Since Jesus Passed By

workcamp_9462cA number of years ago while part of a work camp in Durham, North Carolina, I was assigned to work with a group of young people on the house of an elderly African-American woman. Before even meeting her, I was informed that she was a cancer survivor who had adopted her two granddaughters. I decided that I was not going to get to close to this woman. I was going to be there for the young people and minister to them. That, I had decided, was my purpose that week.

Why?

This mission week was in June 2001. Dad had died from prostate cancer in April 2001.

In my still grieving mind, I did not want to get close to someone who had cancer, because losing that person to cancer was too hard. Distance was my approach.

And so, on Monday morning, I fulfilled my approach. I worked hard. I answered the youth’s questions. We got started on tearing up a rotten floor and starting to build a frame for a concrete slab at the end of the wheelchair ramp. At lunch time, the crew gathered in the homeowner’s bedroom, where she had camped out while we ran around the house doing our thing. The youth wanted to include her in our lunch and our midday devotion.

I quietly slipped into the room, grabbed a piece of pizza, and settled in the corner. The homeowner said, “There he is! There’s the pastor!” I was taken a back at first. This was a time in a life when I was struggling with my call to ministry – never mind ordained ministry. It would be seven years before I would graduate from seminary and thirteen years before I would be fully ordained in the United Methodist Church.

I did not see myself as a pastor. Yes, I worked in the church. And yes, I got to go on mission trips as a part of job. And yes, I occasionally led worship. But, I did not think of myself as a pastor.

I was quick to correct the homeowner that I was not a pastor. I was just a youth leader.

She was quick to correct me. “This morning when you walked past me, I felt the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus passed by.

“In me??” is what I was thinking to myself. I thought for sure she was mistaken. There was no way that the Holy Spirit was moving through me to the point that she could feel it.

By the end of the week I had worked out of the stuff I was hanging on to regarding Dad’s death. I had reclaimed the hope of the resurrection and what that means as a person of faith. I had come to terms that God was indeed calling me to ministry. Yes, even me. And even though it would take me a few more years before I was completely comfortable that God was calling me to ordained ministry, this summer in Durham I accepted the call on my life.

Jesus passed by.

I was overwhelmed that someone I had never met before had sensed the Holy Spirit in me. And yet, that same person was the one who pointed me in the direction that God was calling me. God was at work in me, and while I believe that God wasn’t going to give up on me, this homeowner was a signpost directing me toward God’s call instead of away from it.

Sometimes we expect to see Jesus pass by like we would a parade. There is great anticipation. There is the grand marching band preparing the way. There are the preparatory floats getting us excited. And then, at the end of the parade, there is Jesus!

Most often, I think, we come upon the parade after its passed by and we feel disappointed because we missed it. We missed the excitement and the fun. But what I’ve learned over the years is that Jesus doesn’t pass by with all that fanfare. But, instead, in unexpected ways.

Jesus is the stranger at the gas station telling you your tire is flat.

Jesus is the child who runs up and gives you a hug.

Jesus is in the random acts of kindness done by neighbors for each other.

Jesus is the random phone call you receive asking you how you are doing.

Jesus is the friend who takes you out for coffee when they know you’ve had a bad day.

Jesus is the dog who loves on you no matter what.

Jesus is the young person who preaches to her friends by her good works.

Jesus passed by.

Because He Lives

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

risen_8008cI have sung the Gaither-penned Easter hymn Because He Lives countless times. About fourteen years ago, the hymn became deeply personal. It took on a whole new meaning when my father died on Easter Sunday, April 2001. It changed the way I understood Easter and the resurrection.

And then one day I’ll cross death’s river;
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain -
And then as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He reigns.

It is because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we have a hope to face tomorrow and whatever it may bring. It is because of this resurrection that death is not a big deal, because not only do we know the One who holds tomorrow, but we know the One who holds eternity.

The past few days as I’ve been pondering the reality that I will be a dad in January. As such, I’ve been thinking about this hymn in a different way.

How sweet to hold our newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance,
This child can face uncertain days because He lives.

A week like the one the world has seen where everything seems to have gone crazy, causes just a bit of worry about brining a new baby into this world. A world filled with terror, hate, war, violence, injustice. And the list goes on.

Planes being shot down. War breaking out . . . again. Politicians debating the livelihood of immigrant children. Drive-by shootings on a daily basis. Corruption in government and in churches. Education systems struggling to provide the best for its children, and some barely surviving.

