Life, movies and heroes

Advance warning, this is a very quote heavy post. Hopefully it will come across as more than just an excuse to share my favourite movie quotes though nothing will beat Liam Neesons epic monologue in Taken.

It is said that art imitates life, but life has also been inspired by art. One of my favourite genres and underlying themes within movies,  TV shows and video games, are heroes. Individuals or groups of people standing up for and defending those who can’t defend themselves.  It seems that many of the bad guys that the heroes have to face and defeat, are metaphors for everyday life. They seem to express the notion that this world is not as it should be, and it needs people to stand up and fight the evil, to show the world how it can be:

Blake: Hoping you live happily ever after?
Ruby: Well I’m hoping we all will. As a girl, I wanted to be just like those heroes in the books. Someone who fought for what was right, and who protected people who couldn’t protect themselves.
Blake: That’s very ambitious for a child. Unfortunately the real world isn’t the same as a fairy tale.
Ruby: Well that’s why we’re here, to make it better.

RWBY, Shining Beacon Pt2, Rooster Teeth Productions, Created by Monty Oum

Angel: Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It’s harsh, and cruel. But that’s why there’s us – champions. Doesn’t matter where we come from, what we’ve done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world is as it should be, to show it what it can be.

Angel, Deep Down, Mutant Enemy Productions, Created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt

The problem with these types of movies though is that they can give across the message that the evil in this world is so huge, that you must have some special powers, or virtually limitless resources, in order to fight against it.  I’m currently writing this at a time when most of the UK seems to be under water, and the British Armed Forces have been drafted in to help with flood defences and rescuing people. They have the resources and the training, so people seem to just leave it up to them to sort everything out. I’m not suggesting that people go out and try something that is beyond their ability, particularly in times of extreme events, but why do people wait for extraordinary circumstances to fight against something? Are we looking for an example to follow?

Jor-El: The people of Earth are different from us, it’s true, but ultimately I believe that is a good thing. They won’t necessarily make the same mistakes we did, but if you guide them, Kal, if you give them hope, that’s what this symbol means. The symbol of the House of El means hope. Embodied within that hope is the fundamental belief the potential of every person to be a force for good. That’s what you can bring them.

Man Of Steel (2013), Distributed by Warner Bros Pictures, Directed by Zack Snyder.

Bruce Wayne: People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol… as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.

Batman Begins (2005), Distributed by Warner Bros Pictures, Directed by Christopher Nolan

We have people we look up to, who inspire us; we may refer to them as heroes. With heroes in movies being such larger than life and having super powers, it’s often difficult to see that they are people, we often fail to see the humanity within them. I sometimes think we’ve done that with Jesus. We’ve become so focused on him being God that we’ve completely lost sight of the fact that he was also human. The sacrifices required to stand up for something, to fight against something, to support something, are often immense because they are too often done alone and is never a one-off battle. We seem to forget this about other people we regard as heroes too. Standing up for something, especially if someone else is likely to lose, is costly. It’s why many heroes in these movies hide their identity:

Joyce: Well it stops now!

Buffy: No, it doesn’t stop! It never stops! Do you… do you think I chose to be like this? You have any idea how lonely it is? How dangerous? I would love to be upstairs, watching TV or gossiping about boys or… God, even studying! But I have to save the world. Again!

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Becoming Pt 2, Mutant Enemy Productions, Created by Joss Whedon

Capt Tom Lasky: Chief, I won’t pretend to know how you feel. I’ve lost people I care about but, never anything like you’re going through.

Spartan 117:  Our duty, as soldiers is to protect humanity, whatever the cost

Capt. Tom Lasky: You say that like soldiers and humanity are 2 different things. I mean soldiers aren’t machines, we’re just people

Halo 4 (2012) Developed by 343 Industries, Distributed by Microsoft Studios

Many of these movies have an arc where the main character learns something then acts on it. Rambo is a great example. He goes from the above to realizing that not only that he has the power to act therefore he must as Thomas Jefferson said “If there’s something wrong, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action”) but also he’s fighting for something other than himself:

John Rambo: Any of you boys want to shoot, now’s the time. There isn’t one of us that doesn’t want to be someplace else. But this is what we do, who we are. Live for nothing, or die for something. Your call.

