Tag Archives: Movies

To Be Continued….

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.
Acts 28:30 (NIV)

It’s always frustrating when a television series that I love comes to an untimely end. There have been a number of shows over the years that I wish had continued. What makes it even more frustrating when a smart, intelligent show gets cancelled is all of the mindless schlock that seems to perpetuate itself for decades.

As an amateur writer, I’m always fascinated how the writers and producers handle a show’s storyline once they know the show has been cancelled. Many shows are written from the beginning to contain multiple story lines or “arcs.” This allows for there to be a sense of closure after one season, or a part of a season, while leaving other story arcs open to lead into future seasons. So, what happens when the writing team is told that they only have two episodes to wrap things up for good?

I’ve observed that some try to wrap up all of the loose ends, which leaves things feeling clunky, because not all of the story arcs have been fully fleshed out. Some introduce a tragic end to the protagonist which allows for a reason that the series has ended. Much like the untimely end of a loved one in real life, this option leaves viewers grieving for what “might have been.” Sometimes the writers simply let the series end without ever trying to give viewers closure. This, in turn, reminds me of Wendy.

Wendy has always been an avid reader. She tells me that when she was a young girl she never wanted to put a book down in the middle because she was afraid the story would go on without her. Instead of “to be continued” the next time she picked up the book, she feared that the story wouldn’t wait for her.

I mention this because in today’s final chapter of the book of Acts we find Paul arriving in Rome to wait for his trial with the Roman Emperor, Nero. The tension of the story has been building as Paul appeals his case to Caesar and makes an epic journey, including shipwreck, to Rome. In this final chapter, Luke tells us that Paul rented his own place, was allowed to live a relatively free existence with his Centurion guard. He met with the local Jewish population. He “welcomed all” who came to see him and continued to proclaim the Message of Jesus.

And then it ends, as if the show suddenly got cancelled. Luke simply leaves the storyline there, and we must assume that his historical narrative, penned for a man named Theophilus, was wrapped up and sent off at this point. Luke leaves the rest of the story open because it hadn’t happened yet.

The rest of Paul’s story is left for us to piece together from the writings of early Christians and Roman historians. In July 64 AD the “Great Fire of Rome” broke out for six days. According to the Roman historian, Tacitus, only four of Rome’s 14 districts escaped damage. Nero blamed the fire on Christians and immediately set out to persecute them. It is documented that Nero had both Paul and Peter executed, which is consistent with his persecution of Jesus’ followers. The exact dates and the specifics surrounding the events and executions were not well documented at the time.

In the quiet this morning I’m smiling as I think of a young, curly-haired Wendy, with her nose in a book, convinced that the story will go on without her. Indeed, as the story of Acts comes to an abrupt, even unsatisfying end, I’m meditating on the fact that the story did go on. We know that Paul was executed and that the Message of Jesus continued to spread despite horrific persecution. The story continued, and continues to this day. Having taken up the mantel of faith in my youth, I am a part of the same story; Just a wayfaring stranger traveling through this particular story arc, in this particular chapter, during this particular point in the epic.

I only hope that I to play my part as faithfully and as well as those in Acts who led the way.

Have a great day, my friend.

Life is Messy

Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his town, in Ophrah; and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.
Judges 8:27 (NRSV)

Life is messy. We generally like things to be black and white and believe that things would be so much easier if they were. We like our movies to provide us with simple delineations between the people who wear white hats and those who wear black hats. We like the ending of our movies to wrap up neatly. The bad guy is dead. The good guy rides off into the sunset.

But life is rarely that way. We would like a simple choice for President. We want the person who is fully qualified, looks the part, has no moral flaws, is void of skeletons in the closet, inspires us, communicates clearly, and unites a diverse citizenship. That person, however, does not exist.

Even the great heroes of the faith, whom God raised up as leaders in ancient days, were sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. They were flawed the same as me and you. God raised up Gideon to defeat the Midianites, but in today’s chapter we find that Gideon was far from perfect. He defeated an idolatrous oppressor only to create a golden ephod (generally, a garment woven with gold) that became an idol itself. Gideon, for all of his leadership qualities, had his flaws. With his power and prestige he amassed for himself many wives and concubines. With 70 sons on record, the total number of his children had to be well over a hundred. Talk about messy.

Today, I am reminded that on this life journey East of Eden we rarely get the storylines of our lives to work out how we like them in our movies. Despite our perceptions, people rarely fit into simple black hats or white hats. Most all of us wear shades of gray. We all make mistakes along the way; Some of them tragic. We have messy lives, messy relationships, and mortal flaws. Riding off into the sunset is often just the view we choose to see through our rose colored glasses.

