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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Love

Themes of Advent: Love

Tomorrow starts the fourth 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 fourth one: Love.

I’ve written about love plenty of times. For a quick summary, I believe deeply in the power of love. However, I think our modern ideas about love are far too shallow. We use the same word to describe how I feel about my wife and how I feel about cheeseburgers. Our tendency to hyperbolize (I LOVE that sweater, that concert was EPIC!) has left us with little room in our vernacular to express truly awe-inspiring experiences.

In addition, when we do think about love as an interpersonal experience, we tend to narrow it down to the heady, effervescent feelings of early romance. We talk about the magic of being “in love,” and marriages tend to dissolve once one of both of the partners stop feeling this manic infatuation with their spouse.

Christmas-in-the-Lounge

This is not a fair idea of love. Advent calls us to a different concept of love.

Imagine, if you will, that your life is absolutely perfect in every way. You never suffer, you are in a wonderful relationship, and nothing goes against your will. The image you have in your mind is but a taste of the Trinity before creation. God existed in absolute perfection, and He decided to create humanity to share in this perfection with Him.

For the parents reading this, our love for our children is a faint echo of how deeply God loves us. He loves all of humanity with that love. Even when we turned our backs on Him, He continued to love us.

He loves us so much that He sent His Son into our world to die for us.

This is where we find the heart of love: sacrifice. 

Affection, care, concern, attraction, and intrigue can all be the start of relationships, but it is self-sacrifice that is at the core of love. A parent who gives us sleep to change and feed a baby shows love. A spouse who makes dinner even when he/she is exhausted shows love. A child who spends their allowance on their sibling’s Christmas present shows love.

And this week is all about love. With Christmas only a few days away, it could seem like this week is about presents and food and celebrations, but it’s really about love. It’s about giving up something that we want, whether sleep or time or objects, so that others can be better off. Our culture has given us a great opportunity to show those around us how much we love them. So, let’s do it!

This weekend, try to find new ways to show your love. Stretch yourself, go out of your comfort zone. If you are not one who verbalizes your feelings a lot, just telling someone that you love them can be incredibly powerful. If your spouse does most of the housework, pitch in and lend a hand, even at the end of a hard workday. If you haven’t seen much of your kids, get down on the ground to play with them.

Love is about showing someone that they are more important to you than you are. If we can spread this kind of love, then perhaps the world will start to change for the better. We are all loved by the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Everyone is worthy of love. Let’s let the world know that.

Maybe, just maybe, love can win out over selfishness this year.

Maybe.

Blessings

Why We Need to Stop Hating Trump

I never really thought it would happen. I don’t know if anyone really did. Yet, the most recent American elections played out like the script for some rags-to-riches underdog movie. Except the underdog had never really known rags and didn’t stand for the other underdogs.

Many people I know were shocked, confused, and scared following Trump’s election. He stood for things we thought that Western society had moved past. Minorities felt uncertain about their futures in America. Everyday Americans felt the right to abuse those who were different because they “had a new president now.” Was this the “great” America that Trump envisioned?

I don’t know. I hope not.

What I see now is a whole lot of hate. Hate towards Muslims. Hate towards the LGBTQ community. Hate for people who voted for Trump, or Hilary, or who didn’t vote at all. And while I may vehemently disagree with many of President Trump’s policies and personal actions, I find the reaction to be even worse. Especially from the Christian community.

I’m going to just come out and say it. For the Christian, and for peace-seekers everywhere, there is no room in our lives for hate toward anyone. Full stop.

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No matter how offended we are by someone, God is more offended. Not only by them, but by us. Each of us has fallen short of God’s eternal glory and our very lives are a result of His mercy and grace. We have turned away from a perfect God, and He allows us to continue living because He loves us.

And He loves the person who offended or hurt you, too.

 

When we truly come face to face with our own failings and shortcomings, we realize that we are just as needing of God’s grace as those who persecute us. I shudder to think what the world would be like if I had God’s ability to rain down wrath from the skies. I am not composed of love and holiness. The world would not be a good place if I was in charge. Different, but definitely not better.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, remember that Christ commanded His followers to love those who hate them and pray for those who persecuted them. He tells us to give to those who steal from us, to work harder from those who demand from us, and to allow others to abuse us without reciprocation. In other words, to act like Christ.

