Friday, December 18, 2009

So I Married a Vampire . . . The Strange, the Dark and the Compelling

I have a confession to make.

I watched the two Twilight films recently . . and I feel dirty. No, no that’s going to far - it was a joke. Truthfully though, before watching the films I wondered if the decision to do so was somewhat akin to indulging in a guilty pleasure. It felt like I should be embarrassed to tell my friends about . . come to think of it, I guess I really haven’t yet. The title of this article is not a singular reference to a bit of pop culture, but two. The first and most obvious being the hoop-lah of recent years over the ultra successful Twilight saga and the second is a reference to a lesser known film oddity - ‘So I Married An Axe Murderer’. If you hadn’t already picked up the foreshadowing of the nuptials between the two lovers Bella & Edward in the title - I’ve just handed it to you.

My story begins in Eastbourne, England on a recent trip with some fellow youth workers from around the island of Ireland. We were attending a conference on youth ministry and by day two I had reached my ‘full’ indicator a little earlier than I normally would. I was searching for a way out - a pass to remove myself from the suffocating world of often covered, rarely inventive, youth ministry issues. So, while firmly wedged in an over-sized bean bag, I grabbed my iPhone and began to leech the free WiFi while searching for excuses to get off site. I opted to check listings for films since I seldom get out to see any since entering fatherhood. I found two options. Choice number one: ‘2012’ which, although seemingly mindless entertainment, was mildly intriguing. I wasn’t looking for the soul-searching or inspirational fare - just something to veg in front of. Choice number two: some film about vampires and werewolves . . ripping each other apart, I had hoped.

After exhausting my iPhone address book for possible other dissenters to invite into my minor rebellion, I found one; but his availability meant that in order for me to accommodate him, I’d have no choice between films - it was the New Moon Twilight film thingy or none. Not knowing much about the Twilight films apart from my normal youth work responsibility of intentional familiarity, as mentioned above, I was hoping for Action (yes, with a capital ‘A’). It wasn’t to be. Upon entering the extremely cool retro theater, and gliding up the red carpeted staircase I noticed something strange . . we were vastly outnumbered by members of the feminine species and young ones at that. It was at that point I should have connected the dots, but I didn’t.

Now, let me tell you this, I like the occasional dark, moody film. I enjoyed the first and the third installments of the ‘Underworld’ series, I liked the atmospheric sensibilities of the Brothers Grimm (even if the characterization was crap), I enjoyed the older French film ‘The Brotherhood of the Wolf’ - hey, even VanHelsing pushed a few buttons for me. So, going into ‘New Moon‘ I expected at least mildly aesthetically pleasing elements and some serious action sequences as the vampire and werewolf factions clashed. It wasn’t the case. Those two and a half hours were some for the most painful in recent memory for me.

The prevailing reason I remained in my seat for the entirety of the film was so that I could have more credibility when critiquing it in the eyes of my ardent adversaries. More than a few times I was about to laugh out loud at the incredibly cliche encounters between Bella and Edward. Their interactions seemed to me like a play put on by adults who had been told they were master actors by those who knew no better. The exchange of lines and looks was verging on hilarious too often for me to pick out a singular occurrence. In addition to the abhorrent lines between the main characters, I felt constantly pummeled by the uncertainty of the relationship between Bella and Edward and their own uncertainty in their standing with one another. It wouldn’t have been too far out to have had them pass the “Do You Like Me? Please check Yes or No“ note we who are Gen X’ers remember from our elementary years. At least the reply to that note by one of of the pain-stakingly, perplexed lovers would have ended the debacle then and there. I told the friend I attended the screening with that it felt as if I had spent the entirety of the film swimming in the morass of a troubled teenage girl’s mind. Maybe that was the intention of the author but it made it no less pleasant.

Adding to my already beleaguered soul was the uncomfortable reminder I was in the extreme minority in the room. At choice moments which only a young female of the pre-driving age could discern, we would hear the sickening ‘aawwww’ or muffled giggles of glee and delight. I still shudder at the experience as I relive it. I couldn’t help but ask myself ‘Why am I here?’ each time the room was enveloped in the crowd’s ecstatic responses to (nearly) universally apparent cues embedded in the marathon event. Yes, it was a waste of money in light of my desire to have been drawn into a story and entertained for two hours. The other side of the coin is that as a professional youth worker and a trainer of youth workers, it was a somewhat valuable experience. I may have been slightly aided if I had seen the first installment before ‘New Moon’- but only slightly. Surprisingly enough, I did choose to rent the first Twilight film two weeks later and beyond all belief, I enjoyed it. As of this moment, I still have yet to clarify exactly what was qualitatively different about the first film over the second, but there was something different. Okay, it still felt a little claustrophobic being trapped in the mind of the tragic ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ teenage Bella, especially in her manically depressed moments, but on the whole it was more engaging and believable (all but the parts about vampires of course).