I do not believe, however, that this is cause for pessimism or cynicism. Rather, it is an opportunity for grace, forgiveness, and understanding. Just as Jesus taught, if I can be honest about the log in my own eye, I can learn to have grace for the speck in the eye of my brother, my sister, my friend, and my neighbor.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured photo by senorhans via Flickr

Shift Focus

 If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt….
Deuteronomy 7:17-18 (NRSV)

There is a technical term used in movie making called “shift focus.” It’s when the camera is focused on one object while another object in the shot is blurry, then then camera shifts the focus so that the other object is in focus and the first object blurs out.  Filmmakers use this technique to transition the audience’s attention and to move the story along.

When things in life go wrong and times are tough, it’s easy to get myopically focused on our present circumstances. Our brains zero in on what’s happening in the moment and, as a result, our hearts can drive all sorts of negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, doubt and depression. These emotions can be spiritually crippling and paralyzing.

In today’s chapter, Moses anticipates that his people may find themselves in such circumstances. He instructs them to do a mental and spiritual shift focus as an antidote to their fears: remember.

  • Remember when you were slaves in Egypt and God delivered you.
  • Remember when the plagues hit and you remained safe.
  • Remember when the Egyptian army was chasing you and God miraculously saved you and gave you victory.

He could have gone on:

  • Remember when you thirsty and God provided water from a rock.
  • Remember when you were hungry and God sent bread from heaven.
  • Remember when you wandered and God sent both cloud and fire to lead you.

The shift focus from our present circumstances to past situations reminds us that God has been faithful in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe He will be faithful in my current situation?), that we survived in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe I’ll get through this), and that things eventually worked out (So why shouldn’t I trust that my current situation will work out, too?). The result is that our faith begins to counter our fear and our paralysis gives way to us moving forward.

Today, I’m reminded of the many times God has provided and protected me through the years. Why then, should I fear present troubles?

chapter a day banner 2015

 

“I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means”

 

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:4 (NIV)

I’ve always been a movie lover. There are movies that I can watch over and over and over again and each time I do I seem to catch little things I’d never seen or heard before.  Lines from the film seem to enter conversation. For Wendy and me, one of those movies is Princess Bride. A favorite line of our is when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’

Among the community of Jesus’ followers the phrase “fallen from grace” is often used to refer to those who at one time were followers, but seemed to leave the path of faith to follow after sinful appetites. Other believers will say that this person has “fallen from grace.” In fact, these are the only circumstances in which I hear this phrase used. To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using those words. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Paul does not use “fallen from grace” to describe those who have left the faith to pursue sinful appetites! He uses the phrase to describe those who have left the path of simple faith and have pursued legalistic religiosity. In Galatia, those whom Paul described who had “fallen from grace” were those who were telling non-Jewish believers that they had to follow all the Jewish legal, religious rules.

This is a huge distinction. Walking the journey of faith is a balancing act from which you can stumble and fall in either way. Certainly you can stumble and pursue unhealthy appetites. That’s why Paul says a a few lines later: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” But you can also stumble and “fall from grace” by pursuing a path of rigid, religious rules in which you judge a person’s faith by how they measure up to your religious yard stick.

To quote another famous movie line that creeps into my conversation on a regular basis: “Daniel-san. Must learn balance.

The Establishing Shot of the Human Story

The First Mourning
The First Mourning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 4

One day Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; 
listen to me, you wives of Lamech.
I have killed a man who attacked me, 
a young man who wounded me.

If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times, then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!”
Genesis 4:23-24 (NLT)

Wendy and I love movies, books, plays and good television shows. We don’t just numb out when we watch a movie. We’re generally stimulated by it. Silly at it seems, Green Lantern prompted two days worth of conversation about the nature of love and human will (I know, we’re dweebs). We think about what we’re watching and why the writer chose to present things a certain way, why the Director made the choice to picture it like that, and what the actor brought to the performance. We talk about it. Some people roll their eyes and say to us, “Seriously, can’t you just sit back and enjoy it?” But, we are enjoying it when we explore all of the layers of it. Others have said to us, “I love watching movies with you because you see so much more than I do.

Let me add God’s Message to the list of things that we enjoy digging into. I will admit that my modus operandi for these chapter-a-day posts is usually just to read the chapter in my half-awake state and see what pops in a top of mind kind of way. Many times, however, you have to peel back the layers of what’s been written to appreciate the fullness of the message.

One of the things you learn about movie making is that the very first shot the Director shows you (an “establishing shot”) is often of critical importance. It clues you in to the whole story you’re about to see. So, consider that we’re reading Genesis. This is the beginning of the whole cosmic story. Think of today’s chapter as an “establishing shot.” It’s just the beginning of the movie, but the picture presented in today’s chapter is a foreshadowing of the entire theme of human history.

