The Sectarian Review Podcast

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http://sectarianreviewpodcast.weebly.com/

Well this may be it.

I’ve found myself less and less interested in writing for this medium lately. And a quick perusal of this blog will demonstrate that.

It should also reveal that I’ve been aiming my non-teaching efforts toward podcasting instead. There is something truly rewarding about having live conversations with people about the broad range of topics I’ve tried to cover in the blog. If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to check it out. Here’s the link to our Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/SectarianReview/

Also, I’ve created a dedicated website to the podcast where you can learn more about it and link to all the episodes.

If you do, please let me know what you’re thinking. What makes that thing so much fun is the dialogue with our listeners. Here’s the link to the site:

http://sectarianreviewpodcast.weebly.com/

If you’ve been reading this blog, thanks so much. I hope you’ll listen to Sectarian Review and talk back!

Be well.

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The Football-Industrial Complex

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Hello dear reader. I wonder if you might allow me to call you “dear listener,” tonight.

As you may have seen from previous posts, I’ve gradually transitioned my blogging energies into podcasting. My podcast, Sectarian Review, offers me the chance to actually speak to other people about ideas and culture, and that has been a lot of fun and really gratifying. If you listen to podcasts, I hope you’ll check us out as well. We’re on iTunes and Stitcher and you can find a link here:

http://www.christianhumanist.org/2016/01/sectarian-review-5-the-football-industrial-complex/

There is no real reason these platforms can’t co-exist for a while, though. Below, find the introduction to our latest episode, a hostile inquiry into America’s (and Christendom’s) obsession with football. Drew Van’tland and Todd Pedlar joined me for a pretty lively discussion.

And I’m always looking for new collaborators. If you’d like to join us from time to time, please do let me know. This week, I had a philosopher and a physicist on the show. I’d love to include historians, economists, seminarians…anyone. Now for the intro:

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Hello everyone. Thanks for downloading another episode of the show. Danny Anderson here. Assistant Professor of English at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA.

I want to give fair warning that this episode might be contentious, uncomfortable, and even unfair. This is my hope at least. Football occupies a gigantic space in our cultural consciousness and I think we should at least notice that. In doing so, we’re kind of going to be picking at scabs, an icky image, I know.

I should confess upfront that I have some personal issues with this subject, so I’ll have to work to avoid making this all about me and my psychology. I’m from Cleveland, a huge town for sports fandom, and spent almost all my youth utterly obsessed with the local teams, primarily the Browns. Now maybe it’s because the Browns’ terribleness makes it easy, but as I’ve gotten old and decrepit, I’ve come to a point where I don’t care much at all about it anymore.

Except that I do. I care that we as a society Recklessly engage in what I’ve come to know as the idolatry of my youth. I’ve watched, largely from a distance now, as Cleveland neglects almost every other part of its civic life for its obsession with trying to overcome the heartbreak of “The Drive” and “The Fumble.” I’m also disturbed as a person of Faith at Christendom’s dangerous conflation of the values of sport with the values of Christianity.

So these are my reasons for recording this episode. I know that as you listen, you might say to yourself “he’s ignoring all the positive things about football…teamwork, discipline, whatnot.” If this is the case, know that I’m not ignoring them, I’ve spent much of my life uttering those defenses myself. I’m simply rejecting them for the purposes of this discussion. As always, I want to encourage your angry or supportive responses, either at the Facebook page or our email sectarianreview@gmail.com. I even booted up a Twitter account, hopeless as I am in that medium.

Question 1: Idolatry – I just mentioned the term Idolatry in my prologue. I stand by it, but I’m open to debate. What is idolatry and how might it be related to American Football?

Question 2: Economic – I already threw Cleveland under the bus for what I think is a misappropriation of economic resources. Let’s talk with some specifics about the economics of the sport in America. What are some positive arguments one might make for our investment in this game. Why are those arguments silly?

