Quick Reflection on the movie “Fury”

887bc800-fbb6-11e3-a28f-dd60814cec97_fury_splashI've been a war movie fan for years.  I cut my teeth on the war genre when I was a kid watching "Combat" in glorious black and white on television. In fact, this movie reminded me a bit about that show because it was raw, real and moving.  If you have any doubt about the brutality of war and how it transforms the human soul then this movie will make you a true believer.  It is a difficult movie to watch…very emotional and very harsh in reality.  War is not glorious…it is gritty, bloody and filled with evil.  No matter where you are on the spectrum of beliefs about war, "Fury" will underscore your perspective with much needed pure experience.  I can't mince words here…if you are an "anti-war" believer, "Fury" will prove to you why you believe what you do.  If you believe that sometimes war is a necessity but that we can't underestimate how it changes nations and people many times for the worse, "Fury" will deliver on that as well.  If you think that evill needs to be confronted, you'll see that in spades but, make no mistake about it, one can't confront evil without being burned…you'll see that if you watch this film.  

The wonder of this movie is the narrow scope of what the film maker attempts to do with you as an audience member.  Slowly over the course of the film you feel like you are member of this tank crew. You are in that tank feeling, smelling, and sensing. You learn to understand the magnitude of the danger each tank crew member faces as well as the "smallness" of their world.  The huge issues in this movie come more in subsequent reflection on the film…I discovered that I couldn't stop thinking about it for quite some time.  The reason?  There are piercing moral and ethical issues that I found myself wrestling with after the fact.  For example, the film tosses the viewer into the shoes of an innocent, that being, a young soldier unstained by the effects of human combat.  I saw myself in that young soldier…fearful, full of pain and panic, having the deal with and process experiences he never expected to have to face.  If caught in the same circumstances, what would you and me do?  Can human brutality change a person over time?  What is the impact on the human soul of death and mayhem?  How is what is going on around the world transforming scores of people, even innocent children, into cold-hearted, soulless actors on the dramatic stage of ideological conflict?  Besides those questions, there were some other noteworthy issues that emerged from the film…one that I found myself quite caught up in was the comradery and sense of dependence that this crew experienced with each other.  Facing battle together and experiencing the harshness of reality did what many other experiences in life can't do, form an unbreakable bond of brotherhood.  Well, I could go on about the film but I'm stopping here…I don't know whether to recommend it or not.  For me, as difficult as it was to watch, I found myself walking out of the film and desiring to call every veteran I knew and say, "thanks."  If you are wondering what soldiering is all about, "Fury" won't disappoint.  On the other hand, make no mistake about it, "Fury" isn't for the faint at heart.  And with that, I'll leave you to your own conclusions.

By the way, you might find this review helpful as well…"Hollywood Jesus" nails it. 

The Cult of the NFL, Sundays and Local Church

1NFLShieldThe Cult of the NFL, Sundays and Local Church

Let’s begin this way so that you don’t misunderstand what I’m going to say.  I’m NOT hostile toward professional football.  I am a fan, I enjoy watching the games and I love following my favorite teams.  And I get that it is a cultural phenomenon and that it is something in our world that has become a non-negotiable reality.  So, please don’t see me as a NFL Scrooge or Grinch for that is NOT the case.  I am simply making some cultural observations that impact the lives of Jesus followers.  You see, I believe I can comment on how the NFL has changed in its strategy over the years of broadcasting at least from my humble vantage point. 

For much of the early television presence of the NFL, most games occurred in a spot where they had little to do with interrupting a flow of life for a majority of people in the country.  In other words, games were televised at a time where social boundaries were honored for those who attended a church and participated in spiritual community.  For many decades that was the majority of people in our culture.  There were hardly times when people in local churches were forced to choose between participation in Sunday community and worship and that of an NFL game.  Yet now, as you most likely have seen and experienced, the boundaries are gone and NFL games move freely within time that many have considered over the decades as “sacred time.”  In many respects, the NFL has become a religious cult of its own demanding devotion and veneration of a game filled with mythic figures, stars that look invincible, and a call to devotion.  Altars are set up in this cult to worship personalities and team brands.  We sacrifice our money, time, energy, and are even willing to sacrifice our principles and values for a taste of the novelty of the NFL divine.  Friends, this is not a complaint as much as it is an observation of a profound alteration of culture.  Trust me, the NFL is just “small potatoes” in the midst of a new cultural reality.  Let me attempt to lay it out for you:

