Resisting the Urge to Play Ostrich

Sometimes I pick up the newspaper and start reading a story and I want to stop.  I begin thinking, “I don’t want this stuff in my head.”  Crime is sometimes pervasive and the crimes are so perverse that it is hard to believe any human being can reach that depth of depravity.  I want to pitch the story and think, “I don’t want to think of people doing such things.”  But to do that is to pretend the world is better than it is, forget about our responsibilities, and abandon the victims to live with whatever it was by themselves.  Perhaps, in some cases, there is even hope that the perpetrators will repent of their crimes.

I am reading a book right now called, “A Terrible Thunder.”  It chronicles the story of the Mark Essex sniper shootings in New Orleans when I was almost a teen.  Essex, a Navy veteran, who had met bigotry as a young man, turned sour, affiliated with the Black Panthers, and decided to go on a mad rampage against white people.  As an adult I read this and greatly admire the police forces for handling what was really one of the first terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.  But I also think of how someone might have gotten a younger Essex on a different path.

Crime for society is what running a temperature is to the human body.  We must resist criminals with strong resolve just as a doctor fights an infection.  But, if a patient keeps getting an infection – the doctor must ask why.  Isn’t it high time we begin to ask ourselves why we have such a high incarceration rate and why criminals seems to be coming up with more and more henanios crimes?

I know what our tendency is.  I have it in myself.  It is just to want to press on and let others deal with the “problems” as they arise.  We hope that the current criminal justice system will take out the bad apples and we can just press on with our lives. But that is just playing ostrich and will not solve the problems that we face.

I don’t pretend to have a magic solution to all this.  But prayer and paying attention are surely first steps.

All the best and In Christ,

Tom

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Of Balloons and Buttons

I guess our lives are getting a little bit back to normal (from when my wife and I first got married) because we are watching more movies.  When Lesley and I were dating and first married, we went to movies all the time.  But the double combo of two small children and frequent USAF moves kind of knocked us out of the movie going routine.

On Friday night, we saw Up, the latest Disney/Pixar movie with our children.  On the one hand, it was interesting, enjoyable, and thought provoking.  On the other side of the coin, don’t expect it to hit The Lion King, Cars, or Toy Story heights (the best of the animated movies in my book).  Up chronicles the story of a boy who grows quickly into a man and then an elderly man who ends up deciding to follow a childhood dream.  Major influences on his life, past and present, are his girlfriend/wife, a childhood idol, and a neigbhorhood scout.  Its message is positive but be aware that it delves into topics such as not being able to have children, becoming a widower, an absentee father, and the potential extinction of a species.  In other words, weighty topics of mert but ones that might be a bit much for little kids.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which we watched streaming over the Internet from Amazon.Com, was not a family film but another which makes you think about big topics.  It is based loosely on the F. Scott Fitzgerald story, but the writers took that initial short story, embellished it, and placed it in a modern context. The hook of the story is that the main character literally ages backwards.  As a mental infant he is physically an old man (not in size but in appearance).  Over time he grows younger and dies 90 some odd years later as a baby.  It surely makes you think about life differently.  And what made the story even more fun is that much of it is set in New Orleans and you’ll be able to recognize many of the filming locations (if you are familiar with the city).

Both movies seem to emphasize the topic of making your life count – especially making the important relationships that you have count while you have them.  We never know how long any of them will last.  That’s good.  That is important.  Some reviews complain (particularly about Buttons) that it was depressing.  I didn’t find it so.  Since we only have so much time, let’s get busy living instead of getting busy dying (to quote another favorite movie).  

What’s missing from both (not surprisingly) is any reference to the Divine (Buttons had some but only to add local flavor).  Other than the mother, no character really expresses any opinion whatsoever about God.  If the good folks who wrote the Westminster Catechism centuries ago were right and that our primary purpose is to, “Glorify God and to enjoy Him forever” it is hard to make a statement about the purpose of our whole lives and leave God out of our story (really out of anyone’s story).  

