And the Golden Globe Goes to…

As a child, the television was a stranger to me.  The combination of my hyperactivity and overly competitive spirit compelled me into action elsewhere.  I had to run around.  I had to play sports, then try my hand at new ones I would create.  I had to feel the bark of a tree press into my hands as I climbed closer to heaven.  I had to taste life and everything it offered.

I had to be my parents’ worst nightmare.  So much so, they had to place boundaries on where I could go.  Like a dog with an electric fence.

There were only a few, rare occasions each year when I willingly sat, glued to the television, for extended periods of time.  On those icy winter nights, I turned on the tube and plopped down directly in front of it.  Alone.

“You like watching the Golden Globes?” members of my family would ask as they passed through the room.  “They’re so boring.  And the thank you speeches are so long and drawn-out.  You don’t even know the people they’re thanking.”

It was true.  I didn’t know anybody included in the speeches.  In fact, it was seldom that I had even seen the movies that won the awards.  Yet, on my little lot of carpet, I spent four hours rarely blinking or even closing my mouth.  To me, it was captivating.  I didn’t quite understand why I was so immensely attracted to these ceremonies, but each year they lured me in.  And I loved every moment of them.

In fact, when I was about 7 years old, my family went on a vacation to California.  When we walked into a gift shop, I begged my parents for a plastic Oscar labeled “Best Actress”.  Obliging their daughter’s insane obsession, they purchased the replica for me.  When we got home, I placed it on my bookshelf and eagerly imagined who I would thank for this award.  For years it remained at the forefront of my trinkets and I treasured it more than the real trophies I actually earned through athletics.

On the nights of these Hollywood ceremonies, however, I was not the “Best Actress”.  I was just a small, Midwestern girl whose jagged teeth poked through her partially opened mouth.  On commercial breaks, I tucked my shoulder-length bob behind my ears and swiftly swooshed to get snacks in my worn windbreaker.  I returned to my seat, inches from the screen that both separated and connected me to this enchanting event.  It was like Disney, but real.  Because these people created Disney.  And everything else like it.

“Scoot back,” my mother chimed as she sailed through the living room.  “It’s not good for your eyes when you sit so close to the TV.”

And then they came.  In all their splendor.  The women in their beautiful dresses and the men in dashing, similar-fashioned suits.  No one ever asked the men “who” they were wearing.  But that didn’t matter.  It wasn’t the glamor that was so attractive.  What mattered was that all of these extraordinarily gifted people–the best of the best in the movie-making world–had been corralled into one place.  And when that happens, something magical comes along with it.

Last night I was captivated once again by the Golden Globes awards ceremony.  I convinced my husband to watch it with me by intermittently switching the channel to the NFL playoffs during commercials.  It was the first awards show he had ever seen.  And I’m pretty sure he enjoyed “commercials” more than the main event.  I’m pretty sure most men would.  In fact, most people don’t like watching these award ceremonies.  In a recent Yahoo poll, 69% of people said they didn’t watch last night.  Even Ben Affleck thanked his wife for “sitting through all this” as he was accepting his award as Best Director.

I, on the other hand, was entranced by the evening for more than the twentieth time in my life.  However, as an adult, I can no longer blindly accept magic.  Usually.  After all, every grown-up knows about smoke, mirrors, and slight of hand.  So, I found a need to uncover the reason behind this unexplainable magnetic pull I’ve always felt towards Hollywood awards ceremonies.

As I began to search beyond the glitz and glamor of movie-magic, it occurred to me that these are the most brilliantly creative people in our country.  Perhaps in the world.  That, to me, is inspiring.

Not only are they incredibly brilliant people, I realized, they are your regular, run-of-the-mill artists–writers, actors, singers.  People who have struggled with their craft–perhaps even been defeated by it–and yet persevered, developed, and risen to the top.  Upon receiving the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Anne Hathaway began, “Thanks for having me in this room full of extraordinary artists who have changed my life with their work.  And thank you for this lovely, blunt object that I will forevermore use as a weapon against self-doubt.”  She is not the only one who has clawed nail and tooth to get to the ceremony.  “I wanted to be an actor since I was a little girl,” Jessica Chastain admitted while receiving the Globe for her work in Zero Dark Thirty, “and I’ve worked for a really long time.  I’ve auditioned and struggled and fought and been on the sideline for years. And to be here now in this moment?  It’s a beautiful feeling to receive this encouragement and support.”

