Sunday, October 30, 2016

10 Horror Movies From 2016 You Should Watch!

We are approaching the November-January months of movies, also known as "Oscar Season", also known as my favorite time of year. November-January is when all the studios release what they believe are their most Oscar worthy pictures (Oscar Season goes through January because a lot of studios will release their films in limited cities earlier in the year before the get a wide release the following year. Case in point, the Revenant won Oscars for best director and actor for the 2015 year even though it got a wide release January of 2016.) It is usually in these months when my top ten movies starts to look really pretty, but this year is special for a few reasons. One of the reasons is that we haven't reached Oscar Season and my top ten-so-far list is looking pretty good. But the other reason is that 2016 has been an outstanding year for my favorite genre: horror movies!

So, with Halloween being just around the corner, I wanted to highlight ten outstanding horror movies released this year. So here are my favorite scary movies from 2016!

10. Ouija: Origin of Evil. B+

Ouija: Origin of Evil Poster

This has been the most unexpected surprise of the year so far for me. The first installment of this franchise not only looked like a trashy attempt to make money, but the reviews seemed to confirm it. When I saw the trailer for Ouija: Origin of Evil, I was so impressed with how effectively creepy its advertising was, but rolled my eyes certain it would accomplish the seemingly impossible task of being worse than its predecessor. Then the reviews started pouring in and my jaw dropped humbled and shocked. It landed an outstanding 82% on Rotten Tomatoes and I was shocked (To put that into perspective, Crash, which won best Picture at the Oscars ten years ago, is at 75%). Then I saw the movie, and was left with the same sense of awe as with other well crafted horror movies. A feeling that is only comparable to a roller coaster ride, a feeling that explains why I love horror moves so much. Director Mike Flanagan is some one to keep a close eye on, so far he is at an outstanding 3 for 3 with his movies. He had the impossible task of making art out of the prequel to a garbage movie and he did it with flying colors.

9. Lights Out. B+

Lights Out Poster

Last year my buddy Sean showed me the short film that this movie is based off, and it was some of the scariest 5 minutes I've ever seen. So when I heard that they were adapting it to a feature length film, I was pretty skeptical. However, the very capable team of actors, writers and director pulled it off. Not as scary or jarring as the five minute short, but they managed to make it frightening and compelling enough to make for a consistently entertaining hour and half. Lights Out is a blast!

8. The Shallows. B+

The Shallows Poster

I am horrified of the ocean. In my opinion, it should not be hard to make a movie about how scary the ocean is, and yet, for some reason, it has barely been done well since Jaws did it in the seventies! Now, granted, I haven't seen all the scary ocean movies since Jaws, but given the fact that so many shark movies are utter horse crap and corny attempts at recreating Jaws, my point still stands. Then I saw this movie. 86 minutes of white knuckle, chaotic, pulse pounding fun.

Image result for the shallows Blake Lively owns the screen, proving that she is so much more than the has-been from gossip girl or Ryan Gosling's wife. She is a powerful, talented lady; and if she keeps choosing roles wisely, she will have a lot of longevity in her career.

7. The Witch. A-

The Witch Poster

Filmed with the same craft and attention to detail as any Oscar worthy movie is likely to have, The Witch isn't just dark, chilling and unbearably creepy, it is also poetry. It doesn't play out like your standard horror movie, there are no jump scares or chase scenes. Instead, the movie dares to ask "What would the puritans have had to believe was actually happening in order for the infamous witch hunts and burnings to occur?" So, what the writer and director did was take an old puritan's journal about his supposed encounters with a witch, and adapted it to the screen. What is presented is a movie that is so dark it is borderline dreadful. but also masterful film making and acting.

6. 10 Cloverfield Lane. A-

10 Cloverfield Lane Poster

Image result for 10 cloverfield laneThis is a fun, old fashioned thriller! There are little to no CGI effects until the end, but taut and tense directing. What you have here is a mixture of the best of Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie, as the mystery unwinds and the thrilling tension builds to a eruption.

5. The Invitation. A-
Not rated

The Invitation Poster

This independent gems 2016 wide release was on Netflix this year. This is not the edge of your seat thriller like The Shallows or 10 Cloverfield Lane, but it qualifies as horror. As emotionally engaging as it is mysterious and creepy, this movie that takes place of the course of a single night is one of the more intriguing movie watching experiences of the year.

