Daniel J. Lay Archives

Christ Our Lord Author, Anne Rice, Quits Christianity

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Anne Rice Last Wednesday Anne Rice announced that she has left Christianity. Rice is known for her Vampire Chronicles series including Interview with the Vampire and The Queen of the Damned. In 2005 she began publishing a series of books based on the life of Christ. Christ Our Lord: Out of Egypt was published in 2005 and followed by Christ Our Lord: Road to Cana in 2008.

Via her Facebook page, Rice stated “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten…years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

Would you stay a Christian if it conflicted with your conscience? Is is possible to advance Christ’s kingdom without bearing the title Christian?

Anonymous Confessions through Art

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Post Secret.jpg

One of my favorite websites is PostSecret. The idea behind PostSecret is simple. Share a secret on a postcard. Anonymously mail it to PostSecret. Every Sunday the coordinator for this art project will share some of the postcards online.

Frank Warren, the creator of PostSecret, has published five books of postcards he’s collected.

I’m going to add a viewer’s discretion advised disclaimer. Many of these secrets include profanity and nudity.

Planet Earth, The Island of Life

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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series, Significant Films of the 2000s, of articles about the cultural significance of films that were released between 2000 and 2009.

Planet Earth Still The Planet Earth documentary series was a massive undertaking. It was developed as a television program by the BBC Natural History Unit. Technically it’s not a film. But looking at the grandeur of the production—years of planning, incredible cinematography, worldwide locations, and international marketing—thrusts the series into the realm of films. My only complaint with the series is that while the filmmakers captured astonishing footage, the narrator mentions it too frequently. “This is the first time this has ever been captured on film” is a recurring line in the scripts.

But the footage is astonishing. Forty cameramen working over five years and across two hundred locations took some of the most beautiful nature footage of the decade.

The series first aired on the BBC in 2006. In 2007, a companion film, Earth, was released in theaters. Earth Day 2009 saw a re-release of Earth as part of Disney’s nature documentary program.

The Planet Earth box set is the scope of what I’ll be considering for this article. The set includes the eleven episodes of the series along with the three additional episodes of the companion series, Planet Earth: The Future. These two documentaries cover issues of saving wildlife, conserving the wilderness, and living sustainably. The DVDs also include an episode of Planet Earth: Diaries for each episode. Each of these ten-minute featurettes show how the crew was able to capture such remarkable footage.

Each episode is fifty minutes long totaling over nine hours of runtime for the series proper not including the length of Planet Earth: The Future or the Planet Earth: Diaries. The first documentary is an overview of the diversity of Earth titled “From Pole to Pole.” The rest of the series devotes an episode to the following ecosystems:

  • Mountains
  • Fresh Water
  • Caves
  • Deserts
  • Ice Worlds
  • Great Plains
  • Jungles
  • Shallow Seas
  • Seasonal Forests
  • Ocean Deep

Life Is the Key

Planet Earth Still The keyword for this series is life. The series exposes how the creatures of this planet are in a constant state of preserving their own life. Our planet receives energy from the sun. The plants take sunlight and convert it to a stored form of energy, and from there it spreads through the food chain. Whether it’s the Bactrian camel of the Gobi Desert or the spider crab along the ocean floor, all creatures in this series work to collect food without becoming food themselves.

No species is immortal. Life everywhere works to produce offspring to ensure their species continues. The Earth is the inheritance of our offspring. Considering these goals, we as humans are not so different from the plants and animals we share the Earth with.

What an Honor

As I watch this series, I can’t help but think of what an honor it is to see the breadth of creation in my living room. Being a person who grew up with television, I’ve had images from around the world beamed into my life since before I can remember. Seeing endangered animals without leaving my home? I’ve grown to take it for granted.

Bosch But this is a relatively new convenience. A favorite painter of mine, Hieronymus Bosch, didn’t have this luxury. Bosch was born around 1550 in what is now part of the Netherlands. In his triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch painted a scene from the Garden of Eden. He depicts the garden with exotic animals including a giraffe. When you look at the giraffe, you can tell what it’s supposed to be, but it’s like Bosch was painting the animal from a description or another illustration. It’s unlikely that Bosch ever saw a giraffe.

When I think about it like that, it reminds me of how privileged I am. I can see the majesty of creation from my sofa. That is fantastic.

What We Feel

As emotional beings we remember what we feel better than what we know. In the June 2010 issue of Wired magazine, writer Erin Biba nails the problem on the head. “Scientists feel the facts should speak for themselves. They’re not wrong; they’re just not realistic.”

About two years ago I watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Honestly, the only thing I remember from that film is that Al Gore showed his data with a very fancy presentation program. But he presented lots of data, lots of charts, lots of numbers. I don’t remember any of the facts he showed. I don’t remember anything substantial about the film.

Planet Earth Still But Planet Earth appeals to my heart. I’ll forget numbers, but seeing a mother polar bear bringing her babies onto the ice for the first time? That’s something I’ll remember. Watching the cubs get their footing for the first time on an icy slope. That pulls my heartstrings. They’re cute little things! It’s much more memorable to show the things that make me feel instead of blast me with facts.

