Saturday, November 27, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One

I finally went to see the new Harry Potter movie yesterday. Really enjoyed it. The acting, again, was excellent, the pace was great, and there were plenty of lighthearted moments amidst the dark story.

As I've said throughout the movie series, they have done a great job balancing being faithful to the books while making changes to make it work as a movie. I think this has been crucial to the success of the movies: they have given us a good story while maintaining the overall ethics found in the series. Movies adapted from books are at a disadvantage storytelling wise because A) they cannot completely convey the characters thinking and reasoning (Harry's point of view, so crucial to the books) and B) thousand page books can vividly create pictures that movies can only be faithful too, not completely reproduce. Things had to be left out (and some new material created) in order to capture the detail and the themes of the book.

Overall, the movie gets things right. But I think, since this is only "Part One" of the final book, that it's not time to reflect on the movie as a whole. Instead, I thought it might be interesting to focus on some of the changes and cuts from book to movie that stood out to me, to consider what themes and ethics were lost (or gained) by the movie.

(If you haven't seen the movie yet, you might want to stop reading this blog post now. In other words: SPOILERS AHEAD)

CHANGE: Hermione wipes her parents minds of her memory. (Instead of her parents leaving the country to keep them safe)

Results: Might seem like a little change, but it was very effective in conveying the high stakes of what is to come.

(NOTE: It was pointed out to me that this does happen in the book!Hermione tells Ron & Harry that she's modified her parents' memories. The movie shows it in time order with a scene not in the book. Thanks to LaVonne Neff for mentioning this! As I think about it, the movie does a really good job about addressing Harry's instinct to go off on his own to protect others, and Ron & Hermione's countering of his "hero tendency". The movie conversation with Ron as he catches Harry trying to leave is another effective illustration.)

CUT: Dudley expressing concern and respect for Harry

Results: I think this was an unfortunate cut. Growth in a non-magical Muggle is not found in many places, and, after years of horrible treatment by his blood family, Dudley extending his hand to Harry is proof that anyone can change and open his heart. This knowledge is critical to Harry's growth, and is shown in his choices as the book concludes.

CHANGE: Hedwig is killed while defending Harry (instead of her being stuck by a stray wand bolt while in her cage)

Results: I understand this change: it would have been really hard and complicated to show Hedwig mad with Harry and refusing to speak to him, hiding her face in her wing. I like this ending better for Hedwig and Harry: she died while trying to protect him. However, I believe what is lost is a critical point of the book: death can come at anytime, and it won't always wait for you to reconcile arguments. Life is short and precious, and when we leave things at a place of anger, we may never get the opportunity to express our true feelings. There's a clear word of warning here (as well as a clear sign from the author that no character is safe from death), and while it makes sense movie-wise to change it, I can't help but feel we lost an important point.

(By making Hedwig's sacrifice the "sign" to Voldemort, we also lose Harry's choice to disarm instead of hurt/kill those attacking him, which alerts the Death Eaters that he is the "real Harry" by his use of his trademark spell. I think this is another nice ethical question lost by the movie, but it is demonstrated in other places of the story.)

CUT: Lupin's attempt to join Harry, Hermione & Ron.

Results: I missed this. A lot. The results of this moment is that Harry, in the book, calls Lupin a coward, shocking everyone. Harry's anger at Lupin for his willingness to abandon his family to go off with them is a big loss ethics/theme wise to the story. Harry gets plenty of things wrong in the books, but he rightly points out that Lupin is giving in to fear with this request. I will say that this might make it's way into Part Two. Tonks was going to tell Harry something (Lupin and I are having a baby!) right before they all took flight, and Mad-Eye shuts her down. So I get the feeling that they will touch on this somehow. They may have the Lupin/Harry confrontation out of order (which would work), or they might bypass it to simply tell Harry that he's going to be a Godparent (which would be unfortunate).

