Ramblings…


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My wife and I went to see “Noah” over the weekend with a couple we know, much to the chagrin of many of our Christian friends.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen Ken Ham’s reasons we should avoid the movie; heard Glenn Beck’s criticisms; and witnessed the extreme reactions on Facebook, as follows:

“I won’t go see it because Glenn Beck says it’s unbiblical.”

“The film promotes evolution.”

“The director is an atheist.”

“The director drops the ‘f’ bomb over and over in an interview about the film.”

“The film portrays Noah as some kind of green eco-warrior.”

“What’s up with the rock giants helping build the ark?”

“The film portrays Noah as hateful, and no prophet of God would ever be hateful.”

“The film portrays Noah as a drunken, homicidal, child-sacrificing madman.”

“In the movie, Noah says ‘In the beginning, there was nothing.’  The Bible says that ‘In the beginning, there was God.’  This film promotes the idea that there was no eternal God, present before the time the earth began.”

And my personal favorite:

“If you choose to go see ‘Noah’ when you could have gone to see ‘God is not Dead’, then that’s a sign that God truly is dead in your life.”

I’m going to address these one by one:

– Glenn Beck says the movie isn’t Biblical.

I may not be the most well-behaved Christian person on the planet, but I know where I stand theologically, and on the truth of Scripture.  Frankly, I’m not dumb enough to allow someone who is a Mormon to determine what I believe about the Bible.  As badly as David Barton of Wallbuilders and others want to frame Beck as a Christian with Mormon leanings , he’s a Mormon.  Just because you agree politically and morally with the guy does not make him a Christian.  And being a newscaster does not make him a Bible scholar.

Glenn Beck may share the same values that many of us Christians have, but he simply isn’t a Christian.  He’s a Mormon.  Don’t think there’s a difference?  Here’s some thoughts from Christianity Today.

I would never say that Mormons aren’t decent, respectable people.  Their beliefs are profoundly different than those of Christians, though, when you begin to explore the theology, soteriology, and eschatology of the group.

So, to sum up my thoughts, Glenn Beck isn’t Biblical.  Why would I allow him to determine for me what is?

– The film promotes evolution.

In the opening moments of the movie, there is a scene where an animal is killed, and it has a combination of scales and hair, suggesting that an evolutionary process is taking place.  There’s discussion on the internet of snakes with feet in the film, but I didn’t catch that at all.  Maybe I was eating popcorn at the moment.  Or thinking about how popcorn and two drinks costs twenty bucks.  Now that’s unbiblical!  I really didn’t see anything else to suggest evolution.  I think that Scripture is clear that there were creatures in the past that don’t exist today.  We may be quite surprised at what some of these could have looked like.

In one powerful scene, Noah tells his children a story that he states his father told him, and had been passed down for the ten generations from Adam to himself:  the story of creation.  Noah then details a six day creation.  Not six days equals a thousand years.  No gap theory.  No, “Billions of years ago…”; instead, he says that ten generations before him, there was a six day creation.  I would think Ken Ham would have been really pleased with this.  I guess not.

Then again, he wouldn’t have gotten his name in the paper for agreeing with something.

– The director is an atheist.

So are Angelina Jolie, Kevin Bacon, Jodie Foster, Jack Nicholson, Howard Stern, Joaquin Phoenix, Donald Sutherland, and Daniel Radcliffe.  Granted, the same folks who refuse to see “Noah” likely also refused to see “Harry Potter”, but I would bet good money that they at least own the “Footloose” soundtrack, if not the movie.  And let’s don’t forget old Gandalf himself, Ian McKellan.  What????  Didn’t his character represent the resurrected Christ in LOTR?

Oh, and if you’re really gonna take this stance as a reason for skipping the film, I would suggest that you throw out your kids’ copy of “Toy Story”,  take “Agents of SHIELD” off your DVR schedule, and skip the next “Avengers” movie.  Josh Whedon, who co-wrote “Toy Story”, and directed the other two works, is an atheist.

I better go home and edit my own DVR so “The Following” doesn’t record anymore.  Dang that Kevin Bacon.

– The director drops the ‘f’ bomb over and over in an interview about the film.

So choose not to invite him to your kid’s birthday party.  It doesn’t mean he’s incapable of producing art.

– The film portrays Noah as some kind of green eco-warrior.

I am far from “green”.  I firmly believe that the folks who want us to stop cutting down trees should try wiping their behinds with any product other than paper, then let me know how they feel about trees.

