Chris and the Dragon

Random thoughts, findings, & loose threads on faith, culture, & parenthood

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Easter Downstairs

As young parents at our church, EA and I are in a rotation for watching the children in the nursery during worship service every few months or so. When our last turn was about to come up, we realized that we would be out of town that Sunday. Fortunately, some friends in our Sunday School class switched with us. Problem solved.

The switch was this Sunday. Easter Sunday. The Sunday that the Whole Entire Faith Pivots On Sunday. So instead of singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and proclaiming with our church that Christ was risen indeed, we were downstairs.

Here’s the thing: Caring for the kids in the nursery was wonderful. Our youngest son Liam is in there as were a couple of adorable toddlers. People need to serve there and I am glad that we were able to help out. And my Easter was good on the whole. I got to spend time with family and eat some great food.

Yet spiritually it did not feel much like Easter. This is when we emerge from the fasting of Lent, the agonizing loss of the crucifixion. This is when we celebrate God conquering evil, Jesus saving us, and death itself starting to work backwards. The Good News of Resurrection Sunday is something that I want to feel deep down in my bones. But I did not feel much of anything and I have my doubts whether it would have been different if we weren’t downstairs.

So what do you do when Resurrection Sunday comes and goes yet you feel like it has completely passed you by? What happens when this day happens that means so much to your faith and you just feel blah? Do you panic? Does this mean you’re ungrateful? A cynic? A wounded soul? A stubborn jackass? These are the thoughts that swim around in my head.

Then I remember the disciples and how they did not immediately believe or celebrate on this day. Not all of them. Not Thomas. And I wonder how many times the resurrected Jesus had to appear to them before it really sank in for the others. Was it the first time? The second time? As he ascended? When they took the bread and the cup years later? They believed, but I doubt they always felt it deep in their bones. I could be wrong. I might just be consoling myself.

Yet I think there are a lot of people that pass through Easter and feel like they’ve missed out on something because they are not doing cartwheels in celebration. We just don’t feel it. Or we struggle through doubt. Or we can’t muster the hype that we put on this one day. If you’re like me, you might feel like you whiffed on a rare opportunity. The good news is this Sunday was not the end.

The ramifications of the Resurrection travel through time: past Easter Sunday, past the Gospels, past the early church. Its message and hope still echo today; not just on one Sunday a year but every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of every week of every year. A blah Easter does not roll the stone back in front of the empty tomb. It does not stop the Resurrection from being any more true tomorrow or the next day.

Resurrection Sunday is a beautiful day; my favorite Sunday of the year, in fact. Yet I hope that I don’t contain that story, its beauty, and its hope to a single day. As I limp through not feeling Easter this year, whatever that means, I write this to remind myself (and maybe you) that what we proclaim on Easter Sunday is what we proclaim each day:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.

Filed under faith Easter

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Babel: A Maundy Thursday Reflection

Once upon a time, so the story goes, the people gathered together to build a monument to their awesomeness. At the start, it did not seem like a difficult thing to do. The people shared a common language and it was easy to communicate with one another.

Yet something happened as they built their tower to the heavens. The workers started speaking in different ways. Neighbors could no longer understand one another. The one language became many. Everything was no longer the same.

Rather than trying to figure out how to bridge their newfound differences, confusion raged. The tower was left unfinished. The people scattered.

I don’t normally think about the Tower of Babel story. It is a short tale that seeks to basically explain all the different languages. And the text gives off the idea that YHWH is oddly semi-threatened by humanity’s architectural ambition. Yet I found myself thinking about it in class earlier this week and again today on Maundy Thursday.

On Tuesday, we were discussing a book which is based on the premise that the church was the center of American life and now it is not. Though this transition took place over many years, the shift feels seismic enough that I feel like I have read 20 books in seminary with the exact same central theme.

Of course, the shift away from the church-centered way of life is an issue that vexes a lot of folks. Many a sermon, a conversation, a tweet, and a handwringing have been based on this idea that we have drifted away from this Golden Age in which the church was the established authority in the land. The way people talk about it, you would think that mid-20th Century America was the apex of Christianity.

I’m starting to think it was our Babel. At least, an illusionary one.

It is not so much that everyone was following God with their entire heart back in the day, all of those people were simply speaking the same cultural language. This made the period seem like the church was this great monument of awesomeness, but people’s bond with God have to go deeper than it being the only game in town. Otherwise, there will be massive amounts of confusion when that one language becomes many.

That shift happened. The United States is more diverse than it has ever been. Over half a century removed from its perceived heyday, the church is still confounded. One can see it everyday as the various Christian leaders respond to the different languages in culture and, probably even more so, in discovering the variety that existed within the church all along. Some are confused. Some are despondent. Some are angry. Some have gone to live among the masses while others are fortifying themselves inside of Babel’s Tower.

All of that is what I thought about on Tuesday. It left me at a loss.