CUT: No change in Kreacher due to kindness by Harry, Ron & Hermoine

Results: BOOOOOOOO!!! One can argue that one of the MAJOR THEMES of the book is the impaired relationship between wizards and non-wizards due to wizards thinking they are better than others, and nowhere has it been more crucial than the House Elves. Furthermore, Harry's MAJOR weakness is that hate tends to blind him. I re-watched the 6th movie the day before going, and Lupin says aloud "Harry, your hate (for Snape) continues to blind you!" Harry blames Kreacher for Sirius's death, and cannot see that Kreacher is a product of wizard hate. The book transforms Kreacher in dramatic fashion, and starts Harry on his way to learning not to give in to hate. The movie even sends Kreacher on the task the book does, but fails to "convert" him to a way other than hate. A big missed opportunity, although there is still some hope that the movie may have this happen in Part Two.

CHANGE: Harry & Ron overpower Wormtail (instead of Wormtail's hesitation, resulting in his silver hand taking over)

Results: It means we still don't know about what it means to be in a "wizard's life debt" to someone. However, Wormtail is still alive for now, so I have a feeling that the movie will get to this later.

CHANGE: The big foreboding movie ending, with Voldermort obtaining the Elder Wand (early)

Results: I thought this was a really effective ending to the first movie (at least, what I could see of it, my eyes watery because of Dobby). Now a day later, I wonder what is lost by Harry, Ron & Hermione not having the conversation about trying to beat Voldermort to the wand. In the book, it's a critical moment for Harry (he resists his tendency to prematurely go off to be hero, and instead sticks to the task of eliminating Horcruxes). I wonder how (if) the movie will now address this.

It sounds like a lot of criticism, but what this really points to is how strong and packed the Harry Potter series is. Even by missing a number a things, the movie is an example of powerful storytelling of real-life human themes.

(There are also many more cuts & changes that I didn't touch on: feel free to mention them!!!)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Odd Ending to the Church Year

(A Sermon preached on "The Reign of Christ" and Luke 23:33-43 at All Saints' Littleton on 11/21/2010)

If you’ve been coming to church for any length of time, you may now be used to hearing things that seem odd, or a bit out of the ordinary.

Sometimes its Jesus words that seem to go against the norm: blessed are the poor, love your enemies, do good to those that hate you. Even though we may have heard them many times before, Jesus words can still strike us as odd.

The church itself also has its share of odd things, ranging from the beliefs it holds to the way it does things. Often, it seems to be out of step with the usual, or at least, different.

Take, for example, its sense of the year: most of you have heard before that the church year starts with four weeks of Advent. New Year’s for the church is not January 1st, or the kickoff of Fall programs every year, but the first of four Sundays before Christmas.

Next Sunday, it’s appropriate to make a big deal of the start of Advent: the beginning of the church year. That’s a little odd when January 1st New Year’s is so firmly part of our culture (and in reality, is something that is still celebrated in most churches).

At least the explanation makes sense: we can see the value in having Christmas, the birth of Jesus, near the beginning of our Church year. Advent, in large part a time of waiting and preparation for Christmas, then easily fits into the start of the Church year. Story-wise, this all makes sense.

Today, we have the final Sunday of our Church year: the Last Sunday after Pentecost. Sometimes this is referred to as “Christ the King” Sunday, or “The Reign of Christ.”

The day begins as might be expected, with the Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and for ever. Amen.

Along with the next two readings that follow, we seem to have perfectly set up a final great image of Jesus in glory. One might expect that an image of the resurrected Jesus will close the story and end the Church year.

Instead, we get a crucifixion story: Jesus hanging on the cross, dying.

This seems to be more than just a bit out of the ordinary…

Our Church year ends with what is easily perceived to be a great failure: Jesus, called God’s Messiah, the chosen one, the King of the Jews, is executed like a common criminal. He is disgraced. People now used the names that once expressed exultation as mocking public ridicule. Go ahead Jesus, Chosen One, save yourself!

Eberhard Busch writes:

“These last moments of Jesus’ life all seem to be in contrast to what is valued as great in our world. The world presented to us in newspapers or on television is not poor, but is a world of glamour. In this world, the ideal is to be rich and beautiful and influential. The pressure of this ideal is like an infection that overtakes us as we strive for it. In this world, one has to be successful. In this world, the slogan is “Help yourself!” and with this slogan you may survive.”
(Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylors, eds., 2010, p. 332)

In terms of ruling in the way it was always understood, Jesus fails miserably. He did not meet the world’s expectation of being “chosen”.

