In The Year of Living Biblically A.J. Jacobs, general editor of Esquire magazine, writes, “Julie [his wife] always told me that things happen for a reason. To which I would reply, Sure, things happen for a reason. Certain chemical reactions take place in people’s brains, and they cause those people to move their mouths and arms. That’s the reason. But, I thought, there’s no greater purpose.”
We all long to know where our lives in particular and history in general are going. Does everything happen by chance? Or is God directing the course of human events with purpose? Are our lives part of a larger story (a meta-narrative) that’s going somewhere?
In last week’s post I reported on our trip to the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky, a Biblically scaled ark with many thoughtful exhibits. Invoking artistic license, the creators have assigned names and back stories to everyone on the ark. In one exhibit Japheth’s wife (whom they’ve named Rayneh) is troubled by the massive loss of life outside their boat. She ponders these questions as she goes about her daily chores.
On our way up I-75 into northern Kentucky I found myself thinking about a Facebook friend, a Christian and a movie critic who works in Hollywood. Heading into a newly released faith-based film, she’ll post a little movie-critic prayer, “Dear Lord, please help it not be cheesy.” We were on the first leg of my Mom’s bucket list trip, headed to the Ark Encounter, a theme park with a Biblically scaled ark.
I’m happy to report this ark is not cheesy. From the outside it’s too big to be cheesy. It looks…epic.
And a little too gleaming?
God told Noah to build the original out of wood and cover it with pitch inside and out. I doubt it looked as impressive as the 300-cubit, three-keeled, silver-timbered ship perched in the Kentucky hills.
For every thinking Mom who lives in the daily tension between reading Ferdinand the Bull and Philip Yancey, wiping noses and writing articles , running carpool and managing projects, this prayer’s for you:
May you know God’s pleasure as you read widely and think deeply.
Like Eric Liddel, the British Olympic runner who famously said, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run,” may you sense his pleasure when you exercise the intellectual gifts he has given you.
Perhaps you didn’t love school or even make the honor roll. But you love to read and could spend your entire Saturday with a book. Maybe the older you became, the sturdier your reading list grew. Picking up Lewis, Schaeffer or Willard, Tolstoy, MacDonald, or Sayers was like sitting down to a rich banquet.
If you are a Christian woman who loves to think deeply about big ideas, the rich symbolism of metaphors, the cogency of well-reasoned arguments, may you celebrate this gift. It’s part of your beauty.
punting on the river Cam in Cambridge
Some vacations recharge us with rest and recreation. Some with natural beauty. And if, like me, you love to learn, some vacations renew our souls with a feast of iron-sharpening-iron teaching and discussion.
Maybe you could join me this summer in England for a week (or two) in the company of kindred spirits who delight in Lewis and treasure both his intellect and imagination. Oxford. Cambridge. Days of speakers and panels. Nights of music, dance and drama. And it only happens once every three years. Even if not, I hope you’ll enjoy these pictures.
From the time I first heard of it, Oxbridge went on my bucket list. (Is it a bonafide “list” if you only ever had one item on it?) In 2008 my sweet Mom gifted me with a trip to the Cambridge week, where these pictures were taken. This summer I’m deeply honored to be invited back as a speaker at the Oxford week. Other speakers will include Larry Crabb and Joseph LaConte. Info here.
If you just watch the first half of La La Land, you’ll find yourself swept into the blue-sky, sunshine, and citrus colors of Hollywood dreams. The opening big production number on the jammed LA freeway introduces us to Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), off to a prickly start but eventually falling in love and cheering each other on. He wants to revive the lost art of pure jazz in his own club; she wants to become a famous Hollywood actress.
Just as Silverado tipped its hat to the iconic features of Hollywood westerns, so La La Land pays fresh tribute to the romantic musicals of the past. The film’s editor, Sara Preciado, put together this fascinating 2-minute video showing a side-by-side comparison:
Part one concludes with Seb and Mia’s Boy-Gets-Girl kiss in an iris fade so typical of bygone Hollywood Happy Endings. But, as in life and postmodern stories, the kiss is not the ending. Life and the movie goes on. The cost of pursuing their dreams rises and each one must choose how much to sacrifice for the other–a tension common to most couples, especially to women.
While we were weaving flowers into the wire mesh of our Easter cross, singing inspirational hymns, and listening to Jack preach the power of the resurrection, my friends Carol and Gene Kent were standing in line, like they do every Easter, to join their imprisoned son at the “church of the razor wire,” as they call it.
