30 June 2006

Everything is Rent

In a world ripped apart by disease, poverty and war, how do you find meaning? How do you measure time? By daytimes or sunsets? By lessons learned? By triumphs? By strife? Death? The opening chorus in Rent suggests love. This musical develops the importance of community, of commitment to each other in a world chalked with alienation, loneliness, death, and hopelessness.
In a world where time dies and opportunities have been wasted, how do you leave a legacy? Roger searches for the song that will leave one “blaze of glory” while Mark desperately keeps his camera rolling to find and document real life.
In a world taken over by the virtual reality seen in “Cyberworld,” where change “rips away” and friend betray to pursue the corporate latter, how do you connect?
When bills can’t be paid and scripts and dreams are burned to keep warm, what remains? What is real?
When the smell of death wafts before your nostrils, how will you face the final moments? Will we lose our dignity? Will someone care?
Jonathan Larson, in a musical and wordsmithing style akin to Sondheim (to whom he plays homage in “La Vie Boheme”), adapts Puccini’s opera, La Boheme (playfully using popular themes from the opera in his translation) to address the hard questions of life and discuss life in today’s culture. Larson intimates that “there is no future, there is no past…there’s no day but today.” Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so live today. We are living and dying in America, but we’re not alone. Meaning is found in relationships. This philosophical standpoint takes its cues from Existentialism. Rent, both the musical and now the movie, has had a cult-like following because of its connection with North Americans asking the same questions. Larson died just hours before the opening of Rent on Broadway, but posthumously received several Tony’s, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and several other awards. So what in Jonathan’s answers captures the loyalty of thousands?
Maureen suggests taking a “leap of faith” and “jump over the moon” to leave the emptiness of Cyberworld, whose diet coke does not quench, and enter a place where your parched throat is soothed by something of substance and meaning. Collin advocates choosing to live in “actual reality” instead of virtual reality, where philosophy has been confiscated by short-lived but destructive comforts.
Roger finds that his legacy, his song, his meaning, is Mimi. Mark’s camera finds itself focused on the faces of people; his documentary centers on relationships. There’s only us. Love becomes the highest virtue, played out in acceptance and commitment to one another. It is seen in the hospital room as friends gather around Angel on his deathbed, proving that someone does care. It is seen in mended relationships that forgive hurts. It is seen in hours and days searching for the missing friend who has lost herself. They found "connection in an isolated age." They did not disengage when the pain hit.
This is a group of admitted imperfects. They pursue relationships at times selfishly, refusing to give up flirting or list-making for the significant other, sometimes loving selfishly rather than selflessly. But they also sit in the hospital with the sick and hold the shivering during drug withdrawal symptoms. They long “to [be] an us for once, instead of a them,” to belong. They want to express themselves because in a world of war, perhaps peace is not the answer, but creation. They question what is mainstream, what is normal. They recognize a dirty world, and suspect that anyone can be exclusively right, that anyone is not condemned.
“Sin” is betraying a relationship. It is also selling out to the corporate world, which hinders truly living today. Bennie, the corporate enemy who betrays his relationship with them, says their lives are a fallacy in their head. He claims that his way is truly visionary, is what is transforming, but he does not see the people he is bulldozing to get there or the disconnecting cyber life he is propagating that substitutes illusions for real relationships. With the last name of Coffin, Bennie symbolizes death in that he is not truly living. Bennie criticizes others for not drawing lines in the sand and taking a stand then asks them to abandon their protest in exchange for free rent so that he can move peaceably ahead.
As believers who are told to love our neighbors as ourselves, we can glimpse this love in this group of friends’ commitment and love toward one another. As Christians who are told to live every day as our last, we can take cues from Larson’s lesson that there is “no day but today.” As church-goers who often get trapped in the programs and busy-ness of doing good, we can learn that true meaning is found in relationships.
We also need to recognize that often the church is viewed as the corporate bulldozer moving ahead at full speed with our agenda, marketing our proposition. Christ did not publicize Himself on the streets (Isaiah 42:2) but lovingly healed and entered into the lives of the condemned, the sinners, the outcasts, the lepers. Too often the church takes the position of the righteous “objective” judges pretentiously standing outside of the world ever rebuking rather than an embodied Christ walking in the world, healing, loving, and bringing redemption. Bennie criticizes me: I am told I stand for nothing while perhaps I am standing for something he doesn’t like. I am told that the life for which I long, the love, the relationships, the acceptance, the embracing of life, is a fantasy in my head. I am Roger watching my life pass me by as I search for significance and legacy. Rent scratches that interminable itch, the itch that seems to have a hidden origin. You scratch your thigh, but that doesn’t seem to satiate. You try the bottom of your foot, but still the itch nags. You consider scratching your groin area, but that would be uncouth. So the itch rages. Until Rent, for me.
While Rent isn’t overtly out to disprove that God or Truth exists, they perhaps approach indifference to these aspects because the way we have talked about God and Truth doesn’t matter to them. There is no one to tell them that God cares for them. There is no one to display the true joy of life. Where are Christians in a hurt and dying world? When peace is fought for, often through bloody battles, we, as made in the image of God, can instead embody our Creator in creation. We, as redeemed by Christ, can embody His love in relationships. While our life is lived fully today, our hope is in our complete restoration with our Creator, with community, and with nature. This we practice every day.