4. Green Room. A

Green Room Poster

Brutal violence is very rarely my thing. I find brutal violence for the sake of brutal violence distasteful and dehumanizing. Violence in movies can serve one of two purposes: It can treat people as disposable things for the sake of a scare, moment of excitement or grotesque fascination, or it can be the most effective tool to demonstrate just how precious human life is. With Green Room, the amazing performances, fully realized characters and passionate script allow a case for the latter. Make no mistake, this is a brutal, non stop, ride. Not to mention it is also Anton Yelchin's finest and final movie hour.  #ripantonyelchin

3. The Conjuring 2. A

The Conjuring 2 Poster

Image result for the conjuring 2
Sequels are such a often times unnecessary gamble, especially with horror movies. It seems every great
horror movie has a horrible and ridiculous sequel. (Seriously though, Psycho, Halloween, The Exorcist, Jaws! Thank God the Scream sequels were pretty great and no one touched The Shining.) So, when I first heard about a sequel to my second favorite horror movie of all time, I was skeptical and afraid. However, this movie did not disappoint! This was made with every bit of care, suspense, and love that the first one was made with. Like its predecessor, it prioritizes character development and balancing the moments of fear and darkness with moments of hope and light. That was a formula as to why I loved the first one so much, and it made this one of my favorite movies of the year so far.

2. Don't Breathe. A

Don't Breathe Poster

This home invasion reversal horror movie is not at all for the faint of heart. This is one of those movies where you are 100% at the directors mercy. Don't Breathe is an edge of your seat thrill ride that doesn't let you call the shots, and leaves you breathless by the time the credits roll. This is a rare gem of a horror movie that almost redefines the genre; not just with the vision and scope of the movie, but the philosophical questions it asks about home invaders. And don't miss out on Stephen Lang's horrifying performance.

1. Hush. A

Hush Poster

Image result for hush movie 2016With only 6 characters and one setting for the whole movie, Hush sets new standards minimalist film making. New standards because there is nothing minimalist about the scares in this movie. Mike Flanagan, making his second appearance on this list, does amazing things here. From the spot on performances to the hold-your-breath, non stop thrills; Hush takes a premise that we've seen a million times, and presents it in a way that is as thrilling as if it were the first of its kind.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

25 Most Important Life Lessons I Learned By The Time I turned 25

I turn 25 on November 7th, and that is an insanely daunting number. A quarter of a century. This seemed like an appropriate time to meditate on what I've learned along the way, even though it takes a while for my thick skull to learn anything. This is dedicated to the ones who helped me learn. I love you and am forever grateful.

25. Church, in whatever form you find it, is necessary and worth fighting for.

"The church is praying people everywhere who are getting stuff done and doing what the Kingdom of God is all about."
~N.T. Wright, Q&A at OCU

Church, maybe the most controversial and enigmatic institution of all time. Is there another institution responsible for more healing and more pain? My wife and I took almost a year away from church, after both having spent our whole lives in it, and with me having spent a few years as a youth pastor. That said, we needed time to heal and grow and find what we truly found valuable. We both discovered we need church. Human beings are communal creatures, we thrive with others. I know many people who have deep scars from church, and people who never see themselves going back. The splendid thing is, church is like listening music. I can listen to U2's Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For on vinyl, cassette tape, a CD or Spotify; it's all a different expression of the song, but it's all Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. Find the expression of church you can believe in, invest yourselves in and fight for. Whether it's a liturgical church that practices the sacraments, your standard Sunday morning holy huddle with live music and an powerful speaker, a bible study at your home, or discussing the Kingdom of God with your friends at Road House Grill. Find a community of faithful people, skeptical people and faithful skeptics, and invest yourself into that.

24. There are many ways to interpret the Christian story, be careful to claim you found the only right way.

"What we need is not new jargon or a new elitist clique, but rather a humble discovery of the simple, mysterious way of Jesus that can be embraced across the whole Christian horizon, and beyond. We need something lived, not just written or talked about. The last thing we need is a new group of proud, super protestant, hyper puritan, ultra reformers who say "Only we've got it right!" and therefore damn everybody else in the bin of five minutes ago and the bucket of below-average mediocrity."
~Brian McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy

I have a hard time pinning down what exact Christian tradition I most associate myself with. I'm sort of a self proclaimed Christian Mystic. Though, for years I firmly believed the conservative evangelical tribe was the only tribe that held claim to the true Jesus; that's not a form of Christianity I find more true than others anymore. Kelsey and I attend a semi-progressive evangelical church, but I recognize there is so much more to the Christian story than the way we worship. I'm captivated by the devotion to non violence and discipleship found in Anabaptist congregations, I'm obsessed with the embracing of mystery found in the Eastern Orthodox tribes, I'm in love with the sacramental forms of worship found in Catholic and Episcopalian traditions, I desire the same hunger for the Spirit of God I see in my charismatic or Pentecostal brothers and sisters, and I want the same devotion to the scriptures I see in my conservative evangelical friends. We are all apart of the Jesus story, and I have a feeling the Kingdom exists in all of these traditions.

23. Find your healthy vices: Movies help keep me going.

"You got your babies, I got my hearses, every blessing comes with a set of curses
I got my vices, got my vice verses."
~Switchfoot, Vice Verse

There is no such thing as a viceless person, only people to proud to admit they have one. Being aware that we are likely to attach ourselves to a vice allows us the freedom to pick that vice, and hopefully the foreknowledge to avoid the plethora of destructive vices. Some vices I am not proud of and am trying to kick, like eating. However, my vice that comes in the forms of movies is something that fills my life with creativity, openness and an understanding of art and culture. It is no secret that I've always been in love with cinema, and that is something I don't see ever going away. What vices do you have that aren't healthy? What healthy vices can you focus on? In 25 years, this has been an important question in my life.

22. Truth can withstand all scrutiny, don't get defensive when advocating for truth.

"Truth never lost ground by confronting inquiry."
~William Penn

I spent a lot of time in the past years avoiding tough questions because I was afraid the answers would cause me to lose God and the Bible. The last two years have been spent confronting these tough questions head on, and I still have both, even if I view them differently than I did before. It is no coincidence that many of the teachings of Jesus are so similar to the teachings of Buddha, Krishna and many other spiritual leaders; because if it's true, it's true. If God is true, and truth is true, than we have no reason to fear truth, and we have every reason to explore truth in all its manifestations; from cosmology to theology. Embracing truth in all its glory and wonder separates the tragic and false dichotomy asserted by both the science and the religious community, God and modern science can't coexist. Indeed science shows me how, God shows me meaning.

21. Prayer is so much more than approaching a vending machine God and inserting your coins.

"I don't pray to change Gods mind or my circumstances, I pray because prayer changes me."
~C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

When I worked at Looking Glass, it was the most profound and devastating exposure to the consequences of evil I had ever come across. Many of the kids I had the honor of working for told me stories of their rape and torture, and how they begged God to rescue them, and from their perspective, he never did. Knowing these kids destroyed my prayer life. What kind of God ignores the cries of tortured, innocent children, and would answer my prayers for a raise so I can buy a house? You'd have to be delusional to not find that problematic. How then, am I supposed to pray? While I still believe there is plenty of biblical and experiential merit to intercessory prayer (praying for God to intervene in a situation), my primary prayer life has changed significantly. Now, prayer is a place for me to enter in to the divine mystery, communing with God and voicing my hopes and hopelessness, and in that process, I see myself changing.

20. No one only goes off of the Bible alone.

 "Be concious of the fact that we always apply a mixture of Scripture, our reasoning, experience and tradition to the way we live our Christian faith."
~Weslyan Quadrilateral

Sola Scriptora is a Latin phrase which means "Scripture Alone." Which is to imply that scripture alone has the authority. I have never seen this lived it out, and I don't think anyone has since Jesus walked the earth. The statement alone implies there is a authority higher than scripture to make that call, which makes it a contradicting statement, that takes a lot of circular reasoning to defend. I have never met a person who objectively interprets Scripture. Every person from every faith always interprets scripture through the lens of their reasoning, tradition and personal experience. Understanding this has helped me to have a more humble, and open handed approach to my take on scripture, and has created a safe space in my life to actively engage with other people who have a different approach. Unity in the church dies when there are no more safe spaces for questions and alternative ideas.

19. Major in the majors.

"Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
~Matthew 22: 37-40

The greatest failiares I've ever experienced were because I majored in the minors. For years I struggled with not watching pornography. I would "starve my urges" by not watching anything, even PG movies, with even remote sexual content. There was nothing in my life I wanted more than to kick my habit. But that was just the problem, wasn't it? I wanted nothing more than that. I didn't want to love people or God more, I only wanted to feel pure. It wasn't until I realized that the most important and effective way to love God was to love people that I finally stopped looking at porn. Majoring in the minors took many forms in my life, and still do. Whether it's policing other Christians lives, being the best bible scholar or fighting for solid dogma over the well being of people, any time I major in a minor it is an idol. Real freedom, real hope and real divine presence manifest most in loving God; and we never love God more accurately than when we are loving others.

18. Be open with your life. 

"Your secrets keep you sick."
~The Fold, This Too Shall Pass

Part of the reason I am such a vocal advocate for creating safe, meaningful spaces to wrestle with life, doubt, scripture, science and faith is because I know first hand the destruction that occurs when you don't feel safe to voice these things. My whole life I kept a secret I that I never told anyone, and as a result of not vocalizing this secret I experienced a lot of turmoil: I suffered from severe depression and panic attacks, it made me emotionally unhealthy, attaching myself to people in ways that drained them and myself, I lost my dream job as a pastor and almost destroyed my marriage. Once I finally found a relationship that felt safe, I told my secret, and now over time, all my close friends and family know this secret. Find the safe place and the safe people, vocalize the deepest, darkest corners of your soul, because your secrets really do keep you sick.

