“Noah” & the beautiful complexity of Biblical humanity

Note: Originally, the shortest title I got for this was the too-long “Noah: And how the movie lends to understanding of the complexity of the Bible’s actual human characters.” But long titles look terrible with my current blog template, and I’m not quite ridiculous enough to wait to post till I redesign.

I have a lot of thoughts about Noah. (Well, I did when I wrote most of what’s below. Less now, when I’m actually getting around to posting it.) But up until the need  to respond to someone on the internet boiled over last week, I hadn’t quite articulated anything that felt original. At all.

But, as it will, someone on Facebook finally pushes you over the edge, and words happen. A lot of them. (To be exact, 499, on a poor friend’s status. I was lucky that she didn’t mind at all!)

So, hopefully the origins explain why this goes in the potentially odd order — because I don’t want to waste what’s already written, and I’m at the end of caring about this entire topic (and caring would be required to write very many new ones. Yes, that’s laziness. Go away. …Wait. Don’t go away!

I shouldn’t post the comment I responded to, so I won’t. But that means you’re just going to have to use some thinking (sorry) to imagine what it looked like. So here goes. I’m sharing a Facebook rant with you. Appreciate me.

Or scroll to the bolded word “Final” to miss the more reactive bits. As you wish.

“1. (Let’s start with some caps. I apologize for this decision.) WHY IS BEING PRO-TAKING CARE OF THE EARTH A BAD THING? I admittedly rarely recycle, but I truly don’t get the weird Christian anti-environmentalist thing. Like, let’s go be mad at people who want to take care of God’s creation! Cool.”

Ok, fine. I may have done a little straw-manning on the kid with this one, but I promise — the complaint AS GIVEN was as simplistic as the way I addressed it. Environmentalist agenda! Oh noes!

“2. The director’s alleged intent does not need to make or break my experience or interpretation of the film. ALSO, here’s another alleged quote that actually paints the director very different: ‘The film completely accepts the text, the four chapters in Genesis, as truth – just like if I was to adapt any book, I’d try to be as truthful to the original material as possible. It’s just that there’s only four chapters, and we had to turn it into a two-hour long narrative film.’ So. To repeat, ‘The film completely accepts the text … as truth.’ This is good. Let it be good.”

If he was going to believe everything the internet was telling him, so was I. I got this quote from Buzzfeed. I didn’t really check it. But it looked pretty legitimate, so… you know. It must be.

“3. That leads me to the part where I question all the complaints about inaccurate details. because he’s exactly right. It’s four chapters. You COULDN’T make this movie without making speculations on the story that was going on between the lines. This drastically affects my final thought on the movie, below.”

Hey look, see that? There’s going to be final thoughts soon. And really, I probably should have just fleshed those out for a full post — because they’re probably the only semi-original thought in here.

“4. But before that, your statement: “The whole story of Noah in Scripture is about God destroying the earth because of sin and preserving one family in covenant with himself and from that family repopulating the earth. Anything that doesn’t tell that story is misstating God’s word.” I don’t get it. That’s EXACTLY the story I watched this weekend. So if that’s what makes it a misstatement, then, well, I don’t get you here.”

Oops. I did quote him once.

Ok. The rest is also more or less what I wrote at the time, but like I said: This is the part I really care about and probably should have limited this post to. *shrug*

Final: This movie was never about portraying the exact reality of how Noah’s story played out. You can’t; the Bible doesn’t tell us enough. If you expect exactness, and no literary license, or even no careful speculation, you will never get Biblical stories on screen.

So if that movie was never about that, why do I value what I saw? Because stories like these, both in movie and literary form, humanize the people of the Bible.

Biblical stories are often sparse. We don’t always get progression, and motivation. Couple that with how much of our collective evangelical childhood was spent seeing Bible characters as really simple cartoonish characters, with little to no complexity, and the result is a difficulty in seeing the Biblical characters AS complex people.

And that’s not a good thing. Forgetting that these were real, complex people, with complex motivations, that a righteous man might also have been prone to anger or cruelty (erm, hello, David?) and we lose how beautiful the stories are.

