Monday, March 30, 2009

Monsters and Mandelbrots -and The Shawshank Redemption

On Friday I talked about how I learned about Benoit Mandelbrot, the mathematician who brought fractal geometry into practical application by showing it solved the complexity of nature by re-iterations of a very simple equation.

We covered how the first artifical CGI world for film was made using his work in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. What I did not cover was the more practical application of digital communications that was found by using fractal geometry.

You see our cellular technology has a problem solved by Mandlebrot geometry: your common cell phone needs several antennas to operate the various frequencies it receives - from the microwaves to the short-range beam of a Bluetooth, to a few others I cannot name - it would require a porcupine-looking device.

But by using the "spiraling" maze-like repitition, a cellphone antenna can receive a wide variety for signals of various frequencies. Pretty cool, huh?

If you ever see it, it looks like a very simplified maze or childish pattern on a board - much like a printed circuit.

Now here's what's weird: it is so simple looking, you cannot believe no one saw it before.

But it works magnificently. In fact, only by using Mandelbrot's fractal geometry was this problem able to be solved. According to the film I saw, it was this that established this "pretty geometry" as something critical and useful. Nothing else solved the problem for engineers. Suddenly, Mandelbrot is justified - 'cause - well, because it works!

You and I get trapped with complex problems all the time. We get caught in mazes of our own decisions - some good, some bad. If we are not careful, we spiral inward and crash, being reduced to nothing. There is a strange result of seeing the end of your spiral though. You may - just may - be able to receive communication you were never able to receive before. You may find yourself listening more, hearing more.

But the spiral inward must happen first. I wish this were not so. In Alcoholics Anonymous they have a maxim: "Until you are flat on your back, you cannot look up."

That spiral inward makes the reception better. You aren't going anywhere and you know it.

In the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbin's character, Andy, finally has enough of all the horrific oppression of Shawshank prison, he decides to escape - and it is a meticulous, masterful plan that results in the true villains being destroyed: Andy has revealed all their dark secrets to the world. "His judgment cometh - and that right soon." declares the framed needlepoint scripture in the Warden's office as the state troopers arrive to take him into custody.

The problem is that only Andy made it out. Other prisoners who are released after their time is served tend to perish quickly once released. They have gotten "too used" to prison life.

But there is a success and that refreshes the viewer's soul. Red, played by Morgan Freeman, also is released - and that after rebuking the parole board for their lack of honesty. He's become a truthful man, an honest man -no matter what the cost to himself.

He's set free, and he's more scared of being free than being in prison. The world has changed too much in 40 years. All his decisions used to require a prison guard to OK them: "I haven't been able to take a [leak] for 40 years without someone's say-so. I guess old habits die hard."

Finally, he makes a decision: to go find Andy, the one man who truly escaped Shawshank, mentally, emotionally and then physically. He knows its a violation of his parole, but he takes the risk anyway.

Once Red makes his decision he doesn't look back: "We've got two choices - we either get busy living - or get busy dying. That's [dam'] right."

"I have come that they may have life and have it to the full."

Jesus said that in John 10. He said the devil comes to "steal, kill and destroy." He also said that He could give life that no one could take away.

It's a simple equation, life. We all must die. We will physically die, mentally die and sadly, some souls will die way before their body does.

If you want to get busy living, you need to be set free by Someone who has escaped before you - and that includes the prison of fear, of anger, of grief. The prison of bad choices and heartbreak. The prison of loneliness and despair.

Jesus will do that. You only have to ask.

But you do have to ask.

BTW, if you feel have been slaughtered or controlled or "edited to death" by a religious institution - especially a church - you will THINK you "tried that and it didn't work". I know the feeling. Believe me.

Let me be clear: You did not.

Religion can only serve as an editor. It does not create life in any sense. For that, you must ask Jesus. He is life incarnate.

Again - do you need religion? No. That iteration is just "rules taught by men" says Jesus.

Do you need a relationship with God? Yes. That iteration is "everlasting life".

May you chose life in Jesus and get busy in the freedom He alone gives.

If you are in a maze right now, I pray you let your reception become loud and clear.

Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Monsters and Mandelbrots -and The Wrath of Kahn

Yesterday I attended a Mathematics and Theology seminar at Wheaton College, merely to watch a film on Benoit Mandelbrot's discovery of fractal geometry and how it mathematically describes very complex shapes we see in nature. Benoit Mandelbrot is an older man, a Lithuanian Jew who, as a boy in World War II, evaded the Nazis in occupied France for four years.

He was a remarkable and imaginative thinker who did not "fit in" says the film. He was grabbed by an aggressive IBM in its early years to solve certain problems. One was that they were having signal noise whenever they transmitted data over phone lines. While the film did not explain how or if IBM was able to fix the problem - we must assume they did - this signal noise formed a strange pattern that was recognized by Mandelbrot the mathematician.

They were called "monsters".

Let's say you take a line: ____________ (this is 12 underscores long, BTW) and then take out one-third of it: ____ ____ . Then you do this again, and again to the remaining sections: _ _ _ _ and . . . . - you end up creating little "Space Invader" -type images, i.e. "monsters".

____________
____ ____
_ _ _ _
. . . .


You get the idea.

This iteration, creating a feedback again and again towards infinity seems a useless exercise in futility. You can always divide something ONE MORE TIME in mathematics.

