Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: Messiah

Book Review: Down to Earth

Down to EarthDown to Earth: The Hopes & Fears of All the Years Are Met in Thee Tonight, Mike Slaughter & Rachel Billups, Abingdon Press, 2016.

In this book for the Advent season, pastors Mike Slaughter and Rachel Billups explore what it means for love, joy, peace, and hope to come down to Earth. The book accompanies a four-week Advent study that opens up Christmas to examine how one helpless baby changed everything.

What makes this a great read during Advent this year, is how relevant it is to current events. While it was written before we had two primary presidential candidates or even an election, reading it post-election is food for the soul. Slaughter and Billups acknowledge that we put too much attention on the wrong things. They write, “Or in arguing about things such as red cups, sexual identity issues, who we voted for, and where refugees should go, are we allowing these issues to create dividing lines between us?”

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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.

Palm Sunday: Occupy Jerusalem

Read Matthew 21:1-11.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comToday is Palm Sunday. It is a joyous and celebratory Sunday as we praise Jesus as the Son of God. We process into the sanctuary with palm branches waving high. It is a special time. But, Palm Sunday is also the hinge in the Jesus Story. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, when the story takes a dramatic turn.

History tells us that there were two processions that day into Jerusalem. From the east, Jesus entered on his humble donkey, and from the west Pilate entered with his array of imperial power. It was a visual reminder of who was in charge. The soldiers, the chariots, the swords, and the bows- all instruments of war – reminded the people of Jerusalem that Caesar was King.

And not just King. The imperial power came with an imperial theology that clearly stated that Caesar was Lord. Caesar was a son of the god Apollo. Pilate’s procession did not only bring a political reminder, but it also brought with it a theological reminder – that all this talk about a Jewish Messiah was nonsense because the people already had a son of god in Caesar.

Jesus’ procession, which we know from the Gospel text, was planned. Before arriving to Jerusalem, Jesus gives his disciples the instructions to prepare the donkey and her colt. Did Jesus know that Pilate was processing in from the other end of town? Assuming that he did (he is Jesus), it is yet another incident when Jesus turns the world upside down.

Jesus offers an alternative to Rome. Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem is one of peace. Jesus – the Christ – the long awaited Messiah – will drive out war with love and peace. The instruments of war will be replaced with instruments of peace.

Pilate’s procession represented the kingdom of Caesar, while Jesus’ procession proclaimed the Kingdom of God. This is the conflict that is Holy Week.

Some scholars have referred to the Palm Sunday procession as a political demonstration. A few years ago, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations received a lot of publicity. There have been Occupy movements before and since then. These movements, according to Wikipedia are about “social and economic inequality.” Instead of the 1% getting all the good stuff, while the 99% struggle to get by, there should be equality across the board, rather than a hierarchy. Some of you may remember this image floating around social media at the time:

Jesus_Occupy Wall Street

No matter where you stand on the whole Occupy thing, Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem with so many people boldly proclaiming him as the Son of God (and not Caesar) was certainly seen by many of the day as a political demonstration. But when we read the rest of the story, we know that the proclamation and the praise turns into threats and cries for blood.

Palm Sunday reminds us of the tension that is the conflict between the earthly kingdom of power and war and the peaceful Kingdom of God.

Guest Post: The Journey of Lent

by Brian Mateer

Read John 4:5-52.

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For me the season of Lent is one of the most special and spiritual times of the year.  I enjoy all of the seasons of the Christian calendar but Lent holds the most meaning for me.  Lent is a personal and communal journey and time of connectedness with God that feels as if I am in the plot of a great drama.  My nature is to rush to Easter morning but I know that if I do I will miss so much on the way of the journey.  If we fast forward to Eater we are depriving ourselves of the penitent nature of Ash Wednesday; the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness mirroring, in a small way, the temptation of sacrifice I have chosen as a discipline during this 40 day period; the high and intense crescendo of Holy Week; the gift of celebrating the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday; the gut wrenching feeling of the crucifixion on Good Friday; the silence of Holy Saturday; and finally the climax and celebration of Easter morning.  It can be difficult to be patient and to wait for the resurrection.

