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Rob Z

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About Rob Z

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  • Occupation
    Graduate student and literature/composition teacher, University of Oregon
  • Favorite movies
    Ordet, Chariots of Fire, The Tree of Life, Blade Runner, Tarkovsky
  • Favorite music
    classical, Stevie Wonder, U2, Over the Rhine, Sufjan Stevens, Patty Griffin, RAIJ
  • Favorite creative writing
    Wendell Berry, Marilynne Robinson, Dostoevsky, Thoreau, Dickinson, religious and environmental poetry

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  1. I really enjoyed participating in the Top 25 list last year, and I'd be eager to participate in whatever form this takes. I agree with Brian and others that discussions around lists seem productive for this forum, and those would be discussions I'd want to participate in.
  2. Rob Z

    First Reformed

    Hmmm, I don’t think the first reason you give here for this interpretation works.
  3. Rob Z

    First Reformed

    Yes, Schrader has said in interviews that the ambiguity was deliberate. Schrader himself seems more invested in the ambiguity than any particular interpretation. Check out this selection from an interview with Slate. https://slate.com/culture/2018/06/first-reformeds-ending-paul-schrader-explains-why-its-designed-to-be-ambiguous.html Honestly, I thought this last possible ending Schrader considered was where the movie was headed pretty much as soon as the ominous background music/noise begins in the second half of the film
  4. Rob Z

    Oscars 2018: Best Director

    After Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G. Iñárritu won Best Director back to back in 2014 and 2015, I jokingly predicted that Del Toro, the third of the “Three Amigos” Mexican Hollywood directors, would win the following year for Crimson Peak. And after Emmanuel Lubezki won Best Cinemetography for both Gravity and Birdman, I predicted he’d win a third time in a row, which he did for The Revenant, which also won Iñárritu a second Best Director in a row. I though my joke was surprisingly accurate. I guess this seems like it will actually be Del Toro’s year.
  5. I know it’s been a while, but I thought I’d weigh in and respond to your questions, Bryce. I’d second all the films recommended in this thread so far (that I’ve seen) and also Overstreet’s book. I think that defining these terms and categories is both really important and highly fluid in that people mean different things by terms such as spirituality, religion, and faith. I’m not sure what you had in mind but I’ll give it a shot. Forgive me for being a little abstract here, but I’m hesitant to use more conventional language. These are not philosophical ideas I came up with myself.I understand the world—and the human person—as an integration of aspects of meaningfulness created by God and through which God upholds all existence and is revealed and by which we and everything else have knowledge and function in every way we do. That whole integration can be oriented toward God or away from God (toward something in the creation—idolatry), likewise specific actions focused in particular aspects of life. That wholeness and integration is what I think is most important in our relationship with God. Films that are actively wrestling with this are what interest me most, as a Christian and as a person. This is what I consider to be spiritual or religious. One of these universal “aspects” has to do with trust, with faith you might say, with that ultimate orientation of our personhood. And certain institutions and traditions (like churches and “religions”) have arisen to be authorities in this aspect of life to help orient us to God (or they fail to. And I don’t think that this is limited to Christianity. I believe other faiths do as well, although I do believe Christianity ultimately holds the true story of God and the world.) It’s inseparable from the other aspects, of course. And it’s also different from faith defined as belief in certain things being the case (like God’s existence). I think that kind of faith inherently decenters God and centers on the human will in idolatrous ways. And I find most faith based genre films to do that. You might be interested to hear the perspective of writer/director Paul Schrader from this talk at the 2017 Toronto film festival. He has a thing or two to say about faith based films. He talks about (and this is in part my take on Schrader) the HOW of film being more important as the WHAT regarding spirituality and the experience of the transcendent in film. And he finds that films that “lean away” from audiences through intentionally difficult and distance-producing techniques (including boredom) force the viewer to lean into the film’s world and find the mystery that is always there, usually just beneath the surface. This is basically what Overstreet said in this thread earlier. Other films (most all films, including faith based films) actively tell the viewer how to feel, how to think, how to believe. And in doing so any sense of mystery or spiritual depth focus gets lost or is actively ignored. The final response in the Q&A also gets at this. I am not as cynical as Schrader about religion itself, but I think what he says about religion in general does apply to faith based films. C.S. Lewis talks about being willing to surrender yourself to the world of an artwork, and only after you’ve done that to be able to critique the work. I find that when I surrender myself to the world of faith based films, I find them to be utterly fraudulent depictions of reality—human, divine, and otherwise. Most of the films on the A&F Top 100, though, I find to draw me more deeply into reality, including the presence of the Spirit. Of course there are films on the list that I ultimately find to be at odds with my faith, but are such astute observers of human nature or articulate what is wrong so well, that I find them helpful nonetheless. Films whose vision of the world I find that I can submit myself to and emerge with my spirituality or my connection to God via the world strengthened are the kind of films I like. And these are more often the kinds of films that employ the distancing “transcendental style” Schrader describes. But not always. I find several films that are fairly conventional but have religious themes to have strengthened my faith as well (Chariots of Fire, The Mission, Sophie Scholl, A Man for All Seasons, others on the Top 100). Might these be the faith themed films of which you speak? They aren’t "faith based" but they strongly engage (and affirm) issues of faith. A film near the top of the Top 100 list that profoundly affected me and even impacted my faith positively, and did so by drawing me into its world (by formally receding from my expectations), is Ordet. It’s faith themed but also engages with that full integration of humanity I was talking about earlier. But another film, actually the most recent film I’ve finished so it’s fresh with me, that has little to do with “religion” on the list is the Japanese film Eureka. It’s achingly slow but also achingly beautiful, and portrays the deep, deep ache of human brokenness. This film taught me something about being made in the image of God and the fact that that image can be and is hugely distorted, but is also capable of healing. Those are Christian truths, and this film spoke those truths in the language of film (rather than the language of “faith”). (By the way, I’ve seen most of the films on the Top 100 by now, and Eureka is one I’d recommend but not eagerly or to most casual film-watchers. It’s difficult on many levels.)
  6. Rob Z

