Thursday, June 30, 2016

Alone (Genesis 2:18-20)

So far everything God has made has been declared by Him to be good. The only hint at something being not good has been the prospect of man acting against God’s plan; the whole knowledge of good and evil thing. But now, in the process of making man, God declares something to be not good. It is not good for man to be alone.

This is not a case of God discovering a flaw in His plan. In chapter one we see the creation of humanity summarized in one verse. Here we get to see more detail, over the course of some time. God makes the man first, and places him in his prepared home. He teaches him the rule and gives him a purpose. Then He lets man discover the missing piece before He gives it to him. Man needs to know what it is to be alone before he can appreciate what it is to be together.

That leads us into one of my favorite parts of the creation story. The man is told to name the animals. Adam was the first zoologist. Man’s naming of the animals does not just exhibit his rule over them. Adam had to study the animals—get to know a bit about them—before he could adequately name them. Names in those days said something about the thing that they named. And, in studying all the animals that God brought to Adam, he began to sense his incompleteness.

The animals had a community of sorts. They lived in herds or families or, at the very least, in couples. Adam was alone. They had male and female aspects. Adam was just a man. The companionship and community that he was created to be in was missing. None of the animals could supply man with the friendship that he required. Man could befriend certain animals, but they would always fall short, not measure up to who man was. And man had a friendship with the Creator, but God would always be far beyond man. Adam had no equal, and as such he was alone. At this point in creation, humanity was incomplete. God let us discover that before God completed His creation of humanity.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Knowing vs. Doing (John 14:4-14)

When Jesus talks about the “Way” to where He is going—the way to the Father—He does so in a casual manner. He is not focused on describing the way to His disciples. They already know the way. That is what He has been teaching them the whole time. Thomas’ confusion here seems to stem from his focus on the destination. Where is Jesus going? Isn’t He always going to be there with them?

That is similar to the problem a lot of people have with this passage today. When we talk about Jesus being the Way (and the Truth and the Life) we tend to focus on the destination rather than the journey. Or, if not just the destination, we are caught up in the fact that Jesus is the means. But that does not negate the fact that knowing there is a way and following that way are two separate things. Too many people today are cavorting down the wide way leading to destruction, confident that they are alright because they know that the narrow road exists. You have to actually walk along the right path to get where it leads.

Jesus is God. He came to the world to save it. But He is also the most perfect revelation of the Father. And He is the most perfect example and teacher of how those who belong to God are to live. Jesus left us clear instructions on how to live in a fallen world as we await His return. Jesus being the Way is not so much about an acknowledgement of an idea expressed in a prayer. It is about a radically changed life.

And that ties into the whole “in my name” teaching that shows up here for the first of three times in this last minute teaching from Jesus. When we live in Jesus—in the way that He lined out for us to follow—we are living according to His nature. “In His name” as it were. And, accomplishing a life as He would have us live involves us asking for God’s help along the way. If we live as God wants and want what God wants, then the things we ask Him for will be given to us.

Praying “in Jesus name” is not an incantation that we add on to the end of our shopping lists so that God has to act. Praying in Jesus name is praying as Jesus prayed. It is not about our wishes, plans, and needs; it is all about God’s will, plans and the Kingdom being expressed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Stuff I Should Write and then Delete

I recently met a Georgian (from the country, not the state) who is breaking free from a cultural, religious, legalistic view of Christianity that his Eastern Orthodox tradition had given him. He is learning that following Jesus is more about a relationship with a living God and choosing to do the right thing in every circumstance, not simply following a list of rules where they apply and doing whatever you feel like wherever there are no traditional guidelines.

Based on his background, I was only slightly surprised when his first question after learning I was a US citizen was, “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?”

Without a hint of ironic intent, my answer was, “Neither. I am a Christian.”

As a believer, my hope and allegiance belong to Christ. I respect the authority and the laws of the land where I live and also where my citizenship resides. But my confidence and security come from a different Kingdom altogether. My future is not tied to that of any country or government.

What a lot of Christian leaders have tried to teach over the years is that our future and hope rest in one particular political party. They argue that the country will cease to exist if the truly evil party gains control, so our responsibility as followers of Christ is to endorse the other party. That’s what Jesus would do. The funniest thing is, that there are Christian leaders making this same argument for both sides of the coin.

The problems with this are many. It argues that God isn’t in control. That our political system will determine what God is able to do or not. That our only valid political action as believers is to cast a vote every so often. And that we have just two options from which to choose.

And that last one is particularly bad. It is faulty logic and leads people to embrace a wrong out of fear of a greater wrong. What Jesus wants from His followers is to always do what is right and leave the consequences—easy or hard—to Him.

A crass example that nonetheless exposes the flaws of this approach well goes as follows: Suppose a man straps a bomb to your chest and tells you he will kill you if you don’t make a choice: you have to murder a woman or rape her. Do you chose the lesser of two evils? Or do you do the right thing?

If you refuse to endorse hatred and fear mongering from one side, you are not by default electing the other side. If you chose to vote for a hypothetical third choice that has no chance of winning, you are not helping one of the other two parties. You are doing your civic duty and expressing your opinion by standing behind something right instead of following a pied piper and embracing a “lesser” wrong.

And you can remind those who tell you it’s your fault the country is going down the tubes because you aren’t willing to get your hands dirty and endorse a fear mongering, power hungry, racist, loose cannon that they are wrong. I live in a country that ignored such warning signs in favor of a man who promised to make their nation great again. It did not go well at all. You are simply standing for what is right and trusting God to be in control. And He never promised that doing the right thing would be easy or safe. In fact Jesus told His followers that it would be dangerous and the world would hate them for it.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Gunnar's Son (A Bit of Fun)

Bearded toothy grin
At a near miss because it’s fun
His is privilege and honor
No expectation just a sun
That shimmers on the water
See the glacier glowing
Eleven men who play a game
And a nation expressing joy
Chant, clap, scream
A little island’s dream
Is so much better than
Excuses chasing hubris
Like the lion
Who’s ever toothless

Friday, June 24, 2016

Quantum Leap Rewatch (Episodes 43-48)


Episodes 37-42 Episodes 49-54

This period of the show, about half way through its run, is a series of “stunt premises” that are not well enough developed to be special.

Episode 43: “8 ½ Months” 

The whole episode is spawned from the idea of having Sam take the place of a pregnant girl about to give birth. Up until now we have mostly operated with the understanding the Sam is exchanging consciousness with a person from another time. It is made clear in this episode that he is in fact changing places with them physically, and people are just seeing him as the person he is supposed to be. This clarification makes this episode all the sillier. Especially when the writers decide they really want Sam to have the baby. They are so caught up in that premise that they fail to do anything with the story more than the usual tropes of single motherhood in a time when it was even more problematic than today.

Episode 44: “Future Boy” 

Doctor Who meets Quantum Leap. Sam jumps into an actor on a cheesy, old, sci-fi tv show. But the actor who plays the time traveler has some outlandish ideas about real time-travel, that loosely parallel Sam’s theories. It isn’t as good as it sounds.

Episode 45: “Private Dancer” 





Sam takes the place of a male stripper to help save a woman from becoming a stripper and later a prostitute who would die of Aids. A refreshing reminder of a time before the feminist movement tried to talk itself into the idea that the sex trade can be good for women. The fact that the dancer Sam is saving is deaf is an extraneous bit that only distracts from the sex-trade-is-bad element.


Episode 46: “Piano Man” 





A run-of-the-mill storyline where Sam is trying to get away from a mon hitman out to kill him.


Episode 47: “Southern Comforts” 





Only a couple weeks after telling a story about the dangers and demeaning nature of the sex trade, Sam is leaped into a pimp. And the story is not about trying to help the women forced to sell their bodies to live, even though that element is touched upon. Instead, Sam injects the heart-of-gold element into the brothel owner where is presumably wasn’t there before, to help save an abused wife trying to hide out as a prostitute whilst not really being one. I don’t know where they thought they were going with this one.


Episode 48: “Glitter Rock” 





The show plays around with the Glitter Rock scene of the early seventies, but without telling a story that has anything to do with Rock, or Glitter, or anything that related to the scene. Instead they tell yet another murder mystery. We are left with no sense of why this guy had to be saved as opposed to all the other people who died on that day.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Brexit

As I write this today Great Britain is voting to decide whether they will stay in the EU or not. People on both sides of the issue are preaching doom and gloom for the future unless they have their way. It is a fascinating example of the current cultural climate across the world today.

No matter the outcome of today’s vote, the world will go on tomorrow. What’s more, God will still be in control. The results will not be a surprise to Him. His plans will go on without challenge, without hindrance. So fear is not something anyone who believes should entertain.

But fear is exactly the issue here, and across the world. The rise in popularity of ultra-nationalistic, isolationist parties—what many point out can be classified as neo-fascist ideology—is a trend not isolated to Great Britain or the US. Analysts and experts have been documenting the rise of neo-fascist trends all across Europe.

The basic argument says that the answers to all our problems is to hunker down and stop relating to the rest of the world. And a common factor in these positions is to demonize the outsider. Refugees and immigrants are to be feared because they are evil, mostly because they come from other races. People like Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and Lutz Bachman have capitalized on this fear mongering.

