Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It Was the Worst of Times... 2008 in review

There were also some tough times in 2008, and as I am writing this just minutes before we enter the New Year of 2009, I'll keep it brief.

I've had a pastor I respected denounce my caregiving as not a form of work and tell me to get a job, after I requested a scholarship to go on a Men's Retreat.

I've had people leave our weekly Bible study.

I interviewed for a position at my church and was told that I was not considered because I seemed ...well, arrogant. The job? Working 20 hours a week as a web-site manager. Now, I tell you, I interviewed badly possibly because I was overconfident (I was definitely over-qualified) and the last time I worked for a Christian org, I got smeared by gossip and ruthless social pressures.

I was prompted through the teaching of another pastor to offer my services for free, and I did and it made a good impression. I gave some helpful advice in any case, and it too was very much appreciated. I didn't get the job, but I showed I cared for them.

I've been learning through all this a very important lesson: we can't live with evil in our hearts for long.

In January 2008, Heath Ledger died from a self-inflicted overdose of pills and relaxants. It seems his immersion in the role of the Joker was too complete.

"I'll show you. All these so-called civilized people? When the chips are down, they'll eat each other!"

I would not mention this, out of respect for the actor, except it seems Jack Nicholson himself warned him of the great difficulty he had for months AFTER he portrayed comicdom's most famous homicidal maniac. (See clip below.)

You have to watch out where you live - physically and emotionally - because it takes a severe toll on your soul. The hardest things this year have been as a direct result of dealing with unbelievers and selfish Christians.

In June, after seven years of hanging around a gamers debate forum, I got so angry I simply quit. I came back in July, once I got over it a bit. I mean I know people can be evil, but being slapped and kicked as you apologize was a bit much.

I am keeping better distance now, even enjoying some back-handed compliments.

And learning to forgive worked.

In August, a superhero forum I have been attending for 12 years was summarily closed. It had several incredible posts that many referenced for their favorite superhero RPG. Thankfully, we were given a new home - over side-by-side with the debate forum I left! *sigh*

I had to forgive if I wanted to see my buds. Thankfully, even the toughest guys - the big three I'd say - paid a courteous visit and have kept that area from being "snarky". We may be next door to some rowdy neighbors, but they are being kind.

My older brother refused to celebrate my birthday again, this year.

My father and step-mom abandoned their home to foreclosure after years of overspending.

Another loss specific to this year - we should have had our 25th class reunion this year at Southaven High School. It never happened. But I did find out a few of my old classmates in college came to Jesus and a guy from HS as well. That made it better.

I also wrote my first ten-page comic book story on my immortal disciple of Jesus - it was good, it was praised by my editor - and it was unable to be printed due to raised costs.

Our economy, she went into the toilet, but I who had no money was ready for her.

And Obama won, not the people we had a sign in the front yard for. (I TOLD my landlady to not put the sign out, but she would not listen. *sigh*)

But you know what? I am liking Obama more. I am praying for his wisdom.

His response to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's unethical and criminal actions has impressed me.

So there you are. Those are my disappointments and how I dealt with them. Relatively minor, all-in-all.

What do I do with them? Learn from them and stay on course.

"Many proclaim unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?"

Here's to all of you who have been faithful.

Especially to those who forgive and stay faithful to Jesus Christ, our only hope.


Monday, December 29, 2008

It Was the Best of Times... 2008 in review

Indy came back! Went to nuclear test site, was blown sky high and lived to tell about it!Marion: You're not the man I knew ten years ago.
Indy: It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.

I usually keep little accounting of what happened in a year, afraid I will get neurotic and overly analyze it and then ruin what good memories I had with my incessant perfectionism.

But as I began reviewing 2008, I could not help but praise God for material blessings and honors He has given me through the love of Christ-followers AND for the happy experiences of more secular pleasures - I LOVES me some superheroes and I gotta say its been a banner year for that obsession of mine!

From Iron Man to Indiana Jones to The Dark Knight, we got some movies we'd waiting for for a very, very long time.

I know the reader does NOT want to hear a dull re-telling point-by-point of "how good GAHD's been to ME" - I get those cards in the mail at times and it makes me want to projectile vomit. Everything is a little too perfect and the sins and failures a little too glossed over.


Cool things have happened to all of this in 2008 and some not-so-cool.

For all of us: at the end of 2007 gas stood at some $3.20 or more a gallon. Shot up to over $4.00 in some areas by June.
By the end of 2008, we are looking at $1.60 - $1.65 a gallon or one-third the price.

I think we can all rejoice in that.

But here's some cool things that happened to me that may have happened to you (or will), so hang in there and be faithful to God, that's all I am saying:

In 2007, I made so little money I did not even file income tax return. Oh, I was sweating bullets - but I was following the Law. I had made it through 2007 on gifts and charity and a little cash earned here as I lived in my landlady's home, serving as a driver and butler (think Driving Miss Daisy).

By the end of 2008, I was debt-free and it was due to a Christian brother giving me a referral to serve as a night watchman for a Christian company. Its been a challenge to flip my daily schedule, but sitting in front of a computer all night and eating is something I am highly qualified to do! ;) Its had some adventurous moments and I am making money in an awful economy.

By the end of 2007, I had heard of only one man I ministered to coming to know Jesus more fully after 3 years of preaching at DuPage County Jail.

By the end of 2008, I have received two different letters of men with transformed lives, one of which I related here on the blog in June. I tell you the truth, I KNOW my sins and I cannot but be amazed that these men saw and experienced Christ through me. We HAVE to give all credit to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Artistically, there was more joy than I knew how to handle. I must have been one of the happiest fanboys in the world - next to Robert Downey, Jr., that is.

By the end of 2007, we fanboys were hearing about all these great films that would come out - and we knew how bad hype can be. Usually the expectations trump the experience and you leave the theatre pretty disappointed. It seemed our imagination was better than the director's. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight were all coming out. How would they do?

By the end of 2008, we can safely say we had a home run in Iron Man, a good double in The Incredible Hulk and a Grand Slam in The Dark Knight. (Just to make it all sweeter, my landlady and I were in Metropolis for the 70th Anniversary of Superman in June - the same weekend The Incredible Hulk was released.)

I'm just glad Downey limited his appearances to TWO superhero movies. ;)

By the end of 2007, I was languishing in obscurity and just plugging along, hoping to reach someone, somewhere with the Gospel.

By the end of 2008, I had been interviewed on a public access TV show "Voices in the Wilderness" and have had two different confirmations of people being blessed by it - one being a man who's talented 24 year old son just died of cancer. I also was prompted to write daily and had this blog thrust upon me by one Anthony Trendl (see link to the right). I did NOT title this blog, he did. Tony, as his friends call him, is to romantic writing what Walter Peyton was to football. You have to read his stuff to see what I mean, and how he plays with words like a Harlem Globetrotter plays with a basketball.

By the end of 2007, my father was trapped at home suffering from the effects of a stroke from a year earlier. He was not getting rehabilitation and it was incredibly stressful for my step-mom. They had to let go off their house and place him in a nursing home in Spokane. Thankfully, Washington State has some pretty good care in this regard.

By the end of 2008, my dad is reading his Bible a chapter a day and is getting motion back in his left leg - a direct answer to prayer. We are praying for a full recovery but I will be happy if he can walk if assisted. He is a stubborn Kentucky boy of 76 - he don't stop easily! My step-mom is closer to her son and has a nice apartment where she can visit my dad every day. All is well and in the Lord's hands.

In 2008, my church moved into a much larger facility. I was not a proponent of this, but I see that it has enabled some greater outreaches and brought some needed transparency. I am hearing stronger messages on the Holy Spirit's work. At the same time, in the same month, an ordination party was thrown for me by a class leader and was attended by the Chairman of our Elders. He said such kind things about me I cannot repeat them. Such grace and kindness overwhelmed me.

The month before, and right after my ordination by a dear preacher brother of mine who is undergoing kidney dialysis, I went on an adventure, traveling to DragonCon in Atlanta, GA. On the way, I met another man who should have died in January and was called to preach the gospel but decided he could not be perfect enough to do it.

