Monthly Archives: June 2014

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.