Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: February 2010

An Education (in relationships)

Kelly and I wandered into “An Education” last Saturday night armed only with a Rotten Tomato rating of 95%, and a preview we watched on the iPhone. We walked out of the theatre enraptured by the magic of film. Great script, great costuming, great soundtrack, and the acting was pure joy. For 99 minutes, we were caught up in teen social world of 1960s Twickenham, Middlesex.

On one level, the basic story seems fairly simple: a precocious young lady is seduced by an older man and suffers the pain of heartbreak (while getting an education). This moral story plays out in homes across the globe every day. The film director weaves this simple plot into an aesthetically fulfilling work that captures the imagination and the heart. I’ll leave it to real film critics to explore the elements of film and subtleties of the plot. I want to briefly comment on the education I experienced in relationships (as seen from a Trinitarian perspective). The sets of relations that captured my attention include Jenny and David (the older man), Jenny and Miss Stubbs, and Jenny and her father.

The transforming power of an outsider
As Jenny stands soaking in a surprise rainstorm, David drives up in his shiny sports car to rescue her Cello and eventually her from the rain. In her mind, he really does rescue her from the rain. At one point in the film, she says that her life was all drab and dreary before David. She even suggests that he may be the one person in the world who is truly alive.

As the tale proceeds, we come to discover her initial assessment as mistaken. David appears to be a man who creates dreary and drab lives for others. He certainly brings grief and pain into her life. And yet, he really does bring her in from the rain. In this pairing and Jenny and David, I see a glimpse of the good and bad of human relationships. We live day after day after day in routines and patterns and habits. Then someone new enters our life.

This person might be a romantic interest, but they also might be a new friend, a new boss, a new co-worker, a new child. Their presence in our life breaks the cycles, the patterns, the habits. A new relation may have the power to transform our whole world. Suddenly our story collides with another story, as we talk and spend time with this new person, they may cause us to think new ways, try new things, create new patterns. In David’s case, his intentions were hurtful and manipulative. He violated Jenny and her family on multiple levels, and yet, his presence still changed her and her family, and possibly opened horizons that previously seemed closed.

Now this may sound off, and I am willing to be challenge, but I would suggest that even people who wrong us and may cause us pain could still ultimately initiate changes that are for the better. Their action and intentions may not be for our ultimate good, but they still could open new horizons in our lives that ultimately enrich us.

I am introducing an “argument through the back door” so to speak. Alvin Plantinga responded to the problem of evil in our world by suggesting that it is possible for a good and all-powerful Creator to create a world where evil exists. While I am probably botching his argument, I understand part of it like this. The presence of evil does not necessarily mean that the world is ultimately. We cannot see the final score. But it is possible that a good and all power God could create a world that allows evil if it allowed the world to become even better (if moral goodness requires free moral creatures).

Now that I’ve probably messed up his main idea, let me just say that presence of another person in our lives even when they may do us harm (intentionally or not) can still bring ultimate benefit in our lives. So while loving friends and lovers may cause pain, I enjoy an enrichment as well. Obviously, Jenny learns that her precocious intellect could not prevent her from making serious mistakes in the way of relationships. She learns there is a real cost of suffering for her mistakes. But she may also discovers new eyes to see her drab world as more beautiful than she previously imagined. It is not David’s gift to her, but rather God’s gift that is part of the fabric of human relationships.

Seeing the Old in New Ways
This is realized when Jenny enters Miss Stubbs house, pleading for help to prepare for college (after she abandoned school in pursuit of David). Up to that point in the film, Miss Stubbs appeared as a tragic figure. She taught teenage girls classic texts and ideas, but she appeared sad and empty (as though life had passed her by). When she warns Jenny of the danger of this new found young man, Jenny responds with hurtful words about Miss Stubbs’ sad and empty life.