We in western culture have entered a time of Post-Christendom.  I don't have time in this article to present the case for a Post-Christendom culture.  All I can say is that we have entered a time when what used to be at the center of culture is not longer the case.  “Church” life has moved from majority to minority, from being seen as the privileged to being viewed as simply “one of many,” and from being part of the settled in culture to that of the margins in society.  If you want an extensive overview of Post-Christendom, get the book Post-Christendom by Stuart Murray. (http://www.amazon.com/Post-Christendom-Church-Mission-Strange-AfterChristendom/dp/1842272616/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1413831390&sr=8-2&keywords=post+christendom).

But beyond Post-Christendom, there’s more.  Secularization has infected culture.  Secularization is the transformation of society and culture from close identification with religious values and institutions toward non-religious/irreligious values and secular institutions.  It is a belief that human progress (dependent upon modernization, evolution, and rationalization) leads to a deliberate choice to lose religious moorings in life. 

We can see secularization at work in many strata of society.  TODAY, many people’s religious lives are defined by a search, a search to find the right church and the right expression of faith that delivers the right lifestyle.  In this instance, an NFL game fits into a lifestyle choice that trumps one’s spiritual moorings in community.  Secularization has reduced Christianity now to just a life stage.  It is just one of many offerings that an individual samples during their life in the quest for a good life. 

Sociologist Wade Clark Roof commented, “the real story of American religious life in this ½ century is the rise of the new sovereign self that defines and sets limits on the very meaning of the divine.”  The Church is no longer a place of primarily identify formation but now secular culture defines the discovery of self.  We are much more apt to wear the jerseys of our favorite NFL players and teams than we are to identify with the cross, empty tomb or those lifestyle choices which underscore a Jesus identity.  Church has been replaced by this new power that primarily reinforces the choices of individuals and shifts the center of spiritual existence into the private sphere.  In its new “home,” choices can and are made with the fundamental belief that faith is best expressed individualistically than communally.  As a result, individualistic choices express a new value system shaped more by culture than by the values of the Kingdom of God. 

You can study the shift on your own but, trust me, we have moved from an overwhelmingly religious culture in the 1500’s where it was almost impossible to NOT believe in God, “to our current day in which even the religious feel the pressure against belief from our secular society” (from the book, A Secular Age by Charles Taylor).   For centuries, if “Christendom Joe” decided no longer to pray, to worship, or even to believe, he would not be seen as simply exercising his individual religious rights.  Instead he would be seen as putting himself, his family, his community, his people and the whole of Christendom in danger.  The overwhelming social pressure was to believe and participate.  Disbelief was viewed at best as treasonous and at worst cosmically deadly. 

