Faith in God

history imageI love history and I enjoy looking back at where we’ve come from – be it the 1660s with Samuel Pepys and Charles II or the 1770s with Jane Austin and her clear-eyed look at the sense and sensibilities of those around her.  Every time I reencounter humanity, no matter the age, I reencounter an aspect of our larger culture as human beings.

One thing remains the same, no matter the era – we struggle for control.  We struggle to understand the natural forces which can so easily destroy us.  We also struggle with the God who made us, defining Him by our standards or rejecting Him – to our peril. In these duel struggles, we find some small measure of security. By studying the elemental forces around us, we manage our natural fate.  By defining God, we manage our supernatural reality.

Or do we?

Samuel Pepys lived an odd faith life, going to church every Sunday, frequently sleeping through the sermons, but he also made personal vows before God, which greatly enhanced his life and his business success. Jane Austin does not often refer to a personal relationship with God, but her characters reflect the faith values which held her society together, however fragilely. But both were aware, however grimly, of their limits and their need for introspection.

Today we live in a time where faith in God is frequently treated as a child’s game, a myth to be swept aside by the serious work of “real” lives – lives ironically filled with games and fantasy.  It seems that truth must be spoon fed to us through fiction in order to be acceptable. We can tolerate the good and evil of Star Wars, the corruption of Sauron and orcs through The Lord of the Rings but not the convictions of people of faith. Even real life stories of “good people” is far too didactic, since we all know we are a mixed lot with good and evil inside each of us.

Yet, history teaches us, and current world events should remind us, that good and evil can be rather simple and obvious.

I have been enjoying some Christian movies this Christmas season, though not all of them would be classified that way: A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol and some modern movies – Do You Believe? Little Boy and Mom’s Night Out. They each speak to the reality of good and evil in the world of human beings. I am looking forward to seeing God’s Not God's Not Dead 2 Dead 2 April 1st, 2016. God’s Not Dead 2 I am relieved that some people are unafraid to see what is right in front of them. They do not need to hide their moral convictions under layers of fantasy.

Fantasy certainly has its place in our story-telling, truth-revealing world, but it is good to remember that truth is present in every age, with or without the sermon. Perhaps the reason we have become so intolerant of Christian stories is that we have become intolerant of the truth they tell. To our peril.

History Minor. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2016, from https://www.sju.edu/majors-programs/undergraduate/minors/history-minor
God’s Not Dead 2. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2016, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4824308/

 

 

Movie Magic?

moviesI must admit I was very surprised when Marvel successfully took comic book characters and imbued them with imagination and life. True movie magic. I didn’t have any real appreciation for comic book characters before the Marvel series came out. I stand corrected.  Still, I have to wonder where all the retro fairy-tales, comic book characters, and childhood game-type movies are going to take us. Why are we looking for deep themes in the shallows?  Maybe we aren’t looking for deep themes.  Maybe we just want to be entertained.

At the cost of millions? In a world struggling with massive cultural divisions, drug addictions, extremist murderers, predictions of WWW III, anxieties over nuclear Armageddon? I don’t believe that entertainment is all that fills people’s minds these days. But what better way to address our fears than through comforting retro toys and games? We know it’s not real, but we get to live out the solutions to our problems through easy, sit-back-and-enjoy scenarios.  Or do we?

Like cotton candy, the taste of pink sugar only lasts so long.  Not pretending to be Nostradamus or anything…I’d just like to add my two cents and make a little prediction. There are a lot of well written stories out there.  As the successful book and subsequent movie Unbroken suggests, real-life inspirational stories are still quite popular.  There are other such stories, perhaps not always as graphic, but every bit as inspirational.

I know one author writing The Forgotten Saints series. Talk about amazing true life tales! These are stories everyone can relate to – real people overcoming incredible odds to make themselves and the world a bit better. I also know fiction authors, largely ignored, who write thrilling tales which inspire the reader toward something truly marvelous, reflecting “a bit of the eternal good”.

I have already posted other blogs listing books by new authors, so I am not going to repeat that here.  Suffice to say, there are many authors working hard to become recognized but finding it nearly impossible to find a place at the table because publishers and other industry specialists hardly want to risk millions on a new author. When you are talking about such a steep investment, I can understand the caution. But is there perhaps a middle road? Less expensive films with more variety of themes.

True movie magic dares to leap over the shallows and inspires life changing hope. That hope rests in characters who can actually be followed, emulated, and valued as real human examples of the best of our race. I suggest that in time audiences will be looking for more movie miracles and less magic.

Perhaps looking a little farther a field, getting a fresh perspective, and remembering that it is the very “outsiders” that do most of the living and investing in this world, who are capable of telling the most riving tales. They’ve often lived them.

 

American Mythology

Daniel as Batman - watercolor - Fr. TomMy family and I went to see the latest Marvel movie: The Avengers – Age of Ultron recently, and as we discussed the whole Marvel theme, the history of the comic book characters, and what they seem to be saying to us today, I had the sense that this whole mythological reality has become more than just another movie series. I wonder if Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and the whole host of characters that live in our American imagination are more real to us than Jesus, the apostles, and pretty much all of the people who actually lived and died in scriptural history. These fictional characters represent our American Mythology. The irony is that children today would more likely equate Moses with a myth than Iron Man.  Moses doesn’t seem real. Iron Man does.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like the Marvel movies for the most part.  I wasn’t thrilled with Guardians of the Galaxy but that was more of a fluke considering the high quality material Marvel has put out recently.  I thought Age of Ultron did an exceptionally good job of portraying an intriguing story with wonderful character development while raising some significant moral questions. What interests me is how this plays in the imagination of our children. What do they take away from all this?

Mythology has been around (pretty much forever) to help humanity explain and discern supernatural realities. The whole Marvel Universe explores our need for God (or gods), our relationship with the larger universe, and our rights and responsibilities to each other. I find it fascinating that even as Christianity has been on the defense for the last few decades, the comic book characters have arisen to fill in the psychological gap.  Humanity still needs to deal with these profound questions.  If we consider Jesus and the whole scriptural revelation to be old news without relevance – why are we still searching (and paying good money) to see these same questions updated, dressed in modern clothes with some fast actions sequences shot at us from theaters across the globe?

I suspect that the reason we love these superhero movies is the same reason people loved Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, the story of Beowulf, the myths and legends of Rome and Greece, the Celtic stories of old, and a host of ancient fables and stories which have been adapted throughout the ages.  We need them.  They speak to the deepest part of us.  Humanity has a soul which yearns to understand and be understood.

Pity is, the kids today are dreaming about characters who only represent the best and the worst in us, they can only point indirectly to that which is real – God Himself. They are not real. Great as Marvel movies are, they are only an imitation of truth.  That yearning we have to go home, be it Tolkien’s Middle-earth or some other planet, is really a longing for the home we may someday encounter, within our souls and in God’s embrace, if only we are willing to separate truth from fantasy and engage in the messy, imperfect reality of humanity’s struggle to know God.  I’ll never be able to talk to, laugh with, cry on the shoulder of, Thor, Iron Man, or Captain America – but if I am willing to hang on to truth and believe – God is at hand, waiting to embrace me, now, and at the end of time.

Do You Believe?

Do You BelieveA new movie with the title: Do You Believe?  created by the folks who brought us God is Not Dead is coming to theaters March 20th, 2015. I viewed the trailer last night and I’m impressed by the choice of cast as well as the hope that it inspires by the nature of the film’s content. Since I have not seen it yet, I can’t offer a review, but I can say that I am more than willing to meet the movie half way. I will be thrilled if it is a all-out success, but I will still be happy even if it is less than perfect but still a sincere attempt to bring hope into our troubled world.

