My Review of the new BBC & Netflix production: Troy: Fall of a City

 

The Iliad explodes in its first lines like a spurting artery:

The rage of Achilles — sing it now, goddess, sing through me the deadly rage that caused the Achaeans such grief and hurled down to Hades the souls of so many fighters, leaving their naked flesh to be eaten by dogs and carrion birds, as the will of Zeus was accomplished.” -Book 1, The Iliad, Homer

Unfortunately, the BBC version of the story is a slow burn that just barely gets to a boil in the last episode.

There are good moments, but overall, I found it forgettable. It barely kicked me in the guts, stirred my blood, or gave me goosebumps. There were very little ‘rewind that‘ moments for me and the reasons are explained below.

Re: Achilles:

David Gyasi who played Achilles, was flat as Coke set out on the counter overnight. This is especially true for a story that is primarily about Achilles! It hardly captured the sense of standing in the presence of a titan as presented in the Iliad. When Homer describes Achilles in the Iliad, you understand why he has become the mythological archetype of the warrior.

-“Like a bearded lion . . . gripped by piercing rage” (18.369, 374).

-“…inhuman fire raging on,” “like a frenzied god of battle trampling all he killed” (20.554, 558).

-“like something superhuman” (21.256).

-As he is approaching Hector the Iliad describes him this way:

“…Achilles was closing on him now like the god of war, the fighter’s helmet flashing, over his right shoulder shaking the Pelian ash spear, that terror, and the bronze around his body flared like a raging fire or the rising, blazing sun.” (22.157-61)

-“Would to god my rage, my fury would drive me now, to hack your flesh away and eat you raw” (22.408-9).

Re: The Men

As for some of the other men characters: I thought Priam, Odysseus and Agamemnon, then maybe Paris, were the only believable and memorable ones. I felt the ‘rage’ of Agamemnon far more than Achilles or even King Menelaus who lost Queen Helen to her paramore Paris of Troy! Ajax was ok, but not near enough screen time for me and most of the other men characters were competent but not ancient heroes that moved me.

Re: The Women

The love or lust didn’t convince me or make me swoon or fantasize about losing all the world for the beauty of one female face. The other female characters were awkward, odd, broody, butch or mere baggage to be handled. Andromache, Hector’s wife, played by Scottish actress Chloe Pirrie was my least favorite female character, she was not a woman I could see the mighty Hector sacrificing all to protect and honor. The women of the Iliad moved nations, and drove men to give up their lives to regain or protect, none of the women in this version of the story seemed to fit that category.

Re: Nudity and Sex

There was less nudity and sex than I thought was going to be introduced in this post Game of Thrones world but that is not to say it wasn’t present. It seems Netflix is jealous of HBO and is bent on pushing the line for more and more gratuitous sex in their productions. TVMA is the dominate rating for most of its adult shows these days. So be forewarned you will be disappointed if you thought you could expect a show more like the other classic BBC offerings, this one has the America appetite in mind.

Re: The Violence

For a story that takes place in the throes of battle, this was a very tame rumble more than a cataclysm, except during the last episode. There were only a few battle scenes that resembles the visceral and ominous depictions and descriptions of the Homeric tale. I am sure we are way too desensitized to violence in our entertainment appetites but in this tv/movie culture, depictions of war, modern or ancient have to engaging and filmed well to maintain interest. Troy offered up a lackluster amount of battle that made me longing for much more. If Hobbit movies outdo the Iliad, than someone needs to go back to film school.

Re: Homosexuality

The last issue I would like to address is the direction the script took with exploring the idea that Achilles and Patroclus were gay lovers as well as battle hardened, blood brothers of war.

I am not someone who has a hard time with diversity or inclusivity in film. I get the arguments being made in popular culture about identifying and including heroes and heroines of various kinds to empower and encourage those who often feel left out of stories or depictions of the real world. I may not approve of or support those choices or lifestyles but I do not think the whole world is expected to look or act like me or according to my own faith and values. That said, I am not a fan of historical revisionism or politically correct ideologically driven agendas. When not appropriate to the story, all of that heavy handedness weighs down the film and makes the issues of the day or the director’s focus eclipse the art. It’s like a third party shouting over a couple having a conversation, it’s annoying, distracting and obnoxious no matter how well intentioned.

In reference to the issue of presupposed homosexual insinuations and undertones in the lliad, I will point to C.S. Lewis’ thoughts in his chapter on ‘Friendship’ in his book ‘The Four Loves.

