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Michael Todd

Personal Tipping Point

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Jeffrey, I understand that this film is a candy bar. That's fine, and apologize for picking on it, but this film served a personal tipping point. I'm just sick of this world.

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I'll PM you Ken. It isn't the film's fault. When I say I'm sick, I am just tired of what this culture places value on. I was walking through Walmart last night after I got off work, and I noticed that all the magazines that the store promos next to its registers are stuff like People, Us, TV Guide, etc. This is not a new observation by me, and many others have made it, but out of curiousity, I strolled over to the store's magazine rack. The thing is huge. There are hundreds of different magazines. I was curious as to whether the store carried any news magazines. Yep, they had one news magazine, Time, amongst all the other publications. There are a half dozen different magazines about being a bride, eight or nine Cosmopolitan-esque periodicals, magazines about everything from lowriders, to travel, to video game reviews. There are no newspapers sold at my Walmart. None. If there are, it is in a stand on the outside of the building.

As I look at this magazine display, I ask myself, "Is this life?" Sadly, I realize it is. Not for me, but for many of my neighbors in Madisonville, Kentucky, it is. Israel is on the brink of war, possible from three sides. International problems are escalating quite rapidly with both Iran and North Korea. Russia and China are playing their little game on the U.N. Security Council. This may or may not be World War III type stuff, but few are aware of it, regardless. This world could go up in a flame of glory, and many, if not most would even know. But they do know things. They know who was runner-up on American Idol the last three competitions. They know how many times J. Lo has been engaged. They know that if they are willing to drive 35 miles west of here, that there is a furniture store there that sells nice stuff, a lot cheaper than any of the furniture stores in this town. In fact, I just sat in on a conversation about one couple telling how they found the dining table set that they bought here in town, $800 cheaper at the furniture store out of town. All the while I'm sitting there thinking, "I only paid $1000 for the car I drive."

If the people I am talking about were not Christians, I doubt I'd say anything, but they are. I don't think it is that difficult to be aware of world events. Yet, as I type, I see two big reasons that many aren't aware. One is that this culture purposefully feeds us junk food. It is what is on display when we check out at the grocery store. This movie is a candy bar. A processed, contrived piece of high fructose corn syrup cooked high in trans fat. Oooh, it has dual meaning, Dead Man's Chest, people are selling their souls to avoid death, some dude is holding a crucifix in one scene, and another is reading the Bible upside down. Are we really this hungry for significance and meaning that this is what we as Christians cling to?

Secondly, people don't want to be informed. Christians I know seem like they want to hibernate until the Second Coming. As long as they are fatted, rested, and not disturbed, Jesus will evenutally descend from the sky, hand candy canes and teddy bears out to everyone who professessed him as Lord, and take them all back to live with him in his really shiny mansion. There they can all talk about where Jesus got his dining table set, and he can tell them all that he built it himself, just like in The Passion of the Christ. Pain is avoided, pleasure is sought, and life is fine and dandy. Ethics, religion, virtue, and contemplating the human condition are avoided. As my date told me after I recommended a favorite movie of mine, which is on the Top 100 list, "Well, if it made you cry, I don't want to see it." She's not the only fellow-Christian to say something like that to me. "Well if it made you convicted, I don't want to see (read) it." "Well if it made you consider whether you were living a vaccuous life, where you stripped life of meaning, then I don't want to read it." Those aren't exact quotes, but they are close. And I think many of them could be applied to the Bible.

In my opinion, Neil Postman was right, and we are amusing ourselves to death.

Anyhow, when I say I am sick, I mean stuff like this. I'm told that when you give up hope on this life, that is when repentance happens. As long as a person has hope that the next political election, or medical breakthrough, or pay raise will change anything, then they will not repent. I don't know what to do, because I repented five and a half years ago, and what I've found out is that I am running to the hills with a bunch of Lot's Wives. When Christ said that we are the Salt of the Earth, I don't think that this is what he meant.

Oh well... I'll shut up now. Ken is right, I really haven't said much about the merits or demerits of this particular film. This film was merely a trigger. Pray for me, if anyone does that sort of thing.

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Excellent post Ken. I do wonder, though, whether the cavalier attitude toward death and the afterlife that you are writing about may be even older than Romanticism. All the way back to The Odyssey we see a hero who is willing to risk the fires of Hades to accomplish his mission. Compared to Ulysses' decent into hell, Will's wager of an eternity of servitude to Davy Jones is trivial. Remember also, the main motivation for joining up with Jones is to avoid judgement, so the film clearly sees that the afterlife is very inevitable and very serious.

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Ken asked if it might not be a good idea to split the Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest thread, as several recent posts were quickly moving beyond discussion of the actual film. I thought about placing it in the "Religion" thread, as there's surely a spiritual aspect to the discussion, but "Other Topics" ultimately seemed a bit more appropriate.

Edited by opus

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Incredible post, kenmorefield. Alas, I always feel reluctant discussing the larger themes of movies like this one because we know the theme won't be played out in full until the NEXT movie comes out. But you have definitely pointed out some extremely valuable things.

solishu, I'm not sure that Homer's Odyssey is in quite the same category. Odysseus is not actually dying when he visits Hades -- I think it is pretty clear that he knows he will die one day and end up there anyway. There is no sense there in which he can "cheat" death.

For some reason, BTW, I am reminded of the Harry Potter books. They are PROFOUNDLY about death and our relationship to it, and as far as I can tell, J.K. Rowling seems to be determined to move her readers to a greater awareness of the PERMANENCE of death -- not in a nihilistic, you're-food-for-the-worms way, but in a this-phase-of-your-life-is-over-and-there's-no-going-back way. The scene in Order of Phoenix where Nearly Headless Nick reveals that ghosts are actually not spirits RETURNED from the dead but, rather, spirits of the dead that were too AFRAID to move on to the next phase, comes to mind here particularly.

