Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Confounded by Sin (Genesis 19:30-20:18)

From the outside looking in, sin baffles us. Contrary to what we would expect following God’s judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah, we see both Lot and Abraham falling into sin’s trap. After such a display of the hatred God has for the evil of sin, you would think that people would be scared straight. But not only does sin rear its ugly head, it does so in ways that make no sense!

Lot and his daughters are the only supposed “righteous” souls spared from the terror of Sodom’s destruction. Even Lot’s wife turned back to the horror they were fleeing. Not just the horror of the cataclysm that was happening there, but the horror of the evil practiced there in a life that she couldn’t imagine going without. But, once safe, Lot proceeds to impregnate both of his daughters. The way the story is told, they get him drunk and he is a witless participant in their scheme. But one can hardly imagine it going down so simply. It is as repulsive to an outside observer as anything that happened in the cities just destroyed.

The next story has Abraham falling into his own old, questionable habits. He again gets his wife—the wife of the promise—taken by a stronger man out of fear. We don’t get as many details this time around as we did in the Egyptian event, and that makes the whole story even more baffling. Hadn’t Abraham been here before? Had he not been visited multiple times by the Creator of the universe with promises of blessing and security? Had he not experienced one of the longest periods of silence from God for taking God’s plan into his own hands? Had he not just negotiated with God in the events of Sodom and Gomorrah? Had he not just seen the very real consequences of going against God? Why is he still trying to spare himself by passing Sarah off as anything but his wife?

And yet the lesson of the story here is that we are hopeless. As crazy as sin obviously is, we all are born prisoners of it. We all do things that to any outside observer are plain stupid. We are trapped in rebellion against God and His perfectly designed life for us. We all need to be rescued from ourselves. It is good to be reminded of that fact all along the way…

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Poetry Scales (Round Three)

Avocado, Benevolence, and Cobalt,
Doppelgänger, Edelweiss, Fester, Gestalt,
Hinterland, Ineffable, Jackanapes, Kitsch,
Loganberry, Moss, Nickel, Osculate, Pitch,
Quackery, Raconteur, Streusel, and Transom,
Übermensch, Vellichor, Whey, Exaggeration,
To wrap it up, Yearning, and, not the least, Zilch

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Father's Love (1 John 3:1-2)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

Having told his readers how to walk in the light—i.e. live in their relationship with the Creator of the universe in a manner pleasing to Him—John prepares to double back and instruct them from a different perspective. Namely, how to relate to the Creator as heavenly Father. First, he reminds us of that quality of God. He is not just holy and good. He is also our loving Father. More than the light analogy, this picture of God reminds us of the amazing Gospel plan of God.

F.F. Bruce reflects on this aspect of John’s message in his commentary:

“…Genesis 3 tells how man, not content with the true likeness to God which was his by creation, grasped at the counterfeit likeness held out as the tempter’s bait: ‘you will be like God, knowing good and evil’. In consequence, things most unlike God manifested themselves in human life: hatred, darkness and death in place of love, light and life. The image of God in man was sadly defaced. Yet God’s purpose was not frustrated; instead, the fall itself, with its entail of sin and death, was overruled by God and compelled to become an instrument in the furtherance of His purpose.

In the fullness of time the image of God, undefaced by disobedience to His will, reappeared on earth in the person of His Son. In Jesus the love, light and life of God were manifested in opposition to hatred, darkness and death. With His crucifixion it seemed that hatred, darkness and death had won the day, and that God’s purpose, which had survived the fall, was now effectively thwarted. But instead, the cross of Jesus proved to be God’s chosen instrument for the fulfilment of His purpose.” 

That is the mindset with which we embark on the second half of 1 John…

Monday, March 13, 2017

Keep the Faith, Abide (1 John 2:20-29)

28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

It is John who gave us the well-known teaching from Jesus, “Abide in me.” Here he gives us more indication of what that means. John really liked the verb he is using here. Of the 118 times the word is used in the New Testament, it occurs some 40 times in John’s Gospel, and another 24 times here in this little letter. The word is meno, and it means simply to stay, remain, abide, wait, etc. But what does it mean to abide in Christ?

On the one hand this is a simple concept. We are to abide, stay, remain, etc. in Christ. But people can take that idea and make it mean anything they want. More important than “living our life” with our idea of Christ, we need to be anchored in who He really is. And we don’t want to “stay” or stagnate in a single understanding of Him. We want to grow in our grasp of the implications of the Gospel.

(An interesting aside. My grandfather was pretty passionate about this whole concept. He saw the loss of understanding and use of the term “abide” as a loss for our understanding of the life in Christ. For him, the difference between “abide” and “live with” was an argument worth having. I wonder if we might not have lost some depth in English as “live with” overtook “abide”” around 1928, and “dwell” in 1970.)