I could be wrong, but I am not ready to believe that things have gone so far. I choose to hope that we can learn from history and not be doomed to repeat it. I don’t see Brexit passing. I can’t fathom people choosing to follow the guts of demagogues and racists over the data and analysis of people with facts and reality on their side.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Rule (Genesis 2:15-17)

When God placed the man in the garden, he was what we call innocent. He was simple. Man didn’t really know anything, he just did as he was created to do. He tended the garden that had been made for him. In many ways he was like all the other “living beings”, the animals. Sure, he was God’s representative, and he had authority over the animals. And he was made in God’s image, unlike the other animals. So he had a relationship with God unlike the other living beings.

However, one major thing that set man apart from the other living beings, was the Rule. We have that pithy phrase that says that rules are made to be broken, but the truth is that what makes a rule a rule is that it CAN be broken. More importantly it can also be FOLLOWED, obeyed. A rule represents a choice. And that is what man was given uniquely in all of creation.

In a sense, the tree and its fruit are incidental. People speculate what this tree must have been like. What was its fruit like and what magical properties did it have? For God’s purposes, though, it might have been just one of many similar trees—a particular apple tree, for example to highlight a common misconception. The key is that this tree—whatever it was—was the one that God told the man not to eat. The fact that it was designated as the forbidden tree is what made it important. The properties of the fruit are not what would change man and condemn him to death. It was the choice to reject God’s rule that would change humanity. The sin was the choice, not the fruit.

“What if?” That is a dangerous game. We can’t really know what would have happened had man followed God’s rule and chapter three had never happened. C. S. Lewis proposed the idea that this would have been a temporary arrangement. God would have eventually showed man what it was like to be good and not merely innocent, but it would have happened in God’s time and God’s way. God wants man to be good by choice and not just innocent. But, we don’t know what it would have been like had man chosen God instead of sin.

In the end we will end up with a humanity that choses God, but it will take sin, death and a Gospel to get us there. And, even though we know that this was God’s plan from before time began, it does NOT mean God set man up to fall. Man had the choice to obey from the start.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Topic: Gothic V

She wasn’t like
Other girls
She was make-up

She didn’t embrace a
Natural look
She liked pale
Pale skin and eye shadow
After a fashion
That could be deemed
As way too much

Eye sockets should
Appear hollowed out
With irises cold steel blue
Lip stick black
Never done neat
Outfit blacker still

Now before you say
She was just another
Run of the mill gothic chick
I have to add that
She was also a nun
Aged over seventy six

(Madeleine de Demandolx was a nun in the early 1600s who was emotionally unstable and eventually thought to be possessed. Astoundingly, her testimony as a suspected possessed person was given weight in inquisition trials against a priest, Father Louis Gaufridi, whom she accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship with her as a teenager, and whom she blamed for her possession. Even though evidence was never found of his abusing her, nor of his being a Satanist, witch, or any other sort of heretic—and even though he was a well-respected priest—he was tortured to obtain a confession and killed for the supposed crimes. Madeleine’s “possession” ended as soon as Gaufridi died. She was allowed to live, albeit under the watch of the inquisition and being further accused of witchcraft multiple times, until her natural death at the age of 77 in 1670. This is the first of many cases of possessed nuns in the first half of the Seventeenth Century in France. As scary as a “demon nun” may appear in a Hollywood thriller, these sorts of accusations and mass hysteria are a far more horrific monster in real life.)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Homes: The Disciples' Future (John 14:1-4)

"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going."

Our Home To Come: Heaven.

Jesus has promised us a future and a hope. We will one day live in the perfection that is heaven. This world is not our home. How does heaven differ from the place where we are today? The Bible gives us many descriptions that are hard to visualize physically, but I believe that we also have a clear description of the way heaven will be spiritually. Specifically, in this “Last Minute Teaching” Jesus describes three qualities that He wants His disciples to have that will be our qualities in heaven. If we strive to have these qualities in our lives now, we can make our experience here in the church a little more like heaven.

The first quality Jesus gives His disciples is Love:

John 13:34,35: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
John 15:12: "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you."
John 15:17 "This I command you, that you love one another."

Jesus models love for the disciples when He washes their feet. He commanded them to do the same for each other. He is not instituting a third ordinance here along with baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He does not merely want us to perform a symbolic act of service such as washing each others feet. He is commanding us to have a servant’s heart.

What would the church look like if everyone had a servant’s heart? Can you imagine a place where everyone stepped up to the tasks at hand and took care of things instead of complaining about what was not being done? When Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, He was performing a task so demeaning that even Jewish servants did not do it. Jesus, our Lord, was showing us that if nothing is too low for Him, we should also consider no ministry below our station.