    The Miseducation of Cameron Post

    Ah, this clarifies what you meant. I think maybe you read the quotation marks around the phrase in the source as signaling a direct quote from such an organization in the film? I actually reckoned the opposite. This is a phrase that the writer did not come up with—so a quote—that the writer (or possibly a character in the film) is using to characterize (or, again possibly, to caricature) what is going on. The quotation marks also function as scare quotes (or “scare quotes”) and signal that the belief of the speaker is that it is not their belief that same-sex attraction can be prayed away. Thus I too would question the veracity of the phrase in the mouth of someone actually doing that. (Sexuality is too complex for such universals, but, exceptions aside, it’s my understanding that the evidence suggests that there is some fixity in the orientation of sexual attraction (again, for the vast majority of people), regardless of “prayer” or “miracles.”) I am now curious about the origins of the phrase. While I don't consider the phrase a mockery it certainly could be used that way depending on tone of voice or context. I know the word “struggle,” when used by Christians, can signal to many people a certain stance on all this that might not be intended. I don’t mean to minimize the struggle many people have with their sexuality, including with to whom they are attracted. But I’ve also read books by gay Christians (such as Tim Otto and Eve Tushnet, both of whom are celibate—if that’s even relevant) who experience same-sex attraction much more structurally—not as a struggle but as neutral or just a part of them, a gift even--and struggle more with things that are imposed on them by those who are well-meaning but misguided (not to mention those who intend to put them down, for that matter).
  7. Okay, thanks, Joel. I totally understand. I look forward to watching another film club film with you all at a time when we can swing it.
  8. Rob Z

