Friday, June 28, 2013

A Small Reaction to Large Changes

Cynicism is easy.
Sarcasm is a reflex.
Mockery is simple.

In light of all that has happened this week in the United States Supreme Court, all of the above attitudes have been at the forefront of public conversation. I've expressed them more than I would have liked and harbored them in secret to an exponentially greater degree.

But I don't want to be that person. Someone else can be that person. I want to walk a different path, a narrower path. I don't want to do what is easy; I want to retrain my reflexes, and I would rather be on the side of receiving mockery than giving it.

I want to invest in others not reduce their sense of worth. This does not mean agreement, nor does it mean validation, but it does mean holding captive not only my words but also my thoughts. At times, thoughts are as violent as language (if not more so), and maintaining silence is better than speaking a passive aggressive insult.

That's it. No specific stories to tell. No wallowing in guilt. It's just become clear to me throughout this week. I look at the world; sometimes I get angry, and I sin in my anger--if only in my mind, I fall short of a loving response. I play it is easy. But Christ desires better; Christ deserves better. By the power of His Spirit, I will be better, maybe slowly but ever-surely. How bout you?

Thank you for reading; have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Interview on Stronghold with Covenant Eyes (and Christian Post)

Dear Friends,

I am practically bursting with shock and excitement to direct you to a recent interview in which I participated, which is now available through not only the Covenant Eyes but also The Christian Post. Answering these questions was a joy and privilege, and new readers are finding the book as a result.

Thank you all for your support. This is a real moment for me, and I am happy to share it all with you!


PS - If you have read Stronghold, please put up an review on Amazon as well as iTunes (you can post the same review on each). Reviews provide a wonderful litmus test for readers, and I am sure you will all have valuable things to say (even if they are constructively critical).

MAN OF STEEL: A Perspective

On June 14, 2013, Superman returned to theatres with all the impact of an alien vessel crashing to earth, and I have to say I could not be happier--well, almost. Having seen Man of Steel twice now, I can confidently say that I am quite taken with Kal-El's newest iteration, and I believe that the film will get better upon repeat viewings. Of course, I am on one side of a very polarizing fence; and like the film itself, this development is encouraging, for Man of Steel has divided audiences between its true believers and its bold antagonists, with members of each side bringing their best wits and analyses to a film that they believe warrants further conversation. What's more, the matters being discussed reflect a very real sense of humanity in its audience, and for that, too, I am excited. Say what you will about Man of Steel: if nothing else, the film has proven itself to be a piece of pop culture art (for whatever that's worth).

As I sat in my first IMAX screening of the film, I relished the choices made by the production team. They embraced the character's science fiction origins unapologetically, both in terms of production design as well as narrative structure. Within the first twenty minutes, I knew I was taking a Superman journey that I had not taken previously, one focused as much on the end of Krypton as the emergence of earth's "Super-man"; thankfully, as the closing credits rolled, this created expectation had been fulfilled, and I left not only feeling like I had seen a textured and interesting "alien invasion" film but also a strong, unique entry into the superhero genre. This is a film that expects to be taken seriously despite its otherworldly visuals and extraordinary events, and it's a film that believes its stakes and its themes are important. These themes range from ideas of serious science fiction (evolutionary ethics, genetic determinism, and the penchant of sentient beings for destruction) to the timeless subjects of myth (identity, virtue, and sacrifice). While Man of Steel is a grand spectacle, it is also a personal story of one man trying to understand his place in the world; and though the action left me feeling a bit overwhelmed, the final scene brought a smile to my face that did not leave until well after I exited the theatre.

