Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ethical Insights

I’m putting the finishing touches on my summer quarter of school as I finish up a paper and some other odds and ends work. My experience this summer with classes has been interesting as there has been some significant overlap in my thinking between the two classes that I have been taking. The two classes that I have been taking are Movie Theology and Christian Social Ethics.

I know, you’re laughing already because of the Movie Theology class. I’ve gotten a lot of that, but the premise is actually something that I have been dabbling in for a number of years. The purpose of the class has really been to examine some of the fundamental and basic questions of human experience through the dual lenses of film and theology. Steve Martin’s character, Travis, in the movie Grand Canyon said, “Everything you need to know about life is in the movies.” I have always been a proponent of the idea that God has set eternity within our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and that humanity is constantly trying to understand what fills that eternal whole within all of us. The medium of arts, whether it be in the form of dramatic stage performance, the written word, painting or drawing, or movies has always been an avenue to explore the eternal void that exists within all of us.

So, in the “movie class” (as I have affectionately called it) we have spent time asking questions like what makes us human, how do we relate to each other, what is evil, what is redemption, what makes life meaningful, when is it right to kill, what is love, and what’s coming next? Each week we were given two movies to watch: a required one and then a choice between four others.

In the Christians Social Ethics class, we have spent time talking about the significant issues that come up within the evangelical church today: beginning and end of life, human sexuality, class and race, and creation care and stewardship. Like I said, there were a number of weeks where I needed to keep checking my syllabus to remember what I was studying for which class as the lines kept blurring to me, in the best sense of the phrase.

My final project for the ethics class was on one of the charged issues that faces Christians today: capital punishment. I expect that within the next few weeks I may post a summary of my findings and pose the question to whoever reads this of what their stance is on the issue. My final project in the movie class is still in the works as I am tying the theology and philosophy of Kierkegaard to the movie Joe Versus the Volcano.

As I reflect over what my “take-aways” are from these two classes, they are fairly similar. The week that I spent out in Minnesota for the movie class was well worth it for the time spent in dialogue and conversation. In the same regard, the online discussions on the various ethical issues were the breeding ground for new thoughts and ideas. The thing about it is that books and lectures and other educational means are great IF they are accompanied by meaningful dialogue and conversation. We learn when we listen to others, especially when those others have differing viewpoints than we do. That’s not to say that we are always convinced that their way is right and ours has been wrong, but there is benefit to having spent time wrestling with issues, even if it means that time has simply reinforced what we have already come to believe.

Growing up, my family was fairly open. My parents were never ones to keep secrets unless there was good cause. When there were issues within the family structure, we would talk about it. Those conversations were not always easy or fun, they sometimes included extensive periods of silence and awkwardness, but in the end, it was all worth it. Looking back, I believe that those times were the refining fires that allowed for the relationships within my family that exist today. But it took fire to get there.

In much the same way, there are times when we need to walk in the fire within the structures that we find ourselves in. Whether it be our family, our job, or even our church, there will be times when we will enter into conflict and where we will have a choice to engage that conflict, as painful as it may be, or to turn and run away and avoid the conflict all together. We have been created as relational beings, no one was meant to be alone. When we enter into dialogue within our communities, we stand to gain insight and wisdom for the future.

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” We are all better together. Next time you have the opportunity to enter into a conversation that you might normally run from, why don’t you chance the opportunity, in the end, you’ll be better off for it.