A friend recently asked me if she needed to re-subscribe to Greener Trees – she hadn’t received anything in her inbox for a while. I tried to log in to the blog’s administrative page to work on a few things and couldn’t remember my password. Apparently, it’s time for an update.
Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:
A little over a year ago, I was honored to join a team of wonderful folks over at Story Warren. You can learn more about their mission here. I’m delighted to share that Story Warren’s inaugural conference, Inkwell, will be held in Charlotte on June 21. On that day, two of my favorite worlds will collide. To say that I’m excited is an understatement. The conference is sold out, but there are still tickets available to the Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame concert to be held later that evening. We are lucky ducks, indeed.
* * *
Last summer, Greener Trees Reads (online reading group) read Jeffery Overstreet’s Through a Screen Darkly together. In the fall, I was able to meet and chat with Overstreet during the wonderful weekend called Hutchmoot. We talked about the possibility of working on a future project together. Months later, the idea became reality. Here it is:
Once upon a time, two total strangers — one a mother and a teacher with a background in business; the other a writer, editor, and film critic — became friends after she invited him to join an online discussion of his book about film. They were both Christians. And they met at an arts-and-faith gathering called Hutchmoot in Nashville. They both agreed that they wanted to work together on something someday. You can continue reading here:
This summer, we’ll be listening to and discussing the recordings from Hutchmoot. If you have an interest in the intersection of faith and art, you may consider purchasing the 17 hours of audio here. It will be well-worth your investment.
* * *
A simple assigned writing prompt surfaced this long-forgotten memory. We have much to learn from each other – far more than initially meets the eye. Over at Art House America:
Not much was said as we hiked up the trail. Words would have tarnished the moment. The Colorado mountains were doing their thing — offering the fresh taste of reality in a saccharine-laced world. The climb provided ample time to survey the landscape. I was overcome with the beauty, so thick I couldn’t swallow it all in one gulp. I had to take in little sips. You can continue reading here.
* * *
In March, David and I celebrated twenty years of marriage by taking a few days away in the Big Apple. It was a rare grown-up playdate – complete with Broadway shows, unbelievable food, and my first visit to the Met. I’ve binged on the life and works of Van Gogh this spring, so standing before Starry Night was a hi-light. We’re deeply grateful for twenty years of struggle, joy, friendship, community, and far more detours from the assumed path of life than we could have imagined.
* * *
Perhaps the biggest news coming from our home is the newest addition – Little Lucy. It’s amazing how much joy this sweet little pup has brought into our home. She’s six months old and we are all smitten.
As I look back at the adventures, mishaps, joys and trials of the past year, it seems fitting to recount the books that have gently adjusted my vision. Some books have been read and discussed in a group, while others I’ve enjoyed with my family or alone with a cup of hot tea. Here are a few books that left their mark on my life during 2013:
With the Reading Group In 2011, a small group of folks came together (virtually) to read and discuss The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. Greener Trees Reads was born. In the past few years, we’ve read and discussed several books, each of which has stretched, challenged, and inspired me in unique ways. These are the books that we read together in 2013:
Through a Screen Darklyby Jeffrey Overstreet*
If you watch movies, read this book. If you’re a parent, read this book. If you want to better love your neighbor, read this book. It’s as much about posture of heart as it is about movie-going. As a result of reading Through a Screen Darkly, I’ve viewed not only movies, but also current events and the people in my life through a different lens. You can get a taste of the book and our group’s discussion of it here.
The Art of T.S. Eliotby Helen Gardner
I’m an ardent supporter of Makoto Fujimura – both his art and his writing. Last year, our group read his book Refractions, and Mako was kind enough to join our discussion. At his suggestion, we read The Art of T.S. Eliot in preparation of the Four Quartets exhibit at Duke University. This book was a stretch (to say the least) for me, but it was successful in illuminating Eliot’s work as well as exercising literary muscles of mine that had previously been inactive. More on my stretching here.
So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger*
Shortly after Leif Enger was announced as the keynote speaker for Hutchmoot, I was asked to lead an online discussion of So Brave, Young, and Handsome over at the Rabbit Room. I was hesitant. My only experience of reading with a group had been limited to non-fiction. I had no idea where to start. But this book made the process easy. Enger is a master with words and subtext. I took pages of notes from So Brave, Young and Handsome and enjoyed hearing the insights of others. I emerged from our weeks of discussion reminded and hopeful. Redemption is a messy, beautiful business.
