“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Ridley Scott and the Red Sea you think you know

exodus-gods-kings red sea

 

Let’s turn to Ridley Scott.

What did he say that has biblical literalists in a tizzy?

I quote, “the parting of the Red Sea will be F*#!ing Huge.” Ok, so people are not so concerned about the F Bomb, but clearly the fact that he would use an F Bomb means his entire movie can be discredited.

The main issue, apparently, is that Ridley doesn’t express biblical fidelity to Red Sea incident.

In this scene, from what I have read, Ridley doesn’t have God “doing” the parting of the Sea at the hands of Moses; he has an earthquake make the magic happen. Ridley opts for a different natural cause than the one the Bible uses: Wind.

BOOM! Unbiblical alert!  Entire message may now be discounted.

How can Ridley be so obtuse? The Bible clearly has Moses raising his hands above the water and then God’s giant mega hand coming out of heaven and parting the sea with a divine comb like I part my kid’s hair in preparation for school each day. The Wind, of course, being interpreted as the hand of God.

Ridley confesses that he learned a lot about Moses as he re-read the texts (can I even get an “amen”! a Hollywood producer is reading the Bible and LEARNING!! And fundies are still protesting) and found the Moses story extremely inspiring! I quote, “it [the story of Moses] has to be one of the greatest adventures and spiritual experiences that have ever been.”

Man, Ridley totally hates the Bible and wants to destroy the narrative. He even confesses he attended Sunday School as a boy and apparently didn’t pay attention (boo/hiss!).Shame on him for trying to make the biblical narrative a totally awesome cinematic experience. Shame on him for perhaps gaining a greater appreciation for this story via its production than via his Sunday School teachers.

As for the parting of the Red Sea, none of us were there. The writers of the text were not there.

The actual verse itself, Exodus 14.21, states, “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and the Lord swept (or caused to go) the sea back BY a strong East WIND ALL NIGHT and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.
Later in 14.29-30 the text states, “the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea and the waters were LIKE a wall to them on their right hand and on their left…thus the Lord saved Israel.”

This entire episode is tricky because the text itself indicates that parting the Red Sea was work, it took time, and it was not an instantaneous event like Charlton Heston would have us believe. The text says the wind took all night to accomplish this.

So this is an event that required some interpretation, some ability to look at the natural world around it and come up with an explanation that would continue to resonate with earlier Hebrew themes of God creating a way of salvation when there seemed to be no way of salvation. The Hebrew editors perhaps taking the same sorts of liberty to make sense of the event as Ridley does in his movie.

The point is not “how” the sea was parted; the point is that God harnessed the natural elements and delivered his people. So technically, just as the Hebrew editors, via oral tradition, found ways to talk about this event when there was no way to talk about this event, so Ridley stands in the tradition of continual interpretation that doesn’t change the outcome, just makes use of another possible means.

The biblical message remains in tact.

Thus, one of the texts main points is not that God literally historically parted a sea (even though a way was made through a “sea”), but that God has continued to harness nature (and in case you were wondering, nature Gods were a big deal in ancient Egypt but are apparently helpless here), a theme that will also remain consistent throughout the rest of scripture even into the story of Jesus.
God has not only harnessed nature to preserve his people, but the impassible sea, where death awaits all who enter, is passed at the willing of God.

Get out a bible dictionary or Theology of the Old Testament and look up how important the metaphor of sea is for ancient people; it’s a theologically and sociologically loaded theme. God hovers over it, sea monsters live in it, no one can cross it, people are saved through it, pigs drown in it and Jesus walks on it and in Revelation God destroys it.

The sea is bad ass in the bible.

But the kicker: God is more bad ass.

In addition to this significance of detail, a few other minor details must be noted that allow Ridley some directorial freedom when creating this event.

Biblical literalists please put down your King James Version and take note.

reed-sea

First, the Bible does not literally say in the Hebrew language (what the OT was written in) that they crossed the Red Sea. It says they crossed the REED SEA.

Scandalous!  Definitely doesn’t have the same biblical sex appeal does it?

The Hebrew yam sup, most likely refers to a sea of “weeds, rushes, reeds, papyrus plants.” Translators have messed this up and in the process confused a lot of people. This is not surprising though, since this language occurs nearly 20 times in the Hebrew Bible and at times refers to the Gulf of Aqabah, Gulf of Suez and also the sea of the Exodus event (all 3 distinct geographical areas).

