The Groaning of the Black Fish

Last night my wife made me watch the CNN Documentary, Black Fish.

(The type of “made me” where she just knew (because she knows me) that I would WANT to see it. Mixed a bit with the “made me” where she had already watched it and wanted to be able to have a shared experience with me.)

If you’re unfamiliar with this documentary, in a nutshell it is about how Sea World took Orca Whales from the wild, breeds them in small confined quarters, rips babies from their families, and causes sure psychological damage to these animals. And, as a result, far too many people have been brutally attacked, injured, and killed.

It was certainly one of the most disturbing things I’ve watched in a while. Heart breaking on a number of levels, including a very selfish one: our family (our boys!), have absolutely LOVED going to Sea World. It’s been our family’s place of choice to go have fun. We’ve probably been half a dozen times in the past two years, and each memory is precious to us.

But, of course, after watching Black Fish we will never step foot in that place again (unless it’s a midnight mission to free Willy).

Reflecting on the documentary and sharing all the thoughts I have would take too long, and I couldn’t do it justice. So I just invite you to watch it.

However there has been one thing that hasn’t left my recently haunted mind yet.
Something that, once the credits began to roll, caused my inner-self to weep.
The part of me that is specifically and uniquely “human” was very, very sad.

To explain what I’m getting at, here is an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

18 Now I’m sure of this: the sufferings we endure now are not even worth comparing to the glory that is coming and will be revealed in us. 19 For all of creation is waiting, yearning for the time when the children of God will be revealed. 20 You see, all of creation has collapsed into emptiness, not by its own choosing, but by God’s. Still He placed within it a deep and abiding hope 21that creation would one day be liberated from its slavery to corruption and experience the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 For we know that all creation groans in unison with birthing pains up until now. 23 And there is more; it’s not just creation—all of us are groaning together too. Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete— (Romans 8:18-23, The Voice)

We (humans) sit at the top of the food chain. We sit at the top of the consciousness chain. We sit at the top of the Creator’s Creation.

We are the collective CEO’s entrusted with this place. What happens on our watch, to the creatures and the environment in our care, is on US.

And when I watch something like Black Fish, I am struck with this thought: We have an incredible capacity to fuck up our jobs.*

The Orcas, that we have captured and ripped from their families (and continue to rip from families), that we keep locked up and forced to do our bidding, are part of the creation that has “collapsed into emptiness.”

Watching those whales last night you could see (and hear!) the “groaning” for liberation.
The pleading for the caretakers (us, humanity, the CEO’s) to help actually take care of them.

The sense I get from Paul, in the above passage, is that part of what he’s getting at is this: you and I (meaning, humanity) have been given a wonderful and beautiful gift in Christ and through God’s Spirit, the gift of freedom, of new life, of redemption and liberation. But creation and the created order has not yet entered in to that reality. It has a deep and abiding hope that one day it will be “liberated from its slavery to corruption and experience the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

We have a gift.
They don’t.
Therefore we are under obligation to be aware of that, to cause that to matter to us, to do something about it.

The Bible begins, for Pete’s-sake, with the charge for us to care for Creation.

Anyways, Black Fish was a profound experience. Listening to the Orca families literally weep as their kids are ripped from them was haunting enough, and then on top of that I had Paul’s words from above filling the chambers of my mind, demanding to be heard amidst the cries of the Killer Whales.

We can do better.
We have to do better.
It’s on us.
It’s on you.

You have been given the gift of liberation.

And when you hear the groaning of the black fish,
Use it wisely.
Use it well.

- – - – - – - – - – - – -

*I realize that some of my readers are uncomfortable with my choice in words here. And I do apologize if I caused you to read/say/think a word that you try and generally avoid. That being said, I chose it with great purpose and intentionality, for it is probably the only/best word to convey the deep sense of anger, frustration, and intensity of my emotion. To say that “ripping babies from their families” is really messing up, or really screwing up, just doesn’t cut it. And I’m willing to bet you’d agree.

 

On Officiating My First Same-Sex Wedding

So several weeks ago I officiated my first Same Sex Wedding.

You know, the type of wedding where the gender of one-half the couple is identical to the other half?

The one that, up until fairly recently, was strictly prohibited?

Yeah… THAT one.
The one that ends in what many call, “Gay Marriage.”

Or, as what the rest of us call it, “Marriage.”

Going in to it I wondered how I’d feel.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I knew how I’d “think” about it. That issue has long been settled for me. With regards to the inherent sinfulness of homosexuality, well, the Christian Scriptures simply don’t land there.

Furthermore, the right for people to get married to who they love should be afforded all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. So politically speaking, it was a no brainer.

And since I believe God is just as honored in the loving, committed, mutually respecting relationship between two people of the opposite sex as God is in two people of the same sex, I had no spiritual misgivings either.

And yet, I still wondered how it would all feel.
How I would feel.

I’ve done countless Opposite-Sex Weddings. And I’ve loved every single one of them. I am that pastor, who really does love marrying people. I feel incredibly honored to play that role in couples’ lives, to bless them, to speak over them and in to their marriage.

But I wondered anyways, how my gut would feel (which is what the ancient Hebrew people meant when they said “heart”). Even though my mind and soul were locked and loaded and ready to roll, I had some anxiety nonetheless.

This was a big deal.

