Physical Foundations

I keep coming back to this thought, it seems…actually, it keeps seeming to bring itself back to me, which perhaps is indication that I should be listening more carefully.

This week, it appeared in the form of a post over at Good Letters that you should take the time to read. The author is making a sound point. I previously had listened, in fact, to the interview conducted by Krista Tippett that Mr. Winters references, and it also launched this thought process into more serious motion.

Is our digital world, by definition, more at risk of being lost than a physical heritage?

In both cases, the thinkers in question speak of writing letters to their children. They argue that there is something more real to be experienced if their child is one day holding a physical letter or journal that they have written, with their perspectives, perhaps, on their children and life and any number of other things. As for me, I think of the photos and videos of mine and Karen’s adventures in our first few years of marriage. I want our child to have these as enormously important history of the family as it continues forward.

Just as Karen prefers physical books over my affinity for ebooks, so too she pines for physical photos. She fears the ease of misplacing digital files, and fears their fragility. However well and however obsessively I back up, she clings to the suspicion that they are only one hard drive failure away from being lost forever. And perhaps she’s right. We experienced a hard drive failure last year that was catastrophic in terms of data loss. Fortunately, our iMac, with a new hard drive installed, was able to easily restore from the backup I religiously make to an external hard drive. In the days it took for the repair to be completed, however…to say I was nervous that something in the restoration process would go wrong would be a severe understatement.

I suppose that this is especially at the forefront of my mind now, as I write this, because the amazing technology that we have created enabled the ultrasound image that revealed to Karen and I today that we are having a little girl. While I have been thinking of my unborn child for some months now, it is suddenly more real. That’s my little girl. I want her to have the memories of mine and Karen’s life together, of our parents’ lives together, after we are gone. That, after all, is how culture is preserved.

Tippett says she printed copies of emails for her daughter, and kept the hard copies to hand down to her later. I think it’s a bit unrealistic to return to days of hand writing letters, but I think that printing emails is a great idea, a great first step. I wonder about how my thoughts will be handed down to our daughter. Will she peruse this blog to trace my thoughts through years of life’s journey? Will she read about grad school? Will she read about when I first met Karen? Will this blog still be accessible? If not, she must have access to these thoughts, because my words are an essential statement of who I am. To know her father, she will have to know my words.

And I realize the weight of that statement, the impact that it will likely have on her, even as I type.

I’m thinking about beginning a physical journal, for her sake. A physical journal, if nothing more that type-written pages. I’m also considering loading up on printer ink and printing every single image that our iPhoto library holds.

Not for me. For her.

For us.

The future, after all, is only as solid as the past it is able to remember.

Photo Attribution: Orin Zebest

Greetings, Program!

Tron: The Original Classic (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) From the first trailer forward, I couldn’t wait to get to the theatre to see Tron: Legacy. If, by some odd chance, you have haven’t seen it yet, I recommend you do so in 3D. Visually, the movie is spectacular. From a story perspective, though, it just doesn’t stand up to the original.

Now, in making the confession I’m about to make, I recognize that I will lose some serious geek cred with many readers. In the interest of truth, however, the admission must be made: I had not watched the original in so long that there were some nuances to the story that had faded from my memory. In fact, I knew that there were references going on that I should have been able to catch, but that were escaping me.

This prompted a search for a copy of the original, as I realized I could no longer be a true geek without the original movie in my library. I pre-ordered the most current re-release from Amazon, and  watched with family and fellow fans last week.

And, oh, the things you see in things you haven’t seen for a while.

(I’m going to assume in what follows that you’ve seen the original Tron. If not, stop reading right now and go fix that. Seriously. Go.)

Immediately upon Flynn’s arrival in the world of the computer, one program asks another if he believes in the Users. The second program replies that he has to believe in the Users…otherwise, how could he be there if no one had written him? The “bad guys” of the MCP ridicule those who believe in the Users as engaging in silly religious superstition. Yet, Tron is driven (cheesy dialogue notwithstanding) to make contact with his User, the one that wrote him. This contact must take place at an I/O tower (Input/Output…remember, they’re in the virtual world when it was just beginning to be a virtual world). Upon making contact with his User, Tron is given the power to destroy the evil MCP and restore balance to his world.

Another critical element of the story is Flynn. Flynn is of our world, and is taken by the MCP into the world of the computer. Of course, the metaphor breaks down very quickly, but its difficult to not find incarnational imagery there.

The fact that Tron is about the triumph of faith over the attempts of those in power to destroy it escaped me when I watched the movie as a child. At that point, it was simply an amazing special effects extravaganza, the likes of which I had never before witnessed. Indeed, the movie was visually far ahead of its time. Moreover, though, Tron predicted, as good science fiction does, the world that was coming, and the danger of the computer world enslaving its creators to its bidding. This is not a new theme in science fiction, of course, but Tron portrayed it so much more realistically…futuristic, but so near-future as to be entirely plausible in the viewer’s mind.

