Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Of Mice and Men

I don't know what made me think of it, but for some reason out of the blue I decided to watch the ending to Of Mice and Men. I would have read the the ending of it, but unfortunately I do not have a copy of the book. It was as sad as I remembered it being in high school.

Of Mice and Men has one of the saddest, worst, best endings of any book I have ever read. I would even consider saying of any book ever. It is a hard book in general that forces you to think through its controversial ending. It will not settle for being ignored.

In my senior English class we had to read the book, discussing each part of it during the weeks it was assigned. When we got to the end, there were several camps on if George did the right thing (I am not going into specifics here so as not to spoil it for future readers), and what he could have done differently. I still remember my position, though I continue to wonder if it was the right one or not.

What makes the issue in that book so unclear is the fact that it deals with the reality of man and the situation. Lennie has done a great wrong, people are rightly angry, and he is too simple to know what is going on. In that day and age there were no resources for people like him, so should he be doomed to a life of terror and fear or freed? The author gives no clear-cut answers, nor does he expound over whether George's choice is right or wrong. All we know is George loves his friend Lennie, and wants the best for him. Beyond that we are offered no answers in the book. 

This post is not about whether George was right or not, but about how we as Christians need to take life and deal with it as it is, and not as we wish it were.

Far too often I hear fellow brothers and sisters in Christ speak about the world in terms that either whitewashes or sidelines uncomfortable truths. Some things I hear are:

"Christianity is not in decline, revival is just around the corner!"
"The kids are fine. Everyone has smartphones these days."
"We'll make it to church next time. Scouts/sports/school/etc. is so busy this time of year!"
"What racism?"
"What police brutality?"
"What attacks on police?"
"What war atrocities?"
"What illegal immigrant problem?"
"We both have to work if we're ever going to get ahead."
"If only politician/political part XYZ would win, things would be better."
"This generation is so narcissistic and weak."
"We can't associate with that church, they [fill in the blank]."
"LGBT issues are settled."
"Why are you worried about LGBT stuff? It's never going to affect you."

And on and on the list goes...

Now if I have done what was intended, you found at least one of those to be offensive or something you would rather not think about. I know I found at least a couple of them to be, but that is the point. If we never stop to really consider what is going on around us and what the issues are, we are not grappling with the world as it is in reality, but only as we wish it were. This will never get us anywhere, because unless we deal with reality we will never make any progress in dealing with the world around us.

We as Christians do not get the luxury of ignoring what is going on around us. If we do that we will have no answer besides the standard cut-and-paste rhetoric of a Facebook post. For us to reach the world we have to be ready and willing to face it head-on as it is. That is how Jesus interacted with the world after all.

Consider the things Jesus dealt with without resorting to platitudes and standard, rehearsed lines: prostitution, adultery, disease, politics, poverty, hunger, inheritance, God, marriage, children, purpose, racism, Heaven, Hell, Jerusalem's destruction, death. I could go on for a while here but I think you get the point. Instead of pretending like they did not exist or moving them off to the side, Jesus looked at it straight-on, considered it in the context of God's Will and Plan, and dealt with it accordingly. There was no rhetoric when it came to how Jesus spoke. Each situation was dealt with as it was - an individual situation. There was no one-size-fits-all solution for every issue. He did the hard work of not only dealing with the issue, He also went to those who were involved in it. He empathized with them, then lead them to the truth of God in love.

As followers of Christ, we are called to do the same.

Today's post is a call to put away the rhetoric, put away the self-reinforcing news feeds, put away the talking heads and pundits, and come before God Almighty for the real answers to the real issues in life. Today is a call to reject the wisdom of this world and all those who are not giving their lives over to God in favor of His Word and the wisdom of those who strive with all their hearts to follow Christ wherever He leads. Forget the politicians, the celebrities, the bloggers, the memes, the YouTube videos and the Facebook friends who tell you what the world wants you to hear instead of what God wants you to know.

Come to God. Pray for His Spirit to lead you in His Word. Look for His Will and His Truth to come from what He has provided for us. There is only One who we can look to in order to be refreshed by the water of life and nourished by truth.

Let us face the hard issues straight-on with honesty, empathy, and open eyes. Let us face them as Jesus faced them. Let us face them in the truth and love of God.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Beauties, Beasts, and Art

Should I see it? Should I not? AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!
I wasn't really planning on writing about this. It wasn't particularly on my radar, and I was pretty much prepared to ignore the Beauty & The Beast release and not worry too much about it. I don't get to go to the movies much, but if I could make it, great!

Then director Condon came out with his big "gay moment" line and the news, Facebook, and everyone blew up and everyone had a meltdown. Many Christians said they wouldn't go, many LGBT activists were overjoyed, and many others kind of shrugged and said "whatevs".

Now this has never been a blog about saying "whatevs", nor has it ever focused on LGBT things (though we have talked about it). What we have done on this blog is try to deal with real issues and the real things behind them, without compromise or backing down. I realize I am not perfect at that, but hey, I'm trying. :-)

So to get back on topic, after the B&B Meltdown, it came to light that in fact the whole "exclusively gay moment" (director Condon's phrase), was very short and not easily noticeable. In fact it was so small that if you didn't know it was there, you would probably miss it.