17. Love until it hurts.

"If it doesn't break your heart, it isn't love."
~Switchfoot, Oh! Gravity.

I used to think loving until it hurts meant that sensation of sickness you feel when you care about someone so much. I think now, to love some one until it hurts looks a lot more like the God incarnate than it does the love sick yuppie (btdubs, I identify as a love sick yuppie, if you've met my wife you'd understand why.) I think the incarnate Christ shows us that loving until it hurts means stepping into the suffering of the people around you. It means not staying where you're safe and protected and comfortable, but allowing the tears and sorrows of other people to touch you. This is how we model incarnational ministry, it's how we lay down our lives for our friends. That's loving until it hurts. There's a cost to loving people until it hurts, though. The pain is the price you pay for that depth and consistence of love. However, once you reach the point of loving until it hurts, something miraculous happens: the pain doesn't increase, but the love does.

16. There is no shame is wrestling with mental health, shame comes in avoiding self care.

“We’re all in this together. It’s okay to be honest. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to say you’re stuck, or that you’re haunted or that you can’t begin to let go. We can all relate to those things. Screw the stigma that says otherwise. Break the silence and break the cycle, for you are more than just your pain. You are not alone. And people need other people.” 
― Jamie Tworkowski, If You Feel Too Much

Being some one who has wrestled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, I know first hand how embarrassing it is to admit. Especially when things seem to be going fine or
at least should feel that way. There is this unspoken stigma and shame in admitting you have anxiety and depression. I have days where hanging out with even my closest friends is an unbearable task. Most of the lies in my life that I've ever told were to get out of plans that my depression or anxiety just kept me from. I don't lie about it anymore, I found safe relationships, who care about my health, that I can candidly tell I am just not healthy enough to do it today. And in doing that, I have begun to feel a subtle and gentle ease in the pain. I've always had safe relationships to do this with, I just let my shame keep me hidden. Don't let shame have the final say on your health.

15. It's okay to church detox.

 I don't know about you, but sometimes it seems like cynicism follows me through every church door, nipping at my heels like a pesky dog as I find my place in the pews. If you’re like me, you’re a little bit scared, a little bit picky, a little bit tired. You’re rolling your eyes about the American flag in the corner, or the special music, or the building fund, or the lack of diversity. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay in bed. (Okay, often it’s just easier to stay in bed.)
~Rachel Held Evans, Searching For Sunday

I was on staff at a church for five years when all my secrets came to light, my complete and total lack of health was exposed, and I was asked to step down and heal. My church handled this as beautifully and has Christ like as you could imagine. Still, nothing could stop the flood that was to follow. I grew angry, bitter and cynical, with nobody to blame for it but myself. Regardless of blame, that's where I was. I couldn't go to church without being reminded of my shame, without thinking about everything I had lost. I couldn't watch a guest preacher preach without thinking about how I used to be on the speaking rotation, and how preaching was my favorite thing in the world. Those things started manifesting in cynical and hyper critical ways. Now, to be fare, I am a strong advocate for calling the church on its crap, calling out its potential and always looking for ways it can look more like Jesus. But there's a difference between being a critical thinker and having a critical spirit. I knew the only way for this to heal was to take some space. I had to lose church for a while to find out why I need it. If you've been deeply hurt by church, or have deep hurts associated with the church (even if, like me, it's not your churches fault), it is okay to take break. Detox, reevaluate what you need and what you can give, and take time to heal and let God restore. For a while, church for Kelsey and I was a group of friends coming together on Wednesday nights to wrestle with our struggles and engage scripture. Now, our church attendance looks a lot more typical, but we needed that time away to see it's true value.

14. Find your spiritual leaders, near and far.

"It has been the writings of my spiritual leaders that has sustained my tired and weary soul in the darkest times of life."
~Brian Zahnd, Water To Wine

I can't emphasize this enough. We need our spiritual leaders, people who have gone before us and can show us the way. None of us is equipped to wander through life with no direction, that's when wandering becomes aimless and wasted. My spiritual leadership has always been near and far. In the past, I had spiritual fathers and mothers who watched me grow up, and raised me in the faith. Transitioning to a new church meant building new relationships, and establishing new spiritual leaders in my life. It's something I have to be intentional about, and it's something I can't do without.
My spiritual leaders from afar have carried me during these times of transition. Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Science Mike McHargue, Rachel Held Evens, C.S. Lewis, Brian Zahnd, Dustin Kensrue, Greg Boyd, Preston Sprinkle, Jon Foreman and many others have served as authors and song writers who have lead me, stretched me and grown me. They are people I trust, and whose work I follow closely.

13. Life is a cycle of death and resurrection.

“Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven."
~N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope.

I believe God gave us the clearest picture how the way he works in his death and resurrection. Even in the scientific community, who boldly claim that all of creation is made up of star dust, tell a story of death and resurrection. In The Lion King, Mufasa tells Simba of the circle of life, "The antelope eat the grass, when they die, they become the grass..."

Death and resurrection.

 My hope died when my mother overdosed after I spent years fasting and praying for her sobriety; it was resurrected when my church family surrounded me, held their hands against the wound, and showed me God was in the hopelessness. My dreams died when I was asked to step down from my greatest passion, pastoring; it was resurrected when my friends and family continually affirmed and believed in my gifting and calling. My confidence that God was powerful and loved everyone died when I met teenagers who were raped and tortured when they were much younger, all the while begging God to rescue them; it was resurrected when they told me they felt something like love was calling them to a better way of living, a new way to be human.

Death and resurrection.

12. This Too Shall Pass

"I am making all things new."
~Revelation 21:5

I've been depressed, but I haven't been depressed my whole life. I have felt the sting of losing my mother to suicide, and crushed under the weight of broken dreams, and I never stayed in my lowest of lows. There are always new seasons just around the corner. Resurrection awaits. In your pain, remember, this too shall pass.

11. The Bible is true. (This is going to probably get me in the most trouble, but I ask you please be gracious and open)

"Asking if the bible is infallible or inerrant are questions I can't answer, but do I believe the bible is true? Yes I do."
~Mike McHargue, Finding God in The Waves

For a while I have struggled to articulate what it is I actually believe about the bible. Do I find it in inerrant, which is to say it is without errors of any kind? No contradictions, no errors, no human influence in it at all? No, I don't. In the four Gospels, each Gospel writer makes a point to say that something was written on a sign above Jesus' head on the cross, but none of the four seem to agree on what that sign actually said. For example, Matthew thinks the sign read "THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Mark said the sign reads "THE KING OF THE JEWS." Luke says the sign read "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS" and John says the sign said "JESUS, THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS." If the bible is without error or contradictions, why are there four different versions of what the sign says? This is only one of supposed hundreds of errors and contradictions found in the Scriptures, not to mention the many historical claims there is no archaeological proof for.

 I know a lot of people who have a answers and refutes towards these, and many other questions raised. I was one of those people, but over time those answers grew less and less satisfying, and I was left with a decision to make. How do I maintain a view of scripture-without-error if I can't ignore the errors? I couldn't just disregard it either, because scripture for most of my life has served as the most effective tool to bring me to God's presence. Somehow, someway, God is in the pages of scripture. Which makes the bible true. Not true like an encyclapedia is true, but true like art is true.

 In his book, Finding God in The Waves, Mike McHargue (Science Mike) describes how he came to be reconciled with scripture. He talks about Vincent Van Gogh's painting Starry Night. All his life, Vincent Van Gogh wanted to be a minister, how ever the Methodist church denomination wouldn't allow him a license, however they granted him the position of parish missionary. Wanting to be like Christ, and moved with compassion, Van Gogh gave all of his salary to local, impoverished, coal miners. Vincent slept in the stable behind a bakery, and would come to church every sunday with hay in is close and hair, and smelling like bread. Embarrased and outraged at their minister, the church members raised money to give to Vincent to buy a place to live and new clothes. However, unable to bear the idea him having new things while living in the same town of impoverished miners, Vincent, again, gave away his money. As a result, Vincent Van Gogh was fired from his dream job, all because giving to the poor was more important than the appearance of propriety.

Image result for vincent van gogh starry night original painting

Later in his life, Van Gogh painted Starry Night, arguably his most famous work. You'll notice, in Starry Night, all the lights in the buildings and houses of this little village are on; but the churches lights are off.

Mike goes on in his book, asking if Starry Night was infallible or without error? Of course not, those are the wrong questions to ask when it comes to creation and art. But is Starry Night true? Yes. Yes it is.

And the same is true, Mike says and I concur, with the bible. I don't know all the right ways to read it, but I know God is found within its pages. And I know it is true.

