August 5
August 5 E-mail

Tuesday

Today I got to spend ALL day at Robinson College.  The morning lectures were moved to the Robinson College Theatre because of audiovisual needs. Great St. Mary's Church just isn't suited for PowerPoint.  The change in venue turns out to be a double blessing for me: (1) my body gets a rest from the miles of walking, and (2) I can stay out of the rain.

The first lecture was by Nigel Cameron on "Stewarding the Self: A Human Future for Humans?"  I would have to say that he is the most sober of the speakers so far.  Before coming to the conference, I read the book he coauthored with Joni Earckson Tada called How to be a Christian in a Brave, New World

According to Cameron, the great ethical struggle of the 20th century was the taking of life via war and genocide.  In the 21st century, it is the reinvention of humans via genetic engineering and brain-machine interface.  Setting aside imago dei, man tries to make life in his own image. 

Cameron observes that new bioethical issues arise suddenly.  There's not much time to think through the ramifications or convene a public conversation.  Moreover, he finds it hard to get Christians interested in bioethical issues.  C. S. Lewis was prescient with his Abolition of Man published in 1944.  But come to think of it, Abolition is one of Lewis's least read books.  Why am I lukewarm regarding bioethics?  For one thing, I lack the scientific background to understand fully the procedures and their implications.  For another, many of these techniques, such as stem cell research, are seeking cures for dreadful diseases.  It's hard to be against curing Parkinson's or spinal cord injuries.  But is it right to do wrong to get a chance to do right?  Finally, is my stance really going to make a difference when pharmaceutical companies, lobbyists, research universities and scientists are all seeking to influence the nation's policymakers?  Perhaps my ignorance is a deadly bliss.

The next speaker was by Bill Romanowski from Calvin College.  I read his book Eyes Wide Open in preparation for his lecture titled "Off to See the Wizard: Cinema, Self and the Search for Meaning."  Does film reflect or shape society?  Romanowski believes that films confirm current beliefs rather than introduce new ones.  In support, he cites that conversions attributed to The Passion amounted to less than one-tenth of 1% of movie viewers.  We bring our beliefs to the theatre; film reinforces them. 

Next he described some genre films and showed how the underlying premise is really unchristian.  There is the "Wizard of Oz phenomenon" where the main character goes through a journey to self-realization.  Everything you need lies within you.  You just need to believe in yourself.  God-figures aid humans on their road to self-realization.  A little bit of outside magical assistance and then you will be able to manage life on your own again.  Is that really what the gospel is about?  Christ as an additive that helps me achieve my dreams?  What happened to dying to self?  To replacing my agenda with God's? 

Then there is the "Romantic Love Conquers All" genre as typified by Titanic.  Nothing in the film suggests that God was interested in the fate of the people.  Meanwhile, Rose looked to Jack for her salvation: "Jack saved me in every way that a person can be saved."  Is romantic love the solution to all of life's problems?  Can it fill the emptiness in the soul?  Consider C. S. Lewis's observation in The Four Loves: "Natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves.  They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred." 

During intermission, conference attendee, George Duer, gave a break dance demonstration.  He is with a troupe profiled at http://www.shockla.com/.  I took a few photos to prove to the Youth Pastor back home that I was exposed to culture of all flavors.  As we left the auditorium, I noticed Tony Lawton on the empty stage counting paces to various locations.  He must be prepping for his performance of The Great Divorce tonight.

In the afternoon, I returned to John Mark Reynolds' "The Well-Educated Soul" workshop.  Reynolds gave his version of "How to Read a Book."  He recommends picking ten life goal books and mastering them.  Lincoln was an example of this.  He owned three books and kept reading them over and over.  Do not choose a middle-brow book.  (He considered Lewis high middle-brow.)  The test is will it still be read in 500 years.  Examples: Dante, Plato, Shakespeare, a book from the Bible, Milton.

Read the book multiple times.  He suggested forty times!  Audio versions count.  As you read, keep a book of questions.  Resort to Sparks Notes to aid with the plot.  Look up answers to some of your questions in the notes of annotated versions. 

Keep a book of answers.  Try writing 1000 words a week.  Blogging is one way.  The idea is not to have a polished essay, but to process your impressions of the book as you continue to absorb it over time.  Along the way, supplement your reading of great books with historical novels and film.

I'm not sure I can follow this formula.  Aside from a book in the Bible, I doubt I could re-read the same book 40 times.  Especially when there are so many un-read books clamoring for my attention.  One certainly would be familiar with every nuance in the work after 40 readings.  A journal of questions and answers has merit.  I take notes on all but the pop novels I read.  This helps me go back and find that quote or idea which gets fuzzier as I age.  After hearing Diana Glyer and John Mark Reynolds, I have a desire to read Dante's Divine Comedy.  Never had it in high school or college.  It was a favorite of Lewis and has received its share of airtime at the conference.  I'm missing something by not having read this work.  It's on my list for when I get home-next to Charles Williams' novels.

The real treat of the day was Tony Lawton's The Great Divorce.  With various accents, gestures, and the dramatic V, he managed to create seventeen characters (including a couple of females) from Lewis's novel.  Keeping them straight must be tough.  I most identify with the foreman who demands his rights.  He worked for what he has and won't take any bleeding charity.  He was a good chap and can't understand why a murderer got into heaven ahead of him.  The foreman simply cannot grasp grace.  He prefers a works-based system under which he can feel morally superior, but alas, there is no hierarchy of that sort in heaven.  Only sinful creatures covered in Christ's righteousness.  The foreman wants only what he deserves, not realizing that he deserves hell.

A corollary treat of the evening was sitting behind the British van driver, Barry, and his wife, Susanna.  This was the very first play they had ever seen.  Watching them become engrossed in the drama enhanced my experience.  I was witnessing a live example of Dana Gioia's talk in Oxford.  "Art awakens, enlarges, refines, and restores our humanity."  If there is no access to great art, the hunger doesn't go away, rather it is satiated with cheaper things.  I was seeing another human being's hunger for beauty satisfied with the finest of art.  In later conversation, Barry says the Oxbridge assignment has been wonderful.  It doesn't feel like work for them; they enjoy the people they've met.