Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Saturday, October 4, 2008
I just got back from Dodger stadium with my chum Ben Wideman, having just witnessed the Dodgers complete their sweep of the Chicago Cubs, and the atmosphere was electric. Certainly the most energized sporting event I've ever been to or participated in. Lots of fun.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Eleven days ago, my grandpa died peacefully in Fresno, CA. For several years, I've known that it would be my responsibility to present something about him whenever his inevitable end came, and I fulfilled that unspoken obligation last Saturday. This is what I read to the approximately 200 people who gathered that day for his memorial service. It's a mere summary, and (as usual) I feel like I didn't say exactly what I wanted, but such perfection will likely never come. I suppose that's something we all have to live with. Anyways, Grandpa Bradford was a good man and well loved, more than I could ever encapsulate in a few short words.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about my Grandpa, and how I understand him and the life he led and now leaves to me, and us, as a gift:
Grandpa was one of the kindest, most friendly men I have ever known. He never withheld his love, friendship and encouragement from anyone. I have a bag full of letters that attest to the fact (which I demonstrated)—and this is just four years worth— I’m sure many others here today could share a similar stack of mail. In many of these letters, he voiced his desire simply to spend more time with me, to talk about school and life and Godly stuff, and usually over a bite of lunch. Looking back, I realize that I refused these requests far too often. It occasionally seems like we spend too much time preparing for life, rather than living it. Remember to embrace the loving Presence of others while the opportunity persists.
Several years ago, Grandpa asked me to be his “aide de camp”—that’s a military term for a personal assistant to a high ranking officer. Of course, I accepted, and over time, it became clear that Grandpa wanted to share a particular story with me, the story he wanted to call, “I surrendered on
In 1942, at the age of 22, Grandpa left his home in
As the war continued and the Marines drew closer to the Japanese home islands, the ferocity of the fighting only intensified, first on the
Apparently, God took up the offer, and Grandpa was not counted among the 7,000 American and 20,000 Japanese soldiers who died on that remote island in a five week span. However, it would take some time before Grandpa would fulfill his part in this “foxhole covenant”.
After the war, in 1947, during the same week in March that he had promised surrender two years earlier, he was involved in a major car accident that caused a concussion and the loss of the deltoid muscle in his right arm. He was in a coma for four days. When he awoke, Grandpa took his accident as a not-too-subtle hint from God and was baptized on March 3, 1947 in
After his baptism, Grandpa was pointed to
After recovering from this breakdown, Grandpa re-enlisted at the
So Grandpa surrendered on
Grandpa told me his story—and I tell it to you now—not simply because it’s a good story, or a sentimental one, but because it points to God, and to faith. Not the kind of insubstantial “believing-in-something” we often talk about, but a faith forged in fire; the faith of a wretch and a sinner; the faith of a person who will not cheapen grace, but embrace it as something costly; a faith that says, “I am useless, a wanderer and a wretch, and still God calls me ‘beloved’.” Thanks be to this God—Grandpa’s God and ours—who invites, rebukes, corrects, nudges, directs, orchestrates, embraces and loves.
I have one last thought Grandpa’s recent departure: I read somewhere this allusion to death as a “coming home.” Imagine yourself as a child, playing outside in the sandbox, or in my case, I imagine those long car trips home during which I’d fall asleep to the drone of the tires. And while sleeping, wherever you are, your parents gently pick you up and carry you into your home, and put you in bed. After an unknown time, you wake up in your bedroom, tucked away under the covers, maybe even in your pajamas. You don’t know how it happened, but you know you’re home. The thought came to mind while I watched Grandpa drift away last Saturday. It came as a sort of epiphany to me—perhaps the final gift Grandpa gave to me—that dying itself is not so hard. We fall asleep, and someday, we will wake up in God’s house. Always the bold one, Grandpa has led the way home.
December 24, 1919-March 1, 2008
Friday, February 8, 2008
An interesting confluence of events brings me to the writing of this blog. First, I’ve had recurring nightmares this week. Second, my sister Lindsey passed on a Myspace blog asking for ten curious habits, goals or random facts about myself, which I just posted. Third, I finished Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out. How these three disparate elements sparked a light in my mind, I do not know, but here goes…
Since I don’t know when, maybe high school, I have had recurring “night terrors” or “walking nightmares” or whatever you want to call them. They follow a predictable pattern: 1) Someone or something is coming at me wherever I’m sleeping with the intention to kill me, 2) I freak out and try to escape danger, usually yelling “No no no!!” as I’m told, 3) I typically defend myself with my blankets and sheets, 4) I wake up, totally disoriented, my heart rate jacked, 4) I eventually figure out it was a dream, then have to remake my bed and fall asleep again, and 5) I never remember the details of the dream. Oy, that’s a mouthful!
