Friday, May 30, 2008

The Magician's Nephew

Having begun the chronicles with a fairly strong Christian symbolism (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe contains strong resemblance to the events of the crucifixion), Lewis returns to this practice with the last two books in the series. That is not to say the other books do not contain strong Christian ideals and concepts, they merely do not parallel any specific Biblical stories or teachings. With the Magician’s Nephew, Lewis tackles the creation story and the effect of evil on an innocent world. In this sense it treats similar themes as Perelandra, and the two books make for interesting parallel reading.

So much of this book takes place in our own world, (and it is the only volume in the series to address the existence of other worlds) that it has a different feel from the rest of the chronicles. So much so, that some people find the book too different. One of the main appeals it has is the way it introduces the reader to the origins of things they know and love about Narnia—that is if they have already read much of the series. The Magician’s Nephew is the main reason the books should be read in publication order and not the newly promoted “chronological” order. In fact, this volume and The Horse and His Boy are the only two taken out of publication order in the new numbering system. Magician should be read after the reader is already familiar with at least Lion, as much of the charm is lost on readers who have no idea about Narnia or who Aslan and the White Witch are.

All that being said, The Magician’s Nephew is a fascinating read, and the altogether unique atmosphere it creates by placing so much action on Earth and on the horrific world of Charn makes for a great read.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scientism

A few weeks ago, a group of scientists, theologians, and philosophers got together to discuss whether science had rendered belief in God obsolete. The John Templeton Foundation took their various opinions and made them available to read online.

Some of these are quite fascinating. Mary Midgley in particular has some interesting views on the subject. She says belief is not obsolete, and declares the “war” between Science and religion simply a conflict between two ways of looking at the world.

“What is now seen as a universal cold war between science and religion is, I think, really a more local clash between a particular scientistic worldview, much favored recently in the west, and most other people’s worldviews at most other times.”

She goes on to describe Scientism as a worldview that cuts reality off from any sort of context and that claims to have a complete monopoly of meaning, making it similar to religion, which causes the conflict. Science began differently, appealing to order and predictability in the Universe supplied by God. However, as time went on science began to demand its own definition of proof so exclusively that it became merely a system of facts that can never be proven, but rather remain true as long as they are not disproved.

Today, the scientific worldview is no more provable than religious beliefs held by faith. They are simply accepted, usually in reaction to the other worldviews that have dominated the vast majority of humanity for the vast majority of its existence.

In essence, belief in science is no more “scientific” than faith.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Top Films: Back To The Future

The things that make Back to the Future so much more than just another science fiction time travel romp are solid and tight plotting and character centered focus.

Most—strike that—every time travel story has to contend with paradox. There is just no way for a character to move about in time without causing major logical problems. The ways a story can deal with this range from embracing the problem as the whole point (a means to changing the present—The Terminator), or simply ignore the problem like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

(Some rare examples of Time Travel fiction have tried to address the problem by avoiding the travel aspect. C.S. Lewis envisioned Time Viewing in his unfinished Ransom story. Frequency tried Time hearing.)

Back to the Future does neither but instead very carefully plots a story with no unexplained elements. The problems are addressed straight on (in fact, they deal with the classic Grandfather Paradox) and the story delivers in spite of the mind-bending impossibilities.

Best of all, however, is the way the story does not address huge historic elements, but instead deals with the results of time travel limited only to the traveler and his family. Classic character development and life lessons are the goal of this story. Marty learns virtues such as courage and working hard to achieve important goals.

An interesting role reversal occurs between Marty and his mother concerning their moral standards. She appears to be a prude in present day, but as a teen she was quite another person. In the past it is Marty who reprimands her for the very behavior he was earlier trying to exhibit himself.

The afterthought rest of the trilogy doesn’t quite achieve the classic status of this first film that is truly one of the greatest films of all time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rattlesnake Reflections

The way to stay safe when you are in Rattlesnake territory is to go looking for them. For one thing you will be looking where they are likely to be so you won’t be caught off guard. Secondly, you will probably be prepared for the encounter with appropriate clothing and sticks and such. Finally, you will activate Murphy’s Law and ensure that you never see a single snake.
 
