Avengers: Infinity War – Movie Discussion

avengers long

**Spoiler Alert**

In the Avengers: Infinity War, the universe is being threatened by a great evil, Thanos. Thanos argues that he is trying to save the universe—that overpopulation threatens to consume all the resources and therefore the only way to save it is to wipe out large populations of people, genocide. Of course, he gets to decide who lives and who dies and he himself will, naturally, live.

This brings up the issue of the dangers of a poverty/scarcity mindset. When you are afraid that there won’t be enough for you, the temptation is to grasp, hoard and control resources. Thanos didn’t care who died, so long as his comfort and provision was secure. It’s quite a contrast to the Avengers who sacrifice themselves for the good of others. The Avengers have more of a Christlike/Kingdom mentality. See how Paul encourages the Philippians to live like Christ and serve one another:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:3-11)

The Avengers risked their lives to protect the weak and vulnerable. They even fought with each other for the opportunity to sacrifice their lives that each other might live. They didn’t try to hold on to security or comfort or even their own lives. They didn’t worry about there not being enough. Their mindset was that they weren’t thinking of themselves, but of others. They generally felt there was enough for everyone, and if the time came that there wasn’t, they would give what they had. They would do without. This is a Kingdom mindset, the one Christ encourages us to have.

As the Avengers fought Thanos, it wasn’t looking good. Dr. Strange was able to see into the future, to see every possible way things might turn out, and out of “fourteen million six hundred and five” he told the Avengers, they only won one of those iterations. That’s okay—its’ The Avengers, after all, and we know they’ll win. They only need one option. So, with great confidence in the storytellers and movie producers, we viewers went along and watched, confident in a coming victory.

But then they lost. Or at least, it seems that they have. They all are erased. They disappear into nothingness… and the movie ends. (Sorry for the spoilers.) Well, the movie is on pause, anyway, until the next installment.

I confess, I was angry. It seemed the whole theater was mad. None of us were prepared for that ending. I didn’t know it was only part 1 and not a complete story.

THIS is just a small idea of how the disciples must have felt when Jesus died. They were certain of a victory. They trusted Jesus; trusted God from whom He came. God is a good author. He doesn’t lose, doesn’t fail, doesn’t leave things unfinished. And yet, Jesus died. The story seemed unfinished and over all at the same time. It seemed good had lost and evil had triumphed. That’s NOT the way things are supposed to go!

We have the benefit of knowing the story will be continued. I know the story isn’t over, it’s just on hold. I don’t know how on earth the writers will redeem it, but I know they will. Right as he was disappearing, Dr. Strange told Stark, “There was no other way.” That’s an encouraging statement—it means this way was not an accident or a loss; it was intentional, and it was good. When Jesus was it the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked His Father, if there was another way to choose that one… He didn’t. Because Jesus’ death, too, was the only way. It was intentional, and it was good.

I encourage you, as you wait for the resurrection of the Avengers to happen, take a minute to think about what it must have felt like to be in the aftermath of Jesus’ death. What if you didn’t know there was a part 2, a resurrection coming? What disappointment and shock and surprise must they have felt? And take a minute to think about your own life, too. Are there areas of seeming loss and defeat where you are a bit stunned? Does it seem that evil has triumphed in some story line you are a part of? Let me remind you that we serve a God of resurrection, and that sometimes there was no other way. Take your disappointments to the Lord. Wait for Him there. There is a sequel coming… maybe on this earth, and maybe on the new earth and new heavens. I cannot say when, only that God is not done yet. He finishes what He started. And He wins!

Questions for Discussion:

  • What is your response when you don’t feel there is enough to go around? Does fear set in? Do you start to want to look out for number one? Or do you start to worry that someone else might not have all they need? Do you trust God to provide for your needs?
  • Do you spend your energy protecting and providing for yourself, or protecting and providing for others? Which did Thanos do? The Avengers? Jesus?
  • How did you feel at the end of the movie? How might that relate to the way the disciples felt when Jesus died?
  • Are there areas of seeming loss and defeat where you are a bit stunned? Does it seem that evil has triumphed in some story line you are a part of? How can waiting on part two of the Avengers movie encourage you to wait and trust God with “part 2” of your story?

Click here to read quotes from Avengers: Infinity War.

Advertisements
Posted in Movies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life of the Party – Movie Discussion

life_of_the_party

When Deanna’s husband leaves her, she goes back to college to finish her degree…alongside her daughter, Maddie. Here are some of the positives and negatives of the movie, and questions for discussion.

