Thoughts on The Passion of the Christ

I was just over at Telford’s Blog, desperately hoping for a new entry. Well, there was a little one, just a link, pretty much, to an ABC article that was actually written by a New Testament/Greek professor I had, Bruce Fisk (very cool guy). Pretty good article, too.

Could Mel Gibson Have Avoided Controversy With The Passion? Maybe Not

The ABC piece was actually taken from something Dr. Fisk had written on Beliefnet. A very interesting site. Check it out!

My Eternal Fate

As some of you may know, I’ve been teaching Dante’s Inferno in my honors English class. I was recently helping a student to find resources for his research paper on the theology of Inferno and I happened across a personality test. “Yeah,” you might say, “so what? Those things are all over the internet.” But this test is different. It’s an Inferno test!! You answer the questions truthfully and then it tells you in which circle of Dante’s hell you’d end up! Isn’t that awesome?

And on top of that, it spits out some html results you can put on your blog, as I have done below:

The Dante’s Inferno Test has sent you to Purgatory!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Level Score
Purgatory (Repenting Believers) Very High
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) High
Level 2 (Lustful) Moderate
Level 3 (Gluttonous) Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Low
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) Very Low
Level 7 (Violent) Moderate
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) Moderate
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Low

Take the Dante’s Inferno Hell Test

So, I end up in Purgatory; that’s nice. Looks like I came pretty close to being grouped with the virtuous pagans, though (haha!). And I have a couple other problem areas, too… Haha. At least I’m totally clear of the heretics’ circle. That’s a good thing!

Oh, The Books I Read Part 2

Way back in March of last year, I wrote a post about the books I was reading at the time. Those of you who know me probably know I have a horrible habit of beginning books and then finding others and beginning those and finding yet more, ad infinitum. Unfortunately, many of the books I start do not get finished. There are several on last year’s list that fall into that category.

I enjoy compiling this list every once in awhile because, for me, it is a self-examinatory act. I think it reflects for me a mental state of sorts, a mode of inquiry, and that is helpful to my understanding of myself in this life’s journey (to steal part of a phrase from Dante).

Without further ado, here is “Drew’s Reading List February 2004,” roughly categorized:

The “Drew Is Interested in Japan” Category

As I have mentioned in other posts, my long-time interest in Japan, its arts, culture, and religion have seemed recently to begun to converge with my interest in my general interest in religion.

Religion in Japanese Culture: Where Living Traditions Meet a Changing World edited by Noriyoshi Tamaru

religion_in_jap_culture.jpgThis is a very helpful collection of essays dealing with religion in Japanese culture. The five main essays are on Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity, Folk Religion, and New Religions. The essay on Christianity by Suzuki Norihisa and the essay on Shinto by Ueda Kenji have been my favorites so far. Suzuki makes some very helpful observations as to why Christianity has had such a difficult time indiginizing in Japan and Ueda’s remarks on the history of Shinto are very informative. Another thing I like about most of the essays in the book is that they are actually written by Japanese people! Imagine that!

A History of Japanese Theology edited by Yasuo Furuya

hist_of_jap_theo.jpgAnother collection of essays, this one focusing on the evolution of Japanese Christian theology pretty much beginning at the reintroduction of Christianity to Japan in the 19th century. It’s broken down into generations (an interesting approach, I thought), and I’ve enjoyed reading about third-generation theology (so-called “post-Barthian” theology) and theology after 1970 the most. The reason, I think, is because this is the stage where Japanese theology has become really Japanese. The writings of Karl Barth had been, for several decades, the primary theological force in Japan (a period dubbed by Japanese theologians as the “Barthian Captivity”) and had prevented any siginificantly Japanese theology to emerge (of course, there are some interesting exceptions). However, since the 19th century, intense dialog had been happening between Japanese Christians, Zen Buddhists, and Shinto revivalists. By the sixties and seventies, we see Japanese Christianity developing and bouncing off questions and ideas presented by these more Japanese elements. One area I found most intriguing was that of Zen, Christianity, and the questions of meontology posed by Katsumi Takizawa, Seiichi Yagi, and others.

Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation by Lafcadio Hearn

japan_attempt_interp.jpgI love reading Lafcadio Hearn. He lived in Japan in the late-19th, early-20th centuries and I think he even ended up taking a Japanese name and becoming a citizen. This book is a reaction to and an interpretation/explanation of the Japanese culture of the time. It seems that Hearn’s idea of Japanese society is that everything ends up boiling down to the awareness and reverence for the dead (this, of course, includes Japanese religion, especially Shinto). Because of this particular focus, Hearn’s book is primarily concerned with Japanese religion and ritual. Although the book is about a hundred years old, and Japan has undergone major changes in that time, I think Hearn’s insights and observations are, for the most part, still very helpful for understanding the Japanese religious and cultural world.

