Arrival & Ellen Davis’ Five Prophetic Perspectives

dimensional-alien-language-extraterrestrial-arrival-science-explained-discovery-reveal-exolinguistic-origin-signs-sound-ufology-spacetime-future-past-presentWith laughter and the sharing of this week’s events the tribe settled into our living room last night as we prepared to venture into the imaginative world of a good movie called Arrival. Snacks and drinks in hand, I love how the stories of film, fictional or otherwise, seem to stretch deep into the connective tissues of transcendent truths and the practicalities of today’s eminence.

Recently I’ve begun reading Ellen Davis’ book ‘Biblical Prophecy: Perspectives for Christian Theology, Discipleship, and Ministry‘. While for years I thought of the prophet as someone who spoke for God; it was in her first chapter that she opened me to the greater understanding that a prophet does not speak for God, as though he needs anyone to speak for him, rather they act as interpreters between God’s Word and the contextualized concrete realities we find ourselves in today.

At a given time,” Davis writes, “any Christian might assume either role: Huldah’s, of offering an interpretation, or Josiah’s, of listening to one; the apostle Paul suggests that every member of the church should be engaged on both sides of the interpretative process (see 1 Cor. 14:26–31).” Reflectively, you might expand the thought into the roles of disciple and apostle; we are both created and formed in the practices of listening and learning while also being sent apostolically to share and contribute into the revealing narrative story of life and its beauty.

With the lights dimmed and the Arrival beginning, it struck me that this is a movie about prophets! “Colonel,” Dr. Louise called for the soldier’s attention from the door, “When you talk with Donnelly, ask him the Sanskrit translation for the word ‘war’.” A few days later, Colonel Weber returned, “Gravisti. He says it means ‘an argument.’ What do you say it means?” Louise replied back, “A desire for more cows.” With the tensions of science and language, interpretation and and the perspective of the interpreter can have dramatic results as the movie would articulate.

So how does the practice of prophetic listening and interpreting take root in our life? Ellen Davis suggests five prophetic perspectives in biblical understanding.

1. The radical concreteness of prophetic expression, which both engages hearers in particular contexts and makes vivid God’s engagement with the world.

Life is such a beautiful thing! Sometimes I like just taking a few moments to close my eyes, take a deep breath in, and slowly let it out while allowing my senses to connect with everything that is around me. Its like a small moment in time where things seem to stand still and I hear things that I would have otherwise missed, smell the crispness in the cool air, and feel the closeness of the people as they walk around me. In a way, it’s like waking up and realizing I am not the center of the world, there are others who are a part of this story called life, and as we entangle with one another we become part of something bigger then just ourselves.

From time to time I think we need reminders like this; places and moments where the experience of God’s transcendent concrete presence reveals itself in the midst of our finite and eminent lives.

Similarly the character Ian Donnelly in Arrival experienced this truth as he expressed, “You know I’ve had my head tilted up to the stars for as long as I can remember. You know what surprised me the most? It wasn’t meeting them. It was meeting you.” Ian spent so much time searching for the mystical magic and beauty of life in the far reaches of science and space that he nearly missed the reality of its existence being right here in front of him.

2. The prophetic demand for moral, economic, and religious integrity in human communities (Israel or the church) and the recognition that human integrity in these several dimensions is fundamentally related to the God-given integrity of creation.

Creation and the role of humanity finds root within an integrity to the proper identity and purpose it was created in. Embracing a perspective that we are in fact part of a whole, places a responsibility upon us to act and perform with moral and ethical integrity to truths that bind us to all things.

Focused solely on the needs of nationalistic humanity, Colonel Weber in Arrival demands answers to the question of, “Why are they here?” “What purpose do they have?” He is unwilling to see the responsibility that he may have to greater humanity and perhaps, even towards the visitors themselves.