I processed Man of Steel over the next week before catching the film a second time on a regular screen, during which some of its shortcomings began to show themselves. For all of Lois Lane's pro-active decisions, she gets herself in need of rescuing each time she braves the unknown. Inasmuch as Zod is a good foil for Superman, their mano-a-mano conflict feels superfluous given much of what we have seen, and it is tiresome by the time it ends (though, arguably, it closes with a compelling final moment). Whereas I saw Kal-El acting consistently with others in mind on the IMAX, I now saw him reacting with less regard for those his actions would affect--his emotional immaturity and lack of wisdom becoming far more evident the more I examined his choices. This aspect of his character, however, appears to be an intentional thematic choice, and that, too, became far clearer upon my second viewing--as did the dual meanings layered throughout the film (such as Krypton's and Earth's similarly violent and militaristic natures). Some visual cues were jarringly obvious on both viewings, but others I missed the first time were subtly beautiful on the next. And of course, the second time I saw the ending was even more wonderful than the first, because I had more opportunity to digest all that informed and earned that moment. 

The movie's ending is perhaps the best ending in a superhero film since 2005's Batman Begins, and that film in particular is an excellent point of comparison for Man of Steel. Both films use flashback as a device to not only explain the present emotional condition of their respective protagonists but also inform the next decision they will make. Additionally, both films hit all the beats necessary for an origin story but do so in a way that feels fresh and organic within the context of the world created by the filmmakers. Each film also focuses not on an iconic superhero but on a real and imperfect being with whom we as an audience sympathize, and each film ends with that individual making questionable choices.

While Batman's questionable choices seemed to be acceptable, Kal-El's have gotten the filmmakers into a great deal of trouble.

Within 24 hours of Man of Steel's release, the polarizing conversation began. Veteran comic writer Mark Waid provided his opinion of the film's failures, and many others, seeing him as both an authority and comrade in their discontent, voiced similar dissatisfaction with the film. People who had concerns over WB's choice of hiring the arguably excessive Zach Snyder as director and the perceived realist Christopher Nolan as producer now felt vindicated that their fears were realized, and they made sure to sound the alarm for others to avoid this new, failed treatment of one of America's most beloved icons. Then, of course, the aggregators at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic began to show the polarization among critics, and the floodgates of disagreement broke open further.

Once I had seen the film myself, I entered into the fray and quickly found that Man of Steel simply did not work for some viewers on any level, inasmuch as it struck resounding chords with me. Where some saw a stilted, incoherent screenplay, I saw an integrated narrative (both on the thematic as well as structural levels). Where some saw clunky camera work, I saw a consistent, genre-specific style. Some lamented the performance of Michael Shannon, whereas I valued the creation of an interesting though limited character. I felt that the shot composition was strong throughout the movie, and the CG elements--while always cartoonish in these types of films--were acceptable. In the end, I felt that the film's choices, though unexpected in many instances, were earned. 

Of course, the main issue on the minds of most folks was not the style but the substance, specifically the violence and collateral damage in the final sequences, which felt unbecoming to a Superman picture. On this front, I found myself more troubled but still siding with the filmmakers, to whom I will attribute sincere thematic intentions rather than exploitation. The destruction in the last hour feels like overkill, and Superman's perceived lack of concern for this dilemma is disconcerting, depending on your take of the character. For some viewers, such as myself, this shows the audience a very imperfect Kal-El, the remnant of a violent breed, now brought down to his brutal nature through a contest with his peoples’ most brutal members. Given this, it is only at the moment that Superman takes his eyes off his relentless opponents and actually sees the humans near him in jeopardy that he refocuses his priority on the man he wants to be, not the amoral Kryptonian warrior that lives in his blood (who is similar to the very one against whom he is fighting). The invasion in this film is treated as the first real "battle" that Superman fights, and I accept that his attentions were focused, albeit incorrectly, solely on his foes rather than their victims (though in the Smallville sequence, we see him dividing attention from fighting the villains to rescuing the soldiers from time to time). The whole movie reflects on the consequences of Superman's appearance to humanity, and we see that his doing so is costly. These are narrative choices I accept. 

