I’m “home for the holidays” and going to church with friends. (By the way, Union’s J-term, which means for me no school in January, is sweeeeet.) This last sunday was… interesting. Apparently the pastor was stuck somewhere in the lower 48 because his plane flight was canceled and so they showed a Nooma video, specifically the one named breathe. Now other than a being constantly reminded about that crazily catchy, techno song (honestly, that song is worse than “Its a Small World After All”), I was a bit conflicted over the video and the following discussion.
Rob Bell, of Velvet Elvis fame, does these videos that are contemplative and artsy. I like that they’re short, eloquent and generally touch on an interesting topic. In short, they’re accessible and very helpful for High Schoolers with short attention spans and College students with little time. The production people know what they’re doing and doing a good enough job at it.
But I had a beef with the content of the video: it did not go far enough and because it did not go far enough, it missed the ability to really go after Christological change. The video is on breathing, the significance of breath and looking around one’s self at the daily actions of God. I do not mean to say that this is irrelevant, in fact, one must attempt to be constantly aware of their surroundings to make much difference. However, this video was on breathing and the theological theme of breathing in the Bible. Yes he covered God breathing in breath/life and yes he covered the literary connection between breath and Spirit (ruah and numa). He even went onto the name of God which he says sounds like breath – ya know, the one that isn’t pronouncable and you’re supposed to substitute Adonai (but he still tries to pronounce it anyways). But Bell left it at that: we should notice God all around us, even in our breathes we are dust and yet also created creatures by the creator God. You say, isn’t that good? Sure its good, but not good enough. How do we recognize God acting in the world around us? Bell leaves his content up to the whims of the audience.
We recognize God acting around us when we know well the story of Jesus – the one who gave up his breath (Luke 23:46). Fundamentally breathing for a Christian is about giving up our breath, not living on life support. We do not jealously guard our breath, but constantly breath our last. Bell didn’t address the glaring Christological implication and thematic connection and in so doing, I think he hamstrung his video. How do we notice God around us? By seeing others give up their breath. Where can we breathe our last for the sake of the basileia?
Still farther, to avoid someone allowing their cultural individualism to interpret “breathing their last” as praying on their own or something equivalent, a plurality of uncomfortable questions should be raised. What annoys me about the discussion questions in popular Christian works are how open ended they can be. Questions shouldn’t merely reiterate questions from the film but should drive the audience farther: “What is Christ’s sacrifice? He was marginalized, where can you sacrifice for the marginalized?” “What about sacrifice in terms of the disparity in America between wealth and poverty? Will just giving a tithe really do anything to solve the issue? Is a tithe really sacrifice? What about life style change?” “What about white privilege?”
Fundamentally I think when it comes to functioning pastorally, uncomfortability is the constant state of theological exhortation. And here I think I must confess. I did not speak up about the Christ’s breathing. I was visiting this smallish night service and I said to myself, “I’m not here to be an ass. Don’t be an ass, David. Don’t be elitist. We’re about people, not arguments.” Which raises another question, those of us who spend our lives in theology, how are to we substantively approach people? I felt I needed to be a part of their community to really speak up and picking fruitful times, not just arguing with everyone, is the name of the game, but not saying anything feels pretty crappy as well. I didn’t speak up and lost the opportunity. How does one approach this delicate kind of situation?
At least here on the blog I can raise this issue of Christ’s breathing and discussion can continue.