But a strange thing occurred. Mandelbrot saw that this infinite complexity based on a simple pattern was PRECISELY how nature worked her [formerly] incomprehensible magic, making mountains, waves, etc. In fact, the first CGI world ever created for film was seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.

Every fanboy remembers the "Genesis Effect" demonstration video Kirk, Spock and McCoy saw when Dr. Marcus did her presentation, right?



Mandelbrot was directly responsible for that. That's how incredible this discovery was for understanding nature's geometry.

As the film by NOVA explained, it showed how this way of looking at fractal geometry made it possible to measure the very irregular shapes - like the coastline of England - with the strange effect that by going smaller in our measurements - getting more and more precise - actually seemed to enlarge the coastline! When you measure the coastline in smaller and smaller increments - counter-intuitively - it makes the coastline larger and larger by default. You see, this creates a maze of ins and outs, and if you measure every last section - with an infinite amount of reduction - you end up spiraling into infinity as you dig deeper and deeper.

So a finite coastline can have an infinite shore. You have to decide where to stop, how "deep" you want to go.

And since this WAS a theology meets mathematics conference, a thought came to me: this is how God works in nature, in the spirit, in the incarnation, in everything.

No wonder Jesus put so much emphasis on guarding your heart and watching how you view other people: "If the light within you is darkness, how GREAT is that darkness!"

We are creatures of infinite imagination; I do not mean infinite creativity. We all hit dry spells and brick walls and all that. But we cannot stop working problems or people over in our minds. It is fantastically hard to do so.

We calculate - and "are calculating". We worry and reason and fear and fight and love - we only get to decide WHICH direction we will aim. We cannot stay still. As one man said "Living things grow. Only dead things stay the same."

Frighteningly, we can spiral inward - an emotional/spiritual Mandelbrot set. When you see a homeless guy repeating himself on the street corner, I think that is what you have run into.

When you see a woman crying over the loss of her child to something good - say little Suzy got married - you are witnessing the same thing. Her mother loop has been disabled. She is grieving and happy at the same time.

I have only experienced one Person who could change my re-iterations so I could begin again: Jesus.

And would it not be funny to discover that an infinite God became a finite Man by some method of spiritual geometry? To undo our runaway fractals?

It can happen in mathematics. We are told it happened in history - created by nature's very God.

I think that amazing.

Maybe you will too when you think about it.

Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Incredible Hulk (70's TV Show)

If you have never seen a Kenneth Johnson series, you are no child of the 70's. From The Six Million Dollar Man to The Bionic Woman to The Incredible Hulk (not to mention V and Alien Nation) Kenneth Johnson was responsible for the greatest TV myths of my childhood. They were stories filled with loss, deception, pathos and real heartbreak. In fact, I think I owe Ken a strange debt for bringing the "tragic hero" to life in front of my awestruck eyes.

Of course you are too young to process what you are being taught - precisely why I think we should be very careful what we set before our children - you just swallow it down, eager to see heroic fantasy come to life before your eyes.

Ken was primarily a producer and developer, but did put a few scripts in now and then, after the initial movies or "pilots" were made. He got the ball rolling so to speak. And the reason I am menioning this is because I watched The Incredible Hulk TV pilot last night, with his commentary (starring "Bix" and "Lou" as he would say) and was deeply touched by it.

Below is the familiar clip of the opening. It is wonderful in its execution - the first time viewer grasps the story he is entering in a mere 60 seconds, and the regular viewer has the drama and power of the tragedy laid upon them anew. [Side note: this is an amazing bit of film - as good as the montage for opening of The Six Million Dollar Man. I'd forgotten Ken had done both. What talent!]



[NOTE: I had to search for an HOUR to find this semi-decent clip; just watch the first 60 seconds with Ted Cassidy's voice over!]

Last night was very cathartic for me - with my German heritage and Irish romanticism, I have learned to shut off my feelings before they harm people. Like David Banner I know that when I am angry, I do incalculable damage. Its not healthy to do this consistently - and for me to cry or express sadness, I usually have to do it by proxy. What's that line from Conan the Barbarian? "He cannot cry. So I cry for him."

So we have this sad scene in the end of the movie where the dying female doctor tells David she always loved him. But because he's transformed into this monster, he cannot comprehend what she is saying. He can only lift her lifeless hand to his face again and again. Once his primal brain grasps she is no more, he lets out a bellow of rage at the world, at the darkness, at anything and anyone who can hear - and it is heard for miles.

Unlike the latest film, this incarnation is more benevolent, and its grief must be deep for the monster to go beserk. While I appreciate the technical acumen of both films, with the latter being superior in some respects, Lou Ferrigno, who had never acted before, did an amazing job of being the Angry Child Giant. He said the response to him for doing that 5-year show worldwide has always been amazing.

Also last night, we studied Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Before you click off your imagination, I want you to see the emotional pain, frustration and heroism Jesus had.
Mark 14:32-42 (New International Version)
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.

"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch."

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

Returning the third time, he said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"


Jesus is in great emotional distress -abandoned by neglect by his closest friends, his disciples. Their flesh has conquered them. By the end, however, Jesus has prayed through to victory -he REFUSES to run away when he sees Judas. In fact, he points him out: "Well, looks like its time to get with the program. Here comes my old buddy, Judas!"

