Wednesday, March 26, 2008

christ out of easter, and everything else 'christian'

Taking Christ out of Christianity

That triumphal barnburner of an Easter hymn, Jesus Christ Has Risen Today - Hallelujah, this morning will rock the walls of Toronto's West Hill United Church as it will in most Christian churches across the country.

But at West Hill on the faith's holiest day, it will be done with a huge difference. The words "Jesus Christ" will be excised from what the congregation sings and replaced with "Glorious hope."

Thus, it will be hope that is declared to be resurrected - an expression of renewal of optimism and the human spirit - but not Jesus, contrary to Christianity's central tenet about the return to life on Easter morning of the crucified divine son of God.

Generally speaking, no divine anybody makes an appearance in West Hill's Sunday service liturgy.

I suppose this is largely informative, and I'm not going to say much about the whole thing. And as well, I guess this kind of stuff isn't really all that new, nor is it everywhere.

But one can wonder--why are people like this tolerated in denominations? Vospers can have her opinions, of course, but really, doesn't the denomination have some say on whether they will allow one with her ideas to occupy one of their pulpits?

Or do they agree with her? Or are they afraid to do anything, because she's a woman, and to do something would cause all kind of flak?

She wants salvation redefined to mean new life through removing the causes of suffering in the world. She wants the church to define resurrection as "starting over," "new chances." She wants an end to the image of God as an intervening all-powerful authority who must be appeased to avoid divine wrath; rather she would have congregations work together as communities to define God - or god - according to their own worked-out definitions of what is holy and sacred. She wants the eucharist - the symbolic eating and drinking of Jesus's body and blood to make the congregation part of Jesus's body - to be instead a symbolic experience of community love.

Some of her ideas have a ring that is all too familiar. To be fair, I don't know if some others I've read would agree with her or not, but what she's doing does seem much like what they are doing.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

passion play

A few evenings ago, I went with a group from one of the Oneida churches to see a Passion Play at a church in London.

I'm not sure how to evaluate such a thing.

For example, let's take the music. Actually, it was nice. There were a snafu or two, I remember, but by and large well done. It was small orchesta music, which meant of course that they had a small orchestra. I'm not going to say I was wild about that kind of music, but for what it was, it was well done.

The acting? One should try to be fair, these weren't professional actors, very likely more like regular working folks who given time from their already filled lives to play their parts in the play. It did leave something to be desires as far as quality goes, but it wasn't awful, either.

The play itself? It's not like the story wouldn't have been known to most of us, though some elements and how they do them can be points of interest. In this one, for example, there was the artistic license of inserting Nicodemus as trying to warn Jesus the night before, and doing that enabled them to insert the John 3 exchange.

Plenty of people in faux Mideastern garb, live donkey and lambs, cute little kids running around.

Am I being sarcy?

Not really, I think.

There is a tendency at times to do the event of the crucifixion in a manner that can be tasteless. I remember, for example, a preacher for whom I do have some respect doing a routine to the Carmen speech-song "This Bloods for You".

I guess I approach the crucifixion with something like trepidation. I haven't watched Gidson's movie "The Passion of the Christ", though I have a lot of respect for it. It simply hasn't been something I've wanted to see. And I'm pretty sure that it's about as realistic as one would want it to be, all told.

It's struck me that the Bible does not go into details in regard to the crucifixion. It tells us what happened, but doesn't dwell on it. Maybe because for the people of that time, they had witnessed such events before--beatings, executions, crucifixions, scourgings. It wasn't something they needed to detail in order to convey what was happening.

Which does kind of raise the question of whether or not we should have some knowledge of what the event may been like. In that sense, Gibson's movie has done a service.