  • Maturity is more than the number of your years. Deanna has a lot of wisdom and perspective in some areas, but in others, it’s her daughter who is the wiser of the two. While both parents are having mid-life crises and making huge mistakes (her mother is shacking up with a college student… someone half her age that could have been her son, for example), Maddie has grace for both of her parents and their mistakes. She is the one who reminds her mother of why she came to college (to finish her degree, not have sex and party). This reversal of roles (while sad on Deanna’s part), reminds us that maturity is not about how old you are, but how wise and how well you live. Paul encouraged his young protégé: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). How did Maddie set an example for her mother? In what ways did Deanna set an example for others, and in what ways did she not set a good example? What did you think about Deanna’s (and her ex-husband’s) behavior? What do you think God would have thought about Deanna’s behavior?
  • Attractive is so much more than looks and coolness.   I know someone who used to say that “everyone has a neon sign on their forehead saying, ‘Make me feel special’.” There are beautiful people and cool people in the movie, but Deanna is truly winsome to everyone around her—not because she’s cool or beautiful, but because she makes people feel special. THAT is the most attractive quality there is—making those around you feel special and loved. Deanna had a lot of faults, but she loved others well, and because of that, she was asked to be part of the sorority, to go out socially, and even was hit on by a cute college boy. (Which I am not condoning … nor am I dealing with his obvious issues… just pointing out that people who love others well become so very attractive.) On the other hand, the Bible says that a beautiful woman without discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout (Proverbs 11:22). Or, as Proverbs 31 puts it, “charm is deceptive, beauty is vain (or fleeting), but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.” While the movie doesn’t really show women of discretion or women who fear the Lord, it certainly shows that charm and beauty are nothing more than rings in pigs’ snouts, when they are adorning something ugly on the inside. Kindness and love are far more attractive than physical beauty.  Why do you think people liked Deanna so much? How much do you think outer looks really matter in the long-term scheme of things? What makes someone truly attractive to you? How do you feel about people who make you feel special and loved—how attractive are they to you? What can you learn from Deanna about making people feel special?
  • Don’t lose sight of the goal. The Bible says (John 10:10) that Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy. So it’s no surprise that he will come and distract us from our goals, trying to steal them from us. Deanna lost her goal of graduating college the first time because of a pregnancy. She nearly missed it again because of essentially the same reasons…sex and partying. She got distracted from her goal. If she had followed the Bible’s guidelines and chosen to keep sex within marriage and to keep from getting drunk and high…she wouldn’t have lost sight of her goals. Satan uses sin to steal from us and distract us and keep us from the full life God intended for us. We tend to think of God’s laws as party-poopers and buzz-kills, but can I just point out that even in this godless movie where the characters have no real moral compass, even here they ultimately return more to His standards of living in order to achieve the fullness of life they dream of. God’s not out to take our high, He’s out to ensure we get the most joy out of life. He just knows that some temporary pleasures will do more to rob us of it than it does to provide it. Any goal worth reaching requires some sacrifice and discipline along the way.  How did Deanna’s temporary fun (her sins) nearly cost her her joy? Do you think of God as someone who wants to rob you of fun, or protect your joy? How might God’s rules for life be more about protecting your dreams than robbing you of them?

 

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie Discussions…

So, we’ve been having some technical difficulties at the Shepherd Project website, but it’s up and running again, and I have finally been able to post some movie discussions and quotes.  SO….here are the links!

midnight sun

Midnight Sun 

pacific_rim_uprising-poster-13

Pacific Rim:  Uprising

miracle season long

Miracle Season

 

 

Posted in Links, Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tomb Raider: Movie Discussion

Tomb-Raider-2018-Movie-Poster-Background-1920x1200.jpg

The latest Tomb Raider with Alicia Vikander may not the best developed storyline or dialogue you’ll see this year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some great ways to connect it with Christianity. In order not to spoil the movie, I want to focus on four takeaways without giving a summary first.

Differing responses to the evidence:  Lara and Matthias were both skeptical about the legend behind the tomb they were researching, just as many people are skeptical about the “legends” behind Jesus Christ. The questions isn’t where you start, however. Some people are naturally skeptical; others are searchers; and yet others have some defining moment which changes them. This was Lara’s dad—he became a seeker after his wife died. His grief prompted him to start searching for answers, for proof of an afterlife. He became hopefully mystic—his need to believe there was more than just this life drove him to search and to hope and to believe. Others are just as driven but in the opposite direction; for various reasons, rather than being hopefully mystical, they are stubbornly skeptical. One hopes for something, the other hopes for nothing.

Regardless of where they started, however, each faced the same realities, the same evidence. For Lara’s Dad it was easiest because he wanted to believe. For Lara and Matthias it was harder to accept because they were skeptical. They weren’t hoping it was true. Lara, however, responded by accepting the evidence. She became a convert. Matthias continued to deny, no matter what he saw to be true, and it cost him his life. He didn’t respond appropriately to the truth.

When we come up against the evidence of Jesus, the situation is much the same for us. Some will find it easy to accept and receive the truth, because they have been hoping for it, longing for it. For them it truly is good news. For others, however, it is more of a thing they wrestle with than embrace. They are skeptical, hesitant, jaded…for any number of reasons. That’s okay, but the question remains, what will they do with the truth once they come face to face with it? Some will choose to humble themselves and accept it. Others will stubbornly deny it—for those, it will cost them their lives in the end. Because truth demands an appropriate response.

  • Would you say you are a seeker or a skeptic, and have you always been such, or has something changed you?
  • If you were to find evidence that Jesus was true, would you want to embrace it or would you wrestle with it, or deny it?

Don’t even touch it! There was a reason the tomb was sealed off and buried—something deadly was contained within it. Back to Matthias’ refusal to respond appropriately to the truth—even though he couldn’t deny what he’d seen, even though he knew it was deadly, he refused to respond with humility or wisdom. He thought he could take just a little of it back with him. He didn’t care if it caused genocide in the world; he wanted the rewards he was promised if he brought some of it back to the mainland and naively thought he would be immune to the dangers. But some things you cannot play around with.

This is why Jesus admonished his people to leave certain things alone. He knew somethings were too evil and too dangerous to be messed with or contained. This is why, when they invaded certain peoples, he told them to kill every living thing and/or take nothing for themselves. He knew the idolatry and paganism of other cultures would infect His people if they took any piece of it.

  • Have you ever thought you could “just have a little piece” of something and be safe, and then found it was uncontainable or uncontrollable?
  • What are things we just shouldn’t mess with in life?
  • What are some of the things the Bible warns us to stay away from? Does that seem ridiculous to you or wise? (One example would be sex outside of marriage.)

Better to die than be a stumbling block: Turns out, the woman in the tomb was a carrier for a disease, but she herself was immune. The disease didn’t harm her, but it killed anyone she came in contact with. She could have responded by saying it wasn’t her problem. She could have demanded her right to live her life as she wanted to, but she didn’t. When she realized she was the reason people were suffering, she removed herself. Actually, she sacrificed herself.