I told him how good God was to me - and I did not deserve it. Right after I dropped him off to his smiling wife and three kids, I picked up a hitchiker - a male "white witch" who was now a Christ-follower. I related his story also back in June/July with my Phantom Stranger series.

I guess all I can say is God is far more at work and more amazing than I ever thought. I have seen many good things this year, and I will tell of some of the bad in the next post ("It was the Worst of Times"), but when I look back at these blessings and joys and gifts, I have to conclude that He is generous if we are faithful.

So my kind, internet-friendly advice to you Christ-followers is:


And if you are not a Christ-follower, to you I say:

Are you NUTS?

Jesus is life, joy, peace and all that you really want but were afraid to ask for!

Get on your knees and ask for Him to save you!

You will not regret it. I promise you.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Its a Wonderful Life ( a great SF Classic )

You know this classic.

What you may not realize is that it is a science fiction classic.

O.K. - maybe "science fantasy" because it has angels doing the work of altering reality - but in all other cases, its plot flies as strongly as the episodes "City on the Edge of Forever" and "Mirror, Mirror" from Star Trek: The Original Series.

Also, in film, Back to the Future and The Butterfly Effect and even Sliding Doors all have relied on this alternate reality concept: life is a series of events, linked in a chain - change one, you change them all. Change the past, and you change the future.

Some doubt this sophistry in a post-modern society, and I can see why. It places a huge emphasis on the responsibility of individual decisions and actions. It also means that you can be a slave, a victim of your past. But taken in the right context, with an ordinate amount of wisdom and respect for human responsibility, it affirms the power of a man or woman to brighten or darken the world - or at least the areas of responsibility they have.
- A mother leaves her children. This has consequences - for the rest of their lives.

- A father decided to remain fathful to his invalid wife and thus his family - this has consequences for the rest of their lives.

- A child decides to embrace drugs as a means of comfort. Another decides that education is more important.

All these "personal decisions" impact all the lives connected to that person.

In Its a Wonderful Life, George Bailey desperately wants to get out of Bedford Falls. Yet, time and time again, this "bright, talented young man" does not get his wish. Instead, he has to do business with an incompetent uncle, support an 'act first, think later' brother and eek out a living, having made a home out of an ancient run-down manse he "wouldn't live in if [he] were a ghost!"

Money is the perennial problem. He never has enough. Yet Potter, the Scrooge of Bedford Falls has loads of it. He - through the mishandling by his uncle AND the conniving of Potter - is placed in a "no-win" scenario. He considers suicide to 'save' his family financially, rather than face prison and scandal.

Enter Clarence Oddbody, a second-class angel, who saves George's life by pretending to risk his own and temporarily diverts George from his path of self-destruction. But (and this is where it gets good) he cannot change George's perception of reality. George is so consumed with his lost dreams, his "missed opportunities" and is facing such a terrific ruin, he cannot see that the purpose of his life was not for himself.

It was to serve others. Clarence finally gives up on reason. He decides on a rather chilling tactic to awaken George to the reality of his calling. When George complains "I guess it'd been better if I had never been born..." he acquiesces and says "That might work..."

He then has George Bailey's existence removed from the timestream, from ALL human existence. Retroactively. In a heartbeat, George Bailey ceases to exist.

Oddbody makes him a Nobody. George wanted to commit suicide. Well, this angel does him one better and gives him NON-EXISTENCE.

This movie has often been ridiculed, and for good reason (in our worldly eyes).

It places humility, service to the weak-minded and submitting to the divine plan of God as superior to self-actualization. We can't stand that message.

George should have had Uncle Billy institutionalized, put Mary on birth control and forced Harry his brother to work at the Baily Building and Loan while HE got an education! What a moron!

He gave up his dreams - and for what? So he could serve a bunch of stupid people who run around like cattle whenever Mr. Potter prods them? Who jump whenever the old man yanks his chain?

Yes. That's exactly what he should do. You see, George is a pragmatic man in many ways, but he is still a man of deep-rooted morals and a man of faith. This film starts off with prayers to God for him, then George prays in a bar with tears streaming down his face and ends with him praying for God to send him back. "I don't care what happens to me - send me back! Please God - I want to live again!"

I want you to note one thing in that particular scene though.

When George prays for Clarence to help him, to send him back, nothing happens.

But when George prays to God, the snowfall begins, signifying that he has indeed returned to Bedford Falls and left Pottersville - for good.

"Pottersville" is in each of our hearts if you think about it. Where dancing and drunkness and desperation are all mixed together. We are crushed by our lack of ability and only the very worldly can survive in such an environment - or the very otherworldly.

Have you ever heard the phrase, "Do not be so heavenly-minded you are no earthly good!"?

Its a piece of crap.

It is those who are MOST "heavenly-minded" - yes I mean that in style as well as in faith - that CAN do the most earthly good. As C. S. Lewis said: "Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither," and "If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this [one]."

George Bailey has lost sight of what his life was truly about. He even says "I got a punch in the face as an answer to my prayer!" Clarence corrects him: "Oh no, George - I'm the answer to your prayer!"

You will get punched, lied about and bamboozled by worldlings, make no doubt. That's not from God. That's from men.

But if you really want to have a wonderful life - or just want to discover the wonder of YOUR life - you will need to look not to sinful men, but to a loving God.

"Behold, I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. You will find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord."

Once George sees what his life has meant and it has all been God's doing, placing him in the gap to stop the schemes of old man Potter, joy enters his life.

Unquenchable joy.

"I'm going to jail - isn't that wonderful!?!"

Well, thankfully, George does NOT go to jail - and Potter's scheme is foiled. But George said this when he did not know the outcome. He had seen the light, as we say.

May you see the light too - no matter how terrible your current circumstances - and accept the plans God has for you, this season.


Monday, December 22, 2008

In Darkest Night (or just hanging with Dark Knights) Pt. 6

I am still working as a Night Watchman, and boy let me tell you, it gets tough. This past week, we had TWO heavy snowfalls and blizzard-like conditions so just doing my standard rounds was shovel, shovel, walk carefully, stay warm against a sub-zero wind chill, drink lots of hot coffee and report on activity like so (all times 'a.m.'):
12:30 Scan. All Clear. No activity.
1:00 Patrol and Scan. All clear. No activity.
1:30 Scan. All clear. No activity.
2:00 Scan. All clear. No activity. Temp 8 degrees.
4:00 Patrol and Scan. Snowplows clear road. No activity.

Exciting, eh?

Thankfully, I am set up with a good internet connection. I can write. I can post a message or two - but I will get no active reply until the NEXT night.

It is a cold, dark night and I am all alone. When I get home, after I get my landlady to work, and I have breakfast, I can sleep - if I darken all my windows and unplug my phone. So I must enter yet ANOTHER cave.

I tell you, it wears on a man's soul something fierce, doing this 'Batman' gig.

I also found out, in an ugly way, my patience has worn thin. I blame this on all the caffeine I am drinking, along with a decided lack of REM sleep. After 12 straight days of work, I finally got three off in a row. I slept 14 hours and it was good. I needed to recover my mind.

Lack of sleep causes irritability and increased acts of anger. We need to rest our minds so we can be 'emotionally sane'. I was wondering why this was so, why we need to sleep, dream deeply and shut off the world.

I believe it is because God did not design us to live in a fallen, sin-filled world, and sleep is a mercy. I believe He knows it is a daily fight, and He uses this time to restore us, to refresh us, to do for us what we cannot do and even to speak with us.

God caused a 'deep sleep to fall on Adam' - and then took from his side what He woudl need to give Him a perfect mate. Note that God caused this sleep. What was the problem that God had to cause it? Was it because Adam did not need to sleep? Or very rarely, unlike us? No - I don't know. But I find it interesting to note God laid him out so He could bless him with a wife.