But I can't help but be glad the play I saw didn't go there. Yes, it had scenes depicting the beating and the crucifixion, and it should have, but while I do think they tried to get the last drops of drama out of it, it could have been worse.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I went, for all my apparent grousing about the play itself here. It's needful, sometimes, to remember what happened, what it was like, what it meant. Even with its faults (and they were several), the play did make it's point, and made it well. Christ did suffer, He did die, He is alive.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

movie review--doomsday--quite a mess

So, for the first half hour, roughly, I could have thought that "Doomsday" was much like "I Am Legend" or some other such movie--the big bad of the movie is actually a microbe, and while this one doesn't mutate people or turn them into zombies, it does kill them in a quick and painful way. All of Scotland is infected and cut off from the outside world, and many years go by as the disease burns through the population. Then the disease shows up in an overcrowded London, and a small group of military personnel are sent into the quarantine zone to look for a possible cure.

It is all done well--tense, intense, stark, with some action. The main heroine is one of the last to get out of the quarantine zone before it is permanently closed. In the escape, she lost an eye (and the fake eye is quite a clever idea). Roughly thirty years have gone by when the main events begin, and she is some kind of paramilitary or law enforcment officer.

Then she's recruited to lead the group into the quarantine zone, and of course things go wrong right from the first.

They run over a cow.

Then, they are attacked by punk fulbol hulligan cannibals. There, they encounter a psycho leader and the latest in demented entertainment.

Then, when they get away from them, our heroes (or those left) they are taken by knights on horses to a medieval castle, where they experience ritual purification branding and gladiatorial combat.

Finally, it ends with a chase scene involving a very nice roadster which is somehow not able to outrun the 'customized', and badly so, vehicles of the hooligans.

I have to admit, the movie threw more then a few surprises at me. I was not expecting to have to deal with punks and goths and their idea of "theater". But that wasn't really too much of a stretch, though I do think that a society that been cut off from the rest of the world for about 30 years and had only just survived a very nasty virus would not be going punk any time soon. But that's just me.

But when they brought in the guy in armor on a charger, I think I started laughing. That was not expecting. Then when they showed a whole small group of people in a castle living like something from King Arthur, well, what can really be said about it.

For all of it's cleverness, though, or at least it's willingness to mix genres into a barely coherent mess, I'm not sure I can recommend it. At the least, it's not for the weak. There is quite a bit in it that could be considered offensive. The lifestyle of the cannibal hooligans is, shall we say, completely amoral. The medievals have fallen into a 'pure blood' mindset. There is plenty of cussing and no small amount of gore.

It is a matter for each person whether to see it or not. Frankly, there is not great message to it, so you're not missing anything by not seeing it. But to each his or her own, it is a matter of conscience.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

defending what shouldn't be defended

If you've been keeping up on news in the US (not an assumption I want to make, sense I know people form other countries, too, so I don't want to assume this is of much interest to them, which is fair) you've probably heard over the last few days of comments made by the former pastor of presidential candidate Obama.

They are sickening remarks, and to Obama's credit, he is speaking against them.

Some, however, as not.

This is shameful. If, for example, a white person (particular one of conservative leanings) were to be a member of a church where the preacher sounded like a Nazi or a KKK member, these people would not be on their trying to apply spin-control to it; rather, there would be condemnation and calls for that person to drop out (and those calls would be justified).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

book review, part 1--the slumber of christianity--hey, Heaven is a good thing!!

It seems like, lately, all I've read has been about life here. By that, I mean that the hope of life after death has been at best minimized and replaced with responsibilities of life now. Jesus didn't really deal with life after death, so may, but about how to live life now. The concept of Heaven is treated in various ways--perhaps as an example of some kind of platonic dualism that needs to be discarded, or as the state to which we should be pushing the present world, or as a kind of embarrassing thing that we should pay scant attention to, not emphasizing it too much, as we go about the business of trying to improve things here.

For me, then, it was refreshing to read some things like this, in Dekker's book "The Slumber of Heaven".

The pleasures of this life and the happiness they bring have been dealt a death
blow by a systematic lack of passion for the next life.


