MonthJune 2013

The Idea of the Holocaust…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was in high school, I was fascinated with World War II.  I took a class on World War II and I guess my fascination continued into college because I majored in history and I took another course on World War II.  I watched all 26 episodes of the World at War series (1973–74) on PBS several times.  The thing I remember most clearly was the face at the end of the closing credits.  The face was gaunt and mostly shadow.  Deep dark shadows filled the hollows of the eyes and cheeks—especially the eyes.  It was a haunting face, especially with the music and the flames which accompanied it.  I never turned off the TV until I saw it.  I think it was the face of a person from a concentration camp.

The other thing I remember about that show was the episode called “Genocide.”  This episode ends with the implementation of the “Final Solution.”  It was the first time I saw the bulldozers.  They were pushing heaps of emaciated bodies…  The episode ended with the music and the flames and the face.

I’m not sure exactly what the attraction to World War II was all about.  Part of the draw could have been something like a fourth grader being interested in dinosaurs.  But I think a lot of it stemmed from puzzlement.  I watched the shows and read the books to try to find something to help me make sense of it all.  Episode 20, “Genocide,” only increased my confusion and fascination.

I now think that this confusion was rooted in the gap that existed in my own mind between the idea of the Holocaust and the physical reality of the Holocaust.  The Anne Frank Museum didn’t bridge the gap.  Maybe that’s the museum’s fault; it works so hard to create a universal significance that the particularity of young girl is lost.  Perhaps it’s my problem because I universalize everything.

Then I went to Dachau. Dachau bridged the gap.  It was the prototype on which all the other camps where based.  Intending to spend a couple of hours; my wife and I stayed for six.

It was at Dachau that I realized that concentrations camps weren’t built our of ideas like racism, anti-Semitism, National Socialism, evil, hate or the scapegoat mechanism.  Instead, I found that Dachau was built out of concrete, barbed wire, and wood.  I know that doesn’t sound like much of a revelation, but it is!  Before that visit, the Holocaust was abstract concept; that day it became concrete.  The men who ran the place were made of flesh and blood and their boots wore out the tile in the interior hallways. The prisoners were defined by an iron gate that I strolled through.  I stood where they stood for roll call.  The ovens were not just an atrocity; they were also brick and mortar.

When the idea of the Holocaust is linked with the physicality of Dachau, it becomes real in a profound way. 


Why Christians keep bugging you about Jesus.

after rescuing Marahute, Cody accidently falls off the cliff.

The First Fall

I was walking down Granville Street in Vancouver yesterday.  There was a man standing on the corner of the busy intersection yelling things about Jesus in an aggressive cadence and passing out pamphlets.  Most people had a smile on their face as they continued down the street.  They ignored him in much the same way as they’d ignore a guy selling ironing boards.  More than a few wondered, “Why even bother?”

It is very rare when a movie clip gets as close as this one does to capture a Biblical truth.

Take a look of this short clip from Disney’s The Rescuers Down Under.

The boy falls twice.  The first time is just after he rescues Marahote from a poacher’s snare.

A little later he falls again.

There is no difference in altitude from the first fall to the second, but there is a significant difference in attitude.

In both he is equally helpless–falling to his death, in fact, unless someone intervenes.  Christians believe that everyone is falling and none of us can fly on our own power.  We also believe that there are two alternatives as to how that fall will end, and one of them is really really good.  And the other one . . . not so much.  The guy on the street yesterday cared so much that he spent hours trying to tell the good news to people he didn’t even know.

Christians can be annoying at times, but given the cliff and the eagle and all, it sort of makes sense, doesn’t it?

The Second Fall

The Second Fall

Warm Bodies: The Movie

Warm Bodies (2)I finally watched the movie Warm Bodies “On Demand”?

Like the book, the movie, as social commentary, suggests the modern-secular self is already largely zombie.  Early in the story, R walks through the airport with a bunch of zombies sitting around or bumping into each other.  He recounts an earlier, better time, when humanity meaningfully interacted with others—the scene shows an airport full of people absorbed by their electronic devices bumping into each other.