Jesus, unfallen and perfect, slept through a STORM! But I believe that weariness was born of pouring Himself out into other lives, healing them, teaching them. To understand this, just imagine you taking care of 12 children who each have their own ideas of what they should do - and while doing so, you have to handle a wedding banquet with 5000 in attendance, serving each guest by hand.

I have been on mission trips and preaching in the jail where the Holy Spirit grants me strength and power so strongly I CANNOT sleep when I get home. This is not just my excitable Irish nature. This is something deeper. I can feel when I get too overcharged in the physical realm and get hyper, because I crash so hard afterwards. A sugar high or caffeine high will do this.

But the joy and power of working in the Holy Spirit? Well, you don't crash from that. You just realize you are completely awake and feeling strong and vibrant. You also don't feel hungry, either. Its like you were part of something or Someone that has filled you to the brim with energy.

There is more to the body than food. In Batman: Year One, Frank Miller has a powerful scene in which Batman crashes - literally! - a dinner party by the corrupt and oppulent society that has been destroying Gotham with its greed and excesses:
Ladies and Gentleman - you have eaten well.

You’ve eaten Gothams wealth,
it’s spirit.

Your feast is nearly over.

From this moment on...

None of you are safe.

Remember how Jesus loses all interest in food - and his weariness - once He has enlightened the woman at the well and she's run off to tell others about Him (see John 4:1-32)? His disciples say "Rabbi, eat something!" Jesus replies, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about!"

Strangely, this one particular gift is utterly overlooked by many professing Christians. They are scared of being weird, I guess. I know what they mean, but it is such a clean and powerful joy, I cannot resist it anymore.

And I want to tell you, that with catching up on my bodily rest, I have come to realize that what I need most of all, and more of, is the power of the Holy Spirit. I need Him to get me through these dark nights.

Perhaps like me, you are cold and alone and hanging around on the internet till the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps you even call yourself a Christian. I would like to very kindly offer you a gift. I did not pay for it. Jesus did, and He knew in a dark and cold world, we would need it.

"If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"

Though you may have been told you have the Holy Spirit when you were baptized, I will offer this clarification: just as you ask for more food, more intimacy and more strength in times of despair or need, you should ask for more of God's Holy Spirit. Ask Him to empower you to do your daily duties, or share Christ's love or speak to a difficult person or to aid a neighbor who is all alone. You will be utterly astounded at discovering God will give you strength and ability FAR beyond your natural self.

We 'dark knights' need all the help we can get. Not a better diet or more or less caffeine (though those are wise choices for the body), but something - Someone - above and beyond the flesh.

Go ahead and pray this prayer with sincerity:

"God - I need You to help me. Please give me your Holy Spirit so I can do all the things You want me to do. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen."

Those dark nights will be a lot shorter. For this reason He came and died - to pay for us and to empower us to NOT be like the rest of the world.

In that given strength, we can bring light into darkness. Each and every day, each and every night.


Friday, December 19, 2008

In Darkest Night (or just hanging with Dark Knights) Pt. 5

Yesterday morning Pastor Jeff Walser blew me away by showing a precious clip from Iron Man, where Stark thanks Yinsen for saving him - and he means his soul, not his physical life.

I think that when we are watching good films, God is speaking to our hearts about what is true - and the "life" we see rescued or saved is often a metaphor for the soul - the real place of life.

This season you and I are gonna hear ad naseum "Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men" and, like is so often done with scripture, it is a romanticized Christian-ized message of "let's all have peace with one another" or "let's all be nice to each other."

I hate to burst the pretty bubble, but that is not real peace, just a mere cessation of hostilities. Have you ever heard the quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that says "Without justice, there can be no peace?" He goes on to say, "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it."

Mankind will not find peace inside nor outside without first satisfying God's justice.

The "peace on Earth" mentioned in scripture is where God establishes a payment for our sins, so He will no longer stand against us, but with us. He laid down the terms of peace, and we, in our fallen world and helpless estate, need to accept them to have true peace with God. By accepting Christ as our personal Lord, and as the One who Paid, we admit our utter lack of good standing before God. We surrender to His greater judgment.

Is that clear? The "peace" we want is predicated on understanding you and I are rebels at war with God. God should do a nuclear strike on us, much like the Flood in the Days of Noah or what happened to Sodom and Gommorah. He does not. Jesus secures peace for us by being born - to die - for us.

Here's the REAL quote from the book of Luke (note the limiting conditions,the specificity of who shall have peace):

Luke 2:8-14
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men
on whom His favor rests."

This message, as the angel said, was "for all the people" - Gentiles included, not just God's people under Mosaic Law: all the people. We have no right to hide the Good News from anyone.

But it is Good News only to those who accept Christ - it is "peace to men on whom his favor rests." It is not universalism, the casual belief Jesus is just ONE way to heaven but every decent person will go there. God's favor - blessing - rests on those who confess Jesus as Lord. "He who receives you receives me," said Jesus. "And he who receives me receives the one who sent Me!"

Men do war with God, in various ways - from promoting proudly ungodly lifestyles to simply dismissing His Word. God exists only as an insurance agent to help them when things "don't go according to plannnn" as the Joker would say.

But on that dark night, we are told angels appeared to give this good news for humanity. Our sins are going to be atoned for - here's the one who will make peace between Holy God and sinful man.

We miss the power of this message concsistently. Don't get me wrong - I AM a romantic; I love the Christmas carols. But what happened that night was more like Independance Day than Valentines Day. Consider how we have emasculated this event:

1. How many times have you seen angels look like cute fat babies?

2. How many times do you use the word 'host' to mean a person who has you to their home for a party or nice dinner?

3. How many times have you heard the word 'heavenly' to describe something as carnally satisfying? "Oh, that dessert was heavenly!"

So between all these misconstrued concepts, when we hear "angels" appearing in a "great heavenly host", we have some idea of glowing sweet-faced cherubs smiling benignly over a newborn child. Isn't that how we view it? And encourage such viewing of it with our Christmas pageants?

I've got some bad news for you. That misses the mark by a MILE. Warriors - very powerful celestial knights - showed up on that dark night, dear reader.

First, from Revelations, we are told war broke out in heaven when the Woman (i.e Mary) gave birth to the Child (i.e. Jesus). Read John's vision here: Revelation 12:1-5.

Secondly, "host" in this context means "army." Not a host of a social gathering, but a group of warriors prepared for battle. Read the second definition here.

Thirdly, they have to tell the shepherds to not be afraid. In fact, the shepherds are TERRIFIED.

They are not looking at Victoria Secret Models or chubby childlike 'angels' making a birth announcement.

They are looking at Celestial SWAT Team proclaiming a cessation of hostilities. Beings who have been known to wipe out cities and offer rather lethal solutions to foolish prophets.

Small wonder they had to say "Do not be afraid!"

Well, I've gotta go.

Get peace with God.

Because your warfare will end in a very, very dark night without Him.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In Darkest Night (or just hanging with Dark Knights) Pt. 4

Well, the theme this week has been hanging with Dark Knights - especially when things are darkest. In The Dark Knight, as Harvey Dent is trying to assure the crowd he says "The night is darkest before the dawn - but the dawn is coming!"

Perhaps the next film should be called Batman: A New Dawn.

Anyway, I digress.

There are a few elements in our heroes and leading men that struck me as - well, dark.

I have lived so long among conservative Christians I forget the old ways of doing things, and it took me a second view or two to see some not-so-handsome aspects of the relationship Rachel Dawes has with our two heroes: Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne. In fact, it could be argued that her demise was due in part to her unfaithfulness to our hero and how ugly their relationship could've been had she lived.

Let me hit a few scenes where Bruce is disingenuous and Rachel is witchy.

When we left Rachel in Batman Begins, we see that she wants Bruce to step up and be a man - fight corruption, and help save Gotham. Reluctantly she admits their relationship wouldn't work becasue of his new mission. Fair and good and noble. Sad, but true.