29 June 2006

Tribute to Katie and Taylor

And perhaps a bit of a diatribe to my now least favorite airline.
My sister, Cheryl, my niece, Taylor, and I were on our way home from New Jersey. We had a great vacation, but it was time to go home. We walked into the airport to discover that our flight was thus far delayed an hour and a half. Apparently the Philadelphia airport shuts down with the first sign of rain. We would miss our connecting flight to Atlanta! I spoke with the supervisor at the ticketing window.
“There’s a possibility your connecting flight will also be delayed, and you will make it,” she said.
“And if not?” I ask.
“Then we’ll put you out on the first flight to Dallas in the morning.”
“Will you also put us up in a hotel tonight?”
“But we have a 6 year old.”
“Sorry.” This was the beginning of the conversation. Many others joined. There were 11 of us trying to make that very connecting flight. Finally, we took our boarding passes and went to sit at the gate.
At the gate there were two counters. One counter had a very long line. The other counter had no line. I soon found out why. I went up to the lady with no customers.
“We have a connecting flight to catch in Atlanta. Can you tell me the status of that flight as of now?”
“It’s on time. You’ll miss it.”
“Okay, then we need to look at other options.”
Her fingers rattled on the keyboard. “All flights out of Philly and Atlanta are booked all day tomorrow.”
“Can you put us on another airline, then, like American or Delta?”
“No.” She was very succinct and very uncaring about our predicament. My blood was boiling.
“I paid for Air Tran to get me to Dallas. How are you planning on getting me to Dallas?”
“Lady,” she replied with a rising voice to match mine, “If I had a plane, I would drive it myself to get you all home, but I don’t now, do I?” I restrained from hitting her. Instead, I asked her name to report her to customer service (she probably gave me a fake name, which didn’t matter because I had no intention of following through) and left mumbling things that weren’t so loving toward this particular neighbor. I stood in the long line. To make a long story short, we were helped by the only two helpful employees of Air Tran to get on the 6:00 flight to Atlanta, which had been delayed until 8:00. We boarded this flight at 8:30, taxied for an hour, then finally took off for another state.
My next-door neighbor for the flight took her seat with a smile and laughter. Oh no, I seethed, She’s one of those happy Christians who takes everything in stride. I can just tell these things. Sure enough, a couple minutes later, she pulls out her Bible. Ach, I hate conviction. I should be the one extending peace to frustrated employees and boarders alike. I finally convince myself that I need to introduce myself to this sister in Christ. Her name is Katie. She’s a fairly young believer – became a Christian one and a half years ago. She laughed about God being in control while I held back my earlier free-flowing tears about not getting to see my husband that night as I had hoped. In my defense, she did not have a connecting flight to catch. Of course, this did make a mess of her plans to get home.
We chatted about how God uses people against their will, about sometimes having to share the nitty-gritty dirty details that shame us but shine God. We connected. We ended with a prayer. This is a tribute to Katie, who trusted God when the weather and the airlines made a mess of plans.
We landed through lightening and turbulence. At this point, I told God He didn’t have to get us to Dallas that night if He would just let us land alive. He one-upped me. I smiled at Katie, grabbed Taylor’s hand, and Cheryl, Taylor, and I were off, hoping that our 11:10 flight was delayed. It was 11:25.
We deboarded in terminal C. Our connecting flight to Dallas was in terminal D. We ran to the end of C, down the escalators, and jumped just in time on to the subway to terminal D.
I must pause to let you know that Taylor has been a perfect angel since we stepped foot into the Philly airport. She had the sleepy telltale signs of dark circles under her eyes, but she quietly stayed near us and obeyed without any crankiness.
Back on the subway, we decided that Cheryl, along with a couple of others trying to reach the flight, would run ahead while I followed with Taylor. An airport employee told us that D1 was at the end of the terminal. Of course. I gave Cheryl the tickets as we stepped off the metro. Taylor followed Cheryl, running up the escalator, keeping up with every stride. But near the top, she fell, hitting her knee. Now, I know the difference between many of Taylor’s cries, and I knew this one to be “I am seriously hurt.” I’m guessing that this hit the bone in such a way that not only created deep pain but also a temporary paralysis. The top of the escalator was leering, so I pulled Taylor up in my arms to keep fingers from being eaten.
“Taylor, honey, I know it hurts, but I need you to be strong for just a couple of minutes, and then we can cry on the plane.” I put her on my back, held my bulky laptop bag in one hand (I don’t have a shoulder strap for it), and my purse, half-tangled with Taylor’s foot, in my other hand and hoped for the five-year-old-lifts-family-station-wagon-to-free-crushed-mother adrenaline rush. Not so much. The airport employee (note that he was not an Air Tran employee) ran ahead to let Cheryl know what had happened and then to try to catch the plane for us. Meanwhile, the medicine for my head cold was wearing off, so my head and lungs were quickly filling up. The only thing I could hear out of my right ear was the fluid swishing. I ran as fast as I could until I thought my lungs were going to collapse. I put Taylor down and asked her if she could be strong for just a little bit longer. She pulled her jeans over her knee to inspect the damage, folded them back down, and then took off, her legs working like spinning bicycle wheels. She ran like the son on the Incredibles. The crowd separated, staring in awe at Flash Taylor. I grabbed my bags and ran after her. The airport employee was running back, “They are boarding in two minutes!” How beautiful are the feet of he who brings good news! A couple of seconds later, Taylor and I met Cheryl at the gate, and we all began to breathlessly commiserate with our fellow plane-mates and vow to never board Air Tran again. I told Taylor she deserved the Purple Heart and the Metal of Bravery. This is a tribute to Taylor, whose brave strength and quiet acceptance got us to the plane on time.

