Tag Archives: Musings

I Am Haunted by Waters (Walking on Water, Part 3)

To borrow a line from A River Runs Through It: I am haunted by waters.

Specifically, I am haunted by the story of Jesus (and Peter) walking on water in Matthew 14. More than 6 years ago now I wrote a post pondering my negative reaction to John Ortberg’s book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, which is based entirely on Peter’s little episode. (Or more specifically, my negative reaction was to the first 30 pages of the book. I couldn’t read any further.) That turned out to be one of my most discussed musings: a long (for a blog) conversation about calling, growing as a Christian, trusting in God, and stepping out in faith. I look back at it as marking a watershed (heh-heh-heh) of sorts in my life. I had been in a personal rut, directionless, for about 6 years, but within a year of writing that post I began what some might call “stepping out of the boat,” according to the popular interpretation of that story.

My beef with the popular interpretation remained, however. Two years ago, I came across a different though equally, if not more, plausible interpretation of the passage, one in which Peter’s actions aren’t commended as a model for all Christians to follow.

I hadn’t thought about it at all since then, but as it happened, the speaker at this weekend’s family camp used that passage in one of his sessions. He was preaching a series on trust and his take on this passage was again along the lines of the popular stepping-out-in-faith reading. My response was again negative, though to a much lower degree. Perhaps this will mark another watershed in my life, but this time my response is more along the lines of how we interpret this passage.

Let me say this first: I’m not questioning the speaker or his motives or his overall message. I believe that we need to trust in God fully for everything. That is what faith is. I believe that sometimes we are called to do difficult things and when that happens we need to “step out in faith,” but that this could mean anything from sharing the Gospel with a friend, repairing a broken relationship, making Kingdom choices rather than cultural choices, moving to the inner-city to work with the poor, or selling everything and moving to the jungles of South America. Some are called to what from the world’s perspective are “great things”, but I believe that we are all called to something specific and, when it comes down to it, things greater still in the Kingdom of God: to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

My concern with the popular reading of Peter walking on water is a general concern about how we read scripture. In the case of Peter walking on water, there are several dangers I see which could be applied to our interpretation of any passage of scripture.

One is that we interpret how we’ve always interpreted it. I value the tradition of the church—that is, the wisdom of the Christian witnesses who have gone before—and so I want to be careful not to argue for innovative readings of scripture for no reason other than innovation. What I intend to say is that whenever we read scripture, we need to read with fresh eyes and open ears. We may have misinterpreted it previously, we have missed a detail or an important contextual element, or the Spirit may simply have something different to tell us about the passage.

A fine example of this happening to me was Matthew 24:36-41. That’s the passage where Jesus talks about what it will be like when he returns: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” This is where I assume the Left Behind book series gets its name; I imagine this was also the inspiration for Larry Norman’s song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” The popular interpretation among conservative evangelicals, and the assumption behind both the books and Norman’s song, is that those in the passage who are “taken” are taken to be with Jesus and the ones who are “left” are unbelievers who, depending on your eschatology, will either have to suffer through the Great Tribulation or suffer some other terrible fate from which the believer is spared. But when you look at the context of Jesus’ words, you notice that he says that his return will be like the days of Noah in which “the flood came and took them all away.” In other words, it seems that Jesus intended a meaning reverse to the popular reading: those left behind are the children of God; those taken are unbelievers. When it comes down to it, it’s a rather minor point (though it may have repercussions for our eschatology), but it was an eye-opener for me in terms of needing to read scripture with an eye for the details and context. We need to be attentive rather than lazy readers (I continue to struggle with lazy reading).

When we look at the details of Jesus and Peter walking on water, we see this: Jesus walks out to the disciples on the lake; they are afraid; Jesus reassures them by identifying himself; Peter says, “If it’s you, let me come to you”; Jesus calls him; Peter walks on water; Peter becomes afraid and starts sinking; Jesus calls Peter one of “little faith” and wonders why he doubted; Jesus and Peter join the others in the boat. These things we know for sure. In addition—and I think this is important—we note that Jesus does not challenge the other disciples for staying in the boat. From the looks of things, they weren’t all meant to walk on water.

