“Play the man, Master Ridley”

Kris | Faith and Life,Miscellany | Thursday, October 16th, 2014


The way they read then

Kris | Books | Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Some friends and I are going to read Augustine’s Confessions together–and talk about it, I hope. Today I read Particia Hampl’s preface to Maria Boulding’s translation, published by Vintage. I was reading aloud to Paula, and came across a fabulous passage that describes the communal reading that was common in Augustine’s day. Here’s a version of this passage in an online essay by Hampl:

Theology aside, what may separate us most from Augustine is the way we read. A modern emblem of lonely individuality is the image of the urban commuter, head bent to open book, reading silently on a jammed subway. Our assumption that reading is an inner, essentially solitudinous activity would strike an ancient as eccentric. There was no publishing as we know it, of course, in Augustine’s world. Communal reading or recitation of books was so much a given of literate life that it went unremarked. When, however, Augustine first glimpses his mentor Ambrose, bishop of Milan, reading alone, silently to himself, he describes the act in Book VI of “The Confessions” like a fascinated anthropologist writing a field note on an exotic tribal custom: “[H]is eyes would travel across the pages and his mind would explore the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent.” (more…)

A one-smile wonder

Kris | Films | Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Ida demands your attention and concentration, and not just because you have to read subtitles: in fact, much more is said in this film with images than with words.

And the images are captivating: the film is black and white, and almost every shot seems like a work of art that could hang in a gallery. Watching it is like looking through a book of great photographs.

The story is compelling too: a young woman raised as an orphan in a convent and on the verge of taking her vows as a nun is told she must first visit her aunt, her only living relative. From her aunt she finds out that she is a Jew, and the two of them go to find the graves of her parents who were killed during the war. The story, set in the early 1960’s, develops from there–though not quite in the way you might expect.

One odd thing I realized at the end of the film: I can only remember one smile in it–and that smile comes at an odd and ironic time.

The film is interesting, and I’m still considering what it says about faith and life and death.

You’re as cold as ice–you’re willing to sacrifice our love

Kris | Films | Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

I stumbled across a reference to The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960) in a comment thread on someone’s blog a few months ago–I don’t remember the details now. But I found a place in Florida that would sell me a DVD. When it came, it turned out to be a transfer from a VHS recording of a Bravo airing of the film. I don’t even know if that’s legal. But last night I decided to give it a spin before I lost track of it.

The film opens with a shot of a nice home in 1920’s Oklahoma. A delivery truck pulls up to the curb and a man gets out and carried a big block of ice into the house. The camera moves upstairs to a shot of a married couple in bed in the early morning. The man is in a romantic mood and tries to woo his bride over to his side of the bed. She, however, is as cold as ice. And thus begins another story of another unhappy family.

This is definitely a B movie, but it actually kept me awake (I dozed only a minute or two–I was pretty tired). It deals with an unhappy wife, a frustrated husband who loses his job, an over-protected son who needs to learn how to be a man, a wallflower of a 17-year-old daughter on her first date, the ostracizing of a Jew, and a suicide. I was curious to see how the husband explained what a man needs from his wife, or what he recommended that his son do in order to grow up, and so on. Not all the advice was what I would call the “best,” but of course it worked out in the world of the film. Anyway, if you don’t expect too much, you might at least find it interesting.

If this wood could talk

Kris | Biographical | Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Do you know the Old English poem “The Dream of the Rood“? You should. It recounts the imagined thoughts of the wood that became the cross (rood) on which our Lord was crucified. I’m not going to say anything more about that poem, other than “read it.”

I only refer to it because tomorrow we are moving. This morning I was in our bedroom to disassemble the mirror from Paula’s dresser, and I started thinking about how many times I’ve had to take these things apart and put them together. And that led me to reflect on the history of our bedroom furniture.

In 1984 Paula was pregnant with our first child and we were preparing to settled down. We bought a tiny house (900 square feet) in Little Rock, bought a Honda Civic wagon, and a set of bedroom furniture that we thought might be part of the family for a long time. A few months later in November our bed welcomed Nicholas into his first home. In April 1986 it welcomed Karen as well.

But in 1986 I was having some ministerial inclinations, and we sold our house and packed up our furniture and headed to Jackson, Mississippi, where I studied at Reformed Theological Seminary. As our babies became toddlers a tradition developed, particularly on Saturday mornings: Nicholas and Karen would climb into our bed and the four of us would wrestle and snuggle and just enjoy each other.

