Avenger’s Endgame, Thor’s Hammer, & A Competitive Heart

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The Skinny– (from IMDb)- After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos’ actions and restore order to the universe.

Age Appropriateness: (Rated PG-13) Pre-Teen (11-12) and up [although younger children (especially those who love the characters) may be able to enjoy this movie, the running time is very long and a big chunk is not all that action packed. The movie also deals with some fairly complex emotional responses to huge losses and heartbreak].

My Take (major Spoilers below of Avenger’s Endgame and earlier Marvel movies)-
Avenger’s Endgame is a pretty incredible movie for anyone who has dedicated hours to watching the 21 Marvel movies that lead up to this very satisfying conclusion. For people like me, who collected Avenger Comics as a kid, this movie was incredibly special.

One scene of Avenger’s Endgame that has stuck with me occurs toward the end of the movie during the final battle. Thor is in battle with Thanos, Thanos is about ready to skewer Thor, and then suddenly Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, begins to shake and move. The hammer flies to the hand of Captain America, who uses it to save Thor. It’s an amazing moment (particularly for someone who knows from previous movies or comic lore that (a) Thor’s hammer can be only lifted by someone worthy, that (b) Captain America tried to lift the hammer before and could only manage to budge it slightly, and (c) that Mjolnir had been destroyed and so the opportunity of anyone welding it again seemed unlikely).

Of course, this awesome movie moment has led to all sorts of speculation on how Captain America could have lifted it….

#1 Was Captain America able to lift it because by Avenger’s Endgame he had done some extra sort of heroics that made him more worthy? This doesn’t seem to make all that much sense. Thor proved he was worthy simply by being willing to sacrifice his life for others, Captain America had done that many times over.

#2 Was Captain America unable to lift it before because of something unworthy in his past? This is a little more possible. Maybe by Avenger’s 2, Captain America had learned of the part Bucky played in the killing of Tony Stark’s parents and was keeping it from Tony. Was the lie enough to keep Steve Rogers from being worthy?

No one really knows. However, I will share with you my favorite theory that I’ve read online. What if Captain America could always lift the hammer? At the party during Avenger’s 2, when everyone was trying to lift the hammer, what if Captain America understood how important it was for Thor to be worthy, saw that he could lift it himself, and then chose not to in order to spare Thor’s ego? It would serve as a very interesting contrast between Steve Rogers’ compassion and maturity with Vision, who later wields the hammer (showing his worthiness but lack of emotional maturity).

I have to admit, that I partly like this theory the most because it is so alien a concept for me. It blows my mind to imagine being in that scenario and doing the same thing. If I was with a group of people trying to lift a magic hammer… and I COULD… I think I would, just to show everyone that I could!

This theory about Captain America’s worthiness makes we wonder about my own competitiveness. I tell people all the time that I am not very competitive and yet this scenario makes me question that assertion. I love playing games of all kinds and I don’t get all bent out of shape when I lose…. And yet, I wonder if maybe it’s not that I’m not competitive but rather I’m just competitive “with rules.” If I am involved in an activity where (a) I lack some important specific skills necessary for success or (b) there is a high element of “chance” in the activity, or (c) if the only way to win is to be a jerk, I still try to do my best to “win” but I have fairly low expectations on the outcome. But these “rules” don’t stop the fact that I still REALLY like to win (games, sports, arguments, even fake competitions I make up like between family members over who can finish their chores first). I’ve always REALLY hated being on a team when I was the one holding everyone back. I’ve always REALLY hated games where the outcome is really just determined by “luck.” And I’ve always been the type to listen VERY carefully to the rules of a game in order see how I might bend those rules in my favor without clearly breaking them. Have I been lying to myself all these years by saying that I’m not that competitive?

And I find myself pondering. What would it be like if I were more like Captain America? What would it be like to think first about others feelings and then winning second (rather than the other way around)? What does it mean that as soon as something turns into a competition (like who can lift a hammer), that my first thoughts go to winning rather than how that competition might make others in the room feel? What does it mean that in Avengers’ 2 my first thought is how cool it would be to wipe off the smug look on Thor’s face, rather than what it might do to his heart? At what point does competition get in the way of Jesus’ two greatest commandments to love God and love neighbor? And what does it mean that even after I’ve pondered all this, given the same situation, I still kind of would rather lift the hammer?

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Shazam! & Christian Identity

Shazam!

THE SKINNY
Story (from IMDb): We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s case, by shouting out one word – SHAZAM. – this streetwise fourteen-year-old foster kid can turn into the grown-up superhero Shazam.

Themes: This movie looks at the theme of family very closely. It examines loss, the foster care system, and being unwanted/alone.

Age Appropriateness: (Rated PG-13) Pre-Teen (11-12) and up [some fairly graphic deaths and very mature take on loss and family abandonment].

MY TAKE (small spoilers ahead)

I have to admit that I really liked the movie Shazam!. I went in expecting a childish superhero movie (the trailers seemed to indicate this). I was initially surprised to see the PG-13 rating. But the movie ended up dealing heavily with themes of abandonment, family brokenness, and identity in a much more mature fashion than one would expect in a children’s superhero movie (actually in many superhero movies). After watching the movie I questioned whether my youngest (age 9) would be emotionally mature enough to see this one.

But if I were rating the movie out of 5 stars, I would probably only give it 4 because of one small but VERY major issue. Really it is a quibble. But this quibble is central to the movie, so I think it makes it a far bigger “problem.” Here’s the problem. Shazam! is about a 14 year old who can say a magic word and become a grown up superhero (like in the Tom Hanks movie Big but with the ability to change back and forth from child to adult at will). My quibble with the move is simple: Asher Angel who plays Billy Batson as a 14 year old child and Zachary Levi who plays Billy Batson as a 14 year old trapped in the body of an adult superhero seemed to be playing 2 different characters. Angel played a Billy who due to childhood trauma was 14 going on 18. Levi played a Billy who was 14 going on 12. And this made it very hard to believe that it was the same Billy.

Now one could make the argument that maybe by becoming the superhero- Billy (the streetwise kid) would regain some of his childlike innocence and exuberance. If the movie had wanted to communicate this, I think it could have very easily. Billy could have just have told some people how different he felt when he was the Superhero, how it made his cares melt away, or how he wished he could be the superhero all the time. In fact, if he said all these things when he looked like the adult superhero, I probably would have bought the transformation… it would have given the adult persona of Billy a little more depth. But ultimately, I just don’t think that the movie cared.

However, as I reflected on the movie, I became surprised at how similar this “quibble” in the identity of Billy can look like the identity of those of us who attempt to follow Christ. In our faith tradition, we argue that through a relationship with Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God), who resides in us and changes us (if we let it). And yet often in my attempts to follow Christ, I sometimes find myself looking like a loving, grace-filled, hopeful Superhero Christian and other times I just look like the snarky, selfish, broken 14 year old. The 2 don’t look much like each other.

In fact in the Bible there are even 2 very different ways that following Christ is described. Sometimes in Scripture it appears that our transformation in Christ is sudden and moves from the inside out (Romans 6:6, 8:5-9, Philippians 2:13, 4:13). But other times Scripture seems to indicate that this transformation happens from the outside in as we are “clothed in Christ.” In passages like Galatians 3:236-27 and Romans 13:13-14 we are invited to “put on” some of the characteristics of God, to give them a test run, and see how they fit. Maybe the Jesus “outfit” will stick.

