I grew up in a musical household. My mother would play guitar in the living room and I would sit with her singing worship songs and camp tunes for hours. She used to love taking the break in between worship songs to sing ‘On Top of Spaghetti‘ with me; at least until I learned the alternative lyrics of ‘On Top of the School House‘! Some how whenever I broke into a different rift of words, the tune would sour and she’d stop playing. How important are the lyrics to the notes which are played along with them? Deeper still, must there be proper emotional response to the lyrics which go along with such notes?
Bevans and Shroeder reminded me of that early lesson in life with their analogy that, “Like a complex fugue or polyphonic motet, God’s unity is constituted by diversity and God’s diversity is rooted in unity of will and purpose; the church is the church inasmuch as it has been included in that harmony.” (Pg. #298) The lyrics of the church’s ecclesiology must be in the harmony and unity of the message to which it embodies or it ceases to be the church entirely! Nor can we void the internal depth of emotion to which that message is to be embraced as a missional community itself!
The contemplation of these last few months has brought a renewed vision to my heart and mind in the significance of a united harmony between the movements and ecclesiological practices of the individual believer and the church as a whole. Together we are on a mission which does not find significance in and of itself, but rather it points towards greater experiences of faith, hope, and love in the promise of a richer and fuller future. To use Bevans and Schroeder’s words, “Christians are incorporated into the divine life and experience a foretaste of the world’s destiny of full communion with God, with one another and with all of creation.” (pg. #299)
I’d be remised to say, like the small taste I had as a boy, I can’t wait for that day to sit with my mother again and sing praises to God; and I promise, I’ll get the lyrics right!
We crowded into a dark lit theatre as we awaited the beginning to the telling of an age old story filled with adventure, action, violence, love, mystery, and yes, even the miraculous!! As the lights went down it was clear, no one around us could be recognized for their beliefs, no ones theology was visible to the neighbour beside them let alone written on their sleeves. We truly were Nicodemus’s in exodus of reality to a world of a called people and the wrestling with a God called “I AM”!!
I love these moments, the ones where we can retreat into our imaginations, seek out the deeper questions and meanings of these cultural stories, and see how they shape our lives and who we are! Yet, when the lights all come back on, it seems like the chains of dogmatic judgements, theological and denominational boundaries, all creep back in to enslave us back to the Christian Right to which we are supposedly apart of; as though our lack of imagination, our literal word for word expectations, and our inability to “read between the lines“, some how sets us a part from the world as people of righteousness; as people who are superior to that of the “non-believer”. What a people of enslaved grotesque spirituality we have become!
Ridley Scott, in his film ‘Exodus – Gods and Kings’ has taken up the story of YHWH and his people once again. Yes, you heard right! It is not a story about Moses, Ramesses, or Pharaoh. It is a story about YHWH, the God named ‘IAM’, and the people he chose to call his own!! Hollywood got it right and it is the brilliance behind Scott’s film.
Sitting on the front opening to a house of a make believe king, Moses corrects an overseer to the Hebrew people who interprets the peoples name as meaning “One Who Fights With God” and rebukes him saying, “No, it means ‘One Who Wrestles With God’! There is a difference you know!” Ironically, historically this is what the Egyptian people did themselves with their gods as they appeased them through worship and sacrifice. To rebel against this was to fight their perceived powers; most often found in the natural elements of their culture. This is what the ten plagues was about! YHWH broke forth in showing His power by protecting his people while demolishing the gods of Egypt. Whether it was Osiris of the nile and the river of blood or Pharaoh himself pronouncing death to the first born; all of Egypts gods would fall to the greater power of YHWH, “I AM”, and his people. (Click Here to see the fall of Egypts gods to YHWH)
This paints an even deeper theme of wrestling that we find in the film. It wasn’t just the Hebrew people who wrestled with God; it was the Egyptians too! Who was this YHWH who held authority over their gods? Who were these Hebrew people, those called people of “I AM”? Who are they as a nation called Egypt, neighbours to YHWH’s called nation?
It wasn’t just Moses who sat on the shore of the Red Sea questioning God, “If I am not an Egyptian General, if not a deliverer, a messiah to the Hebrew people; who am I?” Ramesses too questioned his vocation and calling in the eyes of his creational identity. What are the issues a king is suppose to address – issues of glory, greatness, and inspiration or issues of legacy, death, and the altars of a tomb? From his own lips. “Am I a pharaoh who is to live as a Bedouin his hole life?” What contemplations that question may offer when you consider the coming 40 years Moses would spend roaming the dessert with the shadow of God in the midst of a Tabernacle moving from place to place!!
In Exodus 6:7 God speaks to his people and says, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” What does it mean to truly know God?
