Monday, January 19, 2009

wisdom and culture

The Fifth Page for January 18, 2009
In the course of my research about Eli Stone, I learned that it has been cancelled by ABC. I have not seen all the episodes, but as I mentioned in the sermon, I have enjoyed it. I like that it begins with the premise that God is real, and that God is actively involved in our lives. I like also that as the episodes unfolded, the Eli Stone character’s life was being changed by his involvements with other people. He was not just some heroic figure stepping in to save strangers from danger- as he formed relationships with people, his life, and their lives, were changed for the better.

There is a website called that explores not just television and movies, but other aspects of North American pop culture from a spiritual point of view. Their reviews on current releases may be of some help in making choices about what movies and television shows are worth the investment of our money and time.

In the children’s time this week I told the story of the call of Samuel. It served as a good introduction to the idea that God calls individuals to holy service. The fact that the wise old man in the story was named Eli also provided a “bridge” to the clip from the television show. (Eli is a common Hebrew name, which means something like “person of God”. “El” is a word used for God in many pre-Jewish middle-eastern cultures.)

One of the commentaries said that in structure and form the story of Samuel’s call resembles a folk tale. It may be that in the centuries before reading and writing became more common and accessible, stories about important figures like Samuel (and Jesus, for that matter) were preserved and transmitted in this way.

I like to examine popular culture for evidence of our human quest for spiritual meaning. For good or for bad, movies, television shows, and popular music seem to serve the function that folk tales would have in earlier times. Commonly held ideas and aspirations are presented, played with, held up for scrutiny, reinforced, and sometimes challenged. Having said, that I think that we need some of Eli’s wisdom to interpret what we see and hear.

When I was young one of my favourite shows was Gomer Pyle, USMC. Even though this was a show about life in the Marine Corps, and was aired during the height of American military involvement in Vietnam, that war was never mentioned. Years later, the star, Jim Nabors said that he had difficulty watching the show’s opening sequence because many of the men he was shown marching with were later killed in Vietnam.