And maybe that’s one take away for those of us who are followers of Christ from the movie Shazam!. The wizard (who gave Billy his powers) looked for decades to find someone who could replace him. He was looking for someone perfect… and finally had to just settle on Billy. Billy’s identity (both as a mature child and superhero was still in formation) but fortunately he had just joined a family that could help him change inside (much more important than the magical changes happening to him on the outside). Maybe it’s actually realistic that Billy acted different when he was “wearing the body” of the superhero adult. And maybe I need to be a little more forgiving of Billy’s personality disorder in the same way all Christians need to be a little bit more forgiving of one another as we try putting “on Christ” in relationship with God and with the support one another all while our identity in Christ still often appears so incongruent at times.

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Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse

spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-marvel-universe-easter-eggs

THE SKINNY

Story (from IMDb): Miles Morales is a New York teen struggling with school, friends and, on top of that, being the new Spider-Man. When he comes across Peter Parker, the erstwhile saviour of New York, in the multiverse, Miles must train to become the new protector of his city.

Themes: The movie’s strength is in its interacting and believable characters. There is strong focus on family (Morales’ biological family and the “Spider-family”). There are also strong themes of courage, sacrifice, love, and duty.

Age Appropriateness: (Rated PG) middle childhood (7-10) and up [several key characters die, lots of peril, & dealing with complex emotions].

MY TAKE

Just around Thanksgiving I “subscribed?” to the AMC Stubs Program. For $20 a month I can see any 3 movies a week. In real life I only get around to seeing about 3 or 4 a month (which still makes it a pretty good deal). It’s fun to be able to afford to see so many films! But I mention all this simply to say that because of AMC Stubs I have seen a bunch of the movies that came out this holiday season. But I only saw one movie more than once… Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse.

And to be real honest with you, Although it was probably my favorite movie from over the holidays, I only saw the movie a second time because I couldn’t stop thinking about one moment after the first viewing… it’s a 1/2 a second moment that if you blink you might miss. But even weeks after that first viewing I would find myself thinking back to that moment (and when you can see what feels like as many movies as you want “a moment” is sometimes enough of a reason to go watch a movie a second time)!

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse is an animated film following the story of Miles Morales. In the comic books, Morales is a Spiderman from another dimension who eventually ends up in the main comic book universe. The movie is another take on his origin story. But in this version the big baddie (the Kingpin), sets off a gizmo that causes different Spiderpeeps from all sorts of different dimensions to end up in Miles’ world while he is still trying to figure out what it means to be a Spiderman himself.

So here’s the moment that I couldn’t stop thinking about (if you haven’t seen the film don’t worry it won’t spoil the movie)… Part way through the movie, the Spiderbuddies realize that to fix the malfunctioning gizmo problem, one of them would be forced to stay in this dimension forever. After everyone else returned to their home dimension the one remaining Spiderperson would shut down the gizmo but would be trapped in this dimension (a stay that would lead to their untimely death). After they understand the stakes, none of them give it a second thought and all together say, “I’ll do it.”

Now at first glance one could argue that all of these Spiderfolk are possibly reckless or naive to be willing to sacrifice themselves without a second thought. Maybe they are not thinking through the situation or are being falsely brave. And yet later in the movie, as each Spiderdude and Spiderdudette shares with Miles about the friends or family that they have been unable to save, it becomes clear that all of the Spiderveterans truly understand the gravity of the situation and about what sacrifice truly means.

“I’ll do it.” I love the moment. There’s no hesitation. There are no big speeches. There is no long pause with a touching crescendo of background music. Just one person says, “Someone will need to stay behind.” And everyone else without knowing what the others would say just honestly and immediately respond, “I’ll do it.”

In my Christian faith tradition, I have heard a bunch of different explanations for what sin is. Some describe sin as idolatry. Sin are the things that we end up “worshiping” or making more important than God. A second way of looking at sin is as obedience to the rules or ways God wants us to live. Sin is like a game of archery with all those times we miss the bullseye. Still others describe sin like an addiction. Sin are those things that we cling to, that are destructive to our lives but we have such a hard time of letting go. And finally others describe it as selfishness. Sin happens when we make ourselves the center of our lives rather than God. I believe that in reality sin is probably a little bit of all these things. Like a diamond, each of these descriptions give a different facet of what sin looks like.

