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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Hope

Themes of Advent: Hope

Hey folks,

Tomorrow starts the first weekend of Advent. For those unfamiliar with the tradition, Advent is a season of anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. Just as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, the birth of baby Jesus, on Christmas, so we also turn our hearts, minds, and spirits towards His Second Coming. We look back in remembrance and forward in hope. Each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas carries a different theme, and today we’re going to look at the first one: Hope.

Sometimes, life is amazing. Your family is loving and without lasting conflict. Work is firing on all cylinders and progress is made all over the place. All your favourite movies are on Netflix. You can feel the blessings flowing like a gentle waterfall, and you are content.

But other times, life is hard. Borderline impossible. Health crises. Unemployment and underemployment. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken lives. This can be even tougher as the Christmas season rolls around, when the rest of the world is celebrating their “perfect lives,” and you can barely get out of bed in the morning. Or the afternoon. Or at all.

It’s like walking in darkness. A darkness so deep that it can feel like light doesn’t exist. Like everything you have is dust and life is meaningless at best.

It’s into this that God speaks:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”
-Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

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A great light has come into the world, and His name is Jesus. Every time we light a candle, or string out houses with lights, or plug in the Christmas tree, we declare to the darkness, “Light has come!” When the darkness threatens to overtake us, we shine with whatever we have and remember that the darkness is not forever. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5).

Just as God brought hope to the nation of Israel with the promise of a Messiah, we have hope that the Messiah, the King of Kings, will return and will bring an end to all of the pain and suffering and brokenness.

For those who follow Christ, we are called to be messengers of this Hope that Jesus came to bring. In word and in action, I challenge you to bring hope to those around you this week. An encouraging note, a friendly conversation, or an unexpected gift can be exactly what someone needs to get through the day. The thought that someone cares can bring enough hope to carry someone forward.

So, during this Advent week of Hope, how are you going to celebrate and share the gift of Hope? 

 

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Presenting at Comic-Con

Hey friends,

I have some more exciting news. In a couple weeks, I will be presenting a panel at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo!

The Calgary Expo draws over 100 000 people every year. Nerds and geeks and misfits of all sorts descend upon Calgary’s Stampede Grounds to revel in our shared passion for comics and film and other assorted nerdery. It’s amazing to see so many people comfortable in their own skin and eager to get excited with other people. And this year, I get to be involved.

On Friday, April 28th, I will be teaching a panel on post-apocalyptic media and what it teaches us about living today. We will be looking at the protagonists and themes from The Walking Dead, The Road, and Mad Max: Fury Road and hopefully gleaning a few useful thoughts for our lives in the 21st century.

I loved the Expo last year. I got to take my brother and we nerded out over video games and movies and art. We did some improv, learned about teapot racing, and got to hear from some of our favourite actors. I was able to connect with other Christians who prefer to be IN the Expo with the masses rather than outside protesting (not really an issue in Calgary, but definitely in other places).

This year, I get to be even more involved, which allows me to give back to this community. And if we can shine a light and show that themes of hope and redemption can be found even in the darkest of places (seriously, if you haven’t read The Road, give it a go…but be sure you’re ready…it’s heavy), then my job is done.

I am excited that this is my life. I get to make art, hang out with the misfits and freaks, and serve my God by serving others. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

So, if you’re going to be at the Expo, or if you’re really interested in what I have to say about the end of the world, come by on Friday. I’ll be in Palamino FG from 2:00-2:45PM. If I don’t know you in real life, but you’re reading this anyways, please come say hi. I’d love to meet you!

I hope you all have a blessed Easter.

Blessings

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrowland

When I was growing up, the future was always bright and full of potential. The year 2000 was going to bring Virtual Reality, completely customizable cars, and video games the likes of which we had never dreamed of. Two of those have come true by 2017.

Maybe it was just childish naiveté, but things seem to have changed. When I watch TV or movies about the future now, it seems we’ve lost the dream that tomorrow can be better than today. We are obsessed with apocalypses. Zombie, nuclear, genetic, viral. It seems that the only future we in North America can see is one with abandoned sky-scrapers crumbling onto vine-choked streets or desert wastelands spanning across once fertile country. Gone are the dreams of flying cars, the eradication of disease, and the human potential.

