Monthly Archives: June 2013
Today, I invite you to read a guest post by my son, Sean Hennigan regarding the relationship between Christians and, well, government.
“You place your vote, misplace your hope in men
Who will let you down with empty dreams
And broken promises
It’s hard to keep from giving up
It’s easier to just fold up your arms” – Derek Webb
For some people of faith, last week was a week full of bitter disappointments. They see a moral arc of their universe bending towards corruption and ruin. They hear wars and rumors of wars on the borders of everything they hold dear. They feel threatened, neglected, discounted.
They feel like the world that created and sustained an environment amenable to the presence of God is passing on, and they worry that the world coming has little room for Him, much less His people.
They fear the consequences of a world that rejects their Savior so fully.
I don’t think they’re wrong to be concerned, because salt and light has always been challenging to the systems of the word and men have always rejected light for their love of darkness. To the people of Jesus, these things are not new. They rejected Him andthey will turn away from us, too.
However, I believe that the above is only part of the story.
Christianity has always operated in an uneasy truce with the empires that govern the world around them. Throughout history, the people of God have lived as strangers and sojourners among the kingdoms of the mighty men of old, and to varying degrees found peace and coexistence with them. Very rarely have they been a kingdom of their own, and the times of kingdoms were marred with infighting and born of a desire to be like the other nations surrounding them. The kings frequently struggled to preserve their reigns, and the most prosperous kings in Israel’s history were judged by God for doing evil in His sight. God eventually led them into exile, a defeat of such magnitude that it forced His chosen to be a people again, set apart and strange. His subversion extended even to their well-meaning messianic dreams, which embellished God’s deliverance into a military conquest and return to the kingdoms of old. When God finally fulfilled the kingdom restoration they dreamed of, He hung their mighty ruler to die on an empire’s cross. The victory of God was not over His people’s temporal enemies but their final enemy: death itself. God’s messiah changed the calculus governing the affairs of men, their rules for authority and kingship and power. Jesus inaugurated a kingdom of open peoplehood, a culmination of the promise that God would be King over His people, and they would grow to gather from and convey blessing to the whole world.
There is an uncomfortable truth at the heart of God’s story that we must reckon with now: we long for kings when we believe that God’s headship is not enough.
The American church of the last 100 years has often flirted with political power. America itself has always been a land of immense promise in our imagination, a place where the divine right of the old kingdoms was democratized, where divine blessing manifested not as enforced rule but as a popular consensus. In the 20th century, full of technology and war and the energy of the Great Awakenings, the church was a place of common cultural grounding, a shared quasi-nationalistic identity. Religious belief was a guiding consensus element of national identity, expected of men of influence and injected by government fiat into currency, classroom and national pledge. Jesus became the border guard of our kingdom, separating us from the Axis and the godless Communists and the Muslim powers of the East.
In the last 35 years, the American church has become particularly aware of its power as a voting block. People of faith have gathered to voice their opinions on a number of social and political issues that have been reshaping the cultural and political landscape of the country. We especially oppose the pluralism inherent in the shift in national consensus identity from Judeo-Christian Enlightened Man to inclusive, post-religious Enlightened One. We have become a potent voting bloc and a fervent and well funded special interest group in American political life.
I believe that is wrong.
What I fear is that in the course of our political engagement we have started seeking kings so we can be like the other nations. For every David we find (if we find him at all) we are plagued with ten Sauls, men disingenuously consulting ghosts and forging bad pacts to win victories in conventional terms, hoping to be retroactively blessed because they pursued it in the name of God’s kingdom. We align ourselves with political leaders who claim to be like us, but who all too often exploit our fear and discomfort to accrue power to themselves and to pursue their own political ends.
We do it because we believe that we have no choice. We do it because we are convinced that if we don’t follow the rules of presiding empires then we will be cast aside or persecuted. We want to protect what we love and store up the rich blessing that God provides and we see no other way to do it but through a king.
The trouble with Jesus is that His kingdom, a kingdom of people, transcends nationhood and call us to radical love and sacrifice. God’s Messiah is the fulfillment of Saul and Solomon and Caesar — the God-king whose kingdom is one of wholeness and unity and everlasting peace. He speaks of purchased fields and mustard trees and unfair wages and forgiveness, and He does not idly assent to defend the political fortunes of particular nation-states. His kingdom and people overcome by story and blood, not might or power, as He patiently asserts His reign over the world. When the end comes, He will conquer with a sword in His mouth, it His powerful right hand, and He will judge the nations alongside and through His people.
