Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a deacon dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: change (page 1 of 2)

Book Review: Wade’s Wiggly Antlers

Wade’s Wiggly Antlers, Louise Bradford, Kids Can Press, 2017

Wade is a young moose who enjoys playing with his friends. One day, while playing, his antlers begin to feel a little wiggly. When the wiggle doesn’t stop, Wade hurries home to his mother, who reminds him that he will loose his antlers, but new ones will grow.

Change happens.

Even though Wade and his mother had talked about the change that Wade would experience, he is still worried about it. He chooses not to play with his friends in an effort to keep his antlers. Then, once he looses them, he feels freer. He is able to do things he was not able to do before, like win at hide and seek.

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New Life is Coming

My father-in-law was in town a few weeks ago. We took him up to the Blue Ridge Parkway one day to explore the mountains and its trails. Spring has just started and the trees are still barren and dry leaves still litter the ground.

Yet, there were signs of spring.

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Quote: We Have Done Hard Things

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Night Moves (2014)

night_moves_ver3_xlgDirector Kelly Reichardt delivers an intriguing ecoterrorism thriller with Night Moves. Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning), and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) are done protesting. They are ready to make, not just a statement, but a strong statement. They chose to blow up a dam.

The film’s first movement follows trio pull off elaborate con acts to acquire the materials needed to fulfill the plan. The second movement unfolds the carrying out of the event and the following ramifications. The third, and final, movement of the film chronicles the down fall of Josh.

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Good Will Hunting (1997)

Good-Will-Hunting-movie-posterWill Hunting (Matt Damon) is a young man who is living on the edges headed toward total self-destruction. During the day he is a janitor at MIT, at night he is partying at bars with his buddies, picking and getting into fights. While he reads everything and anything he can get his hands on, he hides that intelligence. He may not be a student at MIT or Harvard, but he has a brilliance that baffles the smartest MIT professors.

Mostly, Will Hunting is in pain. His childhood has been filled with abuse, neglect, and abandonment. He hides from that pain, while acting out in that pain. It leads him to being jailed after hitting a police officer during a fight on a black top basketball court. In the meantime, Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) has been searching for Will because Will is the only person on campus who has solved an  unsolvable math problem.

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The Redemption of Henry Myers (2014)

Redemption of Henry MyersThe Redemption of Henry Myers first aired on the Hallmark Channel in March 2014. It will be available on DVD Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The film is one from new, Christian-based studio EchoLight Studies, founded by former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who was an executive producer on this film. The studio has stated that it strives to not “create sermons wrapped in a movie but to create content that inspires, fascinates and incorporates a strong Christian worldview.”

The film is the story of Henry Myers (Drew Waters, Breaking Bad) who has lived a hard life. This Western opens as so many classic Westerns do, with a bank robbery. The symbolism in the opening scene is remarkable for the direction the rest of the film will go. A man on a horse-pulled cart carrying two pine coffin boxes, opens the boxes to reveal two of the most wanted men in the area. Afterwards, they rob a bank. In the midst of struggle, Henry’s gun goes off and kills a preacher.

Riddled with bad dreams, Henry finally finds himself at the home of the widow Marilyn (Erin Bethea) and her two children, Will and Laura. The family is a faith-filled family, they pray together and read from the Bible each evening. Henry stays away from most of it. But he listens and he ponders.

Jaden Roberts is excellent as the young daughter Laura. In many ways, Roberts carries the scenes she is in. She is the innocent, yet wise girl. She sees beyond the rough exterior of Henry to see his warm heart. And in moments when Marilyn is ready to let him go, it is Laura who reminds her that their Christian duty to care for the stranger.

The images of the Good Samaritan from the gospel of Luke are obvious. Henry is the man beaten and wounded, and Marilyn is the Samaritan who cares for Henry when no one else will. It is obvious because it is one of the Bible passages the family reads together. As Marilyn says to Henry at one point, “Everyone deserves kindness.”

And Henry is not used to that. As he starts to feel better, he helps out around the ranch with an arm in a sling. As he helps Will (Ezra Proch) put up a fence, the two have a conversation about doubt and faith. Will, who has been listening to the Bible being read since birth, doubts that there is much truth to it all. But Henry, who has only been listening to it for a few days, isn’t quite ready to say that it’s all unbelievable.

