Transformers Prime — Good T.V.

3906409-trans I like Transformers Prime, in fact its the only T.V. show we’ve watched as a family these last many months. Why the attraction? Prime serves as a great reminder to me of the ultimate story that I love and am shaping my life around. The good news of Jesus Christ is never mentioned a single time in all 3 seasons or in the feature length grand finale, but it is everywhere present. Starting with Optimus we come to see Jesus. Optimus is patient and kind, he is the one who wants to bring peace. He isn’t filled with hatred for “the bad guys” Instead he challenges deceptacons everywhere to “repent” and “believe”. He wants the cons to give up their quest for power and control, to stop their life styles of deceit and self absorption. For their joy he longs for them to embrace a new life, characterized by sacrifice and love. Though regularly rebuffed Prime never gives up, he continues to love his enemies even though they regularly try to snuff out his spark. The con’s are bent on chaos and destruction however, so Optimus must battle tirelessly the evil threat. He does so with courage and bravery never considering himself above others. In the end, as a willing sacrifice, Optimus gives up his life so that the world might be saved. The Autobots under his command are like the disciples of Jesus. They are rough around the edges. They argue, complain, and make foolish choices. Often attitudes of pride, revenge, and hatred surge up in these all too human robots causing plenty of problems. Prime both gently and firmly teaches them the way of grace and over the course of time they grow in their faith. Their belief system is both counter intuitive and counter cultural.  You see, the Autobots are badly outnumbered and always on the edge of extinction, but yet over and over again Prime extends grace and mercy to their mortal enemies. — Shouldn’t he kill con’s to survive? Prime and his Autobots regularly stand in harms way to protect lowly humans because of love and commitment to them. — Shouldn’t weaker creatures be sacrificed to ensure the survival of the fittest? Not according to Prime, there is a better story to believe than just the natural course of things. I love being a Christian, because I think it’s the better story. It’s the truest love story there is. Transformers Prime reflects this story so well and that is why I give it a two thumbs up!

This should not have happened to me!

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It was a beautiful day to study. I had just settled in on one of my favourite benches near the lost lagoon in Stanely Park, when I had the strange sensation that someone was watching me. I looked up from my books and turned around. There behind me perhaps 15 meters away in the bushes was a well muscled young man standing beside his bicycle, he was looking at me. No worries, I went back to studying. Still my unease remained, so I looked over my shoulder again, he was still there, but this time it appeared as though he was studying me. As I tried to return to my work I realized that I couldn’t. Why was this man watching me with such intensity? I decided I would make direct eye contact and find out. So for a third time I turned around. At that moment the man grinned in a sinister way, lowered his pants, exposed himself to me and began to massage his manhood in plain view.  With his other hand, he pointed directly at me, and then commanded me to  “Come here!” I was shocked, disgusted, traumatized, violated, angered, and afraid all at once. I grabbed my books and backpack, yelled at him “No!” and ran off.

I kept running until I found another bench far away and in a very public place. I called my wife and as we talked she suggested I call the police. They came immediately, and together we searched in vain to find the perpetrator. As we drove around in the squad car, I asked the officer what the primary crime in our neighbourhood was. Without hesitation he said sexual abuse. People, he told me, are always trying to take advantage of each other sexually and as a result many people feel violated. Since we were only three days away from the Pride parade, (a parade in our neighbourhood which celebrates, among other things, sexual freedom) I asked the officer if during this time of year there was a spike in sexual abuse complaints. He said yes.

That got me thinking. Are we as a society helping to increase sexual abuse or decrease sexual abuse? I think it’s the former. The cry for freedom is a noble one, but maybe not so much when it comes to sex. If we as a society tell ourselves that we are free to experience whatever sexual pleasure we happen to desire then we shouldn’t be surprised when people regularly break through the rather loose constraints of “responsible” and “consensual” to maximize whatever they think will give them the most pleasure. This is exactly what’s happening in my neighbourhood and it’s exactly what happened to me. This man who attempted to violate me, acted upon a freedom principle he has learned from our society. Granted he was willing to break through more fences then most to get what he wanted, but still, if we continue to promote sexual freedom as one of the highest ideals in our society, then we will have to continue to accept sexual abuse as one of it’s unintended consequences.

Perhaps there is a better ideal to strive for when it comes to our sexuality than freedom. As one who has been violated, I am certainly willing to explore other options. What if, for example, freedom was supplanted by faithfulness as our society’s highest ideal when it comes to sexuality? What if faithfulness was the message we taught our children in schools and at home. What if our popular culture began to frame it’s art, movies, and music around this ideal? Would sexual abuse increase or decrease? My suspicion is that it would decrease and humans would flourish.

