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The Circle Shows the Need for Genuine Community

Screenshot from Official Trailer
Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

I recently read Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel The Circle, which was released a couple of weeks ago as a film starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. The story follows 24-year-old graduate Mae Holland who leaves her boring hometown job to get a customer relations position at  the world’s most powerful social media corporation, the Circle, a combination of Google, Facebook, PayPal, Twitter, Amazon, Apple and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Mae quickly rises through the ranks and things seem wonderful at first, but as the story progresses, Mae’s story takes on a darker tone, allowing Eggers’ tale to confront questions raised by the growth of social media regarding issues such as transparency, the right to privacy, and democracy. Described as this generation’s 1984, Eggers presents a chilling Orwellian view of the possible effects of rampant technology.

One of the ideas I found most interesting in Eggers’ novel is the poor substitute for genuine community that the online world provides, and the insecurity that can result. Connecting mainly by online means, one can detect a real insecurity among the Circle’s members.

A hypersensitive colleague is offended when Mae doesn’t reply to his invitation to come to a brunch he puts on; the situation gets so bad that it requires mediation involving Mae’s supervisor. On another occasion, a friend sends increasingly hostile and paranoid emails, aggrieved that Mae hasn’t replied immediately; they saw each other only 20 minutes ago. Others are offended that she hasn’t taken an interest in their online clubs or posts, or responded immediately to their requests. When a public survey finds that 97 percent of the Circle campus agree that Mae is awesome, she fixates on the three percent who responded with a “frown”. “Likes” and “Smiles” become the dopamine-producing hit that bolsters fragile self-esteem in this digital world that passes for true human communication. As Mae’s ex-boyfriend states, “There’s a new neediness—it pervades everything”.

Mae finds that she acquires a new skill in this brave new technological world: “the ability to look, to the outside world, utterly serene and even cheerful, while in her skull, all was chaos” (p. 322). This desire to appear better than we actually are reflects a lack of true connection and a deep insecurity.

Steven Furtick, the pastor of Elevation Church in North Carolina, says, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” Author Simon Sinek says that growing up in a Facebook-Instagram world has made millennials (people born since 1984) “good at showing that life is a-maz-ing even though I’m depressed.” Sinek’s concern is that these young people lack deep meaningful relationships, and when deep stress arises, they turn not to a person, but to a device, to social media.

The pressure to appear “amazing” while we interact with the profiles of others who are also “amazing” takes a toll. A 2016 University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine survey of 1,787 U.S. millennials found that those who used social media frequently had 2.7 times more likelihood of depression than those who used it less regularly. Sadly, it can become hard to be honest about ourselves in such a forum. As one pastor notes about social interaction on Facebook: “Am I interacting with their vulnerable and far more beautiful real self, or their ideal self?”

As Christian psychologist David Benner puts it, revealing my true self means seeking to turn up as who I am in reality and who I am becoming as I seek after God. In contrast, our false self is a type of playacting, pretending, knowingly or unknowingly, to be someone we’re not. It’s a self we craft, package, and present to the world in the hope that it will earn us love based on what we do, what we have, and what others think of us.

We were created for community. As American pastor and missionary Howard Snyder puts it, community in the New Testament sense of koinonia “assumes and requires face-to-face communication” whether in the ancient world or in the age of the Internet. The “one another” life of the New Testament calls us into loving community: accept one another (Rom 15:7), submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21), bear with each other and forgive one another (Col 3:13), encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thes 5:11)

There is no app for deep relationships. Such relationships take time and can be awkward, fun, infuriating, fulfilling, and lasting. It is in such relations that we can know love and experience joy as we are accepted and loved by those who know us as we truly are. As we learn to live honestly before God and one another, knowing ourselves as loved and accepted, we can increasingly step out free to be who God created us to be. As we enjoy technology and all it has to offer, let’s continue to engage in the New Testament “one another” life.

Logan-Theres-no-living-with-killing

Logan: There’s no living with killing

Photo taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

Logan is a far cry from the other superhero actioners in the X-Men franchise. Unlike 2000’s original X-Men, rated PG-13 in the US, where the blood-letting was kept to a minimum, this final R-16 instalment is a far darker and more brutal film, gut-wrenching in its visceral violence and profanity.

(Spoiler alert) It is 2029, and the mutant gene has been eradicated. Wolverine is drinking heavily and clearly sickly, working to support an ailing Charles Xavier (Professor X). A woman approaches Logan and asks for his help. Big, nasty corporation Transigen have cloned mutants to be super soldiers, but these mutant kids have escaped. Long story short, Logan ends up reluctant protector to a young girl named Laura, cloned from his DNA. He sets off on the road with Laura and Professor X with heavily armed bad guys in pursuit.

Following in the footsteps of violent anti-violence films like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1994), this is no cartoonish portrayal of violence without consequence: innocent people suffer, and those who deal in violence bear the consequences.

Logan draws on the classic 1953 western Shane (watched by Professor X and Laura in the hotel, and quoted by Laura over Logan’s grave). In Shane, a gunslinger tries to live a peaceful life, but in the end has to don his guns once again to protect the peaceful folk against the bullies. In the film’s finale, he says to the young farmer’s son who idolizes him: “There’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back from it. Right or wrong, it’s a brand, a brand that sticks.” For Logan director James Mangold, the film reflects the philosophy of Shane’s final words, in that Shane/Logan can never have a life, because they have taken life.

In one particular scene, where Laura explains that she has nightmares in which people hurt her, Logan says of his nightmares, “Mine are different. I hurt people.” Laura admits that she has hurt others, but they were bad people. Logan retorts, “All the same . . . ” His hanging, unfinished reply speaks volumes. The justification that “they deserve it” doesn’t mean much for Logan. It’s still killing, and it leaves its mark on the soul, a “brand that sticks”.

In the end, Logan chooses to care and sacrifices himself to save Laura and her friends. With his final words he says to Laura, “Don’t be what they made you.” Laura has the ability to make choices; she doesn’t need to be a feral killing machine.

Jesus taught, “Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matt 5:39). American Baptist minister and leader in the civil rights movement Martin Luther King said, “Violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.” As American priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor points out, the main purpose of turning the other cheek is “to disarm the violence in us”. In following Christ’s example, rather than taking life, we seek to lay down our lives for others in loving service.

Logan also highlights the importance of hope and forgiveness. The film hints that Xavier’s dementia led to a telepathic seizure that caused the death of a number of mutants in the past. One night while on the run, Xavier, Laura and Logan spend the evening with a family. That night, lying in bed, Professor X says, “This was, without a doubt, the most perfect night I’ve had in a long time.” Then, remembering the tragedy he caused, he says, “I don’t deserve it, do I?”

Xavier’s words reveal his deep sense of shame and regret, and his need for something this world cannot offer. Alongside Logan’s guilt and struggle to connect, it shows these previously heroic figures to be all too flawed and human.

This is a wonderful thing about the gospel: we don’t deserve it. We don’t earn God’s love and forgiveness by working hard or being good, but rather, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . . not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8a-9). Philip Yancey describes grace in in the following way:

Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more . . . And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less . . . Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.

This human longing for forgiveness and peace is universal, and as one reviewer writes, Logan is a parable of “the hope that can be found in what we do not deserve.” We are loved and accepted. No matter what path we have walked, no matter what darkness we have encountered, grace and love, forgiveness and hope are available to us because of what God has done through Jesus Christ.