It was a big deal for the couple, who had just weeks before finally been granted “permission” by the government to exchange vows.

It was a big deal for me because, well, like I’ve said, it was my first.

So anyways, enough introductory pontificating. Let me get to it.

Here is what it felt like to officiate my first Same Sex Marriage:

EXACTLY LIKE EVERY OTHER ONE.

Of course it was special and unique, and different in that sense, as all weddings are.

But with regards to how it felt to perform the ceremony, to walk through the giving of rings and exchanging of vows, to speak words of love and wisdom in to the couples lives, and to pronounce them “wedded partners for life,” yeah… it felt totally sane.

Completely normal.

It felt good.
As they all do.
As they all should.

Their love for each other was obvious. Their enthusiasm for getting married was contagious. Their excitement to enter this sacred covenant together was oozing out of every giggle as we wandered around Balboa Park looking for the perfect spot.

As they both called their families and put them on multiple iphone speaker phones, held carefully by the best man so that they could hopefully catch the ceremony, you could sense the anticipation for finally getting to say what Andrew Peterson calls “the two most famous last words / the beginning of the end,” the magical answer that confirms a commitment to life-long love, “I Do!”

It was beautiful. Wonderful. Full of love and faith.

And, worth saying once again, it felt totally normal.

So once again let me offer my super duper congratulations to Guenette and Erika on their new life together.

May your days be filled with laughter and love, and may you never stop seeking to be the best YOU and help your wife be the best HER. May God bless you and keep you, may God’s face shine upon you. May Christ be the orienting way in your lives as you live and move have your being in him.

You are blessed.
And I was blessed to be a part of your special day.

Thank you.

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Louis C.K. and Cellphones; Jesus and Wine

If you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you borrow 4 minutes from your day to listen to this mini-sermon delivered by comedian Louis C.K. on Conan.

In it, he reflects on the parenting decision to NOT let his girls have cell phones. Which, in a (crude) nutshell he says that parents often struggle with the idea of, “well, all the other kids have a phone… so my kid has to, too.”

To which Louis says, how about you let YOUR kid be the better example to the other kids. “Just because the other stupid kids have phones, doesn’t mean my kid has to be stupid in order to not feel weird.”

A bit harsh, but that’s Louis.

The real gold comes, though, when he unpacks how he feels in general about cell phones. About how they are toxic, and how they shield us from dealing with that existential angst in our soul that threatens to remind us that we are alone.

We are so afraid of being alone, admitting that we have a “forever emptiness” in us (as Louis says), that we turn to the crutch of our phone to instantly “connect” with someone else.

Which is all well and good, and I think just THAT naming of reality makes this video worthwhile. Because yes, my cell phone is what I turn to when I don’t want to just sit with “me.”

Yesterday I walked my three oldest boys down to a block party. We arrived at the tail end of the party, so the bouncy house was largely vacant. My boys wasted no time in filling that empty space with screams, yells, Power Ranger kicks, and other such shenanigans. I meandered over to where I heard my name being called… whispered… summoned.

The free beer.

Filling up my cup with a nice Pale Ale from Thorn St Brewery I surveyed the party area and recognized no one. Content with this discovery (because I am, after all, socially awkward at times and definitely not good at small talk or meeting new people) I took my cold draft and walked back to the bouncy house.

Though I WANTED to go inside and join my boys, I decided they were having too much fun to risk being kicked out because of me. So, instead, I sat down on the sidewalk and just watched them bounce.

And you know what my hands INSTANTLY did, once I sat down?

Likely the same thing YOURS do: reach in my pocket for my phone.

Sadness then hit me when I unlocked my phone and discovered I only had 10% battery left. I thought, “dang… I don’t know how long I’ll be here, so I better conserve this 10%. Who knows how long it will have to last me. I’ll check email and FB now… wait a few minutes… then check football scores… wait a few more minutes, then maybe post an Instagram…”

I didn’t want to just sit. Alone. With just ‘me.’

Let alone (obviously) go out and mingle with people.
Yeesh.

So yeah, Louis, I’m tracking with you. Cell phones medicate us from having to just be with “us.”

But he doesn’t stop there.

He tells a story about driving down the road, alone, and suddenly becomes overwhelmed with a sense of sadness. When he felt it coming his FIRST instinct was to grab his phone and start texting people. To connect with someone. To not feel alone, or sad.

Instead, he rejected that instinct, and chose instead this:

“Just be sad. Just let the sadness… stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck…. I pulled over and I just cried… I cried so much… and it was beautiful… sadness is poetic, you’re lucky to live sad moments. And then I had happy feelings because of it. When you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies. It has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness… and because we don’t want that first bit of “sad,” we push it away [with things like our cell phones]. (editor’s note: He mentions other things we do to distract ourselves, and it’s funny, but I don’t feel like typing it. HA!)

And I just find all that so absolutely, beautifully, and truthfully profound.

We don’t want to be sad.
We don’t want to feel alone.
And our phones are wonderful happy devices that connect us instantly.

But more than just phones, we live life like this. We try our damnedest to avoid feeling sad. And when we do, we certainly don’t elect to “just stand there and let it hit us like a truck.”

If you need confirmation about this human reality, just listen to the audience when Louis is talking.
You can hear the crowd laughing as Louis is telling his story. And yes, partly because he’s funny, but mostly you can sense it’s a nervous laughter.

