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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Are You A Red Pill Kind of Person?

Want to feel a little bit older? The Matrix is seventeen years old this year. That’s crazy! I just re-watched the movie last night and am stunned by how well it has held up over the years. Beyond the aged cellphones, this sci-fi classic looks like it could have come out in the past couple years rather than almost two decades ago. Quite a feat for the Wachowski siblings.

Now, the philosophical and religious themes are not hidden very deep, but I today I want to talk about how we can use some of the themes from The Matrix to question how we go about our lives today.

matrix

The basic premise of the film, that the world we consider “real” is just a constructed universe, a prison for the minds of enslaved humanity, is taken right out of the early Gnostic worldview. These mystics believed that the creator of the universe was a malevolent divine being, the Demiurge, who usurped power from the true Supreme Being before creating a fundamentally flawed reality. Freedom from this evil, material world came through learning secret truths that would ultimately set you free upon death.

However, orthodox Christianity also believes that our current world, though created perfectly by a perfect God, is in a fallen and miserable state. We, citizens of Heaven, do not truly belong here, but are freed by our hero, the Christ. Once we become aware of the difference between the fallenness of “the world,” and the reality of “Heaven,” we start to see our existence in a very different light. We even believe it is our duty to help free others from the lies of this world and bring them into the real Kingdom.

The question I pose to you today may seem simple at first, but I want to spend some time unpacking it. I want you to think about the question long and hard, because your answer may truly change your life.

Would you take the red pill?

If you haven’t seen the film, the hero, Neo, when faced with questions about the nature of reality, is offered the choice between a red pill and a blue pill. The blue pill would set him back in blissful ignorance, and the red would pull him further down in his search for Truth.

redblue_pill

When we begin to see the world in its true, fallen state, coming to grips with the extent of the enemy’s lies can be overwhelming. Our first questions are met with answers that only lead to more questions. If we follow these questions, we are forced to face more and more questions, and often are given fewer and fewer answers. It is frustrating and terrifying.

If we decide to search for Truth, we must be willing to accept that things we believe are true may not be. We have to hold what we know lightly, or be crushed when we learn that our knowledge is false. Morpheus, Neo’s mentor, claims that they do not free a mind after a certain age for fear of mental rejection. We don’t always have that option.

Digging into the Truth means finding good and evil inside ourselves, our loved ones, and our society. We can praise our heroism one day, then be faced with the reality of deeply ingrained and deeply evil social structures the next. The values we grew up with may turn out to be, at best, morally neutral, and at worst, downright harmful. Do you risk that?

It’s hard to live a red pill life. You have to be willing to live in a grey zone. Competing goods do not always allow us to make the best decision, or to even know what the best decision is.

It’s far easier to live a blue pill life. You can continue on as you are, comfortable, determined, pleasant. We have a deep aversion to suffering, and would rather opiate ourselves into a comfortable, blind oblivion than swallow the truth that we may need to change. The blue pill makes us feel good about ourselves, our lives, and our choices.

The red pill does not.

The red pill takes us down Alice’s rabbit hole to places unknown, uncomfortable, and unpleasant. But it will lead to the Truth, and the truth, as Jesus told us, will set us free.

Because, in the end, the blue pill is a prison. Like the Matrix, we are slaves to our own self-indulgence and self-worth. We are not free to live the life that God would have us live if we are afraid of chasing down the Truth. We may be comfortable, safe, and even happy, but we are not free.

So, this week, I ask you: Do you DARE to take the red pill? Do you have the courage to ask questions about what you believe? About what really is real? About why you are here?

In the end, the choice is yours. Choose wisely.

 

Why Christians Need to Stop Boycotting

And they’ll know we are Christians by our picket signs…

…said no one in the New Testament.No Fun

It’s a sad state of affairs these days. When Christians are portrayed on the news or in films, they are often standing outside some event with signs declaring hell fire and sulfur for any who seem to be having any sort of fun. While it is true that the Bible puts some guardrails around our lives, and even places big “DO NOT GO HERE” signs every so often, Christianity is, at its core, a belief IN something.

John 13:35 tells us that Jesus told his followers, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” Yet, if you ask someone today what defines a Christian, it will often be answered with “Someone who doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t dance, doesn’t have sex, doesn’t have any fun. Oh, and is a hypocrite.” Not exactly what Jesus had in mind.

I’m not here to tell you how to interpret the Bible. There are things I avoid that I know other Christians do not, and there are things I’m fine with in my life that others would stay clear from. So, if not smoking, drinking, or dancing are part of your spirituality, awesome. If you do smoke, drink, dance, and love Jesus, also awesome. But can we stop getting so loud about it?

When the Noah film came out, there were Christian groups lining up to not only NOT see the film, but to officially NOT see the film, and to tell everyone else to NOT see the film. Last time I read through my Bible, I did not see any prohibitions against seeing a film that disagrees with God. I would wager that most of the people who wanted to see the film probably went anyway, whether they were Christian or not. And those who were not part of the Christian conversation only saw that some Christians were opposed to the film (probably because it was fun, or something), and some were not. In this rapidly decaying world of hyper-individualism, we need more instances of unity, not discord.

Maybe we should spend more time actually being the church. We were once known for our hospitality and our willingness to serve others, even at the cost of our own lives. The Roman empire was converted on the strength of those selfless souls who gave simple medical care to people with the plague, whether the afflicted were Christian or not. We were known as followers of The Way. Now, we’re the followers of the No Way.

This is especially important when dealing with art. Artists push boundaries. We explore the aspects of our lives that others would rather keep hidden. We start conversations that are uncomfortable. If our brothers and sisters start boycotting because they don’t like our questions, then we can’t live out our God-given calling. Sometimes we WILL ask the wrong questions, or push things too far. But we need love then, too.

The arts and Christianity split because of this issue. Christians are still wary of artists, and artists still feel confined by Christians. Let’s work to have conversations, not protests.

As a final note, I’m aware of the irony of this message: writing to tell people not to tell people what not to do. But, there you have it. Just my thoughts.

Blessings

March of the Dead

Hallowe’en is quickly approaching, which means we are about to be inundated with ghouls, goblins, and all manner of the walking dead. For many Christians, this holiday is full of images and icons that are incompatible with their faith. I pass no judgement because I’ve wrestled with the place of Hallowe’en in my faith. However, I find that there is a lot of gold we can mine from the tales and themes of the holiday. Today, I’m going to talk about one of the most popular (even throughout the year) genres of horror: Zombies!

220px-Night_of_the_Living_Dead
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The zombie genre as we know it began in 1968 with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. The undead had been explored before, but this film really introduced us to the shambling horde of cannibalistic dead returning to terrify the living. It is often said that the film was a commentary of the rampant consumerism that was (and still is) taking over our society. Our willingness to become complete consumers turns us into something sub-human, a mindless horde with only one goal: to feast on more. 

After this film, George A. Romero (and his ex-partner John Russo) created several more films that explored the genre. Other filmmakers, game designers, and authors have joined the cause and our western media is now saturated with zombies. The Evil Dead, 28 Days Later, Warm Bodies, Sean of the Dead, World War Z, The Walking Dead, Resident Evil, Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Plants vs. Zombies, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies are but a taste of those who have explored the corners of the undead story. We have serious horror tropes that invade the otherwise calm suburbs and farcical parodies that show how ridiculous our obsession with zombies is getting. It seems like everyone these days is writing about the walking dead.

Yet, for the Christian, I can think of very few genres that fit so well as an analogy for the Christian world-view. We who have eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (a different death and resurrection than the zombie kind) are surrounded by “the dead.” As we live in this world, we must face temptations that can draw us away from the source of all life, perhaps turning us into a part of the horde of the dead.

424px-Stay_Alive_and_Avoid_Zombies
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Several passages in the Bible sound like they could have come right out of a zombie movie script:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world…Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” Ephesians 2:1-3

Walking according to the course of the world, desires of the flesh, children of wrath. Definitely good zombie material.

“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of god does not have life.” 1 John 5:12

This sounds like a vaccine or cure to me…

Which brings me to my next point: the cure. In the Christian faith, God has entrusted His disciples with the mission of spreading His Good News, the Gospel. Through this Gospel, God gives new life to those who were “dead in their sins.” He returns them to life by the blood of Jesus Christ. And we, Christians, are the stewards of this saving message.

Unfortunately, most zombie movies focus on the living as they struggle to survive against the onslaught of the dead. Few stories focus on a cure, a way to save those who are currently murderous corpses. The only hope they showcase is to escape the city and pray that the government has something set up. The survivors must flee from the horror of their situation to a place that is safe. Christians do not have this luxury.

We are in the thick of the rehabilitation of the dead. We must be on the front line, seeking a way to administer the cure to the greatest number of the living dead. If we flee the perils of this world to seek safety by ourselves, we will not be faithful stewards of the Gospel. Yes, we risk getting “bitten,” failing against temptation and feeling the pain of the broken world. I often wish we could just hole ourselves up until Christ returns. But the cause is worth the risk. There are several of my friends that I long to spend eternity with in Heaven, but if the Bible is true, this won’t be the case unless they accept the cure to their “death.”

If you are not a Christian and you take offense to being called “dead,” I apologize, but it is the language of the Bible, our Holy Scripture. Chime in below and let me know what you think? I’m sure there are people out there who think the exact opposite, that Christians are the walking dead who need to be cured by intelligent enlightenment. Let’s talk about it!

Come back later this week and I will talk more about other things that go bump in the night!

Blessings

Question Everything

Hey folks.

This week has seen more than its share of activities, and for that reason I am three days late in my post. I contemplated just waiting for tomorrow and resuming my regular schedule, but I have something that I really want to talk about before finishing our conversation about God and Fantasy. It’s an event that I’m going to be part of, and would love to have others join me. An event called Alpha.

If you live in Alberta and have been anywhere near a TV, YouTube, or a bus, you’ve probably seen this advertisement: question everything. It asks if you’ve ever had questions about the big issues of life, and if so, to check out their site, http://questioneverythingab.ca. As part of my aim as a Christian artist is to ask and explore the questions that can’t be answered by an encyclopedia, I’m very excited to be part of the Alpha campaign.