And those were the winners–the best at the craft.  Still facing self-doubts, still needing support and encouragement.  Because no matter what societal status they’ve acquired, the truth is that they’re still humans pursuing a vulnerable dream.

Clearly then, despite the glory of celebrity status and Hollywood awards ceremonies, working in the arts is not an easy profession.  The uncertainty of a paycheck combined with others’ conviction that you should find a ‘real job’ prove that pursuing the arts is not necessarily encouraged.  Unless you make it big.  And most artists never make it big.

Courtesy of the cameras, I glanced around the room.  People crowded each table to celebrate the story they helped create.  Their job is to tell stories with which we can relate, and thus, feel.  To exhilarate us, make us laugh or sob, or force us to think.  They, with their ‘superior’ celebrity status, work so that they can connect with us through art.  They work to compel us and change us in some way.  I wonder what the atmosphere is like when so many innovative people get together in one room?  What do conversations sound like when cameras cut to commercial?  With that in mind, I thought about my family’s open opinions and questions about the Golden Globes.

“Do you really like the Golden Globes?” echoed in my memory.  I wanted to go back in time and reply, “Do you really like movies?”

These ceremonies give us an inside peek at everything and everyone it takes to create our favorite films.  There was no college classmate who bailed on their portion of the group project, leaving all the work to one person.  Every single being at these gatherings brings a specific set of supreme skills to the movie-making table.  And it takes each of them to make the movies that have become etched into our being.

And here, in front of the world, they were being recognized for their contributions.  Without the promise of being successful, all of these people put their talents together simply because they could not imagine life any other way.  Because for them, life without creation is dull and unfulfilling.

When movie-makers begin a creative endeavor, it’s doubtful that their main objective is to receive a “blunt object”, as Anne Hathaway put it.  For it is not the trophy that means something, but rather what it stands for.

Yet, perhaps one of the best parts are those long, drawn-out “Thank you’s” my family so blatantly rejected.  To my ears, the bobbling of words during acceptance speeches cry out more than the words themselves.  No actor, artist, writer, or songstress can make it to the top on their own.  Throughout their lives, they’ve been molded, shaped, and refined by the support and wisdom of others.  Moreover, as a woman pursuing the arts, I can only imagine how gratifying it must be to have your work recognized.  Not for the glory of being acknowledged, but for the vindication that you haven’t been wasting your life.  That, yes, someone out there has felt, understood, and appreciated your work.  The work you’ve sacrificed and fought for.  The work you do despite daily self-doubts, rejection, and fear.  The work you do because you don’t know what you’d do otherwise.  So, at least for one night, you can quiet those relentless voices in your head.

That’s what I see when I watch the Globes.  It is so much more than the spoiled celebrity-dom we read about in the tabloids.  Beyond the exquisite wardrobes and the fancy designer names that go with them, lies a group of people.  People who have been given gifts which are much more valuable than the jewels on their dresses.  That’s the magic.

And I believe in it.

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A Few Words on a Living Faith

What is it about the world that keeps us clinging on, hoping for dear life that we might be accepted by it? How can the fear of isolation train even the most unique people to conform? It’s almost as if Rejection reaches directly into our hearts with its ugly, tainted hands, shaking our souls by the collar and shouting, “Straighten up!”

And, for the most part, we listen.