It’s the type of laughter when you’ve just been exposed, and it’s uncomfortable.

But we do that, don’t we?
We avoid facing the full trauma of our sadness.
We numb ourselves.

I’m reminded of Jesus on the cross. In Mark’s gospel he tells the story of Jesus’ humiliating walk to Golgotha. And shortly after Simon of Cyrene is grabbed from the crowd to carry the cross for Jesus, Mark says, “The soldiers offered Jesus wine mixed with myrrh to dull his pain, but he refused it.” (Mark 15:23 The VOICE)

Jesus had the option to take the edge off.
To dull the pain a bit.
To medicate.
To grab the cell phone and avoid feeling sad.
Alone.

But he refused it.

And I think that point is important because Jesus’ knew on some profound level that he had to fully be present and fully face the upcoming sadness. He needed to face the full force of the trauma that was happening.

To truly absorb the weight of humanity’s collective wickedness, to fully expose the myth of violence, to ensure a defeat of the powers of sin and death, and to thoroughly demonstrate the weak power of love, mercy and sacrifice, Jesus had to just be sad.

This full engagement with the trauma allowed then for a complete and total break through on the other side.

Resurrection.

And resurrection can ONLY come after we have endured the tragic.
Resurrection comes after death.

In the words of Louis, “happiness comes rushing in to meet the sadness.”

But the happiness won’t come if we refuse to engage the sadness.

Resurrection life becomes merely a half-dead, barely-living, zombie type of existence if it isn’t first accompanied by a full embracing of the tragic.

I wrote this post a while back about the experience of losing something. And I concluded with these words, and I still like them, and it sort of applies to this post:

If we lose something in life that was dear to us, and we are sincerely led to believe that God was involved in the process of initiating or directing this loss, then let us choose to first engage with that loss. Experience it. Know it. Let it stare at us in the depths of our soul and let us not move on to quickly. But when we do, when we begin to move from crucifixion to a time of resurrection, then let us begin to believe that no matter what comes next, whether or not what we initially lost will ever be replaced, that we will be better because we engaged with Christ and participated in his crucifixion and are now living in his resurrection. And that, ultimately, is life.

Thank you, Louis, for making accessible such a beautiful spiritual truth.

Be sad, my friends, when sadness comes. Don’t reach too quickly for the cell phone, don’t numb the pain with wine and myrrh. Like Louis said, “you’re lucky to live sad moments.”

Because the eternal life (abundant life, life of the ages, or, as Louis names it, happiness) that is waiting for you on the other side is infinitely better than numbness, avoidance, or pretending all-is-fine.

They’re Not Really Talking to ME

You remember that scene from Disney Pixar’s Cars where Lizzie, the rather senile old car, says:

Lizzie: “You keep talking to yourself, people’ll think you’re crazy.”

And McQueen, assuming she was talking to him, says:

Lightnining McQueen: “Thanks for the tip.”

To which, Lizzie comically corrects him:

Lizzie: “What? I wasn’t talking to you!”

Well, as some of you know, last week I participated in launching The NALT Christians Project. I posted this video as part of the initial group of NALT videos.

For reasons I can only conjecture at, my video attracted much of the attention and consumed a majority of the “views.”

Although it’s only about 18,000 views it was/is still a strange experience to stop and think about 18,000 strangers out there looking at me for over 3 minutes. Listening to what I’m saying.

I cannot imagine what it must be like or feel like to be one of those viral-video “stars.”

Anyways, because my video amassed significantly more views than other NALT videos, it also then became the place for the trolls of the interwebs to express their collective disgust at the NALT project in general, but against gay people in particular.

And, as it turns out, any one who might dare suggest the things I suggested in my video.

Wow. People can get fired up!

Of course, I’m not naive.
None of it was surprising.
I know how comment sections work, and typically it is not too pretty.

Here’s a few of my favorite moments from the 300+ comments:

You certainly have no Christian attributes that I can detect. Stop “playing church”, you aren’t a child of God.

[people like this] they’re called false prophets. And as the Bible predicted they’d be everywhere. You’d have to legally call this man a liar, regardless of your stance: he couldn’t have missed 1st Corinthians 6:9

COLBY !!! DUDE !!!! REALLY !!! Who are you trying to fool !!! If I were you I would be carefull on the way I tell people how God is. HE LOVES US!!HE IS LOVE !!! HE IS PERFECT!!! but HE DOES HATE SIN !!! And it is true …. He hates homo activity and says CLEARLY it IS an abomination !!! BTW … ALL Christains should hate sin. (editors note: PLEASE tell me you see the irony here… ha!)

Colby is absolutely a liar, a pretender and a false prophet. The Bible predicted they (false prophets) would be quite numerous in the “end of the age”.. and that time is right now.

This guy is such a liar. It literally says in chapter 6 of Corinthians that homosexuals will NOT enter the kingdom of God. So as a Christian, NO I will not support someone who is not going towards the kingdom of God. The devil supports those who are not going to Heaven, and I WILL NEVER have the same views that the devil has. Period!

