Today, I'm offering a different take on the wonderful new book from Rachel Held Evans ... In his review of Rachel Held Evans’ recent and somewhat controversial book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master (Thomas Nelson, 2012), Richard Beck identified Rachel’s project—a year spent following certain aspects of the Bible’s teaching concerning women as literally as possible—to be “hermeneutical performance art.”
Today, I'm sharing over at Transpositions. Author’s Note: This article contains spoilers for the 2006 film Babel.
Last week, Christ and Pop Culture published an excellent article, “Counting Moral Indiscretions Is Not a Movie Review,” which left me considering films that I have watched and found theologically significant and have been dismayed to learn have been labeled morally bankrupt by Christian reviewers.
For instance, the 2006 film Babel combines multiple storylines as well as countries, spanning Morocco, the US, Mexico, and Japan, spiraling out from the inciting incident of an American tourist being shot on holiday in Morocco. The film garnered seven Academy Award nominations and was shortlisted by a number of critics, like Roger Ebert, as one of the best films of 2006.
But for all its poise, Babel is not without objectionable content. A central character in the narrative, Chieko, a Japanese teenager who is both deaf and functionally mute and whose mother recently committed suicide, frequently attempts to compensate for her feeling of isolation and abandonment by attracting men. Rarely is this successful, but we are not spared her attempts. Early in the film, Chieko removes her underwear and then twice lifts her skirt on camera to try and attract the attention of a group of boys sitting at a nearby table in a café.
Today, I'm sharing over at Transpositions ... Popular history in Protestant circles has often reimagined the medieval church as suffering from severe illiteracy in lay Christians. Images of Bibles chained to lecterns come to mind and the rally cry of sola scriptura takes on as much a visual argument–a Bible in each and every hand–as it does a devotional and doctrinal one.
It has only been in the past fifty years that the scholarship of researchers like Dom. Jean Leclercq and Caroline Walker Bynum have opened the conversation to challenging this interpretation of the medieval lay Christian. Leclercq and Bynum, along with others, have advocated a reading of the medievals that recognizes a distinction between textual and visual literacy. The medieval Christian might not have had textual literacy, might not have had access to the Scripture directly. However, she would have had access to the doctrinal and mysterious aspects of the Faith through a well-developed visual literacy, thanks to highly iconographic stained glass and the liturgical structure of the Mass itself. Visual elements became the teaching tools of the Church as a whole, which is one explanation for the extensively illuminated copies of the Psalms and iconographic reference books popular in the late middle ages.
One such visual theology in the Mass that remains alive in Roman Catholic, Anglican, and high-Episcopal churches to this day is the representation of the Trinity iconographically through symbolic objects.
It was Henry Hart Milman who evaluated Christendom in the post-Constantine era thusly: “As Christianity worked downwards into lower levels of society […] the general effect could not but be that the age would drag down religion to its level.”
Let us consider Milman’s critique of the popularization of Christianity through the perspective of relating it to popular culture and abuse of the Christian symbolic. Here, Lady Gaga makes for an excellent case study. I propose Lady Gaga is an embodiment of the modern age of relativism: symbols, including Christian symbols, are our property; we may do with them whatever we please.