My family and most of my friends have witnessed these episodes at least once. I’ve punched Curtis several times and Lito only once—which makes them special. I have tried to diagnose this… “thing I do” for some time to no avail. Then, I came across this little passage in Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out that seemed to offer the diagnosis I have been too blind to see:
“St. Basil, father of monasticism in the Eastern Orthodox Church, living in the 4th century, was quite clear about the fact that even our dreams cannot be excluded from our spiritual life. When the question was raised to him: What is the source of those unbecoming nocturnal phantasies?” he said: “They arise out of the disordered movements of the soul that occur during the day. But if a man should occupy himself with the judgments of God and so purify his soul and concern himself constantly with good matters and things pleasing to God, then these things will fill his dreams (instead).”
Holy crap, St. Basil, you're a genius! I knew instantaneously this passage was written for me. So when my sister passed on the “10 strange things about you” challenge, one of my responses was that I have these sleep-walking nightmares all the time, and I thought, “Here’s a great opportunity to put a few things together (in blog form).”
To explain the above quote in its context, Nouwen contends that a primary aspect of the spiritual life is the movement from illusion to prayer, and this includes our dreams. What he means by that is: while we may have the appearance of someone pious, humble and selfless, we may interiorize dreams or fantasies wherein we “freely erect statues to honor our own martyrdom and burn incense for our wounded self.” In other words, we create “immortal images” in our day and night dreams. In dreams, we make ourselves into gods, setting up palaces to enshrine our glory. The only word for this inflated interior activity is idolatry, and Nouwen seems to think it plagues most people. I agree, because the I do this all too often.
What does this have to do with my stupid, embarrassing, occasionally injurious night terrors? Nouwen links the idolatry of our dreams to the illusion of immortality that flows out of it. Reading this, I suddenly realized the common element of these dreams: a powerful fear of death, and a desperate clinging to my life. While I cannot remember the details of these dreams, I always the very real sense of panic that I am about to die. Earlier, as I was taking down some brief notes for this blog, I thought of the Peter Weir movie Fearless, and the transformation from fear to embrace that
“Patiently but persistently we must slowly unmask the illusions of our immortality, dispelling even the feeble creations of our frustrated mind, and stretch out our arms to the deep sea and the high heaven in a never-ending prayer.”
I have been fascinated by monastic spirituality and the classical Christian disciplines for several years, and the undertaking has been uneven and choppy. However, when I look back, I can see that the best sleep of my recent life came during an extended period of real discipline during the first few months after I moved to
Posted by Evan Christensen at 12:03 AM
Thursday, January 24, 2008
So, I was perusing my friend Kristin's blog which had a link to this free personality test, that I decided to take cause I was bored. Maybe I was too nervous answering all these invasive questions with black/white answers, but I'm not sure I agree with the results. I mean, I'm no online program, but I don't think I'm so much more "feeling" than "thinking," and I don't think I'm so musical. Maybe I should retake it. You tell me...
Posted by Evan Christensen at 4:28 PM
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
After speaking with Fuller’s resident film expert (and good friend)
10. King of Kong
As I was browsing a list of 2007 films to refresh my memory, I came across this title and suddenly a rush of good tymes came rushing back to me. Perhaps the most unintentionally funny movie of all time, featuring a battle royale between a regular schmo who decides to challenge some pompous Donkey Kong champion a**hole for his title. The amazing thing is: you watch this thinking “who cares about a bunch of lame middle-aged white guys playing an 80s arcade game,” and by the end you find yourself strangely touched.
9. Sweeney Todd
I am not a huge musical fan. I think the Sound of Music is great, I enjoyed Hairspray,
My sister first told me about this little movie, and I later caught it on DVD. A remarkably simple DV feature that proves creativity, authentic characters and boldness make a great movie, not extravagant sums of money, effects and celebrities (for exorbitant, polished garbage like this, look no further than the latest Pirates of the Caribbean). Plus, the tunes in Once will probably be stuck in your head for days, and that’s a good thing.
I lumped these two together because they share many commonalities, despite some obvious differences. Aside from being quite funny, they both wind up being surprisingly “adult” movies and genuinely moving, especially Juno. While most high school flicks I’ve seen paint a picture almost totally incongruent with my own experience, Superbad played like a page out of my history book. Director Judd Apatow and screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg give us an accurate and de-mythologized version of adolescence, with all its awkwardness, insecurity and unintentional hilarity. Juno accomplishes much the same feat with less obscenity. Juno unflinchingly presents its characters as awkward and insecure, and makes no apologies or concessions, which I liked.
6. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
With a title that reminds me of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and a style reminiscent of Terrence Malick, I may like this movie more by this mental association with two favorite directors than its own merits. A visually lush, mesmerizing and psychological/psychospiritual/spiritual Western that defies conventions and delves extensively with the nature of distinctively American folklore and the hero myths that characterize much of our narrative history.