10. It's okay to change your mind. Stay a student forever.

"Changing your mind based off of learning new information is not conformity, it's wisdom."
~Rachel Held Evans, Twitter

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."
~Mahatma Gandhi

For most of my life, I fought to defend my beliefs and values; which wasn't a problem until I continued to do so long after I started questioning whether or not I still believed those things. IT became even more problematic when I opted for willful ignorance, out of fear that discovering new ideas and theories, or even more scary, confronting facts, would cause me to lose what I believe and held dear. Fear is a horrible motivator, and willful ignorance only discredits whatever it is you believe. But you know what? Many, many times over the last two years, I have changed my mind, and it's okay. When it leads to a humbling, it's almost always the better road; and changing your mind after being confronted with new evidence leads to humility, which leads to wisdom.

9. God REALLY expects us to be concerned about peace and caring for the marginalized.

"Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."
~Martin Luther King Jr.

“Only Jesus would be crazy enough to suggest that if you want to become the greatest, you should become the least. Only Jesus would declare God's blessing on the po0r rather than on the rich and would insist that it's not enough to just love your friends. I just began to wonder if anybody still believed Jesus meant those things he said.” 
― Shane ClaiborneIrresistible Revolution

Saying that God genuinely expects us to be people of peace, and to care for marginalized people (economic, political and violent current oppression of the black community, homeless, LGTBQ folks, Muslims, impoverished communities) is pretty controversially stuff these days, especially (strangely enough) in congregations that claim to take everything in the bible literally. I love Liberation Theology, because it is a theology that kept enslaved African Americans in the faith fold. They would see in the scriptures a God on the side of the oppressed, on the side of the slaves and societal outcasts. If the God incarnate shows us anything, it shows us that God is on the side of the crucified ones.

The crucified God is the most shining and clear example of how loving the one who crucify you is the only way to see them made your loved ones. Christ, having all the power to strike back and prevent his enemies from torturing him to death, loved his enemies and in the end, revealed Gods plan to restore those enemies to Shalom.

These are 2 things I would argue are fundamental to the Christian story that I was taught very little of growing up in church my whole life. In the scriptures, when God shows concerned for the outcasts and personally demonstrates the necessity of loving our enemies, it seems that we being his people should carry those same passions.

8. There is a third way of seeing, dualism is partial seeing.

"We rarely see thing as they are, we see things as we are."
~Richard Rohr, The Naked Now

We live in a world of binary statements. Trump is evil and Clinton is good (or vice versa), The Bible is 100% accurate or completely worthless, evil people are just evil. I viewed the world this way most of my life, but it is an extremely problematic way of seeing. It doesn't allow for context, prequel or the bigger picture. Before I worked at Looking Glass, sexual predators were evil, carnal, irredeemable people. Meeting, serving and loving teenagers convicted of this crime; hearing their stories and watching first hand their battle with the inner beauty and chaos, striving and suffering to let the beauty win, showed me a third way of viewing this people. Until we discover this third way of seeing; criminals will be people who need to be punished not healed, enemies will be people to be killed not loved and redeemed and we will continue to contribute to a cycle of running the world that has consistently showed itself to be ineffective and anti Kingdom of God.

7. God is in the process of taking creation back to the Shalom of the Garden, and invites us to co-labor with him in that process.

"For we are Gods co-workers..."
~ 1 Corinthians 3:9

“Are you a Genesis 1 Christian or a Genesis 3 Christian? Do you start your story with shalom or with sin? Shalom is the Hebrew word for “peace.” For rhythm. For everything lining up exactly how it was meant to line up. Shalom is happening in those moments when you are at the dinner table for hours with good friends, good food, and good wine. Shalom is when you hear or see something and can’t quite explain it, but you know it’s calling and stirring something deep inside of you. Shalom is a sunset, that sense of exhaustion yet satisfaction from a hard day’s work, creating art that is bigger than itself. Shalom is enemies being reconciled by love.” 
― Jefferson Bethke, It's Not What You Think

I believe in the human story, what started in a garden (metaphorical or literal) will end in a garden. Whatever terminology you prefer: Heaven invading earth, the Kingdom of God here and now, the complete restoration of all creation, liberty and justice for all, or returning to shalom... I believe all who have interacted with the Divine have experienced this peaceful mystery, this sense that in that precious moment, all was as it was meant to be, and that, someday, will be that way forever. Somehow, in some way mysterious beyond words, on the cross and in the resurrection, the victory of Christ (or Christus Victor) symbolizes the incoming victory of all of creation. The Christian story is one of God giving his people free will and choice, us making the wrong and devastating choices, and God eventually restoring those choices, people and created things back to the place where everything lines up with how it was always meant to be. In that day the tortured and the torturers will embrace, the polluted planet will become (and stay) a clean home, the lion will lay down with the lamb and we will experience the fullness of Divine Being.

