Red Halo: Assisi In Chains

February 25, 2017 — 4 Comments

Red Halo RL2017In his biography of St. Francis of Assisi, G.K.Chesterton refers to something he calls a ”Red Halo”. He does this twice in the book. (Link)

Each time the phrase is found in reference to Francis of Assisi. The first occurrence is when some town folk rush to put out a fire where Assisi was praying with Clare of Assisi, only to find, not a fire, but him collapsed and a Red Halo surrounding them. The second is when the younger Assisi is held captive in a dungeon after gearing up as a citizen soldier to fight in a skirmish with a warring neighbour. Evidently, their squad was captured.

‘Something very vast and universal was already present in that narrow dungeon; and such a seer might have seen in its darkness that red halo of caritas caritatum which marks one saint among saints as well as among men.’ [i]

The once-an-atheist, Chesterton wasn’t to my knowledge, and wide reading of his work, into, nor was he an advocate of mysticism. So it’s fair to say that “Red Halo’’ is for intent and purposes a metaphor used to emphasise what he sees as being a strange alien quality to Assisi; something to suggest that Assisi was grasped by something, or rather, someone not of this world.

This week’s instrumental is inspired by that phrase.

‘If a man may well doubt whether he is worthy to write a word about St. Francis, he will certainly want words better than his own to speak of the friendship of St. Francis and St.Clare. I have often remarked that the mysteries of this story are best expressed symbolically in certain silent attitudes and actions. And I know no better symbol than that found by the felicity of popular legend, which says that one night the people of Assisi thought the trees and the holy house were on fire, and rushed up to extinguish the conflagration. But they found all quiet within, where St. Francis broke bread with St. Clare at one of their rare meetings, and talked of the love of God. It would be hard to find a more imaginative image, for some sort of utterly pure and disembodied passion, than that red halo round the unconscious figures on the hill; a flame feeding on nothing and setting the very air on fire.’ [ii]

As for the creative process, my primary goal was to use a riff I had come up with on a tablet. That didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped and as a result, the tune changed into what you hear in the YouTube video. The focus of the melody is the piano. The lead guitar was down in two parts. My idea here was to use it as a filler. The bass is both guitar and keys running through an FX. I also had not intended on the harmony in the background. When I fiddled with the second lot of keys in the effects on audacity the second set turned out as it is in the recording. Slightly eerie, but intensely cool, given the subject matter. As with all things I’m doing here, I’m learning a lot each time and having fun doing it.

As with all of my music, because I am only using free mixing software at the moment, all are best heard through decent speakers or headphones. I’ve found that some headphones cut out the base and others swing the sound to mono.

Pax Christi!


Notes:

[i] Chesterton, G.K. 1923 Saint Francis of Assisi, Henderickson Classics

[ii] ibid, 1923

Music & Art are my own.

(©RL2017)

john-martin-joshua-commanding-the-sun-to-stand-still

.

.

The familial drone of mechanical applause,

.      remotely drowned out by familial abuse;

.                   leaves my captive audience speechless.

.                   Their absent encouragement now rests in

.                                      silent graves.

Black and white memories,

litter cardboard boxes; faces without names.

There is a remnant; This. Them. Us. We, the clattering sound of survivors,

.                clinging to

.                a work of God’s Grace,

The scattered number,

.                given ashes instead of land;

.                building on charity in order just to stand;

The grumble of dismissive spectators rumbles,

.                “surely there’s something?”

.                 “it can’t be all that bad?”

Then in a gutted reprisal they’re told

.               “for the little that we now have, we’re glad.
.                But those that should have, didn’t
.                those that could have, wouldn’t;
.                and as the story goes,
.                the little that was done,
.                was only done for show.”

If it wasn’t for the inner workings of God’s Grace,

.                    where we’d be now,

.                    only heaven knows.

.


(©RL2017)

Artwork: John Martin, 1816
Joshua Commanding The Sun To Stand Still‘ – (Oil on canvas.)

dmitry-ratushny-67024If you’re close enough to me and my interactions on the internet, you’d know that I regard the internet as a place for conversation, not genuine community.

Although I concede that there are select examples where this is not the case, most of social media and the “online community” involve transactional relationships.  Ideas are bought and sold through a currency of likes, shares, comments, followers or “friends”.

