Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Family First

After all my plans for sitting with Bill Willingham, Jeff Dee, and Jack Herman at GaryCon, I have had to change directions and head out to see my father in Spokane, WA.

My latest write-up was about a son losing his father and the bitterness it ensued. That is just natural in human experience. I cannot imagine playing an RPG for 3 days as my father dies alone. Even if this is a false alarm, I dare not risk it.

I feel the weight and timing of Providence on me as I go. I feel that a chapter of my life is ending.

Funny how easy it is to talk about pain than to experience it directly.

Be well, my friends.

I hope to see God's hand in this Final Edit and speak about it later.

Often attributed to C. S. Lewis is this thought from George MacDonald:

"You are not a body that HAS a soul; you ARE a soul. You HAVE a body."


...and those fade away.

peace
justice

Friday, March 18, 2011

Warrior 1 and Iron Man 2

I sat down and began re-watching Iron Man 2 in order to grab the Russian mannerisms and style from the performance of Mickey Rourke for next week's three-day marathon of role-playing at GaryCon. [Ed. note: I re-wrote some of his origin below for better flow and grammar. It is essentially the same though.]

Warrior One
My character starts as a Russian boy who's father, a radical physicist, is run over by a black SUV as the Soviet Union begins to fall. His superiors had him working on a secret project [codename: Warrior] to create a one-man army that would hold the Soviet states together and restore power to the old guard.

As he lay dying in their Moscow apartment, he forced his only child, Aleksandr, nearly legally blind, to memorize ALL the material formulas and designs for the battlesuit. Even more brilliant than his father, and suffering from severe macular degeneration, he has one unique gift: an eidetic memory so efficient he can forget no detail, no matter how trivial, even years after the fact. At his father's grave, he vows to one day build and unleash this weapon on the United States for destroying his country and his life.

Warrior One - modified concept from Crimson Dynamo of Marvel <br />ComicsHe is sent to an orphanage, where he teaches himself how to live among the sighted using the faintest of clues. A natural autodidactic, he learns everything about the world of physics he can find in the library, memorizing entire volumes as they are read to him by younger boys. By age 16, he finished his schooling in St. Petersburg but can find no job in the Russian Federation for a blind physicist. M.I.T. hears about his intellect and sheer brilliance and offers him a full scholarship in the U.S. - and later, if he is approved, he may have an opportunity to develop cybernetic vision for both machines and people - that is, if he's interested?

He is.

Planning to gain their full confidence and get access to the needed restricted materials for his revenge, Alex designs a powerful High-Definition interface that gives its operator BETTER than normal human vision. After it is shown to work for machine intelligences, he declares that he himself will be the first test subject...

...and the first thing the brilliant bitter youth sees is the smiling faces of his co-workers! It has a stunning effect on him, and because of his highly trained mind, he cannot stop thinking about them.

He will never forget their love and acceptance of him; their pride at his success. He will never forget the kiss from the pretty Sarah, the backslapping and joy emanating from Leonard and Shane. They are now part of his 'hard drive.'

After they left, he sat alone in the darkness for hours, replaying the event again and again. He decided then that he would put all the materials back [quietly] and end his secret mission.

Then September 11th came.

Sarah was onboard American Airlines flight 11 leaving Boston for Los Angeles that morning; it was the first plane hijacked, the first to crash into the Twin Towers. In a horrible coincidence, Leonard and Shane were being interviewed by an Air Force general for a space defense project when they were killed by the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

Alex saw for the first time that ANY nation can fall in a day and what he has memorized must be used for what is good not evil. With his help, Homeland Security was able to find multiple terrorist cells in record time and eliminate them completely.

For this action, he was offered a full American citizenship, which he gladly accepted - and is now on the forefront of waging a never-ending war against evil in any form - as Warrior One.

[Character concept image modified from Marvel comic's Crimson Dynamo]
_______________________________________

Iron Man 2: Again
In re-watching Iron Man 2, something jumped out at me.

Tony is wearing the weight of the world, he is dying, and he gives up his corporation to Pepper to run. He's making a big show of himself, not only personally but with the Expo and even mocking the Senate committee, and still ends up winning in the end.

I am perfectly aware of the happy ending syndrome, and it annoys me if it is not earned, but I think something a little subtle slipped past me and most viewers the first viewing BECAUSE Tony is acting so reckless and wild.

In fact, Tony makes a lot of jokes, hides a lot of pain and isolation, but frankly, makes a couple of terrific tactically wise moves.

He even says at one point "Contrary to popular belief, I know exactly what I am doing!"

Here's the two moves, I thought were smart, and maybe this film deserves a little more respect than it got - at least from me.

One, after his announcement "I am Iron Man!" Tony KNOWS he's going to have to face 1) the U.S. Government and 2) anyone who hates him. He needs help; he needs a second Iron Man.

Fighting the U.S. Government? A cinch. He IS one with the suit, and they cannot take away his life support; it'd be "indentured servitude." BUT TONY DOES HAVE A SUIT ANYONE CAN WEAR, already built - War Machine.

And it is NOT in his colors. It's a spare? For who? The guy who has his secret lair code - Rhodey? Look, I'm pointing out that Tony ALWAYS wants Rhodey to step up and join him - but Rhodey has got to do it on his own. Same with Pepper - Tony KNOWS she's competent, but she does not.

What about Tony being drunk in the party? It is unfortunate, but Tony plays it a little loud, folks. No, I am serious. Once the fight begins, he stops stumbling. He is in great pain emotionally, but something about his UNWILLINGNESS to chase Rhodey and his anger at the crowd he was playing to shows some other calculations in his tactics IMO.

You see, Tony KNOWS everyone is watching him all the time - been that way since he was a kid. And doubly more so as Iron Man. How CAN he turn that to his advantage? Can he serve as a decoy? If he plays decoy to draw fire, how can he run his company or keep America safe?

You see, I don't think Tony is unaware of the effects of his actions; he's just so damn brazen and brilliant, he doesn't mind looking the fool to get the job done.

Two, I think Tony resurrects the Stark Expo for a two-fold reason - to get all his enemies out in the open - and to possibly gather his friends [corporate buddies] together. WHEN a fight breaks out - and yes, Virginia, when you tell the WORLD you are Iron Man and you ARE appearing at THIS location, you ARE trying to flush them out - he can have the homefield advantage and take all the collateral damage himself - no more fights on the freeway, thank you very much.

When the whole thing is blown up, Tony doesn't even flinch. He expected it. Pepper wants to resign her position as Stark Industries CEO, and Tony, heart now fixed, enemies exposed and defeated, Expo having served its purpose burning in the background, takes it back just as easily as he gave it away.

As if it were a tactical move, not a childish avoidance of responsibilities.

Sure, Tony can be petty - did he REALLY need that award from the Senator he was mocking? No, not at all.

But he knew what he was doing the entire time -and everyone else had to react to him, not the other way round. Even his first fight with Whiplash shows his preparedness and ability to turn a crappy situation into a victory. In minutes.

So watch it again, and keep in mind, while everyone is trying to do their job, Tony Stark is trying to save the world -even when he is dying.

That's a pretty cool message IMO. I think I just ratcheted Iron Man 2 up two slots.

Way to go, Tony.

"To whom much is given, much is required."


Amen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Irish -and those who wish they were!

I come from a long line of egocentric, weirdly blessed, drinking, talkative exhibitionists who, quite frankly, love to fight, boast shamelessly and do things with the English language that simply should not be done.

Yeah. I'm Irish. And today? She is St. Patrick's Day!

Now I hate to admit this [on this day of all days], but I'm not Catholic and that is a terrible blow to many an Irishman right there. But I have good company in my fellow Irishman, C. S. Lewis, who also loved Jesus, so I will not cry too hard.

The Irish were, essentially, a crazy people who were tamed by Christ, if you know your history. And if you know it well enough, you might see that they were even responsible for saving Western civilization with their devotion to preserving the Bible.

You can read more here: How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill .

St. Patrick
But the man who saved them? He was their enemy at first. A sixteen year old boy was captured by Irish slavers and served his masters for six years before escaping; it was a journey of two hundred miles just to get to the SHIP to go home!

Those six years were important though; they made him grow up spiritually. From his Confessions we read:
But after I reached Hibernia I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the Love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.

He knew God had preserved his life and was glad to be home again... and then, like Joseph, he had a vision in a dream of a man telling him to come back to Ireland, to "walk among us."

So Patrick did.

The Irish, being a direct, flamboyant, and even brutal people when they felt it necessary, coming from the lineage of Picts and Vikings, repented when this young man returned; even as he spent his life transforming Ireland, bit by bit, never marrying, but starting monastery after monastery, fighting constantly against the slavery and brutality of his new homeland, returning monetary gifts if it impinged on his ministry. He was a true socially conscious and evangelical missionary.

He made Ireland what it is today, frankly.

So when you lift up a pint of green beer or wear something green to honor the Irish today, do keep in your mind's eye a scared teenager who shook off the bitterness of his youth to save a people - and a civilization - God called him to save.

He did it by the Spirit of God, not by his own power. He knew that more than anybody.

And I think even Jesus would appreciate you celebrating one of his finest saints.

Because we probably wouldn't be HERE if he hadn't done his work for God THEN.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, indeed.

Amen.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why Evangelicals Don’t Hate Jesus [and other small corrections]

Phil Zuckerman has written an article Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus, and it has been seconded by Anne Rice and several other non-evangelical Christians who believe Jesus’ first call was for social justice [and social work], to help the poor in this world have a better life. He takes issue with the common evangelical thought that capital punishment is right, conservative evangelicals supported the war on Iraq and that, basically, by these actions, we evangelicals are disobeying Christ’s commands to ‘Love our enemies’ and ‘Love our neighbors'.

His Best Shot:
According to a poll, we oppose "food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training - anything that might dare to help out those in need."

I think it is because these systems get people to rely upon our government to do them, not our churches and communities, which are often more effective esp. at undoing the cycle of poverty. When we see the return on a lot of government services and how poorly they are done, we WOULD rather trust God and find another solution. The U.S. Government is pretty bad at being wise, resourceful and a good manager of our tax dollars.

But many evangelicals are HEAVILY into private giving - and thus, get no credit. [See point 4 below]

Facts that should be patently obvious but strangely are not.

1) The United States of America is not a theocracy. It is a government based on Judeo-Christian ethics with a faintly Theistic worldview that supposes God is a beginner of things but not very involved. When Christians support ANY action of the U.S. Government, it is supporting its role as a nation on the world platform.

Christians pray for and support their land and nation in war and peacetime and work diligently to get that government to change to Godly laws as can be accomplished. From getting the death matches in the Roman Coliseum outlawed, to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and later the U.S., Christians work from within, loving their neighbors and their opponents [i.e. enemies] hoping they too will see what is right. When facing therefore an opposing nation that is dangerous to others, a nation who decides killing millions of human beings is a darn good idea to keep power [cf. Josef Stalin and Adolph Hitler], we do what we can to stop them – as a nation with others. We “hate the sin but love the sinner.” During the Cold War, we did not hate the Russian people, but we were supposed to hate the evils perpetrated by the Soviet regime. I do not hate my home state of Mississippi; I cannot. Nor do I hate my third grade teacher, my best friend in high school nor the lady who sold me comics at the Quik Stop on Stateline Road – but I hate the prevalent racims that were so much of my state’s history.

As I told one quiet German woman in her mid-40s while waiting at an airport – “We cannot change our land and the shame it has brought to us, but we can make sure we are part of the change and that we do not perpetrate it.” She and I understood one another. Note: Germany and Japan are free countries, and yes, pacifists were saying it was un-Christian to wage war in WWII. They have been forgotten. Iraq is free and we are leaving. Hussein was judged by his own people and executed. Maybe that IS Loving Our Enemies, after all. We get the murderous out of power using our own resources -and lives.

2) God hates evil. Jesus, as His Son, also hates evil. He had NO sympathy for cruel tyrants, dictators, abusers or enablers. He knew how disobeying God by sin was dangerous and damnable. He loved God the Father and obeyed Him radically and uncompromisingly - unto death, even a self-sacrificial death [i.e. “death on a cross”]. When Jesus says “Love your enemies” he means “Don’t divorce the spouse you cannot stand.” “Treat with respect and kindness the jerk online who is given to ad hominem attacks” and “Make sure you are reporting correctly the amount of funds the evangelical church is giving to the poor and not create a false image bias with your shoddy reporting.” He is not saying “The Devil and his agents are misunderstood. Give Satan a big kiss! And a smooch to one of his men who used poison gas on his own people!” The command, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, was for us individuals, not the state. C. S. Lewis saw it too. We are to love OUR enemies, not God’s enemies.


