A Theology of Expression

Some people have a problem with being thankful. I am not one of those people.

I thank God for things all the time. But I am not one of those irrational people who thanks God for everything – like inventing cars, or soda, or diabetic socks, or bacon. God didn’t invent those things, stupid people. But I usually pray a prayer of thanksgiving every time I eat a peanut butter sandwich that goes something like this: “God, thank you for creating the man who invented peanut butter.” Now, you might say that is George Washington Carver, but you’d be doubly wrong. So, maybe I have to retract my statement about bacon, but the rest still stands.

I’m so glad that God has inspired so many men and women to think, invent, and create.

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can cause a person to paint a picture, write a song, develop an invention, or pen Scripture. All forms of expression come from some form of inspiration. The key to discovering a great form of expression is to look at the inspiration. God is the highest form of inspiration there is. He is the Creator of the whole universe – from the stars in the sky to the fleas on a dog. Every night when I walk into my house, I look up at those stars and am continually reminded at how inspiring God is.

Just like you can look at a great painting and see the heart of the artist, you can look at the heart of mankind and see the hand of God. You can look at Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and see the love of God. You can see the conquest of Joshua and see the wrath of God. You read the Psalms and see how God inspires man. The Bible itself is another example of God inspiring man – in more ways than one.

Expression is only as good as the inspiration behind it. If your inspiration is temporary, if it is fleeting, if it can fail you, your expression loses significance. People who don’t live in an area where there are peanuts probably don’t care for the inspiration behind peanut butter. People who write songs about sex or drugs or money don’t create inspiration. But songs and paintings can be temporary or about current situations in time and still hold eternal significance depending on the inspiration. Great expression always inspires. It’s contagious.

My pastor said a few weeks ago that the gospel isn’t centered on expressing oneself but denying oneself. This is one of those statements though with a paradoxical twist – it is only when denying themselves that people can truly express themselves. If God is the highest form of inspiration, the highest form of expression comes through Him. This can be heard in Handel’s Messiah, seen in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or experienced while walking through a park on a nice day.

A great thing about expression is it speaks about and to its inspiration regardless of how explicit that mention might be. There are some great worship songs out there that are glorifying and directly speak to God’s character. Then there are those songs that speak through metaphor or situations to point to spiritual and godly truths. I think one of the disasters today of the Christian music industry is its forcefulness of the inclusion of God. People love NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot because their expression isn’t forced; it is fluid and it is natural.

One of my favorite songs of all-time is called “John Wayne Gacy Jr” by Sufjan Stevens. In the song, Stevens talks about one of the most prolific serial killers to ever live. The song is disgusting and it leaves the listener feeling sickened as the song progresses. In the heart, the listener feels how wretched this killer was. Then in the last line of the song, Stevens says: “In reality, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

There it is.

What a phenomenal song to express the fallen nature of mankind and to show the morality engraved in the hearts of man to feel sickened by evil. It is something I loved about the show Breaking Bad. No show in the history of television has painted such a vivid picture of right and wrong. This is the key to great expression. This is a key that opens many doors and leads the artist down many corridors. This is the key that allows one to think outside the box, outside of themselves, and potentially outside their present reality.

What inspires you?

Noah: A Review

It was difficult going into a movie without bias or prejudice. I now understand why jurors in a courtroom shouldn’t have prior knowledge of the case they will be sitting through and making assessments on – their prior experience has clouded what they may think of the case. “Noah” is no different – among conservative evangelicals and many others, Noah stands on trial. For the sake of those wanting to watch the film, I’ll save any spoilers for the end of the article (and let you know when I start to spoil things). For additional input, I loved what Brett McCracken had to say for Converge and this article that was posted by RELEVANT.

NOAH

I give Noah a solid C.

While many of us cringe to see our favorite books or novels be made into films, Aronofsky already made his viewers skeptics by picking a biblical narrative. Most other bible stories have chapters or even whole books they can go off of, while the Noah account only has several chapters at best (in which Noah only speak three verses!). Anyone wanting to make a movie out of Noah has to fill in all the gaps somehow. This is where I can see most people getting upset with the film. Aronofsky doesn’t take anything away from the Noah narrative, but what he adds may make people angry.

Here’s what I liked. I liked how human Noah was. I liked how tragic the movie was, yet how merciful God was. I liked how God was a central character to the film. I liked how the movie used a story from the past and made it resonate with people of today. I definitely wasn’t angry throughout the whole film. I left feeling challenged at some points, with slight disappointment towards some of the film’s artistic executions.

