[Audio and presentation slides from our “family meeting” last Sunday can be found here.]
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January 29th, 2015
Because of our near-fanaticism about anything Benedict Cumberbatch plays in–whether as an eccentric investigator, a mythical reptile, or a maniacal eugenicist (are there well-adjusted ones?)–the wife and I recently took in his latest role as mathematician turned codebreaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.
The film is about the Englishman Turing’s pivotal contribution to the Allied war effort in cracking Germany’s formidable cryptographic machine known as Enigma. Were it not for Turing’s (and others‘) tenacity and brilliant insight into computational machines (arguably the precursor to our “computers”), which then facilitated an exponentially more efficient method of breaking codes, it’s more difficult to imagine how, or even whether, WWII would’ve ended as it did.
But if you’re at all familiar with the film, or Turing himself, you know the story is about more than the technological side of defeating Nazism. It takes its aim at a sensibility that coupled certain moral convictions with the reigning psychology of the day and codified them into legal ordinance. Turing was a homosexual, which was illegal in 20th century Great Britain, and for which he was convicted and given the choice of either two years imprisonment or chemical castration; Turing chose the latter. The British government ceased that practice in 1953, thus freeing Turing from the mandated protocol. A year later though, he was found dead in his laboratory, which was eventually ruled a suicide–the result of biting into a cyanide-laced apple (though no note was found, and the coroner failed to take into account the fact of Turing’s experiments using the lethal, and useful, substance). So the film represents an homage to an undeniable genius who fell victim to a misguided statute.
The film has been criticized for the embellishments it deployed in order to accentuate an impression that the real story might not have been able to. Others have found the work as an art piece too rife with cliche. The merit of those criticisms notwithstanding, of the themes and subplots of the whole film, the one that most stands out to me at least is the irrefutable glory of friendship–whether lost or found. In a world fixated on sex, gender, and identity, lost in the chaos (and to our great detriment) is the ennobling and preserving of the one kind of relationship most pervasive and essential to human flourishing (which was the overarching point we tried to make last Sunday).
We’ve mentioned him in passing before, but Aelred of Rievaulx was a 12 century monk whose short but pithy work Spiritual Friendship, represents perhaps the richest work of Christian theology on the primacy and glory of friendship. As we quoted him on the front of last week’s bulletin,
It is no small consolation in this life to have someone you can unite with you in an intimate affection and the embrace of a holy love, someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whose pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow… with whose spiritual kisses, as with remedial salves, you may draw out all the weariness of your restless anxieties. A man who can shed tears with you in your worries, be happy with you when things go well, search out with you the answers to your problems, whom with the ties of charity you can lead into the depths of your heart; . . . where the sweetness of the Spirit flows between you, where you so join yourself and cleave to him that soul mingles with soul and two become one.
Aelred articulates splendidly the splendors of friendship, neither confusing it with nor trying to validate it by eros. Though Imitation’s filmmaker had another agenda, it is that desire for friendship in his portrayal of both the younger and older Turing that is worth, I believe, the greatest sympathy. Aelred has become something of a “patron saint” for Christians who are gay and who also accept that marital covenants are reserved for those in opposite-gender relationship. They find in Aelred’s writing (and life) an attractive and compelling vision of fidelity, mutual edification, and integration of body and soul, all in the context of friendship. That’s a vision far too many married people take for granted, and far too few even aspire to. For that matter the church would do well–and must do better–to champion that interest in forming deep, transparent friendships among those called to pursue other vocations.
What’s true of all whom we love is that we begin as friends and we die as friends. How then can we neglect such a great gift, and great calling, as friendship?
Friendship yields some of the most profound joys. It also can deliver some of the deepest wounds. We well understand what Shakespeare’s Marc Antony means when he characterizes Brutus’ lethal betrayal of his friend Caesar as the “unkindest cut.” Few things astonish us or incense us like the infidelity of a friend; it elicits a unique kind of rage.
This Sunday we turn again to the Proverbs for what wisdom it has for the universal human experience of anger, whether provoked from friend or foe.
We’ve felt and perhaps wrought the terror of anger–how it can be misdirected to a target guilty only of being in too close proximity, or swollen like a hydrogen balloon until it erupts with inevitable collateral damage, or suckled on like milk when in truth it goes down like poison. Anger has its liabilities.
And yet anger is not intrinsically noxious, always and everywhere to be avoided. A world wholly without anger would be a world not worth inhabiting.
So from several texts (you can find here) in the Proverbs I think we’ll learn three things about anger.
- It has a place.
- It is naturally fraught with problems.
- But it can (and must) be purified.
What makes you angry? Why is that? How has anger served or stricken you?
See you Sunday.
What’s happening in February?
This Sunday we eat together. Click here for details on this Sunday’s Potluck Lunch during 2nd hour.
Next Sunday we pray together. Click here for details on our monthly time of corporate prayer.
And while we love every Sunday (get it?), on February 22nd we together behold the emotive tenor behind the Text. Click here for details about the Biblical Performance Troupe’s visit to CtK.
And if you’d ever like to goes on “behind the scenes” at our church’s quarterly presbytery meetings, you’re invited to attend the next stated meeting on February 6-7.
When you pray, remember to pray for
- those who are considering becoming communing members of CtK, as we conduct elder interviews in the coming weeks
- the several needs we mentioned in the course of our discussion of a new venue search
- for wisdom into the anger we experience–or fail to experience