Monday, December 22, 2014

A 5th Funeral & Interstellar Loss


I was crying and thanking Jesus almost at the same time.

My 34-year old nephew had been killed instantly in a head-on collision near Tunica, MS the Friday before Thanksgiving. He'd been married to his second wife a little over a year. While he struggled like so many in our family have with his emotions, he was a believer who loved Christian music, the outdoors, his wife, his sons and his family.

I would, thanks to Christ, see him again.

But not anytime soon. And first, we had to love on the living.

After I got the news, I sat down and began listening to Hans Zimmer's powerful, mournful, weighty soundtrack for Interstellar. It was cathartic and let me weep out the pain of my loss. One track, "Stay," where Murph wants her Dad to remain on Earth instead of going on his mission to save humanity, stuck hard in my soul.

You can hear the loss, the barren lands. The emptiness.


When I arrived at the funeral home, I did what all sons and pastors should do. I held his mother, his sisters, his wife and his former wife one at a time. We wept together. I prayed my arms would be those of Jesus, if for a moment.

They even did a beautiful memorial video for him with his favorite song:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWAYYY-tsp0

But On the Way to the Funeral...
Listening to the soundtrack for Interstellar had helped me to air out my heart. Yet I knew I needed more than that. I am a believer in Christ, yes, and I am an ordained minister. I had to have more than emotional release. It had to become spiritual strength. I had to process the pain so some good could eventually come of it. Pain itself is not good; pain processed and accepted can become a great help to others - but I just was inadequate to do it. I was spinning.

Driving ten hours in pain is not where anyone wants to be. So, after listening to two hours of this amazing soundtrack (grieving and praying) as I flew along I-59 in the dark in a 20-year old car at 70 mph, I decided I needed to listen to something else to keep my mind alert and my soul secure.

I grabbed one of my old Steve Brown CDs stuck in my visor holder.

"Hi, I'm Steve Brown, and God loves you!
He might even like you too!"
If you are not familiar, Steve Brown is an evangelical Bible teacher who taught homiletics [preaching] at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He's been doing ministry for decades at Key Life Ministries and has a winsome gravelly voice.

I hadn't listened to Steve in years. He was spot-on: this battle-hardened Bible teacher said things that I had not understood years earlier about the costs of being a pastor: the liberals who irritate & malign you, the constant heretics and the pain of being a servant to the ungrateful.

As soon as anyone says "Oh, a pastor shouldn't feel that way!" you know you are talking to someone who has never done the job. Not for any length of time.

In moments, I was in awe. This was a man who had done it, angered people and kept going because, as he said, "Once you see the truth, you cannot un-see it."

He talked about arguing with the people he loved. He talked about the alienation and isolation so many pastors feel as the assaults on their character builds. He talked about all the angry and unhappy Christ-followers.

Christians should be the happiest people on the Earth, because they know their sins are forgiven. What makes us unhappy is... well...

...they are not home yet. They live here.

They cry here. They die here.

So what we have to do is not say "It doesn't hurt. I can take it!" but rather "I cannot take it. Jesus help me. Jesus hold me."

God does not "help those who help themselves," contrary to the popular saying. He helps those who cannot help themselves.

Jesus understands pain. He who formed the stars, also knows what sudden and deep sorrow is.

How do we know this? The shortest verse in the Bible tells us.

"Jesus wept."

As Steve would say, "You think about that."

"Amen."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of Apes & Minority Groups that Scare You

"Who is this Grumpy Cat you speak of?"
It was the last showing of the last day at the Ogden 6, and I went because of a bud's recommendation.

Let us be direct. Dawn of the Planet of Apes is an excellent sci-fi movie, doing what sci-fi does best: re-dressing our cultural faith and fears so we can see them better.

"Ape Not Kill Ape"
Our film picks up after the Simian virus has all but wiped out human civilization in a bioterror reminiscent of the recent Ebola Zaire virus breakout. Genocide through a lab-crafted virus has been an old SF staple, seen in modern zombie films I Am Legend and World War Z. It is nothing new to geeks. Heck, "death by bacteria" goes back over a century in SF fiction - even our NORMAL bacteria killed off the Martians in H. G. Wells War of the Worlds. So, wisely the director uses only a few minutes in an opening news montage featuring riots, Barack Obama and airline travel routes high-lighted in flaming laser red to show us how our modern human civilization falls. It is all-too-plausible, I am afraid.

But as one civilization falls, another rises, and in moments we are made part of the burgeoning culture of the now-much-smarter ape community: hunting, riding horses and building communities in the forest. [I confess, at this point I said out loud in the theater to the other handful of patrons "Hey - It's Dances with Apes!" Apologies to Kevin Costner.]

Speaking mostly by sign language - words CAN be said with difficulty by Caesar and his general Kolba but the writers wisely keep us watching and reading subtitles -allowed us to feel even more empathy for the silent-yet-thinking apes, orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees.

They're not all the same you know! ;)

They even have an appointed teacher: Maurice, a huge orangutan who is seen teaching math and reading to the smaller child apes. Behind him we see the first Law on a rough blackboard: "Ape Not Kill Ape." Nice.

Ever since Cain killed Abel, it seems that murder of one's own brother has been the first forbidden act in the soul of man. Probably why we so love watching murder mysteries filled with adultery, theft and deceit, but not the other way round.

I can replace what you stole from me. I can get over you lying about me. I can even get over you cheating on me, but alas, I cannot get over you killing me. ;)

So it is sensible we start with it. Of course, it has a problem.

It says nothing about whether they can kill humans.

Therein lies the problem that escalates into a part triumphant, part tragic ending that, as you knew when you walked in, had to happen.

It's called Planet of the Apes for a reason, kids.