But even though I think that there is some truth to all these definitions about sin, I know that for me the one that has always rung the most true was the last one. Sin has always seemed to me to be mostly about selfishness. Maybe because this is how I have most often experienced sin in my own life. Putting MYSELF first. Making MY needs more important than others. Making ME the priority. And not only that, but all too often when I see fellow followers of Christ at their worst, I seem to see the same situation…  people caring most about THEMSELVES: focused on the way THEY do things, concerned most about what THEY should receive for THEIR troubles, being able only to see the way THEY look at things, or the things that matters most being THEIR feelings, THEIR situations, or THEIR lives.

And all this is probably why Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse struck me so deeply. In the movie there is a real need, it requires real sacrifice, and the immediately response is, “I’ll do it.” I found it very refreshing… probably because the phrase, “I’ll do it” are words I wish came out of my own lips so readily.

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Blade Runner 2049 & Agency

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[major spoilers for the movie Blade Runner 2049 are below]

Folks who love Science Fiction know that the best Sci-Fi gives us glimpses of what makes humanity human through the things they create. One of the best ways to see what we are like, is to see ourselves through the eyes of things we make to resemble or even replace us. Blade Runner 2049 continues where the first Blade Runner movie left off, exploring what it means to be “human” in an increasingly inhumane world.
What I found most fascinating from this sequel was the connection the movie placed on “love” and “agency.” One of the central “love stories” of Blade Runner 2049, was the relationship between Officer K (a replicant who hunts down other human-like and human built replicants) and Joi (a programed projected AI purchased by Officer K). Officer K feels like he has very little agency in his position in life. He must obey his senior officers (or be destroyed), he is ostracized by the rest of the police force, he has no friends, and very little perceived freedom. At first glance, it appears that he has one real a real loving relationship with Joi. It is clear he cares for her. But how could you not feel love for something that is programed to meet and grant your every desire? Here’s the thing, Officer K and Joi did not have a true 2 way relationship. And it’s not love if there is no agency.

In our culture, I’m often struck with how often we mislabel love. How often I mislabel it.  We imagine love to be a “feeling” we get. But it’s not, it’s an action. When someone has done something loving for us we say, “I feel loved.” We are saying that we believe that love has been acted upon us.

But often I think we also forget that we cannot receive love from something that can’t choose whether or not to give it. We might love our car, or our phones, or all our shoes. We might actually show love for those things by the way we care for them. But they can’t love us back (even if they were programed to). They can’t love if they don’t have the choice not to love. This is why there is an ethical dilemma with saying that a kidnapped victim “fell in love” with their kidnapper. Is it love if you are unable to choose another option? Maybe in Blade Runner 2049, Joi at some point transcended her programming and actively chose to love Officer K. But I doubt it, because all of Joi’s actions in the film always sought to give Officer K exactly what he wanted. And without agency, there is no love.

Officer K’s relationship with Joi can be contrasted with Rick Deckard’s relationship with his child. Deckard made the choice to never even meet his child, because the child was such a highly desired commodity. If Deckard was found by people in power what he knew would seriously endanger his kid. It could be argued that in choosing to remain completely isolated from his child, Deckard exhibited more love than Joi ever could even though Joi did all sorts of stuff for Officer K…. again, agency.

In the Christian faith, we claim to be free because of Jesus Christ (Gal. 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”). Roger Olson in his article “The Bonds of Freedom” in christianitytoday.com writes:

Because of what Christ has done for [us] and because of [our] faith in Christ, Christians are absolutely free from the bondage of the law. [We] don’t have to do anything. On the other hand, out of gratitude for what Christ has done for [us] and in [us], the Christian is bound in service to God and other people. [We] get to serve freely and joyfully.

It’s a crazy idea. To love others; to serve and care for people even when it doesn’t make sense or the people we are caring for clearly don’t deserve it or want it. Followers of Christ are “freed up” to love this way because we recognize that we’ve been loved in the same way when we didn’t deserve it or want it either. And that we have been loved in a way (through the cross) that didn’t make much sense.