I sometimes wonder if we are making the best use of God’s money when we pay others to do the very ministries we are capable of doing. Why do we pay people to clean the church when we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to perform that task as a ministry? Why do we pay people to care for our babies and children when we are capable of doing that ministry as members of the body?

The second quality Jesus gives His disciple’s is Peace:

John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

The peace of heaven is best exemplified in the unity we can have with each other. Jesus prays for this unity in chapter 17 of John:

John 17:22,23 "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me."

Now, one thing needs to be said at the outset here. Unity in and of itself is not good. Unity can be evil. If a group of people come together for a bad purpose, they are unified in evil. The unity that God desires for us is that we be unified in Christ.

For this reason the peace that Christ has given us is not a “peace at any cost.” All too often we tolerate anything in the name of unity and peace. We avoid conflict. However, in a sinful world, we will have conflict for the sake of unity in Christ. We should not tolerate sin in our members. We must deal with sin in the church in a Biblical fashion. We also should never simply “go with the flow” for the sake of peace. If the church is headed in the wrong direction, we need to do whatever it takes to get it back on the right track. Tough decisions and hard actions are made for the sake of peace.

The third quality Jesus gives His disciple’s is Joy:

John 15:11 "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full."
John 16:20 "Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy."

Joy is sometimes a hard concept to grasp. We confuse happiness for joy. C. S. Lewis described true joy as a thrill and a longing for heaven. Lucy Maud Montgomery, in her book “Anne of Green Gables” describes this feeling through the words of her orphan character:

"Pretty? Oh, PRETTY doesn't seem the right word to use. Nor beautiful, either. They don't go far enough. Oh, it was wonderful--wonderful. It's the first thing I ever saw that couldn't be improved upon by imagination. It just satisfies me here"--she put one hand on her breast--"it made a queer funny ache and yet it was a pleasant ache. Did you ever have an ache like that, Mr. Cuthbert?"

Joy is the feeling we get when we are accomplishing the thing we were created to do. If a hammer experienced joy it would be in hitting a nail, scissors may feel joy when they are cutting. We experience joy in doing the work of our Father in heaven. Ministry is what we were made to do.

How do you know when you are done doing what God has prepared for you to do? When can you retire from doing ministry? If you still have a pulse, then you still have a ministry to accomplish.

Our Temporary Home: This Earth.

If Love, Peace, and Joy characterize heaven, what is our current home like? It doesn’t take very long living here for us to realize it is contaminated by sin, pain, and suffering. For the Christian, who does not belong here, you can add to that list: persecution.

John 15:18-20 18 "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

Christ has not told us that we might face trouble from the world. He has said that we will suffer and be persecuted just as He was. All around the world Christians suffer daily. They are beaten, arrested and killed for their faith. The Twentieth Century saw more Christian Martyrs than all the 1900 years preceding it combined.

There is and explosive Church Growth movement in Northern India today, where 2000 churches have been formed in the past six years. If you were to go to one of their services today and witness a baptism, you would discover that part of the Baptismal service there teaches the new convert the words they should say on the day they are martyred!

The question we must ask ourselves is: why do we not face persecution? It is not because we live in a Christian nation, because we do not. Are we so similar to the world around us? Is there nothing to make us different from our culture, nothing that offends them about us? If that is the case, then we are not becoming heavenly. We are remaining the same as the world around us.

Where is your heart today? Are you looking forward to heaven and striving to become more like Christ in Love, Peace, and Joy. Or are you happy here in this sinful world, content to be like the world around you?

Friday, June 17, 2016

"Sunspring" (2016)

The first film made from a script written by “A.I.” is fascinating. But not necessarily for the reasons you might think. This is not an example that will have you preparing for the robot apocalypse.

The script itself is almost unreadable. It is nonsense in the extreme. The “A.I. behind the script is similar to the software on smartphones that “guesses” what you are texting and supplies you with suggested words. The creators fed that software with every single sci-fi script they could get their hands on and then asked it to write a script. Those who have used smartphone text suggestion software will not be surprised with the results.

But the reason the film is so amazing is that it shows the creativity and ability of the human mind to convey meaning to such nonsense. The choices made by the directors and the job done by the actors is astounding to watch. For example, when the script says, “he takes his eyes out of his mouth”; they took that nonsense and turned it into an ominous and intriguing clue into the sci-fi culture and future in which the story takes place. It is still silly, but raises questions. And the actors deliver the nonsensical dialogue with a sense of meaning that almost comes through. The monologue at the end of the film is especially moving, not because the actress is saying anything that conveys any meaning, but because she emotes in reaction to the words.

