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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Faith

Living a Paradox

I like order. I like neat boxes that allow me to understand what things are and what they aren’t. Although I am comfortable in the messy, grey-tones of real life (especially life in the arts), I prefer the black-and-white, right-and-wrong, this-or-that of a properly ordered world.

Lately, however, I’ve had to come to terms with the paradoxes of my life.

I am a licensed worker for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and evangelical, Protestant denomination. However, I am also deeply Catholic. I work and worship at my church, but I also attend mass every couple of weeks, and have a deep devotion to my Catholic heritage. I am both Catholic and Protestant.

My moral system is quite conservative. I believe that God laid out the black-and-white of ethics in the Bible and that all people should follow what He says. How that plays out in my life, however, is rather liberal. I lean to the left politically, despite the fact that “the Left’s” moral ideals differ wildly from mine. I am both conservative and liberal.

I am deeply idealistic. I chase after dreams that are huge. I philosophize how life should be, and want nothing less for humanity than union with God and peace on earth. Yet, I live practically, even pragmatically at times. I want people to know they are loved where they are. If ideals must be relaxed to show love, then sometimes, so be it. I am both idealistic and pragmatic.

I am a romantic. I love to spoil my wife, take her on dates, and let her know how cherished she is as often as I can. Yet, I see how our obsession with (a rather shallow notion of) romance in the West has deeply damaged the institution of marriage. I hate how families are torn apart because parents “fall out of love,” or, worse, “fall in love with someone else,” allowing their temporary feelings to dictate their actions. I both love and loath romance.

I am a highly emotional artist and a heady intellectual. A sinner and a saint. An fun-seeking adventurer and a stable homebody. A humanist who believes humans to be deeply fallen.

Some of these paradoxes are comfortable in tension. Others are not. But each is a part of who I am, and each feeds into my work and art.

I think this is also important to realize about the characters we create or portray. People might not all carry such deep paradoxes, but they certainly hold conflicting beliefs about themselves and the world. It’s part of living in this messy world. We believe it’s not okay to lie, and we believe it’s not okay to betray our friends. What do we do when telling the truth betrays our friends? This is interesting.

Now, digging into the paradoxes of our beliefs might not be the most seasonally exciting activity, but I challenge you to think about some of your beliefs, identifiers, and thoughts that are in tension. Chat about them here. I would love to hear what inconsistencies make you human.

Blessings,

 

Arts Chaplaincy

Hello readers,

I have so much wonderful news. I have been away for a while, but important things have been happening and I want to share just some of it with you.

Our church and our District have partnered with my wife and I to start a brand new initiative in Calgary. I am now, in addition to heading up our Art and Story ministry, a Chaplain for Calgary’s arts community! 

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I don’t actually wear one of these, though.

For those unfamiliar, chaplains are spiritual guides and counsellors who are usually attached to secular institutions. Chaplains often administer sacraments such as baptism and Eucharist, perform weddings and funerals, and counsel those who have spiritual questions or seek to further their spiritual journey. There are chaplains for the military, hospitals, universities, and prisons. There are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu chaplains (as well as other religious/spiritual flavours, I’m sure).

What we are doing, however, is slightly outside the norm. Instead of being attached to an institution, I am coming alongside our arts community. I will be available to anyone who calls themselves an artist, no matter your discipline or medium. I can talk, advise, or just listen.

And this, this listening, is why I’m excited about this project. We all have stories to tell. Stories of triumph and stories of pain. Of the mundane everyday and the moments that give meaning to our lives. And a big part of my job is to listen to your stories and help you sort through it.

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Now, I am not a certified counsellor. I want to be clear about that. I can give recommendations for those in need of psychiatric help, but my speciality is the soul, not the mind. I am a licensed worker in the Christian Missionary Alliance (as of today, actually!), and my worldview is unashamedly Christian, but my focus is on spirituality as a whole, not proselytization. I just like to discuss the bigger questions in life that we all struggle through, like purpose and meaning and pain.

This is a call to all of my friends and readers. I am here and am excited to walk alongside those artists who want to dig deeper into the idea of something beyond what we can see. I want to help actors and painters and filmmakers along their journey, no matter where they have come from or where they are going.

