According to Google, "What does it mean to leave the EU?" and "What is the EU?" are the top two questions UKers are asking the Internet after voting to exit the EU. I wish I could say I was shocked, but I'm not even surprised.
When Donald Trump trademarked Ronald Reagan's "Make America Great Again" slogan in 2012, his marketing strategy was intentional and insightful. For older conservatives who had lived through the Reagan years, the slogan hearkens back to an era of supply-side economic policies and the restoration of national morale after the Vietnam War. For younger voters and those unfamiliar with Reagan's speeches, the slogan is less historical than it is rhetorical. In the interest of understanding where this rhetorical power comes from, let's break the slogan down one word at a time, starting with "Again."
Again: The dictionary definition is fairly obvious: “once more; relating to a previous position or condition.” Again is nondescript, unspecific, and precisely because of that, inspiring. It rallies supporters to charge bravely towards something once held, like King Henry V rallied the troops into battle:
Once more [again] unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
Jesus said it, but before him Confucius said it too. So did the Roman stoic Seneca the Younger: "Do to others what you would have them do to you." So enough talk about closing our borders and building walls. This is the principle that led Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. to lead nonviolent revolutions, and I hope it continues to shape our individual, communal, national and global ethos.
It means trusting others and taking the long view of human nature, trusting that even if someone takes advantage of you at first, eventually, you'll win them over. And in Canada this week, we see the results:
I first encountered Andy Warhol's as a freshman in college. A friend, an art student, invited me to an art show at Michigan State University where one of Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans was on exhibit. I was aware of his work, but had never encountered it in person, and it made an impression: All the way home my friend and I argued about what constitutes "art." Warhol had hit a nerve. I was adamant that we were being conned, that pop art was a cheap trick and someone was taking advantage of our naiveté. My friend couldn't make up her mind one way or the other. I let the issue rest for several years, until another of Warhol’s pieces caught my eye. I was doing a Masters degree in theology at the time, when I became intrigued by Warhol's “The Big C.”
Andy Warhol was an anomaly at a time when people still believed in a mass-produced American dream. Although he was not outspoken enough to be a preacher, through his art he became a prophet ushering in a new America. Warhol prompted questions in viewers by rebelling against the standards of the time. Taking preexisting cultural images like a Campbell's Soup can or a photo of Marilyn Monroe, he presented them back to the American public as art. These common images were transformed into icons mediating between the way viewers’ perceived themselves and the way they acted within culture.
This presidential election is by far the craziest that I've witnessed in my 30 years on this planet. If you've been around longer and can remember another election season that comes even close, please leave a comment, I'd really be interested (apparently some of the Founding Father's could have held their own with Trump). But despite the name-calling and theatrics happening in the Republican debates recently, there have been some bright lights.
-JEB!, regarding dialogue and treating others with respect, even across party lines:
JEB!: "I don't think Barack Obama has bad motives. I just think he's wrong on a lot of issues... If you start with the premise that people have good motives, you can find common ground."
JEB! also points out that the divisiveness we've been seeing in Washington isn't present at the state and local level.
America needs more leaders who can admit this. I suspect that behind the scenes even Washington politicians get along better than the media portrays.
-Bernie Sanders on religion:
"I worry very much about a society where some people say spiritually, 'It doesn't matter to me. I got it [right]. I don't care about other people.' My spirituality is, we are all in this together. When children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me."
I'll leave it to the economists to prove whether or not Democratic Socialism has any real possibility of remedying these problems, but you don't have to agree with Bernie's politics to agree with his sentiments (I would point you to JEB!'s quote above). This idea is at the heart of Christianity: "Religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27). And as Bernie has pointed out in other places, it's also present in Judaism: "Love your neighbor as yourself; I am the L-RD... The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the L-RD am your God." (Leviticus 19:18, 34). And in Islam: "None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself" (An-Nawawi’s Forty, 13, 56, Hadith); "Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself, that you may be a believer" (Sukhanan-i-Muhammad, Teheran, 1938). To see examples from other religions, click here.
These are the bright lights I've seen this election, I'm sure there are others. Let's learn from them how to respect people on the other side of the aisle, and let's work together to care for those who are most vulnerable in our country, and in our world.
I started this post right after the State of the Union Address back in January, but before I could finish it, my economics class amped up and I haven't had a chance to finish it until now. With all the craziness going on in the political arena right now, it somehow seems important again...
The ongoing presidential debates mark the perfect time to take a brief look at logic and statistics. On any given issue, statistics are often used to create a bulletproof case, but things aren't always what they seem. In fact, statistics are tricky little buggers. They are used to strengthen arguments and make them appear logical, but how good is a statistic if you can't fact check it? Most of us aren't equipped to go beyond the basic steps of fact checking, even if the Internet makes it possible.