What temporary power we might hold to enforce our faith through political action is tempting because we believe that we will exercise it fairly. We see our political will as a rare blessing from God to legislate His kingdom into the world, not as a political enshrining of His redemption but as its agent of enforcement. While the government plays a role in protecting from evil and promoting justice and general welfare, we hope it to go further to enforce the particular ethics of our peoplehood on others. We hope that governmental enforcement of the outcomes of our transformation will somehow lead people, in reverse, to their Cause.
We become convinced that we must act because our way of life will be dismissed otherwise. And in defense of conscience and of kingdom, we relive the sins of Saul and David and all the kings who trusted in their own power above the Lord’s, even when they thought they were acting in service of His work. We count our armies and ask Him to bless that work while He beckons us to be His people and desires to be our King. He jealously guards His loving dominion over us, and He shares that dominion and worthiness of worship with no one but His Son.
At our best, at our most true, we are a peculiar people in the world, people who have no home apart from the one we create together with Him and with each other. He works through us to preserve and shape our communities and our culture through radical, sacrificial love. His kingdom work transcends social morays and political boundaries. He is not limited by the boundaries of our expectation and He does not take kindly to the notion that there are places He cannot go. His Spirit wind blows where it pleases and He does need us to take Him there by force.
Ultimately, we are His and He is our king. Ours is the task of loving and serving and living out — His is the finished-but-still-finishing work of His kingdom’s rule. The kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdoms of our God and King, and we are His children when we like Sarah call Him lord and do not fear anything that is alarming. We persevere through love not into violence and scarcity but into abundance, rest and victorious peace.
When Jesus walked the earth, He resisted the temptation of Satan and of the crowds and even of His disciples to fulfill the militaristic, messianic Kingdom dreams of His day. As His servants-turned-friends, we should expect no less a temptation, and no less a calling, for ourselves.
“One day you’ll wake and the curse will break
And even you won’t be the same.
Your hope is not wasted on a day when everything will change.”
Yesterday, I posted something that turned out to be very controversial. Within the first hour my site was flooded with spam trying to shut me down for voicing my opinion. That is a discussion for another day. It would seem that we have traded tolerance for witch hunts. We have decided that if someone disagrees with us, they are automatically wrong and deserve to be silenced. We have lost the fine art of civil discourse. So, in my right to exercise my freedom of speech I have edited the post I pulled last night and I am putting myself out there again. This is my opinion born out of pain and suffering. I do not demand that you or anyone else believe the same way I do. Ultimately, I cannot stand before God for you. Nor, can you answer for me. Our choices belong solely to us; each one of us. In order to keep my site from being spammed and shut down, I will not be accepting comments on this post for now. Please realize that I do not mean to insult anyone. You are free to have a differing opinion and I welcome you to write about it in your own blog. We need more give and take in a civil fashion with respect and tolerance of a person’s right to hold a personal opinion even if we agree with it. So, here it is.
Today, a medical colleague of mine was discussing the abortion bill defeated on the floor of the Texas legislature that would have moved the latest date for elective abortion up to 20 weeks (some states allow out to 24). He then related to me that a colleague of his asked his advice regarding a mother who wanted to terminate her 19 week pregnancy because the child was of the wrong gender. She wanted the child to be of the opposite sex than what it was. No health problems, just the opposite sex from what she desired. She was granted her request.
The day before I read an account in a national newspaper written by a mother who had to make difficult choices regarding one of her unborn twins. One of the fetuses had a congenital defect that could be repaired with surgery in the womb. But, the risk of death was great. The child, if born without the surgery would suffer for the rest of its life. She painfully decided to terminate the pregnancy.
I think about my own health problems. I inherited high blood pressure from my mother and my father. I have been on medication since I was 17 and my health has suffered through the years because of this. I have a congenital abnormality of my lower back that is now, at the age of 58, making my life a living hell. My father developed diabetes at the age of 93 (he died at 98) and now I discover I am borderline diabetic thanks to my obesity which is genetic in origin. And, my father had prostate cancer as did his father. I have a half of a dozen potentially deadly blows against me.
I wonder if genetic testing had been available when my mother discovered at the age of 38 that she was pregnant if she would have terminated the pregnancy? Thank God technology was not that advanced and she did not have these options. I would not be here. Technology has made our lives much easier but it has given us our choices for which we are ill prepared.
I bring all of this up because I am watching my daughter suffer daily from crippling complex migraines. Not the kind that give you headaches. But, the kind that without warning make you totally paralyzed on one side, or fall over from sudden loss of balance. My daughter lives in constant fear. She takes medication but we are at a standstill because of reluctance to have further tests. Her condition is not deadly. It will not kill her. But, it does rob her of joy and happiness and a job and a car and a life and friends. She confines herself to the safest place she knows, her room and her only friends are found on the typed letters of her texting on her iPhone or the occasional choppy video on a skype feed. If someone had painted that scenario for my wife and I while she was still in the womb, what would we have done? What would you do?