“Sunspring” is not a big step forward for A.I. But it is a testament to the creativity of humanity and the continuing dependence of machines on mankind for meaning and purpose.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Still a Big Problem

This week the SBC in its annual meeting called on its congregations to discontinue displaying the confederate flag. While some may see this as mostly a symbolic gesture, it is a great step in the right direction. Racism is as important and pervasive a sin for America as any other of the big, culturally shaming ones we combat. And, contrary to a lot of other sins, it is one that the church has tolerated or even embraced.

Many argue that racism is old news. That it used to be a problem back in the days of segregation, but we’ve moved beyond all that. That is simply not true. Sure, the level of institutional racism has declined in the US. But the prejudices, the hatred, and the injustices continue. I remember as a young man ready to start college moving back to the States and being shocked at the level of racism. Especially among Christians who should know better.

It isn’t that racism is something exclusive to the United States. People everywhere fight a default position to trust people more like themselves and to fear “the other.” But in the United States you have a historic level of institutional racism, where one group of people were allowed to own another group as property, that takes the smear on our nation to another level. And you would think that having acknowledged our error we would be more sensitive to the root causes and try to avoid them. But in many ways the institution changed but the culture didn’t.

The fact that we have now had a black president would lead you to think that things are getting even better. But in many ways, the racial tension over the past eight years has merely been exacerbated. Both “sides” of the racial divide have become more entrenched. We seem to be still be a long way from the days when a president will simply be a president and their race will not factor into things. In the same way that crime reports still feel acceptable as reporting the races of the perpetrators. The difference between “black man kills cop,” and “man kills cop” may seem small but it isn’t. The race of the killer is a detail in the crime, but not the defining issue.

And if you are still wondering if racism really is such a big problem in the US, just look at the election coverage this year. The fact that an openly racist candidate has presumably won the Republican nomination doesn’t just tell you that we still have a racist in the country. It demonstrates a huge racist backing. Because you don’t embrace one evil to oppose another. Or put another way, if you find racism palatable enough to endorse it, maybe you don’t really see it as evil.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Garden (Genesis 2:5-14)

When you get to the account of the creation of Eden, you immediately run into problems for the modern mind. This is partly due to our conditioning and partly due to a misunderstanding of genre and purpose. We are conditioned to read certain texts scientifically, and unfortunately some people—especially those Christians who tend towards an anti-science bias—include the Bible in this category of books. By scientific, I mean the desire to read information given as a straightforward description of dry, informative, facts. Everything placed neatly in an order dictated by sequence, and all words being clear and concise.

It pays to remember that Genesis, particularly in the early chapters, is above all else a theological text. That does not mean that the information is not factual or somehow purely symbolic. It just means that the main concern is delivering truth about God and man as he relates to God, not things like scientific formulas, step-by-step instructions, or detailed maps to the locations of places. It also helps to keep in mind that it was written over 3,000 years ago in another language, by a people who thought with a completely different syntax and worldview than the modern one.

Some people too concerned with detail are likely to point out all sorts of inconsistencies between things here and in chapter one. For instance they would say that the order of the creation of plants, man and animals doesn’t agree between the chapters. Keep in mind that this second account is not a retelling of the whole creation. It is concentrating on the creation of humanity, and the planting of a home for them in the world.

So, we have a world that has sky, water, plants, and animals but no man at the start of this story. Also, no cultivation has occurred yet. God hasn’t planted the garden and there is no man to tend it. In that setting, God fashions a man out of earth and breathes life into him. Then God plants the garden and places the man in it as his home.

A simple, non-complicated look in more detail at one little thing that happened on day six back in chapter one. It doesn’t change what happened then, it just elaborates. And we aren’t done because chapter one says “And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” We don’t have a female yet, so there must be more detail to come.

But before we get more detail we get some more—seemingly extraneous—detail about the garden. Namely the river that flows out of the garden and becomes four rivers. This is very clearly not a scientific or geographic bit of text. It either describes a world that will be radically changed by the time these words were written, or it purposely misleads the reader as to the precise location of the garden. Either way you have a case of paradise lost because even if you could figure out where Eden was, it isn’t there anymore. That world ceases to exist in chapter 3…

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Twit-erization

or the sphincterification of the human race

Trade encounters for screen time
and friendships for status
Conversation for comment sections
and empathy for reactions
Facts for opinions
Truth for conspiracy
Garnish the whole thing with a healthy dose
of religious or secular Pharisees

This brave new world of global connection
This collective mind and growing group think
May be the next step in human evolution
Where Homo sapiens becomes Homo anisphinct

Monday, June 13, 2016

Love One Another (John 13:34, 35)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus settles in to teaching them His last minute instructions. But before He really gets rolling, two things happen.