You see, its no sin to have deeply felt emotions -but never let them keep you away from your mission. One of the ironies of The Incredible Hulk is that UNLESS David Banner is unjustly hurt and/or abused by the villains, he will not have the power to defeat them. He cannot avoid conflict -even though he's tried many times.

When the battle comes, David Banner gets mad, becomes an unstoppable force, and dishes out some well-deserved justice.

Christ was hurt by his disciples, betrayed by Judas, unjustly abused and mistreated by the relgious and political leaders of the day, was beaten and despised and killed.

At his death, and his transforming resurrection, He was given the power over life and death. We who believe understand Jesus did not just die, but rather paid for the sins of the world. "He who knew no sin, became sin for us." We also see the love of God and the extreme justice of God.

But it cost Jesus a broken heart. It isolated him. It cost him his regular life as a man to save his bride, the Church. I think at this point he'd gotten "accustomed to her face", if you know what I mean.

Maybe like me, you cannot cry easily. You've been hurt so many times or simply cannot open that door to the dark places of your heart. Maybe like me, you have to see another cry out in deep emotional distress so you can release.

For the first time, I felt the pain of Jesus as someone with all this power, yet a great emotional need. I saw the same in the Hulk as the creature weeps over a love lost, not understanding mentally, but feeling it all the same.

I guess what I am saying is: know your heart.

Your strength is tethered to it, whether you admit it or not.

If Jesus Christ can cry in such great emotional anguish that the capillaries in his face burst to mingle with his sweat glands, and still remain true and sinless, it follows that we can express our deepest emotions to God without reservation or fear of recrimination.

Maybe like me, you cannot share your feelings publicly. That's OK.

But share them with God - and find a way with Christ, to "control the raging spirit within."

He understands. He really does.

Amen.


p.s. Below is the "Lonely Man" theme by Joe Harnell that ended each episode of The Incredible Hulk. Press play and re-read the scripture above. It will surprise you how well it fits.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Physics of Superheroes & When Gwen Stacy Died

I checked out of the library a very geeky book - GF (Geek Factor) of 5. That's about the highest level I have found. Entitled The Physics of Superheroes, hoping it would help me decide key elements in my own Supers game.

The writer Kakalios is an actual physicist, and does not waste time explining how impossible the genre is scientifically - a foregone conclusion, obviously - but rather how much force or how certain actions a superhero might perform would happen in the real world.

For instance, for Superman to leap a tall building in a single bound, he must be able to launch himself at nearly 140 mph and overcome 15 times the gravity a normal human experiences. Strangely, that is within the realm of possibility. Furthermore, if Krypton does have 15 times the gravity of Earth, it stands to reason some part of a white dwarf (or other highly dense material) is at Krypton's core, since the entire planet being 15 times denser molecularly would cause her collapse prematurely. This element in her core would cause instability, quakes and eventually, total destruction.

Not too shabby a science fiction tale for two boys from Cleveland - they imagined it right!

Spider-man kills the very person he's trying to save.Also in this book, the author tackles one of the great tragedies of the Marvel universe: the death of Gwen Stacy.

All the evidence is in the panels. The physics are there. Spider-man, in his quick action, superb reflexes and passionate eagerness to save his true love, makes a catastrophic mistake.

He stops the fall of Gwen Stacy too quickly - and the shock snaps her neck.

He kills her while trying to save her.

The Green Goblin's boast that the "A fall from that height would kill anyone —before they struck the ground!" doesn't hold water, says Kakalios. If that were true, skydivers have been strangely surviving for years... One wonders if the villain couldn't stand the thought he was NOT responsible for her demise - or the writer did not want Spider-man alone to bear the guilt.

What makes it so tragic is the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" aspect. There's no way Gwen would've lived without being saved (hitting water from that height would be like hitting concrete) but Spidey did it wrong - and even more tragically - was exulting in his powers, his abilities to save her - even as he lifts her lifeless body up to find he has failed utterly.

It is the most hear-wrenching issue in the entire run of Spider-man, IMHO.

I have to go.

But learn from Spider-man, heroes: Don't stop the fall of the one you love too quickly. You may kill the very person you wanted to save.

From My Utmost for His Highest, March 24, by Oswald Chambers:

Decreasing for His Purpose
He must increase, but I must decrease —John 3:30

If you become a necessity to someone else’s life, you are out of God’s will...

Over and over again, we try to be amateur providences in someone’s life. We are indeed amateurs, coming in and actually preventing God’s will and saying, "This person should not have to experience this difficulty." Instead of being friends of the Bridegroom, our sympathy gets in the way. One day that person will say to us, "You are a thief; you stole my desire to follow Jesus, and because of you I lost sight of Him"...

You may often have to watch Jesus Christ wreck a life before He saves it (see Matthew 10:34).

When we work for Christ, we must make sure we work FOR Him. Only He can save the soul and only He is the surgeon wise enough to cut only as needed, to move only when required.

If you are in ministry or have someone you know and care about who does not know Christ, be very patient. The Lord has perfect timing.

He knows when, where and how to save them.

