The Holidays can be Lonely

If the holiday season goes from joyous to lonely, well, join the club. Loneliness is epidemic in our society and for some the holidays just makes them feel more alone than ever. There are lots of reasons for this but in this post I’m going to focus on some “biblical therapy” from Psalm 25.

The Psalmist David was often a truly lonely man. When this emotion overwhelmed him he counterintuitively reaffirmed his belief that the Lord is worthy of his trust: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.” This lonely man reaffirms one fundamental thing. He is unequivocally convinced that the Lord is worthy of his trust. Almost. Immediately he adds “Do not let me be put to shame,”

 Allow me paraphrase that for you: “Don’t let me be embarrassed, Lord, by the fact that I trust you. Plenty of people look at my circumstances and say, ‘Where is your God?’. They’re going to delight in the opportunity to increase my loneliness, Lord. Do not let me be embarrassed. Don’t let me down.”

He next affirms his belief that the Lord shows the way to those who are willing to follow:  “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me our paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” He firmly believes that the Lord guides into truth all those who are willing to learn. He is absolutely convinced that the Lord delivers from trouble all those who trust him. Yet in this dark night of the soul, as St. John of the Cross would describe it, he has to remind himself of these things because the darkness comes flooding in. Strong emotion, if we’re not careful, can cause us to lose sight of what we truly believe.

He next affirms that the Lord is merciful: “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.” He believes the Lord is merciful because he’s proven himself over and over and over again in the past.  David is a member of the covenant people which means he understands that God has chosen Israel to be his unique people. God chose Abraham. God chose that out of Abraham would come a people for himself through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. He took an initiative and established a covenant with these people, and he had been merciful to them. He also know that the Lord’s mercy does not mean instant gratification. Israel became slaves in Egypt, but the Lord led them out – after 400 years.  Israel crossed the Red Sea only to wander in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years, but the Lord provided for them. The Lord brought Israel into the Promised Land and defeated all their enemies. The Lord gave them riches they didn’t earn. He gave them bountiful crops they had not planted. The Lord proved himself merciful over and over again – on his timeline not theirs.

So in the dark night of his soul, in his loneliness, in the intense inner turmoil of his heart, David reflects on the fact that God has proven himself merciful. This is what we have to do. 

David also affirms that the Lord will give forgiveness to the repentant.  I find it interesting that when he’s consumed with loneliness, when he’s distraught, he becomes concerned about the sins of his youth: “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.” I have no doubt that he’s confessed these things many times and realizes the damage they have done to his own life. He’s come before the Lord and sought the Lord’s forgiveness for them. But in the dark night of his soul, the Evil One is reminding him of these things. And he prays, “Lord, remember not those things. As far as the east is from the west, remove my sins from me.”

When we’re down, the devil is no gentleman. He’ll kick us. One of the ways he kicks us is to remind us of all the things we impulsively did in our youth. Even if we’ve confessed and been forgiven for them all, Satan will go on dragging them up. He’ll whisper, “The reason you’re in this fix is because of all the bad stuff you did in the past.”

Jill Briscoe, a Christian speaker and writer, recounted this imaginary conversation with the Lord: “Lord, do you remember that awful thing I did?”

God said, “No.”

She said, “Lord, you absolutely must remember this.”

The Lord said, “Listen, you are perfectly free to go on remembering that. I have chosen to remember it no more.”

And that, of course, is what forgiveness is all about. David is being convicted of past sins. Satan is making him question the Lord’s mercy.  He prays, in effect, “Please assure me at this time of my intense inner turmoil, of my loneliness, of my affliction. Assure me that I still matter; I’m still significant; you still have something in mind for me.” It’s a healthy thing to know where to turn to reaffirm our faith.

To recap: In the midst of loneliness and turmoil we need to affirm these three beliefs:

  1. The Lord is worthy of trust.
  2. The Lord knows what is best and is working what is good in our lives.
  3. The Lord is merciful.

Ignore evidence to the contrary and hold to these affirmations if you find yourself with holiday loneliness instead of holiday joy!

Unity and Love

Unity and love go hand-in-hand. Unity

One cannot be fully experienced without the other.  Striving for unity in our relationships without a commitment to love is futile.  Hate groups have the appearance of unity but what they have is union NOT unity.  All it takes to form a union is a common enemy, but it takes love for true unity to form.  During World War II the USA formed a union with the Soviet Union against a common enemy – Hitler — but as soon as the threat of Nazism was extinguished, so was our common bond with the USSR and we stopped being friendly.  We were united temporarily against a common enemy, but that was all, what we had was a union, not unity, and even that was short-lived.

Some Christians are precariously united over a common enemy — they’re against the latest “badest” thing –but they’re not united in love for one another.  Our Christian fellowship can’t be determined by who or what we’re against.  We don’t need to show the world how much we hate whatever the most current evil issue is.  Instead, we need to show the world how much we love one another and them.  As Jesus said in John 13:34:

“By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Redwood trees can grow as high as 300 feet and yet they have a remarkably shallow root structure.  Do you know what keeps them strong, what keeps them from blowing over in the midst of a storm? Their roots may be shallow, but they intertwine.  Each tree derives strength from the others.  That’s not all.  Each tree also shares its resources with the others.  The trees that are closer to the water are able to give nourishment to the trees that are further away.  Jesus followers are meant to work the same way.  We are to be intertwined, interdependent and united in love.  We are meant to give strength and spiritual nourishment to one another.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “All your strength is in union — all your danger is in discord.” He could have been talking about Jesus followers, couldn’t he?  When we start fighting with one another, we stop being effective.  We need to keep in mind that we’re all in this together, and we need to hang in there with one another.

Mountain climbers are all tied together to ensure that everyone makes it to the top of the mountain. Likewise, we need to stay “tied” to one another to make sure that no one gives up but that every one of us makes it to the top of the mountain!

I think one reason so many people found shows like Cheers, Friends, and Seinfeld (ask someone you consider old about these shows!) so appealing is that these shows demonstrate relationships between people who are united in love. These flawed characters reach us because beneath their selfishness they are committed to each other. (In fact, the conflict between individual selfishness and group unity is what fueled most episodes.) Even though their character flaws are obvious to everyone in the group, they still belong to the group. People like that; they want to experience it for themselves.

A driving force in Paul’s life was to make that happen.  He wanted all Jesus followers to be united with one another in love. Are we driven by this ideal as well?  How is true unity formed? It is formed when we all fall head over heels in love with Jesus!

A thousand pianos tuned to one piano will all sound the same.  If the prime piano is in tune they all will be in tune.  If the prime piano is out of tune they will all be out of tune.

It is the same with unity among Jesus followers as well.  When we, as a group, are each in tune with Jesus — when we are all committed to following Him – we will find that we are committed to one another in love. But if we are tuned to anyone else or any other cause we may form a union but we will not form true unity.  Paul wants us to be united with one another in love; the source of our unity is the source of our love –  Jesus.

“Christian unity is not found in uniformity, organization, or a particular church, but rather in Jesus and our commitment to his teachings, and living them out in our lives…It is only as we join together with others who look different than we do but share a common love and commitment to the Truth that is Jesus, that we can know the completeness of the body of Christ.” -Bob Snyder

A driving force in Paul’s relationships was to help Jesus followers become united in love. Is that what drives our relationships?  Let’s look for ways to spread unity throughout our society by being more in love with Jesus that we are with ourselves.

Centuries ago Thomas A Kempis wrote this excellent reminder,

“If Christ is among us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield up our own opinion for the sake of peace. Who is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things? Therefore, trust not too much in your own opinion, but be ready also to hear the opinions of others.”