Alpha is a seven week course that is designed to be a place to explore the big issues of God, purpose, and life. It is a place to come together with others who are seeking truth, share some food, and get to the nitty gritty of the spiritual journey. There is a video to watch each week (about half an hour, if I’m not mistaken), but most of the time is spent discussing the questions we all have: Does God exist? How can we know? Who was Jesus Christ? Why am I here? What do I do now? There are people set up to lead and facilitate each discussion, but most of the time is free to talk about whatever spiritual issues the group wants to address.

I am one of these table leaders for my church in Calgary. I am privileged to sit down with other seekers and walk with them on the path. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I can definitely help those seeking the path to God. At the very least, my aim is to create a place where it is safe to vent all of our questions, frustrations, and anxieties with others who are traveling along the same road. That was what I needed when I began my journey back into Christianity, and my hope is to offer the same to others.

My challenge, for those who are seeking spiritual guidance, is to find an Alpha course near you. They are being offered all the time, and if you live in Alberta, there is going to be one near you sometime in the next few weeks. Perhaps you have reservations about Christianity, and that’s fine. You don’t need to make any commitment at any time. You can walk away at the end and decide that Christianity still isn’t for you. But if you do decide that you want some answers about God, come to the first session and see what we have to say.

And so, I challenge everyone looking for answers to the big questions. Find an Alpha course, grab a friend, and go to the first session. You’ll probably get a free dinner out the the event, and maybe learn something new. A similar course (called Christianity Explored) changed my life almost four years ago. If you live in Calgary, come out to RockPointe Church on September 26th. I’m leading a table at the Bearspaw site, and would love to chat.

Blessings

A Few WORDS Before We Head Out

“that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

Words. The verbal expressions of thoughts, ideas, and concepts, usually utilized to communicate such thoughts and ideas to another person. As we speak words, the images in our minds flow almost magically into the minds of our listeners. Furthermore, words can be incredibly forceful in their conveyance of ideas: if I say or write the words Purple Penguin, anyone listening or reading has no choice but to imagine a violet, flightless bird. Powerful indeed! I want to write further on the power of words, but will save that conversation for another post. Suffice it to say that we should be aware of the force we wield as we converse with words.

Having been in several heated conversations lately, both online and face to face, I’ve come to realize that many of my debates have been around the definitions of words. We define ourselves with words all the time, and if someone comes down on one of our self-descriptors, defensiveness can ensue. As a Christian, I consider myself religious.  Several other Christians I know, however, believe that Christianity is a faith, and not a religion, and go so far as to argue against religion. I believe that this disagreement stems not from our ideas about Christianity, but about our definitions of religion.  To my understanding, religion is an organized system of beliefs, something I’m sure few Christians would deny about Christianity. Christians adhere to a certain set of beliefs about God and the world.  Since I also follow this set of beliefs, I consider myself religious.  Yet to others, religion is the rules, regulations, and rituals foisted upon people by those who consider themselves righteous. It is the empty piety of the hypocritical Pharisees that Christ fought against in the Gospels.  I am definitely not in favour of such practices, but to my understanding, the word hypocrisy might be a better word for this definition, not the word religion.  Thus, in this situation, my opponents and I are not arguing about the concept of religion, but about the definition of the word.

This is all further confused by the evolution of language.  English, especially, seems to be changing almost on a daily basis.  New words are added each year to our dictionaries as legitimate words, and common usage of words changes to meet the social demands of the day.  This raises the question: Which is a more legitimate use of a word, it’s traditional meaning, or the meaning it has adopted by the greatest percentage of people? There may not be an answer to this question, but if we are going to be discussing such personal issues as faith and art, then we will need to make sure we are discussing the issues at hand and not the minutiae of word meanings.  We have bigger fish to fry.

For this reason, I would like to set in place several definitions of key terms that will be frequently used along this journey. I am not going to use my definitions, because my understanding of words is biased, and we need a neutral ground for conversation.  I am going to use the 1998 Oxford Dictionary, for no other reason than it is the one I have in my house. If anyone wants to disagree with a definition here, please comment, and we can see if we can come to a better understanding.

Without further ado, here are some words we will probably use throughout our future conversations:

Religion: belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship; expression of this in worship; particular system of faith and worship

Faith: complete trust or confidence; firm, especially religious, belief; religion or creed

Love: deep affection or fondness

Hate: dislike intensely

Tolerate: allow the existence or occurrence of without authoritative interference; endure

God: I really want to leave this definition up to each person. If your understanding of God or god is specific, please elaborate to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Art: Another word I’m hesitant to define, as exploring art is one of the purposes of this blog.  For reference, Oxford defines art as: human creative skill or its application; work showing this

As we continue on our journey, I plan to update this list with any problematic or enigmatic words we encounter.  We can now embark on an exploration of the arts, faith, and religion with fewer misunderstandings than before.  Everyone ready? Then let’s move out!

Blessings

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