Monday, February 28, 2011

Singing Birds and the Bible

There is not much mention of birdsong in the Bible. A brief mention in Psalm 104 about birds singing in the branches, and a mention in Ecclesiastes 12 about the elderly being no longer able to hear the sound of birds. Other than that, birds are mostly mentioned for flying or being birds of prey. It makes me wonder if the birds in the middle-east are poor singers.

Surely, if the psalmists and prophets had been around birds that had wonderful songs, they would have written more about them. Growing up in Nebraska, the most impressive birdsong I heard was the Meadowlark. These days in Minnesota, some of my favorite bird songs are the common loon, the turtledove, the cardinal, the chickadee, and the oriole.

This morning, I stumbled across a video of the lyre bird, the most amazing singing bird I've ever seen or heard. I think you, too, will find him to be very impressive. If ever a bird deserved to get mentioned in the book of Psalms, you'd think it would be a bird named after a lyre. Too bad their wasn't a psalmist from Australia. Maybe the writer of Psalm 71 was! He wrote, "I will sing praise to you with the lyre."

If you can think of other Bible passages that mention the songs of birds, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Movies, Faith, and Thinking

I'm so glad to see filmmakers portraying stories of faith and religious conviction in a more nuanced and honest way. It seems like I'm seeing an approach that is less cliched, avoids stereotypes, and less partisan. Two such recent films that I hope will make it to theaters in the Twin Cities are, Of Gods and Men, and Higher Ground.

Of Gods and Men, based on real events in 1996, is the story of Trapists monks serving and living peacefully in an impoverished, predominantly Muslim Algerian town. Threatened by fundamentalist terrorists, they are faced with the decision to flee or face the peril of staying in their community.

Higher Ground, directed by Vera Farmiga, portrays the story of a woman whose life moves from faith to doubt. Her journey begins as a coerced child convert among Christian fundamentalists, moves through teenage rebellion, then on to her return to faith and baptism, and finally to her becoming a religious skeptic. The film was adapted from This Dark World, a memoir by Carolyn Briggs. The film is reportedly going to be in theaters fall of 2011.

One of the things I would like to get started in my church is a monthly gathering I would call Theater for Thinkers. I used to do something similar when I was a campus minister with Christian Student Fellowship at the University of Minnesota. The idea is simple. Watch thought-provoking films with others, and then have some good conversation. I would choose films that stir up and address questions about life, truth, faith, morality, Christianity, religion, ethics, and justice. What movies would you suggest?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Brothers Karamozov

Cheri and I have both tried reading Dostoevsky's classic novel, The Brothers Karamozov, a couple of times in the distant past without success. So when we heard great things about a Russian-made mini-series (twelve episodes - almost nine hours of viewing), we thought it might make for some good winter entertainment. Maybe it would even inspire us to take another try at reading the book.

We were right about winter being a great time to watch the series, especially this winter in Minnesota, with snow depths and temperatures quite similar to Siberia. The setting for much of the series was filmed in frozen and snow covered Russian villages and landscapes, so before putting the DVD in the player, we would grab a blanket and a mug of something hot to drink. Perfect.

All in all we enjoyed the series. The cinematography was good, the sets and locations were beautiful and believable, and the acting was generally very good. The subtitles were amusing at times, with the syntax reading a bit more like a Russian learning to speak English ("How my English sound to you? Do you think I'm saying is it good?"). The result was more charming than distracting.

Many of the reviews about the series say it was very true to the book. If that's true, that's not such great news to me. I will have to confess that I found the story to be tedious and ultimately unsatisfying. When I finished the last episode, I was more disappointed than satisfied. I most certainly wasn't motivated to give the book another try, at least not any time soon. Maybe some other long dark winter.

The plot line was much more a vehicle for Dostoevsky's exploration of political, moral, philosophical, and religious ideas, than a captivating story with moral and philosophical implications. It wasn't a gripping narrative that brought with it the need to wrestle with moral issues, but rather a lot of philosophical/theological discussions and dialogues strung together by a less than compelling story.

That being said, I'm sure I would enjoy reading the book simply for the philosophical/theological explorations which are surely the reason for the book's masterpiece status. The story and the characters, on the other hand, seem a bit flat. The brothers seem more like two-dimensional figures representing worldviews in an allegory (the secular atheist, the religious mystic, the passionate hedonist, the selfish survivalist) than the complicated and messy people a reader comes to accept as real. When all was said and done, I didn't like or care about any of the main characters. The more I got to know them, the less real and more caricatured they became.

Do you have thoughts about the book? Let me know. I'd love to hear what you have to say. Encourage and convince me to read it!

Do you live in the Twin Cities? Would you like to borrow my DVDs and watch the series (there's still plenty of snow on the ground and it's 11 below zero today), let me know and I'll get the discs to you.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Good News: Warmer Days Ahead!

"Arctic air returns this week bringing a few sub-zero nights, but there are signs that this could be the last time this winter we see temperatures this cold...for this long. It looks like a major pattern change will bring an extended spell of much milder weather starting this weekend, and lasting through most of next week."

Read more on the MPR Updraft Blog

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Sayings from the Northern Ice

As of this morning, eleven teams continue to race in the Beargrease Marathon. They have covered 235 miles so far. Nathan Schroeder of Chisholm, MN is in the lead.

I'm rooting for Colleen Wallin of Two Harbors, MN who is currently in 7th place. I enjoyed talking with her for a few minutes before the race began. The best finish she's ever had in the Marathon is 6th place, so I'm rooting for her to move up at least two places in the standings.

I'm slowly reading my way through The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems by William Stafford. I was delighted and surprised at the serendipity of coming across this poem during the Beargrease race.

Sayings from the Northern Ice
It is people at the edge who say things
at the edge: winter is toward knowing.

Sled runners before they meet have long talk apart.
There is a pup in every litter the wolves will have.
A knife that falls points at an enemy.
Rocks in the wind know their place: down low.
Over your shoulder is God; the dying deer sees Him.

At the mouth of the long sack we fall in forever
storms brighten the spikes of the stars.

Wind that buried bear skulls north of here
and beats moth wings for help outside the door
is bringing bear skull wisdom, but do not ask the skull
too large a question until summer.
Something too dark was held in that strong bone.

Better to end with a lucky saying:

Sled runners cannot decide to join or to part.
When they decide, it is a bad day.