Caring about God’s creation…

darted elephant
Sedated Elephant with Radio Collar

Working with Son Safaris has increased my appreciation for God’s presence in creation and my recognition of the interdependent relationship between humanity and nature, especially as concern for global climate change grows.

Son Safaris’ staff arrived in South Africa this week to prepare for the summer Mission to Africa teams to arrive. For the next seven weeks they will live at Welgevonden Wildlife Reserve and will engage in many creation care projects side by side with the intern researchers from around the world studying with Wegevonden Research. 

Our main project will be putting radio transmitter collars on elephants to both protect them from ivory poachers and to learn more about the habits of these magnificent animals. You can be part of our care for God’s creation by contributing to the Elephant Radio Collar Fund.

Creation care is a Bible mandate – that means for Bible believers it is not optional. A very short version of why I believe creation care is no more optional than evangelism, benevolence, or any virtue God clearly reveals as His will for us follows..

The fundamental mandate for creation care comes from Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”  Here God places Adam in the garden to “work it and take care of it” (NIV).  Most Hebrew scholars believe a better translation from the Hebrew is “to serve it and to preserve it.” In Genesis 1:26-28, God created humankind to have dominion over the earth. This acknowledgement that humanity is unique among the species on earth does not, however, give license to drive those species to extinction nor is it permission to exploit the planet. In fact the next two verses affirm the right of animals to share in the bounty of the earth’s produce (Gen 1:29-30)

The problematic word in these verses is “dominion”, taken by many to give us carte blanche approval to do with creation whatever we want. But taken in context of Genesis “dominion” is best practiced in serving and preserving God’s creation, in being good stewards of what has been placed in our trust. The story of Noah surely illustrates this when Noah is charged with implementing God’s first endangered species act.

Psalm 104, the great creation psalm views humanity as one species among many animal species, all meant to flourish together (Psalm 104:14-23). In the next verse the psalmist exclaims, “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (v. 24).

God created the world in wisdom and out of love. John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.)tells us that God in wisdom and out of love for the world sent Christ to redeem it 

In Christ “all things hold together” according to Colossians 1:17 (He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.), and “every creature under heaven” is to receive God’s good news that if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. v. 23. 

God’s work in the world, according to Revelation 21:5 (And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”is making all things new” . God will bring about a new creation that does not destroy the old but transforms and renews it. 

Just as surely as the church is the sign of the new creation, is the church mandated to lead the way in caring for creation!

 “The gospel declares that God put us here, that God is here, and that God makes our home here, his home here. The gospel places us in the world that God loved in such a way that he gave his only son on its behalf.…God joins us, down here amongst the malaria-ridden swamps and the dry, overworked hills. God makes our home his home. God declares this planet worth his time and attention.

— Daniel J. Stulac in “Plough Quarterly” No. 4: Earth

Creation Care

 