Rambo (2008) Distributed by Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company, Directed by Sylvester Stallone

I sometimes think we’re in the middle of that arc, that we’re in the middle of the movie and we still need to learn the lesson that we don’t need to be super heroes; just need to be prepared to take the risk to help others because that’s the reward in itself:

Angel: If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters… , then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today. I fought for so long, for redemption, for a reward, and finally just to beat the other guy, but I never got it.

Kate Lockley: And now you do?

Angel: Not all of it. All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because, I don’t think people should suffer as they do. Because, if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

Angel, Epiphany, Mutant Enemy Productions, Created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt

Many Christian apologists use this sense that the world is not right as an argument for God. Some have drawn comparisons of the apparent escalation of the worlds problems with the decline in belief in God, that the latter is bringing about the former. My response, aside from the fact religious believers can be quite adept at inflicting pain and misery, is does it really matter at this point? It is down to humanity to try to sort its problems out (the second coming of Jesus is not an excuse to do nothing since it involves the earth) as its humanity that got itself into the mess in the first place. As Nelson Mandela put it, Poverty is not an accident, like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made  and can be removed by the actions of human beings.

John Rambo: You’re not changing anything.

Burnett: Well, it’s thinking like that, that keeps the world the way it is.

Rambo (2008) Distributed by Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company, Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Nick Fury:There was an idea, Stark knows this, called the Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Directed by Joss Whedon

Maybe the world is short on heroes, maybe it’s our attitudes that keeps the world as it is but like Ruby at the very top of this piece, maybe we can be inspired to make a difference. The world can decide if that’s being a hero.

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Hitting rock bottom with the church

In the last month or so, a series of high profile names in sport and screen have opened up regarding their sexuality.

  • Former English Premier Football league player Thomas Hitzlsperger
  • American Footballer Michael Sam
  • England Womens football captain Casey Stoney
  • Actress Ellen Page

You can add to that Olympic bronze medalist diver Tom Daley who admitted he is in a relationship with a man. The vast majority of the response has been positive, which is encouraging others to be open about their sexuality. It is becoming slowly but surely a safer place for the LGBT community, encouraging others to be more open about their sexuality. There are obvious exceptions, Russia and Uganda come to mind, and not everyone who has been honest about their sexuality has been met with overwhelming acceptance, but progress is being made in other countries.

One place where progress seems to be going backwards is the church. Justin Welby made great noises about not accepting gay marriage is akin to racism. The Church of England responded with a statement that says they won’t bless gay relationships and any gay clergy cannot be married. It pretty much tore up the Pilling report and with dragging their feet on the ordination of women as bishops, managed to alienate themselves even more than seemed possible.. The one place LGBT Christians, and indeed all members of the LGBT community, should be able to seek shelter, is the one place that’s dishing out the pain and hurt that they are trying to shelter from. Twitter exploded with Christians condemning Michael Sam, and I could do nothing but just shake my head and fight back tears.

Those supporting the church on this are chanting that the church is to be counter cultural, but it shouldn’t be going against culture for the sake of it. It stood against culture when it came to slavery, though there were those within the church who supported slavery. It should be at the forefront of social change, setting the example, campaigning and fighting for equality for all people. It should not be clinging to doctrines and hanging onto the coat tails of the change. Christians want the world to be more like Jesus, it baffles me then when they fight against it clearly doing so. It’s more interested in protecting its doctrines and standing on its soap box than it is offering love, grace and protection. It doesn’t want to get its hands dirty and its this reason (among others) I think the church has ceased to be relevant in this world anymore.

In a survey conducted by the Barna Group, over 90% of young people interviewed chose anti-gay as the best word to describe the church. This wasn’t even an option on the questionnaire. These statements will just reinforce that view, and its entirely justified. I’m sick and tired of the church campaigning against equality, promoting the persecution of a section of society, of Gods people. Maybe I’ve hit rock bottom when it comes to the church and the only way is up, but I have to stop pretending the church matters anymore. It has to be more than a social club, or a place where you have to meet certain entry criteria; at the moment its about as relevant as the Freemasons.

