Thanos and the Infinity Stones: A Cautionary Tale for Control Freaks (Like Us)

thanos-snap-has-an-official-name-and-its-brutal_xzhb

Marvel comics supervillain character “Thanos” is certainly a contender (apart from the biblical Lucifer) for the prize of being the ultimate control freak. But he is actually each of us magnified almost infinitely in our desire to control all of reality and God – and thus a cautionary tale. We all are tempted by the uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and suffering of life to “wish” that we could change things in almost ultimate ways, as Thanos hoped to do in complete ultimacy, once he was able to possess all six of the “infinity stones” – mind, soul, space, power, time, and reality. I always wonder whether the multitudes of Americans seeing movies like this realize that a major point is that the desire for “control” is ultimately dangerously destructive to our God-given creaturely self-hood and of the dignity and right to life of others?

Thanos is a good character to portray such self-deception, because he isn’t automatically portrayed as a shallow one-dimensional maniacal egomaniac but rather as a reasonable, courageous, even sacrificial and loving person (by his own estimation). It’s amazing what the unchecked desire for control does to us all, a story as old as the fall of adam & eve, the fall to the desire for control in the garden of God in Genesis, and as real as the terrible consequences that violently rippled out from there and provide the dismal default context of our personal and collective lives.

So, is there any anti-Thanos we can look to for a better way? How about a “forty day fasted” Jesus in the desolate wilderness tempted by Satan to use “infinity stones” to change “everything” but ultimately victorious over him though the conflict continued and culminated in an “anti-garden” of suffering, called Gethsemane? He is the one to consider, along with those who have truly followed his way, though they be few and far  between.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

The “Problem” of Anxiety and Freedom: Soren Kierkegaard, Arcade Fire, and the “Promise” of “Creature Comfort”

 

anxiety

 

It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it.

On and on I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it…

From “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

A chorus from Arcade Fire that is “dizzying” in both “merry go round” style – “on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on” – and actually also in content, which this post will explore. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Does that mean that “Creature Comfort” for the anxious is the ultimate thing we should seek? Is our anxiety itself one of the “Signs of Life” that as a “Manifest Propensity” empirically shows that we were created for more than simply consuming (and being consumed by?) the creature comforts marketed to us constantly?

Arcade Fire’s petition to God about the “problem of freedom” is “just make it painless” with painlessness coming through the “Creature Comfort” supposedly promised and provided for through the technological consumerism of “Everything Now.”  Arcade Fire raises one of the most perennial questions of human beings regarding God. Can God, if we consider God as the One that is the creator of human life, able to make that life “painless” for a being that is created with a measure of freedom? It seems that Soren Kierkegaard thought that freedom inevitably produces a measure of anxiety for creatures endowed with that gift.

If that is true, then question becomes, what do we do with this “birthright” of anxiety? Do we try to manufacture “comfort” for the “creature,” the solution that Arcade Fire sees as the “anxiety fix” currently on offer for any and all of us willing to buy into that solution? The manufacturers of such “creature comfort” constantly bombard us with the assurance that we ought to “Put your money on me?” In fact, we all tend to buy into that solution simply because it is the given of our existence now. In a sense we have already paid for it, simply as the price of admission to the modern world.

Infinite Content.

Infinite Content.

We’re infinitely content.

All your money is already spent on it.

All you money is already spent.

On Infinite Content.

From “Infinite Content” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

With nearly biblical poetical genius Arcade Fire reveals the pseudo-religious character of this captivating sales pitch which captures precisely because it tends to exhaust all our resources so that we can’t afford anything else. All our money is already spent! We’re overly invested. But that’s alright because we’re so “infinitely content!” Many or most of us will probably admit how trapped we feel in this situation. But lurking within is the anxiety of dizziness caused by our struggle between wanting and not wanting to remain sellouts to the consumerist solution of “Creature Comfort.”