My rule of thumb: Do a quick Google search and look for multiple perspectives on the issue involved. If it's political, look for both conservative and liberal voices. If a study is mentioned, try to find the original and decipher it on your own, or look for a .edu website explaining it.
Here's an example from President Obama's 2016 State of the Union Address:
According to this speech, the U.S. spends "more on our military than the next eight nations combined." Presented this way, the numbers seem outrageous. Why are we spending so much on national defense when no one else even comes close? (By way of comparison, in 2009, U.S. defense spending accounted for 40% of global arms spending, and in 2012, our defense budget was 6x larger than China's).
Book Review: Scoring Transcendence: Contemporary Film Music as Religious Experience
By Kutter Calloway
Baylor University Press, 2013
As the title suggests, Scoring Transcendence by Kutter Calloway is concerned with parsing the theological implications of film music. Callaway’s thesis is premised on the notion that the divine Spirit is present and active in all human activities, including those activities outside the bounds of traditional religion. His goal in writing is to help readers become aware of the Spirit’s activity, particularly in our film experiences.
Callaway begins by showing that films, particularly film scores, have the potential to provide first-order spiritual encounters with the Transcendent. Using Pixar’s short library of animated films, his first set of examples will be accessible to most readers. Moreover, by starting with a list of films many would initially dismiss as “children’s movies,” Callaway is able to make a plausible case with more clarity and less effort than if he had begun with less accessible films like “The Tree of Life.”
Methodologically, Callaway engages in second order theological reflection by analyzing film scores, while first-order theological experiences are drawn from personal interviews with movie-goers and from his own encounters with the divine in film. This is essential to his argument that “’meaning’ emerges through the interplay between both the film’s form and the film’s reception.” In other
words, meaning cannot be solely deduced through the process of analytic logic from a distant observer, viewers engage a range of inherent meanings through the totality of their experiences. A two way hermeneutical movement occurs between our life experiences and our film experiences, so that what we experience in life affects how we watch films, yet our experiences watching films also profoundly impact the way we live our lives.
Cutter argues that the hermeneutic by which we interpret our film experience arises not only from the images we see on the screen, or even from the plot. The music functions to create a surplus of additional meaning over and above the images and stories. Calloway then uses specific examples from an array of films to show how a single musical theme or a major or minor key can change the way viewers interact with a story or scene.
The above raises a question: Does God reveal Godself through anything and everything? Callaway wants us to believe that the “inspiriting presence” of the divine is permeating creation with redemptive activity. The transcendent power of film scores has little to do with second order theology or the knowledge of God, it has rather to do with the human/divine encounter in what traditionally has been called “general revelation.”  For a Protestant theologian like Callaway, this naturally leads to a second question: does this focus on the divine Spirit promote a low Christology?
Traditionally, Protestant theology has been concerned with a high Christology, insisting from passages such as Colossians 1:15-23 that all things were “created for him (Jesus)… that in everything he might be preeminent” (ESV). By emphasizing general revelation and the work of the Spirit in all of humanity, does Callaway risk missing out on the core of the Christian message? Callaway’s research on nonreligious viewer reviewing websites reveals that many people have experiences with the transcendent through watching film. The Spirit’s indwelling presence frees us “to move beyond pure critique, celebrating and affirming the ways in which cultural products like film reflect the presence and movement of God in the world.”
Thus, Scoring Transcendence provides readers with the tools to deepen their understanding of the film watching experience, by viewing it theologically, as something greater than cognitive-emotional reaction, as divine encounter.
 Kutter Callaway, Scoring Transcendence: Contemporary Film Music as Religious Experience (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2013), 4.
 Callaway himself told me this was unintentional, a recommendation from the publisher. Originally, the Pixar chapter was the book’s conclusion.
 Callaway, 50.
 Ibid, 109.
 Ibid, 131.
 Ibid, 106.
 Ibid, 119.
 Ibid, 155.
 Ibid, 191.
The holidays threw me out of the habit of writing, but I promise to have regular posts again soon. In the meantime, watch this video from Evelyne Reisacher. I studied under her during my M.A., and she became one of my favorite professors for her compassion and insight.
Dr. Reisacher is professor of Islamic studies and intercultural relations, and this video (from an evangelical conference) is a must-watch for Christians concerned about the future of Christian/Muslim relations, Islam and the West, or Muslims in America... especially this election season.