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Odysseus is not actually dying when he visits Hades -- I think it is pretty clear that he knows he will die one day and end up there anyway. There is no sense there in which he can "cheat" death.

Right, he just goes there for advice from Teiresias. It's Orpheus who tries to cheat death: not his own, but Eurydice's.

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Ken, thank you for your post, which is terrific, and the amount of time it took to compose it. I contacted you several months back, because I had not known that you went through and deleted all your old posts. I was reading threads where you were cited or referenced, and then I would search and search, and ask, "What's up, why can't I read Ken's posts? Has he somehow put me on ignore? What did I do to him?" I messaged you and asked what was up, because I have always enjoyed your thoughts. I don't know you in the least, but of persons on this board, simply from reading posts, I feel the greatest amount of kinship to you. I am honored that you would write such a lengthy and articulate response to my complaint. I said it already, but I say it again -- thank you.

Also, your post stirs in my mind a link to something I once read in Walker Percy's The Message in the Bottle. I will quote parts of it here, because I think it is apropos.

"There is no such thing, strictly speaking, as a literature of alienation. In the re-presenting of alienation the category is reversed and becomes something entirely different. There is a great deal of difference between an alienated comuter riding a train and this same commuter reading a book about ann alienated commuter riding a train. (On the other hand, Huck Finn's drifitng down the river is somewhat the same as a reader's reading about Huck Finn drifting down a river.) The nonreading commuter exists in true alienation, which is unspeakable; the reading commuter rejoices in the speakability of his alienation and in the new triple alliance of himself, the alienated character, and the author. His mood is affirmatory and glad: Yes! that is how it is! -- which is an aesthetic reversal of alienation."

A little further, Percy writes:

"I hasten to define what I mean by alienation, which has become almost as loose an epithet as existentialism (if you do not agree with me, it is probably because you are alienated), I mean that whereas one commuter may sit on the train and feel himself quite at home, seeing the passing scene as a series of meaningful projects full of signs which he reads without difficulty, another commuter, although he has no empirical reason for being so, although he has the same empirical needs as commuter A, is alienated. To say the least, he is bored; to say the most, he is in pure anxiety, he is horrified at his surroundings -- he might as well be passing through a lunar landscape and the signs he sees are absurd or at least ambiguous."

I feel alienated quite a bit, moreso when I am in the company of other Christians. I wrote the following to a fellow congregant in a letter the middle of last month:

"As I said, I play the games at Jeff and Gretchen

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I think I can relate, Mike, on a few levels. First off, I found the movie in question to be insipid and depressing - it did my moviegoing soul good to watch a Kurosawa film as an antidote last night. Second, I tend to live in my head to a greater-than-the-average-person degree. Thirdly, I've found much Christian fellowship to be disappointingly superficial, on a social, spiritual, and intellectual level (and this has sometimes been in spite of years of good faith efforts to charitably, givingly participate and elevate things - not as a church-hopping ingrate).

Communicating via an online discussion board certainly limits my spiritual diagnostic acumen, but it sounds like your soul-sickness is of God. I hope you'll seek Him out, to see what He's trying to teach you through this. Maybe it's time to alter your filmviewing habits (take 1 Seventh Seal or Koyanisqaatsi and call me in the morning, and limit your intake of Hollywood saccharine), or seek out a deeper Christian fellowship, whether in your congregation or elsewhere, or maybe as is often the case, to simply wait on God and see what He's got in store for you - or maybe none of the above.

From my own experience, change in such important areas doesn't come quickly, but I'm hopeful that better things are in store for you.

God bless,

Andrew

Edited by Andrew

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Michael: To your original (lengthy) post (in this thread) I say ::cheers::

I find often myself stepping back and becoming an observer, making similar deductions and feeling isolated from both xian and non-xian communities. The isolation is, however, much more pressing among Christians. This makes sense, since this is the community of people I feel the need to identify with

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One of the best threads ever!

Micheal, I feel your pain, both at Wall-Mart (I work for the competition at Kroger and the mag racks are not at all more inspiring, just more weighted to the pre-season tout sports books and high end car buff books)and church. Never try for inspiration or a window on the culture in a store of any kind, be it a boutique or mass-market operation. They aren't designed for that. it'll kill you. Andrew has a good diagnosis about this being of God. The bad thing about our surroundings curdling our stomachs is the pain in the stomach, not the act of being averse. For us, it points back to God, as EVERYONE seems to have by now pointed out.

From my experience, all you can do is keep plugging along and be faithful. At some point in the future, God will present a sort of challenging fork in the road. Either He will give you a more stimulating environment and fellowship, or He will make you so frustrated and helpless to be inspired by your surroundings, that you will be desperate enough and well equipped enough to make a more inspiring and uplifting environment for those in your sphere of influence. And He will give you the gifts that will make you able to do this in His Name.

With that in mind, the last thing you should do is give up and/or go all nihilistic on Him.

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For those listening who have not contributed, I ask: where do you seek deeper spiritual conversation/interaction, be it about art, politics or life if/when you find yourself thirsty for something less superficial?

My wife Anne. Friends who have been part of the journey through life and art and who believe that "things mean things" -- and some of those friends are here on this board, while many of them have never even visited here. (I have stayed in touch with several friends who started exploring meaning in film, literature, music, and visual art at the same time I did during high school.)

But I must say that the willingness to explore art to its most poetic heights, and to enjoy the simple pleasures of its most frivolous entertainments, here at this board has been a source of great encouragement and enjoyment for me.

And then, some of the most important and sustaining and influential encounters have come through reading. I draw so much joy and counsel from reading Thomas Merton, Annie Dillard, Philip Yancey, Frederick Buechner, Thomas Howard, Madeleine L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others that I feel as if they've become the mentors of a sort that's hard to find in one's immediate community.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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I am actually surprised by this thread, primarily by its length and depth. My initial intention for posting in the Dead Man's Chest thread was just to say that I thought from reading Jeffrey's review that he over-hyped it, and that I was amazed at all the glowing reports from many of you on this forum. Since then, Christian, Ken, Andrew, and others have come out said, basically what I think of the film, "Eh, it isn't the worst thing I've ever watched, but it is by no means impressive."

