Apocalypse Now small group – Introduction

No, its not the Francis Ford Coppola war movie. But yes, there are movies. A good part of this small groups activity is watching and thinking about and talking about movies.

This small group will organize an online and face-to-face series of comparative studies for three contemporary films and two readings (one somewhat contemporary and one from Scripture).

The genre of the contemporary films is variously called science fiction, catastrophe, or apocalyptic, depending on whos talking. The latter two are also called dystopian.

The films are:

Volcano,

28 Days Later,

and Children of Men.

The readings are (1) the last chapter of The Politics of Jesus, by late theologian John Howard Yoder, the chapter entitled The War of the Lamb;

and (2) the Book of the Revelation of John (from the New Testament).

By viewing and reading these cultural productions in this order, and following brief cultural critiques (analyses) of each, we hope to develop an understanding of how storytellers and story-hearers participate in meaning-making together.

Since our own direct experience is contemporary, we will study how we participate as an audience in these three films, how values and norms are magnified and transmitted in these stories of extremity, and how stories of extremity are used to present then resolve big ethical questions.

We will also study the films for ethical norms that have Christian origins, even in contemporary stories that are not explicitly Christian.

With the Yoder chapter, we will read about the Revelation of John as an apocalyptic genre used by John of Patmos to reiterate the proclamation of Christs good news for his contemporaries (in 2nd Century Asia Minor) in the face of actual extremity. Yoder provides us with contemporary language to unpack past meaning-making in literature; and provides a perfect seg at last to reading and understanding the most misunderstood and often misinterpreted Book of the New Testament.

This study, during Lent which traditionally emphasizes penitence and reflection on mortality hopes to develop among its participants a shared basis of understanding of the experience of our own culture, the experience of the culture of the early church, and how this emphasis on mortality and penitence came into the world as a direct response to conditions of actual and intense extremity. This is important to us, in particular, because our daily lives in our own suburban culture have in so many ways been insulated from real austerity and extremity. Like Lent, extremity of circumstance often demands renunciations.

Ivan Illich said:

The certainty that you can do without is one of the most efficacious ways of convincing yourself, no matter where you stand on the intellectual or emotional ladder, that you are free. Self-imposed limits provide a basis and preparation for discussion of what we can renounce as a group of friends or a neighborhood. I have seen it, and I can witness to it. For many people who suffer from great fears and a sense of impotence and depersonalization, renunciation provides a very simple way back to a self which stands above the constraints of the world.

And such renunciation is especially necessary in the world in which we live. Tyranny of old was exercised over people who still knew how to subsist. They could lose their means of subsistence, and be enslaved, but they could not be made needy. With the beginning of capitalist production in the spinning and weaving shops of the Florence of the Medicis, a new type of human being was being engendered: needy man, who has to organize a society, the principle function of which is to satisfy human needs. And needs are much more cruel than tyrants.

We are those needy ones. And one form of renunciation for Lent is to renounce our disengagement by looking into our own culture and into scriptures with the real intent of better understanding who and whose we are.

It is also our hope that this small group will finish the study with a far keener appreciation and clearer understanding of the Revelation of John, as well as a deeper understanding of our own culture and how it interprets and misinterprets Scripture. There is no requirement to read the phenomenal exegesis on this Book of Scripture that has been done by Mickey Efird, one of our own nearby at Duke Divinity School, but he needs to be acknowledged up front as the thinker whose critique of dispensationalist accounts of Revelation was extremely helpful for the latter part of this study.

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Materials required:

Books (1) The Politics of Jesus, by John Howard Yoder. (2) The Bible

Films (1) Volcano, (2) 28 Days Later, (3) Children of Men.

NOTE: The reading from Yoders book is only one chapter. For those who do not have or do not purchase the book, we will make hard copies of the single chapter.

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Method:

The method of the group facilitator does not restrict or oblige any particular approach by other participants. I will make suggestions about the sequence and forms of participation; but you will determine what works best for you, how deeply you delve into the subject, and how to fit your participation into the other tasks and obligations of your lives.

We will view three films first, one per week. Buying or renting the films (Netflix anyone?) to view at home is sugggested, so the film can be viewed more than once. We will also have a group showing of the film at the Ministry Center. The order of viewing is Volcano, 28 Days Later, and Children of Men.

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PREPARATION

The Ecology-Culture-Personhood Triangle a different kind of lens

Throughout this small group program, participants are challenged to keep the idea of a Ecology-Culture-Personhood Triangle in the back of their minds. This triangle is a notion I am borrowing from anthropologist Alf Hornborg, author of a very good albeit academic book called The Power of the Machine. The idea of the triangle is that three macro-forces in our lives are in constant interaction ecololgy, culture, and personhood and that each reciprocally influences the development of the other. Our personhood the experience of being one person is shaped by our general physical environment (ecology), which in turn is changed (and often abused) by culture (technology, economics, art, religion, language, et al), which is shaped by place (an aspect of ecology), etc, etc, etc.

In reality, theseparts of the triangle never exist independent of one another and are inextricable from one another. But we can break them down to provide us with a particular analytical perspective a way to think outside of the box.

Three Basic Terms

In addition to using the ECP Triangle as an analytical standpoint, there are three terms that are not universally familiar, standing for three ideas, that participants need to understand: epistemology, heuristics, and cultural criticism.

Epistemology: Theory of knowledge; also, the way we think we know.

Heuristics: Methods that help in problem solving in turn leading to learning and discovery.

Cultural Criticism: Analyzing and describing aspects of culture from one or more critical perspectives.

How It Works

You figure out how to acquire and view the films. Ideally, you will watch the films in sequence, and have each of them available for possible re-viewing throughout each films respective week. During that week, I will post something called just Notes, e.g., Notes on Volcano. Read over the Notes before, during, or after one or more viewings, as works best for you. We all have different schedules and learning strategies. One evening a week, those who can will meet any place agreed upon to watch the films together. Tentatively, that will be Friday night at the Ministry Center (not etched in granite yet).

Feb 27 – Volcano (showing – discussion through comments section of web site)
March 6 – 28 Days Later (showing)
March 13 – Discussion
March 20 – Children of Men (showing)
March 27 – Discussion
April 3 – War of the Lamb Discussion
April 10 (Good Friday) – Revelation Discussion

We may supplement with Sunday discussions before services, if people want to.

REMINDER: This is not a study that requires anything. The depth of participation is your choice. It can be an occasional pastime, or a a college course. It is also free to share with anyone and everyone; and it is not restricted obviously to Lent. Comments sections are also now open (but will be moderated, so comments will not go up immediately). CHANGE TWO with apologies Comments are disabled here, and will all go to the Feral Scholar web site linked here. Click it on, and comment away. Again, apologies while I work out the glitches.