We suffer from the impression that life should be painless. With our world of incredible technology, we should never have to hurt or be anything less than perfect. If the possibility exists that a child may be born less than perfect or less than what we desire, we can rest assured that this poor child will never suffer. And, we can try for something better, a more improved model. Our new god, technology, has afforded us a new power of choice that we never had. But, has our technology grown faster than our wisdom? Has our technology placed a tool in the hands of the ill prepared? An ultrasound reveals the sex of our unborn child and we are disappointed. Let’s start over. Try again. Or, better yet, let’s engineer the child we want! Order an iBaby! We do not want a child to suffer, right? Or, is the truth closer to home. We don’t want to have to suffer.
I am a firm believer in God. The Bible is an endless stream of accounts of men and women who suffered. They endured loss and pain and betrayal. They did not have the technology we have today to make sure their lives were perfect. And, these men and women changed the world! I think of others whose disabilities made our world a better place. Helen Keller. Stevie Wonder. Joni. Just to name a few.
There is one thing I have learned. The only way we will ever be in a perfect state of non suffering and painlessness is if we are dead. To live is to feel pain. Pain is essential for our daily survival. To do away with pain is to stop living. I know that the two mothers I mentioned above had very difficult decisions to make. I am glad that when my children were conceived, the technology did not exist to afford me those options myself. I chose to look my wife in the eye and say, “No matter what our children are like we will love them for our entire lives and we will do whatever it takes to ensure their existence.” We take our chances and we hope that out of our love for each other, this child that is born will be the best it can be. And if not, then we will be the best we can be and help that child to live.
I love my daughter. She knows this and her life is not unending drudgery. She only has moments of pain and suffering. Most of the time, she is normal. We go to movies. We go out to eat. Last month, we went to Disney World for Star Wars Weekend and I had the joy of watching my daughter laugh at the Hoop De Doo Revue at Disney World particularly when I was chosen to be Davy Crockett’s “angel” and danced out on the stage in a tutu and halo. The look on her face was worth every second of humiliation I endured.
You see, we cannot ever expect our lives to be perfect and pain free. We cannot ever hope that our children will have the perfect bodies and minds that our technology promises us. It is because no matter how advanced we become we will always live in a fallen world that is far from perfect. As long as a human breathes, there will be the possibility of selfish acts of evil that will make our lives and our children’s lives painful. To terminate a potential child’s life in order to spare their suffering is, in my humble opinion, a dodge from reality. What happens when the next child is not perfect? What happens when the child is born and a terrible accident causes them to be handicapped at an early age? Do we put the child out of its misery then? What if, after the child is born, we change our mind and wish our son had been a daughter? Take them out of the picture and make another one?
What if that child, in its broken state has an epiphany; what it that child is motivated by their problems to find a cure for cancer? What if that child could change the world? I know that our guarantee of a person’s right to choose is protected by the law. It is the law of the land. And, it will not be reversed. But, what my prayer and my plea for everyone is that we temper our choices with wisdom. As long as the choice remains painful and difficult, then we are safe. When the choice becomes cavalier and easy to make, then we should stop and wonder about our collective wisdom as a society.
I have stood by for years now and watched as our society has increasingly devalued the importance of a person’s life. We now value the lives of humpback whales over an unborn child with a disappointing gender. We now care more about the number of sharks “left in the wild” than we do the number of children born to promise us a better future. We would rather make that next level in World of Warcraft than to feed our two year old to keep it from starving to death. Will it be any wonder then, that our children in their adult years may look upon us as unnecessary burdens and choose to terminate our lives at say, 65? They wouldn’t want us to suffer!
Right now, there are dozens, possibly hundreds of people who are alive and dealing their depression because they read “Conquering Depression”. Mark Sutton and I wrote that book not because we wanted to be famous; not because we wanted to make lots of money. No, we wrote that book because we SUFFERED. We endured depression and fought for years to drive that dark shadow of a beast back into its cave. And here it is. My suffering has benefitted someone else. Because I suffered, I was able to encourage someone who had given up all hope and had chosen suicide. My pain; my suffering; my failures were redeemed! Someone is alive today because I suffered! In a way, I applaud the mother that had the courage to write the article even if I differ with her decision. After all, I can never know the details of her circumstances. Never. But, her willingness to bear her soul; to reveal her own personal suffering will benefit someone who read her painful account.
