Free Research

I’ve lost track of how many times it’s happened, but it has been relatively few.  Someone I don’t know will approach me and ask me to post about something on my blog.  Sometimes they’ll even send me a book to highlight.  Perhaps not the most effective way to build a library, I’ll admit.  And some of the books haven’t been great.  I admire them nonetheless.  It takes great effort to write a book.  And not a small amount of faith, too.  Many books—perhaps most—never get published.  A great many are self-published.  (Those who work in publishing can be a stuck-up lot sometimes.)  Even those professionally published can use a push from time to time.  On this blog I’ve actively resisted the urge to make it about one thing.  Why?  Is life just one thing?

In a recent conversation I laid out for someone new what had been my research agenda as a young professor.  It had a direction still reflected in some of the categories you’ll find on the right column of this blog.  After writing on Asherah, I was going to give similar treatment to the other ancient goddesses attested at Ugarit.  This was perhaps ambitious for an academic waif at Nashotah House, but it was well underway.  My book on Shapshu was making good progress when the market (that dragon to every St. George) led friends to suggest turning biblical, which led to Weathering the Psalms.  A new research agenda—explore the weather terminology (the meteorotheology) of other biblical books—arose.  There were storms, after all, becalmed over lakes.  Horror entered in the jobless period and beyond.

And social justice.  I’m not a thrice-failed minister for nothing!  In fact, a recent freebie was a book on social justice.  I have a colleague as interested in monsters as me.  This particular scholar had decided to focus on the cause of the poor.  Even economists are starting to say the unequal distribution of wealth is hurting us.  While the rich fly to space on personally owned rockets, the rest of us have trouble filling up at the service station, even if we have jobs.  So it is that this blog is eclectic.  A friend told me early on that it would be more popular if I just stuck to one topic.  That’s probably true, but my mind can’t settle down like that.  And when people send me things to talk about, I’m happy to do so, if it fits somewhere in my mind.


Shopping Screed

Capitalism is insidious.  Those of us with modest incomes—and I’m quite aware that many, many people are poor—are constantly being bombarded with new schemes to get us to pay a little each time for something that used to be free.  Look, I realize the economy was hit by the pandemic.  We’re all paying for it.  Still, even basic stores you’ve used your whole life now want you to sign up for schemes that will only cost you a dollar each time and which never really pay anything back.  The one that’s got me thinking about this is a drug store.  Like it’s a surprise that you’ve decided to buy something at a drug store.  They get you to sign something you vaguely understand as you’re trying to rush out the door with your prescription and then they send you daily emails telling you how great it’s going to be.

And surveys—the endless surveys!  They sound more neurotic than I actually am.  Did we do this right, and could we have done it better?  It’ll only take a quarter hour of your time.  Each time you stop in.  And please do that daily.  The last time I did one of these surveys for the promise of a prize worth $90, I ordered their version of a fit-bit as my prize.  I’m curious how many steps I take in a day and no, I don’t carry my phone with me everywhere.  The “prize” arrived late and when I charged it up and turned it on (it came with no instructions readable in my native language) it worked for a total of literally 3 seconds before the screen died a pixelated death.  Now that same company wants me to answer surveys weekly and pay an extra dollar each time I come in.  It’s enough to make me want to use the other drug store, but they’ll probably do the same.

The thing is it’s not just pharmacies.  All the stores are doing it.  You shopped here once?  Look what else we’ve got!  Some of us shop for what we need.  We live on a budget.  If you’re going to start charging me for the privilege of shopping at your establishment I’ll have to start going somewhere else.  The items on offer for promotional plans are things I just don’t buy. If you want me to spend more, then reframe your economics and pay me more.   And I don’t have money to just give away.  Have you even taken a look at your last heating bill (thanks Mr. Putin)?  I’ll come to the store again as long as it’s free to shop there and it has something that I actually need.