We don’t know whether Jesus intended for Peter to walk on water or if he was just responding to his request. We don’t know to what Jesus was referring when he asks Peter why he doubted: did Jesus mean to ask why Peter doubted his ability (through Jesus) to walk on water or why he doubted Jesus’ self-identification or maybe both.

The problem I see with the popular interpretation of this passage is that it makes much of Peter’s getting out and walking on water, but makes little, if anything, of his doubt. In addition, the popular reading tends to project a negative image on the rest of the disciples (who did not get out of the boat) which the text in no way calls for.

The second, and possibly more insidious danger in how we read the text is hearing what we want to hear. I think this danger is possibly worse than the first one because it appeals to our emotions so much—we understandably like hearing positive, encouraging things, and we don’t like the resulting feelings to be questioned. We may continue interpret a passage a certain way simply because it’s a nice, encouraging sentiment, because we want it to mean that. What we want it to mean may even be a true sentiment, but it may not be the meaning of the verse or passage. Nobody likes a bubble-burster; nobody likes to have their bubbles burst. We may reject  a bubble burster’s attempted bursting by saying, “But my reading is also true, right, so…” as if the truth of an idea is itself enough to justify imposing on any old text. This is the problem with proof-texts or life-verses like Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”): it may be true about me in a general way (insofar as I fall into God’s redeeming work in history), but this verse is not about me or you, it’s about Israel first and foremost. So I can claim this verse as my hope for my part in God’s future for creation; I’m not sure it’s proper for me to claim it as God’s specific promise to me and my life as it relates to my career or family or retirement, as much as I would like it to mean that.

How does this apply to the popular reading of Jesus and Peter walking on water? The popular reading smacks a bit of a Christianized version the “American dream”: you can do great things through faith in Jesus, almost to the point of Jesus being the means to the end of doing great things. We like to hear the message that God has wonderful things in store for us and that we are destined for great things if only we would believe and act. While I am inclined to say that, with some reservations (e.g. those mentioned above in reference to the Jeremiah passage), that this is true, given what we know and what we don’t know about this passage I don’t think we can honestly say that this is what this story is about.

For one, the story survives if we take away Peter’s part of it, as the other gospels have done. One could say that Matthew included it for a purpose, but the knows and know-nots of the passage are such that it’s difficult to say what that purpose might be. So I’m inclined to think that we misplace our focus if we pay too much attention to Peter in this passage. I think the story calls us, not to walk on water, but to trust in Jesus, whether he wants to walk on water or stay in the boat. Jesus where our focus should rightly lie.

My other concern with this story and our superimposing the things we like or prefer on it is how we define “walking on water.” I think the tendency is to think of this as “doing great things” for God (at least on the surface) or otherwise. But there is no clear idea as to what such “great things” might be. Will we then come up with our own things? will we superimpose the American dream of wealth and happiness? I’m reminded of Jesus’ observation that the poor widows offering of a few coins was greater than the large offerings of the wealthy; I’m reminded of the Beatitudes: the great things of the world are not the great things of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus may well be calling you and/or me to “walk on water,” but I’m not convinced the story of Peter’s walking on water is intended to do this. Neither am I convinced that “walking on water” would be becoming the next Billy Graham or Mother Theresa any more than becoming a peacemaker in our communities or sincerely praying for our enemies and wishing them the good life.

And so ends today’s musings on scripture and Peter walking on water. You may wonder why I would waste so much time and energy talking about this passage. You may even think this is all done in resistance to the truth in this passage. You might be right. Time will tell. Part of this post is certainly “reactionary.” But I find great joy in this sort of thing: to go back to a passage like this one (or, say, Genesis 1), to really pay attention to it and wrestle with it again and again.

It seems so small, so long ago.