Others don't. They see this disregard for those in jeopardy as a complete departure from Superman to the point that this alien hero is only an echo of the actual Kal-El they claim to know and love. Given their reading of the motion picture, I cannot convince them otherwise; I can explain only why I feel the choices of both the characters as well as the filmmakers are legitimate. 

But so, too, are the concerns brought by the movie's detractors. Frankly, the fact that Man of Steel is causing audiences to examine the destruction of cities as inappropriate entertainment is a good thing. The loss of human life in film, implied or onscreen, should give us pause. We should lament the high cost of freedom, salvation, and security in motion pictures, particularly when we are asked to invest in the people and the planet who pay that price. When we watch films without this concern, it cheapens human life, and we should rally against that. So, too, should we question our heroes' actions. Thanks to a number of influences over the last several decades--Hollywood being a central one--we seem to have embraced foul-mouthed, adulterous killers as our heroes, but when Superman fails in one of these three areas, many people call foul--which in principle is wonderful. They should. Our heroes should be different than us—they should be better; they should be pictures of what we can be, not reflections of how foolish we tend to be. If a hero kills, we should question if it was necessary, if it was just, and if it was heroic. They should be held to a higher standard than anyone else, given their great power and abilities and position as role models. What makes their taking life more honorable or acceptable than the villains'? Is it because they act in service of saving it? Is that enough?

We should consider these things. And we are doing so when it comes to Man of Steel because of Superman, because of who he is and who we believe him to be. We have always held Kal-El to a higher standard. He is the Blue Boy Scout. He is the symbol of hope--the best mankind can be. Superman shares a great number of parallels to Jesus; and as such, many people find that he should be as faultless as Jesus. For this reason, some resent him for being too good, but they become equally as angry when he is not good enough. This film, perhaps more than any other before it, challenges the audiences expectations of Superman rather than fulfilling them, and some members of that audience have responded by rejecting the film in full, which is their right. Superman is, after all, bigger than any one film or iteration, and if this does not square with the character insofar as they see him, they are free to dismiss this film entirely.

I won't, and I don't want to either. I view all films through the Christ ethic, and Man of Steel's particularly poignant connections to the Jesus narrative make the film all the more fascinating to me. Seeing the faults and failures of Kal-El, a Christ figure, reminds me of why I treasure and love the actual Jesus Christ to the degree that I do. Kal-El's struggles gives me a hint--perhaps even an echo--of Christ's own testing at the hands of the human race, whether to save or abandon them; but for all of his strengths, Kal-El is still only a mortal creature, not immortal creator incarnate; and as such, he is still open to making all the mistakes that we created beings do, even making choices with which we disagree. Watching Man of Steel borrow pieces of the Christ narrative directs me back to the true Christ narrative, and when a film does that for me, well, it strikes deeper places in my soul. For others, however, the very fact that Man of Steel’s protagonist’s falls short in the way he does discounts his similarities to Christ, altogether. If Kal-El is so divorced from saving the countless injured and dying of the invaded Metropolis, how could this Superman even remotely compare to the loving Christ?

And it is these conflicts--the responsibility of a hero, the nature of an icon, and the essence of a character that have made this film so ripe for discussion. I feel the filmmaker's asked themselves all of these questions before a single draft of the screenplay was completed. Certainly they seem to be wrestling with Superman's identity as much as Kal-El himself. And all of these questions surrounding Man of Steel are good questions to ask. While my interaction with the film was different than those who have heavily criticized it, I can only applaud them for such concerns. When a director places the audience into a cinematic realism, he or she creates in said audience the expectations of realism. The reason that the ludicrous destruction in G.I. Joe, Transformers, and the movies of Roland Emmerich do not enrage us (at least, not in the same way) is because these films ask nothing of us other than to be experience arresting imagery and the occasional bad joke. Man of Steel is not like them. It asks the audience to treat it seriously, and the audience did—and they are right to criticize it when they feel an apparent disregard for human life in its final act, in which losses would have been catastrophic but go seemingly forgotten. Does this failure destroy everything that came before? I don’t think so (particularly because of thematic reasons for it). But the fact that this topic has become a catalyst for an ongoing dialogue shows that the audience is sophisticated, and when you make demands of it, it will, in turn, make demands of you, which is a wonderful sign that we are not checking our brains at the door. The unseen dead of Metropolis found a voice in audiences, which tells me that the unseen wounded in reality can also. And this, too, fills me with hope, that if people will raise awareness for the fictionally forgotten or ill-used, that they will not remain silent when they encounter the same persons in reality. The film is also showing us that we still care about heroes, about the nature of heroism, and about Superman as a symbol. The discussion surrounding this film tells us that our heroes' morality is open to criticism, and it should be, because if we cannot look to them to show us a better way, how are they heroes at all? 

