Tuesday, April 17, 2007

There's a Change Comin' !!!

The format of this blog is going to change in a big way! But there is alot going on in right now, so I will try and make my changes as soon as possible.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dysfunction, Yet Loving

Okay, I'm on the late freight with this one, but I saw "Little Miss Sunshine" last night on DVD and it was a good movie. One of those movies I wish I saw on the big screen. Yet "Little Miss Sunshine," directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris has that unsettling feeling to it where you want to laugh, but some how feel its inappropriate to do so. This movie places you in that state and doesn't let you go.

The movie is about a family's journey from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Redondo Beach California for the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Contest. The trip becomes a farcical, yet a bittersweet epic journey as the family struggles through its own dysfunction and tragedy to realize the importance, however messy it is, of family.

Each character has their flaws laid bare for the audience to see. The father,Richard(Greg Kinnear), tries to make it as a motivational speaker, but is totally ineffectual and impotent not only as a 'motivational speaker, but as a father and husband. As he spouts his "9-steps to success" he continually fails at everything he does, including his hopes of making it.

Grandpa, played excellently by Alan Arkin, snorts heroine yet seems the most normal as he interjects his elderly wisdom and bitterness on the family. One of the most touching scenes in the movie is when Grandpa tells little Olive (played movingly by Abigail Breslin), that she is the most beautiful girl as she struggles with her own insecurities.

The mother, played by Toni Colette, is hurried and rushed, as she tries to take care of her brother, Frank (Steve Carell), who was released to her care after a failed suicide attempt over losing his male love interest and his position as the #1 Proust expert in the country to an academic rival.

The son, Dwayne (Paul Dano), reads Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he is accepted into the Air Force Academy to become a test pilot. He's the bitter teen who sees the disfunct in his family, yet adds to its dysfunction as he tries to separate himself from it.

Watching the family struggle through its dysfunctionality is at times painful. For example, when Richard doesn't get the book deal he hopes will bring him success, and Frank stumbles into his ex-love interest, the whole family is so caught up into their own sickness that when the vans leaves the gas station they forget little Olive. Yet the scene is hilarious as they go back to pick Olive up, yet they can't stop so she has to run and hop in the van. It's a funny scene, yet at the same time you shake your head in disbelief at the thought of forgetting your own child because you're so rapped up into yourself.

But there are many scenes in the movie that stumble into the realm of the surreal. Yet the one part of the movie that has a hint of truth to it is in fact the most disturbing part. You feel disgusted at what takes place on the screen. The fictionalized beauty pageant gives a feeling of voyeurism to a world that is indeed sick and twisted. The family, even in their dysfunctional state, sees the twisted nature of the Little Miss Sunshine pageant and in the end comes together as a family in defense of little Olive.

Little Miss Sunshine is a touching, absurd movie that give you a touch of the real in a surreal package. The desultory characters provide you with insight into some of our own charater flaws. We want to laugh at their faults and mistakes, yet at some level we are uncomfortable because we know we are laughing at ourselves.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Spritual 4-mation

I had an interesting conversation with a couple of friends about spiritual formation. One of them is interested in attending Biola University's Spiritual Formation Program. But I guess he wasn't spiritual enough. I'm just kidding!

As the conversation progressed I let it be known in my apparently spiritually unformed way that I'm a bit apprehensive about the whole thing. On the surface it doesn't seem like a bad thing for a person to be 'more spiritual,' and seek a closer experience with God. And therein lay the problem.

Can we really get closer to God by some method that we have prescribed? Or is it God who presribes how we can get closer to him? Please before you say I'm setting up a straw-man argument only to knock it down, wait and read. (BTW, isn't that part of spiritual formation to be silent and patient, hmmm.)

First, admittedly this is my limited understanding of spiritual formation. The purpose of spiritual formation is to deepen ones relationship with God through various techniques and experiences such as meditation, prayer, fasting, Christian psychotherapy, and lection divina (divine reading). None of those techniques are bad in and of themselves. The problem is these various methods try to reach up to God. We do these various methods to feel more holy, therefore, we think we're more holy. But that is not necessarily the case. The danger lies in the fact that you could possibly do something, say meditation, that gives you a good feeling. A feeling so good that you start to question "why do I need to go to church?" Or "why do I need to listen to such a boring sermon? I get more out of my personal meditation than that other stuff." But it's the 'other stuff' that God has prescribed for us. It's the other stuff that really works. All we're asked to do is trust God.