The love relationship between Officer K and Joi may not have been “real.” And yet at the end of the movie, we see Officer K able to finally show true “real” love by saving Deckard and doing his part to help free Deckard’s child from the same sort of prison Officer K felt for most of his life. Officer K gets to love actively. He gets to choose to serve. And in doing so he gets to love for real, maybe for the first time ever. What a very human action from a robot. We could all learn something from it.

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Christian Evangelism and the Movie Moana

Major Spoilers of the Movie Moana follow…

Moana

In the movie Moana, the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe, Moana, is called to go on a quest to find Maui, a legendary demigod, and with his help return Te Fiti’s heart and save her people. It is a challenging task, since between her and Te Fiti lies Te Ka, a giant angry lava monster. The big twist ending of the movie is that Te Fiti is actually Te Ka. It actually makes a lot of sense… the giant angry lava monster simply lacks its heart.

At the climax of the film, in an incredibly moving moment, Moana realizes that Te Ka is not actually the enemy, all the dramatic action stops, and Moana bravely walks up to Te Fiti/ Te Ka and sings, “I have crossed the horizon to find you. I know your name. They have stolen the heart from inside you, but this does not define you. This is not who you are. You know who you are.” Moana returns the heart, Te Ka turns back into a nice goddess lady, and Moana’s people are spared. It is a beautiful moment that I believe can also serve as a powerful reminder to Christians about what evangelism should look like.

Over the history of the Christian church, there have been some good and some not so good analogies of what Christian evangelism is like. I believe, one not so good one has been the “conquering victor” analogy. This analogy describes evangelism as one part battle and one part sporting event. A Christian’s job is to WIN souls in a way that kind of sounds like they are getting points on God’s giant score board in heaven. And the Church needs to TAKE areas for Christ like the military needs to control geographically significant places in war.

Unfortunately, the “conquering victor” evangelism analogy breaks down in one rather significant way. Evangelism is not a sporting event or battle. There is no for sure way to win. There is nothing a Christ follower or church can say or do that will guarantee someone to “come to know the Lord.” Ultimately, that decision and relationship is personal, up to an individual and God. And historically, well-meaning individuals and churches who prescribe to this way of thinking about evangelism, have often been guilty of saying or doing increasingly ridiculous and even un-Christ-like things to try to WIN the day or TAKE the next hill…

A second rather poor analogy for evangelism in my book is the belief that evangelism is a fight against the devil. It is a belief that a Christian must help God bring souls back from brink of hell. Many who ascribe to this analogy seem to eventually forget that evangelism is about sharing “good news.” They often spend most of their time sharing “bad news” instead of the gospel (telling people that they are in the grip of the forces of evil and how terribly corrupt, bad, and yucky they are).

This leads to a third analogy of evangelism. Usually people in this group have seen one of the first two examples of evangelism in action in the church, had a bad experience with it, and have responded by claiming that instead they follow the “Francis of Assisi” model. Francis of Assisi is often attributed with the saying, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.” In my experience, often people scared away from other forms of evangelism, come to believe that evangelism only has to be about showing people God’s love. The problem with this perspective is that it does not require anyone to ever mention God, and often it simply shows others that the nice person being nice is nice.

In the movie Moana, if Moana had not listened for her call, if she had just obeyed her dad, stayed on her Island, helped her people… she could have followed the “Francis of Assisi” model (and Te Ka’s heart would not have been returned). If Moana had followed the “conquering victor” strategy of evangelism she could have fought Te Ka, the angry lava monster and maybe even killed it, only to then realize that is was Te Ka whom she was supposed to return the heart to. And if Moana had used the “fight the devil” approach, she could have stepped up to Te Ka/ Te Fiti and sang something like, “I have crossed the horizon to find you. I know your name. You are jerk and a monster who tries to melt people. That is who you are. You know who you are,” and then Moana probably would have been lava-ed to death.