The programs who are enslaved persist in their belief in the Users. When realizing that Flynn is a User, Tron assumes that everything he is doing is “according to a plan, right?” Flynn  discounts this, saying that improvisation is his strategy. Tron is in disbelief, insisting, “That’s the way it is for programs, yes.” Flynn counters with, “Well, I hate to break it to ya, pal, but that’s usually how it is for Users, too.” At first blush, this would appear to be the writers advocating a less-than-sovereign theology of sorts. I think its more of a statement on man as a creator, though…a creator recognizing his limitations and confessing them to his creation.

The programs’ desire to communicate with their Users is essentially prayer, and the practice is prohibited by the MCP’s regime as the I/O towers, which function as temples or churches in that they are the places that this prayer occurs, are kept open but not in use. When Tron restores balance to the digital world, the first thing that the characters comment on are “all the I/O towers lighting up.”

Tron predicted a future that one could argue we’ve already realized. It also argued for the validity and perseverance of faith, as well as posing the scenario of man’s creation dividing into a good and evil: the evil attempting to rule its creator, the good taken captive but still clinging to a belief in man as its creator…and hoping for salvation from that creator. Moreover, it poses the age-old science-fiction question of, what would life look like when man creates it himself? The difference is that the image here is less fatalistic than Shelley, and much more realistic in its time.

I didn’t get half of that from watching Tron when I was young, but its so apparent now. That’s proof, I think, that the layers of a good story reveal themselves when you keep watching or reading.

Stormy Easter Silence

Easter this year involved a visit to my parents, who, living in a rural area several hours north of us, continue to experience the power outage issues that I’ve mentioned before when inclement weather arrives. And, as you might have imagined with the severe weather bands pushing their way across the U.S. lately, it arrived. The power subsequently left. There was some talk about how annoying severe weather in Spring can be, and how it has turned dangerous, especially of late…several friends and at least one family member have experienced near misses from the tornado activity in the American Southeast over the last two weeks. I commented that Spring is about re-birth, and birth is a violent event, so its fitting that the weather should be…well, passionate. Given what Easter celebrates, the tumultuous weather involved in this re-birth just seems appropriate.

A few years ago, when I walked through Passion Week in daily reflections, I came to the conclusion that Saturday was a very quiet day. Ironically, or perhaps providentially, our Saturday with the family became quiet, as well, right around 8:30 that night. That’s when one lightning flash too many plunged their street into a blackout, and we spent the remainder of the evening in candlelight and the occasional flashlight beam.

We also had the most amazing laughter. Laughter like I haven’t had with Karen since we were dating, to be honest…the entire family was rolling with one hilarity after another, and the conversation was the best of the weekend. There was no television, limited Internet (Karen wasn’t giving up the iPad for me to check Twitter), and leaving the room for this or that was significantly more complicated that usual. Even reading a book was difficult in the wavering candlelight, and there was no choice but to engage fully with each other for the remainder of our waking moments of the evening.

All because the superfluous stimuli had been removed.

Karen and I don’t do cable. The advantage to watching everything via Hulu or Netflix is that we watch intentionally: when we want to see something, its on, and when we don’t, there is no white noise. As my parents still do cable, I noticed that that it was difficult to have substantive conversation with the television on, because it was staying on in the background the entire evening of our arrival. A few weeks ago, I experienced a more exaggerated version of the same problem when Karen and I were at a sports bar with some friends. There were no less than twelve television screens surrounding our dining area, loud music notwithstanding. I was facing my friend from only across the table, but had significant difficulty understanding him because I kept being distracted by the hockey game appearing twelve feet tall on the projection screen across the room. And I don’t even watch hockey.

Even without the television, Saturday morning was spent with my father and I in the same room, him reading the paper and me catching up on news feeds and blogs over coffee. We didn’t  really engage with each other for the better part of an hour after saying “good morning” (okay, that might be somewhat due to my not being a morning person).

Sometimes I think of the illegal off-switches in the world of Max Headroom, and think we might not be far off. I know that I had the opportunity to experience the quiet of the Saturday before Easter, celebrating a most precious holiday with our family, engaging with them at a completely different  depth because the noise had been quieted for us, in a way that forced us to accept that quiet for several hours. I am thankful for that, because it made the celebration of Easter morning so much sweeter…as though the quiet had forced anticipation of the sunrise.

Imagine how blissful more quiet could be.

I hope you had a blessed Easter.