When you look at all of this, how can you not wonder, “How can we have a baby in this?”

But then we remember that we are people of faith. And while we may not live in a restored universe, we live in hope. A hope grounded in the promise that God has given through the ages, “I am with you always.” Just as Jesus was with the lame man as he ran through the streets, Jesus is with us. Just as Jesus was with the Samaritan woman as she spread the news about the Messiah, Jesus is with us. Just as Jesus was with Martha as she weeped the death of her brother Lazarus, Jesus is with us. Just as Jesus was with Peter as he stepped out of the boat to walk on the cool water, Jesus is with us.

And because Jesus is with us, we have hope. A hope that assures us that God has this. A hope that tells us that all of this sorrow and tragedy we see in the world is not a part of God’s plan. A hope that tells us that in the midst of an unrestored universe, God is working in us and through us to work all things for good.

And we have this hope, because Christ lives.

 

Maleficent (2014)

Maleficent Let’s get this out of the way. Disney’s Maleficent was no where as good as we were made to believe. The character of Maleficent has captured the imaginations for decades. The film goes from Once Upon a Time moments to more, darker Grimm moments. To finally see her in a live-action film was an opportunity to create an amazing film. However, the film, while good, is not amazing. In short, it could have been better – I had hoped it would be better.

Maleficent attempts to be an origin story of its title character, which seems to be the post-Wicked norm. The story begins with Maleficent as a young girl, complete with horns and wings. She is a peace-maker in her world. When the other creatures have disagreements, Maleficent (played by Angelia Jolie) finds resolution. There is a great concern when a human child is discovered in their world. Maleficent is the one who shows the child, a farm boy, grace, even though he was trying to steal a crystal. The two children become friends and as they grow into teenagers, the fairy and the human share a kiss – “true love’s first kiss.” At this moment, it is like any other Disney film.

But as the two get older, they grow apart. The boy stops visiting the forest. The boy, Stefan (Sharlto Copley), as an adult works for the king. He overhears the dying king promise his throne to the one who kills Maleficent. What was that about true love?

Stefan becomes a trickster as he woos Maleficent into his arms and then gives her a sleeping potion. While in a deep sleep, he cuts Maleficent’s wings off. He returns to the castle with the wings as his bounty to the dying king. And upon the king’s death, Stefan takes the throne.

The moment when Maleficent awakens to find that her wings – her freedom – has been torn from her, is possibly the most deeply disturbing scene while also the most captivating. Even though your gut tells you to turn away, you cannot take your eyes off the screen as Maleficent screams out in anger and sorrow. Something that was so precious to her and apart of her identity was violently taken from her while in a vulnerable state. The allusion to sexual violence may not be a mistake.

The assault transforms Maleficent into a villain. But this villain is not soulless. We have seen her extend grace to those who are different, welcoming all. While Maleficent literally gets darker, the grace in her soul never really escapes. That part of her never really leaves her. She places a curse on Stefan’s daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning).  On the edge of the forest one day, Aurora encounters Maleficent and says, much to Maleficent’s dismay, that she knows who the fairy is.

Aurora: I know who you are.

Maleficent: Do you?

Aurora: You’re my Fairy Godmother!

Maleficent: What?

Aurora Aurora senses that some being has been watching out for her during her childhood. She believes, and rightly so, that Maleficent is the being who has been doing so. Aurora, instead of seeing the evil villain all of us have come to see in Maleficent, sees a somewhat holy and innocent being who is filled with compassion and grace.

This isn’t quite the 1959 Disney version of Sleeping Beauty. But, this is one reason why Maleficent is fascinating. It is rich with themes about things not being quite what they seem, which I think may have attracted Jolie to the film. There is talk about evil throughout the film. Maleficent tells Aurora a time or two that there is a great evil in the land. She is, of course, talking about herself. She knows the evil that dwells within her. Yet, at the same time, Aurora sees the grace in Maleficent. The grace she cannot see in herself.

It raises the issue that films like The Dark Knight Rises rose before it. What is the face of evil? Is evil as black and white as we want it to be? (I don’t have answers to these, just want to raise the questions.)

evil in this worldAngelia Jolie is able to make us fear Maleficent, while also extending empathy. We connect with her conflicted feelings of doing what is right and doing what is wrong (Romans 7). And while at first she is pretending to go along with Aurora’s assumption that she is a godmother, she plays into the role. Aurora’s love for her is strong enough to melt away the rage, hate, and sorrow at being mutilated by someone who declared love for her.  This is true love, love for another that knows no boundaries. It is not romantic in the classic Walt Disney sense. It is authentic and real. It is Christ-like love.