There are moments when Noah is portrayed as vegetarian, and being concerned for the environment.  In one scene, he tells his son not to pick a flower, because it is capable of producing seed that will create many more flowers for man to enjoy.  Honestly, I didn’t get a “green” vibe from this…I got the idea that Noah was trying to be a good steward of the world God created.  I admired Noah in the film for trying to live out God’s directive to tend the earth, as Adam had been commanded to do generations before.

– What’s up with the rock giants helping build the ark?

Now, this was a little LOTR-ish.  Aronofsky had an interesting take on the Nephilim, giants mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4 and Numbers 13:33.  His idea was that they were fallen angels, encased in stone.  That sounds like a pretty horrific fate for something composed of light and beauty, actually.  I found the interpretation intriguing, but altogether inaccurate.  Made for an interesting sideline in the film, which, as Aronofsky has stated several times, isn’t a re-telling of the Noah story, but a re-interpretation, made for Hollywood.  It intrigued us that saw the film enough to go to Scripture so we could discuss the Nephilim.

– The film portrays Noah as hateful, and no prophet of God would ever be hateful.

This was a point of Glenn Beck’s, who has obviously never read Jonah.  Jonah hated the Ninevites so much, he risked life and limb to avoid ministering to them.  When they repented of their sins and chose to honor God, he pitched a hissy.  He couldn’t stand them.  Jeremiah offended literally every ethnic group he encountered, preached for 40 years, and no one converted.

The Noah character in the film was confused and conflicted.  I would be, as well, if I had to listen to all of humanity screaming for rescue outside of what was apparently the only floatation device available in the midst of a flash flood.  I did not gather from the film that the character was hateful.

– The film portrays Noah as a drunken, homicidal, child-sacrificing madman.

We’re not even going to argue whether the Bible says Noah got drunk, are we?  See Genesis 9:18-23.  Unless you’re so rigid about alcohol that you’re going to throw out the old “Wine then wasn’t wine as we know it…It was fermented grape juice” argument…which is ridiculous.  He got drunk, and he got naked.  This I know, for the Bible told me so.

The potential child murder was one of the points of the film that I really didn’t like, along with a “son of Cain” making his way onto the ship.  The laced tea induced hallucinations and the time lines associated with the building of the ark and the flood were a little crazy.  Facts about the family were off.  Again, though, we must remind ourselves, this film wasn’t designed to be an evangelism tool, a line by line retelling of the Noah story from the Bible, or something we would show in our churches to our discipleship groups; instead, it was designed to be an artistic expression of something the director considers to be ancient legend.

-In the movie, Noah says ‘In the beginning, there was nothing.’  The Bible says that ‘In the beginning, there was God.’  This film promotes the idea that there was no eternal God, present before the time the earth began.

When the statement “In the beginning, there was nothing” was made in the film, it was in a context that I clearly understood was referring to the passage of scripture that reads “the earth was without form and void” (Genesis 1:2).  I didn’t catch any implication that God wasn’t present;  on the contrary, “The Creator” was referred to constantly throughout the movie (The name “Yahweh” would not have been introduced yet during Noah’s time).

– If you choose to go see ‘Noah’ when you could have gone to see ‘God is not Dead’, then that’s a sign that God truly is dead in your life.

Yeah.  I’m gonna file this one right behind, “If you don’t go see ‘Left Behind’, you’re gonna get left behind”, and right before “The DaVinci Code is causing people to give up their faith by the thousands.”  If a movie is the determining factor in whether or not you have faith, you had a shaky faith before you ever bought your popcorn.

If we throw out “Noah”, because it deals with a Bible topic, but doesn’t follow the Bible narrative perfectly, then there are some other things we must dispose of:

Dante’s Inferno:  An amazing, but certainly unbiblical, description of Hell.

Evan Almighty:  More popular amongst Evangelicals than “Bruce Almighty”, because it had less swearing, and we like to watch “The Office”.  If Noah had been a weatherman, he probably would have missed the forecast of 40 days and 40 nights of rain altogether, and the Ark would’ve never been built.

Oh God:  God would never smoke cigars.  If He did smoke, it would have been a pipe, because CS Lewis smoked a pipe.  He also wouldn’t need to wear glasses, because perfection wouldn’t be nearsighted.

It’s a Wonderful Life:  The phrase “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings” is most certainly unbiblical.  Angels don’t earn their wings based on whether or not some human rings a bell.  They are created beings.  Works based theology won’t get you anywhere but the place that Dante so inaccurately described, brotha.  Maybe the 8th or 9th circle of H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks.

