Stephen King and Hope: Religion in Shawshank

There are few things in life that make me cry. The movie based on Stephen King‘s famous novel, The Shawshank Redemption, does it every time. It is hard, and maybe irresponsible, not to notice King’s critique of the American justice system which I think to be spot on.

From the time I was eleven until I was eighteen years old, I spent several Saturdays and Sundays a the federal penitentiary in Butner, NC. That was where my dad lived for a while, and although I only saw a glimpse of the system, you could tell it was truly hell on each face during visitation. What is even harder to watch is the what happens when prisoners are released, when the slaves are set free. More often than not, the world consumes these men and women without regard. Trust me. I have seen it.

There is one scene of The Shawshank Redemption that stands out it my mind. After the main character, Andy, get solitary confinement for two weeks for playing a record over the intercom in the warden’s office, he comes to sit down at the lunch table with all his friends. One inmate asked Andy if they let him take record player to “the hole” with him. He said no, and that although they can take the record player, they can never take the music from his heart. Someone makes the comment, “who cares about music? Why should we remembered music at all?” This is the conversation that follows:

Andy: So you don’t forget… forget that there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. It’s yours. 

Red: What are you talking about? 

Andy: Hope. 

Red: Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You better get used to that idea.

Andy: Like Brooks did?

We all need to remember that there is more than stone and concrete in the world. We need to remember hope. Or we can take the opinion of Red, and forget about hope and give up. You may be asking yourself, “who is this ‘Brooks’ character?” I let you find out that for yourself.

Pyro-theology, Rupture, and a Stupid Tattoo

When I was 19, a freshman in college, and an aspiring rebel, I decided to go get a cross with fire bellowing inside it tattooed on my left arm. Obviously, you are asking yourself what this has to do with the title and theology. Tangent first.

After reading most of Peter RollinsInsurrection, I have come to rethink my entire view of the Christian message and its relation to ideas such as doubt and faith. Rollins views faith as a constant state of determining and re-determining ones doubts and stances about God and the human situation. Its called pyro-theology because our faith is essentially burning down from the inside. This idea comes from Buenaventura Durruti statement that “the only church that illuminates is a burning one.”

Sooner or later in our faith, we have to burn down our beliefs, deconstruct our ideas and thoughts, and in that deconstruction, we find what has been missing in our faith all along.

I remember when I was a kid, my Daddy would burn all the grass in our front yard so that it would grow better the next year. Burning the grass aerates the soil and the dead grass acts as fertilizer for new growth. Faith is the same way. Our faith, our church, must burn down at some point (or several, reoccurring points) so that it can flourish.

Over the last few days, I have been dwelling on the idea of an event or happening that ruptures our way of thinking. It may be a death (or a resurrection), a birth, or a state of unemployment that triggers this rupture, but either way, it brings us face to face with a newness.

Tangent over, now for the tattoo. The reason I used to tell myself I got a tattoo was to remind myself of who I am each and everyday. Childish. Then I convinced myself that it has a monastic story behind it. But maybe I got flaming cross without even realizing that 3 years later, I would be commenting on a “burning church.”

In essence, my tattoo is constantly burning. This is a much-needed reminder. The only problem is whether I should be urgent this put this fire out, or if I should pour gasoline on it and watch it illuminate everything around me.

Seesaw

I have just finished Alain Badiou‘s Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism and I have to say that this book has changed my way of thinking, at least as it pertains to Paul. I have found that after reading influential books like Badiou’s or going through a particular life changing event, my theology changes as much as my reading habits. Although a refined theology is something I am proud of, it’s almost as if I am riding a seesaw which in constantly in motion. Sometimes I am high and confident, and sometimes I am at the bottom after the other person jumps off. We all know how that feels.

I have been throwing so many thoughts around in my head lately, questioning my life, what I believe, while still attempting to stay faithful to what I believe to be true. Its like I am an abstract splatter painting, you know, the ones that are all messy because the artist just flicks paint at them violently until it becomes something completely different. In the end though, I have to make the decision whether or not I am just a canvas getting harassed, or if I am more than that: a work of art.

I find myself in the same situation as the man who emerges from Plato’s cave; I find sanctuary in the Christ who steps out of the tomb; the Paul whose world is shattered on the Damascus road. Good company.

At some point in our lives, we all are on a seesaw; in limbo between belief and unbelief, between sanity and lunacy. Luckly, no one can properly seesaw without another. Thank God that I have others to take the ride with me. Collective insecurity is far better.

The Empathy of History and the Sympathy of Suffering

As I am reading and preparing for my “Paul and philosophy” class at Mount Olive College, I have been struck with the notion of historicism as an “empathy with the victor.” This simply means that those who write history tend to be empathetic with the ones who are most successful and have come out on top of whatever endeavors they are or have been a part of.

Now for our purposes, political thought and the assertions found in most high school history books follow right along with this notion of empathy, whereas a close reading of the Bible – a book that is no doubt concerned with social order – says the complete opposite. The Bible (usually) sides with the loser: the one who has been walked upon and crucified. In this light, Paul’s “weakness in suffering” (Romans 9) and his “scum of the earth” (1 Corinth. 4) dialogues are much more focused on the victims rather than the victors.

Why is there this disconnect between biblical historicism and the modern type we find in our public education text books? America was founded on religious principles right? That is, if Social Darwinism comes from the words of Jesus (I think not).

My reading and interpretation of the cause of this separation between how the church and state deal with history hinges upon one idea: suffering. The interesting thing about suffering is that it does not breed empathy, but the much more personal emotion of sympathy. Whereas history tends to empathize with the victors because it provides a way of moving forward for more victory, the biblical sense of history sympathizes with those who suffer because the biblical historians have suffered themselves. Biblical history is not concerned (or at least it should not be) with moving forward to dominate. Instead, it is focused on telling the story as we stand and sympathize with those who suffer.

In this light, the corporate structure, American history, and the way we write our own futures are under a complete reassessment. The question is whether or not we are brave enough to reassess ourselves.