Excerpt: Blue Planet II

I recently wrote an essay about the excellent BBC documentary Blue Planet II for Think Christian. Here’s a snippet. You can read the full thing here. Viva la mer!

To understand the consequences of our authority and vulnerability run amok, we must start with a sense of the glory of our only world. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved nature documentaries. When I first encountered Blue Planet, the David Attenborough-narrated BBC masterpiece, I was captivated. Now, 17 years later, we have Blue Planet II, a fascinating sequel balancing delight in the wonder of creation, and lamenting the role humans have played in its destruction.

Each episode of Blue Planet II reveals a window into a world usually hidden from view below the water. Racing pods of dolphins joining schools of tuna and pods of whales to feast in the vast open ocean. Teams of sea lions hunting fish in the rocky lagoons of the Galapagos. The first glimpse ever at the teeming life on the Antarctic sea floor. The entire series resounds with the wonder and intricacy of God’s creation.

Marriage Advice From House, M.D.

Marriage Advice From House, M.D.

On a recent episode of House, M.D. (and by recent episode, I mean an episode from October 2010 that I happened to be watching recently), a patient’s clearly naive husband went to House for marriage advice of all things. His wife had kept hidden from him a huge underlying mental illness and he didn’t know what to do next. Alas, House never was one for patients, much less their husbands and the good doctor was blunt and brief. Their initial exchange, though, turned out to have remarkably sound marriage advice.

‘This is not who I married.’
‘Of course she is, you just didn’t know it.’

To the point as always, House pokes his giant, cane-shaped pin into the bubble that we can somehow know someone through and through before we marry them and so expect no big surprises til death do us part. Marriage is a big change filled with big changes. Buying homes together, planning a family together, navigating the ups and downs of those plans going in unexpected directions, starting new jobs and leaving old jobs all the while having someone watching you handle each transition very up close and personal. Point being that life will draw our character out and not all of it will be a monument to our hardiness and moral fortitude.

But, you’re sill married.

Just because you don’t (and can’t) know everything about someone before you marry them doesn’t make it ok to suddenly throw the future of the marriage into question when something you don’t like surfaces. The problem isn’t that our spouse is flawed, the problem is that we thought we could get away with marrying only the parts of someone that we like. For better or worse, you have to marry a whole person with some mysterious depths. There may be some sea monsters down there, but it’s possible to love someone in such a way that the muck that life may dredge from the deep doesn’t occasion a time to ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about the future, but instead ask ‘how’?

The fruit of working through hardship in marriage rather than running from it is self-evident in any old married couple if we’ll look for it. Survive enough together and a 50- or 60-year old marriage takes on this unconquerable, bulletproof patina (which is good, because circumstances surely don’t get any easier as a couple ages and faces the decline of their health together). Far better, then, to figure out how to move forward rather than to fret over whether to move forward. Because that is, indeed, the person you married. You just didn’t know it.

Christmas In a Minor Key

Christmas In a Minor Key

 

Christmastime is here. Bring on the blitz of traditions and travels, wants and wishes. Get the shopping done, get the family together, get the food ready, get the getting going in all its guises. Fill the snowy expanse that is the holiday season. With so many things trying to get in, sometimes it seems like nothing succeeds and Christmastime is empty instead of full: Christmas in a minor key. The marketeers have convinced us that we’re longing for something, but once again their offered ephemera have failed to satisfy.

This can only mean it’s time for the annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Under falling snow, Charlie Brown is searching. For meaning, for escape from materialism, for Christmas. He confides in his pal Linus that even with Christmas on its way with gifts and cheer, he still feels melancholy. Through the course of an afternoon, Chuck looks in the places we all tend to look this time of year. He looks in his mailbox for a Christmas card, for some human connection and affirmation. He looks to the 5-cent psychiatrist; perhaps a mental health adjustment will help. Ultimately, Lucy enlists him to direct the kids’ Christmas play and so Charlie Brown looks to a satisfying career to put his heart at ease. And we certainly see how that works out.

Meanwhile, Snoopy dives into Christmas commerce full tilt, festooning his doghouse and erstwhile WWI fighter plane with an arsenal of lights and ornaments. Taking Christmas by storm, in hot pursuit of a glorious cash prize.