Our Place in the World

I’ve only visited a small portion of this planet. I’ve never been to a rain forest. I’ve never been to a pole. In fact, I’ve never been to the southern hemisphere. There are many places I’ve never been, but they are part of my world—part of the miraculous island of life we live on.

In the follow up to the series, Planet Earth: The Future, Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, says “Wilderness always speaks to human beings of transcendence in the widest possible sense. It says, ‘You as a human being are part of a system which is not just about your needs and your concerns. Like it or not, you’re part of something immense and very mysterious.’”

Watching this series reminds me that there are places where life is totally different than my home. I’m from Oklahoma. Here the sun rises overhead on its daily journey—starting in the east and reaching the western horizon at the close of day.

Planet Earth Still Watching “Pole to Pole,” I’m reminded that there are places in the world without daily sunsets. When the sun does rise in these polar regions, it stretches across the sky horizontally, not vertically. During the summer, it does not set. Depending on the time of year, it may not show each day at all. It’s something I’ve never experienced, but it is still part of my world.

Beauty of Creation

Planet Earth Still There is no doubt that the Earth is glorious, but it is also beautiful in its bizarreness. To me the strangest chapter in the Planet Earth series is in the “Jungles” documentary. The program focuses on the bullet ants of the rainforests. These ants occasionally become infected with the spores of a parasitic fungus called Cordyceps. This fungus will infect the brain of an ant and cause the insect to go insane. The ant will climb up to a high perch, cling to a branch with its mandible, and die there. Once the ant is dead, the fungus begins to grow out of the head of the ant. In a few weeks the fungus will release spores from this height to infect more ants to begin its lifecycle again. Through the fantastic use of time-lapse filming, we’re able to watch the fungus emerge from the ant. The actual growth can take up to three weeks. Planet Earth shows the event much more briefly.

Planet Earth in Real Definition

The footage in Planet Earth is astounding. This is some of the most compelling video I have ever seen. However, beautiful footage captured on some of the most advanced cameras in existence can’t fully deliver the beauty of nature. I enjoy being in nature. High definition can’t recreate the feeling of a breeze over my skin while I watch the sunset at the lake or the coolness of moist soil on my hands while gardening.

Animals don’t have to be exotic or endangered to be fascinating. While planting roses, I uncovered earthworms that danced wildly before tunneling back into the soil. It reminded me that under my urban landscape there is a whole ecosystem of burrowers and bacteria that I’m sharing the land with. How many days have I walked over their world without giving any thought to their existence?

While I hold that Planet Earth is one of the most important productions of the decade, I enjoy evenings with the sunset more than evenings in front of my television.

Do you know which plants and animals are native to your region? Which wildflowers are your favorites?

Daniel J. Lay lives in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He grew up in the country north of Tulsa where he spent countless hours playing in the mud and climbing trees. These days he enjoys brightly colored insects and sunsets at the lake. Leeches fascinate him too.

John the Baptist by Caravaggio

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John the Baptist by Caravaggio

The artist Caravaggio is one of my favorite painters—certainly, my favorite of the baroque movement. Caravaggio used deep darks in contrast with bright highlights. This use of lighting makes his paintings very dramatic.

I’ve only seen a painting by Caravaggio in person once. It’s one of the many images he painted of John the Baptist. It was a the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. Seeing it in person made a huge difference from seeing it in art history books and online. I remember being fascinated by the subject’s knee. I could actually see swirls of the paint—the artist’s brushstrokes. It was wonderful to see all the colors that photographs can’t reproduce. And the scale of it made an impression. The canvas is over six feet tall.

This painting is probably my favorite I’ve ever seen. I’m ready to visit again. What paintings inspire you?

Plants vs. Zombies

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Plants vs. Zombies

I don’t get into video games that often, but with a name like Plants vs. Zombies, how could I not try it?

The basic concept of the game is simple. Protect your home from hoards of the living dead. You use plants like peashooters, cherry bombs and potato mines to keep the dead out of your house.

You can download the demo of this highly addicting game, but it times out after sixty minutes of play, or play the online version here. The full version of the game is $19.95.

What was the last video game you got addicted to?

The Bible: Brick by Brick

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There are dozens of translations of the Bible available. One of my favorites is the Brick Testament. The Brick Testament is the brainchild of Brendan Powell Smith, who uses LEGOs to illustrate over 400 Biblical stories.

Lego Last Supper

The illustrations on his website have been collected and printed in a series of books.

My favorite story is heaven as described in Revelation.

Please note that Mr. Smith illustrates some of the less wholesome Biblical stories.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever built with LEGOs?

Paper Going the Way of the Bees

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Generation X Nest A friend of mine recently used Facebook to ask if the invention of the Kindle would create the same kind of revolution that occurred when the bound book replaced scrolls. For me, the biggest con of switching to a Kindle is the intangibility of the media. I want to be able to touch my books. Highlight words. Scrawl my name on the first page.

