Beyond The Pale

Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Beyond The Pale - Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Weekend Distractions: Scotland Shows How It’s Done With Non-Violent Referendum

union-jack-scotland

A big day in the United Kingdom this week. The people of Scotland had the opportunity to vote for their independence from the rest of the union.

Think about that for a moment.

They got to vote…

They got to choose…

How often has that happened in the history of the world?

Historically a country’s independence is forged in blood.  An insurgency against the “power” in charge leads to rebellion and civil war. A lot of people end up dying for “the cause”.

But that didn’t happen in the U.K last week.  And when the people of Scotland ultimately decided to remain within the union the leaders of the the Scottish National Party who advocated independence were not rounded up and executed.  There were no charges of treason or insurrection.

Other than some incidents of passionate voters getting carried away there was no violence whatsoever.

Incredible!

A Chinese friend of mine this week mentioned how the Chinese government looks at what happened in Scotland this week and it makes them nervous. “Steve, think of how much smaller China would be if different areas could vote to leave the PRC?  Tibet, Xinjiang Province, Inner Mongolia… all would leave if they could just vote.  Beijing would be against the idea of what happened in Scotland this week but they can’t even understand it”

scotland1

Think about it.  The Scottish Nationalist Party has been openly advocating Scottish Independence since 1934 and the party is allowed to exist by the “powers” in charge.  On top of that it actually has Members of Parliament voted in and representing the SNP in Westminster. Essentially you have a party whose ultimate aim is to break off a large segment of the country and go independent operating normally withing the governing framework of the existing “power” .

A government has to be incredibly secure to tolerate that.

Can you imagine a person advocating Tibet or Hong Kong independence representing a recognized party in Beijing?

I’ll let that thought marinate for a minute…

The irony of allowing freedom of choice in the Scottish referendum resulted in the people of Scotland ultimately choosing to stay.  

I know there was very passionate opinion on either side of the Scottish referendum and I has friends who were very disappointed with the result but rather than take up arms and start a violent rebellion they are simply going to the pub, ordering a pint, and saying, “Oh well, maybe next time.”

So three cheers for the U.K. and the people of Scotland for showing the rest of the world how it’s done!

More “Left Behind”: Thoughts on Raptures, Resurrections, and Turning The Prince of Peace into A God of War

 

Jesus_AR15My last post on the upcoming Left Behind movie seem to generate more than the usual amount of discussion.  To everyone’s credit the interactions with me, or the one’s I observed between others, were polite debates and discussions with people wrestling with a lot of unknowns on “this side” of Christ’s return.

To our benefit we live in a time when we have at least seen Jesus come the first time.  Because we live in Anno Domini we have a clear understanding of the nature and person of God through his Son.  (Heb 1)

Yes, thanks to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John we in the 21st century know God and how he really responds to sinners and saints alike.

Think of the poor folk trying to figure God out who lived before Jesus’ first appearance…

…they were really flying blind!

So I thought I would touch on a couple discussion topics that stemmed from the Left Behind post.

Rapture or Resurrection? 

A few folk agreed with the themes of the previous Left Behind post  but took issue that I suggested there was no “rapture”.  I think we need to differentiate between a “rapture” (which is never mentioned in the Bible) and a “resurrection” (which is).

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is often used as a foundation for the theology of a rapture.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lordforever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

But the context in the letter is Paul’s desire to share with people who are grieving dead loved ones that they don’t have to grieve!   He is talking about “resurrection”.  The hope that we all have when Christ comes again.

The problem I have with the present understanding of ” the rapture” is that the word suggests the church being taken away. The great promise is not that we are going but that He is coming… and we are transformed in the process. As N.T. Wright suggests it was traditional for the faithful followers of a returning king to go outside the city gates to meet the king and walk in victorious with him. Yes, we will “meet Jesus in the air” to be with him …but he will be reigning from the throne of his father David on Earth!

 

Prince of Peace or God of War?

Imagine if you can, the thought of Mother Theresa returning from the dead and slaying all her enemies.  Yes, all those that didn’t believe in her mission to stand for the poor and the oppressed in India would feel her mighty wrath.

Weird thought eh?

How about Ghandi?  Or Dr. Martin Luther King?  If they came again would they justly smite all that opposed their message?

The thought of any of these three engaging in such an action is so outrageous that suggesting it isn’t even as offensive as it is laughable.

And yet a multitude of Christians seem to have no reservation proclaiming that when Jesus returns he will literally kill lots of people!  As one commenter said to me, “I do believe He will come and destroy His enemies.”

Apparently Jesus may have been the Prince of Peace the first time around but on his Second Coming he will be the God of War who kicks butt and takes names!