She was an extreme example of what the Bible calls a stumbling block. She was no danger to herself, but she was causing problems (painful and immediate death) for others. It’s an extreme example, but it makes the point nicely. So often we do things, walk in certain freedoms, live a certain way, and it’s not a problem, for us. It doesn’t hurt our faith our lives, but it IS hurting others. Our culture tells us we have a right to do our thing, but God fiercely warns us in His Word not to be a stumbling block to others (see I Corinthians 8:9, and Romans 14:13, for starters). In fact, Jesus said that if we cause a child to sin (in other words, if we are a stumbling block to them), it would be better if we tied a millstone on our neck and drowned ourselves (Matthew 18:5-7)—that’s pretty harsh language. The entombed woman didn’t claim her rights, she agreed with Jesus that it would be better to die than to cause harm to others. We could learn something from this.[1]

  • Has anyone ever been a stumbling block in your life? What happened?
  • Have you ever wanted to exercise a certain freedom that negatively impacted someone else and/or caused them to sin?
  • Have you ever chosen to give up something in your life because it was harmful to someone else in some way?
  • What do you think about Jesus’ words that it would be better to drown yourself than to cause a child to sin?

A story about sacrifice: Jesus said “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). There are an extraordinary amount of people doing just that in this movie, willingly risking and/or giving their lives for the good of others.

  • How many examples of sacrifice can you think of in Tomb Raider? Which is your favorite and why?
  • Would you be willing to sacrifice yourself for the good of the world? What do you think about the fact that Jesus sacrificed Himself for you?

Click here to read quotes from Tomb Raider.

[1] I am being vague here because I would rather you come up with your own examples rather than fixating on ones I may cite because this can be a rather inflammatory discussion. But, for those of you who aren’t quite tracking with what I’m saying, one easy example comes to my mind here: What I wear is no real stumbling block to myself. I don’t have a lust issue (for example) when I see myself in certain clothes. But just because it doesn’t affect me, doesn’t mean others around me can’t be drawn into the sin of lust by my choices. So I lay down my freedom to dress “my body” however I want so that I am not a stumbling block to my fellow man.

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Can Only Imagine – Movie Discussion

ICOI-banner2-1200x500

***SpoilerAlert***

I Can Only Imagine begins with someone interviewing Bart Millard, lead singer for MercyMe who wrote the song, I Can Only Imagine. She asks, “Who could write this? What did they have to go through to give this gift to me? This is hope. Pure hope.” Bart says something about how he just wrote it in like 10 minutes, but she wisely counters, “Bart, you didn’t write this [song] in 10 minutes. It took a life time.” This movie, then, is about the lifetime it took to get him to the place where he could write the song that would go on to become triple platinum and the best-selling Christian song of all times. A lifetime filled with abuse, pain, daddy and mommy issues, abandonment…and a God who heals and restores.

Three Questions: I had the absolute honor of meeting one of my heroes, Don Stephens, this past week, founder and president of Mercy Ships. (If you don’t know about Mercy Ships, read his book, Ships of Mercy—it’s an amazing story!) He shared about his first meeting with Mother Teresa (which totally blew my mind), and the three questions she asked him. 1. Why were you born? 2. What is your pain? (Because God will use it to suit you for the call on your life.) 3. What are you doing about it. With those questions ringing in my ears, I saw Imagine, and they are the underlining questions of the movie and of Bart’s life.

God Uses All Things for Good: An injury took Bart out of football for good, which was a crushing blow because Bart was trying to earn his Dad’s approval through football. The only available elective was musical theater (or something along those lines) so he was forced into probably the last elective he would have ever chosen. Through that, Bart discovered why he was born. He had a talent for singing, and a passion for music as it had ministered to him in his dark hours. Sometimes we don’t know why we were born. Sometimes we don’t dare consider why we think we were born, because some authority figure/hero of ours has their own agenda for our lives and we let them answer the question, rather than asking God. Bart got a little nudge from God (and his music teacher). Sometimes God shows His great love for us by taking away our other options until we come to realize that His plan really is best.

Before we can step into the Promised Land, we may need to heal. Before the Israelites could go into the Promised Land, God required that they all be circumcised. He wanted them to be His, fully His.

When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal[b] to this day. (Joshua 5:8-9)

But after that, He gave them time to heal. There is such a sweet tenderness in God’s heart towards us in this. He didn’t ask them to go into the Promised Land wounded and hurting. He gave them time to heal.

Bart was hurting. He hadn’t healed from his relationship with his Dad, and his mentor saw that. Brickell pointed out that when Bart was performing, many times he seemed fake and disconnected, as if he was singing things he didn’t believe, and that was why producers weren’t responding well. BUT, Brickell also saw moments of raw honesty in Bart, and in those moments, he was brilliant. It’s just that he had a tendency to hide from that raw vulnerability that others needed to see. “Let me ask you something: What are you running from?” Brickell asked him. “Stop running from it. Let that pain become your inspiration and then people will [have something they can relate to].” He basically said what Mother Teresa told Don Stephens that day, to let God use his pain. Rather than running from it, lean into it, face it…and let God heal it.

So Bart took some time off to go home and confront his pain. God used that time to heal his relationship with his Dad. (See here God’s heart to return the hearts of fathers to their children and children to their fathers?! Malachi 4:6.) Bart risked a lot, leaving a fledgling music career, hoping his bandmates would hold a spot for him till he got back. And in that time, God circumcised his heart, removed the reproach of his father (and the feelings of slavery and bondage he had because of his father) and gave him time to heal. It was only after he had healed that Bart wrote Imagine and entered his proverbial Promised Land. That is the goodness and tenderness of God. He gives us time to heal before we walk into our inheritance.

The Manna Gets us to the Promised Land. Just after the Israelites healed from their circumcision and celebrated Passover, the next day, they ate of the produce of the Promised Land. And interestingly, the day the Promised Land provided food for them, that’s the same day the manna stopped. “There was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year” (Joshua 5:12). Bart had the exact same experience. His father’s parting gift to him before he died was a monthly life insurance check which he wanted to fund Bart’s pursuit of his music dreams. The month Imagine hit number one, the life insurance checks stopped. Just like the manna, they lasted exactly as long as he needed them.