Late last night we planned to drive our kids to school this morning on our way to the city. So this morning I watched from the living room as their school bus pulled up to the driveway, sat in wait for a minute or so, and then pulled away. It reminded me of that morning in Manitoba (it seems so long ago) that our kids nearly missed the bus, when I ran out in my bathrobe (and little else) waving and yelling at the bus at the end of our road. I don’t remember all the details of that episode, although I’ve probably written about it here. I just remember it being late and Luke—probably 4 or 5 at the time—being upset because we couldn’t find his proper mittens. I was begging him, pleading with him to just take the (wrong) mittens I had given him because we needed to catch the bus, then running out in my bathrobe, waving frantically at the bus and starting the van to drive him there.

This morning I felt a wonderful calmness as I saw that bus sitting there for a moment and then pulling away. The kids wouldn’t need to run this morning or start their day in a panic induced by panicked parents.

It put me in mind of quiet mornings in Manitoba when I didn’t have a class. I tried to imagine myself having breakfast and a cup of tea in our little kitchen. The trailer was 14 feet wide. Subtract another 4 feet or so for wall thickness and counter space. We had no more than a 10 x 12 chunk of floor space in our kitchen to use for cooking and for eating at a standard-sized table for six (four on the sides, two on the ends). In this tiny space we cooked, ate, played games, and welcomed many guests. Our living room was no bigger and our bedrooms were much smaller. Our headboard and bedside tables couldn’t fit side-by-side; we had to wedge the headboard behind the tables.

It was such a small space, but we made it work. Perhaps it helped that we knew we were there for only a short while. We live in a much bigger space now—a house that’s probably bigger than we even need. But we are no more or less happy in the larger space than in the smaller space.

That trailer was so small. Five of us, for three years. There’s a lesson in there.

(It seems so long ago!)

New Year Randomicity

1. Hey! We’re almost a quarter of the way through January already! Interpret the exclamation marks as excitement or alarm as you see fit!

2. Sitting here reading with John Barry’s score for Dances with Wolves playing in the background. It’s a beautiful score. I’m not sure if it’s the same without knowing the film, but it’s gorgeous. It occurred to me that after all these years Dances with Wolves is still one of my favourite films. Other films come and go in Marc’s Film Canon, but that one has stayed at or near the top. It gets everything right, as far as I’m concerned: setting, score, plot, themes. And even Kevin Costner has a decent turn as an earnest, idealistic soldier. The Last Samurai and Avatar are poor imitations. I’m sure Dances with Wolves is itself an imitation, but it’s GOOD.

3. Last weekend I solemnized my first marriage. No big deal.

4. I don’t really have any New Year’s resolutions, other than an unofficial desire to spend at least 20 minutes a day walking. Since it’s January 8 and I haven’t spent 20 minutes walking in any of those eight days, I guess that’s not going to happen. So, I won’t walk 20 minutes every day…YET. I will walk 20 minutes some days. Hopefully more days as the weather improves and as I remember that we have a treadmill. Facing our TV. With Netflix.

5. I did write down some things that I want to spend more time thinking about this year. Some highlights from the journal:

“What do I need? Don’t buy anything I don’t need.” I’m not yet sure whether the remastered blu-ray special edition of the original 1989 mini-series Lonesome Dove (starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones and Danny Glover and Ricky Schroder and others) is a want or a need..

“What makes or should make Christians different? Is it belief? Is it action? Is it both? Neither?” I know the standard/stock answers. It nevertheless bears further thought. Things aren’t always what they seem or how I understand them to be.

“The nature of the incarnation.” That’s a biggie. It means I need to read more T.F. Torrance, for one. And scripture. Oddly enough, I came across this in the book I was reading tonight: “We cannot live as if the incarnation had not occurred.” That’s quite a profound statement. Exclamation point and star in the margin. I don’t think Christians consider the incarnation enough. God become human. We tend to think mostly about sin and forgiveness and we do this mostly without thinking about the incarnation. The author follows that up with this line: “God has taken upon himself our earthly existence and claimed it for his Kingdom.” Another good one!