Author Douglas Coupland (JPod, Generation X) mused on the medium of paper, how it is made of pulp and compared it to the paper nests of flying insects like wasps. Read this New York Times article to learn about how the author eventually chewed his published book into a model based on nature.

Back to the question: Is the Kindle the end of paper?

The High Price of Meat

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Pot Roast Earlier this week I threw out a pot roast. My roommate cooked it weeks ago. It was growing mold in the fridge. I dumped the whole thing in the trash. Carrots, potatoes, gelatinous broth, and meat—all in the trash. It was a big chunk of beef. Maybe six or seven dollars worth.

In Genesis 1:28 God blessed Adam and Eve and then charged them with the responsibility to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” A little further down scripture reminds us that God viewed his creation and that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). We are the rulers of the earth—God’s very good creation—but are we responsible rulers?

This is not an article about vegetarianism. This is an article about the ethics of meat. My goal is not to convince you to stop eating meat. But I do want you to think about where it comes from.

Certainly I recognize that meat is a staple in the diets of many. There are still nomadic people groups in parts of the world that follow migrating herds of wildlife as their livelihood, such as the nomadic people of the Asian grasslands. Their existence depends on the procreation of wildlife. In ancient times they made talismans that illustrated wildlife copulating. The fertility of the animals guaranteed there would be food for the next season. Meat is an integral part of our diet as humans.

Fish Market But the society I live in is far removed from hunting for meat. It’s been almost twenty years since I killed and gutted fish. (Looking back, I’m surprised my dad let me do that so young.) In the past two decades, I’ve only seen the cuts of meat—never the living animal or even the carcass.

We live in a society that eats a lot of meat. Three meals a day. Seven days a week. But other than cash, what’s the cost of meat?

National Geographic’s April 2010 issue broke down how much water goes into meat:

  • For one pound of beef: 1,857 gallons
  • For one pound of pork: 756 gallons
  • For one pound of chicken: 469 gallons

And the USDA’s February 2008 Amber Waves explains how much corn goes into a pound of meat:

  • For one pound of beef: 7 pounds of corn
  • For one pound of pork: 6.5 pounds of corn
  • For one pound of chicken: 2.6 pounds of corn

These figures are important for us as meat eaters to know. The fact that chicken requires less than half as much grain as beef makes chicken the more sustainable choice.

There’s an old Regina Spektor song called “Pound of Flesh.” The song tells about a dialogue between the narrator and an emaciated man who is bed-bound. He asks the narrator to spare a pound of flesh to cover his bare bones. The narrator replies, “Take a pound, take two. What’s a pound of flesh between two friends like me and you?”

Have you ever thought of giving up a pound of flesh? It’s easy to think of meat as food, but remember that it’s from an animal that gave up pounds of flesh. A living creature died for that meat. Thinking about the muscle tissue that grows around my bones makes it hard for me to take meat for granted.

There’s an old prayer from the Choctaw Indians. “Deer, I am sorry to hurt you, but the people are hungry.”

I love this prayer, because it honors the animal. The hunters recognized that life is sacred and that the deer must make the ultimate sacrifice so that the people can live. Because American society is mostly removed from the actual killing of animals, it’s easy to take for granted their sacrifice. As humans we can take a life, but only the Divine can give the breath of life. Remember that you can never undo a death.

My mom used to tell me to clean my plate because there are hungry people all over the world. Wasting meat is manifold in its offense. Not only is it insulting to the hungry, it’s disrespectful to waste the flesh of a creature that died so we could eat.

I’m not against the practice of raising animals for meat, but I do think that there’s a tremendous responsibility that we overlook as consumers. So I’ve made changes in my life to show my respect for the creatures that die so I can eat. I reduced the amount of meat I eat. Going a day or two without meat is common for me now.

Fellowship I don’t eat meat when I’m eating a meal alone. I know this sounds silly, but I think meat should be eaten during times of fellowship. I eat it in the company of friends and family. When the prodigal son came home, the father killed the fattened calf for a celebration (Luke 15:29). I save meat for special times.

When I’ve bought meat lately, I’ve done my best to buy free-range meat. If a chicken has to die for me, I want to do my best to make sure it was treated like an animal—not like a factory product—during its life. Also, I feel better about eating the less desirable cuts of meat. Now the meat parts that go into hot dogs don’t seem so gross. I’ve even started eating cow tongue.

The documentary Food, Inc inspired me to be a more responsible food consumer. It was nominated for best documentary at the 2009 Academy Awards. The thing I really love about Food, Inc is the conclusion. After an exposé on controversy in the food industry, it empowers consumers by telling you that you vote on food industry practices at each meal. Want food producers to make more ethical decisions? Support responsible producers.

What can you do to be a responsible consumer of meat?

Credits: Pot Roast: Food & Spirits Magazine / Creative Commons, Fish: Lucas Jans / Creative Commons, Fellowship: ktylerkonk / Creative Commons

Daniel J. Lay installs museum exhibitions in Shawnee, Okla. He caught and gutted fish at age 4. He is not a vegetarian.
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