Colby. Read up on FALSE TEACHERS. You might also want to give some thought to the souls whose blood will be on YOUR head for teaching a life style that THE God calls sin, is all fine and good. You need to truly seek him my friend because you are completely in league with the enemy of God at this point. In case youre unsure of who that would be I’ll give you a hint, he fell from Heaven as a bolt of lightning. his name in Heaven was lucifer. I’ll pray His for mercy on your children. (editor’s note: my children say, “thank you.”)

Wow. Colby, you need to go back to the Bible and read it again. You are either foolish or you are lost and without understanding. The Bible is explicit on this topic of homosexuality.

Colby is just an actor and someone else is pulling his strings, telling him what to say.

You are so wrong Colby. It not only goes against Gods law, it goes against natural law…. Man is not to lay with other men.Don’t you get that ? How much more simple can God put it ? This is why I have a hard time saying I’m a Christian because of people like you ! I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. You are making excuses for sin

May I suggest you may want to look into purchasing a millstone.

(After I told ^this guy^ that I thought it was mean to tell people to kill themselves, he said) Colby, Jesus Himself stated in Matthew 18:6 that it would be better for you to drown with a millstone around your neck rather than to cause young people to stumble. You are leading young people, by the hand, to eternal torment, and yes, you are correct, that makes me very angry. But not mean. I will fight until my last breath to protect my daughter against the disguised attacks from men like you, wolves in sheep’s clothing attempting to infiltrate my Savior’s flock.

(Then, after I assured him I would never attack his daughter) But you are attacking young people just like my daughter by misleading them to believe that the Bible doesn’t REALLY mean it when It says that “…effeminate, nor homosexuals” shall inherit the Kingdom of God. You can call me a big “meanie” all you want but it was Jesus who suggested that you would be better off with the millstone than doing what you are doing. I find it ironic that you are focused on my “mean” use of His suggestion for men like you as you lead countless young people to hell. (editor’s note: Good point. I suppose it IS meaner to lead young people to Hell than it is to tell someone “go kill yourself.”)

In your video you said “I began to study the Bible.” Sir, lying is a sin.

God is not love, God is just. God does love as witnessed in His son’s sacrifice for our transgressions. To say “God is love” is misleading as love is ambiguous. (editor’s note: did he really just start his comment by saying, “God is not love?”)

(editor’s note: I told a few people I thought they were being mean and unkind. So this person said) This guy would have told Jesus “you have such malice and hatred and negativity” after he would of told them “unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Antichrist means “alternative Christ” in the Greek. This Man loves AntiChrist, a figment of his selfish imagination and is offended by the real Christ.

You (claiming to be Christian) are justifying as ‘okay’ that which is a damnable offense to a Holy God. It’s heretical. Consider this a rebuke. Repent. Seriously. (editor’s note: okay… but ONLY because you said “seriously!”)

You said you couldn’t find in the Bible regarding homosexuality is being condemned. You literally straight up lied. The only people who would fall for your video are those who never read the Bible, this won’t influence Christians who actually follows what is stated in the New Testament. We follow the word of God, not men who changes the word into their own leisure like yourself. Have fun only attracting atheists and people who have already always supported lgbt rights like yourself.

I was encouraged early on to not read the comments on my video, but I’ve found them all to be far too fascinating to ignore. Plus, although I didn’t list them here, there were a handful of very positive, encouraging, supportive and loving comments as well. And a lot more private messages and emails of support and thanks came in, too.

My wife finds it strange that I’m so fascinated by all these people. (editor’s note: it is not strange that my wife finds something I do strange)

Even though the people above have said some really nasty things, and displayed an egregious lack of compassion, and have betrayed their own sorts of ignorance, I have not taken any of it personally. None of these comments have gotten to me. None of them have bothered me. None of them have got me fired up. (I did engage with a few people, if they actually asked a question. But I didn’t dignify a lot of that stuff with any sort of response).

But honestly, the words above and the other couple hundred comments just don’t bother me.

Why?

Because I know they’re not actually talking to ME.

These words are not aimed at ME.
It is not ME they are angry with, or threatened by.

They don’t even know ME.

Their anger, malice, and vitriol is aimed at someone else. Someone who’s hurt them in the past. Or, perhaps, even themselves.

Their fear is driven by whatever system of beliefs they’ve been indoctrinated in to.

Their cruelty is a result of simply not understanding.

But none of it has to do with ME.

I just put myself out there and became an easy target. A place for people to direct their negative energies.

But since I know that none of the above words have anything to do with ME, then it frees me from taking any of it personal. Taking any of it to heart.

Like Lizzie from Cars, if I were to stand in front of some of these people and reply to the words they typed on the comment section of my Youtube video, I know that, if they were honest enough or aware enough, they’d reply with:

What? I wasn’t talking to you!

 

 

Jesus: The Original Hipster

If one of the hallmarks of a good Hipster is being “ironic,” then perhaps Jesus was the original Hipster.

Christy Wampole, of Princeton University, says that irony is the ethos of our age, and that Hipsters are the archetype of ironic living.

Irony, in part, is when the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same. So a 25 year old Hipster wearing a “I ♥ Justin Bieber” shirt is being ironic because, well, there’s a solid chance that he/she doesn’t ACTUALLY love the Biebs. The surface meaning says, “this is true!” but the underlying meaning is more of a “wink-wink… not really… but ain’t it cool?!”

So then, how was Jesus a Hipster?