As much as I have delighted in the film itself, I think my experience with Man of Steel has been amplified by the effect I have seen it have culturally. The fact that people are standing up and saying, "This imagery is irresponsible" or "Superman wouldn't do that" are moral statements, and it is good that so many audience members of genre films are taking umbrage when they feel violence is treated inappropriately in otherwise seriously-minded motion pictures. Even if I disagree with their particular criticism, I think it is wonderful that the film has people discussing these issues. As much as I loved the Avengers--and I did love the Avengers (my first viewing of it was my single most enjoyable theatrical experience since Speed Racer in 2008)--that film did not raise these types of moral questions in its audience. Even the Dark Knight Rises, last year's most serious comic book outing, did not seem to raise this level of awareness about cultural iconography, characterization, and storytelling responsibility—people were too busy debating the amount of time it would take Bruce Wayne to travel across the globe at the act three turning point. 

Man of Steel is forcing many people to engage the film beyond "liking it" and "not liking it", it is demanding audience participation in regard to moral and, dare I say, spiritual issues. I have been truly spoiled by the bulk of the conversations I've had, because I have been able to engage with individuals on a number of these issues, and while we disagreed (vehemently in some instances), our discussions focused on the merit of argument rather than the all-too-common attacks on intelligence, taste, virility, or other fallacious currencies in which internet comment sections deal. The discussion was not only civil but also deeply personal, and I think that nearly everyone involved had a more nuanced view of not only one another but the film itself as a result (even those who did not like it seemed to appreciate that it spoke to others). I can only hope other discussions across the web (and in the real world) have been as fruitful as mine, for these are good conversations to have.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mark 9, Christ's Glory, and Belief

"Help my unbelief." What powerful words. They carry with them an inherent repentance, an acknowledgement of one's taking ownership of his lack of faith and his knowing it to be wrong. Of course, they carry also a hope, that "unbelief" can be helped and corrected. Then they also carry with them the great longing of one who knows his own shortcomings cannot be self-repaired, and they show the speaker seeking aid outside of himself in order to be transformed and made right. "Help my unbelief": a simple phrase, but a telling one that comes from the ninth chapter of Gospel of Mark, from a story which I have included in its entirety below. While full exegesis and countless sermons can be gleaned from the text, I am going to touch briefly only on the character of the father, and his beautiful prayer:

Jesus Heals a Boy with an Unclean Spirit

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Before I get into my aforementioned thoughts, I just need to put out on the table that Jesus is awesome. I find that I become more enamored with him with each re-reading of his story in the Gospels, and frankly, part of that is because he just takes out demons like it's his business. I love that. Demons torment and assault mankind, and Jesus stops them in their tracks and causes them to flee. That's God at work, right there.

Now, back to the matter at hand. We have a father who brings his wounded son before the disciples for help, because he genuinely believes that they can aid him, and when they cannot, the man implores Christ personally for deliverance. Christ tells the man that it is possible, if he would believe, and the man answers by affirming, "I believe", but then immediately follows this statement with a plea, "help my unbelief", and in so doing, he displays a theological understanding that humbles me. In essence, he is saying, "I know that my belief is not to the degree it must be for your power to be shown to us all; therefore, make it all it should be so that your work can be done." I find this interaction incredibly telling for three reasons.

