Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hunger Games

I was dismayed by the amount of violence I encountered in the film "The Hunger Games."  I know that it was my choice and I could have chosen to not subject myself to it, but I have a problem that goes deeper than choice.

Since the idea of the books is part social commentary on the idea of institutions that coerce behaviors, it is interesting to note that the ROAD TO this unwanted place is via popular media displaying violent imagery?

No government agency could act in a way that wasn't implicitly consented to by a majority of its citizens.  Some wonder why there are nations in our world that still endorse communism and a restriction on personal liberties . . . it is because in some form this self-restriction agrees with their personal ethics.  Even in oppressed socities, citizens have consented to their feelings of inferiority.  They have ascribed to a 'strong man' cultus because they feel it is within the nation's interest to do so.

Similarly, how can we ever react to violence by a regime if violence is part of our daily diet of entertainment?

And so people have reacted to my distaste for a film as violent as the Hunger Games by citing its intention to be a commentary or cautionary tale against violence in our scoiety.  One question . . . with the proliferation of films like Hunger Games, who will see that as violence anymore?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"What about those that never heard?"

One of the biggest objections that you or me or anyone could have about following Jesus is the problem with those who have never heard.  Why would anyone want to follow a God who awards some people eternal life in heaven and others eternal torment in hell . . . even those who have never heard of the person of Jesus.  If salvation comes only from acknowledging Jesus as your savior and Lord, then how could anyone who spent their whole lives outside of this knowledge have a hope?

Over the centuries some have gone to the great lengths to explain this by saying that people who have never heard were the very same who would never have come to believe.  Hmmmm. 

Some have even said that this shouldn't bother us because we are all deserving of hell.  If we all wound up in hell it would have been the just reward for our sinfulness.  So the fact that some get into heaven and the rest don't is actually a testimony of God's great compassion.

I don't think that really speaks of the compassion of Jesus.  I mean if Jesus really died for you, don;t you think His compassion runs a lot deeper than that?  Wouldn't a person who dies for someone that barely knows Him have come empathy left over for the person who had the bad 'luck' to be born in a part of the world that never heard of Jesus?

But if we read the Gospels closely, we can't miss the fact that Jesus' compassion extends beyond our narrow sense of our legal mindset.  When Jesus is healing a man born blind in John chapter nine the disciples ask whether it was this man's sin or his parents that made him blind.  Jesus answers that, in fact, his blindness was so that God's mercy could be exhibited (and written and retained in the Bible for centuries afterward).   Pretty interesting take on man's condition.

In fact it is afterward that the Pharisees come up to Jesus and ask if they too are 'blind' in a spiritual sense.  Jesus offers this:

"If you were blind you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim to see, your guilt remains" (John 9: 41)

Interesting that Jesus' idea of justice also lines up with His compassion.  Those who have no sight can not be held accountable for seeing.  It would stand to reason that those who have never heard cannot be held to the same standard as those who have. 

So I am not saying much - I am not sure what all the finer implications of this are.  But it seems to speak of a God who is much bigger than our preconceptions of Him are.  And isn't that what drew us to Him in the first place?

Friday, January 27, 2012

We Are The 1%

I am getting ready to host a couple hundred students this weekend in an attempt to get them to think beyond themselves.  This weekend's theme is "We Are The 1%."

In the fall we saw a lot about the Occupy Movement - students carrying signs saying "We Are the 99%."

This is sadly myopic.  Yes, in America there are 1% of the rich that have access to wealth that 99% of Americans don't have.  But that is America.  Thinking more globally, we are nowhere close to the 99%.  In fact, we are the 1%.

If you have clothing for each day of the week, a roof over your head, money in the bank, a car, gas for the car, money for education, a week's vacation, involvement in sports, 'spending money' or can afford feeding and caring for an animal . . . you are the 1% in this world.  You are not the 99%.

The true 99% worry about their children dying before 5 years old, don't take for granted 'mealtimes' and whatever money they make is brought home and shared with the family to insure group survival. 

Because of that, we shouldn't be berating the American 1% (which is the global 0.1%) - whether they see their responsibilities is up to them.  The real force to mobilize is the global 1% - you and I.  We have the responsibility to the world's 99%.  That is why I am taking 200 students into Philadelphia to work with the homeless and the poor.  I want them to see their responsibility. 

Responsibility?  Yes, responsibility.  That money was given to you to take care of those who don't have.  The Bible says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

That doesn't mean "give money to the poor and stay away from R-rated movies."  It means stay away from the polluted thinking in this world that gets me thinking about what I am entitled to.  Rather we should be thinking about what responsibilities we have with "the least of these" and to go and take care of those responsiblities with earnest.

That is what I am excited about this weekend.  I hope the students are too.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Why we love Tebow

There is so much more than football that is going on in the spectacle of Tim Tebow right now . . . and the 'experts' are playing right into the hand of fate.

It started before Tebow even played.  Chad Henne, starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins . . .
No wait . . . Chad Henne, the starting quarterback for the 6-10 (non-playoff bound) Miami Dolphins said this about Tebow on a Miami radio station:   "My judgment is that he's not an NFL quarterback, I'll leave it at that."

Hmmmm . . . okay.

Merrill Hoge, former NFL great (who had only 8 yards on 3 carries in his rookie year) said that Tebow would never play in the NFL and that it is:  “embarrassing to think that the Broncos with Tebow could win.”  

Embarassing?  To whom?  

Other NFL players even got in on the action.  

Brian Urlacher (yes from the non-playoff attending Chicago Bears) took a sarcastic swipe at Tebow's quarterbacking: "He's a good running back ... He does a good job for them."  This was after the Bears lost to the Broncos.