So, if you have questions or just need to talk about some important things, please let me know. I am here to listen, and if needed, and only if needed, to advise or counsel. And know that, as a member of Calgary’s arts community, I am praying for you. For your joy and peace, providence and artistic excellence.

Ultimately, I am here to serve our artists.

Blessings

Amazing Opportunity for Faith-Filled Writers

Hello all,

We’re in the middle of a really big couple of weeks at the moment, but I wanted to take a minute and let you know about something that I think is really cool. Cardus is a think tank that is dedicated to the renewal of North American social architecture (taken from their website). They are funding an event called Faith in Canada 150 to help promote religious discussion in our increasingly secular society. As part of this initiative, they are holding a writing contest with $25000 on the line. There are categories for short stories and for poetry.

It’s great to see people coming alongside Christian (and other religious) creatives to foster a society where religion is seen not as an enemy but as a positive force in our culture. I highly recommend you take a few minutes to look over their websites (linked below) and, if you’re a writer, to take the time to submit. The entry fee is only $10, with up to $10000 for the first place winner in each category, I’d say that’s a fine investment.

I hope you are all enjoying your St. Patrick’s Day. I suggest you eat some potatoes (unless you can’t for dietary reasons), but I won’t suggest the green beer. Drink a Guinness instead (again, unless you can’t or shouldn’t). And while you’re doing that, read about the real St. Patrick.

Here are the websites for Cardus and the Faith in Canada 150 contest:

www.cardus.ca

http://www.faithincanada150.ca/initiatives/mitchell-prize

Blessings

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.

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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.

 

A Monster Mash

It may a couple of days after Hallowe’en, but it’s still the holiday weekend for many. I’m sure several Hallowe’en celebrations are going on as I write this post, with costumed party-goers stalking around as vampires and pirates. To finish off the conversation, I want to give my quick thoughts on a few monsters and what they can mean for our faith.

Vampires

They’re everywhere these days. At least as popular as zombies, the cold-blooded predators of the night have caught the imagination of our generation with stories like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Twilight series, Underworld, True Blood, and the Anne Rice novels. But why have these blood-sucking monsters become so fascinating to our culture?

I believe that the largest appeal of vampires lies in our love of hedonism in the West. We seek pleasure, and we want it now. We are told that we deserve the good life with everything we could ever want, and dream of the day we have these things. Vampires live that dream. As immortals, they are able to live long enough to obtain all the worldly wealth anyone could want. They are physically strong enough to take whatever they desire, and their predatory nature gives them the will to do so. There is also an inherent sensuality to the fanged night-dwellers: they live at night, while others are partying, relaxing, or sleeping; they are often graceful and fit; and the act of sucking blood from someone’s neck is very intimate.

Are vampires inherently evil? We seem to be asking that question lately. The original vampires were wicked monsters, but recent authors have started to question that idea. Louis, from Interview with the Vampire, struggles with the vampiric life he did not choose. The Twilight series features good vampires that do not feed on humans. Even I’m writing a story that involves a vampire having to choose what kind of immortal she wants to be. It seems to me that vampires, like humans, are “born” into a life that tends away from goodness. They are hungry for that which they should not take. In their struggle, we see ourselves and our addictions. Are they overdone right now? Definitely. Can they be redeemed? I hope so.

Werewolves

Almost any time we find vampires in the media, we find werewolves somewhere nearby. They make for an excellent foil to the aristocratic undead: while they both are monstrous predators of the night, werewolves are often everything vampires are not. They are wild and savage while vampires are refined and sophisticated. They tend to be a rural, not urban terror. They are not usually immortal. Yet, they have haunted our stories for a very long time.

Like vampires, werewolves are powerful. In a world that seems to show us daily how little power we actually have, the idea of gaining supernatural strength is appealing. We also live so tightly wound, trying to maintain control over our lives, and the prospect of having to lose control may be liberating for some. Yet, there is still something incredibly terrifying about a monster that can live among regular people without being known. We never know who the werewolf is, feeding any fears we might have about those around us. I’ve said many times that our society has become hyper-individualized, and this has led to a strong aversion to people who aren’t in our circles. The idea that the mailman, or your teacher, or even your spouse could be a murderous monster strikes something deep within: how well do we really know those around us?

There is a cure to this fear: get to know some people. Neighbours become far less intimidating after you’ve had them over for dinner. Even something as small as getting to know the name of someone you see daily can allow the first seeds of real community to start to sprout. Just as wolves only survive in packs, we thrive best in community. Maybe we can learn from the furry fiends.

Aliens

Aliens are not as hot today as the other big three of horror, but they have been staples of Hallowe’en for much of the past 60 years or so. Unlike zombies, vampires, and werewolves, however, aliens are the enemy from without. The other three were all once human and have turned into the enemy (part of their scariness), but aliens are completely unlike us. They are the enemy we do not know.

Aliens really became popular during the cold war. Western society became less afraid of the known enemies, like criminals and soldiers, and more afraid of spies and the forces behind the “Iron Curtain.” (It’s actually quite fascinating to look at war’s effect on cinema, but that’s another post). The Cold War may be over, but there is still a fear of the “other” that resides within us all.

When we think about it, “otherness” is quite daunting, even when it isn’t armed with lasers and bent on the destruction of humanity. Aliens are scary because they cannot be communicated with (often), do not have common ground to seek empathy on, and have completely different motives from what we consider normal. We don’t know how to fight them or reason with them, or even run from them. And their technology often places them in a far more superior place than we are, which kicks us from the top of the evolutionary chain (if you subscribe to evolution).

However, aliens often bring people together. Having a common enemy draws humanity to a common cause: our survival. While the unification of homo sapiens is an admirable goal, one which I would love to see one day, I hope that it does not take an otherworldly foe to do the job. If we can find other causes, perhaps creative and productive rather than destructive, we can pull together and find peace. There are so many qualities that we share, we really just need to find enough to empathize with each other.

There are many other monsters that I haven’t touched upon today, but I have to save something for next year. I hope you all stayed safe this Hallowe’en, and that your sugar-induced coma doesn’t last too long. Until next week.

Blessings

God and Fantasy, Part I

This week, I want to start a conversation about two of my favourite things: God and fantasy. I don’t mean the “whatever you want in the whole world” kind of fantasy, but the kind that involves magic and dragons and heroes. I have loved stories like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter since I was a little kid, but I can’t help but notice that there are several Christian groups that boycott such stories. In the spirit of fair conversation, I want to look at the issue over the course of a few posts, and see what we can learn about the connection between our faith and stories of magic.

Fantasy Shelf

As far as I can tell, the main argument that people have against fantasy is the inclusion of magic. The Bible clearly condemns the use of magic in Leviticus 19:26b, “Do not practice divination or sorcery.” The Book of Deuteronomy goes into further detail in chapter 18:9-12:

“When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults with the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.”

It is clear that the use of magic by God’s people is not part of His great plan.

The argument continues that even if reading about magic is not wrong, stories like Harry Potter can draw people into the realm of the occult as they long to know more of this magic. What may begin as simple curiosity can become an unhealthy interest, and perhaps lead to participation in magical rituals. As a devout Christian who has previously explored other forms of spirituality, I acknowledge the danger of an overly enthusiastic interest in the occult, but I’m not sure if avoiding magical stories altogether is the answer.

On the other hand, fantasy stories can be incredible tools to express universal truths. The fantasy I grew up with (such as the Disney stories, or the Chronicles of Narnia) are tales full of adventure, heroism, and good triumphing over evil. Fantasy allows for over-the-top characters that can be representations of ideas and forces.

We all need a safe place to explore the big ideas of our lives. Fantasy stories allow us to delve into the concepts of sacrifice, teamwork, family, and love without becoming overwhelmed by the reality of these things. The stories take place in a world that doesn’t exist, so we are free to learn about self-sacrificial heroism without having to lose someone close to us in real life. Our children can learn the dangers of evil without having to come face to face with a kidnapper. Just as play teaches children practical skills they will need when they are older, reading (or watching) fantasy can equip us with knowledge and wisdom that can really make a difference later in life.