At the pageant rehearsal, Charlie Brown learns a lesson in herding cats and so even merry company and music can’t cure what ails him. Beneath the cheer lies vanity, snobbishness, and shallow revelry. Actors, right? In need of a break and determined to set the right tone for this Christmas play, Chuck sets off with Linus to get a Christmas tree. A nice, shiny aluminum one, Lucy shouts after him. Looks matter. So the pair follows the modern equivalent of a star in east: two roving spotlights.

Confronted by an explosion of neon kitsch at the tree lot, Charlie Brown nearly despairs until he finds a spindly, real tree. Wood and needles, the least commercial, most plain thing he has seen in the whole town. With apparent peace, he takes the one true tree to show to the others, but his humble offering receives a humiliating rebuke. What a blockhead.

Deflated and frustrated, Charlie Brown cries out, ‘Doesn’t anybody know what Christmas is all about?’

Linus knows. In what may be the last place a passage of Scripture gets a sincere reading in all of primetime TV, Linus recites Luke 2:8-14 center stage in a single spotlight. Beneath all the hyper-exaggerated veneer, Christmas is really about something as simple as the birth of a baby (albeit a birth announced by angels and the glory of the Lord). It’s the emotional turning point, the moment of quiet clarity. I tear up every time.

On a side note, maybe the glory that shone round about those shepherds long ago has been echoing through the years and people, in a DIY effort to recapture glory, have just gotten a little crazy. Maybe the aluminum trees are just an over-cooked reflection of something real after all.

Of course, that’s all easy to swallow. Christmas™ has grown gaudy and superficial. Tone it down, for heaven’s sake. Have some goodwill towards men. But, the simplicity of Christmas is only half the point. In the final five minutes, Schultz and the animators drive home a seditiously counter-cultural point, exposing the hollowness of mere tradition and DIY glory, to replace it with something enduring.

Comforted by Linus’ soliloquy, Charlie Brown carries his Christmas tree home. As he walks through his snow-bound town, all the other trees stoop under the weight of the drifts. Bowing in the direction of Chuck’s sad little tree, oddly enough. Are they paying deference? At home, Charlie is astounded to see what his beagle’s been up to. Snoopy tucked right into the hype and glitz of his culture with relish and did up his little red house into a festive juggernaut. I tell you, he has already received his reward. First place. Good grief.

Charlie Brown takes a crimson ornament, a token of Snoopy’s best effort, and hangs it on his own tree. The poor, wretched thing buckles under the weight. ‘I’ve killed it.’ Indeed, Chuck. Haven’t we all?

A dejected boy heads in from the cold. The Peanuts gang shows up (hopefully to apologize for being mean as vipers) and Linus, that bastion of loyalty and wisdom, declares that the tree ain’t all that bad. It just needs a little t.l.c. Linus lays his security blanket down at the foot of the tree. Snoopy could probably spare some lights and bells. But wait! Is the whole premise about to come undone? Is the commercialist brigade about to take the last lonely refuge of humble simplicity and bling it into oblivion? Thankfully, no. When the gang finishes, what we see remains a real tree, but a Christmas tree fully revealed.

I don’t think it’s an accident that the kids start humming ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’. Glory to the newborn king. Indeed, glory has found its home. Not on a dog house, but on the one true tree. The emblem of Christmas. Snoopy’s reaction might just be the most subversive moment of the whole show. His glory has been robbed and given upon this tree and instead of moping or snarling about it, he joins the singing. Every tongue confesses that the lights look better on the tree, even the dog who thought he had cornered the market on glorious display.

Charlie Brown returns, touchingly stunned to see what’s become of his lowly little tree. His honest search has been rewarded with a beautiful vision far more than he could have imagined. Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.

*       *       *

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown

Image

Charlie Brown is searching. For meaning, for escape from materialism, for Christmas. Hopefully for better friends if he’s half in his right mind. He confides in his pal Linus that even with Christmas coming, bringing presents, and holiday cheer, he still feels melancholy. He looks in his mailbox for a Christmas card. Maybe a connection with another kid will cure his angst. He visits the 5 cent psychiatrist. Maybe the right thinking is the answer (though if Lucy is any sort of barometer, the right thinking is apparently all about the Benjamins [or at least the Jeffersons]). Finally, Chuck’s enlisted to direct the town Christmas pageant. Maybe a satisfying career will put his heart at ease. We certainly get to see how that works out for him.