5. There Will Be Blood
After I watched this, the latest effort by director Paul Thomas Anderson, I left asking myself, “What on earth have I just seen?” In retrospect, I believe it to be a parable about American capitalism and a tragedy in the same vein as Citizen Kane, a similarity that numerous critics and viewers have drawn. Daniel Day-Lewis gives birth to one of the most complex, rich and involving performances of the year that should garner him an Oscar, that is, if there is any justice left in the world. It’s a movie that keeps unraveling long after you’ve seen it. If it’s any indication what kind of movie this is, it’s bounced all over the place on this list in the course of a couple short days.
Unfortunately, I did not see this one in theaters, which was a mistake. Director Brad Bird has yet to offer audiences other than a superb movie. If somehow you missed The Incredibles, watch it immediately, for you shall love it. Then, after you have become enamored, go rent The Iron Giant. Ratatouille displays the same visual dynamism as the other two, the same warmth, the same deep characters and the same sense of total satisfaction when all is said and done.
3. Into the Wild
Directed by Sean Penn, Into the Wild may be the most sweeping epic of the year, without the accoutrements of a bigger, more expensive studio production. Based on the true story of Christopher McCandless who abandoned civilized life in order to wander the earth on a quest for a more authentic kind of life. I could really resonate with his impulse to drop everything and head for the wilderness, though I have never acted on that impulse with anywhere near the tenacity of this guy. A sweeping road trip film, the movie takes place in dozens of locations, and everything was filmed on location. As a result, Into the Wild feels very real, almost like a documentary. Fresh, invigorating, introspective, strange and passionate.
2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
I probably don’t need to say much about this one since I just finished writing a blog about it. Suffice to say, it is one daring effort by director Julian Schnabel who crafts a movie about an artist struggling to create. The visual style crafted by Janusz Kaminski will surely spawn its copycats, and surely with less efficacy. A pioneering, emotionally involving, devastatingly beautiful and uplifting movie.
1. No Country for Old Men
The Coen brothers have crafted an intense, penetrating and sobering film that left me haunted for days after I first saw it, and left me affected as much the second time. No Country conjures analogies to the Coens’ 1996 film
Honorable Mentions - Here’s a few titles I either couldn’t figure how to place or failed to recognize their greatness.
- Silent Light (Stellet licht) – Carlos Reygadas
A slow-burning, meditative, earthy picture of Mennonite life. Not for the impatient filmgoer, however.
- Flight of the Red Balloon (Le voyage du ballon rouge) – Hsiao-hsien Hou
Juliette Binoche is great (as always) in this film that lingers on the ordinary and urges us to perceive the transcendent. Again, if you think a movie like Letters from Iwo Jima is too slow with too many subtitles, then Red Balloon probably isn’t for you… but you should see it anyways, just for that reason.
- Eastern Promises – David Cronenberg
Once again, Cronenberg subverts our expectations and plays violence like it should be: grotesque, unsettling and downright frightening.
- Zodiac – David Fincher
On of the least violent, most cerebral serial killer movies you will ever see.
Posted by Evan Christensen at 9:42 PM
Saturday, January 19, 2008
While I was driving back from some place yesterday I passed a car with a window sticker that read “Jesus is alive, deal with it.” This slogan overlaid a big, cartoonish cross. For some reason, this really jumped out at me. In fact, I was so convicted by this slogan that I immediately rededicated my life to Jesus there at the intersection of
Actually, to be honest, I didn’t like the sticker at all. “Why not?” you may be asking. Well, it seems to reflect the fact that many people perceive the supposed good news of the Gospel as un-good, and that believers in that Gospel want to keep it that way. What the sticker presumes (I’m guessing) is that non-Christians don’t believe in the resurrection despite the preponderance of clearly obvious empirical data made available to them by so many eager apologists, and by that I mean, people with stickers on their car windows.
I suppose this kind of in-yo-face! religious zeal reflects the condition of competition and rivalry that, according to Henri Nouwen, pervades even our most intimate relationships, let alone our relationships to strangers. In There Will Be Blood, Daniel Day-Lewis says, “I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed.” I see in this comment an insightful commentary on modern American society as a whole and western Christianity too. By saying “deal with it,” aren’t we telling others that Jesus’ resurrection is far from being good news about the incarnate reign of a merciful God in our midst and represents more an annoying intrusion of an exclusive and elitist ideology?
This attitude is reflected in exclusive claims to knowledge and the creation of who’s in/who’s out categories in the Christian church, doesn’t it? How can so many Christians (especially evangelicals) claim the blessings of God and condemn in broad strokes so many others who do not hold to the same beliefs? Here’s what I fail to understand about the narrow “salvation” claimed by so many of my fellow followers of Jesus: it presumes that the grace of God was limited by the emergence of Jesus. I cannot see why, for example, Jesus’ death would condemn the Jews (his own people!), merely because they would not accept him as Lord and Savior. I can just see Christians back in the second century with the words “Jesus is alive, deal with it” engraved on the back of their carriages just to incite their Jewish neighbors.