First, the father acknowledges that his belief has been too weak to have effect. His belief brought him before the disciples, his belief led him to ask Christ directly, but once Christ challenges him that all will be possible through belief, the father longs to have his belief increased in order to be that about which Christ speaks. This implies that belief needs to reach a certain degree before it manifests its power, and a heart of humility will recognize its own lack of true belief and seek to correct it.

Second, this admonition places the power not in the believer's hands but in Christ's. The father admits that Christ must aid him in order to have the belief necessary for the healing to be possible. How humble and convicting! We modern believers claim to have right theology and strong belief by virtue of our own knowledge; but according to this passage, belief is wrought of Christ's handiwork, not ours. Knowledge that Jesus casts out demons is one thing; believing that he actually will do so for one's child is something else. This wonderful, brief prayer puts into Christ's hands our ability to believe in him; it shows us that in order for us to believe in Christ as we must, we need him to get us there.

Third, Christ answers or, more specifically, Christ acts, and in so doing, affirms the man's belief, honors his request, and gains glory simultaneously. The man asks that Christ help his unbelief; Chris does so and shows that because of the man's belief the curing of the boy is now possible. Furthermore, inasmuch as the father is honored for his belief in the story, it is Christ in the end who is shown to be the hero who also retains the glory. Christ is the primary doer of good here. The father believes, but it is Christ who enables that belief and displays the powerful ends of that belief. Thus, Christ himself gains his rightful glory.

At least this has been my reading of the text. Again, I am just another layperson doing his daily devotions. I have neither the training nor skill to conduct a full exegesis of the passage, but what I can do is express my own response to it. And my response really boils down to the following:

Don't we all need to ask for aid in this area? Do we not all need to recognize the plight of the father, the need for help believing, and is not beautiful that Christ can grant all such belief, which then results in Christ's own honor and glory? When we constantly say, "this godly mission or that Christ-honoring task is impossible", and the writers of the New Testament so consistently tell us that through God all things are possible, what more can we say to Christ than "help my unbelief"? What a potent, necessary cry from the believer to their Savior, and what profound outcomes it can bring.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Inclusion of this translation does not imply endorsement of this author's thoughts by the copyright holders. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Dinner Dilemma: What Do You Disclose and When?

Here's the Scenario:

Marcus bakes a large Buffalo Chicken Pizza to split with his buddy, Tom. Marcus relishes his perfection of this recipe, and Tom is excited to experience the new flavor combination. The pizza is ready, and Marcus is ecstatic. He loves the creation and takes two pieces for himself, savoring his first large bite. Tom hopes to do the same, but he finds the blend of mozzarella, bleu cheese, and buffalo-marinara to be a bit much. What is the more loving response from Tom: 

1) To eat the food he's been given in hopes of developing a taste for it or, at least, not hurting Marcus' feelings; then perhaps, later tell Marcus how he felt?


2) To gently inform Marcus that he doesn't particularly care for what he's been given, and he'd like Marcus to finish it, as he will enjoy it more than Tom will?

What do you think? I am on the fence. If I were Marcus, I would want #2, freeing Tom from the burden of having to eat something that he did not like and allowing me to enjoy more of a a food I savor. But I believe that #2 is also initially more difficult/embarrassing for both parties. What about you? Is there a better solution? 

I am really looking for feedback here. This has been bugging me, not based on personal experience but consideration for the future. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

15 Things I Learned from Publishing My First Novel

Here's some stuff I learned between Stronghold's inception and completion. I hope it helps:

1. Your characters don't need to "shake their heads 'no'" or "nod in agreement". If they are shaking their heads, the reader understands that they disagree. If they nod, the reader knows it's in agreement.

2. ‘Repelling’ and ‘rappelling’ mean very different things, and the latter can only be used when ropes are involved.