What I Honestly Admired
By tapping into a historical perspective and common human motivations of self-preservation and self-destruction, we cover in various scenes a whole host of modern failings in humanity, from the aforementioned bio-warfare / bio-catastrophe of a modified virus to shades of Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida [yes, it is there - look for it] ; from Americanism Cultural Rule to shades of Islamic Fascism [you didn't miss that did you?], we find ourselves  - I found MYSELF - amazed at how much empathy the screenwriters gave to both sides.

You don't want THEM destroying your home, do you?

You don't want THEM killing your family, do you?

But one message was clear by the end of the: acting in fear just makes it worse. It shuts out hope and light and keeps old hatreds burning bright. Love and trust is the answer.

Caesar [played by the brilliant Andy Serkis to perfection using motion-capture] says it beautifully.

"Home. Family. Future."


"Caesar. Say. One. Thing!" "Yes, Caesar? What is it?"
highlight to see - &gt "Hail Hydra!"
In the end, his love for humans and apes saves his family.

He saves them from racial madness led by a dictator - the villain who shot him and blamed it on the humans who had hurt him badly. Thankfully, Caesar comes back from the dead to bring hope to his followers.

Sounds familiar, don't it?

Caesar means King - and he becomes a king who rises from the dead, he is able to stop the slaughter and save his own.

Apes. Humans. All who are good. These are the ones who get saved.

That sounds familiar, too.

Be good, but trust in the King who comes back from the dead. He'll save you from where the fear lies - inside.

Amen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy: "I am Groot!"

When you go see Guardians of the Galaxy for the second time [and you should, you Philistine], you probably won't cry as hard as you did the first time because you already know the story.

Probably. You might cry harder, though, because you are freer. You won't let fear or the common anxiety that the filmmaker will break your heart stop you from expressing deeper emotions. I know some films I did NOT cry at the ending on first viewing because I was in hopeful denial and wanted to see the resolution before I dropped my heart guards.

As Dr. Steve Brown, my favorite curmudgeon pastor noted: "You ever see a child cry AFTER mommy has found them? That's because children cry only when they know they are safe." That's me too. When I watch films at home and it is late, I find myself open and vulnerable then - not before.

So you owe it to yourself to see a great, fun, action-packed movie that has a moment of heart-wrenching love RIGHT in the climax and let your heart be warmed. By a tree that can only say three words.

Too good not to share. The Giving Tree re-done
by Isaac Goodhart
Three Words, Multiple Meanings
After being arrested and sent to The Kyln, a horrible space prison for the worst criminal scum of the galaxy, he tries to speak with our hero Peter Quill / Star-Lord.
"I am Groot."
"Yes!" says Quill over his shoulder. "That was as fascinating as the first 89 times you said it." [Addressing Rocket] "What is with 'Giving Tree'?"
"Well he don't know talkin' good like me and you, so his vocabulistics is limited to 'I' and 'am' and 'Groot,' exclusively in that order." 

"Well I tell you what -that's gonna wear real thin, real fast, bud!"

Later, we catch on that though the words are the same, they mean different things. Like some Terran languages, the communication is in the tone, not the actual words themselves.
Rocket Raccoon: She's right, you don't get an opinion... What percentage [of a plan]?
Peter Quill: I dunno... Twelve percent?
Rocket Raccoon: 12%? [breaks into laughter]
Peter Quill: That's a fake laugh.
Rocket Raccoon: It's real!
Peter Quill: Totally fake!
Rocket Raccoon: That is the most real, authentic, hysterical laugh of my entire life because   THAT IS NOT A PLAN!
Gamora: It's barely a concept.
Peter Quill: [to Gamora] You're taking THEIR side?
Groot: I am Groot.
Rocket Raccoon: So what, "It's better than eleven percent!" What the hell does that have to do with anything?
Peter Quill: [to Groot] Thank you! See? Groot's the only one of you who has a clue. [Groot then eats leaf off of shoulder]

Those who know him begin to 'hear' what he means. Like watching C3PO translate for R2-D2 or Charlie Brown revealing what the "Adults" are saying by his reply. We get it. We grow to love Groot.

Then Groot chooses to do something to save them all, at the cost of his own life. Just as he begins, Rocket begins to cry and ask him why. "This will kill you! You'll die! Why are you doing this?!"

For once, he doesn't say "I am Groot."

He says "We are Groot."

Like Rain Man, these limited words work like a laser to pierce the damned selfish soul we humans are all cursed with. Groot loves them. They are one with him.

He doesn't mind. They are more important than his life.

Oh God, I am starting to cry.

"What is with 'Giving Tree'?"

He's Jesus, Peter. Yeah.

He's Jesus.

"I am."

So what?

"I AM."

So what? I've heard that a thousand times!

"I AM."

He's alive. Now. Present. Dying for you. Alive for you.

Dancing from the grave.

He is. We are because He IS.

Folks, the best part of Guardians of the Galaxy is that one character with three words broke the heart of every sane soul in the theater.

He was Groot.

And Groot was Jesus.

Amen.


Cue Jackson Five, please.

p.s. BTW, The Giving Tree is also Christ - the Tree wants the boy's love by giving of itself, only wanting the boy to be happy. In the end, after giving all, what makes the boy - and the Tree - happy is that they are together, though the Tree has no more to give and the boy is an old man.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy: Chosen Losers

"Say hello to my little friend!"
You gotta love a movie that has Bradley Cooper voicing a talking, gun-toting over-sized raccoon with a chip on his shoulder.

And you gotta cry when said raccoon gets so drunk he slobbers out his pain at being a genetically created Freak, cast into life without any decent hope of love or friendship, absolutely alienated from birth from the rest of humanity and her near-cousins, be they red, green, blue or magenta skinned.