Or as the Saturday Night Live parody suggests, “Next time, no more Mr. Nice Jesus”!

One of the arguments I hear to justify Jesus’ actions is one of justice!

“You have to understand Steve, Jesus is merciful…but he’s also just!”

It’s interesting that almost everyone I have heard say this “justice” phrasing to me has been:

* white

* Western (American, British, European etc.)

* from a relatively prosperous economic background

I am the same…

In the crap shoot of birth I was born white, male, and in America.  I had loving parents who taught and modeled compassion and kindness to me.  I never wanted for a meal, shelter, or fresh drinking water.

thresa

I also have had the opportunity to travel the world and see most of the people on this planet are not so fortunate.  I’ve seen whole cultures trapped in cycles of poverty, mistrust, and violence.   Men who do abysmal things because abysmal things were done to them and they don’t even understand that there is a better Way!  Women who live in fear and lash out at those around them because that is all they have ever known.  Children who are sold into economic and sexual slavery and then grow up to perpetuate the cycle by doing the same to the next generation.

They didn’t win the birth lottery I did!

I had a much better opportunity to “receive Jesus” and live in his Way than they did.

Is that justice?

Is that how the Kingdom of Heaven operates?

A crapshoot of who was born to a particular passport?

God forbid!

According to many Christians though when Jesus returns these are the people he would be slaying.  These are enemies who have failed to “receive him” and must be destroyed.

The reason they believe this is most Christians don’t even bother to think through their theology. They don’t take it to the logical conclusion and see where it really leads.

It leads to the Prince of Peace becoming a God of War!

Jesus though showed us a better Way. Those of us who have been blessed by the Good News of Jesus are to go into these areas where people are trapped in cycles of poverty, despair, and violence and are to break the chains holding them trapped as Jesus taught us:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

Luke 4:18

The Good News of Christ is freedom and liberty to those who are trapped not a threat to those who do not respond!

For the record I do believe when Jesus returns he will destroy his enemies!

But his enemies are not people!  They are the theologies, philosophies, cultural traits, government systems, economics, and everything else that brings death to his children.

As Paul says in Ephesians:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

The struggle has never been against flesh and blood and it won’t be when Jesus returns.

The Son of God, who on the cross begged forgiveness of his murderers and who when raised from the dead proclaimed, “Peace, don’t be afraid” was the model of what we, who are his Bride, are to proclaim to the world!

In your quest for justice don’t end up turning the Prince of Peace into a God of War!

3 Things To Consider Before Inviting Your Friend To See Left Behind

LeftBehind_poster_webIn a couple weeks time the Left Behind movie will open in cinemas around the world.  As someone who got “onboard” the Left Behind evangelistic bandwagon 14 years ago when the original version with Kirk Cameron came out (yes I rented out the big screen at a clubhouse and invited many unsaved friends hoping that by watching it they may become “saved”) can I offer 3 things to consider before getting evangelistically excited about the new Left Behind?

Take it as the voice of experience…

 

Left Behind Theology is Bad Theology

News Flash: The Rapture – Tribulation – Anti-Christ theology of the Left Behind series is only about 200 years old!

Theologians are still pondering how the musings and theories of 19th century Plymouth Brethren minister John Darby became the eschatological underpinning of millions of evangelical and charismatic Christians.

But it did…

I was one of them.

Darby’s theology ( later propagated through Biblical translations like Scofield’s Reference Bible)  fostered an escapist attitude among the church that focused the Bride’s attention on escaping the earth rather than renewing it.

Fast forward 200 years to when many Christians increasingly cast themselves in the role of persecuted victim, a theology where Jesus comes back and proclaims we were “right” after all and proceeds to kill everyone else has a certain attractiveness.

The problem is (to paraphrase Brian Zahnd) Jesus is not like that.  Jesus has never been like that.  There has never been a time when Jesus was remotely like that.  Many Christians don’t realize that…but they should.

Summed up, Left Behind theology is bad theology for a number of reasons but chief among them is that it just makes Jesus look bad.

And I don’t care much for that…

 

People won’t get saved watching Left Behind

I was perusing the Left Behind facebook page and one thread had over 30,000 comments talking a lot about the movie being used as a tool for salvation.

Comments such as:

* Can’t wait to see this movie! Hope this movie brings the unsaved to Christ so they don’t get left behind.

* I pray that many get out to see this, to realize what is ahead of they aren’t ready for the coming of Christ.

*  I can’t wait. I am dragging my husband (agnostic) to this so he can SEE what he will be facing someday..

I appreciate the sentiments (hey, I was there once) but seeing a movie doesn’t “save” anyone.  And when fear is used as the tool, that’s about as far away from the salvation Jesus brings as you can get.

