Tag Archives: Paradigm

Marvel Movies, Meta-Communication and the Sermon on the Mount

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
Matthew 5:48 (MSG)

Wendy and I went on a date earlier this week to see Logan, the latest movie from the increasingly prolific Marvel franchise. We generally enjoy what Marvel puts out, but Logan took the usually entertaining action story to a new level. It even made Wendy cry. All week long Wendy has been muttering, “Oh my gosh. A Marvel movie made me cry.

And, that was what made Logan a different action film. All week long Wendy and I have been discussing why we found Logan to be a different kind of action film. We’ve been trying to step back and understand what the writers did to reach our emotions as well as our adrenal glands.

From the very beginning the writers revealed our heroes Wolverine, Charles Xavier, and Caliban in weakness, neediness, fear and frailty. This catches us off guard. We’re so used to seeing them in their confidence delivering pithy action movie lines as braggadocio. Add to our threatened, all-too-human heroes a cute, emotionally torn little girl and innocent children on the run for their lives. Mix in antagonists who, rather than silly comic book evil, seem like the truly evil people who actually appear in our morning headlines and you have a “comic book” movie that takes things to a different level than we’ve experienced before. (Attention parents: The “R” rating also means the producers took the violent action, language and one needless second of nudity to a new level as well).

As an amateur writer and professional communicator I’ve learned to look at and analyze communication from a contextual perspective. Most of us get mired in the details of what is being communicated. I tend to pull back and look at the larger picture. Scholars call it meta-communication.

In this morning’s chapter we wade into one of the most famous messages ever delivered. It’s called Jesus “Sermon on the Mount.” Even for non-religious types who have never darkened the door of a church or cracked open a Bible,  the words and metaphors Jesus delivered in this message have become part of our everyday vocabulary:

  • Turn the other cheek
  • Light of the world
  • City on a hill
  • Salt of the earth

As I read today’s chapter I could easily get mired in the abundance of inspired teaching. Virtually every line and verse could be its own blog post. But, I found myself unconsciously doing what I do with Marvel movies. I stepped back to look at the bigger picture of how Jesus was communicating at a broader level.

Jesus starts out with an attention grabber. He lists those who are “blessed” in God’s economy and the list looks nothing like we expect it to look. We tend to think of those who are rich, strong, powerful, healthy, educated, famous, connected, athletic, and popular as “blessed.” Jesus’ list starts with “poor” and goes on to list the grieving, meek, merciful, pure, peacemakers and persecuted.

Having grabbed our attention by saying what we didn’t expect to hear, Jesus goes on to tell His listeners that we are the vehicle through which God’s kingdom will advance in this world. We are the light. We are the preservative. He doesn’t qualify it. He doesn’t limit it. He doesn’t add a litmus test. Every one of his listeners is included. This is in stark contrast to our commonly held belief that God’s work is reserved for ministers, pastors, seminary graduates, religious types, “good” people and those who don’t struggle, sin and avoid church like the plague.

So this is a different kind of message than the “toe the line and follow all the rules or you’re going to hell stuff.” Does this mean that all the rules don’t matter anymore? Does Jesus mean that those ten commands I’m so bad at and all that other stuff are obsolete and out the window?

Jesus anticipates this question and answers it with an affirmative, “No way.” But he then ups the ante and changes the discussion. We tend to think of religion in a set of behavioral rules and judgmental “don’ts” that we humans use as our self-righteous measuring stick. Jesus changes the conversation. It’s not about avoiding the legalistic “don’ts” but demonstrating the heart motivated “dos” that He is calling us to:

Not “don’t murder, but “do treat people with love and respect.”

Not “treat others the way they treated me” but “treat others the way you would have like to have been treated.”

Not get revenge, but choose to forgive and give people another chance.

Not “hate my enemies” but “show my enemies real love, patience, kindness, and self-control.”

Like going to a Marvel movie and experiencing something I didn’t expect, this morning I’m struck at how very different Jesus message really is. It reveals that the ways of God run in opposite directions than the ways of this world. God’s kingdom operates far differently than we are lulled into thinking by the flaws in what we may have been taught and our earth-bound paradigms . The economy of God’s kingdom works on a completely different set of principles than what we’re used to grappling with in the day-to-day marketplace of this world. What Jesus is communicating is different. If I get mired in the minutiae of my preconceived notions and foundational prejudices, I just might miss what He’s really saying.

He’s calling me to be different, too.

Featured image courtesy of 75933558@N00 via Flickr

 

Reflecting on Life Changes

The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth

    and honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me

    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”
Isaiah 29:13 (NIV)

Thanksgiving is a day of reflection. Wendy and I certainly felt all the normal moments of gratitude yesterday. We are so abundantly blessed in so many ways, and we are so grateful.