6. Between now and February 4 I have to read 4 books and 33 articles for a theology class I’m taking, as well as write a short book review. I was intending to write an anxious “Eep!” after my to-do list, but now that I’ve written it down it doesn’t seem like nearly such a big deal. Mind you, that’s less than a month away and in the meantime I have meetings and other work and family.

By the way, this is for a theology class I’m taking… IN SAN DIEGO! Too bad I’ll be hunkered down in a (the cynic in me says) dark basement room in the hotel.

Sunday thoughts on a Monday morning

Sometimes during a church service I become aware of what we are doing–the raw details of it, I mean. Usually this is during the singing time, when, depending on where I am, 50 or 100 or 120 men, women, and children stand and sing songs together, we stand reading words from a screen or from a book and sing. What a strange thing! What are we doing? Sometimes the songs are beautiful, sometimes the words seem meaningless, but always we sing. How strange!

This thought and feeling came over me again yesterday morning. I again became aware of how odd and unprecedented it and even not normal it seemed. People from 5 to 90 facing forward, singing songs.

And then it dawned on me. It’s not just the standing reading theological and worshipful words on a screen, it’s the whole package. We are singing together: people of all ages, genders, and races, singing together about and to a God they have gathered together to worship. People of different incomes, walks of life, opinions, histories, all gathered together to sing, to listen, to learn, to worship, to pray. This is remarkable, when you stop to think about it.

I realized that it’s not just the words we sing, but the act of singing together itself that is powerful and symbolic–no, even an enacting of the Kingdom of God.

 

The warmth of memory

Last year at this time Dixie and I would have been in the middle of our dinner at the St. Paul Hotel (?). We would have already seen Wallace Shawn walk in and out of the restaurant and I would have already spilled most of my glass of wine into the purse belonging to the lady at the table next to ours. We would have been in St. Paul for 24 hours or so already, having had breakfast at Mickey’s Diner and done some shopping at the Mall of America, and been in the audience for this episode of A Prairie Home Companion.

That weekend has quickly become one of my favourite memories–one of those special moments that will forever have a warmth to it as it comes to mind. I have a number of these moments, all of them occurring during my married years, so they are all Dixie and me and sometimes the kids.

There was the Thanksgiving weekend with Dixie’s family, including Granny and Grandpa, at the cabin on Christopher Lake. It was a beautiful cool-but-not-cold autumn, the aspens still holding on to most of their bright yellow leaves, but the musty smell of drying and decomposing leaves nevertheless filling the air. We’d go for sauntering walks on the ski trails nearby, grandpa too. We’d snooze on the deck overlooking the lake. We’d play games.

There was the weekend Dixie and I spent at the mineral spa in Manitou Beach. The mineral spa wasn’t all that impressive (floating around in extra buoyant water is only interesting for so long). However, the Saturday night of that weekend we went to Danceland, famous for one of the last original hardwood-on-horsehair dance floors.

We spent the evening dancing polkas and the charleston and a number of other styles. The lighting, the general atmosphere, the dancing in the crowd of mostly seniors and retirees. Something about that evening was magical and it remains with me as one of those moments.

There were particular locations in our 10th anniversary trip to England–our London hotel, early morning market in Oxford, cream tea in Lyme Regis.

There are others I’m sure that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. Memories that stick with me in a way that other memories do not. And as much as I may want to recreate that experience, as much as I wish I could do that again, these moment can never be truly recreated. Having been done before, they will already have lost that edge of newness, and expectation–something that wasn’t there before these moments were experienced the first time–tends to undermine the effort of recreation. That’s what makes these moments special I think–because we don’t see them coming. They just happen and until you’ve experienced it you won’t know that it’ll be one of those moments.

I’ve marked this date in Google calendar for every year in perpetuity. It’ll send me an email reminder every year at this time. And every year around September 24, I’ll listen to a recording of that show and I’ll think of our time together in St. Paul, Minnesota. The show, the diner, the Italian bistro around the corner from our hotel, Garrison Keillor’s bookstore in the basement of a building up the hill and beyond the Anglican cathedral. The memory will stir feelings deep inside me, and I will think of that time with joy and fondness and also a bit of sadness, because as beautiful as that memory is, that moment can never be relived outside of my memory.