27 June 2006

On Hermeneutic

A fundamental question among the church right now: how do we interpret the Bible? How do we approach the Bible?

Interestingly enough, this very question was examined at the shift between the Medieval world and the Modern one. In the Medieval era, truth was passed on by God through clergy, kings, and nobles. If you studied science, you did not experiment, you read the authoritative text on science (i.e. Aristotle). Suddenly, authority was doubted. The clergy was doubted in the midst of the Protestant reformation. The kings and nobles were doubted when the rising Parliament and Ministers began to run the nations and the rising bourgeois class, through individual enterprise, ran commerce. Led by Descartes, philosophers began to consider the question of how do you know something to be true? They were rethinking the knowledge authoritatively passed on in textbooks (especially since some of this knowledge was being disproved and displaced by new science through experiments). Amongst this, even the text of the Bible was doubted as being authoritative. Thus, enter Galileo in attempting to shape a new way of thinking by affirming that the Bible is true in the things God meant it to be true, but not always scientifically – i.e. they were beginning to understand that the sun no longer “rose” or “set.” This caused controversy in the church because they began to fear that the bible would be doubted, that it would no longer be the standard for knowing God and knowing truth. Even Luther, with his claim of “Sola Scriptura” approached the Bible in a different (and scandalous at the time) manner. Each person could individually approach the Bible (the evidence) and understand it for themselves. They did not need the priests to authoritatively interpret it for them. Danger, danger! thought the priests, how do we protect the flock from heresies and from wrong interpretations? N.T. Wright points out that the Latin translation read, “Do penance and believe in me.” During Luther’s time, this took on a different load as people viewed their salvation as paying penance and as doing specific actions that the church deemed necessary for salvation. Luther went back to the original writings and researched the original understanding to unveil the meaning of “Repent and believe on me.” This transformed the understood meaning to be a personal relationship with God. Now, by the same token, many are going back to the original understanding to find out what we are missing. How has our culture informed our understandings? N.T. Wright continued to point out that Josephus used this same phrase to call on someone to leave their allegiance to fight and live with him, a political nuance that we have been missing. It is a personal relationship, but it is also a political allegiance. Mind you, I am not arguing that we need to add a requirement for salvation, but what in our life are we missing by not participating in Christ's victory over death and evil, by not demonstrating this as we live in God's kingdom, by neglecting the Christus Victor model of the early church?

Proverbially enough, history is repeating itself. In these shifting cultures, Christians are approaching the Bible in a different way, and other Christians, fearing that the Bible will no longer be seen as authoritative, react. Sound familiar? Here’s the question: will we create irreconcilable differences when men and women are being branded as heretics (not because of their belief about Christ but because of their approach to the Bible), when each side, hurt and attacked, retreats to their own churches and bulwarks their fortress?
Missiologically, we are told to go to the ends of the earth, to every nation, to every people group (and I might interpret, to every culture) to share Christ’s love and truth. I want to recognize that not every so-called “retreat” is away from hurt but towards a mission of love. Paul went to the Gentiles. But can we be reconciled so as to support and love each other despite (because of?) our differences?

According to the stories, Luther did not originally desire to disband from the Catholic Church but sought to address some of its weaknesses. Will we leave and form our own Christendom or will we look to be united with our brothers and sisters in Christ, showing a supernatural love that portrays Christ’s love and truth to the world? Will we end with our own American/French Revolution?

