Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: creativity

Book Review: When God Made You

When God Made You, Matthew Paul Turner, Waterbrook, 2017.

Turner’s book, with bright and engaging illustrations from David Catrow, brilliantly connects being an individual with being loved by God. The book has extra emphasis on God-given gifts and using those gifts.

At times the text of the poem may be too much for a three-year-old. But with a parent’s help, meaning can be found. Children ages three to seven will enjoy this book. This would make a great addition to the resource bag for any Christian educator or Sunday school teacher.

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Book Review: My Potty

My Potty, Anita Bijsterbosch, Clavis Books, 2017.

At our house, we are in the midst of potty training. We have set a sticker system so that everytime Toddler J uses the potty, she receives a sticker. Once her sticker card is full, we take a trip to the Dollar Tree and she picks out one item (toy, coloring book, etc.)

During this phase of life, we are interested in books about using the potty. Something you never quite appreciate until you are a parent.

Anita Bijsterbosch’s board book My Potty is yet another book in this help-the-parent-out genre. While My Potty is no Daniel Tiger, it is a fun read. The illustrations are fun and bright. The animals in the story was a plus for Toddler J.

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Remembering Ira

photo: rmc.edu

On August 17, 2012 we lost a great saint, Ira Andrews, III to a four-year battle with cancer. Ira was the dean of students at Randolph-Macon College for 35 years. In addition he was a graduate of R-MC (class of ’59), a United Methodist minister, and a religious studies professor. Ira was a beloved member of the R-MC community. His memorial service was yesterday in Ashland, and I was unable to attend.

From 2001-2004, he was one of my professors and mentors. Ira taught me in a number of church history and theology courses. Ira’s classes were always popular. Ira had a gift for asking questions without giving answers. I have a clear memory of Ira leaning back in his chair, hand on his chin, listening intently to what was being said, and then he would ask the most unexpected question, yet a question that was guaranteed to make you think. I remember working on a group project for Liberation Theology, where we took the time to think through all the questions Ira might ask. Of course, there was really no way of successfully doing that. Ira would do the same thing in my interviews with the Ashland District Committee on Ordained Ministry.  When I admitted that I was slightly nervous about the theology committee, Ira quickly started shooting rounds of questions at me, which would give me strength for the interviews.

Ira had a gift of getting young people to think. At times it wasn’t so much the answer that mattered, as much as the process in answering the question. This could have easily been the time and place in which I came to love questions. It was easy to feel intimated by his presence and knowledge, but there was no need to be. He asked open-ended questions while being non-judgmental. Ira was a kind, loving, and compassionate person, which is what made him a great teacher. In seminary and beyond, I have found myself endless times commenting, “I learned that in Ira’s class.”

Ira was one of those teachers who was able to bring out the best in his students. You did the work in the class, has heavy loaded as it was at times, not because you HAD to, but because you wanted to. You wanted to be as prepared as you could to be in dialogue with Ira during the next class.  And at the end of the day – at the end of the semester – you were a better person because of it. I think this is one reason why I came to love theological discussions, and engaging young people in them today.

It was during college that I began to first write about theological connections in film and television. I recently pulled out some of my papers that I wrote during college. There was one paper where I put Augustine and Charles Schultz in dialogue with one another. But, my favorite papers were the ones in which I quoted Buffy Summers from the television show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.  I will be honest, I was a bit nervous the first time I did this. I had written a paper on Paul Tillich’s Theology of Culture, and somehow I had worked in Buffy. Ira was a big supporter of this. After that Tillich paper, he encouraged me countless times to continue to this, including sending me to be in conversation with a professor who was working on a writing project on Buffy.

Ira also encouraged me, as he did so many others, in my call to ordained ministry.  In fact, he was consistent in casually talking to me about it. He was never “in your face” about it, that just was not his style. I can recall conversations he had with me in the halls, in the old chapel, or on the campus grounds about ministry, assessing in his own way where I was in my discernment, and offering words of encouragement that one the roughest days kept me going.