Every Veggie Tales movie ever made: In their retelling of Joshua and the battle of Jericho, the Veggies portray the Israelites, and the people of Jericho are French peas.  We all know from the Bible that France wasn’t even invented in the time of Joshua, so French peas could not possibly have existed.  The French peas throw milkshakes at the vegetables of Israel as they march around the city walls, which is just not in line with Scripture.  Milkshakes didn’t exist until Chik-fil-A came out with the hand-spun cookies and cream shake in 2007.  Can I get an anathema, anybody?

So here’s what’s good about the film “Noah”…

–  It prompted discussion among us about the Noah story from Scripture.  I probably haven’t had a conversation about Noah since I sang that song about the “arkie, arkie” when I was a kid.  It was good for us to examine the Biblical narrative of Noah from an adult perspective.   It challenged us to examine Scripture, so we might know details of the story better for ourselves.  One person in our group remarked, “We were only taught the Sunday School version of Noah, the kids’ version.  I think we need to know, as adults, how awful that period in history was, and why God did what he did.”

My overall grade for the film: C-

I found the movie troubling, mostly because of the violence, but honestly, I think this gave me a new lens through which to view the time of Noah.  We just think things are bad today…Imagine what it must have been like when God thought mankind needed destruction.  What is portrayed in the movie in regard to human behavior is gruesome, but I think probably mild, compared to what Noah’s time was really like.  This film gave me a powerful visual which I lacked before, much in the same way “Passion of the Christ” did years ago.

I won’t be adding “Noah” to my DVD collection, and I won’t go see it again, but it’s not because it offended my Christian sensibilities.  I just didn’t like it that much.  I guess I’m just not an artsy-fartsy dream sequence kinda guy.  Also, ever since “Gladiator”, Russell Crowe has been ruined for me.  I want him to be Maximus in every film he’s in.  I won’t say he did a bad job in the “Noah” film, because I think he acted the script, portraying a complex character well.

“Noah” didn’t change my belief system or make me question the validity of Scripture.  I wasn’t changed for the worse because I saw it.

And God isn’t dead in my life, just because I went to a movie.

 

 

 

 

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Westminster Cathedral, London

Thanks to Chaplain Mike at Internetmonk for sharing the Evangelii Gaudium, an exhortation recently released by Pope Francis.  I’m digesting this treatise a bit at a time, and wanted to share with y’all a portion on the preaching of  homilies.  In reading this, I find it to not only be a lesson to pastors or priests, but to anyone who teaches or shares the Gospel, as well.  Take the word homily out wherever it might appear in the text below, and substitute words and phrases like “sermon”, “Sunday School lesson”, “small group discussion”, or even “conversation about faith”, and there are valuable lessons for all of us found here.  There are some strong points made here for those of us who are called to teach, preach, and evangelize, a few of which are summarized below:

The homily is a  point of connection between a pastor and the listeners, as well as a point of connection between a listener and God.

+ The homily should have a three-fold effect: an encouraging experience of the Holy Spirit; consolation through the hearing of God’s Word; and the renewal and growth of the listener.

+ The homily should not be treated as an educational tool, breaking down Scripture into a math equation or formulaic matter, but as a conversation between God and His people, reminding them of the covenant nature of the relationship He offers, and the amazing salvation story of Christ. 

+ The homily should be an effective bridge for the listeners to cross from their pews to participation in the Eucharist.

+ In order to deliver an effective homily, the speaker must understand the wants, needs, failures, joys, heartaches, successes, and dreams of the listeners; in short, they must understand the culture of the congregation.

+ The homily shouldn’t be boring as all get-out, but feeding the listeners’ appetite for entertainment should never be be the ultimate goal.

+ Keep it short.  You may have the ability to deliver a captivating two hour sermon, but if the people are truly listening (AKA, not snoring), it may be an indication that they are more enamored with you and your speaking ability than the content of what you are actually saying.

+ God is our Father, and the Church is our mother.  The Church represents God, and the pastor/priest/teacher/evangelist represents the Church.  Our homilies should have the quality of a loving, encouraging, correcting, strengthening, compassionate parent speaking to her children.

+ The homily you deliver should be much more than a routine lesson.  It should come from a heart set on fire by the preparation of it.  Every word should matter to you.  If you’re connected to the words you speak on behalf of God on a heart level, then it opens the door of the listeners’ hearts to what Christ has to say.