I hope that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus never represents something that must be dealt with, as though it was a harsh, exclusive and condemnatory fact, but instead a reason for joy and gratitude that we are invited into the life of God in the midst of our fractured, confusing and fallible lives.
Posted by Evan Christensen at 2:24 PM
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I recently saw a great new film at the Laemmle Theater called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. You may have seen a preview for it, but probably you’ve never heard of it. Too bad, because it’s a great movie. TDBATB is directed by Julian Schnabel, who has limited filmmaking experience but an extensive history in the arts, and it shows. I saw another of his films, Basquiat (1996) in an art class at Fuller last year and enjoyed it, too. With a combination of pioneering film style, great performances and a remarkable story make this one of the best films of the year.
It begins with perhaps the most appropriate FADE IN from black in the history of cinema. As the audience, we awaken with the protagonist from some unknown past into a dim hospital room, the camera struggling to focus on various strangers who ask odd questions and appear not to hear a voice that emanates from the rear speakers, a voice within a mind that belongs to someone we cannot yet see. Schnabel and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (a Spielberg regular) invite us into a vicarious experience of total paralysis and muteness—the world of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a man who has suffered a sudden debilitating stroke. For a good portion of the film, we see the world only through a subjective camera which blinks and darts just like the human eye. Bauby lives behind a two-way mirror, in which he can see, think and respond to others but they cannot reciprocate. The effect is claustrophobic. We hear every little sound, from the brush of fabric to gusts of breath. Bauby’s senses and ours become heightened to his surroundings, living in a world of forced asceticism. The analogy of being trapped in a diving bell is especially pertinent. Imagine being trapped hundreds of feet below water in a large metal diving suit—the closeness of sound, the immobility and the feeling of utter helplessness—and you can imagine this film’s unique aesthetic quality.
It soon becomes apparent that Bauby’s condition trapped behind the mirror will likely be permanent. An eye is sown shut (in the film’s most cringe-worthy scene) and a couple lovely ladies are brought in to teach him to communicate. The system devised involves a person reading the alphabet to Bauby, who blinks when the person gets to the letter he wants. This continues to form words and phrases. Many of the effects on film were accomplished in the camera, without digital manipulation, and much of the dialog—or dual monologue, to be more precise—is improvised, and the film benefits from the resulting “hands-on” feel.
At first, Bauby feels so trapped and helpless in his “diving bell” that he wants to die, but the love, attention, patience and mere presence of so many people, including his friends and family, instills in him the will to stop pitying himself. This motivates a move away from the subjective camera to an objective camera, where we see a paralyzed Bauby for the first time. The other scenes that step out of the first person into the third are Bauby’s dreams, memories and imaginings. He calls memory and imagination the only parts still working in him. His memory/imagination comes to us in bits—presumably, as he recalls the events himself—and always ends abruptly, as though waking from a dream. I don’t know about you, but every one of my dreams ends the same way. This element contributes to the vicarious experience of the film and draws us further into Bauby’s interior world.
The majority of the film follows Bauby’s decision to write a book with the help of a transcriber. This is where Diving Bell diverts from a similarly themed movie, The Sea Inside (2004). Whereas Bauby decides to stop pitying himself and create something beautiful, the character played by Javier Bardem in The Sea Inside takes his self-pity to a dismal end: a glass full of poison. Bardem ends his paralyzed life alone in front of a DV camera, while Bauby ends his life surrounded by love. I recently discovered the writer Henri Nouwen (who I will surely write on at a later time), and a particular section from his book Reaching Out sparked a connection for me with this film:
What if our history does not prove to be a blind impersonal sequence of events over which we have no control, but rather reveals to us a guiding hand pointing to a personal encounter in which all our hopes and aspirations will reach their fulfillment?
Then our life would indeed be a different life because then fate becomes opportunity, wounds a warning and paralysis an invitation to search for deeper sources of vitality.
I cannot think of a better way to summarize this film. In some ways, the end of Diving Bell resembled another film about discovering deeper sources of vital after suffering paralysis, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue, although the paralysis in that film is more emotional than physical. Both films show us that the categories that make us human are far wider than we might imagine, and that personal encounter, or Presence is one of, if not the most valuable resource for our lives, indeed, that makes life worth living. The “butterfly” the title implies is released from Bauby’s interior world of memory/imagination and breaks into the external world of the “diving bell,” imparting beauty, meaning and hope to an otherwise painful and insufferable reality.
At the Golden Globe Awards last Sunday, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly received two awards: Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director (Julian Schnabel). If you are able, see this movie!