As a local church leader, I struggle with this new reality.  I don’t wrestle with it per se, I simply attempt to accept what is real and make adjustments as necessary.  There are local churches that are altering worship experiences and presenting a football game on Sunday morning as a tip of the hat to the value of community.  Last year, in our city, local churches watched NFL playoff games in their worship centers complete with tailgating food and cold beer.  Even so, most are not moving in this direction as of yet.  To be truthful, I’ve entertained the thought of having an evening worship experience on those days where our local NFL team has games broadcast on a Sunday morning.  I haven’t acted on that thought but it has been on my mind.  Why?  Because people are not showing up for worship experiences on days where their team is playing.  That can be broader than simply a local team as well…with the rise of fantasy football and a mobile society that produces fans of multiples teams, many people spend the day involved in the cult of the NFL.  You see, what we are experiencing in local churchworld is a downturn of participation of even the most committed of disciple of Jesus during Sunday morning experiences.  Again, that is not a complaint as much as it is a reality.  Yes, there has been a radically pervasive increase of people choosing not to enter some sort of localized spiritual community.  The “Church” doesn’t have a very good reputation these days and it shows.  But I have to believe that if people made choices where the television product was not going to interrupt a flow of living that placed value in a spiritual community experience over against a NFL experience, that the NFL would possibly succumb to market pressure and place games in a schedule that would honor their audience.  Since that isn't going to happen, the weight of responsibility has to fall on those who make decisions.  People are going to have to ask themselves about which altar demands their attention.  Jesus followers are going to need to deal with the fact that spiritual community is one of the most radical, most counter-culture activities going today.  To participate in spiritual community in worship is to live by a different set of values while at the same time saying no to a different way of seeing the world.  Most of us don't put this choice into this realm…we want to diminish its weight. But it really does come down to a simple question, "whom do you serve?"  As Bob Dylan once wrote, "you gotta serve somebody.  It may be the devil or it may be the Lord but you gotta serve somebody."  Your choices, my choices are a dead giveaway of who we serve.  

So, I’m in a quandary…do we shift our worship experience strategies to “fit in” to culture or do we accept the shrinking numbers of participants with a degree of resignation to the secularistic winds of culture?  Do we make adjustments or do we continue to do what we’ve been doing?  In a culture shaped more by individualism and consumerism, it’s hard to compete with an entity that has the money and technology to satisfy the societal need for entertainment.  Worship has never been entertainment…it has always had to do with sacrifice, sacred time, and an alignment with a priority system shaped by God.   That, I must confess, is a tough sell in a world obsessed with entertainment and superficiality.  

Making the Case for Theological Sophistication in local churchworld – WHAT?

1what-hi“Theological Sophistication”  

I almost hate to mention those words in this brief article…first of all, for some they would interpret the phrase oxymoronically…like “jumbo shrimp” or “military intelligence”, you know what I mean. Others, will automatically “switch the channel” and decide to stop reading because of the inevitable irrelevance of such a piece. Whatever your first “impression”, don’t sign off too quickly…stick with me. What I want to briefly share is important and are thoughts that have been hanging around my brain and have embedded themselves in my conversations over the past months.

There is a glaring issue in today’s faith communities (otherwise known as local churches) that needs to be addressed.  It needs to be addressed primarily because it is an offshoot of the secularization that has occurred within our culture as well as the selling out of the church to “pragmatism”. What I’ve casually noticed in my years as a local faith community leader and participant is an increasing theological de-sophistication that is plaguing many gatherings of Christ-followers. I don’t necessarily know all the facts, but I have done a bit of research on the subject. Christian pollster and Gallup Organization trained author, George Barna, has been bringing this up over the past several years primarily through his research within local churches as well as in his books (primarily, Thinking like Jesus)…but I can say this, for most followers of Jesus, the most significant time of theological discourse, thinking, processing and investigation occurred (if ever) years ago. In our specific denomination, that would have occurred in something we Lutheran Christians call, Confirmation, you know, that two year process (the word here is “catechesis”…training, teaching, in most instances using Martin Luther’s Small Catechism as a foundational text) of deep investigation into the creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, issues having to do with Sacraments and the Church as well as scriptural truths. Unfortunately, as consumerism and materialism has gripped our culture, many local churches have opted for “building a crowd” by primarily projecting a message aimed at speaking to “felt needs” within people rather than training and equipping followers of Jesus for mission and for active life of growth and maturity. Trust me, you can build a crowd if all you are talking about is what God can do for you and me…you can build a crowd with the messages filled with direct felt need application in ways to have better marriages, more well-behaved kids, bigger bank accounts, and more happiness. Now, don’t take me wrong…the scriptures do speak to some of these issues and put these issues in perspective and it is important to take the application leap in helping people to understand that truth best experienced is that which is best lived. BUT unfortunately, a steady diet of felt needs based teaching and encouragement only shoots ourselves in the foot over time…just like feeding yourself junk food overtime helps you only gain weight and yearn for more…so exclusivity in felt needs, application only teaching exposure just encourages that which has been a bane to our culture – that being increasing amounts of consumeristically driven lives and praxis.

I believe with all my heart that followers of Jesus need to have a vital intellectual and spiritual formation component alive and well within their lives in order to be the people “on a mission from God” that God has called us to live and embrace. We need to be theologically sophisticated enough to be able to process and assimilate truth into our souls in a transformational manner…for it transitions into mission are going to occur in faith communities, theological awareness needs to increase…and we must roll up our sleeves and discover and innovate ways that that can occur. FOR EXAMPLE, I don’t know if you and me really realize that the essential components of our lives as disciples (and disciple-makers) primarily is a reflection of the very nature and character of God Himself – that the Trinity is actually part of the image of God that He gives us as a people to become one not only with God but with each other with a specified, mission/worship/community-relational context (see images below). In other words, when you “mess with” the Trinity, you get heresy…when you mess with the essential nature of the Body of Christ and call of Jesus to worship, be in relationship and then be a disciple-maker, you get a skewed picture of a faithful life. Or how about a deeper investigation into our identity as followers of Jesus – are we sinners or saints? How do we live out that reality on a day to day basis? Or how about worldview…do we really understand the depths of what it means to be a God-centered, biblically oriented person versus that which is secular, humanistic or pure materialistic (and the implications of those world views)? Do we understand the teachings of Jesus regarding the Holy Spirit? Do we understand the difference between having Jesus as Savior AND Lord? Do we understand the significance of the scriptures teaching on the Kingdom of God? You see, our time is demanding that we have MORE thinking people than less…our time is demanding that we ask people NOT to check their brain at the door but to wrestle with the profound issues of the faith (and not be frightened or discouraged in doing so).

So, that’s my brief “case” for theological sophistication…it really is more of an idea for a book…maybe that’s what you were feeling like you were doing when you were reading this post…but think about…when was the last time you significantly wrestled with deeper issues of the faith? Why aren’t you doing more now? And for those of you “teachers/encouragers/equippers” in the Body, why are you not rolling up your sleeves and helping people understand those issues that will help them in their confidence as a growing and faithful disciple? That’s for you to ponder…more to come…

Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality – book “overview”

10851385I just completed reading a VERY insightful and powerful book by Dr. Richard Beck. It is the book entitled, “Unclean.” After reading it I thought to myself, “now, here's a book that many of my friends need to read.”  I must warn you this is a bit of "heavy" reading…it is not overtly academic rather what it is is highly "psychological" and "weighty."   Beck exposes the reader to some of the psychology behind that which prevents us in being faithful to the mission of Jesus. Here’s a couple of ways to explore his book:

View his intro to the book video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp-OAJhkoio

Secondly, you could read the entire book OR you can think about reading the book and in the meantime read a few of my comments to see if you are interested in the subject matter.  Frankly, I believe this work is spot on in terms of how followers of Jesus and religious institutions "react" to people and situations that are distinctly outside of their "tribe."  Here's a quick summary of the book:

Beck is a Psychologist who explores the Psychological implications of something he calls, “Disgust Psychology.” His “thesis” is that human “disgust” becomes a prominent “boundary” psychology and mechanism within local churches that deter us from our missional vision and call from Jesus. 

He actually takes on the old cliche that says that we can “love the sinner and hate the sin.” Beck exclaims that because there is underlying psychological and emotional “disgust” toward sin that it is impossible to love any “sinner.”

The central argument of the book is that psychology of disgust and contamination regulates how Christians reason with and experience notions of holiness, atonement and sin. The psychology of disgust also regulates social boundaries and notions of hospitality that should be embedded within the body of Christ (i.e. local church). Disgust psychology causes us to “run” from fully embracing “incarnational” theology.