Rejection and I have had a long-term love-hate relationship. As a kid, Rejection slashed its angry claws across my chest until I ached so badly, I would have done anything to appease it. When I reached the age of pubescence, I told myself to break up with Rejection–he wasn’t worth my time. If people didn’t like me for me, well, that was their loss. But that was just fluff that filled the air during bouts of desolation. In reality, I still longed to belong. For some reason, it was just hard for me to do that. So, over the years, Rejection punched and pulled me until I learned what to say to whom and when. I learned new lingo and used it only with certain crowds. I understood how to inflect my voice and contort body to make others more at ease (affirmatives like nodding, smiling, and agreeing go a long way). I gauged my success on how frequently my confidant smiled or rambled along. And I learned how to laugh at almost everything, including myself. Essentially, I mastered the art of small-talk. Words flipped from my tongue like Olympic divers on springboard. But I never truly felt them. I felt happy, of course, that I had new friendships, but it was all a mirage. I wasn’t sharing myself with anyone, I was just saying and doing what they would enjoy. It was simply smoke and mirrors, a power-play between me and the puppet master. I played Rejection’s game to show that I could be accepted, and he mocked my efforts by proving I was still his–still truly unknown by the hearts of others.

I came to know Christ in college and experienced His love (the kind you don’t have to work for) for the first time. I didn’t have to say or do anything to impress Him–no new words or phony head nods. All I had to do was be myself–the one He created–and we could both be filled with joy.

What??

By that point, I didn’t even know what it meant to be myself. I couldn’t fathom having a conversation–much less a relationship–where I didn’t analyze the other person’s needs and adjust my behavior accordingly. And it sure as heck didn’t make sense for me to do nothing and receive, in return, the one thing I’d been yearning for my entire life. But somehow, that’s how it works. When I gave my life to Christ, a veil was lifted and my formerly achromatic heart awakened to vibrant exuberance. The inner transformation rejuvenated my childlike spirit and erased the ashen taste of the world. Yet, in our nation, Christianity has become commercialized, overdone, and sometimes frowned upon. Those who follow Christ have to battle against “Christians” who don’t know Him. “Christians” tend to be publicized for their faith or become silent reasons people don’t attend church. To nonbelievers and people of other faiths, however, “Christians” and Christians are one in the same. They witness hypocrisy and blatant disregard to be Christ-like and conclude that my religion is a crock, filled with phonies. So, once again, the most central and integral part of my life gets cast aside by the world. Frightened to step on anyone’s toes, I thought to myself, “If I love like Christ, people will notice there’s something different about me–that I can offer them the unconditional love I always sought. Then, I won’t have to talk to them about my faith because they will feel it instead.” And, once again I find myself shackled to my oldest companion. I can barely see him in the dark, dank prison cell, but the sinister laugh of Rejection echoes…

“I didn’t realize how much faith was part of your and Kyle’s life,” my bridesmaid told me over coffee one Saturday morning, “until Kyle’s best man made that toast at your wedding. Most guys just say, ‘My friend is a great guy’ or ‘He’s really funny’, but it was really cool when he said the best part about Kyle is his faith.” My trained, people-pleasing heart sat across from one of my closest friends, smiling, nodding, and agreeing with her statement. She asked more about my faith and was interested in learning more about Christianity. I didn’t want to sound like the Jehovah’s witness who knocked on my mom’s door and mistook her polite refusal as a sign to push harder. I didn’t want to say anything that would make Christ sound like the cartoon superhero our nation has turned Him into. And, I later came to realize, I especially didn’t want to say something that might cost me our friendship. So, with a bit of verbal turbulence, I began speaking from my untrained heart. The heart that shows me beauty in life each day and keeps me humbled and grateful in the presence of God. The one that sings when it’s entirely itself. The one that lives with childlike faith. But, most notably, the heart that hadn’t had any practice socializing.

After the shameful sting of being a slacker subsided, I joined a twenty-somethings group for women at my church. Not only do we get to discuss what it’s like to live as transitional tweeners in a college town, we also get to share our greatest passion: our faith. In one of our study sessions, an awe-inspiring young woman said, “If Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to you, how much do you have to hate someone to NOT tell them about Him?” She’s right. And I love you more now than I ever could have without Christ in my life.

So here goes…

Who Needs Resolutions When You Have God-Sized Dreams?

My father is a man who speaks only in one-line quips.  Or long-winded monologues about responsibility and commitment, but those are reserved specifically for his children (even now that we’re adults).  There’s really no in between.  The rest of him remains a fragmented jigsaw, his crucial pieces buried beneath layers of epidermis and introversion.  Even to me, his own daughter, he’s a mystery.  But I am one of his pieces, a flake that fell from the box nearly 25 years ago.

