symbol to contemplate existential dilemmas of the 20th century. Why strive to escape? Is freedom an illusion? What makes man significant if there is no freedom of choice? What do we mean when we say "breaking one's spirit"?
Day's passage here describes poignantly what has become a catch phrase lobbied about evangelical circles: brokenness of spirit. I remember a passage in the film in which Fontaine and Jost speak of what will come after the war. Fontaine insists that the Germans will lose and that there will be another world after the world of the current moment in which Jost will be held accountable for his choices. Jost says they will not lose.
In a mindset that can see only the present world, the ultimate good is survival. Day speaks of having no idea of the efficacy of the protest, only the need of "self-preservation" kicking in. What I find myself contemplating is how the "need to escape" and the "need to endure" are often in tension with one another. Early in the Bresson film, another prisoner tells Fontaine to stop trying to escape--he fears Fontaine will be caught and the whole cell row punished. The need for preservation pushes one to minimize risks, the need to escape may lead one to take risks that go against instinct where instinct is telling one what one needs to do to endure (and ultimately survive). This tension in the film, expressed by Fontaine's brief, "It's hard to take the plunge" answer of why he is hesitating, is what makes me see the providential nature of certain sufferings. Fontaine is sentenced to death; another prisoner is placed in his cell. Circumstances are changed in a way that is initially experienced as inconvenient or disappointing, and we feel God is against us or has abandoned us to the whims of fortune. Instead we come to see that the circumstance, while causing greater hardship for a season, ultimately helps Fontaine resolve some greater hardship or problem which he might not have been able to handle if left on his own or given what he, in his limited perspective, might think he wants.
Day, of course, does not escape. She endures. And she is eventually released, and the suffragettes are lauded for their suffering. It is not until later that she comes to remember that she was sustained by God in her brokenness:
I had no thought of religion these last days. I was very much of the world again, talking with others, reading and writing letters, and I no longer thought of the depths I had been in. To be so degraded was to be shamed and humbled, but I rejected the humiliation. I had seen myself too weak to stand alone, too weak to face the darkness of that punishment cell without crying out, and I was ashamed and again rejected religion that had helped me when I had been brought
to my knees by my suffering. (83)
The rain falls on the just and the not-yet just. Day is given the strength to endure. But Fontaine, by listening and being led, by accepting grace and not just receiving it, is given the strength to escape.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Long Loneliness (51-67)

Hamlet, when asked by Polonious what he is reading, says "words." In his rogue and peasant monologue, he berates himself for only being able to respond to circumstances with words.

The pen is mightier than the sword, perhaps, but those who weild it often report of the impotence of words and the ways in which their use often fill our days in ways which make it appear we are doing more than we are.

Day writes of her early days as a journalist:
Life on a newspaper, whether radical or conservative, makes one lose all sense of perspective at the time. You are carried along in a world of events, writing, reporting, with no time at all for thought or reflection--one day listening to Trotsky, and the next day interviwing Mrs. Vincent Astor's butler; writing articles about the Navy Department's charges against Charles Schwab and other munitions makers, then stories about child labor in rural regions and in the laundries (one fourteen-year-old boy working ninety hours weekly). (65)
I suppose the key phrase here is "no time at all for thought or reflection" and that it is indciative of the way any task can fill our lives with activity--not just those that involve the production of words and yes, I'm thinking of teaching. The lack of reflective space within education is not new, but I wonder if it is increasing. I think back on my own undergraduate experience, and I wonder when I ever THOUGHT. Taking five classes a semeser, at times my recollection of it is one of accumulating information. But whether you are accumulating information to desseminate it (as a teacher or reporter) or report it back on a test--you are rarely trying to understand it, much less let it have a meaning in your life (at least to the extent that it affects your actions.

James compares the man who doubts to one buffetted about on the waves. Perhaps that is an apt metaphor for the one who is busy, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

New Personal Best at Buckhorn

Is Raleigh discovering Buckhorn?

Was out yesterday, and there must have been 8 cars in the parking lot. Not crowded by Kentwood standards, but I've never seen that many at Buckhorn. Granted it was one of those days where you have to grab your opportunity to play (early January, before school is back in session), but still...

Got a new low, 51, from the white tees, and I hit the basket on three long putts. I did make pars on three of the four long holes, but I took a bogey on 17 (tree in my way for par putt) and 10 (approach got a roller and rolled away), which is to say, I left strokes on the course.

It felt good. I continue to putt loosey-goosey and agressive, which suits me. I did get a few good breaks on drives (you have to on a tight course).

I see there is a tourny coming up in February, so perhaps I will use it as the first in which I play Master division, since, yep, I get to move up to the 40 and over crowd.


3-3-3 3-3-3 2-2-3 OUT (25)
4-2-3 3-2-3 2-4-3 IN (26) 51

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Long Loneliness (36-50)

This section is entitled "University."

Day writes from a perspective of someone with a social conscience whose own hardship makes her keenly aware of the inequities that are part of life on earth.

Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of her description of university life is that she craved and went for the experience of independence rather than a degree. This attitude meant she attended the classes that interested her and from which she profited (or believed she did) intellectually.

In her early pages, Day captures the tone of zealous arrogance of youth and young adulthood, whether she describes religious piety or political certainty.

Really I led a very shiftliess life, doing for the first time exactly what I wanted to do, attending only those classes I wished to attend, coming and going at whatever hour of the night I pleased. My freedom intoxicated me. I felt it was worth going hungry for (44).