This week, I am leading more than thirty sophomores to New York City. I hope nothing goes wrong. My students, on the other hand, hope something does go wrong. I understand this hope.
How much good does it do a film or book to have “a good message”? How valuable to a song is a good message? Will a good message do the audience any good?
Merely acknowledging that “the medium is the message,” as Marshall McLuhan famously opined, cannot help these questions. If the medium is the message, I still want to know how valuable the message is. My students are quite taken with the importance of “messages,” but I am yet to see messages do people much good. So far as art is concerned, good messages are often more of a distraction than a boon.
One of my favorite scenes in the film The Fisher King occurs in Grand Central Station. Perry, one of the lead characters, has lost his hold on reality through trauma, but he has snatches of sanity mostly centered around his love for Lydia—a plain-looking, ordinary girl whom he has not actually met. He knows her routines, and waits for her to show up at the terminal on her way home from work.
"One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off."
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil seems a good bit like Chekhov's proverbial gun. Who could blame the casual reader for finding Moses's account of the Fall more than a little predictable? How was Adam not going to eat? Given the characters, their power, the rules, and the furniture, wasn't sin inevitable?
We often misuse words. Over time, the pictures and meanings of a word are slowly 'petrified,' and turn into just a sort of impression of the original. Instead of calling to mind a picture, they simply dwell in the realm of abstraction and a vague, contextual-based understanding of its meaning. The life-blood of the image is gone.
One example of this is the word “fascinating."
It is Passover, and Jesus of Nazareth is dead. His body is naked and mangled, and quiet in death after the throes and moans of Friday’s tortured hours. Those gathered around the cross weep. How can we endure a dead God? How can it be that he is good, yet he is dead; that he rescued sufferers, yet suffered more than any; that he performed miracles; yet not on his own behalf? His followers are desolate, but I weep for another reason, for I know I would have been in the mob that called for his crucifixion because he was not the Messiah for whom I had asked.
Consider the following passages from the Agamemnon, which might be read in a classroom.
Chiaroscuro is a term from art that means “light-dark”—a technique of using strong tonal contrasts to represent forms in painting. Think about Rembrandt’s works and his use of distinctive areas of darkness and radiant light. The light appears all the brighter because of its juxtaposition with darkness.
While reading Jean Lee Latham’s 1955 classic, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, my students became entranced. They fell in love with math, Latin, and the sea as they traveled with Nathaniel Bowditch on his adventures. I don’t blame them – I fell in love with the story, too.
Yesterday, the Church celebrated Palm Sunday, the commemoration of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and the beginning of Holy Week – the final days of Christ on earth before His crucifixion. The event is recorded in all four Gospels – Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:29-38, and John 12:12-15 – and the event shares connections and echoes with several other passages as well.
Here is the Triumphal Entry as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel: