What happens when runaway thoughts spin themselves into a hurricane inside your heart, but all you want at that moment is to go to bed?
“Spirit, can you hold these thoughts, bookmark them or something ’til morning?”
The storm only presses upon me like a firm and gentle push on the swings, adding momentum. Very well. Here I am.
In the past two weeks, I’ve experienced the same conversation several times, which I found rather curious. It went something along the lines of, “Well you have your Christianity thing, but I prefer the buddhist philosophy if I had to choose.”
I’ve heard many people express their admiration for the buddhist worldview, my own grandmother being a devout practitioner.
I’d always wondered what made it so attractive until I saw a booth on campus a few semesters ago, that encouraged students to develop spirituality or oneness with the universe… but where God was optional.
One part of me said, yeah um, good luck with that. God is inviting you into true spirituality, that is, a relationship with His Holy Spirit (and the Son and the Father), how can you possibly do that without Him? You can’t fist bump without a fist to bump! There have been many times when a friend would hold out their fist and I’d miss it, so to add some dramatic flair to the situation and reduce the embarrassment, they’d make a big deal about leaving them hanging. I do it by accident of course, though Freud might disagree. However, we do do this on purpose to God all the time, on a daily maybe even hourly basis. He’s set up the relationship so that He contacts us, we just have to be there and be willing. Instead, we don’t just leave Him hanging, we left Him, the King of all things, high and dry!
But back to the booth. The other part of me empathized. We were made to worship, and worship we do. We are constantly searching for it. Some will worship things like money or success or approval, not in the golden calf sort of way, but in putting their identity in relationships (self is only in relation to so and so), image (I live to appear like this to the world), reputation (I am who people tell me or expect me to be) or a career (I am no one without my career and/or my salary), and so many other things. Others will worship virtue, being and doing and living according to some moral standard, a constant process of atonement. In fact, since the Fall, these are the defaults in you, in me, and in everyone else who ever lived.
In seeking just spirituality, people are looking for the “way of life” part of worship, which is why I can understand the thought process behind “why can’t people just believe what they want to believe, do what works for them?” Another phrase I’ve heard often, but oddly more frequently in the past bit.
Worship, the kind that we were designed for, includes another component: loving and generous volition. In other words, a relationship. Without that, nothing will work or satisfy your soul. At least not forever. When we say that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the way, the truth and the life, we’re not trying to take away people’s free will! If a treasure hunter finds the room with the jackpot, a sea of treasure, won’t they say, “hey guys, come here, I found it!” It’s a jackpot, you really can’t miss it, which is why it doesn’t make sense for the other treasure hunters to ask, “are you sure you found it? There’s a smaller room here with some cool trinkets, that might be it.”
As followers of Christ, we are not just servants to the King of the universe, but heirs. Heirs! The one who holds the name above all names is not just our Lord or our Master… He is our friend and Father who knows us deeply. He cares much less about us and His rules than us and Himself. Matt Chandler puts it this way, “God is more interested in progress than perfection.” Progress of course, requires an interaction with the one assessing you.
I’m not sure what kind of spirituality people have found without a deep and personal relationship with God, but I can imagine the peace it brings is more about keeping your hands busy than finding rest and purpose… A peace that comes at the price of never ending toil, with the resulting fruit leaving something to be desired.
Here’s another one I hear often enough: “So many other religions and worldviews are similar, what makes Christianity right or better than them? It’s not even the first one.”
Many people go to this point of the argument to discredit Christianity, but to me I see it as a proof of its legitimacy. Communicating what I see is of course the issue, but I will try. The most basic common ground for all the religions of world history is the human condition. It’s all about advancing or improving the human condition in some way. That is the common thread — a sinful heart that needs fixing.
This common thread extends far beyond religion, and into everything we do, since everything we do is a direct result of our sinful heart. But written on that same heart is God’s law — our conscience, our own moral standards. I’m most interested in storytelling, and so I see echoes of the soul yearning for the gospel all the time there.
The villains must always get their just deserts, because we know that sin and evil must be punished. The hero always starts out flawed or unprepared for the task, because we know that we aren’t perfect and need something or someone to make us whole, to prepare us for our destiny. The hero must always go through a great ordeal before succeeding, because we know that justice comes at a sacrificial cost. The hero always achieves the goal and overcomes the ordeal, rewarded with honour or revelation.
But these are just the standard givens of story structure, of the monomyth or infamous hero’s journey! Yes, but why? Why are they taken for granted, why is this what we want to see, why is it that if a story defies these laws, we are left cheated or unsatisfied?
After all, a story where the hero dies and the antagonist wins and the whole journey was for naught, is often considered a bad story, not a creative twist. We feel like we’ve wasted our time. What’s worse is that sometimes life is like that, intrinsically wrong and a waste. It’s that deep pit of dissatisfaction and despair.
I propose that at the root, we know in our core that there is a certain way things are supposed to be, and every human knows it. The gospel tells the story that is the balm to our souls. It doesn’t just give us hope and peace and love and fuzzy, flimsy emotions… it is a solid anchor to cling on to.
The hero’s journey example I just used is only one of many places I’ve seen the yearning for the gospel. There are more specific examples. Take the superhero boom. Of course many factors played into this, but at the root, I would say its appeal comes from our deep intrinsic need for a saviour with greater power or skills than ourselves. One, or a small group, must represent and save all of humanity from evil and tyranny. Or how about a show like Once Upon A Time? At the time of writing this, a saviour is being tempted in the wilderness to turn to darkness so that the laws of storytelling might be reversed — villains will get their happy endings, evil will reign, heroes are forever fated to fail and their redemption becomes a futility. Will she succumb and leave everyone without any chance of hope, or will she prevail and let redemption win? Or how about a movie like Jupiter Ascending that I just watched a couple hours ago? SPOILERS: it ends with the protagonist inheriting the Earth… Sound familiar?
I see elements of the human condition echoing the biblical narrative in stories, on TV, on the news, in movies, in people, in other worldviews… it’s everywhere! And I’m not surprised. In awe, definitely, but not surprised. The bible itself was written across centuries by different people in different contexts for different purposes through different mediums. Letters, instructions, songs, poems, historical documents, prophets, fishermen, tax collectors, priests. All this… and yet the common thread tying all these things together is the narrative of the cross. Everything pre-cross in the old testament points to it, and everything post-cross points to it. Prophecies of a Messiah, of a coming kingdom, meant as an encouragement to God’s people in the old testament, and a proclamation of what was done on the cross meant as an encouragement to the early church in the new testament.
My point is that, if the gospel is a common thread throughout the incredible diversity within the Bible, why should it be any different today? The existence of common threads among religions and worldviews isn’t discrediting the gospel, but rather reaffirms it in that we can all agree that we’re broken and need help — admitting this is the very foundation of our faith.
For some, this still doesn’t answer your questions or satisfy your stirrings, and this is to be expected. I couldn’t possibly explain everything because there is still a lot that I don’t fully understand. Even the apostle Paul said “I am perplexed, but not crushed” in 2 Corinthians 4. The guy who wrote most of the new testament still didn’t get stuff, so there’s no way I will.
However, I’ll touch a bit on why Christianity not being the “first” is not really an issue. Firstly, God understands what it is to exist outside of space and time, so linear thinking can’t really be applied here. I know that answer isn’t good enough for some of you, so I will go further.
Christianity didn’t “start” when we entered the story. The beginning wasn’t when humans finally understood what Jesus meant all those times after he died and rose again. It wasn’t when God showed us a virgin birth. It wasn’t when the prophets of Israel told God’s people that God was coming to humankind through a Messiah. It wasn’t when God himself told Adam and Eve that their seed would crush that of the serpent’s. No.
Everyone knows how it goes. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning, God. He is the beginning, He is where it all starts (and ends, but I won’t get into that here).
God planned everything from before creation, whenever that was. He wasn’t surprised at man’s rebellion, He wasn’t scrambling to come up with a plan to save humanity after the rebellion… He knew all along. He planned all of history before time existed. The cross and Christianity pre-dates time itself.
Your acceptance of this answer inevitably depends on your own worldview of course, but there is no talking about faith without faith.
I guess if there’s a take away point at all from all of this, it’s that God wants a meaningful relationship with you and has programmed that desire in you. That programming has come out in, among other things, the value we place over spirituality, our eternal search for steadfast peace everlasting, and our intrinsic sense of justice and redemption.
CS Lewis describes this unique God-us relationship like this:
You asked for a loving God: you have one… not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible of the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.
If you’re searching for steadfast peace everlasting that does not waver in even the worst of circumstances and that transcends a mere code or creed, I can only tell you that I have found it here in Christ and have not yet heard of someone who found the exact same thing elsewhere. Will you cave to the backwards instinct to fight and run away from the very thing you’re looking for, or will you be called a friend of a King?
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is a gift from God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
This is no obscure verse. There are cards and mugs and T-shirts and bumper stickers that probably have this verse on it. It’s great for encouraging one another, especially in those times (cough cough teen angst) when we question our worth, our existence, and our future.
I remember seeing it and reading it and coming back to it time and time again but as always, the Word of God always has something to say to the soul no matter how many times you’ve heard it. The ramifications of this verse are stunning; literally and figuratively. It’s huge! It’s almost unbelievable. It’s a compliment as big as God’s heart, and it’s so hard to take in. I have a hard time dealing with mortal compliments, that is, my response to them. How am I supposed to handle these words breathed from the God of all creation to me?
“Who am I that you are mindful of me?” asks the psalmist.
Here’s the usual breakdown of what this verse is actually saying:
1) If you are a human, we are told that each of us are masterpieces worth dying for.
2) We are chosen, and chosen well. We have purpose. We have a destiny. No one who has ever lived or will ever live, is an accident. No one is useless. Not only that, this purpose was carefully chosen long before you arrived.
3) Our salvation is a gift. This is the Bible turning backwards thinking right side up again. To us of course, the backwards part seems forward, and God’s forward seems backwards.
You do something to earn the reward, right? Not with God.
He gives first, now go do good work. We didn’t earn God’s gift, we can’t boast in our efforts toward it. But in truly receiving the gift of grace, our works and effort become a natural response of joy and gratitude. Natural. As if it were supposed to be that way all along. Right side up, right way forward.
Ours is a culture where chosen ones and heroes and destiny resonate so deeply with us. Most, if not every child has at least dreamed or pictured themselves as their favourite hero character. Maybe I’m an alien with powers that will develop in the near future. Maybe this body mark means I’m destined for greatness. Maybe my crazy old uncle has a double or triple life and will find me worthy enough to invite me into it. Maybe my family has a secret they will take to the grave and I’m about to join their ranks.
Maybe someday a mysterious stranger or mysterious circumstance will come knock at my door, tell me I’m chosen, present me with a purpose and turn my life upside down, but also make it so much more interesting.
I’ll be honest, with that last one I was initially thinking of Harry Potter or something like that, but reading it again… in many ways, isn’t it what we’ve been exploring in Ephesians 2:10 just now?
Sure, but that’s fiction, people have told me. Well how about an analogy, penned no less by CS Lewis in his book, The Problem of Pain, in which he answers the anxiety-inducing question, “if God is so good and loving, if God loves us, if God finds us precious and worthwhile, why does He allow pain and suffering into our lives?”
Not to belittle any painful experiences, but… well I guess I should just let him explain:
We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the ‘intolerable compliment.’
Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life — the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child — he will take endless trouble — and would, doubtless thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.
He goes on to show this love in a man’s despotic love for a beast or a pet, a father’s provident and venerable love for a child, and the inexorable love between husband and wife.
For the artist’s love for his work, it is persistent, according to Lewis. God’s love is persistent. It’s taken me a while to really believe the truth in Ephesian 2:10, and even now I haven’t plundered all its truth yet. But God is faithfully persistent in revealing it.
When all the other voices tell me what’s wrong with my body, my fitness, my intellect, my personality, my social image, my beliefs, my behaviour, whatever it might be… The cross tells me who I am.
Not that my identity is in religion, necessarily. Far from it. I am labelled under “Christian,” but its implications are far more interesting. The cross, and my faith in what was done on it, tells me that while I still deserved His wrath over my sin, God in all His glory and power died in my place because He loves me and thinks I am worth that cost.
Let me note that my revealing these voices is not to garner pity or validation… it’s not a secret cry for compliments. I rarely know what to do with compliments, it’s not my love language, if you will.
But the cross, the act committed upon it. That is love at its truest.
I love Lewis’ illustration of a sentient work of art. If we were to take the analogy a bit further, Christ’s incarnation would be like the artist being collapsed into his own creation, only to be scorned by it.
The fully fleshed, three dimensional painter is collapsed into a few two dimensional strokes of colour, and then blotted out.
The fully fleshed, three dimensional author is collapsed into a few lines of fiction, and then scribbled and scratched out beyond recognition.
The fully fleshed, three dimensional dancer is collapsed into pattern of movement, then practiced poorly, abandoned and forgotten.
The fully fleshed, three dimensional musician is collapsed into a simple melodious pressure wave, lost in a cacophonous symphony.
But the story isn’t over…
The painter, the author, the dancer, the musician, the creator… is so much more than their creation. Immeasurably more, as our friends at Rend Collective sing. What is a blot of paint to the painter, a scribble to the writer, poor repetition to a dancer, noise to a musician? A nuisance sure, but certainly not enough to wipe them from existence.
What is death to the creator of life?
But the story still isn’t over…
What if the art maker, like Gepetto, desired so much more, not of but for the artwork? For a wooden toy to become a son? For the creation to be like the creator?
[See] that you put off the old self with its practices and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.
What if the artist could lift the world on the canvas and bring it to life? What if the writer could lift a character from the page and hang out? What if a dancer could meet their dance personified in all its richness and complexity and beauty? What if a musician could duet with their opus?
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Christ’s invitation to draw near to Him, to enter a covenant relationship with Him, is not for misery in righteousness, not an ideological cage or a prison. It’s an invitation to a life outside the confines of this reality.
This weekend I got to see the KWS (Kitchener Waterloo Symphony) perform Michael Giacchino’s fantabulous 2009 score to Star Trek… LIVE to projection.
Needless to say as a band geek and a fan (I love Star Trek, but I’m nowhere near the Trekkie levels of fandom to name myself among them), it was the most fun I’ve had in a while.
Having the music component performed live to a screening of the film brings about a whole new dimension to the experience, an immersion that I think surpasses IMAX 3D. The soundtrack is the audience’s entry point to the soul and emotions of the film, telling the stories that can’t be seen or spoken.
Those gorgeous horns heralded the main theme as the logos went up and I knew I was in for an experience. You could feel the rush of wind whenever the Romulans made an appearance because the low end brass and percussion “punched it.” The strings made my heart strings weep during all those emotional moments (Labor of Love, Head to Heart Conversation…) Don’t forget about that harp either.
Everything about the movie just seemed heightened. There’s a common misconception that the soundtrack is subservient to the film, but it really isn’t. Audio and video complemented each other, the score and film working together as one to form the narrative, neither ever overpowering the other. Of course, during the credits when there’s not much to see other than names, the score is free to shine and the symphony took us where no one has gone before. More on this in a bit.
As was tweeted about the show, “goosebumps and tears are not optional.”
Ever since the development of the film and cinematic industry, theatre has always prided itself in the live aspect of that medium since it is the one thing film can never capture. The ephemerality, the proximity and the humanity of a live performance is completely unique and can never be replaced or digitalized in the same way that other mediums have undergone. Watching a film live on set would not heighten the art of film, in fact it might take away some of the magic. Live music on the other hand… I wish I could see every movie like I saw this one. You get the stunning visual effects of film that can never be seen on stage, but you also get the intense presence of a live performance that makes theatre unique. A big world on screen deserves a big sound that recordings and surround sound fall just short of, now that I know what I’ve been missing out on. It is a wonderful, dare I say perfect, marriage of filmed and live media; the best of both worlds.
This post was originally just going to be raving about the performance as an attempt to live in those memories just a bit longer, cement them while they’re still fresh, and wade in the tides of nostalgia before moving on with life. But of course, as I started writing, a “nugget” materialized and this beautiful relationship between score and film struck me as an uncanny analogy for complementarian marriage.
Not egalitarian. When it comes to marriage, I am no feminist. A bold thing to say in this age of sexual revolutions.
Let me say this before I go any further: neither man nor woman has the right to abuse the other in any way, in any kind of relationship. Ever.
But should the woman serve her husband? As the score serves the film. If the film overpowered the score, we would miss out on that musical narrative. If the score overpowered the film, we would be incredibly distracted and missing the point. It’s a strange paradox to explain… both score and film are needed to effectively tell the narrative, but the priority of focus should always be on the film, the main vehicle for the narrative. They are not equal, but the score is not the film’s handmaiden either. The film and score work together as one work of art, and they enhance each other in different ways, bringing the other to its full potential.
Personally, between listening to a score before and after seeing the film, I have always appreciated the score even more afterwards. Recalling the emotional images paired with the moving music simply makes for a better listening experience. And of course, watching a film without the score, sound effects, or sound at all, is simply pointless.
In the same way, the man should be over the woman like the film is over the score. Once in that covenantal relationship, they need each other as desperately as film and score need each other. They can no longer be separate, they are one masterpiece, one flesh. As soon as one overpowers the other, it’s game over. After all, the score was designed and created to help the film.
Am I saying then that women were designed and created to help the man? It’s scandalous and easy to get twisted, but yes that’s exactly what I’m saying. But again, this is no excuse to allow any abuse. The score doesn’t take orders from the film, but rather from the one orchestrating this marriage of mediums. Both visual and aural answer ultimately to the director, who ensures both arts blend harmoniously to tell a single story. Both man and woman answer to the One who brought them together to reflect a single love story: Christ and the church, His bride, for whom He died.
I will take the analogy further. When the film is over and gives way to the credits, it’s giving way for the score to shine and get the last word. God calls the wife to respect her husband enough to serve him for the rest of their lives, but He also calls the man to love her enough to die for her as Christ died for the church.
It’s three-fold: film and score, man and woman, Christ and church. An analogy for an analogy for the greatest story that has been, is and will forever be echoing across time. Indeed, the greatest story ever told. May we boldly go and proclaim it.