Photo by Bruno Kelzer on Unsplash

Maudren Saint

Saint Maud is one of those movies that requires some thought.  (And I’ve been giving it plenty.)   It follows a brief time in the life of Maud, a hospice nurse who becomes obsessed with saving the soul of one of her patients.  Maud has direct experiences of God, like Teresa of Ávila but the film doesn’t make it clear, until the very end, if she suffers delusions.  After the traumatic loss of a patient at the beginning of the film she becomes a devout Catholic and when she feels she isn’t succeeding in her mission she punishes herself by using medieval-level means.  She hears God talking to her and what he (yes, he’s male) demands makes the viewer wonder if she’s found the correct spiritual entity.  Moody, edgy, and theological, Saint Maud is another example of how horror and religion work together.

It’s one of those movies that, when you finish it you start looking around for someone to talk to about it.  Of course, I watched it alone, wearing headphones, so I had dialogue with my own imagination.  One of the founding principles of cinema was the realization that viewers liked to discuss what they’d just experienced.  The other horror fans I know tend to be academics far removed from here.  I don’t know any of them well enough to pick up the phone, or call up on  Zoom, and say “Hey, let’s talk about Saint Maud.”  The thing is, I understand some of the doubts and motivations of Maud.  It’s always that way when religious interactions are with an invisible, petulantly silent deity.  Kind of like watching horror movies alone.

Horror has proven to be a kind of therapy for me.  The stresses of life are many and unrelenting.  Watching someone even worse off can help, as long as it’s fiction.  The world we’ve created is a very unfair place.  Many people suffer so that a few can enjoy more than they deserve.  Their lifestyle is protected by lawmakers that they buy while others suffer.  I’d just spend a day hearing about such injustices, and then paying hefty bills, and it seemed that some weekend horror was just what the doctor ordered.  I’ll probably watch Saint Maud again once I’ve had time to recover, and to think about the implications of the story.  Horror and religion have a viable partnership.  Such films occasionally become blockbusters, but sometimes they’re smaller affairs waiting to haunt us on weekends after hearing about the sad state of the Frankenstein world we’ve all created together.


A Haunting Story

The last book I finished in 2021 didn’t quite make it under the wire for my year-end blog post.  It was the second Stephen Graham Jones novel I read in the year.  I guess I’ve been reading a lot of American Indian books lately.  The Only Good Indians is a horror story and more.  There’s reconciliation.  There’s tradition.  There’s hope.  As part of the privileged “white” class, I’m always a little afraid that writers from oppressed cultures will take it out on me.  It may’ve happened here, but if so it was done in a way that I didn’t feel the sting.  This is a story of friendship, mistakes made, and a monster who has a righteous cause.  There’s a lot going on here.

One of the persistent cultural fears of the unwoke, I suspect, is that there’ll be payback if all things were to become equal.  Perhaps on the scale of karma that’s true, but in reality the people that’ve been oppressed simply want the oppression to stop.  To be recognized and acknowledged as being human.  As if that decision is up to white folk to make.  This novel simply deals with American Indian life as it’s lived.  The characters all pretty much live in poverty but they lack the greed so many white protagonists have.  They’re happy if they have a few hundred dollars, or even a few twenties.  Life is more than playing the capitalist game.  It really all comes down to relationships.  And family.

Stephen Graham Jones writes with a deft hand.  He offers some humor amid scenes of violence and loss.  He speaks plainly and without pretense.  And there are parts of this novel that are genuinely scary.  Since I had no idea how it might end, I wasn’t even sure even while I was on the last page.  

The best monsters are those that teach us to be better human beings.  Quite often they teach us that the truly monstrous ones are those who look and act like people usually look and act.  We take the natural world, assuming it’s ours.  We think our small problems are those of the entire world.  Monsters help to fix our perceptions.  Without them we carry on as if it’s business as usual.  This is a good novel to read in the midst of a pandemic.  There’s hope here that we’ll come out of the crisis better than we went in.  Perhaps scarred and changed for good.  In every sense of the word.


Great Resignation

Although many people my age are retired, I’m looking at a couple more decades of work at least.  A large part of this is because I specialized in a field I didn’t realize was dying.  I suspect clergy in the eighties, when I had to decide on majors and education choices, thought the declines in church attendance were a blip—a statistical anomaly until things went back to the way they “usually were.”  I majored in religion as an undergrad and then went on to seminary and finally to a doctoral program, all along that trajectory.  At every step of the way I was assured there would be jobs.  I’m seeing now that religionists don’t always look ahead.  It’s important to look back, but society begs to differ.