“A line only gets grace when it curves, you know.” Leif Enger (So Brave, Young and Handsome)
The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon
I’m not sure how one book can simultaneously be about cooking, seeing the miracles in everyday life, and idolatry, but this one is. An entire chapter dedicated to the cutting of an onion is potentially life-altering, and I own a new whisk and two new knives as a result of my reading.
“Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful. Necessity is the mother only of clichés. It takes playfulness to make poetry.” Robert Capon (Supper of the Lamb)
With the Kiddos
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This one took me by surprise. A story of friendship, character revealed in hardship, and the hope that creativity can offer. I almost didn’t make it through. My painful experience of the first few chapters is chronicled here.
The Singing Tree and The Good Master by Kate Seredy
Seredy has quickly become one of our favorite authors. Hard to find in hardback, but worth the hunt.
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
It was an honor and a privilege to read and discuss The Hiding Place with my children. A glimpse into our conversation and an explanation of why we still read aloud to with them here.
On My Own
The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge
My last read for the year. If you’ve never read Goudge, this is a good place to start. I look forward to reading the remaining books of the Eliots of Damerosehay Trilogy in the upcoming months.
“Beauty and shabbiness are quite compatible. . . A thing of beauty is a joy forever, but it must be a costly and strong beauty, purchased at a high price of service or sacrifice, not skin-deep but bone-deep, if it is to be as desirable at the shabby end as it was at the sumptuous beginning.” Elizabeth Goudge (The Bird in the Tree)
Death by Living by N.D. Wilson*
Last year, Notes from a Tilt-A-Whirl was significant in shifting the culture of our family (a bit more on that here). Death by Living had a similar impact. “Life is meant to be spent.” Those six words play out in a million everyday choices. I’m fairly certain that the recent decision to add a new member to our family can be traced back to seeds of ideas planted by Wilson. A book can be a dangerous (and glorious) thing.
“When Job lifted his face to the Storm, when he asked and was answered, he learned that he was very small. He learned that his life was a story. He spoke with the Author, and learned that the genre had not been an accident. God tells stories that make Sunday school teachers sweat and mothers write their children permission slips excusing them from encountering reality.” N.D. Wilson (Death by Living)
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger*
For years, I’d heard friends proclaim that Peace Like a River was their favorite book. A few come close to swooning when they speak of it – for good reason. Enger weaves an endearing tail of adventure, family tragedy, and healing, with the bright thread of hope running throughout.
“We see a newborn moth unwrapping itself and announce, Look, children, a miracle! But let an irreversible wound be knit back to seamlessness? We won’t even see it, though we look at it every day.” Leif Enger (Peace Like a River)
The sequel to The Fiddler’s Gun. If you’re looking for a meaningful, rich, story that is full of adventure, Peterson’s books are not to be missed.
Lilith by George MacDonald
I read this book by sheer will. It’s been a long time since I started a book and so desperately wanted to quit. But I love MacDonald’s work and decided to trust the author more than my own judgement. I trudged through the first 3/4 of the book, wavering between being bored and wondering if I just wasn’t smart enough to “get” it. The last 1/4 was more than worth the work. I’ll read this one again. And perhaps again.
The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse by Michael Gungor
This is the year I became a fan of Gungor‘s music. Although this book was written with “creatives” in mind, it has significant insight to offer to everyone. After all, we are all “creatives” in some capacity.
The Weight of Gloryby C.S. Lewis
I’ve heard quotes taken from The Weight of Glory for years. Now I know why. Lewis never disappoints.
– – –
* I’ve had the very good fortune to meet the authors of several of the books listed at a gathering called Hutchmoot in Nashville, Tennessee. This year, the sessions of these authors as well as a number of additional writers, musicians, and generally swell people were recorded, and you can purchase the 17 hours of audio here.
May your 2014 be filled with beauty, friendship, and many a good book!
Today’s guest post was written by Carrie Givens – writer, teacher, editor, friend, and a member of the Greener Trees online discussion group.
I have a friend who is a composer. One of his pieces, performed by a quartet of two violins, viola, and cello, he wrote following the sudden tragic death of a mentor and professor. There’s a moment, late in the fugue, when the first violin raises its voice to the heavens in a single, pure, heartbreaking note. It holds, longer than you think it should be able to hold, seeming to carry all the sorrow of the world.
There’s a moment that happens sometimes after a grey or rainy day when the sun breaks out below the clouds as it sets, turning all the world a rich, gold. As evening winds down, we are left in quiet with this strange and lovely light which tinges everything with beauty.
In Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, there’s a scene where the camera pulls back from the mother and daughter working at the table into the next room, and we watch the final moments of their conversation from afar, framed by the doorway, lit by the light coming in from an open door and interrupted by the gentle flapping of an apron hung on a wall hook blowing into the frame.
Michael Gungor, in his book The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse, writes: “The single atom in the atomic bomb can lay waste to a city. Maybe one note of music holds within it the power to end war” (p. 62).
There is power in great beauty. Beauty heals, it soothes, it allures, it inspires. And when we see it, in a film, in a book, in a moment, it can catch us by surprise and stay with us forever. We can lift it up from the depths of our memory again and again, and every time it draws us toward the Creator of beauty, the Beautiful One Himself.
Jeffrey Overstreet begins Chapter 13 examining Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue. He writes, “Every scene—in fact, almost every shot—unfolds like a poem. . . .Kieslowski leaves clues for us to consider—little windows into understanding the state of Julie’s heart. When we take the time to think about them, we begin to participate in the film in a way that popular commercial cinema doesn’t allow. There are long passages in Blue in which no one says anything and we must shift our attention to what we see in order to discern what is happening.” (p. 305-306)
Are there other films that come to mind in which the filmmaker leaves clues like this—focus on particular objects, use of light, use of music or sound? Have you found yourself participating in those movies in the way Overstreet talks about above?
“Blue became a way I could move through my loss by experiencing someone else’s journey rather than facing my own pain directly. It coaxed me to give creative shape to the grief.” (p. 308)
Have there been movies, other works of art, or moments of beauty that have helped you through a time of loss, sorrow, or grief? Has art ever helped you “to give creative shape to the grief”?
“The power of narrative lies in the succession of events: This happens and then that happens. . . . Imagery speaks even when nothing is happening, offering us something more than provocation to anticipate what’s next.” (p. 309)
What are some of the ways that the nature of film as a visual art form – one based in imagery – impacts how filmmakers approach narrative? Are there movies you’ve seen where the filmmaker has taken full advantage of the opportunity to tell stories through images?
“Saint John of the Cross wrote that man is like a window through which God is shining. If the window is clean and undefiled, it allows us to see past it, to the light. We hardly notice it at all. And yet, if a man gives evidence of any kind of arrogance or ego and self-interest, then that window becomes noticeable. It is not fulfilling its purpose. It is not merely a vessel for the light.” (p. 320)
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” (John 1: 6-8)
“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’. . . He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28, 30)
How do the words of Saint John of the Cross and John the Baptist speak to one another? Have you seen characters in movies or met individuals in life who have exemplified being a “window”? What have you learned from them?
“There have been so many moments at the movies that have become part of my history, giving me images that function as a vocabulary, enhancing what I experience when I am away from the screen.” (p. 322)
Much of Jeffrey Overstreet’s final chapter is made up of retelling the experiences he mentions in the quote above, when a moment from a movie enhances what he experiences away from the screen. Have you had moments like that?
Carolyn Clare Givens lives outside of Philadelphia where she’s a freelance editor and writer. She edits and writes for The Curator and teaches as an adjunct faculty member at Cairn University. She has bumped around the world, growing up as a missionary kid in Michigan and Hong Kong, and serving on staff at Alaska Bible College.
My eye is drawn first to the two profiles facing each other.
I could stop there and would be correct in my description. Partially.
But if I’m willing to take a step back, look away, and view the picture with fresh eyes, I’ll gain a different perspective. I’ll see more. While the darkness reveals the profiles, the negative space reveals an urn. The darkness exposes the white paper that had always been there.
~ Rembrandt used darkness to draw the viewer’s eye to the light.
~ Haydn used bold dynamics in Symphony 94 (his “big surprise”) to capture the listener’s attention for the rest of the (much quieter) piece.
~ And the darkness found movies can give us a new perspective on the light that is, and always has been, present in the world.
Sometimes looking into the darkness can help us see the light.
Week 4 – Art of Darkness Movie of the Week – Apocalypse Now
I’m grateful for the experience of Taxi Driver, as disturbing as it is. It reminds me of what others are experiencing outside of my daily routine. For many of these individuals, a kind word, a conversation, or a gift could come as a bright and guiding light in a time of crisis. – p. 246
1. How can some movies, which are disturbing and hard to watch, result in the viewer having a softened heart? Have you ever had that experience?