Opening Weber to this greater truth and responsibility, Dr. Louise pleads with him, “And ‘purpose’ requires an understanding of intent. We need to find out, do they make conscious choices or is their motivation so instinctive that they don’t understand a ‘why’ question at all. And-And biggest of all, we need to have enough vocabulary with them that we understand their answer.”

Humanity is just one dimensional part in the whole of creation. Our moral and ethical identity is tied not only to our own context and culture but to that of all creation. The prophetic perspective of interpreting this truth catalysis human identity in both the choices and actions we make today and in the relationship we have with the future.

3. Prophetic participation in the suffering of the vulnerable within the created order and the social order, and prophetic witnessing to the suffering of God.

Several years ago I can remember being in a conversation with a homeless man on the streets while waiting to enter the shelter for supper. He came up to me asking why I was in a wheelchair. I shared with him my story and explained that my life was forever changed by the car accident I was involved in but, I did not see the challenges I faced as being quantifiable to any one else’s.

In hearing me sharing this, he bent down and asked if it was ok that he prayed for me. I was a little taken back as I thought of his suffering in homelessness but I consented and he placed his hands on my legs and prayed.

For others to see the concrete reality of God’s presence, the prophet finds a greater perspective by practicing the open armed embrace of physical participation to others amidst their sufferings and struggling.

Stripping away the outer layers of the safety suit Louise was wearing, she stretched out her hand and placed it upon the barrier that was between her and the visitors. With a startling thud, the visitors reflected her greeting. “Now that’s a proper introduction.” Louise exclaims.

Sharing in the incarnational experience of embracing flesh on flesh, the prophetic perspective binds the joys and the sufferings of present realities with future hopes in all creation.

4. The prophet as the trusted friend of God, entrusted with a ministry of protest, prayer, healing, and reconciliation.

Is this the beginning of the movie?” David asked as the film’s opening narration in the living room of Louise’s house started. I chuckled a bit thinking about the philosophical undertones of the story and said, “Well, define the beginning David? It is the opening of the film, yes. But no, it’s not the beginning.

Ironically, in narrating Louise states, “But now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived.”

Seeing the movie completely, you begin to understand as flashes of Louise’s life reveal that they fold in on themselves so that what she sees in her future actually impacts that which is happening in the present, and perhaps even in her past; depending on your perspective.

Perhaps what most articulates this thought is when she realizes that the words the Chinese General would share with her in a future encounter would become detrimental to the present contexts she was currently in. She had the choice to act upon these realizations with the understanding that by doing so she would be protesting her current realities while possibly reconciling future potentialities.

This prophetic perspective calls humanity to both individually and communally act missionally in the present reality according to their understanding of transcendent potentialities in the future.

5. Prophetic witness to the theological significance of those who do not worship Israel’s God, which is potentially a witness of reconciliation.

Several days ago while watching a documentary on architecture I had a revelation to the thought that the prophetic perspective sees what the world calls an uncrossable barrier as a relational meeting place. While I think this thought could transcend into any theme or context, it perhaps at its core speaks to the way in which we might perceive diversity of thought in our society and social structures.

Colonel Weber in fear of the visitors states, “And remember what happened to the Aborigines. A more advanced race nearly wiped ’em out.” I laughed out laud when he said this. What makes him think humanity is either more advanced or capable then that of others? Where is he able to determine the motivations of others simply by the comparative acts of that which they are different from in current context?

Prophets more often then not are placed in situations and events that they are able to witness to and speak towards the relational implications of separation while working towards the breakdown of such barriers for the purpose of reconciled understanding and unified significance. Radically changing our perspective, prophetic presence takes that which is perceived to be an ending and makes it a new beginning.

‘Silence’ ~ Stepping Onto A Faith Of Kenosis

(Spoiler Alert: This post contains depictions and stories from the film ‘Silence’.)

