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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Sherlock series ends with a mind-blowing finale.

This past Sunday evening, Janet and I watched the finale of the latest Sherlock series.  It was a test in patience, I have to confess, but the reward was wonderful!

(I’ll try not to give anything away for those of you who haven’t seen the episode yet.  But reader beware!)

Part way through the episode, I was on the verge of walking out because of the violence.  The episode was quite violent.  I also found the production values to be more oriented to younger viewers, and this baby boomer finds the quick changes of view and the multi-dimensional shots somewhat disorienting.  However, I persisted and deeply appreciated the ending.

In general, I find Sherlock to be more than just a new rendition of the Sherlock Holmes character.  The plots and portrayals of Holmes and Watson give us pause to consider our own lives.  What lies beneath the surface of our masks?  What secrets do we hold onto?  What memories have we suppressed?  How do we view the world and take in the many stimuli we experience?  How do we make deductions?  How do we decide what to value?  To whom do we give our loyalty?

This finale was particularly explosive in the way it blew apart the fa├žade of over-rationalization.  It captured the sense that as a Western society, we rely way too much on our reason and logical thinking.  We have lost touch with our emotions and sense of what we value at the core of our beings.  This finale of the Sherlock season invited us to think about our relationships and the very basic fact that we all, despite our imperfections and challenges, need love.

I gather from reading some of the reviews of the finale that the number of viewers in the UK was down significantly.  Some of the complaints of viewers centre on the fact that the plots were too complicated.  People didn’t want to have to think, and, more importantly, feel.

The man who plays Mycroft, Sherlock’s older and patronizing brother, is the creator of this series, Mark Gatiss; he’s also a co-writer.  He said that he wanted people to be challenged.  And responding to the criticism that the plots are too complicated he said that if people want something simple, they should read a children’s book.  (See the Daily Mail online and other entertainment news.)

This Sherlock series was complicated and you had to pay attention.  But that’s good.  It certainly made me think about my own life and what I hold dear, the losses that I have faced.  It made me think about my own fears and how to confront them.  It calls to mind the warning at the beginning of Knowledge Network dramas; I can’t remember the actual phrase but it’s something like: “This program contains scenes that are difficult and challenging… kind of like real life.”  While the actual events of the finale weren’t at all like real life, the underlying questions were.

What did you think?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Magnificent Seven? Not so magnificent!

I don’t consider myself to be a movie buff, but I enjoy a good movie every now and then.  During the 12 Days of Christmas, I watched the remake of The Magnificent Seven.  I remember seeing the old Magnificent Seven and some of the old Westerns—I guess that marks me of a certain era!  I enjoyed the old movie and, since I’ve enjoyed Denzel Washington’s acting, thought I’d watch the new Magnificent Seven.

I have to say that I was extremely disappointed in the new rendition of the old movie.  I confess that I’m now quite disillusioned with Denzel Washington.  I know that he’s played a multitude of characters from villains to the good guy to everything in between, and his acting is always great, but after seeing Magnificent Seven, my estimation of Denzel dropped a notch.

A few years ago, I saw The Book of Eli, which starred Washington; I had a strong visceral reaction to the violence depicted in that movie and to the premise that the King James Version of the Bible will save us.

What I found with these Washington movies is that they glorified violence to a very high degree, justifying Washington’s character’s use of violence because he was an agent of good.  These two movies presented a false dichotomy between good and evil.  The villains were stereotypically bad and Washington’s characters correspondingly stereotypically righteous.

Real life is never either one way or another.  Real life is always a bit of this and a bit of that; it is always grey.  Villains are never completely bad and good people never always good.  We are quite simply… human!

And yet, The Magnificent Seven draws us into this false world of extremes.  Is the hero justified in using violence to the degree that he did?  Do we take away from this movie the idea that only by exacting revenge with prejudice will we see justice?  Is the military-industrial complex myth that might will win out at play in this movie, and is it a depiction of reality?

