Wave Watching

TMW_Joseph_2014The past several weeks have taken me through much of the book of Deuteronomy, and during my reading I have noticed a pattern develop that had escaped me in previous expeditions through the book. Everywhere in Deuteronomy God is telling his people to remember Him. Remember, remember, remember…For all the laws, festivals, and sacrifices listed, the focus is constantly returning to “remember.” Through my reading in Deuteronomy and beginning to notice the repetition of the command to “remember”, my mind turned back to the passage from Matthew where Jesus walks on the water. The two passages may seem to be completely unrelated on the surface, but what ties them together in my mind is the word “remember”. Peter began to sink in the waves because he took his eyes off of Christ and looked at the wind and the waves. He had forgotten who Jesus was and what he had done.

We live in a generation saturated with distractions, and I know that looking at my own life over the past 3 years of college I see a lot of “wave-watching” and not much “keeping the eyes fixed on Jesus.” This is where I found Deuteronomy fascinating. Remember. This is just as important today as it was for ancient Israel. God told Israel to remember who they were, where they came from, and who He was. As soon as they forgot his deliverance and His mercy, and started watching the waves around them instead, they would be on a slippery downhill slope, and that is ultimately what happened. The same is true today however. Although many modern Christians may not have had a physical deliverance from slavery, we have all been freed in Christ from sin. Although not all Christians have wandered in the desert for 40 years, we have all experienced times of drought and famine where God sustained and provided for us. Although we may not have verbally threatened to stone God’s prophets, God has been patient with us despite our rebellion. This is why it is just as important to remember who God is and what he has done here in the 21st century as it was in the early BC’s. Otherwise, just like Peter, we will get distracted from what really matters and begin to sink.

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While no man can claim his experience is normative, I know that when I forget, when I start looking at the waves instead of my precious Savior, that is when I begin to drown. When I forget the deliverance that has been worked out for me, and the God who continues to carry me through the desert, that is when I fall the hardest. The church in the United States suffers from a passive Christianity in many areas. Instead (and I include myself among the guilty) of being reminded each week who God is and going out and acting on that knowledge, too many of us forget almost as soon as we exit the pew. When Israel forgot who God was and what he had done for them, they fell into war, oppression, and all the trappings of paganism. However, the falling away doesn’t have to be some long process like it was in Israel –Peter forgot and began to sink immediately.

Remembering can be one of the hardest things to do at times –or at least it has been for me. But throughout the Bible the importance of remembering cannot be overstated. Whether it was ancient Israel, Peter, the early Church, or the denominations in our contemporary world, the importance of remembering who God is, what he has done, and what he has promised to do, is just as important. The following verses are an exhortation of how every believer’s life should be:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” – Deut. 6:4-9

Never forget and never stop talking about who God is and what he has done.

Death of a Comedian

The passing of any great person is normally accompanied by a certain amount of respectful mourning from those who considered them to be so. I can remember clearly the death of President Reagan, and his funeral procession. Oddly enough, while his death made me reflect on his life, I never felt the need to deeply mourn and weep. Neither did most of the public at the time. The same could be said of Rodney Dangerfield. His death was announced, but there was no great outcry from the public. Perhaps that’s why I find it so odd that there are so many people publicly wailing the death of Robin Williams.

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Don’t get me wrong. His death – like the death of any person – is sad. The circumstances of his death especially so. However, I find it odd that the death of a person that these people didn’t truly know and was famous only for his comedy would hit them so hard. The man was a comedian, and yet there are many who weep for him as though he had actually been some great hero. To be fair, he had been on the board of directors and given no small amount of money to charities, which mustn’t be overlooked. On the other hand, I think my curiosity comes from the idolization of the man – and not just him, either.

Perhaps we live in a generation where we don’t know how to pick our heroes. Perhaps we simply don’t know how to recognize them when we see them. I can’t remember such an outcry over a public death since Michael Jackson, and again the man was simply an entertainer. (With a lot of accusations over certain leanings, and who seemed to enjoy endangering his youngest child, but I digress.) In the same way, why do the American people idolize musicians, actors, and people who are famous simply for being famous?

