Monday, August 19, 2013

42: The Story of Jackie Robinson


  I recently saw the movie titled 42, which is the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American major league baseball player.  His story is one of many trials and challenges, and at the same time is one of hope and inspiration.  One of the most impactful aspects of this story for me is the undercurrent of theological truth that runs through the whole story.  True to the historical events that took place there was a man, who owned the Brooklyn Dodgers, and who sought to be the first to bring an African American player into major league baseball, his name was Mr. Rickie, he is played in the film by Harrison Ford.  Ford transforms completely into this character, and at times I had to do double takes to see who it was behind the makeup and disguise. 
  Mr. Rickie grew up a Methodist and attended Ohio Wesleyan University where he played baseball and witnessed first hand how the segregation of baseball crushed the hopes and dreams of African American baseball players.  The injustice of what he saw, drove him to push against the current of social norms, and reach for the just and equal playing field that ought to exist among all human beings regardless of the color of their skin.
   I am a Free Methodist minister and our denomination has long stood head and shoulders above most in the fight for freedom for slaves and equality among all human beings.  Some of the very first Free Methodists were among the earliest abolitionists in the United States.  This identity trait of ours, comes from a faith rooted in the power of Jesus Christ to free slaves of all kinds from captivity, and to seek justice for the oppressed, the trampled and the marginalized.  That is at the heart of our faith story, and it largely shaped the story of one of America's greatest baseball players.  I loved this movie, I loved the story, I love the characters and the truths behind it all, and above all this I love that my faith, the theological tradition I partake in, saw this kind of good fruit from its core character.  Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Holy Spirit shaped this story! Amen!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

One big Reason the Man of Steel is not Jesus.

   Like all the Superman fans out there I eagerly anticipated the release of the newest Superman movie titled - Man of Steel.  I went to see it in the theater with another Superman fan, who I must admit is by far a more avid fan than I. 
   With the release of such a highly anticipated movie there came the usual comparisons, critiques and varied responses to what was seen on the big screen.  One comparison that made quite a bit of press was the subtle at times and blatant at times allusions to Jesus made throughout the film.  Superman is sitting in a chapel talking to a priest at one point with a stained glass window of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane behind him, there is also a scene near the end of the movie where Superman cries out in anguish and up the stairs behind him in the background of the shot there is a window with pieces of glass broken out in the shape of a cross.
While there are undoubtedly parallels between the Man of Steel and the Son of Man, for example his being sent by a Father to earth to help humanity, as well as his blood carrying his people's life (see movie for more on this), there is one really big glaring difference between Superman and Jesus.  And it is one that our culture easily overlooks.  The difference is Jesus didn't use violence to save others, he allowed violence to be done to him to save others.  Jesus never practiced nor condoned violence. Where Jesus taught his disciples to turn the other cheek and forgive and love your enemies, Superman simply uses his laser beam eyes, and super strength to smash bad guys to dust.  While I love a good action movie, I must protest at the comparison that somehow the Man of Steel is one and the same as Jesus, or that the parallels are strong enough to overlook this major contrast. 
   There are of course the themes of self-sacrifice, and service and caring for humanity that run through the storyline of Superman; however, he is an alien, not the God-man sent to save us by way of dying.
   I believe our culture overlooks this difference to our detriment.  We sanction violence and even teach our children to thirst for it by way of movies, video games and the like.  I am not against watching movies with violence in them, but I take issue when we blindly allow the viewing of violence in film and other media to wash away one of the most powerful distinctives of Jesus Christ - his total avoidance of violence toward another being.  This difference may be small in the eyes of American culture, but it is big in the eyes of one who is trying to follow the Jesus Way, and while reading texts like the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 through 7 we cannot overlook Jesus' radical call to fight hatred with love.  If we fight fire with fire, the whole world burns.  The Man of Steel is cool but he is not Jesus.

Conversations on the Jesus Way: Table Talk #3

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Conversations on the Jesus Way: Table Talk #2

The above video is the second installment of the Table Talks which follow each week's sermon in the Conversations on the Jesus Way Series, at WBFMC Summer 2013.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Conversations on the Jesus Way: Table Talk #1

  This video is the first in a series of follow up videos done once we have done another installment of the Conversations on the Jesus Way: The Sermon on the Mount with Pat and Sam series.  Each week we will continue the conversation we began on the assigned portion of the Sermon on the Mount for that week.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Conversations on the Jesus Way Series Video Gag Reel

This is the gag reel from our recent video introducing the Conversations on the Jesus Way Sermon Series.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Conversations on the Jesus Way: the Sermon on the Mount with Pat and Sam

Above is a link to a preview video for the upcoming sermon series Pastor Pat Vance and I will be doing at WBFMC!  FYI, stick around for the gag reel after the conversation ends!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Iron Man 3: Self Salvation