3. Commas and periods at the end of quotation marks always go inside quotation marks, except when they don’t. When do they not? No one really knows; ergo, put your commas and periods inside the quotation marks if they come at the end of the quotation marks.

4. Using two synonyms in the same sentence does not imbue the given actions with more weight; it simply makes them redundant. If a character "ponders and muses” on something in a single sentence, he or she basically “muses and muses.” Just say it once and hold the other synonym for the next time the character does the action in another paragraph. This will improve your prose overall.

5. Exclamation points do not necessarily lose their power if you use them, but when you use them, you are admitting to some degree that your prose lacks the syntax of an implied exclamation point—which is a different problem altogether. If you come to an exclamation point, consider how to re-write the sentence so that the prose itself demands urgency, shock, or impact. If you cannot, then get over it and use the exclamation point. When you're done the whole book, go on a hunt for the exclamation points. If I can go from 140 to 6, you can too (and I think you should). 

6. Despite all I have said above, when it comes to grammar, syntax, and style, nothing is universal, and no one agrees on anything, ever, about anything; therefore, do your best and remain consistent within your text. Rules for dialog and grammar will melt your face and make your brain explode. Seriously, these are the worst. Accept it. Bear it. Endure it.

7. And be prepared to lose your mind a bit, especially if you are self-publishing. You will ache over whether a semi-colon’s use is appropriate or why you should or should not capitalize the first letter in an independent clause after a colon. These things will test you. If you find this process invigorating and you can appreciate having to labor over these choices, congrats--you may in the right business. If not, well, you may still be in the right business, but you will have to pay much more money to an editor to do this heavy lifting for you. Just remember: readers will disagree. In fact, as far as punctuation goes, what one reader corrects another may allow, so rather than making sure you are always correct on your punctuation, make sure you can defend your punctuation choices. That way, when you get corrected, you can at least plead your case on the basis of intent--and intent can go a long way if your content is strong.

8. The following mantra must dictate all self-editing: if you don’t like it, the reader will hate it; cut accordingly.

9. No one is as in love with your prose as you are, and that one sentence about which you are the most proud—the one that speaks to your intellect and virtuous sentence construction—is likely the one that will stop readers in their tracks and make them say, “huh?” Again, cut accordingly.

10. In tandem with the above, write for the audience, of whom you are a part; therefore, tell a story in such a way that it moves you and be confident that by virtue of your humanity, it will move someone else. Oh, and be willing to accept that it may be only one other person.

11. Every draft is an opportunity to make the work better. Yes, revisions will feel tedious, even useless after the first dozen drafts; but remember, you do not want to write something good: you want to write something honest and excellent. Every draft gets you closer to that goal.

12. On the flip side, at some point the book has to be done. You can agonize over word choices or sections of dialogue or that chapter you love but doesn’t work; but in the end, if you want to finish a novel, at some point you need to lay it down and call it finished…and mean it. And live with it. This is perhaps the hardest part of writing.

13. You cannot go it alone.  Well, you can, but you probably shouldn’t. You have talent, but it only goes so far. Others can see the weak links in your chain mail; they can find that Achilles’ heal you’ve left unguarded. Find those people. Trust them. Listen to them. Let them make your work better. Be gracious toward them; ask them to be patient with you. Do not become frustrated with their critiques or questions, and do not let your ego get bloated by their praise. Love them, value their opinion, and compensate them for their bearing with you.  You will not regret it, because you need them.

14. But you cannot expect others to value your project like you do. You cannot place expectations on them to treat your work with the same love that you do. Your book is your baby, not theirs; and you cannot expect them to have the same level of investment that you do. You must separate that from your relationship with them; you have to accept any support that you receive with thankfulness and expect nothing beyond it. This is imperative; and if you fail to accept it, your heart will be broken, repeatedly, by countless people. Don’t let that happen. Accept the reality that you have a bond to your project that no one can understand or emulate, and this is not a shortcoming on the part of the other, it is simply a reality that you must process.