Soren Kierkegaard defined anxiety as “a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy.” Mark A. Tietjen explains that “It occurs when one is attracted to and repulsed by the same thing.” We seem to be attracted to the comforts offered, but repulsed by the loss of freedom we pay for them.

A short alternative answer from Kierkegaard was that we shouldn’t evade our birthright of anxiety, for the sake of a false “comfort,” but rather embrace it. For in that path lies becoming the self we were created to be.

“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…. And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.”
Søren Kierkegaard

I think it is highly possible that Arcade Fires’s song “Put Your Money On Me” contains a double entendre regarding two different voices pleading for us to put our money on them. The first, which we all know all too well, has already been considered. The other is the anti-type of the former. Arcade Fire’s song “We Don’t Deserve Love” explicitly evokes Jesus Christ with the plea to a “Mary” to “roll away the stone” and the mention of the “Christ-types” which leave Mary (us) alone and inevitably don’t provide what we need (love) so that we are always “waiting on” them. I believe that point is that the “Christ-types” can’t give us love. The more sinister underlying narrative of the false savior consumer culture is that we are merely “consumers” and as such are less than human beings. In other words “We Don’t Deserve Love.”

So to return to the double entendre of “Put Your Money On Me” – it is actually present through the song as a complex counter-narrative wherein there is an “either/or” (Kierkegaard) regarding the identity of the one speaking throughout the song. Is it the false Christ offering us “creature comfort” through loss of our own true self or the real Christ offering us love through the gain of true self-hood?  I believe that the “counter-narrative” of the real Christ is actually stronger because of a few of the lyrics, but I still call it the counter-narrative because of Arcade Fire’s “Money + Love” video in which the speaker is obviously the false one. The section of the song that I believe most explicitly can apply to Christ, and can’t really apply to “consumerism” is this:

My mother was crying on the day of our wedding.

Trumpets of angels call for my head.

But I fight through the ether and I’ll quit when I’m dead.

If you wanna know who’ll be there in the end,

When you bury me, baby, I’ll still be your friend.

It is also important to note that the basic premise of the song is the difficult and anxiety producing struggle for freedom by the one being spoken to throughout. The song closes before the epic track “We Don’t Deserve Love” with the words, “I know it’s not easy to put your money on me, all your money on me.”

It is also interesting to think about the scenario of “venturing” for the freedom of true self, as Kierkegaard calls it, in light of the fact of the seeming unfreedom inherent in the fact all our money “is already spent.” Is it possible Arcade Fire’s narrative/ counter-narrative interplay in which money is required for everything leads one to the biblical invitation to freedom for those in bondage that does not require the soul destroying commodities the world trades in? In other words, was Win Butler who majored in Bible and Philosophy at McGill and has explicitly given credit to the Bible and Kierkegaard as constantly forming the way he approaches everything, thinking about the only commodity God “trades in” with humans, namely our anxiety producing gift of freedom of choice?

Isaiah 55 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. (King James Version)

 

Kierkegaard saw how humans deal with anxiety as bound up with the problem of despair. His thought on that problem is more than can be dealt with at the end of this meditation. So I’ll merely add this quote in which he shows that despair can be overcome through the proper reaction to anxiety which is possible through “resting transparently” in God.

“The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be oneself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death)

I apologize for not taking time to add links to Arcade Fire’s songs, but I assume that for most of us, being adept with navigating “infinite content,” they are easy to find!

Thanks so much for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

U2’s “The Lights of Home” – How U2 and You Too Can Pray

Thou didst hide thy face,

I was dismayed

To thee, O Lord, I cried;

and to the Lord I made supplication:

“What profit is there in my death,

if I go down to the Pit?

Will the dust praise thee?

Will it tell of thy faithfulness?

Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to Me!

O Lord, be thou my helper!”

Psalm 30:7b-10

“The use of these ‘psalms of darkness’ may be judged by the world to be acts of unfaith and failure, bold faith, albeit a transformed faith. It is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. Continue reading

Is There Any Solution in Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now?”