As a proponent of non-violence as a legitimate means for achieving peace with justice, I object to the irresponsible use of violence as an agent of goodness, which we often see in Hollywood movies.  I object to the dualistic and simplistic portrayal of good and evil.  I object to the Western myth that a six-shooter will always get you justice.

Alternatively, I would like to commend a couple of Tommy Lee Jones movies I’ve seen recently: In the Valley of Elah and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.  Jones plays complex characters who are trying to do what is right for the sake of justice; but Jones’ characters often make mistakes.  These movies lift up for us the human condition of trying to make sense of how we might live together with all of our differences.

As a follower of Jesus and the Way of Love, I affirm that there is a different path to justice than always reverting to violence.  We need to change our stories and our myths to present a truer vision of humanity and another possibility, i.e. that justice can be achieved through love, reconciliation, human encounter, compassion, and hope.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

JANUARY 6th—Happy Epiphany!

Epiphany is one of my favourite feasts in the Christian calendar.  It doesn’t get much attention in the dominant culture, which is kind of nice, especially after all of the attention Christmas gets.

Epiphany is a much bigger celebration in the Eastern Orthodox traditions of the church. And in fact, Epiphany was the more important early winter festival that highlighted the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.  Christmas only began to be celebrated in the 4th century, taking over a number of Roman festivals, i.e. Saturnalia, Juvenalia, and the birth day of Mithra, the god of the sun.

Christmas started in Rome, spread to Egypt by the 430’s and to England by the end of the 6th century.  By the end of the 8th century, Christmas was celebrated in all of the northern countries.  It was first called the Feast of the Nativity and many of the traditions now considered Christmas traditions were taken from the festivals that occurred in December in particular countries… Christmas trees, Yule festivals, lights, certain foods, etc.

The history of Epiphany is more religious.  In the Eastern Church, it had more to do with Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan and “manifestation,” i.e. the literal meaning of epiphany.  In the Western Church, the visit of the Magi was emphasized as a symbol of Jesus’ manifestation to the world.  Some trace the origins of Epiphany back to 200 and Clement of Alexandria, who emphasized the baptism of Jesus.

However you cut it, epiphany refers to “a manifestation of Christ to the world.”  Epiphany also marks the end of the 12 Days of Christmas.  Some cultures eat Three Kings Cakes, some chalk the door in order to bless one’s home, and many mark the day with a feast.  The night before Epiphany is also known as 12th Night.  In Greece, the day is known as The Day of Lights.

In the Russian and Ukrainian Churches, with the emphasis on baptism, there is tradition of breaking a hole in the ice of a river or lake and having pilgrims dip into the frigid water.  (Maybe a bit like our polar bear swims.)  It is a baptismal idea that we wash off the old year and the things we want to discard and then rise as new people.  Many years ago, while visiting a Ukrainian friend for Ukrainian Christmas, we watched a program, all in Ukrainian—which neither of us understood—and marveled at these people daring to immerse themselves in the frigid waters of some river or other in the Ukraine!  In January!  In spite of not understanding the language, we understood and appreciated the symbolism.

Like the Greeks, at Epiphany I think of the gift of light and the light of love that resides in each of us and all creation.  I think Epiphany invites us into the realm of mysticism and invites a renewed sense of wonder and awe.  Christ is light of the world that points to the light that is in all of us.  This is especially poignant to us in the northern hemisphere when the days are short and the nights long and light is precious.  (Not having experienced the southern hemisphere in January, I don’t know how the sense of light plays out at Epiphany—perhaps there is an enjoyment of the long days and short nights.)

Beginning the year from a mystical place of awe and wonder leads us to desire opportunities for awe and wonder for all people, especially those who are living in fear of violence, poverty or oppression.  The source for my own sense of justice and my own activism stems from this deeply planted and mystical idea that the Light of Christ is present in me, in you and in all that has life.

I wish you all a blessed Epiphany and may you experience a renewed sense of the awe and wonder of life… your life and all life!