Thursday, August 28, 2008


Not much to say. We're upstate in NY on vacation. That's why I haven't been posting in a few days. And that may be the reason why I don't post in another few days. We'll see...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dark Brilliance - Part 4 "the Last Word"

Finishing this series on the Dark Knight, I have only a few things to say. I do believe it's a great example of the embodiment of truth, the truth of the gospel, the redemption of humanity - and in the final scene of the movie, I experienced it in a profound way. I experienced it not because it was clever, but because, at the heart of humanity, in the depths of our souls, the redemption of evil is the real story. But what to do with this experience?

Here, in this movie, whether intentional by the writers or director or not, I find a window... No, make that a doorway into the depths of the human situation and a doorway into our souls. The questions raised resonate through our lives and the fact that Batman embodies the greatest need, the story of redemption, provides an opportunity for us to ponder and to discuss issues of faith and issues of Jesus. Some of us Christians talk about evangelism, about sharing our faith with the world. The truth is, it's out there. The story is alive, living and breathing if we can have eyes to see and ears to hear it. Christ is not dead. What it requires of us is to recognize where God is, recognize those 10,000 places where Jesus is playing, and meet people there.

Seriously. If we've experienced Jesus, and we recognize him somewhere, doesn't the depths of our souls cry out to be, nothing less than a sign-post for others to meet Jesus there? And what does that take, being vulnerable? Sharing a little piece of our story? If truly, it is redemption that is at the heart of the story, redemption of evil and not the violent conquest of it, than the humble offering of our story, simply pointing to what we've experienced in Christ and where - that's the response called for. We don't need a crusade, we don't need to violently overthrow others who disagree. If redemption is the last word, than all our words in between need only be faithful to the inevitable - a penultimate note to the ultimate note which will come not from us, but in the redemption of humanity by Jesus himself.

I'm praying that I'll recognize and plug into those places where I can sing a few notes. For me, The Dark Knight is a catalyst and can be a springboard into the song. I'm curious what you think...

Part 1 - "Postmodern Story"
Part 2 - "the Truth"
Part 3 - "the Experience"

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dark Brilliance - Part 3 "the Experience"

Picking up where I left of yesterday, I'm contending that redemption is the true overarching story, as opposed to the grand battle between good and evil and it is the movies and stories with this element that are those that grab us because they resonate with our souls. And it is not simply the the theoretical knowledge of the truth of this story, but the embodied existence of this story in a living, breathing person, that is required. Because, beyond the truth as mere theory, lies the lived truth of the redemption of evil. At this point, I'll turn squarely back to the Dark Knight.

My experience watching the film was probably pretty similar to most people. I was blown away by the action, the Joker was expertly portrayed by Heath Ledger, the storyline packed a lot in which left you twisting and turning until the final scene. And that's where I want to go, because that's what ultimately made the experience for me. *WARNING* If I didn't spoil the film for you yet, I certainly will now!

The film, literally, races to the final conclusion where Batman is forced to confront Gotham's White Knight, who unbeknown to the rest of the city, has become the maniacal Two Face. Batman had up until this point, put his faith in Harvey Dent to be the new face, the hero of Gotham and he's faced with what to do after that hero has fallen. And here is his answer to Lt. Gordon:

“You’ll hunt me, you’ll condemn me, you’ll send the dogs on me, because that’s what needs to happen, because sometimes truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more, sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”

Instead of allowing the truth about Dent to come out, Batman takes the fall for him. He takes the rap for killing 5 people, including cops and Dent himself. But as he's delivering those lines, I began to shudder. hunt, condemn, send the dogs - another man flashed in my minds eye and he wasn't the caped crusader. that's what needs to happen... I could feel it in my gut now and my eyes welled up. Batman runs away now and left in the alley is Gordon and his son, whom Batman just saved from Dent. Gordon is greatful but torn by Batman's words and his son, James, is confused. He calls after Batman:

James - "Batman! Batman! Why's he running dad?"
Gordon - "Because we have to chase him..."
[I have a lump in my throat]
James - "But he didn't do anything wrong!" [the resemblance is uncanny]
Gordon - "It doesn't matter, son"
James - "Why dad, why?!"
[by now, the tears are running down my cheeks]
Gordon - “He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now, so we’ll hunt him, because he can take it, because he’s, because he’s not a hero, he’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a dark night.”

By the end of this dialog and the montage playing in front of it, I've completely lost it. Hitting me in the gut, square between the eyes is the fact that this is exactly the same thing that Jesus did - and I'm experiencing the truth of it throughout my body. It's not just intellectual acknowledgment, silent assertion, it's an experience. "the one it needs right now...he can take it...he's a silent guardian, a watchful protector." Jesus is more than these things, but he is certainly not less. And there, right in front of me, blasting through my senses is this portrayal - in my own cultural language - of the redemption of humanity through the sacrifice of an undeserving man. Wow.