The Red Sea is a HUGE body of water that separates Arabia from Africa, but it is FAR south of where the Hebrew People most likely crossed. The REED SEA is more north, a marshy area filled with shallow waters and REEDS that are an extension of the Nile River Delta. Most scholarly research, even from scholars who grant a lot of historical veracity to the Exodus Event (in other words scholars who believe it literally happened), believe the most likely passage based on text and archaeology was in this northern region, at the mouth of the Nile Delta around the Ballah Lakes region.

This is important because if we care about what the Bible LITERALLY says we can start by revising what we think about the Red Sea and actually change all of our Bibles to REED SEA as it should be. Translators have taken liberty to deviate from the plain simple meaning of the text, and instead, embellish it with a more grandiose picture of divine action that will captivate the imaginations of readers that God is in the business of violating every physical and metaphysical law in the universe when it comes to HIS “will.”

So let’s give Ridley a break. We give the Bible a break by not learning the original languages. So Let’s give Ridley a break.

If you want things literally how they are in the Bible, better start learning the literal bible we have, not the one translated in your lap.

And who wants to watch Wind? Did you ever watch the movie Twister in 1996?

Definitely not Oscar material.

Ridley’s going take a little liberty and let an earthquake split the sea. Isn’t it more fun to see an earthquake recreated than to watch wind blow around on the big screen? That’s a far lesser crime than actually mistranslating the Bible and confusing a whole generation of people that think God is a cosmic “magician” (to use Pope Francis’ recent word) that builds walls of water 2 miles high as 2 million people walk across dry land in one day, while also believing this is not enough time for Egyptians to catch up to them.

I mean seriously? Have we even thought if this is logistically possible simply given the details of the biblical account? Maybe God has Star Trek “beam me over” powers. SMH.

I’ll save that for another post.

So Ridley will take some liberty, just as biblical translators have done. Big deal. It doesn’t bother us that our bibles have been tampered with, why should a movie bother us?

Secondly, and lastly, the Exodus account is an INTERPRETATION of an event.

It’s an attempt to understand HOW God delivered and what sorts of obstacles GOD overcame WITH the people to deliver them.

Many of the categorizations of the event, either in biblical description, or in commentary on the Hebrew Bible in Talmud, are attempts to ascribe meaning and make sense of an event that people believe is being guided BY GOD. There is no literal proof that God harnessed winds and made a way through the Sea of Reeds. There is no literal proof that God was busy unscrewing the bolts with his divine hands in order to make the Egyptian chariot wheels wobbly. But wobbly chariots do make sense if they are trying to ride through a marshy muddy plain while the Hebrew fugitives move by foot.

Those declarations in the Bible are declarations of FAITH that God is at work. It’s an interpretation of their history through their theology.

Case in point.

If I apply myself, find a good job, make good money, and alleviate my financial stresses, then I would consider that a blessing from God. God did it. God helped me. God delivered. I interpret my personal history through my theology. The reality is: I applied myself, worked hard, was productive, another human felt I was worth paying, and I took care of my creditors. God is not involved at all, literally, BUT spiritually I believe that, just as I believe all good things come from God.

When we are reading stories in the Old Testament it is important to remember that these are INTERPRETATIONS of events through a particular theological worldview. These people see their history through God, but the same history could easily be seen from another perspective.

Another curious fact is that it is now widely accepted in scholarly circles is that the Old Testament was most likely finally edited and compiled when Israel was in Babylonian Exile!In other words, the oral traditions of Exodus, the prophets, those great vacation bible school stories in Exodus…they all take final form in a written text when GODS people need to be delivered and are lost, far removed from a sense of identity and deliverance.

They need a sense of hope and purpose, a perspective on the God they serve, where they have been, who they are and where they are going. And what do their preachers do? They preach stories that empower, unite, define and provide hope. A lot like your pastor does each Sunday.

The Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible), which includes the Book of Exodus, is part of this purpose.

The Exodus event is arguably THE MOST important event for the shaping of the people of Israel, even more primal in purpose than anything that comes in Genesis. The Exodus event casts a very large shadow over these people, as does the personage of Moses, and this event as described in the Bible reflects the seminal importance in its retelling and interpretation for a community of folks who need to know if God is still in the business of overcoming the odds, doing the impossible and fulfilling promises.