But that’s probably a good thing, I guess. That moment is probably best as a memory. Memory has probably shaped in a way that may not even reflect the reality of the moment–or perhaps it’s not that it has been reshaped, but that memory has teased out the things that one doesn’t catch in the moment.

Quiet now… Garrison is singing.

On theological mumbo-jumbo.

I don’t have a habit of giving myself theological labels. But I have said that, insofar as I know what it means, I am not a Calvinist. I am deeply troubled by Calvinism’s notion of predestination, whether it is double predestination or single (which, in my view, is by implication the same as double predestination). It may well be that I simply don’t understand the nuances of Calvinist thought, but, Calvinism having been explained to me a number of times, it never gets any clearer.

I’m reading an article by D. A. Carson–“God’s Love and God’s Wrath”–for a major paper due in a couple of weeks. It occurred to me as I read that I cannot deny the general notion of “election” because it’s there in scripture. Whether it is “clearly” in scripture is debatable. In fact, how we understand election is one of the foundational differences between Calvinists and Arminians. The notion is there. We’re just can’t agree on what it means.

As much as I cannot deny the notion of election, I equally feel like I am not in a place to take that notion much further than that: there are “elect”. Beyond that we start getting into the question of who’s “in” and who’s “out”, which, while not completely inappropriate, too easily devolves into sectarianism and a level of dense and nit-picky theological mumbo-jumbo that exhausts me in its sheer unhelpfulness. As if we can have any degree of certainty about who “the elect” might include. Even if we do manage to define every theological concept relevant to “election” to its finest point, so little of it (if any at all) is, in the end, in our control, that thinking about it seems like an exercise in futility.

I guess it’s a pastoral bent in me that rails against this kind of discussion. The gospel is not about who is “elect”, it’s about Jesus Christ as (and currently Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel is influencing my thought) the fulfillment of God’s work to set the world right through his covenant promises to Israel (or something like that). That leads to salvation. We can’t determine with a great deal of certainty whether or not we are among the elect who will be saved until it’s too late to do anything about it (if indeed we could do anything about it!). So what’s the point of worrying about who is “elect”? All we can do is trust in and follow the example of the one who lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, and will return. Never mind “elect”.

Maybe I’ve missed the point of Calvinist “election” entirely. Or maybe this makes me an Arminian.

Not that it matters.

Simple pleasures

In lieu of our normal Wednesday night Bible study, tonight Dixie led us in the first of a two-part workshop on Sabbath (as credit towards one of her classes). She opened the workshop by having us close our eyes and imagining “a day of delight would be like for you.”

Without much hesitation, this is what came to mind: I wake up whenever my body wakes up. I wake up to a house that is quiet, clean, organized, and full of light. I get up and make a hot cup of tea and sit quietly, maybe read a book. It is a cool, sunny day, so later I might go out and meander on a nature trail or in the fields or along some gravel roads.

A good day so far, but I didn’t get much further than that before Dixie added, “there are no restrictions on your day, no financial barriers, nothing…” You might expect the details of my imagined day of delight to change, given unlimited resources. But the truth is, it changed little. Only the location changed. Now it wouldn’t be here, it would be in a small town in England somewhere. But I’d still ease myself into the day with a cup of tea, read a book and go for a walk.

I didn’t have more time to finish my imagined day. I’m not sure what I’d add: a leisurely lunch and/or supper in a cafe or pub somewhere. Maybe a (half?) round of golf. My imagined day of delight assumes some things that would make such a day work–namely, that I would not be anxious, but was in a state of relaxation sufficient to sit still and ponder, to meander rather than power-walk; that I would not be distracted by TV or internet. But that really is my ideal day.