Book Review: Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue
By Robert K. Johnston
Robert K. Johnston’s Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue explores the play between the words “real” and “reel.” Real spirituality is that which is true, authentic, and genuine. Reel spirituality is the spirituality that is attached to cinema, or film reels. The question this book seeks to answer is, “Is reel spirituality, real spirituality?” It is quickly apparent that the answer this book makes is an unabashed “yes.” Citing examples from more than 700 films, author Robert K. Johnston draws on the theological framework of “common grace” to illustrate how the axis of our experiential, or “Spirit oriented” and critical, or “Word oriented” human characteristics connect us with the reality of God interwoven in film.
In referring to spirituality, Johnston is not referring to religious acts performed or implied onscreen. It is rather the transcendent experience of the Holy had by the viewer that is in focus. When we watch films, we have the opportunity to vicariously experience more of life than we could without the stories, visuals, and audio cues onscreen. Films can transport us "to a more central region where life takes on a richness and texture not ordinarily experienced.” Moreover, through both the mundane (watching film) and the depiction of the mundane (the film itself), the Holy Spirit draws and instructs us (Is. 23:23-26, 29). As Johnston puts it, “God might attempt to bring the best out of us through the work of our wider culture (including the film industry).” The truth in film’s story, as it is shaped by the various aesthetic and dramatic effects, resonates with us in the core of our being. The Spirit uses it to engage and teach us in “all of life.” When this happens, reel spirituality is real spirituality.
While there are many strengths in Reel Spirituality, this review will focus on only one, what I am calling Johnston’s realism (as opposed to idealism). Realism is a humility which is uncharacteristic to many Evangelicals. Whereas an idealist approach pigeonholes films with keywords like "Christian" or defines the reaction viewers “ought” to have, Johnston’s realism accepts that people may have a wide array of responses to any given film. This realism does not prescribe reactions; rather, Johnston describes his own reactions and waits for others to declare what they experience. As noted above, Johnston’s pneumatology allows his realism to take this broad perspective: “Christians need not claim that non-Christian filmmakers are covert Christians or simply appropriate from their movies what is congenial to or congruent with their understanding of the Christian faith.” Viewers are free to accept and contemplate the real effects any film has on them; there is no need to cognitively reduce spiritual experiences to so-called “Christian films,” nor is there a need to suggest that all of our “spiritual” experiences are clearly and explicitly Christian in content. This approach is manifested in Johnston’s own descriptions of the films that have affected him. As we read his stories, we are drawn into the narrative of his own personal experiences with film.
For anyone who has grown up in an overly-realist theological culture, this book offers a breath of fresh air by allowing us to acknowledge our participation in the Spirit in films’ affective influence. Moreover, reel spirituality frees film viewers to partake in conversations about film without feeling pressure to arrive at a predetermined conclusion. Finally it allows us to begin probing the hearts and minds of fellow viewers to discern where the Spirit is moving through the magical medium of film.
 Robert K. Johnston, Reel Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006). 282.
 Johnston, 97.
 Johnston, 266.
 Johnston, 99.
 Johnston, 94.
 Johnston, 100.
 Johnston, 56.
 Johnston, 22.
I hate to admit it, but the people linking Daesh with the end of the world are right. Not in the way they imagine, of course—yesterday's violence is not a sign of the apocalypse or the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy (unless you count Lamech ).
These attacks mark the end of the world only for those whose sense of peace and security is now forever altered, for those who will never feel safe in a concert hall again, for those whose loved ones will never return, and most of all, for those whose lives were tragically cut short.
For the victims of these attacks, the world has already ended. The safe, modern Paris they once inhabited is gone. Carefree nights strolling along the Seine, eating and drinking at the bistros and nightclubs will be replaced by anxious meals at home. Concerts that once provided entertainment and a sense of escape will now trigger only flashbacks. Happy dreams will be replaced by nightmares. Some will even move away from the city, returning to small town life with a haunted look in their eyes.
They now exist in a different world, a world where nothing is safe, a world already inhabited by every rape victim, every domestic abuse survivor, every combat veteran, every innocent child whose cries were stifled, every person traumatized and scarred by violence.
But while their world has ended,
…ours has not
Intersecting is a blog that explores the connections between religion, philosophy, politics, film, psychology, science... and everything else
Innovation is found at the intersection of ideas, concepts and cultures
-The Medici Effect
If the medicine is good, the disease will be cured. It is not necessary to know who prepared it, or where it came from
When you water the root of the tree, that water naturally extends to every branch and every leaf and every flower on that tree. So when we actually find the origin of true pleasure, in feeling the infinite sweet love that God has for us, and in realizing our potential to love God, that love naturally extends to all living beings.