All Wet!

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Cinema. I enjoy films. I love the way they engage nearly all of my senses with elements that draw me emotionally: strong characters; visually magical sets and production; vibrant cinematic landscapes; bigger-than-life action. Directors and writers, filmmakers in general, are the present-day storytellers, the Wells, Twains, Doyles, Flemings, and Carrolls of yesterday. They mark predictions of futuristic societies; warn of dystopian disparity; provide escape to fantastical worlds and journeys; entice us with suspense, mystery and intrigue; give insight to the frailty and darkness of the human condition.

One reason films are popular is because images are so very powerful. The images we absorb we often retain and can embed their messages deep in our consciousness. That’s why movies are not only provocative but can be shaping, persuading how we think and feel about things and events.

I am very aware that filmmakers, as was the same with the novelists of yesteryear, have an intention if not an agenda beyond the simple ability to entertain when bringing their stories to life. Every person has a worldview, what they believe to be purpose and truth. Every storyteller’s philosophy of life will burn its way into the fabric of their tale. In fact, the story becomes a living apologetic for the filmmaker’s understanding of mankind’s origin and purpose, the reason evil exists, and what happens to us when we die. It’s for this reason that I often ask myself the question, “Why was this film made?” after viewing a movie. This IS the question that must be asked of the recent theatrical release of the film Noah.

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, an adaptation of events predominantly found in the book of Genesis in the Bible and Tanakh, seems to be definitively divergent from these accounts. Though I have yet to see the film, I have friends whom which posses a solid fundamental Christian world-view and who are thoughtful and dedicated to their faith who have seen the motion picture. Some have embraced it as harmless entertainment, endorsed it as a spectacular achievement, or walked-out of a screening in protest.

Being a Biblical Theist, I am always wary of any theatrical rendition of biblical narrative. I take most of these with a grain of salt, using wisdom, discernment, and careful comparison/contrast with scriptural texts to evaluate their content. However, not everyone is mindful or caring enough to consider doing so. Pastors and Theologians I’m acquainted with have endorsed Noah. What does this communicate about the film’s content?

Noah, the film, has come under a fair amount of scrutiny for the liberal interpretation of known texts of the account. It is important to be attentive to subtly subversive elements in all forms of media. Since I have not seen the film, it is indeed difficult to form my own opinion. However, a recent commentary by Dr. Brian Mattson seems to have the most comprehensive understanding of Aronofsky’s source material and philosophical agenda for Noah. I will refer you there and encourage you to read the entirety of Dr. Mattson’s remarks.

Part of the art of film making is to make the images on the screen feel real. A good storyteller creates empathy for the characters and events, causing people to feel as if we are there watching the story, even history unfold. My concern with Noah rests with how a filmmaker’s interpretation of an ancient text which I honor, admire and love will influence millions of viewers to believing that the visuals and plot that engulf their mind from the cinema screen is the traditional view of the world-wide flood account. Even more concerning, as Dr. Mattson distinguishes, is how many Christian leaders have endorsed this version of Noah. It is indeed disheartening that church leaders would sanction a film that had many distinct concerns that strayed from Biblical texts. The Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian church echo profoundly, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” 2 Cor. 11.3-4

I know I will view Noah in the future. I may even enjoy it. However, that does not mean that the film depicts accounts that many cultures’ have acknowledged for several millennia. Meanwhile, it’s imperative to know not only what you believe, but why you believe as you daily encounter contrary issues, even on the silver screen. If nothing else, the inaccuracies and liberties in Noah are great discussion starters towards what is actually detailed in the Genesis account.

~End torrent~

Editor’s update: I have now seen the film. Thoroughly enjoyable as entertainment; Completely deplorable as a historical account. I won’t go into the mountain of textual and contextual inaccuracies (the least of which is that the film doesn’t even have the birth order of Noah’s sons correct) as there’s plenty of places on the blogsphere that cover these issues. Read the Biblical account.

Your thoughts:

What bothered you the most about the Noah?

What do you consider to be Noah‘s high-water mark?

Have you been able to use Noah for positive discussion towards the biblical texts?

i Give Up!