Amen.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Evan Almighty

I was out roaming last night, excited about having done four amazing things:
1) I had, by direct prayer and inspired ingenuity been able to fix my sports watch, which I love and bought just to go with me to India, but whose plastic vacuum-formed band had snapped, leaving me with a perfectly functional watch minus 2 mm of absolutely necessary plastic.With two tiny screws, a length of flat flexible magnetic strip and an old high-impact plastic clasp, rescued from a now-defunct nylon strap, I was able to re-create my watch's "band loop" - and it looked cool and tough and - well, I likes it, precious, yes I do.

2) I cleared out my overstuffed checkbook and replaced the cover with a leather beauty. Never has $12.49 had such a lovely home.

3) I answered a call about my credit card from the fraud department of my bank. Yep, I became a victim of fraud. Good news - we are all safe now and very little was taken using my account.

4) I canceled my sports club membership, made easier by the fact that the card I'd used WAS the card that soon afterwards got the fraud. And THAT is strange, because I thought I was handing them my debit card, but no, I gave them my credit card. So it was over before I knew it was over.

That's a strange phrase, you know? "It was over before I knew it was over."

As if we should know things - all things - in advance.

Soooo - I went out roaming, as my landlady baked brownies, and I tried to go to a very cool store that has all things geeky - from Star Trek: TOS videos to Dr. Who figures to The Matrix maquettes. They even had a Green Lantern power battery - a mini for about $175.

Yeah. The store of the super geeks.

I was too late; they had closed at 7:00. But the lady owner was so kind as to let me in to look just for a few minutes, as I had driven five miles to get there. I looked and thanked them kindly as I left. What can I say? I am inspired by all things geeky.

Then I went to Hobby Lobby to get some materials to make my OWN Green Lantern Power Battery - yeah, its been nearly a year, we might as well do it, huh? - and ended up talking to a very very chatty lady who is just a bundle of energy and very creative and helpful - almost too much so. I could not help but think "So this is how it must be to deal with me. Thanks God - I get it."

We talked about my project and she zoomed around showing me things I could use, and nearly overloaded me with her good input. Then we talked about good movies and she told me I should watch Role Models and I told her about Lars and the Real Girl and then I got my power battery "handle" and went to Blockbuster.

I came in to find them showing Evan Almighty, where Steve Carrell is being FORCED to build this ark by God, one irresistible push/hint/nudge/coincidence after another.

I started laughing so hard I had to cover my mouth.




I got it. As I was running around so happy to be in control, I could get nowhere. [I did not tell you about the new Jars of Clay song on the radio that made me sit in my car in the parking lot of Hobby Lobby and weep uncontrollably: its lyrics are a father telling a son he will help him grow into a man, and never leave him alone.]

I got it.

I am not in charge.

You are not in charge.

God is in charge. He loves you and will put you EXACTLY where you will do the most good.

It's no good fighting, poppet. You shave it - ditch it - He'll bring it back.

You might as well finish the novel.

The flood is coming and He knows who needs it.

Get building Evan. You are not the Almighty.

Amen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

That's Entertainment! (Why Southerners are so entertaining)

I have been reading the blog of a Southern lady novelist who was raised by fundamentalists and is now married with two children and an evil cat.

Her name is Joshilyn Jackson (pronounced JOSS-i-lyn - the "h" is silent), and she is hilarious - and I just realized I cannot think of someone I have enjoyed more because of shared experiences.

In the South we are taught two things:
1) Fear God - or your daddy will put that fear into you,
2) Obey Momma - or your daddy will put that obedience into you.

I also have been reviewing all my biographical notes on Elvis Presley, possibly one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century. Like Elvis, I was born and raised in North Mississippi. This is a culture that is socially oppressed due to a legalistic understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - and so really kicking out carnal sin feels too much like a death sentence.

Therefore there are only a few legitimate areas to cut loose and getting into the entertainment field is one of them. You get to use your social performance skills, your ability to put on the right face and a stupendously broken heart coupled with a clear knowledge of Jesus to blast out into the world.

The world doesn't have a chance when you combo those four things. You're too creative to fit in a conservative community, your too well-read in the Bible to think you can get away with murder (e.g "Alright - maybe the Feds won't catch yew, but God will J.D.! You hearin' me, boy?") and you have stuffed so much into your emotional bag it is about to burst.

When you see unfailing politeness and a willingness to bow before all authorities and a desire to please people, you got yourself a bona-fide gold mine.

That's what happened between Elvis and "Col." Tom Parker, his manager. I even think the rage and anger Elvis showed later (and his drug use) was his personal disappointment he had been led to a place he did not want to be.

He'd lost his momma, his wife and, with his own lifestyle, his God.

No Southern boy can survive that. On his last day on Earth, he sang two gospel hymns and was reading a book The Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus.

If Elvis was really looking for the face of Jesus, I think he got his wish at the end. I think he wanted to be loved like we all do, but went after it the wrong way.

I know I have used my looks, my jokes, my performances to be appreciated, like many entertainers. We grew up around hard working conservative men, angry men who sighed a lot and were very serious that you would not be without things to do. I still remember to this day the sheer fear my brother (eight years my senior) could instill in me by saying my name. He never said it when he was happy.

Sadly, I became a child who only expected the right answer, not a loving answer. I grew terrifically unsympathetic to alcoholics, angry men and the argumentative. It has taken two decades to realize how much I do not like them. How many times I have been forced to stand still as they spew vitriol as the festering boil of their isolation and pain has been accidentaly lanced only to cover me with shame.

