One of the things one could wish about this Nooma series is that we knew more about the background music. But we may be thankful at least that we have subtitles to these films for those who are hearing impaired, so we must take what we can get. In Nooma 11 (‘Rhythm’) music comes out of the shadows and literally takes center stage, becoming the central metaphor for this particular film. It is filmed in a beautiful concert hall and centers around a rehearsal of a piece of music. This choice of metaphor is not surprising since Rob is a musician (indeed he is left handed and right brained, which this reviewer finds particular resonance with ).
The film begins, as several of them do, with certain misconceptions or limited conceptions about God. Rob relates how one person said that God helped them get a parking space one day, or another tells how they had been healed by God. As Rob rightly asks, this raises more questions than it answers about God--- like where was God when some real catastrophe killing many happened? Why did God heal this good person, but not that one? It would seem that God would have better things and bigger things to do with his time than to produce the occasional small miracle or serendipity. Rob sees this whole concept of a God who is distant and occasionally intervenes all wrong. He is struck by the fact that the Biblical writers believe God is everywhere, all the time—as the Psalmist says “where shall I flee from your spirit? If I go down into the land of the dead—lo you are even there”.
And so Rob draws analogy between the presence of God and their being a song which we all hear, sometimes hum, and if we are intentional occasionally sing on key with. Rob sees this life as an exercise of trying to get in tune with the song that is playing everywhere for everyone. He is not the first to have thought of this. John Donne in his famous poem “To God my God in my Sickness” says that when he faced death and “was about to be made God’s music” he thought beforehand how he ought to tune his instrument, so he could play well in his Majesty’s presence. We see here a strong stress on the imminence of God rather than God’s transcendence, and it is helpful. But most fundamentally we see a getting beyond the Enlightenment and Deistic image of a God who created a universe and then left it to its own devices, except for the occasional capricious and unpredictable intervention It was George Herbert, another English cleric who said that prayer itself is like a tune “we all hear and fear”. Rob would add—so is God.
I must confess to you that I was not prepared for Nooma 12—Matthew. This is the most personal of all the Nooma videos in which Rob recounts, and re-grieves the loss of someone he loved—a young man named Matthew. Here we see in living color Rob’s genuine love for his friends, and therefore the great sense of loss he still bears because of the untimely death in 2004 of a brilliant young man named Matthew, whom Rob had taken into his home in
‘Rich’ is Nooma 13, and now we have gotten to videos shot in 2005 and 2006. This video first of all makes clear that by world standards almost all Americans, at least all that have a roof over their heads, jobs, and a car are rich. Rob tells us only 8 per cent of the world owns cars. I suspect that statistic is low, but even so, you get the drift. What he is certain right about is that
We go subterranean in Nooma 14, and ride the subways with Rob. Here the subject is breath, and its connection with God. And here again we have an issue with deficient understanding of things Jewish, in this case, understanding of the Hebrew language itself. Rob wants to make a connection between the Hebrew name of God Yahweh (or Yaveh) and the Hebrew word for breath. Actually it is the Hebrew word for life (Hayah) that is normally connected to God’s name, not the word for breath. In fact, when God reveals himself to Moses and says his name is “Eyeh asher eyeh” (sometimes translated ‘I am that I am’ but probably better translated ‘I will be what I will be’ the connection is clear between ‘eyeh’ and ‘hayah’. Yahweh likely means ‘the living one’—the one who was and is, and is to come. Nevertheless, there is good stuff in this video about how we are about as unconscious of God’s presence as we are unconscious of our own breathing every few seconds--- that is until we run out of breath. Rob rightly emphasizes that we are ‘earth creatures’ (the Hebrew word for earth is adamah, and so Adam means earth creatures) into whom God has breathed the breath of life. Out dependency on God is just as real as our dependency on breathing, and we seem just as oblivious to it. Rob is looking for what can be called powerful or master metaphors and analogies to explain the nature of God and reality, and he does it in clear fashion. Once again Rob sees mundane things as talismans of deeper spiritual realities—and he is right about this.
The most recent Nooma video ‘You (number 16) has just been unveiled. It involves the creative technique of filming into, and with the illusion of filming from a mirror. Rob asks us to reflect on the fact that there are no two of us alike. Only you are you, and so God has made us like the snowflakes, each unique, beautiful, of sacred worth, each created in God’s image. One of the themes that resounds through these videos is the reassertion of a robust creation theology, and of the goodness of creation, in the face of various Gnostic dualistic and escapist tendencies in our culture. This is a healthy corrective, and helps provide us with a much more Jewish view of the world. And that creation theology is reinforced by a new creation theology that looks forward to the final form of ‘you’—the resurrected you.The Nooma videos, whether taken in slowly, or in bunches, or even in one all day marathon are remarkable in so many ways. It is no surprise all the testimonies that have come into my blog about the ministry these resources are already doing in youth groups, prisoners, Bible studies, women’s circles, praise worship and other venues as well. Let us hope the creativity does not run dry, and thoughtfulness of the chosen topics does not run out. Since there are now fifteen of these videos available, there is no rush to do more. The folks at Flannel can take their time now and continue to hold the standard of excellence high. And it would be well if we all supported their non-profit ministry, for they are doing some of the heavy lifting when it comes to lifting up Christ and a Christian lifestyle and belief system to many in our culture—especially those Rob’s age and younger.