26 June 2006

Ramblings in a New World

I confess, I have not been a peacemaker. I confess, I have been more interested in tending to my wounds and validating my way of thinking. The question at hand is, can the divarication of the “new kind of Christian” (as termed by Brian McLaren) and the “traditional evangelist” (named by Robert Webber) be repaired? The western culture at large, as is well-known, is going through a shift akin to the Medieval times to the Modern era. While Post-Modernism may be the resting place (and hopefully receive its own name if so), or while it may be transitory, Christians are reacting to this alteration in differing ways. Unfortunately, instead of basking this conversation in love, both sides (it’s even unfortunate that I label them as sides) feel attacked, retreat, and become defensive.
The new generation expresses feelings of inauthenticity, of feeling rejected and/or unloved at times, of inability to enter into a meaningful relationship with God and/or community in the way that has been done for the past 100 years, of a desire to approach the Bible, still as the infallible voice of God’s revelation, with a different method at times. The “traditional” (and by traditional, we must understand that I mean the tradition of the past 100 years) church takes offense, understandably so. They feel that we are telling them that they have been doing things completely wrong and have led us pharisaically into a ditch, ruining the church. Of course, we are not saying this, but I understand how they would hear this. Their offense at what we say, as well as some misunderstandings and some fears at our approach, comes back to correct us so that the Word of God may remain pure in these frightening times. We both wrongly employ straw men, exaggerated figures that puppet a conclusion that serves our own arguments.
Side note, or side question: Do the “traditionals” believe that Christians are outside of culture while the “emerging” see Christians as tied to culture? This could greatly affect conversation. Also, many “traditionals” with whom I have spoken define post-modernism as a rejection of “absolute truth.” I have a different answer to that question. I would call it a rethinking of modernism. This has a complex and fragmented answer.
Side note: I dislike being camped with the “emerging.” I am excited about the post-modern change, and would even consider myself a pomo, but I think that being boxed in as an “emerging” is limited. The emerging church, I feel, is a great answer to the questions culture is asking, but it is not the only answer. Then again, how do you define the emergent church. Is it liturgical? Is it contemporary? Is it social? Yes, yes, and yes.
I have been married for a little over a year. One of the lessons Chris and I are learning in our young marriage is that sometimes the issue isn’t always about being right or wrong but why is someone feeling this way. How can we work together as a team to make the person feel more secure in love and in the plan God has for us?
I believe that two of the larger issues at hand in this conversation are missional and corrective.
Regarding missional, we, as the Universal Church, need to set aside “right” and “wrong” in order to try to understand why a large number of people feel a lack of authenticity in many churches. Why do so many feel that churches are inauthentic? Why do they feel unloved and rejected by the church? “Forms” and “approaches” need to be evaluated. In the same way that a missionary goes into a foreign mission field, so does the church need to go into the post-modern world. As N.T. Wright points out, we need to first figure out who we need to be for the world, and then set forms and structures for that. What are the questions of the culture? How are they asking these questions? Forms and structures need to be evaluated, and this needs to be in balance with 2000 years of global church history. What remains consistent and universal? I wonder if some in the “traditional” church might be surprised to see how much of their church is connected to modern ways of thinking. This has been appropriate in a modern world (and still is appropriate for the continuing modern world), but will not hold water in this new world. I wonder if some in the “traditional” church are more open than we think, once words and terms are clarified. How can we reach this new culture? How can we show them, as Christ’s body, Christ’s love and truth? This may affect worship styles; this may affect learning styles. Bible study formats, systematic theologies may resemble more of the Bilbao Guggenheim museum architecture than a skyscraper. This may affect preaching styles and apologetics. It may broaden the understanding of the gospel, not in the basis for salvation (Christ) but in how it is lived out everyday (Christus Victor model and social justice as well as personal salvation).
Side note: this “new” culture has many commonalities, shares some building materials, as the “old” culture, but scraps some materials and adds others. We’re still a western culture at heart.
I said there are two issues. The missional issue, I think, is where the majority of the fight resides. The second issue is addressing some of the inherent weaknesses in the western church. These are different issues for different churches and different denominations. I believe that both “emergings” and “traditionals” recognize and are addressing these issues.
This has been long and rambling. Much of this probably doesn’t make sense outside of my head. We all know the issues, but do we? Have we all been too caught up in our own causes to mend Christian relationships, being one so that the world may know that we are from Christ? So that the world may see something different in our union? Is my peacemaking reflective of a child of God?

21 June 2006

Handling Sin

In keeping with my "slow down" week, today's blog will be my take on a book whose hero learns how to truly live life. Handling Sin by Michael Malone chronicles the journey of Raleigh from a straight-laced insurance salesman to an embracing lover of life. Raleigh is sent on a wild goose chase/scavenger hunt by his ailing father. Along the way he encounters Murphy’s mishaps, encounters with criminal life, a reawakened love with his wife, and a self-discovery of life.
Malone’s small town of Thermopylae as well as his writing style is reminiscent of Mark Twain. It took me a while to get into the book as the author details the humdrum life of the small town and the stuffy hero, but I plugged through because the book came recommended by a friend. At some point (during the car chase? the farce at rebuilt Tara?), I entered into the lives of the off-beat small-time drug dealer lackey (Raleigh’s brother), the escaped convict, the overweight best friend who smiled at every new city and conquered every old fear, and the aging jazz musician waiting for his big break. They teach Raleigh to relax his hiked up shoulders, wear suave white suits with big collars, and fight the mafia. As Raleigh approaches New Orleans, his goal city, to reclaim his dad and take him back to the hospital, he waxes on morality and truth, evaluating his understanding of God and the world around him. He recognizes that God, as all-powerful creator and sustainer of life, has every right to do what He will with His creation, including with Raleigh, who, though he has lived the straight and narrow in his own eyes, knows now that he deserves nothing. Raleigh realizes that life is not the predictable insurance stats on which he has been basing his every action. In the end, he unearths his true treasure: relationships, relationships with imperfect people, at that.