A movie like this takes the simple cartoon aspect out of the story for me and lets me read Scripture, NOT assuming Aronofsky’s rendition was accurate, but actually understanding how much amazing complexity would have lain between the lines of the text.

And that’s worth the $6 matinee ticket.

(Writer’s Block) To see and love the wounded

This article originally ran in issue 78:11 of the Moody Standard, on May 1, 2013 as an installment of the author’s bi-monthly column, “Writer’s Block.”

It’s overwhelming.

I just walked down to the Houghton 3 lounge to give my mind a rest from writing the article on self-harm and from transcribing a student’s interview on her cutting experiences. Awhile before that I was reading some of our former columns telling stories of students’ pain. And my mind kept interrupting my writing and research; I kept thinking about the pain those closest to me are going through right now.

Then in the lounge, because of what I’ve been reading and transcribing and struggling to write, I looked up at the ceiling, imagining the floors and rooms and spaces above me filled with women who are hurting. The amount of pain and suffering contained in this building — it’s overwhelming.

There’s often an aversion to pain in Christian culture, but we’ve been doing better at Moody these past few years, haven’t we? David Ulrich’s Sackcloth and Tea column opened eyes to what’s beneath the surface of many peers’ smiles. The “Can You Relate” campus events have helped some see that others are dealing with the same issues they are. Efforts have been made, and as one of our articles pointed out, openness to vulnerability is trending.

I’ve seen it outside the Moody bubble as well. I’ve been reading more blogs these days, and have come across a few by Christians who desperately want to reveal how often pain gets pushed aside. “Letters to the Wounded {#2}” on aholyexperience.com was one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long time. I recommend it in a heartbeat, if you’re prepared for the likelihood of tears.

I may have fooled myself, though, and been lulled to contentment with the progress I’ve seen, both in and out of Moody, to see and address people’s pain. Just because we’ve made progress doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t still there, and the problem is that people are still walking around this campus shoving intense pain deep inside, sadly, to hide it from the rest of you.

So this new openness could easily be and stay just a trend. Because many of you don’t know who David Ulrich was, and certainly don’t remember his stories. The “Can You Relate” events only served to enlighten those who attended, and the rest of us had to rely on the few who ignored the request that the stories told there were not to be shared. The blogs as well are only a tiny fraction within the fraction of Christians who write and interact with blogs.

This is my last column, and I was going to write about how scared I am about my future — and I am. Desperately. And that’s something we need to talk about too, how scared we all are of the future even when we slap on happy faces and say we’ll figure it out as we go.

But this is more important right now.

You are more important right now. The people around you are more important right now — your pain and their pain, seeing it, addressing it, sharing it, loving each other in and through it, instead of despite it.

So I’m using this, my last opportunity, to tell you that it’s on you now. Look around you and realize that someone is reliving abuse right now; someone is feeling like she just can’t do it anymore; someone just started medication for severe anxiety, and all it’s done is make her nauseated; someone was emotionally abused last night; and someone has scars on his skin from last week’s razor blade.

Stop ignoring it. Stop being shocked. Start seeing it and acknowledging it.

(Writer’s Block) There’s a problem here, and it’s not the feminists

This article originally ran in issue 78:9 of the Moody Standard, on March 6, 2013 as an installment of the author’s bi-monthly column, “Writer’s Block.”

I am not a feminist. Or, at least, I don’t think I am. I’ve even been guilty, in the past, of rolling my eyes at the concept.

My reaction was, in part, one I’d learned from the people around me: actually, from many of you. If I had to generalize the reactions of Moody students toward feminism, it would be ridicule, eye rolling, sarcasm, even disgust. Yes, that’s a stereotype, but it’s an overwhelmingly accurate one, as those were the immediate reactions I received upon telling people I was writing an article on the Feminisms blogging event.

Such reactions may be understandable — if they come from people who know the ins and outs of what they’re reacting to. If that’s you, if you’ve explored and read and researched feminism (specifically, here, Christian feminism), and you still believe strongly against it, then ok. I’m not addressing you. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that’s mostly not the case here. If I were to continue to generalize the atmosphere at Moody in regards to feminism, I would add ignorance — and I would include myself in that.