We never know the impact we have. Bart’s relationship with his dad was incredibly painful. The movie doesn’t portray Bart as someone who was praying for his dad’s salvation. He was too much in survival mode to lovingly pray for his dad. But, as he went home to face his father, he was surprised to discover his dad had become a Christian…through his music. Bart had sung for a worship service that was on the radio, and his dad had listened to his son, and then after to the preacher. His dad who felt like he didn’t belong in church, who never told Bart he was listening, who had just smashed a plate upside Bart’s head…he had listened to Bart sing, and then to the preacher… and he had been changed. It was a slow process, as change usually is, and it took years for Bart to know (and even longer for him to believe it/accept it), but still it happened. His Dad, who was all about being practical and having a smart, realistic plan for life (a good job, etc.), was saved—not through any “realistic” or intelligent approach, but through the beauty of music. He was touched by the intangible.

I’m so struck by this. Bart never knew who was listening. He never knew who was being impacted by his music. He simply did as he was compelled to do. He gave his gift as an offering to God, and God used it to bless others. Art is such a vulnerable act of faith. Many things we give, we know the difference it makes in the world. We know when we serve someone a meal or do their taxes, for example, how we have helped them. But art? When we create a thing of beauty and put it out in the world, we don’t know who is touched by it. We don’t know if anyone will read or look or listen. And if they do, will they like it? Will it make a difference? Art is blind in that respect. And it’s an act of faith. We create because we must, and we then pray God uses it. God used Bart’s music to touch the world, but before the world was touched by Imagine, his father was touched. In that way, Bart’s music saved them both. It saved his Dad, and that saved their relationship, and that new relationship brought healing to Bart…out of which came Imagine, which touched the world.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How did Bart’s relationship with his Dad impact you? Can you relate to any aspect of their dysfunction? How have you been hurt by your parents?
  • Why were you born? What is your pain? What are you doing about it (the reason you were born)? (How would you answer these 3 questions according to Bart’s life? According to your life?)
  • God used Bart’s injury for good—to get him into music. What “bad” things in your life has God used for good? When “bad” things happen in your life, how do you respond? In anger, in faith that God will work good out of it, or something else?
  • What do you think God may want to heal in you before you go into your Promised Land? Are you giving him the space and time to heal that area in your life?

Click here to read quotes from I Can Only Imagine.

Posted in Inspiring People, Movies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Power of Priming

blink

I was just reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink. In it, he talks about how our subconscious mind affects our decisions and behavior, both for good and for bad. In it, he wrote about priming. “’Priming’ refers to when subtle triggers influence our behavior without our awareness of such changes. An example of this occurred in Spain, where authorities introduced classical music on the subways and saw incidents of vandalism and littering drastically decrease” (p444). (He gives several examples and experiments around this issue, if you’re curious to learn more.)

I’ve seen it happen in my own life in many ways. With music, as he described, when playing indoor soccer. When facilities play music that is aggressive and angry, tempers and tensions run high and fights are quick to explode. But, when the music is happier and energetic (without being angry), games are usually more lighthearted, and conflicts are significantly and measurably reduced.

I remember another time, I started to notice that I was defensive and quick to want to defend my rights and/or call someone out on their infractions (of decency, kindness, morality…whatever I happened to notice). Where was this coming from? I wasn’t acting like myself. Then I realized, I had been watching a legal show on Netflix, and I knew—I had been primed. I had absorbed the mentality of that show and was responding to it. I had become the “rights” police and felt entitled to my anger over everyone else’s bad behavior.

Ouch. It stings because priming means that what we see and hear and watch…those things affect us and our behavior far more than I, personally, want to admit. I want to be able to watch a show or listen to a song and just take the good (the parts I enjoy) and believe that I can leave the bad (the parts that I know don’t honor God or add up with scripture). But, according to this idea of priming, that’s not so easily done.

Gladwell writes, “The results from these [priming] experiments are, obviously, quite disturbing. They suggest that what we think of as free will is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on automatic pilot, and the way we think and act—and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment—are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realize” (p98). It is disturbing. I don’t want to admit what a puppet I am of my environment.

And yet, Gladwell also writes, “But there is also, I think, a significant advantage to how secretly the unconscious does its work” (p98). And I agree, the power of our subconscious, the power of priming, is a power which can work for both bad AND good. The first step is to realize and acknowledge the power of it in the first place. The second is to be intentional about how we use it.

I need to recognize that I am influenced, deeply and subconsciously, by everything in my environment. So, I need to be careful about my environment—to recognize that the things I read, see, listen to, etc… will rub off on me. We become like what we behold. So I need to set boundaries and keep things out of my environment (as much as I can) that will have a negative impact on me. For example, in the 80’s I became aware that the pop music of the day was making me depressed, so I stopped listening to it (insofar as I had control over that). That was step one, to stop the thing that was negatively priming me. Step two, I started listening to Christian music. I used the power of priming for good, intentionally. I chose to listen to music which primed me for hope and joy and positivity. It made a huge difference in my life at that time.

Some of this is natural to us, like changing my music choices or avoiding negative people, etc. But as I read this, it hit me on a new level: when we realize the power of priming, it’s easy to see why the concept of a “quiet time” in the morning is so powerful and important. It primes us to think about God throughout the day. Our subconscious becomes filled with hope, because life isn’t just lived in the natural, but we have a higher reality, and a super natural God who can work on our behalf. We are reminded of the love that died for us…which primes us to be more loving as well. It primes our day with the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control—because that is the only fruit you will find in scripture. There’s no negativity in God, or anger or bitterness, etc.

Priming also helps me understand some of the Old Testament laws and traditions. God made our subconscious and knows how it works. So, of course He is telling us how to harness that power for our good, by surrounding ourselves with reminders of Him, of His laws, His love, His goodness, His miracles and past faithfulness to us…because those things affect our brains, and precondition us to see more of His love in the present, and have hope for our future. This is one of the reasons why He wants us to surround ourselves with things that remind us of Him and why we are to commit his word to memory.

Suddenly, I see David’s resolutions in Psalm 101 with new understanding. He may not have realized the science behind it all, but he surely knew, at a practical level, the power our environment has to affect our brains. So, David is intentional about controlling that environment all he can—to get rid of anything that would negatively prime his subconscious, and to choose to surround himself with things that will positively prime his subconscious.

I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall be far from me;  I will know nothing of evil.

Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly  I will destroy.
Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.