And here it is: I believe without a shadow of a doubt that the God I mentioned above; the God who allowed his children to suffer so that they would grow and learn and mature and teach their children powerful lessons only learned in the crucible of pain; the God who we consistently deny and try to kill; the God that the Dawkin’s and Hawking’s of the world spend so much time and effort denying; the very God who could with a mere thought take away my daughter’s “affliction”; the God who has come to us over and over in spite of our denial and our pushing Him away; yes, this God became our flesh — our skin — our weakness and suffered as most of us will never suffer and died. He did it for one reason and one reason only. He loves us. His suffering has bought us our freedom. His triumph over death has bought us HOPE.
God looked down upon the womb of this world and he saw a flawed being; a mere human who would never amount to much; a man who would suffer from health problems and who would suffer from depression; a man who would strain against this mortal coil of tears and wounds. God could have aborted the whole of creation; rubbed out this awesome universe with a mere thought; erased it from all of eternity and tried again. But, instead God looked down upon me in the womb of this life and said,
My son, I will give you a chance to live. It will not be pain free and you will not be perfect. For in your living and in your striving and in your triumphs over adversity I will give you strength and hope and in so doing, you will touch the lives of others. You will be a part of my Story and you will be a part of my Work. Striving against adversity is human. Persevere. Overcome. Push through the darkness and the doubt. Live in spite of the pain. Redeem the suffering. And one day, I will say “Well done my good and faithful servant. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
There is a reason God calls me son!
If you received a post via email yesterday about the “Womb of Pain” please delete it. It has stirred up way too much controversy — more than I can handle right now and I probably shared more than I should have about my daughter’s illness even though she is okay with that. Thank you.
“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
I claim this verse because I am having a hard time dealing with family issues, right now. I covet your prayers.
If it’s too good to be true . . .
A family friend contacted me the other day to take a look at an online video advertising a new product. This product was the results of a “scientific breakthrough” in genetics and promised to do something incredible. I won’t disclose the actual claim because I don’t want to, in any way, endorse the product. Suffice it to say the claim was something on the lines of “total reversal of the aging process”. Turn back the clock. Be young again. What was interesting was that the advertisement never gave any indication what the actual product was. Was it a lotion? Was it a pill? Was it an injection? Was it a soaking bath? Was it a projector of alien anti-aging cosmic rays?
I spoke to my friend and my answer was very simple. If it seems too good to be true, then it IS too good to be true. Robert Heinlein, the famous science fiction writer once wrote “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. Basically, there is always a catch. There is always an agenda. There is always a downside to every offer that seems too good to be true.
But, sometimes, it is not an offer. Sometimes, it is a possibility. I’ve had many of these in my life. A seeming “coincidence” that promised something that seemed unobtainable; something I was unworthy of. Sometimes, it seems to be a gift. From God. From a friend. From a stranger, even.
Years ago, I was wearing the new soft contact lenses. These new lenses (this was in the 1990’s) could not be worn at night. And, they were far too expensive to be disposable. Each set of lenses was meant to last a couple of years. My wife and I left our children in the capable hands of their grandparents and we went snow skiing. The first night after our first day of skiing was, as usual, very painful. Muscles I had not been using were stressed by having to walk in those horrendous ski boots. Not to mention muscles strained by my desire to ski down the mountain as fast as possible, consequences be damned!
That evening, we found a hot tub and eased into the soaking, heated, wondrous embrace of those bubbles. There were at least six of us staying in the condo. Friends from ski trips in the past. Suddenly, a bubble burst near my face and I felt my contact lens slide off my cornea. I sat up quickly, leaned over the side of the hot tub so that my eye was above the snow covered deck. That way, if the lens popped out, it would NOT land in the caldron of hot tub bubbles. Alas, I did not move quickly enough and the lens was gone! Now what was I to do? I only had one pair of lenses. And, there was no way I could ski to my liking in my glasses.
A friend offered one of her contact lenses. Of course, it was too good to be true that it would work on me and it didn’t. By the time I made it down the slopes the next day, my right eye was killing me. The lens offered by my friend was never meant for my eye. That night, we went back out to the hot tub to soak our even more painful muscles. My glasses clouded up but I had to wear them to see. My friend was upset I could not wear her extra set of lenses and another of our friends who had not been in the hot tub with us the night before asked me how I lost my lens. I recreated my movement and hung my head over the edge of the hot tub and there, nestled in a tiny pool of melted water in a crater of snow floated my contact lens! I gasped in amazement. My lens was right in front of me, still there from the night before! How could such a thing happen? It was too good to be true!
My conclusion is that every now and then, what is too good to be true is still true. Sometimes, good things happen in spite of the negativity that swirls around us. In fact, as I look back on my life, I can find many examples of good things that seemed to happen out of the blue. When these things happened, invariably it was an unexpected answer to a prayer. Or, it was an open door that eventually led me in a direction that proved beneficial in the long run — a door that I never would have walked through on my own.
