Friday, February 26, 2010

'Black Friday' with Johnny Cash - Ain't No Grave...

Today the last recordings of Johnny Cash were released; it seems he had enough for two final records. The last is American VI: Ain't No Grave.

Fans of the 'Man in Black' will be wearing all black today to show their love and support on his birthday - or maybe just to take the color back from the Goths! ;)

It is fitting that his birthday occurs in the darkest season of the year - late February is a very melancholic time for us all. My mother had her birthday on Feb 17th, was born in East Arkansas and during the Great Depression, just as Cash was. That generation was incredibly poor and had a great deal of sympathy for the oppressed, witnessing first-hand the heartless racism of the Old South and the despair and poverty of sharecroppers who filled their homes with children and alcoholism.

I posted this before, but here is Johnny's reason for wearing black - also keep in mind that Johnny was a very wounded Christian, struggling with deep personal issues. Old gospel hymns were songs of hope for him just as they were for Elvis Presley, though I think Johnny had the deeper faith in the end.

If you go to the link I posted above at Lost Highway Records (here it is again), you will automatically hear songs from his last album - and hear his hope in "A Redeemer beckoning me..."

What this teaches me is that there IS a place in Christian faith to be sad, to be upset at this world and its evil - keep in mind that over 70% of the Psalms are of lament. God understands we suffer and offers comfort as we struggle.

But what we must do - as Johnny did - is USE the pain we feel. To reach others, to let them know you do understand and let that pain cause you to focus outward, not inward.

If you will do that - if you will let Christ use your personal pain - you too can leave a legacy. Not of bitterness that poisons the very air you breathe, but rather a gentleness that turns each wound into something sacred, suitable for the hands of Christ to touch, to transform, to use. That creates a legacy you can be proud of.

Happy Birthday, Johnny.

You gave us the Bad News and the Good News - and brought hope to the hopeless.

"Ain't no grave can hold my body down..."

Amen and Amen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ooops! Is This Valentine's Day a Little Too Late?

Well, no.

Not if you love someone.

I mean, really love them.

But sometimes it takes a while to realise you really love someone.

Years in fact.

Witness from the classic Fiddler on the Roof:

I guess what we usually think of love is a feeling of romance. The thrill, the excitement.

But when someone knows all your sins, your failings and refuses to leave you, it is a deeper, more meaningful kind of love. It is the true love for the person, not their attributes (physical or mental), but themselves.

Don't worry - we humans usually start with the eros and have to learn the other - as I said, it takes time.

My parents had this kind of love, now that I think about it. After my mother died, my father found another wife who loves him just as he is - and visits him daily in a nursing home.

To see what real love is like, I present the oft-quoted passage from I Corinthians 13. Please keep in mind it was a wise old Jew who was locked up in prison for preaching that wrote this. He'd learned love was not based on performance, but on kindness and acceptance.

I Corinthians 13 [NLT]
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love.

It is.

May you find God's true love for you, even if it takes years.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When the Saints Go Marchin' In...

The New Orlean Saints BEAT the Indianapolis Colts this past Super Bowl Sunday.

The Saints were the underdog.

They were not supposed to win.

Seems they were not told.

Not only did they win, but the final score was "smack your face" ironic: it was predicted that the Colts would win by 10 points or more.

The final score: SAINTS 31, COLTS 17.

What was doubly awesome was that the Saints took risks - and they paid off - BARELY.

The Instant Playback Review was used on three separate occasions to make sure the referees had made the right call.

They did.

It was also a very clean game with only a handful of penalities. The Saints played with great discipline and determination, coming from behind in the third quarter.

You see, these games are really TWO games - the first half and the second half.

The Saints could not get ahead in the first half, but they stayed close on the Colts tail.

In the second half, you watched them take command. They had learned their lessons. They were ready to capitalize on their running game, their huge linemen, their agile running backs who on several occasions broke tackles to go another 3, 5 or 15 yards.

What sealed their comeback was a picture perfect interception - and guys, Manning can THROW with stunning precision - that was run downfield 70 plus yards for a touchdown.

Spiritual metaphor?

Isn't obvious?

Don't ever count the saints [i.e. believers in Christ] as down and out.

They are the underdogs only for the time being.

On the Big Day, they win. And win big, baby.