But thankfully, I now see the loving answer IS the right answer. Previously, I thought that when a theologian backed down from a blunt question, he was being cowardly. The big question: "If God is so good and powerful and loving, why is there so much evil in the world?" is a fave.

The answer to this question is a question: "What have you experienced of evil?"

After an hour of listening you MIGHT be able to ask. "Now - what have you experienced of God?"

If they say "Nothing" then you can safely say, "So you know more about evil than God. True?"

Then - "Would you like to know Him in a deep personal way - through Jesus?"

You see, we can entertain and play to the crowds and help them forget how much it hurts by sharing some of our pain, our outrage, our foolishness. But in the end we are really looking for the face of Jesus. Someone who doesn't need to be entertained or have his anger ameliorated by your humor or self-abasement.

We may sing a lot about Jesus - Elvis did and was highly honored for it - but until you sing TO Him, you will never find peace.

You can only sing TO someone you love, by the way. That you know personally.

If you are searching, pray this prayer if you will:

"Jesus, I want to know you in a personal way. I am hurting, and I need you. Please save me. Thank you. Amen."


When you step out of the limelight, Jesus steps in. Oh, BTW, when Elvis was called by his fans "the King", he corrected them directly.

"No baby, I'm not the King. I'm just an entertainer. Jesus is the King!"

Amen to that, Elvis.

Amen.

Monday, March 16, 2009

When Watchmen Fail (Epicly)

The movie Watchmen is heading south as I suspected it would. Return to Witch Mountain beat it the second week of showing.

Why did it fail, this stunning visual adaptation of the "greatest graphic novel of the 20th Century"?

Because it was more about being graphic than being a novel. It did not go as deep as the novel did into characterization, plot, or structure. It gave us the skin and missed the bones.

It should have been 3 movies or a miniseries, probably. If you think on how we fan boys learned, bit by bit, about EACH person in Moore's original work, how we learned to care for these essentially flawed and, let's face it, hopeless, individuals, we could have seen this movie come in at the same category as The Dark Knight.

I said previously, "you have to be a fan boy to like this film, 'cause nothing else will do." That's because you had to have mulled over Moore's work for a couple of decades before seeing this visualization of it.

Is this movie an UTTER failure? No. It will break even in DVD sales.

But its very Adult Rating has killed the toy market for younger children. Not the older fans, of course, who still cling to their Greek mythos and are attracted to these themes, but let's face it: showing this film to a boy or girl of age 13 would be a near criminal act.

*gaack*

Give them a few more years of childhood, will ya? It's not like they WON'T be able to see it five years from now.

But that's where the Adult or Mature nature of this film ends: it is only mature on the surface, not down deep, where it counts. It fumbles the ball too many times emotionally and misses too many key moments.

I could not connect to it. Even Rorshach, the best character goes too far - and by that I mean beyond even what Moore had him do. I was saddened by that loss of heroism as well.

Jesus taught us we'd be aliens in this world (i.e. 'holier-than-thou' geeks). He knew it would be tough -but He did not condemn us for being lost, very foolish or clueless. He told us we needed to stay spiritually awake and to pray because "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

I know. I hate hearing that kind of talk, too. But it is simpler to understand and more enjoyable than you might believe. Anything is better than failing someone you love and the shame that follows.

Here's where Jesus told his guys they would fail Him - yet it would not stop Him from paying for them [and their sins] or loving them.
Matthew 26:31-41 (New International Version)
Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

" 'I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'

"But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."

Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."

"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times."

But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."


We all know the story, don't we? When Jesus is arrested, ALL the disciples fled.

Why? Didn't they love Him?

Of course they did. But they were still sheep, not shepherds. They were immature, not willing to lose their physical life for an eternal one.

And you know what?

Jesus knew it would happen. He told them they would do it! He wasn't 'cursing them' so they would do it - and they were not being a 'slave to prophecy'. They were being a slave to their own flesh (Jesus is quoting a principle here). They thought they were strong and tough and able to hang with Jesus, but they couldn't. They fumbled - big time.

The only thing Jesus wanted was companionship. That's where the rebuke comes in. "Could you men not watch WITH ME for ONE hour?"

In other words, "Guys - I need your emotional support, because I am grieving over my coming execution. Please - all I want is just a friendly arm - a listening ear. A bud who will sit with me." He knows they cannot go where He is going (John 13:36-38) and they cannot do what he is doing: obeying God even to death.

They THINK they can. They THINK their love and devotion in the natural realm is enough.

It is not.

They failed to watch with Jesus. They failed to realize the depth of their story - how difficult it would be to be like the Original.

Why?

They did not have His spiritual maturity nor His power -yet. They had learned of Him and been cleansed and changed by Him, but they still did not have the Holy Spirit, "which the world cannot receive." That would be LATER, in the book of Acts, after they had sat their previously overconfident tails down and prayed and waited and waited and waited.

Then they got the strength to live and die like men for their Lord.

But for now, we have to see that Jesus loved them. He knew they would fail - 'cause they were still sheep, not shepherds. He comforted them with his foreknowledge, if you think about it.

He told them the truth. He didn't keep arguing but rather moved on to the next act of love:

"But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."

In other words: "So, guys, listen up - after I rise from the dead, I'll meet you at our hometown, OK? I won't leave you wondering."

