A great many ancient fables and tales about genies reveal the ambiguity and slipperiness of language. You know the deal. A man finds a magic lamp, releases a genie, and asks for a million dollars, but then receives a million dollars in Monopoly money because he did not specify he wanted legal US tender. On his second wish he asks for a million dollars in legal US tender, then gets legal US tender from the future which cannot be spent for a hundred years.
A reality show wherein perfect strangers with similar interests are paired up for two hours to do some activity both enjoy. Applicants for the show would provide a detailed summary of all their interests, preferences, collections, hobbies, beliefs, and so forth, and would be paired according to compatibility. For instance, two men who were both craft beer enthusiasts might be given several bottles of hard-to-find beer, a place to drink it, and producers would tell them, “Just talk beer. We’ll keep the camera rolling. Try to keep it on topic.
In my early days as a teacher, I gave quizzes and tests in class, and when students finished early, I said, “Read a book. Or do work from other classes. Be productive. Make a good use of your time.” I no longer give tests in class, and the only quizzes I distribute are reading quizzes that take sixty seconds to complete, so it is rare that I offer instruction to students on what they should do with their extra time at school. However, on the rare occasion I find students with spare minutes on their hands, I no longer tell them to get busy.
In the current American scene, references to “culture” have become as ubiquitous as references to freedom, diversity, and acceptance. While many Christians are leery of what the secular world thinks those latter three words mean, we are quite ready to accept contemporary definitions of “culture.” For most people, culture is “books and movies and things,” although if you ask a thoughtful person to elaborate on what he meant by “things,” he might say, “Well, magazines and the internet, and news, and fashion, maybe even the kind of artwork Starbucks puts on their cups at Christmas.
In the last five weeks, I have read Hamlet out loud four times, and watched most of Branagh's version four times, as well. While Hamlet is a great many things, during these readings, the play more and more struck me as a story about a series of very terrible plans. I am willing to credit Fortinbras and the Devil for fitting, cunning plans. Everyone else, however, is quite lost. Here are the dumb plans of Hamlet, ranked.
When I was fifteen, I saw Blade Runner and it overwhelmed me, though I had little sense of what the film was about. When I revisited the film several months ago, I found it was about epistemology, doubt, and personhood. On my first viewing, all these things went over my head. I could appreciate the film, but not fully.
After lately seeing Larry Nassar receive a nearly 200 year jail sentence, I was reminded of the other profoundly long jail sentences modern courts sometimes set for egregious crimes. In 1994, Charles Scott Robinson was sentenced to 30,000 years in jail after he was convicted of raping six children. This is the longest jail sentence ever given in America, though jail terms in the 500 to 1000 year range are not entirely uncommon. In 1989, a court in Thailand convicted Chamoy Thipyaso of corporate fraud and sentenced him to 141,078 years in jail.
God will not always help you rise.
In the first canto of the Comedy, Dante is lost in a dark wood. Then, like the prodigal son, he comes to himself. Unsure of how long he has been lost, Dante sees light emanating from behind a mountain before him. We know that the darkness around him is sin, and the light is God, and that Dante is rising to be with God, his Deliverer. However, his path up the mountain is blocked by three vicious beasts, and Dante retreats back down the mountain where he encounters Virgil, who leads him into Hell.
Talking to the damned is more difficult than you might imagine. When Dante enters Hell, he is lost, lamenting his spiritual malaise, and yet he has been given time and space to find the path to God again. Hell makes for an unusual path to God, for it is littered with the souls of those who finally rejected God. If a man who feared Hell had the chance to talk to a man who had actually been eternally consigned to Hell, what kind of questions would be the most spiritually helpful? Yet, many of the conversations Dante has with the damned strike modern ears as rather bland.
As modern men, we take the arbitrary nature of the world for granted. Every man is obviously allowed to determine the rules for himself. I pray you have not seen many vampire movies, or many zombie pictures or werewolf films, but if you have, you know that within the first act, the director must establish the particular vampire or zombie rules which will govern this film. Will the vampires in this film be averse to garlic or not? How about holy water? Sunlight? Crosses? Silver bullets? Stakes through the heart?