Rattlesnakes are not interested in biting anyone anyway. That is why they have the rattle on their tail. When you get too close for their comfort, they let you know to back off by shaking their tail. True, some people are bit without warning. They step too close too quickly and scare the poor snake into a reflexive act based purely on fear. There is no malice. Often these “warning bites” involve no poison whatsoever. Nine times out of ten if you read stories of Rattlesnake bites carefully you will see one thing every time—alcohol.
 
The exception to both of the previous paragraphs can be found in Sweetwater, Texas. When people go out looking to find Rattlers there, they find them—by the thousands. And these snakes want to bite. They must know that they are about to be killed. The first first-hand experience this writer finally had with a Rattler in the wild after years of fruitless searching was thankfully on a cold, 40 degree Saturday morning near Sweetwater.  The real discovery was that you can place your hand within inches of a Rattlesnake multiple times and not see it. The good thing is that a Rattlesnake too cold to rattle was at least in that case too cold to bite too.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Acts: Religious Opposition in Antioch (Pisidian) & Iconium (13:44-14:7)

Another passage for missional strategy. As already stated, it was Paul’s custom to initiate work among the Jewish population of a town. After all, it was to them that the Messiah had come; they knew the special revelation that was the background to God’s plan fulfilled in Christ. They were given “first dibs” on the Gospel message and it would be their privilege to join Paul in passing the massage on to the world around them.
 
Sadly, the majority of Jews rejected the Gospel. They seemed to do so out of jealousy and racial pride. They alone were God’s chosen people.
 
The next group exposed to the Gospel message was the God fearing gentiles, those who believed in God but were not yet converted into the Jewish religious practice. Many of them gladly received the message of the Gospel.
 
This may be a good pattern to follow in modern missions. First approach the local bodies of believers (if any) and invite them to embrace great commission ministry. Then go to those who believe in God, but do not yet know or have a personal relationship with Christ (in Western Europe this is a smaller portion than other places in the world); then work to expose others to the reality of a personal God who wants a relationship with them.
 
*A note on verse 48. Here the paradox of predestination and free will is seen in one verse. Many gentiles believed (a voluntary decision), they just happened to correspond to the number that had been appointed to be saved (God’s selection). Make of it what you will, that is what the verse says. Any attempt to change the reading is imposing a view on the verse. However, if Paul had not preached, they would have not heard and could not have believed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Horse and His Boy

Subjectively speaking, this is the best of the Chronicles. It begins as just a feeling. The story is compelling in spite of the fact that it hardly involves children from our world. In fact it involves no children from our world because the Kings and Queens from earth are grown more or less. Shasta is a compelling character in his own right, perhaps one of the best of the series. Bree is one of the best certainly. His “prodigal son” story and the Sehnsucht or deep longing he has for his true home is a good secondary symbol within the book.

The main plot is also particularly straightforward for a Narnia book. The travel/chase across Calormen, and the relationship that develops between the slave boy and the Tarkheena is well told. The suspense is gripping and the imagery is vivid, especially in the city of the Tashbaan.

The real treasure of this book is the theme it develops. Missions. In Lewis’ own description it is about the conversion of a Pagan. In this sense, while it is not a direct Biblical symbol like in The Lion, The Magician’s Nephew, or The Last Battle, it does directly treat an important aspect of the Christian faith. It is not enough to believe in God and to trust Him in our position of creature. It is required of us that we declare His glory to those around us and around the world.

A final wonderful picture is also expounded through the book—that of divine guidance. The characters repeatedly are directed and impacted by Aslan and never realize it was him until Aslan reveals the truth to Shasta, as the walk alone in the fog of a mountain pass. He was there all along.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Paper, or Burlap?

The Halloween costume-manufacturing sector has got to be upset. It seems that Hollywood is changing the face of terror. It seems all you need to do to be scary nowadays is cut a couple holes in a bag or a sack and stick it on your head.

El Orfanato, considered by many to be the scariest movie of 2007 featured the ghost of a child who walked around with a burlap sack on his head. Now, two movies are continuing the concept. Baghead is about some filmmakers who decide to create a horror movie based on a guy with a sack over his head—when things start to go wrong. The Strangers is about a couple that is attacked by three masked strangers in their remotely located house.