When I graduated in 1989 we moved to Shreveport for a six-month stint, then in November to Las Cruces, New Mexico. In 1993 Kristian was actually born in our bed, with the assistance of a midwife. Our bed similarly welcomed Ethan into the world in 1995. And on my birthday in 1994 (I believe), about 5:00 in the morning, Paula and I were awakened by an unusual sound coming from our backyard, just outside the glass doors next to our bed. I jumped up “to see what was the matter,” and on pulling back the curtains I saw ten or so people from our church standing outside, singing Las Mañanitas. I opened the door and they paraded through the room, each giving me a flower, and they continued out the front door of the house, singing all the way.

In 1997 I took a position at Dell, and our furniture followed me to Austin as 1997 turned to 1998. During the next ten years our family was anchored and our bedroom furniture had its longest rest to date. I think it only moved when we replaced the carpet with tile.

Having an obvious tendency to restlessness, I left Dell in 2007 and we put our bedroom furniture on a container, in which it made it’s way to New Orleans, then on board some ship that carried it across the Atlantic. I can’t recall it’s port of entry, but from there it traveled across the Western Nations toward its new home, right in the heart of Europe, Slovakia. And this Sunday will mark seven years in Slovakia–and our furniture will be resting in its third home.

I suspect it will not be the last.

The destructive power of unforgiveness

Kris | Films | Monday, September 22nd, 2014

I haven’t read George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, so I can’t say anything about the faithfulness of the 1997 BBC adaptation of it. I did have the feeling, though, that I was being cheated of a lot of the story–this version is less than two hours long, and some of the transitions seemed a bit quick. But as a film it’s powerful and leaves a strong impression.

The impression is of the cruelty, irrationality, and destructive power of a prideful unwillingness to forgive one’s enemies. Emily Watson plays Maggie, and she becomes the sink who receives and bears the most unjust consequences of the hatred and bitterness that her father and brother refuse to relinquish. Even when their perceived enemy is willing to be reconciled, they will have none of it. Watson makes sure we feel the tragedy of it.

A sobering film. Someday I’ll read the book.

Five stars for the brisket

Kris | Films | Saturday, September 20th, 2014

I like food. Although I’m far from being some kind of foodie, I appreciate people who work creatively with food–and especially those who recognize the goodness of God that is mediated through food (Psalm 34:8), and who treat food “sacramentally.” Of course, in Chef there was no evidence that the characters delighted in Anyone beyond the food itself–yet, because they are inescapably the images of God, they create beautiful reminders of his glory. For those who have eyes to see, the glory of God shines bright through a Texas brisket. That’s what I liked about this film: the sequences that savored the wonder of good food.

Unfortunately, that’s about all I liked about it. It could hardly have been more predictable–which isn’t always bad for a story, but in this case it hobbles it. The way twitter was a major character annoyed me (I think it was meant to be cool, or at least cute). And I’m always put off when films put young children (in this case a 10-year-old boy) in “adult” situations (where “adult” doesn’t mean mature, but rather vulgar and base). I did appreciate, however, the reconciliation and growth within the main family, regardless of how predictable it was. So I suppose I liked two things about the film.

I need a new word

Kris | Miscellany | Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

According to dictionary.com, escapism is “the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etc.” But as I see things, the current “reality” is pure escapism–everything is swallowed up by fantasy. And I’d really like to escape all the escapism. So what would I call that?

Pretty good judgment

Kris | Films | Friday, September 12th, 2014

Over the past few days I introduced my younger sons to a couple of Tom Cruise’s classic lawyer performances: A Few Good Men and The Firm. Both are excellent, of course: good stories and fine acting. But each also had it’s just-a-little-too-cheesy moment at the end that tainted it. In A Few Good Men it’s the soldier turning to salute Cruise; in The Firm it’s his wife telling him how she loved him even before she met him. Too much! Still, great films.

Back in the USSR

Kris | Books | Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Isn’t it wonderful that two books such as, say, Pride and Prejudice and Anya Von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Longing, can be so vastly different, and yet both so engaging and delightful? I’ve long been fascinated by the (to me) inconceivable reality of totalitarianism in its Soviet incarnation. Von Bremzen, a girl of ten when she and her mother left Russia in 1974, delivers a cornucopia of a book, full of food, history, memoir–and all of it giving the flavor (not always pleasant) of life in the USSR.

A glorious book!

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