November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:50 pm

A little something to ponder for your Thanksgiving:

From Fr. Jake.

November 11, 2007

Black Snake Moan

Filed under: Church,Culture and Media,Music — Bob Gifford @ 7:39 pm

I broke with my recent exploration of old science fiction movies and watched Black Snake Moan. Excellent, excellent movie. It doesn’t have a single space alien, marauding robot or spaceship, but it does have two things even better: a tale of redemption (actually two of them), and the Blues.

Black Snake Moan poses the question: can freedom be found by being chained to a radiator? The answer, of course, is yes. This is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity and many other religions — freedom as surrender.

Rae (Christina Ricci), a rather screwed up young woman who has been using sex to quiet the demons in her head, is found unconscious in the road by Lazarus (Samuel Jackson), a rather screwed up older ex-blues-musician. He takes her into his house, and when she starts wandering around in her delirium, he chains her up. When she gains consciousness, she is less than enthusiastic about this arrangement. But Lazarus tells her “God seen fit to put you in my path, and I aim to cure you of your wickedness!” to which Rae replies “What are you, some kind of pervert? Or a f**king Jesus freak?”. Both reasonable conclusions from Rae’s persective. But in what I found to be the most compelling scene of the movie, that night Rae is restless, unable to sleep on the couch in Laz’s house. So she wraps the slack in her chain around her body like a blanket, after which she visibly relaxes and immediately falls to sleep.

I know it sounds misogynistic, but it’s really not. It’s a fable about setting boundaries as an act of love, something Rae’s parents most decidedly did not do (her father abused her and her mother rejects her in a scene difficult to watch). Rae, for the first time, feels safe, and her fears begin to recede. The chain (which soon comes off, by the way) becomes a symbol of safety, of security, of being tied to someone forever in an entirely non-sexual way. The chain is her redemption.

And of course the redeemer (Laz) becomes the redeemed as he begins to play the Blues again. The movie takes place in rural Tennessee, so the Blues are true to the setting, but they fit in another way as well. The Blues is an extremely simple, and constraining, musical form. The twelve bar Blues and its handful of variations is always the same. Once you know the simple rules, you can jump in and jam with anyone on a blues song you’ve never heard before. The Blues is like being chained to a radiator.

But it’s a chain that frees us. Through the constraints of the Blues form, incredible heights of improvisation and emotion are made possible. The Blues is about being set free to communicate musically that which can’t be communicated through complex melodies, intricate harmonies or big orchestras. It’s about expressing the pain in our souls, and through its expression, overcoming it. It fits the movie like a glove.

True to its tales of redemption, religion is always just below the surface of the movie, and at times breaks above it. Laz’s preacher friend tells Rae (and I’m doing this from memory, so don’t quote me):

I think people talk too much about heaven. People think heaven is like an all-you-can eat buffet, so they do what they need to on earth so when they die they can eat whatever they want to in heaven. But for me, it’s about the present. When I have no one else to talk to, I talk to God.

Some great homespun theologizing. This movie works on many levels — highly recommended.

November 3, 2007

Lisa’s Science Project

Filed under: Church,Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 7:09 pm

My favorite Simpsons clip of all time:

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