Friday, December 07, 2007

What's my response to "The Golden Compass"? Christians, they tell me, want to know.

Click this:

Bottom line -- I'm certain Walden Media will make all seven Narnia books into movies; while I would not put the same confidence in even the three "His Dark Materials" volumes going to film. "The Golden Compass" has striking images and a decent story, but I suspect "The Subtle Knife" will sag considerably in audience draw, forcing some hard decisions around how to put "The Amber Spyglass" on screen. It will lead them to diverge even more widely from the preachy, fairly tedious third book, except for somehow holding onto the "saving humanity with a kiss" scene, and of course Nicole Kidman falling into the abyss while the Authority does a Wicked Witch CGI melt. No spoiler alert, because those are all the plot points we got to go with, and anyone who knows the series knows those three key wrap-ups. Which leave us at . . .

So what?

If Pullman is going to undermine the foundations of Christianity, this wet firecracker that may not even go off isn't gonna get the job done. Meanwhile, appetites are whetted for Peter & Edmund, Susan & Lucy, Cair Paravel and the Western Isles. Boycott "The Golden Compass"? I say, bring it on.

Oh, and watch the trailer. I'm looking for a bumper sticker -- "My other vehicle is parked in Narnia"

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Faith Works 12-08-07
Jeff Gill

Winter Magic, Majesty, and Mystery

Crystalline mist is a magical sight, all the more so as a horizontal sheet drifting in the air below a hilltop, hovering above a valley floor turned ghostly in filtered shadow.

With sub-freezing temperatures floating over still flowing water, as often happens in December around these parts, the rising sun evokes a strange reaction that raises these sorts of low-lying layers.

Then, as the watercourses freeze, but temperatures swing back above freezing (as also often happens in this neck o’ the woods), thick rippling fogs fill valleys and pour slowly up out of them, edging hesitantly into open fields.

Evenings come shockingly soon after noontime, and candles in windows trace out homes well before dinner. Fast dropping temps add a coat of frost to plants still not quite beaten down by winter weights of snow or ice, and roads start to adopt new outlines more suited to rutted lanes and bygone paths than modern paved, painted, reflectored highways.

Inside, we put trees in our living rooms, and to do that, move about furniture and indoor traffic patterns. Late, late at night, when we’re up against our will or better judgement, we move through a darkened house with strange shapes and new arrangements that our sleep clouded brains don’t quite recognize.

There are odd figures on the porch that we remember a beat and a half late is the large nutcracker we found at a craft fair, but for a moment, think is . . . what?

At the foot of the stairs is a huddle of . . . no, not that, but the stuffed reindeer someone gave us last year. Unnerved, we turn on a light, and see our stretched face reflected in an ornament that seems to show us the visage of a parent, or grandparent, who gave us the chrome, glittered oval so many years ago.

December is a haunted season. Forget Hallowe’en, which is a time for coming to grips with decay and death, but it’s not as filled with spirits as most Advents are. Think Ebenezer Scrooge, if you doubt me, he who saw three and myriad more spirits to bring him to a better appreciation of Christmastide.

There are smells and tastes which speak to the deepest recesses of our brains, just this once a year, and we are transported to grandmotherly kitchens and childhood stores where we held the hem of motherly coats.

Decorations that sleep soundly in boxes and bins for eleven months rise up, and ask us to reflect back on those who made, or gave, or handled these objects before they came into our keeping.

Pastorally speaking, people say that there is depression this time of year, and that may be, but I would mark Spring as the danger zone for that problem. What I’ve always heard the most in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is the dilemma of family, or decisions about relationships. Some of those are good, like proposals of marriage, so common on Christmas Eve. Others are rooted in frictions and hostility that seems bearable all year, but suddenly has to be resolved *right now*.

This is the time of year I most often hear people say “Hey, the other night I dreamed about my grandmother. What do you think that means?”

Which brings me, the long way ‘round, to “The Golden Compass.” First of a series of three books rooted in images from William Blake and John Milton, with scenes that echo C.S. Lewis not in Narnia, but “Perelandra” and “That Hideous Strength.” Philip Pullman uses dark echoes of Oxford spires, Victorian airships, and otherworldly bears that seem lifted directly out of Lewis’ lesser known trilogy.

