Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Naughty Noah


"I'm afraid that as Evangelicals, we think that a work of art only has value if we reduce it to a tract."
Francis Schaeffer

"I will only be satisfied with Hollywood once they accurately present Jesus as a Mid-western boy from Iowa, with an American accent and dark-blonde, feathered hair...just like the pictures of him in the "Christian" bookstores."
Me

Soooooooooo, there is a bit of a stink about a movie that comes out this Friday.  Frankly, I'm shocked, SHOCKED I say, that Hollywood would take liberties with the bible!  How dare they not keep in line with biblical accuracy?  "VeggieTales" certainly did.

____________________


It has been noted before by many that American christians tend to begin so many responses from a defensive, fearful position.  This strikes me as this being the case once again.  It's been interesting to see the response of so many people on social media to this upcoming film.  Most of the people who are knocking it, admit that they haven't even seen it.  They simply have their facts on good, solid "hear-say." A pastor, or someone in some type of authority told them that the film was bad because of this or that.

It's no surprise to anyone who knows me, that I have a rather high tolerance for controversial things.  I'm not afraid of that sort of thing.  If anything, it simply stokes my curiosity.

When I first saw a trailer for the Noah movie a few months ago, my initial reaction was, "Sweet, they got Russel Crowe to play Noah."  It was not, "I hope they use the proper exegesis of the text."  I had no expectations that Hollywood would get it right.  They NEVER do!

Even when it's a movie about a bible story where the film maker wants to get it right or be accurate, they still never do.  In Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ," he took artistic liberties.  In fact, one key scene, where Jesus is being nailed to the cross, Gibson got it wrong.  He shows Jesus being nailed through his hands.  The Romans didn't do that.  They put the nail through the wrist, so that the condemned would stick there and not tare off.

The thing is, most bible movies aren't made by Believers, anyway.  They just want to tell a good story and do it artistically.  So they are going to use artistic license to tell their version of the story.  If you understand that ahead of time, it will save you a great deal of grief and frustration while you munch on your popcorn.

____________________

A day or so ago, a friend of mine posted this article on Facebook.
http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/03/17/will-evangelicals-miss-boat-paramount-noah/

I thought it summed everything up very well.  In particular, I like the quote from Francis Shaeffer.  Christians seem to like movies, music, art, etc. that sells Jesus.  If it doesn't bring you squarely to the face of Christ, then it isn't any good.

Christians seem to like self-imposed Ghettos.  We have Christian coffee mugs, Christians T-shirts, Christian bumper stickers.  We seem to insist of labeling everything as either "Christian" or "Non-Christian."  We likes us a nice black and white world.

I don't see the world that way.  It just doesn't make sense to me.  If Paul is correct in Romans that, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,..." then I don't need a label to see the truth of God all around me.

I've said this before, when I hear a work of Beethoven...or even a guitar solo by Neil Young, I can hear God testifying to himself through the creativity that he has given every human being, whether they are one of his followers or not.

CAVEAT: I fully admit that there is plenty of crap out there that doesn't honor God in any way, shape or form.  Often times, you will find said crap in your local Christian bookstore with a Jesus label on it. 

Preach it, now!!!!

____________________

A couple of decades ago, "The Last Temptation of Christ" came out.  It had Willem Dafoe as Jesus and David Bowie as Pontius Pilate. (David Bowie?!?!) Anyway, a lot of christians really got their undies in knots over this film.  There were even protests outside of many theaters.  The irony was that the film wasn't based on the bible.  It was based on a novel written by some goofy Greek Orthodox priest/monk.

Needless to say, I went to the movie.  After watching it I can honestly say that if it hadn't been for the "Christians" bringing all of the attention to it, the film would have died in a week.  It was a real "Sleeper" in every sense of the word.  Thanks to the protests, the film actually made money.

Actually, there were two things that I really did like about the film.  #1. The soundtrack is EXCELLENT!  It was written by Peter Gabriel.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passion:_Music_for_The_Last_Temptation_of_Christ  If you can ever get your hands on a copy of that CD, do it!

#2. When Willem Dafoe as Jesus starts to preach to the various crowds I thought, "Yeah!  That's probably exactly like Jesus' style of interaction."  I was impressed.  Other than that though, a pretty dull film.

I was going to Bethel Seminary at that time.  I remember a professor talking about the film in class.  He said that the movie was probably a bad idea.  Then he asked our class if anyone had seen the film.  I was the only one to raise a hand.  He gave me kind of a stunned look and asked me why.  I replied...