I had the privilege in recent years to serve on the Advisory Board for the R-MC Bailey Scholarship program with Ira. This included a chance to interview high school students for the scholarship. It was an honor to sit at the table with Ira and observe him do what he does best, ask questions, listen passionately to young people, and be the great encourager. He was one of the few people who could gracefully see you as a student, a friend, and a collegue, without any of them getting in the way of the other. In one of these interviews, after the interviewee left the room and we were to discuss the interview, I spent more time picking Ira’s brain about his past experiences. Even after all of these years, Ira was still so fascinating! Even though he had been fighting cancer, Ira was still sharp and still had the ability to get you thinking, even – especially – when you didn’t see it coming.

Ira and his friend Pepper Laughon inside the Andrews Hall.
photo: rmc.edu

A month ago, Megan and I went to R-MC for the SERVE retreat, a retreat for high school students exploring a call to ordained ministry. We stayed in the new Ira Andrews dorms. As a student at R-MC I did not live on campus. In early August I got the chance to stay in an RA room in the Andrews Hall. During the retreat, high schoolers worked an eight hour day on a home in the Ashland area, seconds from R-MC campus. The event was a tribute, in a way, to Ira. Service was an essential piece of who Ira was. The College’s Provost, Dr. William Franz, was quoted in one article as saying, “Ira’s life made manifest the scriptural value that greatness is achieved by becoming the servant of all.”

Ira will be missed, there is no doubt about that. But, in each of us who knew him, learned from him, and worked with him, there is a little bit of him still around.

God bless you, Ira, and the lives you had changed.

For more memories and comments about Ira, visit the college’s web site.

The Lion King (1994)

The theater lights slowly dim and the dark screen slowly comes to life with rich, brilliant colors. The African landscape spreads out before us on the big screen, and we are reminded that this is how we are supposed to view The Lion King. Walt Disney’s 1994 animated film is currently in theaters (only one week left!) in 2D and 3D.

As the tribes of African animals migrate to Pride Rock to witness the baptism of young Simba, we are filled with peace. There is order in the land. As Simba grows up, his innocence deteriorates. After a lively musical number (“I Just Can’t Wait to be King”), Simba and Nala roll playfully into the elephant graveyard. The bright colors have suddenly left us, and we are filled with the darkness of the graveyard.

The graveyard is the place Simba is not supposed to be. Yet it was the elegant temptation by Uncle Scar that raised Simba’s curiosity that seeks this place out. And no matter how brave Simba attempts to be, this dark place is too much for him to handle. Cornered by the hyenas, there seems to be no hope. Refuge from the graveyard is only found when Mufasa shows up and scares off the hyenas.

It is during Simba’s walk of shame home that he experiences grace. For as much as Mufasa is upset and disappointed, he is loving and gracious. And it is in this moment of grace that Mufasa tells Simba to look up at the stars. In an Abrahamic kind of way, Mufasa reminds Simba of all the kings who have gone before them. Mufasa tells Simba, “Whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I.”

As the film progresses Simba is tricked into believing that he was the cause of his father’s death. Not able to handle what his mother would think, he runs away from home. His journey crosses the path of Timon and Pumbaa who share with him their philosophy of “Hakuna Matata.” Eventually Simba is discovered by Nala (cue Elton John love songs), and is challenged to answer his call as King of Pride Land. After receiving a few bumps on his head from the priestly prophet Rafiki he accepts that calling. And Simba returns home to challenge Scar.

Returning home to face Scar means Simba has to face the past he left behind, including his mother. We can see in his animated face all the guilt and shame returning to Simba as he meets his mother again for the first time. It’s a bittersweet reunion. But it is this reunion where Simba finally learns that the truth he has carried with him for some long was a lie crafted by Scar. Scar is the one who is responsible for Mufasa’s death, not Simba.

As the rain begins to fall on the barren and broken Pride Land, new life is bound to arise. And we are reminded that we are Simba. We are tempted into the elephant graveyard where life does not exist. We are cornered until there seems to be no hope. We are recipients of grace: a grace that reminds us who we are and whose we are. We abandon our callings in life for “Hakuna Matata.” And we find ourselves returning home to new beginnings.

The Lion King is one of the best epic films of our time because it is the story of all of us. Prodigal, but welcomed. Wayward, but returning. And so, let us all take our place in the circle of life.

This post was written for hollywoodjesus.com and can also be found by clicking here.

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