Click bait articles con us with various controversial headlines. We are enticed to react and feed into the hype created by its authors. We are consistently bombarded with the next ‘’shock and awe’’ post, that will snatch our attention and rile us all up. Our tears of rage or sympathy are gold in this environment; cash in the bank for those mining for them. Fake news sells.

A large part of the internet is about smart marketing. It can bolster, foster and ignite community, but it cannot be community. From promoting Trump to benefiting from the capitalist system in order to ironically undermine it for Socialism, if it’s effective, every post and every link will involve a polished sales pitch.

Anything deemed ugly, ersatz or imperfect; any article that exceeds three paragraphs and doesn’t pump out catchy ear pleasing half-truths; anything that doesn’t catch our attention, or agree with a political agenda, gets pushed to the bottom of the pile; easily overlooked and dismissed.

Social media, as it currently exists, can be nothing more than an ongoing conversation with conversation partners. It fosters community, it isn’t one.

In Koine Greek, Community or ‘plethos’ is defined as being a large number; a [physical] gathering of people [i]. In ecology, it’s considered to be: a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region, and interacting with each other.

Mirriam-Webster notes that it is a ‘a body of persons or nations; social activity – fellowship’

Where social media fails to accurately represent the physical community because it’s become what many are calling an echo chamber, it no longer facilitates community.

Where a large portion of people fail to be heard because they don’t have the means to compete; or are too scared to speak and make a contribution, social media fails to facilitate community. Social media, instead, becomes toxic to it.

To illustrate this, two weeks ago I made the decision to remove myself from an ongoing conversation. It had become clear to me that my contributions were no longer all that welcome.

Before doing so, I placed this decision before God and prayerfully took the time to consider the right response.

I wanted to make certain that my internal receptors were not just blinking because of something that “triggered” me or because I found disagreement or offense with the politics being exchanged.

To be clear, I in fact agreed with, although was, at the same time, cautious about some conclusions being drawn by those involved in most of the discussions. The overall exchange was as healthy as most communication online can be.

Our interaction was sporadic, but consistent enough to build rapport. When we did engage in conversation, it was mutually beneficial and my well-educated interlocutor reciprocated with respect.

However, over the past few months this seemed to change. It was easy enough to see that my contribution was no longer all that welcome, even if it did bring balance to the conversation.

My own posts and comments appeared to become something of an irritation. While not openly hostile, each exchange had deteriorated. I was starting to get the impression that my position on some issues embarrassed my friend in front of his intended audience.

So, I chose to graciously remove myself from the conversation. A few weeks later I received a message asking me why I had “unfriended” him on Facebook.

In a 200 word scripted response I explained my reasons. Stating that I felt as though our sporadic communications had dissolved to the point where we banging our heads against each other; frustrating one another.

Opening up the opportunity for my “friend” to correct me, I took a humble approach and apologised if I had misinterpreted the tone of our exchanges.  Instead, his response confirmed that my chosen course of action was the right one.

He largely ignored what I’d written, then proceeded to try to get to me to confirm that my decision was as an attack on his politics. All based on the assumption that I’d “unfriended” him because he was not ‘’conservative’’ enough. Something I denied and continue to do so.

Paul, to the Galatian Church, in his famous pericope on what it means to ‘live in freedom under the grace of Jesus Christ’ [ii], wrote:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” [iii]

Adhering to this will sometimes include removing ourselves from the conversation for the sake of peace, and peace of mind.

It certainly includes redefining abusive relationships through the implementation of boundaries, which also applies to the internet, synthetic community and especially, social media.


Notes:

[i] Goodrick, E & Kohlenberger III J. 1990 NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Zondervan

[ii] Romans 6, English Standard Version

[ii] Galatians 5, English Standard Version

Photo credit, Dmitry Ratushny

christless-christianityChristless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church outlines what its author, Michael Horton, believes to be a fundamental shift in American Christianity.

Pinpointing cause, consequence and remedy, Horton tackles both Pelagian and Gnostic tendencies within American Christianity and culture. For Horton, America is pulling away from Christocentricity in its social activism and its proclamation of The Gospel.

In its place is what American sociologist, Christian Smith identifies as, ‘Moral Therapeutic Deism’. The basic message of which ‘is that God is nice and we are nice, so we should all be nice.’ (p.42).

Christless Christianity is a critique of both liberal Protestant, emerging and Conservative (American Evangelical) Christianity. (Think of the latter as the body corporate and the former two as the body collective.) Even though the body collective still considers itself beyond institutional Christianity, both are institutional and both have a hand in promoting ‘moral therapeutic deism’.