They say the best revenge is living well. If Jesus ever wanted to get his disciples 'back' for deserting him in his hour of need, simply showing up with a big grin and a "I TOLD YOU SO!" laugh would've made them repent 10 times faster than all the angry rebukes He could have thrown at them.

He loved them. They failed Him, but He loved them.

This is what God's grace looks like, folks.

Go live a life of joy, now that you've realized how dumb you've been. Especially after all your failures. And yes, I mean pastors and evangelists and Christian workers.

Jesus is grinning at you and shaking His head. "Did I not say 'I will never leave you nor forsake you'?"

Once you realize this love He has for you, you'll never fail to keep watch with Him again.

Amen.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen? Pt. 3

*herrrmm*

Read this poster:



So true. So true.

Revelation 12:11
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose Rider is called Faithful and True.

With justice he judges and makes war.


Have a good weekend.

Amen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen? Pt. 2

This week, the theme has been betrayal, from Tara Markov to Adrian Veidt (with Dr. Manhatten's help), we've seen how painful and heart-wrenching it can be to find the person you trusted most has decided to betray you, to destroy you.

Real betrayal requires several things: intimacy (friend/lover), unwarranted reason (the victim is innocent) and lastly, power.

You cannot be harmed by the powerless. You cannot be killed by the weaponless.

I believe a lot of people use avatars on the web as their "masks" -not just to protect their privacy, but also to protect themselves from reprisals. On the web we can become intellectual and emotional terrorists, akin to angry motorists on a freeway, secure in our little world, able to attack with impunity ideologies we dislike.

Now "flame wars" are nothing new. If you've been on the web for three MINUTES, you know how ugly it can be. I think we will see more of this as the economy goes south.

Whence comes this rage and anger, this demeaning of human beings? Is it REALLY the circumstances? Or is it something inside that finally 'bubbles forth' to the surface?

In Moore's graphic novel and in the film, Watchmen, only one of the heroes truly hides his face completely: Rorshach. [See cool clip below: a fanboy made a practical inkblot-moving mask - not CGI!]



In fact, once he has 'broken' mentally and emotionally, he calls his mask, this shifting pattern of black and white, his face. "Where is my FACE?!" he shouts at his psychiatrist as he completes his escape from prison by recovering his uniform.

So the question is: why does Rorshach need his face? And why do we need to hide by walls and veils and icons and avatars?

Shame. Angry at the wounds we have, angry at the world that laid them on our doorstep, and angry at those who want to take from us our last bit of protection.

Rorshach has been abused and seen a lot of evil. This description fits a lot more human beings than we care to admit. He is far more understandable than we want him to be. His response to the vileness he has suffered is to make villains pay - horrifically.

But we have all experienced shame and humiliation and betrayal.

Where did it come from? Our first father and mother.

Genesis 2:25 - 3:15
The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

The man said, "The woman you put here with me —she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."

Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"
The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this,
"Cursed are you above all the livestock
and all the wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel."

Before you laugh too hard, please realize this mythical story has a strange scientific fact in it: it appears snakes once had legs. Also, psychiatrists will tell you shame is one of the most powerful driving force in the actions of men and women.

I believe we had it good, until we were betrayed by Satan. Note that the Tree is knowledge of good AND evil. Previously, everything in God's creation was good.

I think we have all tasted and eaten things in our lives that cause us to hide from God. I think we know we were wrong AFTER the fact, but just are too ashamed to admit it.

I think we spend a lot of time hiding who we are because of shame. I think we are powerless to overcome it - and be healed from our internal rage - until Another takes it away from us.

We were supposed to be the watchmen over God's creation. We were supposed to listen to Him above all other voices. Because we did not, we only want coverings and places to hide now.

We understand Rorshach because, like him, we have been humiliated and rejected.

But if Someone takes away that shame, that powerlessness, we are healed and empowered almost simultaneously.

Isaiah 6:1-10
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

He said, "Go and tell this people:
"'Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'

Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed."


As Isaiah discovered the year his leader died, God can enter in -especially we are most depressed. Yet He IMMEDIATELY takes away our sin when we confess it, and in THAT freedom and release -

- well, you just can't be quiet anymore. "Here I am! Send ME!"

What a difference. The mask has come off, and the new life has begun.

Let Him touch you and remove your shame.

Amen.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Alan Moore's Freudian doomsday scenario with superheroes in a parallel timeline has finally made it to the big screen.

Technically - special effects, sets, sound-wise, it was well done.

Dramatically?

Well, you have to be a fan boy to like it. You have to be a fan boy, 'cause nothing else will do.

Remember how Peter Jackson took an unfilmable epic called Lord of the Rings and mined that sucker, keeping the story but jettisoning everything that could NOT work on screen? He ended up doing a honest-to-goodness "film version" of the story.

Zack Snyder was not so brave, and it shows.

Now I'm not the only one who saw that. In fact, I was trying to find the right words to express it without being morally condemning of this "mature" superhero story.

Now if mature material means you have to be mature to even view it, I accept that.

But if you think you are mature FOR having seen it, you are nuts.