First, He sends the traitor off to set things in motion. Jesus knows His time has come, and that one who has been called by Him and followed Him for the whole public ministry is going to betray Him to the Jewish leaders. Jesus tells Judas to go do as he has intended, before He teaches His true followers this last teaching.

And, as soon as He starts to teach, he is interrupted by Peter. Trying to tell the disciples that He is going to be leaving them is what prompts the interruption. Peter, in typical gung-ho fashion declares that he will be with Jesus whatever happens. But Jesus knows that this is beyond anyone. Instead, He makes clear what He does want the disciples to do when He is gone: love one another.

We will get more detailed teaching about this command after the interruption—as well as throughout the New Testament. But this is a key thing to understand. When Jesus is about to go to the cross to save the world, and He knows He will be leaving the Disciples to carry the ball, He has one instruction that trumps anything else: Love.

I don’t know if you would get that answer from a majority if you were to poll a bunch of Christians for the essence of their religious ethic. Many would say it is about holiness and avoiding sin, especially their pet-peeve sins. Others would say that it is all about justice and doing good in the cultural struggle, helping the poor and the disadvantaged. And far too many would tell you that it is all about success, about how God intends people to live i.e. the secret to the “good life.”

But Jesus and the rest of the New Testament would boil it down to “love as I have loved.” Love with Christ as our model. Or, if you prefer things not quite so narrow, “faith, hope and love, with the greatest of these being love.” More on that as Jesus continues His last minute teaching:

Friday, June 10, 2016

"The Revenant" (2015)


“I believe that in future history, the revenge ethic will be seen as the greatest cinematic signature of American mental & spiritual sickness.” Scott Derrickson

When I quoted Derrickson a while back in my review of “Unforgiven,” I hadn’t yet seen “The Revenant.” I wonder now if this film is what triggered his thought.

“The Revenant” is a film completely devoted to that most popular of American cinema themes. To such an extent, in fact, that they take one of the most amazing and compelling true stories of the American frontier and pretty much toss it out completely.

The true story of Hugh Glass is one of a man attacked by a bear, left for dead, and incredibly determined to survive. In the true story he was motivated to live by that natural survival instinct and a quest for revenge—mostly to get his property back. Apparently he is sympathetic with the idea that his companions would leave him for dead in his condition. He was just upset that they left him without any of the things that would give him a fighting chance.

And, in the end, he forgave the men who left him. I really want to read the book of this true story.

But, the film not only tosses out all of the amazing set pieces from the real story in favor of more over-the-top, typical Hollywood fare, they feel the need to amp up the injustice to feed the audience’s need for revenge. So, Glass no has a son. And the man who left him to die is now a despicable, racist, “black-hat” style, Bad Guy. Now we can have a blood lust and fell justified in our desire to see Glass kill someone.

Of course, the real emphasis in the promotion of this film was that it was all done as realistically as possible. With no computer generated effects. They even triggered a real avalanche on film, just because they could. Leo ate real, raw Bison liver, and apparently a real, live fish. But, the bear was animated, I guess there were some things too extreme even for this depiction of real suffering.

And that is what we ultimately have here. Suffering that can be vicariously experienced. Iñárritu even has a jarring approach to making the reality seem even more palpable by having the camera lens fog up when breathed upon, or splatter with blood or water when the fighting gets too close. It takes one out of the story when that happens, and reminds the viewer that this is all an artificial depiction, but it also takes the viewer into the action. We feel like we are participating in the suffering.

It is an excellently executed film. Cinematography and direction are flawless. I just question the choice to change the emphasis from one of overcoming suffering in forgiveness to one of ultimate revenge fulfillment.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Culture Shock Thoughts

A while back I had a conversation with a university professor about culture shock. His university had a wonderful program wherein they required all of their students to take part in a cross cultural class. This involves a semester class where they learn about the culture and country they will be visiting, and is capped off with a three week trip with all sorts of cultural and educational experiences. The three week time-frame is intentional, he explained to me, because it allows the students to go through the full culture shock process—from fascination, to exasperation/ arrogance, to acceptance.

I hope I was able to maintain a straight face as he told me that.

I don’t wish to offend or appear to be scoffing at such noble efforts. After all, three weeks is better than the 10 day trip most voluntourists devote to their trips. However, let me say this quite definitively: three weeks is not enough time to experience a single culture shock cycle, let alone the multiple cycles that true cross-cultural people go through normally.

