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There is scene in The Lord of the Rings which Professor Tolkien felt was the pivitol moment of the book; in it, Gollum nearly repents, having been won over by Frodo’s kindness. But the well-meaning Sam interferes. Chastened by Sam’s meanness, Gollum sulks off. Following are Tolkien’s thoughts:

“For me perhaps the most tragic moment in the Tale comes when Sam fails to note the complete change in Gollum’s tone and aspect….His (Gollum’s) repentance is blighted and all Frodo’s pity is (in a sense) wasted. Shelob’s lair becomes inevitable” (Letter #246).”

One wonders how often this happens, e.g., when a sinner is close to repentance, but one of God’s well-meaning children interferes? More often than we’d care to admit. There will be much one day which we will have to answer for. Many surprises are in store.

Along these same lines are the all-too-often instances of when a brother, or sister (or both), are hurting, and reach out for help. Let’s say that they’re getting help, finding some measure of mentorship, of folks coming alongside them. Things are happening, God is moving.

Then the church steps in.

The church leadership. If the church is a hospital, they are its doctors facilitating a connection to the Great Physician. Not this time. Not on their rounds.

The church says “No, you can’t do it that way. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting helped, making connections. You’re not doing it under our auspices. You have to stop.”

There again, Gollum is shut down, shut out, feeling cast aside… Wondering “What did I do wrong? I thought the church was supposed to help me? Isn’t this a spiritual hospital? God was moving, my struggles were getting better. Why did you shut me down?”

Brothers and sisters this ought not to be. But it happens over and over again. 

Have you been there? You think you’re doing the right thing, reaching out, in evangelicalese getting “plugged in,” but it blows up in your face, and then crumbles into dust… Leaving you wondering why you ever did this in the first place. You’re left feeling like you’d find more camaraderie, more acceptance, down at the corner bar. At least there they won’t judge you for being a sinner seeking solace, relief, healing.

What do you do when the church fails? Where do you go?

Who has the words which bring you life? Can life be found? Is it worth trying again?

Jesus, where are You in this?

Jesus

If you’ve been following along this week, the blog has been dedicated to publicizing the upcoming film, The Conjuring2, directed by James Wan, and starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. I’ve done this for a number of reasons; first, because I’m a fan of the 2013 original. Second, because it’s a rare film that can scare the pants off without descending into a morass of gore, language, and nudity. Yes, that’s right; unlike Friday the 13th, or It Follows, there is no onscreen sex here. Third, the screenwriters–Chad and Carey Hayes–are believers. Fourth, and truly the biggest reason, is that although evil is depicted as formidable, it is nowhere glorified. Fifth, if we are believers ourselves, we absolutely hold to the fact that there is a real, unseen world which intersects with ours (“God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth”). Moreover, the Bible itself tells us that the “weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” And that, friends, is exactly what one sees in a Conjuring movie: the mighty power of God overcoming the spiritual forces of wickedness.

So just to sum up: evil is depicted as real, formidable, but not all powerful. It is not glorified, or presented as something desirable. In the end, as all such battles between God and evil must, God wins. And when He wins we win.

The first movie ended this way:

conjuring-quote

That, in my book, is a bold way to end a Hollywood movie in the 21st century.

But you didn’t come here to read my musings on horror films, faith, or the ongoing battle between good and evil; no, today you came for the swag. 😉 I did say I was giving away a Conjuring2 prize pack. So, in partnership with Grace Hill Media and Warner Brothers, I offer you the following:

Conjuring2 Giveaway

In the prize pack are:

2 reusable plastic cups

a leather bound journal

2 t-shirts

and a pair of tickets to see the film

a Rafflecopter giveaway

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that, by-and-large, people no longer know how to disagree. One need looked no further than the evening news (or favorite website). We like to think that we’re evolved, enlightened beings, but experience (life) teaches us that human beings just aren’t all that rational. If we were, whether on the right, left, or in the center. Whether cis, trans, pan, or what have you, we would all of us stop trying to make over the world in our own image. Tis a fruitless effort. Nevertheless, we continue. We see something we don’t like, that we don’t agree with, which does not affirm our worldview, and we freak right the heck out. 
This is not the exclusive province of Christians, expecting a secular company in a fully pluralistic society to get with the Christmas spirit by making cups we approve of. No, there are others who simply deny reality and demand that XYZ be implemented for them (fill in the blank). The needs of the noisy, vitriolic one clearly outweigh established social precedent, decorum, and the needs of the many.
YOU. MUST. AFFIRM. ME.
This is nothing other than confirmation bias. I’m right because I’m right, and you better get in line. Or I’ll protest your bigoted, sorry a** back to the stone ages where you clearly belong. You unenlightened, pre-cambrian haploid. Reality is what I say it is. Your view is invalid, and mine is better.
The foregoing is, of course, not the exclusive province of the liberal elite. Everybody does it at one time or another. In such a climate polite, civil, discourse goes right out the window with the baby and the bath water. We, by-and-large, don’t know how to listen anymore because we’re too entangled on our entitlements. 
How fruitless is it for Christians to seek affirmation from Starbuck’s, like we’re somehow entitled to it? You, large coffee company, must support me. On the other hand, how ridiculous is that the queer community boycotts, and indeed fires volley after volley of vitriol, at a chicken chain started by Southern Baptists? Must corporations truly affirm every life choice, lifestyle, and belief system under the sun? I submit that that is not their job. Beliefs are reflected by the actions of the individuals who claim to espouse those beliefs.
It is not culture’s, or the world’s, job to coddle us, and make us feel safe, welcome, warm, and wanted. No, that is entirely the province of those with whom we are in relationship. We can’t demand anything of the world, for it owes us each exactly nothing. Ex nihilo. That’s a zero with its rim knocked off.
The sooner we, whether left, right, center, or whatever, recognize that the sooner we’ll actually be able to make a difference in the world. In fact, Jesus said it best:
“My kingdom is not of this world.” Which means, for everyone, the best course of action is (as Jesus) is to accept this sinful world as it, not as we would have to be. Because it will never be that. It will never be what anyone of us wants it to be. For good or I’ll, it will be what it is. And not a one of us can, via cogent discourse, make a single hair white or black. Or change someone’s mind.
They have to do that for themselves.