Question 3: Cultural – Everyone knows that Marx called religion the opiate of the masses – something to keep the proletariat content in an oppressive system. Certainly he would replace that with football today, no? What cultural impact does the Football Industrial Complex impose on us?

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So that’s it. Have a listen and get in touch!

Danny

Sectarian Review: A Manifesto

Sectarian Review Picture Logo

Well episode 1 of Sectarian Review is in the books and you can have a listen here:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheSectarianReview

The next episode will be on the broad topic of voice. In that spirit, I wrote a manifesto to open the next show with:

Sectarian Review: A Manifesto

A voice cannot exist without ears. No word ever spoken since “God said” came from nothing. They say ashes to ashes, dust to dust; we say ashes from ashes, dust from dust.

Sectarian Review is hearing.

Sectarian Review is not knowing.

Progress strives to get things right, when getting things wrong is our perfect form. In wrongness we listen and our voices struggle to rise from forward-moving machines that finish the unfinished.

Sectarian Review is not speeches.

Sectarian Review is not a pounded desk.

We will fight against the terms “mansplaining” and “feminazi,” but will not ban them.

Sectarian Review rights no wrongs.

If you say “fixed in your privilege,” we understand the privilege in being fixed.

I don’t care what you have to say,

It makes no difference anyway.

Whatever it is.

I’m against it.

Sectarian Review is Groucho Marx.

Sectarian Review is chaos.

Sectarian Review listens to the weary wisdom of yellow wallpaper.

Sectarian Review speaks back into its madness.

Sectarian Review is a voice,

not in

but to

the wilderness.

Sectarian Review: A Call For Contributors

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Mark Greif recently published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education that considered the importance of Partisan Review in American intellectual life:

(http://chronicle.com/article/Whats-Wrong-With-Public/189921/).

What Greif identified as important about PR, its intellectual cultural contribution, many listeners of the Christian Humanist network of podcasts desire to experience in our own historical moment. This is why we listen.

As a sometimes-contributor to The Christian Humanist Podcast, (http://www.christianhumanist.org/) I’ve found great satisfaction and excitement in engaging with my co-hosts and listeners in conversation about the life of the mind in all its complexity and variousness. So when Farmer, Grubbs, and Gilmour offered me the chance to begin my own podcast, I was honored, and would now like to take them up on their kind offer. I had initially intended to begin this project  last year, but unforeseen circumstances drew my time and attention and I had to hold off (long story short, I will be starting a new job as Assistant Professor of English at Mount Aloysius College this Fall). Now seems the time to begin this project.

I have no interest in hosting, as Michial puts it, The Danny Show. My own intellectual inspiration largely springs from New York Intellectuals like Lionel Trilling, who was a central figure in the Partisan Review crowd, and he worked within that larger, vibrant intellectual community. So the idea I have is to imagine Partisan Review in the CHP network. Nathan Gilmour suggested the name Sectarian Review, and this is what I’ve gone with.

The idea is to have a large pool of scholars from a variety of disciplines contribute regularly or semi-regularly and to aim for an episode once a month (at least at first). Topics are solicited, and might include subjects such as: the role of the artist in society, Disney and Culture, The Christian Imagination, political commitment in the age of Twitter, etc… In short, whatever strikes the contributors as worthy of discussion.

In the tradition of PR, I welcome contributors from across disciplines. Economists, rhetoricians, sociologists, historians, philosophers, literary scholars, mathematicians, musicologists, and gender studies, as well as professionals from law, clergy, and medicine would bring a diversity of intellectual perspectives that would, I believe, prove to be an enlightening hour of conversation. (I’m sure I left disciplines out of the above list, so please forgive me and take it as a sign of my openness to a variety of perspectives).

If you are interested in participating, please feel invited to contact me at danny.p.anderson@gmail.com

I look forward to developing something great with you.