And that’s what Left Behind sells.  It sells fear!  As if Jesus can’t woo his bride to himself through unconditional love, he instead has to put a shotgun to people’s head and threaten them with all sorts of catastrophe if they don’t “accept” him.

I’m not saying books, film, and art can’t be used to help reveal who Jesus is to people…

…I’m just saying the Left Behind film doesn’t reveal who Jesus is.

 

Left Behind is about money

Christians are simply being marketed as a group and used to make a number of people a LOT of money.  As a film lover myself I have no issue spending my hard earned cash at the cinema or for a download on iTunes knowing that while I am purchasing a couple hours of entertainment and storytelling some producers and actors are raking it in.

But…

* no one is trying to convince me to bring my friend to see Iron Man 3 because their eternal salvation is at stake.

* no one is trying to sell me a ministry resource kit so I can do a church small group study on Guardians of the Galaxy

* no one is urging me to see the latest disaster movie because it’s all in the Bible and going to come true one day

EVENT-KIT

No, movie producers know that there is a huge market now for Christians who will not only pay to watch movies where they are cast as the persecuted victim who is finally vindicated  (God is Not Dead) but movies where they can be convinced that it is their moral duty to bring as many friends as possible.

The sound you hear is Jesus turning over tables in the market place… 

To sum up

My transition from evangelistic promoter of Left Behind in 2000 to vocal critic in 2014 doesn’t come from deep theological discussions or eschatological arguments.

Not in the slightest…

It’s because I see who Jesus is just a little clearer now than I did then.

I see now that the prince of peace really is The Prince of Peace

Why do I feel so strongly about Left Behind?

Because Jesus deserves so much better…

On YWAM and 25 years of Christian Ministry

DTS outreach in Malaysia

DTS outreach in Malaysia

I turned 48 yesterday.  Not a milestone birthday I grant you (save for the joy found in reminding myself I’m not 50 yet) but it did cause me to reflect on an actual milestone anniversary in my life.

25 years ago this month I arrived in Melbourne Australia to attend a Discipleship Training School (DTS) with Youth with a Mission (YWAM).  It was essentially my moment of entering “full time ministry”.  I know, as someone who has openly questioned the concept of “full time ministry” on this very blog I realize I am navigating a theological minefield here but bear with me.

It was 1989 and the Christian ministry world was very binary for me at that time.  When God calls, you have one of two options:

* either pastor a church and counsel people’s problems all day long

or

* become a foreign missionary and see the world as you bring the Good News to new lands. 

I knew which one I wanted to do…

Of course all this happened because I had one of those “moments” where God really shakes you up.  I hadn’t really gone to church much between graduating high school and turning 21 preferring to focus on other things…like myself!

But a Bible study I was invited to by a mentor of mine at the time followed by many reflective discussions in the bar afterwards soon had me “on fire” again.

However I was still nervous about blowing all the money I had saved to move to Los Angeles and become an actor on a 6 month missionary school in Australia. Truth be told,  I purposely applied to the Melbourne school 1 week after the cutoff date with the hope that I would be rejected.

I wasn’t.

In fact I got a call from Melbourne and Tom the DTS leader told me they received my application late but had prayed about it and felt I was supposed to come.

Now in these days of Skype and the internet an international call is as common as phoning my neighbor but for a suburban raised American in 1989 a call from Australia where they had prayed and felt God wanted me to go?

Forget Hollywood…I’m goin’ to a land down under”

Yes, my shorts scream '80s

Yes, my shorts scream ’80s

A Good God

And let me add about how much God loves us.  About a year or two before I went to Australia a young Australian guy named Peter visited our church for a while as he traveled the world.  My dad employed him for a few weeks in his flooring company and so we got to know Peter pretty well during that time.  Peter wasn’t just from Australia…he was from Melbourne Australia.

So when I arrived in Melbourne in September of 1989 (after an excruciating Detroit – Denver – L.A. – Honolulu – Sydney – Melbourne flight) it was Peter who was waiting for me when I landed.  I stayed my first week before the DTS with Peter’s family who practically adopted me as one of their own during my time in Melbourne.  (Australian readers may appreciate memories of that first weekend include eating fish and chips and watching Hey Hey Its Saturday)

My point though is I was young, away from my family, and in a strange land for the first time in my life.  So God arranged for a loving family to watch over me in my new home away from home.  In all of the cities in all of Australia I knew only one Australian personally before I arrived…and he lived 30 minutes from the YWAM base I would be attending.