The fact is, nothing in this life can satisfy unless it is fully bathed in an
obsession for eternity. Nothing.

I've needed this reminder. I need to remember what the prize really is, the inheritance. Eternal life.

It isn't that what happens here is unimportant, it is. How I treat people is important, but not so I can make earth into heaven. How I live in this life in important.

It is a matter of perspective. As Paul said, if it is only for this life that we have hope, we may as well hang it up and quit. Sorry, but the meaningless hope of some kind of futuristic earthly heaven brought about by the political shenanigans and restrictions of any religious view, whether I large agree with it or not, offers me nothing. I want nothing to do with either the militant forceful takeover of the Reconstructionists, or the play-nice subversive takeover of the Deconstructionists.

I want a Lord who will come with ten thousands of His saints, to put an end to all the works of the ungodly. I want the hope of Heaven after this life, and I want the hope of Christ's real return to set this world right.

Monday, March 10, 2008

movie review--spiderwick chronicles--not bad, for nick

Whenever I think of Nickalodean and things like kid's shows and cartoons, I usually wince. They don't put out some of my favorite stuff.

I didn't know "The Spiderwick Chronicles" was one of their movies when I went to see it. For all of that, though, I was reasonably happy with the movie.

Of course, it had some of the usuals--misfit boy who's a pain to his mother and siblings sees things that no one believes, brother and sister who think the misfit brother is the cause of their problems, mother who's dealing with her own problems while trying to help her three children and move to a new place, absent father with his own secret that he hasn't told the son who wants him back why he's not around.

The movie's effects are pretty good, and the story is a bit convoluted at first but does clear itself out as the movie goes along. One is in a sense thrown into the middle of the story from the first, as there is little attempt to explain some of the things the family is going through when we are introduced to them. Be patient, though, as things do get explained.

The bad guys are mostly not very scary, except maybe for the troll and the main bad guy. The fairies are, of course, delicate and flowery and seemingly incapable of defending themselves from the threat the big baddie will be to them if it gets its claws on the thing it needs. So when you need dirty work done, get the emotionally-troubled ten-year-old boy to do it for you.

Hey, sounds like a plan :-)

No, not really.

There are some interesting things in it. The problems in the movie begin with one man's obsession in gain knowledge of the secret world of fairies and other mythic creatures, and one ogre's attempts to get that knowledge to use to kill off all the fairies and after that to somehow take over the world.

Assuming, of course, he doesn't get splattered by tomato juice along the way.

That's a joke, too.

The hurts caused by marital separation are shown to be real in all the members fo the family, and while there are somewhat stereotypical moments, it's mostly rather well handled, not soft-soaped but not overdone, either.

Family connections and love are shown in a good light. Despite separations and stresses and sibling conflicts and misunderstandings, the family is obviously close and they care for each other.

As far as kid's movies go, it's actually pretty good.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

"sad story" theology

You may know what this type of "theology" is like. It usually starts something like this.

When I was a child, I would sit in church, which my parents would force me to go to. They would make me go to this thing called Sunday School, which I didn't really like because of the negative images I had of school. Plus, they would give us these horrible iced cookies. And the teacher, some lady named Mrs. Wisenthrope, who was old and wore flower-print dresses and wore her hair in a bun, would speak to us in a condescending way about how brave a little boy named David was to have taken his sling and killed some foreigner named Goliath, and how we should be brave and honor those who kill foreigners for our country. And sometimes, she would talk about this Jesus, who she said had died for my sins, and she would try to make us feel guilty because we had lied about hitting our sister, or because we cheated on a test at school, and we would get all heart-broke and teary and Mrs. Wisenthrope would try to lead us in some prayer that we didn't understand.

Some things are usually missing from this account. For example, the Sunday School teacher or the Pastor or anyone else from that time is not able to give an account of that time, we are left with only the one person's account and perceptions, and we are asked to believe that these perceptions are correct and without bias and the account without agenda.

