Monthly Archives: March 2012

Tudor Morality Plays in Modern Cinema: Central Character

An earlier post, entitled Set, Costumes, and Dance of Death, began a series of posts about the relationship between Tudor morality plays and modern cinema. I want to continue that series here addressing the central of lead character’s role in both morality plays and modern cinema. Throughout the series I have chosen to employ the film Repo Men as representative of modern cinema. If you are unfamiliar with the film, perhaps this article would be more meaningful after reading the plot summary linked above.

The central figure or series of figures in morality plays define the concept of what it means to be human. Ancillary characters, defined by their function, stand at the service of the plot, which is ritualized, dialectical, and inevitable.[1] The character roles provide for the standard plot arrangement, which necessarily includes that man, exists, he falls, but he is saved. This pattern is repeated in form for every morality play. Unlike the secular life cycle [man lives then dies with no eternal consequence], man is delivered by divine grace to gain salvation and eternal life. The plays remind the audience that “the end of human life is not ‘mere oblivion’ but regeneration: never death, always a rebirth.”[2] The offer of life fulfilled would have significance in the period of history where man found himself ensconced in significant disease, plague, and premature death.[3]

Remy portrays this humanness and the plot of Repo Men follows the arrangement of innocence, fall, and restoration found in morality plays. The two are interrelated in many ways. Remy’s humanness appears early in the film as the opening scenes have him at a typewriter without a shirt composing what he later terms as a cautionary tale.[4] The bareness of Remy, in the way he was famed in the shot at the typewriter, appearing almost naked delivered an image of innocence. However, the content of the typed message (and revealed later in the plot) narrated by Remy display the final movement of a play involving repentance. One way the plot progressed is by counting the time Remy was knocked unconscious. This act marks major milestones in his life. (1) He was knocked unconscious in Army training which enabled to him to qualify for tank duty. This was his first encounter with killing humans. Remy and Jake celebrated at tank rounds obliterated enemy vehicles. (2) While they celebrated in a bar upon return from the war, Remy was knocked unconscious. Remy recounts that “one night the war was over and we were all dressed up and nowhere to go….For us the war never ended it just changed venue”[5] Remy and Jake find a way to continue their killing through legal means with repossession jobs for the Union company. (3) While doing his final repossession before consenting with his wife’s desire for him to move to sales, Remy is knocked unconscious by the sabotaged defibrillator. At this point he received a heart transplant which placed him in the debt of the Union. More importantly, he realized the humanness of his victims. After returning to work, Remy attempted to continue to repossess organs, but cannot complete the task. While sitting in a bar with colleagues that were recounting stories of whimpering victims, Remy recounted to himself, “All I can think about is how that schmuck has a name, and a wife, and kids.”[6] This is an important turn in plot as Remy now begins his journey of redemption. He attempts to reunite with his wife and family but is spurned. This forced him to move in with Jake. (4) Because Remy is unable to repo, he took the sales job, but fell behind on his heart transplant payments. Jake drove him to a target rich area to help him get regain confidence. While there a potential victim knocked him out. When Remy awoke he encountered Beth, whom he heard singing earlier in a bar. He rescued Beth from drugs and ultimately from being repossessed as she had many transplants. Remy narrated, “The thing is I have an artificial heart, she has an artificial everything else; maybe we’re two parts of the same puzzle. Maybe it’s not just her I’m trying to save.”[7] Remy understood that through saving Beth he is saving him self. (5) The final knock out came by way of Jake in a confrontation with Remy and Beth in the underground. The movie leads the viewer to perceive that all ends well. Remy, Beth, and Jake team up to bring down the Union and escape to the tropics to live happily ever after, but this is a fantasy all in Remy’s neural mind plant. When Jake knocked out Remy in the underground, Remy suffered brain damage and does not regain consciousness. Instead he is implanted with a “M5 Neural Net” device that allows victims of brain damage to live out the rest of their natural lives as Frank advertised– “where they are always happy, always content, and always taken care of.”[8]Therefore Remy portrayed the major movements of the morality play: innocence, fall, and redemption. Each time Remy regained consciousness, he entered a new movement, ultimately entering “heaven” with the M5 Neural Net device supplied by Jake.

[1] Robert A. Potter, The English Morality Play: Origins, History, and Influence of a Dramatic Tradition (London; Boston: Routledge & K. Paul, 1975), 7.

[2] Ibid.,  10.