And Gordon was right, at the end. Humanity doesn't need a hero anymore than Gotham did. At least, not a conceptual hero - not a Harvey Dent, White Knight. It doesn't need someone merely to inspire hope, to simply inspire people to live better lives. No, Gotham, like all of us, needs someone who will get the job done - whether that means defeating villains or accepting the wrongs of others so as to free them...

Part 1 - "Postmodern Story"
Part 2 - "the Truth"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dark Brilliance - Part 2 "the Truth"

Picking up where I left off previously, I'm contending that the great story, which resounds in our hearts and reverberates throughout creation is not the violent overthrow of evil by good, but the redemption of evil (individuals, communities, the world) by that which is good. If this is truly the story, it is actually a safe story, maybe the only safe story that exists. And if it is safe, than I contend that it is actually a viable option as a meta-narrative, that overarching story which our lives can be lead by. I recognize that this is a pretty big thing to say, and I'm sure that there are scholars of social theory and culture that would have a heyday with it, but that's not my concern at this time.

I want to leave that where it is for a moment and transition back to the Dark Knight via a quick comment on the Church's use, or misuse of film. There's a great article on my friends Lars & Rhett's new website Relevant Pew by a Jacob Youmans entitled Death of a Video Clip, all about how we need to stop using video clips in sermons, taking pieces of culture out of the whole, and instead infuse faith and Christ into those doors and windows that films leave open. Instead of extracting them as tools for our own use, we need to recognize what is already there and the invitation which is offered by them to have conversations and discussions in their midst. So, with that as a guide, I won't try to extract something out of this film but instead relay what I saw as the huge gaping door into a faith-filled discussion.

First, let me warn anyone who hasn't seen the movie, (seriously though, I think I was the last person on earth who hadn't already seen it) - *I'M GOING TO SPOIL THE MOVIE* - So if you want to see it, and haven't yet, don't read on until you've seen the movie.

With that out of the way, I have to critique some of the reviews that I've found perusing the internet on the movie. One such review, by Jonathan Dodson at Creation Project. While I enjoyed Dodson's faith-filled review, I thought he, and others miss a bit of the point when it comes to some of the dialog at the end, particularly references to truth. And this is actually more of a critique of what I find among a lot of us Christians when we look at culture and the world around us. Instead of looking at what exists, and seeing how it reflects the story, often we try to nitpick at those parts that don't fit. We're so scared that people will miss the point, come to the wrong conclusion, that we spent as much, if not more time clarifying the differences between what is out there in the culture, than those points of contact which resonate.

The line of dialog I'm referring to here comes from Bale's Batman. It's within the last few minutes of the film, where he says "sometimes truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more." Dodson, in his review, makes reference to the fact that Batman is sustained by the lie that Rachel would have married him, had she not died. While this is the case, I think the statement that Batman makes concerning truth is much greater than his simple experience with Rachel. It's not that people build their hopes and dreams on lies which are sometimes necessary. If concepts were enough to ward off evil, Batman's existence wouldn't be necessary. In fact, he could have just as easily retired and allowed the mystique of Batman to scare Gotham straight. But the lie, the lie that Batman was the villain that slew Harvey Dent, that Batman was the truly evil one, THAT lie only works in the presence of a real person, a real Batman. If the lie is all that is left, if Batman were actually caught and killed - it would not be the lie that redeems but the truth, the recognition that Batman had been the hero after all.

In the end, a conceptual truth is not enough. Batman is dead on. The idea of truth lives only as long as it is embodied in a real person. And that is the more that people need. People need their truth to be embodied - even if it's a lie. And while Batman as the villain is a lie, it is embodied in the actions of Batman (running away) and Gotham chasing him and, in this situation, it becomes the "more" than truth that is necessary. But just like the story, the embodiment of the lie in the person of the scapegoat is eventually redeemed by the sacrifice, and the truth that exists in it. Without the lie, there is no sacrifice and without the sacrifice, there is no redemption. In this way, the lie is a necessary component of the true story...