The Exodus telling has an agenda. It is not an objective history, just as none of the rest of the Old Testaent is free of ideology, but that doesn’t mean it’s not inspired and that it doesn’t also carry the word of God in its very finite human telling and writing.

The proof of it’s inspiration being that the Holy Spirit continues to use it. My compliments to Karl Barth. Barth says it. I believe it. That settles it.

So when we consider the buzz that will be happening around this Movie over the next few months, give the directors and actors a break. They are trying to bring to life what has been lost in the dustbin of history as Bible reading has fallen out of favor with the vast majority of the world.
And they really aren’t doing anything to the biblical story, that hasn’t either been done already by the biblical authors themselves or by our imaginations of these events through the lens of our faith traditions.

*Source used in this blog: Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday: New York, 1992), Volume 5.

Hamartia and the REAL Faults in our Stars

hamartia

 

Hamartia is a lack. A negation. An absence. It is not a sin. It is the absence of landing in the right place, evading ones spot, presuming the spot, or target, was important enough to be hit originally.

The New Testament writers are correct: it is a wide landing, a missing of the proverbial bull’s-eye but the landing in itself implies a landing still.

But what if a ricochet occurs, and not only is the mark missed wide, but what if the “it” never lands? What if “it” transgresses infinity?

What if the hamartia never finds a home. What if what one was doing finds oneself in the place of undoing and the undoing just “is” because the hamartia remains in orbit…encircling everything but never finding anything?

One can peer into the abyssopelagic contours that contain the constant ringing of the hamartia that eternally misses. One can stare into the obsidian destitution that contains a plethora of cascading lights.

But the lights never shine on anything. They only illumine themselves. They are nothing but silent noise. Sparkles of madness.

The hamartia just rings through the halls of infinity.

Hamartia, typically translated “sin” doesn’t have to mean its translation. It can just mean landing elsewhere, even if elsewhere is nowhere. Its precise determination as a resting place that alluded its object.

The object is empty.

But suppose this is not the result of the carrier of hamartia. Suppose it’s a mark missed even when it was attempted to be hit with precision, care and a dream that burned hot until it incinerated its own content; content that turned into Thomistc straw.

Suppose hamartia is the most intended unintentional thing that has ever happened. Suppose volition meets boundlessness and the boundaries become forever blurred. Suppose this happens and it takes itself nowhere even as it misses the place that used to be somewhere.

 

Hamartia diagram

Hamartia, viewed in this realm, is not the transgression of an originary command or the lack of following the rules of Paul’s Christ. It is, rather, the eternal recurrence of unintended return that starts but has no end. Its end and its beginning is its own endlessness.

There is nothing that can be done about; it just Is. This is the sin that cannot be forgiven because forgiveness is a someplace that cannot hold the no-place. The mark is missed; Pandora refuses her box.

There is nothing more hamartirian than missing wide, landing nowhere and exceeding the balm of forgiveness that disguises no place as placed.

It is the deepest agony. The most profound sense of purposelessness. The ambiguity of ontological ambiguousness.

It is the burning of a thousand hells within, around and enveloping this hamartia because even hell spits it back out when it tries to land. This hamartia finds noplace, not even in the place where God is absent.

The Dark night of the soul is what they call it. The shade of St. John of the Cross patiently offering his silhouette. It is the night that outshines the sun.

Hamartia: the paralysis of going nowhere but having to be somewhere or the somewhere that is the nowhere. The mark that is missed because it can never be hit.

The disenchantment of totem objects decorating the sacred halls that no longer contain the element of the taboo…and lacking this…so too do they now lack our concern, let alone a concern that is ultimate.

The Nakedness of God revealed in the insulation that can no longer warm the heavens.

But all of this could be avoided if the hamartia had never occurred at the originary moment of its release. If the bow of Heracles had never been pulled back and caught in the cross hairs of the Christ.

What if the allure, the whispering from out of the closet, had…
rather than wandering on this Yellow Brick Road?
Ah…the hamartia, the beguiling moment that is never found because it never could be on this journey…the ricochet that never rests. The existent non-existent allurement of the thing that presses itself into creation without having any weight.

Hamartia being lost in a sea of woods, drowning in the idea that will never be thought, on the trip that leads to no place, captured in the words that do not matter and laughing at us from out of the darkness in which no one resides…

At the dream that should have never been dreamt.

This is the REAL Fault in our Stars.

