Friday Curiosities

1. Communist Germany lives on…in a small island off of the coast of Cuba. Final, ein Deutsches tropical paradise for all of us, eh comrades? 🙂

2.  April Ludgate of TV’s Parks and Recreation: Is she one of TV’s best characters?

3.  They’ve just invented a sonic screwdriver.  This is the next step in my eventual journey to become The Doctor.

Next week: A more serious turn as we consider together the complex issue that is: abortion.

I’m (Not?) a Puritan

Courtesy of my favorite sci-fi news site:

One of the many, many things we love about Game of Thrones is its ability to hold nothing back in the mature content department. We can’t imagine what the show would be like without all the blood, blades and breasts that HBO allows for. But some foreign broadcasters aren’t so impressed, and one was so concerned with the show’s nudity that it pulled the plug in the middle of a new episode.

Game of Thrones has no shortage of nudity and sex.  It is, after all, on HBO.  It makes sense that a television station in a place like the United Arab Emirates would be naturally worried about such content.  What it makes me wonder, though, is how “bad” such material is in the first place.

As anyone who has read a National Geographic knows, not all nudity is pornographic.  In certain cultures today and various groups throughout history, nudity and sex have been less taboo than they are for us.  Especially in the United States, and certainly amongst many conservative Christians, most if not all depictions of these things are considered unhealthy, inappropriate, and sinful.  They are said to uniformly lead to lust and further down the road to destruction.  Others say no.  They say that by failing to accept sexuality and the human body as a natural part of life, we separate ourselves from our humanities.  We are simply too uptight.

At the risk of perpetuating an unfair myth about our New England forefathers, I am forced to ask myself and my fellow co-religionists the question: are we too puritanical?  Further, have we made nudity or sex such a taboo that our sometimes secret violation of it becomes a larger matter for us than others who do not so sharply divide things?  Is it wrong for us to watch something like Game of Thrones, or is it wise for us not to?

Understand that I have no equivocation on the issue of pornography.  It is destructive to the men and women involved in the industry, devastating to those caught up in it, and deeply damaging to the families that are affected by it.  It debases the image of God within each of us and represents some of the darkest parts of humanity.  I condemn it 100%.  Pornography seeks to serve only our basest needs and is a kind of sexual gluttony at its worst.

However, Game of Thrones–as a story where the violence, sex, and nudity are part of a larger narrative and, at times,  means to a greater end–might not be pornography because its main goal is not the same.  Even so, I do question why so much sex–and such graphic depictions–have to be such a constituent part of many HBO shows.  It blurs the line between legitimate expression of the drama and needless titillation.

A Supreme Court justice once wisely said the following:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

I think I would agree, but that it is even more complicated than that.  It is not just a matter of all of us together recognizing what is or isn’t obscene, but each individual acknowledging on a personal level the effect of such material.  If a thing is pornographic for us–regardless of what someone else thinks–we need to stop and seriously consider what is going on.

I do believe that some can watch Game of Thrones in sinless perfection, enjoying the epic saga as a deeply textured tale of flawed humanity.  Others?  Well, for them it would be a lot of steps in the wrong direction and lead to a debasement of themselves and a dehumanizing of others.

Being free to show and view what we want does not always lead to freedom.

I welcome your comments, critiques, and accusations of Puritanism.

Awards Deserved

Today I had the honor and privilege to present the Northwest University academic award for Youth Ministries to Kenny Priest.  The conditions of the award are that a student must have at least a 3.0 GPA for coursework within their major and be a graduating senior.

I have had the opportunity to both observe and get to know Kenny this year, and am glad to have done so.  As a volunteer youth intern and media ministry leader at Maltby Christian Assembly, Kenny has distinguished himself as not only a faithful servant but a hard worker as well.  He is a thoughtful and engaged student, and it has been a pleasure to have him in class. What is most inspiring is his ability to hold together all the things he has on his plate.  In addition to his academic load and church responsibilities, recently married Kenny works two other part-time jobs…and keeps a positive attitude!

He needs to work on his racing skills, though.

He and his wife Mary (also a Youth Ministries major) are both committed to the calling they have received and look forward to relocating to Alaska (Mary’s home state) following her graduation next year.  Their desire is to minister to students in our nation’s 49th state.

Having students like Kenny and Mary is encouraging to me, and should be to others as well.  They represent the best of what Northwest University and the Church has to offer…and they do it well.  They are gifted, they are equipped, and I cannot wait to hear about all of the things God will be doing through their ministry in years to come.

Congratulations, Kenny, and Godspeed!

Play Nice

There was a very interesting article on Politico.com last week that discussed the burgeoning race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  In their words:

The general election will pit one exceptionally self-contained, self-disciplined, self-motivated man against another with precisely the same traits.

Voters have a choice between two men whose minds gravitate to rationality and logic — both of whom have expressed disdain for the disorder and surliness that pervade modern governance.

There may be more than coincidence at work with this seeming paradox. During a time when politics is defined by media saturation and relentless attacks, there is a premium on politicians who live by an ethic of constant self-control.

Hopeful thoughts.  As I’ve noted before, we could have a real chance this year to have an election between grownups.  While this certainly isn’t assured (remember the stilted political script and increasing antics of the McCain campaign last time?), at least there’s the possibility.

The possibility, among other things, that this election could be issue and policy focused, and beautifully BORING.  While the flap over Ann Romney’s work history remains illustrative of alternate narratives that continue to threaten rejection of importance matters for more popularly engaging ones, the Professor (Obama) and Thurston Howell III (Romney) can rise above it.

They just have to resist every built-in urge in the American political system, the power of a 24/7 media, and the passions of a sometimes less than focused electorate.

Have fun, gentlemen.

The Incomplete Draper

Last night’s episode of Mad Men was a roller coaster ride that in many ways defies description.  There was a lot going on.  What is clear, though, is that the main focus of the episode was one Pete Campbell.  Pete’s been around since the series premiere, and has always been rather pathetic.  Last night was no exception.

As Pete stood in his living room preening over his new stereo trying to convince himself how amazing it was, as he failed to fix a faucet that Don handled with aplomb, and as he cheated on his wife and betrayed the trust of his young family we the audience see how dismally empty his life has become.  He sums it up best at the end of the episode when he simply says, “I have nothing, Don.”

Pete’s always been a sloppier and less self-aware version of Don.  It is as if he sees Don as his model in life, yet cannot quite measure up to him.  He has a classic inferiority complex complicated by the fact that he is actually inferior.

I’ve said before that the compelling tragedy of Don Draper is that he understands he is on a sinking ship, but doesn’t seem to be able to do anything to stop it.  Pete, by contrast, is heading straight for an iceberg on purpose; he wants the life he thinks Don has.  But he doesn’t really…not when he experiences it.  The struggles and pain Don has often born with stoic calm Pete just cannot handle.

Worse of all for Pete is that Don seems finally to have righted his life (for the time being), even to the point where he looks at him with pity and disgust, telling him not to lose the good life he has on the infidelity he seems intent on flaunting.

There may be a larger metanarrative at work here: Pete’s life as a corrective, perhaps, to the television glamorization of the swinging lifestyle Don seems so regularly to have lived.  To those who assume that someone else’s life is better just because it seems like they are having more fun, take a look at Pete’s attempt to live Don’s life.  How’s that working out for you, Pete?

Enter the Silly Season

Welcome to the 2012 campaign.  As you’ve probably heard, a DNC advisor named Hilary Rosen has critiqued Ann Romney for “never [having] worked a day in her life.”  Mrs. Romney, rather bothered by this criticism, went on Twitter to affirm the importance of her decision to stay home and raise her family. Besides, raising five children can be a LOT of work, whether or not you ever get paid for it.  I don’t know all the details of the Romney’s childrearing efforts and how much childcare help they may have had, but opponents should be a little more careful before such bald attack.

In any case, I hope this isn’t the stuff we spend the next seven months arguing about.  While Rosen does have a point about the Romneys being out of step with most contemporary families (mine included), there are plenty of women who do stay home with their children and value that time.  There are also others who wish they had the opportunity to do so.

An interesting argument, but not something upon which we need to base a political campaign…on either side.  Because as MSNBC reminds us, pushback from those who want to defend Ann Romney and traditional motherhood will possibly boost the Romney campaign.

Never mind the actual issues.  Politics…the silly season, it seems, has begun.