I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me;
he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me

If I focus on the fact that I’m largely helpless in the face of the reality of priming—that I cannot help but be affected by the world around me, I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated that I can’t just watch whatever I want, listen to whatever I want, etc. without it affecting me. There are some things I don’t want to have to give up. Our world is full entertainment (for starters) with mixed baggage and I want to enjoy it without any negative consequences. And, to be honest, my pride resents feeling like I’m just a puppet.

If, however, I focus on the fact that I can choose what I’m primed with (to a large degree), that I can use this power for good, then I’m inspired and motivated. Yes, I may be a puppet to some degree, but a puppet that gets to choose what (or Who) holds the strings. I can choose to fill my mind with God’s word, to start my days with Him, to listen to things which keep me focused on Him, to put reminders of Him in my house and life… and in so doing, I can “prime” myself to think and feel and therefore act like Him. So, while I choose to live like Him, to follow Him… I can also make the task easier by harnessing my subconscious through priming and getting it to work for me, too.

We need to realize though, priming happens. Period. So I am either sabotaging myself and my desire to live like Jesus by priming myself with things that are not of God’s Kingdom (priming myself with feelings of anger but all the while trying to choose joy as God says I ought, for example), or I’m helping myself by synchronizing my subconscious and my conscious so that both align with the Spirit of God. How amazing to think that He made our brains so that our subconscious actually can help us to be more like Him…and make it easy!

Posted in Books, Cultural Commentary | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black Panther – Movie Discussion

Black-Panther-movie-poster long

***Spoiler Alert***

The Black Panther enters boldly into the discussion about privilege, and our stewardship of it. How does it feel to suffer and/or to watch people suffer, knowing others had the resources to stop that suffering? And what about those with the resources—it’s easy to say what they should have done with them, but is it really that simple? Do you just empower those with nothing and flip the tables, or is only reversing the equation, and not balancing it? This is a movie about stewardship and responsibility and how complex a matter that can really be.

I think that those issues are fairly obvious in the movie—the solutions are not, but the points of conversation are. It’s an important issue for all of humanity, Christian or not—but all the more so for Christians because we are taught that everything we have is a gift from God, to be stewarded for His glory and His Kingdom. None of it is ours. So we not only have a responsibility to our fellow man, but more importantly, we have a responsibility to our God to be good stewards of His resources. And good stewardship involves wisdom. It involves knowing who, how and when to help, as well as who, how and when NOT to help.

There is one other, and perhaps more obscure, point of connection to the Christian faith that I would like to point out. The movie itself is kind of a metaphor for the Christian life. T’Challa (the Black Panther) is the son of the King of Wakanda. Wakanda is a kingdom much like Heaven—it’s very real, but invisible until it is revealed. To the outside world, Wakanda is a the poorest of kingdoms, but to those who belong, they know it to be the richest on earth. T’Challa was raised in privilege and love, and has a great understanding of the power and the riches of his kingdom. He is noble and wants to protect and care for his people and his kingdom. But he also begins to get a greater understanding of the world outside of his kingdom, of its pain and poverty and need.

There is another who wants to have the throne—a long-lost relative who grew up hearing about the beauty and greatness of Wakanda, but was raised in poverty as an orphan. Erik is strong like T’Challa, but motivated by bitterness, pain and greed. Erik talks about leading Wakanda so he can help the world with its riches, which all sounds very good, but the reality is that he spent his life killing people to get there. It’s ironic, or perhaps it’s telling, that someone who wants to “help” the world should kill whoever it takes en route. He wasn’t willing to die for the world, but he was willing to kill for it…which in the end amounted to his willing to kill for himself—because there was no love for the world in him.

Erik killed T’Challa to claim the right to rule Wakanda. During his very brief reign, Wakanda fell apart and the world itself was nearly destroyed. Erik is very much like Satan who came to steal, kill and destroy. Erik’s job in the military was to destabilize countries. He knew nothing of healing, or bringing health and life into the world. He specialized in killing, destabilizing and destroying. He knew how to bring fear, but knew nothing of love.

T’Challa (in a great Jesus moment) was essentially raised from the dead and returned to Wakanda to take it back from Erik. As he arrived, you can see how those who were loyal to him were overyjoyed to see that he lived. Conversely there was fear deep in the hearts of all who had betrayed him and followed Erik. He did take over and Erik was defeated once and for all. T’Challa regains power and sets about with a greater vision for leading his kingdom—one that includes spreading the goodness and wealth and power of Wakanda to those in need.

Our original mandate in the Garden of Eden was to expand the garden. God intended for us to take this part of the world that best represented His nature and goodness, and spread it to the rest of the untamed world. Then sin entered in and we were kicked out of the Garden. So he went to the Israelites, told them His vision for them as a people…and gave them the command to be lights to the world, examples, again spreading His vision for His Kingdom to the rest of the untamed world. Then again we see the same kind of mandate, when, after Jesus came, died and rose again, His followers are told to be His witnesses, starting with their home towns and spreading to the ends of the earth. We are to make it “on earth as it is in Heaven.” We belong to this amazing invisible Kingdom, full of the riches and power of Heaven, but it’s not just so that WE are blessed. It’s so that we can be a blessing to the world. That takes some wisdom, however. We must do so in a way that stabilizes, not destroys.

So, for those who us who are raised in the kingdom, like T’Challa, we do this from a place of love, not entitlement. We don’t need to apologize for or guilty about the fact that this is all we have known. Our great understanding of the Kingdom will help us to share it all the better. For those of us who were raised outside the kingdom, and only recently discovered it, like Erik, we also do so from a place of love, not bitterness. We don’t need to resent those who had it better than we did, for in this Kingdom, all things work together for good. Our pasts will give us compassion for those outside the Kingdom, and a greater understanding of how to reach them. The point isn’t where we came from, but the fact that we now have found the Kingdom and know that we belong to it.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Who do you identify with more, Erik or T’Challa? Why?
  • How is the Kingdom of Wakanda a bit like the Kingdom of Heaven?
  • What makes stewardship such a complex issue? Shouldn’t it be simple to just help others with the resources you have?
  • What is the difference between stewardship and ownership? If we as Christians are stewards, not owners of our lives and our possessions, then how does that change what we do and how we live?