There are no coincidences…

God is just cool like that

Discipleship Training School

The DTS itself was an experience I will never forget and it really confirmed in me that I would be in some form of ministry and that it would be overseas. Melbourne was so much more cosmopolitan than anything I had ever experienced growing up in suburban Detroit.  I tasted curry for the first time in Melbourne.

I was 23 year old and had never had a curry!  (Now I can’t go a week without it)

The DTS gang waiting for a train

The DTS gang waiting for a train

Our  DTS  was very International and had about 23 people in it from Germany, Switzerland, Egypt, the U.K., New Zealand, America, as well as the Aussies.

I kinda knew then this was the life I wanted to live.  I loved the clash of cultures and cuisine.  I loved talking about God through the lens of other people’s experiences and upbringings.

My time with these new friends were full of adventures as we learned, worked, prayed, and played together.  I even developed a crush on one of the pretty young YWAM base leaders.  Turned out she also had a crush…but alas, not for me.  Thats ok, it cleared the way for Tammy a year later :)

I later went on outreach with the DTS to Malaysia and it was there that I picked up a book called Heartcry for China. I read it twice in the jungle and thought for the first time my next move may need to be to Hong Kong.

Turns out Hong Kong was where the journey took me but it wasn’t where it started.  It started 25 years ago at a YWAM base in Melbourne Australia. So thanks to all you who were part of that chapter of my life.  I have many fond memories and it laid the foundation of where I am today!

 

“…but some doubted.” What Does Jesus Do With Christians Who Doubt?

doubt_diceDoubt was a dirty word in the church circles I came from.  Prayers for healing, prosperity, good grades at school, or a job promotion at work could all be derailed by simply doubting it would happen.

James 1:6 got thrown around a lot

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Yep, doubt became a good excuse to use when prayers didn’t get answered; “I’m sure he must be harboring doubt in his heart, that’s why he isn’t healed yet”

Doubt also becomes a useful tool in churches to keep people in line.  Encourage true believing at the cost of critical thought and leaders can get away with a lot of nonsense before people finally have enough.

But what did Jesus do with doubters?

When Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead he then prepared his disciples to launch into the largest spiritual movement the world has ever seen.

His Great Commission!

Surely there could be no room for doubters?  Weak links in the chain would throw the whole plan off.  Wouldn’t Jesus “lovingly” ask those disciples who were not “fully onboard” to step out of leadership until they had been restored?

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28: 16-20

Some doubted!

They just saw Jesus raised from the dead and yet they still harbored some thoughts of doubt.

Why?

Because they are human!

And it’s OK!  But what Jesus does next is what is truly mind blowing.

He gives the same commission to “Go” both to those that worshiped him and those who doubted!  He makes NO distinction between the two!

* Jesus didn’t have a loyalty test!

* Jesus didn’t have a patriotism test!

* Jesus didn’t have them sign a “What We Believe” Statement of Faith!

He gave the Great Commission to disciples… who doubted!

Yes, Jesus was a pretty secure church leader :)

He treats worshipers and doubters the same.

Why?

Because Christ knows two years down the road those self same worshipers today will be struggling with doubts tomorrow.

It’s all part of being human!

And they will need the help from those in the group who doubted earlier to take them out for a beer and tell them everything is going to be “OK”!

When Jesus told Peter that he was going to deny him three times Peter insisted that wasn’t going to happen. (Luke 22:31)

He was a worshiper, not a doubter!

But Jesus encourages him that once he has returned he should strengthen his brothers.  Once he overcomes his internal struggles and doubts he should help others struggling with the same.

Its the Jesus Way!

Following Christ is a journey.  And during a healthy faith  journey the worshipers become the doubters… and then the worshipers again.

Its what keeps the worship time really worship!

Jesus knows that and so he commissions worshipers and doubters alike!

Walking the Camino de Santiago: Gabriel & I are off to do The Way of St. James

CaminoMapOSB

It’s official!

The airline tickets have been bought.

In April my son and I will travel to Spain to walk the 500 mile Camino de Santiago

If you are unfamiliar, the Camino de Santiago is a spiritual pilgrimage in northern Spain that Catholic Christians have made for more the 1200 years. Supposedly the body of James the Apostle of Jesus is interned at the cathedral in Santiago.  In the last few years though interest in the walk from the French Pyrenees to Santiago has grown among non-Catholic Christians as well as others that are looking for a time away to reflect on their relationship with God and / or their life.

Three years ago as my son Gabriel & I were preparing to walk across England I saw a movie called The Way starring Martin Sheen.  Sheen plays a doctor who receives a phone call that his estranged son has died while walking the Camino.  He travels to Europe to recover the remains but ends up walking the Way of St. James in his son’s stead…and rediscovering his own life in the process.

When I saw the film I knew I had to walk the Camino de Santiago!