Now, we are allowed, and I would argue are expected, to hate injustice, oppression, and evil. Social structures that harm people should be fought, politicians should be held to a high standard of integrity, and crime should be brought to justice. But throughout all of this, we are not to hate those who do us harm.  There is no room for hate.

So please, create art that attacks social evils. Shine light into the dark areas of our world and expose those who oppress the helpless. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves and hold back the darkness that threatens our world. But do it out of love for those who are hurt, and those who are doing the hurting. The victims are not the only people who need redemption.

Let’s fill the world with love, for no great good has ever come from hate.

Blessings

All You Need Is…

love.jpg

Valentine’s Day. That time of year when the PDA force comes out in full strength. When roses are suddenly cost a million dollars each and every restaurant is booked right up. Red and pink and white and sugar coat every surface in every retail location and my Facebook feed is full of people hating on the commercialism of it all.

Ah, love.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Valentine’s Day, and I always have. When I was in high school, I would buy flowers for some of my single female friends and hide them in their lockers. It was a small way to show them that they are appreciated. Nowadays, my wife and I still celebrate, we just do it on a different day that week (when reservations are easier to make and the specials are less expensive). I love love, and I hope that never changes.

What has changed for me over the years is my understanding of what love is.

I grew up, like most people my age, with a highly idealized and incredibly narrow view of love. Disney movies showcase that moment of initial attraction, the blossoming infatuation, and the euphoric moment of wedding bells and towering cakes. I feel like 90% of our stories deal with a boy (or sometimes a girl) putting their life and soul into winning the heart of his (or her) beloved.

And then, as soon as they do, the story ends.

Unfortunately, life isn’t like that. Bri and I did not suddenly cease to be as soon as our plane took off for our honeymoon. We’ve had to live through the waxing and waning of romantic infatuation with each other. We’ve had to deal with heartache, victory,betrayal, celebrations, misunderstandings, pain, and joy. And in each of those moments, we’ve had to love each other.

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Most of what our culture calls love is really just the intense infatuation that comes at the onset of a new relationship. It’s the uncertain, flirty, intoxicating feeling of “being in love,” where that person overtakes the rest of your life. And this feeling is important! It draws us together and helps us to bond with each other. But is only one kind of love, and a rather shallow, transient one at that.

Real, lasting love is not pretty. It doesn’t always feel good. It is, in a word, sacrifice. It is about always putting someone else above yourself. It can be incredibly easy and romantic, and it can be the hardest, most unsatisfying thing you do.

Love, in the end, isn’t about feelings and emotions. It’s about action. We are called to love God and love each other. This would be impossible if God was asking us to feel something all the time. Instead, He is asking us to always put ourselves second to Him and to others.

This is where English lets us down horribly. We don’t have (or at least, don’t use) the plethora of words that we need to describe love properly. If I say I love pasta, how am I supposed to use that word for the deep bond, emotions, and sacrifice I make for my wife? They aren’t related at all.

My challenge for you this week is to think about love. What do you really mean when you say the word? Do you mean the self-annihilating sacrifice of true love? Or do you mean concern for, infatuation with, enjoyment of, deep attachment to, or preference for something or someone?

If we can start to make these distinctions, maybe we can start making a difference in this world. With the Christian divorce rate nearly the same as the secular, I think we need to better understand what God means when He tells us to love. You can detest someone and still choose to love them. Yet, if we do, perhaps our feelings will change as we treat that person with respect, honour, and real, true love.

Greater love has no one than this: that they lay down their life for their friends.

That is the love that God loves us with.

How do you love your significant other? How do you love your friends? How do you love your God? Is it sacrificial? Or is it shallow?