Aesthetically, I was awash in the atmospheric elements which I have been all to familiar with the past ten years living in Ireland. When sporadic, those dreary days are a welcome experience. If any of you are particularly drawn to continually overcast skies and perpetually wet weather, come live in my world for a bit . . hey, why don’t we just get down to business and bring up a permanent exchange program?? I’m game. Of even stronger interest to me were the plentitude of exceedingly tall coniferous trees populating the sets and scenes. I loved that sense of being dwarfed by these earth-bourne giants. I can imagine the pleasant smell of pine filling the damp air of ‘Forks’. The fact that the sea was apparently very accessible was a welcome invention as well. Another thing I appreciated about the production value of the film was the stylizing of the vampires - especially the abstinent Cullen crew. Of course, their human-free diet choices added to their mystique, in addition to minor aspects of their appearance and ultimately their behaviour.

Beyond the purely ‘arty’ aspects of the two Twilight films, there were some deeper issues that came to light but which did not glisten like the glittery skins of their blood-sucking central characters. A few of these issues are certainly of utmost concern for parents of teens and youth workers / pastors as well. Next week, I’d like to explore some of these concerns and highlight what we should be aware of which may be negatively impacting more impressionable psyches through their often whole-sale embrace of stories such as Twilight. Even with this in mind, we will continue to celebrate what can be celebrated, when and where it is found.


**This was originally posted on Risen Magazine in the Blog section**

MySpace of Solitude & Silence

This is Moinahincha (sp?) Abbey in northern Co. Tipperary, Ireland, just to the south east of Roscrea where my office is. I have known the need to get away from the traffic of life - to step out of it for a while - at God's invitation for some time now but I didn't have a regular practice. Apart from moments devoted to quiet reflection and connection with God each day, it is my intention to make a regular monthly, more lengthy get away. This is my place of choice for now. Today it was freezing - literally - while I was there (0C/32F). C-O-L-D!

The Abbey was established on an island in a lake (drained now) in the 8th century. The name Moinahincha means "The Monastery on the Island of the Living". Cool, huh?!

Monday, December 14, 2009

'Oh My God'

Here's a little film that apparently came out sometime this autumn but I must have missed it. I've never heard of it before, having just came across this interesting promo video on Pete's blog (thanks Pete!) I would really like to see it. I'm always interested in how people describe, express their understanding of and feel drawn to the Divine. I'm equally interested in discerning how God makes Himself known to people and draws them to Himself.

As a Christian I see all this through how God has revealed Himself to me (in the Scriptures and Jesus Christ primarily) and how He continues to communicate who He is . . even in silence. So, when a filmmaker makes a courageous move to explore some of these issues (ala 'Religulous' by Bill Maher)- I'm interested. Ultimately, I think these sort of open ended explorations help me to understand the human person better and consequently, how to best facilitate people encountering Jesus in fresh ways.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Youth Ministry Christmas

Something from our friends at Simply Youth Ministry for the Holidays . . .

Help Portrait Help Others

Check Help_Portrait out on Twitter HERE

Check Help-Portrait out on the Home Page HERE

Images from the Road

Here are some random shots I've taken from some of my travels the past few months . . .

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Church Planting in Post Christendom

Here's a video of a friend's pastor sharing about the development of 'Missional Orders' as one answer to being a thriving Christian community in 21st century Western culture. It was a bit like the froth on the top of a cappuccino . . nice but light.

Dave Fitch - the Cultivate Talk on Missional Orders from Bill Kinnon on Vimeo.


One Minute Soundsculpture from Daniel Franke on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

An Open Letter to an Anonymous Friend

Below is a response to a friend whom I've recently been in contact with again after nearly twenty years. In high school we were seemingly coming from polar opposite viewpoints, but I always appreciated his willingness to converse with me and I felt there was a mutual respect for one another - even though we disagreed at many points.