What I am saying is that sometimes Providence is too good true because in our human expectations, we cannot see the future from an eternal perspective. We only see the immediate. Meet my needs now! Give me what I want today!
I say all of this because 2013 has been an unending string of disappointments in many anticipated things for my life. I can’t go into the details. But, I am bitterly depressed at times because of my failed expectations. It almost seems as if one unending kick in the gut follows another. Just when you catch your breath and dry your tears, another assault comes out of the blue. Problem is, those expectations were MINE. I embraced the improbable even while realizing it could probably never happen! And, when the disappointment set in, all I could do was have a pity party.
In one of my favorite movies, White Christmas, Bing Crosby’s character sings this chorus of a song to his true love:
If you’re worried and you can’t sleep,
just count your blessings instead of sheep
and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.
This always gives me pause. We tend to focus on the negatives; the bad things that happen; or the good things that DIDN’T happen. They overshadow the good that did happen. But, if we pause; if we dare to look back at the peaks instead of the valleys, then it is obvious that God does indeed give us those moments of goodness and joy. God does grant our desires as long as those desires are good for us in the long run. The challenge is to realize that what God has planned for us in the long run is far more rewarding than what we seek to obtain in the immediate near future. God is good and His ways are not our ways. He promises us a hope and a future. He promises to make our lives more abundant and joyful. And, yes, He has gone on to prepare for us a place that seems too good to be true.
You know what, if God seems too good to be true, it is only because He is good and He is true!
My father passed away in October, 2012 at the age of 98. This will be my first Father’s Day without him. I just recently had a birthday reaching the venerable age of 58. 58! When did that happen? But, this birthday was bittersweet because I was born on my father’s 41st birthday. This was my father’s first birthday without him. He would have been 99. So, birthday and Father’s Day have always had a very special meaning for me. They arrive almost simultaneously each year and in the past, this has meant a blow out party mainly focused on my father. At 98, his last birthday should be properly celebrated! This year, no celebration.
To say I am sad is an understatement. To say I am wistful is a given. But, I want to talk about something entirely different. Movie critics. Now that we have the internet, movie critics are coming out of our pores! If you want to see a movie and want to search diligently, you can find a positive review somewhere, even if the movie is horrendous. Conversely, the “mainstream” critics seem to have an unspoken agreement and routinely pan or praise movies in tandem. Case in point was “Star Trek Into Darkness”. Most of the mainstream critics praised the movie. And yet, according to detractors, this movie has NOT met the financial goals of the studios. Great reviews; poor box office returns. Certainly not on the same scale as “After Earth” which was universally panned by mainstream critics and fanboy critics.
What is interesting is that both of these movies touch on fathers. In After Earth, the father son relationship is at the center of the story. In Star Trek, it is the fatherly relationship between Kirk and Pike that drives Kirk to become the man he must become in order to be an effective captain to his crew. I have not seen After Earth. I will not see After Earth. But, I have seen Star Trek Into Darkness 4 times. Okay, so I’m a Trekker. I have been since I watched the very first televised episode on network television way back in 1966.
Yesterday, my daughter and I went to see “Man of Steel”. I checked out the mainstream critics. They were unimpressed with the movie calling it “dour”, “deadpan”, “lacking chemistry”, “tedious”, and “boring”. Even the fanboy/geek sights were unimpressed. Not on the scale of “After Earth” but for a movie with this much anticipation, the criticism was worrisome. I went into the movie expecting to be disappointed. I was not.
First, let me say that this movie has so much emotion, I cried at least three times. Yes, I am a man. And, yes, I cry sometimes at movies. It has to be a really, really effective movie to make me cry. I am a writer. I am getting older. I have seen every movie trope there is. It takes a lot to impress me. It takes a lot to make me cry. Both Star Trek movies made me cry at very unexpected times. I did NOT see those moments coming and for me, that is the best “thumbs up” a movie can get from Bruce Hennigan.
In “Man of Steel”, I was so moved by key scenes. The artists behind this movie were brilliant in their use of flashbacks and set pieces that spoke volumes without a single word being uttered. Watch for the “rebellion” scene in the truck between Clark and Jonathan Kent. I dare you to NOT hold your breath! Don’t miss the simple, quiet flashback at the end of the story where not a word is uttered but the scene beneath a clothesline is the single most moving moment in a movie I have experienced in years!
