An Explanation

If you’ve found your way to this blog, one of four types of posts probably brought you here. These are, not coincidentally, the four types of posts I’m focused on writing.

The first is a movie review. Movies are the center of our popular culture, the mythology that shapes our lives. Through these stories, some of our best artists express the things they value, the things they think are true, good, beautiful, and worth meditating on. We take these stories and turn them into a language, a collection of references to make, a collection of incidents and patterns to compare our lives to, that express what we believe and who we are. Whether this is healthy is one question, but it remains the case that this is what we do.

Granted this perspective, I like to take movies apart piece by piece, to try and understand what they are saying about the world and our place in it. Because this is how I look at movies, my reviews are not going to be very useful for telling you whether or not to go see it. Instead, I hope they push you to think deeper about the movies once you have seen them, and to provoke conversations about the world those movies comment on and capture slices of.

The second kind of post that may have brought you here is something from my “History of Witchery” or “Modern Mythology” series, or posts like them. We live in an age that, at least nominally, prizes scientific objectivity above all things, and thinks of existence in purely material terms. Everything that exists is something that can be isolated, analyzed, and then manipulated. Those who perform these technical tasks are, of course, isolated, analytical, and technologically-minded individuals. That is, unless they have reverted back to some sort of primitive, savage state, enslaved by superstition and tradition and magical thinking. Our scientific world is built in contrast to an unscientific shadow.

I think this pretense that human beings are isolated, rational agents in a cosmos essentially separate from themselves gets things fundamentally wrong. We are creatures made for this world, and tangled in it, powered by emotions and beliefs about it, shaped by our interactions with others and by the habits of our lives. We don’t believe that matter is without inherent meaning. Instead, we have instinctive believe in good and evil, and in the idea that some things are better, are more worth having or experiencing, than others. We believe in the sacred. We are, whether we use the label or not, religious.

So I devote a substantial number of posts on this blog to exploring what people believe, what they value, and how these beliefs and values are lived out in the world. I explore the way we turn a supposedly neutral scientific worldview into myths we can extract meaning out of, and the place of magic beside religion and other categories throughout history, and the origin of the category of “religion” itself. These posts are, more or less, amateur essays in religious studies.

The third kind of post that may have brought you here is something I wrote about Christian theology or about living life in light of the Gospel. Whether I am exploring pop culture or historical and modern religion, I am not doing so from a neutral place. I believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the Scriptures and all they contain, and in the kingdom of God working itself out in history. I think these things matter, and if I think some insight I might have could benefit my brothers and sisters in Christ, occasionally I’ll write about it.

The fourth and last kind of post that may have brought you here is something about the history of Nacogdoches and Deep East Texas, or of country music. One thing you will discover if you spend too much time around here is that I’m skeptical of the importance of national politics on its own. I believe the best thing we can do if we want to improve our communities is simply to love where we come from and invest ourselves in it. I came from a particular place, and a particular culture. Occasionally I share that, in the hopes that others will learn to love and invest in them too.

If there’s a common thread to all of these, it’s simply this: humans are interesting and worth studying. Being human is interesting and worth studying. If this blog is devoted to anything, it’s to exploring what humans love, how they love it, and how they express it in their lives.

Finally, a word about the name of the blog. When I chose it, I chose it on a whim, without much thought as to its meaning. But over the years, I’ve chewed on it, and it’s developed a meaning on its own.

In East Texas, fog is something that rises in the morning. Driving east to west, cutting across a series of ridges and of low floodplains along wandering creeks, I often see the mist rising with the morning. It is something beautiful, something that cannot be captured or held, though it is certainly visible and tangible. It floats up from the water as the sun rises and burns it off, and so what began as a thick shroud in the lowlands becomes a wispy smoke in the hilltops.

What makes world beautiful, what fills it with mystery and magic, is as visible and as truly there as the fog, but just as slippery and untamed. It is there at the morning, at the beginning of things, when light first conquers darkness and reveals the world. It is there when the day’s adventures start, a source of life-giving moisture, older than the rain. Fog, in other words, is a symbol for me of God standing at the beginning of creation, permeating it, filling it with mystery and with meaning.

As for Pleasant Hill, that is my beginning. It is the name of a small community in the northern part of Nacogdoches county, the place where I learned what it meant to be human, what it was to love something, to believe it was valuable, and to let that shape my life.

If we are going to go in search of God’s hand in the world, of the ways he’s touched every race of mankind, it can’t only be in the stories that stand outside of us, in the places we go to visit, but where we do not live. If we’re going to search for the place where God’s hand is found, we must also look in our own lives, in our own experience. We cannot learn what it means to be human, and to be human in a world that is not our own, unless we also look for it in our own experience.

In some ways, that is all storytelling is—one person asking another, “See my experience? Now look in your own life. Is there not something about it that is the same?”

Well, that is more than long enough for a blog’s “about” page. Whether you came here for movie reviews, or amateur religious studies essays, or theological meditations, or East Texas history, I hope you leave edified, and more eager to explore the lives and values of other people.

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