   I recently saw the new movie Iron Man 3 at the theater.  As I expected, this movie was well done in the areas of special effects, acting and cinematography.  What surprised me about the movie was that its plot was rather deep as well.  There is a phenomena of action movies relying on their stunts and effects to wow and entertain at the expense of a good and thought provoking story line; however, Iron Man 3 did not disappoint me in this way.  I did notice an interesting parallel to another movie, a much older movie.  The older movie is called The MissionThe Mission  stars Robert De Niro and it tells the story of a Spanish Conquistador/Slave Trader.  De Niro's character is eventually confronted by the brutality of his actions in enslaving the indigenous people's of South America and he gives up that life in order to serve them.  There is a group of Jesuit priests/missionaries who take him in.  One of the most powerful scenes in the movie is when De Niro's character is carrying his old conquistador suit of armor up a cliff.  It is for him a form of penance for all the pain and suffering he had caused so many people.  As he is about to reach the top of the cliff, he looks as if he is not quite going to make it and may even fall to a gruesome death, and that is when it happens.  One of the Jesuit priests cuts the rope between him and the net holding his armor and it falls all the way down to the bottom of the cliff.  It is an absolutely amazing picture of grace and the freedom that comes from being set free from our mistakes, sins and brokenness.
   In Iron Man 3, there is a scene where Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) is trudging through some snow, with his thoroughly beat up Iron Man suit and not seconds into the scene it reminded me of De Niro carrying his suit of armor in much the same fashion.  Iron Man 3 begins with Tony Stark's voice narrating about how we create our own demons, and sometimes they come back to haunt us.  Without giving away the plot of how Iron Man saves the day, since he is a super hero, I will simply say this.  Salvation in Iron Man 3, comes by way of picking yourself up by your boot straps, being smarter, stronger and more capable than you were before. Salvation by way of The Mission comes through grace, mercy and forgiveness; and that requires accepting God's grace for us, and then giving ourselves grace as well.  Salvation by faith through GRACE.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Knowing God, Knowing Others, Knowing Thyself: The Three Faces of First John

Beginning the first Sunday of June and going until it is finished, I will be teaching a series in the Seekers Community at Warm Beach Free Methodist Church, on the New Testament letter of 1 John.  I have titled this series - Knowing God, Knowing Others and Knowing Thyself: The Three Faces of 1 John.  The title is born out of my research and reading of this foundational New Testament book.  John addresses these three relationship arenas that each of us encounters in our lives.  As Christians our relationship with God is the most important relationship, the primary one and this relationship ought to guide and direct our other relationships.  Christians often discuss how we are to relate to others (friends, coworkers, brothers and sisters in Christ, enemies, etc.) but often the relationship to the self is neglected.  This is where the long tradition of spiritual formation and spiritual direction over the centuries of Church History enlightens our reading of 1 John and other texts.  The three faces of 1 John are the three areas of relationship that interact and interrelate to form a kind of three-ness of relational experience.  1 John moves around these three faces sometimes emphasizing one, at other times two and even in some cases all three at once.  Love is the defining substance of John's discussion of these three faces, and his exposition of the substance of love in this letter is unparalleled in the New Testament, to put it bluntly, John is in love with love.  He uses the word more often in this letter than any other New Testament writer.  As the Seekers begin the journey of exploring this wonderful and insightful letter, I pray that we would grow to know God more, know each other more, and know ourselves more - and that the fruit of that knowledge would be a greater depth of love.  Amen!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Far Too Long...

I am one of those people who when you realize you have something in your life (like a blog) that you are not really maintaining with any semblance of consistency or regular investment I tend to simply discard said activity or involvement, because it isn't really of benefit to myself or others; however, I have found that I recently developed a renewed vigor for the practice of blogging and I hope to do so with more regularity in the future.
Having said that, I will now make it a point to invite some key friends and acquaintances to join in reading my regular postings in order to invest more intentionally in a practice which I believe will be of benefit to me and those who read.  My goal is to begin every Monday morning with a regular post, and I have applied my recently renewed vigor by re-titling my blog: The Student.  When I took the Strengths Finder test (a tool developed by people who study organizational systems for a living and who created an exam which would help the participant discover gifts, talents and personality distinctives) I found that my number one Strength was something called, Learner.  What this essentially means is that I love the process of learning.  Learning is a life stance for me, and I believe it has served me well in a wide variety of contexts from school to jobs to relationships to full time pastoral ministry in a church.  Hence, I have decided that rather than have my name boldly written atop my blog, I ought to come up with a snappier and cooler title, thus - The Student.  My blog is my observations, thoughts and prayers, my life lessons, experiences and encounters with ideas, people and God.  I welcome comments and thoughtful engagement of the material that I present on this blog and I look forward to sharing the content both with those who have been reading along, and those will begin to read along in the near future.  

I wish I had time to...

In the previous post I mentioned the hope I had of blogging along with my Colorful Encounters Series, a 7 week long teaching series done in the Seekers Community at Warm Beach Free Methodist Church; however, reality has set in and I will be unable to blog along with or even after the fact of the teaching series. But, I have included a link below for all those interested in hearing the audio of my teaching from this series.  Blessings!

Click on this link and you will be able to hear or download an MP3 copy of the all of my talks given in this series, as well as past Seeker's Community teaching.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Colorful Encounters

Recently I joined a team of five others on trip to India.  We had several goals on this trip and overall the trip was filled with amazing and wondrous experiences.  There were several things that God taught me while on this adventure.  I couldn't hope to fit them all in one blog post, so, my plan is to first begin by sharing the experience of visiting India with the Seekers Community at WBFMC where I am the anchor teaching pastor, and then I will share several blog posts with pictures included from the trip.  I took over 2700 photos while on this trip and they largely became my journal of experiences. I found myself very early on in the journey struggling to describe what I was seeing, thinking and feeling. So, instead of trying to force out words I let my pictures do the talking for my experience.  I hope that the teaching series and later the series of blog posts blesses those who experience them as the journey blessed me.  These were my Colorful Encounters.