I recommend both movies and hope the generate discussion in our larger society about not wasting time – especially with those who really mean something to us.  For Christians, I think it is important to consider what it means not to waste time with people.  Maybe we’d have a different answer than our pop-culture would.

All the best and until next time,

Tom

Of Torture, Politics, and Faith

There has been much written and said of a recent survey which showed the highest support for torture by our government comes from evangelical Christians.  Suffice it to say I am no fan of torture.  As a Christian, I do not find it in accord with Scripture and as a military officer, I know it is an extremely poor source of intelligence information.

But what I found most interesting in the report was that the statisticians also tell us that one’s political leanings are much more telling on how we stand on torture than our religious beliefs.  What that tells us is that whether one is for or against – we allow our political leanings to determine our outlook more than our religious beliefs.  And that my friends, is the tail wagging the dog.

Please do not take this to mean that I believe that one’s theology should totally determine one’s political affiliation.  I see each major political party in the U.S. as uplifting different values highlighted in Scripture, and ignoring others, so one has to use discernment and prayer on how one votes and which parties one affiliates with.  I know deep and profound Christians who are Republicans and Democrats.  

But when it comes down to a particular issue, the Bible should be our first reference.  And I can’t count the number of passages that are being broken when one human being tortures another.  And the subtlest thing about it?  The worst damage is done to the torturer not the one being tortured.

Let’s keep first things first and let’s never act in a way that runs counter to what almost every major Christian theologian and denomination inteprets Scripture as saying on this issue.  

In Christ,

Tom Paine, Pastor

Parkway Presbyterian

Of Jesus, Salvation, and Terminators

This week, I had the opportunity to go out with some friends and see Terminator Salvation.  The title itself would have piqued interest but I have been watching this series since it first came out.  I thought it was a pretty good effort (better than the third but not matching either of the first two) but was fascinated to read some of other reviews on the net when I got back home.

For those of you that “Terminator” movies just aren’t your thing, suffice it to say that these movies offer the opposite of the Star Trek optimistic humanist view of the future.   Instead of humanity building a virtual paradise where good guys only need to raise up to fend off the occasional bad guy, in the Terminator movies, the good guys struggle to survive.  But here is where it gets interesting, some people are running with the idea (including the producers)  that John Connor is somewhat modeled on Jesus (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/may/29.66.html)  Even their initials paralleling are intentional.

Does the future depend upon John Connor in the movies?  Sure it does.  But to think John has a vision similar to Jesus is – stretching it to say the least.  John Connor is the typical American hero in an action movie – the problems of the world are not my doing and the future depends upon no one but us.  There is no praying.  There is no point beyond surviving (and helping others to survive).  And success depends upon courage and innovation.

Jesus did not put us in the center of the stage but God in the center.  He also did not see vanquishing the “bad guys” as the key for success.  As a matter of fact, Jesus seemed intent on finding ways of turning the bad guys.  In the movie the Terminators are building “infiltration models” to sew seeds of destruction.  Jesus, by contrast, infiltrated the ‘bad guys’ (all of us) to turn us for life instead of termination which faces us all.

The most interesting character in the movie isn’t John Connor, it is Marcus Wright – which I won’t write about in case you’re going to see it.  It is in that story, versus John Connor, that you find the strongest parallel to Christ (not as much at the beginning of his story but especially at the end).

All in all, an ok Scifi flick.  But I often think there are many in our society who still “don’t get” the real message Jesus offered.  If true, it places the challenge on all of us to change that.

All the best and until next time,

Tom

Two movies worth a look…

This weekend my wife and I watched two movies with merit.  The first one was His Girl Friday.  It honestly surprised me.  It captures the time (the late 1930s) when newspapers took off, when they were wedded with rapid (for the era) communication, like the telephone and telegraph.  Everything rested on getting “the scoop,” as papers competed with one another.  Cary Grant plays the editor, and Rosalind Russell plays his crack reporter.  The problem?  They started dating, got married, and she grew tired of his focus on the paper instead of their marriage.  The movie starts with her returning from a vacation to announce that she is getting married and leaving the paper.  Grant, a conniver, throws a wrench in it by luring her back into it, slowly but surely.  It becomes obvious that reporting is her calling, but what about her fiancé? It all makes for a good screwball comedy from that era.  But what was particularly interesting to watch is how the media, even back then, was portrayed as a bit jaded and self-serving (just as it is today).  The dialogue is as rapid as West Wing, and the wit is strong.  It’s good food for thought (and it’s free on http://www.Hulu.com).

