Saturday, June 29, 2013

man of steel

What a disappointment! The best thing about the movie was the company I kept in watching it.

Spotting Christ-figures in movies is one of my favourite past-times - and so, yes, I enjoyed all the Jesus allusions. But it was all a bit obvious and silly, wasn't it? It took me back to The Matrix. The baby scenes and the incarnational ideas - the 'it takes 33 years to make a superman' line - but what about confessing to a priest with a stained glass window of Jesus struggling with the will of the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane? For superman it is not so much the struggle of  'take this cup from me', but the calm of 'give me the cup and I am gonna drain it dry'.

But I haven't mentioned the shallow characterisation and the thin plotline yet, have I? And what really irritated me is the relentless violence masquerading as 'special effects' and because it is the latter, it always seem to be OK. The relentless nature of the violence reminded me of a fellow seminary student who had a loud fan going in his room so that it equalised the noise from the freeway and people in the hallway ... and enabled him to sleep. The special effects did that to me. I dozed off three or four times in Man of Steel. I need plot and character development to be engaged. Relentless violence masquerading as 'special effects' does absolutely nothing for me.

But the deepest irritations lie elsewhere. Have you ever asked why there is the current glut of superhero movies? Batman, Iron Man, Spiderman, X-men (please notice the final syllable in common!). Why are we revisiting all these story lines from the 1950s and 1960s? I think I know why.

It is part of a coping mechanism for life lived after 9/11. Terrorism make people feel scared and vulnerable - and this is a fear-filled vulnerability that has not been felt for a couple of generations. And so the displays of patriotic power in a range superhero movies makes people feel better. It is therapeutic. It massages nostalgic feelings of a Pleasantville time when life was sweet, the world was ruled, and enemies could be vanquished. Goodness me - in one recent superhero movie (The Avengers) the heroes even joined forces to crush the enemy.

But the reasons for my disdain lie deeper than this - far deeper. It is the way superhero movies are conditioning people to think that rescue, that hope comes ultimately through displays of power and might. In the movie we learn that the stylised 'S' across the ample chest of the messianic figure is a symbol of hope. Oh dear. My heart sank. Really? What Christians are going to buy that nonsense? Far too many, I suspect. For any follower of Jesus, watching the movie should have been deeply distressing. May I remind you that our hope is wrapped up in the victory of a slain Lamb, not a roaring Lion? May I remind you that God's way to rule the world is through weakness and suffering - a life in which we share and in which a majority of God's people around the world are currently sharing?
They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings - and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers (Revelation 17.14).
I found the movie idolatrous and offensive. It pains me to know that it will be watched by people all around the world, particularly those who follow other faiths, and that they will identify Superman with Jesus. What's more, these superhero movies will always be rated 'M' - no matter how relentless the violence masquerading as special effects may be - simply because people still want to mess with children's minds and disciple them with this lionised metanarrative. Give me the special effect of the lambed gospel story about a man of sorrow any day.

"Oh, get a life, Paul. Chill out. It is just a movie."
Nah. It isn't just a movie...that is my point.

nice chatting


Friday, June 14, 2013

stairways and sermons

I am always on the lookout for ways to describe an effective sermon.

One that I have picked up from somewhere in my Langham work - and now expanded - is to imagine the biblical author in the front seat listening to the sermon I preach from the text. And then ask myself one question, 'which way is the head nodding, as they listen to me?'

Is the nod from north to south and back again, communicating 'yes, you've got exactly what I intended'?
Is the nod from east to west and back again, communicating 'no, you have little understanding about what I was writing'?
Does the nod move involuntarily and waywardly southward, never to return north again, accompanied by slumber and snoring?

Well - take a look at this clip of one the great songs of my generation - Stairway to Heaven - being performed in front its original authors (Led Zepellin) at an evening held in their honour.

If I am not mistaken, the nodding among the authors is from north to south, accompanied by joy and a little rainfall as well. I love those glimpses of the original authors looking at each other and loving what they are hearing in the fresh performance for a new generation. That is the way it should be. Faithful, yet fresh. Today preachers are many generations adrift from the authors - not just one, as is the case here - but to draw forth a similar response is a feature of good preaching today.

Dear Jesus
By your Spirit, please help my preaching to draw forth similar nodding from those authors whom that same Spirit inspired so many generations ago. And as you do so, please help my sermons to provide stairways into heaven for listeners, taking them as worshipers right into your presence for whom all praise and glory (and standing ovations) are reserved.

nice chatting


Friday, June 07, 2013

subdued by obedience

When we had a little book written on my father's life, we called it Surprised by Obedience. That title seemed to catch the twists and turns of his life and the way God kept calling him away from areas of proven skill and gifting. [NB: I've posted some tributes to my Dad here and here and here].

Obedience can surprise. But it can subdue as well. This is where I am right now. Barby and I plan to move to Asia in August. We have been walking in this direction for some time. We believe this is what God requires of us. We are committed to the 'trust and obey, there is no other way' lifestyle. But I am not saintly enough to find this anything other than sobering at the moment. Leaving children and grandchild(ren!)? Moving on from the church and culture we know and in which we are known and, I guess, have some credibility? Stepping back from leadership? Sitting in the backseat? Starting again? It is all straightforward in theory - but a bit more sobering in practise.

Nevertheless I am helped by one prayer, one quotation, two lives ... and three hymns.

Each morning that I am in NZ I read a chapter from a big book (too big to take on the road!) - Ajith Fernando's Deuteronomy: Loving Obedience to a Loving GodI love the way Ajith writes. He wanders through his Bible and rummages through his life as he speaks personally, conversationally and directly into my life. On page 133 he mentions the Covenant Service in his Methodist Church. I had never heard of it. The service reaches its climax with a prayer. How did I reach 53 years of age without knowing this prayer? It goes like this:
I am no longer my own, but yours.  Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine, and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Patrick Fung (International Director, OMF) has re-popularised a phrase from one of his predecessors, DE Hoste, in a little book entitled Live to be Forgotten. The full quotation is below. To be honest, I am not sure I am there yet - but I am asking God for the grace to help me so to live.

The quotation at the OMF Centre (Chiangmai) - on my very first training week with Langham
I've had the great privilege of working with Patrick and Ajith in Langham. The lives they live are consistent with the life to which their words point me. Patrick is the leader of a massive mission and each training week he sits through the sessions, taking notes, participating and learning along with others. He is not incessantly on his mobile phone, or answering emails on his laptop. He is not full of his own importance. I find that so humbling. As for Ajith, there must be dozens of Western churches, colleges and organisations that have tried to steal him from Sri Lanka. Nah?! Steadfastly, he stays there - and he does not just stay there, he lives simply for the sake of the poor, the young and the marginalised in that country.

A prayer. A quotation. Two lives.
They are all playing their part in my life.

Then there are the hymns.
On a recent Sunday evening, I was stirred again by the last two lines of 'Take My Life':
Take my self, and I will be                                                                                         Ever, only, all for Thee.
Ever? That means there is no time in my life when it is not true. Only? That means there are no rivals in my life making this not true. All? That means there is no space in my life for which it is not true.

Then there is the final verse of 'Lord, Speak to Me':
O use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where.
I am drawn to the way the humble surprise of 'use even me' mingles with the obedient willingness of 'wilt, and when, and where'.

Then I can always go back to listen to my Dad sing 'So, Send I You' (it is the final song which he sings in this post). I remember hearing him sing it - more than thirty years ago - when I was the age of my children and my Mum and Dad were leaving home to live in Asia. As I listened to his voice quiver more and more as the song progressed, I realised that my parents were subdued by obedience as well.

nice chatting