He believes that the missional church needs to embrace what it means to follow Jesus into a “world of the unclean” without fear of contamination instead of being deterred by the implications of disgust psychology that will always tempt Jesus followers to separate, withdraw and quarantine ourselves in safe “churchy” places. In seeking purity and holiness (that demands boundaries and quarantine) the church pulls away from sinners…disgust psychology prevents us from doing what Jesus did, that being, embracing a radical hospitality that rewrote the “rules” of how we see people through the lens of mercy and love. Beck writes, “disgust erects boundaries while love dismantles boundaries.” He says, “the pull (to be pure) is so overwhelming that the desire to be “clean,” “pure,” or “holy” begins to trump other considerations: the need to welcome others or the importance of facing our own need and vulnerability. The will to purity always dominates the faith experience."

He says that churches instinctively create “moral circles” around their clan, tribe or “kind.” People outside of that “circle” are treated with indifference, hostility and/or pragmatism. In fact, he quotes anthropologists and other researchers in saying that, “humankind ceases at the end of the border of the tribe.” I can’t even think of another incredibly personal way of defining some of the issues churches have in moving beyond tribe…Beck calls what many church bodies do to people outside of the tribe, “infra humanization” (which is a belief that outsiders does not possess some vital or defining human quality that renders them “less than human”).

He writes, “when religious life comes to be dominated by holiness and purity categories, two things happen. First, social stigmas are created to protect our purity, pushing people away who are threats to our holiness. Second, the purity emphasis creates an otherworldly focus on the spiritual, eventually privileging the spiritual life over the life of the body. The Lord’s Supper actually is a regulating ritual that pushes against the temptation (Gnostic really) to deny and condemn the realities of the human body.

Beck is also at his best when he takes on the issue of the Lord’s Supper and how churches have used the Sacarament as a means of exclusion instead of radical hospitality. He believes that the practice of the Lord’s Supper prepares the Christian community for mission. He believes that partaking in the Lord’s Supper actually fundamentally “alters and remakes” the human psyche by dismantling the fissures and disgust mechanisms that drive exclusion within the church. Here’s a great quote,

“…the Lord’s Supper is a profoundly deep and powerful psychological intervention. At the basement level, where the seeds of exclusion are sown, the symbols and practices of the Lord’s Supper restructure our experiences of otherness. Through imagination and participation, the psychology of disgust, which activates the dynamics of exteriority and exclusion, is dismantled and rebuilt into the image of Christ…the Lord’s Supper becomes a profoundly subversive political event in the lives of the participants. The sacrament brings real people into a sweaty, intimate, flesh and blood embrace where there shall be no difference between “them and the rest.”

I could go on all day about his book and its applicability – his total embrace of hospitality, his hermeneutical journey through the Matthew 9 text where Jesus has table fellowship with “tax collectors and sinners” (his paradigm for that which touches off our reaction of disgust). He writes extensively on the “will to embrace,” the church’s incarnational ambivalence, and the fact that he believes strongly that the Lord’s Supper is that ONE event in the life of the church which ties us into Jesus’ practice of table fellowship and radical hospitality as well as shapes our missional imagination.

This morning, I decided to expand my knowledge of Beck and his work by bookmarking his BLOG and listening to a couple of his talks on YouTube.  Truthfully, I've been blessed and challenged by his work and passion in teaching this material and his research.  All I can say is "check it out."


“Loaded Words”…and Dr. McKnight’s Overview of Biblical Translations

44041-oh-my-god-despicable-me-gif-fj5tI don't count Dr. Scot McKnight as a personal friend because we've only spent a grand total of 1.5 hours together in the past 10 years.  But he is a brother in Jesus, fellow scholar and one of my biblical studies "mentors" throughout the years.  We've exchanged emails, I've posted many of his blog entries and we've had informal conversations regrading all things Kingdom oriented.  I own almost all of his books and many of the courses I teach utilize one or another of the texts that Scot has penned.  

This morning, Scot posted a provocative but, from my humble opinion, helpful paradigm from which to view the plethora of biblical translations.  He's taking a peek at the "politics" of biblical translation…I take that to be this, that everyone is subjective in translating the original text.  To proclaim that there is such a thing as an unbiased, objective textual translation is not only naive but also presumptuous.  There are choices, hard choices I contend, that each translation "team" has to make when translating from ancient languages.  To assert that anyone can do that task without bringing denominational, theological, or life experience "baggage" into the actual translation act is, truthfully, absurd.  Now, as Scot makes comment in his article, that you can access here and below, there is nothing inherently "wrong" with assertion.  What it does call to our attention is how "loaded" some words are in the biblical text and also how key decisions in translations can vary to the point where the reader is not (to quote NT Wright, "well served).