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” -Mark 1:15

Jesus was about the business of announcing the Kingdom of God had come. His life and ministry and teachings all pointed to this reality. God’s Kingdom had arrived, and it is time to orient yourself around it.

But here’s the deal: Jesus’ t-shirt that said, “The Kingdom of God is Near” amounted to the same thing as “I ♥ Justin Beiber.”

Because God’s “Kingdom” isn’t really a kingdom.

“The time has come,” Jesus said, with a twinkle in his eye. “The “Kingdom” of God has come near,” he announced, while placing air quotes around the word “Kingdom.”

Kingdoms are about ruling people.
God’s “Kingdom” is about serving people.

Kingdoms are about hierarchy.
God’s “Kingdom” is about equality.

Kingdoms are about dominance.
God’s “Kingdom” is about openness.

Kingdoms are about control.
God’s “Kingdom” is about freedom.

Kingdoms are, ultimately, about power.
God’s “Kingdom” is about weakness.

You see, the kingdom of God is not like the Kingdoms of this world. In any way, really.

John Caputo writes:

God chose the outsiders, the people deprived of power, wealth, education, high birth, high culture. Theirs is a “royalty” of outcasts, so that, from the point of view of the aion, the age or the world, the word kingdom is being used ironically, almost mockingly, to refer to these pockets of the despised that infect and infest the world. For this is a kingdom of the low-down and lowborn, the “excluded,” the very people who are precisely the victims of the world’s power.  -The Weakness of God

This is why I won’t be surprised, once I finally kick the bucket, to find Jesus chilling outside the entrance of the Pearly Gates, sipping on a PBR and offering me a swig.

Following in the Way of Katniss: You Have to See the “Other”

Last week our church launched our annual “God in Film” series (I wrote about that, here), and I kicked things off with “The Hunger Games.

It was my first foray in to the world of doing a talk based on a film and while it was quite the challenge to prepare for (pretty different than a “normal” talk) I will say I thoroughly enjoyed it! And I can’t wait to do it again in a couple weeks with “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

One of the points I make in the sermon comes from the scene in the movie where Katniss auditions her battle skills for the gamemakers and potential sponsors. You remember that scene: she picks up her bow and arrow and lets loose an arrow at a target, but misses completely. The gamemakers/observers laugh it off and then go about their business (chatting with each other, eating, drinking) and completely ignore Katniss. They were unimpressed and dismissed her, so when she fired her next arrow and scored a bullseye no one even noticed or cared. Annoyed at such indifference towards her, she strings one more arrow but this time shoots it up at where they were all sitting, and fires it straight through an apple that was resting in the open mouth of a cooked pig.

This quite obviously got their attention.

They turn, half amazed and half terrified, and stare at Katniss. She merely says, “for your consideration,”  takes a bow, and then exits the arena.

Brilliant scene.

In my sermon I use this scene as an example of creatively choosing a third way when people who are in power over you are ignoring you, oppressing you, or both: not Flight (passively walking away, sulking, and just accepting your lot), and not Fight (shooting arrows AT the people, picking off a few before you’re arrested or killed yourself).

No, she choose a third way.

A way that, essentially said, “Here I am. Right here. And you have to SEE me. I won’t let you ignore me any longer.”

I think that this is, in the Kingdom of God, one of the primary ways that the divide between “us” and “them” begins to dissolve. When people actually “see” the other.

SEE the oppressed.
SEE the forgotten.
SEE the outcast and the outliers.
SEE the ones society ignores.
SEE the ones the church has scorned.

“Seeing” makes all the difference. Or, at least, it’s a really good place to start.

When those who have power/wealth/privilege (the HAVES) remain isolated from those who have-not, then they can remain ignorant of what it actually means to be a have-not.

One of the questions I often pose to people who disagree with me, and are opposed to same-sex marriage or think that all expressions of same-sex attraction are a sin, is this: who do you know that is gay? What same-sex family have you taken the time to really get to know? Have you had them over for dinner? Have you gone to their house, and seen how they live, how they act, how they raise their kids?

Do you SEE them?

Of course, some people respond with, “oh I have lots of gay friends!”

Fine. That may (or may not actually) be true.

But most of the time the answer I get is silence.
No response.

Because they have not gone out of their way to “see” the other.

It’s easier, is it not, to sit in our comfy houses and continue with our non-messy lives. Where the world is easily dividable between “us” and “them.”

Turning around and looking to SEE “them?” That’s hard. That can take work. That can be scary.

But it is oh. so. important.

If you hold the position that gay people don’t deserve equal rights like getting married, then I implore you to get to know a same-sex family. I’m not saying your minds will instantly change, but if you don’t SEE them, then you are willfully choosing to remain ignorant, and you’ll never understand that these are real people.

And for folks like me, who HAVE a degree of power/influence/privilege (i.e. i’m a straight/white/male), part of our challenge is to discover how we can be more like Katniss. How can we get people to SEE, without choosing violence? Without causing more hatred and animosity? What do creative “third ways” look like as we live out this desire to eliminate the us/them divide?

Why Do a “God in Film” Teaching Series?

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at April 5, 2.28 PM

Why would we talk about “worldly” movies in CHURCH?!

This Sunday, at Missiongathering, we are kicking off our annual Spring teaching series: God in Film.