Many zombies have gathered at the airport—airports are about waiting, and they are all waiting for something.  R tells us what he’s waiting for: “I just want to connect.”

This desire is reflected in his collection.  R collects a lot of things, and, from what we are shown, everything reflects this craving for connection.  Every slide in the stereoscope shows  a boy interacting meaningfully with a girl.  The snow globe he acquires on the same excursion on which he acquires Julie presents lovers holding hands on a foot bridge.  And all the songs we hear from his record collection are about missing someone.

The connection issue is shown in the Living as well.  Their major project involves the construction of a huge wall to separate the Living from the Dead.  Lead by Julie’s father, the Living strive for the symbol of division.

Like the figures in the snow globe, the young people supply the bridge between the Living and the Dead.

When the zombies see R and Julia holding hands, they are profoundly affected–the cure has begun.   R describes the effect of the gesture when he says, “Julie and I were giving the others hope.”  All this is a lot of fun.  I enjoyed the movie, but, sadly, they resorted to mere convention.

This is where I think the movie takes a significantly different approach to the cure than does the book.  In the book, romantic love is metonymy; it represents all things transcendent, like beauty, soul and mystery.  Not so with the movie; here the cure is simply romantic love.   All the indicators  of “true love” are present: hand holding, kissing, accelerated pulse, the inability to look away when her shirt is off and taking stupid risks, not to mention a literal balcony scene.

This is not surprising in that Hollywood movies usually solve all their problems with Romantic love; it is able to overcome all barriers of social class, age, race and ethnicity, and personal conflicts.  Why not over come death?  I was a little disappointed at this, for it seems like a cheap solution, especially when the book offered romantic love as metonymy, rather than the end in itself.

There was the baptism scene, which might have been a part of a larger whole, but I didn’t see it.

In the end, we are asked to put our faith in romantic love, for only this is powerful enough to “exhume the world.”

Matthew Arnold said as much in his poem, “Dover Beach” (1867).

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I don’t think Arnold’s answer was any more satisfying then, than it is now.  It is not mere romantic love that will save us.

Where the book hints that we need to recover of a view of reality beyond philosophical materialism, the movie suggests romantic love is the solution to all our problems.  This is not to condemn the film, I actually enjoyed it, it just means it is a romantic comedy — and little more.

Read my review of the book.

Warm Bodies: the Book

Warm BodiesYou know you’re an English teacher, if, when a movie is released, you buy the book.

 The cover of my version of Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion is the movie’s poster, but the it is better than a silly romance which cover seems to suggests.

The book’s first-person narrator is R — it’s all he remembers of his own name because he’s a zombie.  The undead always have identity issues.

R describes his life as a zombie: “We do what we do, time passes, and no one asks questions… We grunt and groan, we shrug and nod, and sometimes a few words slip out.  It’s not that different from before” (4).

  “It’s not that different from before.”

This is one of the main themes of the novel,  suggesting that, in many ways, people are like zombies long before they are  zombies.

 R finds himself the protector of Julia–she’s alive and pretty amazing.  She’s unlike any of the Living or the Dead.  Where R’s cognitive abilities are severely compromised, what with being dead and all, Julia is clever in a philosophical sense.  She  explains that the source of the “plague” was not anything like a virus or nuclear contamination, but was from “a deeper place.”  She actually uses the word “sin.”

 Besides by our own sin, she thinks the zombie “curse” was a result of “crush[ing] ourselves down over the centuries” (221).   In the last few centuries we have crushed ourselves, indeed all of reality, down into the very small container of the material.  We have rejected all transcendence: anything beyond the physical.  We have come to believe the world is ruled by immutable and impersonal laws, that humanity is just a bunch of genes trying to get ahead and that time is a mindless and purposeless march toward personal and cosmic oblivion.  This view of the world could be called “Philosophical Materialism.”  It holds that matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, consciousness, and will, can be explained in terms of matter.  The world described by philosophical materialism,  is closed to the transcendent.