But by the time we see her in TDK, she's having sex with her boss, she's giving Bruce a Dear John letter for not preventing Dent's false arrest (BTW, she's his alibi - so is Gordon who KNOWS they are not the same man) and lastly, she assumes that she will be rescued first. I mean, sure in a chivalric sense that is cool and right - but she ain't no "damsel in distress". She's on equal footing with Dent - he's in trouble too. I mean the dialogue could've been "Its alright Rachel, they're coming for you!" "I don't care! Harvey - I love you!" instead of "I know!"

You KNOW they are coming for you, Rachel? That smacks of overconfidence.

Let's let that sit - I only wanted to say I did not weep over that woman's death. Yeah - I thought it was cold and brutally played, but I did not appreciate her aggressive stance and decision to leave Wayne to find another paramour.

I've had pets who were more loyal.

Now let's beat up on Wayne some. Don't want to be too sexist.

He's on the edge of being a stalker if the deleted scene I heard about was accurate. When he comes in and finds Rachel and Harvey dining, he crashes their intimate dinner and when Dent offers the possibility that they may not be able to put the tables together, Wayne says "Oh, I think they won't mind. I own the place."

Insert this deleted part:
Rachel: When did you buy it? Three weeks ago?
Bruce: How did you know?

Remember that Harvey said earlier he had to make a reservation for this four star restaurant three weeks in advance? When he did that, Bruce bought it. Just to meet them - on this night at this time.

With a hot babe in tow - who just HAPPENS to be from the ballet that Rachel and Harvey are going to.

Oh - who comes up with the idea to wreck THAT event the night Rachel and Harvey finally get to go? Wayne's accomplice, Alfred. Well, he's loyal at least.

Here's the clip. Watch how Wayne disses Harvey -until he hears the admiration the D.A. has for Batman:

Why does Wayne want to promote Harvey and throw him a fundraiser? Is he genuinely appreciative or is there a more calculating motive? Probably both. If Harvey is successful, he can quit being Batman -and can take Rachel back from him.

Wayne, you see, does not like to lose. And that is precisely what happens to him in this movie. He loses - a lot.

But his willingness to take on Dent's crimes as his own is a great character arc - in one sense, we see Wayne mature into a more selfless man.

No one in this film is utterly truthful - from Gordon's lie to protect his family to detective Ramirez tearfully admitting her wrong, we see a lot of painful events.

But that's what makes this superhero film noir so good in the end.

Everyone moves emotionally and are changed by the events. They are shown that what they want is NOT the way its going to be - but heroism means that you deal with it anyway.

You accept things as they are, not as you wish them to be.

"Father, if it is possible - let this cup pass from Me - but if not - Thy will be DONE!"

I think that's how Jesus said it. With a tone of, "let's go take on this bad boy - even if it means my death."

That dark night brought a new dawn for all of humanity.

So I have learned as an adult to appreciate dark knights on darker nights. For the dawn is coming.

You can count on it.


Monday, December 15, 2008

In Darkest Night (or just hanging with Dark Knights) Pt. 3

I noticed in re-reading my last blog that I treat fictional characters as if they are real, justifying their decisions by what is presented on the silver screen. It makes me sound like a geek.

Well, I am a geek. The truth is, good writing pulls from the heart, from intuitive knowledge, from shared experiences, hopes, dreams, desires. A good writer paired with a good director choosing the right actor to portray what they feel is true is an almost irresistable combo. It is to their credit that they make fictional characters come alive so well. They go from little ideas on paper to living breathing humans in front of an audience. That's amazing to me, but it just shows how truth is revealed in art, in fiction. So if you are one of those nay-sayers saying "For cripes sake, its just a movie!" I hear you. Hear me as well - much of the stories on film need to be treated like that, but excellence in film does grab the lyrical soul. It is rare. It is the successful collaboration of multiple artists, and it is to Christopher Nolan's credit he got Michael Caine and Gary Oldman in SUPPORTING roles, top-notch actors who have been front-liners, each taking second seat to Christian Bale as Batman.

In other words, Nolan nailed his vision of truth so well that big names came to serve him. Amen to that. The man's got talent.

So with that aside, I want to reveal MORE geekness, taking a small excursion away from spiritual comments this blog (though I promise nothing).

A) Bruce Wayne in a Lamborghini - it is as it should be.
I was watching TDK (again) and then the scene with Bruce Wayne racing through the streets to save his whiney Judas accountant came up. With perfect hair and grim intensity, he races down the city's canyons in a sleek gray Lamborghini, engine howling, as images of the El's support beams flit across his windshield -and I could not restrain myself. I jumped up and shouted to the heavens:


I geeked. Hard. Why? Because it had been so long in coming.

We who grew up with Batman of the 70s and 80s had known this is how he should be portrayed. The artist who got closest to this was Michael Golden wayyyyy back in 1984, who put Bruce talking on a car phone as he was driving a Rolls Royce with RayBans on. Oh yeah, he was speeding.

'Cause bringing justice and defending the defenseless should be a timely event. 'Nuff said.

B) Nolan gives us a Joker so real, he's terrifyingly understandable.
Only a few characters are so sociopathic that you are truly scared of what they will say or do next. Joe Pesci in GoodFellas and Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets both come to mind. You are afraid of what they will say or do next. They cannot be predicted nor controlled. They are only as kind as they see it will benefit them. They are utterly unsocialized. (A clear and chilling definition for the layman is here.)

Heath Ledger's performance of the Joker falls into this category. He hates the banality of the mob and ends up wiping them out, one by one. Batman he actually appreciates: he admires his theatrics, his breaking of human conventions, his one-track dedication to his mission. I mean it - who ELSE would impress the Joker?

Oh - by the way - with the Nolan brothers penchant for realism, I have a pretty good clue as to the Joker's "real identity" or "motivational background" if you will.

They are all there on film. You only have to connect the dots. See if you agree.

I believe the Joker is an ex-Special Forces Black Ops agent, trained by the CIA and then went rogue after a failed mission - some scenario in which he was brutally betrayed by his higher-ups.

1) The Joker uses lies and misinformation without remorse. It is a tactic to manipulate his opponents again and again. From switching the addresses of his victims so Batman cannot save Rachel Dawes, to telling Dent he had nothing to do with her death (since he was locked up), to telling the mob he wants "half" of their money - you cannot trust anything he says. He doesn't want "half" - he wants it all. How many mob bosses lived to the end of the film? None.

This is a person who has zero relationships of trust. He is utterly alone emotionally.

2) He understands torture, the psychological impact of fighting hand-to-hand and can resist amazing amounts of pain. When Batman bashes his head to the table, the Joker uses it as a teaching lesson. When Batman slams his fist into the Joker's, he ignors the pain completely to make his point. Last time I saw something like that on film, it was James Bond being abused and making jokes about it. From "Never start with the head! The victim becomes all fuzzy and can't feel anything!" to "Do you want to know why I use a knife? You see, a gun's too quick - you can't savor their final moments..."

3) He plans everything meticulously and has multiple contigency plans. He robs a mob bank, and leaves in a school bus just as the daily convoy is passing by. He left the bullet in the wall with the fingerprint of the goon he was using so Batman/Bruce would find the officers - and had a timer so when the shade came up, sniper rounds would pepper anyone there. And how DO you put explosives on boats, in a hospital, and inside one of your own men without pre-planning? His words to Harvey Dent: "Do I look like a guy with a plan?" are utterly deceptive. He was even able to take out a police helicopter with two cable-firing goons as he attacked Dent's police convoy.

4) Urban terrorism is his forte'. He understands everything about police procedure, emergency services and when he DOES want to infiltrate them, he uses stealth and disguise. These are not simple things. When it suits him, he can use a silenced pistol. Hmmmmm. Again, close relation to this? James Bond.

5) The story of his scars that he tells his victims are designed to dig into their souls. He tells a man who grew up in African-American area of the inner city about an abusive and alcoholic father - and earlier he used a pejorative reference to his grandmother to anger him into action. Boys who grow up in those situations often revere their moms and their grannys and suffer through much physical abuse from males. It is a calculated dig.