First, I want to tackle some misconceptions. Those who say God is not in the movie have no clue what they are talking about. God is a central character in the film, only being referenced to as “The Creator” – a move that makes sense with how close Noah is to the Creation Story. God is seen as the one who made the earth. He is also the merciful God who is sparing Noah and the judging God that is condemning mankind.

Another misconception is that this is an environmentalist film. While taking care of God’s creation is an important issue in the movie, it is as big of an issue in the movie as it is in the biblical account. God has called mankind to be stewards of His creation, and they are being wasteful. This is something I think Aronofsky plays well with. Cain is the one who started the first civilization. Being wasteful and wrecking the environment is just a physical representation of how evil mankind has gotten. You won’t feel like mankind is bad because they hate the environment. You’ll feel like they are evil all over even to how they treat God’s creation.

Within the first several minutes of the film, you get the sense that this world isn’t quite like the world we live in today. When watching it, I couldn’t help but have a feeling like I was in a place similar to Middle Earth, and fortunately many others agree. With Noah being only ten generations since the Garden, earth before the flood has almost a mystical and whimsical sense to it. Many of the characters even have shaman-like powers verging on witchery. Is this what prophets used to be like? Creation before the Flood seems to still have a lot of the residue left from when God was in the Garden of Eden. But does making the earth seem like a mythical place take away from the main plot? I think there are some places where Aronofsky succeeds and some places where he fails. I think it was Aronofsky’s intention to have the audience feel like they were between worlds. He was nearly successful with it.

What I loved the most about the movie was how dark and real it was as far as the situation at hand. Here you have a man whose family are the only people to survive their own prehistoric apocalypse. Building the ark isn’t something that was filled with bliss and happiness. Throughout the film, Noah wrestles with his obedience to God and struggles to understand what God is trying to tell him. Noah, like the biblical Noah, was a man, and after the flood you see Noah having to live with the choices he has made up to this point. After seeing all of mankind destroyed, the first thing Noah does is drink away his pain. Noah is someone who I think anyone can relate to, and I applaud Aronofsky for that. Whether or not you think a prophet should be relatable is your opinion, but Noah is a man who struggles with his choices, misunderstands the full message of God’s commands, and is fallible.

Okay, so how was the film as far as just being a work of art?

It definitely wasn’t perfect. It was choppy and busy. The plot was very complex and everything hit a climax at one point of the film. In my opinion, it was a train wreck that ended up being turned into a piece of art. The points leading to the climax were catastrophic. But I thought the resolution was masterful. It was a movie with a brilliant development and a brilliant conclusion.

The cinematography was weird. I felt like many times the artistic dimension of the film was a bit forced. If anyone has seen a film by Terrence Malick, I feel like Aronofsky was going for an artistic feel much like one of his films. I just feel like Aronofsky failed to capitalize on it. In the end, the piecing of the film didn’t seem natural. I wasn’t swept into the dreams and visions and stories. There were places in the film where the CGI was brilliant and beautiful then there were other places where it was terrible. The post-production was very inconsistent, but that could be because they spent so much time trying to please their target audience. I also thought the acting was a bit over-the-top. If you see this as a Hamlet-esque film (like McCracken described it), then maybe this is okay. There were moments when the actors were brilliant, then there would be monologues that seemed again, forced. I thought it was just boarder-line cheesy at times – reaching for the audience to feel emotions by over-selling them on the screen.

Like I said before, I think the biggest problem people will have will be with what Aronofsky added. I don’t think most of it is objectively wrong, but for subjective reasons, I didn’t like much of it.

SPOILERS ahead.

Glenn Beck’s biggest problem with the movie seemed to be Aronofsky’s interpretation of “The Watchers” or Nephilim (Gen 6:1-4). In the bible, in simplest terms, these are fallen angels. While most people have their own ideas of what angels look like (that are equally inaccurate in the biblical sense), Aronofsky has these fallen angels being molded in the form of Rock Men. They almost reminded me of Tree Beard from LOTR. I haven’t yet decided if I didn’t like them because I thought they were too mythological or that I thought they just looked stupid from bad CGI, but I didn’t like them. I try to think though of something better that Aronofsky could’ve done – maybe Giants or just glorified human beings – but I don’t know if anything would make The Watchers cool. I don’t know if the story would be better without them. Before you get angry with this, remember that the bible also has tales of Leviathan and other creatures we try to write away or create explanations for. This is just one man’s explanation, and I just wasn’t a fan of it. By the time the Flood came, God had mercy on the Watchers and welcomed them back into heaven. This part was probably one of the most unsettling parts of the film for me. I’m sure it will leave you wondering too why God would have mercy on them and not on all of mankind. Thinking about their role in the film is dizzying.