A Little Gnosticism With That?

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Gnosticism starts out with a bloody nose, shoved out of the way, covered in dust, an unhappy loser in the battle to explain Christianity. It’s the theory about Jesus that didn’t win, but losing is the genius of gnosticism. Without it’s 2nd place finish it doesn’t exist. Gnosticism comes alive only because it believes that the crude layers of “counterfeit” Christianity must be peeled back to discover the truth.

Gnosticism is all about discovering hidden knowledge. What are some of the discoveries? The hidden truths about God and Jesus are many and varied, but there is a basic story line: The ultimate God is completely transcendent and unknowable, divine emanations proceed forth from him in the form lesser deities. Finally, the God of the Jews, A deity extremely low on the depth chart, discovers that he is powerful enough to create but stupid enough to see the foolishness of creating. The earth is born on the ill-advised whim of a lesser deity. The unpleasant business of matter has begun. The whole plan is a disaster from the beginning. Ultimately the human will need to escape the debacle that is the material world. Jesus factors into the escape plan but not as a human and not in any clear sense. Jesus is divine it is believed, and divinity can never merge with humanity. Jesus’  life on earth is mysterious, ghostly even — not human. He doesn’t do miracles or connect in earthy ways with humans as the four gospels suggest. He teaches secret things to special people. With resentment the gnostic faithful blamed ignorant Jews for founding a church with a Jesus that is both human and divine.

The Gnostic heresy officially lost. The Nicene creed of 325 A.D. was the certified repudiation of it, but it did not go extinct on the contrary strands of it’s influence pervaded the church and continue until this very day. Perhaps the most troublesome impact of gnostic heresy on Christianity was the notion that the soul is good and the body bad. Somehow in spite of official decree this dichotomy remained entrenched in Christian thought with horrible ramifications. For example, sex became a bad thing, because it was this very physical matter oriented act that created more living breathing matter, and matter was bad! The great church father Augustine remarked “nothing turns my thoughts towards darkness quicker then the caresses of a woman.” Women were the collateral damage of this belief system they were of less value because it was their charms that further spread the darkness. It’s no surprise that at the end of the gnostic gospel of Thomas we learn that women will not be allowed into heaven!  Its was believed that a Christian businessman could never hope to be as spiritual as a priest or monk, a structure of value based on asceticism and denial of material pleasure began to shape an entire culture. If one enjoyed the simple pleasures of life too much, suspicious glances would be cast in their direction, material pleasure became a dirty thing.

Christians do not believe that the human is a good soul imprisoned in an evil body. A Christian should love his body and the pleasures that go with it because they are gifts from a good God. The human problem is not the body or the pleasures it affords. The problem is how the human manages to take God’s good gifts and pervert them or make idols out of them, choosing to love the gift more than the giver.  This is where the real evil resides and why Jesus’ rescue mission had to happen.

Why isn’t Christianity Jewish? It started out that way

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Gentile converts we’re interested in following Jesus not Jewish customs. Jews had bled and died for these customs during their long and difficult history. It was no small thing to simply abandon them. In the early days of Christianity, the newly forming church seemed to be working out a mediating position giving Gentiles Christians more freedom but yet respecting Jewish customs.

However, the success was short lived. A complete and irrevocable split would happen well before the turn of the first century.  The Jewish revolt from Rome had begun in earnest in the mid 60’s. The Roman emperor had had enough. Titus and his legions marched upon Jerusalem. Complete and total destruction was the military plan for dealing with these pesky Jews who had been for too long a pain in the eastern side of the Roman Empire.
As Jewish patriots prepared for the onslaught, the Jewish Christians of the city decided it was foolish to fight Rome. Their hope was in a heavenly city not made by human hands, so they fled. This was viewed as an ultimate act of treason by “real” Jews. Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 and in the following months all the synagogues in Palestine were also obliterated. For the survivors of this slaughter one point was clear: to abandon Jerusalem in its hour of need was to abandon Jewishness. As synagogues we’re rebuilt a law was quickly passed prohibiting any Jewish person who claimed to be a Christian from entrance into the synagogue and thus Jewish life. The split was complete. Jewish Christians now had to decide if they were Jewish or Christian they couldn’t be both.