Today is Maundy Thursday. The name comes from the Latin mandatum, which is found at the beginning of John 13:34:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

For those that follow Jesus, love is supposed to be our first language. And I think that gets lost in the Babel of it all. One of love’s wonderful characteristics is its ability to transcend barriers. Grace, kindness, humility—all things born out of love—rarely need a translator. True love can change the timbre of seemingly harsh words.

We live in a society where Twitter, Facebook, and blogs has given us the ability to speak with unprecedented power. The power of our language can reach thousands of people and around the world in very short time. And Christians are speaking a great deal. But if there is not love to bridge the cultural language barriers then all of that speaking, as the Apostle Paul writes, is utter nonsense.

That sacrificial, all-giving love that Jesus embodied is the only way that any sense is going to be made out of all the noise. May we not say farewell to each other in the church when we speak different languages. May we not bark in anger at a world that we do not totally understand and that does not totally understand us.

As we remember all that Jesus did during Holy Week, let us remember the love that was the catalyst for it all. And let us take it to heart.

Filed under faith Tower of Babel Holy Week Maundy Thursday

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Aronofsky’s Arky Arky

Aronofksy wanted to make a film of Noah, Noah
Aronofsky wanted to make a film of Noah, Noah
Who should play him? Russell Crowe-uh, Crowe-uh!
Children of the Lord

We got Maximus and Hopkins, the girl from Beautiful Mind-y, Mind-y
Maximus and Hopkins, the girl from Beautiful Mind-y, Mind-y
And playing an in-law? Young Hermione, mione
Children of the Lord

The movie, it includes those crazy Nephilim-y, lim-y
The movie, it includes those crazy Nephilim-y, lim-y
Lookin’ like monsters from Lord o’ the Rings-y, Rings-y
Children of the Lord

Some liberties were taken and some folks are antsy, antsy
Some liberties were taken and some folks are antsy, ansty
Facebook, Twitter are all ranty, ranty
Children of the Lord

So Noah the movie is causing trepidation, dation
Noah the movie is causing trepidation, dation
Bible movies always have interpretation, tation
Children of the Lord

So see Noah, or do not. There’s no need to panic, panic
See Noah, or do not. There’s no need to panic, panic
But freaking out makes us all look manic, manic
Children of the Lord

So this is the end of, the end of my ditty, ditty
This is the end of, the end of my ditty, ditty
I’ll see Noah if someone would watch my kiddies, kiddies
Children of the Lord

Filed under Noah Darren Aronofksy Russell Crowe movies faith

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Rebuilding From the Inside

Yesterday afternoon, our oldest son asked me a question. Laying on the floor and putting his small hands over his chest, he said, “Daddy, why does Jesus live in our heart? What does he do in there?” Good question.

I can only imagine what that looks like in his preschool mind; plus I wonder what continuity exists for him between baby Jesus, grown up Jesus, and in-heart Jesus. I tried my best to explain how when someone says Jesus is in their heart it means that he is always with that person. He then said a girl in his class pretended to be a monster on the playground.

Obviously, a tiny Jesus is not literally inside one’s heart. It’s a metaphor grasping at something bigger and a bit more mysterious. In fact, using the heart in that way is a bit of a metaphor itself. Yet there is still something profound in that question. What does Jesus do in our hearts?

I don’t want to ditch my son’s imagination quite yet because I think it can help give a different perspective to this question. But first let me take a little detour and borrow an image from one of my favorite Superman stories to explain.

One of the best Superman stories of all time is All-Star Superman, a twelve issue series that tells the story of the Man of Steel’s final days. The story ends (spoiler alert for a comic that is six years old) with the sun dying thus putting all life on Earth in peril. Being irradiated with solar energy, Superman’s final act is to fly into the sun to save it and billions of people. The final image of this hero is of him building machinery in the sun’s core so that the sun can live again. I know it sounds all kinds of comic book goofy, but trust me, it is a phenomenal story.

That image is what I imagine when I think about Jesus being in one’s heart. Our hearts are dying and badly in need of repair. So when one comes to belief in Christ, Jesus stops our heart from dying and then begins the process of building the machinery that gets our heart running properly; running in a way that brings life to those around us. Yet we still have agency in this matter. Though Jesus is in a person, she or he can still exhibit the behaviors of a dying heart. One can still choose to mess up.

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Filed under faith world vision parenting Superman Jesus

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Keep Your Hope About You

I have been dealing with anxiety a lot during this season of my life. It is not constant, but regular enough that I’ll admit to it. I am not totally sure what to do with it; it’s an unfamiliar feeling for me. I don’t rattle easily. I am fairly even-keeled. Yet things have found ways to get to me recently: small things, less small things, cultural things. The fact of the matter is anxiety can suffocate hope. And I need hope. It is something that pulls me forward.

When I got home from school tonight, the house was quiet. So I poured a bowl of cereal, sat on my couch, and took a deep breath. Then I remembered this verse:

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope

Lamentations is a bleak book of scripture, yet that verse is a pivot. It is the storm momentarily quieting down, it’s a crack of light in a dark room. My apprehension is nowhere near the level of heartache that the prophet experiences in Lamentations. Yet that verse called out to me as I sat in my living room tonight.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in Him."