But there is another type of Evangelism analogy, “the gift” analogy. Paul writes about it in 2 Corinthians 2: 14-17:

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.

In many ways Paul is arguing that Christians are called to be department store perfumers. You know, those people who stand in the perfume section of the department store with a bottle of perfume and ask if people want a sample waft. Only the perfume Christians offer is not in a bottle, it is Jesus. Christians don’t have to tell people that they smell bad, only that they might smell even better with Jesus. We don’t “win” if someone buys the bottle of Jesus for themselves, it is the aroma of the perfume (God himself) that sells the gospel.

I think that this is the reminder of what evangelism might look like in Moana. Moana reminds Te Ka who she could be if she had her heart back. And Moana offers Te Ka, the heart as a gift. That is what I believe the best sort of evangelism looks like. Just offer the gift. Some people are going to take it, some are not. But isn’t a Christian’s job simply to continue to offer it?

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“Dark Matter” & “Black Lives Matter”

Dark Matter - Season 1

DARK MATTER — Season:1 — Pictured: (l-r) Zoie Palmer as The Adroid, Alex Mallari Jr. as Four, Anthony Lemke as Three, Melissa O’Neil as Two, Mark Bendavid as One, Jodelle Ferland as Five, Roger Cross as Six — (Photo by: Dennys/Ilic/Syfy)

This last month I was able to watch season 1 of the SyFy channel show “Dark Matter” on Netflix (major spoiler follows). The show follows a crew of 6 “Firefly-like” space-frontier troublemakers who were awoken from suspended animation with their memories mysteriously wiped clean. After the first few episodes feature some pretty overused science fiction tropes (even space zombies), the show gets into a pretty good groove. “Dark Matter” really wrestles with the importance of memory. Is it our memory that makes us who we are? If we forgot our pasts, could we really become different or better people? Should you still be passionate about people or things you no longer remember… but know you were once passionate about?

If I have one qualm about the first season it would be the season’s grand reveal. As the episodes progress, it becomes increasingly clear that someone is sabotaging the ship as a traitor. And the traitor ends of being… the one black guy on the crew. For a show whose name shares some close similarities to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, the reveal made me cringe a little.

I do believe that Black Lives Matter. But the movement concerns me because of one statistic. I usually don’t take much stock in statistics. As a sociology undergraduate, I remember too many teachers showing how statistics can be stretched and squeezed to prove just about anything. For example, the Washington Post reports that 990 people were killed by police in 2015. 494 were white. 258 were black.

  • Someone could use this statistic to argue that many more white Americans were killed by police than black in 2015. It’s true.
  • However, if you take the same numbers and adjust for overall population proportions (since there are many more white Americans in the U.S. than black), you could make the argument that black Americans were much more likely to be killed by police than white in 2015. Also true.
  • But, it you take the same numbers and compare it to violent crime rates (much higher among black Americans), one could make an argument that more whites were killed in police responses to violent crime than blacks. Maybe true?
  • Finally, you could connect all of this data to the poverty rate (which is unfortunately also much higher for black American households). And since there seems to be a link between poverty and crime, maybe the very challenging multi-layered problem of poverty needs to be factored into this whole debate. Possibly also true…

Statistics are tricky. But I don’t want to make any sweeping judgements using the numbers. I just wanted to focus on the number 258. 258 black Americans killed. It’s tragic. And the number scares me a little. Because this year, no matter what police do, steps they take, or training they receive, the number killed will still be too high. The white number is also too high. Any number is too high, maybe necessary, but still too high. And every year, some of the deaths caused by police will not be clear cut (maybe because of negligence, prejudice, a bad apple, or just unclear circumstances). And every year, “Black Lives Matter,” could use those numbers as ammunition to increase tension between police and citizens…. forever… That worries me.