The word “to know” in Hebrew is “yada“. Yet yada is to know in the most deepest way, the most intimate way, so that ones vocation, ones calling and characteristics, ones very identity is intertwined into that which they are in relationship of knowing. To yada God, to know “I AM”, is to be eternally wrestling with the very fabric of what he is doing in shaping your character, your personhood, your life. God is saying, “I AM in your work place!”, “I AM in your home!”, “I AM in your thoughts!”, “I AM in your marriage’s!”, “I AM in your friendships!”, “I AM in your churches!”, “I AM in your theatres!”, “I AM in your life!!”
Yes, this is a film of a great many of people who wrestle with God and the ways in which they encounter him. It is a wrestling that still happens today as we are confronted in dimly lit theatres and the oppression of the Christian Right’s cracking whip to resist wrestling with the one called “I AM” as apposed to the one called “I say”.
I’m sure, like me, there is much that you are wrestling with in Ridley Scott’s latest telling of Exodus; some of which may be fair. Yet let us wrestle with this freely as people who God has given a promised land of imagination, freedom of expression, creative artistic talents, and a living heart for the one true God. And to those who would turn a face of condemning judgement over those who dare to see beyond the confines of earthly empires and institutional structures; I say to you… LET MY PEOPLE GO!!!
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at Canyon Creek Christian Fellowship on Sunday January 2nd, 2011 about Living for Potential while focusing on Matthew 5:48. Although feeling a little rusty, here is what I shared…
I starred blankly at the news screen as they described the story of a stranger who was listening and after hearing the faint cries of a baby, leapt into a garbage bin. After peeling away the layers of garbage they took off their shirt and wrapped it around a new born boy who with its umbilical cord still attached was rescued from the clutches of death. It wasn’t until later that the stranger would find out that he was not a stranger at all but the unexpecting father of the child.
Let’s face it; it’s a story we have all heard so many times before. We cry out in frustration, “What’s wrong with that person!” “How can they just not know…?”
A Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces is arrested and charged with sexual deviance, rape, murder, and other horrific charges. Teenagers are found gang raping teenagers in the school yard. And prostitution is legalized in certain states and provinces. It all seems so wrong, so decayed, so grotesque, so… Broken.
I was four years old when I was exposed to the realities of a broken world. My mother worked long days and would leave me at a day home behind our condo in SW Calgary. I remember the lady running the home would keep us locked in the basement all day exclaiming, “That’s where children belong.” Usually with a few “F” words in the mix.
It was here that the eldest daughter of the lady who ran the home began taking me with her to the darker corners of the basement. I don’t remember much, but I remember that I spent most of my childhood trying to hide it and make sure no one ever found out. Most importantly, I tried to make myself forget it ever happened because I thought it was my fault. I was Broken.
I was broken and because I was broken the world will never look the same to me again. The world has become a place of overt violence with battlefields in every marketing advertisement plastered on the billboards and storefronts in shopping malls and road ways; in snippets of film, movies, television, and commercials as they provocatively exploit the psyche of human relational conjecture; in the one liner jokes we so innocently speak to one another with; and in the headlines of news media leading to social judgements based upon the bias of social and personal exclusion from the stories context.
My Brokenness has caused me to become angry. Why can we not see the exploitation of human sexuality and relational identity as the violence which it truly is? Why has it become normal to treat human sexuality as a consumer product and individual right rather then a relational identity and spousal gift? I suppose the reality to which I found is that I am broken, just as everyone is has been broken. The world is Broken.
Jesus’ brother James gives us something we can use in our brokenness. He wrote and called us to, “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” and promised us that, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16-17)
I don’t have all the solutions to the broken realities of our world but I do believe James is right. We need to first recognize our own Brokenness; and once we’ve accepted that we need to expose it, confess it to those around us, and talk about it. When we can be open and real with one another about the struggles we have, the challenges and fears that are a part of our lives; we can be honest in the midst of communal grace and truly seek to transform those realities. Then we can see the real beauty, the real gifts God has placed in our lives.
Secondly, we need to pray for one another as well as ourselves. Speaking to God about our need for healing and openly asking for his hand in our broken reality brings an internal connectivity which reaches to the very depth of our created being as it was meant to be. In Jeremiah God speaks to us saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Lastly, we must live with grace for one another; accepting that we are all Broken in a reality to which none of us can ever fully understand, experience, or comprehend. Forgiveness is not always easy to work out but, judgment is never ours to make lest our own judgments come upon our own brokenness.
This world will never be the same to me as it will never be the same for you. I will pray for you though just as I pray for the Broken people which I wrote of in the beginning of this post. I hope you would do the same for me.
Who am I?
I am a man of Authenticity,
What you see is what you get;
More so I am the same in public as I am alone,
And visa versa.
Who am I?
I am a man of Honesty,
So much so it can get me in trouble;
My life is an open book,
One which I freely share in the hopes to inspire.
Who am I?