I still remember the day sitting in a Barnes and Noble café, when Carol opened her heart to me: “Late one night we received a call that our son was in county jail,” she said, “charged with first-degree murder. He shot and killed his wife’s ex-husband in a Sweet Tomatoes parking lot in broad daylight.”
The first time I saw Robert Doares painting of Jesus praying in Gethsemane I was shocked. It was so unlike the image stamped into my imagination–the image at left of Christ kneeling, earnestly entreating his Father to “let this cup pass from me,” one of the most copied images in the world.
Artist Heinrich Hoffman pictures Jesus late Thursday night after the “Last Supper” looking up, somewhat distressed, his hands in a fretful knot. In the dark quiet before the rapidly approaching storm he has tried to get his disciples to stay awake and pray with him for one hour, but exhausted by the sorrowful news at dinner (One of you will betray me…I’m about to be crucified), they fall asleep. So he leaves the disciples about a stone’s throw behind and prays.
His disciples could not imagine what is coming. Neither, it seems, could Hoffman. Can we? Jesus could. A careful reading of the text paints this far more extreme picture:
If every reporter who has savaged (or even snorted at) Vice-President Mike Pence for not dining or working late alone with women other than his wife would simply google “where do affairs happen the most,” they might change their tune.
They would find that anywhere from 38–53 million men in the U.S. have cheated on their wives, touching one in every three couples. And that 65-85% of adulterous affairs begin at work.
They would also find that few consciously decide to start an affair.
This week The Shack is (still) #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list and, after three weeks, still in the top five at the movie box office. With unforgettable images Young draws a picture of God’s compassion for a bruised reed of a man who has lost his little girl in a crime of unspeakable violence and murder.
The God of all comfort prepares Mack’s favorite food in the kitchen. Skips rocks across the lake with him. Wears old flannel shirts. Young’s story takes us inside Mack’s grief and shows how God’s tender, creative soul-care heals and restores.
Throughout almost thirty years of rheumatoid arthritis, the wanderings of a prodigal, and the inevitable conflicts and rejections of the pastorate, Jesus has lavished me with his tenderness and mercy. Yet in times of deepest sorrow I find the portrait of God that CS Lewis has drawn in Aslan, the lion-King in his fictional world of The Chronicles of Narnia, even more comforting than Papa in The Shack.
Do they still make movies with that story line? Yes they do. Even though the stereotype of Christians as weird has become so ingrained in today’s culture that Tracey Ullman can give it a cheeky send-up in this 2-minute sketch, “A Christian’s Job Interview.”
For every Christian who is a bit weary of this not-so-subtle bias, Hacksaw Ridge offers two hours of stand-tall validation of a real believer’s faith and a real God’s faithfulness. And thanks to the superb film-making skills of Director Mel Gibson, it was even nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. Contrast Ullman’s clip with the movie trailer…
Growing up, my church didn’t celebrate Lent. But years ago I caught the vision from a friend and I’ve come to value it. Here are four ways Lent can deepen our life with Christ and enrich our celebration of Easter.
Except for my Catholic neighbor getting her forehead smudged on Ash Wednesdays, Lent wasn’t even on my radar. We didn’t celebrate Palm Sunday. Or Good Friday. Much less 40 days of fasting, sacrifice and repentance. But I’ve learned we have so much to gain from observing Lent.
If your church doesn’t observe it, you can embrace it in your own way, just as the church developed its own way over the years, stretching its observance from two to three days to three weeks to 40 days. It doesn’t matter how long we engage with it, the important thing is that, in honor of his inestimable sacrifice for us, we embrace a season of sacrifice of our own for the Lord Jesus.
Plato’s News Cave (courtesy Imgur)
Recently The New York Times launched a new subscription campaign featuring hooks like, “We’re passionate about the truth. Are you?” and “Truth is what we do better” and “Read news that values the truth.”
I know what some of you are thinking: “Ba-ha-ha-ha.”
It is indeed rich that a publication that has long questioned the existence of truth now lays claim to it in their advertising. Long ago the mainstream media relinquished its claim to reporting truth. Instead, at their best, they report “truth” from several different perspectives, weighting the progressive/oppressed perspective the most heavily.
The result has been the loss of truth. Now we see the media caught in its own trap. As Donald Trump exaggerates and equivocates, they desperately try to refute him. But if you don’t believe in a solid ground of truth, how do you have a place to stand from which you can throw rocks at untruth? Isn’t it just another perspective with ”alternate facts”?
How do we hold on to Truth in a hostile culture? CS Lewis shows us in his fourth Chronicle of Narnia: The Silver Chair…
Narnia’s crown prince has been missing for ten years. His aged and failing father, King Caspian, while desperate to find him, has banned his knights and citizens from seeking him because too many search parties have disappeared, just like prince Rilian.