The reason this comes to mind, apart from being part of my daily reality, is an article a minister sent me.  The piece by Melissa Florer-Bixler  in Sojourners is titled “Why Pastors Are Joining the Great Resignation.”  It explores a number of reasons around pay and working conditions that ministers are quitting.  My thought, unscientific but logical, is that many of them are realizing society has moved away from the standard church model.  They recognize that the insistent biblicism that led to a past of Americans being in church under threat of Hell has diminished.  “Worship,” as it is generally done, no longer speaks to people.  I’ve experienced a great many worship styles and venues.  (I still attend them, but I’m a creature of habit as well as obligated by profession.)  When the realities of the world sink in you start to see the old model of praising an angry God because he demands it just doesn’t make sense.  People like Trump get elected anyway, so what’s the point?

Many pastors are underpaid.  Unless you run a mega-church budgets are tight and the need of people is great.  Much of the effort of the congregation I attend is directed to social justice causes.  There are so many.  So very many.  People are in need and the pat answers of call to worship, opening hymn, and sermon just aren’t doing it for them.  Congregants need pastoral care, as do people unchurched.  I’ve been through seminary and a professor in one long enough to know that few really get the idea of how to inspire by their words.  These are folks looking for a living who don’t fit into the capitalist model.  So there’s a decline.  As I read the piece I wondered what jobs they were switching to.  If my experience is anything to go by, the options are limited.


Sects and Violence

Important books often suffer because of poor distribution.  There are really only five publishers in English (“the big five”) that can reliably get their books into commercial bookstores.  I was reminded of this when reading the very important book Sex and Religion: Teachings and Taboos in the History of World Faiths, by Dag Øistein Endsjø.  The book is virtually unknown here in the States for a number of reasons.  It was originally written in Norwegian.  The author isn’t a household name.  The publisher who bought English rights is British.  It’s not comfortably priced.  None of this, however, gainsays its importance.  This book has much to teach us about hypocrisy and how religions codify prejudices, and, despite rhetoric, still value women less than they value men.  Religion is intimately connected to sex.  As I’ve written before, no religion ignores it completely.

Endsjø offers here a reasoned, logical, and religiously expert analysis of several aspects of human (and to a degree, animal) sexuality.  Contrary to much monotheistic teaching, sex is often treated as a good thing—within limits—in world religions.  Of course, that allows monotheists to step in and claim all others are pagans and debased, a tactic as old as the Good Book itself.  Religions’ real enemy, it seems, is education.  We should be open to compare what others believe—the wisdom their elders have passed down, just like the disciples.  And we should be honest about the fact that we change the rules to suit our situation.  One of the starkest examples of this Endsjø points out is that the Bible is much more stridently against divorce (which evangelicals now freely use) than homosexuality.  But guess which is the political issue?

Religions change, no matter what any true believer says.  We adapt to all kinds of new situations and new information, except when it comes to sexual behaviors we don’t like.  Even though most religions prohibit murder, the punishment for sexual offenses is frequently more stringent.  In other words, as Endsjø points out, religions care less for human life than for their own sexual prejudices.  The fact is just about all monotheistic religions have a male god and favor males over  the other half of the human race.  It even seems likely that Muslim over-reactions to homosexuality arose from copying evangelical Christians in the west.  This is an important book and if religious leaders of all stripes read and comprehend it, we would find ourselves in a much more human, and humane, world.


Justice Hungry

Social justice is very important to me.  At the same time I realize I’m just a single individual, and a small one at that.  I have a little group of internet friends (rather strangely called “followers”) but what I do and write has barely an impact with so much wrong in the world.  I suspect most people fall into this same dilemma.  A recent thread on the local Nextdoor app, for instance, reminded me how much people care for strangers in difficult times.  I side with Batman here—people are generally good.  Most of us are easily led, however.  And as we were taught in kindergarten, just one bad person spoils it for everyone.  So we find ourselves in a world disastrously off kilter and with nobody able to fix the problem.  Problems.  There are so many that it’s overwhelming.

