Posts Tagged ‘dreams’

Inception in a World of Real and Unreal

July 28, 2010 3 comments

Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception

Richard Weaver wrote, “Ideas have consequences.” GK Chesterton once said (and I paraphrase), “There is a thought that brings all thought to an end.” Christopher Nolan’sInception” is a mind-bending trip through dream world upon dream world upon dream world, exploring the consequences of ideas and the power of ideas to bring our world(s) to an end.

Many of Nolan’s film wrestle with ideas about our perception, and the struggle to discern the real from the unreal. Both Batman films (Batman Begins and the Dark Knight) immerse us into a dark world where the hero (Batman) must face an ambiguous evil that disrupts the mind and turns the world upside down. In a strange way, it reminds me of 1 and 2 Kings. In his commentary on Kings, Leithart suggests that these books may really be considered wisdom books because they tell story after story where the ruler is thrust into ambiguous settings, and is called upon to make a decision.

The prime example is Solomon. Being forced to choose between two woman who both make claim to the same baby. Solomon needs wisdom to shed light in a situation where good and evil are not clearly in the light. Nolan’s films reveal characters thrust into those same murky places that confuse the mind. His characters need wisdom to know how to choose, how to act in the middle of the mess.

Ebert sees a connection between Inception and an earlier Nolan film, Memento. I agree. The story of Memento is told by a man with short term memory loss. His blind sight is our blind sight. At times, the film is disorienting as we try to make sense the story in his world. His body is covered in tattoos. Gradually, we realize that these tattoos are his memory. It is not until the end of the movie that we understand the story we’re in.

Memento tells a story backwards through bits and pieces of narrative, fleeting images, a body marked with memory. All these questions come alive in his newest film. Inception follows a man and his wife into a confusion of reality between waking and dreaming. As the lines blur, discernment about what is real and what is not fades.

There are multiple points through “Inception” when we the viewer almost lose our bearing. We are experiencing the chaotic struggle of the characters caught up in a world that intertwines fantasy with reality. While Inception delves inward toward a Jungian subconscious dream world, it explores themes that are just as real in our waking world.

The premise of the film rests on the idea that we can enter into another person’s dreams and learn ways to extract their secrets or even suggest new ideas. This is not the simple dream combat of Dreamscape from the early 80s. This dream tinkering requires a team of professionals: an architect to build the world, a druggist to control the dream state, a forger who is a master of becoming other people in dreams, a researcher who prepares the details, and of course the action man who steals the idea or in this film attempts to plant an idea.

All this inner exploring can be confusing. At one point, the viewers of the film are submerged in four different dream worlds occurring at the same time. All these worlds have been created through ideas. All these worlds have the power to  entrap, deceive and threaten life itself. These worlds are supposed to be about the inner world of dreams, but these inner worlds are not so very different from our outer world.

In the movie, they created symbolic worlds or worlds that carried and expressed meaning, even hidden meaning within a person’s soul. Our dream worlds are filled with all sorts of fascinating images and structures and people. Memory and meaning are blended in fantasy where it is difficult to discern what really real or true. But this isn’t just our dream world. In our waking world, we face the same challenge to discern the real from the unreal.

We live in a world where ideas give birth to homes, clothes, cars and entire cities. The power of a spoken idea is the power to set worlds in motion. As Weaver and Chesterton pointed out, ideas have real power, and some ideas can lead to the end of ideas, to the end of our world.

In this film, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is trying to plant an idea in a man’s mind through his dreams. He knows this can be done because he has done it before with disastrous effects. Cobb himself is a man tormented by the power of deception and guilt to twist the waking and dreaming mind into confusion and limbo.

In this film, we see how ideas can twist our perception and our ability to know the true from the false, the real from the unreal. We see how some ideas can lead to the distrust of every idea.

In his day Chesterton realized there were ideas being planted in people’s mind that would eventually spring up and cause men to question rationality itself. In other words, he saw the danger of some ideas that would lead us into such a state of confusion, we’d be trapped in a limbo.

These ideas were not planted through dreams because the real place of influence is not through our dreams but through our ears. Speech has the power to change the world. To create the world. False speech twists the world into a confusion between the real and the unreal.

