Holy Dread – What I think I know after Hurricane Michael

What follows is my personal, frail attempt to make sense of a devastating event.

Prologue

(because prologues are cool)

While dining at my sister’s house, I sat beside my nephew, Leader, who was seven or eight years old at the time. He is eleven now. Guided by a profound impulse, he decided to ask me a series of theological questions, which he has been known to do at odd times (for example, he once told me I had to “fight the dragon” so that I could become “a king of forgiveness”).

“Unky Adam,” he said.

“Yes?” I said, turning toward him.

“Do you love God more than money?” he asked, his smile as big as a crescent moon.

“Yes,” I said. I went back to my food, thinking that would be the end of it.

“Do you love God more than houses?” he asked, his tenor elevated. He seemed to know well enough that sequels should raise the stakes.

“Yes,” I said.

His smile broadened. I decided not to take the next bite, knowing that another question must follow in the series. To him, it was a kind of game where the questions must be part of a trilogy.

“Do you love God more than the world?” he asked, raising his volume to something like half a notch above inside-voice acceptable decibels.

I waited, wanting to give myself a moment to be honest even if it led to disappointment. Anyone claiming to be a believer would want the answer to be “Yes”. But I gave myself enough time for it to be a cold, cowardly “No” if the truth of my heart demanded it. I gave myself time to fall if fall I must.

“Yes,” I said.

As soon as I spoke, I knew I had done what for me had always been unthinkable. I had made a commitment. Leader smiled bigger, but not because he had trapped me. He smiled in a kind of child-like awe. You see, because I had affirmed my love for God above money, houses, and the world—because of these affirmations of faith, he seemed to think I was some sort of hero.

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I Am

I am, says the Eternal Flame to Man.

The Man is afraid, abiding the moment as one in a trance or stranded in a dream idling on the edge of wakefulness. The blaze is hot but not stifling. It is a perfect heat, if such a thing can be perfect. Purple and pink tendrils of lighting reach over the mountaintop as if drawn by the flames. The fire drinks the rain. It is a fire unquenchable just as the force fueling it is unstoppable.

The ground is sacred – take off your shoes and feel the earth. Be in this moment. Hear me. Believe me. Trust me. Do everything I say and never again know the fear of man.

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Circumcision, you say? Why not go one further and cut your whole **** off!

Note: this post assumes that most biblical translations are correct. That said, the KJV interprets Galatians 5:12 without specifying anything to be “cut off” except “themselves” (i.e., those who insist on circumcision). Either way, Paul’s choice of words here reflects the subject in question. For further reading on why Paul may or may not be telling his opponents to emasculate themselves, see this document and this article. If the translations that point to emasculation are wrong, then so is my post (at least from a literary standpoint). But maybe I can still contribute to the ongoing debate. Happy reading.

A Defense of Shocking Satire

“No dark sarcasm in the classroom!” – Pink Floyd

Within the community of believers (I shun the term “Christianity” because of its vast connotations), I’ve noticed a crippling and unwarranted dread of satire. Yes, we should detest Swift’s modest proposal of cannibalism just as we should detest C.S. Lewis’ “Saracen’s Head” on a pedestal. But we should also detest what these things deride. That is what satire is all about.

But perhaps a central question remains: is shocking satire ever appropriate for those of us who aspire to whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy? Well, let’s take a look at what Paul (the man I just paraphrased) has to say when he feels like being sarcastic:

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If Dogberry Had a Blog

From “How to Practice ‘Vigitance’ without Offending Anyone”

  1. Sleep freely and without conviction:

In my humble experience, one of the least offensive ways of keeping a steady watch by night is to sleep at free and regular intervals. If you make it to morning unmolested, you will be as fresh as the bright dawn sun that greets you and more pleasurable company for your companions. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But, Dogberry, if I sleep, won’t that leave my company vulnerable to attack?” Truly, but fret not, for should a knave sneak up to your camp in the night and dispose of you while you slumber, think little of it, as you will soon greet your Savior in all of his radiant glory and no more will you need trouble about the cares of this life or the lives of your companions.

Continue reading If Dogberry Had a Blog

The Dark Knight Rises and Isaiah 1:17

While it is not a perfect movie, The Dark Knight Rises is one of the more positive examples of the intersection of my faith with art. Certainly, the movie is not without holes, such as the lack of explanation for how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) gets back into Gotham after his exile. While these issues deserve attention, I keep going back to the movie for its thematic message, which reflects my favorite scripture from Isaiah: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (1:17, NIV). This scripture, especially the part about the fatherless, is the basis of Bruce Wayne’s journey throughout the film.

The Dark Knight Rises draws somewhat from the French Revolution—the villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), takes over the city on the pretense of stripping power from the “corrupt” and giving it back to the people. But the backstory that precedes this pivotal revolution concerns the Wayne Foundation and its failure to support orphanages and teen refuge centers. As a result, teens with nowhere else to turn “descend” into Gotham’s sewers to find work. Instead, they find Bane, who, in the absence of Batman, becomes their role model and liberator. Without the Wayne legacy, the lost boys of Gotham become the forces of destruction that will perpetuate the same cycle of murder that brought Bruce Wayne to his darkest hour.

The catalyst for Batman’s redemption (and Gotham’s) is a young hothead named John Blake, a.k.a., Robin. Just as fans of the character would expect, he goes straight to the Wayne mansion to shake Bruce Wayne from his stupor and remind him of his calling. Interestingly, their conversation ends with Bruce asking, “Why did you say your ‘boys home’ used to be funded by the Wayne foundation?” (The Dark Knight Rises). The revelation that Wayne Enterprises no longer funds orphanages is the impetus for Batman to return to the streets. Few big-budget Hollywood films possess this kind of thematic undercurrent, and even fewer can be traced to scriptural mandates like Isaiah 1:17 and, similarly, James 1:27. Given the evidence, I do not see it as a theological stretch to trace The Dark Knight Rises to these mandates.

Without question, my faith-based perception of a story like The Dark Knight Rises is directly linked to the kinds of stories I hope to tell. The film ends with Bruce Wayne giving his home to Gotham’s orphans and assurance that Robin will be nearby to watch over them. This is a far cry from the dark, morbid turn some Gotham comics have taken in the past two decades, which insists that Bruce Wayne is as psychotic as the villains he struggles against. While these darker stories have their fans, I am convinced that most film-goers want to see redemption on the screen—even for Gotham.

My story-telling drive compels me to descend into similar dark worlds of human crisis and focus not on characters who succumb to the crisis but who turn the tide amid dark times, dark agendas, and dark principalities. And, just as a side-note, the idea of Batman as the Byronic hero doesn’t hold up in a story where the hero sacrifices himself and gives up everything he has to defend the oppressed and the fatherless. Quite the contrary, this is one of the more prominent and current examples of a biblical hero in mainstream Hollywood cinema.

How does he do it? Well, you know… because he’s Batman.