Danny Anderson

The Hebraic Roots of Christianity

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Marvin Wilson of Gordon College about his new book Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage. Wilson argues that Christianity was not invented in the first century and, in fact, begins with Abraham, not Jesus himself. He claims that in undervaluing these Jewish roots, Christian thought relies too heavily on Greek-influenced dualism and leaves much of the richness of the faith unexplored. In an attempt to deepen Christianity’s own intellectual tradition then, the author offers examples of Jewish theological practices that he suggests might serve the life of the Christian mind well.

The podcast of the interview can be found at the Christian Humanist at the following link:

http://www.christianhumanist.org/2014/09/christian-humanist-profiles-11-marvin-wilson-on-our-hebraic-heritage/

Dave Ramsey and the End of Community

I once spent a little too much money on a coat at a small, struggling mall store owned and solely-staffed by a really nice Christian man. This was apparently un-Christian of me.

The Dave Ramsey Show

The Dave Ramsey Show (Photo credit: .imelda)

Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University has found a vibrant marketplace in churches across America. The program of responsible spending and saving that Ramsey has packaged together speaks to many of Christendom’s historic values; temperance, wisdom, and modesty, to name a few. Particularly in the wake of the financial crisis and Great Recession, FPU has been instrumental in helping many people responsibly live within their means.

Ramsey has, of course, clumsily talked his way into the Culture Wars as of late, but I don’t want to use this space to pile on his comments about the poor. Instead, I’d like to reflect on the consistency of his Financial Peace with the the notion of Christian Peace.

I too have gone through the program, which was a series of videos and homework assignments designed to systematically identify belt-tightening and investment opportunities in the student’s actual finances. I won’t spoil the details of Ramsey’s system, but I will say that it was, in an amateur’s opinion, pretty logical advice.

I was never entirely comfortable with the enterprise, however.

For one thing, there was, to me anyway, a crassness and a brashness about Ramsey’s on-stage persona that often made me squint like Clint Eastwood in an old Spaghetti Western. His beaming self-confidence, his carefully manicured “working-man’s clothes,” and his absolute faith in individualism can at times make one feel as though they are watching a particularly bad TED Talk.

These particular complaints all spring from personal preference however, and, though I find these rhetorical strategies to be an uncomfortable fit with the Christian ethics Ramsey tries to tie his product to, they are not what most unsettles me about the enterprise.

What is most disturbing about Christendom’s relationship with Financial Peace University is the extent of Dave Ramsey’s influence and the fact that his ideas are not simply taken as wise advice about personal finance, but as a broad philosophy about the nature of human communities. In short, the problem with Ramsey is not one of kind, but of degree. To live within one’s means is good. To live within one’s own isolated economic reality is not.

Without giving away any of his specific financial success secrets, I came away from Dave Ramsey’s sales pitch with an overall sense that the responsible person will seek to take such command of his or her own finances as to completely withdraw from any shared economic relationship with others. In the Ramsey-verse, all debt is evil, while goodness is found in the individual consumer prying the lowest price from a retailer, no matter the social cost.

This is not simply advice, it is philosophy, and it is a socially dangerous one. It is not dangerous because it favors the Wal-Marts of the world over local businesses (though it certainly does). No, the danger of Ramsey’s philosophy lies in its lack of imagination about what human beings are. It reduces each of us to isolated economic functionaries whose value is primarily measured by purchasing power and accumulated liquid wealth.

What this philosophy undercooks is the fact that humans need other humans. In fact, part of what makes us human is our dependence upon relationships with one another. Those relationships are social, sexual, and even economic.

Many of the Bible verses we’ve committed to memory – “Do unto others” etc… – emphasize the need to de-centralize self-interest in Christian community. Not many people in Christendom would seriously advocate self-centeredness as an ethical standard in friendships or romantic relationships, yet our wholesale adoption of Ramsey’s product (and I keep emphasizing this basic fact of the enterprise’s nature) basically advocates centralizing the self in our economic relationships. This puzzles me.

People will surely argue that I am ignoring moments when the product mentions the ethics of community, and certainly I remember a few obligatory nods to things like giving to charity and so on. And sure, I suppose that if an individual becomes rich, they can conceivably give away more money.