Secondly, this movie was a believable story. I had the privilege of experiencing the first Superman movie in the theaters. I was amazed that a man could fly. Christopher Reeves nailed the character of Superman and the Kent farm scenes were beautifully filmed and moving. But, all of these films were filled with campy, tongue in cheek moments. The assumption was while you may believe a man can fly, Superman could never really exist in our world. He is a comic book character. The reason “Man of Steel” has been labeled as “dour” and “boring” is because it dares to tell a story that is REAL. I believed that Clark Kent could have existed and that somewhere out there he waits to put on the cape and save the world. This movie was never as dark as the Batman movies. But, it carried a serious tone that just worked. Period. Was it filled with comedic moments? No. Was it moving and satisfying as a cohesive, believable story? You bet you!
Third, this movie was about a father and a son. For the first time in all the years I have read comics and watched movies, Jor-El was a real character filled with bravado and idealism and a love for his son that transcended the world in which he lived. Jor-El fought for his son’s future. Jor-El was a true father — wise, strong, and willing to fight for what he believed even if it cost him his life. Russell Crowe has never been better. Jonathan Kent as played by Kevin Costner was perfect. His conflicted fatherhood was obvious — torn between protecting his son from the ridicule of a world that saw him as different with the desire to let his son beat the crap out of a bunch of bullies. Jonathan Kent’s soft spoken, spare words of wisdom were just right. And that scene — oh that scene in the truck. Wait for it and I dare you to not be moved!
Which brings me back to my own father. Experiencing “Man of Steel” brought back so many memories of my father. Like Clark, I grew up on a farm. Like Jonathan Kent, my father was a man of few words to me. He spoke eloquently from the pulpit and sang wondrous songs and was a true ham when it came to showmanship. But, his relationship with me was at best tentative in my early years. Like Clark, I rebelled against my father and the most painful moment of my teenage years was the day I made him cry because of my behavior. In my mind’s eye, I see my father standing on the edge of eternity, with so many years of life behind him and now facing the brink of darkness and he nods at me as if to say, “I hope I taught you well, son. Go change the world.”
One last note. There has been a huge swell of interest in the possibility that Superman in “Man of Steel” was deliberately patterned after Jesus. In fact, I read where the movie studio was hoping that Christians would think this also and go see the movie. But, as usual, the media, the internet movie critics, and the Hollywood “story” machine just don’t get it. Clark Kent, Kal-El is mortal. He is a man of flesh and is given in to temptation and the desire to do harm to others. The telling final battle between Superman and Zod define it all and Superman’s inevitable solution is very, very human.
Let me be very clear here. Jesus Christ was a real person not a comic book character. He existed and history does not dispute this. Some think that Jesus was the product of our imagination; our desire as a primitive people to create transcendent heroes to give meaning to our paltry lives. No, that would be true of Superman, but never of Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, we see elements of the character of Jesus in Clark Kent. But, that is true of any human being. Each of us has the capacity and the desire for altruism, for forgiveness, for love, and yes, for self sacrifice. That does not make anyone of us Jesus. It does mean that those characteristics are there for a reason. We are made in the image of God. God who is creator, sustainer, lover of humanity, and capable of great sacrifice. And yes, capable of the gentle, and sometimes harsh hand of fatherly discipline. Jesus was God in man form. The attributes we see in “Christ” figures are very poor reflections of the true character of Christ. He was without wrong doing. He was without failure. His every word and deed were carefully planned and thought out. His life was the ultimate Story that gives our lives meaning. This cannot be said of Superman.
What we see in Superman and the Doctor and a myriad of “super heroes” is our need for a savior. Can someone please save us? Please? Save us from what, you ask? Ourselves!
For this father’s day, go see “Man of Steel”. For the day after, seek the true Father Son relationship in the person of Jesus Christ. Find your Savior!
My son, Sean, recently shared with me some thoughts on content and media in the wake of the introduction of a new game console. His insight into story and creating content are very interesting from the point of view of the twenty something generation. Here it is:
“every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great” Michael Hyatt
The biggest problem we’re facing in the modern world is not hunger or disease, government overreach or corporate ownership, shifting global industries or climate change (though believe me, all those issues are important and vital to address in one way or another.) No, the biggest problem facing our generation is this: what do we do with the time we’re given?
We live in an unprecedented season of human history where technology, social development and worldwide prosperity gives an increasingly large portion of the world more free time than they know what to do with. Access to tools for information technologies and public information create a world where secrets can’t hide, and if they can, they can’t hide for long. Information access is the great socially destabilizing force of our time. When combined with the reshaping of world socio-economic systems, a larger population of the world’s population has access to a larger pool of comfortable free time than at any other point in human history.
