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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,

 

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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.

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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

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