They’re (people pedaling various modes of escapism) after us like paparazzi to celebrities – salespeople eager to sell us redemption at a reasonable price. In seeking satisfaction along these misguided paths, we ensure that we, as a culture, remain dissatisfied. Pursuing happiness, we try to steer clear of anything difficult or inconvenient, convinced that there are shortcuts to joy. As a result, we end up unhappy, disconnected, weak, and lonely – p. 254
Clearly, the heart is the problem. Both Apocalypse Now and Titanic show ambitious human endeavors that lead to catastrophic failure. – p.286
When Bruce’s (from Bruce Almighty) definition of love is self-referential – seizing the freedom to do what pleases him – he is not capable of finding or receiving love. Some freedoms are only accessible through the denial of ego, along the humbling path of service. Freedom to follow one’s baser appetites is not freedom of all, but slavery. – p.290
2. Many movies focus on characters who live beyond boundaries, who have achieved “the American dream”, and who indulge in their hearts’ desires. At first glance, these films could seem dangerous, drawing us deeper into worldliness and depravity. How could they, like the black and white picture above, result in our seeing the light more clearly?
I suspect that these films (Alien, The Thing, The Shining) resonate not merely because they’re outrageous but also because we know they are illustrations of the truth. Evil does exist as a force outside of us, seeking to lure us into error. That leaves us to determine if we are ultimately helpless, or if there might be a power greater than evil seeking to help us escape the monsters. – p.273
Code Unknown (and other similar movies) could be, for some viewers, nothing more than an 118-minute downer. But the watchful may find glimmers of hope. And perhaps we can find understanding by noting what is absent from these confused lives. – p.264
If a heart opens to reveal ugliness and corruption and we respond by recoiling and turning away, we also turn away from the possibility of redemption. – p.267
3. What do you make of Overstreet’s thoughts on the depiction of evil in movies, and of the possible resulting redemption?
4. When you think of darkness in movies (in a character’s heart, a society, situation, etc.), what movie comes to mind? What redemption could come from watching that particular film?
We’re taking an intermission during our summer reading of Through a Screen Darkly to give folks who’ve fallen behind (or have recently joined) a week to catch up. In the spirit of celebrating movies, however, I’m pleased to present the following guest post from Jonathan Rogers. Jonathan had mentioned in passing that he is a big fan of the movie Raising Arizona. I was curious. If you knew Jonathan, you’d want to hear more as well. He was kind enough to put some thoughts down on paper for us. Enjoy.
* * *
Raising Arizona is one of my favorite movies ever. I make no claims for its greatness, only that I love it. I love my hometown of Warner Robins, Georgia in much the same way: there was a time when I would have tried to argue that Warner Robins (or Raising Arizona) was the greatest. Now I am content to say that it shaped my sensibilities, for better or worse, at the time of life when my sensibilities were ready to be shaped. I almost can’t help but love it.
I had just graduated from high school when I saw Raising Arizona at the movie theater. It was the first time I had ever thought of a movie as a made thing. I knew, of course, that there were moviemakers, but I had never spent one minute wondering what they did. I enjoyed movies well enough, but I was about as passive a consumer of movies as a moviegoer could be. It was only earlier that same year that I had ever thought enough about a movie to dislike it. It was a Sylvester Stallone movie about arm wrestling, a truly terrible movie. I would have never gone if a movie theater employee hadn’t let me in free.*
But I digress. The first five minutes of Raising Arizona grabbed me with its down-market poetry. The language is highly stylized, polished and rhythmic. (Just the name Tempe, Arizona, with its three trochees, has more poetry in it than Ithaca or Xanadu or Elsinore). And yet the language sounds very much like native speech. It reminds you of the musicality that is possible in everyday American language. There’s a visual equivalent in an early shot in which Hi an Ed are sitting in the treeless, grass-less yard just outside their single-wide trailer watching a magnificent sunset beyond desert mountains. The glories of the Western sky are as available to these two trailer-dwellers as to anybody else. Over that very shot, Hi explains why he and Ed wanted a baby so desperately: “there was too much love and beauty for just the two of us,” he says, as the sunset gives way to darkness. I realize that the joke is probably supposed to be on the rubes in the lawn chairs. But I believe Hi. There is real beauty in this life that the jail-bird and the policewoman are putting together.