Speaking of Noah

 

Noah

There is nothing that intersects Church and Culture as much as a Hollywood portrayal of a beloved Bible story. The reactions to the recently released Paramount Pictures film Noah has continued to prove this true.

Upon hearing of the proposed production of the film many Christians preemptively began to be suspicious, simultaneously anticipating its release but perilously curious to see how Hollywood might butcher their Vacation Bible School themes of old. A tight lid was kept on the film and there was little information about the film online until its release. Since then, the cultural noise coming from Christian critics and defenders alike has come to deafening levels.

Yet despite a haze of persuasive Christian personalities pleading with their constituents to avoid the picture, the film has had a strong showing at the box office; it’s as if the critics are having the opposite effect of their intent and theaters continued to be packed for the film even after pleas of abstention.

In its first weekend Noah grossed $44 million dollars in the US and had an International gross of $51 million. In Russia, the film grossed $17 million becoming the best release ever for a non-sequel film. For a film that cost $130 million to make, it was well on its way.

By its second weekend at the box office Noah has eclipsed the $100 million dollar mark and set box opening box office records in several countries such as Brazil, Germany and Peru. Italy, France and Japanese markets open to the film this coming weekend.

This strong showing has not assuaged the dismissals of many Christians. Before people have even seen the film they are relying on their trusted cultural voices to guide their viewing decisions. In a land where people prize liberty, freedom and personal choice, many Christians are glad to let their trusted prophets decide for them.

But many of the criticisms have nothing to do with the quality of the story or the imagination of the directors. Even picking on the CGI seems like a stretch to me, especially if these viewers enjoyed Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.  The criticisms seem to universally focus on its portrayal of the “actual” flood narrative and the misconstrual of characters such as Noah, especially since the Bible is crystal clear about the personality traits of Noah (tongue in cheek*).

To add further insult to injury, many people and beloved bible teachers can’t help but illustrate their extreme biblical and Judeo-Christian tradition illiteracy by attacking characters such as the “Watchers” and the story-line of animosity between Noah and the leader of the cities of Cain.  These characters are not wholesale creations but are an intimate part of apocalyptic Jewish tradition.

For example, the Watchers are embedded in Jewish tradition and extra-canonical texts such as The Book of Watchers via the tradition of Enoch, The book of Jubilees and even the Book of the Giants. They do indeed function as precarious figures who not only teach humanity metallurgy and the like, but also tempt them to sin and evil. But their role in the tradition is firm and poignant.
As for the animosity between the Line of Seth (Noah) and the lineage of Cain, this has long been an interpretation within Jewish Midrashic and Christian attempts to make sense of language that occurs in Genesis referring to “sons of God” and “daughters of man.” While many contemporary Christians make fools of themselves thinking this refers to literal angelic beings, our forbearers knew something else must be done here. This language was interpreted as referring to the two lineages that oppose one another in the film: Seth’s line being the sons of god and Cain’s line being the daughters of men.

What this all points to is not a freelance corruption of the biblical story but an imaginative portrayal utilizing biblical and Jewish traditions to continue telling the story of Noah in uniquely compelling ways. Christians have issue with this imagination, but even within our own Christian tradition Noah was rarely interpreted as a literal event that must be adhered to and retold with narratival integrity. Early Christian interpreters did not see the story of Noah as a literal tale of God’s righteous anger and sadistic justice but as a foreshadowing of Christ.

Following a Christian allegorical representation, the story of Noah foreshadows that righteousness is expected by Christ. Noah is the Christ figure that represents life. The flood is not about literal destruction, but about salvation from death via Christ. The ark is understood as the Church, outside of which there is no salvation. The over indulgence of Noah after the flood which leads to his drunken stupor is read as an allusion to the Eucharist, or thanksgiving, that Christians commemorate when we give thanks and break bread rehearsing one history’s more fateful evenings.

Yet the movies critics persistently bloviate over theological content rather than cinematic presentation. The argument, if there is one, is to be had over the latter, not the former.

The film is being levied as “pagan” with “cultic” keynotes.  Some Christian viewers say that it is an entirely fabricated narrative with little resemblance to how the flood really happened. Other criticisms make fun of the character of the Watchers as unbiblical and more akin to Lord of the Rings than the Bible. Shades of the following are also surfacing: the movie has little character development, God is not the central character, Noah is portrayed as a madman, evolution is being promoted, the movie deviates from the biblical narrative, and the producer is an atheist Jew.