(For all of these snippets of history I am indebted to Bruce Shelley)

Why a Christian believes it’s good to receive correction

In Psalm 141:3-4 we learn that the natural tendency for all humans is to “drift towards evil” like a log drifting towards Niagara Falls. The writer of the Psalm tells us that as humans we find ourselves prefering the “delicacies of sin”. We devour the chocolate cake before us, refusing to consider that it is laced with poison. This is why David says in verse 5
Let the godly strike me!
It will be a kindness!
If they correct me, it is soothing medicine.
Don’t let me refuse it
The writer of the psalm is saying When people have the courage to smack him in the mouth and say “don’t eat that cake!” It’s actually a good thing! Christianity was never meant to be private or solitary. Christians believe they are a community of faith. Instead of being filled with resentment when concerned family members within the community call us to repentance we should celebrate. It is only Pride that keeps anyone from listening to the worthy corrections of another and that’s the worst poison of all! Of course if One has a worldview that shrouds the concepts of good in evil in a dark cloud of unknowable mystery, then I could see how that person could be easily offended when corrected by another — but such is not the case with Christianity.

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Love Your Body (Psalm 139:14)

David actually loves his body he’s thrilled with it! But he does not become egotistical with this kind of self-love. When I love my body and realize it’s a gift from God the gratitude that I feel for that gift turns into worship. So many people in this world stumble around hating their bodies unhappy with how they look, because they are overweight, have the “wrong” body shape or some undesirable feature. This self loathing creates anxiety, fear, despair and unhappiness, God wants us to believe that our bodies are masterpieces of incredible design handcrafted by the king of the universe. Believe this! Come to love how God has made you and in so doing free yourself from the trap of worthlessness. Only then will you be able to truly love God and love others like you were meant to

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My Thoughts on the Lego Movie

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The prophecy states that a “special” will come to save the day at just the right time. As it turns out the “special” is just a regular guy. Nothing special about him at all. However, with the help of LegoLand’s spiritual leader (very fittingly voiced by Morgan Freeman) Emmit comes to believe that he might just be that guy after all.

Then everything goes horribly wrong. Morgan Freeman’s character gets decapitated, the good guys are all captured and condemned to death and Legoland is faced with imminent destruction at the hand of the evil Lord Business.

The ghost of Morgan Freeman visits Emmit in his darkest hour and gives him a revelation which ultimately changes the outcome of the movie. He tells the sad hero, that the prophecy isn’t true, that the whole thing was made up. There is no “special” in Legoland, but that doesn’t matter; the truth that changes everything is when Lego people believe they are special. “It sounds like a cat poster but it’s true” says Freeman. Emmit believes, and his life is changed. Because Emmit believes he is special, sacrificial love, courage, bravery, hope, creativity and perseverance become the hallmarks of his life. Belief made all the difference.

If belief in the “specialness” of humanity is so important to human flourishing then what world view best helps it along? Naturalism is committed to the blind physical forces of nature: some get hurt, some get lucky, there is no rhyme, reason or justice – no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, just blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows or cares. DNA just is and we dance to it’s music (paraphrase of Richard Dawkins). If this is actually the truth, then how does one muster up enough belief to convince himself that he is actually special? It becomes difficult to say the least.

If we as a human race intuitively recognize the value of believing that we are all special, then what would hinder us from attaching to this conviction a grand story, a worldview that would make it easy for us to become convinced that we are special?

God’s grand story teaches us that we are created in God’s image making us special, but thats not all, later we learn that despite all of our failures, sins, and poor choices, God in the person of Jesus lays down his life for the human because of his deep, deep love for us, making us even more special. There is more: we learn that the Spirit of God promises to fill us, becoming our guide and helper all the days of our life. . . proving once again that we are special. Finally the story’s end is one of undying hope. The promise is that all that is broken will become unbroken. There can be no doubt in this story, we are all special!

When a human believes he is “special” there is a risk that he might become inflated, but if pride can be checked, he will flourish every time. “Specialness” obliterates the deadly thoughts of worthlessness and meaninglessness and God’s story as a worldview makes sure that unhealthy pride won’t creep in. God, not the human, is after all at the centre of his own story.

When the conviction of “I am special” joins itself to a worldview that agrees, a beautiful awakening happens. Sense is made and life starts.

 

Untamed (Alan & Deb Hirsch)

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The call of God for his people is discipleship but discipleship doesn’t happen without an unyielding untamed missionary mindset. Yet countless numbers of people today who would identify themselves as Christians, could hardly define “missionary” let alone be one. Why is that? There are 6 reasons that stood out to me. Untamed, however, was far from simply being a book of reasons. It is a passionate, story filled appeal for Christians to embrace the wild untamed way of Jesus and in so doing be who they were meant to be.