What he tells Rachel is the story of a ideal romance turned tragic. Ow, ow, owwww. And most telling, after fighting the Batman and pinning him, he begins - BEGINS to tell yet ANOTHER story of how he got his scars - for he is about to kill our dark knight and wants the pleasure of shock and awe - and we the audience are prevented from hearing it. Did the Joker understand basically WHAT kind of man he was fighting? It seems he did. Earlier: "Don't talk like them! You're not one of them - even if you WANT to be." So he has the equivalent of a Masters in sociology or psychology - he understands his victims perfectly.

6) He knows military hardware and also has NO IDENTITY, NO PRIORS, NO FINGERPRINTS, NO MATCHES anywhere. How can you get that done? By the agencies that use special forces in very scary places.

7) He is physically a match for veteran officers, mob enforcers and nearly the Batman himself. He has speed, strength and agility. His "magic trick"? Whoa. He knows some serious martial arts.

8) He is fearless in tense combat situations and can command small teams with precision: "I just want my phone call" "Rack 'em up, rack 'em up, rack 'em up!"

9) His own prediction of what will happen to Batman once he's "no longer useful": "They'll drop you at the first sign of trouble." "You'll be cast off - like a leper!" How many times have we heard of this treatment of soldiers - 'dropped and left to die' in some foreign jungle? Of MIAs who were in fact POWs? Guess who's describing his past with such seeming authority? The Joker. (Small film allusion is also here: In Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, do you remember what our protagonist, the news correspondent and laughing cynic was called? Joker.)

Final analysis: we are looking at a man betrayed by the U.S. government and left to die - scarred and disfigured. Now he's come back to teach these men "with all their little rules" how "pathetic their plans really are!"

Why won't he kill Batman, though? Because he was Batman - in another country, another time. He wants to justify himself of the irresistible nature of evil by making others like himself. "I took your White Knight and gave him a little push - for as you know, madness is like gravity - all you need is a little push!"

But you can also push back - and that's what Bruce did. And the Joker admires him for it: "You really are incorruptible, aren't you?"

Well, that's all fanboys. This blog is getting long.

But remember what Jesus said: "If the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"

Let us keep in mind that we have a responsibility to use the power and intellect God has given us to make the world a better place, not a bitter place.


Friday, December 12, 2008

In Darkest Night (or just hanging with Dark Knights) Pt. 2

I can't stop doing it. I know I shouldn't but I just can't stop myself.

I am watching and re-watching The Dark Knight whenever I get a chance. Late last night on the computer at work - in the early afternoons when I wake early after working all night.

It is rich in metaphor, in philosophy, in the entire spectrum of emotions we Americans have been suffering since 9/11.

One pundit has even admitted that when he sees Batman breaking the rules and doing what needs to be done to keep his city safe, he applauds. When he hears George Bush doing the same thing, he gets angry (read ImaginaryVisionary's blog).

Such is the power of parable and myth. We - and our fears - are removed from the matter to a safe distance where we can watch and judge rightly. Now don't get in a tizzy and start spouting how bad a president Bush was to me. I know where to go to hear that [stuff].

How do you fight terrorists? Men without rules? Truthfully, you have to appeal to a Higher Law that transcends cultures and carefully, oh-so-carefully make sure YOU don't become like your foe.

Consider the fall of Harvey Dent. It has taken me two to three viewings to ditch my "comic book mentality" and accept this more realistic and more heroic portrayal of Gotham's best District Attorney.

When presented, in his grief, twisted versions of the truth and an offering of camaraderie by the Joker, Dent listens too long and ends up accepting the psychopath's reasoning: there are no rules, because nothing in our lives is fair.

But Wayne will not buy into it - even though he himself is "breaking all the rules" by being a vigilante. He has an advantage that Dent does not.

He learned life could be unfair when he was 10. He learned it again when he was 20, when Joe Chill was going to be released for turning state's evidence. He also saw how his own hatred and rage over injustice was destroying his life: being booted out of Harvard, getting slapped by his girlfriend.

So Wayne realized "fairness" cannot be based solely on what happens to you. What's right must be based on a higher principle, above our circumstances.

Dent was lifted up. Wayne was knocked down. Yes, he is rich - but that was simply a fact of birth. Wealth did not save his parents, and Wayne had to grow up with that terrible fact. He also learned in his travels the pain of the poor, which must have made him realize how blessed he was to have his inherited wealth, something he never earned.

Rachel's slap woke him up to his self-pity. And casting his comforts aside, he went out to find the power to fight evil by surrendering his rights as a "prince of Gotham." All his privileges were gone in a flash.

Harvey Dent did not go through that process. An idealist who thought he was stronger than he actually was, he was unprepared to deal with true loss. He was not prepared to pay the cost of being a hero.

"I knew the risks when I took the job, Gordon," he boasts.

No, Harvey. You didn't.

Or maybe you knew the risks, but not the costs.

And that is where I will wrap-up today -a cost must be paid to be a hero, a life-changer. If you are unwilling to pay the cost, don't boast how loyal you will be.

"Simon - I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows you will disown Me three times."

Jesus isn't cursing Simon. He's simply perfectly aware that Simon isn't as strong as he thinks he is - and this will be a terrible opportunity for evil once he fails his own ideals. "Simon, Simon - Satan has asked to sift you like wheat - but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail, and when you turn back, strengthen your brethren."

Jesus understood self-recrimination could destroy Simon Peter, but He won't let it. He won't let Satan use THAT failure to stop Simon's work.

Wayne, unlike Dent, has already paid all the costs - from losing his ego, his social position, losing his family, his friends - to casting away his future with Rachel. He wanted to keep those things, to be sure, but he had to let them go. He is the ONLY person who cannot be bought or seduced in Gotham; he's a billionaire for crying out loud! Unlike a politician who depends on public acceptance and opinion, he can do whatever he feels should be done.

Thus, Wayne was able to keep his heroism and stay true to his mission because unlike Dent, he had already given up everything - wealth, family, friends and lastly, a good name.

That is so Christ-like it is stunning.


Just watch this movie again and again.

It is a masterpiece.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In Darkest Night (or just hanging with Dark Knights)

On Tuesday, December 9th, the great dream of every fanboy who was blown away by Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight came true: the movie was released for purchase on BluRay and DVD across North America. The powerful telling of Bruce Wayne's war on crime, the impact it has on Gotham City and of Harvey Dent's terrible fall from grace can now be viewed again and again.

Strangely, in serendipitous timing, in Chicago the very city where The Dark Knight was filmed, and where President elect Barack Obama celebrated his victory in the 2008 Presidential Election, another fall from grace occured on Tuesday. A big one for the state of Illinois.

Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday by the FBI and was indicted on multiple accounts of criminal activity in a "staggering" 76-page document. The biggest one in my estimation? With Senator Obama leaving for the White House, Gov. Blagojavich was to appoint a successor to fill his vacancy - and was offering it to the highest bidder, around $10-15 million.

I've lived in Chicagoland for eight years now, and the endemic corruption of Chicago politics has become nearly legendary. For instance, our LAST governor is still in prison on corruption charges, his hope of being pardoned by Blagojevich vanishing as we speak - and two more were indicted before him. From police corruption to ballot box stuffing, it's all been done here in the Windy City. Jaded Chicagoans tell each other: "Vote early, vote often."

We are Gotham City come to life.

Obama brought hope and joy to the entire state this November. Now Blagojevich has brought shame.

I've been thinking why this happens, why did the Governor would do something so obviously wrong. I've been looking inside myself and outside at others - what did Blagojevich imagine he WAS doing? What made him so reckless - or so foolish as to imagine he was immune or invulnerable to prosecution, even if he was utterly amoral?

I found the answer in a comment C.S. Lewis made at Oxford, in Ephesians chapter two, and in a video spoof of Batman interrogating the Joker on YouTube.

Since this will be a weird combo of examples, let me just state what I believe to be true.

Our decisions are not based upon what's right and wrong most of the time.

Our decisions are based upon our sense of belonging, of being where we feel we belong, on the person next to us, walking alongside us or opposing us. We call it "situational ethics" today.

That's it - the most powerful force in the human heart: belonging.

We get our security from how many people agree with us, what community we belong to, how much they accept us and affirm our thoughts. We tend to behave as politely, graciously, ethically as the guy right next to us. "When in Rome, do as Romans do." Romans did some cool things. They also did some vile things.

We also want to be in the secret Inner Ring of decision making. The choice group where we are the wisest and "bestest" of all men. A clique. A circle.

C.S. Lewis (full speech here):
An invitation from a duchess would be very cold comfort to a man smarting under the sense of exclusion from some artistic or communist coterie. Poor man -it is not large, lighted rooms, or champagne, or even scandals about peers and Cabinet Ministers that he wants: it is the sacred little attic or studio, the heads bent together, the fog of tobacco smoke, and the delicious knowledge that we - we four or five all huddled beside this stove - are the people who know.

Often the desire conceals itself so well that we hardly recognize the pleasures of fruition. Men tell not only their wives but themselves that it is a hardship to stay late at the office or the school on some bit of important extra work which they have been let in for because they and So-and-so and the two others are the only people left in the place who really know how things are run.

But it is not quite true. It is a terrible bore, of course, when old Fatty Smithson draws you aside and whispers "Look here, we've got to get you in on this examination somehow" or "Charles and I saw at once that you've got to be on this committee." A terrible bore... ah, but how much more terrible if you were left out! It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons: but to have them free because you don't matter, that is much worse.

We simply do not want to be excluded. To be left out in the cold. Uninvited and alienated. You do not have to be bad to be "in" says Lewis, but the desire to be "in" at all costs betrays a hunger to "do whatever it takes."

He continues on how this corrupts the man's soul and ends up destroying him:

It would be polite and charitable, and in view of your age reasonable too, to suppose that none of you [Oxford students] is yet a scoundrel. On the other hand, by the mere law of averages (I am saying nothing against free will) it is almost certain that at least two or three of you before you die will have become something very like scoundrels. There must be in this room the makings of at least that number of unscrupulous, treacherous, ruthless egotists. The choice is still before you: and I hope you will not take my hard words about your possible future characters as a token of disrespect to your present characters. And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colors. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear.

Over a drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still -just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naif, or a prig-the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play: something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which "we" -and at the word "we" you try not to blush for mere pleasure -something "we always do." And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world.

It would be so terrible to see the other man's face - that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face - turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude: it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

What happened to Gov. Blagojevich? He was in his inner ring of power. He had been present at watching an Illinois Senator become elected President. He was now choosing a successor - who knows? Maybe the NEXT President. Oh, how good it must have felt and then, it must have seemed natural to ask for some recompense for all his work, his friendship. Was not his state the greatest in the nation? Was not his coterie powerful? He allegedly said that the Senate seat “is a ****ing valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing”.

We had a saying in my pagan days for men who are drinking; there are Five Stages of intoxication: Smart, Good-looking, Rich, Bulletproof, Invisible. Blagojevich thought he was all of the above. He'd been drinking too much Chicago politics.

Now guess what God showed me next? That I am immune to this? Oh no. Just the opposite in fact. That I had been just the same and still was capable of every last thing in my own personal way. That once I was not a part of His Inner Ring - yes, membership is free, paid for by Jesus - but not so long ago, I belonged to the corrupt world and was RESCUED from it while I was D.O.A. (Dead on Arrival).

Ephesians 2:1-5
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved.

We followers of Christ are given no cause to boast that we are God's children. We are told frankly that we were corpses that God made alive. Once we were sick, depraved, bitter, angry, spiritually dead and going along with whatever the guy (or gal) next to us wanted. God rescued us from our "inner rings."

So corrupt is our desire to be "in the know" and in "our group" that we must be graciously rescued from it by the Almighty. We often come kicking and screaming.

Maybe God right now is rescuing Rod Blagojevich's soul. He's done it for many criminals I know. He did it for Chuck Colson, former counsel for Richard Nixon.

But he is no longer part of the inner ring. Its over for him now.

I think God showed me something else: that even if you have legitimate complaints and legitimate reasons and requests, if you are not part of the community, the "inner ring" you will be treated pretty unfairly.

As Batman interrogates the Joker in The Dark Knight, the terrorist replies: "Don't talk like them. You are not one of them - even if you want to be."

He knows what Batman wants and even why he's given such leniency by Gordon and the cops. He knows that laws are broken constantly by men who want to be part of "the inner ring." He knows that Batman is just being permitted for a season, and once he's no longer needed, he'll be discarded as "a freak."

Men aren't into fair. They are into what works for them.

Let's end our blog with the Joker being interrogated utterly unfairly, even though he WANTS to comply:


Before you get too crazy and end up in a place you don't ever want to be in with people you don't ever want to live with, ask God to make you part of His inner ring.

(And hopefully before He has to take extreme measures.)


Monday, December 8, 2008

Green Lantern Power Ring - Yeah, baby!

Christmas just came early for me.

I just got in the mail on Saturday a Green Lantern Power Ring custom-made by an online bud of mine - and even cooler, it lights up!

Whoooooo wooooooo!

[smiles bashfully]

Nothing else to report.

Still preaching the Word of God, seeing men come to Jesus and am currently recovering from my nightwatch gig.

I'll be more verbose later.

But for now, I am having me some fun!


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hancock Revisited - bums gettin' busy as gods

(Note: this is a long blog. Count it as Friday's, too)
RedBox, if you do not know, is to movie rentals what your friendly Coca-Cola or Pepsi machine is to soft drinks.

DVDs are so much easier to handle and produce than the old VCR tapes and so cost-effective to produce, that it was only a matter of time someone thought of dispensing them like a can of pop.

How it works: you swipes your credit card, you rents the DVD you wants (till 9:00 pm the next night) for one thin dollar. You keep it overnight? They charge you one another dollar. Simplicity itself. If you accidentally lose or destroy the thing, it charges you only up to 25 nights - so you effectively own it for a pricey figure. Nice thing is, you can see recent movies - or even sample some very doubtful films - for a mere buck.

Clear and simple interface, easy to follow and find selections - color me impressed. So - enough praise for the RedBox developers, I want to talk about Hancock, which I re-watched Monday night for a buck.

I analyze films - both their stories and their message. I like seeing how a cool concept performs when it hits Truth dead-on, or simply does a drive-by shooting. We all get Truth through Story. We may declare certain morals, certain beliefs, but how we respond to Story tells everything about us. Our preconceptions, our likes or dislikes, our sense of justice or compassion all come to the forefront. [Quick aside: because of the way they are produced, animated films often have the strongest story/message combo - the story is NOT found in editing like in so many live-action films. Its too costly to do it that way. Story is first, so the animators do not waste their time.]

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Hancock.

Will Smith plays all three stages of this bitter anti-social superhero who admits he is wrong, gets reformed and ends up being the "real deal" in a very entertaining way. Not to spoil it, but the reason he is bitter is tied up with Charlize Theron's character, the wife of a "Save the World" wannabe, ultra-positive PR man Ray - who himself actively (and bravely) engages Hancock compassionately to get him to change, to let go of his anger and stop offending the very people he wants to save.

Hancock is a binge-drinking bum because he is heartbroken; he is immortal, superstrong, flies and - mentioned on the extras on the DVD - has even MORE powers than he imagines - think of a cross between Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Thor of the mighty Avengers. Add to this mix is his amnesia. He has no memory of who he really is. When he work up in a hospital 80 years ago, he was asked for his 'John Hancock' as he signed out - so he took that as his given name.

As I watched this movie, I was punched in the gut with two revelations:

1) No matter how strong or smart or talented or powerful you are, if you lose your identity - if you have no one who loves you to tell you who you are - you become lost and bitter. Nothing 'feels' right. No one loved you enough to speak into your life, so "to hell wif 'em all!"