Part of the Problem

randomlychad  —  September 15, 2015 — 1 Comment


(Zoom in to see the evangelist on the left, and the homeless man on his knees on the right).

You’ve heard the old saw: “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” This I think is true. I have a problem. Like a substantial majority of folks, I’m fairly glued to my phone, have binge watched Netflix until all hours, and generally fritter away precious time on Twitter and/or Facebook. I find myself to be highly distractable and unfocused. Beyond that, it’s far easier to glide through life as a spectator, rather than as a participant. Case in point: while my wife was out of town, my son and I took three movies. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but it didn’t even dawn on me that perhaps we should at least attempt to visit her aged grandmother at her nursing home until late in the week (we didn’t make it). Oh, we made time to workout, eat out, video game.

But the week by-and-large was fairly self-absorbed. I even made time to hit the bookstore, buying more books than I’ll read in a month.

But compassion, other-awareness? Rather lacking. My life is so busy with work, working out, obligations, that in my downtimes I don’t think about much beyond me. It’s become an ingrained way of life.

A rut I don’t know how to break out of.

Nowhere was this more true than when I observed a street preacher doing his thing, proclaiming the judgment of God upon a sinful society, right across the street from a homeless man begging his daily bread. What I, and everyone else crossing the street, didn’t see was the street preacher put down his sign (“Back the Bible, or back to the jungle”), and go over to help the homeless man. I noticed that not one person, nary a single soul, took a tract from him. Yet what did I do other than observe? I took the time to take a picture, return to my office, get lunch…

When it dawned on me that I hadn’t done anything for, or been Jesus to, the homeless man, upon finally returning I saw he was being loaded into an ambulance. This was a lesson to me. We can have all the right words, speak the Gospel truth, but if that truth isn’t backed up with corresponding actions it makes our witness of bull effect.

There are similar needs around me everyday, and yet it gets harder and harder to lift up my eyes to see, and to open my heart to care.

I wonder: do you find yourself in the same place today?

Make no mistake: the world is watching. Are we part of the problem, or part of the solution?

Author: Bill McChesney Author URL: https://www.flickr.com/people/bsabarnowl/ Title: 24230 Communion and Extended Communion First Presbyterian Church Charlottesville April 3, 2011 Year: 2011 Source: Flickr Source URL: https://www.flickr.com License: Creative Commons Attribution License License Url: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ License Shorthand: CC-BY Download Image

 
Church culture fascinates me. For instance, who decided that in the order of service communion should follow the greeting? You know what I’m talking about. There’s that time, every Sunday, when pastor announces that we should “extend the right hand of fellowship” to those around us? He means shake hands and say “Hi” to make folks feel welcome.

Well and good. People should feel welcome in our churches. I don’t have an issue with greeting folks (except that I mostly want to sit down and keep to myself). My problem is that when Communion Sunday rolls around it always comes after the greeting and not before.

My problem is that I don’t know where all those hands have been, you know? Who’s been scratching their head, nose, etc.? Who’s gone to the restroom (and not washed)? Who’s been changing diapers? Who’s (maybe) picked their nose, sneezed, coughed, whatever? (I’m sure you’ve seen that one guy who, when he thought no one was looking, scratched his posterior).

The answers are:

Don’t know

Don’t know

Don’t know

Don’t wanna know

Don’t know

And Ew!

And yet it never fails that I’m supposed to take communion, by placing that flavorless wafer in my mouth using the very hand I’ve just used to greet my brothers and sisters. They should have hand sanitizer dispensers as on the backs of pews so we can all freshen our hands before partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

It’s just a thought. 

I mean the juice comes in a little cup, right? Why not put that little, flavorless, moisture-sucking pellet in a cup, too–instead of in a receptacle where we all have to fish it out by hand? That’s just a thought, too, you know.

Then again, what if, say, the church implements a two-cup system (two cups, one… never mind), with the wafer in the bottom, and the wine substitute in the upper cup. What happens, say, if that juice sloshes around, or if the volunteers were a little too enthusiastic jamming those communion cups together? I’d say that the situation is ripe for that one perfect storm you never want to have happen when partaking of the Lord’s Supper:

Spilling Jesus.

What is spilling Jesus? It’s when the little cups either get stuck in the tray, and you can’t get them out, or the cups themselves are wedged so tightly together, that you end up spilling the juice all over yourself, your wife, her new dress, and the pew.

Not that that’s ever happened to me, mind you. It’s just a good thing I’m not Catholic (speaking of, can you imagine taking communion from the same cup? Many people, one cup? Yuck!).

I’m not sure what (if any) the lesson in all this is. Maybe we just need to be careful about how and where we spill Jesus?