3) Evangelicals are one of, if not THE, most giving of all Christian groups.
In this arena, I don’t like to differentiate between Catholic or evangelical, or any other such critter. But if we MUST, we will define it to “those who have ACTIVELY gone out and proclaimed Jesus as the son of God and the only way to heaven, preaching and teaching His death has covered humanity’s sins, and that He is thusly Lord of Creation.” You will find they have given BILLIONS in cash, assets and personal time to alleviate the world’s suffering. If I stretch it to ALL evangelicals – including the apostle Paul – over two thousand years, the number is most likely in the trillions. But getting such facts is going to be hard, because...

4) Jesus COMMANDED us to not let the world know what we are giving. He commanded us to give in secret. He told us to give away clothing freely [check], help those who are injured [check] and pray for those who are too stupid to understand their own need for Him, argue incessantly, complain, kvetch and moan while they continue in carnal lifestyles [che---- OK, I’m working on that one].

5) Evangelicals are NEVER going to get the credit we deserve, even if we were perfect. Jesus was called a Prince of Demons for doing miracles. It’s right there in scripture. Guess what Christians are being called WHILE they weekly give to various churches, charitable organizations and out of their own personal expense – which is often NOT tax-deductible? You got it. We are BAD people who DON’T CARE for the POOOOOOOORRRR! Guess what you are really saying bunky? “You didn’t give any money to meeeeeee…” and that folks, is the charge Judas laid at Jesus’ feet while Jesus was being worshiped and adored. It ain’t nothing new.

The biggest problem I have with Christians in the evangelical community is that they do NOT believe they have the power to change lives. It is not that they don’t care; but they know it was HARD for them to give up their own biases and turn around; to drop their own poverty mentality and trust that God wants them to live an abundant life, giving and loving instead of hoarding and hating. It took a miracle, a divine revelation.

And so, we reach who we can, speak as we can, do what we can – because if money would change people from evil to good, Saddam Hussein should have been the kindest man in the world. And if not having money meant you are righteous, then all the poor people in the world are BETTER than all of us.

We evangelicals have come to the conclusion – and every generation does it – that money and more money will not solve real problem of the poor. Only faith in Christ has changed us and only faith in Christ can change ANYONE – making, in one case I know, a career criminal a kind man.

In fact, the surest way to a lesser income I know is to serve Christ and the Church. We get the least income for the same degrees and skillsets. But hey, we don’t mind. We know His love and we will share our Campbell’s soup with you.

Show me a stingy Christian, and I will show you a person who DOES NOT know Jesus personally.

And if you are on death row for killing other human beings, we will offer you a chance to spend eternity with us. Because everyone dies, but not everyone lives.

But show me a Christian who puts social work above preaching the Gospel, i.e. having a person make peace with God, and I will show you Judas Iscariot. “who, though one of the Twelve, later betrayed Jesus.”

We do BOTH – to show love and to end a cycle of self-destruction. But if you want money, here – take it.

You obviously need it more than Me...

...says Jesus.

Here’s the irony: evangelicals outgive and outpreach the world.

Just for Fun: walk into ANY evangelical church tomorrow. Cuss ‘em out real good. Then DEMAND a Bible and some food for your [dying family member/pregnant wife/fictional lover/etc.]. Watch them obey Christ and give it to you, turning the other cheek. If not, at least you got in a good cussin’. Tell them Reverend Justice sent you.

Do it in the inner city – someplace really depressed and dangerous - and some pastor might convert you on the spot.

Jesus is waiting for you to show up, wrestle with Him and get real [cf. Genesis 32:22-32].

Amen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

All Star Superman, Pt. 2

I wrote on the last blog how much I appreciated All Star Superman and said it was, due to its powerful example of Superman's humanity, the echo of Christ in his attitude and self-sacrifice, that it was a movie worth watching, right?

Eh - close enough.

I went a-hunting for OTHER reviews to see what they saw, see what I missed, etc.

I have NEVER seen such a broad spectrum of critiques - all the way from [essentially] "Awesome adaptation of Morrison's work!" to "Gahhhhh - what a hack job!" From 'lifeless' to 'teeming with drama and action!' From "Must Have" to "Don't Bother."

And I think, from those incredibly polarized comments, that I was dead-on about this being a very beautiful Christ-like allegory.

Let me explain. No - that'd take too long. Lemme sum up...