Romans 8:26-39
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God loves his saints. If they stay on target, they cannot lose, for He fights for them.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Training Daybreakers - an Ethan Hawke double feature

From Twilight to Daybreakers

A few months ago I went to see Twilight: New Moon. Passable fare, the Romeo and Juliet allusions were a little too pointed, I thought, but hey, I'm not the target audience. At a critical moment, the "emotional climax" of the film, where Edward is saved from destruction by Bella's intervention, the sound completely went out in the theater. Though it came back on 3 minutes later, I and a few others were so miffed we asked for some rainchecks. The manager kindly agreed and so I found myself, six weeks later using my free pass from a chic-flick version of vampires, where they are SO beautiful they cannot let themselves be seen in sunlight, to go see a far darker and more legendarily accurate version of them, where sunlight blows the nasty bloodsuckers to itty-bitty bits. To wit, I saw Daybreakers.

Now that's what you call trading up! :D

Hawke is a Bat?
Ethan Hawke often plays the quiet guy who's trying to beat the system he's stuck within. From Gattaca, to Training Day, to Daybreakers, he keeps getting cast as a pretty face who gets a chance to change the world he lives in.

I like him, I've found out. He touches that nerve of every decent guy who wants to work with the people he's put with and has to be taught [usually the hard way] that not everyone is as decent as he is. If they ever do a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, they should cast him in the role of Mr. Smith.

Now, I saw Daybreakers about three weeks ago and thought it well represented the terrible lengths we humans could or would go to keep alive. The movie is about vampirism infecting the vast majority of humanity and by result, humans become endangered as they are hunted into extinction for their blood. Ethan Hwake has said in an interview that he thinks the metaphor of how we are overusing our planet's resources is clear-cut in the movie. That may be so, but what I saw was that even when salvation is offered - a cure IS found for the vampirism, BTW - we blood-lusting humans won't give it up.

We love the dark side of things. We won't go into the light. Even if it is for our good.

It is just as John wrote about humanity neary 2000 years ago. See if you think it is still accurate:

John 3:19-20
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

If you are familiar with that scripture, you can still be shocked when you find people who embrace dangerous lifestyles instead of turning to Christ and God the Father to save them, to have the Holy Spirit make them "new creatures."

They think they are losing control. In fact, they are. They are giving control over to God - but they were SLAVES to whatever they were chasing. In this movie, its blood - but it could just as easily be money, sex, drugs, power, prestige...

And folks, what we chase after with all our heart mind and soul is what we worship.

In Twilight: New Moon, Bella worships Edward and he worships her. While many a teen girl may swoon with pleasure of such a man, he cannot exist - not for more than a season.

A vampire has to have blood to live. Human blood. In other words, a human sacrifice.

In Daybreakers, the price for immortality is clear: de-humanization and a descent into madness. You become a demon.

In Twilight: New Moon, as a vampire, you'd just matriculate again and again and again, graduating from one high school after another. For some, that WOULD be hell on Earth!

In Training Day, which I saw just last night, Ethan Hawke's character is offered the chance to "join up with the Big Boys" in the narcotics Unit. Only one slight problem: his mentor is a corrupt as the men he deals with. And yes, he is charming and yes he has power to persuade and to manipulate and yes, there is much allurement to go into the darkness and stop fighting a corrupt system that lets so many real criminals go free.

The offer: money, power, prestige, and lots of cash snagged from drug busts.

The price: your soul.

We are told to guard our hearts in the Bible, according to Proverbs 4:23: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

In watching and comparing the PG-13 Twilight: New Moon to the rated R Daybreakers, I realized something.

The movie with all the violence, gore and bloodshed was safer for my heart than the one with the girl pining for a glorified leech.

In one I was warned of the angers of self-indulgence; in the other, I was to say "Blood-drinking immortals are REALLY nice people - why they've been misconstrued, is all!"

Oh silly - I know its all fiction - but the message that "love is god, not God is love" has taken center stage.

You see, in its romanticism of Bella and Edward's relationship, there is a great danger to girls watching it. Friends and family matter not - only the all-consuming desire for the beloved - who is not human.

Having experienced such 'love affairs', I know how they feel. When in gear, they are a stunning high. When they are over, you feel nearly suicidal. You are angry at them, at yourself and even at God (He must be to blame for separating you two!!).

The fact is, while we may try to find someone to love us, Someone already has: Jesus.

If we are going to leave behind the darker parts of human nature, we need to ask for the light to shine on us and quench our thirst, to kill our co-dependency and greed for more.

And just for the fun of it, picture that Jesus is Ethan Hawke and the Woman at the Well is Salma Hayek in the following scene:

John 4:7-14
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

"Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Bold promises - from a bold God.

A God willing to beocme a frail man and suffer with us, to give His very lifeblood to make us immortals.