Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Meditation on Romans 5:1-5 and This Is Me

I am not ashamed to admit that I absolutely LOVE the movie The Greatest Showman. The soundtrack sold me on this movie. I wake up every morning with a different song from the soundtrack playing in my head. The music is catchy and somewhat addictive (for me at least).

If there is one song that I come back to over and again, played as loud as possible, it is This Is Me. It is performed by Keala Settle. I had not heard of her before this movie. She performs this song as the anthem of the story.

The Greatest Showman is about P.T. Barnum and the beginning of his famous circus. It started out as a freakshow, according to the movie. Barnum collected those whom "polite" society regarded as freaks, oddities, and cast them out. Barnum offers them the chance to be something more. In This Is Me, the Bearded Lady (Settle) is confronted with that polite society as she sings about the life that she and her fellow circus attractions claim for their own.

This song hit me hard. It came to me in a time when I was healing my "broken parts". It comes to me as a person who has never seen themselves as part of society. I have long viewed myself as an outsider, a stranger, someone on the fringe of everyone else's conversation and social group. This song tapped into those places of my life where I am proud of who I am. They are my identifiers.

But as I listened to this song the first few times, I realized that this should be the invitation of the church. This should be the anthem we proclaim to the last, the least, and the lost. So many broken people are not welcomed by the church. We like to think in our pristine chapels that we are a polite society. But we need more Bearded Ladies, Dog Boys, Tom Thumbs and Giants. We need the broken. It isn't the other way around.

Yes, they need a place to belong, but they will find that (as Barnum offers in the movie). We need them to remind us that we are not so different. Our nods to a polite society are covers. We all have broken parts and shame that we hideaway. And we do it right in the plain sight of the church.

As I was doing devotions Sunday morning before worship, I was reading Romans 5:1-5 and everything clicked into place. This Is Me became a meditation on Romans 5:1-5.

The opening verse of the song speaks to the broken parts and pain we have all experienced at the hands of others and our own bad decisions. We all come into this song as we come into faith: broken and ashamed. We have heard the voices, mental and real, say that we are not wanted and we won't be loved by anyone. We don't need to be reminded because some of us hear those voices daily.

But I won't let them break me down to dust
I know that there's a place for us
1:Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2: through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand

There is a place for us by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. We have peace with God. What more triumphant place is there? What greater introduction than to have been ushered into the presence of the creator and recreating God?

There is a scene in The Greatest Showman when Barnum and his troupe get to meet the queen of England. They are terrified of that audience. But according to Romans 5:1-2a, we have been ushered into the presence of the Almighty God by Jesus Christ. And it is a meeting of peace. The faith that opens the door to grace has been extended to us. We don't just belong to an alumni of forgiven people. We are also part of the audience received by God. Our introduction, not on our own merit but on the merit of the Son of God, gains us admittance. We stand in the presence of the glory of God. But we cannot stand as we are, we must be transformed.

2b:we exult in hope of the glory of God.
For we are glorious

We don't stand being seen in our scars and broken parts. We share in the glory that God radiates. Christ extends to us the same glory that was received from the Father and transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit. We radiate the glory having been transformed in spirit now (and in material form later) that is God's own glory. 
That glory may seem inadequate in the face of the world we live in. There are always things that arise that want to stop us, dim the glory we possess. 

Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away 'cause today, I won't let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades
And reaching for the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that's what we've become

But we have something that bullets and barricades cannot stop. The glory we possess, the light that shines within like the sun in its fullest brilliance, is an unstoppable force. 

3: And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4: and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope

Hope is an unstoppable force when we realize that the tribulations are just irritations that can be laid to the side and put into perspective. Yes, sometimes those tribulations are overwhelming. I am not a fool. I know that cancer and depression and school shooting are not minor irritations. And fear and despair and grief are not minor emotions that are just pushed to the side with a few happy thoughts. But in the universal scheme of things, they are insignificant.

What does the universe care that a few cells in a body turn rogue and against the system that provides them life? How can the stars and planets and nebulae and galaxies empathize with the disturbing thoughts of isolation when the vacuum of space separates them by years, centuries, millennia? How does the all-consuming power of grief compare with the inescapable forces of gravity, light, entropy, and chaos of the random chances of the forces of nature? The universe offers issues that dwarf the concerns of our "world".