So while we were walking the Coast to Coast in 2012 I was planning that if it was a success, we would make the Camino the next walk.

It was…and we are!

Even my wife Tammy realized that after the incredible time Gabriel and I had on our Coast to Coast adventure, walking the Camino de Santiago was now a forgone conclusion.

But these things are always a pipe dream until you begin the put the money down …oh, and also when you get your Annual Leave Request Form signed and approved from your boss at work! :)

There is nothing like the feeling of pressing the “Confirm Purchase” button when buying plane tickets to make you feel like your pipe dream has just become a reality!

(Truth be told, the time between my receiving my signed Leave Form and buying my plane tickets was about 30 minutes!)

We land in Madrid on April 1, travel to the little town of St Jean on April 2nd and begin our journey on April 3rd…Good Friday!

I am so looking forward to this time both with God and my son while we journey together for a month.  When I finally arrive at the cathedral in Santiago and the official asks me if my reason for walking the Way of St. James was “religious”.

I will simply reply, “Yes”

(But now I have 7 months to learn Spanish)

Buen Camino!

Biblical Inerrancy Part 3: Defending The Truth?

magnifying-glass-162886_640Historically we Christians have a hankering to want to defend things.  In the Middle Ages we thought the Holy Land really was Holy and killed many “infidels” defending it.  In more modern times we, thankfully, have put our literal swords away but frequently engage in political battles to “defend” Christian America and other Christian countries  from abortionists, homosexuals, and secular humanists.

But the clarion call of defense which probably resonates the strongest among the church is the one which calls on the defense of Biblical Inerrancy.  For example did you know you can go to Defending Inerrancy website and sign the following petition:

“I affirm that the Bible alone, and in its entirety, is the infallible written Word of God in the original text and is, therefore, inerrant in all that it affirms or denies on whatever topic it addresses.”

Now who the petition is actually petitioning is a bit unclear.  God?  The President?  Liberal Christians?  Rachel Maddow?   Whatever governing authority is petitioned is besides the point because the main goal is this:
you can join your fellow Christians in defending the Bible from the infidels.

I am so glad this group doesn’t have swords!

 

Today’s Bible

The Bible that we have today fluctuated a bit for the first 400 years after Christ with different voices expressing certain books being added and subtracted at various times.  Over the years what we now have as The Bible coalesced and by the 5th century the complete list of books viewed as canon was generally accepted.

What’s interesting to note is that in the 5th century the Bible was considered inspired by God and essential to the Christian faith but would not have been considered “inerrant” in the way today’s defenders would hold.

And why is that?

Because it was the Pope, Christ’s representative on Earth, who was infallible and inerrant, not the Bible.

Of course when the Protestant Reformation occurred the Pope was ousted so a new “plumline”,  a new “true North” was needed.  The Bible quickly became the new Pope.  The new Christ’s representative on Earth.

Sola Scriptura was born!

The Bible was no longer the inspired “word”…it was now The Word of God!

Tyndale_Bible_-_Gospel_of_JohnDefending Truth

In those very self same scriptures however Jesus never calls his followers to defend anything.  We are called to share with others the Good News that God loves you, he is for you, and he is inviting you into a new way of life; a life rooted in compassion and mercy.  One of the closest “calls” for a “defense” is in one of Peter’s letters:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

1 Peter 3:15

You want to defend something? Defend against the hopelessness that permeates mankind! Be ready at all times to give the reason why you have hope!    And even then make sure you do it with a gentleness and respect.

You see, when we get into defense mode, we immediately assume a warlike stance.  We may say the words of love, but in truth Christians who are defending things lose almost all the forms of gentleness and respect.

We win a battle and lose people’s hearts in the process.

And as I’ve mentioned before, Jesus doesn’t need me to defend him.  That has all the logic of me telling Chuck Norris to stand back when faced by thugs.  You know, “Stay in the car Chuck, I’ll take care of this.”

Yeah…um…right….

Remember, God is our Father!  The parent defends the child not the other way around.

Oh Yeah…don’t forget the Fear!

The above petition by Defending Inerrancy notes the following:

STANDING UP FOR THE BIBLE BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

This is why the Defending Inerrancy initiative was created. We’ve already lost a growing list of evangelical scholars over the issue of inerrancy. Now we are trying to reach the latest generation of Christian leaders before it is too late. Would you please consider signing our petition and taking a stand for biblical inerrancy.

Before it’s too late? Too late for what?  Somehow God’s eternal plan is going to be thrown off course by liberal theologians?

A word of advice;

Anytime someone tries to get you to do something for God or your faith by appealing to your fear…run!  Run fast!