What would be a reasonable time frame, you ask? If done right, with true immersion and a cross cultural life being lived—about two years. That is enough time to learn the language and culture in such a way as to adopt aspects of the new culture. It is also enough time to trigger a good measure of true culture shock upon returning “home.”

And repatriation is where the real shock is. People returning to their passport countries after extensive time away—people who have made a home in another culture and returned—are in some sense broken. But a better way of looking at it is that they have broken free from a single cultural perspective. Upon returning to their birth culture the expectation is that they will no longer experience being “out of place.” But, since they have adopted another way of seeing the world, much of what they return to will no longer make sense. All those cultural blind-spots and deficiencies that they used to overlook, now scream out at them.

For kids going through this experience, the “Third Culture Kids” as they are called, this can be even worse. They may not have years of cultural experience in the “home culture” to fall back on. For them it is just another culture shock. Culture Shock has become a way of life for the expat, it is just stronger in the TCK.

And in that Culture-Shock-as-Lifestyle there are a few ways you can go. You can be the obnoxious person who went native, but lost the ability to adapt back. Did these people learn any skills living cross culturally? Then there are the chameleons. TCKs tend to be this way. The home culture is just another culture to imitate. But the real value for Christian cross cultural workers returning “home” lies in their prophetic perspective. They see the culture in the way that the locals cannot. They see the blind spots and the dangers that people are ignoring. They can call the culture out if they have the courage to do so.

And then there is re-expatriation, which can be a truer sense of “home coming.” And by that I do not even mean a return to the original cross-cultural context. For me, simply moving somewhere where my Culture Shock felt justifiable was a relief. It is fine to be a fish out of water anywhere but “home.” It can even be comfortable. Certainly better than being a fish out of water in the place where you grew up.

But ultimately there is an exhilaration to constantly seeing things from new perspectives. So I applaud the university program that tries to give that to students. I just wish they would find a way to make their students do a whole year or at least a semester feeling true, full culture shock.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Lessons in Servanthood (John 13:1-20)

We see Jesus’ ministry to His people, the final teaching of the most important things they need to learn before He is gone, begin with a powerful illustration. Jesus assumes the role of a lowly servant and He washes their feet. The most menial of tasks, it was something that was too low for certain types of servants. It was surely and embarrassing experience for the disciples, and not one they would ever forget. With it, Jesus taught them (and us) three things:

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” First, we have no relationship with Jesus if we haven’t been cleansed of our sins. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but our relationship with Him hangs on more than a simple understanding of that fact. We need to remember the “repent” aspect of “repent and follow.” One of the key factors of the Gospel is the recognition of a need for a Savior, and the willingness to turn away from our own, sinful direction in life and to allow God to wash us clean of our sins. We need to allow the truth of the Gospel story to apply to our lives in a real, effective way.

“The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.” What Jesus did on the cross applies to all who receive Him once and for all. All of our sins were future sins in relation to the cross. That said, even though I do not need to be “saved again” if I stumble in my walk with God, I want to keep my feet clean. When I am convicted of sin I confess, repent, and repair my relationship with Him. My justification is complete and secure, but I cooperate with God in growing in sanctification as I attempt to be more and more like my Lord in practice, not theory.

“I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you.” What Jesus did here was not the institution of another ordinance or sacrament. This was not a symbol to be practiced, but was symbolic of an attitude that we should have a followers of Christ. With Him as our master and model, we too should serve one another. No servant is greater than their master, and no “sent out” one is greater than the one who sends. We should humble ourselves and endeavor to serve the needs of others, never seeing ourselves as too good for any task. One of the best training grounds for pastors and leaders is the janitorial duty in the Church restrooms. But this message and command from Christ is not limited to leadership in the church. Everyone who sees themselves as a disciple of Christ needs to see themselves as a servant.

Friday, June 3, 2016

"Interstellar" (2014)

Nolan’s attempt to out-do 2001: A Space Odyssey, appears to have succeeded in the minds of many, as it outranks Kubrick’s film on imdb’s 250 by over 80 slots. And it shares many of that other film's traits: amazing cinematography, visuals, effects, music, etc., etc. It also borders on the “Emperor’s New Clothes” effect. It is so complicated and dense that saying you don’t like it would mean you are dumb.

But, despite several factors going against it, (length, pacing, the science falling apart and giving way to “hand-wavy,” magical solutions) it is a beautiful piece of art and a moving story. Mostly for one reason:

It is a story about love. Not the romantic love so popular in film, or even the sexual love that seems to be the only version of love pop-culture can fathom, but real, sacrificial love. The love between a father and his children. Many people scoffed at this aspect of the film, but it is its genius.