6. The suffering of this world is my problem

"There is not greater love than this: To lay down ones life for ones friends."
~John 15:13

Being a Christian means the suffering of others isn't a distant and unfortunate problem. If Christianity looks like Jesus, the suffering others is an intimate and personal problem! To be like Jesus doesn't mean guard the beauty and protect it from chaos, to be like Jesus means to introduce the chaos to beauty; letting the two combine into a paradoxical existence. 

5. Accepting mystery and doubt is necessary for faith to evolve.

"A relationship with God should feel paradoxical; like your falling and being held at the same time. Falling into mystery and being held by love... God is not that which can be known. God is that which can be loved, and that loving becomes it's own kind of knowing."
~Richard Rohr, The Naked Now

In the Old Testament, the only name by which God gives himself is YHWH (we've tried to make it less complicated by adding some vowels to make it Yaweh.). Any time you are reading you bible and you see the word LORD in all capitol letters, the word there in Hebrew is YHWH. The way God chose to identify himself was in a word you couldn't say, complete and total mystery. The ancient Rabbi's started a practice, where in prayer, meditations and wrestling with scripture, the Divine Being's name couldn't be spoken, only breathed. God was the force of life itself, that which where every breath is a gift and proclamation of it's name, and every exhale was an act of praise. I used to have little to no use for mystery, and doubt was an evil trick of the devil to me. Now, when I read the bible I see multiples writers experiencing encounters with the Divine Being, and trying to make the best they can of what they experienced, which is all any of us can do. Sometimes they paint something accurate, often times their culture and bias is projected onto the text, but it is always true; there was no way to really know who or what God was until, finally, the Incarnate Christ came in the person of Jesus. Jesus said, "When you see me, you see the father."

Science and philosophy are at their best when it admits some things are just a mystery, and religion is the same way.

4. Joy and sadness are almost always connected.

"All my sufferings lie in momentary pain while the weight of endless glory remains to be."
~Paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 4.

No art has demonstrated this lesson more beautifully to me than the movie Inside Out. The greatest moments of pain I have experienced have also been connected to the greatest moments of joy. The suffering of losing my mom was deeply connected to the unconditional love and warmth she offered to me until her final moments; when the agony of feeling like my marriage was falling apart was deeply connected to greatest feeling in the world: Winning Kelsey's heart; the pain of losing my job as a youth pastor was connected to it being the greatest joy in my life. The pain I experience now is deeply connected to the joy I experienced then; which gives me hope to believe that when I reach the final healing, and experience the purest and most powerful of all pleasures, it will be connected to the pain I experience now. Maybe that is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote "For our light and momentary troubles are acheiving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."

3. Marry someone worth giving up everything for.

"She is beautiful, she's apart of me, she's my wife."
~Josh Garrells.

When I married Kelsey, it wasn't long before I knew I would have to come clean with the aforementioned secret I had been hiding my whole life. I knew that once I told one person, more would know, and eventually, I would lose everything I had worked for. When I told my secret to a friend, and that secret made it's way to others, I lost one of the most valuable things in the world to me: My position. But I almost lost something even more important, my marriage. Over the last two years (almost) of marriage, I learned that Kelsey is worth giving up every dream, goal and ambition for, because there are no dreams, goals or ambitions complete with out her. That is the only way I can imagined marriage working out. Don't settle. Marry well.

2. Love is answer to it all

"I climbed up a lion of rock
There overlooking the swirls of the world
Oh the infinite mystery I saw
Fighting the suffering while seeing the gift
Love is the yes to it all
Somehow I know that my heart will keep breaking
But may it stay open and soft
'Till I'm finally back to the source of it all."
~Gungor; The End 

This is so cliche it's almost painful to write. But my lord is it true. What is the answer to violence? Love. The answer to offense? Love. The answer to a loved ones pain? Love. Every great spiritual leader and teacher, especially the greatest spiritual leader and teacher, Jesus, have emphasized the paramount nature of love. From Christ on the cross to Martin Luther King Jr. marching in Selma Alabama to Mother Teresa serving lepers in Calcutta to the families of murdered loved ones forgiving the murderer responsible for the Charleston Church shooting, love is the only answer to heal the world. Love rejects eye for an eye and the myth of redemptive violence, love rejects being complacent in a system of oppression and injustice. Love is the yes to it all.

1. The incarnated Christ is the only way I have of making sense of this world.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come."