Perhaps you don’t believe it. Perhaps you think that given unlimited resources and no space/time barriers, I would actually imagine a day of adventure or culture or travel. But right now I would not. I think appreciation of simple pleasures–appreciation of quiet moments in a loud and busy day, a well-brewed cup of tea, or some simply culinary delight like a cinnamon bun–can take a person a long way towards contentment. Those kinds of things are attainable even in the most chaotic times of life. Adventure, culture, travel, these are all good, but they are rare treats for the average person–and once they’ve been experienced, they often make “normal life” seem dull or even depressing. But a cup of tea, for example, is something I can appreciate daily, with near-zero expense and only a little effort, and it enhances rather than detracts from “normal life”.

A Letter About Doubt

I wanted to follow-up on something at the end of our conversation. I said, “Doubt is not necessarily a bad thing.” And then you said, “But it could be.” To which I replied, “Of course it could be.” I’m not entirely happy with my response.

Doubt could be a bad thing if you assume doubt means a loss of faith, if you assume doubt borders on Agnosticism or Atheism. Some people assume this and then, rather than explore their doubts from within (which is where their problems lie), they start looking elsewhere, as if doubts can be dealt with through another belief system. But it can’t. They will eventually find the same struggles there.

That’s why the Psalms really are a great thing to turn to. Read Psalm 13 sometime soon. The Psalmist, in his own way, asked the same questions you are asking,

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

Read that Psalm–slowly; soak it in. You could even make it your own prayer. The Psalmist doesn’t have it all together. Nobody does. Doubt is a universal struggle. That’s not meant to diminish your questions and concerns in any way, but simply to say that you are not alone, you are not an oddity among people of faith.

What’s unique about the Psalmist, though, is that he didn’t keep these things to himself and didn’t walk away from God. Instead, he dared to direct his questions and doubt and anguish at God. If I have some kind of issue with a friend or family member, the solution isn’t to walk away but to address that friend. Otherwise I’m not dealing with the problem. In one way or another, if I don’t address the source of the problem, I am simply ignoring the issue. If your questions are about God, don’t shut him out of the conversation and struggle, but be honest in your prayers.

I mentioned that we shouldn’t let our current mood or state or whatever dictate the entire course of our lives. This moment isn’t the only moment in your life–there have been many and there will be many. There are certainly pivotal points of change in life, but it seems to me that more often than not we fall into those moments. We don’t make a choice one day to take this moment of doubt or this moment of anger and let that guide my life from here on in. Psalm 13 kind of addresses this in a small way: “I trust in your unfailing love.” The Psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness and the things that God has done for him and the people of Israel. Psalm 77 is another Psalm of struggle, and there it says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord.”

There’s something poignant in Bruce Cockburn’s words (at least, as I understand them):

Derailed and desperate
How did I get here?
Hanging from this high wire
By the tatters of my faith

Sometimes all we have to go on is what has come before–whether that is the faith of the “saints” (that is, Christians that have gone before) or our own faith to this point (or our baptism) and we choose to carry on in faith through this season.

Daniel Taylor, in that book I was telling you about, says this:

Normally doubt is seen as sapping faith’s strength. Why not the reverse? Where there is doubt, faith has its reason for being. Clearly faith is not needed where certainty supposedly exists.

Doubt does not mean you have lost your faith or no longer believe, nor does it mean that you are heading in that direction. And your doubts in themselves don’t make or break the truth of something. Doubt means simply that you have questions and uncertainties about your beliefs and about God. To have faith means to carry on in spite of uncertainties and seasons of doubt.

[…]

I hope this is helpful…

Evil, suffering, beauty, goodness.

It’s pretty common in film and television to see people who are functionally atheistic or non-religious to turn to God when it suits them. For instance, a character who under normal circumstances does not profess belief in God or practice any sort of religious observance, will begin to pray when there is an in-flight emergency or when they are up for a big promotion. I’ve been watching through the Seinfeld series again and noticed an unusual twist on this theme.

In the season 4 episode entitled “The Pilot, Part 1″, NBC finally confirms that they will begin shooting the pilot for the sitcom George and Jerry have been writing. George begins to panic about what might happen, so he visits his therapist. They have the following conversation:

George: What if the pilot gets picked up and it becomes a series?