Democracy seems like a good idea.  The problem is that the system is easily gamed by autocrats.  World news shows us the Hitler’s playbook is alive and well, even, if not especially, among “Christian” nations.  Jesus had no political power.  As soon as his followers gained it, the message of their master faded.  Today it’s unrecognizable.  “Bible believing” Christians who violate every principle in the Good Book to retain power is hardly something the carpenter from Nazareth would’ve advocated, or even, I venture, comprehended.  Bullies with only their own interests in mind take up the reins of state and convoluted laws allow them to do so.  The selfish win.

Photo by Sarah Ardin on Unsplash

I have great admiration for the people I know who work for social justice incessantly.  The kind of people you tremble to see coming because you know you can never measure up to their level of commitment.  Needed change, however, comes in small steps.  People are fearful and don’t welcome overnight paradigm shifts.  I admire social justice warriors even as I admire hose who throw themselves in front of buses or trains to save others.  I find myself watching their heroic action while calculating the best way to help, overthinking the problem.  I’ve marched in a number of protests, and it felt good.  I’ve not been able to free myself from capitalism long enough to really make a difference, I fear.  An idealist, conceivably, but not, I hope, an unawoken one.  So I struggle for justice and contribute what I can to right causes.  At the same time I’m compelled to acknowledge and thank those who do it so much better than I ever will.


Prophet Margins

One of the most misunderstood of biblical phenomena is prophecy.  One of the reasons it’s so misunderstood is that other ancient peoples came to associate it with predicting the future.  Now, what prophets said often had implications for the future, but they were more forth-tellers, as they say in the biz, than fore-tellers.  Amos, for instance, was a prophet concerned with social justice.  We know little about his life, but we can discern that ancient prophets could be paid to become “yes men” (“yes persons” just doesn’t sound right, and most were male) for the establishment.  Kings then, as now, surrounded themselves with sycophants who would tell them their policies were approved, or even ordained by God.  Amos was not one of those.

Amos points out in the book attributed to him that he was no paid prophet.  He was an honest worker with a great concern for social justice.  He lived in a prosperous time, but the wealth disparity between the rich and the poor troubled him.  (Amos has never been a favorite among prosperity gospelers, since his message has always been recognized as authentic among both Jews and Christians and he condemns the inequality rampant in society.)  Many in the eighth century BCE believed ceremonial actions—like, say, holding up a Bible in front of a church—pleased God.  Amos boldly declared such things sickened God as long as society favored the rich at the expense of the poor.  There’s a reason Evangelicals and Republicans tend to avoid Amos.  “But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream,” is not an easy thing to hear when you’re busy giving tax breaks to those who earn more than enough while refusing basic health care to the poor.

Prophets tend to speak of the future in conditional terms.  If your ways don’t change, then this will happen.  Some Christians, anxious to prove that Jesus was the messiah, came to see prophets as great predictors of the future.  Amos would likely have taken exception to them.  Even in his own day Amos made people uncomfortable.  His favorite image for God was that of a lion ready to attack.  His contemporaries told him to shut up.  Amos then made the famous statement that he was no professional prophet.  He would not adjust his message so that the comfortable could feel good about themselves.  If Amos were in America the last four years would’ve had his throat raw with pointing out to “Christians” how they’d come to misrepresent everything the prophets stood for.  We need more like him today.


Tooth Less

The words “difficult extraction” are not what you want to hear, seated in a dentist chair.  Fortunately mine was not difficult.  I’m squeamish about most things, and like many kids raised in humble circumstances, experienced dental care at the largess of various government programs.  I remember going home nearly every time in a state of shock regarding how much it hurt and what he had done to us.  It has taken a lifetime to get over the fear of the dentist.  Now I patronize a local female dentist who is gentle and caring—something that didn’t exist, and we couldn’t have afforded anyway, when I was a child.  Even so, she’s telling me a tooth has to come out.  I’m being stoic and starting my meditation mantra.

Health care in the United States, as Trump’s recent treatment for a virus to which he carelessly exposed himself shows, is horribly uneven.  Those who are systemically kept poor—especially those who are “of color”—often have few choices and die younger.  Yet supporters of 45 see no problem with this.  Now, I wish I weren’t in this dentist chair right now.  I’m not looking forward to the novocaine shots or the tugging on my jaw.  Or the hours of gauze in my mouth afterward.  But at least I can afford this.  It pains me even more that there are others who can’t.  And that those who claim to follow a man who healed for free are voting for a man who has pledged to keep inequality as “the American way.”