I typically approach Christian films with some caution. Frankly, deliberately Christian films tend to be bad films. Redemption, however, is not one of those films. It’s a good, clean, family friendly film. And it doesn’t go in the direction you might think it will. At least, I didn’t. I was pleasantly surprised at the twist, and think that it is a better movie because of it. I only have two wishes. I wish that the scene where Henry has his break-down of yelling to God was done a little differently. It was too predictable. The other is that I wish director Clayton Miller used more of Erin Bethea’s acting chops. Bethea is an incredible actress. I did not feel like Miller tapped into all that Bethea could  have offered this film.

Overall, the film is a good film. It portrays the struggle between revenge and redemption. It portrays, not just in dialogue, but through small details that change is possible, reminding us of the promise of new birth.

The DVD is available in stores and on Amazon.com. 

Sermon: Jesus in Real Time

This was a sermon preached at Peakland United Methodist Church on Sunday, March 30, 2014. The text was John 9.

Doubt (2008)

DoubtTo some Doubt is about the sex scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church. But a close watching of the film will relieve that it is actually about doubt. John Patrick Shanley based on his Pulitzer and Tony-winning play of the same title directs the film.

The setting is St. Nicholas catholic grade school in the Bronx in 1964. The school is ruled by its principal, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep). Under her supervision is Sister James (Amy Adams). Sister James is more naïve and innocent than Sister Aloysius. As a result, Sister Aloysius is more harsh and, well, scary. When Donald Miller, the only African-American student at the school, is called down to the rectory alone, Sister James can’t help but be suspicious.

After the boy returns to class, there is something different about him. Sister James reports the event to Sister Aloysius, who seems to think she knows what happened. The implication is clear  – Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) took advantage of the boy sexually. Father Flynn eventually leaves the parish to avoid any controversy.

The main issue is not sexual morality, the main issue is doubt. Vacation II, and the changes it brought, was underway in the Roman Catholic church at this time. Father Flynn is a more progressive priest, while Sister Aloysius is a rule follower. And as the principal, that makes sense. She is in charge of the nuns and the children. Without the rules, chaos will break through.

But sometimes the rules do not allow change to occur. Change feels like chaos. Change happens. It is a way of life. It is built into the very fiber of creation. But, change is hard. But even those of us who have claimed being “born again,” must be “born again.” John Wesley understood that the Christian is going on to perfection. What he meant by that is that, even though we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are still on a journey of faith. And on that journey will be little conversions, moments of transformation and change.

Father Flynn preaches on doubt in the first sermon we hear. Sister Aloysius clearly feels like talking about doubt has no place in the church. While Sister James, much younger, thinks it was a good thing for Father Flynn to talk about.  And, let’s face, doubt gets a bad rap. Poor Thomas missed out on the appearance of the resurrected Jesus, questions what the disciples are telling him, and he is forever dubbed “Doubting Thomas.”

Is there anything wrong with asking questions of our faith? Father Flynn would say no. We need to be in conversation with our theology and the changing world we live. Sister Aloysius on the other name, would say yes, there is something wrong with it. The rules are there for a reason.

When we doubt, we raise questions. Questions demand answers. Doubt has the potential to send the Christian on a journey seeking answers. This journey moves the Christian beyond the way things have always been to the new possibilities in Christ.

The closing scene of the film is, honestly, an odd way to end a film. For those who like movies with a happy ending that provides closure, this is not the film. The two nuns are sitting outside on a bench. Sister Aloysius finally confesses that she doubts. And she falls into the arms of young Sister James and cries. The organ music swells playing “The First Noel.” And then the credits begin scrolling while a choir sings, “Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth.”

Even Sister Aloysius, with all of her rules, needs the Redeemer to come to her.

Slow Down

Read 2 Peter 3:1-18.

From Henri Nouwen’s With Open Hands:

What is perhaps most striking about the visions of the world’s future is that they have taken form completely independent of Christian thinking which is preeminently future-oriented.  Those enormous powers which are gaining ground in the hardened world, which cry out for a new age, a new world, and a new order can find no solid roots in Christianity, it seems.  While Christians were so busy with their interior household problems and were so preoccupied with themselves that they lost sight of the rest of the world, a growing need for salvation outside of Christianity became more and more evident.  This suggestion Christians often regarded as merely naïve, anarchical and immature.

And yet you are Christian only so long as you look forward to a new world, so long as you constantly pose critical questions to the society you live in, so long as  you emphasize the need of conversion both for yourself and for the world, so long as you stay unsatisfied with the status quo and keep saying that a new world is yet to come.  You are a Christian only when you believe that you have a role to play in the realization of this new kingdom, and when you urge everyone you meet with a holy unrest to make haste so that the promise might soon be fulfilled.  So long as you live as a Christian you keep looking for a new order, a new structure, a new life.