This is theoretically plausible, but in the context of FPU’s overall emphasis on self-empowerment, even this act of giving is itself one of power, not of the powerlessness that is the emphasis of the Christian Gospel.

Save your money and spend it wisely.

Give your life away to others recklessly.

I leave it to the reader to reconcile those two philosophies.

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Mark Driscoll and Christian-on-Christian Crime

By now, most people who would care about such things already know about the allegations of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll, the Seattle-based megachurch pastor. For those who wish to get caught up on the situation, Slate ran a fabulous take-down of Driscoll that should fill in the gaps, here.

Pastor Mark preaching at the Temple of Artemis

Pastor Mark preaching at the Temple of Artemis (Photo credit: Mars Hill Church)

His guilt or innocence is less interesting to me than the public conversation about him. I frankly have rather low expectations for much Christian writing, so the idea that a Christian Bestseller is less than academically rigorous is not exactly world-shaking to me. Andy Crouch wrote what I think is the best response to this situation, and he makes that same point. Crouch’s main point, however, is a brilliant one; that the major problem with the Driscoll plagiarism affair is that is an example of a dangerous idolatry among believers, a point I will return to at the end.

I am, however, still haunted by the question of how people of faith should respond to one another.

One thing I constantly try to do in class is to get my largely Christian students to think critically about their faith. “Critical” is the critical word here, because this goal necessitates casting suspicion upon people who ostensibly believe as they do. This sometimes causes friction with students who take an broad “us against them” view of the role of salt and light in the world. 

This conflict spilled over into my personal life as well. Like many people, I posted a snarky link to the above Slate article on my Facebook page, with a comment along the lines of “Hey Driscoll, is it the kick-butt Jesus or the panzy Jesus that cites his sources,” alluding to (and let’s just admit it — poking fun at) Driscoll’s famously hyper-masculine view of the Christian faith. There was a pretty good conversation that followed that link, but I later noticed, in other friends’ feeds, status updates that complained about Christians publicly complaining about other Christians (I know, I know. The irony of that was not lost on me either. It was all I could do to refrain from pointing it out — you guessed it — publicly). 

Being who I am, the whole thing reminds me of any number of Philip Roth stories. The Ghost Writer, for example, spends much of its narrative energy chronicling young Nathan Zuckerman’s conflict with his Jewish community over the scandal of his fiction. The story naturally bears striking parallels to Roth’s own personal history with his community’s reaction to his work going back to the beginning of his career. Essentially, the conflict boils down to “is it good for the Jews.”

The communal fear on display in this story is not without merit, but also not healthy from a perspective of self-reflection. I wonder if Roth’s work offers parallels that Christians might make use of as we adjudicate Driscoll’s actions in public. Primarily, we must ask if it is truly bad for the Christian public image for believers to show that we are thinking beings and that we demand certain ethical standards be met in spite of our “oneness.” Is it really better that we remain publicly silent while the culture of idolatry that Crouch identifies proliferates and is rewarded?

I believe this all points to a paradox built into the very fabric of the faith. I’m sure than many Christians who prefer the “Thin Blue Line” approach to controversy point to New Testament passages like 1 Corinthians 6 as their guiding scripture. The edicts of those verses demand that Christians show a united front to non-believers and that they not bring public lawsuits against one another. There is, of course, much wisdom here, but I think it must be doing more than asking “is it good for the Christians?” It is asking of believers to rise above the crassness and self-interestedness of their non-believing neighbors. If Crouch is right, then are Driscoll’s critics not identifying a similar crassness in his public-celebrity persona?

This is a complication, but the paradox I mentioned above lies at a different level. The passage from 1 Corinthians. Has that letter not become a public scolding of Christians by another Christian? Does the visibility of that fracture within Christendom not build respect for the faith? What is good for the Christians?