I found that my reflection in recent days has stretched beyond the normal annual checklist of family, friends, community, provision, and regular blog readers. With my 50th birthday still relatively close in the rear-view mirror, I’ve been reflecting on the ways I feel my entire life changing this year.

I’m sleeping more, which is a huge paradigm shift for me. I’ve spent my entire life struggling with insomnia and being a chronic early riser. Instead of averaging 5-7 hours a night of sleep I find myself sleeping 8-9 hours a night and being much slower about getting out of bed in the morning.

The loss of 1-3 of waking hours, on average, has also changed my daily routines. For almost a decade I’ve rarely missed writing a blog post (or two) each weekday morning. I suddenly find my daily routines struggling to find equilibrium with my changing biorhythms. I’ve had to allow myself grace in the shift. If there are any regular readers out there who have noticed the more regular lapses in my posts, I beg your grace as well. It is what it is. My routines are increasingly whacked out.

There are also spiritual paradigms shifting along with the physical ones. I find myself being far less religious and more deeply Spiritual. I’m increasingly open and less uptight with just about everything. Rules increasingly matter less to me than relationships. My understanding of God is expanding rapidly in unexpected ways while I feel my own admitted sense of self-importance receding. I feel as though I’m just beginning to understand what Jesus meant when He said that the entirety of the law is summed up in the command to love God fully and love my neighbor as I love myself. I’m feeling a bit sheepish about it taking me so long to get here.

As I read the words the ancient prophet Isaiah penned (pasted above) this morning I was reminded that Jesus quoted this passage directly*. I feel like I’m just beginning to understand the heart of God’s message to me. More heart, less lips. More heart worship, less rote ritual. More heart relationships, less rule keeping. I’m beginning to experience the differences, and it makes me excited for where my journey is leading me (in my shorter waking hours :-))

In a little synchronicity, I received this quote from Fr. Rohr in my inbox this morning:

Evolutionary thinking is actually contemplative thinking because it leaves the full field of the future in God’s hands and agrees to humbly hold the present with what it only tentatively knows for sure. Evolutionary thinking agrees to both knowing and not knowing, at the same time. To stay on the ride, to trust the trajectory, to know it is moving, and moving somewhere always better, is just another way to describe faith. We are all in evolution all the time, it seems to me. It is the best, the truest, way to think. —Richard Rohr, “Evolutionary Thinking”

chapter a day banner 2015

*Matthew 15:9-8; Mark 7:6-7

Of Sneetches and Circumcision

sneetches quote

So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Acts 11:2-3 (NSRV)

I love Dr. Seuss. I find the illustrations, the rhymes, and the created words even more entertaining as an adult than I did as a kid. As an adult, I also have an even greater appreciation for the lessons that Dr. Seuss taught us about human, though he did it through the most creative of fantastical creatures.

One of my favorites as both a kid and an adult are the story of The Sneetches. Some of the big yellow creatures had stars on their tummies, and some did not. What follows is a zany study of how we tend to discriminate through our prejudices and will go to great lengths to belong with the crowd.

The Sneetches came to mind this morning as I read about Peter’s return to Jerusalem from the house of Cornelius. The early followers of Jesus were an almost exclusively Jewish sect. And, like the star on a Sneetches tummy, the physical determination of whether you “belonged” to the Jewish faith as a man of that day was whether your penis was circumcised and the foreskin ritually removed. The practice went all the way back to Abraham and the Jews took great pride in having this physical evidence of their belonging to the Jews.

So, when Peter returns he is confronted by the Jewish followers of Jesus asking why he ate with the unclean, uncircumcised, lower class, dirty, rotten, don’t belong, non-Jewish Gentiles. The very question smacked of prejudice and socio-arrogance. I find it interesting that Dr. Luke saw fit to repeat Peter’s story in exacting detail rather than writing, “Peter told them what had happened.” A writer repeats things when they are important, and I believe Luk repeated the story he had just written because this was a big deal. The times they were a changin’. Think of telling southern Klu Klux Klan members a century ago that they had to start accepting African Americans into their membership. This was going to shake things up in a big way.

But, God gave this experience to Peter, the unquestioned spiritual leader of their faith who had been placed into leadership by Jesus. This was a top down policy shift, and Luke records that the initial response of the believers in Jerusalem was acceptance. But, we know from other sources, it wouldn’t be a peacefully and universally accepted paradigm shift.