These criticisms are being broadcast on every imaginable form of media and countless people have already found Noah guilty of biblical heresy. For them, this movie is nothing more than something else to stand against, a cultural perversion of God’s Word, even while folks all around are engaging this film and perhaps turning to the pages of Genesis for the first time.

Christians pray for occasions to share their faith and talk about scripture with others, but on this account many are passing up that opportunity…an opportunity to not only dialogue with others but to also dig into their tradition and learn.

It is true that the film takes great liberty to develop and create an entertaining narrative, but who can blame the producers?
The Genesis account of the flood is very sparse and there is little to no character development of Noah, his family or even God for that matter. Read the chapters. You will be surprised how many holes in the story Christians have filled with their imaginations instead of staying strictly to what the bible says. If we want to blame the movie for being sparse on biblical details, blame the exilic editors of the material for not giving us any.

What would a movie being “true” to a verse by verse account of this story even look like? Not even Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ followed a verse by verse literal account of the Passion of Jesus and Christians loved that film.

One obvious example is that in the Bible Noah only speaks one time, once! Not exactly what we need from a main protagonist. Yet we act as if we’ve had conversations with him and know him personally. And that one time is when he curses Ham for coming upon his “nakedness” while he is passed out from the fruit of his vineyard after the flood subsides. This curse is the narrative explanation for why the Canaanites are not true heirs of Gods Covenant with Abraham (to be introduced in Genesis 12) and also sets the stage for the Deuteronomic conquests that will comprise large parts of the books of Joshua and Judges.

So Noah gets one sentence in his biblical role and it’s a curse. Not exactly encouraging.

In the movie, Noah never curses his sons and this scene acts as a point of reconciliation for the family. In the film, Noah speaks often, cares about creation, and is a man that loves his family but also vigilantly wants to do God’s will. Sure he has character flaws and we don’t like what we see but this is the producer’s way of making Noah human and articulating our frail humanity in the face of momentously impossible divine callings.

Noah has passions and passions scare the hell out of people without them.

The actual story of Noah in the Bible begs many questions that the text simply doesn’t answer, but which the producer addresses with creativity. Questions such as the following are imaginatively portrayed:

Where did Noah get the wood for the ark? How did he build it? Did anyone try to stop him? What did his family feel during this time? How did the animals arrive? How did the animals ride passively in this ark? Did Noah ever have doubts? How did Noah see the world? What sorts of evil was the world doing? How did the flood start? Where other biblical characters alive and did he interact with them? Did God verbally talk to Noah or is God silent like he is for many of us?

The movies importance is not found in these unique and inconsequential questions, however. The power comes from the themes the movie introduces, themes that get to the core of faith.

noah praying

Have you ever wrestled with your calling and longed for discernment? Noah does too.

Have you ever been compelled by a calling you can never see, just feel? Noah does too.

Have you ever thought about the nature of judgment? So does Noah.

Have you ever thought about how God’s judging might also appear evil? So does Noah’s family.

Have you ever been asked how you’ll do what you’ve been called to do, only to respond, “I am not alone!” So does Noah.

Have you ever thought about your own complicity in the sin and evil of the world? So does Noah.

Have you ever thought about what grace and mercy looks like? Noah begs this question.

Have you ever questioned the character of God? The movie is implicit with theology here.

And unlike critics would have you believe, God is not absent in this film; God is the unseen character driving the plot and these questions stubbornly arise from this film to challenge our faith if we will let it.

Yes, the film takes creative liberties, but the core idea that the world is evil, has turned from its Creator and must now be judged via a great deluge is present.  Further, the film is not whimsical so much as it  taps into the deep roots of Judeo-Christian tradition via the Watchers, the animosity of lineages and even the role of Methusaleh.  Doing some homework would do the blogosphere, and many pulpits, a lot of good.

If we have a problem with the “myth” of the movie, perhaps we really have a problem with our own myths.

For all the banter being leveled against the film it appears that there remains not only a huge cultural interest in the film and its message, but also global interest in religious ideas linked to the bestselling book of all time: the Bible. Such interest and attention needs to be embraced by followers of Jesus, not dismissed because of a faulty perception of how biblical stories must look on the big screen by people who are less than qualified to pass such judgments. If we want something to generate conversation across cultural and religious boundaries here is our chance.