  1. Love verses Reason — Reason is always in the employment of love. Our heart tells us what we want and our minds do whatever is necessary to make it happen. In short, people aren’t interested in the missionary life, because they don’t really love Jesus.
  2. Holy Spirit — In referring to to Alan’s conversion they talk about how he had an ecstatic tangible experience with the Holy Sprit after which Alan said that he felt as though his mind was on fire and that he had never really had thoughts before that time. Later on an appeal is given to the reader to take the risk of encountering the divine so that “you can experience God in wild and wonderful ways”   What does that even mean? What if the reader (like me for example) doesn’t have any experiential frame of reference? Without answers to these questions, the point is clear enough: the Holy Spirit’s power is what makes missionaries and his very real presence is absolutely necessary.
  3. Consumerism — Entertaining consumers into being disciples is a failed experiment. One does not consume his way into following Jesus. Consumerism is what has filled the vacuum of meaning in the 21st century and the church has not been unaffected. Church has become a vendor for religious services and a mature Christian is one who makes good decisions on what he will consume. Church has become a feeding trough where people come to “get fed”  by trained professionals. Hirsch points out that it is babies who need to be fed, and laments  that we have created a religious system designed to employ professional food distributers while keeping Christians in perpetual stages of infancy.
  4. Fear & Laziness – The two greatest vices that keep Christians domesticated are fear and laziness. These vices are employed as an attempt to obtain security and comfort. Sadly, what is sacrificed in the vain pursuit of security and comfort is freedom and life itself. Like a domesticated goose that ends up on the dinner table because he is too fat to fly away so it goes with Christians who give in to these vices.
  5. Sexual judgement — Christians are masters it seems in their universal condemnation of sexual sin. Sexual sin is frowned upon far above any other sin. This judgemental reaction against all things sexually illicit greatly reduces the possibility of actually being a missionary in the sex saturated culture of west. The Hirsches advice when it comes to sexual sin: “it’s not what we believe about sexuality that matters it’s how we treat those with differing perspectives on sexuality…when it comes to sexual sin disciples must leave the judgement of those sins to God” If all this was only considering not yet believers, absolutely, I agree. Where the issue gets complicated is with regard to Christians who embrace sexual sins. On this the Hirsches are silent. But the Bible is not. Biblically informed Christians know that what they believe about sexuality matters and that they are responsible to help restore brothers and sisters who stumble. This restorative process requires judgement.
  6. Mistaken view of Holiness — Christians seem to think that authentic holiness requires separation from all things sinful. In looking at the life of Jesus that doesn’t really seem to be the case. Sinners flocked to Jesus who was as holy as you can be. It was religious people who were repulsed by his holiness. Somehow our version of holiness, seems to attract religious people and repel sinners. The mission heart of Jesus established in his followers will will not embrace this mistaken view of holiness which runs in terror from all things unclean.

“Abandon the safe and tame life of conservative religious morality and live a life that has stories to tell”

What it means to be a dad

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“Wrestle time!” 

That’s pretty much all my 5 year old son says whenever he sees me. First thing in the morning or late at night, it doesn’t matter he’s always up for a fight. He tries to think of put downs to really get me going. The other week he put his tough guy face on and called me a “rubber ducky” — the ultimate throw down! This week, he fine tuned his verbal barrage and goaded me into another rumble by calling me an “old man”. We took it to the park, shirts and shoes off, no holds barred. Forty year old verses five year old. The dog walkers in the park were quite amused to see this shirtless duo of father and son engaged in mortal combat. There was a pause in the melee:

“Dad, were not allowed to hit each other in the penis right?

“That’s right son” 

The dog walkers chuckled. Fists and feet flailed away once again.

A homeless guy passed out in the park, woke up, squinted, and looked over in our direction, trying to figure out what the ruckus was all about. He finally did, and stumbled over to us. He watched for a few minutes and then said.

“Dude I need a woman, so I can have a son, cause what your doing is f***ing awesome!”

He wandered off. The fight ended, and we headed back for supper, sweaty, sticky, itchy, dirty, scrapped, bruised and happy. My son’s efforts earned him a shoulder ride home. He had four helpings for dinner, and made no objections when it was bed time.

As Father’s Day comes upon us, my appeal is specifically for fathers to be fathers to their sons. Young boys don’t need gadgets and television shows to occupy their time. They don’t need physically or mentally absent fathers preoccupied with trivial matters like making money or advancing a career. They don’t need dad’s who spend most of their time in vain pursuits and selfish hobbies. They need dad’s who will get dirty with them, who will wrestle, who will roar with their sons like lions, who will go on adventures, take risks, and scrape knees together. Dads committed to walking out perilous exploits, and daring feats that require courage, bravery, responsibility and hard work from their sons. This is fathering and the homeless dude was right, it’s f***ing awesome!