19 June 2006

Ocean City, NJ

I took my niece, Taylor, down to the beach this morning while my sister pursued coffee grounds from Wawa and my parents enjoyed some peace back at the house. The waves threw their temper tantrums, running from naptime, grabbing at the shore, until Mother Ocean gathered them back into bed. Taylor said the waves were caused by big rollers like pickles. We jumped over each wave, knowing that missing one would be detrimental – or even fatal – somehow. Taylor dipper her bucket into the water, pulling up microscopic fish frantically swimming between their new walls and below them three sandcrabs, one only a baby, pushing through the small bit of sand that had rested on the bottom of the green pail.
I sat back in the low chair, digging my toes into the sand, and people-watched. There were three high school boys practicing moves from “Evolution of the Dance,” which, apparently, is a nationwide phenomenon. Children dig shortcuts to China and crafted castles. People everywhere live the slowed-down life, half-heartedly reading their books as their eyes droop in the lazy hazy days of summer, chatting, laughing, dads constructing fortresses with their kids, mothers pulling out sandwiches and chips and fruit and drinks and yogurts from deceptively small Mary Poppins coolers. A dozen wind-surfers dance on the surface of the water, flipping sometimes ten feet above as they grab the edges of their wakeboard. I hear the bell announcing the arrival of the ice cream truck, laden with Italian water ice, gelato, and ice cream sandwiches. Little boys and girls begin tugging on their parents’ bathing suit covers with wide eyes and upturned suddenly angelic faces. The dads give in with an unwilling “All-right” and return with their own cone. Seagulls squawk above, dipping low as they search for crumbs from the picnics, lost mollusks, and daring fish venturing into the surface of the high tide.

It’s a chilly day, so I abandon my chair to press the towel against the sand. The wind isn’t as fierce when I hug my body flat to the ground. I twist my earpieces into their proper orifice to hear my ipod sing Jimmy Buffet, Jack Johnson, and Lenny Kravitz. And I slow down.

16 June 2006

Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle

The famous author of the beloved Wrinkle in Time series (also recommended reading – while these books may not be as overtly allegorical as the Narnia series, they represent L’Engle’s struggle to find the magnitude and mystery of God) talks frankly about art, the Christian life, and the intersection of the two. This book, subtitled Reflections on Faith and Art, is highly recommended for those in the church who feel that their creativity has been squandered or has not yet been discovered. It is recommended for artists who desire to meander through the mind of one of the contemporary celebrated.
L’Engle challenges traditional ideas of what it means to be a Christian artist. “Christian art? Art is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story. If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject. If it’s good art – and there the questions start coming, questions which it would be simpler to evade” (p. 14). As Christians, we have at times relegated art to being mere pragmatic illustration, borderline propaganda. L’Engle reminds us that “to be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist” (p. 31, quoting Cardinal Suhard).
The author also challenges her fellow artists to obey God’s call: “The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver” (p. 18). While this is an intimidating call, “God is always calling on us to do the impossible” (p. 19). I found personal encouragement in her call to artists. My knowledge that I will never write, compose, or play as it ought to be written, composed, or played (and as a side note, I must freely admit that this is most likely tied closer to my pride than my desire to present God with an unblemished gift), paralyzes my small attempts. However, quoting author Jean Rhys, L’Engle records in her book, “All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake” (p. 23). As to my pride and fears, L’Engle reminds me that “It is the pearl for which we have to pay a great price, the price of intense loneliness, the price of that vulnerability which often allows us to be hurt” (p. 165).
In regards to being a Christian, to living ethically, to following Christ’s footsteps, “It is a criterion of love. In moments of decision, we are to try to make what seems to be the most loving, the most creative decision. We are not to play safe, to draw back out of fear. Love may well lead us into danger. It may lead us to die for our friend. In a day when we are taught to look for easy solutions, it is not always easy to hold on to that most difficult one of all, love.”
Final thought: “There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation” (p. 50). God made a lowly barn the birthplace of the divine King. God made the shameful and criminal cross His chosen method of atonement. God made me, disgraceful and fallen, His own child. If God can speak through the mouth of a donkey, through the poets in Athens, then He can speak through Mozart’s Requiem, through Gehry’s Guggenheim architecture, through Bach’s cantata based on the parable of the ten virgins, through Tolkien’s writings, through Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. This is my Father’s world, and His marks are throughout His creation, from the singing blue jay to the cavernous Grand Canyon, to man and woman made in His image. “Provided he is an artist of integrity, he is a genuine servant of the glory which he does not recognize, and unknown to himself there is ‘something divine’ about his work” (p. 30).