+  In the homily, the listener is embraced securely, the way an innocent child is embraced by the Father; and as children who have grown older, made poor choices at times, but are still lovingly received and embraced by their Abba Daddy.  A good sermon will always find balance between living out the promises of our baptismal covenant, and living in the grace of God: It reminds us of what God has done for us, and what He’s going to do.

All that being said, here’s some wisdom from Pope Francis…

Let us now look at preaching within the liturgy, which calls for serious consideration by pastors. I will dwell in particular, and even somewhat meticulously, on the homily and its preparation, since so many concerns have been expressed about this important ministry, and we cannot simply ignore them. The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people. We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them! It is sad that this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.

136. Let us renew our confidence in preaching, based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher, and that he displays his power through human words. Saint Paul speaks forcefully about the need to preach, since the Lord desires to reach other people by means of our word (cf. Rom 10:14-17). By his words our Lord won over the hearts of the people; they came to hear him from all parts (cf. Mk 1:45); they were amazed at his teachings (cf. Mk 6:2), and they sensed that he spoke to them as one with authority (cf. Mk 1:27). By their words the apostles, whom Christ established “to be with him and to be sent out to preach” (Mk 3:14), brought all nations to the bosom of the Church (cf. Mt 16:15.20).

(more…)

Charity. Praying candles in a temple.

I stood and watched him sleeping in his grandmother’s bed. “His name is Ezekiel”, she said.  “He blind.”  He seemed normal enough.  Small for his age, maybe, but any three year old would be  dwarfed by the immense king-sized bed where he lay. The grandmother, young in years as far as grandma’s go, but definitely an old soul, tucked the covers around his neck. The child never moved, but rested peacefully  and secure.

“He blind ’cause his mama was bad on dope.  She done gone to the jail down in South Georgia somewhere.   She’ll be there until.”  At first I thought she was going to finish her sentence with a stated limit on her daughter’s sentence, but she didn’t. The “until” was final and indefinite, firm but undefined.  It was understood that Ezekiel’s mother was going to be incarcerated for a very long time.  “I got custody of all her kids, except two.  The other one’s is with my other daughter.  They was older, and I just didn’t have room for all them.” She had four of her grandchildren in her care, the “other daughter” had three more, plus a few of her own.

She stroked Ezekiel’s face as she spoke, “I was on dope for a long time, then Family and Children Services took my kids.  I got myself in rehab then, and got myself off the dope, and got my chirren back.  I been clean thirty years.  Ezekiel’s mama tried to get clean a few times, but she got other stuff going on in her head, like my sister.”  The sister had rushed out the door as I was invited in, and was smoking on the front porch.  She was talking non-stop, though she was alone.  The grandmother said, “She talkin’  to her dead child. She talk to her all the time.  If she start talkin’ like she’s mad or something, I just go pet her a little bit, maybe sing a little song to her, and she be alright.  She schizophrenic, like my daughter.”

She only briefly mentioned Ezekiel’s grandfather, a fun-loving man, at least until he scrapes together enough pennies to buy a gallon of Glen Moore Gin.  It’s then he does things to children that I dare not mention in my own home, for fear the demons that torment him might hear the notion of their handiwork, and consider it an invitation into my own children’s lives.  It was the grandfather’s actions that had brought me to her home.  He had forcefully poured Glen Moore down Ezekiel’s brother’s throat while the grandmother was at church with the other children.  The child had been admitted to a local hospital with a blood alcohol content of .24.  Pretty significant for a child that weighs a little more than 50 pounds.  That’s where I came in, the Child Protective Services Investigator.  The boy was fine; grandmother had grandfather leave the home;  but per policy, I had to check on the well-being of every child in the home.

It was policy that led me to this boy, named for an Old Testament prophet; quiet, but speaking volumes to me as he slept in his grandmother’s bed.  Adherence to policy led me directly to revelation of prophecy.  Isn’t that how it so often goes?  God strikingly displays Himself in the midst of our rigid routines, and opens our eyes to brand new possibilities we haven’t considered before.

The grandmother continued stroking the child on top of his blankets as she spoke, saying, “He a cripple, too”, gesturing toward a walker in the corner that looked more like a toy than a piece of medical equipment.  “He blind, and he a cripple, but he a gift.  It’s a miracle he even alive.”

I couldn’t stop looking at him, lying there sleeping. I wondered what he dreams about.  I wonder if he dreams in pictures and color the way I dream, and wakes up in dark wonder, considering what he has envisioned in his mind.  Maybe he dreams of sounds: the bark of a dog, falling rain on a tin roof, or the rambling voice of his tortured aunt, speaking to her lost child, somewhere between reality and fantasy.