Those who cannot conceive of Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend.” –C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Finally, the exaltation of instinct, the dark gods in the blood; whose hierophants may be incapable of male friendship.-Friendship, The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

This imposes on me at the outset a very tiresome bit of demolition. It has actually become necessary in our time to rebut the theory that every firm and serious friendship is really homosexual. The dangerous word really is here important. To say that every Friendship is consciously and explicitly homosexual would be too obviously false; the wise-acres take refuge in the less palpable charge that it is really—unconsciously, cryptically, in some Pickwickian sense—homosexual. And this, though it cannot be proved, can never of course be refuted. The fact that no positive evidence of homosexuality can be discovered in the behavior of two Friends does not disconcert the wiseacres at all: “That,” they say gravely, “is just what we should expect.” The very lack of evidence is thus treated as evidence; the absence of smoke proves that the fire is very carefully hidden. Yes—if it exists at all. But we must first prove its existence. Otherwise we are arguing like a man who should say “If there were an invisible cat in that chair, the chair would look empty; but the chair does look empty; therefore there is an invisible cat in it.”

A belief in invisible cats cannot perhaps be logically disproved, but it tells us a good deal about those who hold it. Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly eves about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best. And the reason for this is important.”

In an era when we have so many men and women among us who have grown up during war and/or served in it, it’s unfortunate that the deep themes explored in the Iliad surrounding soldier life, get reduced to rage around the death of a supposed lover.

Men know (or need to know) they can love a brother without the intrusion of sexuality. In fact it is essential in my understanding of men and soul work to provide and facilitate the bonding of brotherhood in order to help men develop holistically and healthfully. Men need mature abilities to differentiate feelings, desire, impulse and thought in their inner lives and actions. Equating or injecting the homosexuality issue into the story hurts more than helps in my estimation. I know that would be contested in popular culture from the angle of someone who is coming to their own conclusions about their sexuality but as a conservative traditionalist, that’s my perspective. Men need to learn to love their children, their wives and their brothers, but in different ways, I think C.S. Lewis’s book helps with that education.

Re: The Soundtrack

It stunk, especially compared to the work of composer James Horner in the 2004 movie: Troy. (https://youtu.be/8YT3jTtLbb0)

In closing, I would give ‘Troy: The Fall of a City’ 3 out of 5 stars. It is worth watching and entertaining enough but I doubt many would watch it twice.

P.S. I would add that one of those stars is given in response to the performance of Odysseus and the hope that his storyline was a set up for a crack at ‘The Odyssey’. I think his character development and the agony of the role he played was salivating for a return performance.

Holding the tensions of Memory and Moment

Whenever I engage deeply in memory, I am reminded of CS. Lewis’s comments about the poet Wordsworth and the illusions of remembering and the purpose of longing:
 
If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.
 
That selection is found in a larger passage below, it’s well worth reading and holding in check as we all wrestle with the tension between memory and the moment.
 
We can often lose sight of the gift of the present in our longing for something in the past. My intentions of late in my remembrances are not to cast dissatisfaction or disillusionment over the present for anyone.
 
My hope in conjuring, is to reawaken the commitment to the values and practices that provided the context for our experiences.
 
There is always a limit to the experience, which is meant to connect us to it’s ultimate reality or source. Our pleasures are not intended to be mirages but markers to another country as Lewis often put it. That isn’t a sourpuss way to denigrate the joy of the moment but to connect it to the anticipation of more. Which is another way of saying, this isn’t all there is, it is good, but there is so much more good, to come. It is a treasure of a greater treasure.
 
That idea is at the heart of celebration not degradation. We always need to be careful that we do not steal the good, beautiful and true from the gift before us, even when we might contemplate the gifts beyond us.
 
The root of life is glorious even through it’s eternal bloom will far exceed its present bounty.
 
C.S. Lewis in ‘The Weight of Glory’:
In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both.
 
We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter.
 
Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.
 
These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”
 
“Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.

The Re-Enchantment of Life: why cultural celebrations matter even if they have pagan roots

There’s an argument in some religious circles that hunting for brightly colored easter eggs, chasing fluffy bunnies and yellow baby chicks, gorging on chocolates or dressing up in fancy dresses and hats is sacrilegious in light of the resurrection of Jesus.

This view is usually derived from the real and/or supposed pagan roots of the dwellers of the ancient British Isles*. They warn that participation ends up putting those practices dangerously shoulder to shoulder with Jesus, the bible, sacred tradition and piety. There’s the concern that Jesus could be eclipsed by these celebrations or that one is somehow delving into paganism through participation and betraying their faith.