Being still a relative newcomer to Missiongathering, I can say I am stoked to find out that our church does this series every year. Not just because I’m a huge fan of movies, but because I’m a huger fan of thinking critically about art and culture.

I love to explore how things like movies, music and books move us, unsettle us, transform and inspire us.

This Sunday I’ll be kicking off the series as I engage with The Hunger Games.

As I’ve been thinking about and writing the sermon for this week, I wanted to stop and reflect on the reason why we do this.

Why engage with movies like this at church.

So here are some of my thoughts on that.

Breaking the False Divide

If you’ve spent any amount of time (like I have) in the Christian sub-culture, the bubble of conservative christianity, you quickly discover how bizarre it can be.
Everything gets classified in to two categories:

Christian or non-Christian.
The Sacred and the Secular.

Thanks to the world of marketing, we now have:

Christian music and Secular music.
You have Christian books and Secular books.
Christian art and non-Christian art.

And so on…

David Dark, a prolific writer who teaches in Nashville at various institutions, says “there is not a single secular molecule in the universe.”

Or as Rob Bell says, “everything is spiritual.”

In David Dark’s book, “Everyday Apocalypse” he challenges us to return to the original meaning of the word “apocalypse:”
Which means “revelation,” or to uncover, to reveal.

And in the book he explores popular movies, t.v. shows, and music to demonstrate how we can look at things in such a way as to discover how there is a sacredness in everything.

He says,

When you begin to view all truthfulness as somehow bearing witness to God’s coming kingdom, you’re gradually able to view all kinds of art much more redemptively than a market-defined “Spirituality” or “Contemporary Christian Music” category can allow.

There is a division that has been created, a FALSE division, between things that belong to the world of “Christianity” and things that are Secular, or non-Christian. One of the things our God in Film series is trying to accomplish is to break down that false, invisible wall. To expose the myth that some things have spiritual value to them, and others don’t. Or that some products are “Christian” and so should be consumed  hook, line and sinker… while everything else is secular, scary, dangerous, and to be avoided at all costs.

But it is THIS separation, I would argue, that is thing that is dangerous, scary, and un-biblical (if you’ll permit me to use such a phrase), and it is the creation of these divisions that must be avoided at all costs.

We want to be people who develop eyes to see the Divine in all things. And so as we explore, over the next 6 weeks, these six different films, hopefully as a community we’ll all get some much needed exercise in seeing how everything is spiritual.

(That is NOT to say, of course, that everything is redeeming, or edifying, or has equal value to the soul. That is an equally dangerous position to hold. But that blog post is not this blog post.)

The Power of Movies

Movies are a powerful force, I think you’d agree.

Some movies inspire us to want to become more than we are, to live better stories, to keep moving forward in the pursuit of being the person we really want to be.

Other movies expose the lies that we live. They speak of messages that certain forces in this world would have us believe. That certain things or people can bring us happiness and satisfaction. And we find ourselves confronted with a choice to accept that this movie is either telling us something real about life, or exposing it to be a sham.

Other movies get underneath our skin, and unsettle us, unnerve us. They challenge us to look more closely, more critically at what we think and how we believe.

But movies are, ultimately, a medium for telling stories. And stories are one of the world’s most powerful forces to change people, to inspire transformation. And so God in Film provides us the chance to do a bit of apocalyptic work on some of last years most interesting movies.

To Reveal, really, ways in which we can say, “wait, that’s God!”

Or

“wait, that is NOT God!”

Of course, that begs the question, what does one mean when they say, “That’s God,” or “that’s NOT God.”

And much could be said about that (in fact, if you haven’t already, I invite you read Rob Bell’s newest book What we Talk about When we Talk About God for a fresh way to think about the word, name, and person of God), but I’ll try and sum up just briefly what “I” mean when I say things like “there, there I see the PRESENCE of God,” or “there I see the ABSENCE of God.”

The Presence of God

When I say I see the presence of God in something, what I DON’T mean is that God wasn’t previously present but now IS. I don’t mean that God magically appears in one moment, and then disappears when the moment is over.

We often find ourselves saying things like,
“That was a God moment” or
“Then God showed up”

And while I get the sentiment (and find myself at times defaulting to similar types of expressions), we have to remind ourselves that that sort of language implies that other moments are NOT God moments, or that we are suggesting that God is not in a place most of the time but only shows up when we can see evidence of it.

But I don’t think, if we really stop to consider it, that THAT is what we mean. Or what we really think.

So when I make statements like “seeing God in a movie,” what I’m trying to articulate is that there is something in that scene that resonates in a more obvious and profound way with the things that make me think about God.

Or there’s something about that plot development that echoes with things that I feel represent the character or passions of God: be it the pursuit of justice, or the work of reconciliation, or the process of renewing and redeeming something or someone.

Or, perhaps in a specifically Christian perspective, I might say that there’s something in that character and her choices that reflect the type of life that I see modeled in and taught by Jesus: be it forgiveness or working towards peace or loving the outcast.

And all good movies (all stories, really), in someway or another, tap in to what is true about life. And when that happens, like David Dark says, when we see that all truthfulness somehow bears witness to God and God’s Kingdom, then we can say things like “I saw God in that film.”

The Absence of God

But I think another way we see God in Film is when we DON’T. You could call this seeing the ABSENCE of God.