We also watched the much more contemporary Ghost Town (which was not at all as it was presented in the previews). It was hyped as a kind of goofy Sixth Sense with the lead, played by Ricky Gervais (of the UK Office fame) being able to see dead people after dying on the operating table but being brought back.  Soon, he is seeing dead New Yorkers, who all begin to follow him.  But, the story quickly focuses on just one ghost (Greg Kinnear), who’s trying to make things right for his widow played by Téa Leoni.  The lead, though, falls in love with her, and while he thinks his goal is to break up an engagement, the real problem ends up being himself.  It had me laughing at many points, but I also appreciated an important message it relayed.  His colleague at one point asks him, “How is being an #%@$%^$ working for you?” (It obviously isn’t.) The colleague shows him a quote from Einstein: “A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.” (I think that’s what it said.) Once he realizes this, everything begins to change.  Sometimes movies can say something better than any sermon can.  Dreamworks made this, one and you can find it on iTunes and Amazon Unbox for their typical rental fees.

Two comedies with good messages.

Until next time and all the best,

Tom

What Will We Do With the Time Given Us

This past week, I was on drill with the Air National Guard and went on an errand with a fellow chaplain.  When I got in his car he said, “Tom, I’m old school” and cranked up the Carpenters!  I certainly was alive when the Carpenters were famous.  I remember many of their songs on the radio.  But, when I was young it simply wasn’t the type of music I was interested in hearing.  It sounded too much like the “easy listening” music I heard at the dentist office. But, as I listened this weekend, I was amazed at Karen Carpenter’s voice as she sang Superstar.  It wasn’t just the quality of her voice but the emotion and thought she put into the song. 

Today, on a break I looked up Carpenter’s bio and read it.  I was aware that she had died of an eating disorder but knew little of the details of the rest of her life.  It was interesting and sad that we lost her so soon.   Her brother, the other half of the famous duo, said he was glad that he last told her that he loved her. 

It was simply one of many stories I have experienced, heard, or read that underscores that we don’t know how long we will have with anyone we love or befriend.  I raises the question, “Am I making my time count?”

I talked with our Session on a parallel theme tonight.  We are responsible for the members of our church.  We may have many years in the future with them.  But we might not.  Are we making our time count?  Are we helping our members in their spiritual development?  Do they know that they matter to us?  We are called to enjoy our time together.  But we also all need to be intentional in our relationships as well.

I hope you let you and yours know that they matter to you.

All the best and In Christ,

Tom

P.S.  My question for this post is, “What does spiritual maturity mean to you?”  Tweet it back, reply here, or on Facebook.

Laments

I am reading a book by Christopher J. H Wright with the unusual title (for a Christian author) “The God I Don’t Understand.”  There have been many books written of late questioning God and the way of the world but they tend to be written almost exclusively by atheists.  Wright, by contrast, contends in his book that questioning God with difficult questions is not only a Biblical calling but one in which some of the most profound people of faith have done over the course of time.  I’d like to type in part of a paragraph for consideration:

I feel the language of lament is seriously neglected in church.  Many Christians seem to feel that is somehow can’t be right to complain to God in the context of corporate worship when we should all feel happy.  There is an implicit pressure to stifle our real feelings because we are urged, by pious merchants of emotional denial, that we ought to have faith (as if the moaning Psalmist didn’t).  So we end up giving external voice to pretended emotions we do not really feel, while hiding the real emotions we are feeling deep inside.  Going to worship can become an exercise in pretense and concealment, neither of which can possibly be conducive for a real encounter with God.  

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree or disagree?

All the best & in Christ, 

Tom

Wright, Christopher.  The God I Don’t Understand (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI).  P. 52.