Once Maleficent realizes what she has done, placing a curse that can never be broken because true love does not exist, she feels remorse. She is responsible for Prince Philip coming to the castle to awaken Aurora from her deep sleep. Yet, the kiss does not work. Maleficent stands over the sleeping beauty’s bed and whispers an apology:

I will not ask you for forgiveness. What I have done is unforgivable. I was so lost in hatred and revenge. I never dreamed that I could love you so much. You stole what was left of my heart. And now I’ve lost you forever.

She kisses Aurora on the forehead, and the princess awakes. Like in Frozen, Disney boldly transforms what true love means, as well as the face of evil. It is a more realistic portrait of the human condition. We are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) who strive to resist evil, but often times fail. At the same time we are created in the image of the Creator, and as such we are grace-filled beings. We don’t need magic kisses from princesses and princes. No, the only “magic” we need is the Christ-like love we share with one another.

 

Planet of the Apes (1968)

planetofapesadvancehestonWhen it was released in April of 1968, it was not well received by many critics. However, Planet of the Apes would go down as a classic sci-fi film. Charlton Heston is George Taylor, an American astronaut who, along with his crew, crashes 2,000 years in the future on an unknown planet. Everything on this planet seems to be turned upside down. In this strange land, apes rule, and humans are hunted, caged, and enslaved.

At first, Taylor is injured and unable to speak. He tries various things to get the apes to understand that he is as intellect as they are. It is Zira (Kim Hunter) who sees something special in Taylor. At first it is evolution. She and her fiancé Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) want to study Taylor to see how humans are evolving. The dialogue, with intent, is similar to conversations humans have had about studying apes. After they get to know Taylor, a theory that was being forgotten returns to the surface. Cornelius’ archeological studies suggest that humans existed on the planet in a more civilized society than apes currently do.

It is perfect and brilliant commentary on the modern human condition. In the beginning of the film, in one of Taylor’s speeches, he says, “Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox that sent me to the stars, still make war with his brother?” A question, no doubt, theological and philosophically debated in 1968 in the midst of a war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement. The effects of which were not lost on the film’s crew. Michael Wilson rewrote the original script by Rod Serling (the ending was the only contribution of Serling’s that Wilson kept). Wilson, like so many during the 1950s in Hollywood, was blacklisted for allegedly being communist. The Cold War and the changing tides of culture and thought and its effects on society hit close to home.

Final Scene - Planet of the Apes

Nor is it a surprise the role of nuclear destruction (a great fear of the Cold War) plays in the film. Taylor’s longing for a war-free world is only met with a world destroyed by war. The iconic ending, with Taylor on his knees in the sand, yelling, “Damn them! Damn them all to hell!” reveals the truth. Don’t be mistaken, Taylor is not referring to the apes, but the humans he left behind. Taylor has not been on an unknown planet. He has been on his own, war-torn planet where everything has been turned upside down.

1968 was a turbulent time, as well, for people of faith. Many were trying to reconcile being at war for so long. Others were struggling with new laws of desegregation. Suddenly lives where changing, and not everyone was handling it well.

Since the beginning of time, religion has played a significant role in societies. It is appropriate that Planet of the Apes includes this as part of the story. The sacred texts, though only talked about and not seen, are a character in the film themselves. Dr. Zaius (Defender of the Faith and Minister of Science) and the others are the ape versions of Pharisees. While watching the film we know that Dr. Zaius is wrong in what he is doing.

And yet, how often do we do the same thing?

Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) and others like him, do their best to dissuade Cornelius and Zira from following these loftily ideals of humans being intelligent. They call upon the sacred scrolls to reason why the humans should stay in their place and things not change.

When we are scared of something or uncertain about changes in society, we use our sacred texts to justify who is considered “us” and who is considered “them.” The scriptures become security blankets for why we do not welcome those who are different from us. Planet of the Apes warns us against this narrow thinking. Dr. Zaius clearly understands that there is a truth and a reality beyond the boundaries of their land. It is safer if everyone believes what they have been taught. Only danger awaits them when they step outside the boundary. It could be argued that because Dr. Zaius knows about the destruction of humanity’s civilization by humanity, that they do not want to repeat history. That they want to be smarter than the humans and not make the same mistakes, and so they hide behind their religion.