In a context in which the church is becoming increasingly irrelevant for a flood of reasons (pun intended), the church should seize this opportunity to engage discussion about faith with many people who would usually be less than interested. We should seize this time to discuss faith and culture, Christ and context, old stories and the new ones we are creating via our lives.

For a rare time in our culture people are talking about the Bible. This is a good thing.

Let’s make sure we’re joining the conversation without our feet in our mouths.

Christ Goes to the Movies: The Conjuring and Resurrection

CONJURING_ONESHEET_MAIN_FINAL_INTL

Our culture is a walking contradiction.  Drives me crazy.  We are on board with Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, or any “professional” atheist writing today…then these same people buying the books of these methodologically inept charlatans of logic, flock to theaters to see a movie about nothing more, or less, than our fascination with the paranormal and the hunch we all have that grandma is floating around us, just over our left shoulder to be exact.

If you want to throw off mythos, just embrace Reformation theology…you don’t need to be an agnostic kool-aid drinker.  There are plenty of rationalists to choose from.

As a culture we lap up, in giant proportions, anything that can effectively deconstruct the mysterious and ambivalent, the numinous and the holy, only to find ourselves making small budget films such as The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity weekend box office smashes.

We can’t believe in the hope of a valley of dry bones, but those orbs in our pictures, you know, the ones floating around our kids in all those family photos, those are the real deal…certainly more real than any sort of kerygmatic utterance that has given birth to a faith that refuses occupation from the culture around it…even if the evangelical right has failed to grasp the memo.

We hurriedly rush to be “intellectual” and “scientific” and deny the dogmatic claims of faith…fools rush in where even angels fear to trod.  It has become in-vogue to trash faith, downplay theology, point out the idiocy of structures of belief (and I admit, much of what claims Christianity today is downright stupid).  Even complete idiots think they are smart just because they can utter the senseless words, “I don’t believe in God,”  quote Bart Ehrman, or even follow Betrand Russell down his path of Christic critique when he notes that Jesus miserably failed to have his pulse on eschatology.

Anything and everything that might tear down the metaphysical/that alongside the physical/paranormal…is embraced as if it’s the new intellectualism…yet these same people that want to evacuate faith for nothing more than a misplaced sense of coolness (or a idolatrous sense of empiricism) embrace the very platonic worlds of embodiment they wish to bankrupt when they deny the most paranormal event of them all: the resurrection of the Christ.

In other words…for a culture that is obsessed with being “historical” and “scientific” we sure are quick ditch Jesus and embrace Casper.  The resurrection is nonsense, but living forever in a soulish existence is perfectly logical.  Jesus is garbage, resurrection is nonsense and ahistorical dreaming, but I know my grandpa gave me this vision from beyond the grave!

But this is problematic because the answers of science and history (besides the fact they are both biased and limited) are not able to give us an answer to the ultimate question of thinking our own non-thinking dead self.  We are beings toward Death…Heidegger was correct.  We cannot avoid this…and being a Humean (a follower of David Hume’s thought) doesn’t change the fact that we all reckon with death even if we think it to be nothing more than an uncertain void.  Our lives are marked in relation to our deaths because only in relation to our deaths can our lives have meant anything.  The beginning is such only in relation to its ending.  Our lives are not the infinity of totality until the total has been subsumed into the infinite.

In The Conjuring, the scary movie that has recently taken the country by storm, it became apparent that the very thing that we fear as a culture is the very thing we cannot let go of: death.

We are not interested in conjuring any ideas of the Christ, faith, or resurrection, those are all nonsense but we are very interested in conjuring the paranormal outside the parameters by which the paranormal has been thought for millennia: faith, hope, God and a holy respect for mystery.   We fill our own sense of existential wrath (that our bodies will eventually die) with answers that we can live with, rather than answers that wish to unsettle that with which we live.  The resurrection, or hope in that which we cannot control, we evacuate for the more believable and apprehendable view of a soul that will outlive our bodies and exist in some sense of temporality wherein we can communicate with our loved ones or even make ourselves into family photos as perfectly round cylinders…or better yet, perhaps we’ll be able to speak to our loved ones via the Long Island Medium one day.

We spend our entire lives trying to run from death, thinking our living apart from our dying, yet the dying fascinates us more than the living…we are infatuated with what happens after we die and with the latent presence of death that surrounds us in the very idea of the disembodied spirits of others…even to the point that Christians have conjured a view that dying is in fact better than living!

What?

Tell that to the person that died.