I am a man of Integrity,
My word is my bond;
Even greater to me are the words of action,
Everything I do is meant with purpose and a sense of personal moral ethic.
Who am I?
I am a man of Justice,
I seek it in everyone and in everything;
My heart breaks to the point of physical pain and tears,
At the smallest witnessing of prejudice, bias, or inequality to our relationship with truth.
Who am I?
I am a man of Love,
In the eternal agape sense anyways;
I love life, people, animals, adventure,
And the wonder of all miraculous moments when this amazing gift returns!
Who am I?
I am a man of Faith,
Convicted strongly in my relationship with God;
Through the Truth of Jesus’ eternal presence,
In my heart, soul, and wellbeing.
Who am I?
I am a man of creativity,
I let my imagination drift with the realities around me;
So as to bring life to grips with Truth,
And freedom of expression to redemption in righteous relationships with God, my wife, and those who journey with me.
Who am I?
I am a Husband,
Married to my wife as one flesh;
I can do nothing apart from her blessing,
As she becomes the greatest of blessings throughout my life.
Who am I?
I am a Pastor,
Not one by earthly titles, status, or appointment;
But by example, presence, and character,
Which only the Holy Spirit might bless and sustain.
Who am I?
I am Incomplete,
Journeying through my destiny in search of my fate;
One which only God can complete,
And measure by standards of his grace, love, and acceptance.
Last Friday evening I had the opportunity to sit in a packed theater and watch the film Avatar for the first time. I was blown away by the amazing effects and swept into the story line by the many cultural connections with our world today. Like so many other films have done in past, Avatar grappled in its undertones with real issues such as environmental concerns, native relations, and military movements with stunning pictures of wildlife and language uses such as words like “Shock and Awe” and subtitles for native speech.
I must admit though that this is not what toke my heart away during the course of the film. What really got to me was the central storyline with the character of Jake and his questions behind identity as a paralyzed marine. Sitting in my own wheelchair I began struggling with the same uncertainties he was facing in the light of a new world.
Who is my Avatar? What would it be like to have a new body? Or as Col. Miles Quaritch said to Jake; to have my real legs back? Who is the real me?
Being a gen X’er, the word avatar always seemed to me to be an image you put on your facebook page or blog address to which people identify you as. It surprised me to realize after looking it up in a dictionary that the word avatar actually means “the embodiment of something: somebody who embodies, personifies, or is the manifestation of an idea or concept.”
In that sense really think about it for a moment and ask yourself; Am I the same person at work that I am at home? Are you the same person on Sunday at church? How about when you are standing with the other parents outside the school while waiting to pick up your kids? How many Avatars do you have? Which one is the real one?
There is this moment in the film when Jake and his new found friend Neytiri are arguing over the fact that she does not see him as being authentic. In a sense she is saying, “I do not know who or what you are!” It is during this moment that the spirits of Ey’wa, the Na’vi’s understanding of God, descend around Jake and it becomes a sign to Neytiri that even if she cannot see the real Jake, Ey’wa could see him.
It is easy for me to conceal who I truly am in character as a husband, son, pastor, or follower of Jesus behind shadows of personal conception and agenda. In some sense it seems as though I can get lost in these avatars myself and forget who the real me is. No matter how hard I try though it doesn’t seem to change the fact that God still seems to know me as he whispers the words of Jeremiah 1:5; “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” It is a mystery I still wonder about today.
Jesus himself became an avatar in the sense that he was God incarnate. I guess you could say he was the real avatar. One day he went fishing with a group of fishermen. He spent the entire day with them while learning who they were, speaking their language, and seeing who they truly are. It was then that he turned to them and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt. 4:19) Jesus in becoming one of them saw right through them to their hearts; he saw their real avatars!
Throughout Jake’s journey he was offered healing but it came in two forms. On the one hand Col. Miles Quaritch offered him purpose in being used as a marine and in doing so he would be “given his legs back”. On the other hand Jake could choose to submit his entire being to the wonder and care of Ey’wa in the awakening of a body given through love and the mystery of recreation.
Without giving anything away I admit to struggling with this in the personal sense. It might be easy to expect God to heal me as a paralyzed man on my terms with my own expectations of time, appearance, and significance. But is healing meant to be easy and solely about me or is it really about the relationship which I have with my creator?
It seemed a question to which I might wrestle with for many years to come until I heard a comment William Young, author of ‘The Shack’, stated in an interview the other day. He said, “I do not believe God heals people so that he can use them. I believe God heals people because he loves them; and then he invites them to play.” It was in this moment that the questions seemed to disappear and the visionary wonder of healing and recreation coalesced with the trust that God would find the balance (1 Corinthians 15:35-49).
Is the movie Avatar a Christian film? I do not think James Cameron intended it to be so when he first developed it but; like most created things, if we are willing to extend a listening ear we just my catch the faded whispers of truth from a loving creator who is saying, “I see you.”