Thursday, May 22, 2008

Growing Up Is a Hard Lesson To Learn

If you saw the new movie list, you know that the second installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian, came out this last weekend. Seeing as our boys loved The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, we made an opening weekend screening part of our plans. I didn't mess with reading any pre-reviews. I also didn't bother to read the book. The first was probably not a big issue. The second one was a mistake. I should have refreshed my memory of the original story.

The foreboding doom of that last statement should not in any way reflect on the movie itself. It was a great movie. The quality of the acting was a little better. The scenery was, of course, beautiful. The story moved along at a good enough pace. And the action. Oh the bloodless violent action. For all the hacking and slashing that happened in the movie, it was truly amazing that bloodshed was kept at a minimum. Unrealistically so. But its a kids movie. Thankfully the blood was at a minimum.

You have to realize that my boys were raised on action movies. Nick's second movie (the first was Jonah: a Veggietales Movie) was Spider-Man. He loves the Indiana Jones movie (this weekend, by the way). Andrew is working himself up into a tizzy about the new Batman movie (I'm a little concerned about that one for him, though). But the point is, Caspian was nothing they were not used to. But if your kids (or you) don't care for violence, then this movie could put you off.

For those of you who were expecting more of Lewis' Christian analogy, you will be looking long and hard for it. There isn't as much overt typology of the Christian variety. Instead, you will be learning hard lessons about life and faith. More about life than faith, though.

This movie is about growing up and putting behind you the things of your youth. Peter is the clearest example. Remember from the first movie that the 4 Pevensie children grow into the adult kings and queens of Narnia, only to step back through the old wardrobe into their pre-teen bodies. Their memories and experiences fill their mind. But they do not have the bodies to match. Nor do they have a world that accepted them as did the Narnians. So we see that Peter struggles with London and with the return to Narnia as a youth. By the end of the movie, he has to grow up. Not in the physical sense, but in maturity of mind and personality.

As for the greatest character in the story, Aslan, he plays a much smaller role. If I remember correctly, Liam Neeson did not even get opening credit mention. But when Aslan shows up, it is a powerfully moving moment.

There is a lot of humor in this movie. Most of it is not Lewis original. It is more culturally adapted humor. But it does not tarnish the story.

All in all, it was great movie. It didn't drag out (for an adult, anyway) even though it clocks in at over 2 hours. It isn't the door way to Christian conversation that the first movie was. And that may put off Christian support as it takes more work to get to issues of faith. But it is still a movie worthy of support.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Church for Manly Men?

I picked up a copy of Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. Like many others in the church, I have noticed the growing absence of men in the church as a whole. Women are taking the majority of leadership positions, leading mission outreach activities, and showing up without their husbands. Murrow began to study the statistics and talk to men and women about this phenomenon. His answer can be summed up as: the church as it is in today's culture is a feminine haven where masculinity is shunned, retrained, or demonized.

As I have been reading, I can see places where Murrow's argument is sound. He makes some very good points. And there are some times when I just cringe at what he says. One thing that really almost set me off of the entire book was in saying the men who are active in church are more feminine in characteristics than masculine. Basically he was saying that men who enjoy being in church fit a more feminine stereotype than masculine. And while that may strike the wrong chord with most guys, there is a bit of harmony to what he is saying.

I can't speak for all men, but as I look at the church I don't see the classic image of manly men. I see men who are not aggressive risk takers. I see men who don't have a problem talking in relational terms. I see guys who sing heartily and aren't embarrassed to hug or hold hands. These are not images that immediately pop into our minds when we think about "manly men".

Let's use a comedic prop to make this point. Imagine this scene: a biker in leathers and full Hell's Angel's appearance. He's climbing off of his obviously road worn Harley. No helmet, no goggles. He walks up to the bar and orders a cold beer. He props up against the bar and turns to his riding buddy and says, "So, did you get that tea cozy I crocheted for you?"

The point I want to make is that our image of masculinity is firmly set. But when we overlay the image of masculinity with the church the pictures do not line up.

What are we to do?

Murrow offers hints to what churches can do with this situation. Churches can maintain the status quo. Don't do anything. Leave things as they are. And you know what will happen? We will continue on the pattern we are on now.

His second hint is to change a little bit. Make a few minor adjustments to make church more welcoming to the men who aren't coming now.

But this is to be partnered with systemic change to sustain their willingness to belong to the church.

I think Murrow has a point. We do need to change how we do church. We have designed churches by looking at who we have. Our programs, design, and services are oriented to the people who are already in church. And those who are outside of the influence of the church only feel alienated or unwanted when they visit. Whether these people be "manly men" or postmoderns, churches need to take a long hard look at themselves. If churches want to grow then they are going to have to change how they do things in order to reach new people.

Now, I have to go buy a pistol fro the United Methodist Men's shoot off.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Powerful and Meaningful Sermon

I just finished reading a sermon that, for some, it was powerful and meaningful.

General Conference is happening right now. Every 4 years United Methodists and affiliates gather from around the world to discuss, debate, and elect the path of the UMC for the coming 4 years. Interspersed among the issues of "how then shall we live" are sermons. Bishops, clergy, and laity provide the message of the Gospel to those in attendance. But the sermon I read was not from General Conference.

No, it was a Sunday morning sermon. In fact, it was a sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Lent. And the congregation hearing the sermon had to have been engrossed in the words of the minister. Because I was hanging on every word, waiting to hear the Gospel.

The sermon was entitled, "A Sermon on Werewolves".

Yep, werewolves. And the sermon was about....werewolves. Granted, the sermon was preached in 1508 in Strasbourg, Germany. The context of the sermon needs to be considered. 16th Century Germans had to deal with werewolves on a regular basis. So don't discount this sermon so easily. The preacher goes on to explain that werewolves are really hyperactive normal wolves with boundary issues. Primarily, they eat people.

But when I finished this sermon, there were two thoughts that I could not escape. The first was the lack of Good News in the sermon. The Gospel (Greek - euangelion) means "good news". Christians in the century after Christ's sacrifice and resurrection were witnesses and proclaimers of Good News. Paul stresses that the Gospel is our life's meaning. And preachers are ordained to proclaim the Good News. But there was none of that in this sermon. In fact, outside of mentioning the God (yes, our God) and God's providence was behind some wolf attacks, there is no mention of any Christian theology. But the people were better equipped to explain reports of werewolves to their friends, neighbors, and family.

The second thing that gripped me was the absurdity of the message. And it got me thinking: in 500 years how many of my sermons will be as absurd sounding as this one. The Gospel is timeless. In approximately 2,000 years the Gospel message has not lost its impact or power. But we pastors sometimes shroud the Gospel in remarks that dull the power. Sometimes we pick issues that are secondary, or even tertiary, as our preaching material . And we never get around to connecting the issue to the Gospel. We call it prophetic or social witness. We may justify it by calling it teaching or social context. But in 500 years, how important will these sub-ultimate messages be.

We only have a short time to proclaim the Gospel. And every chance we have should be taken for the sake of Christ and the sake of others.