Heroes polarize people. They make you love them or hate them. You don't end up having a mild opinion about them.

And Christ was [and is] the Hero of Heroes, so He gets the most radically polarized opinions of his actions, especially in front of his enemies. Read John 7 to see what I mean. Look how many times they want to kill Him - and for doing miracles!

So if I am right about the REAL Jesus and about how human nature goes MAD when it meets him, any film that emulates His story should get a weird reaction - waaayy overboard for what it actually is.

That's what I keep seeing here: adoration and hatred, some 'agnostic' but many very vocal in their appreciation.

SPOILER ALERT - RUN AWAY
One thing about the Superman mythos is that Superman ALWAYS wins; even if he seems to lose, he comes back again. Crud, they even changed the definition of the power Invulnerability in the DC Heroes RPG so he could not die! [Note: in the DC Heroes RPG, your Body made you hard to be hurt, but Invulnerability meant you could recover from being hurt and just get back up, again and again, like a human juggernaut.

Feh.

The True End of Superman
We have been teased with "The Death of Superman" twice before in older stories.

One in the 90's where he is killed by Doomsday [and comes back two years later] and one in the 80's where he finally kills Mr. Mxyzptlk, who's revealed to be a trans-dimensional demon and definitely deserves it.

In penance for his 'crime', Superman 'kills' himself by going into his kryptonite vault and grabs the gold Kryptonite which permanently takes away all his powers and abilities. In a sentimental epilogue, he is found to be disguised and settling down to a normal married life with Lois Lane -and their super-strong baby! ;)

But in both cases, Superman's story is not TRULY ended; he returns at the end, as all serial heroes should.

Not in this film.


Lord, it hurts, if you are paying attention.


It's a bit of a shock.

It also wisely wraps up the mythos: an alien who got His powers by our Sun, who is dying BECAUSE of having too much of it, saves the world by returning what he was given.

Emotionally, we also see Luthor accept his new death penalty as right and just - and makes amends by giving back what he stole from the world - Superman. Yes, he's returning what he took, by giving Lois Lane [implied] the ability to have Superman's child.

The painful irony is that you, like Lois, buy into the fact that Superman is NOT dead - "He's fixing the Sun -and He'll return when he's done," she says.

And since we KNOW the sun could hold over 900,000 Earths [Jimmy Olsen told us earlier] -it may take awhile.

But it is a beautiful, heart-stopping piece of denial.

You can say [as any fan might] "Well, we KNOW he's gonna live - because he SAW his ancestors from the future and Lois even commented one looked JUST like her grandfather; so OBVIOUSLY they will get married and be together - and live 'happily ever after,' right?"

No. This 'prophecy' and foreknowledge is fulfilled by Lex's repentance and actions, not by the Man of Steel and His lady marrying at last.

Hmmmm.

You know what this is, don't you? I mean you know what happened here, right?

Superman - the Superman I grew up with, the one I and a thousand, thousand fans know - dies.

Heroically, as is perfectly fitting, but he dies.

We don't let that happen to serial characters - or if we do, we come off like a schmuck. Enough space is given for the myth to live on - for the legend to breathe - but I felt that I had watched the last chapter of the Superman legend in All Star Superman.

Folks, no one wants to watch the end of a hero, but dam', when you got to go, do it in style. Creators know how to do it; they are just afraid of losing a franchise to do it PROPERLY.

They ALMOST accomplished it in Babylon 5, when Sheridan called his ship in. The ALMOST did it in Star Trek VI when Kirk was nearly killed saving the President of the United Federation of Planets. [His later 'death'? Very unmoving, sorry.]

And yeah, the Superman franchise lives on, its true, but I got to say this.

If Superman is ever said to 'have died' THIS is the True Story of What Happened That Day, with Clark Kent writing his obituary just before saving the world as the Last Son of Krypton.

Thank you, Grant Morrison. Thank you, Dwayne McDuffie.

Amen.

R.I.P. Dwayne McDuffie. Lord knows you did one last great work before leaving us.

Monday, March 7, 2011

All-Star Superman DVD Review

If you are a fan of Grant Morrison's work, you will have some mixed feelings about this adaptation, admiring much of it, but seeing the limitations of a 74-75 minute film.

(Of course you will "want more", "it's not as good", "they should have included 'X'", etc. Go find a LOTR fansite and read THEIR lamentations for awhile, OK?)