I don't know how I got off on a rant against contemporary Evangelical Christianity. I guess in responding to one of Jeffrey's questions. I do wish to apologize to Jeffrey, because by citing his review, or saying that he over-hyped it, I did not want to insult Jeffrey. I just disagreed, and thought, "What am I not seeing?"

The movie was a trigger only in that I walked out of the theatre disappointed again, which I have done a terrific amount over the past few years. What was it that Ken quoted, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results." Thus maybe Andrew is correct, I should engage only in "higher" art, which I think that I do, to some extent.

Alas, I hate to be the elitist. I mean, Tom Hollander's character in the film is an elitist, and who wants to identify with Cutler Becket. Also, regardless of finding community here on this board, you can't engage just anyone on Ingmar Bergman. I live in Western Kentucky. Video stores are not libraries, and the local library isn't much to sneeze at either. Rural people are limited in their diversions. If you go to the store, and your only option is Basic Instinct 2, or something like it, then that is what you will watch. That is what is in stock. Though I have Netflix, not everyone does. It could be argued that though Netflix permits me to see things I otherwise wouldn't, it also permits me to grow more distant from my neighbors and contemporaries, who will likely never watch the silent films of F.W. Murnau.

I also want to say that I never intended to slam on anyone on this board. My venting was sprayed more at the culture at large, and my local church, which permits itself to be redefined by said culture. Christianity Today this week paraded some new book by David Goetz entitled, Death by Suburb, which from the review I read on CT and Books & Culture, was saying much of what I've been harping on. Christians that I attend church with are what he cites in his book as overindulged selves who chase after an "environment of security, efficiency, and opportunities."

Ken did ask more about me, and he is absolutely correct, because who I am plays into my angst, or whatever you want to call it. My name is Michael Todd. For a long time, my Internet moniker was Michael Xavier, because when I was younger, I wanted to change my middle name from Wayne to Xavier, because I thought Xavier sounded cooler. Alas, my yahoo e-mail account by that name was (ph)fished from me some time before I joined this board, and out of dissatisfaction with any other username, I decided to go with my real name here. Besides, Michael Todd was also the name of the producer and founder of Todd A-O, and former husband to Elizabeth Taylor.

I don't know if I should, but seeing that I am always arguing for transparency, I will tell you some about me. I am 30, single, and raised entirely by my father. I met my mother for the first time, last June, when I was 29. She was declared unfit when I was two months old, while my Dad was in the Army stationed in South Korea on the DMZ. I know that I am the first child in my own county, maybe one of the first in the state of Kentucky, to have the court award full custody to the father. In ways, both consciously, and subconsciously, this deeply scarred me and made me feel unique, for I was very aware that I was the only child like me, while I attended school.

Dad took me to church as a child, but we church-hopped a lot. I would never say this to him, but in my opinion, I was a cute kid, so he used me to try to pick up on women at church. It was mainly various sorts of Baptist, and other evangelical protestant congregations, but I remember going to a bunch. I guess he was scanning the scene. Once he found that one pool was dry, we'd move on to somewhere else. He has never remarried, and in my opinion, one of the most bitter people I know.

Throughout my childhood, I went through various unrecognized paranoias. This is self-diagnosis, but I remember going through all sorts of extreme behavioral phases. For some reason, around the age 4 or 5, I remember being obsessed with poison. I don't where I learned about it, but I remember asking about it all the time, and washing my hands, just to make sure I never unintentionally poisoned myself. The world was dangerous, and I was not going to let it get me.

I was also hyper-religious, and very judgmental as a child. I toned down as I aged, but I have vivid memories of telling children in the first grade that because they wore an imitation Michael Jackson Thriller jacket, they were going to Hell, and I told two children that because Santa Claus doesn't exist, and that their parents told them that he did, then their parents were going to Hell. I guess I was imitating the fire-and-brimstone sermons I'd seen at that age.

I made up all sorts of rules regarding prayer, like God expected it on your knees. A prayer from an able-bodied person, while lying down or sitting was an insult to God. Once I became "saved" at age eight, I prayed everynight, until I was 14, on my knees, by my bed, for a bare minimum of fifteen minutes, often stretching those sessions well over an hour. For some reason, my paranoia, growing up at the hieght of the Cold War, my Pharaseeism, and watching the Orson Welles narrated, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow about Nostradamus put me in a several year long fear about the immenient end of the world through nuclear annihilation. The slightest rattle of a window, or rumble in the ground made me drop to my knees, just to make sure that as the skin melted off my skull, I would be in a state of grace. You might think that morbid, but at nine or ten years old, I had yet to understand that Madisonville, KY was not of strategic importance to the Soviets.

Besides all of that, religion gave me solace, because I could condemn people, which I later determined, subliminally empowered me to strike back at my absent mother, who left to pursue a life of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, which I refused to listen to until I was an adult. I knew all the "good" verses, and I bet I quoted the works of the flesh to someone at least once a week until I was 15 years old. Talk about contrarian, I used religion as a mallet, "I'm not participating in this pep rally. I know 1 Corinthians 9, and it says that revelers shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. Do you expect me to put my eternal soul in jeopardy for the Mighty Maroons? I don't care if you are going to honor the cross country team. Why do you think I run cross country? Because it is solitary. It only happens to be a team sport, because proximically, me and six others happen to live in the same school district. Somebody tallies up my performance, along with the six others, and if the best five of us finished better than the best five from any other school in the competition, we win the race, but I don't care, because I would've ran the same race, if I was on a different team. You are not going to get me to participate in your revelry."