In Horton’s view, both corporate and collective have downgraded the Christian faith and what it means to be Christian. His criticism begins with a lengthy discourse on Joel Osteen, which then takes on the ‘therapeutic narcissism’ (p.72) of “God is a genie” consumerism (p.68), the “seeker sensitive” mega church phenomenon and the “personal Jesus” of American Evangelicalism. His second criticism flows into a less aggressive admonishment of liberal Protestants, Brian McLaren and the emerging church.

‘‘For many Americans reared on the “Christian America’’ hype of the religious right, “emerging church” movements may seem like a major shift, but [it’s just a change in Parties]’ (p.116) For all of the Emergent Church movement’s incisive critiques of the megachurch model, the emphasis still falls on measuring the level of our zeal and activity rather than on immersing people in the greatest story ever told’ (p.119)

According to Horton, the body corporate is guilty of replacing the proclamation of the Good News with just good advice. Positive psychology is king.Consequently, the understanding of what it means to follow Christ is diminished into slogans and ‘works-righteousness’ (p.123). It has taken the place of good exegesis, deed (sacrament) and the correct teaching of The Word (preaching).

Whereas the body collective, in its rejection of both Pentecostal and American Evangelical consumerist institutionalism, progressive “Christian” (liberal protestant) and Emerging churches, aren’t free of guilt. In many ways they’ve replaced Jesus as the Gospel with the social gospel. Theology is surrendered into the service of an ideology.

 ‘In many ways mirroring the Religious Right’s confusion of Christ’s kingdom of grace with his coming kingdom in glory and the latter with a political agenda already defined by a political party, the Religious Left seems just as prone to enlist Jesus as a mascot for programs of national and global redemption.’ (p.114)

As Horton states,

 ‘Loving and serving our neighbour is the law, it’s not the Gospel (p.123) […]‘There exists today a false distinction between law and love, whereas the biblical distinction is between law and grace – the law tells us what God expects of us; the Gospel tells us what God has done for us (p.125).’

In today’s terms, this is equal to the theological statement, “God is love” being replaced with the term “love is love”; Good, grace, holiness and righteousness are interchangeably used with niceness and tolerance. “Love is all you need” and being nice become seen as the prerequisites that an individual can use to buy into God’s good graces. Jesus as free gift and His embodiment as ‘grace in the flesh’[ii] is ejected.

 “Just love God and people” is not the Gospel; it is precisely that holy demand of the law that we have grievously failed to keep. Our love toward God and neighbour is the essence of the law; God’s love toward us in Jesus Christ is the essence of the Gospel; 1 Jn.4:10’ (p.136)

Horton’s description of the basic message of Moral Therapeutic Deism, shares similarities with late feminist and political scientist, Jean Bethke Elshtain who in her book of the same year, ‘War On Terror (Just War Theory)’ warned of the dangers attached to reducing the depth of Christianity to an “ethic of universal niceness” (source). From which we don’t see Christian doctrine, but instead a Machiavellian politick, where appearances become more important than substance.

‘’Seeker friendly” filters tune out that which is deemed non-offensive and tune into whatever wins popular applause. As a result, the Gospel and the mission of the Church are obscured. The uniqueness of Christ is undermined. The Christological centricity, along with the centripetal and centrifugal nature of Christianity-as-mission is then effectively negated.

‘To the extent that churches in America today feel compelled to accommodate their message and methods to these dominant forms of spirituality they lend credence to the thesis that Christianity is not news based on historical events just another form of therapy’ (p.180)

Horton labels this as the takeover of Christian doctrine by self-salvation, Pelagians and special inner revelation; self-deification, Gnostics. Christians are encouraged to ‘feed themselves’; to rest their faith in an inner ‘voice (p.59); to buy into any spiritual’ (p.179) experience where they can attain ‘self-salvation’ (p.42).

The act of grateful obedience, in response to the Divine judgement and mercy that delivers humanity from sin in Jesus Christ is jettisoned.

In sum, ‘Christless Christianity‘ takes a stand against corruption. In doing this, Horton pushes back against Pelagian and Gnostic influenced trends that see Jesus as the Gospel, replaced with the social gospel, and  the ‘preaching the Gospel replaced with preaching just good advice’ (p.202).

