Mar 22, 2003
On the flight from Johannesburg to Luanda, Angola, the airplane is packed. Half the passengers are oil workers returning for another four- or five-week stint on the wells off the coast. The other half are relief workers, coming to feed, house and cure more than a million Angolans who are starving in the wake of the country’s recently concluded civil war. Why, one might ask, is a country that produces almost a million barrels of oil a day depending on the outside world to care for its poorest citizens?
On the five Saturday nights before the 2003 Academy Awards show on March 23, a young adult group at a large church in Pasadena, California, has been discussing the five Oscar nominees for best picture. “What do Hollywood’s best films have to say about our culture, our values and ourselves?” was the question inviting churchgoers to the series at Lake Avenue Church, aligned with the Conservative Congregational Christian churches.
To think that that mystics are engaged in a series of private, transcendent encounters with God betrays a superficial understanding, says Bernard McGinn. Christian mystics, in particular, are not breakaway contemplatives who find their own way to God. They are bearers and interpreters of a common tradition built upon a concrete revelation: God became human so that humans might become God. Christian mystics do not dabble in altered states. They seek radically altered lives.
The seething energies of spirituality are evident everywhere. That is good. What is not so good is that spirituality is also prone to lack of clarity, making it difficult to carry on a conversation about it. In the enthusiasm for firsthand experience, many of the men and women to whom I have been pastor and teacher set aside the Christian’s basic spirituality text, the Bible, and take up with new “scriptures” which strike them as fresh and fascinating. Having entered the spiritual culture of self-help and self-sovereignty, their discourse is soon emptied of any gospel distinctiveness.
Pedro Almodovar, the one-time enfant terrible of the Spanish cinema, has matured into one of the most sublime voices on the international film scene, and in the process has become a great moralist. Who could have expected this from the director of such cult films as Dark Habits (1983), which features a heroin-addicted lesbian Mother Superior, or Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989), about a mental patient's sado-masochistic relationship with a porn star?