 This idea has crushed us.  We’ve largely lost our sense of mystery and little evokes wonder.   More an more of us believe that everything from mountains to sunsets, from music to love, is a product of physical or chemical processes.  We no longer value things for their own sake, but for how economically useful they are–trees have become lumber and pigs have become pork.  It is just a matter of time when people will be valued only for their utility.  Or has this happened already?

 The book asks, if this is our conception of reality, what then is the difference between being a zombie or one of the Living?  Julie doesn’t see a lot of difference any more.  While looking at a daisy Julie says, “We don’t even have flowers anymore.  Just crops”  (70).

 Julie believes that human beings are no better than zombies if they lose their sense of wonder — when they cease to see the world and its inhabitants as beautiful  in and of themselves.  Her father, only concerned with practical survival is no longer any better than the Dead he hates.  She says of him, “Dad’s dead. He just hasn’t started rotting yet” (202).  Julie believes life is more than physical and that simple survival isn’t enough.  She says, “I mean obviously, staying alive is pretty . . .  important . . . but there’s got to be something beyond that, right?” (71).

Julie a foil to her father’s limited participation in life, but her vitality also provides a more important contrast to the Dead, represented by R.

Julia is less than impressed with R’s stagnant music collection.  He communicates that he isn’t really looking for anything different–that’s the way the Dead are.  She doesn’t accept this as a valid excuse claiming, “Music is life! It’s physical emotion–you can touch it! It’s neon ecto-energy sucked out of spirits and switched into sound waves for your ears to swallow.  Are you telling me, what, that it’s boring? You don’t have time for it?” (54).

Julie’s love of music, like that for flowers, is rooted in their transcendence–they possess qualities beyond their physical properties.  She is unique in that, unlike her father or the zombie R, she believes that there is more to reality than the physical.

This, it turns out, is salvation for R.

Romantic love is a part of it of this salvation, but it’s much bigger than love.  It includes flowers and music and everything else that in which human beings experience something that is good or true or beautiful, something supernatural, spiritual or transcendent.

 Love is the main marker of R’s encounter with a transcendent reality.  Before he meets Julie, R describes the zombie perspective of others, whether Living or Dead; we are all meat–“Nameless, faceless, disposable” (74).  After he falls for Julie, she becomes much more to him than meat, more than a mere physical body.  Consider this passage from near the ends of the story:

 “I look into Julie’s face.  Not just at it, but into it.  Every pore, every freckle, every gossamer hair.  And then the layers beneath them.  The flesh and bones, the blood and brain, all the way down to the unknowable energy that swirls at her core, the life force, the soul, the fiery will that makes her more than meat, coursing through every cell and binding them together in millions to form her.  Her body contains the  history of the universe, remembered in pain, in joy and sadness, hate and hope and bad habits, every thought of God, past-present-future, remembered, felt, and hoped for all at once” (222).

 In Julie’s face he sees the transcendent and it is inseparable from the physical.  This has always been true of everything, he just forgot–this is the essence of the zombie.  Somewhere in the last few centuries, we have separated the soul from the body and then ditched the soul because we couldn’t weigh it.  We lost the enchantment.  The novel’s thesis is that if you live long enough in a disenchanted world, you will eventually become little more than a zombie.  It offers a solution too; this story suggests that the first step toward the cure of the zombie curse is the re-enchantment of the world.

The movie made one significant change to the story.  Read my review of the movie.

Want more zombie articles? Start with this one: A New Kind of Monster

Praise Songs: Pronouns

Praise 1Should we ban the use of he pronouns “you,” “I” and “me” in our praise and worship songs?

Of course not, but the songs we sing on Sunday are full of them and they shouldn’t be.  They reveal how we understand God and others and the world, but they also reinforce the self-centeredness that comes so naturally to us.  Rather than lead me into a reality where I am not the centre of the universe, many songs carry the same message as television commercials.