The theological sin of syncretism: “the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.” is a real issue in the world. My point in this post is not to minimize anyone’s sincere desire or conviction of conscience to be faithful to the Lord in what they do or don’t do, that is a right and privilege that the gospel grants all of us as worshippers.

Romans 14:1,5: Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong…some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.”

The point I would like to offer up is connected to the ultimate meaning of these attractions and the needs we are witnessing in our culture. There is a real desire for seasonal celebrations and communal practices that mark the known and unknown realities of human life. There’s almost an inward wiring for cyclical ritual, rite and rule of life connected to stories and shared practices.

In a world becoming more and more thin on meaning and values, maybe we should be less concerned about the roots of activities and more concerned about the de-enchantment of modern life. It could be that the disemboweling of life of mystery and magic and turning it into a sterile, intellectual, petri-dish enterprise has done more to create disconnect, disenfranchisement and disillusionment with people than any story about bunnies laying eggs!  

Instead of posturing our religious selves in a state of antagonism and defense against the idea that our true stories and practices might be similar somehow to other myths, we should be showing how all our stories are most fulfilled in the ultimate story found in the scriptures and most importantly Jesus Christ, the God-man.

We are well positioned to share that our longing for the natural to yield or make space for the supernatural, identifies a deep orientation that can lead us where we are supposed to go…back to our Creator.

While judging and condemning the fascinations, celebrations and practices of the those who are not Christians, we fail to see that our own sacred stories seem to the pagan mind very similar, full of mystery and wonder. The miraculous catches of fish, dead people coming back to life, wine and bread miracles, blind eyes seeing, paralyzed people walking, bodily ascensions, flames on heads, angels, devils, demoniacs and dragons all seem otherworldly. Maybe they are just as odd as chasing rabbits and consuming highly industrialized, food-coloring sprayed, just shy of styrofoam, spawns of evil called…Peeps!  

In some ways the pagan** is more akin to the pious than the mere secular, atheist materialist and far less the enemy from a metaphysical, worldview standpoint. We should be able to understand a people or culture whose practices, beliefs and reverence for seasonal changes arose because they directly connected with the sustainability and survival of life. There is an innate religious mind in all humans who bear the image of their Creator. It takes years of humanistic secularism grounded in postmodern materialism to detach the human heart and mind from affinity to the numinous.

Even within such cold and cranial communities we see that the love of story, wonder, mystery and magic are fascinations not easily eradicated. Our whole entertainment industry feeds us stories of myth, supernatural, goblins, wizards, superheroes and space explorations. From the viewpoint of the secular evolutionist, we appear to be philosophizing Apes with our heads and hearts in Olympus, Valhalla or Xanadu!

It appears we are…born to believe.

Acts 17:26-28: “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’”

Our cultural practices and celebrations may be like ‘gropings’ but let’s never underestimate the power of story and play and their ability to open the heart and mind to truth. Maybe it’s time to get back down with the knee-biters and grope around the bushes and trees for some colored eggs, we just might discover more than we ever imagined!

Footnotes:

  1.  *see: ‘Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?’ https://bit.ly/22q8lQj)

 

  1. **I use the word pagan not as a dismissive or denigrating label but as a descriptive of a person connected to old ways, traditions and practices or disassociated with the Christian world view or culture.

 

The Three-Barbed Hook of the Devil

You might be burned out on church, ministry or even Jesus, because you’ve taken the bait of the three temptations of Satan. After almost 30 years of ministry, I have a few thoughts that might help remove this three-barbed hook of hell.  

First the short story in Matthew 4:1-11

4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

After a lot of hard life lessons in ministry and church, I’ve come to see the three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness are at the heart of so much failure, fruitlessness and frustration in ministry. Here’s a few of my thought from personal experience on each.

  1. Turning Stones to Bread.

This is the temptation to allow one’s self and ministry to become a commodity. To be pressed into being a ‘resource instead of a relationship’. This can be true as a pastor, leader or true of a church community or ministry. Individually, the result is you lose your sense of being a person, you become lonely and grow resentful that people only value what you give them or do for them. This paradigm ends up sucking out your soul, leads to a jaded view of others and can drain mercy of meaning and instead leaves you perpetually feeling under the pressure of manipulation. Churches that are driven by a ‘stone to bread’ mission often perpetuate a works oriented mindset that feeds people’s egos and draws people who have drives to feel important. Messiah complexes are rampant in this circle. Overworked souls suffer under the premises that a real Christian burns out for Jesus and is perpetually an open hand for anyone. There are no boundaries and self-care only comes after the crash. Many people leave churches and leadership because they never realize that there is no end to stones. Mission on it’s own can become a madness that deludes people into wasting years of their lives trying to figure out how to turn stones to bread. It’s hard for some people to think the devil could tempt someone to do good and it’s a lesson few learn until the damage is done.

