Hitting the Links: Allen, McKnight, and Moussaoui

It’s been a wet and rainy week here in south western Vermont. While we could have braved the elements last night and gone for a walk, we decided that it would be better to have a night at home. And so my post of meandering thoughts begins.

As we were both rather exhausted, I was sent out to find a movie: a role in our family that I gladly fill (though Julie does have a better eye for a good movie). While on my errand, I noted that my father-in-law also fulfills the role of “hunter/gatherer” of movies. I figure it must be a family tradition or something. In any case, I’m happy to be the movie finder. Our little corner store with the corner video rack did not have much of a selection. We’re talking about perhaps 40-50 movies left after the good ones had been picked over earlier in the evening. I had Kingdom of Heaven in my hand, but feared that Julie would throw me out of the house if I came home with it . . . she’s not a big Orlando Bloom fan. And then, as hope was about to fade away, I saw Melinda and Melinda by Woody Allen.

It isn’t a great film, but it fit the bill for us last night. If anything, it’s inventive. A basic plot is hatched in a diner by a group of writers. Then a comic writer and a tragic writer each take turns telling the same story from their own vantage points. And curiously enough, the same themes are woven into both plots.

<%image(20060504-melinda.jpg|55|75|melinda)%>The chief theme that stuck with me is the need for a “name.” Many of the characters find themselves running into the dilemna of not having the popularity to win the parts they seek in plays and movies. A similar problem is faced regularly by writers. You can’t publish unless you have a name, but you can’t get a name unless you get published. Meanwhile a select few on the in have their pick from a wealth of opportunities. Melinda and Melinda received mixed reviews, some that were extremely critical in fact. But one of the reviewers at Amazon says it best: “Still easily one of the best he’s [Allen] made in the last 10-15 years, and still easily a hell of a lot better than 90% of what gets made these days!” Preach it.

Another exciting development is the arrival of Scot McKnight’s latest book: Praying with the Church. I’ll be working through it during the next month and then posting some thoughts on it. My initial assessment is that Scot presents a very timely survey of the various forms of prayer that exist within all Christian denominations. As an NT scholar, he also provides some insight into the prayer life of Jesus. Of particular interest to me will be his discussion of The Divine Hours, a prayer guide that I have been using for the past year and have found to be a wonderful tool that helps me stay on track with God throughout the day. Yet, the defining mark of this book will be Scot’s assertion that praying with the church is an essential part of spiritual formation.

Lastly, I heard this morning on NPR that a federal jury rejected the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui. Read the NY Times article. There is quite a buzz about this and I can understand why some are upset, others are satisfied, but all are relieved. I am glad that this trial is over. And while I have not come down with my final assessment on capital punishment, I am uneasy about it and am leaning away from it. With those feelings aside, I still think that Moussaoui received the best possible sentence. You can replay all of the arguments and probably make a good case to end his life, but in my opinion letting Moussaoui live breaks the cycle of violence.

When one killing is avenged by another killing and both sides continue to provoke one another, there will never be a chance for healing. I can’t say that this trial has brought healing, but it has done a number of things. First of all, it revealed that Americans worked extremely hard to give a fair trial to a sworn enemy. Secondly, it showed that not all Americans crave violent retribution. Even while our government has attacked two nations in retaliation for 9-11 (as it has claimed), there are a significant number of Americans who are not interested in taking an eye for an eye. I think that is a step in the right direction.