My husband of (almost) forty years and I share a love for hospitality, reading and movies, of watching football, and serving God in his church. We are both thinkers more than feelers, strong personalities who enjoy Getting Things Done and closure. In other ways we are not so similar.
Jack loves details and data. I’m the big picture girl. Nowhere he’d rather relax than in the mountains—hunting fishing, hiking. Me, I love museums, conferences, the ballet. But the difference that makes the most difference: He is more the introvert while I am a tiny bit more extroverted. Here are some ways we’ve learned to give to each other across the great personality divide.
Recently I was asked to sign a Lutheran Ministry’s petition protesting President Trump’s executive order on refugees. Frankly I felt very conflicted, unsure of how to respond.
Rarely has a national conversation about social justice been so loaded with appeals to the Bible and a Christian worldview. And yet rarely have Christian leaders been so divided in their response. Even Christian ministries to refugees and foreigners. Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse, is defending the order and our need for national security, World Vision and World Relief are protesting it.
So I’ve been digging into the issue, both biblically and with Christian thought leaders, and here are answers I’ve found to my own questions that might be helpful to you:
Many of us have felt called to pray for Donald Trump and America. I love to pray the words of Scripture. So as he takes the oath of office and as I search through prayers by and for kings, I’ve been surprised by the rich inspiration and example. In their words…
Heavenly Father, with Jewish King Hezekiah we declare, “You are enthroned above the mighty cherubim. You alone are the God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.”
May our new president declare this daily in his heart before you. May he enter the oval office with a deep sense that you rule. And he rules under your supreme power, your watchful eye and loving care.
With Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar we agree, “Your dominion is an everlasting dominion, and your kingdom endures from generation to generation…you do according to your will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay your hand or say to you, ‘What have you done?'”
Lord, you have clearly raised up Donald Trump. You may have done it for blessing. Or judgment. Or both. But we look to you in trust and not doubt asking, “What have you done?”
On Sunday night Meryl Streep disappointed millions when she used her professional platform at the Golden Globes awards show to hammer Donald Trump and drive a bigger wedge between deeply divided Americans.
Full disclosure: I have been a solid Meryl Streep fan for years. Any actor who can play “the devil” wearing Prada and a no-talent, deluded socialite in Florence Foster Jenkins displays a tremendous range. (I reviewed her “formidable talent” in Florence here.)
The thing is, I get her critical remarks about President-elect Donald Trump. Although I think she chose the wrong example. Trump’s attack on a disabled reporter is in deep dispute. However there are plenty of other examples that aren’t. I’ve posted about how his philosophy of hitting back twice as hard comes off as alienating. Even bullying. It opens him up to people believing Streep’s version of what happened.
Streep said, “And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone [Donald Trump] in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose…”
Just when she could have had me, she lost me. In a great ironic turn, Streep did the very thing for which she criticized Trump. She used the power of her position to dump a big dose of disrespect on millions of Americans.
Happy New Year!
Part of the fun of ringing in 2017 is that I can look back at my stats and discover what you were most interested in last year. Here are your favorite blog posts from 2016:
#10 When You’re Feeling Stressed about This Election How to describe the presidential election of 2016? Bizarre? Shock and awe? The caucuses and primaries began on February 1st and by March 1st (Super Tuesday, when this blog was published), unless you were an early fan of Donald Trump, you were starting to feel the stress.
When we walked in the door from watching the new Rogue One Star Wars movie last night we heard the sad news: Distraught over her daughter, Carrie Fisher’s death yesterday, Debbie Reynolds had just died of a stroke.
(Slight spoiler alert) We had just watched a digitally young Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia in the final scene of Rogue One. One of the rebels hands her electronic intelligence delivered at the cost of many lives. When he asked what she’s been given, she lights up a smile and answers, “Hope.” But in a tragic irony, yesterday sixty-year old Fisher died of cardiac arrest in the wake of years of the kind of drug abuse that damages your heart. Now, her elderly mama appears to have died from a broken heart.
In a 1990 interview with Larry King Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia said, ““One of the side effects of Percodan (a narcotic painkiller) is euphoria, and I thought that was a side effect that I could easily live with. Doesn’t matter that the rest of them that follow that are palpitations, heart attack and death. I couldn’t get over euphoria.”
When we first signed up for the Christmas concerts at Billy Graham’s Asheville, North Carolina retreat center, we expected a weekend of beauty and gorgeous music by some of the Kingdom’s finest artists. What we didn’t expect was how God used major disruption to turn one evening into a rare, deep worship event.
Annie Moses Band