And I like to solve puzzles.

“Dad, what did you want to be when you were a little kid?” I asked.  “Did you always dream of selling roofing products?”  I knew he played baseball–even in college–so I half-expected him to say he dreamed of becoming a professional athlete.  After all, a lefty on the mound is pretty valuable.

“I wanted to be a drummer,” he admitted in his low-volume even-keel voice.  I studied his thinning brown hair and noticed how age had stolen it from his crown.  And, as he smiled at his lost hopes, I saw the small gap between his front tooth and its neighbor.

My dad, a professional drummer? I inquired to myself, perplexed.  When I went searching beneath the couch and between its cushions, I never expected to discover that piece and place it in his puzzle.  But there it was, adding another dimension to the full picture.

A perfect fit.

I finally appreciated our jam sessions to 70s rock bands.  I understood when he blasted the volume and played air guitar during instrumental solos instead of shouting like a crazy person during the chorus the way I liked to do.  And, despite his best attempt to hide his passion, I loved the way his fingertips tapped the steering wheel to the beat of the drums.

The next time I visited home, I brought my Wii Rock Band along with me.

“You want the drums, dad?” I asked, handing him the sticks.

“Sure,” he replied calmly, his excitement silently leaking through the smirk on his face.

My dad is not a video game guy.  In fact, that might have been the only video game I’ve ever seen him play.  But in that moment, pulsing to the beat of his favorite rock bands, I’ve never seen him so much in his element.

I imagined him banging away at those plastic drums while David Bowie pressed his lips to the mike.  Above them a jumbotron hung from the ceiling as it flashed images of fans’ favorite musicians.  Streams of fire would blaze upwards from the floor, as though a live dragon was held captive beneath the stage.

So, at least for a few minutes he got to live his dream of being a rock band drummer.  And I think–at least, I hope–he loved every moment of it.

I believe we each have something tugging at our hearts–a dream that may not even seem possible.  An ambition that would take courage, struggle, and a bit of madness to obtain.  A purpose God has weaved into the very fabric of our being.  Holley Gerth calls these things “God-sized dreams” and encourages all of us to examine what ours may be.  She nudges us to faithfully explore–and then chase–whatever God-sized dream lures and warms your heart.

For me, my dream has always been writing.  I was the kid who came home from high school and spent her nights in her brother’s bedroom with a box of Oreos and his PC.  (Nobody else did that??)  At the time, I wrote murder mysteries.  And, looking back at those “books”, I pray to God that my writing has gotten and will continue to get better. Now, I examine my life and realize I have already taken steps to get closer to my dream.  After all, I am officially a professional writer.  And though I love where I am, I feel there can be more.  My God-sized dream is to become a faith writer.  Preferably a novelist.  A scribe of fiction that illustrates God’s love.  This is the path down which I hear God calling my name, inviting me to follow Him.  The dirt road is surrounded by troves of trees, some which allow the light to shine through and others which hide it completely.  I’m sure there will be snakes in there somewhere trying to send me running and screaming in the other direction (because let’s face it, that’s what usually happens when I see a serpent).  Yet, there it is–God’s voice from somewhere deep within the willow.  It sounds dauntingly distant, but closer than it used to be.  At least now I can hear my name clearly.

The idea of spending my days lost in thought thrills me, especially if those thoughts draw me closer to God.  The responsibility of putting those thoughts into beautiful words that will captivate others with His message, however, is absolutely petrifying.  But here I am, chasing this God-sized dream with a bit of madness and all the courage I can muster.

As C.S. Lewis once said, “When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy.”  God knows us completely and thoroughly.  And although this year may be new, God remains constant forever.  His hope for joy in our lives remains constant, too, and He has placed God-sized dreams on our hearts for that reason.  So who needs resolutions when you’ve got God-sized dreams?

Feel free to share your God-sized dream in the comments section below so we can form a community of support for each other in our pursuits!

For Giving

Frustration is not a feeling I like to be familiar with; in fact, it frustrates me to be frustrated, so I try to avoid it all together.  Yet, when I awoke this morning, a wild rage from the previous day reawakened with me.  I refuse to rely on unreliable people!  I guess I’ll just have to do everything myself.  Just like always, I fumed.

