The Bible and Culture

Oh those aquamarine and white Nooma boxes. They contain interesting things.

You can see in the second five films in this series how they’ve hit their stride, anmd in some cases we can see an increasing degree of complexity to the films. The music is background music but it continues to give motion to the film. The lighting continues to suggest we are all living in the Shadowslands. Not quite winter in Narnia, but the Shadowlands for sure. Rob continues to have his blonde tinted hair. We continue to go to everyday places, but we discuss not so every day subjects— like God, and sin, and suffering, and abuse, and revenge and forgiveness, and baggage.

Nooma 6— the music in the background sounds like Alanis Morrisette, only less whiny, or maybe Jennifer Knapp with the acoustic stuff. Its entitled “Kickball”, and its set on the shore of Lake Michigan, it would appear. Again like some of these other Nooma films it has a bleak look, or basic primal look. The subject matter is in fact however anything but simple. What is the character of God? Is God good? And if God is good, why doesn’t he give me the stuff I want which will make me happy? Rob draws an analogy with his own parental situation. Sometimes the parent just knows that giving the child what he wants, is not giving him what he needs, indeed it maybe giving him a stone instead of bread, a snake instead of steak. There is less direct Bible content in this one, but the message gets through none the less. It is noticeable how Rob wants to concentrate on the most basic things, like the character of God and do we believe God is good. We should not expect delicate explanations of the Trinity in these videos. They are for entry level discussion, and yet they do not lack meat.

Nooma 7– This video has a surprise ending, and a back story, so pay close attention to what goes on in the airport. But the subject of this video is revenge. And the most interesting point made in the video is that taking revenge implies something quite clear about one’s faith in God (or lack thereof). It implies one doesn’t trust God to take care of it. Rob focuses on Paul’s words in Romans about leaving room for God’s wrath. He also has some helpful things to say about forgiveness helping the one who does the forgiving as much as the one forgiven. The title of this film is ‘luggage’ but it really should have been baggage. One thing that becomes clearer, the more of these films that one watches– Rob sees the world has highly dysfunctional and most if not all people are broken and have ‘issues’. So some of these videos necessarily come off more like pastoral counseling videos than straight Bible teaching videos, which is fine. Rob after all has a pastoral orientation and intent in doing this kind of ministry. He is not trying to be something he is not (i.e. a Bible scholar). But there is no mistaking he has interacted deeply with the first principles of the Gospel, like forgiveness.

Nooma 8— This film entitled ‘Dust’ is one of the one’s I find more deficient in understanding Jesus’ milieu. Here Rob, now brown haired (it was filmed in 2004), basically restates what he has said in “Velvet Elvis” about Jesus being a rabbi, about synagogues where Jewish boys memorized the whole Torah and the like. Since I have already critiqued this point on the blog, I do not wish to belabor the point. Not only was Jesus not a rabbi, like later rabbis, but neither was anyone else really before 70 A.D. Of course there were Jewish scribes and teachers, but we have no historical basis for thinking of ordained rabbis running synagogues and little schools in Nazareth or elsewhere in Galilee during this era. For sure, there was no Bet’ Talmud in Jesus’ day. Nobody was busy memorizing Genesis to Malachi, because there was no closed canon in Jesus’ day, nor a single book to be memorized, nor even agreement on all the scrolls that should be memorized. I bring this up precisely because Jesus is so grounded in non-Mosaic parts of the OT– the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel, and also the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the wisdom literature like Proverbs, which is what his parables, riddles, and aphorisms most resemble. That is, he is grounded in the latter parts of the OT, including in disputed books like Daniel from which he takes his onw self-chosen moniker—Son of Man, Jesus in short, is a Jewish wise man or apocalyptic sage. He is not someone who teaches Scripture like scribes, or spends much time debating other Jewish’ teachers interpretations of Torah. He speaks on his own authority, and without footnotes, or citing other teachers. Instead of exegesis, he is mainly engaging in creating new Jewish teachings.

