Protestant Monks?

Yes, there are protestant monks.  On some level the thought of eating protestant gruel and wearing protestant robes, checking out of this messed-up world and dedicating my life to serving God in peace, quiet and contemplation is very appealing, but I don't think that we get that option.

I don't think we have a choice but to live in the real world.  That doesn't mean that it is our Christian duty to have a subscription to Us or Cosmo( If you must read Cosmo, just one will suffice.  They're all the same.)  It does mean being in  the world that we are not of.   

I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light" -- John Keith Falconer

  

Christian Fiction?

I think God cares about quality.  This is part of the reason I generally avoid Christian fiction.  I'm not sure God is glorified by a shout-out in  a mediocre historical romance or the presence of angels in a mediocre supernatural thriller in which the protagonist is a deacon at his church.

I think that God is glorified in excellence-- in using the talent he has given to the utmost.  God is glorified when our artistic work reflects his nature: his holiness, his justice, his strength, his love and concern for the weak and poor and oppressed.

I am not saying that there is no place for fiction for and about Christians.  However, there is no place whatever for bad Christian fiction.  There is no place whatever for stilted dialogue, ridiculous plotting and bad pacing.  It is not enough, brothers and sisters, to write inoffensive novels.  It is not enough to create one-dimensional characters with ridiculous problems who happen to be Christians.

It is enough to become "poured out as a drink offering"--to offer every iota of skill and talent. It is enough to offer every work of art as an act of worship to the living God.

God is worthy of the best art that we can create, and I confess that in my case, he doesn't always get it.  I will remedy this henceforth with his help.

Every Blog Needs A Gimmick

It's just true.  These gimmicks are wildly variable.  Some are cool; most are uninteresting, and some are straight-up scary.  Some blogs are of the "I did x for some period of time and blogged about it" variety (i.e. I watched a silent movie every Tuesday for a year,  I became vegan for a year for no particular reason,  I lived for  a year as a hermit.)

Some blogs are of the "I traveled across some country for some period of time using nonstandard means of transportation" variety (i. e. I walked across America barefoot)

Some blogs are of the "I'm a fish out of water variety" (i.e. I'm an opera singer who has recently joined a thrash metal band making its way across the Midwest)

I think a good blog gimmick is rare indeed.  Do you know of any?

The Zombieland Rule

We Christians have something of an uneasy relationship with pop culture.  Some of us pretend that nothing has happened culturally since 1957.  Seriously, a man I know made a Keystone Cops reference the other day.  I had to Google it.  Some of us run for the hills whenever a song that isn't from a hymnal starts playing, and some of us try to emulate what's going on in the secular world only we leave out the curse words and partial nudity, and as a general rule, the artistic merit.  Contemporary Christian Music has been especially bad in this area in recent years.  I can only imagine  a world without MercyMe's "I Can Only Imagine"--it's a wondrous place; we have hovercars (If you haven't heard it, hit up youtube.  I'll wait.).

Most of us, however, make our way in the world consuming pop culture as conscience allows.  And there's the rub-our consciences allow different things.  These disputable matters are addressed at length in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8.

The short version is: if doing something causes you to sin, whether the action in question is inherently sinful or not, don't do it.  Similarly, don't do anything that causes other people to sin--ever.

The best Christian-ish film of the year, Zombieland (yeah, you thought I was going to say Fireproof didn't you?) demonstrates this very well.  In the first half an hour of the movie, Jesse Eisenberg enumerates various rules that he has made for himself in the hope of surviving the hordes of walking dead (i.e. Beware of bathrooms, Stay in Shape et cetera).  These are not universal laws applicable to everyone.  These are rules designed to survive among the walking dead--an enemy that Jesse Eisenberg's character knew well.