It’s amazing how being let down by others can boost my own ego.  Suddenly, it’s as if no one but me is capable of the high standards I set.

My bitterness towards those who let me down me leaked into my coffee.  And into the rest of my morning.  After spending the day making nothing but a fuss, I went to the gym in the afternoon to shoot hoops.  Sports have always been my refuge.  On a heated mission, I strode up to the cashier, pulled out my wallet and asked for a day pass to their facility.

“How old are you?” he asked.  I wanted to return the question to make sure he was not a child laborer in our country.

“25,” I said curtly.  My consumption in the previous day’s frustration weighed heavily both on my heart and my tongue.

“Wow, you don’t look that old!” the child-man exclaimed before he charged me the adult fee and waved me through.  I was flattered.  Or offended.  I wasn’t sure which.  But I was certain that I was in no mood to strike up conversation or barter for a lower price.  So instead, I traded my driver’s license for a basketball and went on my un-merry way.

When I reached the gym, I surveyed the courts to see if any baskets were open.  I had been in this gym dozens of times and it never failed to be flocked with foul-mouthed kids who cared more about themselves than the fact that they were in public.  I felt anger rush through my blood as I peered around me.  Some launched basketballs across the crowded gym without regard for where (or on whom) it landed.  Others took up the majority of the courts with sloppy scrimmage; and while playing, some athletes remained tuned in to nothing but their iPod.  One kid was playing full court while wearing a baseball hat and flip flops.  I couldn’t believe the idiocy.  These kids had no idea what they were doing.  And yet here they were, traipsing all over hardwood that could be appropriately used.  By me.

How dare they.

I plopped my bag down near the only available basket and began warming up.  I dodged a ball that ricocheted off the backboard to my left, then shook my head in immense annoyance.  It didn’t help my cause that I was missing shots.

“What am I supposed to do?I asked, not about the wildness of life around me, but rather the insolent way I viewed it all.

“See them as they are,” I heard God tell me.  “See them as you are.”

In that moment, the judgement clouding my vision slowly vanished and I realized how wrong I was to look down at these kids.  At anyone, for that matter–including those who upset me the day before.  I was no better than any of them, just as they are no better than me.  We are all the same.  Humans.  And, despite my elevated bent toward self-sufficiency, I know that I am nowhere near perfect.  I have let people down before and I know it will happen again in the future.  As imperfect beings, that’s just how we’re wired.  We fail.

There’s a surrender in forgiveness, a giving away of something in order to reconcile with those who harmed youWhat is that something we give away?  Complacent animosity perhaps? Or the misguided notion that we deserve to be treated flawlessly?  Perhaps its a giving of pardon, a giving of charity, a giving of love.  And we have to make sure we have those things in our possession before we can give them away.

I had wasted my day writhing in anger because I had not yet forgiven–and that was no one’s fault but my own.  After all, those who make a mistake are warranted forgiveness.  If one cannot forgive another, the problem doesn’t lie with the offender–it lies at the heart of the offended.  And, out of arrogance, I spent my hours steaming instead of forgiving.  Only with that realization could I forgive and move on.

Turning back toward my hoop, I felt a new looseness in my shoulders and spring in my legs.  I grasped the pimpled leather in the tips of my fingers.  I bent my knees.  And then I let go.

Weekly Photo Challenge: My 2012 in Pictures

Looking back over the course of this year, 2012 is not shy about its frenzy of firsts in my life.  From a Master’s degree to a marriage license, I feel like I’ve collected nearly every milestone within the span of 365 days.  What a thrillingly exhausting journey!  Thanks to all who shared these days and memories with me–I look forward to many more in the future!

If you’d like to see any of the images in full-screen, just click on them.

Who’s This Jesus Guy?

The existence of Jesus is a documented reality, his life an historical truth.  His name pops up in ancient political papers and his face seeps into sacred scriptures of several world religions.  Thus, the question is not whether or not Jesus really lived, for it is proven that he tread the paths that exist beneath Middle Eastern feet.  It’s the true identity of this Jesus, however, that has caused tension and discord for centuries.  So who is this guy, really?

