Friday, May 02, 2008

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished Gilead this week. At one point, I was about to give up on it, thinking, "What made this so special for me the first time that I wanted to read it again?" I hit that point, and then the moments of grace begin to happen between characters. The narrator, after hearing his story, blesses his best friend's son in a train station, and then goes to keep vigil with his friend as he awaits the end of life. These are both such beautiful moments that answer my question. Gilead is about fathers and sons: estranged, reconciled, repentant, unsure of how to be one to the other, one giving the other second and third chances, and so on.

In the midst of finishing Gilead, I started reading Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner. Winner converted from Judaism to Christianity, and yet retains a strong appreciation for Jewish spiritual practices and seeks to appropriate them to her new Christian context. She seeks to do this not only out of a love for her heritage, but also to seek how to make Christianity more of a lifestyle rather than a set of beliefs. Each chapter briefly explains a Jewish practice and its purpose (basically variations on "it helps you focus on God"), and then muses on ways she's trying to practice it as a Christian. The chapter on keeping kosher sticks out to me at the moment, as she describes eating in general as a spiritual practice, and even an act of justice (i.e., buying fruits only when they're in season to save on the expenditure of oil that it takes to bus out-of-season fruit from wherever...sounds better than wasting it all in ethanol). What Winner ends up describing is a life of attentiveness: attention to how we manage our time, or to what we eat, or to how we mourn in community, and so on. The book is small: around 150 pages, but smaller dimensions. I'd have finished it already, but certain other things have been demanding my attention lately.

I watched American Gangster this week, based on the true story of Frank Lucas, the drug kingpin of Harlem in the early and mid-70s. As I watched, I tried to remember details from the essay on which it was based. The film clocks in at over two and a half hours, but I thought that they needed all of it to set up both Lucas' character and Detective Richie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe. There is a subplot involving Roberts trying to gain custody of his son in his divorce, and I questioned the inclusion of this, but it adds to how dedicated Roberts is to his police work as he eventually decides that he couldn't provide a healthy environment for his child. The principal focus, however, is Lucas: his rise to power, his dedication to family, his wrestling with when to get out of the business. The film muddles the traditional "good guy/bad guy" lines by having both Lucas and Roberts frustrated with and threatened by a group of dirty cops, and portrays Lucas in some sympathetic ways besides.

I felt a strong urge this week to listen to "Not Just Anybody" by Rae & Christian, which will only mean something to two people who read this. I know the song from a Chill Out compilation that I own. So eventually that just led to my listening to the entire album. This music always takes me back to St. Louis.

Around the web, the United Church of Christ Blog Network added its 40th blog this week. Celebrate.