"What's that? Oh well, running races is not against my religion, because Paul says he ran a fine one himself." :D

Regardless, I was a horribly judgmental person, who never partied, always worked, looked down on all my classmates, because I thought life was handed to them by their parents, and in many ways, I am the same person.

Dad never held down a job. I started working when I was fourteen, just to buy food. I've yet to figure out why we didn't apply for foodstamps, or welfare, but I think a big part of that is just pride. I grew up with intense feelings of shame. I never had friends until I graduated, because I never trusted anyone enough to let them know how I lived. If it got out, it just meant more ridicule.

Dad and I lived in a hollowed-out concrete apartment owned by his brother, which was stripped of all the plumbing and duct work. My uncle used to rent the property, but after stripping the plumbing, with intention of re-doing it, he just let us stay there, and never bothered to do anymore with it.

I think we paid him $75 a month. Other than electricity, it was just a big shell, which in my estimation was always ten degrees warmer inside than whatever it was outside. Which meant if it was 30 degrees outside, it was 40 degrees inside, and if it was 95 degrees outside, it was a 105 in that oven.

It was also filled with roaches, which disappated in the winter, but regardless, I grew up with them my entire life. I was deathly afraid of one ever making it to school with me, so every morning, I went through an elaborate ritual of checking all my books, clothes, shoes, and jacket, just to never ever have anyone find out how my life was at home. Schools are a closed society. As stated, I could not afford anymore grief than I already received.

Also, because of the living conditions, I went to school early everyday, especially in the winter. It was cold at home; school was heated. Due to my fear of fire and my distrust of electric heaters, I slept under six or seven blankets and quilts. I knew this made me different from everyone else, because everyone else at least lived in some modicum of comfort. It is odd to be the first kid at school everyday, an hour and a half before we're supposed to be there. I also never understood tardiness. Why can't you get here? I got here a long time ago. Let's get this pony show on the road.

As stated, I started working when I was a 14, and by the time I was 16, I was working at least 30, maybe as much as 40 hours a week at a fast food restaurant. I paid the rent and bought food, and occassionally for some hair-brained money-making scheme Dad would come up with, like a correspondence lock-smith course, a leather and vinyl repair kit, or the time he decided to go to barber school. This made me bitter, because I never was able to buy a car, and where I grew up, nearly everyone had one. As I look back, I have a good many alienation experiences.

My aunt finally got tired of watching me walk everywhere, and went out and taught me to drive, when I was 19 years old. It is kind of funny to think of it, because at 19, I was managing the largest video rental store in my county, and I couldn't even drive to work.

Anyway, I don't even know why I am still typing. There is a lot I want to say, but I don't think I am going anywhere, or that I have little cohesion. I am not trying to sound pitiable, but I do think that I frustrated at life. I used to think that I could be anything I could imagine. I don't think that at all, anymore. I was listening to the radio a month or so ago, and I heard that Nolan Ryan's son was the owner and GM of some Triple A baseball franchise. I thought, why is Nolan Ryan's son the owner and GM of that team? Because he is Nolan Ryan's son. Why am I not the owner and GM of that or any other team? Because I am the son of a man who outside of the Army, never worked any place more than three months.

Someone, perhaps Ken applauded me for not saying woe is life. Well, simply because I didn't say it, doesn't mean I don't think it. I think it sucks. Paul told me to rejoice in my tribulations, they build character, hope, and whatnot. I did that as a teen, thinking, "Ha! The world can't keep me down." As I age, I think, "Yes it can!"

Thank you for opening this board to persons like me. I say this, though I can feel alienated here too. I haven't watched or read much of what many of you have. I don't have a website, nor do I review movies. I am not involved in professional ministry. I don't produce art. I am just a thirty year old, uneducated, single male that lives in Western Kentucky, who never dates, is involved in various ministries at my local church, and who works in management at my local UPS.

If I had my rathers, this forum's form of alienation is far more perferable to all the others I have experienced. I sense that with growth, I can contribute here. I wonder if I can contribute at my church, or in my community. I don't feel that I am that unorthodox, but too much has been redefined, and I don't know if I have the patience, energy, or will power to deconstruct my contemporaries' realities. Besides, just with what little I've shared, I've got enough to deal with on my own.

In closing, I will say that I want walk in the Spirit. I am not always certain what that means, but I do think a sign of genuine spiritual life is often the desire to give. I want to give. I try to give. I see a need for good teaching in my local congregation, so for the next year, I am going spend time in preparation, studying, and talking to a man who disciples me, to learn how to teach as he does, who I feel is excellent. Also, my associate pastor and I share kinship, and have been meeting in prayer since December of 2004. With him, I feel it is very important that I minister to him in our prayer time.

I am a firm believer that the church did not grow from a handful of disciples and two women, or however many were at the ascension or Pentecost, to being half the Roman Empire by the year 300 by getting involved in the Roman political structure, or by emulating Roman popular culture. It grew by serving others. They set up hospitals, cared for lepers, took in people during plagues, and really did become God's instruments here on earth. I am convicted by the idea of serving others, and by the fact that I should not work in the Christian community to satisfy my own ego, rather to meet the needs of others, where I discern there is need.

Though what I wrote in this post is in no way a true sample of my life, thought, or experiences, I also pray that you do not think I am all gloom, despair, and agony on me. Every cloud has its silver lining. There are benefits to being broken. Sometimes the cloud can fog my vision, and I don't see the light for haze, but there is little I would change. I value who I am. I just wish at times that circumstances were a bit different. I mean, I don't think I am asking a lot by praying for one woman to share the rest of my life with, but there are moments, when I am fairly convinced that this request amongst many may go ungranted. Who knows? God, they say. Well, I'm an open theist, so I might contend with you on that matter. :)

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Michael,

Anytime you want to outright disagree with me on a movie... you go ahead... especially if it leads to posts as substantial, revealing, and rich as that one!! :) I appreciate your apology, but it really isn't necessary. I wasn't offended. In fact, I share a lot of your frustration with popular culture. I was just a little surprised to see "the tipping point" end up being that movie instead of... oh... You, Me and Dupree of American Pie Presents Band Camp, or something truly awful. ;)

Thus maybe Andrew is correct, I should engage only in "higher" art, which I think that I do, to some extent.

