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.

 

God in Film: Beasts of the Southern Wild

One of my favorite movies from 2012 was the Indie success story and Oscar nominated “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

As part of our annual God in Film series, I lobbied to get to preach a sermon from this film. I knew I wanted to unpack the way the movie explores death (specifically, the fear of death).

What I didn’t know, is just how much the studying for this message would impact me.

A huge thanks and shout-out to Richard Beck (www.experimentaltheology.blogspot.com) for his amazingly brilliant insights in to our Slavery to the Fear of Death. (Be on the lookout for his upcoming book on the subject. So good!)

So, if you’ve seen the film, and you’re curious where I went with it, then I invite you to give it a listen.

If you haven’t seen the film, then I highly recommend it. And then maybe come listen to my talk. (or vice versa, I guess… doesn’t really matter).

Happy listening.

(right click to save/download: God in Film_Beasts of the Southern Wild)

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.

 

If you love Jesus, MUST you hate religion?

So, you’ve probably seen it. This video where the spoken-word poet talks about loving Jesus but hating religion. I’ve watched my FB blow up with people sharing this, and tried to avoid it just because… but I decided to watch it today.

If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

Since this IS my blog, and all, here are my thoughts on it (as you read this, picture me standing somewhere cool, looking in to a camera, attempting to do “spoken-word.”)

So I see that this video has been going around,
tickling peeps ears with the spoken-word sound.
Almost 7 million views of this one video,
and so to stay relevant, to YouTube I go.

Watch it and listen, is what I just did,
but honestly it left me slightly sordid.

Was Jesus REALLY anti-Religion?
Or just anti the purchase of a temple-sold pigeon…
I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive
in the same sort of way that the this dude on YouTube did.

Jesus was angered by EMPTY religion,
seeing the poor and the hurting who lived in,
the time when God’s people were called out to bless,
but they cared for their purity and said “to hell with the rest.”

I guess what I’d rather this poet had done,
was emphasis Jesus as being the one,
who said,There IS a religion in the Kingdom of Heaven,
See for yourself… James 1:27.

This video creates false dichotomies,
but since it’s done real pretty we say “yes please!”
Before you click ‘share’ and repeat this sensation,
perhaps in your status place this iteration:

“In Jesus I’ve found the way of truth, love and peace
A religion that offers a hope for all things.
In Jesus we seek no hypocrisy,
cause THAT is what drove this Teacher crazy.”

Not “religion.”

(or something like that…)

 

Tri-Awesomeness

Andrew Peterson

Harry Potter Books

Fresco of Jesus

Like my wife says, “Three of my favorite things converge together: Andrew Peterson, Harry Potter, and Jesus.”

If you like any of those three I invite you to read this fantastic blog by singer-songwriter/author Andrew Peterson, and his thoughts on the Harry Potter series.

Among other awesome things he says, he writes this pretend letter to Potter author, J.K. Rowling and says:

By the way, I’m a follower of Christ, and I see him in your story. I don’t know if that’s intentional or not, but you should know that he’s in there. In fact, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say that reading your books has helped me to praise him even more for his courage, his sacrifice, and his strength to conquer the hosts of hell to save us.

To which I offer a resounding AMEN!

I have fallen in love with the Potter series over the past 10 years, and ardently defend it against those who would believe it is somehow evil or inherently wrong for Christians to read. These sorts of statements merely come out of ignorance, so I try not to get too worked up. Nonetheless, they are beautiful books, an amazing story, like Peterson says, Jesus is in those stories.