I read Morrison's existentialist work. It's good for those who read a lot of poetry and bemoan human existence, while HOPING that myth and beauty will somehow redeem all of our human suffering.

No, it just makes so much of the crud we encounter worth bearing - as if a GREATER Story is being worked out. As if somewhere, somehow, if someone is good enough, some jerk will see he's wrong and repent. That's why fanboys have dropped real religion for myth so often. They still enjoy the story and their heart is all for it - but let's face it, when was the LAST time you saw a man fly through the air, really love his parents and love his enemies and was willing to give his life to save all of humanity - even the nasty ones - while forsaking his OWN heritage?

THIS is why All Star Superman is SO good: it is a soft echo of Christ and His charity before his impending death.

I bought this movie to honor Dwayne McDuffie's memory, I kid you not. I had very little interest in seeing Morrison's work 'come to life' - it was too jazzy and weird and eclectic, with no solid plot. But McDuffie, in adapting it, covered over some of the flaws, and tightened it, and when I realized that this REALLY WAS going to be the 'last days' of Superman and one of the payoffs NOT found in Morrison's work was the late redemption of Lex Luthor - by a GIFT from Superman? Me and my landlady - who leads a Tuesday night Bible study alongside me - sat in awe as the credits rolled.

I know Dwayne McDuffie was an atheist, but he nonetheless used a lot of good Christian imagery and characterizations we could identify with [cf. Amanda Waller's speech to Terry McGuinness]. I suspect he was raised in the faith but left for personal reasons, like so many do.

But that self-sacrificial heart found in the Man of Steel? Again it is shown, it is not from Krypton, but from a loving couple in Kansas, named Ma and Pa Kent.

I think what makes All Star Superman so wonderful at times is how many times Superman's humanity and compassion come through - even to Luthor - who even admits at one point he LIKES Kent because he's a 'normal guy' and even been (sadly) pushed aside in Lois Lane's affections for Superman.

Yeah. Luthor sees THAT, thinking he KNOWS Kent's suffering before the "alien." "In a world without Superman," declares Luthor, "the unobtainable Lois Lane might have noticed good ol' Clark, pining away in a corner. A strapping farmboy with brains, integrity and no discernable style of his own. You're a prize catch for a cynical city girl."

"But with HIM around, you're a parody of man, a dullard, a cripple!"

"Next to Superman even Lex Luthor's greatness is overshadowed!" That jealousy, that rage that HE is inferior to Superman is what has driven his hatred all these years.

And when he is given a dose of Superman's powers? He finally sees what it is like to see the universe as the Man of Steel does. As the powers fade, Superman even destroys the formula that would have continued them - "Wait!" screams Luthor. "With that, I could have saved the world!"

"Lex," answers Superman quietly, "If you had wanted to do that, you would have done it long ago."

"...you're right..." admits Lex.

And in saying that, I could not help but hear an echo of our repentance before Christ.

You see, I think we are all ANGRY we need a Savior. I think we are ANGRY Someone did what we could not. I think we believe Jesus was sent to condemn us for being failures as human beings, and frankly, whenever we talk about sins, humanity has plenty to talk about.

But we understand Luthor, not Superman. We understand fear and anger and 'putting up with idiots' but not self-sacrifice, tenderness and humility.

We don't work hard to make ourselves look stupid or incompetent - just the other way round, in fact.

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him."

I never understood this verse until I was an adult and felt that I was never going to be good enough in anything. I felt condemned - before God, before Man.

But Saviors do NOT exist to show off how bad you are. Saviors are necessary to DO what we CANNOT do - and we should not be ashamed that we need one, only that we do not listen to the one sent.

In All Star Superman, Lex finally listens and - according to this adaptation - insures Superman's legacy as an act of repentance.

I loved it.

Because, in the end, Superman, with love and respect, saves Lex Luthor AND the world.

In my opinion, that's a film worth watching.

Amen.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Jesus Lays Down the Measuring Stick for His Disciples

This was the lesson from our Tuesday night fellowship. [Some of it is really sinking in for me.]

Luke 6:17-26

Jesus Lays Down the Measuring Stick for His Disciples
No one wants to be sick – or poor – or rejected. No one wants to be ostracized or hated. We are a communal species, made for companions, lovers, friends, family and neighborhoods. This is hard-wired in us, for we ARE made in God’s image – and He is plural: “Let Us make man in Our image…” we are told in Genesis. We can see the Trinity if we look carefully in the first few chapters of the Bible. Even when God makes man, He says everything is ‘good’ except for man being alone and that is declared ‘not good.’ Thus Eve is created to be a partner for Adam.