Click here to read quotes from Black Panther.

Posted in Movies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Every Day – Movie Discussion

every day

Who doesn’t love a good love story…and isn’t true love about the love of the soul, not the love of the flesh and all the external things that can get in the way? So how about if we take the “flesh” out of it and a girl falls in love with “a mysterious soul named ‘A’ who inhabits a different body every day”[1]—that would make for an intriguing and beautiful, true love story, right?!

I haven’t seen it yet, and I am curious to see how they end up handling the story—maybe (probably) there are some (really) good things in it. But, I am very concerned. First off, they didn’t take the flesh out of it. This isn’t a movie about souls only, it’s about souls incarnate, in flesh. It’s just that that flesh of one of them is changing—sometimes male, sometimes female.

Here is the message here—that our bodies don’t matter; they are separate from our soul. And if our soul is completely separate from the body it inhabits, then male, female…it’s no different. So for Rhiannon, loving a boy is no different than loving a woman, just different packaging but the soul is the same. And in this sci-fi reality, is it so bad to just suspend our biases about our reality and just accept this for the sake of the story?

I think it is—largely because this isn’t some absurd science fiction world that plays by different rules. This world is very much our world. And the story appears to be making a statement—that sexuality is fluid and immaterial. It doesn’t matter. Our DNA doesn’t matter; our bodies don’t matter. Therefore, you can “identify” as anything you feel because who you are is about you soul, which has nothing to do with your body. And since our flesh doesn’t matter, it certainly doesn’t matter the gender of who you fall in love with.

If we follow this logic to its natural conclusion, however, why stop with humanity? Why didn’t A’s soul also embody an animal? If our DNA and our soul are not connected, have no relationship to each other, then the insanity keeps going. People can identify as animals or even plants. And to fall in love with an animal, even though the Bible would say that was bestiality, how could we say it was wrong, or any different from any other love—if we allow this kind of logic? (Also, age…why not embody a child, and someone old? Where does it stop?)

It’s a slippery slope.

I want to point out that Christ came “in the flesh” because flesh matters. And he didn’t just show up a grown man, he came in the flesh the way we do—from the point of conception. He grew and matured. These things aren’t something we get to opt out of or skip…they are intimately connected with our soul. In fact, anyone who studies profiling has to see the connection. A good profiler can look at a picture of someone, having never met them, and tell you quite a lot about their personality (a quality of their soul). Conversely, that same profiler can study someone’s actions and habits (the evidences of their soul) and create a pretty accurate physical description—because the two are linked. The popular show Criminal Minds is largely based on this idea.

We wear who we are in our faces…and our faces affect who we are. Yes, beauty is more than skin deep. And yes, attraction is based on more than just the flesh, but it’s more than, not wholly different from. So, while it may be a nice idea, it is also a dangerous idea.

I was playing devil’s advocate with myself over this. I thought, isn’t Every Day kind of the same as Beauty and the Beast? I mean, he had one soul in two different bodies, right? But that’s not quite right. He started as a man and returned to that same body. In the interim, however, the witch changed his body to more accurately reveal what was in his soul. She didn’t disconnect the one from the other, instead, she more accurately connected them. And then, when his soul had learned kindness and love, his body again reflected that.   His body revealed what was in his soul, it was never disconnected from it.

I think God made us this way to protect us. When we meet someone, we intuitively know something about who they are, inside. Their physical appearances tells us all manner of things about who they really are. It keeps us all honest, to some degree. If you’re familiar with The Portrait of Dorian Gray, it plays with this idea. Dorian’s face never changes. A painting of him takes on all the things his face normally would, not just age, but his deeds as well. And because he can do whatever he wants and get away with it, because his face will never tell the truth, he becomes a hideous human being. The truth of that is told in the painting which he hides from the world. Throughout history we have recognized it to be truth that our soul and our flesh are distinctly connected and that each has something to say to the other and about the other. This idea that the body is irrelevant packaging, just a different shade of wrapping paper that absolutely bears no significance to the item inside—it’s new and it’s nonsense…dangerous nonsense.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are the benefits of telling a love story that doesn’t depend on people’s physical appearance?
  • Do you believe that the soul is really disconnected and wholly different from the body/the flesh—that the flesh doesn’t affect the soul at all?
  • What does the idea of profiling (think Criminal Minds) reveal about the connection between body and soul?
  • If our physical form is really irrelevant, then why do you think God created us with them at all? And why would Jesus to come in one? And why create us with such diversity?
  • Do you think this movie supports the LGBT (etc. etc.) agenda? How?

 

 

[1] Quoted from the Fandango movie description.

Posted in Cultural Commentary, Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Improv and the Christian Life

I recently read an interesting thing about what makes improv comedy work… and it actually has something to do with the Christian life.

One of the most important of the rules that make improv possible, for example, is the idea of agreement, the notion that a very simple way to create a story—or humor—is to have characters accept everything that happens to them. As Keith Johnstone, one of the founders of improv theater, writes: ‘If you’ll stop reading for a moment and think of something you wouldn’t want to happen to you, or to someone you love, then you’ll have thought of something worth staging or filming. We don’t want to walk into a restaurant and be hit in the face b a custard pie, and we don’t want to suddenly glimpse Granny’s wheelchair racing towards the edge of a cliff, but we’ll pay money to attend enactments of such events. In life, most of us are highly skilled at suppressing action. All the improvisation teacher has to do is to reverse this skill and he creates very ‘gifted’ improvisers. Bad improvisers block action, often with a high degree of skill. Good improvers develop action.