What is exceptional, and one of the reasons many love this guy, is his humility.  His response to Urlacher?   "Coming from a really good player, that means a lot." 
And yes, even famous skeptic Bill Maher got in on the action. 

In a rather classy comment, Bill capitalized on one of Tebow's losses with the uplifting:
"Wow, Jesus just bleeped #TimTebow bad! And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere ... Satan is tebowing, saying to Hitler "Hey, Buffalo's killing them."
So the guy has had his fair share of negative nay-sayers.  Why?  Because he doesn't fit the mold of what a quarterback should look like.  
Are you kidding me?  In a country that likes to think it values individuality and self-expression?  We come down on this guy because he doesn't throw like Tom Brady?  Or maybe it is because he is a bit over the top with his faith.  And Dennis Rodman wasn't over the top with his narcissism?  How about RuPaul or Perez Hilton?  I thought we really like people who have passion . . . 
What we especially love about this guy is that he keeps on winning despite what people say. 

No, strike that.  We love this guy because he keeps on showing us that 'experts' are no better than us when it comes to things like human spirit and drive.  The 'experts' put on their pants one leg at a time just like the rest of us.  And maybe if they are so off the mark in a silly thing like sports, maybe that gives us something to think about when it comes to the bigger things in life.

Maybe, despite their 'expert' titles . . . all the experts are wrong about the weightier issues like faith and life and meaning.  Perhaps we are all just like children afterall.

Yes, Tebow will lose at some point (maybe next week against Brady).  But he has already won because he shows us that there are things that go beyond the scope of our experts.  That is why we love Tebow.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

God's audition

Questions - its all what you do with them . . .

Everyone has questions about life, love, spirit - things that go beyond the grave.  It is what we do with them that matters.

Now you can take your questions as starting points - exciting incentives to chase down the answers that these questions bring.  Life becomes more adventuresome when you write down your questions, narrow them down to the top three and start pursuing them through books from both sides of the spectrum or conversations with people smarter than you.  Realize that this will take you years - buy a notebook, pursue with zest and always be open to learning.

Sadly, more often we treat our questions as speed bumps - like judges in a cheap talent show we poke our questions at the things we encounter in order to stay put and not be stretched.  In our usual discussion about faith and reason, both sides of the issue are guilty of this. 

"Yeah, but how do you actually think that God made the universe in six days?" 
"But if creatures evolved, how come the Bible doesn't talk about it?"

We use our questions as weapons - lobbing them to the other 'side' so that we don't have to look at the things that we have locked down and taken as gospel.  Atheists and Fundies are so guilty of this it is shameful.

We have to remember that questions are the soil in which we sow our understanding, not the stage upon which God auditions for our devotion.  You actually inhibit the realization of your answers when you take the seat of the critic when it comes to God.  Augustine asked us to believe in order to know and not the other way around. 

Now of course this doesn't mean put yourself at the feet of people, professors or priests - they are all just as fallible and fallen as are PhD's and experts of the sciences.  One believes in the God who is bigger than our ideas of Him so that our ideas can arrive at conclusions that are higher still. 

So what are your questions?  Better yet, what are your strategies for reaching their answers?  They can be found.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wishful thinking . . .

This time of year we hear a lot about wishes for the coming year and within thirty days it just turns into wishful thinking.  So much of life comes down to the tension between what we wish to be and what is just wish fulfillment.

As a Christian I am familiar with this territory.  My skeptic friends usually pose this question: "how do you know that your faith isn't just wishful thinking?"

But when it really boils down, everything is wishful thinking.  I mean if you are an atheist, the idea that there is no God is the best way that you can reconcile that there is evil in the world or there are pedophile priests or the fact that you didn't get what you prayed for.  It actually unifies your thoughts about the world if there were no God.  So in a strange way, the atheist too engages in wishful thinking.

The believer
The atheist
The agnostic
The transcendentalist
The materialist

The list could be as long as my arm - we all find ways to justify our particular view of the world.  But note that it is the view that comes first and the justification second.  We want a worldview that fits what we see - and that is the wish fulfillment we engage in (and not the other way around).

And perhaps the most interesting take on this is that, in the end, one of these views is correct . . .

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas in the heart

Humans are fickle . . .

It is funny when you think about how fickle we are.  We just spent the last few weeks building up to a day in which we exchange presents and our feelings of love with friends and family.  The Christmas music we listened to spoke about that warm feeling we get when we draw near to the ones we love.  We got festive with lights and TV specials and making cookies - all designed to get in the Christmas spirit (as varied as that may be).

So much energy devoted to such an intangible.  We love the 'feeling' of Christmas.  I heard many people saying that it didn't 'feel' like Christmas because of the weather.  Funny how important a feeling is.

And that is precisely where we have it mixed up.  For the most important things in life we are content to pursue a feeling.  Most would agree that life is not so much about the nice cars or the big houses or fat bank accounts as much as it is about having someone who loves you.  In essence, the point of life comes down to something you feel.  We are creatures of experience - we want to feel more than we want to have or to know.

But then we talk about God and it needs to be something external - beyond our experience.  We need evidence.  Interesting how the weight of experience is not as important when we consider a life of putting God first in our lives.  Wouldn't that be an area that experience would make all the difference?  As if because you felt a connection to God this was not as good as seeing demonstrable proof of it.  We have it backwards, we should pursue the experience of a dialogue with God BEFORE we need the proof of His presence.  Our belief can be fueled by the sense of that experience - not diminished by the proof of its existence.