Monthly Archives: May 2013

We are not Zombies: The End of the World (as we know it)

I know this isn’t going to come as a surprise to you.  I’ve been noticing this trend for a while and so have you, but today I reached my limit.  Apparently the end of the world is coming, and maybe – just maybe – it’s already here. 

How do I know?  What signs and portents have I seen?  Oh I’m just looking at the movie trailers on TV.  The latest I’ve seen is World War Z (book turned movie).  It combines two fascinations, post-apocalyptic world and zombies.  Perfect!  It’s sure to be a blockbuster.  In fact it doesn’t even matter if the actors are any good or the plot has anything unique to contribute to the genre (see… well any action or slapstick comedy remake/series in the last 20 years).

There has always been an element of escapism (call it entertainment) to the movies.  When I lived in the Philippines it was that it was one of the few places with great air conditioning – you were literally escaping the harsh realities of life, the heat!  I think of Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator in a bit of commentary on gladiatorial combat as diversion for the masses who wouldn’t care about injustice so long as they were amused with gory entertainment.  “Are you not entertained?” (Do that in your best gruff Crowe voice, well suited to “The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor.”  Not so much for singing the booming lyrics of Les Miserables’ Javert.)

But set that aside.  Because I wonder what else is really going on.  This isn’t simply about entertainment or escapism – at least I don’t think so.  Why are we so fascinated right now with apocalyptic/zombie/super hero genres?  We buy this.  “They” wouldn’t make these movies if we weren’t willing to lap them up like so much gold (fool’s gold though it may be).  An lap it up to the tune of billions of dollars.  BILLIONS!  We can’t feed our neighbors but we are spending billions of dollars on 2 hours of entertainment!  And it wouldn’t be done if we weren’t so willing to play the game.

While I’m curious really about the post-apocalyptic stuff because I think its tapping into our sense of the world be out of control and us being agents of our own demise… but I’m actually going to skip right on to the zombie.  I wonder if the current fascination with zombie apocalypse in particular has something to do with the nature of the zombie.  A human who is walking dead, unthinking, uncaring, only concerned with the satiation of its carnal desires… in this case literally consuming people.

Is the zombie the great commentary on American culture disease? 

On some level do we believe that we have already become zombies but we don’t really know what to do about it, how to stop it, or redirect our full descent?  There is something freeing (yes I really mean that) into thinking that this is true.  There is a HUGE gift to being convinced that we are just zombies.  Because a zombie cannot be blamed for what it does.  It lacks the capacity to be more. It lacks THE RESPONSIBILITY to be more.  And it cannot change.  It’s the ultimate fatalistic get out of jail free card.  I am a product of something else absolved of responsibility for simply walking into a future filled… apathy really, because despair is an emotion I can no longer feel.

This then forms a great connection to the superhero genre that has gone gangbusters.  (It only took them 5 years to need to remake the Hulk movie, we have a new superman coming, and of course pretty much every MARVEL character is being brought to life on the big screen year by year.)  And a similar theme is found.  What is the joy of the superhero?  We may think it’s simply the entertainment, the vicarious joy of seeing achievement taken to super levels (and we are a very achievement oriented people), but I also note this – in such movies what we encounter is a hero who comes in and solves our problems that were too big (and too bad) for us.  Superhero movies rarely celebrate you and me.  In fact, we are fodder to their movies.  Even when the “super” isn’t achieved through radioactive accident or alien ancestry (or godhood if your Thor) it’s usually by being an off the charts genius who also has off the charts financial resources.  We don’t have to have responsibility or be a part of the answer to the status of the world around us… someone else will come in and clean up the mess.

And yet… Superman isn’t real and to whatever extent we act like zombies we ARE responsible for the perpetuation of the choices that make us so. 