Photo Attribution: rsvstks

A Review of “Performing the Sacred: Theology and Theatre in Dialogue”

Performing the Sacred: Theology and Theatre in Dialogue (Engaging Culture)Performing the Sacred: Theology and Theatre in Dialogue by Todd E. Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“”Performing the Sacred” is written as a dialogue, alternating chapters between a theologian and a theatre artist. This is a more contemporary, and significantly more accessible, installment to the canon of work on theo-dramatics, and focuses on application rather than new theory. As a result, there really isn’t any new theological ground covered here. What the authors do well, however, is synthesize existing sources into a cohesive whole for a modern intersection of theology and theatre.

Of course,  I’m immediately fascinated by interdisciplinary work, and this is no exception. Savidge’s history of theatre’s interaction with the institution of the Church is thorough, though unfortunately written in a somewhat dry and academic tone. Ironically, Johnson’s theological discussion is written in a more lively tone, and is just as thorough. Both interact not only with previous modern discussion in the theo-dramatic canon (such as Harris’ “Theatre and Incarnation”), but also with such theological greats as Tillich and Kierkegaard, as well as working through the philosophical underpinning of Plato and Tertullian, and how these thinkers have impacted the theatrical arts.

Johnson identifies three theological components of theatre: incarnation, community, and presence. Again, the thought here is not drastically new for anyone who has read any theological treatments of theatre previously. What Savidge and Johnson do, however, is speak to the modern implications of this thought. The biggest take-away for me by far is the argument to the higher validity of theatre over more “virtual” arts (such as streaming media, or even film and television). The authors argue, rightfully, that the substance level of most television programming is not only far inferior to theatre, but also loses effectiveness in becoming an imitation of a more real event, in the way that speaking with someone face-to-face is more real and conducive to good communication than is a phone conversation. Thus, theatre is always more real an event than film or television, because an audience interacts with a theatrical performance in a manner that makes each performance unique. This is accomplished because the performers are present in the same space as the audience. The only aspect of this throught process that I find to be problematic is that film and television are not entirely vacuous, and good art exists in both mediums. The authors almost leave the reader with the impression that both are forever inferior to theatre. Also problematic is established rhetorical theory that claims an observer of any static artwork forever alters both the work and themselves. However, in fairness to the authors, the implied superiority of theatre that I mention is just that: implied; it is never overtly stated and the book does not leave room to treat the issue at length.

I found the final chapters a bit prescriptive at times, but thought provoking overall, for both artists active in the theatre, as well as any person of faith engaging with theatre from the audience.

Anyone with a theological bent would find this book informative, especially if he/she has not explored the intersection of theology and theatre before, in which case this book is very readable and will provide you with a launching point and direction for deeper reading.  Any theatre artist who is practicing from a faith-informed worldview will appreciate this book as well. Slightly academic, but still a good read, and worth having on your shelf.

View all my reviews

You can purchase “Performing the Sacred” here.

Across the Aisle

I’m a firm believer that whenever people cross disciplinary lines to accomplish any sort of task, especially for the greater good, that everyone wins.

Following a fantastic experience at an applied theatre conference a few weeks ago, I presented some ideas to a group of clinicians this week about using theatrical techniques to work with individuals on the autism spectrum. The clinicians were engaged, ideas started flowing, and everyone just broke out of their shell and had fun! This topic is just an example of how this idea of interdisciplinarity works, and there is beginning to be evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies regarding the success of this particular collaboration.

In Entertainment Theology: New-Edge Spirituality in a Digital Democracy, Barry Taylor says it this way: “…no field of study stands alone or apart. The present situation is one in which old categories have been dissolved and boundaries separating fields of study have been erased” (p. 201). I’ve witnessed this to be true in my experience. Universities are beginning to launch graduate programs in interdisciplinary studies, and established schools within those universities are beginning to launch interdisciplinary programs of study within their own schools, bringing in students with research interests launched from different disciplines to contribute to the whole in a better way.

Since the Industrial Revolution, our professional expertise has become increasingly compartmentalized. In doing so, we’ve isolated ourselves from those in other disciplines, focusing so intently on the mathematics that we forget the value of the literature, or so pragmatically on the pharmacy that we forget the contributions of music. The actor has something valuable to bring to the psychologist’s practice, as does the psychologist to the actor’s craft. We can’t, of course, discount the idea of being a specialist in a specific field…the idea of being the best at what you do…but we can’t forget to talk to each other in doing so, either.

In fact, if we continue to take the concept of interdisciplinary discussion seriously, I think some really good things will begin to manifest. A mutual respect of everyone for their unique skills, knowledge, and passions, for example. More people will know about more things, which removes some of the unnecessary elitism of knowledge in certain areas that permit some to take advantage of others. Mutual respect leads to more open and civil discourse, something that the U.S. could certainly use more of. When we begin to see, as Taylor states, that none of our fields stands alone or apart, we begin to realize that we actually need each other…that we don’t stand alone. When we recognize that we need each other, we become more civil with each other.

Imagine, civility and mutual respect. Who knows where that might lead?