Friday, April 18, 2014

The Passion and the Power (Mark 10:32-45)

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

With Jesus’ third passion prediction, we get another teaching opportunity. This time around, the prediction is noteworthy because it is highly detailed; Jesus knows what is coming and not simply in generalities. However, it is also interesting to see that this time it inspires fear and astonishment in His hearers and not simply confusion.

Whatever they think of these increasingly detailed predictions of Jesus’ death, the disciples are still gearing up for their positions in the new order of things. James and John attract particular anger from the others by asking for the two most influential and powerful positions in the new kingdom. Jesus sees this dangerous attitude as an opportunity to teach.

In the Kingdom of God, leadership is not about power. Jesus phrases His teaching in a way that could be read a couple of ways. When He says that those who desire “greatness” will be servants and even slaves, it could be stretched to read so that the desire for power will lead to a low position. However, what is really being taught here is that Kingdom leadership is something wholly other that worldly leadership. In the kingdom leadership is all about serving others. It is not at all about power, as power resides solely with God.

This is something with which Christian institutions struggle all the time. Ambition in the church and Christian organizations is a hard thing to gauge at times. We all fall victim to our worldly, cultural perspectives. What is usually clear to those who will see it is the fact that ambition to lead is something to be viewed skeptically. The best leaders are those who prove their worth when leadership is thrust upon them. They don’t pursue power but rather the opportunity to help others fulfill their potential, to succeed.

Unfortunately, we tend to persist in our understanding of leadership as power.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Cutural Conversation

I have yet to make it out to see “Noah.” It isn’t for lack of trying, however. I have been planning to see it with someone for 3 weeks now and we just can’t make our calendars match up. Some people I know think I have no business watching a movie like that, but for the life of me I can’t see why it isn’t actually my responsibility to go see it.

My highest purpose in life is to talk about God and make Him known. In a culture where God is not a popular topic of conversation—and faith in Him is even a taboo topic—I take any opportunity I can to jump into ongoing conversations involving anything remotely relating to the idea. So, if Hollywood makes a film adaptation of a Bible story or tell a story involving spirituality or faith, however poorly, I am going to talk about it.

And, while I’m at it, my slant is not going to be primarily about how bad the film was or how evil their take on it may be. The only people interested in that conversation are the haters and the self-appointed culture police. They think they already know all there is to know about God and I have no need nor interest engaging in that debate. I will seek out the curious, the interested people who—thanks to some secular film or book or TV show—are beginning to ask themselves questions they have never considered before.

Some would even go so far as to say it is a sin to support such filmmakers financially. To them I would say my individual ticket fee is not going to make much of a difference to a filmmaker, and any organized effort by any mass of people to have a greater impact through some boycott only increases curiosity—and profit—for such “entertainment.” And don’t the same people who criticize financially supporting such evils as movies tend to throw their money at companies or organizations that profit from gluttony, gossip, oppressing the poor, or other evils?

Truth be told, this is not an issue of entertainment. Most of the time these high drama or epic action movies tend to be unentertaining. They are either too preachy or too loosely adapted, or simply take themselves too seriously. But the point of seeing them is not a diversion. It is a part of a large, global cultural conversation and it is our responsibility as light in the world to take part.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Marvel Cinematic Universe So Far

In a mere eight years, the Marvel Comic Company has taken the characters and properties that they still own the movie rights to and produced something unlike anything cinema has ever seen. They didn’t just create another franchise. The intertwined a series of franchises into one cinematic world with no end in sight. Eight years and ten films, if one counts the instalment coming later this year “The Guardians of the Galaxy.” That film promises to blow the Marvel Cinematic Universe up into whole new levels of awesome, expanding things beyond superheroes into space opera. Hopefully they will pull it off.

Meanwhile, here is a personal ranking of the films they have released so far:

1. “The Avengers” (2012) Joss Whedon

The team-up film that no one thought they could pull off, and that every comic fan has always wanted to see.

2. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) The Russo Brothers

Great action AND it is also about something.

3. “Ironman” (2008) John Favreau

The film that made all of this possible, renewed Downey’s career, and made general audiences aware of a Marvel hero that wasn’t Spiderman or an X Man.

4. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) Joe Johnston

The period piece of the series. Also, Captain America is a boyscout superhero that really works as a concept.

5. “Ironman 3” (2013) Shane Black

Shane Black’s comic sensibilities really refine the comedic series of the bunch.

6. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) Alan Taylor

This is well-made nonsense.

7. “Ironman 2” (2010) John Favreau

This is where everything was teetering on the edge of failure. The story almost collapses under the weight of Marvel trying to set up further films.

8. “Thor” (2011) Kenneth Branague

Mixing a fantasy environment into the “real world” setting of the other films.

9. “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) Louis Leterrier

I’m not sure Marvel had a good handle on things at this point.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014)

The phenomenon Marvel has been creating in Hollywood the past decade or so has been a lot of fun. Even when the films are more flash than philosophy—more entertaining trivialities than idea-filled theater—the idea of creating a series of entertaining franchises that intertwine with each other and pulling it off successfully has been amazing to watch. Of course, part of the success lies in the fact that they do occasionally have something to say, like in the case of the first “Ironman” or the first “Captain America.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Faith is Alive and (Not) Well

People are not estranged from the concept of faith. In fact, in this postmodern era we live in they are more open to it than they were in the modern age. The problem is that faith, as it is understood today, has very little to do with truth or even with facts. People have abandoned the idea that truth can be known, and they have truly embraced the buffet approach to faith. Pick and choose what you want to believe, based on any old standard you like. Most likely based on how you feel.

People’s beliefs based on anything but fact range from the idea that we are causing a drastic climate change (that is apparently hiding out deep in the ocean since it isn’t appearing in any of the data) to the idea that life-saving vaccines are causing an illness that—while not identified until recently—has been around long before the vaccines they claim cause it. Whatever “works” for you is good for you to believe, and by “works” people don’t mean that your faith has to affect your life at all. It just has to be what makes you feel good.

People need to believe. Faith has been a part of human existence since humans have been around. The need to relate to truth beyond nature is a part of our reality. I would say it is how we have been made. We were made to relate to our Maker. But up until the past Century or so, that faith needed to make sense. It needed to prove itself true over time.

The worst part about all of this faith as feeling, about the way people treat beliefs as a matter of fashion choice—like selecting the type of underwear you wear—is that it makes having a real discussion about a faith that works nearly impossible. And that makes shining the light a challenging task.
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