Fantasy makes these concepts easier to learn by giving a world that is black and white. The villain is obviously evil and worthy of judgement (the black cape or red eyes always give it away). The hero is a shining example for us all, who is given his just reward in the end. The actions of both sides are clearly the ones we would make or avoid. The world may not be full of choices that are so easy, but having a base line from which to discern good and evil certainly helps.

We have not specifically addressed the issue of magic, however. Much of what I have said of fantasy could easily be made true in tales without magic. The problem, however, is that magic is an amazingly resonant analogy for power.

In our age of nuclear missiles and war machines, nothing we face is as mysterious and powerful as magic. The villains of our stories often wield magic far more potent than that of our heroes (if they are magical at all). Yet, magic is not always an evil thing in the world of fantasy. Like military or political power in the real world, magic can often be used for good, such as healing or fighting evil. We learn from fantasy that power CAN be corrupting and must be watched, something Christians should be aware of.

One big difference between the world of fantasy and the world of reality is the existence of God. Most fantasy stories do not have an omnipotent God that has declared magic to be against the rules. Magic is just a part of the world, to be accessed by whoever has the ability to do so. Not so in our world. God has spoken and told us that His children are not to dabble in the realm of magic. As long as we can understand that difference, I think we can keep a healthy distance from magical influence.

Finally, I want to end with a few questions: Is magic real? Has God told his people not to become involved with magic because it is real and dangerous? Or is it because it represents the idolatry of the neighbouring nations? Is magic, like the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, a part of our world that God has put off limits, or is it the result of demonic activity in a fallen world?

As for me, it doesn’t really matter what the answer is to these questions, but I’m open to any of the above answers. I just know that there is to be no seances or witchcraft in my house. And I’m okay with that. But let me know what you think! And come back next week, as I will look over some of my favourite fantasy authors and their relationship with faith.

Blessings

Epic Update – Fall 2013

Well, readers, it has now been just about two months since I started Epic Theology, and I’m starting to get into a rhythm. I’ve been learning a lot as I go, tweaking both the site and my writing as I figure out what will best serve the conversation.

Now, however, I want to share my direction and plan for the next few months. I start school again tomorrow, which will be a consistent source of writing material, I’m sure. Especially my Philosophy of Religion and Christian Ethics courses, which I’m excited to be taking with two of my favourite professors. For those interested, I will also be studying Ancient Greek, so if you have any questions in that area, let me know! I probably won’t be able to help for a while, but some day I might.

This fall is extra exciting for me, as my wife and I are expecting our first child in November. My hope is that I will be able to continue writing twice a week once he arrives, but if I’m a little late, forgive my busyness. With God’s help, I will be able to keep my studies, work, family, church, and blog all running as smoothly as possible, but it will take a lot of time and energy. I appreciate all prayers that you can spare. I am also very open to words of wisdom and advice from any who wish to share. This is going to be an exciting adventure, to be sure.

As for Epic Theology, I am really looking forward to building the site up to be bigger and better over the next month or so. I have several features that I’m looking to add in the Fall:

PHOTOS

I love writing, but I know that huge chunks of text are not always exciting to look at. To remedy this, I’m going to be dusting off my camera and practicing my photography skills. I will also be looking for submissions, as I would like to start an ongoing feature of photographs taken from the point of view of the faithful seekers. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, New Age, or whichever faith you follow, I would love the opportunity to show off your work. Message me if you want to get involved.

GUEST POSTS

In order to get a more diverse voice on Epic Theology, I am going to be looking for guest writers for the next few months. This will also be a big help come November, when I’m trying to keep all my ducks in a row. If you have some thoughts that you have been mulling over for a while and would like to put out there, let me know, and we’ll see what happens.

ART

As this is a blog about faith and art, I really want to start putting up art by faithful artists. Poetry, stories, paintings, sketches, macaroni pictures, whatever you do for the glory of God, I really want to share it with everyone. If you have something you would like to share on the blog, contact me!

INSPIRATION

Finally, I really want Epic Theology to be a place where artists and the faithful come not only to talk and learn, but to be encouraged in their journey as well. The faithful artist walks a hard road, and I want to help where I can. Sharing the stories of those who are traveling along this path can help us lift up each other in our times of need. Expect stories to be coming sometime this fall.

So, that’s what I would like to be doing for the next few months here on Epic Theology. A more important issue, however, is what would you like to see? More probing questions? Posts on movies and books? Longer posts, shorter posts? Let me know what you would love to see and read on the blog, and we can grow the site together. Remember, we’re all in this, we humans on earth, so we might as well work together while we’re here.

Blessings

Faith and Film: Rise of the Guardians

Today I am starting an ongoing series of posts that aim to find the spiritual truths hidden in secular films. I will often sit with my wife and sift through the movies we see to find the metaphors and analogies that are bigger than the film. I love analyzing movies like this, and I hope that by reading these posts, you will start to see the metanarrative as it plays out on the big screen.

This is not a review. If I’m writing about a movie, then I probably really like it. However, you may not. If you haven’t seen the film and wish to, then I would suggest you stop reading and go watch it. Come back when you’re done. I’m just giving a heads up that I may give some spoilers in my attempt to explain what I’m talking about. You’ve been warned.

I just recently watched Rise of the Guardians for the second time. I was thoroughly impressed with the film in theatres, and was delighted when my wife bought it for me for my birthday. We tend to watch a lot of animated films because it’s getting harder for us to find live action movies that we enjoy. Yet this film floored me with the messages it gave.

I argue that the story of Rise of the Guardians is really about trying to find the meaning of one’s life. Jack Frost, called into being by the Man in the Moon, is left to figure out his existence on his own. Completely cut off from the rest of the world, he struggles to understand why he was made. Jack’s creator is frustratingly silent on the subject of his purpose, so Jack must take leaps of faith, trusting in the wisdom of others and confronting his past to find out who he really is.

Who hasn’t felt the angst of purposelessness? Jack can stand for everyone on the spiritual journey who has ever wrestled with the question “Why am I here?” God, like his lightly veiled metaphor, the Man in the Moon, is often not as forthcoming about the specifics of our purpose as we would like. It is only as we pursue this question and take risks to figure out the answer that we find our true callings. We can be helped along the way if we open ourselves up to the aid of mentors and fellow people of faith. It is often in relation to other people that we find our true purpose.

Perhaps my favourite part of the film was the characterization of several themes, like hope, wonder, dreams, and fear. I feel like this is the gold mine from which we can get much of the wisdom of this film.

Pitch, the main antagonist, is the embodiment of fear. He is the bogey man, creator of nightmares. Throughout the film, we see fear poison the dreams of children, something that happens all too often to children and adults alike. We allow our fears to corrupt our dreams, make short work of our hopes, memories, and wonders, and eventually destroy our faith completely. Fear can sap a person of strength and kill any belief in a better tomorrow.

Yet humanity is not without a chance in this fight. Arrayed against the forces of fear are the Guardians, embodiments of Hope, Memory, Wonder, Dreams, and (eventually) Fun. They shine like a light in the encroaching darkness, ready to sacrifice all for the sake of the children.

Each of these Guardians are also powerful tools in the real world when combating fear. Memories can instill a sense of confidence in the face of new situations. Seeing our situations with childlike wonder can take the fear out of any challenge. Hope can carry us through the darkest of times. Dreams can help us focus our efforts through the struggle. And maintaining an attitude of fun takes the fear out of any adventure.

Fear may cripple these Guardians in our lives, but it cannot destroy them. If we put faith in these tools, they can rise, like Sandy, from a place of apparent death to eventually overcome the fears. We need only trust that they, with help from above, can do their job.

In the end, we must look at our giftings and personalities to find our calling, our “centre.” If we can figure out how to work within our calling for the good of humanity, purpose is sure to follow. Like Jack, we can embrace our God-given potentials and perhaps battle back against the darkness that is encroaching on our world. With love, humility, and teamwork, we can all make a difference, no matter our age.

What do you think? Are there other themes we can draw from this film that I haven’t talked about? Or do you completely disagree with the ideas I have pulled out of Rise of the Guardians? Let me know!

Blessings

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