"I figured that since so many christians were giving it all this free advertising, I kind of owed it to them to go see it."

So with that in mind, I'd simply say to not be afraid or get worked up about "Noah."  It's Hollywood.  What are you expecting?  Finally, it's Russel Crowe, dude...Russel Crowe.


Peace

Joe

Here's the trailer with some of Peter Gabriel's music.  It's not perfect, but it's pretty good.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Confidence & Christ


For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive  mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:15 & 16


I team teach Sunday School for the Youth Group at Living Waters with two other adults.  It's fun because you get so see so many different perspectives on the same issue.  This past Sunday we were talking about discipleship, and how Jesus insists on being first.  He insists that whatever we hold to in our lives must be given over to him so as to adequately follow him.

To some, Jesus' insistence on being #1 in our lives could come off as arrogant.  Sometimes I think that, too.  But then I have to remind myself; why would I go out for a McDouble burger when I have perfect piece of seasoned stake sitting on a dinner plate on my table?

If Jesus really is that perfect, that beautiful, that ideal...that obvious, then why settle for anything else?

____________________


The character of Jesus fascinates me.  So much of what we could see in the gospels are easily missed because we tend to treat scripture like a block of wood.  In incarnate form, he had all of the normal attributes that we have...just slightly more intense I think.

We know that Jesus got angry in a righteous way.  He hated seeing his father exploited for money. (Makes you wonder what he would think of so much of the church in America these days?) He got mad at the religious leaders for their legalistic ways.  In fact, it appears that Jesus hated religion in general.

We know he felt sorrow and sadness.  He wept at the tomb of his buddy, Lazarus, even though he was about to bring him back to life.  He seemed to really enjoy little kids.  He was also amazing with the kindness and mercy that he showed to "the least of these."

One of the things that is not directly mentioned in the gospels, but is glaring at you right between the lines is Jesus' self-confidence.  This isn't the type that we so often display, an arrogant self-confidence.  "I'm all that and a bag of chips."  No.  It is more of a matter-of-fact, "I just know who I am," kind of confidence.

One character trait that Jesus never seemed to display of any kind is fear.  You never see Jesus afraid of anything or anyone.  I'm guessing that this came from his self-awareness, his confidence of who he was and who his father was.

When Jesus was being accused and mocked by the Sanhedrin, he barely utters a word in his own defense.  When he was hauled before Herod, he didn't say anything at all.  I love the conversation that Jesus has with Pilot in John's gospel.  Pilot is freaking out over the situation.  He doesn't want to kill Jesus, but he is too much of a coward to stand up to the religious leaders.

When Pilot heard this, he was even more afraid, and went back inside his palace.  "Where do you come from?" he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave no answer.  "Do you refuse to speak to me?  Pilate said.  "Don't you realize I have the power either to free you or to crucify you?"

Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above."
John 19:10 & 11

The theological term for that is "B*llsy!"  
(Sorry, I just couldn't think of a more appropriate expression.)

You just couldn't intimidate Jesus.  He knew who he was.

When I think about that, I contrast it to so much of what I see in the church in America these days.  The church these days seems to live in a constant state of fear.  Before he died, Chuck Colson noted in an essay he wrote for the book "Un-Christian," that when it comes to politics, the church almost always begins from a defensive position.  http://www.unchristian.com/  Th-th-th-hat's fear, folks.

I have a friend who, by using the most bizzare interpretation of Luke 22:36 I've ever seen, says that Jesus wants us to own assault rifles in case we need to over throw the federal government.  He listens to a crack-pot preacher who has moved to Montana because God told him that it is the tip of the spear of the fight for freedom.  Fear.

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  
Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both both body and soul in hell."  
Matt: 10:28

____________________


In the letter to the church in Philippi, Paul warns about having confidence in the flesh, i.e. yourself, the things of this world, your religious works, etc.  That's not difficult for me because I generally don't have a lot of confidence in myself.  I am wracked with self doubt.  I don't second guess myself.  I quadruple guess myself. (It's like a hobby.)

I take a lot of comfort in those lines from the book of Hebrews that I posted at the top.  I don't really understand how Jesus could be tempted in every way, in the same ways that I am, but that's what it says.  That's a lot of temptation.  And yet he remained sinless.

Scripture tells us to place our confidence in Jesus.  He is the perfect High Priest.  Like I said, I don't understand the "How" of his being tempted like me, I but I like it that he was.  I like it even more that he remained sinless.  I like it even more that I can now approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Not because of something I did (Which ain't much, I can tell you that.), but because of all that he did.