Horton makes no apologies for charging straight into the behemoth of Christian compromise for corporate or collective benefit. It is no secret that the left and right divide permeates the church as much as is does the state. In his critique, Horton calls out both, arguing that they are as guilty as each other in preaching an alternative Gospel. The only remedy for which is resistance and reformation.

Horton’s critique is relevant. It’s sharp and appropriate. Christ cannot be divorced from Himself, nor can He be separated from those He represents:

‘…being grafted in Christ, we are delivered from this miserable thraldom; not that we immediately cease entirely to sin, but that we become at last victorious in the contest.’ [iii]

Come the second reformation.


Notes:

[i] Horton, M. 2008 Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Baker Books Baker Book Publishing

[ii] Attributed to John Webster

[iii] Calvin, J. Commentary On Romans (Romans 6)

Disclaimer: I purchased the book and received no payment of any kind for offering this review.

More reflective/easy listening than I’m normally posting. The bass is slightly sloppy in some parts, but I’m happy with how that turned out. I did add drums to this, but I wasn’t 100% happy with the timing of the sequences.

So, I’ve stuck with the the ”no drums” version. If you think the title is odd; as in it doesn’t fit, I’d have to say I don’t fully disagree with you. Its the title of a poem in the works, hence the tag, instrumental edition, in parenthesis.

I figured the title reflected the artwork, plus the idea of flight was something that seems to fit the tune.

the-light-of-halos-in-flight

I was going to use “Trans Cendent Airlines”, but I doubled back because it’s ambiguous and I wanted something closer to the heart that put this tune together.

Enjoy your flight. 😛

Sola Deo Gloria.

 


Thanks for listening…

lnfhktqpyqs-allef-vinicius

.

Quiet thunder shifted from within the gloom

His hands, like blackened skies, slowly eased open,

Salt water is a bitter sweet rain,

.      but tears erode sighs,

.            and if he’s honest, he’ll tell you, that they sometimes still do.

This, the scarred out pouring,

.            and its solemn reminder

.            of a mended heart once utterly ripped in two.

.

He was the insignificant

The worm

A failed participant

Whose cord was tied round his neck in the womb

Born the cold colour match for the umbilical blue

Deemed an untalented fool

Beaten with words,

.          left to find value in friendless schools

The one aimless wonder

The abandoned son of a broken father

The amusement of pointless punters

Just another pawn in the clanging mix of a jester’s set of tools.

.

Words fail wherever pain grips the heart

Memories collide.

Though there’s little danger of flammable sparks.

For when Christ’s forgiveness crashes into the past,

the soldier is backed by his Captain;

who is Himself scarred;

is He Himself proven more than fit for the task.

.


(©RL2017)

Photo credit: Unsplash.com Allef Vinicius

cornelius

.

In the burning absence of intellectual sobriety,

.  this long burnt out intoxicating muse,

.  shows its weathered facade.

Tangled around triangular tears,

.  each drop speaks of

.           silent content marked for days to come.

Colour infused line follows line.

These textured engravings

.            warm each page

Worn edges tell tales of where hands once rested,

.                                  where heart, mind and soul found themselves arrested.

Whispering vapours voiced by a monologue,

.    slip between quill, wick and wall.

This dated matter sends hearts bowed soaring.

The sign of a thankful warrior kneeling before his calling.

Simul justus et peccator.[i]

.

Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life[ii]

.


[i] Martin Luther: “…at the same time, justified and sinner.”

[ii] Acts 11:18, ESV

(©RL2017)

Artwork:’Cornelius’ 1664, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (Acts 10)

.

belshazzer_s-feast-john-martin

.

Swinging suggestions at good intentions

.                        Each word, nay, letter and syllable is condemned with graffiti.

The accuser sits with pen in hand, swiping red ink at words,

.                           like a monster thrashing about for air.

 .                        Each word written off, the accuser sniggers,

.                              “This one won’t be getting my “like”, my ‘’comment” or “share”.

Always finger-pointing disagreement, this poor soul’s

.                         words are like the finger painting of an intemperate infant.

Ignorant that the tone of his criticism is villainous,

This man of “higher significance”;

This accuser to whom no one compares,

His selectivity is a nuisance that

.                           descends like a blanket of ash

It covers everything in nothingness

Yet appears to be of substance,

Only to tar and feather the audience

Who’ve unknowingly fallen into his snare

.                                 “Follow friend, we’ll talk well, you’ll see”

But by “talk” he means ‘’the only words you’ll hear are from me”,

There isn’t room for the thoughtful, only the thoughtless;

The latter follow blindly

Comfortable conformers cashing in on hate’s current popularity.