We look at death as if it’s a celebration rather than what it really is…the cold hard fact that the Rider on the Ashen Horse…the rider named Hades and Death (and for anyone that has experienced his swiftness experiencing a death is hell…See Revelation 6.7-8) is still very much at work and has not yet been fully defeated by the One on the White Horse.  The First Fruits of a Resurrected Christ have not yet produced subsequent harvests as Jesus, Paul and the Apostles all presumed were imminently pending.

Death Sucks…

and romanticizing it in some weird form of Christian Gnosticism or discounting Christian ideas such as the paranormal reality of resurrection only to embrace ghosts and goblins (as does The Conjuring) instead is utterly ridiculous.   Makes no sense.

Christians are so scared of dying they make up heaven and their favorite biblical chapter is the aliteral Revelation 21…and the anti-Christians are so scared of dying they embrace “spirituality” or spiritual things such as The Conjuring and in the process continue to live forever thanks to the Greeks…oh the stories we will tell ourselves about ourselves to make our aimless lives less pathetic.

In The Conjuring, death is everywhere and it becomes incarnated via some very stark images. r-THE-CONJURING-large570

Death resides as a dark presence behind the family that occupies the haunted house.  The family is oblivious to its presence but the seer can see it.  Death is hanging by the neck right above the head of an unbeknownst character…its feet dangling overheard as we feel the breeze of its toes brush past our neck.  Death lives behind the door in that dark place we cannot see…climbing its ways onto our beds…tugging at us, pulling us, pressing upon us…and its stench reminds us that this idea we have of death is not as surreal as we first imagined.  Death is guiding our families up stair wells and stair cases…causing us to beat our proverbial heads into those spaces where we think can save ourselves from its evil nothingness.

Death is present.  It is absent.  It is unruly.  It is random.  It is filthy.  It is unkept.  It is chaotic.  And for now, it is final.

Death is the residue of creation that demands some reckoning with its absent presence.  This is why scary movies work.  It’s not the scenes on the screen that bother us…it’s that the scenes on the screen will not stay on the screen and will make their creepy way into our lives, jeopardizing our living.  That’s why we jump when things go bump in the night after watching great possession movies like The Conjuring.  The Conjuring doesn’t bother us…it’s that we too might be conjured and thereby be dead.

Yet, reckoning with death’s residue is exactly what binds Christians and those who think Christ is ridiculous…

And that followers of Jesus have evacuated resurrection and embraced The Conjuring of our Souls via The Conjuring Christ…the ultimate seer…is equally ridiculous and maybe even borderline heretical.

Let me explain.

Most people in America believe in the concept of a soul.  Most people believe that this soul leaves the body and goes somewhere after death.  Christians somehow embrace the Pauline idea that “to be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord”…and also is to be present with me in my house when I feel that sudden waft of cold air that is obviously my dead god-fearing grandmother.

Many people believe there are spirits, evil and good, warring against us, and each other, on a daily basis.  Christians and anti-Christ’s both use the language that the deceased person is in a better place.  Many Christians believe in a literal devil that literally got himself and a 1/3 of all the angels kicked out of heaven (for you KJV readers who think this, you’ll need an Apocrypha to find this story)…and that on their way to hell they have been given free pass to exit and enter hell as they enter and exit weak people whom they might possess.  These evil spirits are what possess us and the historically innocent victims of the movie.  When Christians see The Conjuring…they absolutely think this entire episode could be likely, at least on a minor scale.  And many more conservative Christians would never even watch this movie for fear that they might have exposure to those said evil spirits and bring them to their homes.

Many non-Christians, like the ones on those TLC shows that hunt ghosts, for some weird reason invoke Christian rites when dealing with evil spirits.  People who claim no faith, even the protoganist demonologists in the movie, The Conjuring, don’t show a particular commitment to Christianity, though they use Christian symbols and rites in their anti-conjuring efforts.   The very faith that many people think improbable is at least probably effective on the more probable reality of spirits in our midst…yet those rites are given their efficacy on the very event they deny as improbable: the resurrection of Jesus whom we call the Christ.  Can someone explain this to me?

In other words, there are some very generally accepted ideas about death, what it is, what it means, who survives it, where they go, what they do, and how all this relates to infinitely evil and good spirits that many believe are part of the primordial beginnings of creation.  All this typically surrounds conversation of our “spirit” or “soul” and very little can be delineated by way of difference on these ideas whether one is speaking to a Christian layperson or an anti-Christian post-modern American.