What new order, new structure, or new life is needed in your life?  What needs to change?

This newness will not happen right away.  When we decide to change our lives, it takes time. We have to wait.  Today when you find yourself having to wait, slow down and view the situation as a blessing, and then journal about the experience and what it was like to look at waiting as a blessing.

Pray:

Almighty God, may Your Holy Spirit dwell in the midst of our lives as we prepare to wait.  Guide us to be be patient while we wait.  Help us to slow down to hear Your voice and to see Your blessings.  Amen.

Vision to Change

A sermon on Job 42:1-6; 10-17 and Mark 10:46-52 preached Sunday, October 28, 2012 at Peakland United Methodist Church.

It had become a tradition in the last church I was at to host the homeless for two weeks in November through a ministry called CARITAS in Richmond. The whole church was transformed into a homeless shelter. Thanksgiving day always fell during this time and we started holding a worship service on Thanksgiving with our guests.

Last year in the worship service we sang the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The second verse of the hymn says, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I come.”  I had a bowl of water set out with small stones in the bottom. I explained that an Ebenezer was a stone of help and it was often used in the Old Testament to monument where God had helped the people, such as in 1Samuel 7:12.

I invited those worshiping to come up and to remember their baptism – the waters of grace -as they plunged their hand into the water to get an Ebenezer. I told them to hang on to their Ebenezer and let it remind them that God is with them; God is their help in trouble; and God will set them free. I remember saying, “Let this Ebenezer, that was drenched in the waters of grace, represent for you a new beginning.”

Bartimaeus was in need of a new beginning. Mark does not tell us how long Bartimaeus begged on this corner just outside Jericho. But we can imagine that it was probably a long time. He was a blind man, a man of the street, an outsider. And as such, it wasn’t like he had a lot of chances. Day by day he laid his cloak out on the street and chatted up any passerby for the hopes of a few coins.

N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, is a New Testament scholar and has been named one of the top five theologians of our time. Thinking about Bartimaeus, Wright tells the story how how an adult son tried desperately to get his ailing and depressed mother into a home where she would be cared for.  His own life was being swamped by her needs and demands, and he didn’t  have much of  a private life.  The son came to Wright for assistance.  They looked at several options, including nursing homes, sheltered housing, communities of all sizes.  But the mother didn’t budge.  There was always something wrong with one of the facilities.  After about an hour or so, Wright reports, of looking at different homes, the mother turns to her son and with victory in her eyes says, “See, I told you he (Bishop Wright) couldn’t do anything for us.”

The truth is Bishop Wright was helping them. But the mother wasn’t ready for change.  She wasn’t willing to see the potential in the different homes and facilities they visited.  She wasn’t ready to help herself.

Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus in Mark is a very different encounter than we usually see from Jesus in a healing narrative.  Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” is really Jesus asking, as Wright points out, “Are you, Bartimaues, ready to give up begging?” “Are you ready for a new beginning?” “Are you ready to make a change?”

Maybe Jesus is asking us the same question: Are you ready for a new beginning in your life?  Are you  ready to make a change? Or, Jesus could be asking that question to us the Church? Are we the Church ready for a new beginning? Are we the Church ready to make a change?

Change happens.  It was built into the very fiber of creation, and (somewhat ironically) it is built in the very fiber of the Church.   Just as the crowd shouted at Bartimaeus to be quiet, we are distracted by the voices yelling at us whenever we speak or think of change.  Voices of consumerism.  Voices of power and popularity.  Voices of influence.

With so many voices trying to get our attention it can be difficult to see things the way they are.  Our vision becomes cloudy at best.  It becomes difficult to see the pain and hurting around us – maybe even in the same pew.  It becomes difficult to see the suffering in our community.  And sometimes the loudest voice of all is our own voice, shouting that things are fine the way they are; shouting that if so-and-so hadn’t done us wrong, it wouldn’t be this way; shouting that someone else can do it.