There is something unsettling about a guy with a sack on his head. The idea is, you just imagine that you suddenly discover a guy with a sack over his head looking in your window. Whoa, creepy, huh? Actually, the creepy thing is the idea of some guy looking in your window. That is the current trend that is truly scary in movies: the idea of total random violence and murder. Funny Games from last year (itself a remake from the same director), or even a classic like Hitchcock’s Rope. The idea that someone would kill just to kill is really disturbing. And the worst part is that it happens. Germany has struggled recently with a spat of young people attacking the elderly, apparently all for kicks.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Top Films: "Wuv, Tru Wuv"


There is a trend in—well everything today—toward deconstruction. Any text, any story, any movie is seen as an attempt to impose some view upon people, and an effort is made to expose this message and counteract it. In fact, there is some truth behind this idea, and the only question is: What position is an artist taking? Which view of reality do they want to communicate? The problem is that anything “traditional” has been deemed bad simply because it is “traditional.” This is nonsense.

The problem with tradition is that things are believed or done mindlessly, and the current trend of attacking traditional values has become mindless itself. No one stops to question whether a tradition is good or not, if it is established then it has to go.

A refreshing “deconstruction” of this trend exists, however, in stories like The Princess Bride. Sure it has some of the hallmarks of deconstruction: it wears its artifice on its sleeve. The story is clearly presented as a fiction told by a grandfather. But it also completely embraces the traditional structures and the values of the Fairy Tale. So much so, that at first it comes across as a satirical take on the whole genre. By the end, however, we realize that the traditional values: true love, good defeating evil, beauty, etc. are the themes of this story.

Those are the messages of The Princess Bride: beauty does exist, good does win, and true love is the most important thing in the world. When you doubt those truths—when you don’t believe, then like Buttercup, you risk helping ugliness and evil. Sort of like abandoning values and traditions in favor of cynicism and smugness. And that is casting your lot with a losing side.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Down By the Strait Side

Down at the southern end of the world there is a city called Punta Arenas. It is sort of small (by city standards), sort of hick (by outsider reckoning) and pretty cool (objectively speaking.) It is arguably the southern most city in the world. It lies on the Strait of Magellan. It has ski slopes just outside of town. It is a short drive away from the most beautiful place on earth. There are penguin-nesting grounds just up the road. Also, there is no way to put this just right, but it has the coolest cemetery anywhere.
 
One of the “insider” places to visit in Punta Arenas is Dino’s Pizza, on Bories street. It is a little hole-in-the-wall that serves… well Americans have a hard time reconciling it as Pizza, it is best just to treat it as a new sort of dish. There is a routine to Dino’s. As there are (or were, in the early nineties) just two or three tables in the back, you have to wait for a spot to open up for your group. Basically, you wait around staring at the people eating until they finally get up and leave. Then you ignore the people staring at you as you enjoy your pizza. Be adventurous. They have toppings on their pizza you don’t find just anywhere. King Crab is a good choice.
 
Another must see is the Plaza with its statue to Magellan. He is surrounded by a few Native American types, one of whom has a toe that is shinier than the rest of the copper memorial. This is due to the tradition people have of kissing said toe. You must kiss the toe if you ever want to return to Punta Arenas again. Yours truly is proof positive that you won’t if you don’t.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Acts: The Sermon at Pisidian Antioch (13:14-43)

In Pisidian Antioch we get an expanded glimpse into Paul’s synagogue strategy—we have Paul’s sermon recorded for us to read. In it we see that he ties the Gospel into a theological/ historical context that makes it very clear to his Jewish/ God fearing audience. For most evangelical Christians today, who have been more or less raised in a Christian culture, this contextualization is unobserved. For us it is simply all a part of the Gospel. This is not quite the case.
 
In today’s world this story no longer works, or at least it is incomplete. In a culture where most do not share the historical perspective and, in fact, most do not even begin by believing in God, it is just as foreign a concept as the Gospel itself. To make the Gospel accessible by talking about God’s interaction with the Jewish people and its evidence throughout Jewish history is not the starting point. It may not even come into the conversation at all.
 