Part 1 - Dark Brilliance - "Postmodern Story"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dark Brilliance - "Postmodern Story" Part 1

Before I went to Honduras, Bridgette and I had the opportunity to go out on a little "date" - nearly 3 hrs of time for just the two of us. We decided to spend it with another 30 people or so watching the new Batman film, which by the time we saw it, wasn't all that new anymore. While most of the focus has been on Heath Ledger's brilliant performance as the Joker, I came away from the movie with some very different impressions searing my mind. While I agree that Ledger was amazing, it was the final scene, the final montage and overlaid dialog that hit me like a ton of bricks right in the gut. I literally lost it in the theatre, it was that moving. In light of that, I want to offer up some thoughts and reflections on both the movie and on popular culture's intersection with faith. Since it'll be too long for one post, I'll break it up into a couple, here goes:

I know one of the anthems of post-modernity is the fall of the meta-narrative - we've seen what an overarching story can do in the hands of men and women and how destructive it can be (Hitler & Nazism, Lenin/Stalin & Marxist Communism, Christians & the inquisition, ravaging of New World natives, slavery, etc). Humanity, for the most part, has recognized that there is danger in believing one single story can explain the world and subjugate others into a subservient position in that story. In popular culture, this has given rise to books and films that no longer follow a simply linear story line, complete with a climax and denouement. Instead, we've been given brilliant visions of life that doesn't resolve (Juno, 2008), and stories that are pieced together from multiple angles and perspectives (Pulp Fiction, 1994 and Momento, 2002), which leave you unsettled. And these have resonated with our postmodern culture because we recognize that life is messy, it is unresolved and the institutions and individuals that we trusted and put faith in (parents, schools, governments, churches), have at one time or another failed us.

With this said, over the last decade or so, I've proposed a thesis, unproven except by personal observation, that those stories which truly grab us, do have something in common. In fact, those "epic" movies that have lined the pocket books of so many movie industry people, have something very similar - they, in one way or another, tell the story which is already in our hearts - and the story that we long to hear. While some movies and stories tell us part of the story, relate to us the tragedy of our world, remind us of its broken and fragmentedness, distract us enough to laugh, they share but a small part of the story. But these greater stories, these "epics" are so because they come closest to showing us what we all long to see, what we all long to hear, the story that resonates within our very hearts and souls.

The caviat that I must throw out is that the story is ultimately not about conquest by force. While it may reside in stories with great battles (LOTR - Return of the King, 2003), it just as easily resides in stories that do not (the Green Mile, 1999), because, it is not about the violent triumph of good over evil. It is about the redemption of - individuals, communities, the world, the redemption of evil - which comes in quite unexpected ways...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back from Honduras

Late Saturday evening I arrived in Columbus and it was Sunday morning (by a few minutes) by the time I got home. I'm glad to be back, but desperately in need of a vacation. Thankfully, we're heading to upstate (Rome) NY for a couple days of study leave and a vacation in a week. I missed Bridgette & the boys a lot and came home to a ton of stuff to take care of (mostly related to ministry). I'll probably be posting some reflections on our trip in the coming weeks, but for now, I've gotta get back to work...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Installation Sermon - Part 3

Finishing up where I left off - God's unknowable love, the fuel for ministry:

If it is unknowable, then how could it be known? And this leaves us with two options. The first of which is to simply set it aside as some idea that we cannot fully comprehend, and so we will not really give it much thought. Personally, there are a lot of things in life that fall into this category for me. I don’t exactly know how it is that when I turn my key in my ignition, the engine starts. I never took autoshop in school, my dad was not very mechanically inclined, I’ve never really had the desire to understand the complex system that is the internal combustion engine (I figure Ford did it for me, right?) – and so I set it aside. I can’t really know it, and so I let others take care of it for me. They tell me what I need to do, and I do it. They tell me how much it costs to fix, and after I hum and haw and feel like I’m being ripped off, I pay it. And this is one possible attitude that we can take with Christ’s love. If it is truly unknowable – then we can simply admit to it, and not bother to deal with it. After all, there are other aspects of Christianity that can take up our time. We can be busy studying intricate details of Theology or serving the poor, and never have to talk about Christ’s love – and recognize how transformative it is. We can serve because it is the right thing to do – we can spend our time on theological questions such as – “how many angels can fit on the head of a pin” – and be fine without Christ’s love…

Or, we can take the second option. This option is the one that Paul advocates when he explains that we need to know the depths of Christ’s love so that we may be filled with the fullness of God. We can set Christ’s love aside as an unknowable entity, or instead we can plumb its depths, take time and energy to experience and ruminate on it and therefore – be filled with the fullness of God. How amazing is that? How amazing is it that we could have the fullness – not just a touch, not just a drop, not just a part – but the fullness of God? Sit and think about that – the fullness of God in us. If we wonder exactly how we are to stand up today amidst all the problems that surround us – all the pressures that distract us from our calling – the only answer that I can see is by the fullness of God in our lives – by knowing, by digging deep into the knowledge of Christ’s love for us. It is the only fuel source available to us that is sufficient...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Installation Sermon - Part 2

Picking up where I left off from the last post, concerning professional ministry:

