Showing items filed under “The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin”

Room

It is an absolute knockout of a film, “Room,” about a five-year-old boy and his mother who live in a shed, locked-in, with a skylight but no windows. He was born there and knows nothing else. There is, for him, Room; outside Room is space and heaven. There is also TV. Things in Room are real; things on TV are just TV. To watch the boy, to see how literate and numerate he is, fills the viewer with awe for this mother, who has managed to teach him songs and stories, to exercise with him, to make a world for him that is interesting and stimulating, all within the confines of a space about eleven feet square. Half the film leads up to their escape; the other half deals with their entry into the normal world. He, and she, are fragile yet awesome.           

Someone told me about the book that the film came from. Through a serendipitous encounter, I was loaned the book, which I took with me recently and read on a long plane ride. The book, too, is powerful. The storyline is much the same as in the film, and in this case, in my judgment, the film version maintains the strength of the book, although it is necessarily simpler.

But one thing left out of the film is the Christian story. In the book, the mother has taught the boy (from her own memory), among many other stories, stories that include Saint Peter and Saint Paul, John the Baptist and Jesus. The boy thanks Jesus when he eats. When he learns, late in the book, that he has a cousin, he thinks of John the Baptist. When he learns about someone who has the name Paul, he tells us (the book is in his voice) that this Paul is not Saint Paul. And so forth.

Was the Christianity excised as part of the necessary simplification that goes into making a film? Or was it . . . something else?

Room would be a great book for a church discussion. You could ask whether the little pieces of the Christian story that this remarkable boy knows are in any way essential to the story itself. I myself wonder whether it is significant that their escape from Room occurs round about Easter.

And we could ask—in fact, I think we Christians need to ask—why it is hard to depict Christianity in art that has integrity and power in our culture. It isn’t only “Room”: when the film version was made of P. D. James’s distopian novel, Children of Men, the priest was excised from the plot. Perhaps he was a minor character—but was he dispensable?

The bigger question—the challenge for all people of faith who are involved with the arts and media, and indeed for every parent—is how to make Christianity a compelling part of reality.

At the end of the book, they revisit Room. It is empty now, only (the boy says) a crater where something happened. A theologian has used that word, “crater,” to speak of the mark left upon the world by the Incarnation and Crucifixion. The crater was left by one who has gone ahead of us. He has gone ahead, he said, to prepare a place for us. To prepare a Room.

Click here and read the Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin's article in the Wall Street Journal. 

Walking

    New Yorkers will say that they are healthier than most Americans, and they’ll attribute their good health to walking. Most people in most places, I think, would not instantly associate “New York City” with the word “health,” yet it is true that New Yorkers walk. In that city it is possible to walk and get what you need—possible, and necessary.
    As I anticipated my move to Dallas, I hoped that I would find a way to keep walking in my new city. The Church Pension Fund, in its “Credo” initiative to encourage clergy health, had given me a mechanical pedometer a bit over a year ago. I got addicted to knowing how many steps I had taken. I also got a lot of pleasure in showing off the little plastic thing. My friends are indulgent. But eventually they, as it were, cleared their throat and told me I needed to get out more. They pulled out their cell phones and showed me how they were already counting their steps, had been counting their steps since about the time Elvis was alive, could draw up their average walking for the past month, the past year, etc. You get the picture.
    When I lost the plastic pedometer, I downloaded an app. I am now even more addicted to this thing. Which is good: it gets me on my feet. I take the stairs, when I can. When I must drive, I park in a far corner. And, although it took awhile, my average Dallas walking has risen above my old New York averages.
    Who says clergy aren’t competitive?

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    There are many long walks, long-trodden paths, pilgrimage ways. There was a young man at Saint Thomas who, fed up with his finance job in California, sold off his goods and took several weeks, walking from the snows of France in February to Santiago de Compostela. He then moved to New York, looked for a new job, and found it. I asked him, eventually, where the “camino” begins. He wisely instructed me: It begins wherever you are.
    For centuries pilgrims have walked to Santiago. Or Jerusalem. Or Rome. Or Canterbury. Or Walsingham. Christians looking, hoping, or escaping, not finding what they expected, finding what was unexpected. But why, I wonder; what is this necessity for the walk? Why a rather difficult walk, a walk that takes a large chunk out of your life (more than a vacation allows), a walk that may be expensive, may be hard, may indeed be dangerous.
    What is this inner drive to walk?
    
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    Jesus called himself, among other things, “the way.” I wonder, do I want to walk because I think I may find Jesus in the “between” places? Surely the thousands upon thousands of pilgrims on the Camino are doing that walk, not to reach the destination (and not to pile up the count of steps on their app!). I think we all have a guess, an intuition, that there is a gift for us in the walking, in the in-between, in (as dear Eliot says) the middle of the way.
    On the other hand, there is a destination for us! Jesus is the way and the destination, and for that matter the origin too. Our life begins in him, it moves in him, and it aims at him. He is one with the Father, who holds all things in being; and he is one with the Spirit, who animates our life from within. Which is to say, there is a trinitarian reality to everything about a Christian life.
    Fellow pilgrims, let us keep walking.

 

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."