But we hope in a God who is bigger even than the forces of the universe.

And we hope in a God who does care.

And we reach for that God, fighting through the forces that try to separate, divide us, and keep us from that glory and grace. We rise above our tribulations by persevering and proving that we are have become warriors, willing to fight back against the forces that would try to stop us with bullets and barricades.

And I know that I deserve your love
There's nothing I'm not worthy of

5: and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

In the light of God's glory and grace, offered abundantly through Jesus Christ, we do deserve the love of God. No, we haven't earned it. But we never needed to earn it. It was offered freely from the very beginning. We were just confined to our "world" and we couldn't see it, hear it. We couldn't feel worthy of anything good. We thought we deserved the worst that could come at us. But the Holy Spirit reminds us of a greater universal truth: God loves you. There is nothing we are not worthy of in God's love. All the benefits offered to Jesus the Son are now ours to receive. All of the full love that God the Father has for Christ the Son is extended toward us. And nothing can separate us from that love except falling back behind the barricades, surrendering to the bullets, and diminishing ourselves in the glory that is ours to claim.

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

Friday, February 23, 2018

My gun-toting change of heart

This post reflects my personal opinion and only that. It is not an effort to convince anyone to accept my point of view. It is not intended to be directed at any person I know personally.

I'm done with the gun rights argument. The assassination of concert goers in Las Vegas (where two of my step-cousins were attending) was the straw that broke this camel's back. The shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 students and staff were killed sealed the deal for me. I can't accept that unlimited rights and access to guns is a legitimate position.

My background is intertwined with guns. I grew up with BB and pellet guns. I have been hunting. I love guns. In college, I was part of a cowboy gunfighting group that performed around Oklahoma. At some level, I wished to have served in the military. I can shoot with some accuracy. I am not afraid of guns. I have field dismantled and reassembled an M-16 and M-60. I would have loved to have owned guns, including assault style weapons, the FN P90 and Steyr AUG. I don't have a problem with guns. They fascinate me. I can get into the joy of collecting and shooting them. This is not about guns.

This is about a culture that has become lost in the freedom of access to weapons. Much as there is a gold fever associated with the discovery of that precious metal, there seems to be a "gun fever" that clouds the thinking.

The argument of "right to bear arms" is not logical, historically accurate, or helpful in the current climate. First, the argument that the 2nd Amendment is a guarantee for individual rights to own and use weapons does bear up with the historical fact that England moved to remove personal weapons from colonists, or at least limit their access to powder. The right to bear arms was a provision directly aimed at limiting the national government from seizing private ownership. This is the most logical point made by the NRA and other lobbyist organizations (and that is what the NRA is now - a political machine for a particular platform). But that is the only argument that has feet to stand upon. But the fear that is drummed up by the organizations that cry "They coming to take our guns" is irrational and not helpful. It fuels emotions that override common sense approaches to this subject.

The counter argument to the 2nd Amendment based on technology is not valid. "The 2nd Amendment was written when guns could only be fired once or twice a minute" has no relevance. This is not about flintlock or muzzle loading technology versus semi-automatic, magazine fed capability. The reality is that the Bill of Rights must be applicable to every level of technology. The right to speech and vote have not been rewritten just because every person has the access to a platform of speech or access to new voting manipulation methods. But there is a counter argument to be offered by realizing that the access of militarized weapons and ammunition by citizens limits the ability of the legal police and military to protect the interests of municipalities, states, and the nation. With anyone having access to semi-automatic weapons and conversion kits to make them closer to automatic weapons, police forces are typically outgunned. I still remember the shoot out in Los Angeles between bank robbers dressed in body armor and using semi-automatic militarized weapons and ammunition. The police officers who responded in the standard operational fashion were already losing ground. Terrorists (domestic, religious, personal) having legal and nearly unrestricted access to those weapons push anarchy as a legitimate state of being; not just personally but as a culture.