There is also a brief glimpse of evolution in the film. If you aren’t looking for it though, you probably won’t notice it. While on the ark, Noah takes time to tell his family again the story of Creation. While going through the days of Creation, you see each animal group evolve into the next. What I applaud Aronofsky for is not showing that happen to mankind. Mankind still held a special place in the movie. Adam and Eve were wrapped in light. They were still set apart. This may unsettle some, but for me it wasn’t a big deal. Mankind was still set apart. Not only so, but the evolution montage was beautifully done and only filled about one or two minutes of the nearly two and a half hour film.

The movie is filled with Noah wrestling with his obedience to God and not wanting to be merciful at all to mankind. At the end of the film, I thought Aronofsky showed God’s mercy beautifully as Noah makes a decision to spare his family from the destruction of God. Throughout the film Noah thinks that humans will no longer take part in God’s creation. He assumes that if God wants to kill off all of mankind, then he and his family would be the last of them, dying off once Noah’s youngest son passes away. Noah comes across as a lunatic for a good hour of the movie as he tries to understand the task God wants him to fulfill, and he struggles to take it to its bitter end. At the end of the film, God is seen as a Being who either allows mankind the freedom to choose his destiny or a Being who knew Noah’s choice from the beginning (thus giving him the task to begin with). Only a bible scholar will notice the tightrope walked for this part of the film. This will definitely put a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone looking at the narrative through Sunday School eyes. But it causes Noah’s humanity stand out. Noah isn’t God in this movie as much as any of mankind is. The reason for Noah’s survival isn’t necessarily his goodness but God’s mercy.

This film definitely isn’t perfect. It definitely isn’t a Christian film. This is about the God of the Old Testament, so there is no need to mention Christ. It definitely could be toxic to anyone wanting to use it to further bash God or Christians. But when the movie ends, I don’t know of a person who wouldn’t want to pick up their bible as soon as they get home.

Agitators and Aggressors

Multiple times a week I have children asking me for high fives, calling me names, and sticking their tongues out at me. I just remind myself that it is part of my job. I have been working at a daycare for the past few months… so I obviously have A LOT of amazing and ridiculous stories! Fortunately for my own sanity, I work with children who are in kindergarten through fifth grade.

I have noticed at my job that I have two types of children that either make my day great, or they make my day terrible! I call them agitators and aggressors. Though I first noticed this trend because of negative instances, I now see the positive signs that could only be exemplified through the actions of a child. So here’s the story. There were some students that were having problems with others at the daycare. Multiple students were usually culpable – one child would “egg on” or pester another child, and the other child would lash out and either pester them back or do something physically to get back at them. It’s a vicious cycle that sometimes seems to “flip-flop” daily.

But without agitators and aggressors there wouldn’t be world changers.

Because agitators and aggressors are the world changers.

Agitators are the type of people that notice when something is wrong. In a kid’s world, they are the person that knows exactly what to say to get under someone’s skin. It is an amazing gift for them to sense and know what bothers people, what is wrong, and how to point it out with a clarity that is sometimes less than friendly. If not nourished correctly, an agitator is a person who will see all the wrong in the world, but will not have hope in it ever getting better. They will get pessimistic to the point of falling into the mundane life of the fold.

Aggressors are the types of people who get “excited” and moved into action. In a kid’s world, they might not know how to get under someone’s skin, but they know how to take care of those who do know how to get under other’s skin. They have the dominant type of personality to control a group or situation. They are the types who pick what game is played at recess and decide who is captain and who gets the ball first. If not nourished correctly, an aggressor is nothing less than a bully. They might live their life climbing over people, but it will be lonely at the top.

Agitators and Aggressors might be born leaders, but they will be lone leaders if they do not properly flourish and harness their gifts.

Like I said, agitators and aggressors are the types of people who change the world. Agitators point out when something is not how it should be or if it can be improved. They are the “big idea” types that know how to point out what is wrong and might know how to fix it, but they don’t have the ability to follow through. They will get distracted and quickly move on to the next task. Aggressors get things done. They might not have noticed what was wrong, but they know every step it would take to bring a task to completion. They are detailed oriented, even sometimes to a fault. But, if they don’t have a “thing” to improve on, they will quickly become stagnant, or they will find something to fix without a proper vision for fixing it.

We need to embrace that mankind is full of agitators and aggressors. We have the ability as potential agitators and aggressors to either make the world better or to make it worse. Let us not use our ingrained abilities and gifts as a way of making our world worse, but see our own potential and use it to make a better tomorrow for everyone.

Are you an agitator or an aggressor or “anything but”?

An Illustrious Imaginative

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out.” –Dr. Seuss

I get frustrated a lot…

Big surprise.

