Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Finally, a discussion of the central issue in "Zero Dark Thirty"

Please, everybody, do read this by Samuel G. Freedman, who seems to be splitting the "On Religion" weekly feature in The New York Times with Mark Oppenheimer. To my knowledge, no one else in the mainstream NYC media, not the Times, not the WSJ, and particularly not WNYC (the otherwise estimable NYC NPR station) has caught on to this all-important theological angle (The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books have done better, somewhat obliquely).

The Roman Catholic journalist, academic, and serious theological thinker Peter Steifels wrote "On Religion" for years. He and I admired each other from afar, and I was desolate when he retired from writing it. But I must admit that these two more recent columnists, presumably both Jewish, are doing a very good job. I haven't caught either one of them in any egregious misunderstandings of Christianity--though to be sure they are not covering it in real depth.

For years (literally) I have been pestering Brian Lehrer, the superstar of WNYC, to interview George Hunsinger and he has ignored the request (though he has always responded courteously). Hunsinger and David Gushee, both quoted by Freedman, were prominent in a powerful anti-torture conference held in Princeton in 2006. At that conference, I preached a sermon (at Trinity Church) which was part of the conference. The sermon and all the addresses were later published by Eerdmans in a volume called Torture is a Moral Issue. My sermon can be found here:

Saturday, February 23, 2013

O Canada! The movie Argo and President Carter

In time for Oscar-mania, here's a terrific piece by Rick Hertzberg of The New Yorker. It's got everything you want to know about the story behind Argo, and more besides. (You might have to be a subscriber to read the whole thing...)

Three or even four cheers for Ottawa! Having spent lots of time in Canada, I find this information quite thrilling about Canada's heroism, carried out in its understated Canadian way. There has been, understandably, some grumbling from Canada:

The Hertzberg piece is particularly interesting because of its interview with Jimmy Carter, here at his very best.

(But Life of Pi for Oscar winner?  Rick! are you serious?)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Crime novels as Christian witness

A very interesting discussion ensued after the New York Times Book Review published an article by Paul Elie called "Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?" The article prompted me to recall the days, 40-plus years ago, when a good many distinguished writers were confessing Christians and wrote books and poetry with Christian themes. Many of us preachers still have recourse to such writers on a regular basis. The names are familiar: T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Graham Greene,  Reynolds Price, even John Updike. Mr. Elie questions whether there is anyone writing today, except Marilynne Robinson, who qualifies.

Several people wrote in to offer other names. There were two that particularly interested me. The first was from the editor of The Paris Review, who said that "the religious impulse is hard to miss" in the work of the late lamented David Foster Wallace, and gives several convincing illustrations.

The second letter was even more interesting.  A woman from Queens wrote that Mr. Elie had missed a major genre--crime fiction. As a primary illustration, she cites the novels of James Lee Burke, which feature the corporate crime-fighter Dave Robichaux, whom she describes as a "highly conflicted former alcoholic and regular churchgoer." As examples of other crime writers, she lists Dennis Lehane, Henning Mankell, Michael Connolly and "any number of others."

To that I would add the name of one of my favorites, Richard Price, who writes police procedurals. Christian faith plays a significant role in his 1998 Freedomland, perhaps because the detective is African-American, but Price has such a feel for the deep theme of unconditional grace that I was very surprised to learn that he is Jewish. This impulse is much less obvious in Clockers (1992) and Lush Life (2008), but it's there. (And in addition, they are terrific books. No one writes better dialogue, no one has a better sense of the streets.)

And finally--how could Cormac McCarthy not qualify? (Elie mentions him only to dismiss him.)  For what it's worth, I am a passionate fan of McCarthy. His suffused sense of Christianity and biblical themes is most obvious in No Country for Old Men and The Road, his most recent novels. Sunset Limited, which was presented on television recently with Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, also has a strong current of Christianity. Not so with Blood Meridian, his masterpiece; however, in its portrait of unalloyed, unredeemed evil, one can also discern something about the power of Sin and Death that makes that book, also, a rich lode for the seeker after the truth about this world so far fallen from its Creator.

The original article by Paul Elie can be read here:         

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Helen Mirren and the cocaine habit

The New York Times Magazine published an interview with Dame Helen Mirren (The Queen, Gosford Park, Prime Suspect, etc. etc. etc.) in which she was asked about her well-known use of and love of cocaine. She said this:
I haven't touched it for 20 years, and I gave it up for a very good reason, which is that it's not what it does to you, it's what it does to other people. The people who grow the coca leaves are brutalized and murdered, and that's the issue you forget when you're having a lovely time at a party. 
It seems to me that those words should be proclaimed from the housetops, pulpits, podiums, websites, and every other means of getting out the message, especially to young people.