The metaphorical divide,

.                    pushed into existence by political design

The enemy creates an enemy.

This accuser is at war, asserting his self-styled gnosis

He fights off resistance with slander, smear and profanity.

Yet, this arrogance which force feeds stagnating correctness,

can’t keep mouths paralyzed,

or hearts and minds chained to the worship of the idolized.

For with human hand

Opposite lampstand,

The writing’s on the wall.


‘And the King saw the hand as it wrote.’

– (Daniel 5:5, ESV)

(©RL2017)

Artwork: John Martin, 1854 ‘Belshazzer’s Feast’

phantasmagoriaI apologize for my tardiness this month. I have plenty to talk about, just not a whole lot of time at the moment to put it into the kind of well referenced and presented article that is worthy of you, the reader.

I have however, sat down for the first time in over a month and put together a new song.

Phantasmagoria (We Are the Six O’clock News) is a piece inspired by Larry Norman’s 1972 song ‘Six O’clock News’ off of his album of the same year, ‘Only Visiting This Planet’.

My first goal was to set up a gritty 70’s lead guitar. Then fix the timing of the bass. Something I ended up completely replaying at a slower tempo. I then layered that with keys, and landed with a more modern, rugged and complete sound.

The lack of lyrics and vocals is what probably let’s this down, but I wasn’t trying to create a cover song. I was seeking to create something completely new and ended up here.

I’ve also tried to follow the protest theme by adding a copy of one of my favourite Banksy artworks. (I’m fairly certain that this is public domain, if not, contact me and I’ll happily remove it.)

Norman’s own protest, hits out at how bloodthirsty photo journalism can become, when on the Left it’s used to control a narrative in the service of activism, and on the Right, as a cash cow.

Given that the Vietnam War was the first conflict of its type to bring the war into the homes of ordinary Americans, Australians and New Zealanders, all of whom had supported the South Vietnamese in their struggle against the aggression of the Communist North, journalists and activists, both became and benefited from being, part of the “military industrial complex” in some way shape or form.

While I acknowledge the Randian greed of those on the right during this time in a shared history between Australia and America, it’s just as important to highlight the sins of the Left. When it came to veterans, team ‘’inclusion’’ and “tolerance” went AWOL, spat on, ridiculed, shamed and mistreated them.They were more than happy to use veterans as poster boys, but post-war? Nada. Move on, nothing now of use to us here.

It’s this critique that confronts us today. Neither side can truly save us. All have fallen short of the glory of God and in answer to such, there is no other savior and eternal just judge, for we have but one and His name is Jesus Christ.

‘And what a name for a Judge! The Savior-anointed – Jesus Christ: he is to be the judge of all humanity. Our Redeemer will be the Umpire of our destiny.’
(Charles Spurgeon, Commentary on Romans 2)

Beware the auctioneers.

1st-feb-2017-041In searching for a great way two kick-start our lessons for the second day of the new school year, I chose to adapt an activity I found on Apologia’s Instagram feed.

The objective was to draw a bird house and then write a brief blurb about it, as if you were trying to sell it.The idea wasn’t too hard to replicate.

Instead of it just being about science, I figured we could expand the activities usefulness to include commerce, creative writing and some music appreciation in the background for good measure.

So, I created my own template and as we do from time to time, we put on some old vinyl records and hit the drawing board.

The new objective still included coming up with, and drawing their own nest. The difference, though, was that it could be any kind of nest related to the ant, beaver, crocodile or bird.

After the nests were drawn, the goal was to write a description under the separate headings of features and benefits.

What we ended up with was a

Secret Ant Base” that looked like an ant and “came with 6 rooms, 1 room fit for a Queen, bomb shelter, nukes, rockets, and boats with all the accessories. [Benefits include] active security system and privacy.”

Second on the list was a

Lovely House For Beavers”, featuring ‘’lots of room, lovely interior, with storage room for lots of food. [Benefits included] It’s safe, can be hot or cold, has an [underwater] escape hatch and comes with furniture”

Third on our list we saw a for sale sign put up on Beaver’s House from Narnia,

“Situated on a frozen lake, this lovely home has two beds built into the wall, windows with amazing views of the forest and water surrounding it.[Benefits include] having good neighbours who could be relied upon for help if ever needed”

Fourth on the list we had an

Awesome Mansion For Birds”, featuring bedrooms, dining hall, attic, satellite radar dish, a boat that goes under water, guns and a scanner. [Benefits include] safety, security and peace of mind.”