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On Saturday, I watched Disney’s Tomorrowland, which ponderously addresses this very issue. While the pace may have been slow through the first and second acts, the final questions that the movie asks more than make up for it. For those who haven’t seen the film, there are spoilers ahead. Go, watch the movie, and come back when you’re done.

Alright, here’s the good stuff. Near the end of the film, we find out that the machine that has been “predicting” the violent end of humanity has been projecting that message to everyone on earth for over twenty years. Instead of opening our eyes to the potential for disaster, humanity becomes obsessed with the impending doom, forgetting about the possibility of a better tomorrow.

And then Nix drops the biggest bomb I’ve heard from a Disney film in a long time: people accept a bleak and hopeless future because it asks nothing of them today.

Think that over for a second.

Hope for a better tomorrow asks something of us. It asks us to work for the future. It tells us to work hard, think fast, and overcome obstacles, because in doing so, we build toward the shining world we want. If we pull together and think of someone or something other than ourselves, we can defeat the world-destroying problems that threaten to overcome us.

Doom, however, does not ask us to work hard. It doesn’t ask us for anything. It asks us, instead, “What is the point? You’re just going to die anyway.” It tells us we can’t fix anything, so why try? Just enjoy the here and now before it’s too late.

Perhaps this is part of the millennial apathy problem. Raised with the horrors of war, injustice, and the failing of the American Dream, we find it much easier to just accept the brokenness of the world instead of fighting for a different future. It allows us to focus on ourselves, spouting YOLO whenever we are challenged on our decisions. We accept the inevitability of death and have forgotten Dylan Thomas’ urge to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

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But, as Christians, we know that the world does not end in doom. We know, in the end, Good wins. And that should inspire us each and every day.

The Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, contains the words: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” What would happen if we actually lived that way. If we started to believe that tomorrow does not have to be dark and hopeless and instead began to work for the kingdom? What would God do through us if we took a stand against evil and injustice, even if it cost us dearly? What if we looked despair straight in the eyes and said, “No. Not today. And not tomorrow either.”

Evil is overwhelming. But God is more so.

This week, ask yourself if you have, consciously or unconsciously, accepted a bleak future and have turned inward in response. Spend a little time meditating on your thoughts of the future, and your responsibility in its formation.

Are you going to accept the dying of the light? Or rage against it.

In this case, I choose to rage.

Advent: A New Hope

I was rehearsing a Christmas play last week. The play walks through the weekly themes of advent (hope, peace, joy, and love), while pointing the characters toward the real source of all of these Christmas fuzzies: Jesus Christ. I was sorely tempted to make a joke about our main character’s “new hope,” especially since the actor is a rather large Star Wars fan. I even thought about adding it into the script (being the playwright and director gives you that kind of power…mwahahaha), but my better judgement got in the way. But it has got me thinking about Hope and its place in our modern storytelling.

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Most stories, whether on film or in books, begin with the mundane. We have to establish what life is normally like before we throw our protagonists into chaos. We show the audience what life looks like before everything falls apart so that we know what our heroes are willing to give up to do the right thing. Then, everything falls apart.

I find this is kind of like our everyday life. Generally, things go fairly smoothly. We have our ups and downs, our trials, successes, failures, and close calls. But over all, life does not throw us more than we can handle.

Until it does.

Cancer, divorce, war. Terrorist attacks, millions of refugees, climate change. Prostitution, gangs, child trafficking.

Turn on the news. Or, look to your news feed. Chances are, if you took the time to emotionally invest in what’s going on in the world, you would quickly be overcome with how dark things are getting every day.

Even close to home, people are getting sick, or are dying. Or getting caught in a chain of events and choices that have suddenly sucked them under and they don’t know how they’ll ever surface again.

In short, life sometimes hands us circumstances that we are forced to confront or risk despair.

That is why we need stories with happy endings (like Star Wars). To remember that even in our darkest moments, dawn will break. We need to remember that God sent His Son so that our nightmares will end.