Oh, the city’s alight
With lovers and lies
Bright blue eyes
Oh, the city is bright
It’s brighter than day tonight

Surrender, Surrender
Surrender, Surrender

Sadie said she couldn’t work out
What it was all about
And so she let go
Now Sadie’s on the street
And the people she meets you know
She tried to be a good girl and a good wife
Raise a good family
Lead a good life
It’s not good enough
She got herself up on the 48th floor
Gotta find out
Find out what she’s living for

Surrender, Surrender
Surrender, Surrender

Tonight…

Oh, the city’s afire
A passionate flame
It knows me by name
Oh, the city’s desire
To take me for more and more
It’s in the street, getting under my feet
It’s in the air, it’s everywhere
I look for you
It’s in the things I do and say
If I wanna live I gotta
Die to myself someday

Papa sing my sing my sing my song

“Surrender” by U2 (Adam Clayton, David Evans, Paul Hewson and Larry Mullen Jr.)

Not one of U2’s anthemic masterpieces, but an affecting song about forgoing personal desires, surrendering to what is right. Just when i think i’ve surrendered and sacrificed all there is some new area of my life creeps into the light, revealing it stubborn, loathsome face in shameful defiance. Ahh… something new i have to deal with. More pursuance, more introspection, dislodging and vivisecting.

For those who live to love and serve, the hard work of becoming better people is never complete. New lies, lusts, cheats, deceptions tend to muddle their way to the surface just when we think self-purging is near completion. As much as we might try to rationalize our shortcomings, they will get the better of us if ignored.

Jesus certainly made the point of this laborious undertaking, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9.23-24)

Surrender becomes increasingly difficult as we are aware a need for it. Even as the song points this out in the last stanza. But the singer’s quest is to win in victory by surrendering his selfish desire and have ‘Papa’ “sing” his praises, “Well done!” Dying to self-will seems  a Herculean task. Theologian and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer summarized Jesus’ words above most poignantly, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”

~End resistance~

Separation of Church and State

i spent the age of twenty to forty in vocational ministry. Most of this time as a Pastor in mega churches. i encountered many types of Christians every day. Most of these would consider themselves to be people who believe the Bible, taking it at face value. They would also say that they live out what they believe on a daily basis. A large part of my role as Pastor was to encourage people to live out their faith in a real manner wherever they may be, whatever they may be doing.

At forty years old i found myself beginning a business career. Looking back over this time, there have been amazing situations that have occurred. Outside of the “church” bubble I’ve made some great relationships and God has used me in these people’s lives in fascinating ways. I have had the opportunity to counsel, encourage, and even pray with business associates to enter a relationship with God through His Son’s sacrifice. These work place “ministry” encounters occur quite often.

So… why, in decades of being a pastor and dealing with literally thousands of “Christians” who are living on the outside of a “Christian” aquarium, have i rarely heard about the types of accounts in the work place and daily life as i have personally experienced in a few short years? Is it because these situations find me; or i’m seeking them out; or i’m more sensitive to seeing them? i don’t think so.

There appear to be two major issues at work: complacency and compartmentalization. Perhaps there are many Christians who are sensitive to opportunity to minister the love of God to others on the job or in the grocery store. Yet, they feel inadequate to take action, or just don’t care enough to act or speak boldly in love. Others, it would seem, segregate their Christian world view at home and church from who they are in the work place, or out and about.

i was recently watching an old Billy Graham crusade. He addressed this same issue several decades ago. Mr. Graham inferred that many of us call ourselves “Christian,” go to church, talk the talk, but when it comes down to it we really don’t live like we believe the Scripture, that God is real. He used the illustration that we should imagine the risen Christ, Jesus the Son of God, as being literally at our side in all that we do.

What Billy Graham was really getting at was the essence of coram Deo, a Latin term meaning “being before the face of God,” living as if God’s very presence were literally before us: He is sitting beside us at work; enjoying our meals with us; cheering on our favorite team next to us in the stadium.

i think this is a similar concept that Paul refers to in 1 Thessalonians 5.17 when he refers to “pray without ceasing.” Paul’s point is that we continually direct our thoughts to God. Similarly, coram Deo looks to direct our speech and action as if God were literally beside us. If this were the case, how would our actions and reactions change in our day to day existence? How would our life perspective be transformed? How would our preconception of others be altered?

How would your relationships change if you lived coram Deo? What would be different at work, with your neighbors, family, friends?

~End insulation~

…For Whom The Bell Tolls? (a retraction of sorts)

Last Friday i threw my proverbial pennies out there on the whole Harold Camping “End of the World: don’t bother packing ‘cuz Jesus is coming” parade. In so doing i took a not-so-subtle parenthetical jab at Rob Bell (at the end of the second paragraph, if you really must know). It’s typically not like me to stomp on someone who’s already had enough gut kicking. Especially an issue that’s had more than its fair share of media attention and has put Christians in flood light of irrational thinking.