In the Jewish tradition, the existence of a man named Jesus is unanimously accepted.  However, he was simply that: a man.  Nothing more.  A magician perhaps, but a man nonetheless.  Similarly, in Islam, Jesus is seen as another good teacher–a prophet–and is revered for his teachings.  He stands out as an exemplary figure who is to be honored and heeded.  The words from his lips were messages from God, but in an indirect sense.  Jesus was simply the messenger, not God himself.  Just like any other prophet.

Jesus of the Bible paints a different picture, though.  In fact, the New Testament is littered with proclamations that Jesus is God in the flesh.  Not a messenger.  Not a prophet.  Not just a good teacher.  He claims to be God.  Jesus describes himself as the “Son of God” and the “Son of Man” (referring to a term in the book of Ezekiel that describes God).  He says that he is the “Good Shepard”, “The Light of the World”, “The Bread of Life”, “The True Vine”, and “The Resurrection”, all images that insinuate his divinity.  Further, he claims to be “The Way, The Truth, and The Life”–or, in other words, the way to God.  The only way.  He didn’t say, “I’m just one of the million ways to get to God.”  Instead, he says he is ‘the way’ to God.  No other prophet or good teacher in the history of the world has made such radical statements.  Indeed, they would be appalled if anyone had asked if they were God in the flesh.  And yet, Jesus says it plainly, time and time again.

Imagine if the person beside you claimed to be God in the flesh.  I don’t know about you, but I’d be entirely creeped out and immediately create an excuse to leave.  My face, all the while, revealing my true thoughts of disgust and disbelief.  Yet, when considering Jesus’s proclamation of being God in the flesh, there are only three possibilities: a) he’s a liar, b) he’s a lunatic, or c) he really is Lord.

My friend Casey explained, “If he’s lying about being God, then he’s just deceived billions of people, and people have died for the sake of Christ.  So that’d be a sick, sick thing–that’s not a ‘good person’ thing to do.”  So, if this were the case and Jesus was a liar-liar-pants-on-fire, all world religions who acknowledge Jesus as a good man would be mistaken.  Clearly, he would not truly be Christ as Christians trust him to be, but he would also not be a good person, as many other religions believe.

Perhaps he was a nut job.  We have probably all seen a film or television show that portrays mentally unstable characters claiming impossible things.  The CIA is following them.  The president is the devil and they have been sent by God to eliminate him.  The aluminum foil on their head prevents aliens from reading their minds.  What’s to stop a crazy person from claiming to be God?  It might be part of his intense delusions and he could truly believe that he is indeed the Messiah.  Yet, thousands–if not millions–of people experienced torture and persecution by believing in Christ.  It seems unlikely, then, that Jesus would be just another lunatic waving a cardboard sign that warns of the upcoming apocalypse.  Imagine having a conversation with one of those crazy characters from the silver screen.  They are entirely convinced of their delusions.  But how convinced are you?  Would you sacrifice your life for their claims?

I think about the night Jesus was apprehended before being tried and sentenced to death.  Although historical documents report his crucifixion, the Bible is my only resource for his arrest.  So I turn to it in search of truth.  There, I find a passage from Mark: “Distress and anguish came over him and he said to [his disciples], ‘The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me.  Stay here and keep watch.'” (Mark 14:33-34).  Then, awaiting his upcoming capture, Jesus goes into a garden “and being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).  When his assailants arrive, John writes, “Jesus knew everything that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward and asked, ‘Who is it you are looking for?’. ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they answered.  ‘I am he,’ he said.” (John 18:4-5).  Then, in every gospel, the authors describe a scene in which the disciples try to attack the men arresting Jesus.  One disciple even slices off the ear of another man.  But Jesus instructs them to put away their swords and then heals the ear of his captor.