It is safer when we hide behind our sacred texts.

As Christians, we follow a boundary crosser. We follow a Messiah who stepped over the social lines of division. Jesus sat and had lunch with the tax collector. He talked to the Samaritan woman. He touched the lepers. He healed the blind and made the lame to walk. All of those who were different and (sometime literally) isolated from the rest of society. It was taught that Jews and Samaritans did not interact. Jesus broke that “rule.” It was taught that you avoided lepers and bleeding women. Jesus broke that “rule” on both accounts.

And Jesus did so with love.

Planet of the Apes could have easily been a silly film about apes on Earth. Instead, it is filled with cultural commentary about the world in which we live and could live. And though the film has a few moments that are clearly reflection of the 1960s, it is a film that is ageless. Its message of peace over war, unity over segregation, balance of religion and science, is still a message to be heard today.

The Perfect Wave (2014)

The Perfect Wave At a time when movies like God’s Not Dead and Heaven is for Real have motivated movie goers – both evangelical and progressive – comes a film from South Africa: The Perfect Wave. It is billed as “more than a love story.” The film is based on the real life events of Ian McCormack, who is well known as an atheists turned born again Christian. In fact, the story that the film portrays is a story he has told to millions of people around the world.

Scott Eastwood (son of Clint) plays Ian as he skips around the world including Australia, Indonesia, and Africa, in search for the perfect wave. Ian is portrayed as a somewhat selfish 24-year-old not concerned with his mother’s charity work or anything to do with the church. His family, on the other hand, are devout in their spiritual life and in their care for others.

Out of the blue one day, Ian decides to sell his car and tells his mother (Cheryl Ladd) that his going on his dream trip in search of big waves. He keeps a journal of the different waves he surfs on along the trip. Even though she cannot convince him to stay home, the mother has a bad feeling – a sixth sense, if you will, that something is going to happen to Ian. She makes no bones in telling people that she has heard the voice of God – there is a scene or two where she describes the occasion – as such, her Holy Spirit sense may have some weight to it.

Ian and his best friend set on this journey. As he searches for the next best wave to ride, he realizes that he is searching for something more. “I’m chasing something,” he narrates, “that’s more real than this.”

What Ian is in search for is love. It is the story of a young man’s love for surfing. It is the story of a faithful mother’s love for her son. It is the story of young men and women falling in love. And it is the story of persistent love of God. For the most part, the film is about Ian’s desire to find the perfect wave. Everything else in life seems to not matter as much as that perfect wave does. Then, after a relationship breaks up, the film takes a turn toward the deeply spiritual. Ian has a near death experience. After being pronounced dead, Ian experiences not only the love of God, but the voice of God. Who knew a jelly fish sting would have such an effect?

While the film has a few rough edges in its writing and occasionally in its acting, it is a solid family film. It is not, however, a film that will be attractive to the “unbeliever.” But perhaps, that is not the point. Perhaps the filmmakers want the mostly Christian audience to experience Ian’s story in a new way and then feel compelled to share it with others.

Perhaps.

The film gets points for not beating the audience over the end with Biblical “truth.” It is open just enough for people to come to their own conclusions – meeting them where they are in their relationship with Jesus Christ. The film, for a brief moment, suggests that a person can be spiritual without being religious. Were not for the relationship Ian developed with a spiritual woman, he may not have had the Paul-like blinding light Jesus experience that he did.

For a complete listing of cities where the film is playing, you can click here.

 

 

The Ten: Honor Your Parents

Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12, Common English Bible)

The Ten - jasoncstanley.comEvery Sunday my mom goes to a local nursing home to visit with her mother. Some days she knows who Mom is, some days, she’s not so sure. Some days she is warm and comforting. Other days, she is cold and violent. My grandmother suffers, as so many older adults do, from dementia. More than 5 million Americans live with the disease, in its various expressions. It is the sixth leading cause of death, and affects one in three senior citizens. (For more about dementia, visit alz.org.)

Honor as a verb means to “regard with great respect.” It is a wide range of a definition, leaving it quite open for children to find ways to honor their parents. Scholar Terence E. Fretheim suggests, as others have, that the commandment is intended for adult children. In a time and age when care for the elderly has become a major focus for some many families. Nursing homes. Social security income. Health care.

We are called to honor our aging parents.

