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A Prayer for Owen Meany — Introduction

In Books, Movies and Television on August 27, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Owen MeanyMy favourite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany. It’s really funny. It is one of those books that can’t be read in bed because your unsuccessfully-stifled laughter will make it impossible for your spouse to sleep. It offers the full range of humour, from ridiculous situations through extraordinary characters to profound ironies. And the more times you read it, the funnier it gets.

I also like it because it is very well-crafted. It’s full of the things students of literature like to notice: comparisons and contrast, patterns and parallels, foils, symbols, ironies, motifs and juxtapositions.

It doesn’t just make you think about Literature things, though. It also makes you think about life which is what art often does.

This novel is about doubt, but mostly about belief in God. The novel opens with “I am a Christian because of Owen Meany” (1).

This is an important book because in it’s exploration of faith, it reveals some very important things about faith in a modern context. By modern, I don’t mean that we have smart phones and smart cars. To be Modern means we have a certain way of looking at the world, at the other and at ourselves. The novel doesn’t just reveal the difficulty of faith in the modern world, but the nature of that faith.   The influence of Modernism can easily produce an anemic faith. As you read the novel, you will see this limited faith held by the adult narrator of the story.   I have very little doubt that all North American Christians need to very aware of the power of the Modern worldview to significantly distort all relationships, including that which we have with God.

This all sounds rather serious, and it is, but, don’t forgot–this book is the funniest and most entertaining book I’ve ever read.

I invite you go get yourself a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany, and read it with me.

I’ll be posting at the end of each chapter with my commentary on how the novel might be useful to help us understand our own struggle with faith in our world today.

Be sure to read the three epigraphs that precede the narrative. These little gems are being used to help us focus on the key ideas in the novel.

The first:

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. –The Letter of Paul to the Philippians

The first points out that God is close enough to us that we can talk to him and ask things of him. It also suggests that awareness of God’s presence alleviates our anxiety

The second epigraph:

Not the least of my problems is that I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a genuine, self-authenticating religious experience would be. Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me. –Frederick Buechner

Buechner points out that in the face of absolutely certain evidence about God’s existence, the individual believer would be annihilated. Irving takes this idea very seriously; he continuously undercuts certainty wherever it reveals itself. Or does he?

The third epigraph:

Any Christian who is not a hero is a pig. –Leon Bloy

As you read, attend to the connection between Christian faith and heroism.

My next post will be on Chapter 1: “The Foul Ball.”

 

Prometheus: Ridley Scott contributes to the conversation on faith and doubt

In Books, Movies and Television on June 16, 2012 at 10:18 pm

It is one of my great pleasures to look at popular culture through the lens of the gospel and to eavesdrop on the conversation as artists like John Irving, David Shore, and Cormac McCarthy discuss the complexities of faith and doubt in their works, A Prayer for Owen Meany, House, Sunset Limited respectively.   In Prometheus, Ridley Scott has come into the room and attempted to insert his thoughts into the conversation.  The role of the moviegoer, Christian or otherwise, is not only to mine the film for truth, for all movies will have truth of some kind or another, but to evaluate how it wrestles with its central themes.  In other words, do we allow it a seat at the table where faith and doubt are being discussed?

I don’t think it should be allowed in the room.  Rather, it should be set down in front of television with a large bowl of Cheezies while the grownups talk.

SPOILER ALERT

I saw it opening night and I was tired, so maybe I missed the parts where this movie dealt with the issues surrounding faith and doubt in a post Christian world.   What I did see was a lady with a cross who believed in some transcendent good in the universe and a robot that didn’t.  Oh, and the woman with the cross, got an abortion.  My critique is that this film doesn’t raise any issue for serious discussion, even though it presumes to deal with the very serious and complex issue of faith/doubt.

I think he may be guilty of the same thing in the title.  Prometheus created man and sorta fell for the little beggars so he stole forbidden fire from the gods and gave it to humans.  For his pains he enjoyed a quotidian extraction of his liver by a raptor.  At this point, I can’t figure out the relevance of this allusion.  The only connection I see in Scott’s film is that the “engineer,” like Prometheus, created man.  Where’s the Promethean rebellion against the gods?  Where is the perpetual torture that is a result of immortality?  Where’s the idea that human are in possession of some power beyond their power to control?

Like the abortion, I suspect he just tossed the allusion in there to create the illusion of profundity.

Regarding characterization in the film: characters were very thin, just types actually, possibly even borrowed from cartoons. Did anyone else think that Mr. Weyland and David bore too close a resemblance to Mr. Burns and Smithers from the Simpsons?

. . . crossing the line between faith and doubt (?)

If you go to movies because you love special effects or critiquing superficial schlock masquerading as art, you should see this movie.  If you like movies with interesting round characters and honest exploration of the complexity of human experience, go see the Avengers a second time—there’s way more there and they weren’t even trying.

On the other hand, Chris Morrisey finds much more in this movie than I do.  Consider this.