I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume

i_am_a_cat.jpgAnother author from turn-of-the-century Japan that I am reading, Natsume was probably the most famous author in Japan at his time. This book is a funny, satyrical look at Japanese life from a stray cat’s perspective. Apparently, it was written in installments. The first chapter was originally all the author was going to write, but demand for sequels was so great that he kept writing. The book I am reading is actually “three volumes in one,” as the cover says. Natsume studied in England for a while (English Lit, I think) but was kind of a shut-in. He didn’t socialize with people there very well. I hear that the cat ends up drowning in a bucket or something at the end of the book.

Acts of Worship: Seven Stories by Yukio Mishima

acts_of_worship.jpgYukio Mishima is probably the strangest, most intriguing figure of recent Japanese history. A bisexual, sado-masochist, neo-Imperialist, expert martial artist, and a heck of a writer, he was probably one of the most significant literary figures of the twentieth century in Japan (along with Natsume and Endo, among others). I remember awhile ago an ex-girlfriend recommended a semi-autobiography he wrote, called Confessions of a Mask. I’m glad I didn’t read it, though; he’s pretty strange. A great writer, though, as I’ve already mentioned. I’ve only read the first story in the book I’m reading. It’s called “Fountains in the Rain” and it’s about a rather self-centered young man who wants to break up with his girlfriend. She follows him around in the rain for awhile and the way things end is quite unexpected and throws you for a loop. Just the way I like short stories! Mishima seemed to become more and more obsessed with death and suicide and also grew more and more dissatisfied with modern society. The text for the last installment of his quadrilogy, The Sea of Fertility, was sent to the publisher the morning of his death in 1970. On that day, he and his small army of followers stormed the headquarters of the Self-Defence Force in Tokyo and held the commanding officer there hostage. After making a proclamation to the Self-Defence Force, he committed seppuku with the aid of his followers. A very interesting guy. I want to read a biography on him by John Nathan, entitled Mishima: A Biography.

Liquid Life: Buddhism and Abortion in Japan by William Lafleur

liquid_life.jpgI’ve talked about this book in previous posts and I’m still working on it. A very interesting study of abortion in Japan, specifically its relationship with Japanese Buddhism. One of the many intriguing questions the author raises is, how is it that a very specific stream of Buddhism (a religion that prohibits the destruction of any life) has sprung up in response to and support of people who have had abortions? How has a largely Buddhist society come to terms with abortion? Why is abortion not the contentious subject it is in other societies? The answers to these questions have interesting implications for American society, where abortion is a very divisive issue. I’ve also experienced, as a result of reading this book, a renewed interest in the bodhisattva Jizo, the protector of children in Japanese Buddhism, and the other bodhisattvas, and what the Japanese concept of the bodhisattva may bring to a Japanese Christianity. The edition I have is a hardback, and I don’t have the dust jacket (I got it used) and I think it’s out of print, so I used here the image of the paperback cover, the design of which is a little light-hearted, considering the subject matter, in my opinion…

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

sound_of_waves.jpgYikes! I’ve done it again! I got this book the night before last, and it’s great! Mishima is an excellent writer. Descriptions of the settings make them really easy to imagine. The story is about a boy in a village on a small island making a living fishing who falls in love with a girl. I think, from what I gather, the town begins to gossip about what’s going on between them and things get complicated, one of those drawbacks of living in tight-knit communities. Seems like a pretty simple story so far. It’s really good though! I’ve already read six chapters!

02.17.04 UPDATE: In case you have actually read this entry and are wondering why I only have one category on my reading list, I just want you to know that I’m still working on it. These book lists take time!

02.28.04 OKAY, I’m back on the booklist thing. This is quite a project! If you ever go with me to a bookstore just bring a bucket of cold water to throw on me, or something. Here we go again…

The “Drew is an English Teacher” Category

I’m lucky this year to have a full-fledged honors English class to teach. Our school is so small that things like that totally depend on student interest. Well, I had quite a lot of Sophomores interested, so we did it. (We’ve already finished some books last semester, which I won’t discuss individually, such as The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald) and A Good Man Is Hard to Find (O’Connor). We’re also reading some good stuff in my other English classes. Teaching English has reminded me of how much I love literature in all its forms. I think I’ll talk about literature in another post at some point (wow! my blog is pretty boring, isn’t it?).

Inferno by Dante Alighieri, translated by Robert Pinsky

Inferno_Pinsky.jpgLast year, my honors English group read Ciardi’s version, and I had it on my last reading list. If you look at my last list, you’ll know I was pretty content with that version. I was planning to use it with my new class, but unfortunately, it’s gone out of print! I am not too happy with the Pinsky version. As he says in the introduction, the way he brings across Dante’s terza rima scheme (ABA, BCB, CDC, DED, etc. etc.) is by rhyming consonants, not necessarily vowels. This is something he likes to do in his normal poetry too. Unfortunately, it’s not what Dante did, and it just doesn’t capture the same feeling, in my mind. There are other things, like canto summaries and such, that this version is lacking. I miss my Modern Library version!!

Silence by Shusaku Endo

Silence.jpgI read this book in a world civ class I took in college. Endo was one of Japan’s foremost authors and a Christian. This book is a historical fiction about some of the Portuguese missionaries that came to Japan several centuries ago. It follows one in particular. The early story of Christianity in Japan is very sad; many Japanese and non-Japanese of all ages were tortured and killed for their faith, some even crucified! This novel, of course, has that historical weight, but the specific fictional story itself is full of pain, because the very person who came to bring the gospel to the Japanese ends up recanting his faith under pain of torture. A very powerful book. I recommend it to everyone! And that cover is very striking, no?

Dubliners by James Joyce

Dubliners.jpgIf I’m not mistaken, this book was Joyce’s first major work (in terms of literary recognition, etc.). I think it’s also the easiest to read. It’s a collection of short stories about, you guessed it, people living in Dublin. I think that’s the only connection the characters in the stories have to each other. Otherwise, they’re pretty much distinct, independent short stories. I love short stories; there’s something about the compactness of the format that the artistic author can use to make a major impact on the reader. Joyce, of course, is a master writer and does a great job with his short stories. A couple good ones, in my mind, were “An Encounter” and “Araby.”

The Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare

<Othello.jpgShakespeare’s plays are so amazing. They are literally poetry in motion when acted out. It’s astounding how poetic the scripts are. Othello, of course, is no exception. Iago, I think, is one of Shakespeare’s most interesting characters. And when he starts rhyming his lines, look out! Something sinister is afoot! For some reason, I’ve had a hard time getting my students in to this one. I think it’s very interesting. If you don’t know what Othello is about, the gist of it is Othello, the chief general of Venice (and a Moor!), is manipulated by Iago, a disaffected underling, into thinking is new wife, Desdemona, is cheating on him with his favorite officer, Cassio (whom, along with Othello himself, Iago hates). As is indicated by the title, the ending is not a happy one. Desdemona gets it the worst I think, but you can’t help but feel for the poor general.

The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

romeo_and_juliet.jpgA Shakespeare classic, R & J is a piece of literary art that, in my opinion, deserves all the attention it has received. Shakespeare’s use of poetry is amazing in this play. It seems the three wittiest characters in the play, Friar Laurence, Mercutio, and Romeo all rhyme their lines, as if to indicate the sharpness of their wit (Romeo rhymes the least, usually only when he’s around the other two, and Friar Laurence rhymes the most – pretty much every line). I think Friar Laurence is one of my favorite characters — he’s so cool! This play is a joy to read, in terms of literary quality. Very sad though, as plots go…

The “Drew Tries to Be a Thoughtful Christian” Category

I am a very internal person, and my faith kind of runs along those same lines. These are some books that I’m reading now that have to do with that.

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

new_seeds.jpgI’ve found Thomas Merton’s thoughts on the contemplative Christian life to be very insightful and very helpful. This book is really cool. It’s actually a republishing of an older book. Its format is nice and compact, and it has little place-holder ribbon (I love those!). It’s a compilation of thoughts on living out a Christian life full of thought and reflection. His thoughts on the divine and comprehending the divine come off to me as very Zen-like. That’s not a bad thing to me, but it is a little foreign. This will probably end up being a challenging book.

The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton by Thomas Merton

asian_journal_merton.jpgAnother Merton book, this is a published version of his personal journal that he was keeping on his trip to East Asia. He actually ended up dying on that trip, electrocuted by a faulty outlet (I think in Thailand). This guy has been called one of the greatest spiritual figures of the twentieth century and made huge contributions to the relationship between Christianity and the great religions of the East (particularly Buddhism), as well as the pacifist movement toward the end of his life. It’s so interesting to read some pretty random entries that he wrote, and how seriously he thought about Buddhism and eastern meditative traditions. His entries on these topics don’t even really strike one as Christian, simply those of an inquiring mind. That’s kind of jarring to read at first, if you are a Christian.