But then Jenny experiences the pain of deception and betrayal. With bridges burned, she cannot return to her old school. Her prospects look dim. She visits Miss Stubbs’ at home with hopes of finding tutoring help. Jenny notices Miss Stubbs piano and the beauty of her home. After her painful encounter with David, Jenny can finally see the gift and life of Miss Stubbs in a new way. Her blind eyes have been opened. (see note 1 at bottom).

Weakness and Love in Relation
In the relationship between Jenny and her parents, a very different angle of light caught my eye. The vulnerability of her parents and the challenge of loving and protecting those nearest to us. Throughout the film, Jenny’s father (a humorous figure) is a bit demanding and closed-minded to the outer world beyond their home. But then he encounters David and is seduced right alongside Jenny. He is convinced that David is good for Jenny.

He fails Jenny. But in failing, he is forced to find new words (new articulations of love) for Jenny. He finds words to confess to his beloved daughter that he is weak, and he has not always made the right decisions but his heart is for her prospering. In other words, in his weak and stumbling speech, Jenny’s father gives her a blessing of his love and dedication that the story does not reveal at any other point. In the depths of failure, her father is freed to become a truer, more authentic father.

In this sweet, tragic, funny and beautiful film, I behold images. I behold persons. Persons created in the image of the Father and the Son and the Spirit. People created to love and be loved. People created to live in relationships of real sharing, real giving, yes real suffering, but also real glory. In the film, my eyes are also opened like Jenny, and I walk out finding new ways to love and be grateful for all the wondrous people that I have been privileged to know.

Note 1 – While their may have been other ways to this newfound vision that didn’t involve the seduction by David, this is the particular path that Jenny walks down. And even in the midst of this path, there is a hope. I am not confusing this hope with the hope of Jesus Christ in the gospel. Yet as a person who believes in that sure hope in Christ, I also see a certain hope revealed in Jesus about the nature of His creation. According to John, we are created in and through Jesus (by the Father and through the Holy Spirit). So as a Christian, I under that all human are created in and through the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit. Relationship is not an extension of who we are, it is the very essence of who we are (Christian, non-Christian, nice, mean, and so on).

In all human relationships there is exchange not necessarily rooted in a selfish social exchange but in an essential social exchange. Relational exchange is at the very heart of who we are. So even when we know the very real pain of failed human relationship, we may still be able to find transformative elements in that exchange that were/are positive.

The Wasteland of Moral Ghosts

Recently I wrote a response to the post-apocalyptic film, The Road. In the film, the world as we know has come to an end, and humans are losing their humanity in the struggle to survive. This film comes to mind as I continue thinking about the challenge raised by The Economist concerning modern progress and moral sensibility.

Morality and post-apocalyptic visions loom large in the writings of the moral philosopher, Alisdair MacIntyre. In his essay, “The Achievement of Alisdair MacIntyre,” Edward Oakes introduces key themes of MacIntyre’s thought. Drawing from Oakes’ helpful summary, I’d like to review MacIntyre’s ideas in response to The Economist.

What does a moral wasteland look like?
Drawing inspiration from Walter Miller’s science-fiction novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, MacIntyre describes the moral wasteland of our modern world in a parable where a series of environmental crisis lead to a violent revolt against the natural sciences.

Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists. Later still, there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely forgotten what it was. But all that they possess are fragments: a knowledge of experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context which gave them significance; parts of theories unrelated either to the other bits and pieces of theory or to experiment; instruments whose use has been forgotten; half-chapters from books, single pages from articles, not always fully legible because torn and charred.

In this post-science world, MacIntyre describes an emerging cult of science that memorizes textual fragments, memorizes Theorems and surviving portions of the periodic table. Nothing is complete. There is no context for scientific knowledge or practice, so what remains is a jumble of words and practices that no one fully grasps, and yet they practice and debate. The ability to make sense of these scientific fragments appears irretrievably lost.
MacIntryre proceeds to suggest that this story really did happen in the world of moral reasoning. We are not entering a dark ages of morality, we’ve been living in one. And we don’t have the tools to understand moral reasoning, let alone make moral argument.