I am a person who values efficiency. I like productivity, I enjoy progress, and I tend to sometimes be a perfectionist. I am sarcastic and stubborn. I am a critic. Some might think I am a pessimist.

I have an imagination.

I can think of unicorns without believing they exist. I can fathom a sun fashioned out of cheese… or maybe it was the moon? I can picture worlds like that out of a Dr. Seuss book. Narnia, Middle Earth, and District 12 aren’t just places described in movies and books, but they are realities that first found their birth in the immaterial – my imagination.

In my world, there is a reality that is subject to my mind. And in my world, there are things that aren’t even possibilities in this world. But there are a many more that still are possibilities. The questions, “why,” and, “what if,” aren’t questions that are found in nature, but they are questions that are birthed in the connecting synapses of each individual’s mind.

Many of the great minds of the past and present are people who had well-flourished imaginations. They were men and women who thought not how things were but of how things could be. They weren’t worried about how ridiculous their possibilities could have been.

The people of history who were most responsible for changing the world were the ones who were willing to think differently.

Don’t be afraid to befriend the eccentrics. Don’t hesitate to sound ridiculous. Think big. You can be critical of things within reality, but don’t be critical of reality itself. See instances as solutions to be solved. It is possible to be critical yet content.

And you can have a sight setting towards the future without dwelling on it. You might be subject to time, but your imagination isn’t. A better tomorrow can only be grasped by having a different view of today – the today you still have to live in.

Here’s to hoping for a better tomorrow today.

“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way at looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.” – Dr. Seuss

It’s Cool to be Round!

Still to this day, one of my favorite movies is the Lion King. Not only do I love the actors, the animation, and the music, but I also love the storyline of the movie. I think that is why it is truly one of my favorites, now as an adult and also when I was younger.

Character development is the thing I enjoy the most about movies and television shows. If you know me, this probably comes to no surprise knowing my current infatuation with criminal profiling, body language analysis, and my overall obsession with “people watching.” Every movie I watch, I expect a good amount of character development to go along with the plot development. Every great story ever told has a good amount of character development.

This is where current problems arise for me.

A lot of recent children’s movies have flip-flipped the role of character development in their movies.

Time for an explanation:

There are two types of characters in every story – flat characters and round characters. The flat characters are usually two-dimensional in nature and highly predictable. Their role and intent don’t change throughout the story. Round Characters, however, are dynamic in nature. They are multi-dimensional, and they are only as predictable as the plot will give lenience for them to be.

In many movies and popular stories, usually the protagonist (good guy) is the round character, whereas the antagonist (bad guy) is the flat character. In the Lion King you can clearly watch as Simba transforms from boyhood to manhood. Of course the transformation was a reminder of something he already knew – that he was the true King of Pride Rock. However, to get there he had hurdles and building experiences where he changed for the better of himself, and in the end, the better of everyone at Pride Rock.

Recently, I’ve come to notice that this seems to be opposite in children’s movies. The main character seems to be the one that is flat. They want or don’t want to be something or someone, and the antagonist doesn’t see that as acceptable. So the main character will go through the movie/story still hoping and striving for this, while simultaneously the antagonist will change and start seeing where the protagonist is coming from. The two most recent children’s movies I have seen have had this: Brave and Hotel Transylvania.

While this does teach perseverance and holding on to what one might think is true, it is very optimistic in nature. This tells children that they don’t need to grow, that parents are always wrong, and that if they hold to what they “ignorantly” believe to be true, that in turn, the world will change for them.

That simply is not how the real world works or should work.

Life is a series of trials and errors. People learn from their mistakes. And people definitely don’t change because of someone else… They can only change on their own accord. And while mankind should be sure to hold close to their convictions and truths, they also need to make sure that what they are holding onto is the truth and not some paper tiger of truth.

I guess the point I am trying to get to is this: our life’s journey is about how we have changed for the better.

It is from this change that we have potential to change the world. We cannot keep expecting the world to change around us if we aren’t trying to bring the change, and if we weren’t first changed from darkness to light ourselves.

If you are flat, it means you are done growing, done learning. There isn’t one person on this planet who has reached the end of this. Being round means that you are growing, learning, and still experiencing more than what you’ve experienced the day before. Humble yourself, let God continue to change you, and you’ll discover yourself becoming the character in your story you were meant to be.

Pointillism. Picture. Perseverance.

This weekend is going to be a rough one. With coffee as my ally, I will attempt to complete the feet of a lifetime! I have a 300 page book to read and take notes on, I have a study guide to complete and a test to take, I have 9 chapters to read on church history and a test to study for that I’ll be taking on Monday, and I should probably find time to sleep in the midst.