Like Clay Shirkey points out in Cognitive Surplus, we’ve spent the last 50 years trying to reckon with this enormous shift in social and cultural life around the globe. Shirkey asserts that like the gin craze of industrialized London, society has coped with our influx of free time by investing in something easy and palatable (though by no means healthy): the television. We befriend characters (fictional and “real”) and we live vicariously through them, letting producers and writers take our nigh-genetically-encoded hunger for story and shared experience and transform it into a multimedia, multi-national conglomerate entertainment complex. For many years, television viewership was like a national religion – the shared set of stories and cultural understandings that grounded us in modern life.
But (and this is a really, truly crucial but): the world is changed. Ironically, the information access that created this coping mechanism’s key systems is also slowly dismantling it. With the advent of personal computing, interactive entertainment and affordable mobile electronic devices, people have more opportunity than ever to actively participate in and sometimes even co-create the media they consume. Smartphones enable users to photograph or record any event they choose; games like Minecraft and even Mass Effect allow users the opportunity to custom-tailor their story experience and tell stories of their own; and digital hosting like Youtube or Instagram allow for easy and free distribution of created material. We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world; we have consumed them passively through commercial media production because previously we have had no choice.
We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world
That has changed. Reality has shifted, and media creation (and participatory media consumption) is now within reach of (if not already a reality for) a vast majority of people in the developed world (and a good portion of the developing world too.) Humans have always had a nigh-infinite capacity for creation and self-realization; technology now allows our created works to finally catch up with our imaginations.
Most people realize that this change has come about on an instinctive level. They share photos and videos of their lives on Facebook; they post pictures to Instagram and keep up with far-flung acquaintances through digital audio and text. The capacity for deliberation and deep, honest engagement with people of like mind has never been greater. Therefore, for most people the television has become the new household god, a marker of cultural identity maybe, and a presence to which people feel great affection or deference, but not the overwhelming, monolithic driver of human existence and identity that it once was.
It’s an old god in a new world, having the appearance of power but slowly losing any of that power’s realities, not by outright defeat, but by a slow fade into irrelevance.
There’s a secret to that god, one that its fondest worshippers diligently spend millions of dollars a day to obfuscate and disguise. The secret is this: the god was never real, and was of our own making from the beginning. Before television, before commercial radio, we created: we told stories, we laughed at bars, we wrote songs on our porches. Sure, there were always consumptive media (and interactive experiences like games, incidentally), but we have always actively engaged them: we have gone to the theater, we have cheered at games, we have sung together in church. One of our human prerogatives is to create, and no amount of media consumption has ever fully suppressed that compulsion. We’ve consumed because we’ve been trained to; we create because we have no other choice.
So that’s my invitation to you: create. Make something. Do something; do anything. There is no amount of cultural gatekeeping that can keep you from creating. The tools are there; the desire is there. You need only to act. Michael Hyatt says every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great. You have no idea how important your stories are: to you, to your loved ones, to me, to the world. You just have to tell them. If you do, if we create and share, then the world will never look the same again.
The response to my previous post about the Sargasso Sea was surprisingly encouraging. We all suffer speed bumps in life. But, being a red blooded American male, my first response to any crisis is to fix it.
Yesterday, I ran across this video. I am risking a lot by posting it here on my site. Watch it and you’ll see why but don’t miss what I have to say afterwards:
Many of you will think that my first response as a typical American male would be to laugh at the situation and take the man’s side in this video. Problem is, I’m the one with the nail in MY head! In fact, as I have been researching depression for our upcoming re-release of “Conquering Depression” I was not surprised to read about the difference in the ways in which men and women handle depression.
Guys, we will not admit that we have a problem. Studies have shown that men who are depressed refuse to acknowledge it. Rather, we tend to turn our attention to something else that might “fix” the way we are feeling. It might be alcohol or drugs or porn. So, on the surface, the problem appears as something else such as substance abuse. Or, we might become unreasonably angry and fly off into a rage at the drop of a hat (or the random car that refuses to use its turn signal — but I’m not bitter). We have this nail in our head and we are refusing to talk about it; to do anything about it; to even acknowledge that it is there.
At the same time, as a man, I find myself instantly trying to figure out how to fix the problems with my marriage or my family. Sometimes, I even start talking and planning before I have all the facts (this is known as NOT listening). This is an interesting contrast. I can’t see my own problems so I can fix them, but I have no difficulty seeing other people’s problems and I immediately want to fix them! My wife calls this the Messiah complex. I want to save everyone. But, unlike the true Messiah, I am pretty messed up myself!
Presented then for your consideration. Do you listen? Do you advise? Do you want to fix things? Or, do you have a nail in your head?