His followers, however, came to realize that Jesus in truth accomplished all he was called to do, and more. Jesus offers a drastically different image of what it means to be exulted, what real power is, and what God’s world is really about. Jesus transforms the understanding of chosen. No longer is it climbing the power ladder. It is not about succeeding on the world’s terms: acquiring money, resources, and the power to dominate others. It is not about creating a new system that defines where some are in, and others are out.

The vision of the Reign of Christ, the end of our Church year, is a vision of a world that lives in the hope expressed by the final words of the Gospel passage: “today you will be with me in Paradise.” This is not about being whisked away to heaven, but an understanding that, even now, in the midst of brokenness and uncertainty, God’s love for us is here to stay. It is not necessary to “help ourselves” to a portion of what the world has valued as “great.” We already have what we need: we have already been chosen.

At the close of the Church Year, the hope is that we can now begin to see the whole story. We are hopefully starting to understand that what Jesus values in us and the world is not the stuff that the world has associated with success, but the love and presence of God in everyone. The hope and challenge for us is to believe that our lives can be part of this vision: that our lives can ultimately reflect the transforming love of God.

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt.1 out TONIGHT!!!

I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention that HP7a comes out tonight at midnight.

Since I'm currently in San Antonio for the Episcopal Schools Conference (on behalf of The White Mountain School), Darlene and I will see the movie next week.

Here's a link to my blog post on the 6th movie, and an Ash Wednesday sermon featuring Harry Potter. I'll write a blog post on the new movie after I see it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bishop Robinson’s Retirement: The Hope in What Comes Next

The news accounts of Bishop Robinson announcing his plans to retire in January 2013 have all focused on the toll that the past seven years have taken on the Bishop.

Certainly it is true that there have been a great many challenges along the way. I’m not sure that anyone knew the extent of reaction (and reaction...and reaction...) that has taken place since the bishop was first elected.

However, I think that there’s a great deal more that needs to be said about not only the decision by Bishop Robinson to retire, but what comes next, then what has been found in the press.

And, I believe I’m in a position to voice some of these things...

Now, I’m well aware (from my own past experience) about the potential dangers of saying out loud any speculation concerning what a Bishop (especially a clergy person's Diocesan Bishop) might be thinking....

Despite this, I have decided to risk saying a few things: perhaps because I both feel good about where I am right now (rector at a wonderful church), and yet I’m still young (naive?) enough to think that this won’t come back to bite me...

And to be clear: these are MY impressions:

I was present when Bishop Robinson publicly announced his retirement the other week. I saw and heard how emotional he was during his address as he defined an end to his time as the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire.

The press picked up on this, in the quotes and tone.

The Associated Press article, picked up by the majority of the mainstream press:

Bishop V. Gene Robinson...announces that he will step down in 2013, citing the 'constant strain' of the controversy surrounding his election.

"The fact is, the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family, and you," the bishop said in prepared remarks released by the diocese. "Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as bishop have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark."

First of, it must be said plainly that nine years is about the average time for the tenure of a Diocesan Bishop: retirement at this point is not out of the ordinary.

It seemed to me, however, that he was not that emotional recounting the abnormalities of his time as bishop, but at the prospect of leaving the relationship as Bishop for the Diocese.

At our Clergy Retreat, a few weeks ago, he gave no hint that an announcement was coming. But upon reflection, I see perhaps another part of his reasoning to retire.

Bishop Robinson had just filmed an “It Gets Better” for YouTube: videos have been made in the wake of the alarming trend of GLBT teen suicides. In his video message, the Bishop spoke hopeful words to anyone struggling, and offered himself...a gay man, and a bishop in the Episcopal an example that it will get better. It was a beautiful, powerful message.

Referring to the video, Bishop Robinson paused and became quiet among his clergy, and said something to this effect (my memory’s version, not the exact quote):

“I always wonder when I speak on GLBT issues on the effect it has on you and the rest of the Diocese. I have to speak sometimes, but I always pause and wonder what you all must be thinking...”

We as a group assured him that we were proud of him, and pleased by his message.