 

 

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Christian Kryptonite

Kryptonite

Kryptonite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some reason, I can’t get away from Superman this week (is it the abs, do you think?). My last post puzzled over Man of Steel, I brought the movie up in my Introduction to Literature class, and here I am responding to more critics of the film.

This time, I want to address the phenomenon of Christians taking umbrage with the Christologizing of Kal-El.

Lately, I’ve been on the hunt for journals of cultural criticism that aren’t stupid and petty. The quest led me to an article calledMan of Steel and the tiredness of Christ Figures” at a website called think Christian. The author, Josh Larsen, has written a thoughtful and somewhat surprising diatribe against finding Jesus in secular movies, Man of Steel being the occasion for his argument.

I find the article intriguing, if only because it is so unexpected. The overwhelming trend in Christian cultural criticism (if such a thing exists) seems to be to (maybe a bit desperately) usurp popular cultural artifacts and re-purpose them as extended metaphors for the Cross. I think there must be some money to be made here in packaging youth group bible study curricula or something. “Finding Jesus in True Blood.” Coming to a Christian bookstore near you.

But I digress.

At any rate, Larsen argues that this is a wasteful endeavor and he makes a sound case for his position. In addition, I find it admirable that someone writing for what seems to be a mainstream Christian publication has the courage to stand against that very current. His willingness to challenge cultural orthodoxy is a welcome sign. Somehow though, his claim doesn’t sit entirely well with me.

The following statement is where I get stuck:

It seems to me that the practice of identifying Christ figures almost always brings more to the movies at hand than it does to our understanding of Christ. It adds religiosity and resonance (even if neither are intended), yet rarely informs our faith. As a theological exercise, Christ-figuring is a one-way street.

Larsen is a good writer, and the claim he makes here offers an insightful dissection of a shallowness in much Christian thinking about culture. He is right; often, Christians who try and apply the Jesus-stamp to movies like Man of Steel approach it in an intellectually lazy way that serves neither the faith nor the film very well.

Yet while Larsen correctly identifies a flaw in contemporary attempts at what he calls “Christ-figuring,” I think he unnecessarily pushes the practice as a whole into the mud as well.

If anything, a film like Man of Steel should be a very productive theological exercise if the viewer is willing to challenge his or her own imagination. The film presents what is clearly meant to be a vision of Jesus, yet this is not the same thing as presenting Jesus himself. It is in that distinction, subtle though it may be, that the “one way street” Larsen identifies can open up a new lane.

If we are to accept the analogy of Zack Snyder’s Superman as Jesus, then it offers a challenge to the Jesus that Christians widely accept. This Sacrificial Lamb takes out a whole lot of buildings on his way to Golgotha, mostly by throwing a rather sympathetic Satan through them. This is a motif in the film that many critics point and laugh at, but to the Christian viewer who is willing to stretch his or her imagination, it can be thought-provoking and it might just be profound.

Does a Christian really believe that the coming of Christ had a profound impact on the world? If so then we must accept that it was an act of utter violence, not just to the body of Jesus, but to the structures and fabric of human civilization. Christ is every bit as offensive to our world (including us) as Superman is to Metropolis’s version of Grand Central Terminal.

I do not suggest that this is a great film (though I freely admit enjoying it a great deal). I do, however, think that it offers the Christian who is willing to challenge his or her own personal orthodoxies an opportunity to do so. For the Christian who is, as Larsen complains about, simply trying to project dogma upon the movie, I agree that their efforts are juvenile. Shallow readings such as these have done incalculable damage to the Christian Imagination.

There is, though, a possible second direction in this cultural exchange. There is a revolutionary quality to Jesus’s messianic work, and revolutions do not look like Vacation Bible School crafts. By reflecting the horror of abject violence back at Christians who want to see smiling, gentle Jesus in everything, Man of Steel forces the imaginatively vibrant Christian to come to terms with a disturbing element of the faith, and though perhaps not entirely orthodox in itself, this vision can strengthen Orthodoxy in the long run. This, however, requires a dedication by the Christian to engage with culture via multi-lane highways, not, as Larsen identifies, one way streets.