Many professional record critics have complained about “Everything Now” on the basis that the album is all “problem” with no “solution.” I think that is because the “problem” is fairly obvious not only throughout the songs, but also in our lives. And more pointedly, perhaps the songs hit too close to where we all live, and in lieu of any obvious of solution (that is the supposed accusation) we are left with an album that exists mainly for our listening depression.

But do they not offer any solution? My critique of the critics is that they have completely missed it and that is why they think the album is only about our big problem of “Everything Now.” (And I would agree that nobody only wants to hear about our big problem.)

So what is the solution? Well first let me make a point. What do you think could be the solution to our entire society’s problem? See, most of us don’t have an answer and therefore we don’t even know what to look for and can’t see it when it is offered. In other words, we miss the solution because we don’t even know what it looks like.

I believe their solution is in the transition in their narrative from songs about the problems of consumerism of everything, including our wanting even God to be another commodity (“God in heaven, could you please me?“) to songs about relationship. Peter Pan, Chemistry, Put Your Money on Me, We Don’t Deserve Love are all relational. But a relationship with who?

Well, for the sake of keeping this fairly short I’ll just mention several key points of who I think this mystery person might be. In “Chemistry” we learn that we haven’t yet “met” them. In “Put Your Money On Me” we learn that their “race for our heart” began “before we were born” and that they win that race for it when they “wake” following their death. Also their “mother” was “crying on the day of our wedding” alluding to the sorrow of Mary the mother of Jesus at the crucifixion of her son Jesus, which event was also the sealing through the blood of the New Covenant of Jesus/God with his people. In “We Don’t Deserve Love” we learn that we are like a biblical “Mary” Magdalene who has been repeatedly left by her previous lovers, the “Christ types” that always “leave you alone.” But the singer pleads with “Mary” (us) to “roll away the stone” behind which is not the imposter “Christ types” but I think the real Christ.

Now if anyone has any other ideas of some other person that can do fit in all of these descriptions, I’d love to hear it. I also realize that the biblical illiteracy in our culture is nearly complete, so it doesn’t surprise me in the least that most of these allusions go completely over the heads of the professional critics and masses of fans of Arcade Fire.
So this answer to the problem of “Everything Now” – that relationship to God is the solution, certainly raises many other questions – mainly “how can a relationship with God save me from “Everything Now?”

Well that question is more than I can tackle at this point, but listening to the entire album more with this “solution” in mind might help. For now I’m contented to post this excerpt from the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann:

“Nevertheless I am continually with you; You hold my right hand. (Psalm 73:23)
This is no casual hand-holding. This is a life-or-death grip that does not let go. “No-Sabbath” existence imagines getting through on our own, surrounded by commodities to accumulate and before which to bow down. But a commodity cannot hold one’s hand. Only late does the psalmist come to know otherwise. Only late may we also come to know. We may know, but likely not without Sabbath, a rest rooted in God’s own restfulness and extended to our neighbors who also must rest. We, with our hurts, fears, and exhaustion, are left restless until then.” (From “Sabbath as Resistance – Saying No to the Culture of Now.”)

Comments, questions, outrage, are welcome. Thanks for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

“Everything Now” by Arcade Fire – The Album Cover: Real or Fake Reality?

I open this series of posts on this latest (and greatest – OK maybe not but it is at least great) offering from Arcade Fire with a consideration of the album cover.

The cover is exactly the same as the featured image shown above, and the following observations of the image can be made:

  • the sign seamlessly shows the same mountains and sky which are behind it
  • the mountains on the sign are clearer and show more fine detail and thus would seem to be a “better” image
  • the sign contains the glaringly illuminated words “EVERYTHING NOW”
  • the sign is held up by some ugly manmade supports
  • the sign has a few speakers attached to it
  • there are no “signs of life” in the photo such as living creatures

A few thematic and conceptual “tie-ins” can be made between these observations and the songs on the album

