Tag Archives: Storyline

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.

Hope and Despair in a House of Cards

So justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
    for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
Isaiah 59:9 (NIV)

Wendy and I have been watching the acclaimed Netflix series House of Cards over the past year or so. Last night we finished the third season. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are amazing actors. The story is compelling and the plot has some incredible twists that have caught me completely off guard. (FYI: There is some very graphic content, for those who desire to avoid it.)

Over the past couple of episodes Wendy and I have both felt the heaviness that comes when you find yourself mired in dark, depressing storylines. Even Shakespeare’s Hamlet gets depressing by the end of the play; The stage littered with the senseless dead. Last night Wendy and I began to analyze and unpack what in the series had brought us to feel this with House of Cards.

As we began to analyze the characters in the show, it struck us that, across almost 40 episodes the writers had not given us one redemptive character. In fact, on multiple occasions the main characters toy with redemption, play on the edges of doing the right thing, only to be sucked back into the tangled web of greed, lust, power and deceit. In the world of House of Cards, goodness equals weakness. Trying to do the right thing makes you a victim or a fool. It is, admittedly, a bleak vision of our political class.

I contrast this with stories of real people I know and have met. They are stories of individuals who were mired in the types of dark places embodied by House of Cards. In these stories, however, a mysterious mixture of personal courage and divine grace led people to turn from dark places to be enveloped in Light. Greed gave way to generosity. Lust gave way to love. Humility replaced pride. The forsaken found forgiveness.

I found it a bit of synchronicity that in today’s chapter, the prophet Isaiah spins a poetic description of those lost in the darkness. Isaiah describes those entangled and entrapped in the consequences of their own wrong motives, and perpetually poor choices. Living in those places, as I can personally recall, does feel like a house of cards. You live in constant fear that the whole thing will fall apart, and it eventually does.

As with the stories I recall this morning, redemption comes at the end of Isaiah’s poetic vision. The Redeemer arrives in a eucatastrophic moment. With the Redeemer comes repentance, Spirit, presence, and peace. Darkness gives way to Light. Those are stories to which I am drawn. Nevertheless, I think I’ll stick with House of Cards for season four. I’m not one to give up hope on redemption.

Where’s this Story Headed?

When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them: “I am now one hundred twenty years old. I am no longer able to get about, and the Lord has told me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’
Deuteronomy 31:1 (NRSV)

Last night on the way to dinner with friends, Wendy was sharing with me about a podcast she listened to by Donald Miller. The crux of the message was, what story are you trying to tell with your life? She expressed a desire for the two of us to spend some time in conversation about the story we want our lives to tell. I’m looking forward to that.

In less than a half-year I will hit the big 5-0. I’ve never been one to stress about birthdays and aging. It is what it is. I’m less concerned about the number of my years and more concerned with what I have done with the days I have been given, and with my purpose in however many days I have left. Nevertheless, when you reach certain waypoints in life’s journey there is a natural tendency to recalibrate your position.

Where have I been?
Where am I now?
Where am I going?

In today’s chapter, Moses is approaching a monumental waypoint in life: the finish line. Moses had an amazing life. Saved from genocide as a baby, he grew up in Pharaoh’s courts. He was a murderer and a wanted man living life on the lam. Despite his human shortcomings both moral and physical, God called him to confront his past and unite his people. He stood up to Pharaoh, led the people out of Egypt, and then established an entire nation. He gave the nation organizational leadership structure,  a thorough set of governing laws, and a monotheistic national religion unlike anything humanity of that day had ever seen. Not a bad resume for one man looking back on his life journey What a great story.

Today, I’m thinking about my own story. I’m mulling over the chapters that have brought me here, and thinking about where I want the story to go from here.

So, what’s your story?

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Chapter-a-Day 1 Chronicles 25

Next David and the worship leaders selected some from the family of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun for special service in preaching and music. 1 Chronicles 25:1 (MSG)

I’m currently reading a trilogy of non-fiction books. The first book was good, but there was a lot that I didn’t get. I felt like a lot was going over my head or that I wasn’t catching some things that might be important. As I got into the second book, a lot of things became clear. I began making connections with things that happened early in the story; things which had initially confused me.

One of the things I appreciate about journeying through God’s Message is the way you begin to connect the dots. The more you read it, the more things begin to connect. What casual observers and spotty readers often lament is that the Bible seems so disjointed and confusing. There is a storyline, and there are very complex connections from beginning to end, but you have to spend time journeying through the disparate parts to find the threads which connect.

In today’s chapter we learn that special worship assignments for God’s temple were given to three families. One of them, Asaph, rang a bell. Asaph was the composer of several songs in the book of Psalms. When reading Psalms you see “A Psalm of Asaph” and wonder who in the world Asaph was. You find out in the Chronicles.

Sometimes, you have to stick with a book for a while before it starts coming together for you.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and ginnerobot