I tend to agree with Peterson. Of all the mistakes that pastors make, I doubt many of them are due to a lack in the professional areas – not praying in public well enough – inarticulate sermons – being poor bookkeepers – these kinds of things can be overlooked quite easy. They are not the central foundations of ministry. They are not the central foundations of the Christian faith. They are at best, peripheral requirements. The central – most important aspect of our faith, of the call to ministry is outlined in the second sentence of Paul’s prayer to the church in Ephesus - . I pray that you may have power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
For a moment, I just want you to breathe that in… the breadth…length…height… the depth… of Christ’s love. The love of the God who was not willing to be God without us – who left heaven, set aside the glorious riches of his throne, to come to us – willing to experience separation from the Father – from his very self – in order that we could be reconciled to God. That’s the love that Paul implores the church in Ephesus to know. The kind of love that surpasses knowledge! The kind of love that we have never seen before. The kind of love, that were we to plumb its depths from dawn until dusk, from birth unto death, we could not reach the bottom. The kind of love that were every ocean made of ink and every tree a quill - the whole sky of parchment made, everyone on earth a scribe by trade – we still could never write the end of God’s love. Paul says it himself, doesn’t he? He wants the church in Ephesus to know the love of Christ, that surpasses knowledge...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

While I'm away... Installation Sermon Part 1

While I'm away, I'm throwing up excerpts from a sermon I preached a year ago at a friend's installation. I still think this is the single best word I could give or receive as a new minister:

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:16-19)

I think this prayer is of particular value – both to the church, and to those who have been called to pastor the church. Paul begins by talking about being strengthened in your inner being. I think this is important. All of the celebrations and rituals and service that we can do – all of the public speaking and public praying, the committee meetings and the professional duties that so often consume the time of a pastor – none of these are the determinate factors in our identity. As necessary as they are, they are peripheral to a much more central matter – a much deeper aspect.
I love the story that Eugene Peterson retells in his book Working the Angles, about a couple who go into labor on their way to the hospital. Pulled over at the side of the road they shout to anyone that can hear for a doctor – and out of the blue a man steps up, directs their labor and helps the mother give birth. They tried unsuccessfully for months to try and locate this doctor at any of the local hospitals - to thank him for helping deliver their baby. Months later, by chance, they bump into him again, and explain how they’d tried to thank him but could not find him at any of the local hospitals. His answer – that’s because I’m not a doctor, I’m a janitor, but at that moment, you needed a doctor and I stepped up. Peterson goes on to explain that he believes its possible, given the right tools and techniques to fake being a minister – much more easily than being a doctor. And he goes on to explain the three inner life areas that he believes need to be cultivated in order to keep from faking it…

Friday, August 08, 2008


I'm falling asleep as I put the finishing touches on my packing. Please feel free to pray for our team - there are some interesting last minute developments that have come up, which could cause some "issues." I'd also appreciate your prayers for Bridgette, home with both Brennan & Aidan for the week. Thankfully, she's not alone - her mother Esther is here - great blessing. And now for some zzzz...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The importance of many voices

One of the things I've gained over the years, is an appreciation for differing opinions. Since I've been at Liberty, one of the things I've really liked is that John (one of our co-pastors) gives me constructive criticism on my sermons - those that he's here for, or has a chance to hear the podcast. And I do mean constructive criticism. I've heard of other Senior pastors ripping their AP's, being condescending, etc. I don't get that, and I appreciate it. I also don't get the blind praise - which you get from so many other people.

Multiple voices & multiple angles are important, because you don't always see something initially - but with the help of others, it can come out. One example of this for me recently was in preparation for Sunday's sermon on John 4, story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. I found something very interesting in The Luke-John, New Interpreter's Bible commentary. It was a completely different angle or possibility on this woman's situation - and it was the 1 thing that was commented on most by people that said something specific about my sermon. Here's the relevant excerpt from my sermon, I think it speaks for itself:

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

So, Jesus turns away from this water analogy and reveals a little bit more – now, he’s showing her the depth of his knowledge – his knowledge of her. Now, there’s a good debate about this woman’s past – she’s had 5 husbands and the man she now “has” is not her husband. She’s drawing water in the heat of the day, not the usual time to get water. Is this woman a social outcast? Is she a prostitute? An adulterer? Certainly there are sermons that have focused on this woman in that light – and yet there are other explanations. It’s possible that she was a casualty of that Levitical social tradition where brothers would marry their brothers widow in hopes of providing an heir. Maybe she’s gone through 5 brothers who’ve all died, and now, out of fear of his own death, the next in line is refusing to marry her? Whichever the case is, what’s interesting here is that Jesus doesn’t bother to address it. All he does is let her know – I know your situation. Whether it’s her sin, or her social captivity – Jesus knows...