~Luke 4:18-19

"Christ on the cross is paradoxically the clearest revelation of who God is."
~Brian Zahnd

So why Jesus? Why Christianity? Why do I believe that Jesus is the clearest revelation of who God is? Here is some blunt and painful honesty: 
I don't know that there's a God. I know that I often feel like I am falling into mystery and being held by love at the same time, so I hope there is a divine being with consciousness and will that is best defined as love and mystery. I don't know that Jesus was everything he claimed to be, but I hope he was, because if he was then who he claimed to be has the possibility of healing all of creation. I don't know that The Holy Spirit really resides in people, but I know every person I come to know intimately shares a common component that seems divine, so I hope it's Holy and Spiritual. I don't know anything I can't prove, but I hope for it; and that hope becomes its own kind of knowing and loving. My life is committed to that hope, because I have seen that hope bring healing and restoration in my life and in people around me.

I am committed to that hope, because the Jesus story, this idea of a Cosmic Christ coming into creation to experience my pain, sorrow and filth, and to show the world the right way to live, is the only thing that makes sense to me. In the dark nights of the soul, a mediation on the God Incarnate has a way of shining a light, and that darkness in my soul cannot overcome it.
Why Jesus? Because his story is the only way I see this world in all its filth and carnage making any sense at all.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Healer of Souls 2: Our Unholy Interpretation on Holiness. (And my confession of casting stones)

"O merciful God, forgive us for all the things we have done and left undone."
The Brilliance.

There is a most common adjective used to describe God. A word used more than any other words. It isn't beauty, justice, judge or even love... It's holy. This word has for years subverted my thinking.

I've tried to replicate the angels. A week in 2011 most of my prayer time was spent just proclaiming God's holiness. It felt like I was being righteous, pure, and, well... holy. There's a problem: My interpretation of holiness was actually wicked, and the more I proclaimed the holiness of God, the less I liked God.

I've tried to live out the command to "be holy as God is holy."  Although I liked the feeling this gave me, I couldn't quite call it holiness. I wouldn't watch R rated movies or listen to explicit music, and I only said bad words when I stubbed my toe, which was followed by quick repentance and a confession of my (completely contrived) contrite heart. I must admit, my favorite part of being holy was getting to talk about all the people who weren't as holy as me. Many of my conversations with my fellow holy people would start with, "We really need to pray for (insert friend I totally screwed over). They went and saw that new Seth Rogen movie in the theaters, so they couldn't even fast forward through nudity, I think they stifled the Holy Spirit." My heart would "break" upon receiving the juicy news of people sleeping together before marriage and smoking pot. It's interesting how my broken heart also lead to such a feeling of superiority.

Meanwhile, one would only need to take a look at my internet search history to see that I wasn't as holy as I insisted I was. 

 I got tired of being an ass-hat to perfectly good people just because I perceived their choices as being immoral. I thought I was done with holiness, and then I reread the Gospels, and my life was ruined forever. Warning, no other written word has the propensity to absolutely destroy you like the Gospels. I'd read them many times before this, but this time made it seem like I'd only ever read them with scales on my eyes. I read the Gospels and holiness was revealed to me. 

I read about Jesus, who was supposedly the most holy man of all time, and I realized the way he taught and modeled holiness didn't match up at all with what I was taught. Jesus fit no common or current definition of holiness within his time or his group... And, after having been in church for 23 years at the time, I realized he didn't fit mine or my cultures definition of holiness either. 

I realized that the interpretation of holiness I had been given was a projection of the Western mans interpretation of righteousness. We projected that holiness meant saying the correct thing, being with the purest people (avoiding those pesky stumbling blocks), and abstaining the big bad sins (mostly porn, drugs, alcohol, murder, premarital sex and not getting caught lying or stealing, but oddly enough non of the sins Jesus actually said was punishable by hell). 

The holiness of Christ didn't seem all that concerned with any of these things. The holiness of Christ is a projectile that smashes our projections and set them straight. 

I realized holiness didn't look like staying away from R rated movies; nor did it look like casting stones at people who made life choices I didn't agree with. All of the sudden, it felt very possible to be holy as Christ was holy... not just possible, but necessary. It's almost like participating in the holiness of Christ is to participate in God's plan to restore creation to himself, it is to participate in heaven invading earth, it is to see the perfect Shalom of God, in some small way, reenacted.

What do I perceive the holiness of Christ to be?

Holiness is: Taking care of the poor, the widowed and the orphaned. It's giving to people who could never pay you back, and never expecting them to. It's caring for creation. It's responding to hate with love. It's turning the other cheek and going the extra mile to bless your enemies. Holiness is love.

 Because God is holy and God is love; holiness is, just like Jesus, the incarnation of love. When we go and be holy as Christ is holy, we help to save the world.

Recommended song: Now and At The Hour by The Brilliance

Image result for the brilliance

"But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the scriptures say 'Be holy as I am holy.' "

1 Peter 1:15-16