And films with explicit sex and gore without real emotional connection to the heroes comes off as a 14-year old boy's sick fantasy. A.O. Scott at the New York Times hit the mark for me and bulls-eyed it:
And the dramatic conflict revealed, at long last, in the film's climactic arguments is between a wholesale, idealistic approach to mass death and one that is more cynical and individualistic. This idea is sickening but also, finally, unpersuasive, because it is rooted in a view of human behavior that is fundamentally immature, self-pitying and sentimental.

Perhaps there is some pleasure to be found in regressing into this belligerent, adolescent state of mind. But maybe it's better to grow up.

In fact, "hero" is a non-existant word by the close of the film. The only 'hero' sticking to his moral guns at very real risk of life and limb is summarily executed by one of his own team members.

But you knew that, right?

Could we have gotten the same grit and gore and still ended on the right moral note?

Yeah. I think so.

My ending would have included Nite Owl pulling away from the arctic fortress in his owlship "Archie" and turning it around in a 180 -angry at his impotence, angry he had been deceived, angry that he had to keep his mouth shut and be complicit in mass murder and saying under his breath as he unloaded his main cannons:

"Dodge THIS, Adrian!"

-and Veidt's arctic fortress goes up in a small nuclear fireball, giving the architect of humanity's "salvation" a taste of his own damnable medicine.

With that, justice is satisfied, but the message changes from "Golly, you are just a helpless pawn before bigger powers, so shut up and play along." to "No one gets away with murder, especially not mass murder. And truth wins out in the end."

Jesus said that.
Matthew 10:26-28
"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Hell."

That's part of the superhero trope: the truth and what is right wins in the end.

Obviously, might does NOT make right. But, as Abraham Lincoln observed, "Right does make might."

I wish Alan Moore believed that. I wish Zack Snyder had seen that.

You may have to keep secrets to save souls (cf. The Dark Knight) but you do not have to murder.

At least it closed, as Moore's work does, with a shot of Rorshach's journal, leaving some hope that the truth will be revealed in the near future- but it was not quite enough to redeem the hours of violence and hopelessness and carnage I experienced.

I watched the Watchmen. Once was enough.

Amen.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Judas Contract, Pt. 2

I've been talking about the betrayal and death of Tara Markov, a.k.a Terra of the Teen Titans, how much I appreciated the stories Marv Wolfman and George Perez gave us.

I think God used comics to feed my imagination, my heart. Like so many socially inept geeks, we struggled to make sense of human beings and it was best to teach us through story - through myths and fables writ large.

But still, complexities of human behavior eluded us as we tried to survive and cope with the scorn of peers in High School and the inner shame we all had that "we were not what we wanted to be."

We learned to create and craft fantasy, because it kept our minds bright and gave us escape from the emotional gulag that was 8th grade - or 9th grade - or 10th. After that, you had put enough distance between you and the Neanderthals, you could actually live.

But then something even worse could happen.

You could be betrayed. You could have your heart broken by someone close to you. A close bud or girlfriend or boyfriend could do it. I'm going to say soemthing amazingly simple, but if you chew on it, it explains a lot of distancing and alienation we all feel in some form or fashion.

You can only be betrayed by someone close to you. You can only be stabbed in the heart by someone you love.

Your enemies may hound you or harass you, but you can just take that and mix in the "World is not my buddy" blender. You can tune that out.

But betrayal, really desecrating betrayal can only come from a friend, a very close friend, a lover.

A dear man and Christian psychiatrist once said to my class, "People who are recently divorced are more irrational than the clinically insane. I have dealt with the mentally ill, and they have predictable parameters. You can identify their problem and are prepared for it. But not the broken-hearted!" He shook his head.

"One man I know, a professional businessman, went and poured gasoline on his ex-wife's car and set fire to it. In broad daylight, in front of his neighbors!"

Not very subtle, huh?

It is the heart that drives the mind, not vice-versa. When we hear Caesar say "Et tu, Brute?" we know where it came from, but what is magnificent in it is the simplicity of Caesar's recognition of his old friend's betrayal. His sadness in the pronouncement.

"You too, buddy?"

To see a friend become an enemy is the greatest pain there is. King David, never one to mince words, writes of his won betrayal and you can just about hear the pathos in this psalm:
Psalm 55:12-14

12 If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were raising himself against me,
I could hide from him.

13 But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the house of God.

Later, when Judas betrays Jesus Christ, we should be shocked at HOW it is done.

With a kiss, the most intimate sign of love and friendship. And Jesus calls him friend.

Matthew 26:48-50
48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him."
49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him.
50 Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for."

This was not a surprise to Jesus in the final analysis. We are told He knew who would betray Him, even when He chose the Twelve. I always thought that was a bit unfair or some strange supernatural ability.

I am coming to believe that it was nothing more than a pure heart and mind with enhanced intuition. We see it in women and children, often. We feel it when we see a co-worker's deceit. We smell it coming when an angry guy begins drinking. We know it's coming - it is just a matter of when.

I think Jesus gave Judas the money bag to hold, seeing his eyes upon it. I think He did it fearlessly. I think He sent Judas out to cast out demons with Matthew, so watching this ex-tax collector's joy might infect him. Of course, I am speculating on the limits of the son of Man, but it seems emotionally wise and fair for Him to operate this way.

He made EXTRA sure to treat Judas well. To keep him close, I think. What is the old proverb of the world? "Keep your friends close - and your enemies closer"?