The thesis is voiced by a character in the film, the scientist Brand:

Brand:  Love isn't something that we invented. It's observable, powerful. It has to mean something.
Cooper:  Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing...
Brand:  We love people who have died. Where's the social utility in that?
Cooper:  None.
Brand:  Maybe it means something more, something we can't yet understand. Maybe it's some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can't consciously perceive. I'm drawn across the universe to someone I haven't seen in a decade, who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we're capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can't understand it.

Our main character, Cooper, is indeed drawn across dimensions including time to his daughter with the future of all humanity riding on his love for her enabling him to communicate the message that will save them.

OK. So you have to lay a lot of things aside to embrace this story. There is a whole lot of paradoxical time travel stuff going on. And you have to accept the feeble attempts to communicate 5 dimensional reality to our three dimensional minds in a two dimensional medium. (Don’t tell me seeing this in 3D made it really 3d.) And there is a lot of amazing coincidences and luck happening. (To quote the film, when Brand tells Cooper something he wants to do is “not possible,” he replies “No, it’s necessary.”)

But we get past all of that. We even get past the somewhat silly and humanistic “humanity is its own salvation” because the truth that is underlying everything is amazing.

Love is the greatest force in the universe.

That is something with which I as a Christian resonate. I do believe that Love—not human ideas of love, romance or sex, but real capital L Love—is the greatest force in the universe. Love transcends all dimensions, time, gravity, reality itself. Love is real and inexplicable by science. Love confounds. Love works things out that shouldn’t happen but need to. Love saves us. And in my experience, Love is a person. Love created everything that is. Love is on a mission to save humanity that is lost and headed to a certain death. And Love is trying to communicate to us, but it requires a great deal of faith to hear what Love is saying.

And there I go reading a whole lot into a film that wasn’t intended. At least not exactly.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ten Years

Ten years. Three thousand six hundred and fifty three days. On June 2nd, 2006 we landed in Frankfurt with four kids under 8, a stroller and about 20 pieces of luggage. Jet-lagged and without a word of German other than “nein,” we made our way through the terminal and waited for our flight to Dresden.

This is the longest I have ever lived in one city. If you subtract out the year we had to live out of Germany, (in Graz) and the four months of time visiting family and our passport country, you still have eight years and eight months. The longest I have ever spent in any other city would have to be Windsor—what? Six years maybe?

People ask us how we feel living in this land that is foreign to us. I wonder what it must be like to not live in a new place. But then again, when you spend a quarter of your life somewhere, it stops feeling new and just feels normal. For us it is truly home. And it began to feel that way—for me—about three months in.

I remember the day precisely. Not the date, but the moment. It was the first time I was walking down the street from our house to our bank, in the middle of summer, and I wasn’t suffering heat stroke. It had been a long, 12 years or more of “exile” in Texas that I hadn’t suffered through a summer. Then it started to rain. I was home.

I have left little pieces of my heart in several cities and places around the world: Borger, Windsor, San Jose, Temuco, Punta Arenas, Graz, Torres del Paine, Canyon, etc. But the day that I have to move away from Dresden will see me a substantial amount lighter.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Adam's Story (Genesis 2:4)

[4] These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

Here we leave the overture of Genesis 1:1-2:3 and enter the first of five major sections divided by genealogical interludes. This first section could be called “Adam’s Story” and it has three major movements: the creation of mankind (chapter 2), the fall of mankind (chapter 3), and the spread of sin with mankind (chapter 4). The first two of these sections occur in the Garden and have a shared chiastic structure, so they are strongly tied together. The creation of humanity and the fall occurred in quick succession would be my guess.

Not that it happened in one day. Unlike in chapter 1, no one seems to want to argue that these events happened in one 24 hour time-span, even though verse 4 uses the word day. Here the equally natural meaning of the word (both in Hebrew as well as English) implying an unspecified amount of time is allowed to carry. Mostly because it is clear that too much happens for everything to occur in a matter of hours. That, and the fact that chapter one says it all happened in more than one day.

And once again we have an account that is much more interested in delivering important, theological truths about the meaning of life and the condition of sin rather than dry scientific facts. However, there are interesting details about things like rain, terrain, and geography that bear some thought as we get to them.

The first section of Adam’s Story is another creation account. It details events that occur on what chapter one designated as day six, but also things that happened after the end of the creation events. The two creation narratives differ in some ways, but not any that can’t be harmonized if one doesn’t get too hung up on details that aren’t to be taken simplistically. It helps to realize that we have two very different perspectives here. Genesis 1 is a cosmic, universal, God’s-eye view of things. Genesis 2 also shows us things that only God saw, but is generally more of an earth-bound account, focusing on mankind and the events from humanity’s perspective…

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