Well on some level, we as Christians are in a desperate battle against the walking dead. Galatians 2:20 reminds us:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and  gave himself for me. 
Our flesh is dead, but it's walking dead.  Every day we  fight that flesh and its desires as we strive to be obedient to Christ.   This is where the analogy breaks down.  We're all fighting our flesh, dead as it may be, but the nature of that fight can vary wildly among believers.   On some level, we all live in our own personal Zombieland, and we know the zombies well.  We know our weaknesses--those  stubborn sins and old habits, and we know the rules we need to put in place to survive.  Every one of us should  make media consumption choices based on what we know of our weak spots.  Someone who is trying to stop cursing should not watch Boondock Saints for example while people who never curse might watch Boondock Saints  in clear conscience.  

We're all in this together, and if making it through Zombieland for you means watching PG movies and listening to MercyMe, go in peace.  I'll bring popcorn...and earplugs.

Parables and Playlists is live.

Welcome to Parables and Playlists, formerly Adverbs, Adventures and Amusements.  This is a new home for an old concept.  I am a Christian, and I love stories and storytelling--Jesus did too.  Hence the parable part.  It is my hope that the story of my life as related on this blog will encourage you and point you to God. 

The second part of the name of this blog, playlists, refers most directly to music.  I love music.  It remains one of God's greatest gifts to us.  I love everything from old-school folk to indie pop.  I've even developed a taste for classic soul thanks to my friend Amen Holman.

This blog will engage with pop culture as a whole: books, movies, television and music from a Christian perspective. This is, after a fashion, a Christian blog in that I am a Christian, so theoretically, my love for Christ should be apparent in my artistic endeavors.

This blog is not  a place to come find out the number of curses in the latest Coen Brothers movie.  Such a place already exists, and frankly, I'm not interested in movie criticism via spreadsheet.  Nor is this blog, necessarily about finding some sort of "Christian" meaning or message in every cultural artifact.

If you want to discuss the soteriological implications of the work of Lou Reed, this is probably not the place for you.  If, however, you're interested in a chronicle of an honest attempt to be "in the world but not of the world" then, you're in the right place.

Glee:nobody burst into song in my high school either

And that doesn't matter. People who say that they can't watch musicals because no sizable group of people anywhere at anytime has spontaneously burst into song are entirely mistaken about what stories are and how stories work and why stories matter.

These people have  confused the vehicle for story delivery with the story itself.  If you happen to be one of those crazy people who doesn't like musicals, go in peace.  Know this, however, people who write musicals know that nobody just starts singing to advance the plot of their life, I promise.

Similarly,  writers know that very few people create elaborate pregnancy scams in misguided attempts to save their marriage.  But people lie in small ways every day to grease the marital wheels as it were.   The insane, over-the-top nature of Glee is the only reason that anyone who's ever been to high school watches it.  By and large, high school was awkward, degrading, cliqueish and boring.  In my case,  it had its bright spots, and a number of great friends and gifted educators made parts of it fun and meaningful, but an exact representation of high school would make horrible television--worse even than Joey. Yea, I said it.  It is theoretically possible to make a show that's worse than  Joey.

 Aristotle wrote about truth in art at length.  I read Poetics;  I know. I don't remeber what it said.  I can, however, do most of the combos on Soul Callibur II.  Yeah, if I had it to do over, I would have allocated my brain cells differently. 

Truth in story is the authentic presentation of human existence. That's what Glee does really well.  Everybody wants to be significant, to matter, and watching the Glee characters do that in their own big-budget, pop culture-saturated way is worthwhile.  Father-son relationships are hard and complicated sometimes, and watching Kurt and his dad figure out all of that is worthwhile too.  Glee speaks to real human problems and concerns in a way that isn't horribly depressing.  Take that Recquiem for a Dream.

I love Glee, and frankly you should too.  I might even be willing to sing about it if the price were right.

Adventure

This post should be about Glee, but it's not. It's about another thing that starts with "G" and is awesome--the Great Commission. If you wanted a post about winsome musical comedies, sorry. I promise I'll get around to Glee eventually and soon. I have a music crush on the woman who plays Rachel Berry.

For now, I want to talk about the Great Commission as a way of understanding the world and the primary means of acquiring the adventure and significance that we so desire as humans. Many thanks to Joey Tombrella who helped me to crystallize this idea and to Jaimie Krycho who pointed out the inadequacies in my previous post.