Paul’s strategy is still valid. It is just that the particulars must change. Another context must be found in which to introduce spiritual conversations. Books, local Culture, Movies, TV shows, current events, and local history are all candidates for such a context. Contrary to some preconceptions, witnessing does not require seminary training or just above average Biblical knowledge. However, it does require us to be engaged with and knowledgeable of our secular cultural context.
 
How are you doing? What is the history of your community? Who are the cultural greats—authors and philosophers and what did they have to say? What are the most popular movies, TV shows, and books at the moment? Who are the current political leaders? What are the “water cooler” topics?
 
Sounds like an MSN ad, doesn’t it? Sing it: “No one wants to look dumb.”

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sports Dramas: Romcoms for Men

A long story involving several mistakes by Columbia House resulted in a Recent Screening of “We Are Marshall” at the Dietz house. This prompted the realization that the disdain at the predictability of Romantic Comedies and the mystifying desire of many women to see every formulaic one is explained in the way men are suckers for Sports Dramas.
 
Friday Night Lights, Hoosiers, A League of Their Own, Miracle, Remember the Titans, The Rookie, and on, and on and on… These movies are the very definition of formulaic and predictable, and yet they suck us in every time. Here is an incomplete list of the formulaic elements of the Sports Drama:
 
1. They are “based on a true story.”
 
2. They always tell the story of an underdog—the biggest loser in the sport in question.
 
3. The heroes always loose a game early on in the film.
 
4. If the sport in question is a team sport, there will be an individual player facing great personal difficulties.
 
5. The sport will be presented in slow motion.
 
6. The movie will climax with a big and unexpected win. If this is not the end of the season—championship—final then the movie will end with the last win.
 
7. We end up by seeing where they are now or how they lived their lives after the film.
In short, it becomes evident that the basic plot of most Sports Dramas shares a lot with the average episode of The A Team.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Silver Chair

The middle book in the order of publication (and the order they should be read) is almost the best of the lot. (As this is a blog from a missional perspective, of course The Horse and His Boy is the best.) In the third direct sequel to Lion, we see an adversary on the par of the White Witch in the Lady of the Green Kirtle. She may even be the witch herself, back from the dead. We also get to see Aslan’s land for the first time. We get the English school with its bullies who get their comeuppance. We get the journey through the underworld. We get the “To Serve Human” moment at the Giant house. However, the Trump is—we get Puddleglum.

Puddleglum is a Marshwiggle, a frog/man race that are all terribly pessimistic. Puddleglum is harassed by the other Marshwiggles for being too cheerful, which from a human perspective is still pretty much a “wet blanket.” The thing that makes Puddleglum so loved is his courage and caring attitude that he hides behind his pessimistic front. In the climactic scene of the book the heroes are being hypnotized by the witch and they are nearly convinced that the real world is just a figment of their imaginations. Puddleglum resists the spell and bravely destroys the magic by stamping his foot into a fire (counteracting the affect of incense with that of burned Marshwiggle flesh.) As he does, he proclaims: “"Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all of those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Top Films: Odd Balls

Tim Burton’s films are known for their style, their signature “look.” However, they also all tend to have a similar theme: the innocent and strange main character that is out of step with the world, but that also has something to teach that world. Everyone from Charlie Bucket in Willie Wonka’s factory to Captain Leo Davidson in the remake of Planet of the Apes is out of step with the world they find themselves in, but by the end of the film, they have shown that world to be flawed and in need of what they had to offer. Their innocence or naiveté that was ridiculed and belittled early on is revealed to really be the different perspective that was needed all along.
 
Three particularly brilliant films in the Burton cannon especially show this pattern.
 
"Edward Scissorhands" (1990) 
is a beautiful modern day fairy tale about an innocent thrust into suburbia. The very fact that he is good causes him to be rejected and persecuted by the folks of the town; the fact that he is different causes him to be seen as evil.
 
"Sleepy Hollow" (1999) 
sees Depp again, this time as a policeman interested in actually solving crime who must learn to face true evil and that it is not enough to know who is bad, but to confront them as well.
 