So for those of you who have an interest in biblical translations (as I do), take a gander at this post. Scot, I commend you for your obvious courage in even taking a shot at this issue.  By the way, note a few "conclusions" from the article…how important it is to have, read publicly, and study a variety of translations and how The Message edition (Eugene Peterson's splendid take on the bible) can actually enhance a broader and more faithful hermeneutic and application.  


The Politics of Bible Translations

The Bible you carry is a political act. By “Bible” I mean the Translation of the Bible you carry is a political act. Because the Bible you carry is a political act the rhetoric about other translations is more politics than it is reality. The reality is that the major Bible translations in use today are all good, and beyond good, translations. There is no longer a “best” translation but instead a basket full of exceptional translations.

The world in which we live, however, has turned the Bible you carry into politics. So here goes for my politics of translation at the general, stereotypical level, and it goes without having to say it that there are exceptions for each:

The NIV 2011 is the Bible of white conservative evangelicals.
The NLT is the Bible of white conservative evangelicals.
The TNIV is the Bible of white egalitarian evangelicals.
The ESV is the Bible of white complementarian conservative evangelicals.
The NASB is the Bible of white conservative evangelical serious Bible students.
The NRSV is the Bible of white Protestant mainliners.
The RSV is the Bible of aged white Protestant mainliners.
The CEB is the Bible of not as white Protestant mainliners.
The KJV is the Bible of African Americans.
The Message is the Bible of those who are tired of the politics (and like something fresh).

Now the big one: each of these translations is a very good translation. The rhetoric that “our Bible” is better than your Bible — masked as “word for word” or “accurate” — is political rhetoric and not translation theory.

The politics of Bible translation is a sad case of colonizing the Bible for one’s agenda. Each group has its Bible, has its translation, and you declare your allegiance to your tribe by carrying and citing the Bible of your tribe. Show your cards by exposing the Bible you use and you will be telling us which tribe is yours. Anyone with knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek knows that these Bibles are solid, both in theory and execution, translations.

When I visit a new church I can walk into the sanctuary (or auditorium) and know which tribe the church belongs to by the pew Bible: the translation tells the story because Bible translations have become ecclesial politics.

Why say this? To say this: Each of these Bibles is a good translation. We need to teach our church people that and knock off the politics of translation. Maybe you should vary from week to week which translation you use, announce your translation, and then affirm the value of that translation.
A year of confusing the politics out Bible translations might bring the most clarity!

Another point being made in the recent dustup about the TNIV and the NIV 2011 (and the NIVI) has to do with “translation theory.” I hear it like this all the time: I prefer “dynamic equivalence” (functional equivalence) or I prefer “formal equivalence.” Sometimes it gets expressed by such words as “paraphrase” or “literal” and sometimes by “bad” and “good.” Or “loose” and “tight.”

I’d like to contend today that most words are translated in all Bible translations with formal equivalence and that some words are translated more or less in a dynamic, or functional way. In other words, there isn’t really a radical commitment to dynamic equivalence — as if one can find some better way in English to the original languages “and” or “but” or “the” or “God.” Or a radical commitment to “formal equivalence,” as if the Greek word order can be maintained in English and make sense, though at times the NASB gave that a try (much to the consternation of English readers). No one translates “God’s nostrils got bigger” (formal equivalence) but we translate “God became angry.” There are some expressions that can’t be translated woodenly unless one prefers not to be understood.

(See Dan Wallace.)

The result of this is that all translations are on a spectrum of more or less formal and more or less dynamic. Now one more complication: each translation will vary for individual words or phrases or clauses. Each of these Bibles is good. Let’s use them all, and rejoice that we have such wonderful access to the Bible.