The PRESENCE of God often lifts us up, inspires us, encourages us…  with things like love, redemption, sacrifice, joy, etc…

But films that deal with the ABSENCE of God are often the ones that unsettle us… disturb us… bother us and stick with us for days. Because we see, for instance, in movies like Schindler’s List a certain “that’s-not-rightness.”

When gross injustices are shown on screen, and we stare deep in the face of the evil and wickedness that humankind is capable of, we find ourselves knowing on a profound level that that is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Other times it’s more subtle.

And still other times we might be completely oblivious to it, or we might be downright deceived.

(I think that Romantic comedies often fall prey to this. We often witness a fairytale sort of ending where everything works out and the guy gets the gal, or vice versa, and we leave the theater feeling all warm and fuzzy, and our ears were tickled… but really, we just spent 90 minutes being lied to. Because life ISN’T that way. That’s NOT really love. That’s not how relationships work. And we find ourselves constantly unhappy in life because our brains have been re-wired to expect the world that cinema gives us. But anyways…)

That is the ABSENCE of God.
The telling of a story that wars AGAINST the Kingdom of God.

Looking for God in Film

The God in Film teaching series allows us to engage with the medium of film in a way that invites us to explore how the stories we watch might be tapping in to something beautiful and true about God  and God’s Kingdom, OR be exposing stories that war against God’s Kingdom.

This 6 week exploration allows us to exercise our vision to see how everything is spiritual, and to think critically about what it is we are consuming.

Hopefully some of you found this a little helpful with regards to why we do this series every year.

And, if none of that was interesting or helpful, it’s also just a lot of FUN!

So if you’re in the San Diego area anytime during the next 6 weeks, I invite you to join us at 9am or 11am for God in Film at Missiongathering. Or, head over to www.godinfilm.com each week to download the latest message.

 

To This Day Project: Anti Bullying

If you do anything today, watch this video.

It is matchless in its artistic expression, its collaborative creativity, and its beautiful message.

If you are a parent, I implore you that you don’t ever assume “my kid wouldn’t ever bully another kid.” We can’t just assume that if we raise our kids well then they won’t taste the sweet nectar of lording it over others. No, we must be pro-active in our messaging that every kid has worth, has value. That every life is beautiful. We must teach our kids to love the unlovely. But more importantly, we must show them.

We must never “accidentally” be bullies ourselves.

They must never see us treat anyone like less than they deserve.

We really can end the epidemic of bullying. But parents, don’t you dare for a second think that a school program, or a teacher, or a principal will make it happen.

It starts (and ends) with us.

To This Day from To This Day on Vimeo.

 

Visit the folks who put this together over at www.tothisdayproject.com

Jesus Stickers on a Hummer… Part Deux

Okay, so yesterday I posted this hastily written blog post where I stream-of-conscious’d my thoughts on to the keyboard.

I was in a bit of a hurry, both time-wise AND because I was planning to post my blog on to the comment section of my brother’s original post, as a way to interact with the commenters there.

Anyways, I feel like I did a poor job of, well, accomplishing much of anything. So here I offer three follow up thoughts to better complement (and clarify) what yesterday’s post was aiming to do.

1) Gut Reactions are Morally Neutral

Here’s the reality about gut reactions and initial responses to things: they happen. And generally, there is little we can do about it. And, for the most part, these gut reactions/initial responses/first look at things don’t usually have any sort of moral affinity to them. Meaning, they’re more or less neutral in terms of “good reaction” or “bad reaction.” At least, as far as I see it.

They just ARE.

The thing that matters (in terms of morality, that is) is what we choose to DO with those initial reactions.

An example from the world of sexuality: a beautiful woman walks in to the coffee shop where I’m reading. My eyes, which generally wander to every person that walks in to a place where I’m reading, fall on this beautiful woman. My first, gut reaction is, “wow, that is a beautiful woman.” The human brain is wired to notice beauty. So far you could argue this is a morally neutral reaction. But what happens next is entirely up to me, and THAT is where any conversation of “ethics” could be had. Do I choose to stare at her? Do I choose to look her up and down? And so on and so forth. How I HANDLE that initial gut reaction is what matters. (Admittedly it’s not a great analogy, but hopefully you get the point. There’s how we initially react to something, and then there’s how we continue to operate AFTER said reaction. And they are two separate realities.)

Initial reactions can be useful, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that they say NOTHING, but rather we should be careful to not judge to harshly how a person first reacts to something. Our gut reactions may betray certain things about us; our preconcieved notions about a given thing, or how we were raised, or how we think about certain situations. So we can learn things about ourselves based on how we gut-level react to things, but what is more important is what we then DO with that information.

Yesterday, in my post, I simply typed out all the different things that came to my mind about the idea of a tricked out Hummer being covered in Jesus stickers. Some of these gut reactions were indifferent towards the whole thing, others were supportive, and others were negative.

They just WERE.

And, because I like to blog and stir up conversation and get people thinking, I thought it’d be interesting to share it with all of you.

But I did not, in the end, offer any sort of insight in to where I was GOING with those gut reactions. And so it ended up sounding like all 7 or so of those reactions were how I truly felt (which is funny, because many of them cancel each other out and are mutually exclusive. But anyways…)

The truth is, I don’t really know HOW I feel about the concept of slapping a bunch of Jesus stickers on an incredible expensive automobile.