"Big Fish" (2003) 
is an exploration of what truth is through the eyes of a disillusioned son and his tall-tale-telling dad. Edward Bloom was different in that he was born with n discouragement. He always knew how to make the best of any situation by simply trusting that things would work out right.
 
There is food for thought in Burton’s rejects, especially when viewed through the lens of an innocent encountering the fallen world we all live in.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Take a Hike!

At the far south end of the Andes Mountain chain lies what is perhaps the most amazing place for hiking on earth. Torres de Paine National Park is a small group of mountains rising up out of the Patagonian Plains after the mountains have long since dwindled down to nothing. They are cut and carved by glacial ice and therefore have a more alpine look—giant cliff faces and strange shapes.  
The three “Towers” are peaks that look more like pillars than mountains. They rise five or six times higher than they are wide. The signature picture one usually sees of the range features the even more impressive “Horns of Paine.” Their shape and coloration make them the most beautiful peaks one could ever hope to see.
 
The national park surrounding the range is closed to all vehicles and is only accessible and traversable by foot or horseback. A hike to the towers is a day-trek, or one can choose to take a full 9-day walk around the whole park. Many lakes, rivers and glaciers are throughout the range and the great ice fields that feed the glaciers are visible (and reachable) from the trails in the park.
 
Patagonia’s flora and fauna are on full display. Guanacos, Rheas, Condors, and Pumas are visible, the latter usually only by secondary means—usually in the way of fresh footprints along the trails near the water in the mornings. Not a comforting find when one hikes alone for any stretch.
 
Few are the people who are ever privileged to travel to the southern tip of South America, but if you ever get the chance, make every effort to see Torres De Paine National Park.

Acts: Cyprus (13:4-12)

A couple things stand out on Cyprus as the first journey begins.
 
First, Paul begins by using the strategy he will employ for the rest of his journeys. He starts sharing his message in the synagogues, where he has the most natural connection. From there he and the message spread out to the Gentile population and across the area around the towns where he works. This is an effective strategy and translates well to cross-cultural work today. Make connections with the portion of the population that has the closest cultural affinity to the messenger, and as they accept the Gospel and believe, they can even more effectively carry it further into the population.
 
Secondly, Paul has an encounter with a magician. This parallels the experience that Peter had in Samaria. This is just the first of many similarities between Peter and Paul that Luke highlights in Acts. (Miraculous escapes from prison, raising people from the dead, healing cripples, and people experiencing healing simply by a) touching Peter’s shadow or b) touching Paul’s sweat rags.) This serves to really emphasize the two men as the central figures of the early church. Both men were important to the future of Christianity. Both were selected by Christ to carry His message forward into the world and the future.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This volume is a travelogue and has a more episodic feel than the other chronicles in the series. It is quite good. A couple of moments stand out more than the rest of the book, specifically Eustace’s experience of Dragon Island and the chapter on the Duffer’s island.

Eustace is the standout character in this book, and his development from spoiled, rotten, smart kid to humble, good guy occurs when he is turned into a dragon. The process of his internal character change, and then the shedding of his dragon exterior is perfect Lewis imagery mirroring the true change the God works in the lives of His children.

However, the best moments come on Duffer’s island. The comedy, horror, suspense, and lessons are all pitch perfect and, we are treated to the last real scenes centered on Lucy, the first character the reader really got to know. (When the books are read as they really should be and not as they are marketed today.)

The most magical moment occurred here as well, when the magician makes a map for the travelers. They simply recount their journey, in as much detail as possible, and everything they say is drawn magically on the paper! For a child in the pre-internet/satellite images world, this was a fascinating idea. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a map like that? Especially for a kid who spent their life moving around a lot, seeing a lot of the world. Of course, today such maps do exist after a fashion, and they are cool, if not as magical as they could have been.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Sinister Six

Take a look here to see a pretty amazing video. Stick with it. It starts out a little boring, and then it gets pretty incredibly sad… but stick with it. Part of what makes this clip s amazing is that it involves three of the top six most dangerous animals in Africa—all at one time. Here, in ascending order of danger, they are:
 
6. The Lion. King of the Jungle? More like slacker of the plains. He spends most of his time sleeping, but don’t let The Lion King fool you. These are not cute little animals, they’re killers. Every once in a while they get a taste for man and then a single cat can kill hundreds of people. That’ll make another entry someday.
 
