Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: hope (page 2 of 3)

Devotion: 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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Sermon: Yearning and Hoping

Sermon: The Lord is in This Place

Falling Skies: Season One (2011)

Falling-skies-poster-01In an age of television where zombies (The Walking Dead) and vampire slayers (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer) have been the top rated shows, there is Falling Skies. This TNT original series is about an alien-invasion of Earth. But its direction is different from what you might first think. While aliens have invaded, the show does not start with the invasion. In fact, with the first episode of season one, the invasion is old news. We find the characters a few months after the invasion, beginning to learn to cope with a new world.

And that may be what Falling Skies is really about – coping and surviving a new world searching for hope. The main character is Tom Mason, played by the favored ER doctor Noah Wyle. Tom is a tenured American history professor at BU who has lost his wife in the invasion as well as his middle son, Ben. Ben, like so many other children, were kidnapped and harnessed by the aliens. It is unclear why they want the children, which is just one of the aspects of this show that make it watchable. You don’t know any more than the main characters do. You theorize with them about what is going one. You learn with them about the aliens.

Tom is one of the leaders of a group of hundreds of fighters and civilians in a suburb of Boston. The survivors are learning to organize themselves into communities, as well as organize themselves in a revolution against the aliens. The main group the show follows is the 2nd Massachusetts, an obvious reference to the Revolutionary War. Tom, as a history professor, is constantly making references to miliarty history, including the Revolutionary War.

There are multiple references to the Revolutionary War, which makes sense because the setting is in Boston. During the second half of the season, the group is stationed in the former John F. Kennedy High School. In the courtyard there is mural with the faces of many patriotic figures such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. These references and images seem to be communicating a need for and journey towards freedom. Though their bondage is different than the colonies, there is a clear need for freedom.

The commander of the 2nd Mass is Weaver, who is amazingly portrayed by Will Patton. Weaver is a pony-tailed, hard-nosed, Army vet who barks his orders through a clinched jaw. Weaver reluctantly accepts Tom as his second in command. Together, these two men do their best, in the midst of their own brokenness, in leading the fighters and the civilians. We learn that Weaver’s loss in the invasion was just as dramatic and heart-breaking as Tom’s. Weaver loss his wife and his daughter. While in his old neighborhood, Weaver is about to give up on it all, when he finds his wife’s eyeglasses. He swears they were not there before, and the glasses, which he puts in his front pocket, give him hope.

In the midst of tragedy, the survivors are constantly finding hope. Lourdes, for example, has been described as a teenage priestess. Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel) is the only character who prays on a regular basis. During meals and other occasions, Lourdes offers a prayer, despite the stares and comments from others. Lourdes is the first character to show evidence of hope.

Sarah Carter as Margaret

Sarah Carter as Margaret

And speaking of Seychelle Gabriel, she is joined by other great women actors in this show. Moon Bloodgood is the saintly pediatrician Anne Glass. Anne is the moral compass to Tom’s ethical ponderings. Anne secretly does an autopsy on one of the dead alien creatures. She finds a truth about the harnesses that may change everything. And then there is Sarah Carter’s Margaret, the blond, post-traumatic, heroine of the post-apocalyptic alien world. Margaret’s tragedy in her life continued after the invasion. As Margaret is welcomed into the 2nd Mass, she too begins to find hope.

Hope is what drives the characters to survive. In the season finale (“Eight Hours”), Tom and Weaver are greeted by a harnessed teen. She communicates to them for the aliens. “They didn’t expect resistance and they find it interesting. They want to talk.” The final episode ends with Tom walking into the space ship, instead of Ben.

Falling Skies is by far better than you would expect. It is a solid action and adventure show. And perhaps that is because of the duo producing team of Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan and The Patriot) and Steven Spielberg. It does not take long to see the effects of Spielberg’s influence of wonder and consistency. Each episode gets better than the one before it.

3 Shades of Grace: Prevenient Grace

3 Shades of GraceRead the Introduction to this series here.

In recognizing that humanity is crippled by the disease of sin, John Wesley identified three shades, or movements, of God’s grace as a remedy. It is important to note that there are not different kinds of grace. However, we experience grace at different stages of our spiritual walk. Grace is always grace. As Steve Harper says so well, “We define grace in different ways because of how we experience the grace on our end of the relationship.”

The first shade is prevenient grace. As the prefix implies, prevenient grace is the grace that comes before. Before what? Before we are aware of God or know we need God. Before we respond to God’s redeeming grace and before we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Prevenient grace comes before.

This means that God makes the first move when it comes to humanity’s redemption. Bishop Scott Jones talks about prevenient grace as wooing us to God. In other words, prevenient grace is grace that is active in our lives and leads us to an awareness of God. Wesley believed that once we were aware of God, we would be led to repentance. This is because once we are aware of God, we also become aware of our humanity and its brokenness. We become sensitive to God’s will in the world and in our lives and how that has been violated. We want to do something about it. We want to fix it. We want to solve the “whole trouble.”

We can’t fix it on our own, but we can respond.

Grace is about God’s love for humanity. Just as God’s love is for all, God’s grace is for all as well. As the writer of 2 Peter says, God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (3:9).

Prevenient grace leads us not just to awareness of God but to awareness of our need for God and God’s grace in our sin-filled lives. It is an invitation into a relationship with Jesus Christ. This awareness enables us to respond to God’s grace by repenting. John Wesley believed that prevenient grace enables us to use our free will responsibly. Because grace is given so freely, it was important to Wesley that we understand that our response is also free.

We recognize that prevenient grace is active in our lives through other people and our experiences. If we pondered for a moment about our lives before we were aware of God or of the need for divine grace, we would remember people, places, and things that happened in our lives who made a difference in us. These have been agents of God’s grace. Parents, pastors, youth ministers, grandparents, peers, co-workers, coaches, and church members are all agents of prevenient grace.

For me, it was my family – grandparents, aunts, and parents. They were always at church because they love the church! There was a point in my childhood that whenever they went to church, I would go too. No matter what they were doing. If they were cleaning on a Saturday, worship on Sunday, choir practice on Wednesday, whatever it was, I was there. For awhile, my mom worked at the church preparing and running the bulletin every week. One of my aunts led the children’s choir and another taught Sunday school. I remember sitting in the pews on Tuesday nights when Dad would practice with the Gospel 7.

These people and these experiences led me to an awareness of who God is and why I need grace.

And grace is for everyone. God’s grace is active in all our lives, and as such baptism is the mark of that grace. God has made a promise of grace. And because God does not turn back on God’s promises, we only recognize one baptism.

As United Methodists, we baptize infants because of prevenient grace. Do you remember in Toy Story, how the bottom of Woody’s foot had Andy’s name written on it? That is what happens in a baptism. God’s name is placed, not on the bottom of your foot, but on your heart. You have been claimed by God, just as Andy claimed Woody. Baptism is also an initiation into the Christian community.

credit: fanpop.com

credit: fanpop.com

While United Methodists are known to primarily baptize infants, we are not limited to only baptizing infants. We do baptize infants as a sign-act of God’s grace that is already active in that child’s life. But there is more happening in the baptismal covenant. The community of faith – the congregation – is making a promise to aid his or her parents in bringing them up in the faith. The congregation promises to nurture the child and to be agents of grace in their lives.

Finally, prevenient grace offers us hope. Hope that we will not be broken forever. Hope that we can change. Hope that we will be healed from the disease of sin.

Prevenient grace is not the whole story, it is just the beginning.

In the next post we will look at justifying grace. 



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