I’ll end this post by affirming my belief in what the scriptures say of itself:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

2 Tim 3:16

Paul the Apostle seemed to think this was a pretty good way to view scripture and I am in full agreement

My Top 10 Favorite Robin Williams Films…And Why I’ll Miss Him

Robin Williams has died!robin_williams01_website_image_jwce_standard

It’s not uncommon to wake up in the morning to discover that a famous celebrity passed away. Often the discovery is followed by a “what a shame” before heading out the door for work and largely forgetting about it.

Not so with Robin Williams!

Throughout the day I mused over the inspiration and joy his films have brought to me throughout my life.

Yes, my life

It feels like I grew up with Robin Williams and his movies have always been with me.

As a child…Mork & Mindy

As a rebel teen… Good Morning Vietnam

As a college student… Dead Poets Society

As a husband and father… Hook

I remember watching Robin Williams the first time he played the lovable alien Mork on Happy Days.  Mork was battling the Fonz with only the “cool” of Fonzie able to ultimately win in the end.  My brothers and I thought he was about the funniest guy we’d ever seen.  ABC executives thought the same thing and Mork & Mindy, and Robin Williams incredible career, was born!

Because we didn’t have VHS back then my brothers and I would audio tape Mork & Mindy so we could listen to William’s antics on long road trip vacations. I was honed on Robin Williams humor…

Of course from Mork & Mindy a long and successful career began.  And whether it was Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poet’s Society, or Patch Adams, Williams seemed to thrive on roles as the “insider” pushing the envelope, poking at the underbelly of “The Man”, not to tear it down, but instead to lift people up!

He was a rebel… for humanity!

So, with his tragic passing yesterday, I thought I would share my personal Top 10 Robin Williams movies.

My favorites…the ones that made me a fan!

Note: I didn’t include animated films and I have not seen Awakenings or One Hour Photo both of which I’m told are wonderful movies!

 

“My” Top 10 Favorite Robin Williams Films

10) Good Will Hunting - A great movie and the sole Oscar win for Williams. But if I’m honest, it never “clicked” for me like it has for others.  A fine film never the less

9) Patch Adams - Williams plays real life doctor Hunter “Patch” Adams using humor to cure patients and fight the system

8) Bicentennial Man - Based on the short story by Issac Asimov, Williams plays Andrew Martin, a household robot who over the course of 200 years discovers what it is like to be human.

7)  Jumanji - Williams gets trapped within a magical game.  He’s helped out by a couple children who share his adventures through time and other worlds.

6) RV - OK, this movie was panned by the critics but I can’t help myself…it just makes me smile.  Williams is trying to keep his job and his family together by going on a long road trip in an RV.  The regular encounters with Jeff Daniels is worth watching the film for but as they are all heading to Boulder Colorado,its a sentimental favorite for me.

5) Hook - Williams plays Peter Pan!  The kid who never grows up…but he has and now has to save his children from Dustin Hoffman a.k.a. Captain Hook by finding his “happy thought’ and learning to fly again.  This movie is magical for me!

4) What Dream May Come - Tammy particularly likes this movie.  Williams travels to Heaven and has to save his wife from hell with the help of his children.  Beautiful film!

3) Good Morning Vietnam- I think I saw this film 2 or 3 times at the cinema when it first came out.  I love it!  Williams is in rare form playing a disc jockey in the Vietnam War trying to bring some humor and joy to the troops while, again, sticking it to The Man.  (You see a pattern here?)

2) The Birdcage- Williams plays a gay nightclub owner who has to pretend for an evening to be straight while meeting his son’s future in-laws;  a conservative Republican played by Gene Hackman.  Tammy and I have watched this movie ad nauseam.  Nathan Lane as Williams partner and Hank Azaria as the “maid” steal the show.

1) Dead Poets Society - Is there a film which personifies who we see Robin Williams as more than when he played English teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society.  Every teacher wants to be John Keating and every student hopes they will get a teacher like him.  Once again Williams is teaching people what it means to be human…again while sticking it to The Man!  I think I must watch this one again this week.

Honorable Mention

Insomnia- One of the rare times Williams plays the bad guy.  In this Christopher Nolan film he is co-starred with Al Pacino.  Those three names in a movie make it a must see.

There it is…my personal Robin Williams filmography!

And now rest well Mr. Williams…we’ll see you on the other side!

Biblical Inerrancy Part 2: My Thoughts on Michael Gungor’s Thoughts

gungor

Just when I began writing on Biblical Inerrancy last week the blog-o-sphere began heating up with the news that Michael Gungor had been getting raked over the coals because of comments he made questioning the literal understanding of some of the Bible’s more..uh… science stretching sections.