The idea is you can observe them better - and as a side benefit, maybe see their heart change.

I think Jesus did it for both reasons. He reached and He loved. He set the timing of His own betrayal.

And when Judas had decided against Him, it was without merit - utterly.

Jesus knew the eternal consequences in His former disciple's soul when he chose that path. How awful damnation would be for such a man.

Matthew 26:20-24
20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.
21 And while they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me."
22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?"
23 Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.
24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

So, this season as we approach Passion week, Good Friday and Easter, keep in mind the very human and emotional drama the son of God went through. Look at what and who has hurt you in the past, and ask Jesus to heal you there.

He understands all too well.

And if you have betrayed a trust, a friend who loved you, ask their forgiveness.

Unlike Judas, it is not too late. Not yet. The cross is for those who repent and believe.

Amen

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Judas Contract, Pt. 1

It was 1981, and I was living in Laredo, TX when I began reading The New Teen Titans and later, Tales of the Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Looking back, the stories of that era were not really tightly woven plots, but rather character development and exploration - Cyborg finding out his handicap opens new opportunities for him to help handicapped kids, Beast Boy/Changeling showing special wisdom and maturity as he organizes a huge banquet, Raven struggling with her evil side inherited from her demonic father, Trigon.

I think when men write from the heart it produces good writing, good stories, even if you disagree with them personally on some issues. But they have to end with a reason, or message, the "why" of the story or we leave dissatisfied. We want to know "why" a thing happened, especially if it is very evil.

The Titans had a great rogue's gallery, full of non-predictable villains. Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke the Terminator was dangerous and smart, a true anti-hero, and Brother Blood was one of the more scary "cult leader" villains I've even seen. The Brotherhood of Evil was another great collection of villains I remember. Each had something admirable - like self-control - about them.

Of all the storylines though, the best written IMHO was a subtle sub-plot that became a knock-down drag out and ended with real heart-break: The Judas Contract.

Here's the story: Tara, a sweet, innocent-looking, pug-nosed blonde-haired girl joins the Teen Titans, half-sister of a superhero named Geo-Force. They welcome her with open arms and accept her as one of their own. Over several issues, we see Logan's blossoming love with her and some hints all is not quite as it seems (hellllooooo - background check, anyone?). In the big "reveal" we find out she ain't so innocent, ain't so sweet and has been working for Slade Wilson, a.k.a The Terminator to find out all of their secrets.

He learns that Robin, the Boy Wonder is Dick Grayson, ward of Bruce Wayne. (Golly, think he'll be able to figure out Batman's true identity from THAT?! :P)

It gets uglier. We find out she hates the Titans with a passion.

She sneers at them, ranting about how they make her sick with their "do-gooder" attitude. Confused and bewildered to see this sudden change, they keep asking her why she is doing this, betraying them.

The answer: she is evil. Really evil. Deathstroke won't take credit for it, even when blamed by the Titans for it. "You're crazy! She was looney before I met her! She found ME!" he shouts back, letting them know WHO instigated the plan for their betrayal.

Again, Donna Troy, a.k.a. Wonder Girl asks, "Why?"

"There need not be logical answers," answers Raven, daughter of Trigon as she teleports in. "The girl is evil."

Not misinformed.

Not unaware and lost.

Not crazy. Just evil.

She doesn't want love, but hate.

With great power should come great fear of the possessor, of what they can do to you.

That's what Tara Markov believes and accepts. In fact, from several earlier scenes, we see that she willingly chose this path instead of being loved. That the Titans got under her skin in many good ways (such as when Cyborg presents her with a "Sweet 16" birthday cake).

But, as with all great villainy, Tara ends up destroying herself.

After her death, and with the Titans still grieving, Garfield Logan, a.k.a. The Changeling, decides to make Slade Wilson, the Terminator pay for "what he did to Tara!"

It is a pretty awesome fight, 'cause Logan is taking no prisoners! He uses his powers to the max, but Wilson, strangely - remember he's an anti-hero - won't try to kill Logan. He keeps himself alive long enough to reason with him [does he pin Logan? I can't remember.] - and he says "Kid - something was wrong with her way before I ever met her. She hated you all."

As they calm down, and Garfield realizes Wilson may be right, he asks what's burning a hole in his young heart:

"Did you sleep with her, Wilson?"

Long pause. "Would it matter if I did?" replies Wilson.

"No - I guess not..." admits Garfield.


However, we know Wilson did from an earlier scene:

This is an ugly scene, because it reveals Slade Wilson as a pedophile - but it also paints Tara as wicked to the core. She is no victim of, but rather in collusion with perversity. What Tara did was far worse than simply betraying Garfield's love. She betrayed everyone who loved her, who accepted her.

They part ways - Garfield ashamed he tried to blame Tara's evil on Wilson and Wilson - well, he himself had a hot-headed son who got killed - he lets Garfield live.

It was fine writing. It showed how our passions can blind us, even as we refuse to believe the truth. How we can be deceived by appearances and how even our worst enemy may have a bit of wisdom the day we lose it.

And evil? It is a real force, corrupting men (and women and boys and girls) and bringing insanity to them.

It was a powerful thing to read at such a young age, but I never forgot it.

Thanks, Marv and George.

Oh - I almost forgot: you can read the ORIGINAL 'Judas Contract' here.

Amen.