An Evening with C.S. Lewis – UCTV – University of California Television

Given that Voyage of the Dawn Treader is less than a month away, I think it worthwhile to look behind the text to the author.  There’s no better way of doing this than a peek of the author in action.  C.S. Lewis may have died over 40 years ago, but David Payne of David Payne Drama gives a remarkable performance as the intrepid Oxford don, Christian apologist, and venerated author of the Chronicles of Narnia.  Click on the link to check out the full show:

An Evening with C.S. Lewis – UCTV – University of California Television.

Waiting for Robin Hood, and the Concepts of Shalom and Technology as Considered in Iron Man 2

Fair warning: if you have not seen either Robin Hood or Iron Man 2, spoilers lurk just beneath the surface of the water…

The only way Robin Hood keeps you on the edge of your seat is in expectation of the movie to actually begin.  After King John breaks his promise to keep the Magna Carta (which, for all intensive historical purposes, it was), I leaned over to my wife and said “Ah, here’s where the movie really begins,” this, of course, being over two hours into it.  But there must- there must have been at least a half hour to go, shouldn’t there?  I mean, I haven’t even seen this guy steal from the rich to feed the poor!

So my wife takes a quick break to go to the restroom, thinking she had time before the movie really “got going,” and not one minute later, after an introduction to Sherwood Forest life by Maid Marion, the movie states “And the legend begins.  And the movie ends.  Just like that.

The caveat here?  See Robin Hood at your own narrative risk.  What a shame.  And here I was, thinking that this movie would redeem the clunky I-have-no-British-accent Kevin Costner version.

On the other hand, and with a sense of redemption, we saw Iron Man 2, which was just as good as the first, if not better.  I especially enjoyed the banter between Pepper Pots and Tony Stark, and the kick-ass-ness of Scarlett’s Johansson’s Agent Romanov, aka Black Widow.

Thematically, Iron Man 2 ran up against that catch-22 of technology as it exists in our society.  We humans, while marveling at technology and integrating it into almost every portion of our lives, also recognize technology as a destructive force.  In my mind, this is often a destructive force to culture, but I won’t get into that here.  Rather, we see technology as automatically subsumed by the military industrial complex.  This is evident in the film with the US government and military desperate to get a hold of the technology behind the Iron Man suit.  Once the “copycats” are up and running by Stark’s competitor, Hammer Industries, in the form of robotic “Ironmen,” all hell breaks loose, and terror rains down upon the city.

Tony Stark is also, throughout the film, getting “sick” from the reactor implant inside his chest.  One sees angry purple gridded veins extending out from his chest, of which he is trying to cure through medication.  He eventually stumbles upon his father’s solution for his predicament, which demands the creation of a whole new element.    The interplay between technology causing sickness and being the cure adequately presents the paradox of our age.  It would be foolish of me to say that technology is “bad,”- would I were in need of surgery, I would want the advances in technology coming to my aid in the form of developed medicines, surgical tools, and computer monitoring.  But I also recognize the use of technology to create weapons, which leads to situations in which I need the surgery mentioned in the previous statement.

From a theological standpoint, the question which arises is one of shalom.  Rob Bell, in his book Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell defines shalom as “far more than just the absence of conflict or strife [but]…the presence and goodness of God.  It’s the presence of wholeness, completeness.”  It is wholeness and peace in our businesses, wholeness and peace in our governments, wholeness and peace with God’s creation, etc.  Central to these considerations is understanding that shalom with God means to be in right relationship with him and all he creates, including each other.

How do the uses and abuses of technology affect the shalom we are meant to have with God?   And how much does technology seem to accelerate a splintering of shalom?  A couple of examples may serve to illustrate my point.

In the English Literature course I am teaching, we have reached the literature of the “Modernists” writers such as A. Huxley, George Orwell, and W.H. Auden who wrote circa 1910-1950.  Among the writers studied we have engaged with the “Trench Poets,” those veterans or casualties of WWI who poetically expressed their experience in the Great War.  War, at this point, became “inhumane,” as technology overrode the need for hand to hand, face to face combat.  Long range missiles and mustard gas killed at a distance.  Regardless that war itself is out of the shalom God intended for the world at the creation, the Great War began a further distancing through the use of technology by removing the “face” you have to look at in conflict (i.e. the man holding the sword or club) and replaced it with a faceless technology.

A less dramatic but no less poignant example may be seen with the use of cell phones.  How many of us have had the experience of talking to someone face to face, and then your friend gets a call on their cell phone, necessitating that awkward pause of waiting for them to be done with their conversation before engaging once again with you?  The use of communication technology has the potential to disrupt our relationships by disabling our ability to communicate meaningfully with one another.

It is noted that technology itself is not good or bad.  Technology is neutral.  Again, it is the uses and abuses of technology which are the point here.

I’m reminded of the Star Trek movie Insurrection in which a colony of people on a planet refuse to use the warp technology their society developed in their past because they consciously choose to focus on other things they feel will “build” their culture.  The colony seemed to have an Eden-eque feel, not least because radiation coming from the planet’s rings prolonged life, but also because a sense of “shalom” was found among the colonist with their surroundings.  Likewise, here on Earth, in American society the Amish have found a way to exist in a “lo-tech” environment.

When will we find a balance with technology?  Will it come, as often does, when we have “gone too far?”  Or will there be a conscious choice to limit our use of technology in order to achieve a great shalom before the abuse becomes too great?

What do you think?

The Coen Brothers Do Seinfeld

In Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers set about to show the audience how they are wasting the audience’s time and money. Whether they are on the right or wrong side of the ethical fence with regard to this action, given the fragile state of the economy, is dependent on the point of view of the person shelling out the bucks to see their new film. Mid way through the movie, I was still saying “Huh?’ and wrinkling my brow. The absurdity of the film dawned on me about ¾ of the way through, and then by the conclusion I was chuckling at the joke the Coen Brothers had played.

A brief synopsis (like it matters, but more on that in a moment): A mid-level CIA agent, Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is downsized to a less than glorious new position. His wife, played by Tilda Swinton, is having an affair with another man, played by George Clooney. In an attempt to get the most out of a planned divorce, the CIA agent’s wife downloads some of her husband’s files to a CD. This is found by Chad, a personal trainer at Hardbodies, a local fitness gym. He believes he can blackmail Cox for the information on the disk, which in reality are simply Osborne’s memoirs of working in the CIA. He lures Frances McDormand’s character, Linda, into his nit-wit scheme, and then…

Well, ultimately it doesn’t really matter. At all. The Coen Brothers merely play on the audience’s expectations of subterfuge and government conspiracy, from the opening Google Earth satellite pan down to earth with Tom Clancy beeping subtitles to the “Top Secret” file on the CIA director’s desk. But ultimately, this film is about…nothing. It’s the Coen Brothers doing Seinfeld, and it actually works. Every character in this film narcissistically goes after what they want, and in the end nearly all are dead, usually in the most stupid, pointless ways imaginable. To the CIA Director (played brilliantly by J.K. Simmons), it’s just a matter of “clearing things up,” to avoid the least mess as possible- because that’s what the audience wants, right? Resolution? The Coen Brothers challenges the audience to see that there is no real comforting “resolution,” given the absurdity of most human behavior.