But after the Fall, and as our baser human nature took more and more control, all of our relationships became polluted in one form or another. Humorously, Martin Luther imagined what it must have been like for Adam and Eve to keep on living after the Fall: “You ate the Apple”, Eve would say, and Adam would retort, “You gave it to me!”

And so God, mercifully, would choose men and women to speak back into the human race, to warn them to turn around, trust God and not the world. We called them prophets – and every one of them hated their job if they loved people at all. There is no glee in telling someone he or she is wrong, in trouble with God and needs to change.

You may not like the doctor who tells you the tingling in your throat is cancer – but he IS the one trying to save your life.

Amen.

Read in the round

Luke 6:17-26
17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon,
18 who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured,
19 and the people all tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all.

20 Looking at His disciples, He said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.
For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.

25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.

26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets."


1) What was the first thing Jesus did when he met the masses? [Look again, it’s subtle.] Why did they come?
2) When people meet you, as a Christ-follower, do you impact their lives? Do your actions help and bless?
3) What shows that we are favored by God, says Jesus? Why is this so?

Benediction
Isaiah 44:8-11

Various Thinkers and Leaders on “Beatitudes”
  • It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. – C. S. Lewis

  • The ultimately lost person is the person who cannot want God. Who cannot want God to BE God... The reason they do not find God is that they do not want Him or, at least, do not want Him to be God. Wanting God to be God is very different from wanting God to help me. – Dallas Willard

  • She who kneels before God can stand before anyone – Unknown

  • When we lose one blessing, another is often, most unexpectedly, given in its place.
    – C. S. Lewis

  • The Beatitudes are not so much ethics of obedience as ethics of grace. They imply God as a gracious giver and [humans as humble receivers]. They do not mean: you must do these things in order to deserve and win the Divine approval. Rather do they say: God gives his blessedness to those who claim no merit for themselves but, knowing their own heart’s needs, are content to rest wholly on the mercy of God. – Archibald Hunter

  • The thing [we are] blessed in is [our] poverty. If I know I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, then Jesus says —Blessed are you, because it is through this poverty that I enter his Kingdom. I cannot enter His Kingdom as a good man or woman, I can only enter it as a complete pauper. – Oswald Chambers

  • The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of rules and regulations: it is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting His way with us. – Oswald Chambers

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bring On The Bad Guys! [and see them change]

Before Megamind there was another animated film about a villain turned softy named Despicable Me.

Slightly different in it take - it is more James Bond-ian villainy than superheroic - the threat to the villain is ANOTHER villain!

And again, what changes him? Three little girls he temporarily 'adopts' to serve him in a nefarious scheme to recapture a shrinking ray device from his rival.

Unfortunately, they are with him just a little too long - and his cold heart is melted.

What I thoroughly enjoyed in this movie was Steve Carrell's vocal performance. How he just plays this older "out-of-touch" evil nerd who TRIES so hard to be be 'hip' and 'cool' and crashes beautifully...

"THAT'Z what Iyam talkin' 'BOUT!"


"Thas how eye... ROLLL!"


And it made me open my eyes to how we all try so hard to be cool, to be tough and strong and 'feared' - and we really got nothingThe only way to win is to quit trying for worldly approval and just be the softy you are to the ones you care about.

My dad was gruff and loud and tough talking - but he loved milk and cookies and being at home. Every time I think of how concerned he'd get over some bill or some family issue, so much so that he'd be in the bathroom upchucking, I get misty-eyed.

Like so many of his generation, he knew very little love and affection, since so many Americans were just trying to survive the Great Depression. His father never told him he loved him, and drank pretty constantly. So my dad grew up a bit wild and got tamed by love for my mother later on. After my brother got involved in drugs, my dad gave his life to God, knowing that he could not save the son he loved.

So little animated features like this make an impact on me. They are children's stories dealing with bigger issues of sin, repentance, redemption.

Or you could say instead: "...selfishness, selflessness and learning to love others as yourself."

May you be blessed to know love that surpasses understanding today, little kittens.