5. The Crocodile. Crocs are dangerous because they are invisible and strike fast. Once they do, it is all over. Snap, tug, spin and drown.
 
4. Elephants. They are big, they are powerful, they are being driven to extinction, and they never forget. Sounds like a movie tag line. Apparently elephants have been known to attack villages to avenge killings.
 
3. Cape Buffalo. Ever doubt that a cow can be dangerous. Then you’ve never been chased by Bossy, and these buffalo are bigger stronger and meaner. Any doubts are erased by the video. Even lions are afraid of these guys.
 
2. Hippopotamus. More than just a fun word to spell, hippos are deadly. They look slow on land, but they aren’t. They will not hesitate to attack and, since they can remain submerged forever, you may never know they are there until it is too late.
 
1. The Mosquito. The number of people killed by Mosquitoes carrying malaria every day is in the thousands. Pesticides like DDT began to curb these deaths until they were shown to be… poison! Since they’re banning, Mosquitoes have resumed their deadly campaign across the tropics.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Top Films: Spielberg in the Nineties

In the Seventies, Spielberg created the blockbuster with Jaws, and scared a lot of people off ever going into the water again. In the eighties, he did it again recreating the matinee with Raiders and somehow making ugly cute with E.T. In the nineties, he somehow managed to top himself again… and again… and yet again.

Jurassic Park redefined movie making and nearly destroyed the traditional film in favor of computer graphics. To be sure, other films had paved the way for Jurassic, (Young Sherlock Holmes and Terminator 2 come to mind) but Jurassic made it real.

That same year, Spielberg made his crowning achievement in Schindler’s List. It was a new look for him; not entertaining yet important. It may have foreshadowed a shift in his work to come. After Schindler, Spielberg begins to make more serious and thought provoking films, and not quite the popular successes of the past.

Another nineties gem came a couple years later in the form of Saving Private Ryan. The first half hour alone changed war films forever, and in a way that is not always considered good.

These three films show a Spielberg theme that is not always listed among his “father-son” and “childlike sense of awe” themes. One could call it the “humanity needs to remember its place” theme. In Jurassic, man tries to create and be God and the typical Frankenstein monster is created almost destroying the wannabe creator. In Schindler, we see the effects of man deciding some people are less than human. In Ryan, we witness the result of what those opposing such ideologies have to go through, and that the cost is almost as great as the danger those ideologies present.

In the end, Spielberg in the nineties begins to show the flip side of his “awe”-some vision. The world is a very broken place.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Evangelical Indigestion

There is a reason why Obama’s connection to Rev. Wright should not be a direct factor in the election this year: he just used the church for some quick race cred. If anything, being a part of a church for political gain might be a problem, but not the hate that Wright is preaching. Like 90 percent of people in church every Sunday, Obama likely did a lot of daydreaming and little listening.

There is an even bigger reason this sort of religious affiliation should never enter the political sphere. Religious beliefs today are painted with much too large a brush. Just look at the current mindset on religion. All Muslims are hate filled killers, all Mormons have several wives, and all Scientologists… well never mind Scientology. The worst rap today is reserved for Evangelicals, and it is our own fault. Too many Evangelicals have traded in thinking, studying and knowing what they believe for simple follow the pack or the most successful preacher mentality. The worst part is that the more political an evangelical group gets, the dumber they get and the worse we all look. Boycott Disney, anyone?

If you have a tough stomach and want to see how the Evangelical world is being perceived by non-Evangelicals, try reading Matt Taibbi’s piece: “Jesus Made Me Puke.” It is a scary look at one group in the Evangelical Ghetto that is making all Christians look terrible by distorting anything true Christianity teaches and really coming off as a crazy cult. The problem is that a lot of “Christians” are just like the article describes, never thinking and just following the latest teacher.

