Busy getting ready

SUBHEAD: In a way we are all Noah. We toil to get ready for a change that will allow as much to thrive as possible.

By Juan Wilson on 28 March 2014 for Island Breath -

Image above: Scene from "Noah" of animals approaching the Arc two-by-two. From (http://www.dailybillboardblog.com/2014/03/noah-movie-billboards.html).

Today the movie "Noah" opens nationwide.

Sorry for the the recent absence from this site. I've been very busy with other work recently and have been concentrating on that. In the last few weeks I've been trying to complete a phase of a plan for the eventual development of a sustainable permaculture community on what was once sugar cane fields.

It is a complicated problem because of the site conditions as well as the history and resource restrictions of those who might eventually live there. As with many complicated problems it requires simultaneous solutions to conflicting elements.

As for the Island Breath website and the attempt to daily deliver pertinent material that is useful to you - (especially those of you on Kauai or in Hawaii) -  it can get in the way of getting what I shoud get done on a little half acre in Hanapepe Valley.

As of this writing there are about 1,700 website posts on Island Breath between 2004 and 2008 with many posts containing multiple articles on a subject. Since we initiated the blog based format in 2009 there have been another 4,958 articles posted.

I was thinking of retiring the daily blog responsibility after 5,000 articles. If I did so that would be in about a month.   There are many garden chores, maintenance tasks, repairs and new projects done done... in fact the list seems to just grow longer.

Moreover, I have said just about everything I'm likely to say - in a number of cases more than once. What the message boils down to is that:
  • big changes and disruptions are coming
  • they will make the usual way of doing business impossible
  • the larger and most complicated systems will fail
  • we will be more isolated in our current locations and communities
  • we will be responsible for our own food, energy, health and entertainment
  • you will be responsible for enhancing and saving as much of the local living environment as you can
For the rich and powerful the parable of the day is the Titanic. For the rest of us it is Noah and the Arc.

Get to work! Go permaculture!

Noah v. Kitschy Jesus
SUBHEAD: Today the movie "Noah" opens nationwide.  Looks like one to watch.

By Jay Michaelson on 27 March 2014 for Religious Dispatches -

Image above: Billboard for movie "Noah" in rain starved Los Angles, California. From (http://www.dailybillboardblog.com/2014/03/noah-movie-billboards.html).

I was around nineteen years old when I understood that kitsch was stupid.  Maybe it’s the other way around: it was then that I understood that the clichés, conventions, and other intellectually clunky tropes with which I had largely grown up had a name—kitsch—and that smart people had gotten beyond them. The adolescent alienation that I shared with, I’ll wager, many readers of this magazine was a temporary phase. It did, in fact, get better, precisely when one saw through and transcended what had once felt like absolutes.

Many of these clichés were aesthetic: football quarterbacks and lettermen, pickup trucks and teased hair. Others were ethical: the ‘common sense’ notions we took apart in philosophy class, the simplistic myths of religion. Others, for lack of a better word, were questions of style. Sentiment, saccharine, Hallmark Cards, kitties with big eyes, immaculate suburban lawns, patriotism, douchey fashion accessories, believing in the bromides of politicians—I can’t quite pinpoint what all of these had in common, except that they were cheap, over-simplified, and kitschy.

And thanks to Walter Benjamin, Clement Greenberg, the Frankfurt School, and a legion of writers and musicians allergic to the cliché, I came to reject kitsch and its quasi-fascistic associations. Feel this way, think this way, act this way—no!

It took another several years before I really understood that some people, perhaps most people, never went through this quintessentially sophomoric phase. Oddly, they seemed not to have read Clement Greenberg. They liked Norman Rockwell unironically. They still looked at “abstract” art and said “my pet could do that.” They listened to Richard Marx.

This was especially true in America, where clichés ruled the political airwaves, as well as the radio dial, back when such a thing mattered. And it was especially true of religious people.
Son of God, the latest cultural product aimed at the supposedly burgeoning Christian consumer public, embodies this mode of kitsch religiosity. Of course Jesus is hot, white, and soulful.  Of course he is just absolutely perfect. That’s what a religious person should aspire to be: nice, clean, square, entirely in major key.