The “Drew Is a 100% Introvert on the MBTI Personality Test” Category

I’ve started on a couple of books that I hope will help me become a little less socially inept. I’m a horrible conversationalist and am not good at making friends, so here they are:

Shyness: A Bold New Aproach by Bernardo Carducci

shyness.jpgThe subtitle (actually above the title on the cover) depressingly reads, “A practical guide to overcoming your fears and regaining control over your life.” The description on Amazon intrigued me, though. It says this guy treats “shyness as a ‘personality trait’ rather than as an emotional disorder or mental illness.” That’s refreshing to hear! Anyway, the idea of shyness as something that could be positive is what I hope to develop, since it’s a character trait I possess in abundance. We’ll see what the final outcome is, though…

How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends: Revised and Updated by Don Gabor

start_a_conversation.jpgJust looking at the title made me a little embarrassed to be buying this one. “How to make friends,” are you supposed to have to read a book about this kind of thing? That’s pretty pathetic… Haha. Anyways, just another self-help book. If it works wonders for me (if I get through it), I’ll talk about it on my blog.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

cupiddelivery.gifI just wanted to wish everyone a happy Valentine’s Day. If you have someone special to share it with, you’re very lucky. Don’t ever let that change!

To those of you who may be in the same situation I am in, for some, this day may be sweet, but for us, may this day be quick!

Well, I think I’m going to clean my room and then eat some of the Valentine candy I got from… my mom! (You’re the greatest, mom!) Then maybe I’ll, hmm, I don’t know what I’ll do after that. No plans, after all!

Pray for My Sis

Hey all you pray-ers out there, pray for my oldest sister. She is going to have jaw surgery tomorrow at 11:00 AM. It’s going to be very similar to the surgery I had when I was in high school. So if you could please pray for her and for a smooth and uneventful surgery/recovery, that would be cool.

UPDATE: Hey everyone, thanks for your prayers. The surgery went by without much of a hitch. It took longer than expected, I guess, because her bone was apparently much stronger than normal. They had to really grind away at it. Anyway, she’s okay now. Very swollen, but okay. Thanks again for the prayers!

Hot Stuff!

We’ve been burning up the message post on the last entry (I think it’s a record for this blog; kinda sad, haha). I know a lot of you who read this have very valuable positions on the issues and I’m dying to know what your diverse backgrounds and situations in life would bring to this conversation, so check it out and say something!

Presidential Frustration

george_w_bush.jpgWith all the new developments concerning Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, the CIA, the whole fiasco going on in Britain, etc. etc., my inclinations toward separating myself from “society” have been strengthened. I really don’t think America has been doing the right things lately, and the prospects for the next presidential election just don’t look good to me, on either side.

I’ve become sick of “choosing the lesser of two evils.” Our electoral system seems to have evolved into one in which the prerequisites for running are considerable wealth, connections to big business and/or special interest groups, and an excellent knack for speaking out your ass.

In the newest Meet the Press, Tim Russert really nailed Bush to the wall of the Oval Office. Check it out:

“MEET THE PRESS” Transcript for Feb. 8th

I really liked Bush when I voted for him. I still do, but I think he’s making big mistakes. I think Rove and Cheney need to go, too. Anyway, check out the interview, see what you think.

On an entirely unrelated, I would say theological, note, check out this article entitled “Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name” on the NY Times website (thanks for the heads up, Greg). This kind of stuff really makes me pause and reevaluate my positions vis-à-vis the whole natural revelation thing… What do we do with this?

The Pain of God

I’ve really been getting into studying Japanese religion, particularly Japanese Christianity. One of the books I’ve been reading on the subject, A History of Japanese Theology, has been very intriguing and has opened up yet more avenues of exploration of this fascinating branch of Christianity.

One particular avenue I am looking to venture down is a book written in the forties by Japanese theologian Kitamori Kazoh called The Theology of the Pain of God. Kitamori reflects on the pain God experienced as he sacrificed his son, and views the pain we experience as analogous to that pain, though of course not the same in magnitude or quality. He apparently references the Japanese concept of tsurasa, which I understand to be enduring suffering for the sake of others.

Interestingly, I have been reading another book entitled Liquid Life: Buddhism and Abortion in Japan by William Lafleur, which actually has some helpful connections to this theology. In that book one reads much about a very interesting Buddhist figure, one extremely popular in Japan: Jizo. This figure is actually very Christ-like and is believed to be a protector of children in the afterlife.

The bodhisattvas are very popular in Japan, because they demonstrate self-sacrifice and endurance of pain for individuals on a lower plane of existence than they are. I see this fact as crucial to effectively communicating the person of Jesus to the Japanese mind so that the gospel of Christ can be embraced as something approachable, and not foreign. The connection between Christ and the Japanese may be something like this theology of suffering.

I don’t know, though. I have thus far been unsuccessful in locating a copy of the book. If anyone has a way of helping me out in this area, I’d be very thankful. I think the latest printing was in the sixties. Here’s some info I found in a bibliography on the Internet:

Kazoh Kitamori, Theology of the Pain of God (London: SCM Press, 1966).