The Bible warns Christians to be careful what they say and do and to test everything they are taught against Scripture. If the world is going to reject Christ, let them reject Him, not our screwed-up version of him.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Acts: The Commission (13:1-3)

Here begins the second half of Acts. The first half was largely devoted to Peter and the church in Jerusalem. Now the church in Antioch and its missionary expansion take center stage and Paul becomes the central character.
 
We introduced in Antioch to the leadership in this cosmopolitan church and the interesting thing here is that God tells the leaders to send out two of their number to spread the Gospel. The churches in Acts seem to have a bit more of a corporate-communal approach to faith than today’s churches. Today individuals alone usually decide they are called to a ministry. Here the impression is given that a group heard the call together. True, those called were a part of the group and had a part in hearing the call, but the body was involved.
 
Perhaps more churches should keep Acts 13 in mind for Wednesday night prayer meetings. On the prayer sheet next to the list of sick and suffering there could be a standing request for workers to be raised up from with-in the body. Of course, the ball is really dropped before Wednesday night in that many churches fail to spread the Gospel message in their own neighborhood let alone down the road or across the world.
 
How many churches multiply themselves today? How many churches support missions through prayer, giving and going? How many churches have relationships with specific individual missionaries? How many churches have people on the field who were raised through their ministry? How many churches have a leadership that works with members cultivating a call from God and encouraging people to consider doing missions personally?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Prince Caspian

There is a plot element in Prince Caspian that is a fascinating look at faith and living in a community of faith when the majority do not see things the way you do. There is a moment when Lucy, the youngest of the four siblings is seeing Aslan and no one else is. In fact, Aslan is not only appearing to Lucy and none of the others, but he is showing her that they need to be doing things differently than what they are currently doing. When the others are faced with this change of plans, they vote on whether to follow what Lucy says Aslan wants, or to go with the current plan.

One of the challenges of being a part of a church or another community of faith is that faith is usually a very personal, sometimes mystical, journey and we are not always on the same page. In democratic bodies, where a majority make decisions, or even Presbyterian bodies where leadership does, the choices made are not always the right ones. Numbers 13 is a well-known example of this.

What is a person of faith to do, when they feel their group is headed in a misguided direction? Evangelical tendency is to cut loose and form yet another group. Should they instead stay with the group having voiced their concerns? Lucy fails to convince the group, and Aslan’s desires are delayed. In the end she is told to convince the group.

The example of Jeremiah is almost seen here, but not quite. Jeremiah failed to convince but never stopped trying. Sometimes the group can be difficult, but sometimes the harder task of continuing to try is better than abandoning the community you belong to.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Food for Thought...and Worms

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, And the living takes it to heart.” –Ecclesiastes 7:2
 
Take any sort of graveyard: from the honeycomb tombs of The Horse and His Boy to the honeycomb-like trees of the Punta Arenas Cemetery on the straight of Magellan; from West Texas anomalous green plots to the Mausoleums of New Orleans—their purpose is to commemorate the dead but also to remind the living of the end that awaits. Sometimes, though, they become a fascination with the bizarre.
 
Vienna would make an interesting Cemetery trip. They have a number of famous graves, including Beethoven’s in the Zentralfriedhof, a memorial to Mozart at St. Mark’s Cemetery where his body was lost, and the Catacombs at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
 
In the catacombs, one wonders if the point has not been missed somewhere along the way. The first graves are almost normal—coffins at least, but they are placed on shelves behind bars. The normal graves consisted of vast rooms where wooden coffins were packed in from floor to ceiling, that is until the smell of all the rotting corpses in the pine boxes became so intense that Mass could no longer be held in the sanctuary above. Deeper in one comes across the mass graves and the “wictims” of the Black Plague, and ultimately the “bone houses” where bones were stacked like fire wood to make room for new corpses.
 
However, the pièce de résistance are the Habsburg graves, or rather the third of them that are located in the St. Stephen’s catacombs. For it is not a third of the dynasty that is buried here, but rather a third of each of the Habsburgs. Each member of the dynasty, having important ties to three churches in Vienna, has their heart buried at one church, their bodies at anther, and their guts preserved at St. Stephens in alcohol!
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