Raising Arizona is a movie with certain literary aspirations (if literary is the right word). There’s quite a bit of symbolism in Raising Arizona as in all the Coen Brothers’ movies. I have mixed feelings about symbolism, which is very easy to get wrong. Indeed, even as a seventeen-year-old, I was bothered by some of the ham-fisted symbolism in Raising Arizona (the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse mostly gets on my nerves). But on the other hand, I was delighted to realize that things like symbolism could exist in movies (as to why it hadn’t occur to me many years earlier, I can’t say). I had never thought of a movie as a vehicle for carrying literary freight of any kind. To put my moviegoing experience in perspective, I should mention that at this point in my life I was already enamored of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Nobody does transcendence like Milton. Angels. Demons. Unfallen Eden. War in Heaven. Councils in Hell. I was caught off guard by this funny little low-rent (and occasionally coarse) movie that looked and sounded like something resembling literature.
I am crazy about Hi McDonough. I love any character who is too smart to be so stupid. Hi is a smart guy and something of a poet, but his life circumstances haven’t given him the opportunity to use his gifts in constructive ways. He keeps making stupid choices, but you love him anyway because his heart apparently is in the right place. There’s a lot of Hi in Grady, the narrator and protagonist of my novel, The Charlatan’s Boy.
Finally, I love the way that legitimate, understandable desires on the part of the main characters leads them to do outrageously stupid things. What could be more natural than for two happily married people to want a baby? But, as Hi says, “biology and the prejudices of others conspired to keep us childless.” Their pursuit of their desire leads them into situations in which they are in way over their heads. It’s like Greek tragedy, except that it’s hilarious.
–Bonus reason to love Raising Arizona: When Ed says to the Lone Biker, “Gimme back that baby, you warthog from hell!” she is quoting Flannery O’Connor almost directly. In “Revelation,” the Wellesley student who assaults Ruby Turpin in the doctor’s waiting room says, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old warthog.”
* The same movie theater employee–perhaps to make up for exposing me to such a terrible movie–also gave me a trash bag full of leftover movie popcorn to take on a camping trip to the Okefenokee Swamp. It attracted the attention of a gang of especially nasty raccoons, who scattered the popcorn all over the campgrounds and beyond.
* * *
Jonathan Rogers grew up in Georgia, where he spent many happy hours in the swamps and riverbottoms on which the wild places of The Wilderking Triology and The Charlatan’s Boy (some of our favorite books) are based. He received his undergraduate degree from Furman University in South Carolina and holds a Ph.D. in seventeenth-century English literature from Vanderbilt University. The Rogers clan lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where Jonathan makes a living as a freelance writer. His most recent book is The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor.
“Noah built an ark, the prophet Hosea married a prostitute, poor suffering Job refused to curse God, and John the Baptist ate bugs in the wilderness. They all experienced doubt. They all had things to learn. Yet their unconventional behavior drew attention to their vision, which conveys essential truth.” Jeffrey Overstreet
Week 3 – Fools and Jokers Movie of the Week – The Fisher King
Webster defines ‘the fool’ as “One who is destitute in reason, or the common powers of understanding; an idiot.”
We see ‘the fool’ everyday. In the neighborhood, at work, on the highway, in our families, and if we’re honest, in the mirror.
When I meet ‘the fool’, I should pay close attention. My reaction to him reveals a great deal about the state of my heart.
Am I quick to judge?
Grateful that I am not him?
Offended by his choices and behavior?
Or am I willing to pause and see that the fool has something to teach me. . .
“Some of the great fools, as Hamlet proves to be, behave in the manic fashion more deliberately and strategically in order to unsettle those around them and lure wrongdoers into exposing their devices.” – p. 210
“If I’m confronted with bizarre behavior on the street or on the bus, I am likely to cross at the nearest crosswalk or get up and move closer to the bus driver. But in the safety of my theater seat, I sometimes find that these characters reveal a great deal not only through their ranting but also by the way they provoke people around them to all manner of revealing behavior.” – p.201
“In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Finding Neverland and Nurse Betty, these characters stir up trouble for the strict, the proud, the upright and the overly rational.” – p.208
1) What character comes to mind when you think of “the fool”? What truth did he/she reveal?
2. What do you make of the Honey Boo Boo article? How does it relate to Overstreet’s take on ‘the fool’?
“The healthiest laughter is that which recognizes our shared fallibility.” -p.226
“Many of us are laughing because we see and reject the errors on display and because we are admitting our own culpability in such folly, without despairing from the shame of it. The laughter is release: I’ve been there, I recognize that, I acknowledge the folly of human behavior, and I know there’s a better way.” – p.220
We enjoy comedy streaming from the TV or movie screen.
Our laughter is spontaneous, involuntary and without invoking further reflection.
We move on to the next scene, sitcom, or to decide what we’ll have for dinner, grateful for having been given a break from the “real world.