Why not? Spend time with what feeds you and nourishes you.

Me, I go in for adventure films because I grew up buried in adventure stories, loving them, and deciding thta I wanted to grow up to be an adventure storyteller. So while I'm grateful I've learned to enjoy richer, more sophisticated art, I still get a lot out of a flood of whimsy and childlike imagination like the stuff on display in PotC:DMC. It's in my DNA. When it's well-made, it feeds me like nothing else does.

I'd respond at greater length, but I only have a few minutes before I'm signing off for a while. For now, I'll just say this: Thank you for your post. You and I have very different personal histories, but we are alike in several ways. I too have had chapters of my history in which my faith fueled judgmentalism rather than humility, and I still wrestle with that. I too was "hyper-religious," but I see in retrospet that this was driven by a desire to please the adults around me and earn praise and avoid the condemnation I heard whispered behind closed doors about other parents' children. I was brought up to "do the right thing" and to frown on anyone who didn't interpret "the right thing" in the same way. (This has a lot to do with why I ended up writing so much about my upbringing in my book about film... there's a lot in there about learning to outgrow a sort of Pharasaical contempt for anyone who didn't meet a certain code of "Christian" behaviors and attitudes.)

Anyway, all I mean to say is I hear you, and I can relate to that. I appreciate your honesty and openness with us here.

I'd love to see this post be the one that kicks off a series of threads about our lives and our questions and our faith, since the board is wide open to stuff like that, and I'm certain many of us here would be blessed to participate in them.

I'd encourage you, and others who have posted in this thread, who are seeking a more active and penetrating spiritual dialogue to toss some questions into the ring to see what happens. (Me, I write about movies a lot partly because I'm better at responding to things than starting them... and it's easy to respond to movies.)

If I had my rathers, this forum's form of alienation is far more perferable to all the others I have experienced. I sense that with growth, I can contribute here.

Heck, man, you're already turning in some of the most substantial contributions in recent weeks.

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Nardis sent me a PM, and this is my second response to her. She asked whether I had experienced Christians in my area who abstain from mentioning God, outside of clergy, who are paid to do it, and exhorted me not to laugh off what she possibly sees as depression. I felt my response was releveant and contributed to the theme of this thread, and since it was already mentioned, I do seek advice whether anyone reading this thread, thinks I do indeed need treatment.

* * * * *

Ellen,

Around the age of 17, I started a two or three year flirtation with the Jehovah's Witnesses. During that time period, and the subsequent period of atheism, I had a terrific problem wrapping my mind around the concept of the Trinity. Eventually, the concept did hit me, while contemplating Jesus' conversation with the rich young merchant, and after that I put together what has come to be my personal central Christian tenet -- there is nothing more important than love and communication.

What I mean is this. God created the universe, but what is God composed of? According to tradition and how we interpret revelation about Him through Scripture, God is three persons -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, before all of what we know as creation, the Father was loving and communicating with the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Son was loving and communicating with the Holy Spirit and the Father; the Holy Spirit was loving and communicating with the Father and the Son.

I say this to say that my most valued treasures are my friends. I have friends, very close ones too. Alas, almost all are involved in ministry, so yes, they all speak of God. My closest friend and his family, were missionaries to Albania. My second closest friend is actually an agnostic, but who until he met his wife, was going to be a Nazarene pastor. My third closest friends are my assoicate pastor and his family, who was also a former professional Christian rock guitarist. After that, the rest of my inner circle includes a former missionary to Kenya and his family, a former missionary to Uganda, and a lawyer and his wife who is a potter, who are both very active in the charismatic ministries of people like Randy Clark, Bill Johnson, and Heidi Baker.

Now, these are not the people I criticize. In fact, I only attend church with three of them. There are many, who I do attend church with, who may mention God or Christ in church, but outside of Sunday, you'd be hard-pressed to hear either. It is my opinion that there are persons who do not profess Christ as Lord, people who profess Christ as Lord, but continue to walk in the flesh, and people who profess Christ as Lord, and walk in the Spirit. My closest friends, except one, walk in the Spirit. Many of my fellow congregants behave very much like those I know who do not profess Christ as Lord.

There is a phenomenon that occurs less than 40 minutes west of where I live called Little Sturgis. It is a motorcycle rally, and you may very well be familiar with the big one in South Dakota. The little one is going on this weekend in Sturgis, KY. Because it is so close, and there are so many yuppie motorcyclist in my community, I wonder how many of them will be at their particular church in the morning.

When I fret about my fellow congregants, this is something that disturbs me. I know people in my congregation that have no problem riding over there, flashing their breasts, because that is really all it is, 30,000 nude and semi-nude people on Harleys and Hondas. It is quite the display, so I am told. At work, I bet half the drivers at my local UPS are over there this weekend. Most, if not all, profess Christ as Lord.

It disturbs me, in the sense that they would participate in that regardless of their profession of faith. That is just one example, but there are many others, such as, I can cite person after person, who I know to be active in the church, who have affairs, have premarital sex, get drunk often, who have cheated others on business deals, or embezzled money.

As I write this, a good friend of mine's wife is leaving him for an older man. She is 29, and the man is in his late-40s. He is going to leave his wife and children for her. She is the daughter of a minister, who repeatedly preached to me about how I am too liberal in my theology, and here she is chasing after a man who whispers sweet nothings in her ear, and promises her more material wealth and love than my friend has provided in their six year marriage. This is sad to me, and she is just one personal example in a dozen that I can name.