We might be skeptical of the direction of the world.  But the answer to this is not to blame “them.”  (Whether them is politicians serving corporate money, the actual multinational corporations themselves who are only interested in profiting off people’s dysfunctions and not solving them, or… well whomever.)  To my mind the solutions begin in recognizing that we are them.  We are the responsible party.  We are the problem, and we have to be the solution – or part of it at least.  I’m not particularly interested in being a part of the post-apocalyptic reality.  You know the people who sit around lamenting that “them” destroyed the world through their own greedy perpetuation of ways and means that led to global disaster.  I want to be a part of the people who stop short.  The ones who recognized that we are neither zombies nor superheroes but with hope changed the world one step at a time.

We are ordinary people who are nevertheless capable of doing extraordinary things.  Its amazing what a single person (let alone a community of people) is capable of once they stop waiting for the job to get done for them, stop blinding themselves (or anesthetizing) to the status of the world and their own culpability in that, and start making the hard choices to change the future.   

Here is a small example, a community that turned its city into a garden producing food to feed a new future:

They aren’t alone, this is but one example, and it’s not even the best example just the one I came across today.  There are imaginative and resilient communities all over the world who aren’t waiting for big answers but, starting of their own initiative as small actions, are changing the world.  Pre-apocalyptic revolution!  That’s a movie worth watching.

Sabbath Practice: When doing nothing is radical discipleship

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now.  Okay, maybe more than a bit.  From several directions in several ways I’m staring at my screen thinking – what do I do with this???  How do I make this work???

So you know what I’m going to do with it?   Nothing.

I mean it, I’m. Doing. Nothing.

And by this I do not mean that I’m avoiding it.  I’m not procrastinating.  I’m not passing the buck.  I’m actually just not going to feed my anxiety and pretend that I can control the world around me.  So I’m going home to rest for half an hour before I pick up my son for his piano lesson.  And as I do this, I leave you these words that led me to this decision from the great prophet himself, Walter Brueggemann, in a reflection on the Sabbath commandment and the creation story that leads one of those Sabbath commandments to be about rest as God rested.

And then, it is reported as the culmination of the liturgical recital, God rested. God rested on the seventh day.  God did not show up to do more. God absented God’s self from the office. God did not come and check on creation in anxiety to be sure it was all working. God has complete confidence in the fruit-bearing, blessing-generating processes of creation that have been instituted. God exhibits no anxiety about the life-giving capacity of creation. God knows the world will hold, the plants will perform, and the birds and the fish and the beasts of the field will prosper.  Humankind will govern the earth in a generative way.  All will be well, and all manner of thing will be well!

 The message I hear? 

 God didn’t helicopter parent.  God didn’t micro-manage.  God didn’t play puppet-master.

 And this means that I shouldn’t either.  So this is me, leaving a bit early today.  Taking a deep breath.  And trusting that all will be well – or that I can’t just will it all better, and to think that this is my job alone (or in any kind of special way) is to presume more than even God is willing to take on.  (Yikes!)

 See you all tomorrow! 🙂

The Moral Arc of the Gospel

Earlier today I was doing some research and did a search of the PC(USA) Book of Confession.   I was searching and reading all the references to baptism. In doing so I came across more than one statement rejecting baptisms done by women including this line from the Scots Confession: “This is why we abandon the teaching of the Roman Church and withdraw from its sacraments; firstly, because their ministers are not true ministers of Christ Jesus (indeed they even allow women, whom the Holy Ghost will not permit to preach in the congregation to baptize) and, secondly, because they have so adulterated both the sacraments with their own additions that no part of Christ’s original act remains in its original simplicity. The addition of oil, salt, spittle, and such like in baptism, are merely human additions.”

After I read this (and got done laughing about the spittle in the baptismal water) I had some pause for shock.  I know that the Scots Confession in particular is a very contextual confession.  It’s hard to understand the vehemence with which they felt the need to be disassociated from the Roman Catholic Church.  But what hit me in a way I had never triggered on before is this whole deal that in a time when even the Roman Catholics were okay with women baptizing the Reformed (but clearly not reformed enough)Tradition (from which we get Presbyterianism) was rejecting any notion that women could baptize.  It’s not about the person it’s about the Holy Spirit –unless that person was a women and then it’s all about her… or more accurately her illegitimacy as a person capable of leading God’s people or enacting a sign of God’s grace.