I grew up taking care of my teeth the way the poor often do—that is to say, not enough.  The solutions involve education and empathy, both of which our government has chosen to eject for jingoism and bravado.  I’m not so much worried about having one tooth less.  I am worried about a government that feels it has the right to oppress the poor so that the wealthy can continue to gain more money that can, in turn, be used to control the government.  This is wrong.  There’s no way that it can be made to be “Christian,” no matter what evangelicals may say.  I’m sitting here in the dentist chair and the needle’s getting closer.  I’ll have a mouth full of gauze for the next few hours and I’ll be on a soft food diet for a while.  I may be in some pain.  But still I know I’m one of the lucky ones.


Just Joking

I’m not sure when I’ll ever get back into a movie theater, given that our government plans to do nothing about Covid-19.  Still, I recently watched Joker for the first time.  In an eerily prescient move, Todd Phillips envisions the character as tapping into public dissatisfaction with the exploitative and unfeeling power of the rich, who often lead, through their greed, to outbreaks of public unrest.  The character of the vigilante clown coalesces the oppressed of Gotham and leads to riots in the streets.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the film since I’d only briefly heard of it secondhand.  It is one of the most uninterrupted stretches of darkness that I can recall seeing in a movie, which, in some respects, makes it believable.

Comic book character films have taken on a life of their own.  Joker explore the backstory of mental illness in a culture that is bent on cutting care for those in need.  Not only that, the movie doesn’t let you think anyone is good.  All the heroes are flawed, and most of them fatally so.  Joaquin Phoenix’s acting, of course, solidifies the story and make the Joker sympathetic.  And there’s a fair amount of truth to the way that a capitalistic society is driven to hold down the many who need to be exploited for the system to work.  Although it is dark and gritty there’s a strong social commentary here.  It doesn’t surprise me that it was the highest grossing film of last year.  You don’t have to be a comic book fan to be drawn in.

Not too many other major films since One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest have attempted to stare unwaveringly at mental illness.  It is an extremely common condition, especially if we consider the number of people who require antidepressant, anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety drugs.  The culture we’ve created isn’t healthy for our mental development.  It’s often cruel and uncaring.  It never helps when people lie to us.  Joker addresses these  realities, exploring the “perfect storm” of factors that might lead to a psychopathic crime lord.  Of course, living through the Trump administration, led by an unfeeling, money-driven “president,” it’s obvious that we’ve set up a system that refuses to confront those who have no business making important decisions.  A system that could conceivably set up such pathological “leaders.”  None of the privileged people in the film cares for anyone beyond themselves.  And they wonder why violence erupts in the streets.  I think I have some recommended viewing to suggest to them.


Juneteenth

Education is important.  For example, I never really knew what Juneteenth was, although I’d heard the name a few times.  Perhaps because of the “teenth” part I had it in my head that this was something to do with young people.  The amazing thing I’ve been learning over the past several weeks is just how deliberate the “white male” narrative has been in perpetuating the racist mechanism in the employment of capitalism.  Years ago I learned that race is a human construct—it has no basis in science or biology.  It has served various entrepreneurs throughout history, beginning in 1619 and has been perpetuated ever since in order to ring the last possible copper from the coffers.  Now we see what that looks like when a standing president holds these “truths” to be self-evident.

Juneteenth was proclaimed in Texas in 1865.  Even in the extreme and conservative Lone Star State it was recognized over a century ago that all people have the right to be free.  Of course we don’t celebrate it as a national holiday.  Give people too much time off and they might get to thinking.  If, perchance that thinking turns toward the heartless machine of capitalism it might be realized that there are better ways to ensure people are treated fairly, regardless of their skin color.  This year, for the first time I have seen, many organizations—some of them corporations, even—are closing in honor of Juneteenth.  Black lives do matter.  We should be able to see that, but it takes innocent deaths to make the obvious appear.