It is of course true that early Jewish teachers encouraging imitation of their behavior as well as recitation of Scriptures and important teachings. But when Jesus is calling fishermen and tax collectors to follow him, it has nothing to do with the later practice of picking the best of the best to be one’s disciples because you think they’ve got the intellectuals goods to become like the rabbi. On the contrary Jesus seems to be picking up, not budding scholars, but in some cases the least, the last and the lost—folks like fishermen, or a woman who was demon possessed. And here is an important point— women certainly did not have the privilege of doing the same sort or degree of Torah study as men. And yet Jesus had a group of very loyal women disciples. This simply punctuates how very different he operated than later more patriarchally oriented rabbis.

Rob however is right that the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water is a very telling story about Peter not having enough faith in himself to walk by faith over to Jesus. Rob emphasizes that God and Jesus have faith in us, entrust us with the task of making more disciples. Its an important, indeed crucial point. Jesus believes in us! When’s the last time you heard a sermon on that? And Rob makes the point well.

Nooma 9, entitled ‘Bullhorn’ finds Rob taking on one of his pet peeves—fundamentalist hell fire preachers who stand on corners with bullhorns and tracts trying to warn people that if they haven’t repented and trusted Jesus, well then they are on the straight path to hell. Rob’s disagreement with this whole approach to
evangelism is not just that hardly ever works or accomplishes the intended outcome. His disagreement with it is that it is a violation of the heart of the Gospel which has to do with loving God and others with one’s whole heart. In fact, as Rob stress by loving others one is loving God. What this film emphasizes is the unconditional love of God, which we as well should offer unconditionally to all whether they receive it or not. What this film does not say, and really needed to say, if only in passing, is that in fact God does not love many of our sinful and self-destructive ways. He does indeed begin with us as we are, but he never leaves us there, for the very good reason that our sin continues to alienate us from God, like a cancer which destroys our most precious relationships. There are some subtle touches in this video, for example when bullhorn guy is in an elevator on the way to his rant site there is a sticker on the wall of the elevator that says ‘Love Wins’. Indeed, it does and it should. You can attract more flies with honey than with gall for sure.

Nooma 10, entitled ‘Lump’ is one of my favorites thus far. Rob is at his best when he is relating his own personal experiences to the Scriptures, and here he is dealing with his son lying to him about something he had taken from someone and then again about hitting his brother. And when the moment of realization comes and he knows he is busted, then he runs and hides not in his own bed, but in the safest place he knows—in his parent’s bed, under the covers. Rob tells the story about finding him there some two hours later, and reassuring his son he is still loved. But at the same time Rob talks about the need in due course to make amends to those he hurt, or hit, or stole from, or lied to. What this story reminds us of is that children, even small children are not pure. Up to a certain age they have a certain innocence, in the sense that is the opposite of experience. They have not yet willfully violated a known law, and so committed a willful transgression. But they are not pure. Innocent and morally pure are two different things, and often small children are the most self-centered, its all about me creatures that one could imagine.

St. Augustine tells the funny story about am infant who was caterwauling at the baptismal font, and he says it was evident he was unregenerate and resisting the waters of grace. Shows how little he knew about the conscious behavior of infants. But in a sense he had a point—we are all born fallen creatures. The story also reminds us that even reasonably small children are capable of knowing they have done something wrong and of feeling shame for it. But like the father in the Prodigal Son parable, Rob tells his son, “there is nothing you can ever do that will stop me from loving you.”

I am reminded of Paul’s words in Romans where in one chapter we are told that Christ died for sinners, for the ungodly, for his enemies. How much clearer could it be that God loves us in spite of what we do and have become, not because of it. Victor Furnish once said that God’s love is not like a heat-seeking missile targeting something inherently attractive in us. God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable. Rather his love for us makes us that way. God doesn’t love us because he has already chosen us before all time. Rather it is his love for us and our response to it which makes us his bride, his chosen ones. We must say ‘I do’ in response to his ongoing ‘I do’. Rob is right to emphasis that God is love. The question is, how will we respond?