2) Talking About Money is Dangerous

People do not like it when you talk about money. Specifically, when you talk about THEM and THEIR money.

As Pastors we know this all too well.

Which makes for a funky dynamic because, well, it was one of the things Jesus talked about MOST! So here we are, people who study the words of Jesus, and whose jobs it is to help communicate those words, and we end up avoiding or dancing around some of the most poignant sayings of Jesus.

Because it’s uncomfortable. And people don’t like it.

WE don’t like.

So yesterday, during my not-very-well-thought-out and even-more-poorly-executed blog post, I treaded into the murky waters of personal wealth. And that’s always going to unsettle people. And I know that, and I did not do a good job of navigating that.

I can be flippant about a lot of things, because a lot of people don’t really care deeply about Ray Lewis and the Super Bowl, or the Wild Goose Festival, or Where the Wild THings Are. But to be flippant and casual about the issue of money is a whole other ball game.

Which leads me to…

3) Judging Other People’s Spiritual Lives is UnCool

I don’t like judging. I think it’s generally a bad practice, and try to avoid it when I realize I’m doing it.

Yesterday’s post ended up sounding a lot like I was judging people that choose to drive expensive cars.

Let me be clear: If you drive a fancy car, or own fancy things, or make lots of money, I do NOT view you as a second-class Christian.

The very fact that I have to say that frustrates me, but I brought it on myself. So I NEED to say that, so that you all hear me.

Of course, in my own mind I didn’t feel I was doing that yesterday at all. Especially since I didn’t even SEE the original car, nor do I know anyone who fits that bill. But reading my post a second time (and hearing wise words from my wife) helped me to see that some people would certainly feel like I was “judging” them for driving fancy cars.

Not at all.

But (and this is a big but), this is NOT the same thing as saying, “I will always be about the business of challenging people to think through what it means to follow Jesus in their lives.”

Meaning this: I won’t judge you for owning a fancy car, but I might just find myself asking you if you’ve thought through all the ramifications of what it might mean to own something like that AND to plaster it with the name of Jesus.

And THAT is a conversation NOT about you and your spirituality, but about things like values, and priorities, and perceptions, and so on.

Can we have a meaningful conversation about our  money and our spirituality, and how they intersect, without feeling personally attacked?

I wonder if, instead of posting what I did yesterday, I would have simply blogged an innocuous post with some of Jesus’ sayings about money:

“blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” -Luke 6:20

“if you wish to be complete, go and sell your possesions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” -Luke 18:22

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  -Luke 12:33,34

“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” -Luke 18:15

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” -Matt 6:24

And so on and so on…
But the point being, if I would have JUST POSTED THAT, I wonder if anybody would have reacted. If anybody would have felt like they were being judged.

Do those words alone have any sort of pause-and-consider power to them, anymore? Or have we grown a bit calloused to them. They’re too familiar, and we’ve decided long ago that they don’t apply to us.

Jesus said some harsh things, and I believe it’s worth our time and energy to dive in to those at times and see if they might say something to us, here today.

Is there a way to contextualize those sayings.
To place them in today’s world.
To re-package those words in such a way that steals our breath… that speeds up our beating heart… that opens our ears to wonder, “wait, WHAT are you saying?!?!”

Does a vehicle that screams “I cost a lot of money” covered with stickers declaring an allegiance to Jesus stir up any of the things Jesus was getting at in the above verses?

Maybe.
Maybe not.

But I think it’s a unique enough juxtaposition of commerce and spirituality to, in a fresh way, talk about Jesus and money.

Of course it doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about the owner of the car’s spirituality.
That’s beside the point.

But I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Jesus might have been walking by the equivalent of a Hummer/Jesus mobile in the first century and took advantage of the illustration to say, “no one can serve two masters… you cannot serve both God and Money.”

On this blog I like to get in people’s kitchens from time to time. Not in a way to judge or condemn (for who am I?), but in a way to get people to think about things they might not normally have thought about.

Even if it’s difficult.
Especially if it’s difficult.

In conclusion, I want to apologize for yesterday’s post, because it was hasty, poorly written, and did not accomplish what I think I hoped to accomplish.

I wanted to simply share my gut reactions to the situation, and be fully honest (even if the honesty was ugly… which it was in part). But I should have clarified to say that.

I wanted to suggest that this unique juxtaposition of commerce and spirituality could be a springboard to look anew at Jesus’ perspective toward material things and money.

I did not want to alienate readers and make them feel like I think less of them or their spirituality if they choose to own nice things.

Thanks for reading this follow up.
I welcome any and all questions or comments below.

—–

Now… let’s talk about Bumper Stickers in general, shall we???
;)

Jesus Stickers on a Hummer?

(this is not the Hummer he saw… just another Hummer-with-Jesus that I found online.

 

(UPDATE: I have removed this blog post. What began as an attempt to share how human I am, and how I have cynical and judgmental thoughts at times, turned in to a misunderstanding about how I feel towards people with means. I was hoping to stir up discussion on things like commerce and spirituality, but instead I disenfranchised some people that I care about. Rather than leave the blog post up (which wasn’t well written, and was far too easy to misinterpret), I’ve decided to just take it down. I will leave my follow up blog, because it actually has value.)