"But those are bad people to begin with. We need to limit THEIR access to those." How do you limit access to people who look, act, and talk like everyone else? The signs are not obvious. The systems are not able to fill all of the cracks within it. Radicalized domestic terrorists do not always post their intent in public arenas. Violence is their manifesto because it brings more chaos and fear. Religious terrorists can use the rhetoric of their sacred speech to veil the threats and leave their comments up to interpretation (protected by their freedom of religion and speech). Personal terrorists (those who have gone into schools, public places, businesses; those who are domestic abusers, sociopathic in their mental illness, emotionally unable to cope with negative emotions) are not easy to see until they present themselves in a violent manner. If we as a nation truly wish to limit their access, then we have to make it a tighter system for all people. Terrorists do not necessarily carry an association card or access certain websites. They are property owners with jobs and shop in grocery stores with us.

Some want to say that this is a mental health issue, not a gun issue. As a person who suffers from mental illness, and has friends who work in that field, the label of "mentally ill" is not clear cut. Mental illness cannot be parsed and separated out into dangerous, potentially dangerous, and benign behaviors. Mental illness can move through stages and phases. I do not own many guns (yes, I am a gun owner). I have never felt the need to commit an act of violence or harm against myself, my family, or a stranger. I don't even know that I can commit an act of violence that takes a life against someone who would do harm to me or my family. But that does not mean that when my mental health is not managed, it may not happen. I take precautions to limit access to my weapons. Ammunition is not located in the same place as the weapons. I have gun locks or cables and the keys are not immediately accessible. Am I afraid of myself or someone in my family? No. I am afraid for them. I don't know what happens to make a normal, sane seeming person "snap". But we hear of it happening. Access to weapons increases the chance that something tragic can happen.

I would posit my own argument that gun rights have gone off course. They have gone off course because of 3 things. First, the right to keep and bear arms was written with the expressed intent to maintain a militia. The amendment was written in the ink of the fresh memories of the Revolutionary War. Volunteer units, as well as units of French military, were used to flesh out the Continental Army. Those units were disbanded following the war. Many of the Continental Army were released from service. But Britain was sent home, still smarting from the sting of losing to their colonists. The fear and threat of a return performance was in mind. But the fledgling government could not sustain a standing army capable of providing for the defense of the nation. They had written into the Constitution the provision for the defense of the nation, but there was no realistic way that a standing army could be paid for. The answer lay in the provision of those volunteer units.  But keep in mind, the Continental Army couldn't be provisioned during the war. They were short on supplies. The only logical means to fulfill the Constitutional mandate to provide for the defense of the nation was to provide for a regulated militia that could be called from the populous. Those Minutemen were still needed in those early days, as was seen in 1812, only 21 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

We live in a nation and in states where a well regulated military can be provisioned. The Federal Government regularly debates how much money it can spend on the military. States have National Guard units that can be activated at any time. The argument that a personal militia is necessary flies in the face of the conservative "respect" they have for the military. Our service members are trained, equipped, and disciplined to serve the nation and the states. There is not a need for a civilian militia, contrary to the belief of so many who form themselves up in anti-government oriented organizations. But more on that later.

The rights that are "guaranteed" under the Constitutional Amendments are freedoms that are afforded to all citizens of the United States of America and its designated territories and organizations. Those rights were given, though, to promote the common welfare. They do no represent an effort to promote the welfare of the individual. The Bill of Rights was written to limit the Federal government's power and release some room for individuals to live without fear of too much authority by the government. But those "freedoms" are not the freedom to exact the life an individual wants at the expense of the community, state, or nation's welfare. One person's right or freedom cannot infringe upon another person's right or freedom.
We the People of the United States, in order to from a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Constitution is about the corporate life of our people as a nation. The individual does not outweigh the communion of citizenry. We stand together. We fall together. We live together. We die together. The best of our nation is all of us. The worst of our nation is all of us.

The grand hypocrisy of gun rights conservatives is that they cry "We are a Republic" pointing to the form of government that we stand together under. Yet when it comes to their right to bear arms or other rights they feel are being infringed upon, we are a democracy and their individual rights override the Union, disrupt the domestic Tranquility, assume the common defence in adequate, demean the general Welfare, and demand the security of their Blessing of Liberty.

Third, the right given to keep and bear arms was brought forward in the memory of a rule that got bigger than itself. What arose was a rebellion, a revolution. It was a movement to undo the power that rested over them and a movement to usurp the rightful authority of the government. The momentum to keep a government in check had not subsided. Even though George Washington was a semi-national hero, he was not loved and admired by all. And many of his vocal opponents saw him having too much power and authority. The Anti-Federalist movement was one that wanted the ability to place a check and balance on the government outside of the Constitutional system. The Bill of Rights is filled with the fear of becoming what was once a reality - a power-hungry despot demanding ultimate allegiance to themselves. The answer was violence.

The ultimate argument for gun control is that we have not risen above our expression of fear and anger through violence.

The world is not getting more peaceful.
The world is not learning to sit down together.
The Kingdom of God is not more evident in the classroom, boardroom, legislative floor, chatroom and social media, or fellowship hall of the church.

Violence is still the answer when fear and anger reach a certain pitch. We are discussing arming teachers to protect students. How can that be an answer? How can we ask a teacher, who has ideally given their life in sacrifice to make the lives of students better, providing for a better tomorrow, to carry the burden of knowing that they ended one of those very lives? How can we ask church attendees to carry a concealed weapon into the earthly representation of a the Kingdom of Peace? How can we live with the weight of knowing that our neighbor who hates a certain race or people has the means to also turn their fear or anger upon us if we do something to spark their ire? How can we believe that our police forces, who know what weapons and mental states that are on the streets, can choose to protect themselves while preserving the lives of innocent, rightfully armed individuals?

I have had all I can take. I stand with those who say that gun violence must end through the limiting of types of weapons and ammunition available to citizens. I stand with those who believe that the NRA and the legislators who take their money and are swayed by their influence have had their day. I stand with those who believe that enough is enough. The death of innocents in public places and schools should be a wake up call. It is the day to say #NeverAgain.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Backwards Toward Heaven

My devotions this morning involved reading from Catherine of Genoa's Life and Teachings (in Devotional Classics). The subject was waiting on God to bring us to where God wants us to be in the plan God has. Within, I encountered this quote:
If we could see what we will receive in the life to come (as a reward for what we have done here), we would cease to occupy ourselves with anything but the things of heaven. But God, who desires that we see by faith and who desires that we not do good because of selfish motives, gives us this vision little by little, sufficient to the level of faith which we are capable. In this manner, God leads us into a greater vision of that which is to come until faith is no longer needed.
I read that and wondered. God offers us the "reward" of eternal life in the kingdom that never ends. But the vision of that reward is so small. There are only hints and glimpses of it in the New Testament. There are no strong affirmations of what that experience will be. We have the glorified life of the risen Christ as our only tangible hook upon which to hang our "heavenly" hat. There are slight inferences from Paul and Peter and a vision from the Revelation. Jesus gives us a rhetorical picture of bosom of Abraham and a promise of paradise. But many of our pictures of our heavenly reward, when held to the literal descriptions, are wrong.

And Catherine points a finger of accountability at these descriptions. We have created these images not out of a mature faith that has been revealed by God. They are like the scribbles of children given crayons for the first time. The bright colors do not truly convey the hues of radiance. The thin, stick-like proportions of humanity are not the full representations of God's infinite depth. The boxes and circles are not the grand throne and full expanse of the new heaven and new earth. We have drawn these with the limited understanding of perspective and space that are the obvious signs of our immature development.

Faith is not staking our claim on our plot of land for our heavenly home. Faith is living the eternal life here and now. Faith begins with the moment we grasp that we are not sufficient on our own to produce a better life for ourselves. It takes God through Jesus Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. And from the moment we receive that grace that leads to faith, and increases our faith throughout our journey in grace, we are living the eternal life. Everything that we do - acts of worship, devotion, service, and witness - is part of the work of maturing our faith. God steps in on our short sighted and weak efforts to make something good and powerful. The Holy Spirit enables and empowers those efforts to create miraculous change within those works to produce glorious transformation within us. Our faith matures and grows.