  1. The Temple Pinnacle

The need to feel important, to do something that others notice, is a nefarious impulse that is often behind the butts, budgets and buildings drive. More, higher, bigger, the words used to describe this drive are often tucked away in well sounding christianese but at the core is the need to be seen as competent, popular, innovative, a world changer, an entrepreneur, a real risk taker and way maker. There’s a lot of testosterone fueling these endeavors and it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘make a difference’ crusade. This circle makes ordinary people, with ordinary jobs or life routines feel less than others. This circle falls under the Pinterest and Instagram illusion: where appearances are not as they seem. It a ‘cropped and filtered’ life. Everything looks better than it is and there is very little room for real life issues, problems or failures. Divorced people, disabled people, people in recovery, the fat or gangly, pimpled, frumpy or over the hill often get to watch and consume while the latest version of what is “in” has the pulpit, speaking circuit, stage, microphone or camera. Then there’s the whole ‘bigger & better’ cycle of showing off that means each and every event has to outdo the previous. Sooner or later this machine chews up good intentioned people or disenfranchises the easily unimpressed crowd and they move on to the next new church or a better version of your knock-off that is in the world.

  1. The Top of the Mountain:

“Bow to me” is at the end of this drive. Whatever mountain you are trying so desperately to get to the top of, ends eventually in servitude. It’s a race to the top to get the most power, prestige, profit or your share of the ‘gold, girls/guys and glory!’ Oh sure you can spiritualize it all and make it sound like some religious achievement or rationalize it with a bunch of self-actualizing philosophy but at its heart is a prison of forced servitude. You will lose you in it and more than likely, a lot of relationships and self-respect as well.

All of these temptations strike at the heart of our need for identity, a sense of purpose, well being and relationship. Too much religious culture is infected with these temptations and the carnage and crippled lives are littered in the path of this three-horse, pulled chariot and the devil is cracking the whip to always drive faster, higher and farther. Don’t fall for these temptations, they are lies and they will steal from you life, time, fruitfulness, friends and joy.

A moment of prayer for you:

I pray that the Holy Spirit will help us all escape from these tempting, spiritual mirages and lead us to reject them as Jesus did. Right now, I pray that as the Lord was ministered to by Angels, you too would find a supernatural moment of care. You need to be touched by the grace of God and healed from the madness, misdirection and mania associated with these dead-end drives. Knowledge is not enough, you need comfort, counsel and care. God desires to minister to you, to touch you and speak a consoling word of wisdom into your exhaustion, dissolution and anger. He desires to release a fresh renewal into this season of your life that will liberate you from these religious hamster wheels. All that you think or feel was wasted over the years, won’t be in vain, even the stuff that was a waste, God can use to fertilize the abundance of good fruit to come. Sometimes we are like Samson and our last moments of life are far more impactful than the years of questionable warriorhood were, do not despair saint, God hears your cry and has seen your labor and you are loved. He is here to save your from these devilish temptations if you have ears to hear and eyes to see. I pray you do for you own soul and the sake of a well managed life.

The Easter Battle of 733

Every Easters, I hear folks getting uptight or asking questions about the legitimacy of Christians participating in coloring eggs, eating chocolate bunnies and holding little chicks. This is my answer. 

———————————————–

In 733 the hamlet of Brusselsprout was all astir,
church bells clambered with fearful ferocity,
the apocalypse’s rumored eve was near,
for the nearby village of Dingledort was surely burning!

Hordes of menacing fluffy beasts,
stampeding hedges, leaping across porches,
scurrying over shuttered rooftops,
zigzagging neighing ponies feet!

The night full of screeching and scratching,
the battle of ‘aggedon was upon them!
Flashes of yellow lightning,
over-taking every hollow and hill!
Talons and beaks flashing,
frantic fluttering scampering,
clucking the prophesied doom!

Springtime horror!
Diabolical dress!
Yellow as bile,
green as dragon’s breath!
Devilishly sweet to the taste,
ancient poison of the soul.

Sister Sauerkraut wielded her broom,
like galiant St. George on his steed,
fighting the invading hordes of hell,
the furry and feathered…Mephistopheles!

