Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Luke Skywalker (Star Wars Character Thoughts)

More Thoughts: Intro, C3PO, R2D2, Qui-Gon, Obi Wan, Anakin, Padme, Han, Chewy, The Emperor, Yoda, Vader, Luke

It is a common enough experience in the American Church, behind the scenes where most church goers never look: the political maneuvering, the power plays, the lives impacted and even destroyed. It may be that not every church experiences it, but most are not immune. A wise minister once told me. “A lot of people attend church to have somewhere in there life where they have a say. At work their boss tells them what to do, at home their spouse tells them what to do, in church—at least in congregational churches—they get to tell someone what to do.” All it takes is an influential person with a desire to control things and you have a recipe for disaster, at least from a Kingdom of God perspective. Because all you need is someone willing to play dirty in a place where most would never think of doing so, and you have instant power that remains uncontested.

How do you deal with such a situation? Is it ever OK to “fight fire with fire?” Do you need to engage in worldly things like politics and behind-the-scenes-dirty-dealing for the cause of good?

Star Wars is hardly the best place to look for answers, but the fact is that this is exactly the question set-up and dealt with in the Star Wars saga. The Emperor and Vader established power for themselves through evil and dark means, and the Jedis (those very few left after the slaughter of “Revenge of the Sith”) along with the Rebellion are fighting to reestablish goodness in the Galaxy. The problem is that the Emperor’s means (fighting, politics, and trickery) are in themselves wrong and to use those means against him will only further his cause. This is the quandary that Yoda and Ben realize and for which they prepare Luke to face.

The only way to defeat the Emperor’s evil is through self-sacrifice.

Luke turns himself into Vader prepared to die for his friends. He is there to buy them time to set their trap. But the Emperor almost beats him by using his emotions and sense of justice to turn him to the Emperor’s side. If that weren’t enough, the Emperor knows about the Rebellion’s plan because he deals in trickery, and has laid an even better trap for the Rebellion’s forces. It is only Luke’s true self-sacrifice that manages to break through his father’s deceived motivations and awaken him from the delusions under which he was operating. It goes against everything one would expect, but sacrificial love wins the day.

And this counterintuitive truth is the answer to the dilemma Christians, churches, and church leadership face when the world infringes and tries to infiltrate. Don’t fight fire with fire. Don’t out world the world. Self-sacrificial love is always to approach to take. Because in the end, we are not fighting our own battles nor protecting our own interests.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dalliance

(Poetry Scales 5)

I don’t want to flirt
with incognito death
however she is
     made-up or how well she’s dressed
don’t want to arrive
     without having reached the end
the destination
without starting the race
paint this circumstance
     as some goal or end vision
as if sheer dumb chance
     were my guiding complusion

I don’t want to drift
just manage to exist
I don’t want to stall
     inert watching life spin past
I don’t want to fall
     under a spell while it’s cast
caught in a stupor
sad preoccupation
chasing a fable
     illusion bred with rumor
chasing my tail or
     some queue filing towards nowhere

Monday, April 21, 2014

What Do You Want Me To Do for You? (Mark 10:46-52)

This story seems straight forward enough. Just another example of Jesus demonstrating His power. Just another case of Jesus healing someone; another blind man’s sight restored. Another demonstration of faith—trust—making someone whole. (This is the fourth story where someone’s faith has led to their wholeness. See here and here)

However, it must not be that plainly visible for all.

A lot of people “of faith” read this story and others like it in a very different light. They see God as some sort of cosmic vending machine where faith is a magical currency. If your faith is strong enough—if it is a valid form of faith/currency—then you will receive whatever you need. Health, wealth and the American dream. What do you want me to do for you? To this form of Christian, Jesus is there to meet their needs, to fulfill their dreams, to give them their best life now. It is all about them.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus does ask Bartimaeus the question, but it is not something He asks awaiting an order. In the last question Jesus asked the very same question, word for word, of James and John. In that case He did not fulfill their wish, but taught them what they really needed, and how they were asking for the wrong thing. Here, Bartimaeus asks for something he really does need: vision.

Bartimaeus was not healed to fulfill his dreams, to resume the life he could have had had he only been able to see. He was saved to a life he never knew was possible. He was saved to fulfill he purpose. He truly recovered his sight. In his new enlightened life he follows Jesus. He receives more than physical sight, he now sees what is truly important. It is not about him, but about Jesus.

What questions are we asking of people, if any? Too many Christians go through life knowing exactly what everyone needs, and telling them exactly how they should live their lives. At our best moments, we impart the best we have to offer in the form of four oversimplified selling points. The problem is, we don’t know the people we are “helping.” We don’t know the individual needs people are feeling that the real Gospel could address. We don’t bother to find people who are looking, we dump a simplified—often falsified—version of Jesus’ story on everyone. Maybe we ought to start our efforts to help people—to share our wonderful news—with a question or two.

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.
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