But occasionally. . .
As we’re gulping in prime-time lightheartedness,
We ingest traces of something more substantive.
We discover that the comic elixir wasn’t a mixture of well-timed stunts, clever puns, or sticky situations. It was concocted from the most basic ingredients. Those that represent the truth of who we really are – the good, the bad, the obvious, the unspeakable.
Have a taste.
3. How can comedy convey eternal truths? What does laughter (even at ourselves, or perhaps particularly at ourselves) have to do with Hope?
Week 2 – Saving the World Movie of the week: Born into Brothels
“But the stories that satisfied me most were those in which the Great Goblin was slain by a hero with a sword or Peter Pan send Captain Hook to an ugly demise in the jaws of a ticking crocodile. Thus the first definition of ‘hero’ that made sense to me had a great deal to do with desiring a savior.” – p.141
“The whispers of his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, who had given his life to save his friends, reminded me of Jesus, who had done the same. It was heartening to encounter heroes who made a difference by making themselves smaller and opening themselves to something greater.” – p. 144
1. Think back to your childhood. What’s the first memory you have of a “hero” – from either a movie or a book? What heroes are examples of “making themselves smaller and opening themselves to something greater”?
“There is something within each of us that wants to see our enemy suffer, and these films pour fuel on that fire without cultivating any conscience or appreciation of mercy alongside it. To love one’s enemy is to consider and care about what happens to him.” – p. 175
“The more I pay attention to the way in which some films play to an audience’s bloodlust, the more I see how this kind of lurid entertainment reflects the strategies of pornographers. In both pursuits, the filmmakers exaggerate certain elements in order to appeal to unhealthy appetites. Both tend to cultivate hungers that increase with each occasion. It’s designed to become addicting.” – p.175
2. What are the hallmarks of a healthy vs. an unhealthy depiction of violence? Give some examples of and your reaction to both.
3. If you’ve seen Man of Steel, what did you think about Superman as “hero”? About the role of violence in the film? Keep in mind the quotations noted above.
In some stories, magic represents something to be sought after and controlled. Supernatural darkness is very real, and stories that make us curious about dabbling in sorcery are certainly dangerous. Most fairy tales highlight the foolishness of bargaining with devils. ‘Good magic’ is usually a whimsical invention of the storyteller that serves as a representation of spirit, talent or faith. Without these imaginative elements, we could never have met Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Cinderella, the King Arthur of Legend, old Scrooge, and Aslan, for starters.” – p.152
4. How would you explain the difference between that which is “good magic” and harmful/dangerous supernatural darkness? Name a few movies which reveal the “foolishness of bargaining with devils.”
“Viewers may assume that the movie (Born into Brothels) will teach them about the need to rescue Calcutta’s poor, trapped, miserable children. But they’re likely to discover by the end of the film that the opposite has also occurred – the children have actually delivered the audience from a false and crippling perspective.” – p.195
“If we open ourselves to art that introduces us to perspectives and experiences of people around the world, we begin to close the distance. We draw closer to understanding our neighbors.” – p. 197
5. Have you ever left a movie (or interaction with any type of art) and felt like you were “drawn closer to understanding your neighbor”?
“It’s possible we will glimpse the glow of glory, truth that cannot be reduced to a simple paraphrase, glimmering through a screen darkly.” Jeffrey Overstreet
Through a Screen Darkly Week 1 – How We Watch
Movie of the week: The Story of the Weeping Camel
Welcome to the first week of reading Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet. As we get started, here are a few things to keep in mind: The reading schedule covers a great deal of territory each week, so the questions posed below only skim the surface. Of course, you’re welcome to answer all the questions, but please don’t feel like you need to. Respond to whatever stirred you. What caused you to pause and think? And feel free to share any of your own questions/additional observations as well.
If you haven’t been reading the book, my hope is that each post will still provide fodder for thought. Don’t disregard the questions because you’re not reading along – we’d love to hear from you. Perhaps the conversation will whet your appetite, and you may choose to read the book at a later time that is more convenient for you. Regardless of your level of involvement, thanks for joining us!
* * *
“Like a pillar of cloud or fire, sometimes a movie offers us mysteries that draw us out of the captivity of our own perspective.” – p. 21
“Art reflects life, and when we meditate on life, we might see something in a new way – and that might awaken us to possibilities, problems, hope, doubt, salvation or sin.” – p.34
“When we realize or remember something that tells us our view has been too narrow, we suddenly prefer to stay put.” – p. 36
1. Has a movie ever caused you to change (or broaden) your perspective? How? Do you typically approach film as a work of art or a form of entertainment?
