Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: theology (page 1 of 2)

Into the Woods (2014)

Into the Woods posterDisney brings the popular Broadway musical to the big screen doing very little harm to the story. Into the Woods is a mash-up of popular fairy tales, almost all of which have been animated features made by Disney. From the opening musical number, we learn that each character is wishing for something more. They are barely satisfied with the life they have.

They wish for more.

If you’re not familiar with the story, the plot centers around the Baker and his wife, wonderfully played by James Corden and Emily Blunt. The couple has sadly not been able to have a baby, the one thing they wish for the most in life. The Witch (Meryl Streep), who happens to live next door, explains that she is the cause of their infertility. It seems that in retaliation for something the Baker’s father did to her, she cursed the couple. She is, however, willing to reverse the curse if they collect four objects in three days:

‘The cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold.’

Continue reading

Why ‘Rent’ Still Matters

rent-phm3vzmq-2n4Since the early 1990’s the musical Rent has inspired and motivated people to see the world around them as they never have before; to see themselves in others.

A few months ago, one of the local high schools performed the rock musical Rent. Megan and I attended the show as a number of students in the musical were in my youth group.  They had the audience sit on the stage, to be up close and personal; to be a part of the experience; to live in the story with the actors. It was so well received and popular that the school opened up the balcony at a reduced price to accommodate all the interest.

During the intermission, I overheard two women talking. One of them was expressing amazement that these high school students in 2014 had put together this 1996 Broadway musical about a time and issue that seemed to be so distant from high school students today. I thought to myself, this is what should be happening. Great art – in whatever form it takes – sparks conversation. Continue reading

3 Shades of Grace: Sanctifying Grace

3 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.

3 Shades of Grace: Introduction

Three Shades of Grace“We know no gospel without salvation from sin.” -John Wesley

Charles Schultz’ Charlie Brown says to his friend Linus, “Life is just too much for me. I’ve been confused right from the day I was born. I think the whole trouble is that we’re thrown into life too fast. We’re not really prepared.”

Linus replies, “What did you want . . . a chance to warm up first?”

It could be said that “the whole trouble” of humanity is original sin. Original sin is the corruption of the nature of every human being. In the beginning, God created, and it was good. God created humanity in the image of God, and it was good. John Wesley referred to this original righteousness as “original perfection.” But, when the first humans ate the fruit of the tree, sin entered the world. The Fall, as the Genesis 3 narrative is commonly referred to, left humanity fallen from perfection.

Sin is the “whole trouble” with humanity. It has left the image of God within humanity disfigured and diseased. As Paul says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Wesley understood that what we inherited from Adam and Eve was not so much guilt, but corruption and disease.

There is no escape from sin.

This is why humanity is in need of divine grace. Grace is the undeserved, unmerited, loving action of God. It is grace that renews and restores the fallen image of God within humanity. Grace is the answer to the problem. Grace is the medicine for the disease of sin. Grace transforms us from a sinful state to a righteous state. As United Methodists, we affirm that salvation comes through this loving action of God we call grace.

John Wesley understood grace in three shades, or three movements. Prevenient grace is God’s love at work in our lives from the beginning, even before we realize our sin-filled reality. While justifying grace pardons us through Christ, sanctifying grace empowers us to participate with God in healing our sin sick selves. But only if we choose to cooperate. This has been called Wesley’s “Way of Salvation.” It is the story of how grace restores us to original righteousness.

The next few posts will explore these three shades of grace.

 

Noah: Discussion Questions

ark4As I’m been working on collecting my thoughts and reading other thoughts about the new film Noah, the Christian educator in me wrote out some questions. I’m sharing them here for those who are looking for such a resource. As a Christian educator, I should tell you, if you use these questions, don’t feel like you have to use them all. If anything, let the questions be a guide to having a conversation around the themes presented in the film.

Noah Discussion Questions

1. Which of the characters, as they are presented in the film, did you relate to the most? In what ways?

2. There is a lot of longing for communication with God in the film. How have you experienced (or not experienced) communication with God? What was that like?

3. In the film, God communicates with Noah through a dream. How has God traditionally communicated with the Church?

4. His father tells Noah about the tradition that has been handed down regarding caring for God’s creation. How is this a part of your faith tradition? How do you feel about humanity’s responsibility for caring for creation?

5. The film depicts the results of sin and wickedness through the barrenness of the earth. In what ways have you seen sin and wickedness depicted in prayers, hymns, or other forms of faith tradition?

6. Use this chart to compare the Biblical narrative with the film. Discuss how the filmmakers depicted different parts of the story.

7. There were a number of added scenes that were not recorded in Genesis. For example, the Bible does not communicate what happened on the ark through all the rain and floating. The filmmakers make an attempt to fill in that gap. What do you imagine may have happened on the ark? If you were one of Noah’s family members, what would it have been like for you?

8. One of the Watchers comes to Noah in the middle of the night to help him and his family get to Grandfather. Why do you think he came at night to help him? In what ways is this Watcher like Nicodemus (John 3)?

9. When Noah is describing his dream from God, he tells his Grandfather, “I saw death and new life.” How does this statement summarize Christian theology?

10. The first animals that are sent to the ark are doves. What do you think the significance of that is?

11. Ila, the girl Noah adopts and who will become Shem’s wife, is barren at first. Note other women in the Bible who were barren (at first). What similarities are they between them and Ila? What does barrenness symbolize in the spiritual life?

12. Noah changes in the film. At what point does this change happen and how does it affect him and his relationships?

13. What significant changes have happened in your life that has affected you and your relationships?

14. Noah and his wife have a conversation where Noah says that there is wickedness in all of us. His wife counters that there is goodness in us. How does this relate to the debate over original sin?

15. In what ways is Noah’s wife like the persistent widow in Luke 13?

16. In the battle scene, the Watchers one by one return to the Creator. What form do they take when they return to the Creator? How is this redemption?

17. While on the ark, Noah tells his family the story of creation. Temptation is symbolized by a black snake coming out of a green snake, living the skin behind. The fruit of the tree, beats like a human heart. A shadowed figure of Cain kills his shadowed figure of Abel. These images are shown throughout the film. Talk about each symbol and how it is significant to the Christian Story.

18. When Noah finds out that Ila is pregnant, he holds true to his task of destroying humanity. Why is Noah so certain that God has called him to destroy all of humanity?

19. Noah walks out of the ark and cries to God, “Why do you not answer me?” When have you had days like that? Why do you think God seems so silent at times?

20. After the ark finds dry ground, how has Noah changed? If you had such an intense experience, how would you have changed?

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