And with all this shouting, it becomes difficult to see as God sees.

what-happens-during-an-eye-examSo, how can we improve our vision?  What does a spiritual eye exam look like? Before Bartimaeus ever asks to be healed of his blindness, he yells out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  This is an unexpected messianic greeting.  On the outskirts of Jericho on the way to Jerusalem, by a blind begger.  The irony is not lost on Mark.  As we have discussed in our Mark Bible study this fall, Mark draws a direct connection between “seeing” and “knowing.”  The contrast that Mark draws is that those who have seen, like the disciples, still struggle with knowing, while those who cannot see, like Bartimaeus, know and understand.  Despite his blindness, Bartimaeus has vision and knows when he hears that Jesus is coming down the street, that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who can save, the one who can forgive.

We’ve been reading parts of Job’s story the last few weeks, and if you have never read Job I encourage you to take a look, its one of the greatest books. Chapter 42 is the last chapter, bringing the saga to a close.  In the verses we read this morning, the turning point is in verse 6.  Different Bibles have different translations ranging from “I repent” to “I humble myself” to “I submit.”  Did the sight of God and the weight of God’s words humble Job, or did Job just decide it was better to give in and go on with life?  When we face troubles in our lives or the life of the Church, do we humble ourselves before God, or do we mime the motions and thought processes of humility to somehow muddle our way through while mutely maintaining that we have been wronged?

Job, like Bartimaeus, seeks mercy from the Lord.  When we seek mercy, forgiveness, it is not about who is right or who is wrong.  Those things don’t matter anymore.  Both Job and Bartimaues serve as a model for us as to what it means to humble ourselves in a way that says we are ready.  Repenting, humbling yourself, or submitting to God, means that you are turning away from the things that have separated you or distracted you from God in the first place.  It’s turning away from the voices that demand our attention elsewhere, and putting our full attention on God.

Jacob Albright was a preacher in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.   After several of his children died, Albright went through a bit of a religious crisis.  A new beginning was needed.  He attended a Methodist class meeting (what we would call a small group) that met in a home and through that experience felt called to preach to the German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania.  In 1790 he converted to Methodism and would later be the founder of the Evangelical Association, one of the denominations that would later become The United Methodist Church.  It was through the small group ministry that was so essential to early Methodists, that Albright gained sight for change in his life.

In the Christian Church, today is Reformation Sunday.  Martin Luther, the German monk, was filled with remorse over the direction the Church was headed.  He compiled a list – The 95 Theses – of ways in which the Church needed to be reformed.  In 1517 he nailed this list to the doors of the church.  Though the Roman Catholic church would excommunicate him and he would be named an outlaw by the Emperor, Luther would start the Reformation, which would lead to Protestant denominations like Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists.  Luther had gained sight for change in the church and ignored the voices yelling at him to not take a stand, to do so.

Albright gained sight and vision to change his spiritual life.  Luther gained sight and vision to change his church.  Understanding what we really need is necessary for change.  If Bartimaeus was not ready to put an end to his life on the street, than seeking change was not going to be beneficial.  When Jesus asked him What do you want me to do for you?, Bartimaeus could have asked for money, a warm meal, or even a place to stay.

People in need have been conditioned to ask for things that will alleviate, but not eliminate their troubles.  This is at the heart of the United Methodist Church’s emphasis on ministry with the poor verses ministry to the poor.  Bartimaeus’ request of Jesus was to eliminate his trouble, and he could ask this because he was ready to take that step, to make that stand, to seek change.

This past Mother’s Day, Megan and I went with my mom and another family to serve a meal at Freedom House’s Community Shelter in Richmond.  The Community Shelter offers more than just shelter and food to the 40 residents.  The program is open to those homeless individuals who show signs of readiness for change in their lives and prepares them for that change during the 12-month program.

As we gathered to offer a blessing before the meal, there was an African-American woman that looked very familiar to me.  But I could not place her.  After a few minutes of trying to figure it out, I let it go and we served the meal and ate with the residents.

When the dining area had cleared out and us volunteers were starting to clean up, the woman came back into the dining space.  She hesitated for a moment, and then looked at me and said, “I know you.  You’re from that church in Hanover.  You gave my my Ebenezer.”  As soon as she said this, it finally clicked with me.  She was a part of CARITAS and was living in our church for two weeks and was at the Thanksgiving day worship service.  When I acknowledged that I remembered her, her face lit up as she remembered that day and she began to dance right there in the kitchen.

She even pulled her Ebenezer stone out of her pocket to show it to me.  It had become for her a symbol for her readiness to change her life and her vision for a new beginning.

It is time for us to do the same.  It is time for us to recognize our need.  It is time for us to humble ourselves before Christ.  It is time for us to change.  Amen.

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