Why wouldn’t I call myself a feminist? It’s not because I don’t believe in the tenets of feminism, think it’s a gross movement or don’t want to be associated with the word. No, it’s because I haven’t spent enough time researching the arguments for and against it to say if I am. Do I believe that women and men are of equal value and worth as human beings? Yes. And do I believe that women should be treated as having value and worth and that our current culture doesn’t always do so? Yes again. The label of feminist, at its simplest, doesn’t seem to require much else.  

But how many of you think of feminism in terms of man-hating, equal-everything-demanding, angrily-protesting women? How often do Moodies laugh scornfully when they overhear a girl say she is a feminist? Or when she says she’s been made to feel subpar here for being a girl? How often is “feminist” used as a derogatory term, an easy insult of a strong-willed female peer?

There’s a problem here, and it’s not the feminists.

The problem is the guys who say men just don’t find feminism attractive. It’s the women who act as if feminists are an insult to their gender. It’s even me, who feels nervous writing this because part of me doesn’t want to be associated with something held in such low regard by my peers.

There are women at Moody who are passionate about feminism. There are men, both current students and alumni, who have no shame in calling themselves feminists. There are girls who don’t call themselves feminists, because they aren’t ready to take on the connotations — but they care deeply about women’s rights and wish the words “women’s rights” didn’t also receive ridicule.

And their peers mock the passion, shame the label, disregard the efforts of learning. Belittling the passions of a brother or sister in Christ is not a small issue. Making a mockery of someone’s deeply held beliefs is not a joke. And scoffing at others’ journeys to decide for themselves what they think about feminism is not our right, no matter how ridiculous one may think feminism is.

How are these actions loving? How are they excellent or praiseworthy? How are they, in any way, being used to encourage? If you want to engage in the conversation, if you still strongly disagree with the philosophy, then by all means, dialogue. But first, approach it with love, not scorn. Second, spend some time learning why these men and women, your peers, believe what they do. Their blogs, especially with Feminisms Fest having just happened, might be a great place to start. Third, talk to them instead of about them.

And if you don’t have the time, the energy or the desire to put that effort in, there’s one easy solution: don’t say anything.

Pray.

Dear Friends and Family,                                                                                                                                                   May 2011

For the past two years at Moody Bible Institute, as well as for most of my life, I have been surrounded by wonderful stories of missions work and tales of people serving God overseas. A few years ago, I was able to travel to Santiago, Chile with a team from my youth group to serve the people there through labor and love. I am excited to tell you that late this summer, I will again experience the mission field firsthand and implement much of what I have learned at Moody.

Let me pause to share some exciting news with you that will explain why I have been given this opportunity. Several months ago, my lovely sister married a man with a God-centered passion for the Czech Republic. Because of this, in late July I will be joining them for a three-week trip to Czech to work with Josiah Venture teaching at an English camp. Our team consists of my sister, her husband, and two other college students, all dedicated to the Lord’s work. My brother-in-law Jerry, also our team leader, has previously been on four short-term trips to the Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic is a spiritually dark place with less than one percent of its population identifying as Christians. We will be drawing from the Czech students’ desires to understand English as our entry point to build relationships with them, expose them to the gospel, and connect them with a local church youth group.

I am excited and blessed to personally share in the work that God is doing through Josiah Venture. I am eager to learn all that God has in store for me, through the trip itself, but also in preparing for it and in how it will affect my heart and life.

As I prepare for this trip, I first request your prayers. My most important preparation for this summer is spiritual, and I know that each of your prayers will be a blessing to me as I work out what it means for me to go to the Czech Republic and serve the Lord. Will you please pray that my heart will be moldable and teachable to God’s voice and plan for me?  Equally important, please pray for our team and those that we will be reaching – that the seeds we will plant in students’ hearts will be fruitful for God’s glory! In addition, I ask for your prayers in regards to my financial support. …

I greatly appreciate your support through prayers. I would love to hear from you if you have any questions about our trip. Thank you so much for your love and friendship!

Because they haven’t heard,

Jenna Kristine Pirrie