It has been some time since I was this hungry to see an upcoming film. For the last month I have been excitedly waiting for the movie ‘Silence’ to be released with more then an eager imagination to engage the story and dramatic scenes of cultural and religious reflection. With such an internal build up, it was ironic as we sat in the theatre following the show and I shared with my wife and friends that it was not at all what I had expected.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie was brilliant and it is easily one of my favourites to date. I can’t wait to be able to read the book this summer. But I had expected it to be an emotional rollercoaster for me and instead of pulling out the kleenex box I had tucked in my backpack (all while under the loving mockery of my wife), I found myself engrossed into theological intrigue and intellectual imaginative bliss!

Playing with the cultural dynamics of each of the characters and allowing my thoughts to focus on the themes and ritualistic scenes in the movie, my mind raced with questions, thoughts, imaginative metaphors and life like comparisons. What are sacraments and Holy Relics and what significances do they have in faith? Where does theosis or katharsis meet inner sanctification and authentic transformation? What is the gospel and how does it morph positively and negatively within time, space, and culture? What does it mean to be a “Christian” and how has its meaning changed since Jesus called his first disciples? Perhaps most of all, when and how do you embrace kenosis and the emptying of ones self for the sake of the other and what forms does it embrace?!

Perhaps in an ironic mirroring of characterization, I had become the Inquisitor?!

Sacramental Idolatry and Holy Relic Imagery

It’s really only a formality.” These were the encouraging words the priest Rodrigues heard from his Interpreter, played by Tadanobu Asano, as he was challenged to publicly denounce his Christian faith and step onto the clay tablet bearing the image of Jesus. The internal horror and anguish of such a task was unbearably written on Rodrigues face and yet I found myself questioning, what power or authority does this image have over him?! (Psalm 115:4-8)

Throughout the film the image of the sacraments within priestly duties and the giving of Holy Relics were dramatically highlighted as Christian markers of identity. Perhaps most strikingly we can see it in a scene where Rodrigues narrated his role in bestowing religious elements upon the Japanese villagers and finding himself short of materials, began giving the beads of his Rosary away as though each bead encompassed a redeeming significance to the holder.

Since the early church, images like the cross, the fish, and artistic depictions of Jesus have been used to tell the story of the gospel and create a cultural narrative of belonging through worship. But we cannot allow these depictions and Holy Relics to become graven images and objects of our worship. (Ex. 20:3-5) The story of the gospel internally carries the sacraments and relics of its past, but it can also embrace the reflection of new forms in the cultural narrative it is contextually a part of and being introduced. The sacraments and relics of today can be found in cultural arts and contemporary elements such as shared meals with friends, family members, and strangers. Perhaps instead of a fish signifying a disciple, one might find the other in a holy hug embrace. Or, while the symbolic representation of the cross projects a spirit of forgiveness, a person might find the sharing of a family heirloom while seeking reconciliation just as spiritually impactful.

The Despisal Of The Mokichi In All Of Us

mokichiBless me Father, for I have sinned!” It had to be maddening for Rodrigues as Mokichi repeatedly over and over would come to him smelling of filth, wrecked with the lack of personal care, and begging for a seemingly shallow desire for repentance and restoration. It was probably around the third time he would, in Judas like fashion, betray his friends and family that I felt this burning anger of despisal against him. Why would Rodrigues waste his time with this shallow character and man of seemingly no virtue?!

Wrestling with this disgust of Mokichi and his character I realized something; despite our rejection of his lack of virtue, our anguish over his constant betrayal and life of self serving drunkenness and filth… Isn’t there a little of Mokichi in all of us? This self preserving pride of seeking personal pleasure apart from others? This mind set of, “Well, nobody can be perfect“, and so we give into the little temptations of justified failures? All the while quick to repent and cry out in there public revealing, “Forgive me! I am weak and in need of your grace!

It is a belief that is captured in the early parts of the film that the Japanese people needed the priests so that they could impart the Word of God, present the sacraments of communion, and receive the confessions of the villagers so that forgiveness and restoration could then be given. The early church called this practice theosis or katharsis and while the outer actions of the priests were performed, it was believed the inner transformation would then take place.