Blessings,

Advent: All You Need Is Love

This final “week” of Advent, we look to the theme of love. I thought about writing something new, but after listening to the voiceover I wrote for our Advent bumper video at church this weekend, I decided it perfectly summed up what I wanted to say about Love this Christmas.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

God loves you. Do you know that? I mean, beyond just saying so because you’re in church. Do you really know that the Good Lord, the one who created everything in the entire universe loves you so passionately that He would let His only Son die on a cross for you?

Where_is_the_love

Seems everyone these days is talking about love. But how many of them really know what the word means? If we really think about it, it’s far more than just nice feelings or affection, or being all giddy inside. It’s a deep, burning desire for someone else’s good. It’s so deep that it can cost you everything you’ve got, even your life.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13

So, when I say that God loves you enough to send down the little baby Jesus, He knew what it was going to cost. When the High Prince of Heaven came down to earth, it was because He felt a love so deep for you that He couldn’t stay on His throne.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13

We might see hate everywhere we look today, but as we light this candle, we remember that Jesus is the ultimate symbol of the Father’s love. This light shines in the darkness, holding back the one who would try to smother us in his hate. As we celebrate Christmas this year, we stand up against the enemy of our souls and take the side of Love.

Blessings

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

Faith and Film: The Immigrant

The ImmigrantHello there folks,

This past week, my wife and I were able to watch The Immigrant by James Grey. We have not been incredibly impressed with many of the films we’ve been watching lately, but this one left a lasting impression. Today, I want to talk about this film for both its artistic merits and the real-world subject that lies very close.

At its heart, The Immigrant is a story about how far one girl will go to ensure that she and her sister can live a better life in America. When her sister is held on Ellis Island for suspected lung disease, Ewa (Marion Cotillard of Inception and Dark Knight Rises) gets caught up in a world of theft, theatre, and prostitution. She relies on a “good Samaritan” (Joaquin Phoenix), an unreliable magician (Jeremy Renner), and her distrusting relatives to save her. Each, in turn, prove unable to save Ewa or her sister.

Faith is present throughout the film. Surprisingly, when Ewa confesses to a priest about her sins, he points Ewa towards a stern, yet forgiving God who only wants her to give up her sins. The film asks an interesting question about the ethics of committing sins and potentially condemning oneself in order to save another. The self-condemnation for salvation carries notes of Christ’s self-sacrifice, if a broken and sinful version. Unfortunately, Ewa is able to trust several untrustworthy characters, but does not trust in God to help her sister. This is her downfall throughout.

Now, it seems impossible today to ignore the issue of Syrian refugees in the news. The world has turned its face to Syria in the wake of a civil war that has displaced over 10 million people, or about half of Syria’s population. These are people who have no home to go back to, yet are being turned away everywhere they go. The desperation of the refugees has built to a place where many are risking the lives of their families in order to cross seas and closed borders.

How should we, as people of faith and as artists, respond to this humanitarian disaster?

First off, we can’t ignore it. If we do nothing, then we leave the fate of these vulnerable people to governments who may not have God’s will at the heart of their agenda. The refugees will face further closed doors and dangerous illegal voyages until they reach safety or death.

And even if they make it to a more stable country, we still can’t leave them to fend for themselves. Ewa’s story, based upon the stories of James Grey’s grandparents, could become that of many seeking a new life. Syrians could find themselves in the West, only to be forced into prostitution and other crime just to survive.

Jesus taught us to look after the poor and the destitute. Matthew 25:40 tells us, “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'” If we welcome refugees into our countries and into our lives, we are showing the love of Jesus to Syrians and the world.

Yet, I have heard many objections against opening our borders because of threats to our national security. Unfortunately, Jesus never gave us the clause, “unless it’s going to be dangerous, or scary, or inconvenient.” We are commanded to love as He loved. Jesus loved those who nailed Him to a cross. We are never going to see real world change unless we are willing to take risks in our love.

We may end up allowing terrorists into our country through our compassion. But what if these militants are swayed by our love and concern? What if we are able to save one who is far away from God?

It isn’t an easy conversation. Fear is real and at least somewhat justified. We have been living with fear of terrorists since 2001.”But perfect love casts out fear,” (1 John 4:18). If we can love and welcome refugees and immigrants, perhaps steps can be taken to really drive out the fear that has gripped our society for almost 15 years.