I can’t help but come to the conclusion that we idolize them for the way they make us feel and because we admire their greed. We don’t say that we do. But in a culture run by consumerism and materialism, we tend to worship at the altar of the “successful.” While there’s certainly nothing wrong with being successful – if you want to define it as making a lot of money and having possessions – it’s our favorite American false god. Our tendency is to care about the lives of those we envy. No one seems to make heroes out of teachers, or police officers, or soldiers any more, simply because they offer acts of selflessness that they consider to be more important than a big paycheck.

And for all this worship, Robin Williams was still miserable. I can only conclude that Robin Williams was left so empty by his fame, success and wealth that he couldn’t find happiness the only place that true peace and happiness can be found: in Christ. I believe that his depression had a deep spiritual element in it. I know this because I have been depressed myself. Reaching out to other people didn’t work, laughter only delayed the feelings from coming back briefly, alcohol certainly didn’t help, and sometimes the medications doctors give can make it worse instead of better. (Besides, would you really rather medicate an emotional problem to where you can ignore it, or would you rather fix the problem?) I know that at the end of the day the only thing that got me out of my depression was good Biblical counseling and growing closer to God in faith. I wish Robin Williams had done the same. Ultimately, fame, success and money will leave you feeling just as empty as ignominy, failure, and poverty. I would urge those who idolize the man to learn from his death, not just bemoan it.

Easy To See, If Hard to Swallow

First, I must admit that I do not much care for Diego Rivera, though he is the subject of this essay. Off the bat, I don’t support his excessively pro-communist views.  As for his personal affairs, no pun intended, his lifelong conduct towards women was hardly honorable, to say the least.  What’s more, in my personal opinion (extra stress on personal), his murals, of whbg_diegorivera2_1ich he was so proud, are somewhat grotesque. In short, in my pessimistic moments, I consider him to be in his entirety an adulterous, lying pig, whose artistic style isn’t my cup of tea.

However, that whole rant aside, I consider his autobiography, My Art, My Life, to be one of the most enthralling books I have ever read, and Diego Rivera to be one of the most fascinating (albeit morbidly so) people I have ever studied. He is undoubtedly a dynamic, influential, downright intriguing man.  Author Alberto Híjar Serrano succinctly describes Rivera’s aura thusly: “Diego Rivera is an oversized man in overalls who carries an Apizaco cane, wears large shoes and a Sandnista hat (or does Sandino wear a Rieverian hat?).” (Serrano 638)  I must admit I had to look up who Sandino was (he was a Mexican revolutionary who resisted the U.S., and “died for the faith.”) Rivera lived in an age and a place and with a people that I admittedly don’t often think of. His opinions, however controversial, are as colorful as the art which he describes in personal detail. And when not discussing the grand moments of his life, the little anecdotes he relates make for amusing reads. Mind you, many of his accounts can’t be trusted to be entirely truthful, and thus don’t exactly flatter his character.

But whenever I become frustrated with Rivera’s tendency for questionable, though undoubtedly flamboyant facts, I remind myself that the greater part of the story told in My Art, My Life is actually a piece history. This is why I believe that Diego Rivera was, in a limited sense, a “great man.” But why do I make this claim, for someone I do occasionally despise?

The simple fact is that Rivera seems to me to be the a very famous (and therefore influential) person.  I recognize that at first, “being famous” may seem a rather shallow criteria by which to measure achievement. But I believe that it is what he did with his celebrity that truly merits the term “achievement.” However, as far as simple fame does go, if you were to inquire of people whether they had heard of Diego Rivera, a larger percentage of people would probably nod their heads in acquiescence. Or if they couldn’t place the actual name “Diego Rivera,” if you were to show them one of his popular piece of art, they would probably have seen it before.

The simple fact is that art is a different, and in some ways more versatile, medium than writing. Works by both authors and artists can be equally obscure, but I consider promoting one’s writing to be more difficult than drawing attention to one’s art. This may seem like a very obvious statement, but in order to be familiar with someone’s writing, a person must read it. Especially when it comes to books, a person must first find the title appealing, and then has to go out of their way to open the book and peruse the chapters. However, seeing is an automatic functional; we can’t really help what our eyes encounter. Since Rivera is such a popular artist, confronting his art at sometime or another is almost unavoidable. And of course, art does not need to be translated. For the most part, sight is universal; language is not.