I hope and pray that it does change, and become more like the God it professes to follow. Maybe I have a part in helping it with that, even with everything that I am wrestling with. I’m not asking for perfection, just a little decency to fellow children of God.

Jesus is like Superman, so what? No, seriously, so what?

In my discussions about the painting of Jesus break dancing [1], much has been paid of making Jesus in our own image and that he would never participate in the ways of this world. Similar discussions have taken place regarding the comparisons between Jesus and Superman in light of new movie Man of Steel [2]. Many distance Jesus from such things, citing that Jesus was not of this world and he was separate from the ways of it, focusing on the differences.

He may have been separate but he didn’t simply direct traffic lofting up on this throne out of reach. Jesus came down to us and got his hands dirty, something the Pharisees would never stoop to doing so. He had dinner with tax collectors and spent time with lepers and outcasts. He wept with Mary at Lazarus’s grave. He experienced what we do and that’s the whole point. Maybe he wouldn’t be break dancing or enjoying a glass of wine, but if you think he would then so what? The relationship has always been what has mattered to God. If seeing Jesus like Superman helps, then it helps. It may not be 100% theologically accurate but as I’ve said before, if it gets you over a hurdle between you and God, do you think he’s bothered? When the heavens are renewed, will Jesus be on the sidelines whilst the party happens? Or will he come and join in and raise a glass to his father? When it comes to artistic expression, there aren’t really any set ways.

In my life I know what he has done. He reached down into the darkness that was my life and grabbed me. I don’t always feel like I’ve been totally pulled up, but when I look up I see him. He’s not holding onto a rope, he’s holding onto me. In the torrent of doubt I hold onto him, doubts about whether I’m doing what he wants, doubts over whether I’m supporting those who he needs me to, doubts over whether I’m saved because I’m still struggling with past issues. I make mistakes, I face battles, I struggle along in this life; but Jesus helps me over the hurdles and embraces me as a son no matter the result. People will say I’m not holding onto him I’m holding onto an image of him, I can say the same about them it doesn’t determine who is correct. Perhaps I do take it too far sometimes, make Jesus to be too much like us and downplay how he was not of this world, but a Jesus who is totally separate from the world is unreachable. If he is unreachable, how I can grab him? How can he change my life?

Jesus can be Superman, Batman, a break dancer, a raver; he can be all those things. Most of all, he’s a father and a saviour.

References

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-22858325

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-sandlin/superman-vs-jesus_b_3444361.html

First published 17th June 2013

In the hands of the people

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The above picture has been doing the rounds on social media, and at face value, seems to make sense. Science has given us so much and religion has caused so many problems.  Having a little girl smiling makes us want to agree with it, and sadly, there are too many Christians who preach that people are broken. These lists though, are too simplistic to be of any use, particularly in what science apparently teaches. Taking a quick look at each:

Full of wonder – Science came out of curious people wanting to investigate the world. As C.S Lewis put it; “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator”.  Science works with what’s testable, “wonder” is not a scientific concept yet you can’t do science without it; science is powerless to explain it.

That we are smart – If it’s true science teaches this by its methods, then by contrast it also tells others that they are dumb, that they lack intelligence; it does what the list says religion does. Not everyone has the ability to be a scientist, to do science. Also, does science show we have intelligence? Yes, but like with wonder, we didn’t have to wait for the scientific method to be invented to tell us that. Indeed science came out of intelligent people,  it was intelligent people who understood mechanical and engineering concepts to build the pyramids long before science even became a discipline or even a word. Science came out of what we already knew.

A great learner – pretty much the same as the other 2; it’s a value that is beyond science and if it has taught this, it has also taught the opposite for others.

Beautiful – again, not a scientific term or realm and has taught the opposite for others. Science, in its strict form, has no measure for beauty though some have drawn equations for it. There is the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” What is beautiful to one is not beautiful to another but science works in objectivity. Science teaches what the body does, not how attractive it is. If anything, science would have to teach that beauty is mere face value, objective values that can be measured; that people are only considered beautiful by how they look.