Though we may like to imagine Jesus as muscle-bound in spandex, there are consequences inherent in that image. But I argue that the Christian Imagination is an underdeveloped muscle that needs tossed against a few buildings from time to time.

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Preachin’ to the Choir

apollo with lyre

Digression

Three months into this blog, I’ve reached a strange crossroads. Looking back over the topics I cover, I see posts about teaching, religion, conspiracy theories, werewolves, and child rearing, among others. It’s a dizzying array of topics that I’m sure confuses my readers and makes it difficult to “build an audience” for my blog. In all honesty, this has bothered me too much, I think. The great blogger Bryan Daniels has inspired me to not care about numbers so much in this post on his blog, Chief of the Least.

Liberation! Wasn’t that easy?

Anyhow, as it turns out, the posts I like best are the ones that blur the distinctions between my topics. My recent post, “The Werewolf Priesthood,” is a good example of what I’m talking about. It’s about werewolves, yes. But it is also about faith. And teaching. And parenting. Is my confusion clear? Where are the lines at which one topic begins and the others end?

So this is how I will approach this blog for the time being. Numbers be darned.

Psst. But seriously, one or two shares or likes on Facebook or Google+ makes a huge difference to my fragile, pathetic self-esteem! 🙂

Oh, Original Sin. You fascinate me.

End Digression

This post will hopefully be focused on and applicable to a specific audience, to be consumed and distributed as they see fit. I do hope, however, that the broader intersections are apparent as well, because they are important to me.

 

English: the first of the Epistles to the Colo...

English: the first of the Epistles to the Colossians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Sometimes, listening to the sermon in church pays off. I recently heard a sermon about the Epistle to the Colossians that opened my eyes to something I’d never known. Verses 15-20 of chapter 1 are apparently lyrics to a popular hymn in the proto-Christian era.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

(Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)

This was a revelation to me.

The Apostle Paul’s subsequent advice column was not simply information given to instruct the intellects of his readers. Instead, it organically erupted out of an engagement with art! Paul seems to know that his readers engage with the world through means that transcend mere rational logic. In fact, I argue that the logic of religion must engage the imagination as much as the brain. It could very well be that because I happen to teach English, I find this element of Colossians more exciting than anyone else does, but, nonetheless, it struck a chord with my inner poet.

The lyrics in this little ditty are certainly pedagogical in nature and they offer an essential vision of orthodox Christian theology. Yet they are innately poetic as well. Phrases like “image of the invisible God,” and “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” are not literal, but imaginative, and they offer the human reader an entryway into the supernatural, the Divine. Theologically,  they establish a theme in the first line about Jesus springing forth into history, directly from the central God. The theme is repeated (becoming a motif!) by the use of imagery that subsequently centralizes Jesus, making him the center around which the Christian life revolves. Whether one is a believer or not (I imagine many of my readers are not), there is an aesthetically pleasing poetic structure in these words that is admirable.

Paul, being the … ahem … great prose stylist that he is … cough cough … builds his instruction, or argument, upon this poetic beauty. Thank goodness!

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

(Colossians 1:21-23 ESV)

This snappy bit of prose (wink wink) makes even less sense if the reader does not understand Jesus as central to salvation. Given the supernatural and mystical nature of this belief, it is a concept much better conceived in the poetic than it is driven home in didactic form.

I have, as I’ve alluded to in the past, severe difficulty with contemporary Christian music (and culture in general). We’ve found a way to isolate the emotional and pedagogical elements of faith, assigning the former to music and the latter to sermons. This makes for bad poetry (“Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy, wet kiss” – ick) and, in my opinion, a degraded culture. This discovery about Colossians, which was new to me, was therefore exciting. Here is a model that insists we do better.

This discovery not only has theological ramifications, it also opens up yet another intersection, that between faith and literature. I’ve posted about this particular crossroad before; if you missed it here’s the link.