He's a raccoon, and he's unique.

"Ain't nothin' like me, 'cept ME!" he boasts, as he marches into a galactic prison filled with killers.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a great movie, comparable to a great meal, where the appetizer was delicious, the salad was fresh, the steak and lobster were cooked to perfection and as you cry no more, a triple-decker chocolate cake with coffee icing is set before you with real whipped cream on top.

That's what watching Guardians was like. They could have stopped layering goodness on us 90 minutes into the movie and we'd have been happy. They don't. They just keep going and going.

That unexpected richness echoed the very characters: they are almost two-dimensional at first, and then we find out something honest about them that makes us choke up in recognition. They start off attacking each other and by the end, they won't let another soul touch their fellow Guardians. Classic character growth trope, I know, but when done right... well, you remember my analogy about a well-cooked steak, right?

Peter Quill - a.k.a. Star Lord - sums up the reason that they need each other, in a howlingly bad attempt at sensitivity that is par for the course for him:
"I look around and I see losers.[stunned looks from fellow Guardians]
Folks who have lost stuff. [a beat] Life generally takes more than it gives."
That's what makes this movie heroic and comedic at the same time: facing the ugly truth and not letting it stop you from being better - even great.

Quill also makes a little speech at how "the Universe" has given them a second chance. "Something good, something bad... a little bit of both." It is a non-heroic, non-judgmental call to be better.

It's a speech given to a murderer, an assassin, two thieves and a not-too-bright giant.

The outcasts, the misfits. Chosen from above, they don't fit in, but they are right for the job. These "Chosen Losers" end up being the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Like Israel was, when God called them to be His people. He wanted them to be His family, His friend. He chose them, but NOT because they were cool or great. Just the opposite in fact.

Read this from Deuteronomy 7:7, 8:
7 “The Lord did not set His heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations!
8 "Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and He was keeping the oath He had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt."

God chose slaves out of Egypt for the same dramatic reasons we love to watch represented in Guardians of the Galaxy.

They were the weakest. The outcasts. The unwanted. God chose them to love them, to make them great.

So watch the self-pity if you feel that you are a loser who does not fit in with the galaxy.

God just may have chosen you to guard part of it. Even if you feel as dumb as a tree or are generally accepted about as well as a large rat, you have something to do. Something just for YOU to do.

Something good, something bad...maybe a little bit of both. It happens like that.

Just make sure that you seek to serve the God of the galaxy who died for you.

He chose you, after all.

Amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dr. Chris Mitchell: Seeking God & Hating Him at the Same Time

Tomorrow I am attending the funeral of one of the greatest, kindest, wisest Christians I have ever met. He was the director of the Wade Center at Wheaton College, Dr. Chris Mitchell.

Here is his last sermon. He was from Oregon and never went to church before he was 20 years old. Had no idea of Christianity in nearly any sense.

His last sermon, about his FIRST encounter with God, is amazing and stunning.

He was a God-seeker who found out he hated God more than he thought. More than we think we do.

http://graceevfree.org/sermon/mans-great-fall/
[click on the headphones icon to listen ]

Please listen to brilliant man tell you why God is hated and Jesus is needed.

Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Four Funerals

I have not been posting of late, breaking the hearts of both of you.

In three weeks I have gone to three funerals. This Friday will be my fourth.

These are people I know, I have spoken with, have eaten with and heard. They knew of me and I knew of them.

They were, in no particular order, a devout suffering Christian, a Christian who endured great physical handicap, a scholarly erudite Christian and a non-believer who had zero spiritual interest.

Their memorials say it all, really.

What people said about their lives, what kind of believer they were or character they showed, the moments shared with their friends and family and lastly, who showed up at the funeral service.

Nothing convinces me more and more to follow Christ, to love more and serve Him than seeing how each of these lives came to a close.

Two of these were sudden and unforeseen deaths, one was sudden but not unforeseen and one was awaited for patiently. The one that hurts the most is the sudden and unforeseen, but frankly, was best for the person. One minute they were here, the next, eternity.

However, there was a "severe mercy" in the death that was awaited for patiently: everyone got to say goodbye. Nothing was left unsaid and love was able to be shown.

I have seen more than a fair share of deaths in the last 10 years of Christ followers and non-believers. I may just be fulfilling a strange role God has called me to - being the "Last Call" kind of guy. This is not self-promotion, just the opposite. It is terrifying to think you get to be the LAST attempt at a soul rescue.

If you are reading this, I want you to do something.

I want you to say a prayer for yourself.

I want you to tell God you are sorry for all the bad things you have done.

I want you to ask God to save your heart and soul by the blood of Jesus.

I want you to go to Jesus every morning and talk to Him.

I want you to listen.

I want you to live.

When your body dies, I want you to live.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Capt. America: The Winter Soldier Melts Hearts [Pt. 3]

OK, kid gloves are off. If you have not yet seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier, you deserve all the spoilers you get hit with. You are no true geek and we intend to beat with you with Cloud City equipment until you go flying.

One of the touchstones of the film just became very important to me. Hang on, and I'll explain.

Cap is simply awesome as a physically superior human being. He runs as fast as a horse, does a high dive into the ocean from several thousand feet and caps it off with taking out a couple dozen armed pirates and a world-class kickboxer merc.

That's in the first 15 minutes of the movie.

His "I am so awesome, I slow down only so you can watch me do it" bona fides are so firmly established, you already KNOW he's gonna win any physical fight. It is a given.

Then we flip the coin and show the fights he cannot win. Government policies, political agendas, neighborly deceit and betrayal by friends.

Alzheimer's. PTSDs. Character assassination by authorities.

Through it all, Steve Rogers does what we WANT all our heroes to do: keep their moral code in the face of all opposition. Selflessly taking the blows and beatings while even his closest allies all reveal they have their own agenda.