More than the Biblical literalism of the film—a term which is hardly deserved, given the contradictions between the Gospels and the inevitable selection of which stories to tell—what is striking about Son of God and its marketing campaign is how straightforward it actually is. The film is the opposite of irony and afraid of nuance.

Of course, we’ve already had nuance and complexity in the Jesus story—the Scorsese/Kazantakis Last Temptation of Christ—and we saw how well that went.

One could object that Jesus, being Divine, is a special case. But how different is the milquetoast Jesus from the milquetoast teens meant to ask WWJD?, or commit to virginity at the Purity Ball? This isn’t the Emergent Church; this is unreconstructed pabulum.

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is, in contrast, an exercise is complexity. Its title character is being marketed as your standard Russell Crowe action hero—Gladiator, the Prequel. In fact, he is tortured, obsessive, wounded, and deeply flawed. He ends up being the villain of his own story, eager for humanity to be wiped out.

Press coverage of the “Christian reaction” to Noah has focused on its often outlandish elaboration on the Biblical tale. As I’ve described elsewhere, many of its additions—the fallen angels called the Watchers, for example—have precedent in Christian and Jewish legend.  Many others are just made up.

But these embellishments of the Biblical story seem secondary to a different conception of what a Biblical story should be in the first place. Is the point of myth to provide a relatable character, full of human flaws, to whom we might relate and from whom we might learn? Or is myth about paragons of virtue, well beyond ordinary folks like us, to whom we might aspire?

Alan Dershowitz and others have argued that this is a Jewish/Christian difference. The flawed heroes of Genesis versus the Christian martyrs and saints. But Jews are every bit as capable of whitewashing and idealization as Christians are. Plenty of rabbinic exegetes have idealized every complicated character from the Bible. Jacob’s not a conniving thief with masculinity issues; he’s pure and saintly. Moses doesn’t have an anger management problem; he’s pure and saintly. In fact, every hero is pure and saintly because that’s what heroes are.

No, this kind of hero—corny, shallow, stupid, unrelatable, and flattening of the beautiful and horrible complexity of the human experience—is not specific to any religious tradition. It is specific, rather, to a particular unsophistication of taste and simplicity of intellect, both attributes that are affirmatively praised by many religious fundamentalists. Simple faith, simple values, common sense, old time religion.

In this reading, Noah has to be a good, simple guy because he’s a hero (in Christian readings of the Bible anyway—Jews were always more ambivalent about him) and therefore he can’t be seen getting in knock-down, drag-out fights with his sons. Good people don’t do that. And of course, Jesus can’t be tempted by sins of the flesh—even though the Bible itself suggests that he might’ve been.
I don’t think it’s because Aronofsky’s Noah has a mixture of admirable and flawed elements that he raises fundamentalist suspicions. It’s because he has a mixture of any kind at all.  Progressive religion values complexity and nuance; traditional religion values simplicity. Noah’s character flaws, which make him interesting to progressives, hit sour notes for traditionalists— indeed, like blue notes corrupting the C-major harmony, or complex flavors messing up the meal.

And the fact that Aronofsky gives serious consideration to Noah’s nemesis, the (invented) Tubal-Cain, pushes it over the line. Villains are supposed to be bad—not interesting.

Question everything, undermine everything, nothing is as simple as it seems, put scarequotes around clichés—these are some of the values I was taught at my corrupting, secularist, humanist university. Yet they have always seemed consonant with my religious consciousness, which itself is hybridized, postmodern, and self-reflexive in the extreme—as well as informed by mystical and ethical traditions which resist oversimplification.

Son of God and Noah don’t just represent two different ways to read Scripture, two different ways to make films, and two different marketing demographics. They also represent two sharply different ways to believe, to be in the world: one inspired by the pure and the simple, another suspicious, if not contemptuous, of them. These different modes of relation to complexity include politics, art, taste, style, culture, morality, and ethics within them. And while I feel certain that the tendency toward simplicity slides toward cruelty, I wonder if the basis for that certainty is, itself, ethical—or something else.