Here in 1 John, we see that abiding in Christ has everything to do with teaching, with truth. John has just warned his readers against “antichrists.” Who are these antichrists? They are those who were a part of the churches that John was leading, but who had left the churches to follow a different teaching. Had they belonged to the fellowship of believers, “they would have remained.” (v.19)

John tells the church that they, instead, should let the teaching they heard from the beginning “abide in” them. Then they will “abide in the Son and in the Father.” (v.24) He also reminds them that the “anointing that you received from Him abides in you,” and that this anointing teaches you everything that is true.” (v.27)

The believer is to remain in the truth of the Gospel that they heard concerning Jesus, the teaching that has been handed down from Him. And this truth, this teaching, will remain in the believer because God Himself will teach and remind the believer of that truth.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A spoilery, lengthy look at "Logan" (2017)

The latest movie about Wolverine, “Logan,” is causing a lot of buzz in geek culture. Some are calling it the best X-Man movie ever made; others have gone so far as to call it the best superhero movie ever made. (This claim is a bit of a cliché amongst geeks, who tend to love the latest, shiny object thrown at them. A list of films called “the best superhero movie ever made” would include Deadpool, Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Avengers, X-Men First Class, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Batman Begins, The Incredibles, Spiderman 2, etc. The list goes on and on.

Personally, I have had a real struggle coming to terms with what I think about the movie. On the whole I think it squeaks by with a 3-star rating, just barely getting into the good category. There is a lot to like about the story, but also a lot to groan at.

First the down-sides.

This is a bleak, bleak story. Many think of the R rating as an excuse to throw a lot of language, violence, and sex at the screen. But the filmmakers insist that for them the appeal was to avoid following the obligations of kiddy-fare. They wanted to tell their story, not a market researched formula. So, they saw the “adult content” as a means to an artistic end. That could be good. I do not have problems in principle with stories that require an R rating. But I balk at the story when its main intent feels like a nihilistic, pessimistic vision of the future. This “superhero story” wants to embrace a world where those heroes failed, killed off their own kind, and bring death to everyone they encounter. The X-Men myth is about overcoming hate and fear in our culture. This version puts a firm stamp on that vision that reads, “failed.”

It may not be the story’s fault, but the audience it is aimed at is clearly not mature enough to handle it. Harsh language and violence is commonplace in films of a certain ilk. In “Logan” screenings, every cuss word induced sophomoric laughter. Every bloody kill blow was met with fist pumping celebration.

As to the violence, a strong theme of the film was a rejection of that violence. Logan warns the “gifted” individuals of the next generation to not become the weapons they were created to be. Yet the most disturbing and blood-thirsty death of the movie comes when the children all gather around the main antagonist at the climax and slowly kill him with a relish that is chilling. The audience by this point has been primed and prepared to join the children in relishing this kill. I can’t decide if that is a case of the film holding an accusatory mirror up to our culture, or merely a miscalculation that mars the message.

Then there is all the good.

This is ostensibly more a western than a superhero film. That is good. It is also a near-future story, set in a realistic 2029. That is even better.

Much of the story can be described as an attempt by refugees from Mexico trying to find a better future away from a slavery to evil corporations in a land of freedom. In the past that would have been the USA, but here it has to be Canada. It feels timely.

It is a slow, thoughtful story; not your typical action. There are real characters. There are real conversations. There is strong emotion. I was surprised that my audience didn’t see the end coming, but it moved them when it came. All the sophomoric laughter had turned to audible sobs in the end. (That made me chuckle. I am nothing if not at times a terrible cynic.)

Finally, there is the fascinating.

People who like to think about philosophy—and more particularly about philosophy of religion—liken our culture to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the same way that they had their pantheon of gods that were more metaphor than literal beings, we today have a growing secular religion built around mythological metaphors. It is not that people “believe” in superheroes, science fiction ideals, or the mythologies of comics; but they really do orient their lives and ethics around the ideals of these stories.

Some reviewers have highlighted the religious aspects of “Logan.” And it is not that this movie is somehow a hidden Christian story. It isn’t. But it is a highly religious story. It is a carefully constructed presentation of modern geek mythology as religious philosophy. A shot at the end of the film has a character uproot a cross grave-marker to turn it askew to form an X as in X-Men. And this is not simply a cute nod to Wolverine from an adoring fan. Nor is it just a maudlin moment of over emotionalism. (Although it is certainly that as well!) The religious mythology has been set up before this moment.

A big part of the plot in this story involves a group of young mutants trying to escape their evil creators to get to a mythological safe-haven known as Eden. They even have a set of coordinates to guide them. They know that there is a place at an exact location on the planet (located on the Canadian border in North Dakota) where they will find peace.

At the midpoint of the film, when Logan is helping one of these kids get to Eden, he discovers that the coordinates came from a made-up comic book story about the X-Men. He has already established that these comics are not retellings of the real adventures that he and the X-Men lived through. They are simply fiction inspired by the heroes. Logan realizes that their journey is in vain. Eden doesn’t exist. Yet when they get to the coordinates, there is a building. The rest of the kids have gathered. They are preparing to cross into Canada where they have been assured of safety.

It is a case of a reality being created from inspiration in the mythology. Not a religion based in pre-existing truth that has been revealed, but rather a religious system reverse-engineered. And that is what we have in our culture today as well. People making gods in their own image and fulfilling their own desires.

And, according to Logan, what does this new mythology offer? A bleak, bleak world where good might overcome evil for a time, but all we have is hope in uncertainty. Why would anyone reject real revelation with real hope for something like that?

And THAT is the melancholy that “Logan” inspires.

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