Amen.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bring On The Bad Guys! [and see them change]

Ever notice that when we want to create a villain in the comic book [or film] genre, we often end up with a bad guy being a bald guy?

Lex Luthor, Silvana, Brainiac, Mongul, Darkseid, the Red Skull, Egghead, Obadiah Stane, Hugo Strange, Nosferatu...


But lest any think I am aiming at them, the goateed guys are often villainous too: Count Nefaria, Ra's al Ghul, Vandal Savage [JLU], Mr. Spock from Star Trek's Mirror Universe... you get the idea.

So when you begin watching Megamind, it is ABSOLUTELY clear WHO the villain is. He's both [OK - almost] - and on top of everything, he is also BLUE - a color no normal human has.

And in mere minutes, you find a great deal of sympathy for the kid who just couldn't fit in - so he decided he'd BE Bad - and the baddest of the bad - since he was already good at being bad! [For a great review of this movie in full: http://amaliehoward.com/tag/megamind-minion/ ]

Better than any Johnny Depp sympathy-for-the-poor-damned-soul characterization though, is when the villain decides that there is SOMETHING worth fighting FOR - and it is love he never thought he'd have.

Love wins the day, even as the 'official hero' checks out of his job.

I don't want to give it all away, but let's just say heroism and sacrifice come from loving something or someone greater than yourself. Adulation and approval for doing good just don't cut the mustard. It has to be real and real deep or resentment starts in. You quit.

It is also a form of grace that enters, for the person who loves others unconditionally must have received that same kind of love AND perceived it.

All this came to mind as I am also reading Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages and C. S. Lewis's The Four Loves. One is teaching me WHAT people can hear when you try to love on them [their preferred 'love language'] and the other is teaching me what KIND of loves I need to be human and humane [some ouchy eye-openers, there.]

Back to Megamind - to the villain, his conflict with the city's hero is a long-standing game, to prove he's as good as [or better than] Megaman, hero of Metrocity. Lots of showmanship is involved, but no lasting harm is done. When Megaman is suddenly removed from play, the villain, like a dog chasing cars, does not know what to do with his unexpected victory.

Can you imagine how many conflicts would evaporate if you merely said "You win. Bye now?"

Here's some great dialogue from Amalie Howard's site:
MegaMind: In case you’ve noticed, you’ve fallen right into my trap!
MetroMan: You can’t trap justice! It’s an idea, a belief!
MegaMind: Even the most heartfelt belief can get corroded with crime!
MetroMan: Justice is a non-corrosive metal!
MegaMind: But metals can be melted, by the heat of revanche!
MetroMan: It’s REVENGE, and it’s best served cold!
MegaMind: But it can be easily reheated, in the microwave of evil!
MetroMan: Well, I think your warranty’s about to expire!
MegaMind: Maybe I got an extended warranty!
MetroMan: Warranties are invalid, if used beyond their intended purpose!
Roxanne Ritchi: Girls, girls, you’re both pretty! Can I go home now?



During his pyrrhic victory stage, he meets and falls in love with the supposed girlfriend of the hero. He doesn't mean to; 'fate' thrusts him into her arms - or vice-versa - and since he wants to please her, he begins reforming [on the sly of course; she must NEVER know that HE is Megamind]!

I'll stop there, because, frankly, a lot of us guys live there. We love the women in our lives, but we know too much about our own villainy.

We hide our true selves, lest anyone find us and reveal our evil.

But what makes us change? Love. It is not our wisdom or education, but the matters of the heart that ultimately make us what we are.

One of my favorite lines from The Big Bang Theory is when worldly Penny and nerdy Sheldon begin a 'war' with each other. Leonard tries hard to intervene and tells Penny, "Please - you don't want to get into it with Sheldon! That guy's only one lab accident away from becoming a supervillain!" [See here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLr_cnPJ7VQ&feature=player_detailpage#t=82s ]

I laughed so hard I had to back up my DVD to catch the next lines.

[edit - added for clarity]
What gets Sheldon to make peace with Penny? A command from the only woman he loves - his MOTHER! [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkIsscEb77k&feature=related ]

Love changes us. Love tames us. But if we smell a fight - a threat to our ego - and yes, I am looking in the mirror here, watch out...

...we DO have 'an enemy within.'

Ask God to love on you and tame that beast before you set fire to the whole city or force your friends to play 'panty pinata.' ;)

Amen.