15 June 2006


Hero (directed by Yimou Zhang, starring Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung) is the story of one man who becomes a hero in seeking peace in his land. The tagline tells us of a pre-united China that “doesn’t know a real hero. Yet.” The film employs vivid colors, graceful use of movement and camera angles, and powerful acting, where one actor skillfully performs several parts. It is a complex plot that keeps you guessing as to the true nature and relationships of the characters. In this world, characters, nature, and color cooperate to tell the story. Characters are able to leverage and work with nature to accomplish their goal. As Christians examining this movie, we can see reflected in this movie God’s creation, His relationship with man, and our responsibility to God.
Hero reflects God’s unique design of His creation to paint a picture of Him, of His intention for mankind to control nature, not for our own convenience, but to care for God’s creation, reflect His creativity in motion, beauty, thought, and expression, and, ultimately, to glorify God. The characters’ ability to wield the power of nature, to fight on water, and fly through the air conjured up images of Christ calming the storm in a picture of true humanity, of Peter walking on water as a display of his faith in God. This movie reminds us that all of creation groans, waiting for the final redemption and final glorification, to be reunited to its Creator and to its caretaker.
Even more than that, this movie portrays the sacrifice of one man willingly giving himself to save many. The main character is born a nobody, orphaned at a young age, called “Nameless,” and considered nothing to nobles because of his meaningless prefix. Yet, because of his skill, he attracts a following and becomes a leader. He gains a seating near the emperor because of his feats and then is presented with “temptations” to bask in his honor with the emperor, take his rewards, and return to rule a large area. However, Nameless is single-minded. His goal is to defeat this tyrant in order to achieve peace in his land. Even so, his mentor’s words ring in his mind, while he reflects on the emperor’s demise, and, tyrant though the emperor may be, Nameless realizes the truth of his mentor’s wisdom. This emperor is the only one who can bring unity, stopping the wars. This will require Nameless’ life, and he willingly gives it.
In the same way, Christ rose from nothing (born in a barn, from a nothing town) to a man of many followers because of skills (i.e. miracles), but overcame temptation to willingly die so that mankind could have true unity and peace with God and others. Of course, unlike Nameless, Christ did not discover his purpose of death but always knew it, and while Nameless had the burial of a Hero, Christ had the resurrection and victory of a Hero.
Side note: great warriors in Hero shamed their reputation and even put their lives in Nameless’ hand in order to see his goal – their shared goal – of assassinating the emperor realized. When Nameless instead gave his life so that this emperor might live, how must these warriors have felt? Shamed? Furious? Defeated? How must the disciples have felt when Christ, their hope of a King for a risen nation, for whom they left family, job, lives, for whom they were shamed by the great leaders, how must they have felt when Christ hung on the cross as a criminal?
As the body of Christ and members of His kingdom, this movie gives us a picture of how we should live with true allegiances. As Nameless develops in his understanding, he realizes that he must turn his back on his national loyalty in order to support the greater vision of unity and peace for the whole land, “Our Land.” As believers, we are first members of God’s kingdom. Political, national, racial, gender, generational, sociological boundaries must be crossed, even obliterated at times, to truly love our neighbor, to serve first God’s global kingdom.
While this movie attempts to recreate a known tyrannical leader as compassionate and considerate and does not perfectly type the Christ figure in Nameless’ limited and developing knowledge, it exemplifies our responsibility as members of God’s kingdom, illustrates Christ’s sacrifice and shame in willingly giving His life, and perhaps even represents our future restored relationship with nature.

14 June 2006

A Platonic world v. a Hebraic world

What great man, upon the eve of his martyrdom, looked evenly at his followers and comforted them with the soothing words that what they saw before them was a shell, but that his true self, his soul, would soon be ascending to where it belongs? What wisdom. The piety oozes from these final focused thoughts. The man’s name was Socrates, a man who lucidly and spiritually guided his followers as he sipped his cup of hemlock.

While Jews would take issue and even offense at this, I believe Christians would agree that we share the same foundation as the Hebrew people. We share the Hebrew Scriptures. We share the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who freed the Israelites from Egypt’s enslaving grip, the God who punished the disobedience of His people but promised a renewed promised land. As a friend said, “It’s a matter of timing.” They believe the Messiah is yet to come. We believe the Eagle has landed. And while Elvis has left the building for a time, we join the Jews in eagerly awaiting our true restoration.

Unfortunately, our Christian systematic theologies and folk beliefs have more in common with Plato and Plotinus than with the Creator and Yahweh of the Torah, the Rock of the Psalmist, the Wisdom of the Proverbs, and the Immanuel of the Prophets. We sigh at funerals, claiming that the body (which, incidentally, was created by God and declared good), is not the true person. They have gone on to a better place. They have made the final voyage to their heavenly home.

Paul says that we have just fallen asleep, that these bodies will someday awake. These very bodies will be resurrected and live corporeally with our Christ on a recreated, physical Earth, perhaps feasting on mangoes and nectarines, juice dripping down our perfect chins, holding hands as we skip together in the Jerusalem, leaping with the once-lame, singing with the former mute, and listening to the symphony of birds with the ex-deaf.

Why does it matter? Because life is more than getting our souls into heaven. And nebulously floating (or whatever unembodied souls do) for an eternity is a poor substitute for our true hope. Because the poverty-stricken deserve more than a track with four verses. They have eternal bodies created by God that need to be taken care of. Because choosing to not buy the superfluous shirt in order to fight sweatshop labor and give the money instead to the poor in Indonesia has a stronger reward and longer material pleasure than this ephemeral enjoyment.