Lamentations 3:21-24

I forget that reality sometimes. I shouldn’t, but I do. The love of God cannot be stopped. God’s mercy does not end nor does it take the day off. God is faithful.

So this I will try to remember and therefore have hope.

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To Liam on His 1st Birthday

image

Liam,
I had a really surreal moment the night before you were born. Your mom, brother, and I had moved out of our old house and we were staying with your Grandma and Granddad. We knew you were coming the next day. So I went to bed that night in the bedroom in which I grew up, your mom beside me, and knowing that you were on your way. It was weird and it was kind of a full-circle moment. I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I just knew it would be wonderful.

And you are wonderful. I look at that picture on the left and can scarcely believe that it was one year ago that came into our world. Even though you have only been with us for twelve months and you’re our second child, it feels like you have been here from the start; a piece that we did not know was needed until you showed up.

You have an incredible older brother. I was never technically worried about whether you would measure up; I knew we would love you and be proud of you regardless. Yet there is that thought that lingers in your mind of whether you would be able to carve out your own niche. I didn’t even know if a baby could actually carve out a niche. Really it was a ridiculous thought, because every person is unique.

So it has been cool to watch you be you. You would not think that an infant that cannot talk and is just now taking his first steps would have much in the way of personality. But you are so beautifully and uniquely Liam; because of that reality, it has been a blast to watch you this last year.

You are not just a bundle of joy but a mountain of joy. When you started crawling, your Granddavid began calling you Bulldog. The description fits perfectly: your chubby cheeks puffing out as you breathe going through the room, the determined toughness in which you do not let any obstacle—even your big brother—get in the way.

You seem to always be smiling, always expressing awe at everything that you see. And that’s happy curiosity that you bear is contagious. Strangers get it when they catch your grin in restaurants. People’s voices get higher and more excited when they see you. Your brother sometimes talks in absolute gibberish which delights you no end. You are a bearer of joy and I hope that as you grow older you realize that you bring so much happiness to those that love you.

There is so much more about which I could write. Your lone two teeth on the bottom of your mouth. Your delighted squeal when you’re tickled. The way that you and I cackle at each other maniacally when I feed you. The way your whole body bounces with excitement when your mom comes homes from school. The way that you reach out to be held by your many loved ones. I could go on and on.

You are just awesome and your mom and I are so grateful for you. So as you enter into your second year here, this is my simple prayer for you. I pray that you know that you are loved—by God, by your mom, brother, and I, plus so many other people—more than you could ever imagine. I pray that curiosity will not be extinguished. And I pray that you will always be full of joy that overflows to those around you.

Happy Birthday Liam. I am so glad that you’re here.

Love,
Your Dad

P.S. If you ever actually come across this, you’ll probably have questions about the mascot bracket that proceeded this. Long story short: your dad is a nerd. But we’ll get through that together.

Filed under parenting

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2014 NCAA Tournament Mascot MadnessFilling out the tournament bracket based solely on the question of “Which team’s mascot would win in a one-on-one fight?”

2014 NCAA Tournament Mascot Madness
Filling out the tournament bracket based solely on the question of “Which team’s mascot would win in a one-on-one fight?”

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A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms.
Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation

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Mirrors and Smoke

There’s part of me that wonders what happened in Oz after the Wizard was revealed to not be so great and powerful. Were they incredibly disillusioned? Did some just reject reality and hold on to the fantastical image that the middle aged man presented? I mean this was a guy that inspired people to burst out in song because of the wonderful things he did. To find out he was a fraud had to be crushing.

The situations are not quite as dramatic, but the last couple of weeks have been marked by reports that two hugely influential megachurches have been pulling levers to present a not-totally truthful image.

First there was a news story about a document on Elevation Church’s website about how to conduct mass “spontaneous baptisms.” This included planting 15 people to come forward when the invitation was extended and having them walk through the most visible places. This and other parts of the report are troubling for a variety of reasons that many other have covered.

Then yesterday there was the report that Mars Hill Church in Seattle paid a firm over $200,000 to get pastor Mark Driscoll’s book on the New York Times Bestseller List. This is not just a marketing firm, but the organization also buys thousands and thousands of books in select locations. While not illegal, the practice is frowned upon by the companies that publish bestseller lists.

Both of these Oz-ian methods were successful. Elevation’s spontaneous baptisms are known for their tidal wave of converts. Driscoll’s book spent a week on the New York Times Bestseller List which means “New York Times Bestselling Author” can proceed his name for whatever books he writes henceforth (or until print dies).

But the fact of the matter is both of these scenarios involve some sleight of hand, some misdirection. The fifteen people at the spontaneous baptisms are not responding to a decision to change their life by following Jesus. They’re part of a show to get things rolling. Driscoll may not have actually sold enough to get on a bestseller’s list. They just dropped two hundred grand on a company that has figured out how to work the system. Let’s be direct here: this is deception.

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