2) Being a truly heroic world-changer involves humility - the first thing to go is personal pride or ego. The second is worrying what anyone else thinks. They must go in that order, or you become anti-social. Like the Abominable Snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, we have to become "humble 'bumbles" and get our fangs removed or we ain't gonna get invited to any parties, folks.
"C'mon -you save people's lives and they reject you -so you reject them back!" Ray informs his newest client even as he's trying to pry the bottle of rum from Hancock's hand and is failing miserably against his super-strong grip.

Heroes are as bound to their calling of self-sacrificial endangerment as any other person is bound to their calling of friendly compassion or material grace. Now of course the two callings are not exclusive, but rather they are designed to be complimentary. Policemen need to carry weapons and EMT's need to carry medical kits.

Force, any force, to be useful, must first be under control.

If you lock up a criminal, its time to get him or her to some soul-healing - so they themselves despise what they have done and are transformed by God's grace. But make sure of this: they need to be locked up FIRST before they are willing to change. Not all will surely, but being stopped cold from what you were doing is an inescapably necessary step to change.

That's what happens to the "bad guys". The ones who hurt us or rip us off. But may I be so bold as to say the same happens to heroes? To the good guys?

They have to be stopped too: "You're a hero, Hancock. That's your calling! And you are going to be miserable the rest of your life until you accept that!" says Ray. (see below)

Did you see the movie Unbreakable? In it we hear an echo of this from Elijah Price (played masterfully by Samuel L. Jackson):

"That little bit of sadness in the morning you spoke of? I think I know what that is. Perhaps you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing." (Advance to 7:35 to see that scene.)

David Dunn is invulnerable - like Hancock - but he is dead on the inside. His marriage is failing, depression is overwhelming him and he is without a future, serving merely as a security guard at a university when he is FAR more.

The Calling of a Hero is painful - but it is even more painful to deny it. You cannot. "To much has been given, much is required," said Jesus.

When a person gets called by Christ to be His disciple (true intimacy with Jesus), he or she is being called to do miraculous things - to preach the Word of God (transforms souls), to cast out demons (clear out villains and save those so oppressed) and to heal the sick (physically, emotionally, mentally). This is a big honkin' calling. Jesus doesn't ask everyone to do it.

Mark 3:14 says this: "Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Himself those He wanted, and they came to him."

I know this passage so well because I opened my Bible twice the past two days and landed on it. I am not stupid. I know when the Holy Spirit is trying to get my attention. I read about 300 words a minute - pretty slow for some - but those three words nearly leapt off the page at me. Twice.

Not everyone is chosen for this. "Many are called, but few are chosen."

Sadly, today Christianity has been turned from an empowering faith in the son of God that prodcues heroes to a theological doctrine that assures the worldly-minded all is O.K. Thankfully, some saints DO increase in faith and begin living radically for Jesus, but we all-too-often get comfy where we are and when "the Call" is made we have a hard time accepting it.

Yes, you are saved by grace. No, you don't have to go, but when you end up dry and dead and alone, you should know why, hero, child of God.

You became a bum because you did not accept your calling. You wanted to be a mere mortal instead of being empowered to do MORE than a mere mortal.

That ain't humility. That's timidity.

C. S. Lewis puts it this way:

Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

We are far too easily pleased.

One last thing: Hancock ends with the Hero alone but not lonely. He has friends and those who care about him. He has taken his rightful place as a protector and servant of those who are weaker. He accepts his Calling and thus he has peace and joy.

We Christ-followers can either be bums or active, miracle-working gods.

Jesus said that, believe it or not. He has glorious plans for the Sons and Daughters of God.

It is our "weight of glory" as Lewis said.

A weight only a child of God can bear.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Myth Makers Pt 4 - Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir"

It was the winter of '76, and I was staying in my absent brother's bedroom (always a treat - he had an ultra-hip red velour bed spread while I had an ugly green/gold cover in a Wells Fargo wallpapered room - in fact, I think I am still recovering from the parental fashion sense inflicted upon me...) and then it happened, right outside the window.

A miracle from the Most High.

I would not have to go to school in the morning.

For it had begun snowing like mad, and, in the South, a mere two inches of snow will shut down an entire city, for we have no snow equipment at all.

Oh, it was bliss - a veritable holiday was being laid out before my very eyes. Huge round flakes were covering the sins of Mother Earth, a blanket of grace was being laid upon her, her dreary brown being covered lovingly with fresh, clean white crystals.

Nothing can make a tortured soul of a geek more at peace with the world than realizing he will face no terrorizing bullies nor grueling homework the following day. I was being reprieved from the duty of reporting to school and delight was mine.

The radio was on - to the "risque" hard rock station - Rock 103 - and they must have, now that I think about it, must have known the joy entering into the hearts of all teens and youth everywhere, and so the DJ decided to play a song. A very long, mystical tune that sang of being "a traveler of both time and space" and of "elders of a gentle race" - and I was transported.

The song, of course, was "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin.

It touched a deep longing in me to be so much more than I was - to be a mythical being who traveled the stars - and did it with a thumping powerful beat that was almost Wagnerian. Frankly, I think Wagner would've liked it. That is, if he had been more influenced by Eastern mysticism.

Try to imagine though, being a boy of 12 and being set free from school, and then hearing this epic rock song in the dark, the stereo receiver granting the only illumination as you watch snow fall in your backyard.

I did not know such music existed, nor such joy. Oh, dear saints, it was a touch of sehnsucht for this boy in North Mississippi. A longing or desire for something mystical, powerful and eternal.

"Kashmir" - lyrics
Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream
I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been
To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen
They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed

Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace, whose sounds caress my ear
But not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear
Oh, oh.

Oh, I been flying... mama, there aint no denyin
Ive been flying, aint no denyin, no denyin

All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground
And my eyes fill with sand, as I scan this wasted land
Trying to find, trying to find where Ive been.

Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace, like thoughts inside a dream
Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream
My shangri-la beneath the summer moon, I will return again
Sure as the dust that floats high and true, when movin through kashmiiiir....

I had no idea what "Kashmir" was - but it sounded beautiful.

I know, I know - its about all sorts of things that a good evangelical Christ-follower should not appreciate. Is Plant refering to spiritual transcendence through drug use? Seems likely. This was the 70s after all.

But if you don't read the Bible (and most Americans do not) - then you can miss some of the more mystical and transportational passages in it - and end up doing what so many fools do - turn the words of God into didactic moralism with a few weird stories.

Let me show you that what Robert Plant sang about is quite available for the saints:

I Corinthians 15:40-54
There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

Can you hear what Paul is so excited about? Our resurrection body. Our eternal physcial manifestation that will NOT perish, grow old or be subject to time.

With such bodies we can go anywhere - as Jesus did - and live forever - as Jesus does!

You see, if you are like me, you long to be in another place, another time. It will come, you can be sure. As one preacher has said "It is more certain that you will rise from the dead than you will rise tomorrow morning!"

Immortal bodies, speaking with "elders of a gentle race". Remember how I said yesterday, the meek will inherit the Earth? That's them.

I know it sounds strange, but I think you too have had moments of clarity and ache that were so good they hurt - bu the hurt was a good hurt - a powerful longing - sehnsucht as the Germans put it.

That night I saw nature conquered by God's mercy, and a 11 year old boy isolated and alone was given a glimpse of heaven's glories by Led Zeppelin.

Who'd have thought THAT would have happened?

Jesus did. He's sneaky like that.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Myth Makers, Pt. 3/ST:TOS Marathon "The Enemy Within"

I've been talking about how men love myths, create myths and can become myths themselves, if they embrace the True Myth (as Tolkien called it) - the story and message of Christianity.

There is a very strong reason that men do not embrace Christ and ask God to forgive them on the basis of His sacrifice. The reason is universal, for all people and all ages. It is found when we criticize our leaders, argue amongst ourselves and our lack of compassion for those not as strong as us. You can be of any age and any background and discover it.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us," quipped Pogo, playing on the usual victory message "We have met the enemy and he is ours!" (or as we hear so often online "All your bases belong us!" ;) )

The truth and mythical allure of Jesus Christ is based on Him paying for the sins of mankind.