And they will.

During the Christmas season, we remember that Jesus came as a little baby; God’s perfect gift for all humanity. But we also prepare for His Second Coming, when everything that is bad and painful and overwhelming about this life will be washed away. There will be no more addictions, no more disappointments, no more fears. There will only be goodness and love.

So, next time you watch a cheesy action, adventure, or romance film where the hero saves the day at the last minute and everything turns out all right, just remember that you are part of a story like that. It may not feel that way sometimes, but let me give you a little spoiler:

In the end…good wins.

One candle down. Three to go. Spend some time thinking about hope this week, and how you can share it with someone who needs it desperately this time of year.

Blessings

The Truth about Santa Claus

Well, my plan to write a lot over December failed miserably. It turns out that having term papers to write and finals to prepare for took a lot more of my time than I was expecting. Coupled with preparing our new family for the Christmas season led to Epic Theology taking a back seat for a few weeks. But we’re back, and hopefully on track now.

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Many devout Christians that I know struggle with the idea of Santa Claus. As new parents, they have to decide if they will raise their children with Santa Claus or without. Many feel that Santa is the symbol for the commercialization of a holiday that is meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. To further propagate this de-Christianized Christmas by making the holiday about a fat man in a red suit jars with their faith. Yet, to be the only 8-year-old in class who doesn’t believe brings its own challenges. So, how do we plot a course through this maze of Christmas turmoil?

I was raised believing in Santa Claus, but he was never the main event of Christmas. I was told that St. Nick worked for Jesus, bringing presents to people on Jesus’ birthday because Christ was in heaven and didn’t need any presents. I was excited to open presents on Christmas day, but I was also excited about the children’s pageant at church or the lighting of the advent wreath at home. Even as a child, I knew that Santa, while fun and exciting, was not as important as Jesus.

But is there any real merit in the jolly old elf? I think so. Santa is a symbol for far more than Coca-Cola and shopping malls. He is a symbol of hope, joy, and generosity.

There is something incredibly magical about the hope that someone loves you enough to sneak into your house to leave you exactly the present you were wishing for. The idea that someone you have never met face-to-face has your happiness in mind, and spends all year preparing for it, gives a glimpse into how we are loved by God. He has the best gifts ready for us, and is willing to come to us to deliver them. I think we sometimes lose how amazing that truth is, but we can relearn by watching children with Santa Claus.

It is very easy to allow the joy to be sapped out of the holiday season. Gifts to buy, gifts to wrap, gifts to transport across the country, along with parties, events, games, and relatives, all add up to a lot of effort over Christmas. I know many people who allow themselves to get incredibly stressed right up to Christmas Eve, and then expect the magic of the day to take over. This is silly. We need to realize that joy, the kind that is symbolized in the jolly, round tummied Santa Claus, is a choice that we can maintain throughout the season. If all of December is a joyful event culminating in the magic of Christmas Day, imagine how much less stress would enter into our lives.

Finally, Santa reminds us each year that it truly is better to give than to receive. Watching the faces of loved ones as they open the gift that I have spent time and resources to get for them is such a blessing to me. Even the Bible affirms this truth: “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35). Christmas is the time where we should be thinking not about ourselves, but about others. We bake and cook and shop to please those we love. And hopefully, we can go beyond this to help those we may not love, but need our help anyways: the homeless, the hungry, the noisy neighbours next door. Our generosity, like that of St. Nicholas, and Jesus Christ, should have no bounds.

In the end, what will we teach our son about Santa Claus? We haven’t decided yet. I am not opposed to those who decide not to join in with the myth of Santa, especially for religious reasons. But I know that Christmas magic will be palpable at our house. We aim to blend the sacred and the celebratory to give Jesus Christ a birthday that is memorable each year. Christmas is my favourite time of year, with Santa serving the Lord Jesus right beside the rest of us.

How about you? What do you teach your kids about Santa Claus? Do you think Kris Kringle can be redeemed for the faithful? Chime in!

Merry Christmas to all of our readers who celebrate Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all those who do not!

Blessings

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