If Steven Rogers were a villain, and went all medieval on them, we'd understand.

He doesn't. He helps them. He listens and then speaks words that do not condemn, but correct.

At one point, when he's driving superspy Natasha Romanova [Scarlett Johansson who's gotten MUCH sharper in the role] to track down a lead, she remarks about his 'criminal ability' to hotwire a car. He says he had to learn it in Germany during World War 2.

But it opens a door to talk about what's changed and he pushes on her constant ability to masquerade. She's not being real about who she is; she is a cypher, a mask.

"Not a good way to live," he says wisely.

Reflecting on that, she replies, "No. But it's a good way not to die."

That is pure gold. I want to send a donation to the writer for that line.

Yes, she is a liar. Yes, she is a spy. Yes, she has killed.

But why? She wants to stay alive. Period.

Can I tell you that is what holds us, over and over again?

Steve, the supersoldier and Natasha, the superspy meet on this field: are you willing to die for what you believe or are you willing to kill for what you believe?

Natasha ends up saying "You know Rogers, you just may be in the wrong line of work."

Ironically, but not unexpectedly, Rogers ends up saving her life.

And gets to say the same to her.

In the end, she agrees: she drops the mask and lets the world find out her past, all to defeat HYDRA, the Real Bad Guys.

The more I think about it, the more I see that is Jesus' style. He had a secret identity, as a Son of Man, but He had no mask to hide His soul. Those who met Him, especially the agents of Evil, knew Him on sight.

May we drop our masks so we can live.

Amen.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Capt. America: The Winter Soldier Melts Hearts [Pt. 2]

It is the end of Memorial Day and we have remembered the fallen and sat around with family and friends at the grill. I think the fallen would like that, even though at first glance it seems disrespectful. Because the only way to honor the memory of sacrifice is to enjoy what it paid for.

The gift of being able to sit around with your friends and family on a beautiful day, appreciating your country is priceless.

Men died for that. They are in the eternal places, unable to return but leaving a legacy of freedom and safety in their wake.

We need to guard that safety and freedom. We need to never take it for granted. It can be taken away so easily, it is mind-boggling.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has this great line in it: after Nick Fury rebukes Cap for not "getting with the game" he unveils a top secret triumvirate of flying heli-carriers, each with the stunning firepower to level entire cities in seconds. They are to "stop threats before they start" - a pre-emptive strike force to be sent to protect America's freedom.

Cap points over his shoulder at the behemoths and replies, "This isn't freedom. This is fear."

Yeah it is.

But whose fear? Is it the terror of the victims who cannot hide nor defeat the juggernauts unleashed upon them? Or is the fear of the unknown, of losing power and control? Is it the fear of the victim or of the perpetrator?

I'm no zen Buddhist nor anything like, but when I fantasize about utterly destroying or humiliating an opponent before he can take a breath, I know I am not operating in a good zone.

I am operating in fear. [Sure, I might be tired and just want the fight over, but that's another blog.]

I don't have an answer to how America can handle all her fears. But as a follower of Christ, I have an example who shows confidence, competence and kindness in one fell swoop.
Mark 10:32-34
32They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.
33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.

Can you feel it? Jesus is marching straight into the Big City of Powerful People with his ragtag band. The closest are astonished but those behind them were scared--really scared.

They knew it was going to be bad, and Jesus agrees with their concerns. He says "Yep. You got it. Let me spell it out for you: it's gonna get ugly, Ugly, UGLY!"

"But after all of it is done, I will get back up..."

"...from the dead."

That's guts, folks. That tells us Christ knew exactly what was going to happen to Him and never backed down. Never hid from it but marched right into it.

Wow. Yes, He had a purpose, to save us by His death on the cross. We know that. What we blip over because we know the old story is the emotional cost He paid before He got on the cross.

He refused to run, to hide, to slow down. He did not waver but headed right into the Halls of Deceit and Power. They would kill Him for saying He was the "Son of God" and identifying Himself as the "I AM" who confronted Moses in the desert.

Out of love for His Father and for us, He went forward without fear.

I think that's what we like about Captain America: he moves without fear. He's already given up everything for his people; he's not afraid to give more.

He's not going to operate in fear and firepower, but in love and hope.

By the end of the movie, Cap prevails and Fury is proven wrong.

May we be so blessed as to know the love of God and walk without fear to our destinations!

Amen.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Capt. America: The Winter Soldier Melts Hearts

OK, talk about a LATE, LATE review of a great movie! Captain America: The Winter Soldier opened on April 4th to much fanfare and was well-received, making over $95 million the first weekend. Also, in conjunction with the TV series "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." the smart boys over at Marvel decided to follow through with the storyline, having the evil organization of HYDRA so infiltrating SHIELD that even one of our regular TV series heroes was found to be a double-agent.

Tying your TV series to a big tentpole blockbuster so directly has never been done before. You watch the TV series one week, go see the movie over the weekend, and the next episode is dealing with the repercussions. I was very impressed. It was a real game-changer and the very series so many were thinking as your weekly boilerplate mystery/action team show suddenly got a lot more interesting.

It doesn't hurt to see TV series veterans like Clark Gregg and Cobie Smulders show up in both film and series to maintain continuity, you know? The Marvel Cinematic Universe is getting stronger and stronger with each film, and for an old geek like me, it is fun and rewarding to see the "ordinary superhero" trope come to life.

You know what I mean if you read the Bronze Age comics: The Avengers commandeering a bus to fight a Cosmic Threat, Captain America deflecting snowballs launched by children as he walks with Ms. Marvel in the courtyard of the Avengers Mansion in winter - that sort of verisimilitude is irresistible to me, mixing real life with our fantastic superheroes.

















[above images lifted from Bully Says: Comics Oughta Be Fun and SuperMegaMonkey.net ]

Now pardon the diversion, but THAT sequence shows the Captain America I've been looking to see on film for decades. So confident, he is more concerned that he encourages and lifts up his allies than be distracted by some prank. He is a man without ego. He is a man with a mission. He understands the difference between being a patriot [a good thing] and being a nationalist [a dangerous thing]. He is a conservative, but he is conscientious one, utterly aware how men can do great things - and terrible things.

As one web pundit said "He's the first conservative to spout moral imperatives without sounding like a total a$$#!@#&!"

I laughed when I read that and I agreed.

I see a lot of liberal mindset in the movie, but stuff I mostly agree with, esp. concerning government power and control. I think we need to be as local- and self-governing as possible, because frankly, federalism is just a step away from fascism, and we can do with less of that, I think.

We'll tie this in with Jesus next blog, I hope.

[to be continued]

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jesus' Resurrection: A Strange Proof

Showing off my 12 year old drawing skillz.
When you begin reading the accounts of the first Easter morning, and begin trying to consider what Christians say changed the entire future of humanity, you run across an almost disheartening fact.

Jesus treats it so casually.

Publicly humiliated, the beaten nearly to death and then hung on a cross until his heart gave out--physically and spiritually--you would think he'd like a bit more fanfare. Like "HEY, HEY - WHO'S YOUR DADDY NOW?!! Hey, where's that Pontius Pilate guy - I'd like to have a word with him! Oh - and Caiaphas too! In fact,  bring me the entire Sanhedrin!"

My former pastor, Rev. Sandy Willson of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis pointed this out to us about 18 years ago. He said that would be our human response--to go after our enemies.

Not Jesus. He went after His friends. He did so with a gentleness and wit that was, in my imagination, perhaps a more effective proof of His divine nature and that he had indeed conquered death.

Here are just some of the points I wish to share today.

1) Jesus was dead for just about 40 hours. I think He did not want everyone to grieve too much. He was dead just long enough to fulfill scripture. Even though Mary rose up so early it was still dark, she did not get a chance to see His dead body. He got up before her.

2) Contrary to popular imagination and some paintings, the angel did not roll away the stone to let Him out. Jesus was already gone. The angel rolled away the stone because God sent an angel to show grief-stricken women their beloved Savior was risen.

3) Likewise, Jesus was sweet enough to not SCARE Mary. He politely asked her what was she looking for? Then He said [effectively], "Hey, honey![Mary!]" [She recognized the way He spoke her name, clearly.]

4) Jesus also kept it very low key and light when dealing with His disciples: he walked with some, just chatting, correcting them on scripture, had dinner, made breakfast after helping them get all the fish they could deal with, etc. Each time He downplays the supernatural, BECAUSE it is obvious and terrifying. There is a reason He says "Peace be with you!" and it ain't because He's Lutheran. ;)

The point I am making is nothing proves to me better than these insignificant social details, that we have been given accurate accounts of His resurrection.

Because of Jesus' casual, confident, loving, playful, well-that's-over-with attitude, my faith has been revived.

He's so Boss and so much the Man Who Can Handle Your Mess, that He's probably grinning the entire time!

And why shouldn't He, this day? He's won.

The universe. Death. Life, Heaven. Hell. You. Me.

You ever think of a resurrected god saying "Got something to eat?"

His casualness is a strange proof, I admit. But as I get older, it almost lends more credibility than factual apologetics.

May you see His crazy, smiling love for you this Easter.

Amen.

p.s. In a reversal of style, I put here a geek example of what I am expressing.

Brandon Lee in The Crow, rises from the dead to avenge the murder of his fiance' and himself. But when friendly and sympathetic cop Officer Albrecht is visited by Eric Draven, Eric hands him a beer and joins him with a cigarette.

Jesus asked for some fish from his friends, but said nothing to his opponents after His resurrection. You can figure out what that means, can't you?



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Week - featuring Snow and the Blood Moons

Sounds like a rock group, doesn't it?

But after a LATE snowfall, on Monday, the day after Palm Sunday, we had another fascinating event.

At 1:00 a.m. CST, we had a lunar eclipse. It took an hour for the Earth's shadow to fully cover the Moon's surface and cause that signature coppery-red color, and I watched every minute of it from my open bedroom window with a small birdwatcher's scope. It was AMAZING.

There has been a lot of controversy about the fact that we are going to have three "Blood Moons" in a year's time, the next being October 8th. What controversy you say?

Well, it seems that a few high profile pastors are talking about how such "Blood Moons" are signs of this or that, using some notable events in history that correlate with their appearance as proof that "something big" is going to happen.

Yep. The sales of their books will go up.

As eager as I am too look for signs and patterns, as quickly as I accept so many things, I've got to shake my head at this. It just is too obscure and profits too many men by writing on something so topical.

But to their point, on April 3, 33 A.D. it looks like we did have a "blood moon" the evening Christ died for our sins. From Acts 2:14-24
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “ ‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Peter quotes an Old Testament prophecy that hinted the moon would be "turned...to blood."

With modern software, we are able to see the sky and know EXACTLY when that might have happened. we know it was Passover and during the reign of Pontius Pilate. So in that timeframe, did the moon "turn to blood?"

Yeah. It did. Read an article from Nature magazine, Dec 22, 1993: http://holtz.org/Library/Social%20Science/History/Metals%20Age/Dating%20Jesus%20Death%20by%20Lunar%20Eclipse.htm .

So kids, what does this mean?

It means that God has all the times and seasons in His hand. It means that even though we thought the death of Christ was horrible it was indeed God's plan.

It was foreordained. In the heavens.