Yesterday I listened to three Pulitzer Prize winners discussing racial equality.  All three of them had written on the African-American experience.  All three knew the evils of racism.  Research has been done that indicates much of what stands behind white evangelical support of the Republican Party is racism.  Many of the movement’s leaders still buy into myths about race and believe it is something God built into the human soft machine rather than something we made up ourselves.  For political purposes.  We need Juneteenth.  We need reminders that the evil we’ve constructed can be dismantled.  People should not die because of a false human construct.  It wasn’t lack of curiosity that prevented me from learning about Juneteenth when I first heard of it.  No, it was being overwhelmed with the problems Washington was spewing out (and continues to), that I had to divide my energies depleted by the capitalist Moloch.  Now I realize, because by their fruits we shall know them.  Floyd George was murdered on camera and we need to expose the thinking that allowed that crime to happen.


May Care

The thing about the Devil is that evil is no laughing matter.  Darren Oldridge had no easy task limiting the dark lord to The Devil: A Very Short Introduction.  He nevertheless does an admirable job packing lots of provocative stuff into a small package.  The historian of religion part of me found his short history of Satan in chapter 2 a compelling synthesis of the character’s background.  Longer sources get tangled in theological weeds once the New Testament’s over, what with erstwhile saints being recast as heretics over some minute point of doctrine.  Lots of ideas about the Devil were floating around in those days, even as they are today.  A particularly important point, however, is made early in this book: even during the Enlightenment most intellectuals—including scientists—assumed the reality of the spiritual world.  It was only when materialism alone came to reign that there could be no Devil because there could be no spirits.

A vast disconnect continues to exist between “public intellectuals” and hoi polloi.  The vast majority of people in the world are religious.  Even in, especially in, the United States a great number of people believe in the Devil.  Many of those same people can’t recognize political evil when it stands naked before them.  Here’s the irony of it all: Oldridge discusses how an evil system, let’s say Nazism, blinded many otherwise decent people to the evil they were asked to perform.  Rhetoric that demonized the other, when dispersed over large crowds, has historically had that effect.  Today we see “Christians” claiming that a social system of helping those in need is of the Devil.  The greatest weapon of the prince of darkness is the sincerely believed lie.

Lies have always been associated with the Devil.  When the number of untruths coming from the White House has broken the very meter for measuring lies, those who claim the name of the crucified man who advocated care for the poor shout all the more loudly.  Not at the lies, but at those who don’t accept them.  Historically, the reign of facts has kept some checks on the Devil.  Even Jesus accused Herod of watching Fox—or was it being a fox?—too bad there are no facts to check.  Oldridge doesn’t tip his hand as to whether there is an actual Devil or not.  Society has, however,  no trouble making up its mind.  All they need to do is turn on the television.


Truth Is Marching On

A funny thing happens to human minds when they’re in a crowd.  They begin thinking collectively.  We’ve all heard of “mob mentality” and dismiss it as so common that we don’t stop to think how remarkable it is.  Maybe we’re afraid to.  Yesterday I attended my third Women’s March, this time in New York City again.  Being an introvert, I find the prospect of putting myself into a large crowd daunting, and with a winter storm warning posted, worries  about getting home provided a convenient excuse.  My wife knows me well enough, however, to sense when my enochlophobia kicks in and tries to kick out that part of me that’s passionate about social justice.  You see, women are still not counted equal citizens in this “land of equality.”  The Equal Rights Amendment has never passed.  Pay is still based on gender rather than qualification.  And we have an unrepentant misogynist in the White House.

Once I’m in a likeminded crowd, supporting social justice, it’s clear that my thinking is influenced by the activity of all those brains around me.  Scientists know this happens in nature.  Ant colonies, for example, “know” more than a single individual does.  Recent studies have even suggested this “hive consciousness” can exist beyond a lifespan, creating an archive of learning that exceeds the lives of an entire generation.  If only we could teach Republicans to do that.  In any case, being in the crowd of bright, intelligent, hard-working women found me in a good head-space.  The men in DC are certainly doing nothing to make the male gender proud.