  • “signage” and “signs”
  • natural creation vs. manmade “creation” – two “orders of creation” so to speak
  • the concept of difference between these two orders
  • the appeal to use our higher critical, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual faculties to evaluate these different orders

The highlighted transition to the song “Everything Now” begins with these first two lines – thus highlighting this difference – the juxtaposition between the orders of creation depicted on the cover:

Every inch of sky’s got a star
Every inch of skin’s got a scar

So to summarize all of this, I think that the cover was an ingenious way of depicting the two “orders of creation” in which “we live and move and have our being.” The one is natural, beautiful, filled with multitudes of stars. The other is manmade, too often ugly and filled with a multitude of scars. The manmade sets forth that it is “better” – brighter and clearer, and supposedly easier to read and understand. Granted, the natural world is difficult to “read” – a glowing sign reading “everything now” is easy to read. But is it really better? Is it even the real world or is it just a fake reality that we manufacture thinking that will provide the answers we long for? That is actually the basic definition of what an idol is – something we create and then worship as though it created us – because in a sense when that transpires we are creating our own selves. But the ultimate question is whether the reality we create is real or fake, whether it can provide everything we hope life is for.

I think Arcade Fire with this album has produced perhaps their most unified and cohesive conceptual album that is ultimately about the “big questions” – with “everything now” being the either/or to consider. But what is the alternative to “everything now?” Is there an alternative that is reality? Or is a self-created reality all there can be, even if it inevitably is fake and produces scars on every inch of our lives (if we are willing to think about it).

So, as for what I’ve set forth an an introductory fashion in this post, the proof will be in the contents of all the songs in the album. I hope that anyone that might be reading this has already listened enough times to have discovered that, negative reviews notwithstanding, this is a great and up to par offering by Arcade Fire. I for one, have a feeling it could grow to be my favorite, which may become evident as I proceed to work through the amazing collection of songs.

Thanks for reading and for any comments!

A Post post-date revision: I posted this yesterday, and now today I learned from a video interview I watched with Win Butler that this photo was taken in Death Valley. He mentioned something about it being “the lowest place” as having significance. So how might this change my read of the two orders of creation?

I think that the basic fact of two orders remains since the photo does show both. That the natural order is one of the most desolate places on the planet perhaps enhances a sense of ambiguity or even unknowing  regarding the significance of what the natural order is a “sign” of? Anything? I had originally mentioned that the natural word is “difficult to read” in contrast to our manmade presentation/reproduction of it. So the “better” image, even of a “death valley” may still show that our human “spin” on life is basically what we try to do with life. We try to make it better – even if we’re not quite sure it is actually better at all. If there are no “signs of life” in the world does our manufacturing of signs create them? Can we create life “ex nihilo” (out of nothing)?

So it seems to me that the “natural order” desert scene juxtaposed with our “man made order” enhanced desert scene makes makes a point that is best made through the use of the desert scene. The desert is known through experience, and in religious and philosophical tradition as the place of deprivation and death, trial and temptation, the realm of the demonic. In biblical literature this is behind the conclusion that life is at the present time largely a pilgrimage through the desert wilderness toward the future return home to the garden of Eden. I believe this conceptual imagery is presented in places in the album and so obviously the photo fits the overall concept being presented. (This should become evident as this series of posts progresses.)

In conclusion then, I think that the basic statement being made through the album cover may be that the endeavor to enhance the human wilderness experience as though it is an experience of “everything now” is an endeavor in futility and self-deception. The remaining question then is whether there are any “signs of life” that provide an alternative – such as an actual future hope beyond the desert wilderness. But in any case, these words seem the only proper commentary on mere human enhancement of “Death Valley” –

Stop pretending, you’ve got

(Everything now!) I want it
(Everything now!) I can’t live without
(Everything now!) I can’t live without
(Everything now!)
(Everything now!)
Everything now

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

‘God Save Arcade Fire’: an interview with Bryan Christman

church

Hi, Bryan. To begin with, would you like to introduce yourself and your blog? By vocation I’m a lifelong landscaper, my parents having had a landscape and nursery business. I’ve been very happily m…

Source: ‘God Save Arcade Fire’: an interview with Bryan Christman

Waiting in Neil Young’s “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” for the One to Lead the Nations

creation waits

With this blog post I’m simply presenting another “apocalyptic” song of Neil Young, along with several texts from the Christian New Testament. I trust that readers will be able to notice the correspondence of thought between them. I believe it is quite possible that Neil Young directly drew from Paul’s Letter to the Romans in the “questioning” section of the song.