…“Good improvisers seem telepathic; everything looks pre-arranged,” Johnstone writes. “This is because they accept all offers made—which is something no ‘normal’ person would do.” [1]

He explains how, when one improv actor makes a “suggestion” or a statement in the act, the other actor can either go with it, or shut it down, but in order to keep the scene going and in order for it to work or to be any good, the only choice is to accept every offering. So, he explains a scene where actor A (a doctor) says he will have to amputate actor B’s leg which is giving him trouble. Actor B, rather than accepting that scenario, said, “You can’t do that.” Immediately the scene began to fail. Where do you go from there? They redid the scene and Actor B committed to “agreement” and so, instead of rejecting the amputation, he went along with it and replied, “It’s the one you amputated last time.” This left an opening for more dialogue from the “doctor” (who also had a choice, to say that’s not possible, or to agree with what was said and move on, which you can see, he chose): “You mean you’ve got a pain in your wooden leg?” And the scene hilariously continued.

WHAT on EARTH does this have to do with the Christian life, you ask?! Life is an on-going, in-escapable improv and God is our co-actor/director, throwing out scene ideas, curve-balls, and various scenarios to us. We have a choice in how we respond to those offerings. We can reject them, or agree with them and roll with it. When we reject them, we shut down our dialogue with Him, but when we agree with it, it opens up more dialogue, more relationship, and more flow. It opens up possibilities in our lives. We have the opportunity to lob one back to Him. “Oh, yes, I’ve lost my job, but somehow you have good things in store, so where are they? You have a purpose, and can make good things out of anything. You can resurrect the dead… so… I’m just tossing that back at You to see what You do with it.”

A Christian life well-lived is a lot like improv well-played. It’s about agreement. Agreeing with what God says over our lives. Agreeing with His promises, power, character. Agreeing, as Job did, with whatever hardships come our way. It’s saying “It is well with my soul” after you have lost your job, your home and your children to tragedy. You may not know how it is going to be well, but you agree with God by “accepting all things that come from His hand as necessarily the kindest, wisest and best because either ordered or permitted by God himself” (a rough quote from Hudson Taylor after some awful things had come his way). You accept what He allows and then your response can even be a challenge back, a reminder of HIS character and promises that He will, in turn, have no choice but to agree with back to you—because God will never not agree with Himself or His Word.

And THIS becomes a life well-lived. Poetry in motion. Improv at its highest and finest.

 

[1] Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. New York: Hachette Book Group. (p196-199, emphasis added)

Posted in Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Peter Rabbit – Movie Discussion

It’s your classic Beatrix Potter with a bit lot of Home Alone thrown in, and The War[1] (but for a much younger audience). I was skeptical because of that. The previews looked like a lot of animosity and fighting and ill-will, and not in a good vs. evil kind of way, but between two decent beings. And it was. But isn’t this also reality? Sometimes it is a Home Alone kind of thing, where you are defending yourself against harm and it’s a definite good vs. evil. The reality, however, is that far more often we find ourselves in Peter’s shoes, embroiled in a battle against someone who is not the enemy. They aren’t evil, we just feel that they are. And then, because we see them as an enemy, they become one. Wars are like that. They escalate and they change people and they create enemies. I was skeptical, but having seen it, I stand corrected, or at least converted. Peter Rabbit is all those things, but it is all those things to make a point, a few points, perhaps, that are worth making.

In a nutshell, Peter and his siblings are orphaned because of Old Man McGregor who is portrayed as a mean old man—you know the story. (To be fair, however, the rabbits were coming on to his property and stealing from his garden. So, he felt justified in defending his veggies and his property from the rodents.) After his death, Peter felt he (and all the animals) should have the full rights to and free reign of the garden and all its bounty. McGregor’s nephew showed up, Thomas, who was pretty like-minded with his uncle. He wanted to rid the garden of the animals, too.

Peter could have tried to win over Thomas and make an ally out of him as he had done with Beatrix Potter next door, “Bea,” (or maybe she made a friend out of Peter—either way they were friends). But he didn’t. He, instead, determined to rid the neighborhood of McGregor. Two alpha-male types going into war, one-upping the other, justifying their actions by the “facts” of the injuries and insults they endured from the other. It was a vicious cycle, as all such fights are. Both were, in equal measure, motivated and blinded by pride.

At the heart of the fight was Bea. I mean, yes, the garden, and principle, and all sorts of things, but really, for Peter in particular, he finally saw that he had been lying to himself. He told himself that he was trying to protect Bea from Thomas (the two had formed a romance), but what it really came down to was that he didn’t want to share her. He was jealous. He had an orphaned heart that was afraid there would be less love for him if she gave her love to Thomas. Thomas didn’t want to share the garden; Peter didn’t want to share Bea. Stinginess creates wars.

As their war escalated, things got way out of hand, and in the process, the bunnies lost their home, and Bea’s heart was broken. Sometimes, you are so driven by bloodlust you don’t see the destruction until the losses are staggering. Peter had a dream one night of his dead parents, calling him out on the truth, that he was afraid to share Bea with Thomas. And they reminded him that they didn’t love him any less when his three siblings were born. Love multiples, it’s not a finite resource we need to hoard for ourselves.

When Peter set about making things right, it wasn’t just Thomas that he had to confess to. Thomas knew the truth. They were both to blame. And Peter certainly had to ask for Thomas’ forgiveness. He hoped he could stop there, however. He did not want to have to tell Bea the truth as well. Bea had sided with him, after all. She had believed him innocent and incapable of scheming. He was a dear, mute, little bunny, after all! She thought Thomas was crazy when he accused Peter of sabotaging his home. For things to be right, however, Peter had to confess. He had to come clean, about all of it. AND ask for her forgiveness. Which he did. Such a great message to see! We can fail terribly and recover. We can admit our faults and still be loved. We can find restoration and healing. Sometimes it’s hard to admit we are wrong because we don’t if anyone can love us if we are flawed.

This has SO many applications for us all, but I have to think specifically this movie is a great opportunity for parents and their children to talk through family changes—whether it’s the addition of another sibling, or a single parent who is trying to introduce a new spouse to the equation.