And so...many Christians who had bemoaned what the director said about the movie...went and saw the movie.

Then...went on social media and gushed over how amazing the movie was.

Then...chided other Christians who were choosing not to see the movie as making something small into a big deal.

Then...started linking to every blog and Facebook post by other Christians who thought the same thing they did so that the people who chose to stand their ground and not see the movie would...just go see the movie already because its great and the story is awesome and the gay thing is no big deal and if the director hadn't said anything you wouldn't even know and besides why are you making such a big deal out of something that is so small and insignificant so just go see the movie already.

I kid you not, this has been my Facebook non-stop. I am not exaggerating. The movie has been out for 3 days, and I cannot log on without someone trying to convince me to go see it.

This. Has. To. Stop.

We're going to take this in 2 parts, because there are 2 different issues here. 

The first is this: why are some Christians trying to convince others to break their conscience to go see a movie?

The second is this: can we so easily rationalize away something which the director of the movie himself says was his goal? How do we square that circle?

I will try not to make this incredibly long. Hopefully I will succeed.

The first issue should be a no-brainer. Remember what Paul wrote in Romans:
14:15 - Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with you food the one for whom Christ died.
14:21 - It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. 
15:1-2 - We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.
This is really very clear. If you know other Christians are of tender conscience about this movie, don't be telling them to go see it. In fact, do not be bragging about going to see it. To do so is to do harm to your brother and sister in Christ and treat them in an unloving way. This is unacceptable behavior for the Christian to engage in, and we should take no part in it. If conscience allows someone to go see it, great! I cannot personally judge that, as my conscience is not theirs. However, I can say without any hesitation that to go bragging about it and telling everyone it is fine, or even worse that they should just go see it already (when they have doubts & reservations) is, in fact, a big deal, and should be avoided at all cost.

We can walk in love and encouragement toward our fellow travelers in Christ, or we can put stumbling blocks in the way.

The second issue is a little more murky and difficult to deal with. Has anyone really stopped to ask why some people are holding out on seeing the movie? All I have heard are people who do see it saying about those who refuse, "they're making a big deal out of nothing," when they weren't the ones who made the controversy in the first place.

Remember, it was not some random blogger or even an actor who said,
"He's confused about what he wants. It's somebody who's just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh [Gad, who plays LeFou] makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that's what has its pay-off at the end, which I don't want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie."
That was the director, Bill Condon. He's the guy who calls the shots and gets to decide what the movie is about. So the controversy does not fall on the shoulders of people who, for reason of conscience, choose not to see the movie. They did not ask for nor bring up the issue. The man who made the movie did. He, not those who see it, gets to decide what the movie and its moments are about. If he had said that when the Beast tosses Gaston off the roof that is represented the feral nature of man overcoming his self-righteous, deified self, that's what it would have been about. If he had said Belle's imprisonment and escape was about women rising up to overtake the patriarchy and bend it to her will, that's what it would have been about.

I still have a visceral reaction against this,
but at least I know what it is about.
Basically, whoever is the creator of something gets to decide what it is for and what it represents. So if the director is hyping up his "exclusively gay moment", then that is what it is. I can determine if I believe it is good or beautiful, but for me to say "that's not really what it is", is ludicrous. It would be like me viewing the art piece titled "Piss Christ" and claiming it is a strictly anti-Christian piece of propaganda. That's not what it is about, and it is ridiculous for me to say so when the artist himself states that it alludes to a perceived commercializing or cheapening of Christian icons in contemporary culture. It is the creator, not the viewer or even the participant, who determines meaning.

This is why Christians must be so careful in what they support and what they are involved in. It must be remembered that those with the microphones and those who create are the ones who get to decide what something represents. We don't get to be involved in something and say in our hearts "well, I'm really here for this other reason." It simply doesn't work that way. It is only the organizer, creator, or one with the megaphone, who gets to decide what something is for. Everyone else is simply along for the ride.

As a side-note, this is one reason why worship is so beautiful. Because even though I may mess up or have the wrong mind-set or struggle during that time, Christ, as the Author and Creator of faith, decides what worship is really about and brings me along for the ride. In doing so He makes sure that through Himself, my worship is made perfect despite my imperfections.

I get the feeling that this is the real reason why conscientious objectors to the movie are holding back. It is not whether the moment or scene is big or small, open or covert. Rather, it comes down to what the publicly stated goal of the director. In saying what he said he turned it into a referendum on if it would fly in a Disney movie. Considering it made $170 million in its opening weekend (the largest March opening of all time), I think it is safe to assume that the answer was "yes".

The bottom line is there is a real reason why some people continue to object to the movie. If someone does not agree, that is fine. But please, please remember to always walk in love and to never put a stumbling block in front of our brothers and sisters. It is never OK to try and force someone in Christ to accept what is against their conscience toward God. It is also never OK to mock or treat as ridiculous the reason (any reason) someone chooses not to do something because they are trying to honor God. That is something that should always, without fail, be praised and admired in a person.

So always walk in love, always give in so others may be build up, and always, always choose the path that you believe will honor and glorify God in your life, whatever that choice may be.