Hard to counterfeit that. Hard to imagine that the target of the Pharisees and Sadducees was RIGHT on time and far more in control than they thought. Even Pilate was a pawn in God's Plan of Redemption.

Let that encourage you, this Easter week. God still sits on His throne. Even when it snows in Spring and the moon turns to blood, you can rest that God is doing something wonderful.

The only thing for certain is that you cannot predict what that great and wonderful thing will be.

You don't need to know, actually. God is good, and you just need to be patient.

Amen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

21 Dumbest & Most Clueless Customers in the World

This is one of those web myths that cannot be verified but smells legit because we know human beings. It exemplifies many reasons that I have placed my faith in God, not man.

We are fallible and ignorant in many areas. We misunderstand and beat with frustration the object of our discomfort.

Still, when the smoke clears, we may laugh at ourselves. We shake our heads [or hang them, as appropriate] and learn.

Some of these are hard to believe. But I can guess that the more egregious ones are born from a person mentally disconnecting due to something UTTERLY unrelated.

Usually it is some fresh emotional trauma. We start talking stupid when punched in the gut. We are mentally askew. The overworked mother, the overwhelmed manager, the mistaken tech ability poorly comprehended.

Others: simply pure, flat-out ignorance and fear, based on misconceptions.

As a pastor, nothing shows the Fall quite as clearly.

I truly and honestly sympathize.

Here's one I encountered years ago: I had to FAX a six or seven page print out of a website to a client.

Thankfully, I had a rational and personable account manager to help me. When the client faxed back "changes" which were complaints on how the text was wrapping and placement of images, the account manager called her and explained this was uncontrollable due to the nature of various browsers.

"THAT is so much BULL$#!%!" the lady retorted.

Account manager kindly replied it was not; it was the nature of the web. [BTW, this was in 1997 before cascading style sheets.]

I was aghast that the client was so - well, dumb and rude.

Account manager said, "Well, Justice, her dog just died. She's having a hard day." This was my first insight into how quickly and easily our minds can be overthrown as full-grown adults in a big person world.

When you ask what time the Three O'Clock Parade is at Disneyland, you probably have had your mental capacity used up by little ones and their needs.

Probably.

Here's another truth I found out.

If you think God is mean and should give you some answers, you are the one in pain and have a problem.

Not God.

Let me repeat that.

God is not the problem. Your pain is the problem.

God offers Himself, not a "fix-this" solution, in many cases.

He frankly tells us Christians who love Christ will be maligned, mistreated and misunderstood because He - Jesus, the EXACT representation of God, was treated the same way.

This always bothered me.

I LIKE superheroes and cool guys who fight evil. I LIKE heroes defeating villains. I LIKE problem solvers.

But after awhile, it began to hit me what the problem was.

Us.

We--meaning humanity as a whole--are referred to variously by Jesus Christ as sheep, sparrows, puppy dogs, fish, goats, and well, vipers. OK, the last two are aimed at mean-spirited people, true, but they all have one thing in common: they are unable to reason. They are unable to understand their universe besides immediate need gratification.

In another place, though, especially in John's gospel, Jesus refers to us as "gods" and later as "friends" and "sons of God"--equal to Himself!

Now THAT is unexpected! It even sounds heretical. But Jesus said it, so you have to deal with it. It must be true, at least in certain conditions.

What makes us go from being compared to a wandering animal to a child of God?

What transforms man to be very like the Creator?

Is it Jesus? [Obvious answer, right?]

No. No directly, anyway.

What changes us is the Spirit of God, a.k.a. the Holy Spirit, a.k.a. the Spirit that was present at Creation in Genesis 1:2. Jesus called Him the Helper, the Counselor and would send Him after his death and resurrection.

You see, we can be highly moral, intelligent and decent human beings, but as good as that is, it is insufficient to understand God. We are also limited to merely our personal powers and character to do the right thing, think the right things and act in the right way.

We fail. Often.

But with the Holy Spirit, we can.

We can be helped.

We can be emotionally healed.

We fail naturally. We must be helped supernaturally.

If you have not asked Jesus for the Holy Spirit, I think it is time you did so.

Because if you really are betting on your own human wisdom to figure out this world, you are in big trouble. It is just too crazy, filled with wounded people who cannot process "2 + 2 = 4."

It may be the smartest thing you ever did. If you can think of anything smarter to do than ask God for His Spirit to empower you, let me know.

May God grant you great healing and joy as you call on Him in faith today. :D

Amen.





Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Creep of Creepy [or How I Found Out I Was Counterfeiting]

CREEPY #131
Berni Wrightson's Wolfman = COOL!
Years ago there was a horror magazine called Creepy filled with black and white stories of the macabre, the unusual the horrific. It was forbidden fruit for many a 13 year old boy who sought to grab a copy that had to stay hidden from the ever-watchful eyes of censoring parents – who were right, of course.

But that was its appeal: it was WEIRD and WRONG and filled with stories of DARK JUSTICE in which malefactors received horrific unnatural recompense for their heinous crimes. It was CREEPY.

Yesterday I got an e-mail from an ex-friend about a picture I had stored on Facebook. It was of him holding a can of “Whoop-Ass Chili” with the “Chili” removed. So it looks like he’s holding a can of “Whoop-Ass” – and he has this expression on his face like “You want some of this, big boy?” I thought it was hilarious. I explained that he was a brilliant man but unrelenting in verbal battles. I got the photo from a forum we both frequent, who know him well, and where he had posted the original. 

Oh yeah – forgot to tell you that part, didn’t I? The original pic was him showing off a food item. It was NOT a can of Whoop-Ass Chili. I grabbed that image from the web to modify and put in his hand.

People got upset. Very upset. I went “Wha…? It’s a JOKE – c’mon, get a life!” and moved on. No biggie, I thought. He’s been so vicious and name-calling, insulting and insinuating, how is this TOO far? I’m not placing his name even on the file – and I am NOT sharing it with anyone who had not seen the original either!

Get over it!

Now my ex-friend did write that he did not believe I was meanly-spirited but that I am "really, really bad at judging these things." And that it was… get ready for it…

It was CREEPY.

He said I had a penchant for it. A blindness in this area that I needed to reflect on.

So I’ve been reflecting. 

He was right.

Here’s How I Got CREEPY, True Believer
I had been hurt by my ex-friend and wanted to say something about it. I wanted him to tone down his verbal barrages, because I had grown up with flare-temper men and women who had issues. It literally hurt to read his posts. He’d cut loose with 300 word paragraphs with nary a breath or break.

I’d learned a long time ago that humor and cartooning can make a point that even your target can laugh at.

Not this time.
Lepre-Khan! 
Awful, ain't it?

You already know why if you have spent more than four days on the web. You have seen evil done and misinformation and bad Photoshop work everywhere. Every image in the political spectrum from Sarah Palin to Barack Obama has been manipulated for humor.

But here’s where it gets bad: good humor, and editorial cartooning, depends on exaggeration for effect. It DEPENDS on caricatures, stereotypes and over-simplification. The very things verbotten in literature, we cartoonists use to elicit a laugh. They are our tools in trade.

There are all kinds of cartoons: tasteful understated cartoons, gross cartoons, and obscene cartoons. It is a form of visual parody we love and identify with. You can slip a lot into a cartoon from your side of the political fence and find opponents willing to listen. They are powerful, but, like I said, they depend on simplification to garner your attention and emotional altruism.

There are no “realistic” cartoons. They are self-defeating.

So I failed in my humor, as my ex-friend said, because I crossed a line. An invisible line.

What line, you may ask? The line of realism.

It looked too realistic.

No. Forget that.

It looked REAL.

Like the original pic. Like I took it myself. It was not longer a cartoon; it was a counterfeit.

You see, I have a curse. It is usually helpful in task-oriented situations: I am a perfectionist. If I see that I can make something better, I do. I hate sloppy. Hate it.
 From Understanding Comics
by Scott McCloud, p.11

The more specific the image, the more narrow the scope of appeal. The closer to real-life, the closer to an op-ed piece or slanted review/report instead of an allegory or fable. It is just the way we are. We can “hear” a story of colorful figures far faster than a report of cold hard facts. Broad strokes are inclusive; narrow strokes are exclusive.

I also grew up with a love of special effects and making things that were fantastic look realistic. I was twelve when Star Wars came out. I was twenty-two when I first even saw Photoshop, and was using it daily ten years later. I love making something un-real look real.

But if you do that in real life, with real people and real objects? It is no longer cartooning.

It is counterfeiting.

No one would have been upset if it was clearly seen to be photoshopped. You can accomplish that by doing a hack job of cut and paste, and everyone just snickers.

Conversely, if you do an excellent job of wrapping the fingers around the object, dropping the light levels and skewing .05 degrees in the vertical plane to make sure you cannot tell the object was emplaced after the fact, you have gone too far.

Your craft has crept up to become a curse. You have become CREEPY.

You don't want that.

This blog has run long, so I must end with something that connects it to Jesus, right?

Well, Jesus knew the power of story and how people thought. He did not mind offending the educated, the politicos or the self-righteous legalist. He wasn’t swayed either by simple emotional appeals or moral misdirection. He says it like it is and pushes buttons.

Yet there comes a point in His ministry which He is obviously using restraint, and is holding back to keep from overwhelming people. He won’t tell His disciples everything He knows or show everything He can do so as to not scare them. He is careful in what He reveals. He is so meek that after He casts out thousands of demons, when the people ask Him to leave, He just up and does it.

You see, Jesus was CREEPY. He could do terrible things and wonderful things and people knew it. He cursed a fig tree, told a storm to shut up and a dead man to get up.

But He also needed one thing though when dealing with living human beings.

Their agreement. Their permission. Over and over He asks, “Do you want to be made well?” “Do you believe?” He never demands our personal rectitude or fights to remind us He is the Son of God. He simply is power held meekly and gently. Because He acts in love, He steps aside often for the wounded, the weaker, the fearful.

He listened to them. He did what they asked Him to do.

Yesterday, my ex-friend told me what I did with his photo was CREEPY. He wanted me to take it down.

He was right, so I did. I did it because Jesus would. I did it because I love my ex-friend.

My ex-friend does not love me. That's just a fact.

But Jesus said something about that too. ;)

Amen.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Kane & Lee: Essential Salesmen [or "Without us, you wouldn't know Jack!"]

Jack Kirby, King of Comics, Creator of Marvel Universe
In my previous blog, I spoke of how Bill Finger was the true creator of the dark knight we have all come to love and admire - Batman.

Lately I've been visiting The Jack Kirby Fan Page on Facebook and the year-by-year creative output timeline over at The Jack Kirby Museum. Clearly, he too was the driving force behind early Marvel and did the mountainous creative work that was needed to create a WHOLE new universe that had characters SO enduring, they have all been made into blockbuster films in the last decade: Thor, Hulk, Captain America, The Avengers [you get the idea, True Believer].

He's also responsible for creating for DC Comics all their "New Gods" mythos, including characters such as Darkseid, Big Barda, Mr. Miracle, Orion, Highfather, Granny Goodness, etc. These were featured heavily in the successful DC Animated Universe under Bruce Timm's expert direction and guidance.

So you got Finger being overlooked because of Bob Kane and Kirby being overlooked because of Stan Lee - both because they were able to promote their name WITH the brand and let people assume they did a lot more work than they actually did. Both understood the law and how this business worked. Yes, they both had SOME talent, but not to the level their co-workers/talented employees had.