I would like to add that the song “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” begins at the 26:25 minute mark in the movie “Le Noise.” I’d also like to add that I loved Neil Young’s Bruce Cockburn-esque guitar in this beautiful song.

I suppose that my point for this post is simply to say that as we find ourselves in this day and age wherein the technological abilities of humankind continue to develop both for good and for ill, we can find that our stewardship of the planet has long been the subject of the Hebrew and Christian Holy Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. My purpose is also to call attention to the outrageous claim of the early Christ followers that Jesus of Nazareth was the “second adam” through whom the God of the Hebrew people, believed to be the one and only true God of the Universe, had begun the process of restoring humankind to its stewardship of the earth. In other words, the project, process, and promise of a veritable New Creation has begun.

So perhaps the best-kept secret of Christian theology is that “redemption” was never mostly about “souls being saved to heaven” or about private and personal piety or peace. “Shalom” was always known to encompass “the big picture” of the entire creational existence – even though the ecclesiastical stewards of this truth sometimes seem to have done their best to not only bury that light under a basket, but to even perpetuate the horrible violences known in the wars of humans against humans, and exploitations of the creation by humans. The biblical view of the nature of life seems to agree with the empirical view of life, wherein we live our lives in the violent “Boulevard” where apocalyptic “shots ring out” in violent disruption of the intended  “Peaceful Valley” of Eden. But from that place we are encouraged to look to the Spirit of God’s recreation of humanity in Christ wherein human reconciliation and the renewed stewardship for the gift of earthly creation can be found. That may not seem to be “the gospel” we’ve heard before, but it is the “good news” that has come into the world. (Below is a valuable reference for further study.)


“Peaceful Valley Boulevard”

One day shots rang across the peaceful valley
God was crying tears that fell like rain
Before the railroad came from Kansas City
And the bullets hit the bison from the train
Shots rang across the peaceful valley
White man laid his foot upon the plain.

The wagon train rolled through the dusty canyon
The settlers full of wonder as they crossed
A gentle creek where two old oaks were standing
Before the west was won there was a cost
A rain of fire came down upon the wagons
A mother screamed and every soul was lost.

Change hit the country like a thunderstorm
Ancient rivers soon began to boil
People rushed like water to California
At first they came for gold and then for oil
Fortunes were made and lost in lifetimes
Mother earth took poison in her soil.

An electro cruiser coasted towards the exit
And turned on Peaceful Valley Boulevard
“People make the difference” read a billboard
Above a long line of idling cars.

Who’ll be the one to lead this world
Who’ll be the beacon in the night
Who’ll be the one to lead this world
Who’ll be the beacon in the night
Who’ll be the one to lead the nations
And protect God’s creations

A polar bear was drifting on an ice floe
Sun beating down from the sky
Politicians gathered for a summit
And came away with nothing to decide
Storms thundered on, his tears of falling rain
A child was born and wondered why.

The Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 2:5-13

5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”
And again,

“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

were-the-ones

The Letter of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Chapter 8:18-22

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

For further reference, the book below is probably the best I know of to show the story “from Genesis to Revelation” that has been tragically missed for nearly two  millennia. Of course there have always been glimmers and glimpses in the thoughts and writings of many, but perhaps now as the stakes seem higher than ever, humanity is ready to rediscover the promise and responsibility included in what Jesus simply called “the good news of the reign of God.”

Middleton

Comments and questions are always welcomed. Thanks for reading.

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2016.