I wonder what a Mrs. Winthropse would say, if she were asked to comment on that time? Anything I would say would be simply speculative, because we don't know. We are not given any such balance.

Here's what may come next.

When I went to college, I was so certain I had all the answers, so sure of myself and everything I believed. Sure, I kind of rebelled as a teen, but that's what teens do. In college, though, I got introduced to some read questions. I learned, for example, that a large part of the world believed in things other then Christianity. Because of that, a lot of people I knew started questioning some things the church taught, like is it only those who call themselves Christians who are really right with God? Could it be possible, maybe, that there are people who are Muslims or Buddhists that are also right with God? And what about gay people? I met people who were homosexuals, and they weren't the freaked-out demoniacs that I had been taught they were in my old church, if my church ever told anything at all about them. Instead, they were normal people, who cared for each other and were open-minded and non-judgmental. They started questioning how God could condemn them for their actions, and I couldn't answer them, so I started thinking they had a point, and maybe the Bible shouldn't be taken so literally when it says what they do is sinful.

Then, it may end with something like this.

I started reading the Bible again, but with new eyes. Instead of Jesus being so interested in getting people to some kind of Heaven, I started reading it in such a way that I could see how Jesus was more interested in making people into ones who bring heaven to earth. Instead of being exclusive, like His statements like "No man comes to the Father but by me" may seem to be, but that He was really inclusive. He didn't preach hate, even if He didn't like religious people. He was the Che Guevara of His day, the Robin Hood, wanting to do away with wealth and property and even concerned about global warming, which I think was what his rhetoric about hell was all about.

So, that's how it goes, more or less. The old beliefs and values are questioned, thought that seems to show a lack of biblical knowledge and the person's faithfulness (not to mention cowardice) then anything wrong with the old beliefs. This dismissal is often done with a "sad story", be it the writer's or someone else's, about how they were supposedly hurt or offended by the church's methodology and supposed condemnations. Then, in order to justify their departure, a new method of seeing things in the Bible is found, be it called reimagining or deconstructing or rethinking or some kind of secret message or what have you. Throw in some condescension and sugary-sweet insults, and there you go.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


There was once a man named Abram, who had a visit from God, Who told him to get up and leave where he was, and go where He would tell him to go.

God made many promises to Abraham, some involving land, some involving offspring, some involving other things.

Years went by, and a few more times God visited him, and reminded him of HIs promises. Abraham believed, though maybe not without his doubts, too.

"I have no child" he says. For how can a man be made into a great nation, if he can't even have a son.

God reminds him of His promises. Abraham has his doubts, he slips once, but in the end he has enough faith, and Isaac is born, and the great nation has it's continuation.

Abraham has other children, Ishmael of course but others too by his second wife, but only one is the child of promise, the line of the great nation, Isaac.

Isaac ages and matures, and marries, and in times he and Rebecca have twin sons. But again, only one of them is one through whom the line of the great nation will pass through, Jacob. Hardly a model character, one might add, but that is neither here nor there for now.

Three generations. Over a hundred years between when Abram first gets the promise and Jacob finally marries. All that time, and the line of the great nation is in essence a stick.

I can't remember the exact number of sons Abraham had, but I think it was maybe eight. If we assume that each of those may have married at least one woman and had overall five children each, there are forty people not counting wives, so maybe over fifty in all, quite a decent tribe. If each of those five grandsons have five sons who eventually marry and have five sons, the number could be reaching close to two hundred in only two or three generations.

Quite an impressive number, and I dare say I may be being conservative in those numbers. Instead, in real life, we are left with a footloose grandson on the run from his enraged twin brother about to spend a lot of time with an uncle even more conniving then he was.

Over one hundred years. Three generations. Numerous sons and grandsons. Only one was of the promise.