Yes, Pullman has done a poor job of hiding his contempt for Lewis and his atheistic triumphalism. He’s also done a poor job of hiding his debt to faith and wonder and yes, Lewis himself. I’ve not seen the movie, but have read the books; I will wait for the home version but have no interest in mustering a boycott. Christianity is safe from feeble tantrums like Pullman’s, and the books get progressively more preachy (ironic, ain’t it?), so the films will necessarily get more distant from whatever the author had in mind.

Out of the shadows and the dimly seen figures of the past, in our homes and on the movie screens, Christmastime, or better, Advent, is an excellent time to take the provocations of our guilty consciences and quest for connectedness, and turn them to the cultivation of holy waiting, waiting with expectation for a child to be born who will reconcile the fractious family of humankind.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 12-09-07
Jeff Gill

Christmas Across the Border; Many Borders

Jesus saved a nine year old boy in the Arizona desert a few days ago.

No, that’s not a religious remark. The man is named Jesus Cordova, and he saved a young man named Christopher whose mother had been driving down an unpaved, Forest Service road in desolate area just south of Tucson.

She took their van over a blind curve into a gully, where she barely survived while trapped in the crushed vehicle, as her son scrambled out and back onto the road. He wisely saw that it was beyond him to get mom out of the wreck below, so he set to lighting a fire, trying to attract attention. In t-shirt and shorts with no shoes (they were in the van), he needed the warmth to survive as well.

This is where Jesus comes in. A grown man, he was entering this country illegally from Mexico, and after two days of walking, was just a few hours from making it into Tuscon, work, and the underground economy.

What sheriff’s deputies from Santa Cruz County tell us, with admiration, is that Jesus tried to clamber down to where the woman was dying, and saw he could not help her, either, then sat down next to the boy and made sure he was warm and joined him in tending their watch fire until help did finally come.

Saving Christopher, trying to rescue his mother, who did die shortly after help arrived, and arresting Jesus, deporting him back to Mexico. That’s the law, as Jesus certainly knew. But he couldn’t leave that child and dying mother behind.

While the various candidates for President of the United States are posturing and posing for the cameras on immigration, I’m thinking about Jesus, now back in Mexico, but no doubt dreaming of America.

But I’m also thinking of the entire Cordova family, given that since 2000 we’ve had the highest number of immigrants in US history, with almost 11 million people estimated coming into this country, over half of which come illegally (hence the estimated part).

Today, one in eight residents of the US is an immigrant; in 1970, that number was one in 21, climbing to one in 16 with 1980 and one in 13 for 1990. With that one in eight, immigrants, legal and illegal together, have 31 percent of their adults without a high school diploma, compared to eight percent of the general population. Immigrant headed households have a one in three chance of using some major welfare program, compared to less than one in five for the native-born population.

And since 1989, 71 percent of the increase of uninsured households is connected to immigrants.

So there’s reason to wonder whether even this great country can afford to invite the whole Cordova family, cousins and all, to walk right in.

But then I wonder about Jesus: who wouldn’t want more immigrants like him? Even if he needed a little public support in education and health care to get started, isn’t the kind of family values and commitment to service beyond self that his choice represents the very embodiment of everything we want our county to stand for?

Or sit for, by the side of the road, as night falls, by a small frightened boy.

Tonight, in a ramshackle shack somewhere in Mexico’s dusty hills, a man named Jesus is helping his community prepare for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He may be telling a few kids about Juan Diego, and the miraculous appearance to one of the “first Mexicans” of the mother of the Christ Child, whose birth we will all celebrate two weeks later.

They may take out and shake and try on the costumes for Mary and Joseph, outfits that two lucky children will wear around the village for “Las Posadas,” asking from door to door for room, to which everyone, laughingly, will say “no mas, no mas,” until they reach the crèche scene in the central square.

And I suspect Jesus will think of Christopher, and of his Christmas, without his mother, and he will think of what Christmas might be like in America.

I just hope we can come to an immigration policy that finds room for Jesus.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your story of Christmas traditions kept and passed along to