Hitler built a world on speech that twisted the real and the unreal. This speech took form in bodies, buildings, books, tanks, and war. Augustine built a world on speech in submission to Christ. The words he speaks in “Confessions” and “The City of God” still resound and still take shape in lives, cities, and societies.

As a rhetorician, Augustine understood that speech touches to heart and the mind and the body. Classical rhetoric is about learning how to speak. Quintillion said that rhetoric is the “art of a good man speaking well.” Great rhetoric integrates the mind with the emotions and moves the body to act. What is often called rhetoric in our world today is simply a shell of what once was a great art, thus it is often seen as manipulative and dishonest.

As I watched Inception, I thought about the power of speech. I thought about how wrong ideas can cloud out ability to perceive our world. Our perception can be distorted by anger, hurt, pride, and self ambition. False words can cloud our ability to see what is really real. But I also thought about the power of true speech to rebuild a world that is crumbling.

Paul writes to a people in Corinth who are being seduced by an idea that suggests the physical world is unimportant and only the spiritual is of value. He sees the danger in this idea. He proclaims true speech over false speech. He challenges the distorting power of false ideas with the true idea. He proclaims gospel (good news). He proclaims resurrection: the bodily resurrection of Christ and the bodily resurrection of His people.

In so doing, he reaffirms a real world. A real material world that really matters. His words still resound in people who need the wisdom of God to make wise decisions, speak wise words and act wisely in a world that confuses the real and unreal, the significant and the trivial, the true and the false.
Categories: Film Tags: , , ,

The Power of Vision

January 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Last week at our monthly idea night, I asked the group a simple question. “Where does vision come from?” This launched into fascinating discussion on the source of vision. So I thought I’d post some of our notes about where do we find vision? But first, I might suggest, why do we need vision.

Vision is a source of energy. When I set out to write a few words on vision, I have some picture in my wind of what I might write and where I might post it, I have some picture of the value of capturing my thoughts. These pictures are aspects of vision. Without them, why should I write? If it doesn’t mean anything and has no purpose, why really waste my time.

When I used a child, I used to imagine being a famous magician. This dream translated into practicing magic tricks, performing for the neighborhood kids and eventually earning pay for my performances. The vision of performing gave me energy to act. I performed magic all the way through college, but gradually my magic shows sudsided. But oddly the vision of performing was translated into theatrical performances, public speaking, preaching, a radio talk show and so on.

Somehow the vision tapped something deeper inside of me that has been translated in a variety of ways. Vision fuels us to the next step. The Scripture says that “without a vision the people perish” or cast off restraint. With vision, we lost our momentum to move forward. Some folks lose vision as a result of failure or loss. Their momentum can slow to a hault. We sometimes call it depression.

A young person who has not experienced many bitter disappointments, should be rich in vision. They are pure energy and are ready to give their mind and body to service. Some kind of service. Any kind of service. Their passion may find release in music, concerts, mission trips, Peace Corps, politics and so on. Over time, disappointment and failure may sap them of vision.

At some point vision changes places with memory. As people grow older, they feed on the joy of good memories. Many older people are no longer trying to make a mark in the world, they are simply enjoying the fruit of their labor. This is what makes the prophet Joel’s words so power. He says that your old men will dreams. Instead of simply looking back, they will begin looking forward with expectancy.

But what about all the visions that fail? I think that it might be possibly to analyze our old abandoned visions and learn from them. Much like a floor of deflated balloons, the old visions lie just beneath the surface of our hearts. I begin writing down every vision I could ever remember from childhood onward. I’ve begun to notice that some visions passed by the wayside, they contained aspects of of dreams and visions. In other words, one vision may have given me energy to step forward in one direction but in the action the vision morphed into something slightly different.

I see a variety connecting points in all these visions that relate to some basic drives and desires that seem essentially part of my core. This is actually helping me to clarify and consider the vision and dreams that currently drive me forward. Are these drives and longings from within? Possibly. But they may also be from without. In other words, whether we realize it or not, we may be responding to a call from beyond us: a call from the creator of our souls.

Bob Dylan – Series of Dreams

October 11, 2008 2 comments

While my wife delivers a late night training session, I sit here in the hospital lobby listening to Bob Dylan’s recent release Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol 8. After listening to most of the album, I get stuck on the song Series of Dreams.