When did Abraham die in relation to the life of Jacob? I don't know. It seems that Isaac was pretty old when Jacob tricked him, though he still lived when roughly 20 years later Jacob returned, and when he returned he brought along quite the large family (though they were rather scalliwags in their own right at that time). Finally, the promise of a great nation looks like it's going to come to pass, and even if Isaac is blind and cannot see it in that way, he now knows it.

Patience. How slow God sometimes seems in the keeping of His promises. How strange. Shouldn't a man having been promised to be made into a great nation be having kids right and left? Shouldn't the most significant nation in the world have the largest cities, the greatest thinkers, the largest armies? Should the greatest king of that nation be someone other then a boy born in a small town and given to job of taking care of sheep? Shouldn't the man whom God called "a man after my own heart" be someone other then an adulterer and murderer, not to mention (in the modern (or dare I say, postmodern) category of sins) a man of war and violence?

Shouldn't the Savior of the world have been born somewhere other then an animal barn in some backwater town in some backwater conquered country in a great empire? Shouldn't that same Savior have done more then had some mostly religious controversies and died ignominously in a cruel and humiliating manner? Shouldn't His followers have been other then some rough-round-the-edges guys (though that assumes that all were like that, and I simply can't say for certain)?

Such is how God is, sometimes. Not always, but often enough. A promise He makes may take years, generations, even thousands of years to be fulfilled. People will doubt, try to use His words against Him, misunderstand and lose patience, but He has not forgotten, has not failed, will fulfilled the promises when the time is right.

Let us have patience, and hope, and not waver or let doubts become too strong. Ask why and when if we must, but don't let doubts become the end virtue, but let them lead to more faith in the God who cannot lie.

Monday, March 3, 2008

movie review--jumper

One could have a lot of fun, I think, comparing the movie 'Jumper' to the last two 'Star Wars' movie.

Hayden Cristiansen (I'm spelling his name wrong, aren't I?) as a young man with extraordiny powers, family issues, a girlfriend in trouble, and having to deal with a super-secret organization.
Samuel L. Jackson as an older, hard, dedicated man set to make things right.

The guy with the British accent who tries to set HC's (I'm not going to misspell his last name again, though I'm even certain of those initials (could it be HK?)) character right.

The problematic mother figure.

Maybe a few others. It's not like the similarities are all that strong (at least HK's father isn't a bunch of microbes, though in some ways when we first meet him he's not much superior, at least that is the impression from the brief time he's on-camera early in the movie). And unlike Mace, Jackson's character here has hair.

And I'm still looking for the Yoda-character. Sorry, none come to mind.

It's not a great movie, but it's not bad, either. I'm not sure I understood the whole jumping thing very well, it wasn't completely like Nightcrawler in the X-Men movie, it seemed to involve motion and the opening of something like a wormhole.Or maybe that's the byproduct of watching too much Stargate SG-1 lately.

I've heard HK get a bad rap for his performance in this movie, and I wonder why. His character is perhaps more low-keyed then may be expected in such a movie, but I was fine with it. One thing he did that I didn't appreciate until later was that his character didn't remind me much of Anakin Skywalker, he played them both differently.

If anything, maybe his performance was too real-to-life in some ways. Perhaps it needed to be more comic-book-like, more over-the-top. He doesn't panic or hyperventilate or go into rages. he doesn't even really seem to hate the man hunting him down.

The movie is not without its bad stuff, I fear. Although not shown much, the relationship between the jumper and the girlfriend does get physical, and he is shown with another girl in bed at one point. He's also essentially a thief, using is jumping ability to break into banks and steal from them. He and the sidekick are seen going quite recklessly through a city in a stolen car.

We are given two separate groups in the movie (outside of normal people), the jumpers, and the super-secret organzation made up of people called paladins who hunt down and kill jumpers.

Apparently it's been going on for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Jackson's character is a sort of unhinged religious fanatics who says that jumpers should be killed because they have powers only God should have (not that his position is given any sort of support biblically or from any other religion).

It's not a bad movie, but there's little in it to blow the viewer away, either.