In Joey's discussion of the Great Commission( that's Matthew 28:18-20 for those of you who speak Christian as a second language), he reminded us that God has provided a means to fulfill our desire to take a risk and do something that matters. We needn't manufacture adventure on our own; it can be found in being obedient to Christ and making disciples. I was deeply encouraged by the idea that true discipleship is not boring.

Obviously, actually fulfilling the Great Commission is no easy task, but perhaps, that's part of the appeal. I, Brian Burns-- occasional writer of small-town journalism and tutor of math students--could do something really important. I could contend for the glory of God and the souls of men. That's astounding. That's the second most astounding thing in the world after the cross, which creates difficulties.

The notion of actually making disciples, actually spending time with other people for the purpose of teaching them to know, love and obey the transcendent God of all things is difficult for us to comprehend. However, going to church once a month and inviting others to perhaps do the same is not. That we understand, and in some cases, that we do.

But that's not an adventure. There's no cosmic battle there. There's none of the gravity of grappling with sin in our own lives and offering true life to a dying world. That might be why so many Christians, myself included of late, are unfulfilled; we are not making use of God's means of fulfillment.

As for me, I want to be an adventurer again.

Test

This is a test of the new RSS feed

Alligators in the lake? Yes, please.

Today my editor proposed that I apply my journalistic skills to what is apparently a burning question. Namely, "Are there alligators in Lake Worth?" My own thoughts on the matter aside, the fact that people are asking this question is interesting in that it highlights a particular human trait. We, as a species, have an innate desire for something fantastic and unexpected. On some level, the thought that all the adventure has gone out of much of the world, that so many roads lead not to glory and adventure but to cul de sacs lined with houses full of people much like us is depressing.

Hence, legends of goatmen and needles contaminated with HIV left in darkened theaters by parties unknown. We live these days in so much sterile, fluorescent light that in some deep part of ourselves, we assume that what small shadows remain must be teeming with evil. Whether it's true or not, who can say, but it does keep things interesting.



(EDIT: We need something to fight. We need some sort of big and scary antagonist so that we can feel significant and fulfilled. Mere existence is not enough. We want to win, and for us to win, someone must lose. )

It's almost enough to make me buy a typewriter.

I'm still trying to make this blog play nice with Facebook. I'm not sure what the problem is, but there has been some significant lag between publication here and publication on Facebook, so for testing purposes, I'm flooding your newsfeed. I'm sorry. Unless of course you have a farm or a mafia or an island or you just need help storming this one castle. I'm not very sorry in your case. In your case, I am an agent of justice, a righter of wrongs, a giver of comeuppance. Think about how tired you are of seeing me on your newsfeed and consider seriously if you wish to inflict such sadness on others in your zeal to find a home for that lost unicorn. I'll stop ranting now.

As for this blog, instead of waiting for the Facebook note, follow me on Blogger. It's like Facebook without Farmville or chain letters or any of those "If 1,000,000 people join this group, I'll do something outrageous" groups. Try it. It's great.

Thanks for reading.

That's Entertainment

Yesterday, I wrote about the difficulties inherent in deciding what is blogworthy and what is not. In the midst of all that, I wrote a bit about movies as a way to understand the world and how much better life would be if there were a movie about seminary students. Today, I wanted to explore that idea a bit further. The paragraphs that follow are descriptions of what movies about seminary in general and Southwestern in particular by various directors would be like.

Michael Bay-I imagine that everyone would have a sports car. Everything would be explosive. People would engage in spectacular gun battles for no particular reason. I feel like people would do that action movie roll move--you know the one I'm talking about, on the way to class.

Hitchcock-At least one person would get murdered in a way that maximized tension and dramatic irony. Grace Kelly would be wandering around campus in some sort of danger. Jimmy Stewart would be there too, but more than likely he would be saddled with ridiculous lines. If you don't believe me, watch Rear Window again paying special attention to the scene in which Jimmy Stewart's character attempts to break up with Grace Kelly's character because she is too rich and beautiful.

Spielberg-Four words: Somebody is an alien.