I reflect on this dark night that happened so long ago.  Are these the actions of a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord?  How would all three of those personalities respond when faced with such an agonizing demise?  If the man was simply a liar, deceiving the crowds for some sadistically demented reason, would he have stuck around in the midst of his ‘crushing sorrow’?  Surely not.  At the very least, he would have fought and fled the scene of his arrest.  Similarly, how would a lunatic respond to persecution?  Would the blood oozing from his pores cause him to patiently wait for his imminent doom?  John says that ‘Jesus knew everything that was going to happen to him’.  It would take great strength and courage, therefore, to be aware of his future and willingly accept it.  Again, thanks to the entertainment industry, we have witnessed the skittishness of psychotic people.  We watch their eyes dart around the room and their lips murmur petrified worries.  Fear of their own delusions propel them away from whatever pain they foresee in their future.  Thus, the reported actions of the biblical Jesus simply do not coincide with typical qualities exuded by a “liar” or a “lunatic”.  That only leaves one option regarding Jesus’s true identity.  So, I don’t have to speculate how the Lord would have responded when faced with capture, torture, and death.  All I have to do is read the passages again.

Putting the ‘Hope’ in ‘Hopelessness’

In the aftermath of tragedy such as that at Sandy Hook Elementary, we as a people often find ourselves burning bitterly over one three-letter word.  “Why?” we plead in desperation, unable to make sense of evil.  And yet, in the silence of tears, no answers emerge.  The next quandary, then, becomes a question of God’s existence—or at least doubts about His true identity.  “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why would He allow something like this to happen?” we beseech in defiance of our teachings.  Our voices punch the sky as though bullying our way into heaven to demand God to make sense of what has happened.  After all, maybe if we’re face-to-face, He won’t be able to be so silent.

But, if we truly believe in the God of Israel and His Son, Jesus the Christ, there are a few things we must remember.

Come with me to Columbia Faith and Values to discover what these things are.

What is a Disciple?

I recently read a brilliant article titled Christianity Without Commitment? by a Moorlands College theology student regarding Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s definition of “discipleship”. (If you don’t know who Dietrich Bonhoeffer is, get to know him. He’s awesome). In this student’s message, he essentially asks the question, “What is a Disciple?”

I will pose that question now to you:

After reading a bit further in “Christianity Without Commitment?”, the author (as well as Bonhoeffer himself) mentions that Christian discipleship must entail commitment–to be a disciple without being committed is to not be a disciple.

Regarding commitment to Christianity–and perhaps because I’m a former athlete who loves sports analogies–discipleship can be likened to an athlete who just won a championship. People see the joy and excitement of the athlete as he or she hoists the championship trophy and think, “Man, that looks awesome! I want to hoist that trophy, too!” When the champions are interviewed, however, they talk about all the hard work that has gotten them to that point–all the time, dedication, sweat, pain, struggles, and tears that eventually helped them take home the hardware. There is a daily commitment involved, even on the days when it’s not fun or pleasurable. When the aspect of commitment comes into play, those fans who sit so comfortably on their couch start doubting whether they really want that shiny reward.

“You mean I have to run 5 miles today?” they ask, incredulously.

“Yes,” the coach replies. “And tomorrow you’re going to have to lift weights and do sprints. When the season starts, we’ll have practice every single day and you’ll need to attend those, too.”

Suddenly, that trophy looks a lot less appealing.

“Maybe that trophy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” the bystander thinks as dreams of a championship begin to wither.

Yet, within Christianity, we must remember that we are not working towards a shiny gold trophy. The golden idol that athletes aspire to attain will not–and cannot–satisfy them fully. Sure, they may be proud to have achieved such a lofty goal, but in the end, their lives will remain the same and the trophy itself will gather dust. After all, at the end of the night, even champions find they’re still the same people they were when the day began. Perhaps those who don’t know Christ would think the same thing about Christianity. Why put in so much commitment and effort when nothing will really change? But this view likens Christ to a golden trophy–something that cannot change us or fill us up. As Christians, though, we must believe, trust, and show others that Jesus is, in fact, life-altering in a way that satisfies more than anything this world can offer. Thus, the “reward” of following Jesus is much greater than any hardship or struggle we may go through to acquire Him. “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17: 28-29). If we are willing to put ourselves through nauseating, muscle-weakening sprints for a chance to win a golden trophy, what more should we be willing to endure to obtain the divine?