Jesus uses a metaphor that dramatically reverses this process. While rebuking the Pharisees and Priests, Jesus tells them that they are cleaning the outside of the cup while leaving the inside still full of greed and self indulgence. Rather, they need to clean the inside of the cup so that the outside may also become clean. (Matt. 23:25-26)

Rodrigues would later not only forgive Mokichi, he would embrace him as part of his life and even thank him for always being there. By recognizing the Mokichi inside each of ourselves I ponder the journey of inner repentance, our wrestling with the self hatred and despisment of constant moral and practical failure, and our reliance for the need of our relationship with the Rodrigues’ in our life who grant mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Ironically you can almost see the reflective imagery that it is Jesus who becomes the priest that lastly embraces us, coarse and rough like the wood of the cross, and thanking us for always being there, always returning in the hopes that we might do better despite our weakness.

A Swampland Of Certain Glory & Kinds of Poisons

war-lordsThe price for your glory is their suffering.” These words seemed to echo as Inquisitor Inoue spoke them to Rodrigues. He would go on to compare Japan to a swampland and Christianity to that of a poison. But what is the Christianity that he is speaking of and who’s glory is he really reflecting upon?

While the character of Inquisitor Inoue is fictional, the times depicted in the movie are not. During the early 1600’s there was a Japanese puritan movement where the War Lord’s of Japan were asking the question, “What is a pure Japanese?” Then, hoping to maintain that ideology, they began persecuting and eradicating anything considered not Japanese, particularly the Christian church. Tens of thousands of Japanese Christians would be killed during this time and it was extremely dangerous  for missionaries to travel in the islands of Japan.

We might reverse the question of the Inquisitor however; what does it mean to be a pure Christian? While Rodrigues and the other Catholic priests that came to Japan brought a gospel proclaimed by the universal Christian church, it seemed rote with dogmatic doctrine and institutional teachings that were far from the words of justice, mercy, love, and forgiveness embodied in the story of Jesus. In many ways, the Christianity Rodrigues and the other priests brought was a movement of conquest driven by the pride of western self-righteousness and with the goal institutional glory.

Perhaps Rodrigues’ mentor and teacher, Father Ferreira, brought this point to the surface of his young protégé’s heart as he spoke the words to him, “I do because you are just like me. You see Jesus in Gethsemane and believe your trial is the same as His. Those five in the pit are suffering too, just like Jesus, but they don’t have your pride. They would never compare themselves to Jesus. Do you have the right to make them suffer? I heard the cries of suffering in this same cell. And I acted.

In the same Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus tells his disciples, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) It is intriguing to think that Jesus used the words of “laying down one’s life” as appose to “death” or “dying”. Far simpler to understand the martyrdom of giving ones self over to death for the sake of those you love then to imagine the complexities of laying down ones life, ones hopes and beliefs, ones very identity, for the sake of those you love!

I wonder, were it you in that cell, what decision might have you made? Or perhaps the better question would be, who would you love most?!

Apostatizing And Stepping Onto A Faith Of Kenosis

Step on your Jesus! Apostatize yourself!” the Inquisitor Inoue challenges the priest Rodrigues. We’ve come full circle and now the words of the Interpreter rings out again, “It is really only a formality.” While the words of the Interpreter had us question the power and authority within the outer images and elements of the stone tablet, the words of the Inquisitor have us question the authority and power found within Rodrigues the individual.

To apostatize himself, Rodrigues would be publicly renouncing everything he stood for; not just his beliefs in Jesus, but his identity as a priest, his recognition of authority in and for the church, his western philosophical world views, and even ultimately, his own name! But just as we asked if the stone tablet that he was challenged to step on would have any authority or power over him, we can also ask, does any of the outer acts of renunciation he makes change the inner authority or power found within him?

The apostle Paul uses a word in Philippians 2 to describe a similar act; it is the word “kenosis“. It means to completely empty one self of all significance and meaning and he uses it in the depiction of the incarnation of Christ. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Phil. 2:1-11) It is as though God’s love for his creation was so great, he apostatized himself so that he might redeem us!