This reminded me again (I’m daily reminded of such) that whatever we may think and claim all of us have a fluid interpretation of scriptural authority.  Our understanding of God’s will shifts – in many different directions.  This reminds me of the oft quoted saying (well oft quoted by me at least): “The moral arc of the gospel bends toward inclusion.” –Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Theologian (with a hat tip to Martin Luther King Jr. who said that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.)  Dividing walls fall.  Over. And. Over.  Yes we try to shore them up from time to time, yes they take a long time to fall.  But they do fall.  This happens within scripture.  This happens still today.

Our view of what scripture says to us about God’s will changes.  It’s just that simple.  (And no that isn’t simple- that is deeply complex, but the reality that our interpretations of scripture and discernment of God’s will changes is not really up for debate for any but those unwilling to broaden their perspectives about their own viewpoints and the history of those viewpoints.)  God is constantly trying to imagine that the Kingdom of God (which I usually prefer to call the Community of God but bow to tradition… yah I get the irony of admitting that here) is bigger than we can imagine, just as God is a bigger God than our intellect.

What ways is God trying to expand your horizons, viewpoints, and imagination?  How is God bending you towards inclusion?

Loving and hating ourselves

A couple years ago I led a group in a study of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Living Buddha, Living Christ. It was really a great study, and we generally didn’t have any hang ups in the group about deepening our Christian faith and practice through the writings and wisdom of a Buddhist monk.  But one thing did keep creeping in that surprised me.  Several of our members kept feeling that there was something too self-absorbed about his messages.  (Which is a really a counter-intuitive critique of Buddhism.)  So I had to dig a little at what the challenge was that we were hitting up against.  It turns out that people in the group felt that when he talked about self-care, meditation, taking time to be a peace and reflect on the world that this was selfish behavior. 

… I had to struggle with that some.  How is that we in the Western tradition, who I generally think of as overly self-involved, were critiquing the east for selfishly articulating a need to care for myself?

This was the maybe not the first time, but the clearest time, that I ran into an awareness that we are all mixed up when it comes to self-love.  We seem to be too hard on ourselves one moment and narcissists the next.  We deny ourselves basic care, but indulge our whims and even feel put out if such frivolities are denied us. 

What is the deal?  How’d we get all tangled up? It’s like we are playing twister with our own hearts.

I’m not sure if it’s that we know we indulge our own luxuries to the neglect of others so then out of a sense of guilt we began to over compensate and play rugby with our psyche running ourselves ragged in the rat race of over-programed lives… I don’t know what it is exactly.  What I feel confident enough to say is that we do not know how to love ourselves.   We are caught up in the pendulum swing of too much and too little and can find no healthy sustainable ground between neglect and indulgence. 

It’s at such moments that I am again reminded of these great words from scripture (Luke 10):

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Remove for a moment the various “with the…” statements and you get: “You shall love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself.”

Apply a bit of symbolic logic like work to that and you get: your love of God = love of neighbor = love of self.

That is a type of trinity I always try to keep in mind.  We can love God to the exclusion of neighbors or in self-flagellating ways and Jesus doesn’t want that at all.  We can love our neighbors in ways that actually begin to cause harm to ourselves and this also isn’t “good.”  We can love ourselves to the detriment of God and neighbor.  We already know to call that sin, even if we are challenged to figure out how to spot it and re-author it. 

Balance.  Love God.  Love neighbor. Love self.  You cannot run yourself ragged and name it good.  Not in the eyes of Jesus anyway.  You shall not love yourself at cost to your neighbors – not if you seek to follow in the way of Christ.  And you cannot love God without enacting that in the relationships we have with ourselves and those around us.  Somewhere in this command for balance is the call to untwist our hearts… to take a deep breath and love a bit more freely.

So where are you caught up the pendulum of a love/hate relationship with yourself?  Where are you neglecting and indulging yourself, your neighbor, and God?

3 in 1.  Love ‘em all!  To the same degree.  Thanks be to God.