Let’s start with “you.”   There is no inherent problem with this word.  But there is something we’ve lost along with the word “Thou.”  It’s not really the word “you” that’s the issue, but a tone of familiarity and intimacy that I am wondering about.  I think some of our songs consistently reflect an intimacy which might be going a little too far down the continuum, toward the “Jesus is my girlfriend” extreme.  On one level, the intimacy is appropriate because the Holy Spirit is within us.  But we can’t lose light of the fact that we are also addressing the almighty creator and sustainer of the universe.

As for “I” and “me”–one of the main idols in our culture is individualism and we are hardly aware of our ritualized devotion to this false god.  In the West, everything comes to us through the filter of individualism.  It would be a very good idea for every Christian to become very intimate friends with someone from a non-individualistic culture (traditional African and Middle Eastern perhaps) and listen very carefully to how they understand the Bible.

I am barely aware of my own devotion to the god of individualism.  But I catch a glimpse of it in many praise and worship songs.

Worship should be God focused, so it follows that worship songs ought to be focused on God and not on me.  So then the question is, how often ought we see the pronouns “me” and “I” in song set?   Notice that even if I am singing a line that says, “I love Jesus,” I am still singing about myself, or more accurately, my feelings.

Keith & Kristyn Getty & Stuart Townend wrote a song called “Come People of the Risen King” which is sung as a people of God, rather than a person of God.

Come, people of the Risen King,

Who delight to bring Him praise;

Come all and tune your hearts to sing

To the Morning Star of grace.

From the shifting shadows of the earth

We will lift our eyes to Him,

Where steady arms of mercy reach

To gather children in.


Rejoice, Rejoice! Let every tongue rejoice!

One heart, one voice; O Church of Christ, rejoice!

Come, those whose joy is morning sun,

And those weeping through the night;

Come, those who tell of battles won,

And those struggling in the fight.

For His perfect love will never change,

And His mercies never cease,

But follow us through all our days

With the certain hope of peace.

Come, young and old from every land –

Men and women of the faith;

Come, those with full or empty hands –

Find the riches of His grace.

Over all the world, His people sing –

Shore to shore we hear them call

The Truth that cries through every age:

“Our God is all in all”!

This is not to say that there is no room for a song that communicates a personal response  to God.  Of course there is.  Nor am I suggesting that we can’t sing songs that use the words “me” or “I.”

I am suggesting that when we are selecting songs to sing in collective worship, we need to primarily focus on God and not ourselves or our feelings toward him.  This shift in focus will be reflected in the pronouns.

Previous Posts on this Topic:

Praise Songs: Sound

Praise 1I am totally cheating on this one.  I’m using a song that will not likely be sung in church.

But I just have to share Josh Garrels with anyone who will listen.  His music is incredible.  You don’t need to be a Christian to think so.  He’s just good and he writes what is true, and it’s beautiful.

Praise and worship songs usually get the sound right, at least in the general sense.  Probably without really thinking about it–songs with happy words are usually happy.

But poets, and by this I also mean songwriters, can manage this on a line by line level.  Josh Garrels frequently does.  Listen to this song and attend to where the music changes slightly.  The words and the music work together.  This is no accident.

 Slip Away


 Hold on, before I slip away

 The flames gone, dark I am afraid

 How strong, is flesh and blood

 I cannot, can take back what I’ve done

 To you, my sweetest friend

 I betrayed you, I walked away again

 Now all that’s left, is what might have been

 Please forgive me, before we reach the end

Hold on, before I slip away

 My loves gone cold, I’ve gone astray

 How strong, is flesh and blood

 I cannot take back what I’ve done

I find the correspondence of sound to sense in the poetry of this song greatly enhances the experience of it as a whole.  This correspondence could also significantly contribute to the corporate worship experience.  Some sounds suggest strength, others suggest sadness.  What sounds suggest joy?  What might happen to the musical line when singing about regret?

Again, if the sound doesn’t work with what the words say, that’s not so bad, but when the sound of the song contradict the sense, it’s a bad song.  Unless of course the writer is being ironic.  Are there ANY ironic praise and worship songs? Hmmm….

More Josh Garrels here.

Previous Posts on this Topic:


© 2018 crossing the line

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