    The Miseducation of Cameron Post

    Yes, it is. I’ve heard “pray the gay away” more often. I doubt that any organization devoted to doing this would use the phrase, but I don’t know. I have heard it used by many people to refer to "conversion" of sexual orientation, including gay Christians (or rather gay former Christians) I know who have been the objects of such “prayer,” although that can mean many things depending on the organization. Of course, there are organizations with the goal to assist gay Christians, whether or not they are troubled by their same-sex attractions, with emotional, relational, and spiritual health, and that seems good. But those can get lumped in with the “conversion therapy” organizations that I have heard can be unintentionally quite abusive. The phenomenon itself is alive outside of such organizations, too. I’ve heard people mention how they engage in such “prayers” regarding adolescents they are related to or go to church with.
  9. Hey everyone, I have an idea for a film club movie for the month of February. A major blind spot for me is historical Black cinema, and I’d like to watch something in that category. I recently came across a book at the library called Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American Religion in American Film, 1929-1949 (2007) by Judith Weisenfeld, and it’s quite interesting (I love the play on “hallowed by thy name.”) One of the major topics of the book is “race films,” films made with black casts for black audiences (theatres were segregated back then) and often by black directors. The one I’d like to pick for a film club discussion is The Blood of Jesus (1941) directed by Spencer Williams. I haven’t yet seen it, but from reading about it I know that it has several things going for it, in addition to its historical significance: explicitly religious themes, which I think this group will find worthy of discussion, a run time of just under an hour, so it should be easy to fit in a busy schedule, and it’s on YouTube, so it will be easy to access. What do you think? I’ll start a thread soon if others are interested.
  10. ***spoilers*** Yes, I too would have liked more of an exploration of van Gogh's spirituality and Christian journey. That's a good point you highlight about how the film shows it would have been in character for him not to have sought to blame others but to extend grace even to those who caused his death. It adds another dimension to the significance of the title which goes beyond the stance of the filmmakers and intended viewership toward van Gogh (and of course Vincent's valediction to Theo) and shows that Vincent loved even those who persecuted him. I hadn't even thought of the Christlike dimensions of this, but I think they are there. Honestly, I'm still conflicted about the film's argument regarding the true nature of van Gogh's death. It's a much more hopeful, though no less tragic, scenario that the film presents. Of course, I had always been conflicted about the conventional understanding of his death as a suicide since most of the the indisputable, tangible dimensions of the circumstances point away from suicide, except van Gogh's statement--"I tried to kill myself." His struggle with mental illness and despair could go either way in thinking about this, though. the film shows well the fact that this didn't seem to be as much of an issue for him at the time of his death. What do you think? Has anyone seen Lust for Life with Kirk Douglas, or other van Gogh biopics? Are there similarities or differences with Loving Vincent?
  11. Rob Z

    A Ghost Story

    “Whither thou ghost, I will go; where thou lodgest, I will lodge…forever.” …to pun a phrase from Ruth 1:16 in the KJV.
  12. I absolutely loved this! I can't overstate how unique and special the experience of this film was. I've seen painted animation before, but this was different because it took van Gogh's paintings style and subject matter as the starting place. As with the man and events the film centers around, we only have access to them through his paintings and letters, and that's what this film gives us in its narrative, where van Gogh is not the protagonist and whose story is told in flashbacks reminiscent of his sketches. That narrative tries to be as documentary as possible while the color painted scenes featuring Armand are historical fiction. That the historical aspect of that is fairly rigorous, is my understanding. The "fiction" aspect isn't very strong, as has been noted, but it serves to foreground the documentary nature of the film as an investigation of the circumstances of van Gogh's death. That didn't bother me at all, and the visuals were so immersive. When we got point of view shots corresponding to Armand in the film, we were really getting POV shots that put us in the position of van Gogh painting the original. I felt as though I were experiencing the world charged with light, beauty, and spirit just as van Gogh saw and conveyed it. That's what truly great animation (and any truly great film, but especially animation) can do: represent the physical world in such a way that changes your experience of it and shows it to be charged with the grandeur of God. (The Man Who Planted Trees is another example of animation that does this for me.) I also liked the score. I could tell as I watched it that the composer was the same one who scored Darren Aronofsky's films. I thought it sounded especially like Requiem for a Dream's music. I feel so fortunate that this past year I was able to see not one but two creative biopics about artists (the other being Emily Dickinson) who have been significant for me and my faith. Really there are two more 2017 films about (literary) artists in that same category: Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul and Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, but I have yet to see those! Maybe Gerard M. Hopkins next year???
  13. Rob Z