Thinking of it now, however, I see a very clear reality: Bishop Robinson has always said what a great honor it is to serve as Bishop of New Hampshire. He’s said numerous times: “It is only here where I am no longer ‘the gay bishop’, but just ‘The Bishop.’”

Along with the honor of being a Diocesan Bishop, comes a great weight. I’m guessing that every time Bishop Robinson speaks in public, he must ask himself, “What will this mean for the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire? How will my words be interpreted, and reflected back on our churches? While my words may be true, I wonder if they will make life harder for the people in our churches that I love so dearly?”

I think that this is the unspoken truth influencing his decision to retire.

Look closely again at the context of the words most quoted by the press (the capitalizations are Bishop Robinson’s):

“The fact is, the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family, and YOU. Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as Bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark, who has faithfully stood with me every minute of the last seven years, and in some ways, YOU. While I believe that these attitudes, mostly outside the Diocese, have not distracted me from my service to you, I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that they have certainly added a burden and certain anxiety to my episcopate."

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the “gay bishop,” has become the best-known Episcopalian in the world. People are passionate about their feelings for him (whether they have met him or not). He is as close to “rock star status” in the general public that an Episcopal Bishop will ever be (yes, even more so that John Shelby Spong).

Ironically, those who have been against him are responsible for pushing him into this position: there’s no other way an Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire becomes so famous.

And, incredibly, there are even more people currently OUTSIDE “the church” who hold Bishop Robinson in high regard.

If there is anything that has held him back from being a BIGGER voice for inclusion in the world (painting a radically different portrait of what Christians are called to be), it’s his love and his sense of responsibility for the Episcopalians of New Hampshire. There can be no doubt that his primary focus has always been for the people who have elected him to be their bishop.

We in the Diocese of New Hampshire get to hold onto him for a few more years. He has assured that we will continue to grow as a Diocese, even as we move towards an Episcopal search and transition process. His retirement changes nothing about our commitment to a radically inclusive church that welcomes people where they are and explores life’s questions within the framework of the Good News of Jesus.

The hope, however, lies beyond the Diocese of New Hampshire. I expect (and pray for) a very visible and vocal Gene Robinson. His unique perspective as the first openly gay bishop in the church, and his commitment to widening (and even bursting) the current drawn circles (real or assumed) of who’s in and who’s out of Jesus’ picture of God’s community, promises to shine light on a type of Christianity that is still far too unknown. Freed from the beloved responsibility for the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire, I expect a bold new focus of ministry for the Bishop: a message to those who have previously given up on the church for being too hypocritical, too closed, and too unlike Jesus, that today’s (and tomorrow’s) Episcopal Church now offers something old AND new.

That vision is desperately needed in today’s world, and Bishop Robinson is once again in the position to open the door and reveal what has been previously hidden: the truth that God’s grace is so much more than we have previously been told, and more without bounds than we could have possibly imagined...

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Strange Good News for the Saints of God

(A sermon preached on All Saints' Sunday at All Saints' Church, using Luke 6:20-31 on 11/7/2010)

All Saints' Sunday is a joyous day, and a GREAT day to be at a church named All Saints'!

It is the day that we, as the hymn goes, "Sing a song of the Saints' of God". Some of the "Saints" we celebrate are those who are remembered for special service. That would include some people from New Hampshire like Philander Chase, born in Cornish, NH in 1775 who served in the church as a clergy person for years, before becoming the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, while attending seminary, heard the call of Dr. Martin Luther King and traveled to Selma, Alabama in the summer of 1965. He was killed as he shielded a 16 year-old African American girl from a bullet fired by an angry white man.

All Saints' Day is not just for those who ended up in the history books: we are all called, by virtue of our Baptism, to be Saints of the Lord. All Saints' is not just our feast day of our church, but is the celebration for everyone, of everyone.

This morning, however, we have strange Good News for the Saints of God:

(Jesus) looked up at his disciples and said:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

Some wish list: being poor, hungry, weeping, hated and defamed. At least in Matthew’s version (5:3-12), much of it gets spiritualized:

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Matthew’s version we can say okay to: in them we hear the spiritual side of the blessings.

Luke does no such thing, and puts a strange truth in our face.