Perhaps he dreams of textures and touch:  the feel of grass beneath his bare feet, the pattern of the fabric on the couch where he sits most of the time, or the gentle, loving touch of his grandmother’s hands, calloused and firm but loving and compassionate all at the same time.

He could even dream of smells or tastes of grandma’s cooking.  She was preparing chittlins (that’s chitterlings to you Northern folk), fried green tomatoes, and turnip greens for a Thanksgiving feast later in the evening.   I swear, I haven’t been able to wash the scent out of the clothes I was wearing, despite several tries.  How could he dream of anything else?

Or maybe he dreams of things I can’t perceive.  Could it be that he dreams of those moments in his mother’s womb, times when the very hand of God traced the shape of his lips, shaped the contours of his face, and painted the color in his eyes? Could he be dreaming of times when that divine encounter was broken by the poisons that his mother transferred from her own body to his:  a poisonous fruit passing from one hand to another, from hand to mouth, processed into nourishment that was as cold as death to Ezekiel; as welcome as mustard gas to an wounded and helpless soldier lying in the mud of a battlefield, alone, in the dark, waiting for his rescue.  For my baby girls, their time in the womb was a period of nurture, warmth, safety, and care.  They cried with great objection when they had to leave.  For Ezekiel, the womb was a concentration camp, where cruel experiments were done on his body.  He was so anxious to get out, he was delivered months too soon.

Or could it be within the reach of rational thought that Ezekiel, in that broken shell of a body, with eyes that cannot and will not ever enjoy a morning sunrise, a waterfall, or the wonder of the sight of a deer jumping a fence line in fall…Could it be that his dreams are filled with the wonder of hope?

If you look at Jesus’ phrase, “Suffer the little children to come to me” (Mark 10:14), the easy translation is to say that the word “suffer”, used in this context, simply means “permit” or “allow”.  Looking at the word in these terms seems to limit Jesus to the role of a ticket taker at a movie theater, or even a backstage bouncer at a rock concert, saying, “Let’em through.”  The word “suffer” seems more severe, more imperative, more urgent than simply saying “permit”, though.  To me, it seems as though He’s saying, “Get the children to me, no matter what it costs.”

Jesus was the chesedh, full of mercy, manifestation of God, come to earth to endure the harsh justice our brokenness demanded: the justice of the unjust terms of the cross.  He was the racham, moved with compassion down to his gut God, who was so inclined to set us free from the chains of death, that he took on our skin, our shattered dreams, our great joys, and our most desperate fears,  and wrecked Himself in order to wreck them.  There was nothing that He would allow to stand between Himself and His children.  “Suffer them to come to me” was a secondary imperative: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel, which translates in dirt road terms as “I must get to my beloved any way I can”, was primary.  Before God demanded that children like Ezekiel be allowed into His presence, into the place where formerly only the best-dressed, most well-behaved, most mature and reverent and perfect church folk were allowed, He took the first step and came to Ezekiel.  Dare we enter into the Holy of Holies?  Can we resist, when the Holy of Holies sets Himself all round about us, in us, hopelessly, hopefully, hemming us in?  And if this God, this Word became Flesh, was so violently determined, so “suffer me to get to My children”, is it beyond the realm of reason that He might invade and occupy the dreams of this little broken boy?  Bad theology prays, “Lord, just be with us.”  Good theology understands that He is already there.  This Christ so consumed St. Patrick with His presence that the Patron of Ireland wrote in his epic prayer, The Lorica:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise…

If Christ so surrounds us, I find it unfathomable that He wouldn’t be present in Ezekiel’s dreams.

Just a few verses of scripture after Jesus’ imperative statement about children, another instance of mercy occurs:

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” (Mark 10:46-51)

I am reminded by Ezekiel that even in the worst of situations, there is the possibility of hope.  It is only fitting that I would meet this beautiful child during Advent, the time when we await the celebration of Christ’s birth, and anxiously anticipate His return.  We huddle with our friends and family, waiting to hear our Saviour say, “Suffer them to come to me”.  We wait by the roadside, trapped in our despair, listening for the One whom we can’t see, hoping for the unseen.   And when Christ passes by, not even the proper, best religious folks will be able to keep us away from Him.

Ezekiel sleeps peacefully and dreams of the day His Messiah will come: the day when Christ will say, “Suffer Ezekiel to come to me”; the day when our returning King pulls the child’s frail body to His breast like only a loving Father can, and speaks gently into his ear, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy…And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy,  and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.  (Isaiah 35:3-6, 10)


 

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