Monday, January 19, 2009

Year in Review: Introduction

I love lists.

Put me in a room with a fellow film lover, and by the time we leave we'll have worked out some combination of lists cataloging each of our favorite movies, directors, actors, decades, years, etc. High Fidelity rules the roost for me: "Top Five ... anything." I just love lists.

However, there are four great pitfalls in making and sharing lists. The first is to forsake one's love for the items being listed for the sake of the list-making itself. That is, I shift from wanting to see Movie X because it looks good, to wanting to see it because it will supplement my eventual "Best Of" list. The temptation is analogous to doing theology without talking about God, or following basketball statistics without love for the game. Fortunately, our original love for the thing itself often has the power to reassert itself over the love for the eventual list. But we ought to be aware!

The second is to become a snob. In a former life, I could be snobby about movies, but fortunately the Lord has cured me of all snobbery and snootiness (name that movie reference! See?). For everyone who hasn't been cured, though, it's important to dive headlong into the kind of pure, humble love that doesn't care about what others think or what we "ought" to like. Let's try to have good taste; but let's be lovers, not critics!

The third pothole is the furious attempt by critics, writers, and bloggers around the country to be the first to post their respective lists. This absurdity is found in websites posting "Best of the Year" lists in early December. In the words of Seth and Amy: Really? We can do the "Best of 2008" with a month left in 2008? Really?

No, lists are not about being first, or somehow summarizing the year before the year is over. Lists are about sharing those bits of art and entertainment from the year that struck us, bowled us over, or left us lingering for days in reflection or stupor. How can we do that with lists that include movies nobody will see for a month or music yet to be released? How can anybody get to know an album full of music after only a couple of days with it?

So, while my year in review comes a month after the end of 2008, I think the timing is just right.

Fourth, however, and most important, is that making goofy personal lists about our favorite stuff is not only potentially narcissistic or consumerist; it can fool us into thinking that any of it is as "important" as the time we give it. Right now thousands of Gazans are mourning their dead in a terrible war that is only one more iteration of a conflict that is seemingly without beginning or end.

Closer to home, today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and tomorrow is the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American President. Obama is calling for Americans to celebrate the memory of Dr. King by engaging in a day of national service.

For America in general and African-Americans in particular, the stutter step of these two historic days are monumental, epochal events. Would I be so insensitive as to tread through this great week with insignificant, self-involved "Best Of" lists?

I don't have a good answer, except to say that -- thinking of Gaza, MLK, Obama, and so much else happening -- I go ahead in the simple belief that there are always terrible, inspiring, and middling things going on in the world, all in a wild simultaneous swirl, and celebrations of culture (read: lists) seem to me to be wonderful checkpoints, signposts, that stop and look around and honor the good in the midst of the chaos of life. I hope that the joy of these lists -- and the conversations and sharing ensuing from them -- are honoring indeed to both the horrors and the heights of the human world as it stands today.

In that spirit, I hope you enjoy my week o' lists, and get in on the conversation with your own favorites, and with your agreements and disagreements (however violent!). That is the point anyway: sharing.

The schedule is: music on Tuesday; movies on Wednesday; everything else (catch-all) on Thursday; my own blog on Friday.

And in the spirit of today and tomorrow, I offer two things. The first is one of my favorite quotes by Dr. King, from his Strength to Love. The second is a wonderful picture of King with the great 20th century theologian Karl Barth, the only picture of them together, on Barth's one trip to America, when he went to hear King speak at Princeton. We might think of them as theologian ("thinker) and activist ("live-er"), but in fact Barth's politics were inseparable from his theology and King's activism grew directly out of his theology. Both were vibrantly faithful in their discipleship to Christ, and the fame of each is rooted in their own rootedness in the life of God's church. What powerful witnesses.
Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiples hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiples violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says "Love your enemies," He is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies -- or else? The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. ...

A third reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power. ...

To our most bitter opponents we say: "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."

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