[3] Colin Platt, Medieval England: A Social History and Archaeology from the Conquest to 1600 A.D (London; New York: Routledge, 1994), 137.

[4] Sapochnik, “Repo Man,” 1:23-1:57:46.

[5] Ibid.,  32:05-32:11.

[6] Ibid.,  40:49-41:43.

[7] Ibid.,  57:35-57:56.

[8] Ibid.,  1:52:47-1:52:59.



Filed under Aesthetics, Community, Gospel and Film, Philosophy, Spirituality

“Hey, I’ve got an idea…”: A youth ministry’s honorable intentions

Washington Post: Church’s mock raid leaves teen traumatized

“They covered the teens’ heads with pillowcases and bound their hands. One man waved an unloaded gun, and another yelled, his face daubed with camouflage paint.”

All youth directors want to impact their youth. They attempt to prepare teens for the world they will soon face apart from their parents protective bubble. Many directors also desire to provide insight into a larger view of church, by informing the teens, that not all Christians can worship and discuss their faith as freely as they can in the US. Both of these objectives are honorable. However, how far should one go to introduce teens into realities many Christian in the world outside the US face on a daily basis?

Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church decided that a mock kidnapping would be an activity to help the teens see the world many missionaries face.  It did not go well. It “traumatized one 14-year-old girl so badly that her mother filed a report with the police, claiming her daughter suffered a busted lip and bruised knees.” The teens were forced at (unloaded) gunpoint from the church, their heads were covered, they were interrogated, yelled at, then released. The church has since admitted it was a bad idea.

Just like this director, many teen group directors have honorable intentions when designing programs and events to impact a teen’s world. They feel the pressure to compete with all the glossy media and gaming that are a large part of teen life. I would suggest trying two things. First display authenticity, a teen doesn’t need the next big thing to impact their world, they need to know how to authentically live out their faith with all the failures and triumphs. Second, (and closely related to the first) teach them their worldview. The majority of pre-teens/teens have no real clue how their faith connects to the real world. Teach them how to see and interpret the world through their faith. Show them how world events and their actions should be informed by their faith. Let their faith kidnap their heart. Give them lenses to see the world.

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Filed under Community, Current Church Trends, Ethics, Spirituality, Theology

Religion under fire?

Among the public overall, 23 percent describe the Obama administration as unfriendly to religion, up from 17 percent in 2009. But another recent poll suggests the “war on religion” argument isn’t gaining traction with most adults.

A national survey conducted this month by the Public Religion Research Institute found a majority of Americans, 56 percent, do not believe religious liberty is under siege.

Should the church body necessarily speak to political decisions? I believe they should in certain cases. However the American church has seldom been skilled at deciding which cases warrant an opinion. Throughout history, at times they have spoken about everything or nothing. they have remained silent in the midst of atrocities and told society how to educate children. Perhaps a helpful approach would be to create a matrix that includes the teachings about social issues, Jesus believed important – defense of the weak, justice to the defenseless, etc. The problem with a matrix would lie in its application; therefore, we are back where we started. Perhaps another solution would be to teach church-goers what was important to Jesus socially as well as theologically, then release them to speak to issues selectively in their world from a religiously informed perspective or worldview. However developing, living, and articulating a worldview takes work, and what pew sitting church member these days would want to make that kind of commitment? Based on commitments in other non-critical areas of the church, I believe few. This brings us back to the necessity of churches to be a voice in the community. If individuals will not speak for the weak and defenseless in politics, then the church should; but choose the battles that are important, the one’s Jesus would have spoken about…then be about the Father’s other business, not political business.

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March 26, 2012 · 12:34 pm

Creating a community conscience: Is it possible through art?

Toll of Mexican Crime Wave, Written in Faces on the Wall

“…while earlier examples of victim-focused advocacy in Latin America have been aimed mainly at governments, many of Mexico’s so-called victim visualizers say they are less interested in politics and marches than in changing their neighbors’ mind-sets. Their campaigns are mostly attempts to create a public conscience, to keep people from committing or accepting violence by making them feel the suffering that ripples out from crime — largely through efforts that can be shared easily by word of mouth or social media.”