This is all starting to get at me, and this is what a big part of my gripe is.

From my observation, God is not mentioned, if so, I wonder what they mean when they say the word. God is an extrapolation of their own desires. I backed out of being a minister in the past few years, and part of the reason is this, I refuse to be paid to be a mediator between these people and their extrapolation.

I don't know if this is how the people where you are at in Pennsylvania are as well. People are people, but I expect more from the people who profess Christ as Lord.

Regarding depression, within the past year and a half, I've started having some sort of panic attacks. They often come at work. They started at my previous job, where I worked in a factory, making seatbelts. That place has moved to Mexico. Some say I've conditioned my mind to think negatively, others might say that I am under spiritual attack. Regardless, little things can get my mind to rollling, and after it all snowballs into an avalanche, I have had something like a half dozen attacks where I hyperventilate, can't breathe, and am crying uncontrollably.

I do also find that I cry a terrific amount in the last year or so, at least once a week, often more than that. It is not always something that affects me personally. I can get sad and cry while driving the car, when I see an elderly person attempting to cross the road. I start to wonder if they are poor, and whether I can help them, and whether anyone tells them that they are loved. I help people when I can, but I've been ripped off or scammed so many times recently, I have become a bit reluctant, which also saddens me, because I just never realized how many people will con you for enough money to go buy drugs.

I may be depressed, but it is my opinion, and I may be wrong, that it has a terrific amount to do with what I observe, where I am at in life, and how I have been conditioned. As stated, I have a problem with medication, because as a student of history, I think, this is such a new phenomenon. Before the past twenty years, this did not exist. Somehow the human race managed, coped, survived, or did something until now without prozac, or what-have-you.

I am like this. I am oppose owning a cell phone, because of similar thinking. One of my close friends will go to Kenya in ten days. His wife will not hear from him for three weeks. Their marriage is built on faith, love, and hope. On the other hand, most other couples I know can't even go to the supermarket without calling the other up to either pass time while they shop, or clarify whether they wanted crunchy or creamy Jiff.

Cell phones, amongst other new phenomena, amaze me, for I see little good from it. I wonder what humans have traded to get it, and if at all possible, I don't want to convert, until I can see why it would be beneficial.

Oh well, maybe I am being hard-headed on this being treated for depression suggestion. If so, I ask the Holy Spirit to give me sight on the matter. I will post this in the big thread, because admittedly, I am skeptical about the over-diagnosis of depression. I don't knock anyone else, but in my case, I wonder how much of what I have went through recently is a matter of circumstance, and if it is, can it be overcome by the Holy Spirit, and/or by coming to terms and embracing my circumstances.

Grace and Peace,

Michael Todd

Edited by Michael Todd

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You know... as I prayed this morning, showered, and readied myself for church, I got to thinking about what I've said in this thread. There is a part of me that recoils and thinks, this being vulnerable may not be wise. That has passed through my mind.

Also, I feel guilty about saying anything about some of my fellow congregants. My center manager at UPS is fond of saying something that may be true in this instance. "Twenty percent of your workers cause eighty percent of your problems." I think about this as I reflect on most at my United Methodist congregation, who are really decent, God-centered, loving, and faith-filled person, whom I admire and look up to in various ways. Who am I to say anything about anybody? I cry out to God to forgive me.

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You know... as I prayed this morning, showered, and readied myself for church, I got to thinking about what I've said in this thread. There is a part of me that recoils and thinks, this being vulnerable may not be wise. That has passed through my mind.

Also, I feel guilty about saying anything about some of my fellow congregants. My center manager at UPS is fond of saying something that may be true in this instance. "Twenty percent of your workers cause eighty percent of your problems." I think about this as I reflect on most at my United Methodist congregation, who are really decent, God-centered, loving, and faith-filled person, whom I admire and look up to in various ways. Who am I to say anything about anybody? I cry out to God to forgive me.

I (as others have already done) applaude you for your vulnerability. When thinking of this, I often go back to the book of James which tells us to share our sins with one another (chap 5 vs 16). And while this isn't necessarily what you've been doing, many have cited recently the "super-spiritual" facade which pervades so much of the church. Showing your true face, be it our trespasses, or just our struggles (What do people do when you reply to the American greeting "How are you" with an "I'm not doing well?") from day to day is unpopular.

And to our detriment most of the time. It creates a false impression, not just to each other but to the world who watches the Church so intently.

I also struggle with how to refer to other people when there is a plank in my own eye. There is a need for dialogue in the church in order to avert false teachings and apostasy. And I personally don't think that such discussion is sinful if it is not done with any malice (Although, 1- We can't even know our own hearts, which are evil, and 2- I'm no theologian, as I've said before, and hope others more knowledgable on this board will correct me if I'm mistaken.).

I've read all of the posts, but they are so (wonderfully) long I can't remember if there is anything else I was going to comment one. And I can't advise as to whether or not you need help for depression

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It's been said already, but let it be said again: I've been touched by this thread.

Michael, I share many of your frustrations with life. I know, I'm "the New Kid" in a very literal sense, but I can understand some of what you're feeling, particularily in relation to art and entertainment. Nothing depressed me more (well, maybe a few things) than when I sat down with a bunch of other teenagers and watched To Kill A Mockingbird, and they laughed all the way through it.

It's early for me to be tired of this life, since really, for me, it's just starting. But I can relate to what you're feeling, at least, a bit.

I don't have any words of wisdom. Maybe I've already ruined this thread, I don't know. But the greatest consolation I can offer to anyone is that there's something better coming, something so good that all this life will just be a vague memory. When I'm really depressed by this life, that thought comforts me.