Therapist: That’d be wonderful, George! You’d be rich and successful!

George: That’s exactly what I’m worried about. God would never let me be successful–he’ll kill me first! He’ll never let me be happy.

Therapist: I thought you didn’t believe in God?

George: I do for the bad things!

This is a clever observation about how we approach the subject of God. When bad things happen, the question of God inevitably arises. Under normal circumstances–when things are “good”–God rarely comes to mind.

I’m not suggesting that the question of a loving, all-powerful God allowing pain and suffering isn’t problematic or important to consider. I do think that the question is rather lop-sided. The question is always fundamentally, Can I believe in a God who allows these things to happen? or Can such a God be good? Beauty and goodness, on the other hand, rarely, if ever, come into the conversation. I’ve never heard anyone ask, Can I believe in a God who creates such profound beauty?

It seems to me that a balanced approach to the question must include not only evil and suffering, but also beauty, goodness, and from a Judeo-Christian perspective, redemption–that is, God’s response to evil and suffering.

I realize, of course, that God’s love and goodness is itself in question. What I’m talking about, however, is not God’s own goodness per se. Instead, just like the existence (for lack of a better term) of evil and suffering raise questions about God, so should the existence of goodness, beauty, and love.

I don’t know precisely how we bring these things into the discussion. I don’t like the idea of weighing evil and suffering against goodness and beauty, as if they were on a scale, and answering the question based on which “weighs” more (even if one could argue that, at least in the long run, goodness and beauty win out).

Still, it seems to me that if we are talking about a God who creates and exists–which I think we are when we ask about evil and suffering–then we must equally consider goodness and beauty. If we don’t, evil and suffering seem to become issue conveniently chosen simply to support a foregone position. The issue isn’t completely dealt with if beauty and goodness are not included.

Analog cameras and pixel peepers

An advertisement on the back of the November 1989 issue of National Geographic talks up Kodak’s new (at the time) EKTAR film. “You’re looking at a 2500% blowup with detail never before possible in a 35mm color print film,” it says. There’s close-up picture of a defeated football player. Inset is the original, uncropped photograph.

In fact, I found the image on Google:

What I find remarkable is that while Kodak boasts “detail never before possible”, the blow-up is actually quite soft. It is far from “tack sharp,” as they say. I read this and remembered several years back when I researched dSLR cameras, read lens reviews, followed the forums. What photogs seem to do these days is called “pixel peep”. They take a photograph, view it at maximum resolution and beyond, and then evaluate the lens or camera responsible based on how crisp the photograph is. I found this odd, as did others, since nobody ever looks that closely at a photograph. At normal viewing size, these photographs could be brilliant, but at the ultra-zoom level, they show flaws.

I remember, too, that the Pentax K10D, which I ended up buying, lost some marks from reviewers because its out-of-the-box settings didn’t produce a desirable quality of photrograph. The problem? The photographs were too soft. They weren’t “tack sharp”.

I’ve never been able to take a “tack-sharp” photograph. Partially because I don’t often use a tripod, partially because that particular Pentax model was design to produce film-like photographs. This is just fine by me. Surely there are other features in a photograph that are more important for judging its quality.

All this to say that that 1989 Kodak advertisement would not make the grade today. The never before possible “detail” in the blow-up would make the pixel-peepers scoff.

I wonder, have we lost something in our age of “tack-sharp” photographs and pixels in the millions? Do digital photographs have the same warmth and “personality” as analog photographs did? I suspect not. That’s not to say that I’m not thankful in many ways for digital cameras–mostly for their instant and forgiving output–or that there aren’t many brilliant and beautiful digital photographs taken. Yet I find that my dad’s old Minolta XG-1 (it’s older than I am) consistently yields better photographic results. And–sometimes–I crank up the ISO on my Pentax to add some of that “noise” and grain that is so hated these days. It may not show detail like cameras can these days, but I kind of like it.