13 June 2006

The serious and the not so serious

Found this first link on another blog. Gandhi's 7 deadly social sins. I believe that Christians can affirm this as truth.

This link was sent by a friend and has had me laughing out loud commenting to anyone in the room (which happens to be no one) about the hilarity of the dance. It's entitled The Evolution of the Dance.

Jonah and the Church and Me

What’s up with Jonah? The man refused to do what God asked him. He ran the other direction. Yeah. Like that would work. God created this whole thing. He sees everything, but hey, maybe he happened to not be watching that one boat. Oh, there’s Jonah on the way to the docks. He must be on his way to Ninevah. Good one, Jonah. You really slipped the wool over God’s eyes. Snuck in on that boat going the other way. Brilliant. But God showed him amazing grace. He saved Jonah’s life. God brought Jonah back to Himself, restored their relationship, and gave Jonah another chance. He sent a huge storm that put every man’s life on the ship in peril until Jonah threw himself overboard. He’s a dead man. And then the fish swallows him.
By the way – the fish, the really big fish that swallowed Jonah. I grew up with this story. I saw the illustrations in kiddie books. Jonah with his face upturned, a spiritual glow hallowing his pious expression, hands clasped earnestly, barely a puddle of very clean looking water swimming around his knelt knees. Seriously? How did he breathe in there? This big fish lives in the sea, swallowing water and an assortment of sardines and plankton. Mmmm. Appetizing. And Jonah gets caught in it. So now Jonah is swimming around with his nose squeezed between the digestive juiced waters and the lining of the stomach, gasping for the little bit of oxygen that had found its way into this concoction. This is how God kept Jonah alive and restored their relationship.
And Jonah (seemingly) gets it, at least for the moment. He knows he messed up. He repents. He thanks God for saving his life from the storm. For three days he meditates on the goodness of God. He prays a crazy happy praise Psalm. And God forgives him.
Jonah is spit up onto a beach (another pleasant experience, I’m sure), and then goes into Ninevah to tell them about God’s grace, the same grace that he had just experienced. But wait, they are asking for forgiveness. They are repenting. And God wants to forgive them! See, God! Jonah exclaims. This is exactly what I knew would happen! Man! This is why I didn’t want to come! Stupid Ninevites! I knew you would forgive them if they turned to you! Fine! Here’s the deal then. Either kill me or kill them. That’s all I have to say about that.
Is this the Jonah that prayed so earnestly in the belly of the fish?
And then he picks a prime spot and waits for the next Sodom and Gomorrah. Smiling, he can’t wait to see the destruction. These were his enemies, and they would get what they deserved! Wshoo. It was getting hot up there. On cue, a small weed sprouts into a tree large enough to shade Jonah. Yep. God is on his side. Gave him the best seat in the house and comforts to go with it. Here comes the Haagen-Dazs guy now with his ice cream cart. He fell asleep, very pleased with his little plant.
Jonah wakes up the next morning to find a worm had eaten at the roots of the tree. The tree lay next to him. Dead. Withered. WHAT!!! All right, just kill me. I would rather die. (Apparently Jonah had a flare for the dramatics.) God shakes his head in disbelief. You really care this much about this little tree? Did you plant the tree? Did you do anything for that tree? And you’re ready to jump off a cliff at its destruction. I created the Ninevites. I created every man, woman, and child, every personality, every cow, sheep, and goat. Shouldn’t I care about their destruction?
But Jonah was too busy throwing a temper-tantrum.
What’s up with Jonah? Why on earth did he begrudge God’s forgiveness when he himself had experienced it in the face of his rebellion? Why did he care more about hating his enemies than seeing them as fellow creations? Why did he care more about their destruction than in love? Why did he care more about his own comforts than a whole nation? Why did he throw a hissy-fit over his lost luxury and not over the annihilation of a whole people group?
Why does the North American church look more like Jonah than Jesus? Why does she spend more brain cycles on the comfort of its own people than in feeding the hungry? Why is she more concerned with waging war against the enemies than in extending the same forgiveness she was extended, than in sharing the same story she experienced?
And why do I look like this gnarled Jonah?