So, how and when did we begin believing Discipleship was something passive–something we could do out of obligation and other times never at all? Everything else in the world demands commitment–athletics, education, and relationships, to name a few. Why should faith be any different? I know people who call themselves Christian simply because they have heard the name Jesus. They have no personal attachment to who that man was and neither have they any desire to examine who He really is. And yet, as a twenty-something on that desperate quest to gain a professional foothold in the world, a handful of words echo in my ears: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Do we think this applies only to our search for jobs? Or does it also ring true in our search for Christ? In my opinion, a superficial knowledge of Christ is a halfhearted cover letter to God. It won’t get you far in faith. However, knowing God–as opposed to just knowing about God–will continue to push you forward in the constant and continual pursuit of Him.

So how did Discipleship become so distorted? It certainly wasn’t performed or preached this way by the original Twelve. They remained active even in the face of persecution. Similarly, in other areas of our world today, the terms “Christian” and “disciple” are heavily weighted. In countries where Christianity is illegal, citizens put themselves in life-threatening situations simply so they can praise and glorify the Lord. Is it merely danger that forces us into genuine action? Or can we bring that whole-hearted discipleship to our nation–a nation where Christians are allowed to pray and praise freely? After all, as Paul mentions, “all the runners run, but only one receives the prize. So run that you may obtain it.”

Keep Your Ear to the Grindstone, Gentlemen

As promised, here is the KBIA interview discussing the premise and purpose of This Little Light.  Tune in and let me know what you think!  The first link on that website will take you to the polished 3 minute segment that aired on the radio show.  The link towards the bottom of the page is the raw, uncut version lasting 12 minutes.  Feel free to listen to either (or both)!

Also, as mentioned in the article, DVDs of This Little Light are currently free.  All you must do to order a copy is email littlelightproj@gmail.com with your request and mailing address so we can ship it to you.  Donations are always welcomed, of course, and if you feel so inclined to contribute to the furthering of our visual arts ministry, you can do so at our homepage.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about This Little Light is that it offers information about Christianity in ways that are appealing to believers and nonbelievers alike.  It is not a film that forces beliefs onto anyone, but rather it is an attempt to describe Christianity so the audience leaves with a better understanding of the faith.  To gain a better feel for the audience of this blog, please participate in these polls:

Is This Thing On?

Earlier this week, a reporter from KBIA inquired about my latest film project called This Little Light.  Eagerly, I shared the premise of my documentary, handed her a copy, and encouraged her to watch it.  It seemed like something she might be interested in–after all, she is the editor of the online publication Columbia Faith and Values.  So, her interest in investigating and publicizing faith-related issues is quite evident.

“How about you come down to the station and do an interview with KBIA about This Little Light?” Kellie, the reporter, asked excitedly.  Without hesitation, I agreed.

After emerging onto the fourth floor of the building, she greeted me at the elevator and gave me a tour of the facility.  Soon, we silenced ourselves from the world, hiding behind the two monstrous doors of the production room.  I adjusted a headset over my ears and rolled my chair towards a microphone the size of myKBIA Interview face.  Never before had I entered such a fantastic realm.  I had seen it second-hand through television shows and movies, of course, but never with my own eyes.  It wasn’t surprising, then, that I immediately felt as though I was in a skit from Saturday Night Live featuring Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon.  As we began speaking into the mikes, I half-expected Alec Baldwin to walk in with his Schweddy balls as we conversed about festive holiday foods.  But no one pulled the heavy handles once the “RECORDING” light was illuminated.

“Say something into the mike,” Kellie instructed as she leaned over a panel of flips and switches to ensure the audio was working properly.

“‘Something into the mike’,” I joked with giddiness, feeling more like my cheesy grandfather than ever before.  Rolling her eyes at my tragically genetic sense of humor, she worked the board until it reached perfection.  Then she plopped down at the table and questioned me about the origins and significance of my film.  Over the course of her 15 minute segment, we discussed the initial formation of This Little Light, the misconceptions addressed within the film, and why those are significant.  If you’d like to hear more, stay tuned for a link to the interview!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Delicious Dish on Saturday Night Live, feel free to check it out here.

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