Thus said, I'd just like to comment on entertainment. It's not just entertainment. I find when I'm depressed, "entertainment" will comfort me too. I'll watch Looney Toons, and they'll remind me how ridiculous life is. Or I'll watch (sorry for this) Spongebob, and it'll remind of how stupid life is. Or I'll watch Pirates, and, hey, it'll inspire me to stop being depressed, get off my back, and live life as an adventure for God.

Sorry if all this sounds really stupid, or doesn't help, or isn't needed any more. This thread has just changed the way I look at all you guys so much, that I felt I just had to reply.

How punctual, though, on Sunday ...

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::Maybe I've already ruined this thread, I don't know.

Nah, leave that to me. :)

::As stated, I have a problem with medication, because as a student of history, I think, this is such a new phenomenon. Before the past twenty years, this did not exist. Somehow the human race managed, coped, survived, or did something until now without prozac, or what-have-you.

I'm not trying to be argumentative, but I question this line of reasoning. Humankind existed for millenia without antibiotics, but in case I develop pneumonia, I wouldn't want to try and survive without them. As one with an interest in history, Michael, you might find it worthwhile to read the biographies of men such as Charles Spurgeon or William Cowper, to see how godly yet deeply depressed folks in prior centuries survived without substantive psychological treatment. The short answer is, not very easily: Spurgeon spent a few months each year away from the pulpit due to his incapacitating depression, while poet and hymnwriter Cowper required multiple institutionalizations for his psychotic, suicidal depressions, eventually dying in a sense of God-forsaken despair. This is only the tip of the iceberg, of course, when it comes to the history of mental illness - one can read early histories and learn of violent psychotic men caged by the sides of New England turnpikes for the lack of substantive treatment, or of colonial-era guilt-laden anorexics who starved themselves to death.

I wouldn't bring this up, but your comments about weekly crying spells and increasing panic attacks are of concern to me. I have no intent to play internet shrink, but I would simply encourage you not to unfairly write off potentially useful forms of treatment. I respect those who are wary of medications; as I've written elsewhere on this board, I'm deeply skeptical of the pharmacology megaindustry and PR machine, and know that meds are poorly and injudiciously used in many instances. Nonetheless, I'm convinced that these meds have saved numerous lives and aided greatly in conditions that cause greater suffering than most physical ailments.

Lastly, let me just say that I've been deeply moved by reading of your experiences, and I admire your will and stamina in striving to make a better way than your childhood and adolescence offered you.

Edited by Andrew

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Ken, I'm willing to read George MacDonald. Like I've noted with many on this forum, I am a huge G.K. Chesterton fan, who I suspect is in the same vein, but outside of his Princess and the Goblin, Back of the North Wind, I have no familiarity with what he wrote about. Please make a recommendation, and I will follow up on it.

Regading depression, my Senior pastor is fond of citing how many of the Psalms dealt with despondency. He has cited C. H. Spurgeon's bouts with it, and Luther's. I look at depression as a fact of life, part of the terrain. Some people live in placed where there are alot of more peaks and valleys. Allow me to explain another big personal belief that shapes my faith.

I have this suspicion that the spiritual world operates very similar to the physical world. One can learn about growth in the Spirit by studying how trees grow. One can learn about how the Spirit shapes things by reading up on the power of wind, or water to shape geology. This is strongly influenced by my belief that every person is composed of a body, soul, and spirit. Physical death is an undeniable reality. The soul, the seat of self-consciousness, loses world-consciousness. It now lacks an interface. Spiritual death would leave a person trapped in an eternal soul, with only one's emotions, mind, and will to interact with -- solitary confinement, which is the ultimate form of Hell for creatures that are in their essence, social.

I don't know how the spiritual world operates, but I do believe it exists, is populated, has form, and enables me to interact with God, and allows others, like shamans, witches (who aren't dabbling), mediums, and various others to interact with demons, and other spiritual beings, perhaps even what one might call ghosts. Then we get into what I think a demon might be, but I won't go there in this post.

The spiritual world has terrain. I am not against drugs, but depression medications to me are like spiritual earth movers. Water runs down hill, and it will find a natural path. Enough of it will cut grooves, streams, creeks, and perhaps rivers into the ground. Our mind forms synapses, and when encountering this life, problems will follow the most natural path and puddle, perhaps even flooding the banks. I know that in my case, life, sin, and perhaps genetics have contributed to me being a negative person. It is how my mind is wired. I want to manage this better, and I call upon the Holy Spirit to walk me into better land, or to help me sculpt what has been granted to me. I am not sure that I want chemicals coming in, damming causeways, creating new reservoirs, shoving synapses (the dirt of my mind and/or spiritual terrain) around, doing reclaimation work, that I feel is rightfully mine and God's, not Paxil's.

"No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat..." Isaiah 65:22a

"... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Phillipians 2:12b

This is mine, the body of Christ's, and the Holy Spirit's work. I will not live in a prefabricated home made in a lab. The work that is mine, the body of Christ's, and the Holy Spirit's shall be done by us, if it is done by anyone or anything. It is work, and it requires broken backs, sun-burnt necks, and calloused hands. Liposuction is not the same as exercising and properly dieting, to achieve a trim waist. Unless I can be convinced otherwise, I will not undergo spiritual and mental liposuction.

Call me stubborn, but I don't think coming to a point in your life where you'd rather be dead than go on is the worst thing imaginable. This is not where I am at, but even if I was, Moses, Elijah, Paul, David, Spurgeon, Luther, and other heroes of the faith and members of the choir invisible, all made similar statements. I admit that there have been moments where I have wanted the pain to end, and that since the pain that I am talking about is this life, I have prayed, wished, wanted, or preferred not to go on with this farce. Yet, look at these men, and their faith, am I that different? These men didn't end it, they pressed on, ran the good race. Like divorce, or adultery, as a member of the body of Christ, I do not have the right to make that decision. The left ring finger can't decide to amputate itself. And there is some spiritual reality that if the left finger was able to willfully pull this feat off, then it is an offense to the rest of the body. I don't fornicate for the same reason, though as a member of the left hand, I do try to keep the right hand unaware as to what I am up to. :) (Just a little Jesus humor.)