Through my work with Son Safaris I have developed a strong desire to see Christians take a more active role in caring for God’s creation.  The term “creation care” may be new to you but it simply means being stewards of God’s creation of which we are apart. But why is this stewardship important? To oversimplify I believe creation care is a “gospel issue”.
The “gospel” (“Good News” in Greek) is a way of speaking of the teachings at the heart of the Christian faith -the redemptive death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. When I place creation care as a “gospel issue” I am saying that it is an expression of our worship to God for our redemption through Jesus Christ. That means that we should care for God’s creation whether it were in crisis or not.
However there is a real crisis in God’s creation now. People, animals and plants are dying because we human beings have abused God’s world. But I believe this present environmental crisis is not the primary reason for creation care. Christians should be set apart from other environmentalists because we do what we do because we love God and His creation. So if we lived in a world with no environmental problems, we would still be tending God’s world. As the Lausanne Cape Town Commitment put it:
“Therefore, our ministry of reconciliation is a matter of great joy and hope and we would care for creation even if it were not in crisis.”
Just imagine if the global community of Christians were to accept the premise that caring for God’s creation is a core part of our identity. Love God! Love others! Care for God’s creation.  Perhaps we would not have such a critical crisis in God’s creation as we do today. But we haven’t taken creation care seriously and there is an environmental crisis that must be addressed by everyone in society, especially God’s people.  Today both God’s human and  non-human creation is being devastated by violence against the environment in multiple ways, of which global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water stress, and pollution are but a part.  Just imagine if Christians were to lead the charge to solve these ecological challenges.
Much suffering and devastation is directly tied to human activity. Some of the damage is directly caused when poor farmers abuse their land in a futile attempt to wrest a little more food from already exhausted soils. Much of the suffering though, comes not from their own actions but from that of others. Excess consumption in the richer parts of the world is creating great problems among people who have had nothing to consume.
We are failing in the sacred trust given to us by God to care for His creatures. In the last 40 years we have lost half of earth’s entire stock of wildlife, according to the World Wildlife Fund. This should bother any human being; it should devastate those of us who are Christians.
Christians have a unique role to play in guiding human society toward a healthier and happier relationship with God’s creation. The church has global reach – a truly multinational network. The church has political influence. The church has money. And the church has people – billions of them. All of these are reasons why anyone who cares about God’s creation or the environmental crisis should want the church to be involved.
But there is another deeper but more important reason why the church needs to take on this task.  Bluntly stated environmental problems are sin problems. What I mean is that the root causes of every environmental issue in some way gets back to flawed human beings and sinful hearts: Materialism, greed, selfishness, fear. All of these lie at the root of the things that we do as individuals and as a society that have produced the crisis we now find ourselves in.
For environmental problems to be conquered, human hearts must be reconciled to God. Human hearts can only be reconciled to God by the Gospel – the redemptive death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. What better platform for the Gospel could there be than to mobilize the church to care for God’s creation? Imagine the impact if Christians were leading the charge to care for God’s creation!

The Only Perfection We Need

Farai ChidyeaFarai Chideya was born on July 27, 1969, in Baltimore, Maryland of an African-American mother  and a Zimbabwean father. In 1990 she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard College with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. Her accomplishments since include writing several novels and nonfiction books, becoming an award winning  multimedia journalist, including hosting her own radio show on NPR.  For 15 years she produced and hosted Pop and Politics with Farai Chideya, a series of radio specials on politics. She currently produces and hosts One with Farai, a podcast for Public Radio International, in which she interviews distinguished individuals with a range of stories and opinions. 

To all outward appearances Farai is a total success but the truth is for years her self worth was tied to looking like the glossy images  of women she saw in the make – believe world of television. She became so obsessed with having the perfect female body that she became a bulimic, binging and purging consumed her life and distorted her self image. 

Commenting on her battle with bulimia’s destructive grip, she says,  

  “Losing weight didn’t change my personality and it didn’t lighten the emotional baggage I carried from my childhood.  I thought I wanted to be thin.  What I really wanted was to be happy; neither my looks nor my achievements could do that.  Because I couldn’t love or accept myself, the acceptance of others was never enough.  When I tried to be perfect, I came across as remote and unapproachable, yet the exact opposite was what I wanted.”

Perfection. We all want it. It is an American obsession.

In addition to disorders like bulimia and anorexia, perfection obsession also wraps you in loneliness because you can never let anyone see your imperfections which means never fully revealing yourself to anyone. Vulnerabilty, honesty and openness are the building blocks of lasting, intimate relationships.  

Perfection obsession causes us to see our shortcomings as something to hide, rather than seeing them as opportunities for growth.  It keeps us focused on who we are going to be and what we are going to do in the future, and prevents us from focusing on enjoying who we are and what we are doing in the here and  now.  Perfection obsession robs us of our chance to make our life count because we are putting so much effort into fixing ourself that we have no focus or energy left to help others.

Bulimia and anorexia are terrible disorders that can consume your life, but they are symptoms of a deeper issue – getting our self worth from the wrong source – of trying to find love in all the wrong places – of perfection obsession. Stories like Farai’s  give us great insight into what happens when we get our self worth from the wrong source! Whether that source is the perfect body, the perfect mind, the perfect relationship, the perfect career, the perfect academic career, or any other perfect accomplishment you care to add – they all have this is common: they are defined by others (society, media, peers, expectations, academia, romanticism, etc.). We each must choose whether to let others determine our self worth or to let God determine our self worth. 

Scripture teaches and experience validates that God loves us with an everlasting love that we do not and can not earn. His love for us is intrinsic to who He is, not who we are, and therefore we are in no danger of losing it. Choose to let others determine your self worth and you will constantly be in danger of losing it. Choose to let God determine your self worth and not only are you in no danger of losing it but it requires no effort beyond  accepting the unwavering, unending love freely given to us by our Heavenly Father. This choice should be a no-brainer!

God’s love is the only perfection we need – and we do not have to obsess over attaining it – it quite simply is ours for the taking!

You have worth because God loves you – his perfect love is the only perfection  you will ever need.

Trump, Moral Relativism, and the American Church

Last night I was talking to a grad student here at UGA that I had just met.  He told me he was very concerned about the possibility of a nuclear attack on North Korea by the United States.  Without thinking I blurted out that having Donald Trump as the decision maker as to how to use our nuclear arsenal scared me to death.  His response surprised me.  He said, “I voted for Trump but I didn’t think it through.  I hate Hillary Clinton so I voted against her but I didn’t really visualize Trump as POTUS.” I did, which is why he didn’t get my vote.

7de7c0aa10e9f514e1a15dc44c5d0144I have opposed Donald Trump since he announced he was running in June of 2015. My take on policy and priorities leans center left, which should make me lean toward Democrats.  While I have considerable policy disagreements with Trump, that it is not what drives my opposition. My conviction stems from being a disciple of Jesus.

There is, however, a former Republican  and now Independent that has piqued my interest. Ewan McMullin wants to regain control of “the heart and soul of conservatism”. I believe the 2020 Presidential election will be a battle for the center-right and center-left of America. McMullin, although more conservative than me, could be  a serious threat to the incumbent if he decides to run. Oh, by the way, McMullin is a former CIA operative and a practicing Mormon.

Now is the time that those who know me are asking, “Why would anyone vote for a Mormon candidate while citing the immaturity of Trump’s Christian faith as a reason for not supporting his Presidency?”  Good question!  Here is my response.

My primary concern is not about what nation Trump attacks next or who he appoints to the Supreme Court, or even the alt right executive orders he seems to issue daily. My concern is the witness of the Church. We are called to be ambassadors for Jesus, to exhibit love and compassion, to speak up about injustice. We are resident-aliens in this world, not citizens comfortable with the status quo. The intensity of that commitment is that the Kingdom of God even takes precedence over family ties (Luke 14:26). Anything that takes precedence over our commitment to Jesus and His agenda is idolatry.

Until Jesus is on the ballot, every candidate will have shortcomings. Forget about looking for perfection.  A candidate can be a very crooked stick and still exhibit the general moral character of love and compassion and an unwillingness to ignore injustice. The President’s lifestyle not his specific religious doctrinal beliefs is what determines the witness of the Church during his or her presidency.  The Church itself, of course, is not dependent on whomever is elected to lift up that which is good and oppose that which is not.  First and foremost the Church should be a community that exhibits the marks of the Kingdom of God.

The issue is not that Trump is “Not My President”.  He is my president and I pray for him daily. The issue is the attempt by right wing Christians to characterize Trump as basically a good guy, a baby Christian, who is just a little rough around the edges. Really?