After all, the truth is that the poor would not choose to remain so. Those who are hungry would like something to eat. Those weeping do not wish to remain overcome by grief. And there’s no doubt that it’s painful for our souls to be hated.

Jesus does what he always does throughout Luke’s Gospel. He brings words or hope, healing where he can, and a constant reminder of the presence of God. The good news is that the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated and the defamed are blessed: that’s counter to the conventional wisdom, which said that their afflictions were signs of cursing from God. Those in trouble, and those pushed to the outside are well aware that they do not have the power to control all things. Jesus states, without a shadow of doubt, that they are God’s beloved no matter what judgments other people make about their life’s situations.

Jesus, however, has more to say:

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Here’s some more truth: in general, Jesus’ words here are about us. While it is true that this economy is tough for many of us, most of us know where we will be sleeping tonight. Most of us will eat something today. Most of us will not be weeping constantly today, and few of us are hated and despised (or at least, there is someone who loves us and speaks well of us).

I’m pretty sure that Jesus doesn’t want us to suddenly become poor, hungry, weeping, hated and defamed. I think, however, that it’s very easy to believe the conventional wisdom that the good things found in our life: our homes, our food, our reasons for laughter and the good words people speak of us, are blessings from God. When we think of these, we often can’t help but say that we are blessed. And, after all, we are blessed. But what really makes us blessed? Are we blessed by what we do? Are we blessed by what others say about us? Are we blessed by what we have? If our ability to do, if the good things people say, and if the things that we have disappeared tomorrow, wouldn’t we likely assume that we must have done something wrong? Why is God doing this to me (or at least allowing it)? What have we done to be cursed?

We are easily seduced by the lie here: that God’s blessing is shown by what we do, what others say about us, and by what we have. When things are good, and compared to most of the rest of the world, things are good, we tend to think that we have the power to control all things in our life. There’s not much need for God if that’s true.

We miss the truth that we are God’s beloved not by what we do, what others say about us, and by what we have. We are God’s beloved simply in our being.

Finally, Jesus has these words for us:

But I say to you that listen:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What we say and what we do does indeed matter, but it’s not about earning God’s love or securing a place in heaven. Instead, it’s something even bigger.

Using this text yesterday at Diocesan Convention, Bishop Robinson said that we know a living God who loves us and enables us to do all sorts of things.

We are, however, faced with a decision: We can be admirers of Jesus, or we can be disciples.

In truth, Jesus doesn’t need any more admirers. What Jesus needs are those willing to give up some of their blessings for others. And, ironically, Jesus says that we will be cursed if we don’t use our blessings.

I happen to agree.

God desires wholeness for all. God yearns for a world where no one is poor, hungry, hated or defamed, and through all of us God is working to make this vision, this dream for the world, a reality.

Clearly, we’re not there yet.

I think Jesus is suggesting radical action on our part. We are to say and do things and ultimately live our lives in a way that counters the usual.

As Christians, the things that we have often called blessings: things like our time, our abilities, and our money, are to be used in Jesus’ name towards reconciling God’s beloved, in other words, for everyone.

I believe that this is living life as a Saint of God. And fortunately, the afore mentioned hymn reminds us, that there are people out there willing to live their lives this way:

You can meet them in school or in lanes, or at sea,

in a church or in trains, or in shops or at tea,

for the Saints of God are just folk like me

and I mean to be one to.

Blessed be the Name of God. Amen.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

I would have loved to go to this: it's my kind of protest.

Marching for real dialogue. Committing to talk to others despite deep divisions or difference.

I believe Steward's point of the rally is that the majority of the people want to work together and respectfully hear what others have to say, but the vocal minority (who insist the other side is the enemy and less than) dominate the airways thanks to many in media who look to sensationalize the story.

I want to point out that this "vocal minority" is not necessarily the "activists" on either side: you can be very active, passionate, and looking for major changes and still do so respectfully. I think the key is checking the ego and being honest about motivation: who benefits...why is it do you feel this way, who have you listened to, and who's missing from your perspective.

It's the yelling and demonizing that Steward points out as a major part of the problem (and the press playing these things up). I happen to agree with him.

This haunts many a religious discussion as well...

Click here to read John Avlon's op-ed of the rally