To be sure, Rivera was not always so well-known as he is now. In the early years of his career, he was considered a talented artist, and had gained some degree of prominence among select artistic circles. However, by the early 1920’s, he was beginning to gain a more widespread audience through his new artistic medium: murals. These same murals, which I have so maligned, are nevertheless the very reason I consider Rivera’s carrier to be a great achievement.

In the first place, credit is due to Rivera for recognizing plain walls as a valuable canvases. As he states in My Art, My Life, murals “would not be a museum or gallery art but an art the people would have access to in places they frequented in their daily life—post offices, schools, theaters, railroad stations, public buildings.” (Rivera 66) Rivera is determined to be seen. And just what does he want his viewers to see? Rivera had long been involved the changing scene of Mexican politics, and according to Serrano, this “culminat[ed] in his murals at the Ministry of Public Education (1923-28) in which a new subject is included: el pueblo, the people.”

This is truly what makes Rivera, if not a great man, certainly a great artist. He used his highly visible art not just to bring aesthetic pleasure, but to bring hope and change for a demoralized people. Time after time, his murals include the people, the same people that were constantly being downtrodden, subject to one regime, one revolution after another. This subject matter wasn’t always popular; we hear much of Rivera being pressured to paint out communist or atheist elements in his murals, but in the same Ministry of Public Education mural, a poem by Carlos Guitérrez Crux exalting the lowly miner was required to be deleted. Nevertheless, Rivera continued to fight for what he believed in. Throughout his career, Rivera sought to bring dignity and voice to a downtrodden nation. And that, I must admit, is a noble thing, although I can still wish less of his philosophy was so pro-Stalin.

Indeed, however you lean on the political sphere, there is something to be said for artistic integrity, even with his more radical paintings, such as the Rockefeller Center mural, Man at the Crossroads. In a poem by E.B. White entitled, “I Paint What I See: A Ballad of Artistic Integrity,” the author of such children’s books as Charlotte’s Web humorously depicts and excellent portrayal of Rivera: “I paint what I paint, I paint what I see,/I paint what I think,” said Rivera,/“And the thing that is dearest in life to me/In a bourgeois hall is Integrity.” Additionally, Rivera can also be stubborn. In the same poem, “John D.’s grandson, Nelson,” points out “And though your art I dislike to hamper/…after all/It’s my wall.”

To which the poetical Rivera replies, “We’ll see if it is.”

 

Works Cited

Rivera, Diego. My art, My life: An Autobiography. New York: Dover Publications Inc.,

1992. Print.

Serrano, Alberto Híjar. “The Latin American Left And The Contribution Of Diego Rivera

To National Liberation.” Third Text 19.6 (2005): 637-646. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Oct. 2013.

Guardians of the What?

A movie about a wanderer who calls himself “Star Lord,” a green-skinned warrior, an ent, a tattoo-covered felon, and a raccoon. Hardly what one would expect to be the makings of a popular Marvel franchise.

hr_Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_46Featuring downright obscure characters from the Marvel universe, my initial expectation was that Guardians of the Galaxy would be an Avengers-esque knockoff, in space. Well, I was wrong–it was one of the most original Marvel films of the past few years!

The story kicks off with Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star Lord) obtaining a powerful orb, one that a number of villainous individuals also want. Heading the list is an alien named Ronan. When he sends green-skinned Gamora to take the orb, he doesn’t know that Rocket Raccoon and Groot are also trying to catch Quill in order to collect the bounty on his head.

After police arrest Quill, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot and imprison them in a high-security facility with an inmate named Drax, the group forms an unlikely alliance in order to escape the prison and…save the galaxy!

Quill is the enterprising, slightly-cocky wanderer, Gamora, the warrior. Rocket is the team strategist, Groot is…well, a tree of few words. Drax is the slightly dense muscle of the team who has trouble understanding idioms. When someone comments about lots of things going over his head, he responds:

Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I will catch it.

Word plays abound. Without taking itself too seriously and with a large dose of humor, Guardians manages to make up for its lamer parts by being a fun, funny, sci-fi action movie.