Mission KidsIn the Jewish tradition, age was something to respect. We too often choose to neglect those who are older than us. Like a child who thinks his parents don’t know anything, we treat older adults more like a burden than the treasures they are. This past Sunday we took a group of third through fifth graders to a local retirement home for women. We did not have the children sing and do all the traditional things children do when they visit such homes. Instead, they went around the room asked the women questions like, “What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?” The kids got some really awesome answers. One woman shared how she jumped out of a plane when she turned 70. Another shared about growing up in England. The women then asked the children the same question. Everyone enjoyed themselves – both children and older adults – because someone took the time to ask them about their lives and listen.

This is why Mom goes every Sunday to see her mother. Even though their relationship has not been the best, Mom has forgiven and forgives. Even though she doesn’t always know who Mom is, Mom still goes and listens. She tells her about life and bears through her mother questioning where Dad is, even though Dad has been gone now for 14 years.

To honor our parents is to care for our parents through all the stages of life.

Maya Angelou penned some amazing words around this in her poem “On Aging.”

On Aging by Maya Angelou

When you see me sitting quietly,
Like a sack left on the shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering.
I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!
Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it,
Otherwise I’ll do without it!

When my bones are still and aching,
And my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor:
Don’t bring me no rocking chair.

When you see me walking, stumbling,
Don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tirer don’t mean lazy
And every goodbye ain’t gone.
I’m the same person I was back then,
A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.

Alan Partridge (2014)

alan-partridge-posterMore than twenty years ago Steve Coogan created the character Alan Partridge as a fictional sports reporter for the current affairs program on BBC called “On the Hour.” For those fans of Philomena, this is not the same Steve Coogan. The character of Alan Partridge has his own Wikipedia page to which we learn that he is “an insecure, superficial and narcissistic ‘wally.’ ” The character would later get his own tv series, “I Am Alan Partridge” (think The Larry Sanders Show). In a way, Alan Partridge  is to British TV and film what Ron Burgundy is to American cinema.

In this 2014 full-length feature film, Coogan reprises the role that was loved by some and questioned by others. The comedy is a weird hybrid of jokes that are really funny, and jokes that just cross the line. Partridge, here in this film, is a radio DJ who suddenly finds out that he and a co-worker, Jack, are on the short list of being fired. Only one of them can stay. Alan makes his plea with the new owners of the station to fire Jack. This leads to a hostage situation in the studio, which Alan is the bridging voice between Jack and the police.

The film calls into question the issue of how we fight for justice. The new owners are clearly only thinking about how to make money. Their concern is about their own wealth, and not about the quality of the radio programs they produce. Jack’s means of standing up against this injustice involves a shotgun and taking hostages. Alan kinda comes to terms that there might be a better way. And, as hard as it might be to image, the 55-year-old DJ matures. At the same time, Jack is dealing with an enormous amount of grief, which raises the question, “Where are his friends?” Again, another maturing moment for Alan when he comes to realize (kinda) that Jack considers him one of his best friends. The film seems to show that there are two kinds of people, those concerned with themselves and those concerned about others. Which are you?

And yet, the film introduces a third kind of person, whom you have to look closely for, as she may get lost in the goofiness. While Jack is the voice of the working class, and Alan (like his new bosses) is self-consumed, Alan’s assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu) is Alan’s moral compass, not to mention that of the film. Lynn is the one who is able to think past herself and see the larger picture. And, honestly, she is probably one of the funniest actors in the film. She is the one who tells Alan “Maybe you shouldn’t do that.”

Lynn is the oft missed voice crying out in the wilderness about the lack of other-centeredness. She is the voice, and really the only one, Alan listens to.

Overall, once you get past the ridiculousness of the humor, it is quite enjoyable. Granted, it is a question of taste, and you may not be able to handle it or stick it out. It is, however, exactly what Partridge fans have been longing for: their favorite screw-up in situations he should never be in, doing what he does best – screwing up.

 

Follow Friday: Susan Irene Fox

I first discovered Susan Irene Fox and her self-titled blog after she started liking some of mine posts. Out of curiosity I started reading her blog. Susan has a way of sharing profound, spiritual thoughts that are welcoming and not threatening. After a twenty-year career as an elementary school teacher, that ended due to a permanent disability, Susan started blogging to get her name out there.