So the non-faithful are embracing the rites of faith, efficacious only on the ridiculous ideas of Jesus and his resurrection, which they don’t believe in…AND the idea of death shared by pro and anti-Christ people is virtually synonymous at a cultural level.

We are seriously confused.

If Christian ideas of beginning and middle are so very different from the narrative of secularity and culture…then why do we as Christians share so closely the view of endings we find to be common currency by those who could care less about Christ?  If beginnings and endings matter…and the beginning of Hawking, et al, is so very dissimilar to the beginnings we found on the Holy, then why are our ideas of ending virtually similar in how we construct them?

If our theology and faith matter, and it matters because of the answers and practices it imposes upon us that choose to follow The Way, then our theology should lead us to a different pronouncement than that shared by The Conjuring…and a culture that seems to have little trouble embracing the pagan idea of a soul but can easily laugh at the idea of resurrection.

There’s a reason that the paranormal is romanticized and fantasized in the form of spirits/souls…and why Zombies are killed.

Dead people don’t come back in the flesh…this is unacceptable and would constitute an Apocalypse (I think biblical authors could agree here).  There is nothing Christian about believing with everyone else that manifestations of The Conjuring and its subsequent manifestations of soulish flights to heaven (or hell) are “what happens” or “could happen” after we die.  Even the Greeks believe this.  What is Christian is not providing ontic purchase to those things that call themselves real while denying reality to the event by which all reality must stand in measure: the resurrection of one they call the Christ.

jesus-resurrection

Thinking our death is one of the most difficult things to honestly do…thinking our non-existence.

Death is not just a residue, or remainder, of all those who have been born and died so that we too might also be born and die, but from a Christian theological perspective death is a theological residue of the resurrection.  Jesus, as the resurrected one, leaves behind a millennia of tombs that are still coated with the presence of death.  The tombs have not given up their dead…the residue simply thickens as history progresses.

Existentially, this bothers us…death bothers us.  It is such a bother that even those that want to completely throw off the paranormality of metaphysics are left embracing some bizarre form of metaphysics in order to feel good about what happens when they are done living their hedonistic lives…and Christians do the same, only in obverse.  Christians embrace a bizarre metaphysics of existence as a reward for physical deprecation.  In the end, they both hope in the same thing…the same status and form of existence…and the Christian just makes themselves feel better because at least their soul makes its way beside Lazarus.  As my former professor of Church history would never tire of telling us, form and content people, form and content…two sides of the same coin.

But maybe there is a third way.

We do not need a Conjuring Christ to call forth our platonic souls from their evil material cages when we die.  We do not need a Christ to Conjure us with his magic and all of a sudden make known what is only now perceived via our ability to reason and the fountain of our vision.

No!  To believe that Christ is a conjurer of dead people is to believe he is nothing more than some sort of spiritual witch, an extension of God’s self that does things that he tells others in the biblical narrative to flee…like pursuing seers and diviners.  Jesus is not a conjurer and God is not the collective holder of Plotinus’ basket of souls that are at home in the being of God waiting to be dropped into this miserable thing we call “flesh” (shout out to my Southern Baptists if you will).

What we need is to divest ourselves from these fallacies and have a theology and faith that is consistent from beginning to end.  We need to affirm an ending that is marked by its beginning and vice versa.  We need to be unique in our idea of hope, not only in regard to things such as soteriology, Christology, etc., but also extend that uniquely Christian flavor to our ideas of eschatology, the consummation of history…extend our uniqueness to our idea of death.

D. Stephen Long, in his book The Goodness of God, notes that a good life is marked by an equally good death and that we as a culture, specifically as a church, have forgotten how to die good deaths.

I have pondered this idea for many years now and what it might mean.  Perhaps, part of dying a good death is not placing our hope in something we have always been taught and presume it to be biblical…but maybe a good death begins when we are aware that our beginning and ending all end up in the same place: in the empty tomb of Christ that marks our birth and resurrection into the infinity of divine mystery.

The Conjuring Christ is not the one that sits by our death beds and gives us the options to haunt our relatives, or take flight to heavenly bliss…a good death is not marked by the certainty of the soul conjurer we call Jesus.

A good death is relegating our very existence into the grace that we cannot understand and into that mystery we call God…and our hope is that in that space is one/One who is/was Resurrected.