Although crowd estimation isn’t an exact science, the media has consistently underestimated the sheer numbers of these marches.  The National Park Service, on duty in Washington in 2017, estimated 1.3 million had shown up for the march.  It’s still not unusual to see the number cited as 500,000.  Regardless, with the sister marches it was the largest single-day protest event in U.S. history.  We have to keep marching as long as men continue to elect the most ignorant of their gender to high office.  There’s nothing controlled about the chaos in the White House.  Fake news, alternative facts, a revolving door of staff, and Fox News’ nose so brown you could grown corn on it is not the way to run a democracy.  I may have been part of a hive mind for a few hours yesterday, and it was a far better mind than those that abound in the federal government seeking only their own glory.  Let’s hope the collective mind outlives this generation.


Panthers and Prophets

Prophetic is a word I seldom use for movies. Prophetic, by the way, doesn’t mean predicting the future. Prophecy was about establishing rightness on the earth. Dress it up with God or dress it down to a girl being shot for wanting an education, prophecy is a necessary ingredient in being human. Black Panther is a prophetic movie. I don’t keep up with comic books, and many regions of the Marvel Universe are unexplored by me. I have no idea if the comics bear the strong message of social justice that this film does, but I left the theater blown away. If those who have the power could only be interested in good rather than personal gain, what a world we could have.

The message of not making race, but humanity, central is one that we have yet to learn. It is so basic, so simple that a child understands it. Somehow world leaders don’t. Any secret advantage is kept in order to make things better for ourselves. To make us feel more secure. To put us in the place of making decisions for others. In Black Panther even the enemy isn’t evil. Humanity is it’s own enemy. We sometimes forget that we have it within our ability to make life fair and equitable. We can share what we have and end jealousy. The Gospel of Adam Smith, however, has supplanted that of Jesus Christ. Just ask the one-percent. The one percent who haven’t most assuredly seen this movie.

I had no idea what to expect when I walked into that theater, but it was nothing short of an epiphany. As it has been from ancient times, one can always tell when they’ve been in the company of a prophet. We’ve come to dislike prophets because they make us uncomfortable. They possess something we can’t have. Integrity. The dignity of the conviction of what anyone can see is rightness. Such things can’t simply be taken, crammed onto a boat, and sold. Prophets bear the burden of speaking the truth. Black Panther may be unlike most prophets in that it is reaching a huge audience. And rightfully so. It is the antidote to the poison that’s surging through the veins of this country for far too long. Even those who will dismiss it simply as another fantasy—it’s a superhero movie—need to see this vision of what a world can be. It’s not very often that a prophetic movie appears, but the days of prophecy, it seems, aren’t over yet.


Nothing Better

While it may seem that the largest challenge on a blog like this is writing all these words every day, that’s often not the case. Early on in my blogging life, I learned that images draw readers in. That may no longer be the case, but I do try to ensure that my posts have apt illustrations. Due to the fact that I can’t keep up with technology, I no longer know where these images are even stored, so when I was seeking a picture—amid thousands—that I had saved on my backup drive, I came across a series of photos taken in central Pennsylvania. These showed some road-cuts with obvious and impressive folding of geological layers characteristic of orogenous zones. Geologists only discovered the earth was ancient in the nineteenth century, and evangelicals have been disputing it ever since.

Genesis, so the spotless thinking goes, says the world was created in six days. So, by God, in six days it was created! When Darwin simply put the pieces of the puzzle together, evangelicals objected loudly. They started electing US presidents in the next century—a blink of the eye in geologic terms. They don’t dispute non-biblical dinosaurs, however. Their kids would object. The impressive sedimentary layers (or for that matter, igneous or metamorphic) were, they claim, made by God to look old. To fool us. That’s the kind of deity he is. So I got to thinking of a “to do list” for a God with nothing better to do than to oversee intricate and complicated layers of rock that make sense in geological time, but which, apparently, are only planted here to test the faith of brand-spanking new Homo sapiens.

One thing such a deity might do is take care of social injustice. Since he is a father, I suspect we ought to listen to his son, my evangelical friends. Jesus of Nazareth seemed pretty set on helping other people and everyone loving one another. This was, of course, between stints of helping make the planet look older than it actually is so that sinful scientists could trick their compatriots into going to Hell by believing false evidence. There are so many things you could do if you had the time to make such intricate traps. Why not write another book, for example? The Bible could use a good sequel. But no, it is far better to spend divine time making a world look older than it is. And if I had been able to save the time looking for that image that took over half an hour to find, a post such as this would’ve never been created at all.