Monday, May 14, 2007


Numbness as a core quality of our culture: don't know why I've been thinking about it this morning, a number of strands possibly:
- reading 'If nobody speaks of remarkable things' by Jon McGregor, a book my brother gave me for my birthday a few months back. Its beautifully written, and finds words for ordinary things which make them vibrant.

- which made me think of the film 'American Beauty', centred on a family who are materially prosperous but spiritually dead, and the attempts of the family to avoid this numbness by burying it, or fleeing into sexual fantasy. The only person in the film who might have an answer is the geeky boy next door who videoes everything, and can sit watching a film of leaves swirling in a breeze for 20 minutes because he can see the beauty in it.

- American Beauty is coupled in my mind with the film Fight Club, which also has a central male character trying to escape numbness. The man in 'Beauty' tries to do it through sex, the man in Fight Club through violence, but for both of them the central issue is the same - life is dull, void of life and energy, and the need to find something to bring ourselves to life.

- 'Bring Me To Life' is also a track by the rock band Evanescence, of which singer Amy Lee says: "One day someone said something that made my heart race for a second and I realized that for months I'd been numb, just going through the motions of life." The song made no 1 in the US, UK and lots of other countries a few years back. Some Christian bands have covered it, tweaking the lyrics so that it becomes a prayer to Jesus to 'bring me to life'.

- Which all links to the 'don't take illegal video copies of this film' thing that they showed us before Spiderman 3. There were 2 main reasons given: one that it's illegal, but secondly, and the main reason that the clip actually gave, was that it diminishes the experience of cinema. Everything is an experience - the shopping experience, the eating experience, the Scotland experience, the cinema experience, (the worship experience?). This is both the problem and the solution. We seek an experience - either the adrenaline rush of a great movie or the beauty and poetry of something small and ordinary - we seek it to break the numbness, to infuse grey life with colour. But experience itself is numbing. We get so used to living on a high that we become dulled to it. Any sense, if overexposed, becomes dulled - try whispering to a roadie from a rock band. So we pursue experience to ovecome numbness and discover, in the words of U2 that 'too much is not enough' (from their song 'Numb'), that we can't break out.

Final link in the chain, Isaiah 30: 'in returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust shall be your strength.' Isaiah contrasts the skittishness of Israel - 'we will flee on horses!' - with God's call to quietness and depth, and notes that Israels dependence on speed is actually a sign of their own vulnerability. (I note in passing that a recent study has discovered that we now walk significantly faster than we did a few years ago. Israel is not the only culture with a speed obsession.) With no depth in God, the slightest threat throws them into turmoil ('a thousand shall flee at the threat of one, at the threat of five you shall flee'). Numbness and skittishness are 2 sides of the same coin, they are both symptoms of boredom and the lack of a still centre, where we know that God is God.

So at the same time as I strive to make our worship of God as good an 'experience' as possible for those present, I also wonder whether that's part of the solution or part of the problem.

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