“If we are shocked by something as common as a spoken obscenity, it may reveal more about our distance from people in need than it does about the person who blurted out such coarse language.” – p.63
2. Is this a new thought for you? When has your reaction to scene or character in a movie revealed that your posture was defensive rather than humble and curious? Have you ever “caught” yourself, readjusted, and been able to find value in that which you had previously dismissed?
The progression of our interaction with movies is much like the evolution of our eating habits:
1 ) Childlike – reaches for everything without discernment
2 ) Reactionary diner – surveys what is presented and makes immediate judgements based on assumptions (or by tasting a small sample)
3 ) Glutton – Consumes great quantities without discernment or awareness of negative impact
4) Educated Connoisseur
3) Which of these descriptions best fits your approach to watching movies? What would it look like/require of you to move to the next phase? Are there other areas of life in which you see a similar progression?
“As a critic, I feel more like a nutritionist – doing my best to counsel others on a balanced diet that serves their individual needs and respects their sensitivities. But I also want to be the kind of connoisseur who can speak knowledgeably about the culinary arts.” – p. 93
4) Our life experiences may cause us to have sensitivities to certain types of movies (“cinematic allergies”). Are you aware of your own sensitivities/the sensitivities of others and the underlying causes? What does this principle infer about our relationship with others?
“Great art reveals its significance by its ability to show us new surprises every time, speaking to more than one culture, more than one age. Sometimes, even the artist doesn’t know the significance of what he’s done. In his impulsive response to an experience, he creates another experience that communicates more than he could ever realize.” – p.128
5) Has a movie ever impacted you in a substantial way? How?
6) What did you think of The Story of the Weeping Camel?
* * *
If you’d like to join us, you can find the reading schedule here.
For further reading on the creative process: The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
For the past year, Greener Trees has hosted a reading group. Together, we’ve navigated our way through some thought-provoking books: The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers, Refractions by Makoto Fujimura, The Art of T.S. Eliot by Helen Gardner, and So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger (also discussed on the Rabbit Room site). Minds were stimulated and hearts stirred. At first glance, the reading selections may appear to be a bit random. Despite the diversity in genre, however, a common theme runs throughout the books. One of creativity, beauty, and truth. One of grace that’s often discovered in the most unlikely of places. One of hope.
I’d like to invite you to join us on our next adventure – reading and discussing Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies by Jeffrey Overstreet. After a friend had watched an award-winning (and somewhat quirky) movie, she commented that some films require muscles of the mind that she wasn’t quite sure how to use. She needed a personal trainer. Perfect. Here’s our personal trainer for thoughtful movie viewing.
Jeffrey Overstreet was a film reviewer and columnist for Christianity Today from 2001-2009. He’s been a film critic for a variety of other publications, including Paste Magazine and Image Journal. Overstreet is also the author of The Auralia Thread, a four-book fantasy series that begins with Auralia’s Colors. You can visit his blog here.
In Through a Screen Darkly, Overstreet explores a variety of movies – from blockbusters to esoteric foreign films. He invites us to journey with him. As we explore the new terrain, previously underused muscles are discovered. We’re stretched. Overstreet provides challenging questions and a thoughtful framework through which we can engage with the art of cinema.
“Jeffrey Overstreet is a witness. While habituating the dark caves of movie theaters, he gives articulate witness to what I too often miss in those caves — the contours of God’s creation and the language of Christ’s salvation. … I find him a delightful and most percipient companion — a faithful Christian witness.” Eugene Peterson
Here’s how it works: Each Monday, we’ll start our discussion of the assigned chapters and corresponding movie. Life is full, so some folks may only get to the reading, not the movie, and that’s fine! Think of the weekly movie viewing as “extra credit.” During the final week, we’ll be watching and having an in-depth discussion of Babette’s Feast.
For those who are on Facebook, send a message to Greener Trees Reads and you’ll be approved to join the online discussion group. For those who are following via the blog, I’ll be posting a few questions for discussion each week.
June 17 Part One: How We Watch (Chp 1-4) The Story of the Weeping Camel June 24 Part Two: Saving the World (Chp 5-7) Born into Brothels July 1 Break (use this week to catch up or get ahead)
July 8 Part Three: Fools and Jokers (Chp 8-9) The Fisher King
July 15 Part Four: Art of Darkness (Chp 10-12) Apocalypse Now
July 22 Part Five: Summoned by Music and Light (Chp 13-14) The New World
July 29 Looking Closer: Questions for Movie Discussion GroupsBabette’s Feast
Through a Screen Darkly is available for purchase here at the Rabbit Room. If you purchase a Rabbit Room membership, you’ll receive 15% off of this and future orders.