I can’t move on but listen over and over and over. When songs like this impact me, I am always asking myself, “Why?” Not sure I can explain, but here are thoughts echoing through my head. The rhythm is relentless forcefully driving the melody forward. The lyrics and the melody are repetitive, interacting with the dramatic tension of the drums to arrest my attention–much like some of the surf songs in the mid-60s. With minor variations in the melody at the end, Dylan brings a limited resolve to the tension, but it is incomplete.

For me, this tension highlights the spoken/sung lyrics that paint a series of pictures about unresolved tension within dreams. In these dreams, “time and tempo fly” as the dreamer is left running, climbing, and witnessing troubled scenes.

“And there’s no exit in any direction, ‘cept the one you can’t see with you eyes.”

In the middle of the song, Dylan offers this one line of transcendent hope. And I am reminded that in the middle of this life of struggle and doubt and fear and pain, hope may be the one real thing penetrating the illusions that so often pervade my thoughts. Oddly enough, as I’ve been listening to this tune over and over, I’ve also been reading St. Paul’s discussion of Abraham’s hope beyond hope.

The future was hopeless. Yet Abraham persisted in trusting the promise of God’s goodness. In this hope that endures the dark nightmares of failure, the future shines out with the surprise of love.


August 28, 2008 Leave a comment

My mind wanders.

I remember it quietly wandering off during the sing-song rhythm of the speaker’s voice. And that was last Sunday. As a child, my imagination moved so easily between dreaming that my teacher’s and parent’s might say, “Come on Dougie, keep up with us.”

One day while walking with my family at a shopping center, I soon began to drift and dream. My body kept moving as my eyes followed the legs in front of me moving back and forth, back and forth. A few steps into Gimbels and I realized that I was following the wrong set of legs.

After a short panic, my parents arrived in the store and found me. They had walked into another store, but I was drifting off elsewhere and just kept following whoever was walking in front of me.

As I drifted, I was dreaming in “what ifs.” What if I could walk through that glass? What if I could climb up in the church’s rafters and fly from beam to beam? My imagination would ask a question and soon my reason was working alongside my imagination to construct whatever dreamy world I created.

The human imagination can ask all sorts of fantastic questions, and the human reason can build a logical though self-contained world from that question. Lewis Carroll asked, “What if you could walk through a mirror, and enter into another world?” Then he wrote “Through the Looking Glass” to answer that question.

Both “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are imaginative worlds that Lewis Carroll created with the richness of his imaginations and the precision of his logic. You see, these fantasy worlds were not illogical. They were perfectly logical. In fact, Lewis Carroll was not primarily a children’s author, but a logician.

He applied his logical mind to building these imaginative worlds. Each chapter in “Through the Looking Glass” is a move on a chess board. And yet, the story is not physically real.

This is both the gift and the danger of the mind. Reason working alongside imagination can answer all sorts of questions, but the answer may or may not be true. In addition to my dreamy magical worlds of walking through walls and flying in the rafters, I asked other questions like “What if I am kidnapped?” “What if there’s a ghost in the basement?” Or “What if my parents are raptured and I am left behind?”

The same imagination that brought such delight also filled me with terror. Because once my imagination set the question in motion, I began looking for clues as to why that might be true. A sound in the basement and a flash of light suddenly grows into a terrifying goblin living beneath us.

The gift of reasonable minds and active imaginations have helped us discover news worlds, land on the moon, write amazing literature, and find cures to diseases. But the same gift can also lead to terror and fear and evil worlds like terrorism and fascism and racism. Left unchecked, the mind will draw from its rich resources to churn out perfectly reasonable answers. But these reasonable answers may be wrong and even be disastrous upon my power to think

Our minds may ask questions like “What if there is no God?” “Or what if God is evil?” If I start with the idea that God is absent, a mere phantom, then my mind and imagination will work outward from the supposition to find reasonable assurance that I am right. While we all may face doubts at times, if we continually apply our skills of reason and imagination to doubt, then we will end up where we start–in doubt. The starting point of reason makes all the difference.

C.S. Lewis once suggested that a man who doesn’t believe in miracles will not be convinced of miracles because he sees one. His mind will build a case as to why he didn’t see a miracle at all. So while the mind is an amazing gift for processing, imagining and rationalizing, it fails in the initial act of discovery.

The human relationship with God is built on trusting God’s faithfulness in both the seen and the unseen. In one sense, this relationship is similar to human relationships that require trust as a fundamental starting point. Think of a husband and wife.Trust allows them freedom to rest in their shared love without the need for constant reaffirmation.

In this trusting relationship, the presence of the beloved brings a sense of peace and joy. While dramatic gestures of love may reaffirm presence, there are many steady, quiet affirmations through little actions. A shared conversation. A quiet walk.

Presence for me is often found in the gentle touching of one foot brushing up against the other’s foot during a night of sleep. This quiet assurance brings peace and a reminder that my love is there. A trust in the covenant faithfulness of my spouse allows me to rest in her presence and away from her presence. But that trust can be damaged. If the imagination begins to ask, “What if my spouse is unfaithful?” The mind can easily begin to question every action, every word.

This leads to fear of the unseen. For as soon as the spouse is not present the imagination begins reeling. Where are they headed? What are they doing? The mind requires constant reassurance of the spouse’s faithfulness. This is why we guard the trust our spouse puts in us. Once lost it so difficult to regain.

This is also why the Psalmist writes again and again and again about trusting the Lord instead trusting the arm of the flesh. As our trust grows more and more in my reason and the reasonableness of the world around me, the power of “what ifs” can begin to plague me. Like a jealous spouse, I begin discovering clues everywhere that reinforce the absence of God.

This dark hole of doubting chokes and smothers the joy of the soul. We need signs and constant reassurance that God is there. “Why can’t He just appear and take away my doubts?” But he is inviting me to trust in His covenant faithfulness—both seen and unseen.

And like a foot poking across the bed, His Word pokes across the space between heaven and earth. Again and again and again, He quietly calms my souls in the gentle intimacy of His Word. The Psalmist reminds me of how prone I am to trust in the unfaithfulness of my own mind—which can easily create fictions upon fictions.

Thus I am reminded to trust in something, someone outside myself. Ultimately, this trust is a gift. When I trust in the Word and trust in the Lord of the Word, I come to realize that I have been given a precious gift. I can use that gift to dream like a newlywed uses the gift of their new love to dream. They imagine a life together. They dream of children and home and a life of new possibilities. I can approach the Word as a dream. And wrap my open mind around the words and stories contained within.

I can learn to dream fantastic dreams like the prophet Ezekiel. This strange man ended up in exile in Babylon. Everything he saw around him suggested that the God of Israel was defeated by the gods of Babylon. In the midst of a crushing empire that dominated other nations by power and oppression, Ezekiel trusts the Lord. Thus his “what ifs” wrap around the faithfulness of God.

With an imagination immersed the commandments of the Lord, the covenant of the Lord, and the promises of the Lord, He begins to dream. And in the land of exile, he dreams of returning home and rebuilding the temple. He dreams of a stream flowing from that temple that will bring healing to all nations. His dream rooted in relational trust gave energy and hope to the exiled Jews. They joined in his dreams. And eventually, his dreams led them home.

That was over 2,000 years ago. The great and mighty Babylonian gods have long faded from sight. But the dreams of Ezekiel still inspire. In his dreams, we hear the God of Israel still speaking, encouraging, and challenging us.

So I’m kinda glad my mind wanders. By God’s grace, I want to let it wander in the garden of His Word. I want to dream even more dreams and not simply dreams of flying through the rafters and walking through glass. But dreams of justice and peace and kindness and love.

By God’s grace may the stories and songs of Scripture come alive in our imagination. And may we dream the dreams of God.

Categories: faith, meditation Tags: , , , ,

Advent Dreaming

December 3, 2007 Leave a comment

Advent is a time for dreaming. A time for recovering ancient, long forgotten dreams. A time to expect, anticipate, we rejoice in the day when the wrongs will be righted, the righteous will be vindicated, the weak will be made strong, the justice of God will prevail and be revealed to all people. As we dream of a world made right by love, we might just begin to walk and live in the reality of that love in the ways we speak, act and live toward our fellow humans.

I wrote a little story about advent dreaming, but I thought it was too long to post here. If you want to read it, it’s at the following link:

Categories: Advent, meditation Tags: ,
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