In the end of Dr. Seuss’ tale of The Sneetches, the Sneetches with stars and the Sneetches without starts get so mixed up that in ceases to be relevant. It’s hard for us to relate to how radical it was for God to command Peter and the early Jewish followers to love non-Jewish Gentiles and accept them into the fold. People are people, however, and we have our own prejudices and forms of socio-arrogance.

Today is another good reminder for me to acknowledge my prejudices, and to let them go.

Not Bricks and Mortar, but Flesh and Blood.

English: Western wall in Jerusalem at night
English: Western wall in Jerusalem at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Exalt the Lord our God,
    and worship at his holy mountain in Jerusalem,
    for the Lord our God is holy!
Psalm 99:9 (NLT)

I have a bit of a rebellious streak in me. I quickly get irritated by senseless rules and misplaced religious orthodoxy. We as humans tend to want to wrap rules around principles and attach sacred  meaning to silly things. I remember a crotchety old fart who got mad at me for letting children run and play in the church sanctuary instead of getting mad and giving them a stern rebuke. In his mind the kids were desecrating the holiness of the room. I told him that the sanctuary was nothing more than a gathering place (adding that I’d be happy to prove the point scripturally) and the sound of children laughing, running and playing where we met to worship was music to my ears. If there are a lot of kids having fun in the place the church just might have a future.

He didn’t like me very much.

In the ancient days when the psalms were written, there was central place where God was to be worshipped in Jerusalem at the temple. One of the things I love most about Jesus  is that he blew away old rules and established radical new paradigms. When a woman asked Jesus about worshipping in Jerusalem, Jesus said, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem….But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

In the new paradigm that Jesus ushered in, those who believe are indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit and we ourselves become God’s temple. We don’t go to some church building that is somehow special, holy and sacred – we ourselves – our bodies – are the temple. We are made special, holy and sacred by God.  We don’t go to church. We are the church. It’s not bricks and mortar. It’s flesh and blood. Every time I hear a pastor telling me to invite my friends to church I shake my head and groan. Jesus’ intention was never for believers to bring friends to a central location to worship Him. His intention was that believers would worship Him by spreading out into every neighborhood and loving people.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 8

Source: Flickr

God spoke to Moses: “Take the Levites from the midst of the People of Israel and purify them for doing God’s work.” Numbers 8:5 (MSG)

For me, one of the fascinating things about walking through these ancient texts is perceiving the ways that our culture and thinking are still rooted in the systems and concepts which were established thousands of years ago.

In today’s chapter, the tribe of Levi was singled out among all of the tribes of Israel for carrying out the work of the temple. In other words, “God’s work” was reserved for a special few. In any human system, I have to believe this is going to set into motion certain patterns of thought, creating classes within the culture. The special few who are given the religious tasks are going to think themselves special, even to the point of being better than the others. They will have a hard time not feeling that they are closer to God than those who don’t get this special task. Those who are not part of these special few begin to feel the opposite. They feel left out and dishonored. “God’s work” is not for them, so they dismiss the things of God as something above them. Jealousy, envy and hatred can even set in against those who seem to be “special.”

After Jesus death and resurrection, there was a major shift in God’s prescribed system. God’s Holy Spirit was poured out and into every person who believes and follows. No longer for a certain people or a select few, the Holy Spirit made no distinction. God gave the word picture of one body in which every believer is made a vital part, gifted in some way to help provide for it’s health and functions. Jesus presented a radical new paradigm.

We human beings are silly creatures, however. Once we get used to a system of behavior, we are loathe to go to the work of changing them. Within a short period of time, the followers of Jesus had organized into a system that looked much like what we read about in Numbers. There were special people set apart as priests and leaders to do the religious works of this organization now known as “the church.” Once again this human organizational system created a group of spiritual “haves” and “have nots.” 1500 years later a man named Martin Luther made a 95 item “point-of-order” to correct the mistake, arguing that what God’s Message presented was not a special “priesthood” for the select few but a “priesthood of all believers.” The reformers organized to try to get back to the prescribed organization of Jesus and his followers.

We human beings are silly creatures, however. Once we get used to a system of behavior, we are loathe to go to the work of changing them. For over forty years I’ve attended and been involved in a number of church organizations of all shapes, sizes and names. I’ve even led a few. We still like to treat our pastors and priests as “special” people who are spiritually above us. The common person in the pew still tends to think of “God’s work” as something relegated to the chosen few; it is something from which they are at best exempted, at worst unfit to carry out.

[sigh]

Today, I am reminded at how easily my human condition, culture, and systems can skew my thoughts and behaviors from those which God intended. Lord, have mercy on me.