Rob Bell has done a great deal of good for many years. He has tens of thousands of people who attend his church and follow him online, and hundreds of thousands that read his books and use his video material. i’ve been aware of Bell for many years. Enjoyed his book “Velvet Elvis” (i much preferred Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” which came out years earlier and made the same general point). Nothing revelatory between its covers, yet Bell has a great way of communicating to people. His unique Nooma video study series is very good at opening up discussion about faith and spirituality as it relates to our daily struggle.

Several weeks before his newest book, Love Wins, was released, many Christian leaders made flippant derogatory remarks toward Bell. i actually became angry at many of these responses, because of arrogant remarks from men whom i respected. Especially in light that the book had not yet been released and i was sure that most of these commentaries were done without examining the evidence. i tend to take a “wait and see” approach. Yet such a stir was occurring that the book’s release date was pushed up several weeks. Then a web-streamed live forum with R.B. in New York City was scheduled the night before the release, potentially to quell the onslaught of criticism.

Wanting to give the man the benefit of the doubt, i tuned in to the live stream seeking resolution to the controversy. Nothing of such occurred. Mr. Bell actually side-stepped questions in which he could have directly given an answer to. Was he apprehensive to reveal his real and controversial thoughts or a marketing genius intriguing viewers to snatch up the first copies of Love Wins? As the book released it was evident that his thoughts on H-E-double-hockey-sticks and afterlife were indeed contrary to orthodox Christian teaching and Theology, with a pluralistic universal approach.

In the ensuing flurry of talk show appearances Bell typically skirted answering questions directly. In so doing, on more than one occurrence, i witnessed Bell respond that he was a Pastor not a Theologian. More than his vague stand on Hell and the afterlife, it was these comments of Bell’s that made my brow furrow and my fists clench. It is this type of defensive justification which is deplorable and inexcusable.

A Theologian may not be a Pastor, however, it is imperative that every Pastor is a Theologian. By a definition a Pastor is a Shepherd: to guide, lead, protect, nurture, feed, and instruct his flock. To fulfill each aspect of shepherding people a pastor must have an understanding of Theology and what he or she believes. How else can one be fed correct information, guided to understanding, instructed in correct Doctrine, protected from deceptive aberrance and heresy, and nurtured to spiritual maturity if not for the theologically minded Pastor? Each person who calls themselves Christian should likewise be a student of Theology.

It’s a great tragedy that many pastors do not heed the great responsibility they have. i know i’ve made my share of dumb remarks as a pastor (therefore, the bell does indeed toll for me). i’m not one to throw the baby out with the bath, however Mr. Bell’s slip in the tub may have kicked the infant out the window altogether as far as his potential influence to continue to serve a generation. No matter. i know God has been dealing with these things for millenniums… and He’s not done yet. Redemption is around the corner. i know He’s covered my faulty backside more than once. i am such a fan of grace.

~End clanging ~

Into the “O”pen Void

Momentarily safe, having received a temporary reprieve from the pending apocalypse, the vast populace of a great nation turn their hearts of attention towards the truly immense tragedy of the day: No, not the recent devastation of flooding in Memphis, or tornado havoc in Joplin, or even the deadly tornadoes that have just swept through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas. Today the focus is on a true misfortune as we bid farewell to the one who has lifted our hopes in times of fear; held our hand through uncertainty; swelled our hearts with laughter; dried our tears; exposed liars and cheats; brought monkey-like couch-jumping celebs into our living rooms; has become a friend who sticks closer than a sister.

Today Oprah Winfrey broadcasts the last episode of her long running talk show. From humble beginnings Oprah has risen to become one of the most powerful, influential, and wealthiest people in the world. I’m not sure how this happened. But you know you’ve arrived when you can drop your last name and just go by Oprah. Like Cher, Madonna, or … Jesus. You must really be special if you can then drop the suffix of you first name and be known as simply your first initial, “O.” Seriously, God doesn’t even get that type of notoriety. If i said i was reading about “J” having dinner with his twelve closest pals, who would be sure to whom i was referring? But if i say that “O” did such and such… you know who it is.

To be fair, i’ve never actually seen a full episode of O’s show. But i did see “The Color Purple.” Let’s not dismiss all the good O has accomplished. She has done incredible philanthropic work in Africa and Chicago. She has put authors on top of the New York Times Best Seller list. She has made the most invulnerable celebrity feel as though they were closest kin. She put Dr. Phil on TV. Oh the wonders of O, she has indeed done many amazing things. It is undeniably a sad day for most of America …nay… the world. Who will ever take O’s place, to be our comforter, our hope, fill us with joy, wipe our tears, fill our hearts and our homes? …J?!

~End O~