Here are some (nine) themes that stand out in the movie:

  1.  Preconditioned—Peter was preconditioned to see the new McGregor as an enemy by his past. (His parents were killed by the last McGregor, for starters.) It’s easy to take offense when someone treats us as an enemy before they get to know us, but rather than taking offense, we might stop to wonder why. What have they gone through in their past to precondition them to see us in that light? Is it possible that our actions have supported those prejudices in their heart? How can we disarm them, and change their prejudices without entering into a battle and/or furthering their convictions that they are right to see us in that way? Also, consider the reverse scenario. When are we acting like Peter, assuming things about someone without getting to know them first? How are we preconditioned to see people negatively? What people (or circumstances) are we negatively biased against? Do you have people in your life who can let you know when you’re acting like Peter and not giving people the benefit of the doubt, judging them based on your past, rather than who they are?
  2. Defending our rights—Peter and Thomas both felt justified in the war they were fighting because they were just defending their rights. This pretty much always causes wars, and it never brings peace. Jesus tells us to love your neighbor as yourself. This means we don’t look only to our own rights, but also to the rights and perspectives of the other person. When we see things from their point of view, and value that point of view equal to our own, we bring peace. Bea did this. She didn’t just think about her rights to her property. She also thought about the animals and their needs for food and shelter…and their rights to the land. This affected how she treated the rabbits and opened her home to them…and it brought peace. When has defending your rights caused a fight in your life? Has it ever brought peace? Have you ever laid down your right to something in an effort to create peace?
  3. Orphan spirit—Peter was literally an orphan, but he also had an orphan spirit. He operated from a place of fear and stinginess. He was afraid he would lose Bea, too. When he finally realized she could love them both, things changed and he was able to love Thomas rather than see him as a threat. Have you ever been afraid that someone else was a threat to the love you receive from someone? Have you ever been motivated by fear and control and stinginess? How is that different from being motivated by love?
  4. Usually, there is blame to go around (part 1, for those in the fight)—Rarely are wars simply one-sided. When they are, we don’t call it a war, but abuse and bullying. Thomas and Peter both wanted to claim they were victims, but the reality is, they were in a war and in a war (unless it is truly a war between good and evil, but let’s face it—those are rare), there is plenty of blame to go around. As Thomas said, “[Peter] poked at me and poked at me until there was nothing left to do…” He said the truth, that Peter poked and poked and pushed him into a corner. He was wrong in saying that he had no choice. There is always a choice. He could have chosen to see Peter as a friend to be won, rather than an enemy to be conquered.  In the end, reconciliation happened when they both admitted their part in the wrongs. Have you ever wanted to say that you were the true victim, but if you were honest, you had to admit you were to blame as well? What did you do?
  5. Usually, there is blame to go around, (part 2, for those observing the fight)—Not only did Thomas and Peter have to admit they both were to blame, but Bea needed to see that, too. When she was blind to Peter’s guilt, she covered for him and that caused even more problems because it infuriated Thomas. It seemed unfair and made him all the more determined to reveal the truth about Peter. Sometimes in our naivety we are part of the problem (fueling the problem) without even knowing it. We don’t have to be in the war to be a part of the war. It’s important for us to realize that usually both sides are at fault so that our eyes are open to the truth, lest we cover for one and infuriate the other.
  6. Creating enemies vs. creating allies—We always have a choice. Everyone we meet is either a potential friend or a potential enemy, depending on how we treat them. It’s not so much about how they start out in our lives or how they treat us, but about how we treat them and what they become. Thomas and Peter started out as strangers. They could have gone either way. Their actions created enemies of each other. It would have been easy to assume that could never change, but Peter made a shift. He determined to make a friend out of Thomas for the sake of Bea. This is what Jesus did when he decided to love His enemies. He made friends and family out of us for the sake of His Father. The truth is, we can’t control people’s responses, but we aren’t called to. We are simply called to do everything we can do to be at peace with all men. But, when we do that, most people will respond in time. Have you ever won over an enemy and made a friend out of them? Has anyone that you didn’t really like ever chosen to be kind to you so much so that you ended up becoming friends with them? Have you ever realized that everyone you meet is either a potential friend or potential enemy, based on the way YOU treat them?
  7. Stinginess creates enemies (and wars)—Peter was stingy with Bea. McGregor (both of them) was stingy with the garden. Had either of them treated the other with generosity rather than stinginess, nothing would have escalated and probably, they would have become friends and allies much sooner. How likely are you to get in a fight with someone who is generous? What about with someone who is stingy?
  8. It’s never too late to do the right thing and at least try to make things right—Sometimes we chicken out of doing the right thing because we assume it’s too late. We never know until we try. Peter didn’t consider if it was too late or not, he simply set out to do all he could to fix things…and fix things he did. One of my favorite things about God is that it’s never too late with Him. In Ezekiel 37 he takes a valley of old dry bones and makes a living army out of them. If it’s not too late for those dead people to come to life and fight a battle, then it’s never too late when God’s involved. No one is ever too far gone or too out of reach. We need to focus on what is the right thing to do, not whether or not it seems possible anymore. Are there any situations or relationships in your life that seem too far gone to bother with fixing?
  9. Confession and asking for forgiveness are not the same but they ought to go together—Sometimes we think that we confessing our wrongs is enough, but it’s not. (Or perhaps we are willing to ask for forgiveness but never actually admit what we did wrong.) Confessing involves admitting an ugly truth about ourselves, and asking for forgiveness involves humbling ourselves to someone else—both are hard. In Peter Rabbit, their way of asking for forgiveness is beautiful. They bow their head (which is a sign of humility) and then they touch their forehead to the person they are asking to forgive them, which is a sign of connection. In this way they both verbally and physically are being humble and restoring connection. It also means the other person is responding and restoring that person (or bunny). It’s beautiful. To have restoration after a falling out, both steps are needed. Do you find it easier to confess or to ask for forgiveness? Have you ever thought about your need to confess your sins to the Lord, and ask for His forgiveness…and restoration through Jesus’ death on the cross?

 

Read quotes from Peter Rabbit, here.

[1] If you haven’t seen The War, with Kevin Costner and Elijah Wood, 1994, it is one of my all time favorite movies. SO powerful.

Posted in Movies, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment