“Son of God:” From Stained Glass to Silver Screen (Movie Review)

son of god movie poster“Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus originally posed this question to His closest followers, but it’s a question that is as timeless as it is timely.  Jesus is arguably the most recognizable figure of all human history—though He’s also the least understood.

Christianity affirms that the best and truest stories about Jesus come from the four “gospels” contained in the Bible.  Like all ancient biographies, the four gospels were intended to be read as reliable history.  But they were also written to invoke faith in the heart of the reader.  For Christians, the four gospels are the measuring stick by which we evaluate all other stories about Jesus. Read more

Disney’s “Oceans” as Postsecular Spirituality (film and theology)

It’s always a surprise when a nature documentary finds commercial success, such as has been the case in recent years. Documentaries such as March of the Penguins and Disney’s Earth have enjoyed phenomenal success, and when Disney’s Oceans opened in theaters last Friday (Earth Day), it became #1 in the box office, slowing recently only due to competition from other films. Read more

Spitfire Grill: “A Balm in Gilead” (Film and Theology)

 (Easter is approaching. This is one of a handful of posts between now and then concerning the relationship between the arts and atonement theology. FYI: contains spoilers)

“Once in my life I knew a grief so hard I could actually hear it inside, scraping at the lining of my stomach, an audible ache, dredging with hooks as rivers are dredged when someone’s been missing too long.” (Leif Enger)

“There is a Balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole…There is a Balm in Gilead, to heal the sin-sick soul.” (“Balm in Gilead,” cf. Jeremiah 8:22, 46:11, 51:8)

The above words, inspired by the prophet Jeremiah, were breathed into life in the 1996 film Spitfire Grill, a film that garnered much attention at the Sundance Film Festival before its eventual release.

The story is set in Gilead, a small town in rural New England. Gilead is, as Jeremiah’s words intimate, a town mentioned in the Bible.

Gilead was located east of the Jordan river, known for a resin from the storax tree that seems to have had some medicinal value.

Throughout the Hebrew narratives, Gilead was a place of refuge for such people as Jacob (Genesis 31:21-55), the nation of Israel (1 Samuel 13:7) and even King David (2 Samuel 17:22).

And in the context of the film, Gilead serves as both a place of hiding and a place of healing.

DEEP WOUNDS

Her name is Percy, a young woman who arrives at Gilead after being released from, hoping to find work. She finds it in the Spitfire Grill, run by an older woman named Hannah, where she also befriends Shelby, Hannah’s niece. Together the three women share an unlikely friendship that serves as the relational core of the film – though, gentlemen, without ever devolving into “chick flick” territory.

But during the course of the film, Hannah breaks her leg, forcing Percy to step up and take on more responsibility on behalf of the older woman. One scene features Percy rubbing lotion on Hannah’s leg, where she asks a question that – for me – defined the film:

“You suppose if a wound goes so deep, the healing of it might hurt as bad as what caused it?”

Percy is not the only one struggling with pain and grief. Hannah’s son Eli never returned from Vietnam, leaving her alone. “Exile,” says Thomas Merton, “is a hemorrhaging wound.” Hannah is left with her grief, wounds felt by an entire town.

But as it turns out, Eli is actually living within city limits – as a hermit whose wartime experiences were too painful to permit him to return. Without giving away too much detail, it is Percy who sacrifices herself to save Eli, returning the prodigal home and galvanizing an entire community through this sacrifice and gift of reconciliation.

THE BALM IN GILEAD

It is for this reason that many have seen in Percy something of a Christ-figure, albeit an imperfect one. And when it was learned that the film was made by a southern Roman Catholic organization, the film was criticized as being a “propoganda” piece (ironic since the director was Jewish), despite its lack of overt religiosity.

The dual motif of pain and healing is nevertheless a powerful one, and should rightly bring to mind the costliness of reconciliation, for as Percy notes, the pain we bear often runs deep. Sometimes it hurts just to be healed.

Hannah’s grief was like an open wound. Percy’s sacrifice was the soothing balm that assuaged a community’s grief. “By [Christ’s] wounds,” writes the prophet Isaiah, “we are healed.”

Something similar is seen in an ancient African ritual:

“There’s an ancient craft practiced in Rwanda, an age-old art that has been almost lost today. The Umuvumu trees that shade the [public judicial proceedings] have another purpose. Once the Umuvumu tree has matured, a small strip of bark is cut away. Like our own bodies, the tree responds to the gash. The Umuvumu produces a fine red matting of slender roots to cover the wound. The ancients then treated that matting to create a cloth, commonly called bark cloth. Historically, the bark cloth was used to make royal clothing. Today, artisans fashion the reddish-brown fabric into traditional African ceremonial dress, wallets, purses, placemats, book covers and maps of Africa, adding decorative detail through paint, print, or needlework. Strangely, mysteriously, things of beauty and usefulness sometimes come from wounds.” (Catherine Claire Larson, As We Forgive, p. 18)

The film breathes these themes to life in the lives of its pivotal characters, a timely reminder as we approach Easter, of the meaning of redemption.

Whether or not you share my spiritual conviction, I highly recommend the film. For those interested, it was rated PG-13, making it appropriate family viewing if you have older children.

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“Death Working Backwards:” Narnia, Deeper Magic, and Easter

 While truth comes to us in many forms, it is most vividly received in the context of story. It is within the context of story that readers are invited into the literary and emotional landscape, and experience truth through the eyes of its characters.

And this principle holds true for C.S. Lewis‘ beloved Narnia series, which have recently been brought to life on the silver screen. Even casual readers and viewers are now aware that the books reflect a strong Christian theme, and that there is a deep theological richness contained within these pages.

Aslan is an allegory for Christ, who stands in opposition to the White Witch, who holds the fantasy world of Narnia captive – “always winter, never Christmas.” But when a group of children stumble through an old wardrobe to discover this world, it is young Edmund who betrays Aslan and his friends.

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch…

“Well,” said Aslan. “His offense was not against you.”

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us?…You at least know the magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill…And so, that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property.” […]

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”

“Oh, Aslan!” whispered Susan in the Lion’s ear, “can’t we – I mean, you won’t, will you? Can’t we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn’t there something you can work against it?”

“Work against the Emperor’s magic?” said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again.

RANSOM PAYMENT

Lewis’ story reflects an older, though historically ingrained theological tradition called the “ransom theory” of the atonement (if you read his “Space Trilogy,” you’ll recall that the lead character of those novels is named “Ransom”).

It finds its basis in Jesus’ promise to “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The early church, seeking to understand this concept, suggested that mankind is the captive property of the devil. On the cross, Jesus paid the “ransom payment,” liberating man from this bondage.

We rightly recognize that while Jesus and the early writers employed the language of “ransom,” suggesting that God owed the devil some payment is bit of a stretch.

Still, Lewis’ story makes clear the “costliness” of redemption – and even the word “redemption” carries the meaning of “payment” or “exchange.”

As we read on, we see that there is an even “deeper magic” to be counted on.

DEEPER MAGIC

Susan and Lucy had just witnessed the horrific death of Aslan, and were now said to be “walking aimlessly,” unsure of how to proceed.

At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise — a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate…. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”

“Yes!” said a great voice from behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad….

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

DEATH WORKING BACKWARDS

C.S. Lewis is speaking quite meaningfully of the hope of resurrection – a “deeper magic” than our traditional categories of decay and death.

In Christianity, the cross and resurrection serve a two-fold purpose: to pay the costly price of sin, and to show victory over its consequence, namely death.

Historically, the empty tomb and risen, embodied Savior served as evidence for this event – that faith and hope are built not on idle speculation or sentimental desire, but on the knowledge of the resurrection.

And the joy – the deepest, most fantastic joy of all – is that there is a “deeper magic” available for all of us.

We soon will be celebrating Easter. What is Easter? Easter is “death working backwards.” It is both the celebration of the historical reality of the resurrection, as well as the hope in the future promise of our own.

Avatar: Pantheism, Driscoll and the Need for Dialogue

First, let me just affirm how much I really love Mark Driscoll. I have no intention of trying of trying to tear him down or calling him out on the carpet. But some statements he made recently (which subsequently made their way to major news outlets) deserve some feedback, so I thought that if nothing else, this could serve as a “teachable moment” for those who read this.

The statements in question are about the movie Avatar, which Driscoll described as:

the most demonic, satanic film I’ve ever seen. That any Christian could watch that without seeing the overt demonism is beyond me. …Primitive is good and advanced is bad and that we’re not sinners, we’re just disconnected from the divine life force, just classic, classic, classic paganism, that human beings are to connect, literally, with trees and animals and beasts and birds and that there’s this spiritual connection that we’re all a part of, that we’re all a part of the divine. It presents a false mediator with a witch. It presents false worship of created things rather than Creator God in absolute antithesis to Romans 1:25, which gives that as the essence of paganism. It has a false incarnation where a man comes in to be among a people group and to assume their identity. It’s a false Jesus. We have a false resurrection. We have a false savior. We have a false heaven. The whole thing is new age, satanic, demonic paganism, and people are just stunned by the visuals. Well, the visuals are amazing because Satan wants you to emotionally connect with a lie. (quoted from seattlepi.com blogs)

AVATAR AND PANTHEISM

First, I think it’s only fair to tell you that I haven’t seen Avatar. So for all I know, Driscoll could be right on the money. This also means I’m relying on reviews and other sources when I talk about the film, which may or may not be a good idea.

What his objections stem from is his reaction to what might be perceived as some form of pantheism – that God and nature are one and the same. While its incarnations are hardly monolithic, it’s an idea that colors most forms of eastern spirituality, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism.

Nothing new. The theme of pantheism has, in varying degrees, been expressed in such forms as the Star Wars Trilogy, which speaks of “the force” which “binds” and “surrounds us.” Other films such as The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have distinct Taoist leanings, and the former draws heavily from the Upanishadic philosophy of Hinduism. And now Avatar.

SPIRITUALITY AND THE SILVER SCREEN

Movies are are significant part of our cultural landscape. Bruce K. Johnston of Fuller Seminary writes:

“Movies both identify our anxieties and reveal our society’s values; they ‘tell’ us something about the age we live in. Like the rabbits in the coal mines in nineteenth century England that were used to sniff out poisonous gas, movies can smell the currents in our society, exploring dimensions of reality that are there for us but that we have not fully perceived…presenting these ambiguities and conflicts and thus enabling dialogue.” (Bruce K. Johnston, Reel Spirituality)

According to Stanley D. Williams, an accomplished screenwriter and author of The Moral Premise, not only does the silver screen reflect our culture’s values, but the success of a film is heavily influenced by our ability to identify with the film’s morality.

Which means that film is not a window into our culture, but rather it is a dynamic, living mirror that reflects the zeitgeist of both its creators and the audience that receives it. Movies like Fight Club and Garden State reflect something of the angst of emerging generations. Up in the Air captures the perennial challenge of human loneliness. Even horror films reflect the scars of the human soul, and reflect the depth of human depravity.

It is for this reason that there has been increased emphasis in recent years, to approaching film from a distinctly theological perspective.

APPROACHES TO FILM

While film has been studied for years, film studies as a spiritual discipline remains in a very embryonic state of development. The best resource currently available is Bruce K. Johnston’s book Reel Spirituality. The approach I’m discussing below is derived almost directly from his work.

When approaching film, we find our discussion focusing on both medium as well as message, creating a spectrum between those who focus on the film’s ethical considerations and those who focus on the film’s aesthetic appeal. In between we find a variety of approaches.

The first is avoidance. Movies will invariably lead you towards sin and therefore should be avoided. In some extreme cases you’ll even hear movies spoken of as “the tool of the devil.” You don’t see this approach as much as you used to, but I can still name you people who hold such views.

The next is caution. Movies aren’t necessarily bad, but we should only see movies that do not conflict with our Christian worldview. This usually means counting the number of swear words (as if there is some, invisible threshold of propriety) gunfights and love scenes and weigh them against our individual (maybe even individualized) standards.

The next is dialogue. This means allowing film to speak for themselves, and absorbing the themes in the manner the director intends. This often means comparing and contrasting the film’s content and message with our own value system, finding common ground where appropriate and pointing out errors when necessary.

The next is appropriation. This means taking the theme of a particular film (such as “destiny” from Slumdog Millionaire) and discussing how it directly intersects with Christian spirituality. This is nowhere more exemplified than in the book series “The Gospel According to __________,” where cultural elements from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and television shows like The Simpsons and The Sopranos are mined for their potential contributions and intersections with Christian theology.

The final is divine encounter. This approach is a bit more personal but increasingly common. The film becomes the vehicle through which viewers have a spiritual experience. Johnston explores this further in citing those who become closer to God by watching Spitfire Grill or Schindler’s List.

MIND THE GAP

Driscoll’s response to Avatar reflects an approach that is cautious if not “avoidant.” Granted, there is nothing wrong with being cautious (note that the categories above are not mutually exclusive), but when you stand before an audience and decry a film, then at the very least you have limited your audience’s ability to discern by imposing on them your own reaction.

If you’ve read my various reactions to film, then you probably know that I stand somewhere between dialogue and appropriation, though in some writings lean more heavily toward appropriation.

The gap between myself and Driscoll on this issue becomes obvious. The problem with this is it limits, rather than encourages discernment. Attaching such labels does not help Christians (or anyone, for that matter) think through the issues, nor does it improve their ability to view culture through a theological lens.

This lens is important. And to better understand how to use this lens, we must look at the way Paul addressed the culture of his day.

AGNOSTO THEO

Though time had eroded much of its former glory, the city of Athens maintained a reputation as an intellectual as well as spiritual center. Among the schools of thought in the city was Stoicism, whose emphasis on a universal “world-soul” invites parallels to present-day pantheism.

Consider the poetry of the day (with emphasis added by me…you’ll see why in a bit):

“The fashioned a tomb for thee, O Holy and high one…But thou art not dead, thou livest and abidest forever, For in thee we live and move and have our being….(Preserved in a Syriac translation. Quoted from F.F. Bruce, Paul: An Apostle of the Heart Set Free) Let us begin with Zeus: never, O men, let us leave him unmentioned. Full of Zeus are all the ways and all the meeting-places of men; the sea and the harbours are full of him. It is with Zeus that every one of us in every way had to do, for we are also his offspring. (Epimenides, quoted in Aratus, Phainomena 1-5)

But the inciting incident was when Paul laid eyes on an altar bearing the inscription Agnosto Theo, meaning “to an unknown god,” which he uses as a springboard into his great speech (a speech which today is inscribed in a plaque at the foot of the Areopagus). He calls them deisedimeresterous, a tongue-twister of a Greek word that could mean “religious” just as easily as it could mean “superstitious,” showing Paul straddling the fence between respect and rebuke.

Listen to just a few words of his speech:

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:24-28)

Don’t miss this. Paul knew their poetry. Apparently by heart.

At minimum, we should learn this: there may be times when appropriation can be redemptive.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

What are the specific implications for Avatar? To be honest, I’m not sure. But I will say that the popularity of the film requires a better response than strict avoidance and condemnation.

Perhaps the most intelligent response I’ve seen is that of Steve Lutz, who sees within the film a “longing for home.” Lutz writes:

“Avatar has caused, for many of its viewers, a deeply felt desire to live in a world that doesn’t exist. It has awakened a longing for a world where humanity is not in conflict with nature, but preserving it. Where people are deeply connected to nature, yet still in dominion over it. A longing for a pristine world not defamed and destroyed by violence, greed, & technology. Where life and vitality is winning over death and decay. A longing for a place that feels more truly like “home” than our current planet.”

If you read his post in its entirety, you’ll note that he neither minimizes nor condemns the aberrant spiritual themes of the film, but engages the film in respectful dialogue – a much more redemptive approach than that of Driscoll.

Again, I love Mark Driscoll. I know from his other sermons and writings that he is not the cautious-avoidant type that his above remarks make him appear (it’s especially worth noting that Mars Hill Church uses film discussion as part of their ministry). But I felt that a better approach to film and culture is worth discussing, and to that end I hope I’ve been helpful.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue, Bruce K. Johnston. Johnston’s book is the definitive work in this area. I highly recommend that anyone serious about the dialogue between faith and film read this highly researched and insightful book. Those who’ve already read it may benefit from other works such as Reframing Theology and Film, also by Johnston, or Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor’s A Matrix of Meanings.

Websites:

www.imbd.com The Internet Movie Database is a quick, convenient source of information on movies. It features the major credits, production notes, quotes and other information.

www.screenit.com Screen It simply catalogs the use of profanity, sexuality and violence. This could be a helpful resource for parents and families in deciding what material is appropriate viewing.

www.hollywoodjesus.com This site engages film from a theological perspective. Occasionally I find the writing a bit too charitable or stretching the meaning of certain films, but it remains a helpful website that often links to other resources. You may also wish to check out www.collidemagazine.com/ as well as www.relevantmagazine.com for movie and music reviews.

“Ain’t No Grave:” The Eschatology of Johnny Cash

I hate country music. But I love Johnny Cash.

This week saw the release of “American VI: Ain’t No Grave,” the final album from Johnny Cash, and the second album to be released after his death in 2003, and today we celebrate the birthday of a man who was less a singer than a legend.

Musically the album retreads old ground, and its initial simplicity drives home the reality that these are the final tracks to be scraped from the barrel. But like most of his other work, the album is bathed in the currents of a deep faith that blankets his roughshod past. It was a faith handed down from his parents. Cash says:

“My father told me early on about having a life in God. [My parents’] faith was the light of their life. They always professed it–their faith and their relationship with Christ. I learned by example, from watching them get through their struggles. They’d always come back to their faith.”

Elsewhere he remarks that “telling others is part of our faith all right, but the way we live it speaks louder than we can say it…The gospel of Christ must always be an open door with a welcome sign for all.”

And so in his songs we find a man of deep faith and fierce conviction, a man who, in his own words, loves “songs about horses, railroads, land, Judgment Day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother. And God.”

Songs that attract the attention of fellow musicians. In the liner notes of “The Essential Johnny Cash,” Bono remarks: “Locusts and honey…not since John The Baptist has there been a voice like that crying in the wilderness…. Every man knows he is a sissy compared to Johnny Cash.”

And this faith only grew deeper as the years wore on. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I find something uniquely stirring in his gravelly baritone – there is something to be said for the sound of the elderly man’s voice, full of cobwebs and memory.

It was John Owen who suggested that maturity brings more struggle, not less:

“Later in the Christian life…God sees that the exercise of humility, godly sorrow, fear, diligent warring with temptations and all things that strike at the very root of faith and love, are now needed….Older, more experienced Christians often have greater troubles, temptations and difficulties in the world. God has a new work for them to do. He no plans that all the graces they have be used in new and harder ways. They may not find their spiritual desires to be as strong as before or have such delight in spiritual duties as they had before. Because of this, they feel that grace has dried up in them. They do not know where they are or what they are. But in spite of all this, the real work of sanctification is still thriving in them, and the Holy Spirit is still working effectively in them. God is faithful. Therefore, let us cling to our hope without wavering.” (John Owen, The Holy Spirit)

In his music, Cash embodied a man who was no stranger to struggle, but never far from hope.

THE ESCHATOLOGY OF CASH

Historically, the church has spoken the singular word “eschatology.” Eschatology most directly means the study of “last things,” and has, over the course of the last century, spawned a morbid fascination with the end of the world – a fascination that transcends the usual division between sacred and secular. But the word is something of a misnomer, for the study of eschatology is equally devoted to the study of “first things,” inasmuch as it reflects the hope of one day starting again. Healing. Renewal. And far from the disembodied, fluffy-cloud pictures we have of “heaven,” orthodox Christianity emphasizes resurrection, that the dead will, quite literally, be one day raised. It is, according to N. T. Wright, “life after life after death.”

REMINDERS FROM THE DEAD

And perhaps what makes the album so uniquely haunting is that these songs of hope and redemption come to us from beyond the grave. In the album I find traces of three unique themes, all of which serve as reminders of a hope beyond the pain of this world, and that forever is not simply a word. These themes are (1) Resurrection hope, (2) The journey of faith and (3) Future restoration.

Resurrection Hope

The opening track features the chorus:“There ain’t no grave can hold my body down / When I hear that trumpet sound I’m gonna rise right out of the ground.” The promise of resurrection is more sharply addressed in the song “1 Corinthians 15:55” (a verse from the Bible that talks exclusively about the promise of resurrection) where Cash weaves the Biblical quote into the cadence of the chorus: “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory? Oh life, you are a shining path / And hope springs eternal just over the rise / When I see my Redeemer beckoning me.”

The Journey of Faith

Scripture frequently describes faith as a journey, perhaps most explicitly in the Book of Hebrews (cf. 11:1-10, 37-38; 2:15-18; 6:20; 10:34; 13:13-14). On a Sheryl Crow cover, he sings of “a train that’s heading straight to heaven’s gate, to heaven’s gate. / And on the way, child and man and woman wait, watch and wait, for redemption day.” Redemption, sings cash, is “buried in the countryside. It’s exploding in the shells at night. It’s everywhere a baby cries. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom.” The journey metaphor appears on a later track as well, where Cash sings a Tony Paxton cover in which he openly admits that he “can’t help but wonder where I’m bound.”

On “Cool Water” (originally a Bob Nolan song) Cash makes clear that this hope is yet unfulfilled. “All day I’ve faced a barren waste / Without the taste of water, cool water / Old Dan and I with throats burned dry / And souls that cry for water / Cool, clear, water.” It is a song that reflects yearning, and reflects hope for future satisfaction, a theme repeated in the contrast between fading memories (“For the Good Times”) and future fulfillment (“Satisfied Mind”).

Future Restoration

This satisfaction is to be experienced not only as physical resurrection (above), but also the absence of physical and emotional pain. Revelation’s closing words speak of a new heaven and new earth, wherein God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).

It is a theme breathed to life in the song “It Don’t Hurt Anymore:” “It don’t hurt anymore / All my teardrops are dried / No more walkin’ the floor / With that burnin’ inside / Just to think it could be / Time has opened the door / And at last I am free / I don’t hurt anymore.”

Scripture maintains that hope is not merely personal, but has powerful implications for the social realm as well. We’re given the promise of peace and stability, when weapons of war will become farm equipment (Isaiah 2:4). Singing an Ed McCurdy song, Cash speaks of a dream: “Last night I had the strangest dream I’d ever dreamed before / I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war / I dreamed I saw a mighty room filled with / women and men / And the paper they were signing said they’d never fight again.”

The album brings all these themes together with the closing song “Aloha ‘Oe” (yes, that Hawaiian song by Queen Lili’uokalani), seemingly an odd choice for the country singer, but a clear choice in its repetition of the familiar chorus, “until we meet again.”

VANITY OF VANITIES: HEARING CASH THROUGH QOHOLETH

Derek Kidner compares the Book of Ecclesiastes to “a great house in the grip of slow, inexorable decay” (from The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes). Qoholeth, the book’s author (though he writes as if he were Solomon), takes us on a tour of a haunted mansion, in whose many rooms we find the shadows and ghosts of a former life of luxury, now reduced to mere cinders and memory. Life is “vanity” and “meaningless,” phrases often repeated by our guide to emphasize that the SUV’s, the Louis Vitton purses, the iPods we listen to, even our empty religious practices are ultimately mirages on the spiritual landscape, offering only illusory versions of the happiness we crave.

And I find that Cash’s music is haunted by similar spirits. One can hardly watch the video to “Hurt” and not see something of Qoholeth’s wisdom crying out to us – punctuated by Cash pouring wine over a decadent meal as a display of the “worth” of his “empire of dirt.” But Cash concludes the song by wishing for a second chance, to “start again / a million miles away,” promising to “keep” himself, and “find a way.”

Qoholeth concludes his book in poetic style, pleading with his readers, then and now, to “remember the Creator in the days of your youth, before times of trouble come and you find no pleasure in them.” The poem that concludes Ecclesiastes 12 is that of a broken old man pleading with the young not to waste their lives on the vain, meaningless things of life, but to find solace in God’s wisdom and truth.

This is the message that Cash came to embody, as someone who struggled through life, and offers wisdom at its end.

To that end, solidarity with the marginalized became, quite literally, the uniform of the “man in black.” Bono remarked that “Johnny Cash doesn’t sing to the damned. He sings with the damned, and sometimes you feel he might just prefer their company.” And so he wears black…

“for the poor and the beaten down…for the prisoner …for those who never read, Or listened to the words that Jesus said….for the sick and lonely old, for the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold…for the lives that could have been…for the thousands who have died, Believen’ that the Lord was on their side…for another hundred thousand who have died, Believen’ that we all were on their side.” (Johnny Cash, “Man in Black”)

But of life itself? “I’m not bitter.” he says. “Why should I be bitter? I’m thrilled to death with life. Life is—the way God has given it to me was just a platter—a golden platter of life laid out there for me. It’s been beautiful.”

Well said.

Happy Birthday, Johnny.

Until we meet again.

 

RECOMMENDED:

All quotes above come from Urbanski’s book unless otherwise noted.  I’ll leave you with three resources on Johnny Cash that are all worth looking at.

Walk the Line. An all-around solid film that focuses on Cash’s early life. Phoenix and Witherspoon deliver surprisingly good performances, and yes, they even do all their own singing. While his faith is admittedly minimized in the context of the film, there is nonetheless a redemptive theme that runs throughout. It’s on my “worth seeing” list, and certainly worth discussing (one reason why more churches should have movie clubs). You can download Craig Detweiler’s excellent study guide to the film here.

 

The Man Comes Around: The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash, David Urbanski. Urbanski’s book is an excellent biography that highlights the way that faith shaped the life of Johnny Cash. It is an unvarnished treatment of the rough patches as well as the good, replete with quotations to allow firsthand insight into his life and spirituality.

 

 

The Man Called Cash: The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend, Steve Turner. I have not had occasion to read this book, but I’m enough of a fan of Turner’s other work to add this to my recommended reading list. Whichever book you choose to read, I doubt you’ll find yourself disappointed. 

Legion: The Ineffectual Wrath of God

 So I’m adding this film to the list of movie trailers I’m already sick of. Maybe I’ve seen one too many zombie movies, but the grandma-turned-carnivore (“It’ll all be over soon”) is more obnoxious than frightening.

Legion, directed by Scott Stewart, is yet another spiritually-themed film to hit theaters in recent weeks, coming on the heels of films like The Lovely Bones and The Book of Eli. I confess that I haven’t seen Legion, and really don’t plan to, if for no other reason than I doubt the film covers any ground that Constantine has not already tread.

Still, the film is intriguing in its conception: a once-loving God is now “mad at his children” and plans to destroy them. It is up to the “rebellious son” Michael to stop a legion of angels from destroying humanity, and to that end he enlists the help of a group of stragglers from a provincial town whose greatest landmarks are a diner and a gas station.

Which altogether prompts us to say a collective “Really?” Really? The wrath and power of God Himself is stayed by the hand of one angel and a ragtag pack of midwestern rednecks? Really?

The monster from Cloverfield was harder to take down than that.

In an interview with Fox News, one of the actors said that the film is “…[director] Scott Stewart’s interpretation of the way he sees the world and the way he sees certain verses in the Bible…It’s his opinion, he’s entitled to it. I was just happy to help him bring that vision to life, but that doesn’t mean I see it the way he sees it.”

Which pretty much sums it up: opinion-turned-theology-turned-film. Again, I realize that many are quick to run to the “it’s-only-a-movie” defense, but the reality is that film invariably reflects the values and ideas of certain segments of our culture.

The take-away from all this? God is weak, and far from loving. And this theology is not limited to Legion, but is made manifest in numerous cultural forms: God is “one of us,” to paraphrase Joan Osbourne, and on Family Guy God is often portrayed with the maturity of a frat boy. Something has happened to our conception of the Almighty, and I suspect that this has something to do with our conception of fatherhood.

FATHERHOOD: MODELS FOR GOD

Donald Miller writes of his own father, and how this influenced the way he came to see God:

“My father left my home when I was young, so when I was introduced to the concept of God as Father I imagined Him as a stiff, oily man who wanted to move into our house and share a bed with my mother. I can only remember this as a frightful and threatening idea. We were a poor family who attended a wealthy church, so I imagined God as a man who had a lot of money and drove a big car. At church they told us we were children of God, but I knew God’s family was better than mine, that He had a daughter who was a cheerleader and a son who played football. I was born with a small bladder so I wet the bed till I was ten and later developed a crush on the homecoming queen who was kind to me in a political sort of way, which is something she probably learned from her father, who was the president of a bank. And so from the beginning, the chasm that separated me from God was as deep as wealth and as wide as fashion.” (from Blue Like Jazz)

Television has moved from the loving antics on the Cosby show to the disconnected parenting of Everybody Loves Raymond. Fathers are portrayed as inept and uninvolved, and when we think of God as Father we increasingly picture a man more in line with Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin. Humorous satire? Sure. Healthy image of fatherhood? No, but a sadly accurate one.

Consider the film Fight Club, where Tyler Durden confronts Norton’s character over this very issue:

“Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?…You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you.”

For many, to speak of God as Father certainly conjures up images of an uninvolved, abusive or even absent person, one that many have grown to wholly resent.

REVERSING THE TREND

Throughout history many have tried to articulate God in terms of His intimacy and connectedness, the most recent (and far-reaching) is Schleiermacher’s emphasis on feeling and theology. Contemporary theology stresses that God is love. Angry? Psssh. Maybe in the Old Testament. But He’s gotten a lot more mature since then. Really.

The cure, it seems, is worse than the disease.

In Exodus 15, Moses describes God as a milechama, or “warrior God” or “God of war” (a far cry from the Mister Rogers-in-a-sweater-vest images most of us have grown up with). And, in contrast to the weak God of films like Legion, God is a God whose wrath must be dealt with. C.H. Dodd and many after him, have rightly defined “wrath” as the “impersonal, inevitable consequences of sin” (quoted from Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement).

As N. T. Wright puts it:

“Paul’s whole theology, not least the expression of it in Romans, is grounded in the robust and scripturally rooted view that the creator is neither a tyrannical despot nor an indulgent, laissez- faire absentee landlord, nor yet, for that matter, the mere inner or spiritual dimension of all that is. God is the creator and lover of the world. This God has a passionate concern for creation, and humans in particular, that will tolerate nothing less than the best for them….The result is ‘wrath’ – not just a settled attitude of hostility toward idolatry and immorality, but actions that follow from such an attitude when the one to whom it belongs is the sovereign creator.” (N. T. Wright, “Romans,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible)

Scot McKnight recalls a story of one of his professors: “God, he gesticulated, is either loving holiness or holy love, but God is not dualistic in his attributes.” McKnight later quotes Paul Fiddes, an Oxford theologian:

“There is no conflict in God. In His love God passionately desires to bring all humankind into fellowship with Himself. In His justice God underwrites the consequences of sin, though (as the Old Testament prophets make clear) He does so with an agony in His heart.” (Paul Fiddes, Past Event and Present Salvation)

The wrath of God is a good thing. It means God’s paying attention, and it means that we may hold fast to the hope of future, restorative justice. But we may also hold fast to the mercy of God, and it is only through the cross that ruined sinners are reclaimed.

VIEWING LEGION THROUGH THE LENS OF MARK

Mark’s gospel is unique in its depiction of the clash between Jesus and the forces of evil, depicting Jesus’ victory over the forces of darkness as routine (i.e., in the form of exorcism: cf. Mk 1:25-26, 32-24; 3:11-12). Though said to be tempted by Satan (1:13), He claims to one day defeat him (3:27). Jesus gives Himself as a ransom (10:45), and it is at the cross where evil is dealt with, prompting the confession of the centurion that Christ was “the Son of God” (15:39). The resurrection represents Christ’s victory over death (16:1-8; cf. 8:31), though an event met with “fear and trembling” by those closest to Him.

All this is a far cry from the shallow, movie-driven theology of films like Legion. The movie depicts good-versus-evil in the context of an epic battle; Mark depicts this struggle as ending at Golgotha where Christ was slain.

For us this means we take seriously the wrath of God, but also in a love whose depth is measured in the scars of the Savior. We may therefore place our trust in the reconciling work of Christ, in a redemptive story far more powerful than celluloid could ever deliver.

To Save A Life: Film Resonates with Teenage Audience

The film To Save a Life debuted last Friday to impressive numbers. Indiewire.com reports that the film grossed approximately 1.5 million dollars over opening weekend.

The film centers on an all-star high school athlete who must come to grips with the direction his life has taken, and the film features a realistic portrayal of the kinds of things today’s teenagers struggle with, including suicide, sexuality, depression and self-mutilation.

And these subjects are handled from an understated, spiritual perspective, and on screen the lead character must wrestle with the Christian faith. The film is produced by New Song Pictures, a division of New Song Ministries in Oceanside, and Jim Britts, one of the films producers, is himself a youth pastor in Oceanside.

In an interview with Plugged in Online (a division of Focus on the Family), Jim Britts and Brian Baugh, the creative minds behind the film state that they

“…never really set out to make a Christian film. We said we wanted to make a film for teenagers that would never set foot in a church but would go to the movies—something that would reach them. Obviously youth group kids love this film like crazy, but that was not my first thought.”

Box office numbers suggest that they succeeded in reaching beyond the usual “Christian” audience. Part of that is that the film was designed to deal with these issues realistically, rather than the plastic caricatures that often dominate other faith-based films. Britts and Baugh said that

“One of our core values [in making the film] was for sure, cheesiness equals sin, and we said this thing has got to be very real. There are so many films out there for teenagers and most of them deal with the tough issues—even the non-faith-based ones—[but they have] real shallow characters and they laugh at some of these issues that we really dealt with seriously. We wanted to make a movie that mattered.”

To that end the film deals with subjects in a very real, raw manner, and yes to all the uptight parents, there is swearing in the film, which the filmmakers wisely included as not to detract from the realism.

Yet Britt and Baugh emphasize that their ultimate intention was pointing to the validity and relevance of faith: “we really wanted to convey that what God can do in someone’s life is so much better. People have no idea that it can get so much better than that.”

And they also wanted to avoid glossing over the hard issues, saying:

“I’ve seen it a hundred times, where a student accepts Christ and then their world falls apart and then they blame it on God. If we’ve given them a faith where they believe that accepting Christ means everything is going to go great, then we’ve turned them away from God for the rest of their lives because God didn’t deliver. And so I really wanted to paint that picture that [faith] is about trusting God, no matter what. The truth is that probably bad things will still happen, and are you going to trust God through that and do what’s right anyway?”

So far, the film’s reviews have generally been positive, though an NPR review criticized the film for “two-dimensional” characterization and for not dealing realistically with the issues and their solutions.

At the same time, the film seems to be reaching young people in significant ways.

An L.A. Times review said that the film has “more in common with Fox’s “Glee” than it does with previous Christian films,” and the film’s Facebook page has been swarming with activity from teenagers who had seen the film and see their own lives reflected in the characters.

PR Newswire collects some of these responses in their review. I’ll highlight a few: 

Missy – I cried when I saw the movie, because I want real life to be like that. I never had anyone to turn to when I was depressed, and I still don’t. I don’t cut myself and I don’t try to hurt anymore, I’ve made a few friends but none of them have seen me hurt. I hide it all in a mask of shame, but I’m going to take off the mask, finally I’m gonna start and I’m gonna help other people, I’m gonna help myself too. No longer will I just be [Missy], I’m going to be known to save a life. Because of this movie. You inspired me.

Mel – I just got home from watching “To Save A Life” and immediately I came on the computer to Google information. I haven’t even taken my jacket off yet. I was so touched by this movie its indescribable; I cried all the way home. I want to make a difference in someone’s life. I notice things from the movie that happen around me in school, but it never hit me till now. This movie made me sad, emotional, but most importantly it made me realize that I have the opportunity to help someone. I’m a college student and I cant wait for classes to start Monday cause I already know what I’m going to do. Save a Life.

Having not seen the film, I am suspending my own judgment for the time being, though I salute the filmmakers for their determination to make an honest yet affirming film that should appeal to younger generations.

I admit that the whole thing sounds like a glorified after-school special. But it clearly is making an impact on those who see it, and may be a valuable resource for those involved in youth ministries.

The Lovely Bones: Peter Jackson’s Vision of the Afterlife

“I know that heaven is real. And I know she’s watching over me.”

These were the sentiments of a young woman I used to work with. Amy was referring to her grandmother, who had passed away many years before, but whose presence, she insisted, could be felt and experienced. Amy’s nominal Roman Catholicism had given birth to her insistence on her grandmother’s continued influence in her life. From heaven above, her grandmother served as both guide and protector, and nothing could shake her from this belief.

The truth is that many hold such ideas about the afterlife in general. “Heaven” seems such a surreal, lofty place that it is easier to latch on to things that are nearer to our earthly understanding, such as guardian angels, or – in the present case – the loved ones that have gone before us.

Our collective conception of heaven has been so shaped (and warped) by images of fluffy clouds, harps and the color white, which converge to form an endless tapestry of bland. At the end of our life, if this is indeed what there is to look forward to, it seems as anti-climatic as the Price is Right showcase showdown, where the college student always wins the Nordic Track, the baby grand piano and a Kia Rio.

Nevertheless, we flirt with the idea of the afterlife in our cultural expressions, most recently in the film The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel of the same name. In the film a young girl named Susie Salmon is viciously murdered, and from beyond the grave she assists her family’s quest for justice.

In an interview with the L.A. Times, Jackson says that he “didn’t want to show heaven or the afterlife, or whatever people call it, as a physical location. I like the idea that it was personal to Susie.” Commenting on the afterlife, Jackson says that “There is also profound comfort in that death is not the end. There is an immortality that happened.”

And to that end, Jackson’s film never explicitly makes mention of “Heaven,” just some vague, ethereal vision of the beyond.

After her death, Susie Salmon says:

“I wasn’t lost, or frozen, or gone… I was alive; I was alive in my own perfect world….I was in the blue horizon between heaven and earth. The days were unchanging and every night I dream the same dream. The smell of damp earth. The scream no one heard. The sound of my heart beating like a hammer against cloth and I would hear them calling, the voices of the dead. I wanted to follow them to find a way out but I would always come back to the same door. And I was afraid. I knew if I went in there I would never come out.”

Going further, Susie makes clear that even in death, her memories were retained:

“I was slipping away, that’s what it felt like, life was leaving me, but I wasn’t afraid; then I remembered: ‘There was something I was meant to do; somewhere I was meant to be.’”

In this manner, Susie’s memories gave her purpose. It’s just like Amy and her grandmother, though in the film we see this otherworldly relationship from the other point of view:

“Always, I would watch Ray; I was in the air around him, I was in the cold winter mornings he spent with Ruth Connors; and sometimes Ray would think of me, but he began to wonder maybe it was time to put that memory away, maybe it was time to let me go.”

Just a movie? Perhaps. But like all forms of art, film reveals something of those who made it, and we may rightly remind ourselves of the sheer number of hours and dollars that went into every scene, and the number of writers and focus groups that helped shape the lines of dialogue you read above.

It’s hard to exactly navigate the layers of theology and speculation that go into films such as this. I would first affirm the director’s creative vision in making the afterlife something so beautiful.

And the film raises questions that I find few addressing. Can the dead communicate with the living? Are the dead even aware of what’s happening with those they’ve left on earth? Such speculative thinking is the stuff of shows like Medium and The Ghost Whisperer, and even the (ahem) “reality” show Crossing Over with Jonathan Edwards.

The writers of the Bible seemed to indicate that something like this is possible. In 1 Samuel 28 we see Saul go against his better judgment and consult a medium in Endor to contact the dead prophet Samuel. When Samuel appears, he seems to know exactly what’s going on. The text leaves it unclear as to if this is a spirit conjured through pagan ritual or if Samuel appears as a prophet sent from God. In either case, it opens the door to the idea that those in heaven will understand what’s happening on earth.

Some theological traditions (namely Roman Catholic and some Orthodox faiths) emphasize that the dead are still a part of the church – this is why they are willing to ask the saints for prayer and guidance.

All that to say that I don’t know.

What I will say is that in contrast to the Cartesian arrogance of the enlightenment, the world we currently inhabit is not all there is, nor is the brief time we are given any real measure of the fullness of eternity.

What films like The Lovely Bones represent is man’s desire to pull back the curtain in hopes of glimpsing what life is like beyond that veil of uncertainty. Stephen King reminds us that

“…the human imagination is not content with locked doors….Perhaps we go to the forbidden door or window willingly because we understand that a time comes when we must go whether we want to or not…and not just to look, but to be pushed through. Forever.” (Stephen King, The Danse Macabre)

Peter Jackon’s vision is, of course, less than Christian. Yet in that vision we do see that longing for meaning and immortality. I believe those desires are real. And I believe that God is real, and I believe His promises are true. Scripture tells us that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” says Maximus in the movie Gladiator, paraphrasing words spoken by Cicero. Perhaps the reverse is also true: our eternal destiny shapes our present life in a way that celluloid has yet to fully capture.

Eternity’s echoes are rippling throughout time.

Are you listening?

2012 and Eschatology: It’s Not the End of the World

Did we really need another film about the end of the world?  Apparently, yes.  

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Roland Emmerich is the director of such end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it kinds of films such as Independence Day, Godzilla and, most recently, The Day After Tomorrow.  The latter film makes me wonder what ground is left to tread with his latest venture, 2012. 

2012 is the year that the Mayan calendar supposedly ends, prompting the interpretation that this is some ironclad doomsday prophecy.  Emmerich’s film is based on this global apocalypse. 

Of course, there is also a Facebook page entitled “Shut up; the world won’t end in 2012.”  At first I thought this was humorous, until I noticed that it had quickly devolved into an anti-religious forum.

But the “doomsday” subgenre is hardly limited to Emmerich’s work.  Similar elements are found in such films as I Am Legend and any number of zombie films.  Even recent TV series “Flash Forward” has touched on the theme of global ruin. 

THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT…

What’s the appeal?  What is man’s preoccupation with the end?  I suggest five broad trends:

(1)   In The Truman Show, Truman (Jim Carrey) comments on a novelty button that reads, “How’s it going to end?” (an ironic reference to the “show” itself).  “I was wondering that myself.”  There’s a certain kind of person that has to flip to the end of the novel to know the ending before they get there.  Apocalyptic films offer us a glimpse of how things might look at world’s end. 

(2)   These films often serve as cautionary tales of man’s hubris over nature.  Godzilla was filmed in the context of hysteria of nuclear proliferation.  The Day After Tomorrow was filmed in the context of man’s new enemy of climate change.  Even critics who found the science of the latter film laughable conceded their respect of a film that addressed the issue of climate change. 

(3)   They offer a sense of safety.  In Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear, he suggests that fear is often used to promote public awareness because it allows safety to become “marketable.”  Like Dickens’ “Ghost of Christmas Future,” these films often probe man’s fears in a way that prompts at least some to wonder if “these are the things that will be, or simply the things that might be?” 

(4)   These films bring man’s nature into sharp contrast.  In every film there will always be scenes of selfish masses struggling to survive by any means necessary (the “minivan” scene in Spielburg’s version of War of the Worlds is an excellent example of this).  At the same time, there will also be a few – or even just one – who triumphs through the power of their own reason and courageous determination.  Audiences always love the hero, and in the face of such apocalyptic terror, a hero is needed ever the more desperately. 

(5)   By virtue of their subject matter, these films dwarf our problems.  This theme was – in a way – at the heart of the film Cloverfield, where a young lover’s quarrel dissipated when faced with the threat of a looming monster.  The Greek tragedians used the word catharsis to describe their plays – that a story could offer emotional release through its depiction of violence or tragedy.  These films offer the highest form of cathartic escapism.  Whose problems at work could possibly seem important in the face of such tragedy? 

WHEN EDEN SANK TO GRIEF

I can’t help but wonder if ultimately these films reflect our innate knowledge that things are not as they were meant to be.  Since the day that Eden “sank to grief,” we have been left with the struggle of picking up her pieces. 

Eden’s curse tells us that the ground would “produce thorns and thistles” (Ge 3:18), meaning that nature herself has been placed under the same curse that man’s sin has wrought.  Environmental calamity is the ultimate end product of a cursed creation.  Even some astrophysicists suggest that the universe will come to an end, and they argue in the language of mathematics whether the end “will come with a bang or with a whimper.” 

ESCHATOLOGY: IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD

In the language of theology, the church has spoken the word eschatology, meaning “last things.”  In the last century, there has been an increased fascination (obsession?) with this subject.  Books as well as numerous films depict the terrible disasters waiting for those who are (ahem) left behind after the rapture of the church (for a fuller treatment of this issue, I highly recommend Paul Boyer’s book, When Time Shall Be No More which offers an outsider’s perspective on the man’s preoccupation with Biblical prophecy).

While these are things that the Bible mentions, they are not, by themselves, representative of the Christian hope.  The prophet Amos writes, “Woe to those who wish for the day of the Lord! Why do you want the Lord’s day of judgment to come? It will bring darkness, not light.” (Amos 5:18, NET)  Israel was wrong to wish for the Day of the Lord.  They believed that this day would bring them prosperity by eliminating their enemies.  But instead they found themselves in the same condition.  It is a strange thing, then, in our day, to wish for this onrush of judgment on those left behind after the rapture. 

Which is why I have often said that the word eschatology is something of a misnomer, for it speaks more strongly of new things.  At scripture’s conclusion, we find a vision of a new heaven and a new earth – a creation restored to Eden’s perfection.  It is a world where Emmerich’s terrifying visions will be as out of place as the thorns and thistles in our gardens.  It is a world of neither sorrow nor shame, and a great river flows down the streets that have no name. 

The Christian hope is therefore not for future destruction, but for a new beginning.  This is what C. S. Lewis speaks of in his Narnia novel, The Last Battle:

1136764_21619849It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time there were somehow different — deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.
     The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if ever you get there you will know what I mean.
     It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then he cried:
     “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that is sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!”

HOPE SEEKING UNDERSTANDING

The Christian life is, in one very real sense, spes quaerens intellectum (“hope seeking understanding”).  Following Calvin, faith is defined as trust in God’s promise.  Hope, then, is the expectation of fulfilled promise.  This is why Paul describes hope as the outworking of perseverance (Rom 5:4): hope gives meaning to our struggles as we live in the confidence of an imminent and better future.  German writer Jurgen Moltmann describes this hope as a “goal” that “gives meaning to the journey and its distresses; and today’s decision to trust in the call of God is a decision pregnant with future.” 

Hope is what we find saturating the interstices of history – between the promises of God and their future culmination – a distance that Os Guiness describes as only the length “between the lightning and the thunder.” 

Our lives here are to be lived not in fear of a sudden, inglorious end, but in the expectant hope of an approaching, glorious new beginning and a future that stretches into infinity. 

Eschatology.  It’s the beginning of a world as we’ve never known it.

And I feel fine.