Rodrigo Cruz for The New York Times

Images have impact as seen throughout modern history. Photos of atrocities in Auschwitz, Vietnam, Darfur and others proved that images can move people to action. However, theses images of the past were of the actual atrocity not a portrait of the victim while living. The lasting image of the young man’s last seconds alive as recorded by Eddie Adams impacts the human soul. Or the lasting image of the furnaces at Auschwitz impacts the human soul. The camps in Darfur impacts the human soul. These images confront us with evil, remind us of how things are not supposed to end, tell us to defend the helpless, bring offenders of human rights to justice. The portrait project in Mexico communicates none of these ideas. It’s not a call to action, but a call to remember. That’s why it will fail.

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Filed under Aesthetics, Ethics, Philosophy

God’s Justice

Wolterstorff provides a good concise summary of his view on the justice of God. He masterfully unites the concept of justice with the character of God and notion of human value.

Wolterstorff’s summary of Justice in his chapter “Justice of God” in For faith and clarity (2006), 197:

Justice is constituted of normative social relationships. Primary justice reigns when the rights of persons to the actions and restraints from action of others are honored. A person is just insofar as he or she honors the rights of others to actions and restraints from action on his or her part. A person enjoys justice insofar as others honor his or her rights to actions and restraints from action on their part. The charge that rights are individualistic makes no sense; rights are inherently social. Likewise the charge that rights are egoistic makes no sense; the very existence of the other places claims upon me. Equally senseless is the insistence one sometimes hears that we should think in terms of obligations rather than rights. If rights go, most obligations go.

To praise God for his justice is to praise God for honoring the rights of his creatures. God does not violate us. God does not treat us with disrespect for our worth. It would be perplexing indeed if God did. For we have the intrinsic worth we do have on account of being created thus by God. [emphasis mine]

One the other hand, God has the right to be honored. We do not honor God as we should. God has the right to be obeyed. We do not obey God as we should. We wrong God, deprive God of what he has a right to. God is victim of our injustice.

If God is wronged, then God is not impassible. That will lead some to conclude that God cannot be wronged. But I take divine forgiveness to be at the heart of the Christian gospel. And if God forgives, then God is not only capable of being wronged but has in fact been wronged. To say it one more time: one can forgive someone only if that person has wronged one and only for the wrong he has done one.

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Filed under Ethics, Philosophy, Spirituality, Theology

Moral Subjectivism Test Case: Carbon Mitigation vs. Honduran Farmers

Carbon Blood Money in Honduras By Rosie Wong, March 9, 2012

“Small farmers in this region have increasingly fallen under the thumb of large landholders like palm oil magnate Miguel Facussé, who has been accused by human rights groups of responsibility for the murder of numerous campesinos in Bajo Aguán since the 2009 coup. Yet Facussé’s company has been approved to receive international funds for carbon mitigation under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).”

How might the farmers and the world respond to this situation, based on David Hume’s view of rules of justice?

“the rules of equity or justice depend entirely on the particular state and condition in which men are placed, and owe their origin and existence to that utility, which results to the public from their strict and regular observance. Reverse, in any considerable circumstance, the condition of men: Produce extreme abundance or extreme necessity: Implant in the human breast perfect moderation and humanity, or perfect rapaciousness and malice: By rendering justice totally USELESS, you thereby totally destroy its essence, and suspend its obligation upon mankind. The common situation of society is a medium amidst all these extremes.” Hume, David (2011-03-24). An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (pp. 11-12). Kindle Edition.


Filed under Community, economic proposals, Ethics, Philosophy

Afghan rampage suspect Robert Bales was a soldier strained by deployments

“While the crimes of which Bales is accused are singularly brutal, advocates for military families say the pressures Bales faced are commonplace in a military stretched by the longest period of conflict in the country’s history. Michael Waddington, an attorney for service members accused of violent crimes, said the Pentagon lacks the resources to adequately screen and treat troops suffering from serious anxieties and stress.”

An incalculable cost hidden in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will haunt future generations of this country. These generations will bear costs of war in psychological treatment of our soldiers for decades. Did we learn nothing about mental health of returning servicemen from Vietnam ? We send soldiers for four tours of fighting and are surprised when they snap under the stress? The price of this war will not be calculated in dollars spent on weapons and fighting men’s salaries. It will surely be calculated on the loss of a productive generation due to our negligence of mental well being of our own people sent to fight wars. The loss of productivity will not be their fault; it must lay at the feet of our government, whom we elected. As one can run an engine out of oil, so have we ran the American soldier out of mental health through sustained tours, financial stress, and family separation. In this way, the American people will pay for this war twice, once on the battlefield and once in the clinics across our land.

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March 19, 2012 · 10:12 am