12 June 2006

Anniversary Trip

we just got back last night from our anniversary trip to the sunny state of florida. we had spent two days in georgia (on my mind) to see chris' brother graduate from infantry training (aka boot camp), then off to my surprise trip. we stepped out of the small but cheerful terminal at ft. myers and filled our lungs with salt air, breathing in the life of the sea. (i do have pirate in my ancestry, and sometimes his blood begins to burn with impatience in my veins to return to his ship.) chris took me to the southern tip to see my college roommate (who is swollen with five months of pregnancy). we spent two days laughing and chatting with them (and eating the best food that has ever touched my tongue - sushi grade fish that melts in the proverbial mouth, wasabi potatoes - a side dish i plan on adding to my standard meals, Bailey's ice cream slabbed next to mayan chocolate ice cream, which is dark chocolate with a touch of cinnamon), then went to a tiny island to spend three nights there, just the two of us. we had a great time. the island is half nature preserve and half retired preserves. you can tell the island is catered toward wealth, old people, and the occasional rookie tourist. the grocery store (i believe the only grocery store on the island) has underground parking - after your shopping is complete, they send your groceries down in a bin where you meet the valet guy with your car so that he can load up your canned goods and fresh pineapple while you wait. the island has one thoroughfare to take you from one end to the next. the speed limit on said thoroughfare is 35. most people go 30. not exactly in the germanic efficient rush in which we "thrive." stop signs dot the road every few feet so that you rarely have to pull onto the street without everyone stopping. we didn't see one wreck.
we saw an alligator hiding in shallow river in the shade with his eyes (which, we learned, see the world with a binocular effect) peeping over the water, dolphins in the wild while on a sunset cruise, and the roseate spoonbill bird (apparently a rarity - it looks like a flamingo except its pink is not due to pigmented dye from shrimp as is the flamingo's, which i didn't know, but is natural, and it's long beak finishes in a cupped spoon where nerves let the bird know if it has caught crustaceans, fish, or unwanted matter). we became semi-professional birdwatchers while on the trip, learning about the ospray (apparently distantly related to the hawk; ospray female/male couples remain bonded for life but only see each other for 6 months of the year, returning year after year not only to each other but also to the same pole or tree; they kick out their juveniles when the time is ripe by taking his food to a distant tree), the aforementioned spoonbill, the little blue and tricolor herrons, the ibis (adopted by Univ of Miami as the mascot because these birds are the last to leave before a hurricane and the first to return), and, of course, the pelican. we saw a young red-shouldered hawk trying out her wings, cringing when we thought she would fall off the tree rather than soar (or rather wobble) to the next tree. we can now identify three different types of mangroves after maneuvering through miles of them in canoe (they grew in island-resembling patches, but they actually were growing directly from the water, or rather, the earth beneath the shallow ocean without any above-tide land). we can tell you exactly from where the delicacy, hearts of palm, come. we can tell you why the raccoon stumbles across the road in september (he is drunk from the overripe local growing grapes). we experienced the sunrise and the sunset of the island - the latter from blind pass on the northwest corner of the island with the von trapp family congo players soundtracking the sunset scene, and the former with sleep still in our eyes in front of the beach's lighthouse on the southeast tip. we found the big dipper as we sat on the sand in the evening with the moonlight casting playful shadows on the water. we baked in the sun and tasted salt water on our lips. of course, we got a bit burnt, but now glow with a healthy tan! we discovered a jazz group at ellington's restaurant with musicians that got skills wailing on the trumpet (incidentally, the trumpet player was the lead trumpet for harry connick for 11 years), jamming on the piano, the bass, the drums, and on some nights, the tenor sax to standards in the way of miles, parker, and dizzie, singing sinatra, the duke, and other flashbacks. i tried the key lime pie, the key lime martini, and the key lime vinagraitte on the tomato and avocado salad. we feasted on grouper and ahi tuna and johnny's pizza on the beach. oh, and we filled our bellies with ice cream (fat, calories, and even partially hydrogenated oils don't count on vacation.)
apparently, sanibel island is famous for shelling. scores of whole shells lined the beach, conches, whelks, clam shells, so of course, we learned about the different mollusks, their eating, sleeping, burrowing, camouflaging, preying, housing habits at the shell museum (which harbors a collection donated by the perry mason actor, cursiously enough). chris even found a live olive mollusk in the ocean (and conversely donated his wedding ring to the Titan god).
we spent time praying and reading our bible on the beach and on the veranda of our rented room, feeling god's presence in the swishing of the palm trees, the gurgling and lapping of the gulf and in our intertwined hands.
we met a family from New Orleans, who shared how the church has saved people and homes from the wreckage. Tommy, the son, then donated some of his own shell findings to our salt-water tank for our fish, ralph, george, and jeremiah, to enjoy. we met a police officer from knotting hill and his family, recovering from their excursion to see the famous mouse in orlando (the officer had a striking resemblance to vin deisel). we met a couple with 55 years of marriage under their belt and a word of wisdom to this younger couple ("you put up with a lot of shit," said the greek wife with a smile).all in all, a happy, relaxing vacation.


And cue Doogie Howser theme. Although I believe my entries will be a bit more of rambling spiels rather than snappy morals to neatly wrap the weekly show.
I fought it. Why does this world need another meaningless opinion to add to the cacophony? I fought getting a cell phone, too, until 2001. Now I don’t know how I survived without this phone. How did you find friends at movie theaters and airports? How did you find your way home after turning on a very wrong (and very dangerous) street? What did people do with all that silence in the car? But I digress…
So I’m adding my voice to the world, free of charge.
In this site, you may find, should you choose to meander this space, my personal life, some with learned life lessons, some unpragmatically for enjoyment, a travel log, a giggle at myself; you may find movie and book reviews and suggested reading/viewing lists. Who knows – perhaps I’ll even add photos and the soundtrack to my life.
Welcome to my life. L’chaim.