She had started a Bible curriculum projected for grades K-6 called Branches. The blog was to give her an online fingerprint for potential publishers. Ever since then, both the curriculum and the blog have evolved. “The curriculum,” Susan says, “is now a biblical devotional series for families.”  Branches, which is based on John 5:14-15, is currently in the editing stage. Meanwhile, the blog has greatly expanded as “a way to edify, encourage, enrich – and sometimes gently exhort – the Body of Christ,” Susan says. The blog has become, for Susan, a way to abide in the Spirit, while building the Kingdom of God.

As I have lifted the focus off me and onto God, the experience has become rich with new insight. Followers have increased organically as the Spirit has led them. And when just one person tells me the words I write have reached his or her heart, that comment keeps me motivated for weeks, because I have been an obedient vessel.

At times, Susan will post a poem, which is an incredible way to express a gospel truth. “Poetry,” Susan says, “is a rekindled love.” She wrote poetry during high school and college. She would teach grammar through poetry writing. Often, as she writes in her personal prayer journal, she will write poems. She never, however, had the courage to make any of the poems public. With great delight, the poems were welcomed and well received. Susan got a number of reassurance and support for them, including from other poets. She now posts a poem every Sunday – “my small way of praising Him.”

Susan, like other bloggers, will occasionally do a series. Currently she is doing a series on the Beatitudes. Susan says there are two reasons that went into her decision to do a series. “The first,” she says, “is because writing a series keeps me motivated, interested, and educated.” It gives her the opportunity to “dive more deeply into a small amount of Scripture,” and then share what she gleaned from that dive with others. “The second reason,” she says, “is that, as I’m editing Branches, I’m relooking at this living text called the Bible.” Susan says that each time she ponders on the Bible, “it seems to speak differently” to her. These new ponderings lead her into areas she may not have been ready to see previously in her life. “It’s an adventure,” she says, “and I love to follow each new path.”

The topics in the series are the same topics that are included in Branches. The first series was on the Fruit of the Spirits. The series after the Beatitudes will be The Twenty Third Psalm. Each series gives an opportunity to chew and digest small pieces of Scripture at a time.

I was curious to know who Susan reads. Every so often she will quote a Christian thinker and ponderer. When Susan first came to faith, she “soaked up Lee Strobel’s books.” She names her pillars as N. T. Wright, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster and Henry and Richard Blackaby. She also reads Max Lucado, Tullian Tchividjian, Jonathan Merrit, Francis Chan, Phyllis Tickle, David Platt, John Ortberg, Beth Moore, and Tim Keller. But that is just to name a few.

Blogging has its rewards. I wanted to know what the most rewarding part of Susan was from blogging.

The most rewarding part of blogging is the discovery of new things about Scripture from the most amazing blog writers. I have so much to learn as a new believer, yet just this week I was greatly comforted and inspired that I am not unlike all those other “new believers” in the first century – Mary and Martha, Priscilla and Lydia, Titus and Timothy – and I am humbled and enriched to be in such gracious company.

You can read Susan’s blog at susanirenefox.com and you can follow her on Twitter @susanirenefox.

Flamingos

We held a fundraiser at our church for the Youth Mission Fund where the congregation could “vote” for someone’s yard (choosing from four people) to get flocked with flamingos by the youth. Their votes were in dollars. The person with the most “votes” won the flocking. Well, I won this year, and here is the flocking:

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Pirates_of_the_Caribbean_movieA ship sails across the Atlantic from Great Britain to the Caribbean. The ship is transporting the new governor of Port Royal and his young daughter, who is fascinated by pirates. The others on the ship, however, are not. As the young girl gazed out over the Atlantic, she notices something drifting in the water. It is a boy, about her age. They rescue the boy, who is wearing a locket. Worried that the adults will think the boy is a pirate, the young girl takes it to save his life.

Skip ahead eight years, the young girl is now a young woman, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and the young boy is now a young blacksmith, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). The high seas adventure of this Walt Disney summer blockbuster based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Johnny Depp is Captain Jack Sparrow who has a deep affection for his blessed ship the Black Pearl. Sparrow’s trouble begins when he stops in the process of stealing a British ship to rescue Elizabeth Swann after she falls into the ocean. From there, Sparrow is at the top of the most wanted list.

Right away, one of Sparrow’s nemesis is the British commander, Norrington, who has made it his vocation to bring Sparrow to justice. Even though Sparrow saved Elizabeth’s life. Norrington wants to send Sparrow to his death. Elizabeth protests, only for Norrington to respond, “One good deed is not enough to redeem him from a life of wickedness.” To which Sparrow replies, “But enough to condemn me.”