Before each Easter,
the diabolical tale is told,
by pulpit and paper,
whisper and whimper,
of masses driven mad by the devils goad,
beware the bunnies, chicks and sweets,
heed the warning of this frightening ode!

A helpful postscript:
This Ode is inspired by the tradition of Easter having its roots in Saxon paganism by Venerable Monk Bede:
“In olden times the English people…calculated their months according to the course of the Moon. April, Eosturmonath…Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month” and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”
-Written by the monk, Venerable Bede in ‘De temporum ratione’ (On the Reckoning of Time, c. 730)

My tongue is squarely in my cheek.

Theoden, Pastors and the Plight of the Church

 
Last night I had the privilege of preaching at the Union Gospel Mission and witnessed another mighty haul of fish in the net. The glory of God was thick in the room and yet again, I was reminded of the plea and pain of Jesus’s parable in Luke 14:16-21:
 
“Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses. “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
 
Such realities are well known to many leaders and the weight of it is thinning the ranks. Our seminaries are searching hard for less and less candidates, our churches are closing and too many pulpits are cold forges that have lost the flame.
 
Congregations are being entertained and coddled like people on cruise ships and those who long for meaning and mission are looked upon as oddities or malcontents.
 
Some of this sickness is because leaders have succumbed to managing the mission from offices instead of outreach. The lords of the land are getting spayed and neutered by the necromancy of niceties. Wormtongue has lulled them into sitting instead of standing, silence instead of proclamation, talks instead of oracle givers. The throne has been replaced with an easy chair and the results speak for themselves.
 
These are dire times and the church and her leaders must wake from this damnable delusion.
I cut my teeth on the call of God and preaching outside of church meetings. My life of mission was born out of face to face encounters. Ministry as I knew it, took place not behind a pulpit but on sidewalks, in hallways, apartments, businesses, coffee shops, homes, schools and at night under the illuminating glow of neon signs.
 
My early congregations were small, made up of students, drunks, the homeless, skinheads, gutter punks, friends, backpackers, hostel residents, business people, madmen, bosses and employees, family, prostitutes, transvestites and addicts.
 
Early on I thought church was where you went to get equipped and fueled up to continue the work outside, I didn’t think it was where the work happened. But the more I got pulled into the church culture, the more I began to see that inside the building people said one thing, but the environment and example contradicted the message. The inside culture grows to become about those inside, not those outside. And soon Jacob’s trouble’s begin and those troubles can knock the wind right out of a soul winner’s heart.
 
The inside church culture can get consumed with issues that eventually turn kings into captives.
 
Like Theoden of Rohan in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers, a cold delusion takes over and mummifies men into managers, women of war into blind and paranoid throne warmers. The Enemy always seeks to tempt prophets with the pinnacles of the temple, instead of allowing them to roam dangerously free among the countryside and it’s still true today. One of the reasons I maintain ministry among the places I do, is to fight the power of such sickness.
 
Kings need Eomer’s who will stay faithful to them and the kingdom, even when their kings are prone to dotage in their waning age.
 
The Two Towers, The King of the Golden Hall:
“Théoden before his ‘sickness’ had been much loved by all his kin and people, and the loyalty of Théodred and Éomer remained steadfast, even in his apparent dotage Éomer also was not an ambitious man, and his love and respect for Théodred (thirteen years older than he) was only second to his love of his foster-father.”
 
This is the time when Kings go off to war and too many of us are lounging, longingly on the rooftops of palaces being lured into compromise and catastrophe by our lusts and leisure, while the fighters fall on the front.
 
But this does not have to be.
 
Our times, our churches, our kings…need more Gandalfs willing to war for the heart and minds of leaders. Daring to confront the lies and luxuries of the hour and call them back to who they were meant to be.
 
The Two Towers, The King of the Golden Hall:
“Thus Gandalf softly sang, and then suddenly he changed. Casting his tattered cloak aside, he stood up and leaned no longer on his staff; and he spoke in a clear cold voice. ‘The wise speak only of what they know, Gríma son of Gálmód. A witless worm have you become. Therefore be silent, and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till the lightning falls.’ He raised his staff. There was a roll of thunder. The sunlight was blotted out from the eastern windows; the whole hall became suddenly dark as night. The fire faded to sullen embers. Only Gandalf could be seen, standing white and tall before the blackened hearth. There was a flash as if lightning had cloven the roof. Then all was silent. Wormtongue sprawled on his face.
 