I found it so powerful to contemplate that all the time Rodrigues spent in the outer works of the Christian church he believed in, all the efforts and religious rituals he sacrificed himself too, and all the while in anguish over God’s seemingly silence to his labours; and yet it is in this moment of his public apostasy that the deafening voice of Christ speaks to him, “It is ok. I am here with you. It is for this moment that I died for you.” And then, without a sound Rodrigues seems to not step on the stone, but find himself on top of it.

It seems that the message of the movie ‘Silence‘ becomes heaviest when we are willing to contemplate that the authenticity of the Christian walk is not necessarily in the silence of our outer self serving institutional blind actions but in our willingness to apostatize ones self and step onto the deafening absolute complete submission of Christ’s authority and power through our own inner actions of kenosis for the sake of others!

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ 2 Cor. 12:9

Inception – God at the Movies

In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a highly skilled thief is given a final chance at redemption which involves executing his toughest job to date: Inception.

DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a specialized spy or corporate espionage thief. His work consists of secretly extracting valuable commercial information from the unconscious mind of his targets while they are asleep and dreaming. Unable to visit his children, Cobb is offered a chance to regain his old life in exchange for an almost impossible task: “inception”, the planting of an idea into a target’s subconscious.

Inception – an act, process or instance of beginning which is often shaped by our encounters with a dream and vision to our future hopes and desires in our lives. Dreams are powerful in nature and we would be wrong to ignore their significance and meanings. In some cases our dreams may very well be God’s spoken guidance into the fabric of our being and purpose here in the world. Elihu, Job’s friend and wisdom imparter reminds him saying, “For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 33:13-18)

Yet there is a danger also in the conceptualization of our dreams; if we choose to box their meaning in, stifle their implications, and bring our own singular interpretations to them, then to often these dreams can become ideological and lead us head long into the paralysis of idolatry. The writer of Ecclesiastes warns us, “For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity, but God is the one you must fear.” (Ecc. 5:7)

Join the Expressions Community this Saturday for God at the Movies when we will watch the film ‘Inception’ and explore the themes of Dreams & Ideologies. We will have snacks and drinks available as we look forward to seeing you here. If you and a friend are able to join us please email erik@expressionscommunity.org to ensure seating availability.

Searching for the Real Avatar – “I See You!”

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.”

A Voyage Through Space

Recently while trying to recover from surgery I spent some time on NASA’s Website looking at the many pictures in there archives. I was blown away by there beauty as I strayed off in my own day dreams. I have always been fascinated by the idea of space travel and seeing all of the wonders of God’s creation! Anyway, I thought I would share some of those beautiful pictures with you.

Shake Hands with the Devil: Movie Night

Expressions of Courage

“How many lives can be saved in a fight against indifference when your only weapon is the courage to stand alone.”

Shake HandsYou are not alone in the search for global justice! Tonight is a time to gather and find inspiration as we watch the film ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’; a true story about the Canadian Lieutenant General Romeo A. Dallaire and his experiences in Rwanda, Africa. Following the film will be a short presentation from Ricot Leon regarding his ‘Heart for Home’ and the dream he has to bring hope to the nation of Haiti. Popcorn and refreshments will be provided.

There is no official cost however; we ask that you might make a donation of any amount to ‘Heart for Home’ in the effort of supporting there work in building the hopes and dreams of the Haitian people.  Together we can all find courage, strength, hope, and the ability to take a stand and make a difference in the world today!

Place: Oak Park Church – #11263 Oakfield Drive S.W. Calgary, Alberta

Day & Time: Saturday, March 8th, 2008 @ 6:30 pm – 10 pm

For more about the film visit: www.shakehandswiththedevilthemovie.com/.

For more about Ricot Leon and ‘Heart for Home’ visit: www.heartforhome.wordpress.com/

Thank you for your interest and support. If you would like any more information please email erik@ecfcommunity.org.