Just the title, Do You Believe? is worthy of a moment’s thought.  What do we believe in? Who do we believe in?  As I raise my children in a world I feel less and less comfortable with, I have to believe that there is more to our human existence than what divides and conquers us. There are some notably sincere attempts to “bring Christ to earth” through novels and movies which, though ardent, seem to ignore the very worthy questions of a culture near despair. It is almost as if everyone has jumped on the fantasy-superhuman bandwagon, and we believe that if we can engage miraculous powers we can save what is good and destroy what is bad –  God Himself need not apply. In one scene I read recently, an author had set up a scene where the good guy has outsmarted the bad guy and is holding a gun to his head asking “Are you saved?” because he apparently wants the thief to “be saved” before he is forced to shoot him.  A number of questions beg to be answered here. I can’t address them all, but the main one I must ask is: If a person is “saved” thus going straight to Heaven – would he still commit a felony? I fear that our need to have all the answers – including knowing who is saved and who is not – leads us into territory that is not ours to hold.  When we decide we do believe in God – that doesn’t mean we automatically know the mind of God.  As an example: ISIS comes to mind.

As the boarders of our universe expand – and our understanding of the bigness and smallness of our world hits us – I believe that God, though very real and of infinite importance, is not so easy to stuff into our limited capacity minds. We don’t know a great deal more than we do know.  My comfort lies in the fact that I can believe in Him and yet not fully understand Him; I can love Him and be loved by Him yet not know everything about Him. Perhaps that is the core beauty of belief – I can believe – letting God be God.

 

The Hobbit or Not?

9781450288101_COVER.inddMy husband was a big Tolkien fan and it was really he who insisted that I should write a book connecting the Christian aspects of The Lord of the Rings to people’s every day lives. I’m glad I followed my husband’s advice at the time he gave it, because he is no longer here it offer it. Though The Road Goes Ever On – A Christian Journey Through the Lord of the Rings will never reach the heights of say, Joseph Pearce’s  books on the same themes, they do aspire to reach readers who want to look deeper and connect the here and now with the yearnings that touches The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit readers.

Initially I did not want to see The Lord of the Rings movies because I was afraid that they would spoil the book.  I was wrong.  They enhanced the story for me.  I was just as inspired by the movies as I was by the books.  But when it came to The Hobbit I was keenly disappointed.  It seemed that everything which could be changed was.  At the time the first Hobbit movie came out, John was losing his eyesight, so it was difficult for him to really see and enjoy the movie.  Still, he wanted to and he really tried.  By the time the second movie came along, he was suffering a great deal but the inspiration of the stories meant a lot to him, and he insisted on taking us all out to see the second Hobbit movie even though it had snowed and he was in a lot of pain.  Such is the force of a good story. Sadly, it was the last conscious thing John ever did.  He went to sleep that night and never woke up.

As my kids and I consider whether to see this third Hobbit movie, they decided they’d like to see the extended version of the second. It had been rather hard to really see it last time. So we watched it and when my daughter asked what I thought, I had to admit that Peter Jackson knows how to produce an action-packed movie – but it was Tolkien who knew how to tell an inspiring story.  The less of Tolkien in the movie, the less inspiring it becomes for me. Sadly, the whole last hour felt more like a Peter Jackson nightmare rather than a “glimpse of the eternal truth that is with God…” (Tolkien)

In reality, it was the connection that John felt with Tolkien and the world of Middle-earth which moved him to do the nearly impossible – take his suffering body and his family to get, he hoped, one last glimpse of a story he loved.  As I ponder the whole movie scene, I have to wonder what we allow ourselves to be inspired by.  The book and the movie are meant to portray something larger than a single human experience – they draw us into the universal human event.  But really, what inspires me now, is not so much a movie or a book – but those who dare to see with eyes of love.

What Makes Heroes So Heroic?

1) In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, readers encounter characters that remind us of the best in ourselves.  Yet none of the characters are without flaws.  They all struggle, but it is in their very struggle to overcome their weaker selves that true heroism is born. Think about Aragorn, Frodo, Bilbo, Sam, Gandalf, Legolas, Faramir, Eowyn, or any of the other heroic characters in The Lord of the Rings as you read and see if you can’t identify with them in some measure.

homeschool 42) Heroes believe in something beyond themselves and their belief leads to conviction and conviction draws them into action. For me personally, it was my belief that my children were pure gifts from God that led me to consider their welfare over my convenience and decide to home school.  For over twelve years that faith has led my family down a winding path of exploration and learning which I would not change for all the gold in a dragon’s lair.