‘Now Théoden son of Thengel, will you hearken to me?’ said Gandalf. ‘Do you ask for help?’ He lifted his staff and pointed to a high window. There the darkness seemed to clear, and through the opening could be seen, high and far, a patch of shining sky. ‘Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find. No counsel have I to give to those that despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? They are not for all ears. I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.’
 
From the king’s hand the black staff fell clattering on the stones. He drew himself up, slowly, as a man that is stiff from long bending over some dull toil. Now tall and straight he stood, and his eyes were blue as he looked into the opening sky. “Dark have been my dreams of late,” he said, “but I feel as one new awakened.”
 
True transformation happens in moments like these and those encounters lead kings back to the battlefields and out of the throne rooms.
The Return of the King:
… the drawing of the scimitars of the Southrons was like a glitter of stars. Then Théoden was aware of him, and would not wait for his onset, but crying to Snowmane he charged headlong to greet him. Great was the clash of their meeting. But the white fury of the Northmen burned the hotter, and more skilled was their knighthood with long spears and bitter. Fewer were they but they clove through the Southrons like a fire-bolt in a forest. Right through the press drove Théoden Thengel’s son, and his spear was shivered as he threw down their chieftain. Out swept his sword, and he spurred to the standard, hewed staff and bearer; and the black serpent foundered. Then all that was left unslain of their cavalry turned and fled far away.”
 
Would you take a moment and pray for you pastor and church right now? Pray that the light of Heaven would dispel the clouds of gloom, weariness and forgetfulness. Pray that the Wormtongues around them would be replaced with Eomers and Gandalfs.
 
Pray that your church members would rally around truth of the gospel and reengage the mission of God in their cities wherever they find themselves. All of us are called to be at work in the vineyard of the Lord in some capacity as mothers, fathers, students, elders or children. All have a meaningful opportunity to serve and influence others for Christ for the glory of God and the lives of the lost.

Why Jesus was hungry after His Resurrection

Jesus, the Last Adam, engaged in an interesting moment after his resurrection that Luke chronicled this in his gospel memoirs in Luke 24:36-45:

“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

I find this moment to be powerfully important in a day when too many people think that Jesus is only concerned about the eternals and all this mortal life is just wood for the fires of the afterlife. Jesus chose eating some fish as His convincing proof of being who He said He was. Like any man I know, after a long day’s work, He asks: ‘Is there anything to eat!”. So mundane, so earthy, so, well, humanish. Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth, He is the Incarnation, the God-man, the ladder between both worlds. The unifier and sanctifier of our normal lives. He makes the mundane, miraculous! What He touches is made sacred…flesh, womb, family life, work, friendship, walking, conversations, religious gathering attendance and even…eating. The Last Adam picks up where the first Adam, failed. Seeing Jesus in this light, helps us get free from all that funky, fractured fundamentalism that sees people as only ghosts, unembodied souls, floating around waiting for some destination.

I am not saying that eternal life as presented in the gospel isn’t essential, it is, we must be born again, saved from our sins and place our trust in Christ for our full salvation. But I hope we can see, that we also need our understanding about the nature of eternal life expanded too. We have eternal life now and it extends perpetually, that is an issue not only of destination but of quality in the here and now.

We want to see Jesus in the Psalms. We need to ask for the Lord to ‘open our minds to understand’ as well. Ultimately we are all after wisdom. we desire to know who we are in light of who God is. We long to understand our place in the chaos of the cosmos. We want to discover how to live meaningful and fruitful lives, how to give voice to what is inside us and to create a world worth leaving for those we love. We are driven to understand the mysteries of this natural world and the realities of the eternal world.

We want meaningful answers to the big existential questions of the human heart like:
• Who am I?
• What is the meaning of life?
• Is there a God?
• How do I define right and wrong?
• Is there truth?
• Why do people suffer?

But we also want to understand how the truth of the Bible fits into all the small moments of our lives like:
-Making lunch
-Raising stubborn kids
-Marriage fights
-Incontinence,
-Retirement planning
-Depression and anxiety
-Choosing the right job
-How to have friendships that last
-Dealing with addictions,
-How to handle our lusts?
-How to manage anger and disappointment?
-What to do with betrayals of trust?
-How to face raising children in the age of terror?

We want a Jesus we can find on the seashore cooking breakfast as well as a faith that can withstand all the rigorous academic realities of university life.
We want to know what to do with our same sex attraction, our gambling habits or our desire to hire a hitman for our crazy ex!
We need to learn how to pray when we feel a million miles away from anything spiritual.
We also need to know how to show up for yet another business meeting when our hearts and minds are drenched in the glory of our morning devotions and we could care less about deadlines, budgets and marketing matters.

Thankfully the Psalms and the other wisdom books are provided for those of us who find ourselves face to face with the mundane more than the miraculous, the frustrating more than the fantastic! For us who seem to have more battle than the victory, panic than peace. We need a spirituality that can stand up to a love life of ‘swipe lefts’ and a prayer book for those more fat, floppy and frigid than fit, firm and frisky!

I challenge you today to take the life you have and give it to God. Pray and sing with the words of your real life with all it’s beauty and beastliness, delight and disappointment, ecstasy and emptiness, raises and overdrafts, the success and the suck.

Gather all that life up and place it on the altar of your unwashed kitchen table, light the incense of a marlboro red, pour out a drink offering of folgers dark and let the jaundice or joyful Psalms pour out of your soul to the Lord. That is the pathway towards wisdom, or at least it’s the first step towards it for people like you and me.

(Selection from my sermon: Created For Creation on Psalm 8. You can listen to it here: http://www.jacobswellspokane.com/?p=976)

A Long Farewell

I have said too many goodbyes of late,

some that I had anticipated,

that came from my lips,

like a lover’s slow kiss to the forehead,

but others,

were torn from my chest,

like a falcon pulling fish from stream.

 

Saying goodbye is like dancing with ghosts,

a familiar apparition that one can’t control,

one moment it appears,

the next, gone,

ever anticipating surprise,

ever nursing each rewouding.

 

Togetherness is a possession of soul,

and for such poltergeists,

all goodbyes are long farewells,

our last embracings,

a way of embalming what was.

 

Haunting remembrances,

poignant pauses,

soft whispers,

glimpses in the kitchen,

the touch of a cup,

the scent on wind

sunlit glades,

a taste,

a sound,

a feeling.

 

Cursed be goodbye,

a loathsome, papercut word,

and to speak of these things as endings,

is to surrender more power to passing,

than the heart can bear.

 

Funerals and memorials,

graduations and movings,

faces and places,

seasons, states and

senses of being,

 

Handshakes and speeches,

stories and mementos,

printed words or echoing song,

all bear our memories

like water upholds stone,

each skip closer to the sinking.

 

The soul’s Autumns,

always plead for coverings of snow,

false forgettings,

momentary and hallowed silences,

that warm tears defiantly melt.

 

Yet, new things will grow,

on the hard ground of the past,

regrettably and…thankfully,

it must be,

but not yet…not yet,

I plead.

a poem by eric blauer 3.2.18

Examining the Types of Friends in the story of Job

Here’s a few examples of the types of people or the type of conversations we often face in our friendships. The old saying is some people are in our lives as a blessing and others to teach us a lesson.

1.The “I got a word” friend: (Eliphaz)
Job 4:12-17
“A word was brought to me in secret; my ears caught a whisper of it. Among unsettling thoughts from visions in the night, when deep sleep descends on men, fear and trembling came over me and made all my bones shake. A wind/spirit passed by me, and I shuddered with fear. A figure stood there, but I could not recognize its appearance; a form loomed before my eyes. I heard a quiet voice: “Can a person be more righteous than God, or a man more pure than his Maker?

This person is often injecting their ideas of what God is doing or expects us to do. They want to direct us instead of offering up their thoughts for us to discern as helpful or not. They try to speak for God. It’s often a controlling issue that reflects a unsafe person. 3 out of the 4 friends were wrong according to God in the end of the book. Only one friend, Eliphaz, wasn’t rebuked by God. Think about that when you analyze the voices that you have given authority in your life.

2. The “if I were you” friend: (Eliphaz)
Job 5:8 “However, if I were you, I would appeal to God and would present my case to Him.”

The friend who always has to say something and usually ends up turning everything we are going through into some story about themselves. These people are consumed with themselves. They use us to help themselves and are rarely there for us. Their advice is usually demeaning.

3. The insensitive, clueless or cruel friend: (Bildad)
Job 8:4“When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.

These types of people, often wound us deeply through connecting our pain and suffering with their idea of sin. Every bad thing that happens is a direct connection to our failure somewhere. These types can often find pleasure in our pain. Like a beauty pageant contestant taking pleasure over the prettiest getting a zit on her nose. The others problems become stepping stones for our exaltation. They use us, even our sufferings to make themselves feel better to advance their own agendas. These people often leave us first in dark or trying seasons.