The problem is we are never satisfied with what God has done for us. Think about it. Adam and Eve weren't satisfied with the Garden; the children of Israel weren't satisfied with the tabernacle. Christians aren't satified with the (completed) works of Christ. We want more. More Christ. More God. More feelings. More experience.

The thing is, God has given us the means of grace. His Word and sacraments. But they are to ordinary for us. We want the magical, the mystical, the experiential, yet forgetting that it is through ordinary things that God shows his grace. Ordinary wine, bread, and preaching; definitely not the wow-factor.

I just had the Lord's supper this past Sunday and you know what? I didn't feel any different after the sacrament then before the sacrament. But that's okay, why? Because I know by God's Word and through faith that his sacrament is effective apart from how I feel.

This doesn't mean feelings are bad or I shouldn't feel anything. I'm just saying that feelings aren't necessary to the operation of God's means of grace. So when I hear about spiritual formation, I'm skeptical. I'm skeptical because it seems like it dilutes what God has prescribed, we need to do these extra steps in order to get closer to God. But you know what? We can't get closer to God. It's God who gets closer to us.

To God be the Glory alone

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Decline of the (Evangelical) Christian! - Oh My!

Check out this article at NYTimes.com. It's about the loss of evangelical teens in the Christian faith.

There are a few things that bothered me about this article. First, the doom and gloom view of evangelical Christianity, second, the attitude of "if we can't beat'em, join 'em!' and thirdly, the mentality of "the bigger, the better!"

First, we have to realize that American evangelical Christianity is not the end-all of the Christian faith. God will always have a witness, so just because there is a decline in American evangelical teens doesn't mean that Christianity is doomed.

Second, it seems like the evangelicals are taking the cultural milieu and placing a "Jesus-face" on it. When Mr. Luce ask the teens in the arena to write the negative cultural influences on a scrape of paper and then throw it away, that is nothing but therapeutic mumbo jumbo. All he's doing is a new form of alter call minus the Gospel. The kids feel better, but do they understand the Gospel any better? Are they walking away from these events with a true sense of their depravity and necessity for Christ? I some how doubt it. But, hey it probably raises their self-esteem as Christian teens.

Third, why do the evangelicals have to have these huge events? Do we really think that these big arena events are the answer to a decline in teen Christianity? In the article, it's noted that Mr. Luce has more than 2 million teens attend his event over the past 15 years. Yet, there is still a decline in the number of evangelical teenagers? So is his show really an effective means of retention?

I consider myself an evangelical (Reformed), but sad to say it, most evangelicals, in general, are so muddled in their worldview and theology that maybe this is the result -- evangelical teen burnout! The sins of the parents visited on the children. We have lived such paltry, shallow Christian lives, why would a teen want to stay in the religion of his parents? In the end there is no difference between us and the world. But instead of this being a wake up call all we're going to do is take more polls and find the most pragmatic way to raise the numbers!. And you know what? In the end its really not about the numbers, but we don't get it.

Depart from Evil, and do Good.

I’m still reading Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 37, one of my favorite Psalms. One thing that shines in Calvin’s commentary is his understanding of the human condition. For example, verse 27, simply states “Depart from evil, and do good,” which on the surface seems like an easy statement; don’t do evil, but do good. Okay, that doesn’t sound hard, but wait…

…And here is the genius of Calvin because he immediately goes to the heart of the problem, because our nature is corrupted by sin, a simple state such as v. 27 is at odds with our (sinful) nature. We can't do good continually, and the good we do is severally tainted. Furthermore, we continually reject God’s blessings, which in and of itself is an evil act. Yet, we want to be happy regardless of the consequences of our actions!

Calvin highlights the duplicity of our ‘good’ acts, you know how we can do good for one person, yet be evil to the next, and it not bother us in the least. Not only does it not bother us to treat someone with evil, but we justify it by saying, “Hey, they deserve it!” or “They wronged me first, so I’m treating them just like they treated me!” This last statement has my name written all over it. I personally went through a horrible, painful divorce. So for the longest time I would justify evil acts toward her by saying “She deserved that!” Yet the Bible doesn’t let me off the hook for the way I treat her because she wronged me. Nope, I am to do good and depart from evil regardless of the actions of others against me. Oouch! This is some tough stuff!

During my roughest times I literally read and re-read Romans 12, telling myself that God is in control and He will take care of her. Oh, but revenge would have been so sweet! But that was not my responsibility; it was God’s. So I had to do good and depart from evil, which meant being amicable towards her, even though I was angry, sad and hurt.

(The beauty of Christianity is this: even though I will constantly struggle with doing good and departing from evil, I know that before God I am justified through the righteousness of Christ. I don't have to worry about my eternal state because I'm trusting in Christ. I'm not 'working' to obtain salvation in any way! -- I just had to point that out.)

Calvin goes on to discuss a lot more than what I mentioned, but it struck me that such a simple statement could be so hard to follow without the grace of God.

To God be the Glory

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Things Haven’t Changed

As part of my devotional, I’m reading Psalms 37 with Calvin’s Commentary. The first three verses read:

Do not fret because of evildoers. Be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herb. Trust in the Lord and do good…(Ps. 37:1-3a, NASB)
Calvin states that it is with good reason why David "begins with the doctrine of faith or trusting in God." It is because "there is nothing more difficult for men than to preserve their minds in a state of peace and tranquillity, undisturbed by any disquieting fears, whilst they are in this world, which is subject to so many changes." As I read Calvin, I thought nothing has changed in Man’s attitude towards materialism. We get envious of the rich just as quickly today as they did in the 1550's. Nowadays it’s not just wanting riches, but also fame. I don’t know why, but we are just enamoured with fame and fortune.

I think part of the problem is the ubiquitousness of TV; it’s everywhere. Most homes in America probably have no less then two TV's. And we see everyday the story of any ordinary person vaulted to the top (or so we think) because of their exposure on TV. Think about Richard Hatch, the first winner of NBC’s Survivor series. He wouldn’t be famous (or infamous) without TV. He had his 15 minutes of fame and riches, regardless of his felony charges.

To get back on point, Calvin brings up an excellent point about the state of humanity. Without our attention directed towards something, we devolve into a selfish state of disrepair. We see the rich getting richer and we ask ‘why not I?’ And not having the ability to step back and say ‘is that really the most important thing?’ We become jealous and envious. We want what they have thinking that’s going to make us happy. As the Psalmist points out and Calvin elucidates, we need to trust in God to know He is the "author of all good, and that by his blessing alone prosperity is to be looked for," and that’s a very hard thing to do. But that is the only way we can overcome the muck and mire of our sad and miserable state.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

When the Levees Broke: Part II

Acts III and IV where on HBO last night. The second part was not as good as the first part. But I think the weakness was inherit in the story. Let’s face it; politics can get messy and dirt. So when our political structure breaks down basically it’s a he said- she said match and nobody win. And it makes for a pretty weak storyline, too.

Spike tried to keep the emotions in the story, for example when he focused on the many bodies still being found in the houses after Katrina. One story in particular kept me awake last night. I tried to imagine what it would be like to find my mother dead under a refrigerator after four months, when search and rescue was suppose to have checked the house! That’s a true nightmare; one in which you are awake and can’t escape.

One thing I’m wondering about is, after such utter devastation, people still want to go back to New Orleans. WHY? Your house is destroyed, your livelihood is destroyed, and everybody left. I mean I can understand why those who have property would want to stay and give it a try. You’ve invested in a home for 20 years, so walking away is not your first option. But for the thousands who don’t have property, why go back? There is nothing there. New Orleans as they knew it, no longer exist.

I was left last night with the feeling that New Orleans will come back, but it will not be like before. There is going to be some changes, not just in the racial make-up of the city, but in the spirit of the city. New Orleans was a corrupt place (interesting Spike didn’t bring that fact up). and I think now that everything is exposed that corruption can’t happen anymore (or at least at the level pre-Katrina.) Why its so hard to get things done now is because officials can’t operate like the ‘good ol’days’. Those days are over. Welcome to the 21st century, New Orleans!