Last on the list was a

Ant Colony Housing”, which features two entry ways, storerooms, two large worker sleeping quarters, and one egg chamber. [Benefits include] being situated under a massive food and water source, with connecting tunnels.”

To finish the project off, each one of our homeschoolers wrote a summary consisting of two sentences or more, about why they think this would be a great product to buy.

The primary key learning area covered, for us here in Australia, is called HSIE (Human, Society and its Environment) – this is part of the government recognised standard called the Australian Curriculum – which includes history, social studies, indigenous Australian studies and commerce.

Whilst we have freedom to choose our syllabus from infants to primary, to Junior High School, the curriculum must include the key learning areas set by the government, and we must prove that we’ve adequately met them.

This turned out to be an exciting lesson in marketing a product; learning why great product knowledge is the key to building loyal customers and making a successful sale.

Secondary key learning areas that benefited from this small project included science and creative arts.

If you’re keen to give this activity a go, I’ve added my adapted template as a downloadable PDF in the bottom of this post. Feel free to adjust it, copy it, borrow or make it your own.


PDF Link: For Sale: Build and Sell

Broken Love

January 30, 2017 — 2 Comments

rembrandt

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As a father he didn’t hate you,
.             he was kept from seeing you.

Pushed so far away that any attempt,
.             and its awkwardness,
was considered tyranny.

His name became like mud, ‘
.   though his only crime was acting on his insecurities;
.   left alone to filter his own anxieties.

He never wanted to leave you,
.                         tried his best to keep you,
 .             but fell on his knees because of his own weaknesses.

His past was never even,
.     because of that he struggled to be someone you could believe in.

That made knowing him difficult,
.     and boundaries hard to fault.

He failed to write, to speak, even sigh with you
.    because for most of his life,
.                                  his father had failed him too.

He hardly knew his mother,
.    became an outlaw in his late teens.
.    spoke little of either,
.              and kept his grief even closer.

He wasn’t perfect, masked his tears with pride,
.     and the evidence is still not far from our eyes,
.           that he let his brokenness break others,
yet, his torn behaviour never watered-down his broken love for you.


(©RL2017)

Artwork: Rembrandt, 1665, ‘Prodigal Son

Review: Captain Fantastic

January 20, 2017 — 3 Comments

captain_fantastic_posterThe plot of Viggo Mortensen’s latest film, Captain Fantastic, revolves around the character development of off-the-grid homeschoolers. It is a film full of extremes and contradictions.

Mortensen’s character, Ben Cash, along with his wife, Leslie, live in a well established forest dwelling with six of their kids of varying ages. It takes about ten minutes, but the audience soon finds out that Ben’s wife is absent. Leslie suffers from severe depression and has been away receiving treatment for it.

The opening scene shows the eldest son covered in mud, jumping out of the foliage to catch a deer. The scene then shows him slicing its throat. This is quickly followed by an informal introduction to the Cash family, as each child emerges from behind trees and shrubs. It’s soon established that this hunt was part of a rite of passage. Having successfully completed the hunt, Cash “christens” his eldest son a man.

Cash runs a regimented homeschool routine. Each child participates in the equivalent of rigorous military grade “training’’. In one scene Cash is shown abseiling a steep cliff with all six kids in tow. When one of the older boys slips and slams his right hand against the rock wall, Cash forces him to keep climbing. Once at the top all children are shown shivering and exhausted.

Though Cash is himself well-educated and fair, his homeschooling technique and lifestyle combine to create a unique homeschool situation.

When Cash receives news that his wife has committed suicide, Cash, due to threats from his father-in-law, decides not to attend her funeral. It isn’t until his kids remind him of what they stand for as a family; of what he has taught them, that Cash decides to “stick-it-to-the-man.”

This triggers a road trip that reveals the conflicted attitudes wider society has towards homeschooling. Despite Cash’s eldest son gaining entry into every top Ivy League university in the United States, his sister challenges the benefits of home education, particularly when you don’t really have a house to call a home. His father-in-law, though a loving grandfather, struggles to hide his deep contempt for Cash’s homeschooling, which is only complicated further by grief over the death of his daughter.