4. The ‘You just haven’t prayed enough friend. (Bildad)
Job 8:5-6
But if you will seek God earnestly and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state.”

The hyper-spiritual friend whose worldview is cause them to think in dualistic ways. Things are either good or bad, God or the devil, black or white. These types think all the challenges of life have spiritual roots. They often build their own sense of importance or acceptance from others and God on their religious performance and then judge others if they don’t measure up to their own standards. Superstitious like ideas and practices often follow these types and faith seems more like magic than a relationship. All of life becomes about accessing the powers and trying to control one’s world through various tricks and tips. Spirituality is often reduced to accomplishments and external signs or achievements. Who we are and how we appear to be, becomes more important than walking with one another. Conquering life becomes more important than covenant and community. They will walk with you, as long as your walk validates theirs.

5. The “God’s ways are higher than our ways’ friend: (Zophar)
Job 11:7-9
“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above – what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below, what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.”

This person hasn’t taken the time in life to dig into the marrow matters. They rely on shallow and simplistic answers. They want to move on and move away from anything that is difficult, confusing or makes them feel bad. Other people’s sorrows are something to fix, so we all can just get on with our happy lives. They often fall for the prosperity gospel or superficial christianity, because it feels better or is more fun. These circles are not for intellectuals.

6. The “stop sinning” friend: (Zophar)
Job 11:13-15
“Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear.”

This person sees our suffering directly connected to our sin. They can’t accept unmerited suffering and they likewise struggle in life to accept unmerited grace. These types gravitate to law based churches or demanding people. They thrive in systems that provide ways to prove ourselves better or more worthy than others. Perfectionist types are often found in these circles. They see the whole of life through a performance grid. To them acceptance is based on performance and the best are those who try the hardest and the losers are just religious collateral damage.

Here’s the audio of the sermon for those interested: “Healthy friendships are foundational to living a life of meaning and fruitfulness. God said at the dawn of human creation that is not good that we are alone and that all need helpers. (Genesis 2:18). Unfortunately we often hurt more than help one another in life. This sermon examines Job’s friends and the types of signs we can see in their words that will help us determine if we are building friendships that truly help or hurt us.” http://www.jacobswellspokane.com/?p=967

Job, Florida shootings and a fool’s hope

The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

Our gathering of the church at Jacob’s Well is currently working through the book of Job. It’s a fitting piece of literature to be neck deep within, in light of the Florida shootings and the aftermath of suffering, sorrow and denouncements. Unlike Job’s friends, we do not sit in silence in the face of horror and pain, we quickly jump to raging against one another, existence, God and our own vulnerability in it all.

I find that the words I am reading are a release for my own emotions, frustrations and perplexities, kind of like lancing a swollen, red to the touch, infected wound. To be honest, I can’t seem to find anger in the bottom of my emotional barrel, it seems it has also fallen victim to the tide of terror. In this moment, I have…

Turned away from people, because…

“…how can you console me with your nonsense? Nothing is left of your answers but falsehood!” -Job (21:34)

I turn to God but…

Job 23:5-6,8-9,16-17
If only I knew where to find him;
if only I could go to his dwelling!
I would state my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would find out what he would answer me,
and consider what he would say to me.
Would he vigorously oppose me with great power?

But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.

God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me.
Yet I am not silenced by the darkness,
by the thick darkness that covers my face.”

I turn to the sages of the past but…

Oh, all that my pitiful earthly Euclidean mind can grasp is that suffering exists, that no one is to blame, that effect follows cause, simply and directly, that everything flows and finds its level –but, then this is only Euclidean nonsense. I know that and I refuse to live by it! What do I care that no one is to blame, that effect follows cause simply and directly and that I know it –I must have retribution or I shall destroy myself. And retribution not somewhere in the infinity of space and time, but here on earth, and so that I could see it myself. I was a believer, and I want to see for myself. And if I’m dead by that time, let them resurrect me, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair. Surely the reason for my suffering was not that I as well as my evil deeds and sufferings may serve as manure for some future harmony for someone else. I want to see with my own eyes the lion lie down with the lamb and the murdered man rise up and embrace his murderer. I want to be there when everyone suddenly finds out what it has all been for.
-The Brothers Karamazov by by Fyodor Dostoevsky:

Like a restless night of numbing insomnia, I keep turning over and over, praying for the night and it’s nightmares to end. I wake in hope, but sometimes it does feel like, a “fool’s Hope”.

Gandalf put his hand on Pippin’s head. “There never was much hope,” he answered. “Just a fool’s hope, as I have been told.” -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King