country road after storm3) Heroes hope – a lot!  Home schooling, like mothering, is a multifaceted experience.  Some days things go well and some days I want to pack it all in and start over.  But even on the worst days, I find myself clinging to the conviction that I had the right idea and that suffering does not necessarily mean I am on the wrong track but rather that bends and twists in the journey merely force me to rely on God’s wisdom more than my own. Hope is really trusting in God through the good times as well as the bad.

wedding ring4) Heroes are capable of deep, enduring love.  Love in our society has a tenancy to be equated with passion but passion, rightly lived, is merely the expression of love. Love itself is the commitment to do the best you can for another person, no matter the surrounding conditions or even the worthiness of the object of your love.  There have been times when I have had to deal with the worst side of those I loved, yet in those excruciatingly painful moments, I knew that God still loved this person, even when I thought they no longer deserved my love. It was in those moments that I had to call upon the heroic nature of God and the supernatural spirit of love to wish the best for the other person – no matter whether they could understand or even receive it.

garden 2015 May5) Heroes get gifts – like wisdom, understanding, and fortitude… Acting like a real hero means committing to a high level of faith, hope, and love. It is in living that way that one actually becomes a better person.  Simply choosing to want to be a hero – makes you more fit to actually become one.

6) Heroes pay a price for their choices – just like everyone else. Heroes can’t just ride off on a white horse and slay the nearest dragon.  The difference between a real hero and someone just trying on the suit is pride.  Real heroes don’t think of themselves as heroes. Heroes usually have other heroes they look to for strength and guidance.  Kind of wonderful to realize that the best of us, draws out the best in others.

7) Tolkien was a man who loved heroes.  And in the process – he became one.

For more food for thought about Tolkien’s work: The Road Goes Ever On – A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings9781450288101_COVER.indd

Available on… Amazon: http://amzn.to/1pUKL7W

Christian Fiction

rainbow 2There has been a definite improvement in Christian movies lately.  They are better quality than ever before and they have integrated more of the current culture into their story line. I have heard numerous times from Christian authors that, rather than focusing on writing great Christian books, we should focus on writing great books written by Christians. The emphasis then becomes more about the artistic reality of a well told story than pushing a Christian agenda.   And I definitely agree with that.  Not because I don’t think that stories involving Christian characters can’t be every bit as interesting as a story told about an atheist or someone who simply hasn’t awoken to the realm of the supernatural reality of God, but because I suspect that God does a whole lot better job reaching us if we simply tell a story involving the truth – a slice of the reality we know best.  In the honest reflection of our struggles, God leads us.

The other fear has been that Christian books and movies are simply speaking to the choir. Christian authors aren’t engaging the larger culture because no one but an interested Christian will pick up an obviously Christian book or pay money to see a Christian movie. But as I watched Heaven is for Real and God is not Dead, I reevaluated the worth of that easy dismissal.  Frankly, Christians in this country, and around the world, have been under heavy fire, literally as well as figuratively, for a long time.  In many environments to even mention your faith in Jesus Christ is to invite an embarrassing silence or a smirk…or death.  The choir is battle weary, exhausted, and needs a little encouragement…perhaps a lot of encouragement.  I think that is what Heaven is for Real and God is not Dead do. They offer some encouragement from Christians to Christians.  Keep the faith.  Don’t give up.  You’re not crazy for believing and your are not alone.

When Pope John Paul II went to Poland, a strongly Catholic country which had been suffering under the oppression of Communism, John Paul II did something that unleashed an amazing chain of events.  He reminded the Polish people of who they were. He rekindled their strength. He told them that they were not alone, and he encouraged them to be brave in their love of Jesus Christ. If you know anything about how history unfolded at that point – you know what effect that had on the entire world.

Today the world is facing so many trials and tribulations that it is hard to read through the headlines.  But I believe that Christians have the answers to this age’s suffering as we have had the answer through all the years from Christ’s birth to today: It is the message that Christ, God Himself, gave us to pass on:  God is not dead. God lives and He cares for us. Heaven is for real and we do have a future in which to place all our hopes.  We are not alone.  If the highest goal of art is to draw souls toward our best selves, Christian fiction might well lead the way.