15. People won’t like your book, and they do not have to in order to like you. Of course, they may not like you either.

That's it. For now. More will come to mind, probably two minutes after I publish this, but it's still a solid start. Writing is like boxing, and every project is a fight. You are putting on a show for an audience. You get hit, but you keep coming. You have folks in your corner to bandage you up and get you ready to survive that next round. They don’t bleed when you bleed, but they hurt when you hurt, and they savor your victories. So, let’s get back into the ring and take hits on our way to landing that knock out punch. Maybe the fight you’re in now knocks you out first. Try to get up. Maybe you can’t. Get into the ring with another opponent. Your next fight might be the one that makes you a champion. I hope it is, and I hope I’m in the audience to see it.

Thanks all, keep writing, 


Monday, June 17, 2013

Being a Modern-Day Pharisee...and Repenting

The Bible says a great deal about the Pharisees. Even if one does not know them by said title, the average self-proclaiming Christian knows their traits and their positions. They've simply become part of the Christian dialogue, mainly because of their great enemy--their great threat.

The Pharisees were the religious teachers and spiritual gatekeepers in their day, and their great threat was Jesus Christ, the incarnation of the very God the Pharisees claimed to follow. Though the Pharisees were recognized by the people as upholders of traditions and supposed truth, Jesus Christ called them to task constantly and unapologetically, bringing to light their hypocrisy and oppressive teachings.

But I have an important question that my fellow Christians and I must constantly address: are we the Pharisees of today?

I consider this, for the Pharisees of old followed the Law and the Prophets, given to the people of Israel centuries earlier as a foundation for their religious practices. Over time, the priests and religious leaders of Israel developed a more restrictive form of the original law. These religious persons were, according to Christ, "children of hell", for through their greed, pride, and hypocrisy, they oppressed those seeking the true knowledge of God.

Similarly, the modern Christian church is now two thousand years removed from Christ's physical presence here on earth. We use ancient texts of the New Testament, in addition to the Law and Prophets, to create the basis of our beliefs and practices. In an ever-more postmodern culture, we consider ourselves gatekeepers of spiritual truth. We have our religious festivals, our traditions, and our restrictions on behavior. So, the question must be asked: are we following in the footsteps of the Pharisees, and if so, how would Christ respond to us?

I am not going to speak for anyone but myself in answer to this question, and I must acknowledge my sin and repent. Too often, I see attitudes and behaviors in my own life that echo Christ's enemies more than Christ himself. And what fascinates me about my own pharisaic mindset is that it forms not by intention but by the natural progression of human arrogance left unchecked. The process works as follows: I find a spiritual weakness in my own life, and I confront it through action; when I later see what I perceive as the same flaw in another who makes no effort to change, I judge them--not actively through thinking about it but passively in my instinctual gut reaction of believing myself more spiritual than that other person. This insidious, pharisaic attitude sneaks upon me like a virus and infects my heart to a degree that I do not see, and it shows itself at moments I least expect. I don't know about you, but I am guilty.

I do not find it coincidental that this occurs among modern Christians. Frankly, I believe that God, in his infinite wisdom, sent Christ to the earth at a time when he would be in direct conflict with the Pharisees, because God also knew that Christ's followers would, over time, fall into the same sinful patterns that the Pharisees did. As the master storyteller, the Lord constructed the historical narrative in such a fashion that the failure of religious leaders in the past would serve as a direct warning to religious persons in the future, particularly those who claim to follow the highest rabbi of all, Jesus Christ, who took these false religious leaders to task. May he do the same time to us through his words in Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

If he convicts you of such a sin--of being merely religious rather than loving, seeking greed instead of good, and longing for an increase to your earthly kingdom rather than God's heavenly one, rally against your sin through repentance. God knows the soul; God knows the mind, and "a broken and contrite heart [he] will not despise" (Psalm 51).

Thanks for reading,