If you’ll be joining us, please leave a note (and any questions) in the comments section. Invite a friend to join you. Happy viewing!
We recently watched Apollo 13 with our younger boys for the first time. I’ve seen it before, but what a treat to see it through their eyes. Together, we felt the eager anticipation of three astronauts who had labored throughout their careers with the ultimate goal in mind – to walk on the surface of the moon. Since the inaugural landing had taken place months earlier, Americans were no longer captivated by the endeavor. What had once seemed unimaginable had quickly become last year’s news. For the astronauts of Apollo 13, however, their eyes were fixed on the goal. It was to be their turn.
The entire team of engineers, astronauts, and those on ground control had planned for every conceivable contingency. They knew that problems could arise, and they had planned accordingly. Early in their flight, a mishap did indeed occur. They took it in stride, then were grateful that “our glitch for the mission was over.” Within minutes, however, everything changed. “Houston, we have a problem.”
The story rapidly unfolded as the three astronauts realized that their ultimate goal of walking on the moon was no longer a possibility. In fact, it became clear that their return to earth would be somewhat of a miracle. We were drawn into their tight quarters, felt the loss of power, and more acutely, the loss of control. No one had conceived that such a multi-system failure could occur. There was no contingency plan for a disaster of this magnitude. In the midst of the crisis, they were all forced to disband the plan for what should have been, and to go back to the proverbial drawing board.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” I’ve said it. Perhaps you have as well. We anticipate disruptions in life. We know they can happen and plan accordingly. We buy the right insurance, secure the right job, marry the right person, and discipline our kids according the philosophy of the day. We’re not naive – we know that we’ll have our glitches along the way, but acknowledge piously that those problems will make us stronger. Until one very ordinary day, we’re not facing another malfunction to be repaired, but have suddenly found ourselves drifting in space as the result of a potentially lethal explosion. We certainly didn’t see it coming, and couldn’t possibly have planned our own remedy in advance.
~Death of a loved one
~A defiant, rebellious child
We travel through life anticipating our own version of walking on the moon – the day when all of our hard work will finally pay off. But in the blink of an eye, everything can change…
Houston, we have a problem.
As the crew became aware of the situation’s severity, a chain reaction of emotion was instigated. Within minutes, there was an awareness that the pinnacle for which they had trained through the years, would never be reached. They would not walk on the moon. This realization brought with it gut-wrenching grief as life-long dreams literally disappeared into vapor.
Then came the dramatic shift.
They had to leave behind the dream of “what should have been” in order to accept “what actually was.”
It was only after that pivotal decision that they were able to move forward. The goal of walking on the moon, which had once felt paramount, instantly became insignificant. Perspective had changed radically. The chance of survival was slim.
Alone, they were helpless. Completely at the mercy of the ground crew which was working frantically to come up with a solution, the astronauts had to wait. In silence. In darkness. In the cold. Have you been there? I have, and it’s a terrifying to be thrust into the reality of our own limitations.
They had to reorient themselves:
~by scrapping the original plan
~by redefining their goal
~by letting go of control and following the direction of another
After days of peril and excruciating uncertainty, the astronauts were successfully brought back home. That which had once seemed routine became priceless. Not one of the three ever walked on the moon, but as they let go of “what should be,” they were free to discover the miracle of what actually was.
“This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced,” lamented the NASA Program Director. True. But not the end of the story. The Flight Director responded, “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”
And it was.
From the ashes of great crisis, beauty can indeed rise.
And one day, we’ve been promised, that it will.
Intensive investigation revealed that the near-fatal malfunction was a result of a production error 4 years prior to the Apollo 13 flight. Any blame-shifting or finger pointing during the crisis had been misplaced. It became clear that the error was not caused by either the astronauts on board or the crew on the ground. They were all the unfortunate heirs of a pre-existing faulty condition.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 4: 8 says: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair.”
*The word for perplexed in the original means “no way through” and the word for despair is the same word intensified meaning ” utterly without any way through”.
We can trust the Lord to find a way through for us in all circumstances so that whereas we may be stumped, not seeing any way forward though our problems, He will never let us be persuaded that there is absolutely no way through. He will keep us from despair. He will provide the promised way out. (1 Cor 10:13)