Noah's Arc of Triumph

SUBHEAD: An enthusiastic review of the movie Noah.

By Kathleen Parker on 28 March 2014 for the Washington Post -

Video above: Official trailer for the movie Noah. From (http://youtu.be/6qmj5mhDwJQ).

There’s nothing quite so helpful as a fatwa and threats of a Christian boycott to create buzz in advance of a new movie.

Noah,” scheduled for its U.S. release on March 28, has become such a target. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain have banned the movie because it depicts a prophet, which, as Danish cartoonists will attest, isn’t the peachiest of ideas in certain circles.

Even here in the land of religious tolerance, the National Religious Broadcasters threatened to boycott the film unless Paramount, the film’s distributor and co-financier with New Regency, issued a disclaimer that the movie isn’t a literal interpretation of the Genesis story. It is good to have fundamentalist literalists explain exactly what the Bible’s authors intended, especially since a literal interpretation would keep moviegoers away or put them to sleep.

To wit: In the literal tale, no one speaks until after (spoiler alert) a dove sent to find land returns with an olive twig in its beak, indicating the flood is over and the world is saved. In the movie version, people talk, which is awfully helpful in following the narrative.

Alas, under pressure, Paramount altered its advertising to say the movie was “inspired” by the Bible story and is not the Bible story.

Note the frequent use of the word “movie” in the preceding paragraphs. This is because “Noah” is a movie. It is not a sermon or a call to prayer. It cost $130 million to make and is intended to entertain, inspire and — bear with me, I know this is crazy — make money. It does not presume to encourage religious conversion, disrespect a prophet or evangelize a snake, though it does glorify virtue in the highest.

I recently viewed the film and can confidently report the following: If you liked “Braveheart,” “Gladiator,” “Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Indiana Jones” or “Titanic,” you will like “Noah.” If you liked two or more of the above, you will love “Noah.” Your enjoyment increases exponentially with each movie checked above, though I should warn that “Titanic” made the cut for only one reason, the major difference between it and “Noah” being obvious. “Noah” also includes the essential love story or two, without which no story floats.

“Noah,” in other words, is a big movie. There’s plenty of action and enough gore and guts to leave young children at home. It’s a morality play/spiritual journey without being preachy, except occasionally by the protagonist. Noah the man can be a tad over the top at times, but this is an obvious plus when you’re being instructed by the Creator to build an ark and fill it with snakes, among other creatures.

And, let’s face it, Noah is Russell Crowe, from whom one wouldn’t mind hearing: “Would you like to see my ark?” We’ve come a long way, baby, from Charlton Heston as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's “The Ten Commandments.” Add to the cast Anthony Hopkins playing Methuselah, Yoda-esque in his ancient wisdom; Jennifer Connelly, who plays Noah’s wife; and Emma Watson as his adopted daughter. There are also Noah’s three heart-stopping sons, whom we witness evolving from innocence to self-knowledge as they question their father’s authority (sound familiar?) and try to resist Oedipal urges that surge to the surface with the terrifying brutality of a serpent’s strike.

Poor Noah, alienated from a world consumed by evil, aspires to goodness and justice even as he questions his qualifications to the task. Moviegoers are treated to a short course in original sin, magically presented with zoom lenses, a pulsating apple and, shall we say, reptilian dispatch. (“Anaconda” probably deserves an honorable mention on the list.)

This is all to say, the film is art, neither executed nor to be taken literally. And who are these experts who know precisely what the Bible’s authors intended? Among other criticisms are the implications that evolution and creation might be mutually inclusive and that man and beast are equal in the eyes of the Creator. Noah and his family are vegetarian and demonstrate respect for the Earth’s fragile balance.

Pure heresy. Next thing you know, we’ll all be driving Teslas and eating basil burgers.

To each his own interpretation, but at least one conclusion seems self-evident: The Bible’s authors were far more literary than we. They clearly had a keen appreciation for parable and metaphor as well as a profound understanding that truth is better revealed than instructed.

If the literalists prevail, we just might need another flood.

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