I'll place my confidence in Jesus' self-confidence.

Peace

Joe


P.S. I was going to post the video "Baddest man alive" by the Black Keys in honor of Jesus.  But it has some bad language in it.  Since I already used one bad word in this post, I figured I'd use one instead.
)


Sunday, March 2, 2014

"Old friend, come back home."


The word of YHWH came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because it's wickedness has come up before me."  But Jonah ran away from YHWH and headed for Tarshish.

And you know what happens next.

But YHWH provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to YHWH his God.  He said: "In my distress I called to the Lord and he answered me.  From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry."
Jonah 1:1-3 & 1:17-2:2


Old friend, come back home.
Even though you always were alone.
You had to push against the fates, just to make it, make it through the gate.

Old friend, come to me.
Everything I was, I used to be.
I went north and I went east.
Follow in the footsteps of some beautiful beast.

I know you don't believe me
when I believe in you.
I know it could get much easier
if you want it to.
"Old Friend" by Sea Wolf.


I have aged more since about this past October than I think I have in about 15 years.  A couple of weekends ago, I went up with our Youth Group for a Winter retreat.  While up there, one of my friends came up to me and asked if everything was O.K.  I told him that I was under a great deal of stress.

My friend pulled me aside and told me that he was going to give me some advice that another fellow from our church had offered to him.  He said, "Slow your ass DOWN!" (He had a distinct grin on his face when he offered this.) He said that the way I looked, I was either going to be in the hospital or the looney bin within a month.

So we were coming home of the bus from the retreat.  It didn't have proper heating, so my feet were cold and my whole body ached.  A certain Middle School girl leaned over and asked me how old I was.  I told her to guess.  And thus the following...

"Well, you have a lot of gray hair.  
So you must be really old.  
63?"

I had a distinct urge to shove her off the bus.



A bit ago, I was driving home from the Sunday service.  I had the radio to the nation's greatest radio station, 89.3 The Current.  A song came on that I had never heard before.  The tone and the lyrics hit me right in my soul.  You can call me crazy all you want, but I have seen God use all sorts of music to communicate to me before.  It felt as if he was singing directly to me.  It made me cry in the car.

Give it a listen.


So Jonah runs from the Lord.  Jonah is actually a comedy, even though most people don't know that.  God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh.  That city was the capital of one of the most evil empires ever to exist.  Jonah plans on running to Tarshish.  Tarshish was located in southern Spain.  It was considered to be paradise.

How could you possibly find God in paradise?  He's too busy doing his work in a place of sin, wickedness and evil.


I'm good at running from God.  I do it more than I care to admit.  I've been running from God for many months now.  Don't kid yourself.  Going to church on Sundays & Wednesday nights doesn't mean you're not running.


God's mercy & love are not like our concepts.  God's mercy can be severe, and his love can be relentless.

In his love, God brings a storm that gets Jonah cast overboard.  In his mercy, God causes Jonah to end up in a whale's guts for 72 hours, only to be barfed up on a beach.

In his mercy, God stripped everything away from Jonah until all that was left was God.

I've been running from God for a long time.  God has been stripping things away from me during all of this.  I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that I have been paying a high price.  To quote one of my favorite philosophers; "I feel like butter scraped over too much bread."

I have a terrible time waking up first thing in the morning and sitting down with God.  I have a worse time before going to bed.  During the rest of the day, I find all sorts of excuses and distractions to hold him at arms length.  I willfully seek them out.

I really don't want to end up sitting in a belly full of fish bile, plankton & weeds.

The two areas where I find myself connecting with Jesus most easily are when I am outdoors, either in nature or driving around in it, OR when I write.  Either when I am writing in this blog, or working on my book, I can literally feel his pleasure.  I feel alive!  In particular, when I am writing stories in my book, it's like he is right there with me telling me what to say.

Maybe that sounds crazy.  I confess, I have some minor mental health issues. (Yeah, like you don't.) But it's not crazy.  Jesus connects to people according to how he has wired them.  We are his creation.  He knows what he's doing.

This has been dawning on me over the past few days.  Even as I write all of this now, it feels like an anvil is lifting off my shoulders.

I have let my job, family health problems, a recent ugly interaction with a far-right, fundamentalist  screwball, facebook, videos, willfulness, and on & on & on come between me and the lover of my soul.

I am too tired to run anymore, and I'm not even sure where Tarshish is anyway.


God rarely shouts.  
He tends to whisper.  
And sometimes he sings...even on the radio.


"Old friend, come back home."


Peace

Joe