In fact as soon as the news started flying of Gungor’s “heresy” the Dove award winning band was uninvited from an upcoming concert at a Baptist church.   (I was thinking what you were thinking, “what were the words ‘Gungor’ and ‘Baptist’ doing in the same sentence to begin with?”)

But the Gungor “controversy” highlights a much more interesting issue; an issue that will be at the forefront of Christianity in the coming years.  And it’s this:

“What is our Belief really supposed to be… and does our Belief  help establish Christ’s Kingdom on Earth?”

Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes

When Jesus walked the earth,  1st Century Judaism was represented by a number of different sects such as the Essenses, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees.  Interestingly enough these sects all had the same sacred scriptures yet somehow came to different beliefs and understandings regarding them.

Which meant they were human…

The Pharisees believed in a resurrection of the dead and the existence of angels…the Sadducees didn’t.  The Essenes believed in a much more monastic and communal lifestyle in order to be in God’s will…the other groups didn’t.  Add to that the Jews believed God was to be worshiped one way and their Samaritan cousins were convinced that same God was supposed to be worshiped another way.

However whenever Jesus was asked which of these “beliefs” was the correct belief to hold he always seemed to overshoot the question with an answer that hinted that what God actually cared about what completely outside their religious understanding.  The answer also seemed to announce a paradigm shift in where God was taking his people.

In John 4 when the Samaritan woman asked Jesus if they were supposed worship in Jerusalem (what the Jews believed) or on a particular mountain (what the Samaritans believed) Jesus responded:

“believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

John 4: 21, 23-24

These two groups used to fight, argue, and malign the other’s faith over the issue of where God was supposed to be worshiped.  This “belief” was  was extremely important in each group’s eyes.  If they were wrong on where we are supposed to worship God then it becomes a slippery slope calling into question the foundations of their faith and religion.

In their eyes this was what was essential and important!

And yet, as the Samaritan woman at the well discovered, following Christ and going where God was taking his people would mean laying aside the “beliefs” of the “tribe”.

Michael Gungor, who came from a fundamentalist background himself, is experiencing the joy of leaving the “tribe” to enter a kingdom.

He’s emulating generations of previous believers who dropped their nets, their tools, and their identity to run after the One who simply says;

“Follow Me”

Gungor is, unfortunately, also facing the persecution that comes from leaving a tribe.  Tribal mentality is an insecure mentality.  When one of its own walks away it heightens the fear and anxiety in the rest of the clan.  In a pre-enlightenment culture poor Gungor would have been tortured and killed for his heresy.

Fortunately, these days he must stoically suffer the wail of fundamentalist bloggers and canceled concerts at certain churches…but hey…its progress!

 

Real Bible Inerrancy

In the coming years I see real Bible Inerrancy as this;  ”Is our belief shaping us into the image of Christ?”  Is our belief creating a world where the prayer of Jesus, that God’s Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, is realised.

Whether someone believes

* Jonah lived in a whale’s belly for 3 days

* Noah really did build an ark and was saved by a flood

* Adam and Eve were literal people

has little bearing on whether they are kind and loving to their neighbour.

The things that Jesus said were important!

For the record…I do believe in these Old Testament events.  I happen to believe in Adam and Eve as well as Noah.  I realise that science makes them suspect and I appreciate that.   But having said that, my faith also doesn’t rest on the affirmation of 3000 year old events that none of us can really know anyhow!

What my faith does rest on is the Way Jesus taught that proclaims an alternative way of ordering society.  A Way which rooted in unconditional love, mercy, and forgivness.

To be truly guilty of Biblical Inerrancy you have to live a life at odds with the Way that Jesus taught.

And here is the issue an episode like Gungor’s comments and subsequent fallout highlights:

Fundamentalist Christianity doesn’t advance the Kingdom of God so much as it simply adds members to its tribe.

In many ways Fundamentalist Christianity works in opposition to the Way of Jesus.  It focuses on creedal conformity rather than conforming to Christ.

In fact following in the Way doesn’t make “sinners” angry…it makes religious people angry.

Gungor is following in the Way of Jesus and people in the “tribe” are getting angry.

And that’s a “literal Biblical” event if I ever saw one! :)

I’ll leave you with a quote from Michael Gungor himself.  In his personal blog he gives a word of encouragement to those still caught in the huddle of the tribe:

But listen, huddle people… I’m for you. I really am. And I’m with you. I was raised in the huddle. Some of the best people I know are in the huddle. But you don’t need to be so afraid. You don’t need to repress your intellectual ability to ask questions and seek truth in order to stay in the shadow of the huddle. Because, let me tell you something, there is light outside. In fact, God is both inside and outside of your huddle.