Potential for greatness – very much like the others if science has shown this it has also shown us that we have the potential to cause great harm. Also, greatness is not measurable so science can’t teach this. All of these terms are ascribed by humans, but science is powerless to explain why we are these things. People have concluded these things from science, but it goes beyond what science can show.

Reading this reminded me of a lecture given by Michael Ramsden about Professor John Gray. I have paraphrased some of  it below (and included the video) but Professor Gray would argue that an adherence to strict science means none of the “science list” is true or possible:

To believe in progress, is to believe that using the powers given to us by growing scientific knowledge humans can free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals Darwin shows us that humans are like are other animals. In world shown to us by Darwin there is nothing that can be called progress. The idea that humanity takes charge of its destiny makes sense of if we ascribe consciousness and purpose and meaning to the human race. But Darwins discovery was that species are only currents in the drifts of genes the idea that humanity can shape its future assumes that is exempt from this truth

There are 4 things we conclude if a strict form of scientific atheism is true

1) There is no such thing as meaning
2) There are no such things or the idea or person hood
3) In what sense can be held responsible for our actions?
4) Must abandon the idea of morality

 

Professor Gray goes much further in his book “Straw Dogs“. It paints a miserable picture, that doesn’t mean it’s not true though. Other people can pretty grossed out by science. As I said above, science teaches what the body does so if you think about everything involved in us to eat food, it’s not exactly pleasant. That though, is us bringing our perceptions and values and applying them to the data. The list under what science teaches is every bit a list of values and value judgments as the list of what religion teaches. The aim of the sign is to show religion is dangerous and science is not but let’s not forget, it is science that gave us guns, nuclear weapons and chemical agents. Both lists are far too simplistic to be of any value to show anything other than the authors preconceptions. I suspect its popularity is  due to it attacking a religion and that it has a cute little girl holding it.

Religion, like science, has the potential to be used for good or harm, but it is people who teach these things based on the conclusions they’ve drawn. For Christianity in particular, there was a man named Jesus who stood against the Pharisees who beat people down. I doubt he’d be too happy about religion teaching those things either. There are theological debates about the doctrine of original sin, but if what people hear is that God sees you as broken and that you are broken, then Christians have got it so badly wrong, and I can only apologize if you have been taught these things.

Simple fact is, anything in the hands of a person can be destructive. It can also be very beautiful, depends on what the person does with it.

Donald Miller doesn’t need to go to church

Donald Miller wrote a brilliant post about why he doesn’t connect with God by singing and why he doesn’t go to church that often. Whilst his reasons are not exactly the same as mine, the struggle resonated with me. Some of the responses to it though, have shown a complete lack of understanding.

The general conclusion of the pieces are quite simple; Donald Miller is selfish and wanting to make it all about him when it’s about God and the church. This doesn’t seem to make much sense though because, if it’s about God and the church then it’s about relationship, and relationships are very personal things. There is no universal template that can be applied that will work for everyone. I’ve stopped going to church because I want to repair and strengthen my relationship with Christ, and I felt the church was damaging that. The fact it is about God is the very reason I don’t go to church at the moment. Andrew Evans in is his piece mentions people who attend the church because it encourages others. Translation: I go because I inspire people. How is that not making it about them? How is that not selfish? What if you don’t feel inspired yourself? When you have an injury, you have to rest and take a break before you can carry on, otherwise you just make it worse and possibly never recover. Worse still, you may actually drag others down with you and I’m sure criticisms would be thrown around at that. So I share the concerns about Donalds story not ending well, which is why I’m happy that Donald has taken the action he thinks is necessary to recover, especially if worship and singing had become the same thing to him. I’m quite surprised he’s getting criticized for that.