Sometimes life kind of… sucks. Events and circumstances come to a point where they all seem to eclipse, and here we are… stuck in the chaos.

It’s times like these where we learn we need to persevere.

I would pull up some text that has the word “perseverance” in it to help encourage you, but it is cheap. Most texts dealing with perseverance deal mostly with physical trials and tribulations. One deals with persevering to the goal heavenward – holiness. But I don’t want to cheapen what those texts have to say. I don’t want to weaken the text, especially in correlation with the little comfort it would bring those who need it.

The fun thing about worrying and being stressed is that nothing any one says will be consoling. If someone is stressed or is going through a rough time, reading this WILL NOT make them feel better. So… why am I writing this blog if it isn’t going to change people? – Because people need to choose for themselves not to worry or not to be stressed. People have to choose themselves to persevere.

You have to choose to persevere.

I think about my life as a Seurat painting. Seurat was an impressionist painter, most famously known for his pointillism. Pointillism is a type of painting where the artist uses dots to create works of art. Thousands of tiny dots, used across feet of canvas, come together to make a beautiful painting! Seurat is one of my favorite painters. I love to see how he uses all the different dots and brings them together for his unifying purpose.

I feel like these dots are like our trials. We see this single dot (or circumstance) that we are in, and we don’t seem to be sure what is going on. But later, looking back over the course of our lives, we see that God was using these trials to make a beautiful masterpiece (our character).

Maybe you need to step back away from your circumstance and see God might be using this time you’re in to help build up who you are. Maybe God will use this circumstance to help you minister to others who will be facing this trial in the future. Maybe God is trying to make you more mature. But take time and realize maybe your life isn’t so sucky after all. Just take a step back from your circumstance and see the big picture.

Preference in Performance

One could imagine the shock of terror on the rigid man’s face as the music began to play. Were people actually taking a part in this? Were people singing psalms over the popular bar melodies that had become so popular within the culture? This wasn’t the convoluted orchestral music that the man in the congregation was used to. This was blasphemous! Bar music and church music should not mix, and it was equally nonsensical for the people of the audience to join along. What has the world come to?

I am currently enrolled in a church history class at Central Bible College. This past section we went over the life of Martin Luther. It was both informational and inspirational. One thing that I never considered before was the way in which Luther changed congregational worship. The professor, Dr. Crabtree, vividly illustrated the emotion behind this idea. Before, the congregation merely listened, not participating in congregational worship (i.e. singing along with the music), but the service was directed towards the Lord’s Supper. When the Reformation happened, Luther took many of the popular secular bar songs of his time and put Christian words to them. Singing and participating in worship has since been an integral part in many evangelical church services.

But has the “American Church” gone off the deep end lately? Many have thought so and have dubbed a new genre of worship in the American Church that has been whispered across the pews… no, not pews… this church is too relevant for pews! This genre is unofficially known as, “Performance-driven Worship.”

But isn’t every “worship service” a performance? Once music is added into the mix, the shindig is on! I find it appealing that some people pick and choose what they consider a performance. I find it even MORE appealing when churches mask their approach to their performance, wanting it to seem as though they aren’t performing at all! Let me be frank: a lonely woman tickling the ivories and wailing “Days of Elijah” can have just as much of a performance factor as an immaculate, well-practiced worship team with strobe lights and fog machines.

The big question here really is: “Who are we performing for?”

I think one of the problems here coattails along with my previous blog – that people are trying to integrate personal and corporate worship. If worship is to be a performance towards God, then it is in the hands of the worship leader to make sure that God receives the most glorious and richest performance ever! This means that the music genre will have to be culturally specific – meaning that there will be churches with an organ, and there will be churches with a fog machine. This also means that the person leading worship picks songs that glorify God and are conducive to a corporate worship setting. But this problem isn’t the only one.

I think another problem is that people are confusing “performance-driven” with “self-gratifying.” The point of a “worship performance” is to point the people to God not point people to oneself. I’m sure that people can stand in awe of both God and in awe of the guitarist’s mad, face-melting solo, but just make sure the point is not lost. Remember that this is a weighty balance. Some ego’s can handle it and some can’t (from an on-stage perspective). If leaders don’t have patience and understanding about these issues, I don’t know if this balance can ever be resolved.

Maybe you need to reflect on a time when you weren’t gracious with the worship at a church you attended. Give the key-tickling, 90’s-song-wailing, sister in Christ a chance! And don’t assume that the fog machine is there to replace the “Holy Ghost.” Learn to live with one another. And remember that EVERYONE HAS AN OPINION ABOUT WORSHIP MUSIC!

This is just my opinion.