Through encounters on the road trip, the family discovers social gaps in their learning. This leads to a deep introspective reflection by Cash on how much their decisions might have contributed to his wife’s depression and ultimate end. Cash is slowly awakened to the fact that his and his wife’s extreme lifestyle, and the homeschooling that accompanied it, while successful, isn’t as perfect as he had come to believe.

Captain Fantastic doesn’t hide its ideological influences or its contradictions. In one scene, after visiting a bank, we witness the family discussing their rule that, ‘’we don’t fun make of anyone. Not even fat people, only Christians’’.

In another scene, we’re shown Cash receiving money for homemade products that he had been sold on consignment at a local store. Yet, in another we’re shown Cash ridiculing capitalism to his kids. There is an inescapable irony when a man with the last name Cash, decries the evils of capitalism, having himself just benefited from capitalism.

This is only heightened by further extremes. Cash fakes a heart attack in a supermarket to distract staff so his children can carry out, what was called “operation free-the-food”. Then at a nearby park, Cash rewards the kids and dedicates the spoils to his leftist idol, and modern liberal, Noam Chomsky. Something Cash later justifies, when his father-in-law calls him out on it, as ‘’training’’.

For me, the contradictions and intenseness of the story make it profound, not loveable. There is a pretentiousness that permeates the selective tolerance encountered from certain groups and individuals in Western society. The point being that Cash, while pointing to the extremism he claims to see in others, fails to see his own.

One area where this is highlighted is in how well-read the children are. Yet, there is no real mention of them ever having engaged the Bible let alone picked up, or had their father assign to them a book on 2000 plus years of Judeo-Christian theology.

There is also the unchallenged promotion of Buddhism as being a superior “philosophy” because it “is not an organised religion” (Quote/unquote).

We’re expected to feel sorry for Cash and applaud him, as he and his kids burst into the colourless Catholic Church service in brightly coloured clothes. Then we’re encouraged to empathise with Cash as he interrupts the service. In protest against what he sees as an injustice carried out by ‘’the-man”, he reads his wife’s will out loud to the congregation stating that she was a Buddhist, and would not want to be farewelled under this superstitious, extremist religious ‘’oppression.’’

The audience is blinded by the dysfunction on display, long enough to keep them from sighing with those at the end of Cash’s verbal whip lashing. There is no tolerance shown to other grieving relatives, including Leslie’s parents. There is no compassion for dialogue or serving others. The closest we come to this is Leslie’s, ‘’obedient’’ mother, who is made to look aloof, as someone oppressed under the thumb of patriarchy.

The supposed Christian extremism is placed against Cash’s own extremist lifestyle; one that leads Cash and his kids to dig up their mother’s body, and then travel back to the wilderness where they cremate her and dance around the pyre performing the Guns ‘N Roses, song ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’.

While some aspects of Captain Fantastic resonate fairly with the homeschool journey, its extremes are not what homeschooling actually looks like.

Captain Fantastic portrays homeschooling in all its positive tension. Cash has taught his kids well. They’re disciplined, free thinkers who are intelligent and healthy. However, Captain Fantastic also plays into the abuse of extremes.  Its plot quietly rides the anti-socialization myth about homeschooled children and because of this there is a sense that the kids are deliberately portrayed as being socially awkward.

The context of the children’s homeschooling makes this forgivable, but in the end, it doesn’t completely cover up the subtle support this lends to anti-homeschool advocates.

Yet, Captain Fantastic isn’t as iconoclastic as it first appears to be. What is on the surface isn’t necessarily what is underneath.

Here Hollywood is displaying the dysfunction and dissonance in those who advocate an alternative society; who vomit slurs and contempt at the very society they benefit from, without really acknowledging that the same society they ridicule, also protects and allows them the freedom to ridicule it.

In this way, Captain Fantastic exemplifies G.K Chesterton’s statement,

“Christianity is the only frame for pagan freedom”. (Orthodoxy, 1901)

and Michael Horton’s view that,

‘Without a serious recognition of original sin, we can easily become passive pawns in the game of dictators and democrats alike. It is the doctrine of human perfectibility that has brought tyrants to the world stage with the worshipful applause of the masses, but the biblical teaching awakens us from our moralistic slumbers, identifying God as the only reliable object of our faith’[i]

[Disclosure: no payment or other incentives were received for writing this review]


Sources:

[i] Horton, M. 2008 Christless Christianity, Baker Books

Captain Fantastic is a Matt Ross film, 2016 Bleeker Street Productions