Coming back to templates, heavy references to the Bible about what church and worship is about are made, particularly in this one from Reformation21. Donald expressed problems with the traditional model, concerns which are dismissed since he deems it a model and not what is prescribed in the Bible. What Donald described is a model, a template, and many churches have different ways of achieving what is said should be; praise, prayer and the proclamation of the Word. If that is what church is, then I don’t need to go an organized service I can simply invite people around my house. The church I attended on Sunday seems to have a very different way to the church I used to regularly attend which was a Vineyard church. What works for one, wouldn’t work for another which is why people change churches or attend a few until they find one. Each one has their own model, this may be modern business speak but I think it’s an accurate description. Not everyone feels they need to be in a group, doesn’t make them less of a Christian. Perhaps the issue is what we think church is and therefore what we are actually not doing at the moment.

What they think church should be is based on how they interpret the Bible. This is completely natural, I wouldn’t expect anything different and this is where I agree about point 6; but people interpret passages different ways and it has changed over time. We all believe that we have the correct interpretation, but being concerned because Donald Miller has influence does come across a little bit of someone doing something different and being scared by that (though you could argue I am because I’m writing this response). The church’s history is full of disagreements, what defines it is how it handles those disagreements. Do they accept those people they disagree with or tell them to go elsewhere? Would you stay somewhere you don’t feel welcome? Churches have a responsibility too.

Which brings us onto what exactly is worship? They seem to have no doubts, it involves going to church. Indeed, they go as far as saying “one cannot be a Christian and reject Christ’s body, his bride, his building”. I address the problem with this elsewhere so I’ll try not to repeat myself. Jesus was quite clear in what the 2 most important commands are; Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. No mention of needing to go to church here. This to me is worship and the church, not bricks and mortar which can be destroyed. You don’t need to go to “church” to love God. You can destroy every single church and you’d still have the church of Christ. It’s partly why the church of Christ as described in the Bible and the church as it is today are not the same to me. This is where I don’t think  the church can be identified, you can identify individual churches but not when it comes to whole church of Christ. To do so would be putting God in a box and telling him what he can and can’t do. If I’ve learned anything from reading about Jesus, is that he doesn’t do what we think he should. How a church treats its people is surely more important? The lyrics to Matt Redman’s song Heart of Worship come to mind here as well. Worship doesn’t begin and end on a Sunday, it’s a 24/7/365 activity.

If you think a particular way of a church service is the right way and it serves the purposes you think it should, absolutely great. Keep going then, I am very happy that you have found somewhere to worship. Please understand though, that there are many who are still searching, many who have been hurt by your church. Our experiences have not been the same and experiences make us who we are. When I shared Reformation21’s blog on Twitter, I said that it treats people who struggle with church with contempt and tosses them aside as being selfish. I stand by that, even more so with some of the other responses around. If you want to correct in love, real love not a sledgehammer wrapped in velvet, then understand people as people first and then give them space and time. People are more likely to listen to those who take the time to get to know them. We’re not ignorant of what the Bible says either, the Bible is important to us which is why we’re wrestling with these issues.

The simple fact is I don’t need an organized church service right now, and it sounds like Donald Miller doesn’t need one either. We’re not inferior Christians as a result. Afterall, being a Christian means “follower of Christ” not “church attendee”

My paradoxical church

I went to church yesterday for the first time in 2 months, and I think I’ve come away even more confused about everything.

I was there because it was my turn to do the reading, and I really enjoyed it. I want to participate in services, to read from the Bible, to share knowledge and views. When it came to communion, there was the sense of sharing something with others, of coming together. This is also what I’m looking for.

And yet, as I sat and watched what was going on around me, I felt an unease. Everyone was just sat in the pews, reading from the order of service when instructed, standing and sitting when instructed, modern songs being played on an organ with a choir made it all surreal. It was like a movie, set in a quiet village where everything seems normal but hides a dark secret where it’s slowly being taken over by aliens and everything feels just a bit off. Even the impromptu clapping to a hymn at the end seemed forced; it didn’t help that the tune reminded me of Russian dancing:

I understand the need for order and structure, and the service gave everything that you would expect. It did seem a little bit of service by numbers, praise can’t be scripted but I’m not sure what else I thought would happen. Church seems to be a bit of a paradox to me at the moment.