But if a man does not believe he has sinned - is truly in the wrong - he will not personally ask Jesus Christ to pay for his sins. In other words, if we believe collectively and individually that we are not sinful, selfish and in need of a blood sacrifice to save us from hell, the cross of Christ is "much ado about nothing" as Oswald Chambers puts it.

From My Utmost for His Highest, November 21st:

Never build your case for forgiveness on the idea that God is our Father and He will forgive us because He loves us. That contradicts the revealed truth of God in Jesus Christ. It makes the Cross unnecessary, and the redemption "much ado about nothing."

God forgives sin only because of the death of Christ. God could forgive people in no other way than by the death of His Son, and Jesus is exalted as Savior because of His death. "We see Jesus . . . for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor . . ." ( Hebrews 2:9 ). The greatest note of triumph ever sounded in the ears of a startled universe was that sounded on the Cross of Christ— "It is finished!" ( John 19:30 ). That is the final word in the redemption of humankind. Anything that lessens or completely obliterates the holiness of God, through a false view of His love, contradicts the truth of God as revealed by Jesus Christ.

Never allow yourself to believe that Jesus Christ stands with us, and against God, out of pity and compassion, or that He became a curse for us out of sympathy for us.

Jesus Christ became a curse for us by divine decree. Our part in realizing the tremendous meaning of His curse is the conviction of sin. Conviction is given to us as a gift of shame and repentance; it is the great mercy of God. Jesus Christ hates the sin in people, and Calvary is the measure of His hatred.

We have this inner demon - or inner nature - that is concerned only about self. It wages war for its own pleasures and joys. It does not care for others. It doesn't listen to the pain of the world, being so self-consumed. We hear it in the whine of Cain AFTER he murders his brother Abel, upset that his "punishment is more that [he] can bear!"

You kill a good and noble man serving God with his very best and you are whining to God about having to wander? Whoa there, Cain.

Its the Christmas season and we're out buying gifts. This day is also known and feared as the most hideous day of shopping for the entire year. Retailers call it "Black Friday". The day the masses descend upon the malls to purchase all their presents, having the day off after Thanksgiving - the day we are to celebrate giving thanks to the God of the universe. I wonder how many families sacrificed their joy by shopping today? I wonder how many are still recovering from the pain of their gathering together?

How many competent, normally sane adults found out, like Kirk did, that there is an enemy within?

Yeah. We think we are "the captain", don't we? We look at ourselves in the mirror and say "I'm the CAPTAIN of my life!'

No. You are not. Or at least, only for a moment in time.

If we want to be "true" myths, like Christ, and by that I mean real and impacting lives wisely, we have to admit we are NOT the captains of our souls. That evil and sin dwell in us. And despite the message of this episode, that compassion and kindness means losing your ability to command, the message of Christ is that the "meek will inherit the Earth". Not the weak. Not the cowardly or undecisive. The meek.

Those who serve others, who accept that Jesus Christ paid for their evil and fully intends to cure them of it. Those who accept they are wrong and God is right.

The meek do not inherit THIS Earth, by the way. It is the "new heavens and earth" spoken of in the book of Revelations. Or in other words, the Captain of the Cross is going to promote us, if we admit He is Lord.

We can go around grunting and screaming and drinking, chasing our lusts, or we can admit our sin, our wickedness and ask for help.

Not all men are completely blind. Many do what they can to help many out of recognition that it is right to be good and merciful and loving. They DO listen to this compass of the heart. But only Christ can empower a man to do far above and beyond his natural human nature.

And only Christ can save a man from hell. From enemies without -and enemies within.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Myth Makers Pt. 2 (work on *your* story)

Donald Miller is my favorite "bleeding-heart liberal" Christian writer. He does a good job of poking out the eyes of self-righteousness by simply admitting his own narcissism and self-pity.

Of his desire to own things and getting his identity and happiness from materialism, he writes: "I like things with buttons."

That's it. After all his gentle language that cannot help but entrance the reader, making them drop their well-trained defenses, he comes right out and admits his childish greed; suitable words have never been more aptly spoken by any boy of eight who's waiting for Christmas only to get his loot: "I like things with buttons."

So do I, Don. So do I.

As a fundamentalist (well, sort of a neo-fundy, actually), I find myself being tempted to wage war against the evils of our culture with "tha Wurd of Gahd"! And I note that THE "Word of God" namely Jesus Christ did not do this. Ever.

I am sorry I ever thought differently. So many good and concerned Christ-followers are being told of the failures of our American culture, that they can barely see or hear ANYTHING good about it if they don't take a breath and turn off conservative Christian radio. Now before I get any crowing from the decadent, the lost and the non-Christians, I've got to tell you flatly: you guys are NUTS. You need Jesus. NOW!

But though some of the things you do are decidedly dangerous, there is much greater danger for me and my conservative Christian brothers in demonizing you. I have had to listen to Christian after Christian after Christian tell me how BAD the world is, how LOST their family is, how MEAN their boss is, how AWFUL the future will be soon, and you know what?

That ain't news. That's complaining.

I've heard so much of this "oh-NOES-da-world-doesn't-luv-Jesus", that today on Christian radio a man came on who was upset about how "Christ" was being taken out of "Christmas" and how God was being overlooked at Thanksgiving - and I just reached over and shut the radio off.

Let me tell you EXACTLY why no one cares about God.

They never believed He was being good to them. They never saw His goodness. Furthermore, they never saw Christians obeying Jesus radically out of love. And this tactic, to get people - namely Christians - all upset so they do something about it? Well, yippee. Its a common writer's tactic. Here's what you end up with - weak and pitiful Christians who cannot love their enemies. They are too afraid of them.

I am serious. I wish I were kidding, because I stand so firmly entrenched on the Religious Right side, you cannot begin to mistake me for a fan of Anne Lamott (but I am. I've read three of her books). But as a sometime pastor, I have to see, smell, feel and taste the fear and anxiety and anger of these Christians who have been hurt by evil and are stuck in the "we must fight them!!" mode.

Don't they know that Christ is going to throw the Devil and his angels - his personal messengers - into Hell? Don't they know that the end of the story has been written?

Obviously not. That's why they can't do anything FOR Jesus. They are sure He has lost - well, just LOOK at our culture! Oh my!

Here's a fact: Jesus only changes cultures from within, starting with our hearts. And that is why I CAN go into the jail and preach, and why I CAN travel overseas to proclaim the Gospel. If Jesus cannot win my heart, and give me victory over my fears, why should I bother others?

No. I'm childish enough. The cure for all this nonsense is to follow Jesus and make myths by living radically, doing what no one else "in their right mind" would do.

That's the secret ingredient. Everyone can see it MUST be Jesus at work then. Neither I nor you nor any Christian can do this without Him.

Do you know why C. S. Lewis is still read today? It wasn't because he was brilliant.

It was because he was a brilliant man who put obeying Jesus Christ over his personal life. He lived a life no other Oxford don would dare. He wrote popular apologetics. He wrote satire on demonic temptation. He took care of another man's mother and stayed a bachelor for decades. He wrote children's stories AFTER writing great criticism - mark that, he graduated to writing stories for children. What does this all have in common? He got over his personal fears and did what no one expected.

The next time you hear how bad everything is and how we are spiraling downward as a nation, take it with a grain of salt. It probably is true (decadent empires have always died internally first)- but it is also true that Christ uses individuals to change empires. The most convinced atheist, the most carnal Christian can be transformed by Christ and used of God to shake not just our present culture, but all cultures over all time.

Stop thinking so small. Stop whining, too. No one is impressed by how offended or hurt you are.

Christ has you on a grand adventure for it is written, "He who began a good work in you will complete it on the coming day of Christ Jesus!"

Stop worrying about anyone else's story. Work on your own.

For God's sake.