Reflections on Noah – The Movie

MV5BMjAzMzg0MDA3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMzOTYwMTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_My wife and I saw Noah the Movie last night. This film has stirred up quite the controversy and I knew that my simple Facebook status update, “Seeing Noah…” would raise questions in people’s minds.  While I do not have the time or inclination to do an in-depth review and critique of the film (there are plenty of those out there), I thought it might be helpful to share two points of reflection on Noah – The Movie.

1) Noah as Art – This is a well made film and worth seeing. Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel have crafted a script that tells a powerful story. The themes of evil, unrighteousness, justice, judgement, mercy and love are universal storylines and the film drew me into the epic questions in a strong way. As my friend John Hall suggested, you should see the film and simply let it wash over you. The portrayal of human brutality was difficult at times to watch; the scenes of loyalty and love were profound and moving as well.

Noah is a well made and at times, beautiful film, but it is far from perfect. I am not a sci-fi fan and while it was an bold move to cast the giants as Transformer-like creatures, I found them unimaginative and boring. While I am sure that some demographic group will appreciate the battle scene between the Watchers and Tubal-Cain’s forces as the rain began, I felt like it missed the gravity and horror of having the doors of the ark shut before your eyes, condemning you to a sure and  certain death. As well, for a big budget like this, the computer generated animals didn’t cut it. Or as my wife pointed how, by the end of the film, Russell Crowe’s Noah looks like he has been through hell and back while his wife looks, well like Jennifer Connolly.

2) Noah As Theological Work – At best, the movie is loosely shaped around the arc (totally intended) of the biblical narrative found in Genesis 6-9, loosely being the operative word. If you go into the film thinking you are going to witness a literal retelling of the Noah narrative based upon the Scriptures, you will be deeply disappointed and perhaps even angry.

In an interview with Paste, co-writer Ari Handel described the creative process that he and Aronofsky took when writing the script as follows:

Paste: I started out saying the film was not a retelling, but more of a re-imagining. But I eventually landed on the label “a meditation.” Then I read an interview with Darren where he talked about seeing the film squarely in the tradition of midrash, in Jewish thought. That seems to me a perfect description.

Handel: Yes. The exact meaning of “midrash” is complicated, but it basically is commentary. In the Jewish tradition, you look at a text in the Bible, and there are clues there, subtle details that raise questions. And they’re there for a reason, the thinking goes. They’re there to make you ask those questions. They’re there for more stories to tell, and to invent, and to imagine, that would shed light on those questions. And these midrash interpretations aren’t meant to be absolutely, exactly what happened. They’re meant to be a hypothetical, what may have happened, to illuminate an aspect of the story, and those take place in dialogue with other midrash and other commentaries. It all takes place within the grounding of not contradicting the text in any way, but within that context it’s looking for other interpretations and trying to understand things more deeply. We took that pretty seriously.

Let’s be honest: there are plenty of places in the biblical narrative where the imagination could have a field day. But when Handel suggests that they went to other interpretations to try and understand the Noah narrative, he wasn’t kidding. Think extra-biblical content, apocryphal material, non-biblical material, insights from Kaballah and even Gnostic mythology. (If you are interested in this line of critique, check out Brain Mattson’s detailed post, Sympathy for the Devil).  If you are fearful of being exposed to this kind of material or think that viewing a film filled with syncretistic imagery will tank your Orthodox faith system, I would say do not see the film.

Two closing quotes and some questions. The first from Wes Sames at Precipice Media who writes:

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and any other descendants of Noah who may read this, I firmly believe that the Noah movie is a beautiful, useful movie. It is not truth, but it was written and directed by atheists and is presented as a mythological epic, so can Christians truly expect perfect truth from it? While it does not present a true view of God, it presents a true view of human nature, and for that reason I am happy to support it as an enterprise and a work of art. It constructively adds to the ongoing conversation between the church and the world at large.

And a final word from Alissa Wilkerson’s thoughtful review in Christianity’s Today:

Noah is not poorly made or shoddy. It is not political. It is not evangelistic. It is not a theological treatise. Rather, it’s a movie that approaches the level of “good art.” It asks big questions. It explores concepts like grace, justice, pride, guilt, and love. It respects its source material and respects the power of human imagination. It takes a sober look at the evil in the human heart. That is the sort of movie worth watching.

Have you seen the movie? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, will you see Noah? Why or why not?

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The Whole of It

This week I started reading Brennan Manning’s book, The Furious Long of God with one of my friends and brothers in Christ. Brennan has written a ton of books over the years and one of the things I most appreciate about Brennan’s work is that he stays on message – and his message is all about God’s love and grace for us in Jesus Christ, something I desperately need to be reminded.

Manning begins the book with a brief personal intro:

I’m Brennan. I’m an alcoholic.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back, is the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.

I’m Brennan. I’m a Catholic.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back, is also the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.

I’m Brennan. I was a priest, but am no longer a priest. I was a married man but am no longer a married man.
How I got to those places, why I left those places, is the story of my life too.
But it is not the whole story.

I’m Brennan. I’m a sinner, saved by grace.
That is the larger and more important story.
Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it.

Manning’s intro got me thinking, “what’s my story?” I’m a man, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a musician, a pastor, a writer, a friend. I’ve had my share of success and failures in every dimension of life, but those success and failures are not the whole story.They do not define me. And so today, with Brennan Manning I declare:

I’m Terry. I’m a sinner, saved by grace.
That is the larger and more important story.
Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it.

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From Brennan Manning’s beautiful Christmas essay, “Shipwrecked at the Stable:”

There is a story told in the south of France very Christmas about the four shepherds who came to Bethlehem to see the Child. One brought eggs, another bread and cheese, the third brought wine.  And the fourth brought nothing at all. People called him L’Enchante.  The first three shepherds chatted with Mary and Joseph, commenting on well Mary looked, how cozy the cave was and how handsomely Joseph had appointed it, what a beautiful starlight night it was. They congratulated the proud parents, presented them with their gifts and assured them that if they needed anything else, they only had to ask. Finally someone asked, “Where is the L’Enchante?” They searched high and low, inside and out. Finally, someone peaked through the blanket hung against the draft into the crèche. There, kneeling at the crib, was the L’Enchante – the Enchanted One. Like a flag or a flame taking direction of the wind, he had taken the direction of love. Throughout the entire night, he stayed in adoration, whispering, “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

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Thoughts on Jumping off a Cliff

Today I jumped off a cliff.

For the past 16 years I have been dealing with a chronic intestinal illness called Crohn’s Disease. While I have had a number of flare-ups over the past years, to be honest, I have been extremely fortunate that my disease has been manageable with medication (8-16 pills a day with no real side effects) and slight dietary modifications. Many people who suffer with IBD are not so fortunate.

This fall, my body began sending me signals that all was not well. A series of scopes and and scans revealed three things:

1) my disease is active
2) over time the disease has taken its toil on my system
2) my past treatment plan is no longer working

Two weeks ago, I saw a new doctor who happens to be one of the top experts in our medically rich part of the world. He indicted that his personal bias for patient care was “deep remission.” Now trust me, I am all for deep remission. However, deep remission comes with a cost -  an aggressive treatment plan with all sorts of potential side effects.

Today I began a new treatment plan. It sounds so simple: one small pill. The drug is mercaptopurine, an immunosuppressive drug which is used typically used to treat leukemia. While the drug has been known to be highly effective in treating Crohn’s, to be honest the potential side effects scare the crap out of me. I started to read the fine print a number of times, but could never make it past the first sentence or two. You know how at the pharmacy check-out you have to sign something indicating you do not need counseling; in my case, I need psychological counseling. Truth be told while I had the prescription filled last week, but it has taken me days to work up the courage to swallow the first one. Why? Because downing that pill would require of me the faith of leap.

Over the past couple of month, my coach Steve from Centered for Life Coaching has been encouraging me to take some risks and has placed before me the image of jumping off the cliff. Until my call this month, our coaching conversations, while not unimportant, certainly did not contain the level of significance or risk factor that my challenge with Crohn’s possesses.

As we talked about my decision abut this new approach to treatment, I was especially grateful for Steve’s reminder that I am not stepping off the edge into some dark abyss with no hope of a good outcome, but I am actually leaping into the arms of a God who is both strong and loving. As he spoke my mind raced to the words of Psalm 62:11

“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love.”

Now I believe in a God who heals and I trust that God will heal me; that healing may be instantaneously, progressively or ultimately. But until then each day will be a fresh opportunity for me to face my fears, trust and jump into the arms of a strong and loving God.

What is your cliff? Where is God calling you to practice the faith of leap? What’s stopping you from doing that today?

Please pray for me. And know that I would be glad to pray for you as you face your own cliff.

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Genealogy and Grace

When is the last time you carefully read through Matthew 1? I’m not talking about the “this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about” part, but the “this is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah” part.

I have to confess that this text is not a part of my regular reading and on more than one occasion I have skipped right over it to get to the more important stuff. But this morning as I opened up the Advent devotional, “Watch for the Light,” Gail Godwin’s essay “Genealogy and Grace” captured my attention to the first seventeen verses of the New Testament with fresh insight.

Drawing upon the insight of Raymond Brown’s essay, “A Coming of Christ in Advent,” Godwin reminded me that God does not necessarily select the noblest or most deserving person to carry out divine purposes. Godwin writes:

“For reasons unknown to us, God may select the Judahs who sell their brothers into slavery, the Jacobs who cheat their way to first place, the Davids who steal wives and murder rivals – but also compose profound and beautiful psalms of praise. And what about the five women Matthew chooses to include? Not a mention of Sarah or Rebekah or Rachel, the upstanding patriarchal wives of Israel. Instead Tamar, a Cananite, who disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law Judah to get a son out of him. And Rahab, another Cananite and a real prostitute this time. And Ruth the Moabite, another outsider. And Bathsheba, mother of Solomon, is named only as the wife of Uriah, whom King David had killed so he could marry her himself. Every one of these women used as Gods instrument had scandal or aspersion attached to her – as does the fifth and final women named in the genealogy: Mary, the mother of Jesus, with her unconventional pregnancy.”

And what might this have to do with you and me this Advent season?

“And this is of course, where the message settles directly upon us. If so much powerful stuff can have been accomplished down trough the millennia by wastrels, betrayers, and outcasts, and through people who were such complex mixtures of sinner and saint, and through so many obscure and undistinguished others, isn’t that a pretty hopeful testament to the likelihood that God is using us, with our individual flaws and gifts, in all manner of peculiar and unexpected ways? Who of us can say w’;re not in the process of being used right now, this Advent, to fulfill some purpose whose grace and goodness would boggle our imagination if we could even begin to get our minds around it?”

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