And as our faith matures and grows, God reveals more of the picture of the eternal reward. Our understanding increases as God reveals to us the steps along the journey toward what God intends for our life after life after death. Those steps are intentional picking up our feet and allowing God to put them down where they need to be to move us along the Way. Or, to change the imagery, every step brings us to a higher place here and now to see over to what is next.

Offering heaven to a potential new convert is important. They should know that there is more to life than life here and now. But without focusing on the here and now where transformation begins and matters the most in preparing us to understand what is to come, we set them up to leave them as artists who never trade crayons for glory, stick figures for the multi-dimensional God - Father, Son, Holy Spirit; infinite and personal, transcendent and incarnational, just and gracious.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bionic Pastor

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. 
We have the technology. 
We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man. 
Steve Austin will be that man. 
Better than he was before. 

A kid in the '70's knew this intro. The Six Million Dollar Man was part spy, part superhero, completely coolest dude on the planet. If you see the pilot (cause I doubt many people actually remember it), Steve Austin spins out of control in a test vehicle. Upon impact with the ground, he is broken and left hanging on the edge of life and death. But thanks to science, technology, and 6 million dollars, he is rebuilt from the brokenness and improved upon with bionic, the interfacing of flesh and machine, parts. 

In October I had a nervous breakdown. There is a lot of negative aura around that phrase. Wikipedia defines it as: 
A mental breakdown (also known as a nervous breakdown) is an acute, time-limited mental disorder that manifests primarily as severe stress-induced depression, anxiety, or dissociation in a previously functional individual, to the extent that they are no longer able to function on a day-to-day basis until the disorder is resolved. A nervous breakdown is defined by its temporary nature, and often closely tied to psychological burnout, severe overwork, sleep deprivation, and similar stressors, which may combine to temporarily overwhelm an individual with otherwise sound mental functions.
Really all that it amounts to is a person reaches a point in an unhealthy mental/emotional/physical health state where they cannot function as they normally would. Stress, depression, physical medical conditions, emotional conditions, and family interactions all contributed to a point where I couldn't process my emotions or mental functions as I normally would. I couldn't handle anything added to my life. I crashed and broke apart. "Flight Com, I can't hold her! She's breaking up!"

I spent a couple of weeks barely able to process thoughts and emotions. I was in a place I had never experienced before. I had to ask Lisa to read texts that I received and tell me what the person meant. I found a "safe place" in a chair that we have rarely used. I didn't know if I could resume my life I had before the break up. I wondered if I could preach again, pastor still, or do anything publicly. My life was hanging in a balance. "...a man barely alive."

I took a month to renew myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I rested from labors. I sought things out that lifted my soul. I depended upon the strength of Lisa. But I also had started counseling and taking medication for depression. Those things were not marks of weakness. They were life preservers. I don't know that I could have made it through.

 I also found two little bundles of joy.
 Ollie and Dinah became my support animals. They gave me something to focus on that took my mind off of my state. They needed me to rescue them (because quite literally they were rescue dogs), but they also rescued me. They aren't classified as such, but, for me, they are emotional support animals.

This is where I begin my life as the bionic pastor. I am being rebuilt. I don't know what will be on the other side of this experience. I am hoping for a healthier lifestyle, marriage, family, and vocation. I am praying for clarity of purpose and calling so that I can be who I am supposed to be. I am believing that God has been working at healing me through this process and I will be better, stronger, faster on the other side. It hasn't cost 6 million dollars, but I have paid a lot to come to this point.

I have had many caring individuals tell me that God is preparing me for something on the other side of this. Maybe so. I can't see the future. In fact, there are large chunks of the last year I can't see, either. I can only say that there is a lot of rehab that has been and is happening. Today, for the first time in quite some time, I can remember who I am and what God called me to be and do.

Ephesians 4:11-13 -
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
That has been my life verse since seminary. I encountered it one day in study and meditation. That was a moment of clarity for me. "This," God seemed to be saying, "is what I have fitted you for. This is your service. This is what I have preordained you to accomplish with all that you are and are able to do." God gave me to be a gift to followers of The Way. I was given to equip them so they can carry out the work of the kingdom to pursue unity of faith, knowledge of Jesus Christ, and achieve maturity of Christ.

I write this a remembrance stone (Joshua 4:6-7). It isn't for sympathy. It isn't even for any acknowledgement. I write this so that I may come back to it some days. I write for those good days when I may be stronger and better and faster to see how far I have come. I write for those bad days so I can remember how faithful the healing God can be. I write for the possibility that I will be broken again and come here to remember that I have been this way before.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Eddie the Eagle: a movie review

Eddie the Eagle movie review

Lisa and I were going to see Eddie the Eagle when it came out in theaters in 2016. Circumstances didn’t allow for that to happen then. We bought it on home video this past holiday season (when we get movies really cheap). And last night, we finally got to watch it.

This is a great, feel good movie. If you are a fan of Rudy, you should watch this film. It is the same theme of “never quit, never give up” plucky main character. This is based on a true story of 1988 British ski jump Olympian Eddie Edwards. You want to cheer him on as he encounters roadblocks and overcomes them. You want to celebrate with him as he competes at different levels. You (or at least Lisa did) want to bop one character on the nose and put them in their place.

It was timely to watch this movie this week. Two stories on the news popped the morning after we watched it.

The first was the story of Elizabeth Swaney. She is an American competing in the half-pipe ski event for the Hungarian team. There are many of the same points of connection between her and the story of Edwards that some are making the connection and calling her this year’s Eddie The Eagle. She has another story of determination to fulfill a dream when others may not see the need to pursue it.

The other story is about the cost of sending Olympians to the games. The cost is sometimes overwhelming. Not all potential Olympians have the security blanket of ongoing endorsements and sponsors. Some of them struggle to make a living while attempting to compete in their field of expertise. Not all Olympic athletes are professionals. Some are gifted amateurs who have to follow the circuits and pay their own way. The movie points out how Eddie had to struggle to make his way.

The film came out 2 years ago. It was the Summer games year. It really highlights the Winter games, though. It would be a great movie to watch this week or in the aftermath of the Olympic events.

It is family appropriate, for the most part. There are a couple of scenes where sexual activity is hinted at and some non-explicit, implied male nudity.

And Hugh Jackman keeps his clothes on (sorry Lisa).


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Wakanda Forever - a Black Panther movie review

Black Panther movie review repeated at my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/larrytoddbergman

This is the most Marvel of Marvel movies. It really seemed to echo the source material most and best. This really felt like they wanted to stay close to the mythos and characters of the comic. It clearly represents that later writing styles. Marvel has done a fairly good job of sticking their characters. I felt Black Panther did that, as a whole, better than any other movie so far from the Marvel collection.

It also represents a 2.0 Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. It doesn’t follow the same jocular, easy atmosphere of previous movies; including the heavy handed Captain America: Civil War. This is not the almost comedic approach that we have seen in Guardians of the Galaxy or in last year’s Thor: Ragnarok. You will have to wait for Ant-Man and The Wasp this summer for another in that line of movies. This is a serious movie dealing with a lot of serious subject matter.

Race and equality is dealt with. Imbalance of treatments that blacks receive, especially in the United States, is touched upon. Racial war (a constant fear of white Colonialists going back to the original seizure of native Africans for transplant) is the underlying “villain” that is to be defeated. There are also issues of family, shattered ideals, honor, and redemption. This is a meaty movie.

That may be why I had such a hard time writing this review. I couldn’t respond to it last night. I went in with high expectations. The early buzz was that this was a phenomenal movie. When I came out, I didn’t feel good like I did with so many other Marvel movies. But I also was not disappointed. It wasn’t that the movie let me down. The movie felt like a familiar Marvel movie, but they made this one for grown-ups.

Chadwick Boseman (who introduced T’Challa in Civil War) carries the weight of portraying a character who must step into a role he was destined for, yet not prepared to assume. Black Panther has always represented a balance in the Marvel comics. He comes from a land that hides itself away from the world out of fear of what contact with the world will mean. But he publicly fights with the Avengers and other hero groups for the welfare of a land that is not his own. He assumes the mantle of king of Wakanda and warrior totem, the Black Panther, to guide and protect his land. But he leaves his people to protect New York (even replacing Daredevil for a while as the Protector of Hell’s Kitchen), the United States, the world, and the universe so often that it leaves the Wakandans on the brink of civil war multiple times. Boseman plays the part well. If it seems that he is a little rigid, I think that nails the characters of T’Challa and the Black Panther well.

Michael B. Jordan is the star on the screen, though. His acting is spot on. When he is on screen, he displays a level of skill and personification of the character that outshines all others in the movie. All of the actors did well with their material, but Jordan took his portrayal to the next level.

If there is one major gripe that I have with this movie, it is the continuation of the gripe that Marvel can’t treat villains right. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a rule written down somewhere that, unless the villain is somewhat immortal (I’m looking at you Loki), then we need to kill them or make them no longer a threat (I’m still looking at you Loki). Three villains in this movie were killed or de-meanied. One of those villlains is a constant threat to Wakanda. One is an arch-enemy of Black Panther. Both of them play important roles in the ongoing battles that Black Panther and T’Challa have to wage. Killing or removing their menace is not doing justice to the history of the characters.

The set design and cg environment, and costume design should win multiple awards. This is the most beautiful Marvel movie yet. Doctor Strange captured a lot of the inspiration and design from Jack Kirby. Black Panther is another of signature Kirby book. His influence can be seen in so many places. The washed out tones were gone. This was a vibrant and bright movie.

For parents, I would caution that there is more realistic violence in this movie. There are also a couple of obvious light profanity words. The subject matter is challenging to sort out, but there should be enough action to keep active kids engaged.

There were two families with unruly small children, so I offer this as a reminder – you and your kids are not the only people in the theater. If they can’t sit down or be calmed/quieted, respect your neighbors and leave. The money you lose by leaving the theater does not equal the loss of other people’s enjoyment. You are not entitled to stay in a movie and ruin it for others.

Parents, take your kids to see this movie. There is a stigma in Hollywood moguls minds that a “black” movie will not be received. I would love to see that stigma shattered in this movie. There is a stigma that women can’t be strong, self-sufficient characters. This movie needs to be lifted up as a counter-argument. There is an attitude that comic book movies need to be funny or dark to be taken seriously. This movie proves that it can be serious and brightly colorful while portraying a comic book hero and villains.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Book Review: Resurrecting Religion

I was reluctant to read this book. Many attempts to discuss religion fall into the critique of religion as a hollow faith existence of following rules and human structures. I was worried that Greg Paul may have been falling into that camp. I was pleasantly incorrect. Paul provides a clear, concise, practical examination of what religion is and how it is absolutely vital to the existence of the Christian faith.

This book responds to two fronts that are dismantling religion as a vital human experience. The first is the "relationship over religion" argument. This grows out of an expression of faith seeking people. They profess that church conduct is no longer relevant. The structures that are in place have put a stumbling block in the way of people finding authentic faith. What matters more is the pursuit of a relationship with Christ.

The other front is the generalized anti-faith argument that religion is source of community unrest and societal problems. This point is raised out of the historical conflicts between, and among, faith communities.

Greg Paul digs into the book of James, supported by the New Testament, to point out the true nature and calling of Christian religion. Paul's conviction of what the Church truly stands for grows out of the work that has been done by the Sanctuary community in Toronto, Canada. Through the ministry of this community, rich and poor, established and street-people, mingle and live among one another. Here, the author points out, is the work of the Kingdom of God.

I have a lot of respect for what seems to be happening in Sanctuary Toronto's witness and work. It would appear that people have removed the structures of race, wealth, status, and power that have been applied, even in most of our churches, so that humans can see one another for who they truly are.

Resurrecting Religion gets to the truest essence of religion - the Kingdom of God. And that is not the image of our churches that we are so comfortable with. It is going out among the people Jesus associated with. It is dealing with the power brokers to upset their authority and comfort to level the mountains and raise up the valleys of society. It is being honest about living out faith.

This book is easy to read. It provides personal experiences mixed with explanation of biblical passages. It would be useful for Sunday School studies. Most importantly, it is helpful to read to gain understanding that not all Christians fall into a stereotypical model. There are some who are striving to do what is represented in the Bible as the service to communities and social structures.

This book was provided as a complimentary advance reader copy at no cost in exchange for a review by Tyndale House Publishers.