As an English professor, this discovery is not only exciting, it is a relief. Maybe I’m not Jekyll and Hyde after all.

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The Werewolf Priesthood

Well, I’m exhausted. We’re coming up on Spring Break, and as excited as my students are for the rest, I’m coasting into it on fumes. Luckily for me, tonight my youngest fell asleep in my arms at about 6:15 so my wife and I were gifted with a quiet evening. One thing I like to do that I haven’t been able to lately is sit down with milk and cookies and watch monster movies, so this is what I did.

I went with an childhood favorite, Stephen King’s Silver Bullet. It’s a really fun (and surprisingly sweet) werewolf movie with Corey Haim, Gary Busey, and Anne of Green Gables. If you have Amazon Prime, it’s free right now, so you should check it out.

SPOILER’S AHEAD

(as if you care…come on, no one’s really going to watch this are they?)

The story is your basic whodunit, with clues about the werewolf’s identity being slowly unfolded until … tada … it’s the local minister.

Silver Bullet

This notion, the werewolf priest, intrigues me.

It apparently has a long folklore tradition, but this movie is my only experience with it. I’m sure that there are Christians out there who will take great exception to the plot twist and see it as another in a long line of instances where Hollywood, or “the mainstream media” cruelly trashes religion in general and Christians in particular. This is a tired and not-very-true-or-interesting narrative that I don’t feel like dealing with here. Let’s just say that every profession and culture thinks it gets overwhelmingly negative press. See almost any movie about an English professor. So shut up and think about what it means to be part of the Royal Priesthood. More on this below.

One thing I find so fascinating about the werewolf priest in this particular movie is that, on some level, there is a sense that God may actually be using this monster for his own terrifying ends and purposes. The priest’s affliction (we never find out how he became a werewolf) has the appearance of divine calling at the beginning of the movie. He doesn’t truly become the bad guy until he tries to keep his secret safe by attempting to kill a disabled little boy who knows his secret. Before this, his victims seem to be chosen not by random, but by the Almighty himself. I have no idea about the doctrinal ramifications of this narrative, but it does make for some thought-provoking viewing. Those more theologically-minded than me are requested to comment further about this below.

The other thing about the priest’s curse is that I could sort of relate. I remember delivering a sermon at church once about the royal priesthood and finding the whole thing to be rather impossible. We’re somehow supposed to live in this world in a way that resists its institutions while simultaneously respecting them. I quote:

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

This is a rather tall order, I think. In my sermon, I think I also threw in a bit about werewolves and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (much to my pastor’s chagrin, I’m sure), paying close attention to the damage we often do when we seek to withdraw from the constraints placed on us by various institutional manifestations of “the man.”

 

Richard Mansfield was best known for the dual ...

Richard Mansfield was best known for the dual role depicted in this double exposure: he starred in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in both New York and London. The stage adaptation opened in London in 1887, a year after the publication of the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The ironic dilemma we are ultimately faced with is that to properly live outside the systems of culture, we have to live in harmony with them. The line is exceedingly thin. The werewolf priest apparently failed at some point to ethically walk it, and became not an agent of God’s mysterious will, but a true monster.

I teach English. (Wow! What a smooth transition). I teach at a tiny Christian college in a small, rural town, much like the one in the movie. I love living here and I love my job very much, but, being new to the area, I have often felt a dreadful isolation and have, at times, withdrawn. In some sense, and through no real fault of my own, I have not lived as harmoniously within the local cultural institutions as I eventually hope to as I grown into my role in the community.

In the absence of that harmony, I have thrown myself into my work to a sometimes frightening degree. I stay late when I’m not teaching, and I exhaust myself when I am. I love what I’m doing, and I think I’m doing a good job by my students. This has been a rich and rewarding experience that I would never trade, as I do feel I’m doing the work God has blessed and cursed me with.

Watching this movie for the umpteenth time has made me pause, though. My work is my responsibility, but so also are my family and my community. How can I walk the line as werewolf priest, without becoming a monster?

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