What do you think? Can our love overcome the darkness that encroaches at the edge of our society? Can we step out in faith and love to serve those who need us most right now?

Blessings

Faith and Film: Frozen

Frozen_(2013_film)_posterThis post probably should have been written forever ago. As big Disney people, my wife and I were excited for the newest fairy tale movie from one of the greatest animation studios of all time. We weren’t able to see it in theatres right away because our son was born around the time it came out, but it was the first movie we went to as soon as our boy was old enough to stay a couple hours with Grandma and Grandpa.

Were we disappointed? No. Did we jump on the Frozen bandwagon, proclaiming its virtues for all to hear? Nope. While I enjoyed much about the movie, there are some issues that we had with it. Today, I want to discuss some of the themes we found in Frozen and start a discussion around their significance for those of faith.

First, I would like to say that I’m not really sure who the protagonist of this film is. The story generally follows Anna, but Elsa has the more complete character arc. Let’s take a look at both of these ladies and see what connections we can make from them to the eternal story.

Anna is a very relatable princess. She is likeable, dorky, and completely devoted to her sister. She has to deal with the hurt of her sister’s rejection, the loneliness after her parents’ death, and her bumpy search for romance. Anna sounds like many young women I know. And throughout, she maintains an optimism that we can learn from in an age of apathetic pessimism. As far as young heroines go, Anna is one of my favourites.

Elsa, on the other hand, has a very different set of problems to deal with. Her near-fatal encounter with her sister as a child created a deep-seated fear of herself that her parents were never able to help her with. She grows up fearing emotion and connection, much like other people I’ve known.

Elsa_(Frozen_2013)However, once Elsa’s powers are made known to the public and the people, just as expected, reject her as a monster, she flees to the mountains where she sings “Let It Go,” which currently has over 200 million views on YouTube (just the one video of it. There are several with views in the tens of millions). This is where we find my main issue with the movie. Elsa is different from others. Her difference alienates her from everyone she knows and loves. Her answer is to let go of everything holding her back, including her family, her people, and her responsibilities. She plans to cut everyone out and live by her own rules: “No right, no wrong, no rules for me.” I’ve spoken before about my distaste for such relativistic individualism, and this song epitomizes what I think is wrong with society right now.

To be fair, I don’t think the movie agrees with the message of the song. Elsa is shown that she can’t run from her fears, she can’t create her own little world safe from everyone else. She must learn that love is the way to conquer all her fears. However, since “Let it Go,” is such a beautiful, catchy, and self-affirming song, it has been adopted by the general public completely unattached to its context in-story.

On the other side, Frozen has one of my favourite definitions of love that I’ve found in any movie. Olaf, the magical snowman, tells Anna that love is about putting someone else’s needs before your own wants and needs. It is, by its very nature, sacrificial. While this may be hinted at in other fairy-tale movies, this is the first time (at least, that I remember) of love being given such an excellent treatment. Our culture currently tells us that love is an emotion, the bubbly, heady feeling you get when you are around “the one.” But the Bible tells us that love is action, not emotion. It is the choice to put others before yourself. Jesus, in John 15:13, tells us that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Love is the choice to sacrifice for others.

I believe that this is the major theme of the entire film: love as sacrifice. The shallow, instant “love” that Anna feels for Hans at the beginning is shown to be false, and it cost neither of them anything, (however, “Love is an Open Door,” is an amazing song…). The true love that breaks the curse is a sister choosing to die for her beloved sibling: Anna lays down her life in order to save Elsa’s. Even the comedic relief, Olaf, is willing to melt for those he loves.

Frozen promotes many things I can get behind. Courage to fight for those we care for. Love as a far more powerful force than fear. The importance of family and friends. Despite some of the storytelling flaws that I think it could have ironed out, the overall thrust of the story is one that I would love my children to adopt. However, despite the popularity of ‘Let it Go” and Queen Elsa in general, I think it is the Princess Anna who really shines as the heroine worth emulating in this story.

We could all do with a little more courage, love, and optimism, I think.

Blessings

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