Batman:Noel is a one-shot graphic novel making its debut for this Holiday season. Essentially, the novel is a re-imagining of Dicken's A Christmas Car...moreBatman:Noel is a one-shot graphic novel making its debut for this Holiday season. Essentially, the novel is a re-imagining of Dicken's A Christmas Carol, casting Batman/Bruce Wayne as Scrooge, justifying his willingness to use a man named Bob, a man who is stuck in a dead-end job and chooses to carry packages for the Joker in order to handle the expenses of the medical bills for his son, Tim (see the parallels?). Batman weaves a plan to exploit Bob and use him as bait to bring the Joker out of hiding, despite the fact that this will endanger Tim, as well as Bob. Batman sees this as a valid tactic, because the goal of taking villainy off the streets of his city justifies any method, including risking those he sees as guilty, and their families.
And thus, from the beginning, Bermejo presents the reader with a bitter Batman, a hero lost and consumed in his passion to defeat evil at any cost, including potential harm to innocents. We see a Batman who has permitted his own tragic history to place his soul at risk. We see Scrooge in the Dark Knight, placing his plan in motion on Christmas Eve, because its just another day, a day like any other.
Of course, staying true to the classic story line, Batman is thus visited by three people who attempt to show him where he has gone off track, and who attempt to win him back over to being the hero he once was at this most sacred time of year, the Christmas Holiday. Catwoman appears as the Ghost of Christmas Past, leading Batman to re-live the passion, optimism, and principles that he once held. Superman appears as the Ghost of Christmas Present, gently breaking the Batman's self-perception of being the respected bringer of justice who is beyond question by permitting him to overhear the true concerns about how he is about to go over the edge that are voiced by Commissioner Gordon and members of his police force. Lastly, the Joker finally appears, drawn in beautifully terrifying and hideous form, as the Ghost of Christmas Future, attacking Batman and leading him to imagine, in an unconscious state, the future as it might play out should he continue down the path that he is traveling. This sequence takes place in a hellish dream state that is in marked contrast to the cool, dark, and foreboding art that makes up the rest of the novel.
Bermejo hints at a love for Dicken's work in his dedications, and this feels like a expertly-crafted homage to the author he seems to identify as such a huge influence on him. He captures the essence of Dicken's story here, making it all the more poignant by presenting Scrooge's tragically flawed nature in one we have come to know as a hero. He encapsulates his story of redemption in a statement from the narrator in the beginning of the novel, a statement that is the thesis of Bermejo's work here:
"'Cuz for this story to make sense...for it to mean anything...you have to believe in something. Something very important. You have to believe that people can change."
This is particularly fascinating as we see Batman drifting in danger of becoming an anti-hero. Bermejo is presenting us with the hero who has always seen every human being, even the worst of villains, as being candidates for redemption , now desperately needing that redemption himself. Watching the Dark Night Detective move through the journey to that redemption is powerful, and complete with a theological statement of re-birth in a striking half-page panel as Batman rises from the grave in which the Joker has left him, returning to a new life and purpose from the death that his bitterness has brought about, resurrected, as it were, to a clearer...and more heroic...purpose.
The art throughout the novel is pristine and brilliant, with floating fonts superimposed over the panels as the unseen narrator moves us through the story. Bermejo's dialogue shines as much as his overall storyline, making a graphic novel that is difficult to put down.
For any superhero fan, and certainly for any Batman fan, Batman:Noel is an exploration of redemption in the truest Christmas fashion. In fact, if you're new to graphic novels altogether, this would be a great place to start. (less)
""Performing the Sacred" is written as a dialogue, alternating chapters between a theologian and a theatre artist. This is a more contemporary, and si...more""Performing the Sacred" is written as a dialogue, alternating chapters between a theologian and a theatre artist. This is a more contemporary, and significantly more accessible, installment to the canon of work on theo-dramatics, and focuses on application rather than new theory. As a result, there really isn't any new theological ground covered here. What the authors do well, however, is synthesize existing sources into a cohesive whole for a modern intersection of theology and theatre.
Of course, I'm immediately fascinated by interdisciplinary work, and this is no exception. Savidge's history of theatre's interaction with the institution of the Church is thorough, though unfortunately written in a somewhat dry and academic tone. Ironically, Johnson's theological discussion is written in a more lively tone, and is just as thorough. Both interact not only with previous modern discussion in the theo-dramatic canon (such as Harris' "Theatre and Incarnation"), but also with such theological greats as Tillich and Kierkegaard, as well as working through the philosophical underpinning of Plato and Tertullian, and how these thinkers have impacted the theatrical arts.
Johnson identifies three theological components of theatre: incarnation, community, and presence. Again, the thought here is not drastically new for anyone who has read any theological treatments of theatre previously. What Savidge and Johnson do, however, is speak to the modern implications of this thought. The biggest take-away for me by far is the argument to the higher validity of theatre over more "virtual" arts (such as streaming media, or even film and television). The authors argue, rightfully, that the substance level of most television programming is not only far inferior to theatre, but also loses effectiveness in becoming an imitation of a more real event, in the way that speaking with someone face-to-face is more real and conducive to good communication than is a phone conversation. Thus, theatre is always more real an event than film or television, because an audience interacts with a theatrical performance in a manner that makes each performance unique. This is accomplished because the performers are present in the same space as the audience. The only aspect of this throught process that I find to be problematic is that film and television are not entirely vacuous, and good art exists in both mediums. The authors almost leave the reader with the impression that both are forever inferior to theatre. Also problematic is established rhetorical theory that claims an observer of any static artwork forever alters both the work and themselves. However, in fairness to the authors, the implied superiority of theatre that I mention is just that: implied; it is never overtly stated and the book does not leave room to treat the issue at length.
I found the final chapters a bit prescriptive at times, but thought provoking overall, for both artists active in the theatre, as well as any person of faith engaging with theatre from the audience.
Anyone with a theological bent would find this book informative, especially if he/she has not explored the intersection of theology and theatre before, in which case this book is very readable and will provide you with a launching point and direction for deeper reading. Any theatre artist who is practicing from a faith-informed worldview will appreciate this book as well. Slightly academic, but still a good read, and worth having on your shelf. (less)
This is a quick read, and certainly a much more accessible introduction to Barth's thought that the infamous and multi-volumed Church Dogmatics. Very...moreThis is a quick read, and certainly a much more accessible introduction to Barth's thought that the infamous and multi-volumed Church Dogmatics. Very early in the three essays we see Barth's confusion in the midst of theological history: he claims that Kierkegaard had "no influence" on 19th century theology, yet most historians would agree that, when Barth wrote his commentary on Romans that launched the movement of neo-orthodoxy, he was standing on Kierkegaard's shoulders. He spends a significant amount of the essays defending his definition of evangelical theology and what he calls the "humanity" of God. However, in his discussion of God's human-ness, he lapses into the process theology error of claiming that God needs humans in such a way that He cannot function without them. He also articulates his lapse into universalism, as well as hinting at his famous non-answers to the accusations in this regard by peers. All in all, an easy read by Barth's standards, but I find his thought to be seriously wanting. What I appreciated most is his closing to the essays, in which he encouraged his audience to approach the discipline of theology accepting each other's faults in thought while working toward a common goal (essentially, the edification of the saints), and not tearing each other down. Those closing paragraphs earned a star of this rating in and of themselves, and is a call that all in the discipline of theology today would do well to take to heart. (less)
Recently, I was asked by a friend to list fifteen of the most influential fictional characters in my life...characters that would always stick with me...moreRecently, I was asked by a friend to list fifteen of the most influential fictional characters in my life...characters that would always stick with me. Since the list didn't specify between literary and television/film characters, I had difficulty, at least in retrospect, leaving Gregory House off of that list. House is a character that has always resonated with me. On my, how should I say, less than optimistic days, I've been told that I have everything in common with him except walking with a cane. There's something about being so good at what you do that you can get by with saying whatever you think that is alluring to me...though perhaps it shouldn't be. That, though, is exactly the appeal.
This book was loaned to me by a friend. I haven't explored philosophy in popular culture titles much as of yet, but have been interested in doing so, and this was as good a place as any to begin. The book is a collection of essays from philosophy professors at various American universities, and the content varies from literary analysis to arguments presenting which philosophical perspectives the character of House espouses. With respect to the individual scholars, the quality of the content of these essays varies dramatically from the thought provoking to the unbelievable. One essay discusses in depth the inspiration of the character of House by the character of Sherlock Holmes, and points out fascinating correlations between House's television program and the literary world of Doyle. One essay discusses House's presentation of Sarte's philosophy ("Hell is other people"), and an entire section of the book discusses the ethics of the physicians in the show as they correspond to accepted medical ethics in the "real world." Other essays leave you flipping pages quickly to reach the end of the them because they lack all credibility from their premise forward (House as Zen Bhuddist rhetorician? Really?).
What fascinates me most about the book, however, is that it speaks to the quality of the character of Gregory House as he has been conceived by the screenwriters and brought to life by Hugh Laurie. There is something about this character, as much as he alternately repulses and attracts us, that makes us unable to look away, almost as though we've driven by a car accident. Whether it is disgust or admiration that motivates the viewer, almost everyone I know that watches this show has something constructive and insightful to say about House. The character is simply that powerful.
The academic ventures of recent years to discuss the rhetoric, philosophy, and theology of popular culture is an important pursuit to our society, and this book is evidence of that. The philosophy isn't presented at a deep academic level, but rather in a well-balanced style that meets both the philosophical novice and the student who has studied philosophy at some depth in the middle. The language is accessible, and overall the book goes by very quickly once you begin. All in all, If you're a fan of the show, this is a worthwhile read, if for no other reason than the fact that you will be able to discuss the next episode with much more insight and depth. (less)
I found it actually refreshing to read theology done well in a postmodern...or, as Taylor labels it, "postsecular"...milieu. He discusses thoroughly t...moreI found it actually refreshing to read theology done well in a postmodern...or, as Taylor labels it, "postsecular"...milieu. He discusses thoroughly the issues facing theology in the information and entertainment age, as faith sheds the "garment" of religion, incorporating both classical theological thought such as Bonhoeffer and Schleirmacher, as well as prevalent trends in current theological thought. He spares no critique in doing so, but critiques fairly. His artistic analysis of media expression as informed by a communal and public theology is substantive and well-prepared. There are few topics Taylor does not discuss here, from the phenomenon of celebrity to the problem of fundamentalism. All are addressed well.
Many other volumes that propose a "practical" approach to theology fail to deliver. Taylor does not fall into this trap, because he does not propose a bullet-list of specific strategies. Instead, he calls for an acceptance of the changing theological winds of our time, and a willingness to follow them as the new face of spirituality develops.
If postmodern culture, artistic expression, and the theology done therein lie within your interests, then this book should be placed on your shelf. (less)
An amazing look into Bonhoeffer's tragically abbreviated life, and the theological thought he didn't live long enough to fully flesh out. This edition...moreAn amazing look into Bonhoeffer's tragically abbreviated life, and the theological thought he didn't live long enough to fully flesh out. This edition contains additional letters to his mentor, Eberhard Bethge, as well as an appendix that re-prints an article for Union Theological Seminary written by his fiance after his execution. That appendix was probably the most difficult for me to read. Bonhoeffer hints at wrestling with the decision that landed him in the Nazi prison here. For anyone interested in his theological thought or life, this must be on your shelf. (less)
The author lays out some very positive points, especially in the first four chapters. Having come from the background that I have, I appreciate his ve...moreThe author lays out some very positive points, especially in the first four chapters. Having come from the background that I have, I appreciate his very valid assertion that Western culture values extroversion as a holy standard, and thus so does the Western church. Many of the ways in which he describes this standard failing introverted personalities are accurate, and I found myself resonating with his words due to very recent experiences.
Unfortunately, by about chapter 5, the author becomes underhanded. Beginning the chapter by claiming that it was the chapter he didn't want to write, and then apparently feeling he has earned the reader's trust, he begins to do the politcal pastor thing and "encourage" introverts to take on more extroverted roles. I will say, however, that he continues to make valid observations in this chapter.
The following chapters on leadership resulted in my groaning, skipping pages, or simply slamming the book down in frustration. The author's ecclesiological bent is obviously still with the church growth movement, and thus his leadership advice is that of a CEO, which I find fundamentally incompatible with the Church. The books closes dry...doesn't even leave an aftertaste.
All-in-all, a decent read. Take the good and leave the bad, as with anything else. (less)
Seldom do I encounter moments when I openly disagree with Lewis' thought, but I did with his lack of pacifism in "Learning in War Time.""The Weight of...moreSeldom do I encounter moments when I openly disagree with Lewis' thought, but I did with his lack of pacifism in "Learning in War Time.""The Weight of Glory" and "The Inner Ring" are themselves worth the read. (less)
Belcher makes a promise he doesn't keep, and the end result is noise that smacks of the "pastoral theology" books that were required reading in grad s...moreBelcher makes a promise he doesn't keep, and the end result is noise that smacks of the "pastoral theology" books that were required reading in grad school. What Belcher does well here is accurately portray a deep division in Western Christianity. While he over-simplifies in his categories of "traditional" and "emergent," I think he does so in the interest of expediency, which I understand. He accurately analyzes the two sides of the debate, pulling no punches in their weaknesses and sparing no praise in their strengths. Where Belcher falls short is his presentation of a "third way," to which he refers as "deep church." His proposal, however, seems to still be moored in the institutionalized, business-model approach of the church growth movement, and trapped in denominationalism. I found this to be disappointing, and naive to think that any proposal supporting denominationalism and the Western concept of a corporation-style religion to be part of the solution. I would argue that it is, in fact, part of the problem. (less)