Friend, I find it interesting that you said you had a 'calling' to go to church. I'm still interested to know what denomination/brand/flavor of Christian church it is - i.e. Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, non-denominational, charismatic, etc, etc.

I understand (largely from experience) that people can often tune out when someone begins expounding on the Scriptures (Bible). It's been done to me and I have at times done it to others! But this can also happen with any subject in life - not just the Bible. I find it often has more to do with the messenger (teacher/preacher) than it does the Bible or content itself. A passionate, well-studied, dynamic messenger can keep me hooked by speaking on how mould grows or paint peels for an hour. In the case of the Bible, it has content that speaks for itself - but a deathly messenger can cause people to tune it out. Agreed. The interesting thing is that the issues/topics you mentioned such as angels, the human soul and healings, etc. are all IN the Bible already - waiting to be discovered. There are also much more disturbing elements, as well as the incredibly satisfying truth and reality that resounds in our soul when we take it in!

You mentioned that "it is really sad how a majority of Christian's put Jesus on the same level as God, how some seem to think they are one - in a way Yes but No." A few things about this . . firstly, of course Christians put Jesus on the same level as God - Jesus Himself claimed to be God (wrapped in human flesh) and that He and the Father are One. This is the point of being a Christian . . we follow the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. If someone decides they don't like or don't want to believe something that Jesus has said - well then, why should that person even bother thinking that they are a Christian? The etymology of the word 'Christian' means 'little Christ'. The end result of following Jesus is to imitate Him in every way, to become like Him - His teachings, example of how He treats people and how He lived His life. A Christian does this because they believe (whether they are able to articulate it or not) that Jesus Christ is the highest/perfect/truest example of what it means to live a truly human life in the love of God - as we were designed to. If we begin picking and choosing what we want to believe or imitate of Jesus' life and teachings, we then cease to be a Christian - by choice - and we become something else. In the Book of John (New Testament - last third of the Bible), chapter ten and verse thirty, Jesus says, "I and the Father are one." [N.I.V.] After being accused of blasphemy/lying by His fellow Jews, He then goes on to say, "Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (vs. 36-38). I encourage you to read the whole of John chapter ten in the N.I.V. version and then in the Message version (to contrast) to get a clearer sense of what Jesus said about Himself here and here.

You also mentioned, "one has to remember some of the things Jesus did, he traveled to other areas and learned other religious ways first hand, he learned Buddist things, Hindu things (Yoga for one, look how some paintings have Jesus sitting). And he also learned Pagan ways since that was the main thing in those days. So he came back and thought those things, the good parts to others." Now, I am fully aware that I do not know everything, nor will I in this life, but I have been an intentional follower of 'The Way' Jesus exemplified for about 21 years now and never have I read, heard or come across what you have mentioned above. While I am quite sure Jesus had knowledge of the ways and belief systems of other civilizations around His own, present and past, I cannot see how He (if we take Him at His word that He is the Son of God) would have any need of leaning on rituals and faith systems created by mankind when He Himself is God. God defines everything else other than Himself because by nature God is an 'independent' being - His existence is not contingent on anything because He is the Source of it all. We - and the whole created order - on the other hand are dependent beings/creations . . we can only survive by deriving our life from sources outside ourselves. I know of no recorded, historical accounts of Jesus going in search of truth/reality from man-made faith systems. Please enlighten me if you do know of such sources and point me in their direction so I search them out for myself. Even if there are credible sources stating the kinds of things you have suggested, the very existence of them would work against what the Scriptures reveal to be true of Jesus and what He said of Himself and His mission.

You said, "Too many ppl pray to Jesus and not God." Yes, this is true - a lot of Christians do pray to Jesus, but as you can see from Jesus' own statements about Him being one in nature and stature with God, it is understandable. If we believe what He said about Himself, then it follows that it makes sense to speak with Him as God('s Son). While Jesus never prayed to Himself, but to His Father (God), I think it is an entirely acceptable practice to speak directly with God the Father, God the Son or even God the Spirit (Holy Spirit). The predominant Christian understanding of God being triune in nature (a trinity of persons) means that They are all one and the same, yet different in expression/function and therefore They share the same significance and are due the same status. The Trinitarian nature of God has long been one that has perplexed many people but still it has persisted. While there is no explicit mention of 'the Trinity' in the Bible, it is implied many times over right from the beginning in the book of Genesis and through the book of Revelation (the first and last books). God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Spirit that is Holy are mentioned and referred to as being one with each other (interchangeably) all the way through the Bible. It is a mystery still - but an integral aspect of God's character is mystery and that is how I prefer it. ;-)

You asked about the church you go to teaching "You are what you say". I don't know exactly what you are telling me here or what the church may be teaching with this. Every pastor/teacher/minister/priest has a unique slant on how they share or 'pitch' a message. Maybe this is something unique to the priest where you have been attending? I agree that what we 'think' is a determining factor in our behavior - how we treat others and ultimately who we become (our character). The Bible says, " . . as a man thinks in his heart, so he is" in the book of Proverbs and also in the book of Mark, chapter seven, verses twenty through twenty three, "He [Jesus] went on: 'It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.' " So, in essence, I'm agreeing with you - what we are in our inner being is revealed in our words and behavior ('you'll know a tree by the fruit it bears'). Maybe whomever shared "You are what you say" at the church meant to encourage everyone to 'do what they say they'll do' - you know, follow through??

You said, "so now I'm learning more about Christian ways even tho the vast parts of it are from Pagan and Jewish beliefs. Actually pretty much all religions share the same core things, just have different names for it. Some call the energy CHI, you would know it as The Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. same stuff." Regarding your mention of Jewish beliefs being a source for many of the Christian beliefs - you are right. Christians understand Jewish faith as being the parent faith of Christianity yet not complete in itslef. Jewish faith had always (right from Genesis) been in a waiting posture for God's answer to humanity's predicament to arrive on the scene and make things right - set everything the way it was meant to be. The One they are eagerly waiting for is the Messiah (Hebrew) or the Christ (Greek) - both of which are translated as the 'Chosen' or 'Anointed One'. Basically, God's Son sent to be the answer to the world/humanity's problems. The place of divergence, or where Christianity separates from Judaism (Jewish beliefs), is that Christians believe Jesus (the Christ, the One from Nazareth) to be the Messiah and the Jews do not. They are still waiting. The Bible (and Jesus) are quite clear that the Messiah they are waiting for is a misunderstanding of God's intended and stated purpose for His Son. So, the Jews, not being able to take in or believe that Jesus of Nazareth was who He claimed and demonstrated Himself to be, killed Him themselves. That too was meant to happen as prophesied to fulfill God's purposes. And, as you are well aware, the story goes that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day which validated all He said and did before His death. Hey, if you were the Son of God and could rise from the dead wouldn't you?? ;-)

Regarding the seemingly overlap of other faith systems with Christianity, the best explanation of that occurrence comes to us from the author of the incomparable book 'The Lord of the Rings' - J.R.R. Tolkien himself (a devout Catholic). He had a conversation with another eminent scholar and writer C.S. Lewis ('Chronicles of Narnia' fame) prior to Lewis becoming a Christian in which they talked about all the resonances between the Christian story and other mythologies. Tolkien observed that Lewis had no problem immersing himself in the depth and richness of the old Norse and Greek myths - even to the point of wishing they were true - not wanting to remove himself from 'living' within them. It was the noblest, most honorable and upright elements of those stories that endeared them to Lewis and caused his soul to sing with delight. Tolkien then told Lewis why should it be any different then with the story of the world as told from the Christian worldview? Why did Lewis put up his guard when confronted with the realities of the 'good news' found in the Bible? Deep down Lewis wanted it to be true even if he didn't allow himself to consent to it intellectually. It's as if the Story of a good God lovingly reaching out to the people He made in joy was resonating with something deep inside him . . maybe because it was meant to.

Tolkien, ingenious author that he was, once stated that every 'good' story contains elements of the one 'true' story in it. Could it be that the Story which speaks to the deepest places in our souls and offers answers to our most innate desires could, in fact, be true?? Is it really true in every circumstance that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is? Most of the world, truthfully speaking, would hope it isn't the way. I love a good story . . how about you?

I leave you with the encouragement to also check out John chapter one verses one through thirty four in The Message version of the Bible. It has a lot to say to some of your thoughts/questions about who Jesus is. You can find it online here friend.

May God continue to reveal more of Himself to us and illuminate our otherwise muddied souls with the Light of lights and the Truth of all truths!

Catch you soon.