What does it mean to be wrong in a Marxist world?
He encountered this catastrophe firsthand in the 60s when he and fellow Marxists condemned the Soviet invasions of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) as wrong. MacIntyre was forced to ask himself, “What do you mean by “wrong”?” At that point, he realized that Marxism provided him with no objective standard for declaring this act as wrong. There was no room for human conscience in a utilitarian focus upon consequences and not actions. Present actions were always part of some future consequence, thus one could never truly condemn an act as wrong. This problem led MacIntyre toward Thomism and toward an analysis on the wasteland of modern moral reasoning.

What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?
Elvis Costello bemoans a life adrift in the currents of pain and hatred and misery. His longing for peace, love and understanding might be about personal loss but may also point to culture that has lost our navigational tools that point us to goodness, purpose, and a moral progress that means something more than the trendy cultural “sin of the week.”

Aristotle wrote in a way that assumed there are genuine final causes, goals, purposes, and aims. This way of looking toward an end state (teleology) saturates Aristotle’s writings from science to ethics to politics. He could speak of progress with a clear direction toward specific goals that were considered actually good, true and beautiful.

In the ethical realm, these words provided a ground for understanding humans as what we could be. In other words, these words/ideas focused on a future ideal. Working from this defined ideal, we have a basis to discuss what is good and what is not good. We can talk about goals and purposes of human life.

MacIntyre argues that in the post-Newtonian world, we lost any sense of teleology. Building on Newton’s mechanistic worldview, Darwin argued that “natural selection” is the mechanism for explaining an organ’s functionality. These two ideas led thinkers to focus on “life as it is” not “life as it is supposed to be.” The discussion of purpose no longer had any real meaning or real content. In other words, we lost the foundation for words like good, moral and purpose.

MacIntyre acknowledges that Nietzche understands the implication of what happened when he writes, “If there is nothing to morality but expressions of will, my morality can only be what my will creates.” Morality has no basis. Of course, humans continue to use words like moral, good, purpose and so on, but they are fragments of a worldview that was gone.

Is the person who protests the loudest the most moral?
MacIntyre argues that the modern liberal system (he suggests conservatism and liberalism are debates within the liberal system) understand morality as voicing our feelings and opinions. Since we don’t have a way to think about ultimate purposes, we don’t have a way to truly define moral progress. Thus our morality is about voicing our complaint.

This lack of a common ground turns our debates about war, abortion or other topics into shrill, yelling matches. We voice a loud (and often mocking protest against those with whom we disagree), but we don’t really speak to those outside our camp. We shout at them.

Martin Buber, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (ERH), and Franz Rozenweig all realized that our modern world suffered a dis-ease in speech. In the 1940s, ERH wrote that we may be facing a speechless future. What did he mean?

Our words would no longer have power to connect us. Buber wrote that our discussion were not discussions at all but mutual monologue where we speak to ourselves instead of really speaking to the someone who is other from us. He studied Communist cells, Jewish kibbutz, and Christian churches and concluded that our so-called communities are really communities of affinity were we all have to think alike to join.

The ability to talk to someone outside our “tribe,” our political camp, our religion, and find common ground was disappearing. Writing over 40 years later, Scott Peck and Robert Bellah warned that our civil society was breaking under the weight of unrestrained individualism. The civil veneer that holds our society together has grown thin and is seriously fraying.

MacIntyre cautiously voices concerns about the descent of our culture into morass of civil confusion, suggesting we may already be in the middle of another dark ages:

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the more misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age . . . and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. . . . What they set themselves to achieve—often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. . . . This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers, they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are not waiting for Godot, but for another—and doubtless very different—St. Benedict.

Where is Benedict when we need him?
When The Economist posted their lament for progress in the modern world, they voiced a growing discontent that is echoed in political spheres, religious spheres, education spheres and even among family spheres. There is a pervasive sense for many Westerners that something is very wrong. Our iphones and Kindles and xBox 360s cannot rescue us from the abyss that Gertrude Himmelfarb warned about in her severe cultural analysis.

One the critiques of MacIntyre is that he points to Benedict but has yet to offer a robust vision for the way to move forward and out from this moral paralysis. He suggests a civil conversation between science and Thomistic Aristotelian ethics but Oakes and others still would like to hear more about how to get there.

Who is the man or the community of speech thinkers that might help us rebuild and restore dialogue and find a way to talk about morality within resonating inspiration? I don’t know.

I’ve been trying to learn this for the past eighteen years and I am still not sure.

I see pointers and clues. We a serious engagement with Einstein and his shattering impact upon Newtonian mechanistic laws. Field theory opens a new discussion with new ways to think and talk about our world. Even when it’s misunderstood it continues opening new channels for thought and discussion.

Personally, I’ve found the science of Rupert Sheldrake applying field theory to biology and consciousness and memory as provocative. During the last year, I’ve enjoyed the scientific theology of Thomas F. Torrance as he seriously engaged the claims of Einstein et al in relation to his faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Another helpful development has been the re-emerging discussion of Biblical wisdom literature as a guide to engaging those who are outside our camp and those who may even be considered our enemies. My friend Charles Strohmer is thinking and writing about how wisdom speaks to foreign policy (especially in this era where Western and non-Western leaders struggle to find ways to meet).

I’ll write more about my previously claim that Jesus Christ points the way forward for me in this discussion later. I would love to hear about other “Benedicts” who may have thoughts and patterns that could lead us away from the dis-integrated tribalism that infects and is infecting our world and our capacity to speak, leading us into the age of glare where we behold
“the appalling record of the twentieth century; … the sullenness of so many high school students today, the emptiness of their elders in college, the despair of the underclass, the desperate fun-seeking of the jet set, the divorce rate, the incidence of child abuse, and on and on.”

Poems to Live By in Troubling Times

A friend gave me a copy of Joan Murray’s, “Poems to Live By in Troubling Times” last December. So far I haven’t been able to get past the second poem.

That’s not an indictment on poor writing. Just the opposite. It is a voice of gratitude for words that “git way inside us” as Sterling Brown once wrote of “Ma Rainey.” Published in response to the bombing on 9/11/2001, Murray’s early words still resonate. Listen to her introductory remarks,

I was moved by people’s urgent and unembarrassed need for a poem–for words that cut through all the pages of reportage…

We live in an age of too much reporting and too little resonation. From the earthquake in Haiti to continuing economic problems in the US and throughout the world, we need to hear more than facts. Yes, reporting can be helpful and facts may convey aspects of specific events but we need to learn how to mourn, how to lament, how to rejoice. Eugen Rosenstock Huessy accused the modern man of losing his humanity in the constant bits of data that pound us daily, and he wrote this in the 40s. He suggested the modern man has forgotten how to wail and how to moan as well as how to shout and dance with all our hearts. Instead, we live muted lives somewhere in between.

Murray offers a collection of poems that help train us to lament. That call upon the wells of grief in our troubled souls. Shortly after 9/11, she was riding on a train with “six young men on their way to New York to dig at the wreckage site.” In this difficult time, she waas overcome by their willingness to face the task ahead. She writes, “Yet by coming forward to do this very difficult thing, they had stepped across the line and had become larger than themselves. They seemed to be lit from within.”

Responding to this encounter, Murray wrote the poem, “Survivors–Found.” She writes, “It was clearly an occasional poem, admittedly not a great poem. But it had to force of an inevitable poem, as if someone needed it.”

We need poems. We need poets. We need to set aside times for listening and responding to our world in ways that reach deeper than the competing facts dancing on the surface. In our soul starved age, we need more inevitable poems, and I am grateful for the heart and the gift of Joan Murray’s voice.

The Future of Progress

Reacting to the unbridled modern confidence in progress, G.K. Chesterton once remarked, “My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.” He realized that real progress is not simply a temporal assurance as though the future hold unlimited promise for progress. The proper question is, “Progress toward what?” Where are we headed?

If I am moving closer and closer to an oncoming train, am I making “progress?” Chesterton viewed this unreflected confidence in the abstract spirit of the age as a bit absurd, he said, “Progress is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.” And then, “The modern world is a crowd of very rapid racing cars all brought to a standstill and stuck in a block of traffic.” Recently a friend recommend I read last December’s, The Economist; where sounding very much like G.K. Chesterton, they published an article asking, “Why is the modern view of progress so impoverished?

The article weaves Imre Madach’s “The Tragedy of Man” (1861) throughout. Madach tells an industrial age version of “Paradise Lost.” Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but Adam is not repentant. He glories in his power and free from God’s rules, proclaims his dream of human progress and achievement. Lucifer lulls him to sleep and then leads Adam through a series of future epochs. The Economist summaries,

Adam gets the chance to see how much of Eden he will “regain”. He starts in Ancient Egypt and travels in time through 11 tableaux, ending in the icebound twilight of humanity. It is a cautionary tale. Adam glories in the Egyptian pyramids, but he discovers that they are built on the misery of slaves. So he rejects slavery and instead advances to Greek democracy. But when the Athenians condemn a hero, much as they condemned Socrates, Adam forsakes democracy and moves on to harmless, worldly pleasure. Sated and miserable in hedonistic Rome, he looks to the chivalry of the knights crusader. Yet each new reforming principle crumbles before him. Adam replaces 17th-century Prague’s courtly hypocrisy with the rights of man. When equality curdles into Terror under Robespierre, he embraces individual liberty—which is in turn corrupted on the money-grabbing streets of Georgian London. In the future a scientific Utopia has Michelangelo making chair-legs and Plato herding cows, because art and philosophy have no utility. At the end of time, having encountered the savage man who has no guiding principle except violence, Adam is downcast—and understandably so. Suicidal, he pleads with Lucifer: “Let me see no more of my harsh fate: this useless struggle.”

With this backdrop, we now visit the perplexing history of progress in the modern world. “Optimists in the Enlightenment and the 19th century came to believe that the mass of humanity could one day lead happy and worthy lives here on Earth. Like Madach’s Adam, they were bursting with ideas for how the world might become a better place.”

The Economist explores the troubled history of the word and idea of “progress” since its flowering in the 17th century. Some of the various approaches to progress include an accounting model, a scientific model, and a business model.

Accounting – Progress by the book
The libertarians Julian Simon and Stephen Moore wrote an extensive study arguing that “It’s Getting Better All the Time.” While they amass statistics highlighting amazing improvements in most living conditions , they ignore increased government oppression in the 20th century. They demonstrate a significant improvement in health and wealth but the numbers do not voice greater contentment, more happiness, a deeper sense of responsibility. They also fail to take into account the dangers as a result of progress like nuclear cataclysm, environmental destruction, or the decline in moral power as demonstrated in Alisdair MacIntyre’s work on moral philosophy.

Science – Discovery with a Hint of Alchemy
While science has transformed our modern world and made possible many of advancements in health and wealth that Simon and Moore document, we cannot ignore the power science wields to change and possibly even destroy the world. The Economist summarizes:

Modern science is full of examples of technologies that can be used for ill as well as good. Think of nuclear power—and of nuclear weapons; of biotechnology—and of biological contamination. Or think, less apocalyptically, of information technology and of electronic surveillance. History is full of useful technologies that have done harm, intentionally or not. Electricity is a modern wonder, but power stations have burnt too much CO2-producing coal. The internet has spread knowledge and understanding, but it has also spread crime and pornography. German chemistry produced aspirin and fertiliser, but it also filled Nazi gas chambers with Cyclon B.

Economics – The End of the Rainbow
There is a bit of irony in this section since The Economist virtue of its name is commited to strong business and a healthy economy. “Yet even the stolidest defenders of capitalism would, by and large, agree that its tendency to form cartels, shuffle off the costs of pollution and collapse under the weight of its own financial inventiveness needs to be constrained by laws designed to channel its energy to the general good.”

Free markets may have delivered economic prosperity but they can’t deliver inner peace, true joy, and an assured future growth. If the natural resources are completely depleted, we may hand our children an ugly world with even uglier social problems haunting them and their descendents.

A Vision of Moral Progress
In the end, we are presented with a possible approach for progress rooted in moral sensibility coupled the junior partner of democratic governance. Citing Susan Neiman, The Economist proposes that there are ways of thinking about morality that are not trapped in power games or institution bigotry. “Ms Neiman asks people to reject the false choice between Utopia and degeneracy. Moral progress, she writes, is neither guaranteed nor is it hopeless. Instead, it is up to us.”

My Initial Responses
While this article doesn’t fully answer Chesterton’s critique of the lack of a specific goal for progress, I think it does point us toward a conversation where those goals might be elucidated. Neiman’s language of moral sensibility is appealing though not having read her, I am not clear the path where she uncovers these moral senses, but I am attracted enough to learn more. It makes me think of C.S. Lewis’s language of moral imagination.

As a person who has been called by Jesus Christ, I look toward the person of Jesus Christ as a starting place for thinking about moral sensibility. Now some might suggest that this is immediately a closed-minded, bigoted response to this call for a “universal moral sensibility.” But as Chesterton points out some where, (and I am loosely quoting from memory) you can’t turn right and left at the same time. The act of turning right eliminates the left turn. The decision to speak of moral sensibility immediately changes the question from the universal to the particular. The real question is whose particular moral sensibility.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, I encounter a moral sensibility that fulfills the Ten Commandments including the Law and the Prophets. I can engage someone with a different foundation for moral sensibility. I simply make my starting point for moral imagining clear. It is not my own sense of morality (which is often deluded and corrupted) but the Ten Commandments fully enfleshed in Jesus that serves as a starting point for me to think more deeply about moral imaging and the future of progress.

Is Social Media Changing Business?

According to a recent report from The Economist, more C-level exectuvies are realizing the vital importance of social media in their business structure.

From Facebook to Twitter to iPhone applications, new media has captured the attention of C-level executives. Many companies now realize that effective customer engagement will require focusing on customers’ use of converging media as well as an ability to adapt and change to the emerging marketplace.

If you’re interested, I just posted a report summary over at the Integracon blog.

Sunshine Cleaning, Pearl Diver, I've Loved You For So Long

Elsa Zylberstein and Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Love You For So Long

Elsa Zylberstein and Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Love You For So Long

In the last few months, I’ve watched three films that explore the relationship between sisters who are coping with a death in the background. I’ve Loved You For So Long, Pearl Diver and Sunshine Cleaning all tells bittersweet stories of relationship, love and profound loss. Often when I watch a film, I look at the film against a backdrop of another film to help highlight contrasts and similarities of the varying stories.

I’ve Loved You For So Long is a French that begins with one sister being released from prison. Shot in muted colors the cinematography captures the inward grief of the Juliette Fontaine. Played superbly by Kristen Scott Thomas, Juliette exemplifies a life turned in upon itself. Her face reads grief, emptiness, isolation, and the colors and images reinforce this overshadowing sadness that closes her heart to life. This aching ex-convict rebuilds her life in the midst of the lives of her sister’s family, including a husband, a child, and mute grandfather.

In the conversations with her sister, we discover a deeply strained relationship across many years. We discover that the parents considered Juliette as dead and no longer even spoke of her. We discover the reason for her imprisonment: murder. She killed her child. This memory haunts every conversation, every relationship, every place. She walks in a world of death. Even though all her relationships are strained, we watch as a mute grandfather and a little child bring her back to life and unveil the secret her child’s murder. I won’t disclose the ending, but the story resolves in a deeply poignant way that reinforces the beauty of human life.

Pearl Diver also depicts two sisters reuniting after years of separation. Prison does not separate them, but a murder does. The murder of their Mennonite mother sends the young girls along two very different paths in life. Hannah Eberly leaves the Mennonite faith of her youth, becomes a writer, and appears to life an adult life of struggle, haunted by painful memories of her youth. Rebecca Miller, the older sister, embraces the faith and lifestyle of her Mennonite upbringing, and spends her adult life seeking for a pardon of the man who is convicted of killing her mom. Hannah consistently opposes her sisters actions and fights for his imprisonment to the end of his life.

Rebecca’s daughter nearly dies after falling into farming equipment. This tragic accident reunites the sisters, and flames shared memories of childhood. As they seek to help Rebecca’s daughter find treatment for the wound in her head, they must also face the wound in their own heads. Hannah writes a novel that exposes the brutal murder of her mother, as Rebecca responds in horror that ancient secrets are coming to light, she enters into the light of remembering. Once again, I won’t unravel the mystery of the mother’s murder, but in right remembering, there is healing for all.

Last weekend, I watched Sunshine Cleaning, a tale of two sisters cleaning up crime scenes while remembering the bloody scene of their own mother’s suicide. In this tragicomic tale, both sisters are scarred by the death. Neither is married, both are used by men (and the film follow a popular Hollywood trend of showing men exploit both women sexually), and both women are struggling to survive–financially as well as emotionally. They embark upon a new path of crime scene clean-up. While the film has a few light moments, the tragic overwhelms the comic, and the sunshine vanishes in a cloud of unresolved pain. While this sad tale is true for many people, I think it fails to draw upon the power of narrative and memory to find resolution. The characters live in the cloud of their mother’s death but they never really face the memory and they never find resolution. As the film ends, I have no reason to expect that they won’t continue to be used and exploited by men.

This trio of films highlights the power of shared memories and stories that envelope all our relationships. We might not face the grieve of murders, but we all have memories that haunt us our relationships and our vision of the world. The films reveal the power of memories and the power to retell our stories and recast our memories. The first two films in particular shine light light into the potential power of telling our stories to one another and listening to one another.

As I think about the sad and beautiful longing in these films for right relationships and better worlds, I think the role of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. Jesus tells his disciples that one reason the Spirit comes is to help them remember. In fact, Hans Urs Von Balthasar goes so far as to say that “retrospective remembering and anamnesis (loss of forgetfulness) constitutes the basis of understanding anything.” He talks about how the disciples could not see Jesus when he was in front of them. But in remembering, they could finally see him by the power of the Spirit as the Son of God.

Remembering plays a vital role in the Old and New Testament. The ancient Hebrews forget who they are while serving in slavery to Pharaoh. But God remembers them. In resurrecting them, he will tell them again and again to “remember.”  They are to re-member, re-hearse, re-tell the stories of deliverance, the stories of creation, the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches his disciples to remember by the power of His Spirit. But this remembering is not simply looking back, but it is re-telling or re-calling past events in light of Christ. The disciples on the Road to Emmaus learn how to remember the Old Testament stories in light of Christ. In so doing, they realize all the events of the Old Testament are pointing to Jesus.

I would suggest that all three films have tapped into the pain of forgetfulness in human relationships and human communities. We’ve forgotten who we are. We’ve forgotten what binds us together. We’ve remembered wrongly and in ways that will further divide and not unite. The first two films reveal that remembering often constitutes relearning our history through a new light. But the last film shows our tendency to face painful memory and turn away without resolve. I fear so much in our world call us to distraction as a means for dealing with our pains, our struggles, our brokenness. Distractions offers no lasting hope. But deep memory, especially memory in light of the healing power of the Holy Sprit can restore and heal old relationships. We may still struggle , we may still limp, but we move toward hope in light of Christ.

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