Redemption is the theme of the film. Jack Sparrow is searching for redemption. Elizabeth, here in the rescue scene and throughout the movie, is the one who consistently raises the need to see others in a different light. People are not always so easily labeled good and bad.

Sparrow’s other nemesis in the film is Captain Barbossa, played by the brilliant actor Gregory Rush. Barbossa leads a mutiny on the Black Pearl which leaves Sparrow stranded on a deserted island. But because Barbossa leans heavily on a dark power, he and his crew are cursed leaving them among the Undead. They look like any other normal pirate, until they are exposed to the light of the moon, where their skeletal cadavers are revealed. Which all seems like a silly plot point, until you realize that even though they are dead (and not killable), they are searching for the cure from the curse.

Elizabeth is the source of Norrington’s other self-determined vocation – marriage. But Elizabeth has been in love with Will Tuner ever since she first met him. When Sparrow finds out who Will is – or more importantly, who his father is – Will becomes very important part of Sparrow’s plan to reclaim the Black Pearl.

Barbossa, believing that Elizabeth is a Turner, thinks that she is the one who will break the curse. But she is not. Sparrow tells Barbossa that he knows whose blood he needs to break the curse. Blood is needed to break the curse. For Barbossa and the crew to be redeemed, to come back to life again, blood is needed. The blood of the only son of Bill “Bootstrap” Turner – Will. At first, Will believes that his father was a salesman, killed by pirates. When he finds out that his father really was a pirate, he struggles to come to terms with who his father is and who he is.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, would talk about sin as a disease (curse) of which grace was the cure. Grace is possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer.

We know the cure for the curse, but what caused the curse of the Black Pearl? No doubt, Pirates was intended to have a summer blockbuster sequel from the beginning. Who would have thought it would have four?

3 Shades of Grace: Sanctifying Grace

Three Shades of GraceYou can read the Introduction here,

or read about Prevenient Grace here,

or read about Justifying Grace here.

“New birth is the beginning of the new life in Christ, a life of growth in holiness. The term Methodists have historically favored to describe growth in holiness is sanctification.” (Ted Campbell, Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials)

The third shade, or movement, of grace according to our United Methodist tradition is sanctifying grace. Sanctification as a word comes the Latin “sanctus,” which means “holy” or “saint.” As such, sanctification can be understood as the process of growth in holiness, as the quote from Ted Campbell above implies.  The United Methodist Book of Discipline puts it this way:

We believe sanctification is the work of God’s grace through the Word and by the Spirit, by which those who have been born again are cleansed from sin in their thoughts, words and acts, and are enabled to live in accordance with God’s will, and to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

To reach entire sanctification is to reach entire perfection in love. As John Wesley would say so often, we are all striving towards perfection. The misunderstanding that sometime occurs is that when we have been born again, life will be a bowl full of joy at all times as we pursue good works of compassion and justice. But, that simply is not the case.

We cannot forget that sanctification is a process in which the born again Christian is cleansed and grows in faith. Growth is an important aspect to sanctification. The Christian we are when we are justified, is not the Christian we will always be. God is at work in our lives constantly. All the time. God’s not done with us yet.

In 1939, when the Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal South, and other Methodist Protestant churches united as The Methodist Church, this now historic statement:

Sanctification is that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost, received through faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood of atonement cleanest from all sin; whereby we are not only delivered from the guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love God with all our hearts and to walk in his holy commandments blameless.

Just as we are justified by grace through faith alone, we are sanctified by grace through faith. But Wesley was quick to point out that while grace is a gift, we respond to the gift. It is an action followed by a reaction. God acts; humanity responds. “God’s breathing into the soul, and the soul’s breathing back what it first receives from God,” John Wesley wrote in a sermon, “a continual action of God upon the soul, and re-action of the soul upon God.”

This re-action, or response, to God’s gift of grace is when and how growth is possible. And so, we engage in works of piety and works of mercy as we strive towards perfection. Works of piety include Bible study, small groups, prayer, devotional time, worship, and participation in the sacraments. Works of mercy, on the other hand, include feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, giving voice to the voiceless, as well as other acts of compassion and justice.

And because it will not be easy; because it will get messy; because we will still experience pain and suffering, there is grace for this journey. Sanctifying grace is the divine grace by which the process of sanctification takes place within us – making us holy.

A couple of months, our youth group made this short video to communicate the process of sanctification.