Reading through John 4:5-42, we realize that Jesus was tired from being on a journey.  He rests at Jacob’s Well, while the disciples go find something to eat (v.8).  While sitting beside the well “wearily”, he encounters a Samaritan woman that has been on a journey of her own, a life journey.  We find out a little about her life story and that she had had five husbands and the man she is living with nowis not her husband (V.17-18).  It seems as though this woman is looking for something that has been unquenched by the men she has had in her life.  Jesus offers her “living water” so that she may never be thirsty again.  Jesus declares to her that “I Am the Messiah!” (v. 26).  I Am the love that you are seeking!  I Am all you need for your journey!

Additionally, Jesus also declares to everyone.  He is the “I Am” for all of our journeys.  The woman is “surprised” (v. 9) that Jesus even speaks to her because she is a Samaritan.  The disciples are “shocked” (v. 27) to return to see Jesus even talking to a woman.  Jesus Christ, the Messiah for All people in All places!

In closing, I am intrigued that Jesus choses to pause his journey and spend two days in the Samaritan village.  When I begin a journey, I always have the end goal or destination in mind.  I never leave time for rest. I never leave time for a side trip.  I have a linear perspective of a starting point and an ending point and a timeline of getting there.  Perhaps this is the reason why the journey of Lent is so special to me.  Lent allows for; and creates time for reflection, introspection, rest and communion with God and others.  Thanks be to God for this journey, in His time not my own.

Brian Mateer is t he Director of Youth Ministries at First United Methodist Church in Martinsville, Virginia.

Guest Post: Catch What’s Going On

Rev. Lindsey Baynham is the Associate Pastor at Fairfax United Methodist Church. Lindsey blogs at Words of My Mouth.

Slide3Read Luke 1:46-55.

There are certain times in the year where I audibly cry out, “Already?!?” And one that perhaps bothers me more than others is in November. Right before Thanksgiving, there is a shift in stores—it seems that overnight all remnants of pumpkins and turkeys are replaced with snowmen and stockings. The shelves are filled with potential presents for loved ones and the deals are posted in every window. Even the music changes! You find yourself humming familiar tunes as you pace the aisles, get your car worked on or wait in line at the DMV. There is a visible change and I would argue a change within when the turkey and stuffing are behind us that is contagious as we look to Christmas.

But I believe that the change is too sudden. We too often skip over a time of waiting and anticipation to look to the presents or what I would call the hoopla of Christmas. We miss out on an opportunity to slow down and wait. Wait with expectant hearts for the Christ that comes in the most unexpected way; as a baby. We wait with excited spirits for a young virgin girl to give birth in a society that would shame her for not being married yet. And we wait alongside others—hoping in Emmanuel, who is God with us.

Just before our passage, Mary has encountered an angel, telling her that she will bear the Son of God. She responds as I think many would, “ How will this happen?” (Luke 1:34 CEB). How will this young girl take on the responsibility that has been given to her? How will she overcome the pressures of being unmarried in her ancient society? And what has she done to deserve this honor? So many questions it seems are left to be answered and the angel replies with confidence and concludes by saying, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 NRSV). And so the angel leaves her and the young woman must wait…but she will not sit with this news alone, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth who we learn in this chapter is also pregnant.

Elizabeth’s very being is altered and changed at Mary’s greeting! The Holy Spirit moves within Elizabeth and she recognizes that her cousin has been blessed to carry the Son of God. And Elizabeth’s words of praise and thanksgiving are contagious—giving joy to Mary.

And in verses 46-55 we hear Mary’s words of joy, of excitement, of remembrance and of promise. Mary trusts that God will take what seems impossible and make it into something incredible. She revisits the covenants made with her forefathers and knows that a new covenant has been made with the child that rests in her womb.

Our being during the time of Advent is one that is gradual, moving ever so slightly from person to person, home to home, church to church. In this season we wait to catch what is going around—the joy of Christ coming to earth, a joy that is peaked by waiting for the baby Messiah. We look to Christ’s birth with wonder and thankfulness for the time to prepare. And we look to Christmas with a joy that is contagious, spreading from heart to heart.

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