Their creative talent was the masquerade. They put a great face on it. They smiled and met with people and made sure they were always identified with the product.

They were promoters. They were hucksters. They were charming. They were savvy.

They were necessary. That is, if the product was going to go out into the world.

Jack Kirby, Creator of Fourth World for DC Universe
I'll explain that terrible truth in just a moment, but let me tell you what I have found out as a creative writer serving as a caregiver: I only have so much time and so much energy.

And when I am writing something GOOD and working HARD, I get too tired to promote it. I need help. I need a voice loud enough to be heard by the world. If I say "My stuff is GREAT! You have GOT to read MY STUFF!!" I sound like a neglected child.

But if another "praises [me], not my own lips", then I can relax. I can rest and do more of the stuff I like. I will, by nature, be something of an introvert, gathering energy and joy by isolation and deep thinking, unwilling to hang around with a mass of people.

So an extrovert becomes a Helper to me. He will make sure others I do not know will read and enjoy my work. I work on the craft; he works on the promotion.

Now here's where it gets "blackmailing" ugly. I mean, unethical and disingenuous and symbiotic at the same time. There's a fine line between a well-paid promoter and a scoundrel.

I think Kane a full-fledged scoundrel, but Lee closer to a overpaid and overcredited promoter. I am sure there is a "proper way" to do this, but frankly nothing has been as successful as these properties that did NOT give back to their creator's what they were worth. Not even a decent fraction of value.

But here's the ugly truth: these men worked hard to promote what their name was attached to because they would have starved otherwise.

It was in their interests. It was going into their pocketbooks. If it failed, their name was in lights - and they would be a failure. Oh sure, they would have found SOMETHING to stay alive, but nothing beloved by children and loved by millions.

So they became the "Face" and "Author"  - the character's 'ambassador' if you will.

They were advocates for something they believed was awesome. They were opportunists who knew the law and the public.

The actual creators did not, not to that extent. They were honest men who just wanted a living - and maybe a raise or two.

And so we are drawn to this terrible reality: without the huckster, dedicated, face-saving, opportunistic hacks would we, the ignorant public, really know of or have enjoyed the talented work of Bill Finger on Batman or Jack Kirby on... well, crud... the Marvel and DC Universes?

The honest answer is: probably not.

But do not think I am approving of the inequity; I just do not think all 'rewards' must be monetary and here and now - and those men served a better purpose than they imagined.

Jesus called this one out for all of us creatives rightly angered at the unethical treatment of these men: "There is nothing hidden that will not be found out."

You cannot hide the truth. Not forever.

Many men of great artistic talent and men of deep faith in God have died, not seeing what legacy they left behind, but these men did see their creations become enormously popular.

That is true.

We fans need to acknowledge our debt to them. To make sure they get he credit they are due.

But let us be fair as well.

We owe a DIFFERENT debt to their *ahem* co-workers.

We can say, with a straight face: "Thank you for introducing me to the work of ________ . He had real talent and his work is part of my childhood."

You can say that.

Even Jesus did that - acknowledge that evil existed, but it served a better purpose.
[Jesus] answered and said to them:
It is one of the twelve, He who dips his hand with me in the dish, the same is the one who will betray me.
I am going to do what the Father has sent me to do, as it is written in scripture, but woe to the man who betrays the Son of man.
It would be better if he had not been born.

Jesus had to be betrayed to die - so He could pay for our sins. Judas was a necessary part of God's plan, though he was a willing volunteer.

It just may be that you have to be betrayed to be famous, O Creative One. I hate to say it, but it may be so if you are REALLY good.

Don't worry. Trust God to take care of you anyway.

The truth will come out.

It always does.

Amen.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Invisible Finger of Batman

Do you know who created Batman?
The Secret Identity of the
REAL creator of Batman

Bob Kane, right?

Well, Bob Kane got his name all over it and all the credit, but the fact is, the uncredited designer and writer of Batman was Bill Finger.

In the 1940s, it was typical in the industry that whoever did the work was often not credited - most were not proud of being known as "comic book" [re: "kiddie book"] creators and were often working in a studio to sell it to a publisher. Thus, even the publisher did not know who did what but took the work as it was given.

Other comic book legendaries like Jack Kirby worked under some 5 or 6 nom de plumes on several different comics and comic strips in different studios. The purpose was to cast a far enough net to see WHICH creation would catch on and make money.

Comics were NOT high pay. Very few made it big in the 40s. But some did and one of the greatest is The Batman. 


To be fair, Bob Kane came up with the name. Yep. A guy in a red union suit with Da Vinci-styled bat wings on his arms. After that, very little. Bill Finger made suggestion after suggestion. In fact, he just re-designed the bloody costume, added the Batmobile, Robin, Alfred, and wrote story after story...

Everyone in the industry knew it was Bill Finger, but the name that the public saw over and over?

"Created by Bob Kane."

And it stuck.

To know more, go to this insightful article about Bob Kane on "Dial 'B' for Blog" or get a copy of 
Bill The Boy Wonder, The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.


Here's a nice summary of Bob Kane's actual contributions by artist Ty Templeton:



Oh what does this have to do with anything about God?

Simple, really.

How was the universe created? And all of what is in it?

By accident? Were you just a product of evolutionary chance or natural selection?

Nah.

The universe was created by God. And, of course, all the characters in it.

Just because the finger is invisible don't mean it did not do the work.

Keep that in mind when you get rightly outraged a creative did not receive proper credit.

It is far more common than you think.

Say "thank you God", now and then.

At least you'll give some proper credit.

Don't worry too much about the villains, either.

He knows how to edit.

Amen.