Peace,

Steve

Biblical Inerrancy Part 1: The Scriptures Are God Breathed…But So Are You!

bible2“Do you believe the the Bible is inerrant?” a

person asked me recently.

Wow,” I thought, “that’s a tough one.

Authoritative?  Yes

God inspired? Yes

The “word of God” (small w) that reveals “the Word of God” (Big W)?

Absolutely!

But inerrant?  Infalliable?  Without any error or bias possible?  When people are involved?  Whew!

I responded that I believe what the Bible says about itself including 2 Tim 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

Unfortunately my biblical response was not biblical enough for my inquisitor.

“Steve, if you don’t believe the Bible is inerrant we can ‘t even discuss the matter anymore. We would just be talking apples and oranges.”

And that was that…

But the more I contemplated the question, “Do you believe the Bible to be inerrant?” I came to the realization “the question” was just not a very good question.

 

The Wrong Question

Biblical inerrancy is a hot topic.  In fact here is a whole ministry industry rising up of “watchmen” prepared to defend the “truth” that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.

It is a loaded question however with demarcation lines and camps formed based on how one responds to the litmus test, “Do you believe the Bible is inerrant?”

When Jesus was asked direct questions (like I was) he often gave some fuzzy answers.  I think what we perceive as fuzzy answers by Christ though are in fact great responses to really bad questions.

Consider:

The Bible is a collection of 66 books written over 1500 years by at least 40 authors.  The books include historical accounts, poetry, proverbs, personal letters, church letters, prophecy, and apocalyptic writings.

Now, the largest book in the Bible,  clocking in at a whopping 150 chapters,  is The Psalms; a book of songs and poetry. 

If you had just read a book of poetry and someone then asked you if that book of poetry was infallible, how would you respond?

See what I mean?

…the question is just a bad question.

Did the poem inspire you?

Did the poem transform you?

Did the poem connect you to God?

These questions make sense.  These questions draw out an answer consummate with the experience one would encounter with the text.

Is the poem inerrant?  Not so much.

When was the last time you you watched a sunset, visited an art gallery, or toured an ancient cathedral and thought, “Wow, this is inerrant.”

The way some Christians regard the Bible is the way John Keating (played by Robin Williams) in the movie Dead Poets Society cautioned his students in regards to the way they approached poetry.  At one point in the film after opening a textbook by J. Evans Pritchard, Keating begins plotting the poems of Shakespeare and Byron on a graph according to the rhyme, meter and cold logic of Mr. Pritchard for all the students to see.

The kids are bored and uninspired!

dead-poets-society-still

Keating then stops abruptly, drops the chalk, and addresses the students :

Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard.

We’re not laying pipe, we’re talking about poetry.

I mean, how can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? I like Byron, I give him a 42, but I can’t dance to it…

Armies of academics going forward, measuring poetry. No, we will not have that here. No more of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. Now in my class you will learn to think for yourselves again. You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world…we don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race…

…And the human race is filled with passion.

I realize of course that many portions of the Bible are literal accounts of real historical events. (I’m totally down with that) But can Christians of good conscience have differing opinions on whether a passage is literal, metaphorical, or part of a larger archetype that God is trying to communicate without the body of Christ tearing itself apart over it?

Can we not call a person we share the Lord’s Table with a heretic because the way they perceive an event that happened 4000 years ago may be slightly different to yours?

Can we?

 

The Bible is “God-Breathed” but so are you!

One of the arguments for those that make Biblical inerrancy a foundation of their faith is the idea that because Paul refers to the scriptures as “God Breathed” than it must follow that the Bible is infallible as God is infallible.

The fault with that logic is that the scriptures are not the only thing that the Bible mentions as being “God Breathed”:

 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7

God took stuff of Earth, mixed it with stuff of Heaven, breathed his Life into man and created a being capable of bearing his image.

Beautiful!

However, I don’t know about you but my being “God Breathed” has not conferred upon me inerrancy nor infallibility…at least not according to my wife.

bible-Sunlight

But consider something else: our “God Breathed” nature does seem to give us the same attributes the scriptures are described to possess in 2 Tim 3:16.

Isn’t it interesting that people…us… are called to teach one another the nature of God’s Kingdom, to bring loving correction at times, and to train ourselves and others in the things that bring righteousness and life to the world.

The Bible is, in fact,  a lot like us. It’s:

* Wonderful and weird

* Merciful and violent

* Exciting and boring

* Inspiring and terrifying

Yet through it all the Spirit of God weaves through the Bible revealing the nature and person of God, first through the prophets, and then later, clearly and fully through his son Jesus.

So is the Bible inerrant and infallible?

Sure…

…if we are! :)

Peace,

Steve