Buddhism without Beliefs

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As the West become’s increasingly secular, Christianity get’s increasingly pushed to the margins. This is no surprise as secularism and Christianity are at odds with one another. In the midst of this shift however, I have observed a very curious development. Another religion seems to be thriving, moving from the margins to the centre, to the “mainstream” of our secular culture. The ideas of this religion are taught freely in our public schools and openly in our community centres. Nobody from the secular worldview seems to mind. What is this religion? Buddhism. How does that happen? Stephen Batchelor’s book Buddhism Without Beliefs has been immensely helpful in answering this question.

Buddhism is the preferred religion for secularists for the following reasons:

  1. To start with the Buddha was an agnostic himself. He never taught on God, heaven, or anything metaphysical. These were unknowables to him. After Buddha’s death, his followers created a religion that developed dogma on these and a whole host of issues. According to Batchelor, true Buddhism resists all dogma on that which cannot be known. A return to authentic Buddhism is at its core a return to a “great unknowing”. Secularism can live with that.
  2. Buddhism believes not in moral certainty but rather ethical integrity. Moral certainty creates superiority and guilt. Lists of rules don’t relieve anguish, they cause it. Ethical integrity is arrived at through trial and error. Someones life path has to be figured out on their own, not shaped by a holy book of do’s and don’ts. Secularism can live with that.
  3. Buddhism believes that all anguish comes as a result of craving. Letting go of craving is the key to the centring path. Since nothing lasts and death is certain the most important thing is not to wish for more, or be consumed with greed, or long for a heaven that may or may not be there, it is to live in the moment. To simply be fully present. To be undistracted by past failures or future concerns. Meditation, breathing, mindfulness are all techniques that attempt to help people be fully present. Countless numbers of people in our secular world have chased one craving after another all without fulfilment. Buddhism offers a chance to escape that rat race, without having to commit to any sort of “this is God’s way” kind of teaching. Secularism can live with that.
  4. Rebirth/reincarnation. Buddhism certainly has some thoughts on the after life. However, Batchelor goes to great pains to say that good Buddhists will wonder and puzzle over these things but they will never conclude about them. Secularism can live with that.
  5. Life is not meaningless nor is it meaningful. It just is. Secularism can live with that.
  6. Buddhism is about individual creativity and friendship, not about dogma or the constraints of a group. Western individualism and democracy provide the fertile soil needed for these ancient forms of Buddhism to thrive.
  7. In dealing with negative impulses, and potentially destructive emotions, like hatred, bitterness and anger, Buddhism resist’s any moral judgement on these emotions.  They just are.  The key is to ask questions about those feelings, realizing that they too will pass. Two soft Buddhist encouragements not to act on these impulses would be to realize that living creatures are all one. This belief in the interconnectedness of us all gives the reason for empathy and compassion instead of revenge and violence when we are hurt by people. To hurt a fellow human would be like hurting a part of your own body so revenge is not necessarily wrong it’s just that it doesn’t make sense. The second is self image. In Buddhism, it is important that the self is perceived well in the community, acting out on negative impulses rarely accomplishes that.
  8. Buddhism is about resolve not faith, it’s about doing not believing. Secularism can live with that.

Much good can be said about this version of Buddhism. Embracing a measure of mystery about the divine with a profound sense of humility would probably do us all some good. Living fully in each moment of life, without being distracted, very sound advice. Living a life of strong resolve and calculated discipline, no one would fault that.  Believing that the tireless chasing of one craving after another will only result in anguish, no argument there.

Where Buddhism falters in my estimation is in it’s fundamental understanding of what it means to be human. Buddhism attempts to de-human the human. The be human is to live with dreams, hopes and aspirations. These realities found in the heart of every human are not the great evil as Buddhism seems to suggest (without of course being dogmatic :)) They should not be eradicated with gritty resolve, into the realm of emptiness, where the self is finally un-selfed. Rather they should be redeemed. Christianity is the only story that offers just such a redemption.

To be human is to embrace story, it’s who we are, we all have a story in our heart, fairy tales with happy endings will never stop being told, received, and loved. To be human is to live a story, tell a story, and receive a story. Buddhism has no story, but Christianity is built on the ultimate story, into which all our human stories find their fullest and deepest meaning.

Redeem the human, yes, un human him? No.

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