    The Lord's Prayer

    I’m curious if English-speaking Orthodox tend to use “trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer? I grew up with debts/debtors (the Matthew text) and my current church uses sins/ “those who sin against us,” so that has always sounded off to me. I like that Luke has both sins and debts, and I wish that were in more liturgical use. I honestly don't know where "trespasses" comes from since KJV has "debts." I read somewhere about biblical metaphors for sin, that there are three primary metaphors that developed over time: first, sin as burden to be carried, then sin as stain to be washed away, finally sin as debt to be repaid. Perhaps it's a property-conscious mindset that developed the metaphor of trespass later? Makes me think that now some of the most common metaphors for sin are "brokenness" and "separation." Beyond theological extrapolations from the Bible, I wonder how those developed. (Just to be clear, I do not hope we end up with "forgive us our brokenness as we forgive those separated from us"! But a translator could do worse.)
  14. Rob Z

    The Lord's Prayer

    I agree that people need education in the liturgy no matter what. And I agree that liturgy forms us (and that we especially need that Christian formation in the face of the power of “secular cultural liturgies,” as described by Jamie Smith). But that doesn’t mean that liturgy can’t or shouldn’t be changed by the church when needed. (Saying that we don’t or shouldn’t form liturgy sounds to me kind of like Protestants saying that they aren’t formed by tradition, only the Bible, but I might not totally get your meaning.) I agree that “protect us” is what “lead us not” means (although I think “save us” is even better). Why not say “protect us from temptation” if that what the Greek means? That has a nice iambic rhythm (as does “protect us from the time of trial”), too, and seems to me not to lose too much on the grounds of rhythm and cadence, which I agree are important. I am absolutely not suggesting that liturgy be dumbed down for seeker sensibilities. (Yeah, “conditions of access” is a clunky phrase. What I meant was that the language itself shouldn’t be the barrier to comprehending and fully participating in the prayers spoken. I was thinking more of children growing up in the church than adult seekers, but I think it applies to everyone.) I’m suggesting the translation needs to be updated to be more accurate. I don’ think you were suggesting that contemporary English is inherently dumber than 1600s English, but even if it was, we speak contemporary English, not early modern English and not ancient Greek (which again, was contemporaneous vernacular Greek). This isn’t beside the point, but I don’t think it really gets away from the fact that the problem the Pope identifies is real, and that a better translation is needed. Many revisers get it wrong, as you say, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done right. I don’t disagree with Esolen’s quibbles with the Pope’s proposed alternative, but I do disagree with his philosophy of translation. It’s similar to the ESV translation philosophy as I understand it, and isn’t a proper translation of the original into a contemporary language if accuracy in rendering of the original comes at the cost of sufficiently. The ESV is explicit about prioritizing traditional translations of texts. There is something to be said for that, but I think that it does this at the expense of accuracy of translation into English. He seems to be implying that the text suggests that God does lead us into temptation of the sort that the Pope is concerned about, and I agree with the Pope and I think everyone else in this thread that that’s a misunderstanding. I say that accuracy of translation should trump tradition (certainly in this case), and I think that I could root my arguments for that in the larger Christian Tradition, although I haven’t thought that one through thoroughly. A blog I like that takes this perspective (by a Jewish Biblical scholar) is https://goddidntsaythat.com/ Let me add that I think Esolen is a good translator, and his philosophy of translation can be very useful. I’ve read Dante’s Commedia in three translations and I liked his the best. But Dante isn’t Scripture, nor is it liturgy. I agree more with his translation philosophy when it comes to literary translations of the Bible with commentary, like Robert Alter’s or the Anchor Bible series or perhaps this new translation by David Bentley Hart that looks intriguing. We desperately need those translations, alongside NIVs, ESVs, NRSVs, and historical translations. Here are some helpful thoughts on the issue from some Biblical scholars posted at Christianity Today.
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