M. Night Shyamalan-Everything is fine until the last five minutes in which it turns out we're all Buddhists.

Wes Anderson-For one thing, everything would be much more colorful. People would sit on the lawn singing David Bowie songs in Portuguese. Nobody would have actual problems. Instead, all our relationships would be broken for no particular reason . Bill Murray would be in it.

Who else could make a SWBTS movie, and what would it be like?

Honest to Blog

I don't know how to blog. I know how to write, but not how to blog. Blogging is not about writing, not really. Blogging is a game of redaction-pure and simple. It's all about what is written and what is not and why. In describing the past day and a half to you, should I include a paragraph or two of my recent musings about the dearth of portrayals of seminary students in popular culture?

Should I tell you that I would pay a princely sum for some sort of pop culture touchstone for this stage of life, some set of Hollywood assumptions to accept reject or modify? I'd love to be able to say, "You know, seminary is not like the movies", or to smile a bit when I see that in some small way, they got it right.

That might be too self-absorbed, so perhaps I should simply relay the events of the weekend. Like this:
I went to a college graduation for one of my best fiends in the world. We then went to see Clash of the Titans, which frankly clashed with my eyes. Then we ate chicken fingers. Today we went to a graduation party, and I tried to teach the young woman I tutor how to multiply matrices.
However, that might prove boring and unworthy of your time and attention. It seems like a blog is more than a mere record of events.

Similarly, this blog might not be the place for me to use the act of writing as a vehicle for dealing with my emotions. Do you want to read about the sorrows and joys I experience as I try to transition from college--something I understood--to post-college life, which I'm still figuring out? I worry that after a while my posts will begin to sound like Dashboard Confessional songs. In fact, as many times as I've listened to Swiss Army Romance, some of my posts might just be Dashboard Confessional songs, word for word (i. e. "This is a forgery This is a forgery. Every single line is plagiarized--copied twice and thrice inscribed.") People swear that accidental plagiarism is impossible, but I'm not so sure. I'm sorry in advance, Chris Carrabba.

I also would like to record things about God and my relationship with him here, but in a way that is profitable to you and devoid of misguided piety, pontification, self-aggrandizement, or self-flagellation.

Honest to blog, I don't know what to do here, so here's a bit of weird news.

Running the Race and assorted Miscellany

I guess a writer who's not writing is just a guy who sleeps more than he should and shaves less, so my journey back to writing begins.

I saw Robin Hood tonight. I liked it. It helps that there's no historical Robin Hood to reinterpret, contextualize, mythologize or mangle. With that said, I remain partial to the Disney version with the fox.

Russell Crowe played the same character he played in Gladiator. It was a solid, but workmanlike performance. A bit of archery research would have been nice. Wet bowstrings are bad news bears, Ridley Scott. Please know this or hire someone who does.

On a personal level, my first semester at SWBTS is over. I have made some friends, survived taking two 8 AM classes, and been faced with the most significant academic challenges I have yet encountered.

I went for a run yesterday. After a few days of reading about running, googling running shoes (I overpronate if you wanted to know, and I have medium to low arches), and listening to the Chariots of Fire theme, I actually went running. It hurt. After two minutes, it felt like someone had strapped me down and set my left calf on fire. I could barely walk home.

It's easy to talk about running, to listen to songs made for running, to read about great runners; my legs don't mind that one bit. It is hard to run.

Perhaps, that's why Christianity is compared to a race. It is easy for me, to talk about Jesus, to read about him and people who have served him well, it's not hard to learn a few more theological words, but it is hard to run after Christ-to value his glory over my pleasure and to follow his laws rather than my own heart when the two are at odds.

I write now, not as a running coach or a world-class runner, but as that guy who ran hard for two minutes and then could barely walk home. But my encouragement to you and to me is that God well knows the difficulty of discipleship. This is from Hebrews 4:14-16

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are,yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Stay tuned. I plan to continue running in both the physical sense and spiritual one. As for physical running, I'm thinking about hiring bears to chase me. I think my legs would hold out a bit better if the stakes were higher.

My mishaps, misfires and misadventures will hopefully prove worth reading about.