In closing, I wish to thank you all again. I have perspective on what I call this -- spiritual mining. I do this often, and it does require boring a hole into your soul and spirit, through to others, and seeing if others have veins of valuable resources, insights, wisdom, and/or love. You all do. Thank you for permitting me to excavate.

Edited by Michael Todd

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Michael, you might be interested in Heaven by Randy Alcorn if you haven't read it already. Very good read on the theology of Heaven

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Chashab, I own a copy of Heaven. I bought it some time last year at a used book store for $1.25. I've been intending to sell it online acutally, but if it agrees with me, I'll pick it up and give it a look, for egoistic purposes if nothing else.

Edited by Michael Todd

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Chashab, I own a copy of Heaven. I bought it some time last year at a used book store for $1.25. I've been intending to sell it online acutally, but if it agrees with me, I'll pick it up and give it a look, for egoistic purposes if nothing else.

His writing is pretty easy reading, although becomes repetitive after a while (this isn't all bad, but means I end up scanning sections). And his theology always seems to make sense to me

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I'd encourage you, and others who have posted in this thread, who are seeking a more active and penetrating spiritual dialogue to toss some questions into the ring to see what happens. (Me, I write about movies a lot partly because I'm better at responding to things than starting them... and it's easy to respond to movies.)

I haven't forgotten this suggestion, and am just now getting back to it. I'm not sure I've come up with something profound but I want to pursue your idea.

Question:

How does one go about encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ to more significantly (or at all) engage in the arts without sounding like a snob?

I have felt for years now the compulsion to create an interest in the arts among Xians who have no such interest

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Well, one of the things I like about this thread is that I'm not exactly sure what it is, so it's hard to go off topic.

Well said. There should me more threads like this.

I know that most people these days see art as something you hang over your couch or in the case of film, are entertained by. I also understand not everyone will come to have an interest, but I remain convinced (at this point in time) that most everyone can come to have an understanding.

AAAAAARRRRGH!!! I can sypathize once again. I recall once watching Batman Begins with a bunch of other teens, and the guy in charge of the gathering shut it down half way through (more like a quarter of the way through) and basically preached a short sermon on how the film glorified "anti-Biblical elements".

Too many Christians I find nowadays are judging films on a basis of content: if it's low on violence, sex, and profanity, it gets the green light (for themselves or, more commonly, for their kids). But even then, it's only entertainment; at the said youth gathering they never once discussed a film, aside from Batman, which I can hardly call a discussion. It was just "entertainment"; they watched it, and then they went on to something else.

Er, getting back on "topic" ...

How does one go about encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ to more significantly (or at all) engage in the arts without sounding like a snob?

I recall the passage in Acts 17 where Paul quotes directly from pagan poetry to support one of his points. This obviously means that Paul spent some time reading pagan poetry. And if Paul engaged in secular art for the purpose of advancing the Gospel, why shouldn't we? It's simple reasoning. I haven't actually tried this method on anyone, but I had it tried on me once, and it worked, so it's worth a go.

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Incredible post, kenmorefield. Alas, I always feel reluctant discussing the larger themes of movies like this one because we know the theme won't be played out in full until the NEXT movie comes out. But you have definitely pointed out some extremely valuable things.

Peter--thank you. I'm sorry I didn't acknowledge or reply earlier; for some reason, I missed your post the first time through this thread (perhaps because of the shuffle from the split off post). I'm a marginal Harry Potter fan, and I've always had this gut feeling that there were ways in which it was "better" (both artistically and spiritually) than some stuff allowed or championed by that portion of evangelica that make it their line in the sand, but I've never had the energy or inclination to really pursue that thought. You've fleshed out a specific example that is certainly consistent with my gut (I'm sure there are others).

Jeffrey said:

I'd encourage you, and others who have posted in this thread, who are seeking a more active and penetrating spiritual dialogue to toss some questions into the ring to see what happens. (Me, I write about movies a lot partly because I'm better at responding to things than starting them... and it's easy to respond to movies.)

I've been thinking in the context of this thread about process more than content. I remember the first class I put together as a graduate assistant, picking all the books I liked and was passionate about and finally got to teach. It was okay, but you can have the best food in the world and still not know how to eat it nor appreciate it.

I also thought about how I've had many "penetrating spiritual dialogues" about mediocre or even bad works of art (though good ones lend themselves to the better.) So, I thought, I guess before I start offering suggestions for where to find something (penetrating spiritual dialogue), I ought to do some intentional thinking about what it is.

So, here's my backhand way of getting at that defintion. Here are two questions that I throw out. Feel free to ignore them if they don't fit or offer others or move on to other things:

1) Standard "desert island" question with a twist. Imagine you are on a deserted island and could have only 3-4 works of art (novel, album, film, whatever). Now, here's the twist, rather than name them, see if you can articulate why you would want those works: what qualities do they have that faciliate or seem to create lasting value. Don't talk about the work itself--if we were in a class setting I'd say "you lose points if I can figure out what the work is"--rather talk about what qualities in the work make you gravitate towards them.

2) Same question only with a twist. Imagine you could only talk to or engage in dialogue about art (or "the arts") with 2-3 people for the rest of your life. Who would you choose? Again, rather than naming them (or hinting) see if you can articulate what it is about the conversations you have with him or her (or think you would if you interacted with him or her) that would make you pick them. In class language--you lose points if I can figure out who you are talking about. If you want to flatter someone, go use the compliment thread, here try to articulate the qualities of the participant that make a penetrating spiritual dialogue.

Well, these questions (like most of my questions) will either make sense or leave people going "What the heck is he talking about?") if the latter, I won't be offended.

Peace.

Ken

Edited by kenmorefield

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