Over the last year, I have heard over and over again that what is needed is for us all to understand “white privilege.”  But I’m not so sure. As a white person, I don’t know if I need to spend more time understanding how privileged I am. I experience it every day. Maybe the last thing I need to do is spend more time focusing on myself. I think my time might be better spent listening to and learning to empathize with others. I believe empathy is an incredible gift given to us by God. And I believe it is a gift that all of us could get better at using.

Usually, when I watch a TV show, as I learn more about each of the characters, I find myself picking favorites. But I didn’t do that much while watching the first season of “Dark Matter.” Since none of the characters could remember their pasts, it was hard to grab a hold of something  that would lead me to dislike any of them. I found myself blaming their bad character traits on the confusion or challenge of their situations. I found myself quicker to forgive a character’s missteps (since they were still learning how to “be”), and it was easy to forgive their past actions (since they couldn’t remember them anyway). It makes me wonder… if we all got better at letting go of the burdens of our past experiences, all those judgements and prejudices we’ve experienced or “learned” about one another, would we all get a little better at showing empathy? Is this something we could even do if  we tried hard enough?

I don’t have any experience at being anxious when a cop approaches my car and I haven’t done anything wrong. That is probably because of my white privilege.

But I also don’t have any experience as a cop, being anxious while approaching a potentially dangerous car. That is because of my… I guess “blue privilege” (living in a country where police officers deal with dangerous situations so I don’t have to).

But I CAN imagine what BOTH of those situations MIGHT be like. And that is the beauty of empathy. And empathy is something I think we could all do with a little more of.

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“Piper” and General Assemblies

Last week I got a chance to see “Finding Dory” with the family. I enjoyed the movie, but in my opinion it was outclassed by the Pixar short that preceded it. “Piper,” directed by Alan Barillaro, tells the story of a baby sandpiper bird on his first day hunting food for himself next to the ocean. The realistic animation was simply breathtaking. But even more than that, I found the story very compelling.

“Piper” tells about a flock of sandpiper birds moving together to avoid incoming waves while finding some breakfast where the tide and sand meet. The baby sandpiper bird can’t get the rhythm right, is deluged by water, and for a while decides to give up on the water thing altogether. But eventually hunger wins out and with the help of a young hermit crab the baby learns a unique way to deal with the incoming waves.

I am sure “Piper” struck me the way it did because I watched it in Portland, while participating as an observer in my denomination’s General Assembly. For much of my childhood as a military brat, Portland was home base. No matter where we were living, Portland was the home away from home where we went to visit family.  Watching the sandpiper mom show her baby how to do “water,” hit close to home on a week I was busy showing my own kids special places from my childhood; like Multnomah Falls, the zoo, and the downtown fountains my Grandfather used to take me to play.

But the connections didn’t end there. As someone who tends to be a moderate evangelical in a fairly progressive denomination, I am often asked how I survive. In fact, when I told people that I was going to General Assembly, I was surprised by the number of raised eyebrows I got. I guess another reason I liked “Piper” so much was because I felt like it told some of my own story. In the short, the baby sandpiper bird learned that if it dug in like a hermit crab when the waves came and then opened its eyes, it not only could be protected from the waves but could see more clearly where breakfast was.

Often times, at the macro level, I feel like my denomination looks a little like a flock of sandpiper birds, running back and forth, following where ever the next “progressive” wave takes them. Right now, many evangelicals are giving up on the denomination because they feel like they have gotten hit by one too many wave while refusing to move with everyone else. Those evangelicals sputter and complain…. But I find myself wishing that more of them would be willing to just open their eyes to see the good that is still happening (Christ-centered mission and evangelism). It is still there, it is just often under the surface of the loud and more noticeable waves.

How does a moderate evangelical pastor get fed in a more progressive denomination? This one gets nourished by seeing those places where God is still at work through his faithful followers (and finding more and more that often God is even at work in spite of us all).

PIPER

PIPER – Concept Art by Jason Deamer (Production Designer). ©2016 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

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