In today’s chapter, we’re presented with the beginnings of human history after Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden for their disobedience. The chapter presents seven generations (from Adam to Lamech) and is “bookended” with two stories across six generations: Cain (2nd generation) and Lamech (7th generation):

  • Cain murders his brother and is made a “restless wanderer.” God pronounces judgement and Cain is marked by God that any who seek to avenge Abel by punishing Cain him will face God’s judgement seven-fold.
  • Lamech takes personal vengeance out on someone who attacked him, points to God’s divine judgement on any who touch Cain,  and justifies his own act of murder by claiming that he personally deserves Cain’s divine protection [on steroids].

So, let’s dig in:

Throughout God’s Message, the number seven represents “completion” (e.g. the seven days of creation). So in presenting seven generations we are being given a “complete” picture of something. The number “six” is the number of man (e.g. the number of the anti-Christ in Revelation is 666, the three sixes representing the replacement of the divine trinity with the human – man asserting himself as God) so the six post-Eden generations from Cain to Lamech represent a progression (or actually a regression) of humanity. Cain committed murder and God pronounced judgement of the wrongness of it and exacted punishment. By the sixth generation Lamech was committing murder, justifying his actions, declaring that he was 77 times more important than Cain and replacing God’s justice with his own.

What we see in today’s chapter is the on-going conflict of the Great Story in one snapshot. God creates human beings that they would glorify Him and be in relationship with Him. Instead, they disobey which sets into motion a cyclical, generational and spiritual regression. We dishonor the Creator, reject the divine, and proudly set ourselves up as god of our own lives and existence.

Today, I’m thinking about this spiritual regression pictured across the generations from Cain to Lamech. I’m questioning the prevailing world-view that human beings are inherently good and continually progressing towards some pinnacle of goodness. I’m thinking about my own life and the journey this wayfaring stranger is on. What about my story? Does the story of my life reflect spiritual regression or progression? Does my story resemble The Godfather? The Mission? Pilgrim’s Progress?

So much to ponder. I hope you have a great day.

Five Movies I Can Watch Over and Over and Over and…

"Here's looking at you" again and again and again again

Five Things Friday presents a beautiful friendship of the cinematic variety. Here’s looking at the top five movies I can watch endlessly without every getting tired of them:

  1. Casablanca
  2. Henry V
  3. Last of the Mohicans
  4. Lord of the Rings
  5. The Hunt for Red October
Also ran….

Chapter-a-Day Colossians 3

Members of Air Force Recruiting Service attend...
Image via Wikipedia

Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. Colossians 3:2 (NLT)

Wendy and I love movies, books, and the arts. We talk about them all the time. A friend of ours has told us on several occasions that he likes to watch movies with us. “You see things in the movie I don’t see,” he said. “And, you talk about the movie when it’s over; really talk about it. Most people I know don’t do that.”

Wendy and I tend to look at movies from different perspectives. We think about themes, the writing, the way it was directed and shot and edited. We talk about what the writer and director were trying to say about life, or death, or relationships, or whatever piece of world view they happened to address. The river of our conversation will often flow out into little tributaries of related conversations about all sorts of things.

Some people find it annoying. I know. “Cant’ you just watch a movie?” I’ve been asked on several occasions be different people. I could. I guess.

Wait, scratch that. No, I can’t.

As I observe people and talk with people in different avenues of life, I see those whose thoughts and motivations rarely, if ever, stretch beyond their natural appetites. Get to the next paycheck. Get to the next party. Get to the next major purchase. Get to the next meal. Get to the next sexual experience experience. The journey appears never to exit the interstate of base human appetite.

I have found that Life is so much more than simple appetites. We live in an ever expanding universe made by an infinite Creator. We are eternal beings on an amazing sojourn through this world that is a miniscule dot on eternity’s time line. I don’t want my life to be confined to the dot, I want it to expand toward the entire line. I don’t want to spend the journey a zombie wandering thoughtlessly to my next instinctive need never giving thought to Life which is happening all around me in a million different ways. I want to spend the journey reaching out expansively to fill my mind, my heart, my spirit with Life.

So, to me a movie is more than a two-hour nap for my mind and soul. It’s a leaf from the tree of tales that is unique and fascinating and waiting to be explored and understood in the context of Life. I know it seems weird to some. Hey, what can I say? That’s how we roll.  Come on over to the house sometime for a little wine, a nice dinner, some of Wendy’s fabulous cheesecake, a movie and a little late night conversation (along with another piece of cheesecake). You might just leave feeling fullness in more than your stomach.