Meanwhile, Snoopy is diving into Christmas commerce full tilt, festooning his doghouse and erstwhile WWI fighter plane with an arsenal of lights and ornaments.

At the pageant rehearsal, Charlie Brown learns a lesson in herding cats. Even revelry and merriment can’t cure what ails him. Determined to find the right meaning for his Christmas play, Chuck sets off to get a tree. A nice, shiny aluminum one, Lucy shouts after him. Gotta look the part.

At the Christmas tree lot, confronted by an explosion of neon kitsch, Charlie Brown nearly despairs until he finds a tiny real tree. Spindly, but real. Real wood. Real needles (a whole rain of them). It’s the least commercial, most plain thing Charlie Brown has seen in his whole town. With pride, he takes the one true tree back to show the others. And his humble offering earns him humiliation. What a blockhead. So much for the Christmas spirit.

Deflated and frustrated, Charlie Brown cries out (to whom?), ‘Does anybody know what Christmas is all about?’

Linus knows. In what may be the last place a passage of Scripture gets a sincere reading in all of prime time TV, Linus recites Luke 2:8-14 center stage in a single spotlight. Beneath all the hyper-exaggerated veneer, Christmas is really about something as simple as the birth of a baby (albeit a birth announced by angels and the glory of the Lord). It’s the emotional turning point, the moment of quiet clarity.

One a side note, maybe all that glory shone round about those shepherds has been echoing through the years and in an effort to re-capture it DIY style, people have just gotten a little crazy. Maybe the aluminum trees are just an over-cooked impression of something real after all.

Of course, all that is the easy stuff. Commercialization of Christmas is gaudy and superficial. Where’s the goodwill towards men? Tone it down, am I right? That’s only half the point and in the next 5 minutes, Schultz and the animators drive home a seditiously counter-cultural point. The cure to Charlie Brown’s Christmas blues is not just toning it down for the sake of simplicity, it’s exposing the hollowness of mere tradition and DIY glory and replacing it with something enduring.

Comforted by Linus’ soliloquy, Charlie Brown carries his Christmas tree home. As he’s walking through his snow-bound town, all the other trees are stooped under the weight of the snow. Bowing in the direction of Chuck’s sad little tree oddly enough, seemingly giving due deference. At home, Charlie is astounded to see what his dog’s been up to. Snoopy has fed right into the hype and glitz of his culture, done his little red dog house up into a festive juggernaut, and received his reward. First place. Good grief.

Charlie takes a crimson ornament, a token of Snoopy’s best effort, and hangs it on his tree. The poor, wretched thing buckles under the weight. ‘I’ve killed it.’ Indeed, Chuck. Haven’t we all?

A dejected Charlie Brown heads in from the cold. The rest of the kids show up (to apologize for berating poor Charlie Brown if they’re halfway decent people) and start to notice that the tree ain’t all that bad. Just needs a little tlc. Snoopy can probably spare some lights and bells. But wait. Is the whole premise about to come undone? Is the commercialist brigade going to take the last lonely refuge of pure simplicity and bling it into oblivion? Not really. When they’re done, it’s still a real tree. Just one that’s fully revealed. And it looks way better than the blandly colorful aluminum clangers at the lot.

I don’t think it’s an accident that the kids start humming ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’. Glory to the newborn king. Indeed, glory has found its home. Not on a dog house, but on the one true tree. The emblem of Christmas. Snoopy’s reaction might just be the most subversive moment of the whole show. His glory has been robbed and ended up on this tree and instead of moping or snarling about it, he joins the singing. Every tongue confesses that the lights look better on the tree, even the one who thought he had cornered the market on glorious display.

Charlie Brown comes back out and is touchingly stunned to see what’s become of his lowly little tree. His faith has been rewarded with a beautiful vision far more than he could have imagined. Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.

See for yourself, legally, here.