Have you read The Art of the Deal? Have you paid attention to his professional and personal lifestyle?  Trump’s lifestyle is the very antithesis of the Sermon on the Mount. During his campaign when asked by Jimmy Fallon if he ever apologized for anything Trump replied “I will absolutely apologize some time in the hopefully distant future if I’m ever wrong.” He is the apostle for the gospel of “win at all costs”.  Opponents are not to be just defeated but destroyed and humiliated. He advocates seducing the wives of rivals to humiliate them and, during his campaign, bragged about having done so himself.  To Trump there are only two types of people: those who are unflinchingly loyal to him or those who are absolute losers. Everything about him exudes an unstable vindictive predatory character. His “unfortunate” tweets are not the product of an unpolished public figure. They are the product of a calculating, manipulative, pathological personality.

Democracy runs on the basis that there are competing views in society. When someone wins an election, the loser concedes and the winner leaves the loser standing, ready to fight another day.  It is this understanding that no victory or loss is ever final, that keeps American society moving along. Disagreement is the norm, not the exception, of a free, democratic society.

Trump, however, routinely demonstrates he cannot tolerate the presence of opposition! Not even from beauty queens. From the beginning of the campaign to his present Presidency, his emphasis has been on what HE is going to do. By sheer force of his personality and will, without regard for the basics of governance, HE is going to fix everything. This is hubris, not leadership. Hubris plus a vindictive predatory temperament equals authoritarianism.

I believe there were many Christians, like me, who cast their vote, not because they were enthusiastically behind the conservative or progressive candidate, but simply for the lesser of two evils. But then there are those Christians who now are Trump apologists, determined to legitimize his profound evils. Considering all the criticism leveled at the moral failings of candidates in the past it is difficult to see this as anything other than  hypocrisy. When their political agenda is at stake, all concern about character seems to fly out the window.  If you think Trump is the best President in our lifetime, fine. But do not act as if his Presidency minimizes what kind of man he is.

The Church’s mission is not to help candidates win elections but to give witness to the agenda of Jesus. That witness is seen through martyrdom rather than hateful authoritarian demagoguery.

I am not that familiar with McMullin.  But he seems to be a principled man with admirable ethical standards, who aspires to build a more civil society. If that perception is true, he is a welcome change to the political stage, regardless of what his specific doctrinal beliefs are.

For many the fact that Donald Trump is the POTUS is visceral. Social psychologists call it “motivated perception,” a condition where what we see is shaped by what we feel is at stake. Thus the motivation to justify and rationalize Trump’s Presidency is powerful. In 2011 the Public Religion Research Institute at Brookings asked people whether someone who had committed immoral acts in their private life could still be effective in their political or professional life. Nationwide, 44% said Yes. The same question was asked in 2016 nationwide the  Yes vote had risen to 61%. But the move to compartmentalize sin was most pronounced among those who were most conservative. In 2011 only 30% White Evangelicals given the same question said yes. But in 2016  71% of White Evangelicals answered the same question yes becoming the religious segment most likely to believe that someone who commits immoral acts in private life can govern ethically..

When holding a moral standard meant substantial loss, they embraced moral relativity, the cardinal sin of “secular-progressives” they so despise. Again, my point is that Christians who are Trump backers should not minimize nor trivialize the kind of man he has shown himself to be.

Right leaning Christians are not purely to blame for the moral relativity in the American Church. Its roots span the political spectrum and reveal a much deeper problem, much of American Church is not formed by the gospel of Jesus. A great many progressive Christians have concluded that the answer to conservative Christians is to move to the far left Social gospel. Even though they are doing the same “othering” as they criticize the Right for doing, they justify it as “prophetic” and “social justice advocacy.”  But the solution is not a more progressive church. The solution is a more loving church, a loving community of resident-aliens, seeking the welfare of their host culture, seeking truth no matter the implications for our host culture’s political agendas. Right, left, or whatever, doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the church abandon moral relativity and once again take up the agenda of Jesus and His Kingdom.

Rogue One:  Star Wars Episode 3.75

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” is every bit as good as the 7th installment of the Star Wars saga “The Force Awakens”. This is the first film set in the Star Wars universe that offers a deeper look at the story behind the story of the main saga. 

Specifically, we are given a rousing prequel to George Lucas’ 1977 original film “Episode IV – A New Hope.” (Which should be watched as soon as you get home from the theatre!)

The plot of “Rogue One” is driven by the fact that the evil Empire — served, most prominently, by Grand Moff Tarkin (a CGI of the late Peter Cushing) and Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) — is on the verge of deploying the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the Death Star.

The Death Star has the potential to wipe out entire planets and thus doom the efforts of the Rebel Alliance to resist subjugation by the Empire. 

The movie’s main character, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is drawn to the center stage because she is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the brilliant scientist who developed the technology behind the Death Star.  What we know that the Star Wars universe does  not is that he designed it under duress while being held captive. Jyn has reason to believe that the armament has been sabotaged by her father. 

To prove this, she enlists the help of Rebel Alliance officer Capt. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his mechanical sidekick, K-2SO (Alan Tidy). Kato is an amusingly straight-talking android, who provides most of the movie’s comic relief.

Director Gareth Edwards has crafted an exciting epic while keeping the violence inherent in his story of armed conflict virtually bloodless. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy have written a script that  celebrates altruism in the midst of the Rebellion. They also briefly tackle the morality of mindlessly obeying military orders.

“Rogue One” is old-fashioned entertainment in the best sense! We are treated to a showdown between spunky goodness and hisssble villainy with a bit of innocent romance thrown in to boot!  

This is a film for the whole family. Don’t miss it.

Addendum: The Force Of Star Wars

George Lucas is a fan of the writings of mythology scholar Joseph Campbell so not surprisingly ideas from world mythology are woven through the series. Episode IV itself is basically a reproduction of the archtypal story in Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Most of the mythic symbols Lucas weaves into the films may pass completely unnoticed except one: The Force.

According to the films, “the Force” is an energy field generated by all living beings that “binds the galaxy together.” For some gifted individuals, the Force provides both power and guidance.
The Force apparently is morally polarized, with a “light side” and a “dark side.” The light side (associated with good, peace, and self-defense) is the power of the Jedi, and the dark side (associated with evil, anger, and aggression) is the power of their enemies, the Sith.

What does George Lucas mean by The Force?   In interviews he has explained that the Force is a symbol for all that is unseen in the universe. The light side is essentially a symbol for God — the unseen Power of good — while the dark side is a symbol for the forces of evil.

According to Lucas, the Jedi exhortation to “Use the Force” essentially means “Make a leap of faith” (or “Trust God”). The phrase “May the Force be with you,” of course, is clearly evocative of “May God be with you.”

Lucas sees the Force (or the light side of the Force) then as only symbolic of God, not a direct allegory. Personally I see too many non-theistic elements to make the connection between God and the Force. 

I think the force bears a closer resemblance to a New-Age mystical energy field balanced between good and evil, similar to the yin-yang balance of Taoism than to God. (I do know The Force is fictional, but our fictional constructs are rooted in our perception of reality.) 

I love the Star Wars universe and when I see any of the movies I view “the Force” in essentially the same way I do the fantasy magic in The Wizard of Oz and similar stories. Let your children enjoy this fantasy universe and if they ask you if The Force is another name for God be prepared to give a reasonable “no” answer. 

The Plane Has Crashed

For months I have been playing the game of  “What if?” Not “What if I left the burner on, forgot to pay that bill, screwed up the tip?” Not even “What if that’s not a mole, or what if the brakes fail?” But what if he wins?

On Nov 8, He won.

No amount of pre-emptive fretting, phone banking, marching, petitioning, or magical thinking on any one person’s part would have prevented this. Even if I’d stayed up later on election night, or posted one more Facebook status, the outcome would have been the same. It’s not magic; it’s math. Electoral math to boot — antiquated, convoluted but the math that is the law.

I know my anxiety is unhealthy but I
can’t stop feeling like I have been in a plane crash. All I can do is stumble around in the wreckage looking for survivors. I know they’re out there, bruised and bleeding worse than me. One survivor is in his neighborhood bar, being told to go back to his own country although he was born here. Another survivor is smacked with an ethnic slur as he’s helping a man cross the street near Trump Tower, near where he works. One survivor fled Somalia at age 7, and 23 years later is afraid she will be forced to return there because she’s trying to cobble together money for her legal paperwork.  The worst that happens to me is that a former student called me a leftist and questioned my Faith on G+. But even though I have no personal threat I know that none of us are going to be OK until all of us are — but won’t someone please tell my body that?

So this is where I’m at, screaming at my heart, lungs, brain, stomach, and skin to calm down.  Eating sweets and hiding under the covers until the bad man goes away doesn’t help.  What helps me (a little, but better than anything else) is breathing.

It’s so easy to forget to breathe. Not in the autonomic sense — we’d all just be passing out in heaps on the street and behind the wheel if that weren’t the case — but in a deliberate way. Standing up, inhaling deeply through my nose, holding it in, releasing it. It’s such a simple thing, and it’s free of charge, and I have my lungs with me all day, but I forget to do it.

I have to remind myself to stop reading my Twitter feed. I have to remind myself to stand up, breathe, reclaim my body from my mind as best I can. It works — some of the time, but way better than nothing.
There’s so, SO much work ahead and so many people whose need for safety is greater than mine. So much has changed, that it can feel overwhelming.  STOP. Breathe. Focus. I can’t do it all, no one can — and that’s OK — but I have to start with something.

I will take a breath. I will pick my battle. I will not consider this election results as normal. It signaled that fear is now the main motivator in my country. The wings of freedom and equality have come off the plane

The plane has crashed. We survivors need to stick together.

Suicide Squad – a review

suicide-squadI am a comic book movie fan so I looked forward to DC’s Super Villain comic book movie “Suicide Squad”. It is made up mostly of second-tier bad guys from the DC Universe who are drawn together because of the fear that a future “metahuman” like Superman (now supposedly dead) could choose to use his or her powers for evil instead of good. The driving force is government clandestine operations organizer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). She proposes to put together a team of Super Villains to fight evil metahumans. The squad she assembles features sharpshooter Deadshot (Will Smith), psychotic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), fire starter Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and Aussie thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney). The Joker (Jared Leto) is committed to helping his girlfriend Harley Quinn break free, first from prison then from the Suicide Squad.

Their main threat, however, is a demon named Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and her demonic brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine) who plan to kill all humanity and take over the world.

Deadshot, Diablo, Waller, and the soldier that Waller tasks to lead the Suicide Squad Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) are well-written emotionally layered characters, with credible backstories. The other characters not so much. Humor and jokes work mostly thanks to Smith’s Deadshot who brings a fun swagger to the squad.

The Joker and Harley Quinn, arguably the biggest draws to the movie – are laughable, overblown caricatures that work at first but get tiresome after a while. Harley’s psycho-sexpot act is sexy fun at first but finally is just obnoxious, and the Joker’s insanity is all style and no depth. Leto’s Joker portrayal lacks the ominous, formidable layers that Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger each brought to their portrayal of the iconic Joker). The evil Enchantress turns humans into grotesque zombie-like faceless creatures whom the Suicide Squad battles while destroying yet another major DC city.  The special effects save the day for this movie that is big on action and small on plot.

For me as a Christian, the demonic activity was the most problematic element of the movie. The Enchantress is a demonic sorceress, who emerges from captivity by means of demonic possession of an innocent woman. The Enchantress and Incubus, her evil demon brother, create a dark and spiritually oppressive atmosphere. Fortunately, the Suicide Squad super villains become “heroes” and their transformation brings a spiritual and idealistic light to shine in the darkness.

Overall the movie was entertaining and a change of pace for DC comic book movies.