In 1964, a cartoon premiered on Friday NIGHT called Jonny Quest. I was only 9 years old but I was instantly hooked. I can still recall sitting on our green Naugahyde* couch with a glass of chocolate milk and a miracle whip and mustard sandwich, eyes wide open watching a boy not too much older than me fighting lizard men in the middle of the haunted Sargasso Sea. Those images of rotting hulks of lost and abandoned ships covered with mold and sargassum seaweed still haunt my memories. Here is what Wikipedia says about this area:
The Sargasso Sea is a region in the gyre in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is bounded on the west by the Gulf Stream; on the north, by the North Atlantic Current; on the east, by the Canary Current; and on the south, by the North Atlantic Equatorial Current. This system of ocean currents forms the North Atlantic Gyre. All the currents deposit the marine plants and refuse they carry into this sea.
A gyre of refuse and rotting hulks; the ultimate graveyard of ships unwarily trapped in the doldrums; ships and sailors who drifted into the Sargasso Sea and were trapped forever! Here is a perfect description of a maelstrom of misery; a whirlpool of weariness; a prison for those who lose their wind; let their sails luff helplessly, rudderless — lost forever!
Well, I have been trapped in the Sargasso Sea for months now. And, there is no laser wielding boy scientist and his father on the horizon to save me. “What do you do when you have writer’s block?” I have been asked. Always, I have been able to answer this question by claiming that writer’s block has NEVER been my problem. But, what about life block? What happens when everything grinds to a halt and you can’t seem to get anywhere? What happens when crisis after crisis throws roadblocks and speed bumps before you? Life happens. Writer’s block is a symptom far down the line from a life that has been drawn slowly, inexorably into the Sargasso Sea!
It is no coincidence that in the midst of this time in my life, I am trying to finish a new manuscript on depression. I can officially announce that Mark Sutton and I have signed a new contract for an update to our depression book, “Conquering Depression”. Our hope is to launch a new website by July 1 showcasing our current book and helping those who are deep in the doldrums of depression. I guess I need to read my own book!
But, where I am right now is far more complex than depression. I once thought idealistically that there was a point in my adult life when my children would be grown up and on their own and my wife and I would have time for all of that traveling together; golden years of maturity and joy as a reward for a lifetime lived well and fully. I thought of this “golden” time as the years before retirement when we would still have the health and the energy to do whatever we wanted and the freedom to pursue decades of postponed dreams.
Instead, life has grown increasingly more demanding and complex. Aging parents demand more attention than our young children every did! Our grown children face challenges of their own my wife and I never had to deal with at that age. Life continues to happen, unrolling before us as a road with potholes and unexpected detours and roadblocks. How naive I was to think that life would ever be truly uncomplicated and simple. Life is not.
Here is why. Life is change. Life is growth. Life is pain. Life is joy. Life is NOT static. Life is dynamic. The only time when there will be no change; no growth; no pain is when we are dead. This is a startling revelation for me. To live is to face pain AND joy. The two cannot be separated. For, it is in the triumph over these challenges that we find the sweetest joy; the greatest contentment.
As my family journeys forward into the unknowable future, we have to cling to the concept that the Sargasso Sea can trap us, but there is a Navigator, a Pilot, a Captain who can lead us out of the doldrums. His breath is our wind; filling our sails with life and movement and joy.
I cannot even begin to imagine what life would be like trapped in the Sargasso Sea on a rotting hulk of a broken life totally alone without God. In the deepest, darkest moments of despair, God is still there. I may not be able to see Him but the defect is mine, not His. My glasses are clouded by the smears of angrily swiped tears. My eyes are closed against the pain I see in my life. But, if I open them; if I dare to look UP and away from the maelstrom of misery around me, I will see my Redemption is drawing nigh. My sails, though tattered and torn, can still fill with the breath of life and my ship can move out of the dead water into the living Water of life.
As my wife tells me, “Breathe!”. Yes, breathe; inspire; pause and let the breath of God renew you. Today, right now, this moment stilled and frozen in time — reach up with open hands, open arms, open heart to God. His warmth, His breath, His life will renew you as it renews me with each drawn breath.
Today, I choose to sail my broken, scarred ship out of the Sargasso Sea; out of the rotting hulks of depression and despair and defeat. I set my sight on a far shore with a fair sunrise and a promise of unconditional love! Join me and leave the Sargasso Sea behind!
*A marketing campaign of the 1960s and 1970s asserted that Naugahyde was obtained from the skin of an animal called a “Nauga”. The campaign emphasized that, unlike other animals, which must typically be slaughtered to obtain their hides, Naugas can shed their skin without harm to themselves. Naugahyde also was known as plastic leather or “pleather”.
For fun, check out this ‘redo’ of the intro to Jonny Quest in stop motion animation: