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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

Faith and Film: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman has been out for a few weeks now and has been smashing box office records all over the place. My wife and I were blessed to have an impromptu babysitter a couple weeks ago and decided to see what all the hype was about. We were not disappointed. Although I think our culture is saturated with superhero films, Wonder Woman was able to bring enough fresh ideas (and impressive fight scenes) to make the movie a lot of fun to watch. Not to mention the crazy woman-power of a pregnant lady (with a CGI stomach) kicking some serious butt. Look that up, it’s nuts!

Yet, what I was most impressed with wasn’t the storming of No-Man’s Land or the battle on the beach. It was the ultimate message (Spoiler Alert!):

It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe.

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When we first meet Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), she is a child who believes that humanity is an inherently good group that only kills when under the influence of the evil (and uncharacteristically powerful) Ares, god of war. Diana believes it is her duty to destroy the wayward god and allow humanity to return to its peaceful ways. Her calling is to protect people from anything that would get in the way of their innocent state. Everything goes according to plan…until she reaches the real world.

Because, unfortunately, Wonder Woman gives an accurate portrayal of humanity: a mess of beautiful selflessness and horrific destructiveness. Diana comes across the depths of human evil and is, for a time, able to overcome the evil through violence and destruction of her own. However, as the story continues, she realizes that even the “good guys” are not paragons of virtue and are capable of cowardly and unheroic behaviours.

In short, she realizes that humanity does not, in fact, deserve her protection. 

But this is where the true beauty of Wonder Woman comes in: Diana realizes that humanity is not worthy of her protection. WE are not worthy of God’s grace. WE have fallen below God’s standard through our own selfishness. Though we are capable of good acts, thoughts, and intentions, we are also capable, each one of us, of unspeakable evil. Put together, we are, as a race, beyond justification.

Yet, we are not beyond salvation. God, in His grace, has given us a way back: belief in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins opened up the door for us to be saved. All we need to access this salvation is to believe in the Son of God.

Now, this isn’t exactly what the creators of Wonder Woman are talking about in their film. BUT, if we tease out our Christian understanding of the Father’s grace further, we see that Wonder Woman’s message bears an even closer resemblance to our faith.

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Every day, we are confronted by people who let us down, by people who wrong us, by people who embrace selfishness at the expense of others. When our family frustrates us or our coworkers embarrass us, it can be difficult to offer forgiveness. Worse, when we see especially brutal acts of violence against children or the heinous atrocities of war, we can believe that the perpetrators are WAY beyond redemption. We convince ourselves that those who commit evil (that we believe ourselves to incapable of) have given up their fundamental humanity. Our inner longing for justice does not want to see the murderers and rapists and tyrants receive mercy. We want to see them punished for their crimes, because THEY DON’T DESERVE GRACE. Which is true.

The only problem is: neither do we.

And here’s where Wonder Woman can teach us. When we deal with those who have wronged us or others, we need to believe that we have all fallen short of God’s standard and are deserving of death. We have all taken the path of self-seeking narcissism to one extent or another. If we truly believe that we are all fallen, then we can settle on the truth that it’s not about what we (or they) deserve. It’s about grace. And it’s about God.

So, as you go out this week, you will be disappointed in people. Someone will hurt you or embarrass you, or fail to come up to your standards. And you will do the same to someone else. But instead of withholding forgiveness or berating them for their sins, remember: It’s not about what they (or we) deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in the power of grace.

Blessings,

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Whom Do You Serve?

Hello readers,

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining with 50-60 Calgary artists to discuss issues facing the arts community in our city. One such question, “Who or what do we serve?” has sparked a lot of thought for me and I want to hear some of your thoughts.

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I believe the question of service is really a question of purpose: Why do we create? What is the end goal? In the end, I came to the conclusion that we serve four different people/things with every creative act: ourselves, the art, our community, and God.

It may sound selfish, but creating art is something that is initially done for oneself. I believe that artists create because they must. There is something within that must be expressed. Like breathing or blinking, creation is an inherent process for the artist. I know that when I can’t create something physical or write, I will create worlds and stories in my head. If we ever discover a way to read minds, I don’t envy the person who gets the first peek into my head. It’s a mess. Creating is a way to move those worlds out of my head and into the real world. In this way, I believe we serve ourselves when we create.

In addition, for professional artists, we have a career to maintain. We create to make money, to build a brand/voice/style, to further our careers. We grow as we create, serving our need for progress and direction. We create because it’s how we navigate the realities of the world. In a world where our social identity is so caught up in what we do for a living, artists must create to stay alive and part of their community.

Next, when we create, we serve our art. When we work to become masters of our media, we ensure that those very media continue to exist. When we push the boundaries of what’s been done, we ensure that the art form grows. If people stopped practicing painting, then the art (and the world, in my opinion) would suffer. So, please, continue to take classes, to sketch and stretch, to try new things. The art will be better for your contribution.

Many believe they create to serve humanity, but we have to ask: to what extent are we serving our community when we create? When you sit down to write, or get into the studio to dance, or take up a brush to paint, do you have others in mind? If we really want to serve others, we have to ask who we’re creating for and how we can best serve them. When I write plays for my church, I have a very specific group of people in mind that I’m serving. I don’t push them very far outside their comfort zone on Christmas Eve, and I don’t inundate them with theology on Easter. Knowing who I’m trying to serve allows me to cut out things that don’t serve the mission of the piece and ensures that every step, from conception to rehearsal to performance, makes it easy for my audience to join me in the story.

Finally, as human beings, whatever we do should be in service of God. This isn’t particular to artists, but to humanity as a whole. Whether you are a doctor or a teacher or a web developer or a steampunk maker, everything should be for the one who created you. God has placed the desire and need to create into artists, and our first job in serving God is to do just that: create. Yet, whenever we are faced with choices, we should be asking which option best serves God. The answer may not be obvious, and all options may equally glorify God, but we have to ask.

So, today, I ask you: Who or What are you serving? 

Blessings

Embracing the Weird

Hello everyone,

I sat in a new staff orientation yesterday, reading over the shiny, new employees’ handbook as my lead pastor and executive pastor gave a deep explanation of what it means to work at the church. We covered history, identity, mission, and expectations. While I was happy to learn more about the body that I’ve been serving for years, there was a moment during the outline of expectations that made me laugh.

“Please don’t make me have to explain you.”

Now, in context, it made sense. We all, as Christians, are representatives of Christ and His Church. As staff members, we are representatives of RockPointe. We have a responsibility to represent our God and His Church well. Especially today, in a world that doesn’t particularly like the Church. My pastor was simply asking that we conduct ourselves in a way that does not draw negative attention to the church.

Yet, in a way, I think we’re going to be explaining me for a long time.

Because you see, what I do is weird. 

I create art for the church. I help to bring beauty and wonder and passion into an institution that is not well known for these virtues anymore. I tell stories of redemption and hope. I push some envelopes, and leave others alone. I aim to bring people to a place of awe before their Creator and Redeemer.

And, quite frankly, there aren’t many who are able to devote a lot of time to this sort of thing.

But that’s not the only way I’m weird. I often feel quite stuck when it comes to politics. I lean to the left when I analyze most social policies. I believe Jesus told us to look after the poor and the downtrodden and I believe a welfare state chases after that command. Yet, I am morally conservative. I believe that there is a right and a wrong and that we can discern what they are through the Scripture. At the church, I’m the crazy liberal artist. At Community Natural Foods (my other part time work), I am the token conservative Christian. I don’t feel like I’m quite like anyone in either camp.

And then, one day at Community, a particularly wise coworker told me: “Maybe you don’t need camps.”

We like labels. They help us self-identify. They help us find a place to belong and a people to belong to. But there are times when they are going to fail you, and those are powerful times.

Whether you are a Christian artist who isn’t quite a home at church or in the art scene, or a teenager struggling with self-identity against family-identity, or a stay-at-home mom trying to find her identity when the world defines you by your job, I believe we all go through periods in our lives where we feel like we’re weird. And I argue that these periods can be incredibly fruitful in our spiritual walk.odd_one_out-690x355

Because when we are confronted by our inability to fit into the moulds that the world (even the church world) tries to get us to fit into, we come to realize how fearfully and wonderfully we are made. Though there are more that 7.5 BILLION people in the world right now and many who are probably much like me, I am the only me that God has placed right here, right now. And you are the only you that God has placed where you are. No one can do what God has called you to do.

What the world calls weird is simply the messy specificity that God used to create you. 

There are places I can go because I have ties to the arts community that a normal pastor either wouldn’t or couldn’t go. There are beautiful things I can do in the church that an outside artist doesn’t have the relationships to accomplish. I was made weird because God has a plan and we don’t always get to see that plan until after it’s all over. And you…yes, you…are also weird in your own special way and for your own special purpose.

So today, as you go about your business, try to remember that you are weird. And that being weird is a good thing. Not because of millennial snowflakism or your own inherent specialness, but because God has given you a certain set of passions and experiences that make you ideally suited to a certain mission in the world.

Go, be weird on mission.

Blessings

EpicTheology June Update

Well, my fearless readers, we’re now well into June. Life is going by at breakneck pace these days, so I thought I’d take a moment to let everyone know what’s going on. Depending on how things move continue, we might make this a monthly feature.

I’m now a month and a half into the new job, and it’s still amazing. I have so much freedom to explore where God is leading the new ministry and spend time in His presence. I’ve met with many of our leaders to brainstorm how we are going to go about telling stories. AND, most exciting, I’ve started working on a couple projects. My weeks are flying by and I look forward to going back to the office every day.

God could not have come through in a more awe-inspiring way.

Which brings me to our next point: our new mission. Acts 2:43 tells us, in regards to the newborn church, that “A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.” I feel like, for many of us, we’ve lost that sense of awe. We live in such a constant state of grace that the supernatural grace has become mundane.

So, my mission: Rescue the miraculous from the mundane!

God’s activity in our lives can be awe-inspiring at first, but can quickly become less shiny as we get used to it. However, when we hear about what God is doing in others’ lives (which is usually different from our own), we can again be brought to a place of wonder. It’s my job to harness the stories that we all carry around with us and deploy them in a way that opens doors for awe.

Sound fun? I think so!

In other news, we’re also on our way to starting a new ministry and I’ll have more info for you as soon as some things settle into place.

I hope you are all enjoying the start of your summer (or winter, if you’re south of the equator). Our family has been having a great time hiking out in the mountains as much as we can (including during a rainstorm yesterday!). Please spend some time outdoors. It’s good for the soul.

Blessings,

Faith and Film: The 100

Well, everyone, this was supposed to be our 100th post here at EpicTheology, but as the weeks turned out, Mother’s Day happened right at the 100 mark, and I figured our moms are more important than other things I was going to say. So, in honour of our 101st post, I thought we would take a look at one of my favourite Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic TV shows: The 100. (Full disclosure, this may be the only YA Post-Apoc TV show I’ve watched…)

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Essentially, The 100 is LOST for teenagers, in the future. I found the first few episodes to be hard to watch, the writing was so bad. But as the series continued, it picked up in quality and my wife and I were hooked.

The basic premise of the show is as follows: humanity has nearly destroyed itself with nuclear war. The surviving humans live on a space station where any crime is dealt with by pushing the criminal out an airlock and into space (known as floating). UNLESS that criminal is under 18, in which case they are kept in prison until they are old enough to stand trial (and then get floated).

When the space station begins to run out of air, 100 of these teenage delinquents are sent down to earth to see if the planet is hospitable again. If they live, they are pardoned for their crimes. If they die, well, they were going to die anyways, and they saved the space station from sending down everyone.

Once these teenagers are on the ground, the situation turns into a fraternity party-meets-Lord of the Flies. With no strong emotional connection to the adults who sent them to the ground, the teens rebel and begin building a new society that suits whatever their whims may be. It’s everyone for him/herself, with pleasure-chasing and power-wrestling the top concern for many of the survivors.

Sound at all familiar?

Who, as a teenager, didn’t rail against the oppression of adults in our lives? Whether our parents, or teachers, or coaches, we had adults telling us what to do and when to do it. When I got to college, it was like all the controls had been taken off and I could do whatever I wanted.

To be fair, I didn’t build a wooden fortress and become a warlord on campus, but I still flexed in my newfound freedom. I also know many who went through a similar process. No matter how well our parents raised us, curiosity or inner rebelliousness urges us to push against what we’ve been taught.

Which isn’t always a bad thing. A big part of the draw of The 100 is the exploration of the post-apocalyptic world that the teens find themselves in. They world is full of mysteries that the following seasons slowly unravel, and many of the misconceptions (or downright lies) of the space-faring adults are brought to light by the curiosity of the protagonists.

But sometimes, rebellion is just rebellion.

It’s in all of us. Since Adam and Eve listened to the snake, we’ve had a tendency to believe that those in authority over us are holding out on us. That God himself is holding out on us. That if WE were in charge, WE would be happier. But happiness does not usually follow a life of narcissism and hedonism. Only a deep relationship with Jesus and a loving community can do that.

And The 100 shows us the importance of community. When facing the terrors that still inhabit the earth, the heroes have to put aside their differences, their pasts, and their pains in order to stay alive. They have to squash their prejudices and swallow their pride in order to see another day.

Perhaps we could learn a thing or two.

So yes, the heroes can be incredibly whiny (being more concerned with your girlfriend than the survival of your tribe…really now…), but I remember being a teenager. Love and popularity and purpose were the biggest of questions for me. It’s only through the lens of an adult nearing 30 that I can see how much bigger life gets.

If you haven’t seen the show, I suggest it. Push on through the first few chapters and really dig into how The 100 depicts human selfishness and selflessness. See if you can find anything that applies to you. That’s how art changes us.

Blessings,

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